Seven Danes and the torpedoing of the Ciudad de Barcelona
Ciudad de Barcelona and the International Brigade volunteers
The Ciudad de Barcelona
The steamship Ciudad de Barcelona, built in the Cantieri Naval Triestino shipyard at Montefalcone, was launched on 8. June 1929 as Infante Don Jaime. After the declaration of the Second Republic on 14. April 1931, it was renamed the Ciudad de Barcelona. With a displacement of 5,200 tonnes and a top speed of 17.7 knots, the ship could carry 264 passengers, a crew of 62 and nine lifeboats.
Following the nationalist attack on the Second Republic early July 1936, the Ciudad de Barcelona landed troops and material at Mallorca and Ibiza in the failed attempt to counter the invasion of Franco’s troops. The ship then made voyages to Mediterranean ports and Soviet Union ports in the Black Sea, transporting weapons, ammunition and food to the Republic as well as International Brigade volunteers from the Mediterranean coast to Spain.
The International Brigade volunteers
The International Brigade volunteers, including the Danes, did, however, follow different routes to Spain, where Copenhagen became a nodal point. The estimate is that more than 2000 volunteers passed through Copenhagen; Norwegians, Swedes, Finnes and people from East-European countries. Some groups travelled by train from Copenhagen across Antwerpen and Brussels to Paris, others took the more common route Copenhagen-Esbjerg then boarding the A.P. Bernstorff for Antwerpen, Dunkerque or Le Havre.
Still others came up with autonomous initiatives as for instance the three Nielsen brothers and Hans Petersen who went by bike all the way through Germany to get to Paris, or the sailors who disembarked and joined the International Brigades directly.
Once in Paris, the volunteers should register at 9, Place du Combat or 8, Rue de Mathurin-Moreau, where they underwent a short medical and conscription examination before they set off in groups from Gare d’Austerlitz heading south to Barcelona.
On 26. February 1937, the Non-Intervention Committee banned volunteers from entering Spain to fight in the civil war, and the passage “Not valid for Spain or Spanish territories” was now entered into all passports. Consequently, rerouting from Paris had to be established. The volunteers were transported to Perpignan or Carcassonne and then by busses to the Pyrenees. To get to Figueres, they had to embark on the dangerous journey of crossing the mountains on foot. Other groups sailed from Marseille to Barcelona or Valencia.
By the end of May 1937, several groups of volunteers were gathered in Marseille waiting to be transported by ship to Barcelona. On the night of 29. May, between 250 and 300 volunteers embarked the Ciudad de Barcelona and the next morning, the ship raised anchor and sailed toward its destination. The ship was closely followed by two seaplanes and an armed trawler, and entering Spanish waters, Ciudad de Barcelona sailed in near-shore waters alongside the Spanish coast to avoid the Italian submarines.
The torpedoing of the Ciudad de Barcelona
On 30. May, 2:50 pm, the Ciudad de Barcelona was torpedoed amidships off the coast of Malgrat de Mar, slightly north of Barcelona. Ten minutes later, the ship went down. The lifeboats were launched and soon filled and the rest of the passengers had to jump into the water. Those resting in their cabins didn’t make it up on deck and their fate was sealed. A total of 65 volunteers died including three three out of seven Danes.
Biography of seven Danes who were onboard the Ciudad de Barcelona on 30. May 1937
Ivar Lassen Andersen (‘Tiny’)
Ivar Lassen Andersen was born 1. September 1907 in the parish of Sønder Bøel, Esbjerg, Jutland. He died 10. August 1939. He was the son of farmer Christian Andersen and wife Marie Lassen. Ivar was a dairy farmer, who emigrated to Edmonton, Canada in 1926 and later moved to Vancouver. He was a member of the Communist Party of Canada.
Ivar left Canada for Spain May 1937. Following the mandatory stopover in Paris, he travelled with a larger group of Canadian volunteers to Marseille. A couple of days later, Ivar boarded the steamship Ciudad de Barcelona as various groups of volunteers set off for Barcelona. Being a fine swimmer, he saved the life of several of the other passengers when the ship was torpedoed. Getting to shore, Ivar and the other survivors were treated for any injuries before being sent to Albacete, where he was enrolled in the 35th Division, XV. IB., the Canadian battalion dubbed the ‘Mac-Paps’ (The Mackenzie–Papineau Battalion). 10. August 1938, Ivar was severely wounded when hit directly by a mortar shell that ripped open both his legs. He asked his comrades to say goodbye to one of his friends for him. Sensing his intention, they tried to talk him out of it. “When we get back home from here, there’s no pension, no nothing.” Those were his last words before he took his rifle and shot himself. He was 31 years old.
Helmuth Peter Blaabjerg Christensen
Helmuth Peter Blaabjerg Christensen was born 7. February 1910 in Svendborg, Funen and died 14. November 1937. He was an unmarried labourer, who moved to the working-class area of Bjelkes Allé in Copenhagen. Helmuth was a member of the antifascist demonstration safeguard group Arbejderværnet. Helmuth left for Spain in May 1937, traveling from Copenhagen to Esbjerg and then by the MS A.P. Bernstorff to Antwerpen and on to Paris. Once in Paris, he underwent a short conscription examination and then waited for a larger group of volunteers to be gathered before heading for Marseilles by train from Gare Austerlitz. 29. May 1937, he boarded the steamship SS Ciudad de Barcelona and left for Barcelona. Helmuth managed to rescue himself when the ship was torpedoed and after a short stop in Malgrat, he was sent to Albacete via Barcelona where he was enrolled in the 17th Division, XI. IB – assigned to the auto park as chauffeur. 13. October 1937, he was transferred to the infantry of the 2. Battalion Hans Beimler which was assigned to the 35. Division, 5. July 1937. Helmuth participated in the Aragon offensive of August/September 1937. He probably contracted the typhoid while his Battalion was stationed in Grañen as reserve troops. Helmuth Peter Blaabjerg Christensen was buried in Barcelona where he died of typhoid at Hospital no. 14, 14. November 1937. He was 27 years old.
Henry Højbjerg was born 28. July 1918 in Copenhagen and died 18. July 1937. He was a steamship stoker and a member of the Social Democratic Youth of Denmark (DSU) in Gentofte. Henry left for Spain in May 1937, following the same route as Helmuth Christensen. In Albacete, he was enrolled in the 17. Division, XI. IB, 3. Battalion Ernst Thälmann which was assigned to the 35. Division, 5. July 1937. He was killed in the battle of Brunete, 18 July 1937. Henry Højbjerg was 19 years old.
Ferdinand Joseph Koch
Ferdinand Joseph Koch was born 2. February 1914 in Frederiksberg, Copenhagen and died 26. July 1938. He was unmarried and a member of the Communist Youth of Denmark (DKU).When he left for Spain in May 1937, he followed the same route as Helmuth Christensen and Henry Højbjerg. Ferdinand survived the torpedoing of Ciudad de Barcelona being rescued into a lifeboat and sailed ashore. Once in Albacete, he was enrolled in the 17. Division, XI. IB., assigned to the auto park as ambulance driver in Grupo Evacuscion no. 1 for approximately one year. 5. July 1937, the Brigade was assigned to the 35. Division. Ferdinand was to be discharged July 1938, but volunteered during the campaign before the Ebro offensive and was enrolled in the 2. Battalion Hans Beimler as an infantryman in the 2. Army Corps Martin Andersen-Nexø. At Asco, 26. July 1938, on the second day after the crossing of the Ebro, Ferdinand Joseph Koch was killed by machine-gun bullets in his neck. He was 25 years old.
Børge Villy Petersen
Børge Villy Petersen was born 28. July 1909 and died 30. May 1937. He was a member of the Social Democratic Youth of Denmark (DSU) in Frederiksberg. In May 1937, Børge followed the same route to Spain as Helmuth Christensen, Henry Højbjerg and Ferdinand Koch. Børge Villy Petersen died in the torpedoing of Ciudad de Barcelona. He was barely 28 years old.
Kaj Harry Rasmussen
Kaj Harry Rasmussen was born 23. June 1917 in Kjøbelev on the island of Lolland and died 30. May 1937. Kaj was the son of farm hand Anton Rasmussen (Bjærsgården 1, 7100 Vejle, Jutland). When Kaj was one year old, his father was relocated to Jutland by his union to organise the farm hands. In 1937, the family moved to Horsens, Jutland, where Kaj became a member of the Communist Youth of Denmark (DKU) and actively participated in union activities; he became a member of the governing board of the Joint Union Management of Apprentices and Young Workers and for a period of time, secretary of the Joint Committee of the Unemployed. When Kaj turned 18, he became a very active member of the Wood Workers’ Union. His last known address was in Horsens. Kaj left for Spain May 1937, following the same route as the six other Danes. Kaj Harry Rasmussen drowned when Ciudad de Barcelona was torpedoed. He was barely 20 years old.
Ejnar Christian Marius Vigø
Ejnar Christian Marius Vigæ was born 30. December 1908 and died 30. May 1937. He was the son of Hansigne Vigø (Toldbogade 15 A, 1253 Copenhagen). Ejnar was an unmarried worker, a member of the antifascist demonstration safeguard group Arbejderværnet and his last known address was Tranevej 1, 3. floor to the left, North-West area of Copenhagen.
Ejnar, following the same route to Spain as Ivar Lassen Andersen, Helmuth Peter Blaabjerg Christensen, Henry Højbjerg, Ferdinand Joseph Koch, Villy Børge Petersen and Kaj Harry Rasmussen, left for Spain May 1937 and drowned when the SS Ciudad de Barcelona was torpedoed by an Italian submarine, 30. May 1937. Ejnar Christian Marius Vigø was 28 years old.