The Story

    18 May - At around 20:30 in the evening, hunting between West Africa and South America the Italian Submarine R. Smg. Comandante Cappellini, surfaced and fired its torpedoes, deck gun and machine guns upon the unescorted and unarmed Swedish Cargo Ship M/S Tisnaren. Tisnaren sank the next morning, 19 May.
    Captain Gunnar Runsten Commander Marco Revedin & Second-in-Command Federico de Siervo
    Captain Gunnar Runsten (left), and Submarine Commander Marco Revedin with his Second-in-Command Federico de Siervo.
      World War II Poster of a torpedoed Tanker
    World War II Poster of a torpedoed Tanker M/S Tisnaren was commanded by Captain Gunnar Runsten, my grandfather and these pages are based on his written statment of the attack, and a collection of public information on the Net.
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    ...on that same day, in waters closer to the West Indies:
    18 May 02:10 A.M. The Beth was hit by two torpedoes from Kptlt. Jürgen Wattenberg's U-162 and sank. 21 men, including the master reached Barbados in two lifeboats after 36 hours, nine others landed at Tobago in a third lifeboat on 20 May.
    18 May 06:06 A.M. The unescorted and unarmed Mercury Sun was hit by two torpedoes from Kptlt. Ulrich Folkers's U-125 about 125 miles south of Cape Corrientes, Cuba, while steaming a zigzag course at 8.5 knots. The torpedoes struck on the port side at the #4 and #5 tanks and broke the back of the ship. The carbon dioxide smothering system on the tanker successfully kept the cargo from igniting after the first torpedo hit, but when the second hit the ship burst into flames. 29 of the nine officers and 26 crewmen managed to abandon ship in two lifeboats. At 06:35, a coup de grâce struck the vessel on the starboard side at #8 tank, but the ship remained afloat and sank about three hours after the first attack, sagging in the middle. The master, chief mate, second mate and three crewmembers were lost. The lifeboats stayed near the burning ship until daybreak and then sailed towards the coast. 28 survivors were picked up nearly 40 hours after the attack by the American steam merchant Howard and landed on 19 May at Mobile, Alabama. One seriously injured crewman was transferred to a US Coast Guard boat at the Tampa Sea Buoy.
    18 May 06:15 A.M. The unescorted Fauna was hit by one stern torpedo from Kptlt. Günther Krech's U-558 and sank after 17 minutes. The U-boat misidentified her victim as the Towa. The survivors landed on Providence Island the same day.
    18 May 10:18 A.M. The unescorted and unarmed Quaker City was hit by one torpedo from KrvKpt. Werner Hartenstein's U-156 about 300 miles east of Barbados. The torpedo struck in the stern near the waterline and caused the ship to sink in ten minutes. The explosion shattered the propeller, the rudder and the after part of the ship and killed ten crewmen. The surviving ten officers and 20 crewmen immediately abandoned ship in four lifeboats and were questioned by the Germans. They were given the course to Barbados before the U-boat left the area. On 22 May, seven survivors in one boat were picked up by USS Blakeley at 15°01N/57°38W and landed at Trinidad two days later. On 24 May, the 15 survivors in the boat of the master landed at Barbados and eight survivors in another boat made landfall on the north coast of Dominica on 26 May. An oiler later died ashore from injuries.
    18 May 06:52 P.M. The unescorted San Eliseo was hit on the starboard side under the bridge and amidships by two torpedoes also from KrvKpt. Werner Hartenstein's U-156. The tanker had been spotted five hours before and continued after counter-flooding, firing into the direction of the U-boat, which surfaced and tried to get into a new firing position. At 04:39 on 19 May, a third torpedo was fired that hit on the starboard side aft of the bridge but apparently only caused minor damage because the tanker still continued. Even a fourth torpedo hit at 07:39 on the starboard side near the engine room could not stop her. At 09:17, a stern torpedo was fired at the ship from the port side but missed because the tanker zigzagged wild from 120° to 330°. The U-boat had finally to give up the chase because it was ordered by the BdU to set course on Martinique immediately and the chance to score another hit on the alarmed tanker was very small. The San Eliseo arrived at Barbados on 20 May for temporary repairs, later continued to the USA where she returned to service after permanent repairs were made.
    18 May (time unknown) S/S William J Salman also sunk by Folkers's U-125 at 20.08N, 83.46W. Three more unarmed US merchant vessels are sunk by German submarines. A freighter east of Barbados by KrvKpt. Werner Hartenstein's U-156 while Kptlt. Ulrich Folkers's U-125 sinks a tanker and a freighter in the Gulf of Mexico.
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    4 May The Battle of the Coral Sea begins: it will last four days and is a first in that the ships on both sides never are in sight of the other; the USS Lexington is sunk, but the Americans can claim an overall victory.
    8 May The Battle of the Coral Sea comes to an end. This is the first time in naval history where two enemy fleets fought without seeing each other. In addition to the loss of the USS Lexington the USS Yorktown is badly damaged; it returns to Pearl Harbour for repairs.
    27 May The USS Yorktown, damaged at the Coral Sea, limps into Pearl Harbor; it is ordered to get repaired and ready as fast as possible for the impending battle.
    30 May The USS Yorktown leaves Pearl after hasty repairs and moves to join the USS Enterprise for the next expected battle.
    31 May An attack on Sydney Harbour, Australia - Japanese midget submarines infiltrate the Harbour in an attempt to attack Allied warships.
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    5 May The city of Exeter is bombed by the Luftwaffe, another "Baedeker Raid".
    8 May The Germans take the Kerch peninsula in the eastern Crimea, Russia.
    12 May Second Battle of Kharkov - In the eastern Ukraine, the Soviet Army initiates a major offensive. During the battle the Soviets will capture the city of Kharkov from the German Army, only to be encircled and destroyed.
    18 May The Russians are in a major retreat at Kerch, after large numbers surrender.
    21 May The German invasion plans for Malta is postponed indefinitely.
    22 May The battle of Kharkov continues; for the Germans it is an important step on the way to Stalingrad.
    27 May Reinhard Heydrich, head of Reich Security, is fatally hurt in Prague by bomb and gunfire in the "Operation Anthropoid" ambush by Czech patriots; he will die on 4 June from his wounds.
    30 May "The Thousand Bomber Raid" on Köln (Cologne), revealing new area bombing techniques.
    31 May Huge German successes around Kharkov, with envelopment of several Russian armies.
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    1 May Rommel readies for a new offensive during the early part of this month.
    5 May British forces begin "Operation Ironclad": the invasion of Madagascar to keep the Vichy French territory from falling to a possible Japanese invasion.
    26 May Rommel begins a Spring offensive at the Gazala line (west of Tobruk). The battle lasts well into June and ends with a total victory for Rommel.
    27 May British use American Sherman tanks in attempts to stop Rommel's attacks on the Gazala line.
    29 May Rommel turns his troops to Bir Hachim on the south edge of the Gazala line; once it is taken, he can move north and destroy the Allied emplacements in the line.
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    1 May Japanese take Mandalay and other ports in Burma.
    3 May The Japanese forces land on Tulagi Island in the Solomons, not far from Guadalcanal.
    5 May Heavy Japanese artillery attack on Corregidor in the Philippines.
    6 May On Corregidor, the last U.S. forces in the Philippines surrender to the Japanese. About 12,000 are made prisoners.
    20 May The Japanese conquest of Burma is complete; it is called a "military catastrophe."
    29 May Japanese forces have large successes south of Shanghai, China.
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    11 May The very first allied ship on the St. Lawrence River, Canada is sunk by a U-boat.
    21 May Mexico declares war against Nazi Germany and the Axis after the sinking of the Mexican tanker Faja de Oro by Kptlt. Georg Lassen's U-160, off Key West.
    25 May In preparation for the next battle, Japanese naval strategists send diversionary forces to the Aleutians in the Alaskan Peninsula, the very extreme point of the United States.
Captain Gunnar Runsten
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