In early August 1914, disturbing news reached the Faroe Islands that a great war had started on the European mainland. There had been some worrying indications through the so-called July Crisis that emerged in the wake of the Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Principle's assassination of the Austro-Hungarian Crown Prince, Franz Ferdinand, on 28 June 1914.
Since the Balkan Wars (1912-1913) Austria-Hungary had been concerned about the development of the former Ottoman possessions in the Balkans, where Serbia emerged as an increasingly strong power. The Austro-Hungarian Empire had been waiting for an opportunity to supress Serbia, and the assassination of their heir, provided the opportunity they had been waiting for. Ultimatums were put on Serbia, which the country could not meet, and the consequence was that Austria-Hungary on 27 July 1914 declared war on the young nation.
The Austro-Hungarian government was well aware that this could escalate into a major war. Russia had guaranteed Serbia's security and the Austro-Hungarians had therefore secured the support of Germany. The day after the declaration of war Russia started to mobilize its army, which led to a German declaration of war against Russia on August 1st.
Concerned about the development, France also started to mobilize its army, and this caused Germany to declare war on France on 3 August. The same day Germany invaded Belgium as a mean to attack France, and this promptly triggered a British declaration of war against Germany.
The situation spiralled out of control, and soon a major war in Europe had become reality. And out here, in the North Atlantic, the Faroese could just observe, with increasing astonishment, the extreme escalation and fateful developments which in the years to come should bring so much misery.
It did not take long before the Faroes suffered the consequences of the Great War. Sea transport to and from mainland Europe, especially Denmark, stopped more or less. The belligerents set up blockades, patrolled the seas and went after ships that might carry supplies to hostile territory.
This led to a shortage of the most basic necessities. Soon you could only buy bread and sugar on ration-cards - and things like tea and coffee became difficult and expensive to obtain. But times of need is the mother of ingenuity - and people came up with different ways to tough scarce supplies. There are, for example, stories of women who cooked roe and mixed it up in the rye flour, to make it last longer.
The early years of war caused such serious deficiencies, especially among the poorest segment of the population that we can talk about real crisis conditions. During the rough winter months it was hard to catch fish, and the coastal spring-fishery was in 1915 hampered by bad weather.
Deficiency Diseases occurred because of too little or too monotonous food and even harvested lives among the most disadvantaged, children and the elderly. The oil supplies were soon exhausted and it was not possible to bring more to the country. People started to experiment with fish oil, which turned out to be useful for lamps and even as fuel for boat engines.
The Day of Fate
On 1 February 1917 the German Navy declared the waters around the UK as a War Zone. Any ship caught in the zone risked, regardless of nationality, to be the subject of attack from German submarines. Unfortunately for the Faroe Islands, the War Zone reached all the way to the southern islands and thereby covered one of the largest Faroese fishing grounds, known as the Faroe Bank.
The War Zone was mainly directed against British interests, cargo shipping and transport convoys to England. The Faroese hoped that it did not include fishing vessels and took the calculated risk of fishing in the zone.
But in the morning of 23 May 1917, war struck the Faroese fishermen. Skipper Axel Sivertsen on cutter "Else" later told the newspaper "Norðlýsi" that in the early morning of the 23rd, the ship was hailed by a German submarine, which fired their machine gun in front of and behind the ship. The crew immediately loaded supplies into the lifeboat and left Else. They rowed towards the submarine and six of them were ordered to enter the submarine's deck. Two German submariners then went into the boat and made the rest of the crew row back to Else. They brought fuel on board Else, and shortly thereafter the crew could see their ship burning on the high seas. The German submariners were uncomfortable about the situation, but there was nothing to do about it. They acted under orders, they said.
Else's crew began to row against the Faroe Islands. Four hours later they met cutter "Orion" (which at that time was registered under the name “Beinir”) and were taken on board. When Orion/Beinir's skipper heard what had happened, he gave orders to cut all fishing lines and set sail. But they had not sailed for long before the submarine caught up with them, and Orion/Beinir suffered the same fate as “Else”. The two crews then rowed together towards the shore. On the way they saw two other cutters and a trawler, but also the infamous submarine, which was now heading for the trawler. They rowed all night and morning and did not reach land before six o'clock the following afternoon.
It turned out that 8 Faroese fishing vessels were sunk within 24 hours on 23rd and 24th of May. Miraculously no Faroese fishermen lost their lives through in the tragedy.
All the ships were sunk by the same submarine, UC 33, under the command of Captain Lieutenant Martin Schelle. During its active period, UC 33 sank 36 ships, but was itself caught up by destiny on 26 September 1917, when a British patrol boat sank it in the St. George's Channel off Ireland. Only one of the 27 crew members survived.
While most Faroese experienced World War I from a distance, others were not so lucky. One of these was the 26 year-old Christian Ludwig Petersen from the village Kvívík, who had emigrated to Canada before the war.
In March 1916, Christian Petersen (Pjeturson) was drafted by the newly created 108th battalion (Selkirk, Manitoba) in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), which fought on European battlefields. Already on 18 September the same year, the battalion was sent to England, where it was absorbed by 14th reserve battalion, which provided reinforcements to the fighting battalions on the mainland.
Christian Petersen was then sent to the 16th Battalion (Canadian-Scottish) in the area of Arras in France, around the time of, or immediately after the violent battles of Vimy Ridge in 1917.
Then the young Faroese travelled from battle to battle. 16th Battalion participated in the battles of Hill 70, Ypres and Passchendaele. They participated in the campaigns around Amiens, the Second Battle of Arras, Scarpe and Drocourt-Queant Line in 1918. From there to the battles on the Hindenburg Line and Canal du Nord, right to the last advance toward Mons.
Like most other army-units in the Great War, the 16th battalion suffered from heavy casualties - and the survivors suffered from the psychological stress and trauma, inflicted by the horrible war memories. Christian Petersen was no exception. Shortly after discharge, he moved back to the Faroe Islands and settled as a farmer in the village Kaldbak on Streymoy. According to his people who knew him, he never talked about the war and his role in it - the memories were simply too terrible.
Anker Eli Petersen Faroe Post web-site.
Have not any info on the cutter, the rowboat is most probably a Faroe rowboat (viewtopic.php?f=2&t=12823&p=13974&hilit=faroe+boat#p13974 ), of the U-boat I got the following.
Built as a submarine under yard No 443 by AG Vulcan-Wercke, Hamburg for the German Imperial Navy.
29 August 1915 ordered.
26 August 1916 launched as the SM UC-33...
SG257 Sea Breezes 4/69