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“What do you fear most,” captain Carlsen? – “Going ashore!


Dancy and Carlsen slept soundly despite the raging storm. They went to bunk with the knowledge that now almost nothing could go wrong. Almost nothing! At a speed of 3 knots – the same as a pedestrian – “Turmoil” pulled the two men and their ‘dead’ ship towards land. Dan Parker was authorized to choose the nearest port – it didn’t matter if it was Ireland, France or England.As a result of the traversing swells and the storm, “Flying Enterprise” was rolling 45 degrees to each side, which caused an enormous pull on the hawser. Following as closely as the storm would allow were the French tug “Abeille” and the English “Dexterous”. Not to get a share of a possible salvage fee but good old fashioned seamanship. The question of payment had been resolved between Hans Isbrandtsen and the owner of “Turmoil”.

“It must have been similar to the situation in the final years of the war,” said Carlsen whilst the projector continued to show episodes recorded by US marines. Kurt Carlsen had now reached his favorite clip, the one with the crack shot from “John W. Weeks” and his brilliant shot with the powerful harpoon gun. “Look! After several futile attempts, the marine lifts the heavy weapon while another marine holds a reel so that the rope on the harpoon won’t be slowed down on its way towards Dancy and myself…” “And look here, how well he places the line only a few meters away from us. That shot was made by a sharpshooter.” “And then both our hunger and thirst were satisfied, that’s for sure.

I don’t know how many times food, cigarettes and candles were pulled across. And razor blades. We’d been joking about how many we would need to shave the almost two week old, beard off. Only then did I realize that people all over the world were following our activities. It wasn’t until I read the newspaper articles about how dangerous it was that I got scared!” Carlsen obviously has a sense of humor. He tells us a lot of good sailors’ jokes during his commentary to the three hour long, film and lecture on the drama in the Atlantic. One of better ones, which could be heard for many years, was thanks to Gunnar “Nu” Hansen. He interviewed Carlsen using US navy vessels as a relay station to the BBC’s improvised news studio in Falmouth.

“What do you fear most,” captain Carlsen? “Going ashore,” was the concise, no nonsense answer. Carlsen confirmed the truth of this during the showing. “You see, I had read in the newspapers sent over by “Weeks” that there were 300 journalists and photographers in Falmouth, and that 200,000 people from all over England were waiting for us. News like that would make any normal person nervous!” THE CATASTROPHE occurred at 2.30 a.m. The hawser broke for the last time, but neither Dancy nor Carlsen registered or heard the noise when the five inch thick steel hawser snapped as if it were sewing thread. When the destroyers sirens woke them, the morse code from the floodlights on “Weeks” warned them that they were headed for the bane of sailors, the many skerries at Lizard’s Point, better known as ‘the ship graveyard’.

For the first time, Carlsen accepted that the battle was lost. For the first time, both he and Dancy put on life vests. At dawn, two Lancaster bombers from the Royal Airforce circled the sinking ship and stayed there for six hours! From Napoli, where another acquaintance from the convoys was now an admiral responsible for the US naval forces in the Mediterranean and European waters, came this tribute shortly before Carlsen was forced to make the worst decision of the thirteen day drama: To let the sea have his ship.

“I speak for every officer and private in the US navy when I say that your achievement in extremely difficult circumstances is an inspiration and source of pride in common traditions. Your resourcefulness, confidence, humor and tenacity are human qualities that seamen must possess for our own purposes, and, in a time of battle, to hinder those who would destroy our institutions, from reaching their targets. Your courage stands alongside the greatest achievements in history and will inspire our men to surpass the achievements of our forefathers. Well done, Carlsen.” The BBC sent a reporter in a plane to witness the final chapter of the drama. Millions of British radio listeners were able to hear the most dramatic reporting since the war. They heard, amongst other things, “The waves are now washing over “Flying Enterprise”. Not a man in sight. My guess is she’s now listing 70 to 80 degrees. It’s an awful sight, a dire situation. Large rolling waves are breaking across the deck. I see three small tugs in the distance. It must be awful down there.” BEHIND THE projector hangs the painting which was done while the English major Tom Lewey listened breathlessly to the report from the skies during the drama’s final chapter.

“That is going to hang over my rocking chair until the end of my days,” Carlsen said, before giving me a tape of the radio communication from that fateful day….

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