This obituary marks the passing of Vera’s Norwegian Uncle Helmer Storsten, who died in 2016 at the age of 94.
Helmer was always good company, a quiet and unassuming man with a ready smile and an impish sense of humour – but a man who was involved in a fascinating WWII exploit that is very well known in Norway.
Born in Norway in 1922, Helmer first went to sea in 1937 on the tramp steamer ‘Roy’, then in 1938 he joined the ‘Nyhorn’, a ship with a special place in Norwegian naval history.
‘Nyhorn’ left New York in early June 1940 en route to Lisbon and Casablanca. In Lisbon, she spent six days undergoing repairs – six days with a critical bearing on subsequent events, because the Franco-German armistice of June 22nd meant that on her June 1st arrival in Casablanca ‘Nyhorn’ was interned by the French Vichy authorities, her lifeboats and vital engine parts removed.
These items were returned on September 10th, and ‘Nyhorn’ was ordered to Port Lyautey (now ‘Kenitra’) in Morocco, there to moor on the Sebou river. On arrival, ‘Nyhorn’ was again immobilised and Helmer joined the Norwegian ship ‘Batavia” as Cook. Some of the ‘Batavia’ crew escaped in a lifeboat but were caught and jailed in dire conditions of poor sanitation and lack of space.
The lifeboats were again removed, but the Norwegian sailors were not deterred and secretly built a series of canvas-covered boats. This enterprise was perilous, regular security checks were made and the boats could only be concealed by sinking them until the danger was over. Early prototypes were unseaworthy, but later versions worked well and arrangements were made for a series of escapes from Kenitra up the coast to Gibraltar.
Helmer was lucky enough to get a space on the third boat, with departure set for 8th December 1941. Bad weather delayed departure for two days, then the boys set off on their desperate escape. Gibraltar was 120 miles north, with three days and nights of constant rowing, until eventually they were picked up by a British warship hunting a U-Boat that had been seen in their vicinity.
Glasgow was the next stop for Helmer, where he joined the Norwegian Royal Navy and was posted to HNoMS ‘Sleipner’, a ship with heroic status for her 1940 opposition to the invading German forces. With one Bofors 40 mm and two Colt 12.7 mm anti-aircraft guns (her main guns could not be elevated to shoot at aircraft), ‘Sleipner‘ fought off many German dive-bombing raids. She was hit multiple times, but downed two aircraft and damaged many others before she ran out of ammunition and slipped away to the Tyne for repair.
Helmer had joined a ship with a big reputation and a strong desire to strike back at the Germans – qualities that were fully tested in action, because ‘Sleipner’ was engaged almost 100% on channel convoy duties, guiding allied merchant vessels through the rat-run of the English Channel.
Next, Helmer was posted to HNoMS ‘Glaisdale’, a 1942 ‘Hunt’ Class destroyer having a very busy war, with many attacks on German convoys and engagements with enemy ‘E Boats’.
Famously, ‘Glaisdale’ was present at the D-Day landings on 6th June 1944, giving close support bombardment during the assault on ‘NAN’ beach – (part of the larger and better-known ‘Juno’ beach area), then later she was in action against German ‘E Boats’ that were attempting to lay mines near the beach-head area.
On 23rd June 1944, ‘Glaisdale’ was badly damaged by an acoustic mine but was towed to Hartlepool for survey and Helmer was sent to Liverpool, then on to Peterhead in Scotland (the wartime base for Norwegian sailors), then later to his final posting on the minesweeper ‘Blackpool’.
Helmer married North Shields girl Helen Peart on 1st May 1943, they had two children, William (Bill) Storsten and Avril Dowds.