North Sea and Arctic

A Norwegian fjord (Kurt Soelch)

North Sea Steamers
Baltic and North Sea shipping had developed with the steam age, but when the rail network was completed, coastal routes suffered a severe setback. What remained, where steamers crossing the North Sea. From 1831 the General Steam Navigation Co. connected London with Rotterdam and Hamburg. The Royal Netherlands S.S.Co. or KNSM was founded in 1856, initially for North Sea, Baltic and Mediterranean services. Around that time the Compagnie Generale Maritime of the Pereire brothers introduced a steamer service Le Havre - Hamburg. Also a Hamburg-Holland-Linie provided a coastal service. Other companies followed, not to be listed here.

"Cobra", one of the tourist boats Hamburg - Cuxhaven (old card, coll. WS)

At the outbreak of WWI, Bradshaw's timetable listed the General S.N.Co with a service Harwich - Hamburg, Forenede Line or United SS Co of Denmark, better known under the abbreviation DFDS, operating Harwich - Esbjerg and London - St. Petersburg, Thule Line of Sweden Harwich - Gothenburg, The Tyne-Tees S.S. Co. Newcastle - Hamburg, Bergenske and Nordenfjeldske Newcastle - Bergen and Hamburg - Bergen, Leith, Hull & Hamburg Co. Leith - Hamburg, Holland S.S.Co. London - Amsterdam. Argo S.S. Co. London - Bremerhaven and the Wilson Line connecting London with Oslo, Hull with Bergen and many ports of the Baltic Sea, served also by various other companies (see chapter Baltic Sea). Under the title St. Petersburg Express Line an old postcard showed a little white Russian steamer "Imperator Nikolai II", operating Russia - Germany - England.

North Sea between the Wars
The Thule S.S.Co. was taken over in 1916 by Svenska Lloyd, which introduced in 1929 the steamers "Britannia" (4,216 gt) and "Suecia", employed on the London - Gothenburg route until 1966. Fred. Olsen & Co. pioneered motor shipping with the "Brabant" of 1926, used between Antwerp and Oslo. Sovtorgflot of the USSR introduced from 1928 the motor-ships "Alexeij Rikov" and "Ivan Rudzutak", passenger-cargo vessels of 3,870 tons, on a route from London via Hamburg to Leningrad, as St. Petersburg was called now. They were followed by the "Felix Dzershinsky", "Smolni", "Cooperatzia" and "Sibir" (as described by L. Dunn), all the ships built in Leningrad. Before World War II, the German DR timetable listed e.g. in 1939, apart from shorter routes, the Finland S.S.Co, with services from Antwerp via the Kiel Canal and from Hull to Helsinki, DFDS Harwich - Esbjerg with train connection to Copenhagen and The Iceland Steamship Co. with a route Copenhagen - Reykjavik. With WWII all these services were interrupted.

Boat train 'The Scandinavian' with B-1 class departing Harwich Parkeston Quay, 1950 (British Rys.)

"Kronprins Frederik" of DFDS at Esbjerg (old card, coll. WS)

North Sea after World War II
In the late '50s Cooks Continental Timetable listed DFDS under the label Forenede Line with the motor-ships "Kronprins Frederik" (3,894 gt) and "Kronprinsesse Ingrid" (3,968 gt) on the traditional Harwich - Esbjerg route, connecting with 'The Scandinavian' of British Railways from London Liverpool Street to the Parkeston Quay and a Lyntog railcar set 'Englaenderen' to Copenhagen. The motor-ship "Parkeston" (2,763 gt) provided a seasonal service Newcastle - Esbjerg in connection with the Newcastle Boat Express to Copenhagen. DFDS cooperated also with Ellerman's Wilson Line, confined however to passenger-cargo steamers. Svenska Lloyd sailed with the old steamers "Britannia" and "Suecia" from London Tillbury Docks to Gothenburg, connecting with trains from London St. Pancras and the express "Londonpilen" from Gothenburg Londonpiren to Stockholm. Fred Olsen Line employed the 5,000-ton motor-ships "Braemar" and "Blenheim" on a Newcastle - Oslo route and the 3,200-ton "Bretagne" on an Amsterdam - Oslo service. At Oslo the Stavangerske & Arendals S.S. Coys. steamers and motor-ships departed for Bergen, where the Hurtigrouten started (see below). The Bergenske S/S connected Rotterdam with Bergen, employing the 3,190-ton motor-ship "Astrea", while small vessels served Trondheim. Of course there were many other North Sea services, too, some ones only with passenger-cargo steamers. A nice motor-ship was the 7,883-ton "Svea" of Rederi AB Svea, employed from 1966 on a Hull - Gothenburg service, then rebuilt. The Baltic Shipping Co. of the USSR appeared with the 4,800-ton motor-ships of the Mikhail Kalinin class on a London - Leningrad route. And always there were the various services on shorter routes, e.g. the popular Helgoland voyages.

Car Ferries
Pre-war car ferry services had started only in the Baltic Sea. In 1961 Jahre Line opened a Kiel - Oslo route with the 7,020-ton "Kronprins Harald", followed in 1966 by the 8,500-ton "Prinsesse Ragnhild" (which could have been admired in China still in the 21st century). The Danish company DFDS introduced on the traditional Harwich- and Newcastle - Esbjerg route in 1964 resp. 1967 the nice car ferries "England" and "Winston Churchill" of 8,221 resp. c.10,000 tons. For pioneers on the England - Netherlands route see the chapter Channel.

"Prinz Hamlet" of 1966, Prinzenlinien (old card, coll. WS)

The first car ferry service between England and Germany was started in 1966 by Prins Ferries or 'Prinzenlinien' Harwich (Felixstowe) - Bremerhaven. It was founded by Lion Ferries, a subsidiary of Wallenius, employing the 7,658-ton "Prins Hamlet", then named "Prinz Hamlet", built in Finland. A new "Prinz Hamlet", completed in 1973 at Rendsburg, was replaced in 1987 on the Hamburg - Harwich route by DFDS with the "Hamburg". The nice "Prins Oberon", introduced in 1970 on the Prinzenlinie to Bremerhaven, had a fascinating career: She changed to Harwich - Hoek for Sealink, to Esbjerg - Newcastle for DFDS, then she became the "Nordic Sun" of Transnordic Line, she operated for TT-Linie, changed to a Kuantan - Singapore route as "Cruise Muhibah", to the Irish Sea as "Munster" of B&I Line, to New Olympic Ferries Cyprus - Bari as "Ambassador", to Contunav Tunis - Genoa as "Ambassador II", then to Tallink of Estonia, once again to Cotunav, then to Libya, in 1997 she was rebuilt into a casino afloat, caught fire and in 1999 the "Ambassador II" started regular casino tours from Port Canaveral (see chapter Gulf & Caribbean).

In the same year 1966, when Prinzenlinien started, Ellerman's Wilson Line introduced the "Spero", changing the Hull - Gothenburg service into a car ferry line, closed down however in 1972. Development towards larger ferries began with the "Jupiter" (1966 / 9,499 gt) and sister "Venus" of Bergenske D/S, employed on Newcastle - Bergen and Harwich - Kristansand routes, during winter season by Fred. Olsen Co. on Canaries services. Fred. Olsen introduced from 1966 the car ferries "Jupiter", "Venus", "Blenheim" and in 1973 on the Newcastle - Oslo route the "Bolero" of more than 10,000 tons. Tor Line of Sweden opened in 1966 the ferry route Amsterdam - Immingham - Gothenburg with the "Tor Anglia", followed by sister "Tor Hollandia", replaced in 1975 /76 by the 21,545-ton "Tor Britannia" and "Tor Scandinavia", in 1981 taken over by DFDS, later renamed "Prince of Scandinavia" and "Princess of Scandinavia". A service Cuxhaven - Bergen by Nordland Faehre with the "Vikingfjord" of 1969 ended after a few months. Jahre Line introduced in 1976 the 12,752-ton "Kronprins Harald" on the Kiel-Oslo route, in 1987 taken over by DFDS for Harwich - Hamburg services. In the new century DFDS Seaways maintained its Harwich - Esbjerg and Newcastle - Ijmuiden (Amsterdam) service, while the classic North Sea crossings of other companies disappeared. On the Copenhagen - Oslo route the "Crown of Scandinavia (35,498 gt) was introduced by DFDS in 1994, joined in 2001 by the "Pearl of Scandinavia" (1989 /40,012 gt), the former "Athena" of Viking Line, then cruise-ship "Star Aquarius" of Star Cruises. While the branch DFDS Tor Line became a giant in the ro-ro business, a cruise ferry service UK-Norway was closed down.

"Tor Britannia", Tor Line ad 1979 (via timetableimages)

"Silvia Ana L", Color Line Express (Tom Erik Madsen, via Wikimedia)

"Color Fantasy" departing for Oslo, Kiel 2007 (WS)

A development towards a mighty new group was described by Ortel/Foerster: "From 1975 the North Sea ferries of Fred. Olsen Lines and Bergen Line cooperated under the label Fred. Olsen / Bergen Line. It ended in October 1984, when the Bergen Line was fully acquired by the Kosmos Group of Norway, which owned already (...) stakes in Bergen and Jahre Line. From summer 1985 the North Sea route Bergen - Newcastle was operated as Norway Line. Fred. Olsen remained independent, leading the Skagerrak market. However, when in 1990 the two Kosmos subsidiaries Norway Line and Jahre Line were amalgamated as Color Line, which acquired in 1991 also the Fred. Olsen ferries, a ferry shipping group had emerged, which achieved (...) a quasi-monopoly position". Color Line abandoned the Newcastle service in 1999. A highlight became the Color Line Express hi-speed service between Hirtshals in Denmark and Kristiansand in Norway with the "Silvia Ana L", a car-carrying 125m monohull of the Spanish Alhambra type, during winter used by Buquebus of Uruguay. Temporarily there was even an airline Color Air.

The Color Line under Olaf Nils Sunde created a sensation in the ferry business with introduction of the "Color Fantasy" in 2004 and her sister "Color Magic" in 2007 on the Kiel - Oslo route. With a gross tonnage of 75,027, the "Color Fantasy" became world's largest ferry, carrying 2,750 passengers (in 968 cabins) and 750 cars, built by Kvaerner Masa Yards (Aker Yards), constructed under leadership of Olli Jantunen. With the two-level Belle Epoque-style dining-room in the rear, the three-storey "Fantasy Promenade' shopping-mall, the observation lounge atop and the show-lounge they resemble the 'Scandinavian' cruise ship style of Royal Caribbean's Kulovaara-designed megaships. A change to cruises must not be too difficult. For the shorter Denmark - Norway routes, the 33,500-ton ro-pax ships of the SuperSpeed class were delivered by Aker Yards from 2007, competing with the Hanstholm - Bergen route of Fjord Line, which was acquired by Smyril Line.

"Tromso, almost the 70th degree of latitude, early in February: Only during two hours the 47,000 inhabitants of the North Norwegian city can see the sun ... Just a few tourists take even in winter one of the 11 almost legendary, up to 42 years old mail ships of the 'Hurtigruten' in order to visit Tromso", reported Leo Loy in the German daily Abendzeitung (7th Feb. 1985), continuing: "The 4,073-ton "Vesteralen" takes a week to call at the many ports hidden on the rocky coast...".

The difficult mail route along the coast of Norway, which became known as the Hurtigruten, was initiated by Richard With and scouted by pilot Anders Holte. With had introduced his only ship, the first "Vesteraalen", on a route between Senja and Bergen. In 1893 his Vesteraalens Dampskibsselskab got the mail contract for a route Trondheim - Hammerfest, joined in 1894 by the Bergenske and the Nordenfjeldske companies with routes from Bergen, in 1907 extended to Vadso and in 1911 to Kirkenes. Bergen, the most important harbour on the Norwegian West Coast, was reached from the capital Oslo (until 1924 called Kristiania) only by a long sea-route, until in 1909 the way became shortened by the Bergen railway. Bradshaw's timetable of 1914 mentioned Bergenske and Nordenfjeldske Cos. also with services Oslo - Bergen, "Express boats" did run from Bergen northward, reaching Vadso beyond the North Cape, close to the Russian border, within 5 days, while slower boats via Narvik took 13 days. Before WWII, six shipping companies served that 'Hurtigruten'. The war decimated the fleet, but the "Express Service" continued. Cook's timetable e.g. of 1958 pointed out operations by the Bergen S.S.Co, Nordlandske S.S.Co, Vesteraalens S.S.Co, Stavangerske S.S.Co, Nordenfjeldske S.S.Co and Ofotens S.S.Co. A post-war generation of ships was replaced by newbuilds and in the '90s again new ships were employed on somewhat slower services. The "Kong Harald" (1993/11,204 gt) and consorts of Troms Fylkes D/S and Ofotens og Vesteraalens D/S were joined by the "Finnmarken" (2002 / 15,690 gt) and half-sisters "Trollfjord" and "Midnatsol", more for tourists than for mail. Equipped with cabins, restaurant and a panorama saloon, these black/red/white ships are employed by the Hurtigruten Group, amalgamated in 2006, on services from Bergen to Kirkenes, the last Norwegian port close to the border of Russia. A special fame got the "Fram" (2007/12,700 gt) for her cruises, even to the Antarctic.

Venus" of Beregenske, Newcastle - Bergen (old card, coll. WS)

Express Oslo - Bergen in the 70s (Kurt Soelch)

"Richard With" of Hurtigruten, 2007 (Theo Schmidt)

Spitzbergen, connecting coal railway, 1958 (Dr. Fritz Stoeckl)

The islands of Spitzbergen or Svalbard in the Arctic, in 1596 discovered by the Dutch, were annexed by Norway in 1920. Still after WWII there was a regular service connecting Norway with Spitzbergen. Cook's timetable listed in the '50s the tiny 500-ton steamer "Lyngen" of Troms Fylkes S.S.Co. on a Tromso - Longyearbyen - Ny-Alesund route, operating only in June, July and August. Ny-Alesund was the harbour with world's most northerly railway, for coal transport only. In 1982 this shipping service ended, but in 1994 the company resumed it with the "Nordstjernen". Now, only cruise ships are calling at Longyearbyen, Spitzbergen's lonely main harbour.

Shetlands and other Islands
The North of Scotland, Orkney & Shetland S.N. Co, connecting the islands north of Scotland, became known for having added cruises already in 1887. Ninety years after that, P&O Ferries had announced conversion of the Aberdeen - Orkney - Shetland services to cargo roll-on/ roll-off. Now the Shetlands are served mainly by NorthLink Ferries. The Western Isles of Scotland are connected by CalMac, the Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd. And there are Orkney Ferries and other local services.

"St Clair" of P&O Ferries (P&O)

"Hamnamvoe" of NorthLink Ferries (Supra296, via Wikimedia)

Faroe Islands and Iceland
The Faroe Islands and Iceland, both belonging to Denmark, were connected in the 19th century by the Forenede Dampskibs Selskab. Cook's timetable e.g. of 1897 listed the route Copenhagen - Thorshavn - Reykjavik, Iceland. Some ships made the detour along its North Coast and three times yearly a ship went to Isafjord in the north of Iceland, "weather and other circumstances permitting". At the outbreak of WWI, Bradshaw's timetable mentioned the service Copenhagen - Leith - Thorshaven - Reykjavik as "Danish Mail Steamers". In the 1950s the Forenede Line or DFDS operated still the Copenhagen - Reykjavik route, now with the motor-ship "Dronning Alexandrine". The Iceland Steamship Co. Ltd. provided a service Copenhagen - Leith - Reykjavik - Hamburg - Copenhagen with the 3,858-ton motor-ship "Gulfoss". The Faroe Line employed the 2,661-ton motor-ship "Tjaldur" on a Copenhagen - Thorshavn route. In the '70s, Thorshavn was connected only with Esbjerg in Denmark by Danish Seaways and with Seydisfjordur on the East Coast of Iceland by Strandfaraskip Landsins. In 1983 the Smyril Line of Torshavn acquired the car ferry "Gustav Vasa" (1973/ 7,475 gt), employing her as "Norrona" on a Bergen - Torshavn - Seydisfjordur route. A service from Esbjerg to the Faroe Islands was abandoned towards the end of the century. With a larger "Norrona" (2003/ 35,966 gt), ferry services were offered also as cruises, initially including the Shetlands. And there are the local ferries at the coast of Iceland.

"Norrona", ad of 2007 (Smyril Line)

"Gulfoss" of the Copenhagen route at Reykjavik (old card, coll. WS)

"Herjolfur" of Samskip, Thorlakshofn - Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland 2005 (SPM, via Wikimedia)

Greenland, the semiautonomous Arctic region owned by Denmark, was served hundred years ago and earlier by a steamer from Copenhagen to Goodthaab on the West Coast, now the capital Nuuk, and further on to Upernavik. Due to ice conditions it operated only during half a year. Additionally, there were coastal services by the Royal Greenland Trade Department, founded already in 1776 as a trading company. When car ferries had started elsewhere, that organization operated still its coastal lines without car transport. The ABC Shipping Guide listed in the 1970s services from Narsarsuaq in the south as far as Upernavik in the north mainly with the "Disko" and the "Kununguak". In 1990 shipping became separated and Cook's timetable pointed out Kalaait Ninerfait, later Royal Arctic Line. "Irregular services" extended as far as Pituffik, 2,400 km north of Nuuk, to Illoqqortoormint on the east coast and a few services to Aalborg, Denmark. In the 21st century, cruises e.g. by Hurtigruten with the new "Fram", by Arctic Umiaq Line with the "Disko II" or by Polar Star Expeditions with the "Polar Star", formerly a Swedish icebreaker, were offered. Regular services to Denmark however have disappeared and any connection to the U.S. Air Force base Thule never appeared in the timetables. Coastal passenger and cargo shipping by RAL successor Arctic Umiaq Line continued. In the Disko Bay they are offered by Diskoline. Of course all the services are a subject to ice conditions.

"Ocean Nova" of Nova Cruising, ex "Sarpik Ittuk" of Arctic Umiaq, at Ilulissaat, 2009 (Algkalv (talk) via Wikimedia)

"Sarfaq Ittuk" of Arctic Umiaq Line at Ilulissaat, Greenland 2009 (Algkalv (talk) via Wikimedia)

Greenland, the south (WS)

Barents Sea
That icy sea was crossed for the first time in 1596 by the Dutch Willem Barents. Only the Kola Bay on the Russian coast of the White Sea is free from drift-ice and on that reason it was of an immense strategic importance for the Tsars' empire. A map of 1904 showed a shipping route from Norway to Alexandrovsk (now Polyarniy) on the Kola peninsula, continuing to Arkhangelsk, a harbour closed during months due to ice conditions. As Russian trade was widely dependent on foreign companies, this route must have been operated with foreign ships. During World War I, the fishermen's village of Murmansk in the mouth of the Kola river was connected by the Murmansk railway, completed in 1916, and 60,000 prisoners of war had to die for building that strategic line. When the Tsar was overthrown in 1917, British politics prevented his escape via Murmansk and so Tsar Nicholas II with his family was killed by the Bolshevists. During WWII the importance of the new harbour Murmansk became evident when the Allies' convoys supported the Soviet Union by that way. After Finland's defeat in 1944, nearby Petsamo, the only Finnish harbour on the North Coast, had to be handed over to the Soviets, becoming Pechenga.

During WWII and the Cold War, nothing was known about the shipping services in that icy region, no Western timetable mentioned them, nevertheless they existed. A 1971 edition of the Spravochnik Passazhera, smuggled out of the Soviet Union, listed services Murmansk - Arkhangelsk with the "Vatslav Vorovskiy" (built in 1959 at Wismar as a predecessor of the Mikhail Kalinin class), Arkhangelsk - Kandalaksha (on the Murmansk railway) with the "Solovkiy", Arkhangelsk - Shoina - Naryan Mar (in the mouth of the Pechora river) with the "Akop Akopyi", all vessels being motor-ships, and shorter routes. Historian Kurt Frick had mentioned services Murmansk - Arkhangelsk with 5,200-ton motor-ships of the Mikhail Kalinin class in the '60s. Now the east coast of the White Sea is devastated, the fishing industry has collapsed and a TV report showed the impoverished town of Shoina, being connected only by a single-engined Antonov plane and twice-monthly by a supply ship.

Barents Sea (Spravochnik 1971)

Nuclear-powered icebreaker "Rossiya" at Murmansk c.2001 (Tamara M)

Ports east of Pechora obviously were never connected by regular passenger shipping. Stalin declared in 1947: "Russian people have dreamt during long time of a reliable point of departure for Arctic Ocean shipping." During the 1940s prisoners of war completed the Pechora railway to Vorkuta in the utmost north and from this region Stalin's 'Polar railway' should have been built to the Yenissey river, but climate conditions prevented completion. Dudinka in the mouth of the Yenissey remained a lonely place of strategic importance. In 2010 a revival of the 'Polar' railway project Salekhard - Nadym was published. Northeast Passage
In 1553 the British explorer Hugh Willoughby died with his crew while trying to navigate this route from the West to Asia along the coast of Siberia. In 1878-1879 the Norwegian Adolf Erik Nordenskiold took this way from Europe to Japan. In the 1970s the Soviet Union started to build a fleet of icebreakers in order to open up this seaway for cargo and warships from Murmansk to the Pacific. Already in 1967 a merchant ship, the freighter "Novoronesh", undertook such a voyage from Hamburg to Yokohama. The first of the nuclear-powered icebreakers, the "Arkitika", entered service in 1974. The sixth vessel of that class, the "50 Let Pobedy" (23,308 gt), was completed in 2006. Arnold Kludas mentioned the nuclear-powered "Sovetskiy Soyus" (20,646 gt) of 1989 and her sister "Yamal" of 1992 as well as the diesel-powered "Kapitan Dranytsin" of the Murmansk Shipping Co., earning their yield temporarily by operating for western cruise companies.
The eastern shore of the White Sea (WS)