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Monday, July 18, 2011

The luckless—and protean—Anna Salén (aka "Normacland," "Archer," "Empire Lagan," "Tasmania," and "Union Reliance")

Manny at left: on the Anna Salén
     As we all know, Manny and Edith met on the ship that they sailed, independently, to Canada, in October of 1951. It was called the Anna Salén, and it has virtually become a character in Bauer family lore. Manny and Edith have many stories about the ship and what went on during that eventful voyage.
     This post is not about that journey, but about the ship, which existed—not always as the Anna Salén—from 1939 to 1961.
     I have always been told that the “Anna Salén” was an old World War II “liberty ship,” but the information that I have scraped up about the ship contradicts that story. (The ship was, however, constructed at about the same time that Liberty Ships were first constructed.)
     According to one account (here),
     A detailed history of the vessel reveals that the ANNA SALÉN was originally built in 1939 as the MORMACLAND ... in Chester [Pennsylvania, see].... She was a 11,672 gross ton ship, length 494 ft. x beam 69.2 ft., single screw and a with a service speed of 17 knots. In 1940 she was taken over before completion by the US Navy and refitted as an auxiliary aircraft carrier. In 1941 she was commissioned by the British Royal Navy as HMS ARCHER and was used for convoy protection duties.
    She collided with and sank the American SS BRAZOS on Jan 13, 1942 [and] was badly damaged and towed stern first to Charleston [South Carolina]. In 1945 she was taken over by the Ministry of War Transport, renamed ARCHER and refitted as a cargo ship. Managed by the Blue Funnel Line and renamed EMPIRE LAGAN, she was returned to the US Maritime Commission in 1946.
     Purchased by Sven Salén of Stockholm [in 1948] and registered [as the Anna Salén]..., she was rebuilt as a passenger ship with accommodation for 600 single class passengers. Used as an emigrant ship on various routes, she started a single round voyage between Bremen and Quebec on July 2, 1953.
     Sold ... [in Australia] in 1955, she was renamed TASMANIA and placed on the Piraeus-Melbourne service.... In 1958 she was rebuilt to 7,638 gross tons and in 1961 was sold to China Union Lines, Taipeh and renamed UNION RELIANCE. On Nov 7, 1961 she collided with the Norwegian tanker BERAN in the Houston Ship Channel and was beached on fire. Towed to Galveston [Texas] on Nov 11, she was sold in Jan 1962 to be scrapped at New Orleans.
Aircraft carrier
     REFUGEES. I have found another account, which seems to agree with the one above but describes the ship's further service in Australia before 1953:
     On 20 June 1950, Anna Salén returned to service departing Bremerhaven with 1,561 passengers on a voyage to Melbourne, arriving on 29 July. From there the vessel went to Tientsin in China to collect refugees and carry them to Europe. On its next voyage to Australia, Anna Salén arrived in Fremantle on 31 December 1950, with 1,522 passengers.During 1951, Anna Salén made several trips to Canada with refugees, so it was 21 February 1952 before it again left Bremerhaven bound for Australia, by way of Cape Town. When the Olympic Games were held in Helsinki during the summer of 1952, Anna Salén operated a ferry service from Stockholm, the capacity being increased to 2,500 passengers.
Further, the ship sailed to Saigon, picking up French troops:
     Over the next two years, Anna Salén made further voyages to Australia and Canada, and also made several summer voyages across the North Atlantic, carrying students. During 1955, the vessel called at Saigon and also ports in mainland China during some of the return voyages from Australia.
     In the middle of 1955, Anna Salén …[was] renamed Tasmania. …[It] was not altered, and returned to the Australian trade, this time carrying Greek migrants.
     Tasmania …[was] sent to Saigon, where French troops were boarded and returned home.
     …On 15 October 1956, Tasmania left Melbourne for the last time, as on returning to Greece the passenger accommodation was removed, and it reverted to being a cargo ship.
     …[It] was sold to China Union lines…and renamed Union Reliance. …[O]n 7 November 1961…[it] collided with…[the] Berean. An explosion was followed by a fireball that rapidly engulfed both vessels, with Union Reliance having to be breached and left to burn out.
     Totally gutted, the vessel was refloated four days later, and towed to Galveston…. While in early stages of demolition, on 19 February 1962, the vessel was swept by a second fire and totally destroyed.
Bunks on the Anna Salén 
     LEND-LEASE. Yet another account, explains that, after its initial construction as a “standard C3 type cargo ship,” it was requisitioned by the U.S. government and converted to “an auxiliary aircraft carrier for the US Navy.” Then, the lend-lease agreement (between Britain and the U.S., which circumvented U.S. neutrality in the war between Britain and Germany) was finalized, and the ship was handed over to the Royal Navy (17 November, 1941). That’s when it became the “Archer”:
     During trials, Archer suffered numerous engine problems, and on the night of 12 January 1942, collided with and sank the Peruvian steamer Brazos some 200 miles off the South Carolina coast. Archer had a huge hole in the bow and serious flooding, so headed for safety stern first, its single propeller half out of the water.… On 18 March 1942, HMS Archer departed for active service, being based at Freetown in Sierra Leone, but was plagued by machinery defects for some time, and also had other misfortunes. In June 1942 a bomb stored on the flight deck exploded, so the vessel went to Cape Town to collect a fortune in gold ingots, which was carried to New York, arriving on 15 July. Here the machinery was finally fixed, and Archer gave good service for the rest of the war.
     DISPLACED PERSONS. Wow. Eventually, the ship was purchased by that Swede:
     During 1948 the vessel was purchased by Sven Salén, a noted Swedish shipowner, and renamed Anna Salén. It was sent to ... Baltimore for reconstruction as a bulk carrier, but when the job was almost finished, Salén obtained a contract from the International Refugee Organization (IRO) to transport displaced persons. Anna Salén loaded coal in America and carried it to Italy, where it was converted to a passenger carrier [D’oh!], with rather basic quarters for over 1,500 persons built into the holds, as well as numerous toilet and washing block, and a few public rooms.
Safety drill on the Anna Salén 
     This seems to be the incarnation that Edith and Manny encountered in 1951. The dang thing experienced mechanical problems again:
     On 1 December 1949, Anna Salén left Naples on its fourth voyage, but in the Indian Ocean was afflicted by engine trouble, and had to return to Aden. The 1,570 passengers were transferred to [the] Skaugum…. Meanwhile, Anna Salén limped back to Europe for Repairs, which lasted six months.
The Archer’s military career:

     During its service as the Archer (aircraft carrier), the ship was armed as follows:
     Armament comprised three single mounted 4 inch dual purpose anti-aircraft guns and fifteen 20 mm cannons on single or twin mounts. She had the capacity for fifteen aircraft which could be a mixture of Grumman Martlet or Hawker Sea Hurricane fighter aircraft and Fairey Swordfish or Grumman Avenger anti-submarine aircraft. (See.)
Captain of the passenger ship
     The Wikipedia article about the Archer gives a more detailed account of her fortunes and misfortunes:
     …On 23 December 1941, three US Navy Grumman F4F Wildcats landed on Archer for trials to the launch accelerator. The accelerator misfired, causing the first aircraft to dive into the sea.... The remaining two aircraft were successfully flown off. Archer put into the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard on 24 December 1941 for repairs to the accelerator.... On 2 January 1942, Archer successfully completed her sea trials. On 9 January, she sailed down the Delaware River bound for Norfolk, Virginia where she was to load aircraft for ferrying to the United Kingdom. Her gyro compass failed near Goose Island and then her engines developed problems. After repairs were effected she arrived at Norfolk and on 12 January she embarked eleven Grumman Martlets.
     She departed Norfolk on 13 January but was soon in trouble, as her steering developed a fault and her gyro compass failed. Repairs were made and she set course for Kingston, Jamaica. Later that day, Archer had a collision with the American owned, Peruvian flagged ... SS Brazos some 200 nautical miles ... east of Charleston, South Carolina…. Archer sustained damage to her bow, and eventually settled down at the bow by 5 degrees after the damage and flooding had been contained. Both ships were dead in the water. The 35 crew members of Brazos transferred to Archer in their own lifeboats and Brazos sank on 14 January. Archer's captain had radioed for assistance and at first light started to make for the coast, but as her propeller was half out of the water, progress was minimal. On 16 January, Archer rendezvoused with US Coastguard tug Tallapoosa, which unsuccessfully attempted to tow Archer. It was decided that Archer should continue under her own power until a more powerful tug could assist her. On 17 January, Cherokee reached her and proceeded to tow her to Charleston, where she arrived on 21 January. She entered dry dock on 28 January for repairs, which took about six weeks.
     On 7 March 1942, Archer embarked twelve Martlets for delivery to HMS Illustrious and her own four Fairey Swordfish aircraft of 834 Squadron which had flown out from Jamaica. She sailed on 18 March for San Juan, Puerto Rico in company with HMS Devonshire and two destroyers.... On 22 March Archer again had problems with her steering gear. She put into San Juan on 23 March and rejoined the convoy on 24 March. Anti-submarine patrols were carried out without a sighting, although one Swordfish was badly damaged on 30 March when it lost its tailhook and ended up in the safety barrier. Although her engines and gyro compass continued to give trouble, she arrived at Freetown, Sierra Leone on 3 April. On 9 April, Archer's twelve brand new Martlets were transferred to Illustrious and two Martlets from Illustrious were transferred to Archer.
     On 15 June 1942, one of her Swordfish aircraft became the first ever aircraft to land on Ascension Island. The aircraft's crew were looking for survivors from SS Lyle Park which had been sunk by U-752. They landed in order to pass on a message destined for the Admiralty.
     Archer's powerplant continued to give trouble, particularly the electro-magnetic clutches. If the clutch disengaged, the engines would race at high revs and had to be shut down in order for repairs to be made. This was particularly problematic if aircraft were flying or there were enemy submarines nearby. On 26 June, Archer departed Freetown bound for Bermuda, where she was to undergo repairs. Work started on 15 July and took some fourteen weeks to complete. Archer then sailed to New York where she joined Convoy UGS 2, which departed New York on 2 November bound for Casablanca, Morocco. She ferried 30 Curtiss P-40 Warhawks and US personnel to Casablanca. She then sailed to Gibraltar to join convoy MKF 3 which departed Gibraltar on 27 November. When Archer arrived in the UK, she was sent to Liverpool for another refit which commenced on 4 December. Her flight deck was lengthened....
     On 19 February 1943, Archer embarked nine Martlet Vs of 892 Squadron and on 28 February embarked nine Swordfish Mk II aircraft of 819 Squadron. She was inspected by the King the following day and then sent to shipyards on the Clyde and at Belfast for further rectification work. In early May, Archer joined the 4th Escort Group off Iceland on convoy support operations. She joined Convoy ONS 6 on 9 May and then Convoy ON 182 on 12 May, leaving these convoys on 14 May. On 21 May she joined Convoy HX 239. On 23 May, a Swordfish II of 819 Squadron sunk U-752 with a Rocket Spear, a new weapon.... The thirteen survivors were rescued by HMS Escapade. U-752 was the first German U-boat to be sunk with rockets and only the second to be sunk by aircraft that operated from an escort aircraft carrier. Archer left Convoy HX 239 on 24 May. She then joined Convoy KMS 18B on 26 June and left that convoy on 3 July. She was then withdrawn from the 4th Escort Group to take part in exercises in the Irish Sea. Following these exercises, she was sent to the Bay of Biscay on anti-submarine patrol duty, but was withdrawn from this after a week due to a lack of U-boat activity and further defects. She arrived at Devonport on 27 July and work commence the following day. Archer then sailed to the Clyde for engine repairs, arriving on 3 August.
     It was found that Archer had extensive defects and she was decommissioned with effect from 6 November 1943. She was relegated to use as a stores ship at Gare Loch. In March 1944, Archer was towed to Loch Alsh where she was used as an accommodation ship until August when she was sent to Belfast for repairs to enable her to be used as an aircraft ferry ship. Repairs were to take seven and a half months.
     Archer was the first of thirty-eight US-built converted C3 Escort Carriers turned over to Great Britain during the period 1941-1944, and one of five motor ships (the remainder were powered by geared turbines). Unlike the others, Archer was powered by four diesel engines instead of two.
     For a further account of the Archer’s military career, see here.

Gustav Kovacs makes a movie about emigrants crossing the ocean
     Wikipedia mentions some further fascinating factoids about the Anna Salén:
     1950: A MOVIE ABOUT ANNA SALEN. …[O]n 27 November 1950, Anna Salén departed Bremerhaven bound for Australia. During the journey, one of the emigrants, Herr Gustav Kovaks (see Gustav Kovacs), made a film about the voyage. It was later widely shown in Germany to give people a view of how the emigration process worked.
     POLITICAL FOOTBALL: Anna Salén arrived at Fremantle on 31 December 1950 and sailed for Melbourne later that day. It was realised that she couldn't make Melbourne before the New Year, so for political reasons Anna Salén was ordered back to Fremantle where all 1,522 passengers were disembarked….
     RESCUE SHIP. …On 26 December 1951, Anna Salén came across the Canadian coaster SS Mayfall flying a distress signal. She had encountered bad weather and run out of fuel. Anna Salén towed Mayfall to St Johns and then continued her journey to Halifax.
     ANOTHER COLLISION. On 13 August 1952, Anna Salén collided with the 18,369 GRT Norwegian whaler SS Thorshovdi in the Pentland Firth. She put into Lyness with damage to her bows.
UPDATE: March 8, 2013. We attracted this comment:
     We were migrants on this dreadful ship. Treated like cattle. It was on its way to Indochina to repatriate French soldiers . Men and women were segregated into different holds . Food was lousy. We were treated with contempt by the arrogant Swedish crew.A bad experience followed by being dumped in old army camps at Bonnegilla, Scheyville and Villawood. Welcome to Australia!



Manny's photo of the Anna Salén? 


  1. Amazing, my parents were immigrants on this ship and arrived in Australia in late 1949

  2. Wow this very nice post and thanks for sharing the wonderful post.

  3. We were migrants on this dreadful ship. Treated like cattle. It was on its way to Indochina to repatriate French soldiers . Men and women were segregated into different holds . Food was lousy. We were treated with contempt by the arrogant Swedish crew.A bad experience followed by being dumped in old army camps at Bonnegilla, Scheyville and Villawood. Welcome to Australia!

  4. thanks for posting this , my dad sailed on this ship from Germany to Canada in November 1951 .
    her never talked about it .

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  7. My mother and sister came to Canada from Germany on the Anna Salen in the fall of 1951, we talk about the life back in those days a lot. Sadly my sister died much too early and I was trying to find a picture of her on the captain's shoulders when they arrived in Canada. It was taken for the newspaper, but my parents were too busy besides too new to get a copy of the newspaper. I loved to see the pictures of the Anna Salen, as well as your pictures and information. Hopefully I'll be able to show my mother the pictures as well. We love cats and dogs too. Thank you for having this site available.

    1. Google, the Anna Salen and then click on the images and you will see pictures of this vessel. I just did that with my parents. My father came on this vessel as well and our first time to see this ship was today.

    2. I search the images of the Anna Salen once in a while but haven't for the picture yet, don't expect to anymore either, they can't keep everything, but thank you for your suggestion. All the best to you whilst sharing your families memories, I'm sure your parents are as precious as mine.

  8. Hello from The Northwest Territories, Canada
    Today, I found your blog with my elderly parents at my shoulder.
    Thank you for your blog, you have given me so much more insight on my father's journey to Canada.
    My dad came on the Anna Salen in 1953 as one of the thousands of farm hands.
    Tears of better understanding, fall.
    Bless your families history of meeting on this vessel and thank you for sharing.
    Inuk and my parents.

  9. thanks to this awesome post it is my second post on your blog and in future i will be continue so please keep update your blog..
    Brass fittings

  10. Thank you for this great blog. I sailed on the Anna Salen from Bremerhaven on July 24, 1951 with my mother and two younger brothers. The route was through the Kiel Canal to Copenhagen to pick up more refugees and then through the stormy North Sea to Halifax. It was not a pleasant voyage. I was 13 and segregated from my mother and younger brothers. I was at the very front of the ship and our bunks were against the steel hull. I can still hear the sound of the waves smashing against the hull. That ship has had so many incarnations, some of which I saw for the first time on your blog.
    Thank you again.

  11. Just wondering , how would i find passenger details from Bremerhaven to Australia in 1952 ? Any help gratefully acknowledged <3
    Thanking you.


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