Torpedoed WWII ship found

A six-year search for the MS Rio de Janeiro ended in success depth of 135 metres off the southern Norway coast

Photo: Wikimedia Commons The MS Rio de Janeiro, a German ship that was sunk just prior to the invasion of Norway.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The MS Rio de Janeiro, a German ship that was sunk just prior to the invasion of Norway.

Sarah Bostock & Michael Sandelson
The Foreigner

The Kriegsmarine-requisitioned ship was sunk on April 8, 1940, by the Orzel class ORP Orzeł, a Polish submarine operating under British command. The torpedoing off Justøya in Aust-Agder County occurred just one day before Nazi Germany’s invasion of Norway under Operation Weserübung.

Crew of the ORP Orzeł signaled the MS Rio de Janeiro to stop, with this order being obeyed. However, Polish Navy Captain Jan Grudziński’s subsequent order for the ship to surrender or be sunk was not.

The Rio de Janeiro was torpedoed, took in water, and started to sink. Those aboard the vessel began jumping into the sea, with a Royal Norwegian Navy Air Service plane starting to circle it at 12:00 local time.

At 12:50, the Orzeł torpedoed her for a second time, from a submerged position this time, hitting the ammunition depot and causing an explosion.

Near 200 of the 380 aboard died. 183 survivors of the Rio de Janeiro, whose crew numbered some 50 with the rest being soldiers, were helped by locals from Høvåg and Lillesand.

The Germans helped ashore told Norwegian officials that they were on their way to Bergen. The ship was carrying 73 horses. But central authorities were alerted, due to the fact that many of the survivors and dead were wearing military uniforms.

It was discovered that her cargo also consisted of six 2 cm Flak 30 and four 10.5 cm Flak 38 anti-aircraft guns, ammunition, fuel, 71 vehicles, 292 tons of provisions, and animal feed. The incumbent government did not then realize that an invasion of Norway was imminent.

The vessel, a German steamship and cargo ship, originally carried passengers and freight between Germany and South America.

Launched on April 3, 1914, as the Santa Ines before subsequently being renamed, she was owned by shipping company Hamburg Süd.

The ship was 122 meters long and 17 meters wide (about 400 feet by 56 feet) with a gross tonnage of 5,261. She was propelled by a 2,300 HP triple-expansion engine, single screw, with her speed being 10 knots (some 18.5 km/h or 11.5 mph).

It was companies Agder-Tech AS and A-Dykk that discovered the ship located 135 meters down (almost 443 feet).

“There’s a serial number on her lantern. There’s no doubt that it’s the MS Rio de Janeiro due to her shape and what is aboard,” the diving firm’s general manager, Tom Lundahl, told NRK.

(Additional source: Wikipedia)

This article was originally published on The Foreigner. To subscribe to The Foreigner, visit

It also appeared in the July 17, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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