||The Aktjo was built and completed in May 1940 at the Brons shipyard in the city of Appingedam in the German occupied Netherlands and immediately confiscated by the German Transportflotte Speer (transport fleet of ships named after Reich minister Albert Speer). A Dutch crew was assigned to the ship under the command of a Dutch captain, Jan Blokzijl. On August 12, the Aktjo left Delfzijl, homeport, and sailed for Hamburg, Germany where it took on a cargo of iron for the city of Stavanger, Norway. After arriving and unloading the cargo of iron, the Aktjo was put into service carrying cargo between the cities of Oslo and Drontheim, Norway. In December 1942 the Germans assigned a new crew to the Aktjo and took on a cargo of lumber for Hamburg. Captain Blokzijl objected strongly to the crew’s replacement and as a result was relieved of his command and imprisoned for six days. After his release, Captain Blokzijl was furloughed to the Netherlands. During this time, the Aktjo was assigned a German captain named Schlimm. After his furlough, Captain Blokzijl requested to be reinstated as captain on the Aktjo. The Germans granted his request and ordered him to Oslo. Upon his arrival in Oslo,Captain Blokzijl retook command of the Aktjo and sailed north to her homeport of Fauske, Norway above the Artic Circle deep in the Fauske fjord. In order to get to Fauske, a ship had to sail through the Saldstroumen, a narrow gap of about 100 feet across. Every six hours at high and low tides, nine feet of water rushed back and forth from the Fauske fjord to the North Sea. Consequently, a ship going through the gap had only 15 minutes each six hours to pass through. For the next two years the Aktjo sailed the different towns of North Norway and had several crew and captain changes under the Dutch flag but still under German command. Some were able captains and others were not. On several occasions the Aktjo was in grave danger of being sunk. On one trip the Aktjo was loaded with 25 tons of dynamite. Because of misreading a minefield’s location off the coast of Norway, the Aktjo sailed into the middle of the minefield. The German coastguard saw where the Aktjo was heading and warned the crew by shooting a cannon in front of the bow. The current captain did not know which way to turn and finally turned back to where he had come from. The Aktjo was out of danger. Everyone breathed easier considering the cargo she carried. Another time the Aktjo was moored at a wooden jetty (pier) at low tide. Everyone onboard was asleep when the tide came up. The ship’s bulwark (the top railing on the side) became wedged under the crossbeam of the jetty causing the ship to lean over more and more under the crossbeam as the tide came up. The ship was in danger of capsizing. Luckily, the second engineer fell out of his cot when the ship leaned too far. He realized something was wrong and ran to the engine room in the stern (back) of the ship and started the engine. He then ran to the captain’s quarters. By shifting the engine into full forward throttle and then in reverse, the captain managed to break loose from the crossbeam and sail free.There was no damage to the Aktjo except some broken pottery. In the spring of 1943 the crew was glad to see Captain Blokzijl come back on board and take command of the Aktjo again. Generally speaking, the Aktjo’s crew was content. The food was sufficient and every month they received a generous allotment of market tender supplies, which included cigarettes, cigars, tobacco, liquor and wine. Additional income came from selling part of any cargo the ship was carrying at the time to the Norwegian town’s people and keeping the money for themselves. Crewmembers justified the theft by saying they were stealing from the Germans and supporting the Allies. After several years in Norway, the Aktjo needed major repairs on the engine. A request was sent to the German authorities. Soon orders came that the Aktjo was to sail to Copenhagen, Denmark for repairs. The entire crew was elated because Copenhagen was known for its entertainment and good food. There was no rationing in Denmark as a reward for not resisting the German occupation at the beginning of the war in 1940 although that changed as the war continued. The crew discussed escaping to neutral Sweden with the Aktjo if the opportunity arose. An unexpected change was the replacement of Captain Blokzijl with the German Captain Schlimm. The German concern was that if Captain Blokzijl commanded the Aktjo, he might be tempted sail into neutral Sweden instead of German occupied Denmark which of course was the plan of the crew and captain. Captain Blokzijl received orders to go to Narvik, Norway to take command of a tugboat called the Speer 16. He was very unhappy since the original owners of the Aktjo had promised that if he brought the Aktjo back to the Netherlands after the war, he would receive 25% ownership. The day after the Aktjo’s change of command, the crew and Captain Blokzijl had a secret meeting aboard the Aktjo while the German captain was on shore. Captain Blokzijl persuaded the crew that instead of going to Copenhagen, they should sail to Sweden. The trip to Sweden would take approximately a week and Captain Blokzijl would remain on board as a stowaway till the ship entered the neutral waters of a Swedish harbor. Captain Blokzijl became in effect a deserter and the crew became accessories to his desertion. If the Germans found out the crew were hiding the captain, they would all be punished severely. A mattress was installed behind the large fuel tank in the engine room.There Captain Blokzijl remained very quietly during the day because the German captain’s quarters were right above his sleeping area. At night he could walk around the engine room wearing slippers. Luckily the German captain never came down to the engine room. The Aktjo sailed the next day out of Bodo, a city at the entrance of the Fauske Fjord with instructions to report to the German authorities in Bergen, a city in the south of Norway. After arriving in Bergen, the German captain went ashore to report in and request diesel fuel for the rest of the voyage. When he returned to the Aktjo, he told the crew that because of the deterioration of the German war effort, no fuel was available. The ship was instructed to remain in Bergen until further orders. The crew was devastated. What would happen to Captain Blokzijl hiding in the engine room? He couldn’t go ashore since he had probably been reported missing and would be arrested. The only solution was that he remain in hiding. Hopefully the Germans would not suspect that he was on the Aktjo. Bergen was the home of a submarine base. During an air raid by the Allies, the crew of the Aktjo had to seek shelter in a frozen meat storage locker on shore. Captain Blokzijl remained on board. Luckily no bombs hit the Aktjo or the meat locker. The crew was nearly frozen when they finally returned to the ship. The raid did not last long, but when the crew came out of the meat locker, they saw an unusual sight. The fjord was covered with fish stunned by the underwater explosions.The local population had a great time scooping up the catch. Every day the German captain went ashore to the office to request fuel but none was available. What the captain did not know was that the double bottom fuel tanks of the Aktjo were full of fuel. Captain Blokzijl had filled the extra tanks with fuel every time he went to the office of the harbor commander in Bodo while in Norway. He was given a requisition authorization for the liters of fuel he requested, no questions asked. It was always more than the tanks could hold so every other time he sold the requisition to a Norwegian trucking company whose fuel consumption was rationed. The trucking company was glad to be able to buy extra fuel. The money received from the trucking company was divided among the crew. At one point the crew was almost caught. Luckily the secretary in the German office was Norwegian and told Captain Blokzijl that the German commander was suspicious about the amount of fuel the Aktjo was using. After that the Aktjo always requested the correct amount of fuel but kept the double bottom tanks full. This information of course could not be given to the German captain. If he had known about the double bottom tanks, he would have known about the false inventory reports the chief engineer had turned in. The days dragged on, but Bergen had an interesting history. It was one of the Hansa cities. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries these cities were part of a group that had agreements among themselves importing and exporting merchandise.They prospered mightily. Soon the lazy days in Bergen ended. On October 14 the German captain came back from the office and told the crew to get ready to cast off to receive diesel fuel. The Aktjo was to sail the next day not to Copenhagen, Denmark but instead to Haugesund, Norway for repairs on the engine. It was a big disappointment to the crew. All plans to sail to Sweden were out. Haugesund is about a day sailing south of Bergen. New plans had to be made so the crew had another secret meeting. It was decided that the next day when she was in open water, the crew and Captain Blokzijl would take command of the Aktjo from the German captain and set course for the British Isles north of Scotland. The next day the Aktjo departed the harbor of Bergen. The crew knew that once they put their plan into action there would be no turning back. If the Germans caught them, they would surely be executed.
The Aktjo sailed from Bergen in the morning. Dusk on that latitude at that time of the year came early, approximately 4 pm so the German captain decided to sail into a harbor in the afternoon and continue the voyage the next morning. This was not what the Dutch crew had expected. They had planned to take command of the Aktjo after dark and then set a westerly course. Now they had to rethink their options. The German captain was on the bridge. He was asked to come down to the galley due to the cook being ill. The captain left the bridge and was grabbed from behind by Captain Blokzijl who had come out of the engine room. The German captain was surprised and told he was relieved of his command. He later said he had been afraid he would be thrown overboard. He relaxed when told that was not the plan. The crew respected him. He had been a good captain, though a little too trusting, otherwise he would have suspected something since he was the only German on a ship with a Dutch crew. The Atkjo continued sailing south along the coast of Norway. It was three o’clock pm and still daylight. The Germans onshore could still see the ship so there was no change of course. The crew was afraid an Allied airplane would spot them and attack the Aktjo so the German flag came down and the Dutch flag was hoisted. A large Dutch flag was painted on the hatch covers to indicate the Aktjo was a Dutch ship. As soon as it was dark enough, the course was changed westerly. Due to a build up of carbon in the exhaust stack, glowing pieces of carbon blew into the air. This caused fear that they would be visible from a long distance after dark. To remedy the situation one of the deckhands was ordered to cover the stack with a bucket. Then a blanket was placed over the bucket and kept wet with a water hose so the blanket would not catch fire. This worked for a while but as the Aktjo sailed farther into open water, the sea became rougher and the deckhand had trouble keeping the bucket, the blanket and the water hose in place. At one point the deckhand could not keep the bucket over the stack and water poured into the engine. The engine died and the Aktjo was dead in the water. A ship without power in high waves is in a precarious situation. A ship will turn sideways and swing violently from side to side. Captain Blokzijl and the engineers went down into the engine room to drain the water from the cylinders. After two miserable hours of work, they got the engine running again. The course was set west. There were no maps on board, but the captain had enough experience in these waters that by going west he knew they would arrive at one of the islands north of Scotland. This time the deckhand in charge of keeping the bucket over the stack was more careful with the water hose. Soon they were far out at sea and the bucket and hose were no longer necessary. During the time the Aktjo sailed with the bucket on the stack, a German listening post on the coast must have picked up the muffled engine sound. They turned on the floodlight and scanned the sky for aircraft. Not seeing any airplanes, they lowered the beam and swept the surface of the sea. All at once the Aktjo was completely lit up. The crew held their breath, but for some reason the Germans did not see anything suspicious and after a few long seconds the light went out and the crew breathed easy again. The Aktjo continued sailing west all night. Two days later with no land in sight, Captain Blokzijl became worried they might have passed between the islands during the night. The ship’s compass was not too reliable since it had not being calibrated for years. In the afternoon they heard a plane overhead. They hoped that it was not a German plane. It was a British bomber. In all haste the “I am lost” signal flags were hoisted. The bomber’s crew must have seen the Aktjo’s signal flags. Soon two fighter planes flew over and indicated what course the Aktjo was to steer. Later in the afternoon a British destroyer came in sight and after getting closer told the Aktjo to stop. They lowered a sloop with heavily armed sailors and an officer.When the sloop came closer, they ordered the Aktjo’s crew to come on deck and remain there. The British sailors came on board and searched the entire ship to make sure the ship was safe – no weapons or contraband were found. After Captain Blokzijl was interviewed, he was ordered to follow the destroyer. After a few hours of sailing, both ships arrived at the city of Lerwick, capital of the Shetland Islands. The captain was told to drop anchor in the middle of the harbor and the crew was told to get their belongings and be ready to leave the Aktjo in half an hour. A launch came along side and the crew left the Aktjo with mixed feelings. The Aktjo had been home for a long time and had brought them safely to Lerwick. The German captain was removed from the Aktjo and not seen again. A truck was backed up to the jetty. The crew was ordered in and transported to barracks surrounded by barbed wire. They were asked if they needed anything and then left alone. The next day the interrogation started. They were asked where they had come from and why they had come to the Shetlands Islands. A number of questions were asked about the minefields off the coast of Norway. The maps the Aktjo had on board were handed over. The Aktjo was renamed the Eindhoven, a city in the South of the Netherlands, for intelligence reasons. The British did not want the Germans to know the Aktjo had escaped. After a few days the crew was told that they were to be flown to London for further debriefing. That changed after it was observed that every day the Eindhoven lay a little deeper in the water. Captain Blokzijl and the engineers were allowed to go back on board. They found the ship had a bad leak around the propeller shaft and water had accumulated in the engine room. The water was pumped out and the leak stopped. The British decided it would be better if the Dutch crew returned to the Eindhoven and sailed the ship to Aberdeen, Scotland with a detachment of British sailors on board. They arrived a few days later and were placed under guard on the train to London. They were assigned two compartments for seven men and two guards.The train was full with many passengers standing in the aisles. Some tried to enter the compartments but were not allowed to do so by the guards. No contact with other people was allowed. Arriving in London, the crew was loaded in a truck and taken to a school. There they joined hundreds of other people from different European occupied countries waiting to be interviewed and released. Again intelligence people interrogated the crew and asked about Norway and their previous lives to make sure they were not spies.After a week of boredom with nothing to do, they were to be released.The release was abruptly canceled.Two new Dutch escapees had arrived from Sweden and by chance recognized Captain Blokzijl. Captain Blokzijl had reported the two men in Norway to the German authorities for refusing to work on the Aktjo. As a result, the Germans had taken them into custody. British intelligence again questioned Captain Blokzijl and agreed with him that under the circumstances, he had had no other choice but to report the two men to the Germans. The next day the crew was released and assigned to new duties they had chosen. Three men chose to go to the Dutch Royal Navy. The rest remained in the Allied Merchant Navy. Before they left they were asked if they would like to have tea that afternoon with Her Majesty Queen Wilhelmina, Queen of the Netherlands. They all said yes and were taken by car to the queen’s residence. During the visit her majesty asked the men about their
families and where they came from in the Netherlands. The crew felt very honored and privileged to be invited. In 1950, five years after the war ended, the entire crew of the Aktjo was summoned to the royal palace in Amsterdam to receive a medal from his His Royal Highness Prince Bernhard, commander of the Dutch forces during the war as well husband of Queen Juliana. Queen Wilhelmina had abdicated in 1948 after her 50 years on the throne of the Netherlands in favor of her daughter Princess Juliana. The medal was a reward for sailing the coaster Aktjo to Great Britain from Norway. The Aktjo was put back into service for the allied cause. Captain Blokzijl received the medal of the Golden Lion. The rest of the crew received the Kruis van Verdienste (Cross of Merit); Arie Slagboom, chief engineer; Jack de Wit, mate; Marinus van der Weele, second engineer; Jaap Pronk, Simon Geluk, deckhands; and Willem Wijs, cook.
Written by Marinus C. van der Weele to the best of his recollection for his children and grandchildren (FO)