Capture of Finnish gold reserves in "Ester Thordén"

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Mikko H.
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Capture of Finnish gold reserves in "Ester Thordén"

Post by Mikko H. » 09 Oct 2011 09:18

Some time in late July - early August 1940 the German cruiser "Admiral Hipper" intercepted the Finnish freighter "Ester Thordén" in the Arctic Ocean. The freighter was found to have a part of the Finnish gold reserves on board -- which apparently was considered contraband -- and was sent with a prize crew to Tromsø.

Where was the "Esthér Thordén" taking her cargo and why? Because her cargo was considered contraband, I assume that she was heading to an Allied port. How did the Finnish government react? I assume that losing a part of the national gold reserves would be a very big issue. Did Finns ever get it back? What happened to the ship itself? I found information that in 1941 she was under British control -- how did that come about?

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Re: Capture of Finnish gold reserves in "Ester Thordén"

Post by Seppo Jyrkinen » 09 Oct 2011 09:52

Extra good issue! Thank You.
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Re: Capture of Finnish gold reserves in "Ester Thordén"

Post by CanKiwi2 » 09 Oct 2011 13:13

Mikko H. wrote:Some time in late July - early August 1940 the German cruiser "Admiral Hipper" intercepted the Finnish freighter "Ester Thordén" in the Arctic Ocean. The freighter was found to have a part of the Finnish gold reserves on board -- which apparently was considered contraband -- and was sent with a prize crew to Tromsø.

Where was the "Esthér Thordén" taking her cargo and why? Because her cargo was considered contraband, I assume that she was heading to an Allied port. How did the Finnish government react? I assume that losing a part of the national gold reserves would be a very big issue. Did Finns ever get it back? What happened to the ship itself? I found information that in 1941 she was under British control -- how did that come about?
Posted by Roger W Jordan rogwj@aol.com on April 12, 2001.
Ester Thorden (ex CG Thulin 1932) was owned by Rederi-AB Ester Thorden and managed by Gustaf B Thorden, of Brando, Finland. She was built at Fredriksstad in 1921, and was 1940 gross tons, 3050 deadweight tons, length 264 feet 9 inches overall, 42 feet 2 inches breadth, 18 feet draught, was fitted with a triple expansion engine and had a service SPEED of 9 knots. At the end of July to the end of the first week of August 1940, Admiral Hipper made an expedition into the Arctic, north of Tromso, hoping to find some enemy shipping, but only found neutrals. I think one of these was Ester Thorden, which was reported as having on board "contraband" and was taken as a prize. However, it seems she was later released for in 1941 she came under the control of the Ministry of War Transport and under the British flag was managed by RH Penney & Sons, London. She was returned to Finland in 1946.

Thordén Rederierna / Thordén Lines AB / Finnish North America Line, 1926-1963

Gustaf B. Thordén was born in Uddevalla in 1894. After working in the office of Broström in Stockholm, he moved in 1920 to Helsinki, here he became involved in shipping and in 1922 became a part owner of his first ship. 1924 the shipping company and ship brokerage AB Suomi was started where Thordén was a partner. In 1926 Thordén took over the shipping business and the foundation was laid for Thordén Rederierna.

The business grew and both cargo ships and a tanker were owned. The cargo ships were a familiar sight in the North American harbours. By World War II, there were 16 vessels in Thordén Finnish-flagged fleet. When it looked as if the Soviet Union would acquire control of Finland, Thordén chose to leave the country to re-settle in his childhood town of Uddevalla. He tried in various ways get the companys' ships to Sweden, but managed only two ships registered in the Swedish register, and eventually one ship was seized by the U.S.A and another by Great Britain. During the post-war years G.B. Thordén built up his shipping company operating in Sweden in parallel with its Finnish shipping business.

The company's name was changed in 1955 to the Finnish North America Line. In Uddevalla, he founded also Uddevalla shipyard by purchasing a complete American shipyard and shipped it in parts with his own vessels to Uddevalla.
Later the yard became in economic problems which forced Thordén shipping business to go bankrupt and in 1958 Thordén had to close the yard and two years later his Finnish shipping company went also in bankruptcy. Gustaf B. Thordén died in 1963 in a boating accident in the archipelago of Gothenburg. At that time the Swedish fleet consisted of 11 vessels including 6 coastal ships and tugs. Of the remaining 5 cargo vessels, which were deposited in the North America traffic, three old ships were sold. 1965 bought Red AB Rex, Stockholm the remains of Thordén Lines including the two remaining vessels. The smaller vessels were continued by Gustav B. Thordén’s widow Clary for another few years, but in 1970, the last of these vessels were also sold.

Ester Thordén is recorded as being one of the ships in Convoy HN19, Norway-U.K. Departed Norway on March 14-1940 and arrived Methil on March 17. A document listing all the Norway-U.K. Convoys states that Convoy HN 19 had 3 British, 16 Norwegian, 7 Swedish, 4 Finnish and 5 Estonian ships, for a total of 35, 15 of which were bound for the west coast, denoted (W) in the table below.

German Heavy Cruisers 1939-45 By Gordon Williamson mentions the seizure of the gold. "as well as the stated cargo of timber destined for the United States, she carried 1.75 tons of gold. Rather than sinking her, the Germans sent her in to am occupied Norwegian Port under a prize crew."

On December 18, 1941, Ester Thorden is recorded as being in the possession of a Royal Navy and subject to a prize court in Trinidad, so she must have been seized somewhere shortly prior to then.

Interesting subject this, I'm going to keep looking.....
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Re: Capture of Finnish gold reserves in "Ester Thordén"

Post by CanKiwi2 » 09 Oct 2011 14:40

From Naval History (Royal Navy history site, has a day by day listing of naval activity)

Thursday, 25 July

German heavy cruiser ADMIRAL HIPPER departed Trondheim to sweep the Barents Sea between Tromso and Bear Island and west of Spitzbergen as a diversion for battlecruiser GNEISENAU's return to Germany. She took the Finnish steamer ESTER THORDEN (1940 BRT) as a prize and her floatplane searched the Finnish steamer WAPPU (1540 BRT), which was then released. No other contact was made and ADMIRAL HIPPER arrived at Kiel on 9 August.

SS Ester Thorden in Trinidad
Posted by: ed_in_md (IP Logged)
Date: April 10, 2007 06:33AM

Does anyone have any information about the SS Ester Thorden circa 1942. I recently came across some correspondence from the Captain, Karl Karlsson, indicating he was held at the internment camp in Trinidad. The letters were addressed to the North American Shipping Co.

PROCEEDINGS BEFORE BRITISH PRIZE COURTS OVERSEA.
' • In continuation of the notification on page 7245 of the London Gazette of 23rd December, 1941, information has been received that proceedings have •been instituted in the Prize Court named below in respect of the ships specified. Appearances by persons claiming an interest .in the ships should be entered within thirty days from the date mentioned in the third column of
the Schedule.
SCHEDULE. Name of Ship.
Rosenberg.
Prize Court. Supreme Court of Trinidad and Tobago.
Ester Thorden.
Brita Thorden.
Colonial Office, 24th December, 1941.

BTW, Williamson's book seems to be the source of the Wikipedia notes mentioning the gold seizure. If anyone has Williamson's book, they may be able to track the source for this piece of information.
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Re: Capture of Finnish gold reserves in "Ester Thordén"

Post by Mikko H. » 09 Oct 2011 14:57

Thanks. My source is Geir H Haarr's The Battle for Norway April - June 1940, p. 366, which doesn't give a source, but probably uses Whitley's German Cruisers of World War Two. A Google search provided some additional information.

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Re: Capture of Finnish gold reserves in "Ester Thordén"

Post by Mikko H. » 10 Oct 2011 06:36

A further thought: I think it's likely that the gold was on its way to UK or France (or to a third country like USA via UK) as a payment for weapons or other supplies.

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Re: Capture of Finnish gold reserves in "Ester Thordén"

Post by CanKiwi2 » 10 Oct 2011 19:38

Picked this up of another old forum. My German is non-existent, maybe somebody else can xlate this one

Re: Ester Thorden - more recent response
Posted by: Siri (IP Logged)
Date: November 08, 2001 05:56PM

Posted by Theodor Dorgeist
Marine-Doku-Zen.Th.Dorgeist@Web.de on Oct. 25-2001 in reply to Axel's message in Apr.:

D ESTHER THORDEN 1940/ 21

02.08.1940 im Nordmeer von ADMIRAL HIPPER mit 1740 ts Zellulose, 1,4 ts Gold u .a Petsamo - New York
04.08.1940 in Tromsö eingebracht
21.10.1940 mit .Ladung freigelassen

18.11.1940 An der Polarküste von SCHIFF 18 mit 1,7 t Gold Petsamo - New York
18.11.1940 in Vardö eingebracht
19.11.1940 mit Ladung freigelassen

10.04.1941 Am Varanger Fjord von SCHIFF 4 mit ?? Petsamo - ??
10.04.1941 In Bussesund eingebracht, wenig später gleich freigelassen

21.07.1941 In Baltimore durch die USA beschlagnahmt
31.07.1941 Mit einer Ladung Kohlen unter Panamaflagge nach Pernambuco ausgelaufen.
Später lt. deutscher Akten nach Kriegsausbruch Finnland – Großbritannien von
England in US – Gewässern als finnisches Eigentum beschlagnahmt.

Der Dampfer hat den Krieg überlebt, ich habe nur nicht die Reedereiliste von THORDEN gefunden
um etwas zum Verbleib nach 1945 sagen zu können.

Gruß
Theo
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Re: Capture of Finnish gold reserves in "Ester Thordén"

Post by Dr Eisvogel » 10 Oct 2011 19:48

CanKiwi2 wrote:Picked this up of another old forum. My German is non-existent, maybe somebody else can xlate this one

D ESTHER THORDEN 1940/ 21

02.08.1940 im Nordmeer von ADMIRAL HIPPER mit 1740 ts Zellulose, 1,4 ts Gold u .a Petsamo - New York
04.08.1940 in Tromsö eingebracht
21.10.1940 mit .Ladung freigelassen

18.11.1940 An der Polarküste von SCHIFF 18 mit 1,7 t Gold Petsamo - New York
18.11.1940 in Vardö eingebracht
19.11.1940 mit Ladung freigelassen
02.08.1940 - in the North Sea [intercepted] by "Admiral Hipper" with 1740 tons of cellulose, 1,4 tons of gold on (?) Petsamo-New York [line]
04.08.1940 - brought to Tromsö
21.10.1940 - released with goods (load)

18.11.1940 - on the Polar Coast [intercepted] by Ship 18 with 1,7 tons gold Petsamo-New York
18.11.1940 - brought to Vardö
19.11.1940 - released with goods (load)

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Re: Capture of Finnish gold reserves in "Ester Thordén"

Post by CanKiwi2 » 12 Oct 2011 16:10

Found a doc online from the St Louis Federal Reserve which lists gold reserves from countries plus gold transfers into the USA by country of origin from 1913 to 1940.

There is one transaction listed from Finland in 1940 for the xfer of $340,000 USD of Gold (at the list price of $25 per oz that equates to roughly 13,600 ozs - or just over a third of a ton).

However, Finnish gold reserves drop from a listed value of 27.6 million USD in 1939 to UDS-equivalent 14.1 million in 1940 to USD 4 million in 1941, so one surmises it was leaving the country in one form or another. One doubts there was any publicity around the shipments except when things went seriously wrong!
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Re: Capture of Finnish gold reserves in "Ester Thordén"

Post by Dr Eisvogel » 12 Oct 2011 17:29

CanKiwi2 wrote:Found a doc online from the St Louis Federal Reserve which lists gold reserves from countries plus gold transfers into the USA by country of origin from 1913 to 1940.

There is one transaction listed from Finland in 1940 for the xfer of $340,000 USD of Gold (at the list price of $25 per oz that equates to roughly 13,600 ozs - or just over a third of a ton).

However, Finnish gold reserves drop from a listed value of 27.6 million USD in 1939 to UDS-equivalent 14.1 million in 1940 to USD 4 million in 1941, so one surmises it was leaving the country in one form or another. One doubts there was any publicity around the shipments except when things went seriously wrong!
1.) Could you post the link?

2.) The post in German you posted from an old forum says that both times the Germans released the cargo.

3.) Is the data about the decreasing reserves from the same document or from another source?

Regards,
Eisvogel

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Re: Capture of Finnish gold reserves in "Ester Thordén"

Post by CanKiwi2 » 12 Oct 2011 17:54

Dr Eisvogel wrote: 1.) Could you post the link?
Here you go......

http://fraser.stlouisfed.org/publicatio ... tion14.pdf
Dr Eisvogel wrote: 2.) The post in German you posted from an old forum says that both times the Germans released the cargo.
I saw that, but I don't see any gold in those amounts being listed as transferred into the US gold reserves. Which doesn't mean they didn't go to the USA - other countries held or moved their gold reserves to the US. Or it could have been shipped to the US and xferred to a 3rd party after arrival.
Dr Eisvogel wrote: 3.) Is the data about the decreasing reserves from the same document or from another source?
It's from the same document. Quite interesting overall.
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Re: Capture of Finnish gold reserves in "Ester Thordén"

Post by Dr Eisvogel » 12 Oct 2011 19:10

CanKiwi2 wrote:There is one transaction listed from Finland in 1940 for the xfer of $340,000 USD of Gold (at the list price of $25 per oz that equates to roughly 13,600 ozs - or just over a third of a ton).
Thank you very much! Extremely interesting data.

I have just one question, on the page 541 it is explicitly stated that after January 1934 gold was valued $34 per oz. Did I miss something?

Regards,
Eisvogel

P.S. Interesting to see on the page 549 that no change in Finnish gold reserves was registered in the period of April 1940-April 1941, when the "Ester Thordén" shipments took place.

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Re: Capture of Finnish gold reserves in "Ester Thordén"

Post by CanKiwi2 » 13 Oct 2011 15:36

[quote="Dr Eisvogel I have just one question, on the page 541 it is explicitly stated that after January 1934 gold was valued $34 per oz. Did I miss something?

Regards,
Eisvogel

P.S. Interesting to see on the page 549 that no change in Finnish gold reserves was registered in the period of April 1940-April 1941, when the "Ester Thordén" shipments took place.[/quote]

Nope, my mis-reading. had the font set to small on my screen. $34 an oz it was.

Re no change in Finnish gold reserves being registered in the period of April 1940-April 1941, when the "Ester Thordén" shipments took place - yes, I wondered about that too. But I also found something last night about Sweden shipping gold reserves to the USA in the same period. I am now wondering if perhaps the gold on the "Ester Thordén" could possibly have been Swedish rather than Finnish. Going to dig up the articles from the website and take a look at the Swedish gold reserve #'s. There was certainly a lot of moving of gold to the US at that time - the Polish gold reserves were shipped to the USA, as were the French gold reserves, and quite a bit from the UK. On the other hand, Finnish gold reserves did deplete rather rapidly so it could just be the timing of the reporting on asset transfers.

There was also some interesting sleights of hand going on within the Bank for International Settlements with the transfer of gold assets to Germany. Makes for very interesting reading when you dig into what went on at the time.
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Re: Capture of Finnish gold reserves in "Ester Thordén"

Post by Seppo Jyrkinen » 13 Oct 2011 15:59

USA seem to be a very common place for gold reserves. Even Stalin send Russian gold to USA (and was using it when buying avgas and material during Winter War).
A word irony is baked into the word history.

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Re: Capture of Finnish gold reserves in "Ester Thordén"

Post by John T » 13 Oct 2011 19:27

CanKiwi2 wrote:
Dr Eisvogel wrote:
P.S. Interesting to see on the page 549 that no change in Finnish gold reserves was registered in the period of April 1940-April 1941, when the "Ester Thordén" shipments took place.
Nope, my mis-reading. had the font set to small on my screen. $34 an oz it was.

Re no change in Finnish gold reserves being registered in the period of April 1940-April 1941, when the "Ester Thordén" shipments took place - yes, I wondered about that too. But I also found something last night about Sweden shipping gold reserves to the USA in the same period. I am now wondering if perhaps the gold on the "Ester Thordén" could possibly have been Swedish rather than Finnish. Going to dig up the articles from the website and take a look at the Swedish gold reserve #'s.

Yes and no me thinks.
I do not have the details as it had not been published, but I spoke to the researcher and he said the Swedish -Finnish gold deals where interesting. And significant parts of the two countries gold reserve where kept in South Africa (or does my memory fails me - was it US?)
where the national banks had physical accounts of gold and a transfer between Sweden and Finland was just to move the gold from one vault to the other. (or if it actually only where a transaction in the bookkeeping).
So the gold reserve did not have to be in country, that is Finland can have sold the gold earlier to the US and where now transporting US gold. It makes sense as Germans (mostly) where rather sensitive to US Neutrality.


Cheers
/John

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