Refueling sometimes has a high price, today it is in dollars, on June 3, 1941 it was in blood. With limited range
German U-boats and surface raiders required refueling at sea from lone vessels stationed at various locations
around the globe. One of the most famous of these ships was the notorious Altmark which was the supply ship
for the Admiral Graf Spee. A far less famous ship, the Belchen was another of these ships, a tanker built in
Sweden for a Norwegian company captured by Germany in 1941 originally named Sysla.
Her task for the day was to refuel several U-boats. First was U-111, then U-557, both successfully fueled.
There were still two more to go, U-93 and U-204, who was on her maiden patrol. It was however during the
refueling of Kapitänleutnant
Claus Korth's U-93 that trouble found the Belchen. Thanks to the code breakers
at Bletchley Park the HMS Kenya and HMS Aurora knew just where to find the German ships, however the
Germans were well trained in crash diving and before the cruisers could fire on the U-93 the lines had been
cast off and the boat was gone, Belchen could not get away so easily.
Kenya opened fire and Aurora fired a torpedo which hit the tanker, with the help of Belchen's crew the ship
sank quickly. Five of the crew were killed, either by the battle or having drowned awaiting rescue. Apparently
not wanting to join the Belchen on the bottom courtesy of a German torpedo, the British ships appear not to have
made a rescue attempt. The U-93 later surfaced and picked up the 50 survivors.
Korth made no attempt to attack the British ships and now, low on fuel and with 50 extra men on board decided
to cut his patrol short and head for France. He arrived at St. Nazaire on June 10.