SS City of Flint (1919)

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United States
NameCity of Flint
OwnerUnited States Shipping Board (1920—1943)[note 1][1]
Port of registryPhiladelphia[2]
BuilderAmerican International Shipbuilding[3]
Yard number1510[1]
Launched28 December 1919[4]
Completed28 February 1920[3]
  • United States O/N: 219614[1][2]
  • Signal: LVPW[2]
FateSunk by U-575, 23 January 1943
General characteristics
Class and typeDesign 1022[6]
Length390 feet (118.9 m)[2][7]
Beam54.2 feet (16.5 m)[2][7]
Depth27.8 feet (8.5 m)[2]
PropulsionOil fuel steam turbine[5]
Speed11.5 knots (13.2 mph; 21.3 km/h)[4]

SS City of Flint, a Hog Islander freighter built by American International Shipbuilding at the Hog Island Shipyard, Philadelphia for the United States Shipping Board (USSB), Emergency Fleet Corporation.[3][6] City of Flint was named to honor the citizens of Flint, Michigan for their effort in Liberty Loan drives during World War I.[4]

The ship was sold to the Southgate Nelson Co., American Hampton Roads Line in 1930, but reverted to the USSB by 1935.[1][7][8] By 1940 the USSB had been replaced by the United States Maritime Commission as owner and the ship was being operated as a Maritime Commission cargo vessel.[9][10] During the World War II City of Flint was being operated by United States Lines allocated to Army cargo requirements.[10][11]

City of Flint was the first American ship captured by the Germans during World War II.

The Athenia[edit]

The City of Flint, under the command of Captain Joseph A. Gainard, first became involved in the war when she rescued 200 survivors of the torpedoed British passenger liner Athenia on 3 September 1939.[9] Athenia had been torpedoed by the German submarine U-30 commanded by Kapitanleutnant Fritz-Julius Lemp south of Rockall Bank that afternoon, and sent out a distress signal.[12] City of Flint, the Norwegian freighter Knute Nelson, the Swedish yacht Southern Cross and the destroyers HMS Electra and HMS Escort responded to rescue survivors.[12]

The Captain of HMS Electra, Lt Cdr Sammy A. Buss, took charge as senior officer present. He sent the destroyer HMS Fame on an anti-submarine sweep of the area, while Electra, another destroyer HMS Escort, Southern Cross, Knute Nelson, and the City of Flint rescued the survivors. Between the ships, about 981 passengers and crew were rescued. City of Flint rescued more than 200 and the provisions for American passengers leaving Europe embarked at Glasgow contributed to the welfare of the survivors.[9] 112 people were killed, and Athenia sank the next morning.[citation needed]


In October 1939, City of Flint was carrying a cargo of tractors, grain and fruit to Britain. On 9 October, the German pocket battleship Deutschland seized the City of Flint, declaring her cargo to be contraband and the ship a prize of war. A German prize crew was put on board the ship to sail her back to Germany.[13][14]

To avoid the Royal Navy and obtain water, the prize crew headed for Tromsø, arriving on 20 October 1939.[15] The Norwegians, neutral at the time and disturbed by the sinking of the merchant SS Lorentz W. Hansen, refused entry to the Germans, giving them 24 hours to leave.[15] The Norwegian destroyer HNoMS Sleipner escorted the City of Flint out of Norwegian territorial waters at 1620hrs the next day.[16]

The prize crew then sailed for Murmansk arriving 23 October.[17] Claiming havarie (the privilege of sanctuary for damage caused at sea).[9] the ship lay in Murmansk harbor under the control of the German prize crew for several days and was eventually sent out by the Soviets, who stated that if the Germans claimed havarie, the American crew could not be prisoners of war.[citation needed] The Soviets interned the German prize crew on 24 October but restored them to control on 27 October under the principle requiring a ship to leave in the same condition as on entry.[9][18] On 28 October the ship sailed for Norway under German control without Captain Gainard, who was an inactive United States Naval Reserve officer, having been allowed to communicate with United States Embassy officials.[19]

In the several weeks that elapsed, the United States ordered many US merchant ships to register with other countries, so as to continue supporting the Allies without violating the US's nominal neutrality. The Royal Navy began closing on the captured ship.[citation needed]

The prize crew then tried Norway again, proceeding to the port of Haugesund. The Norwegian government again refused entry, describing the German crew as kidnappers.[citation needed] The approaching Royal Navy left the prize crew no choice, though; on 3 November they entered the harbor.[citation needed]

The ship anchored in Norway, and no one could claim the ship was making her right for passage. In consequence the Norwegian Admiralty dispatched the minelayer HNoMS Olav Tryggvason and boarded the City of Flint with its second in command, captain Bernt T. Dingsør and thirty armed sailors, who on 6 November returned City of Flint to Captain Gainard's command. He unloaded his cargo in Bergen and set sail in ballast for the US. The German prize crew was interned at Kongsvinger Fortress.

City of Flint continued in service in the Atlantic until she was sunk on 23 January 1943 by the German submarine U-575.


  1. ^ McKellar notes the ship was sold to Southgate Nelson Co. in 1930 but reverted to the USSB.


  1. ^ a b c d McKellar, Part II, Contract Steel Ships, p. 588.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Fifty-Second Annual List of Merchant Vessels of the United States, Year ended June 30, 1920, p. 84.
  3. ^ a b c Colton: American International Shipbuilding.
  4. ^ a b c d American Marine Engineer (January 1920), p. 30.
  5. ^ McKellar, Part II, Contract Steel Ships, p. 584.
  6. ^ a b McKellar, Part II, Contract Steel Ships, pp. 584, 588.
  7. ^ a b c d Lloyd's Register 1931–32.
  8. ^ Lloyd's Register 1935–36.
  9. ^ a b c d e Naval History and Heritage Command: Gainard.
  10. ^ a b Lloyd's Register 1940–41.
  11. ^ Grover 1987, pp. 38, 44.
  12. ^ a b Cressman, Official Chronology, Chapter I: 1939, p. 3 September 1939.
  13. ^ Cressman, Official Chronology, Chapter I: 1939, p. 9 October 1939.
  14. ^ Bjørnsson, Nils (1994). Å være eller ikke være – Under orlogsflagget i den annen verdenskrig (in Norwegian). Haakonsvern: Sjømilitære Samfund ved Forlaget Norsk Tidsskrift for Sjøvesen. p. 23. ISBN 82-990969-3-6.
  15. ^ a b Cressman, Official Chronology, Chapter I: 1939, p. 21 October 1939.
  16. ^ Steen, Erik Anker (1954). Norges sjøkrig 1940–1945. Bd. 1, Sjøforsvarets nøytralitetsvern 1939–1940: Tysklands og vestmaktenes planer og forberedelser for en Norgeaksjon (in Norwegian). Oslo: Gyldendal. pp. 38–42. OCLC 186039825.
  17. ^ Cressman, Official Chronology, Chapter I: 1939, p. 23 October 1939.
  18. ^ Cressman, Official Chronology, Chapter I: 1939, p. 24 & 27 October 1939.
  19. ^ Cressman, Official Chronology, Chapter I: 1939, p. 28 October 1939.


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 34°47′N 31°10′W / 34.783°N 31.167°W / 34.783; -31.167