A Mismatch at Sea

MV Donerail, the former Danish Nordhval was built in 1924 by Burmeister & Wain's of Copenhagen, Denmark. She was 4473 gross tons, 8320 deadweight tons, with a length of 380 feet, nearly 54 feet wide. Her twin screws driven by two 6-cylinder diesel engines produced a rated speed of 11.0 knots, pretty paltry for a ship named after the 91-1 longshot winner of the 1913 Kentucky Derby. Donerail was but one of many foreign ships taken over by the U.S. Maritime Commission in 1941, placed under Panama flag, and named after famous horses. On December 9, 1941, she was unarmed.

MV Nordhval
MV Nordhval

Her opponent that day was a Japanese submarine, I-10 (seen at right). This was a New Junsen Type A1 submarine laid down in January 1939 and completed in Oct. 31, 1941. Displacement 2,919 tons surfaced, 4,149 submerged, length 373 feet, 2 diesel engines, 12,400 horsepower. Her rated speed was 23.5 knots surfaced, 8 knots submerged, with cruising range of 16,000 miles at 16 knots surfaced, and 60 miles at 3 knots submerged.

Japanese submarine I-10I-10 carried 18 torpedoes for her 6 torpedo tubes, boasted one 5.5 inch deck gun, and one Yokosuka E14Y floatplane in a hanger forward. (The floatplane disappeared earlier near Suva) Her official diving depth was 330 feet. Her destination was the U.S. coast near San Diego.

The Donerail was sailing from Suva, Fiji to Vancouver, Canada, and was about 200 miles southeast of Hawaii when she nearly rammed a surfaced submarine. The sub made a crash dive to avoid a collision, then resurfaced. The Japanese torpedo missed, but the 7 shells did not. One of the shells hit the starboard lifeboat, swung out for lowering, which held the passengers -- two women, 4 men and an 18-month-old boy. None survived.

The 24 survivors of the attack, managed to take to a metal lifeboat. It was badly holed by shrapnel, but they plugged the holes with clothing and debris. Much of the emergency food supplies were ruined as the boat took on water to the gunwales. For one week they tried to head to the Hawaiian Islands, but gale-force winds were against them. They decided to steer southwest.

The first night 4 men died of their wounds. On the 14th day Captain Pii, taking his turn at the makeshift tiller, fell overboard. He managed to reach the life jacket thrown him, but the wind and waves did not allow the boat to reach him. One by one the men died of wounds and starvation. For 38 days and about 2,500 miles, they lived on flying fish, a large bird that landed in the boat, biscuits soaked by salt water but still edible, canned milk, and rain water caught with a sail. One day they snagged a log covered with small shellfish.

On the 38th day the 8 still alive sighted an island, but the currents were such that they would have to row to reach shore. Fortunately, they were sighted by the natives of Tarawa and 10 canoes brought them safely ashore. (Japanese troops had been on Tarawa, but left) . From Tarawa they went to the island of Nanouti, and finally reached Suva, Fiji, where their voyage originated, on March 18, 1942.

I-10 sank many other Allied ships during her long career at sea. I-10 sunk on July 4, 1944 by Anti-Submarine action of U.S. destroyer David W. Taylor (DD-551) and destroyer escort Riddle (DE-185) east of Saipan.


Last First Position Hometown Homestate Age
Gejl K. Chief Mate   Denmark 55
Petersen A. Third Mate   Norway 41
Brunn Sigfred K. Radio Operator   Denmark 26
Christensen A. 2nd Engineer   Denmark 34
Solberg K. Oiler   Norway 22
Hjersted E. A.B.   Denmark 19
Kenstrup E.A. Chief Cook   Denmark 27
Chambers Murray A.B. Edinburgh Scotland 38

Crew Killed

Last First Position Hometown Homestate Age
Aas Christen Hjalmar Messman Oslo Norway 22
Beck [Bech] Jørgen 4th Engineer Thorshavn Denmark 23
Berntzen Arne Ingmann 3rd Engineer Flosta Norway 27
Christensen Karl B. Chief Engineer Skanderborg Denmark 39
De Cavelle J. Carpenter Unknown Belgium 39
Handeland M. Engine Department Unknown Norway 36
Hannus E. O.S. Unknown Finland 19
Hansen Lorentz Egon Lauritz Seaman København Denmark 22
Helland Røst Ingvald Bosun Trondheim Norway  
Holm Einar Electrician Brooklyn
[Åsane Bergen ]
Holmberg A. Messman Goteborg Sweden 21
Johannessen Erling Willy Oiler Drammen Norway 19
Knudsen Marius Olav Messman Hisøy Norway 24
Koivula I. O.S. Unknown Finland 27
Kvaerne [Kverne] Kolbjørn Engineer Sem Norway 23
Lorentzen Arne Johan Seaman Nesna Norway 24
Lunde Sverre Messman Larvik Norway 17
Lyons Jack Assistant Steward Unknown Australia 20
MacKenzie* James Wallace Fireman Vancouver BC Canada 40
Mathiesen Frede Dalgaard Chief Steward Unknown Denmark 24
Nielsen Haakon Wiper Nakskov Denmark 35
Nielsen Jens 2nd Mate Hillerød Denmark 32
Pii Niels Fr. Master Charlottenlund, Denmark 62
Rendle John Mackay Purser Wellington New Zealand 26
Roest M. Bosun Unknown Norway 50
Severwright W. A.B. London England 52
Tan Veen D. A.B. Unknown Holland 46

Passengers Killed

Last First Nationality
Board Miss E.R. Australian
Bozier Mr. H.J. English
Morrison Mrs. F.E.A. Canadian
Morrison Master W.G. Australian
Tremlett Mr. C.J. Australian
MacKenzie* Mr. J.W. Australian
Stuart Mr. D.D. American

*MacKenzie is listed as crew by Commonwealth War Graves Commission and The Canadian Merchant Navy War Dead Database, but as passenger by Registrar of Shipping and Receiver of Wrecks, Suva, Fiji. Source differ regarding number on board.


Boyd, Carl; Yoshida, Akihiko. The Japanese Submarine Force and World War II. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press,1995

Jordan, Roger, The World's Merchant Fleets 1939: The Particulars and Wartime Fates of 6,000 Ships, Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1999

"2 Ships’ Survivors Reach Fiji Islands," New York Times, Mar 19, 1942

"Torpedo Victim Tell of Struggles to Survive," Los Angeles Times, March 19, 1942

"Hardships at Sea," The Evening Post [Wellington, New Zealand], Volume CXXXIII, Issue 67, 20 March 1942, Page 5

"Ordeal at Sea," The Evening Post [Wellington, New Zealand], 1 April 1942. Volume CXXXIII, Issue 77, Page 6

"16 of 24 Survivors of Sinking Die in 38 Day in Lifeboat," The Washington Post, Nov. 15, 1942

"Men Tell Horror of 38 Days Adrift in Boat," Los Angeles Times, Nov 15, 1942

Report compiled by the Registrar of Shipping and Receiver of Wrecks, Suva, Fiji

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

The Canadian Merchant Navy War Dead Database

Minnehallen i Stavern


Photo Japanese submarine I-10

Photo Nordhval

I-10 career


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