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Built: 1939   
Tonnage: 9,849 / 17,000 tons
Length 510,6 ft.
Beam 65,11 ft.
Cargo: 7400 tons of fuel oil, 1200 tons of Diesel oil for own consumption, 20 crated torpedoes, 2,000-3,000 tons of fresh water, 300 tons of special boiler water, 2,500 20.5 cm. shells. Provisions for 2,000 men in special packings.
Scuttled 4 JUN 41 to avoid capture by cruiser HMS London, Destroyer HMS Brilliant. on position 07º 35’N 31º25’W   
0 Dead 

87 POW 


In March 1940 the new captain, Captain Braunwarth took command of the vessel. In June 1940 she sailed with a cargo of fuel via the Kiel Canal to Bergen. After transferring oil to a submarine close to the Bergen shore, she ripped her hull on a reef After trying to find a berth to obtain repairs, she berthed at Aker's Yard in Oslo and spent two months there being repaired. In November 1940 she sailed back to Kiel, then to Rotterdam to get armaments fitted. These consisted of three 75mm French guns and three 20mm German heavy artillery guns. The Esso Hamburg was also fitted with a Direction finding (DF) device. In late December 1940 she sailed for Cherburg where her gun platforms were strengthened and additional fresh water tanks were added.


Around the 10 January 1941 Esso Hamburg left Cherbourg to sail for the North Atlantic and to take a position south of Cape Farewell in Greenland. Esso Hamburg  was part of Operation Berlin that sailed on 22 January 1941, and was one of several ships that included the naval oilers Uckermark, Ermland and the tankers Schlettstadt, Adria and Friedrich Breme. Esso Hamburg sailed north for approximately four weeks before encountering two cruisers. Following standard procedure, the ship tried to flee before the cruisers overhauled the ship and identified themselves as the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau On 14 February 1941, as part of Operation Weserübung, Esso Hamburg shipped about 2,582 m3 (568,000 imp gal) of oil to the capital ship Scharnhorst. 

According to prisoner statements, the ship remained in the area north of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland for over two months and the cold was considered intense as the crew lacked warm clothing. The prisoners stated during this period that American patrol vessels capable of 20 knots were sighted and that Esso Hamburg was fired on, which made Captain Braunwarth think that the ship was being followed. According to Captain Braunwarth, whose interrogation statements had been proven to be false or unreliable, he decided to return to port in St. Nazaire due to the rudder being damaged in a storm. On the 12 April the ship returned to port, completing its first Atlantic voyage.


The following supplies were taken on in St. Nazaire.

  • 7,400 tons of fuel oil - this was much less that the ship could hold but was sufficient for the ship to maintain the correct speed to complete the mission.
  • 1,200 tons of Diesel oil for own consumption.
  • 20 torpedoes in their crates.
  • 2,000-3,000 tons of fresh water
  • 300 tons of special boiler water.
  • 2,500 20.5 cm. shells.
  • Provisions for 2,000 men.


On 20 May 1941 Esso Hamburg sailed from St. Nazaire with a mission to supply both Bismarck and Prinz Eugen. Esso Hamburg monitored the same frequencies that both ships used, so was able to keep track of their position, using the DF device. On the 24 May 1941 the Oberkommando der Marine ordered the ship to refuel Bismarck. Admiral Günther Lütjens disagreed with the order as the ship was being shadowed by two heavy cruisers. On 25 or 26 May, the captain was ordered to refuel Prinz Eugen on the 27 May; the prisoners statements confirm that the time of the rendezvous was 05:45hours. On the 27th, Prinz Eugen was sighted at the location 48°N 33°W. As per standard operating procedure, Esso Hamburg again tried to flee before Prinz Eugen overhauled her and identified herself. According to the prisoners statements, Prinz Eugen appeared undamaged.

Oiling started at 0700hours with around 700 tons transferred and the operation completed at 1130 hours after which the Prinz Eugen sailed eastward.  The Esso Hamburg remained in the area for 2 further days waiting for orders to refuel other warships, but none came. After the two days passed and having received no orders, the ship sailed south between the 30th and 32nd meridian to what the captain stated was a safer area. On the 29 May 1941, the captain of the Egerland received orders from the OKH to rendezvous with the Esso Hamburg on the 4 June 1941 at 7°N 31°W.

On 4 June 1941 at 1400 hours, while on the move to meet tanker Egerland to transfer oil, Esso Hamburg was scuttled by her crew, when she took fire from the heavy cruiser HMS London and the destroyer HMS Brilliant, at the location 7°35′N 31°25′W. Eighty-seven crew members were captured and transported to HMS London.


In conversation with an officer from "London" Captain Braunwarth described the scuttling of his ship.  This, like all statements made by the Master, should be accepted with considerable reserve.  Charges seem to have been placed aft, amidships and forward.  In the engine room one large and one small charge were placed together along the ship's sides, the large one to blow a hole in the ship's side, and the small one to fracture the fuel pipes and cause fire. In the pump room two large charges were placed one on each side of the sea valve boxes, which were stated to have been along the ship's side. 
Finally a large charge was placed on each side of the forward hold.  All these charges were stated to be individually operated, a rating being sent to each position to press the igniting plunger.  According to one of the stokers, two additional sea cocks had been fitted in the engine room to increase the rate of flooding.  Braunwarth stated that the scuttling charges had been set to detonate after twelve minutes, but actually did not explode until twenty-five minutes after firing, the fuses having been lit at the same time as she was observed to be lowering her boats. 
When boarded, by "Brilliant's" boarding party, she was already listing 35° to port, the port side being awash amidships.   "Brilliant" stated that the "Esso-Hamburg" carried two spare U-Boats' crews, but this statement has not been confirmed. "London" reported that although keeping watch on 500 kc/s and 12,700 kc/s no transmissions were heard.

Esso Hamburg seen refuelling a German cruiser. Picture. Auke visser's German Esso Tanker 's site

Esso Hamburg seen in her death throes while survivors are seen rowing to British ships. Picture. Auke visser's German Esso Tanker 's site

One lifeboat with survivors closing British ship. Picture. Auke visser's German Esso Tanker 's site

Above HMS London.


HMS Brilliant. Photo  by Jerry Mason USN Ret.



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