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Johnny E. Balsved


Disaster on the cruiser GEJSER (1923):

Heavy toxic blast
on board the
light cruiser GEJSER

1 officer died from injuries, another 54 officers and men were injured; several received severe burns, when a phosphorus smokescreen generator exploded.

The explosion occurred as officers and men from the Training Squadron were assembled to attend a demonstration of a smokescreen generator on the quarterdeck of the Danish Light Cruiser GEJSER.

By Johnny E. Balsved

In the morning of May 25, 1923 a heavy toxic blast shook the Danish Light Cruiser GEJSER.

The cruiser and the Training Squadron were situated in the narrow Masnedsund, just south of Zealand.

The Light Cruiser GEJSER

The Danish Light Cruiser GEJSER
(Photo: Royal Danish Naval Museum)

The disaster occurred while officers and men from the ships of the Training Squadron were assembled on board the GEJSER.

They were to attend a demonstration of a new phosphorus smokescreen gene-rator.

The blast occurred immediately as the demonstration had started.

A total number of 55 officers and men were injured at the blast.

Several suffered severe injuries.

The Commanding Officers of the Training Squadron
were assembled on the Quarterdeck of GEJSER

The Training Squadron had planned an exercise for the day, including the tactical use of smokescreen.

The participating torpedo boats were to train the use of a smokescreen to screen others ships exposed to observed enemy gunfire.

For that purpose, the torpedo boats were equipped with a new Swedish smoke-screen apparatus.

Each smoke generator contained 10 kilos of phosphorus.

The plan was; that the officers and

Smålandsfarvandet og Masnedsund

The disaster took place
in Masnedsund just South of Zealand

men of the Training Squadron were to be trained on board the GEJSER in the use of these new smokescreen generators.

It was initially planned that all the 1st officers of the torpedo boats should attend the demonstration. This was rearranged so the demonstration should be attended by the CO's.

This change most probably spared the Danish Crown Prince Frederik, the later King Frederik the 9th, from being involved in the disaster. The Crown Prince was 1st officer of one of the participating torpedo boats, DELFINEN.

Heavy blast instead of a Smokescreen

One of the officers observing the demonstration, Lieutenant Kai Hammerich, CO of the Torpedo Boat SÆLEN, describes the disaster like this:

Putting down a smokescreen

Putting down a smokescreen

"We were now, all Officers and non-commissioned officers assembled on the quarterdeck.

Chief Engineer E. Borg was in charge of the demonstration, and he was to demonstrate the use of the smoke-screen generator to us.

Found myself sitting on the rail just 2 meters from the generator.

Borg made ready to ignite the phosphorus.

The main purpose was that a thick and opaque smokescreen should be emitted and dispersed by the wind.

Last year I had attended a similar demonstration with some older and much larger smokescreen generator on board the PEDER SKRAM.

I remembered just suddenly that on this occasion, I was hit by just a small drop of burning phosphorus, and it took quite some time to heal this minor wound.

Bearing that on my mind, I realized that I might have to be a little more careful. I jumped from the rail and turned my head away from the demon-stration for just a few seconds.

At the same time you heard a deafening blast; and I felt, I was kicked from behind and blown to the deck.

Immediately thereafter, there was a brief moment of absolute silence.

This moment of absolute silence was followed by groaning and shouting, but I sensed nothing. Someone ordered fire bill to be established. I could not see anything, but while inhaling I could feel the toxic phosphorus smoke. I tried to rise to get some fresh air, but was immediately blown back to the deck.

I suddenly realized what had happened! The 10 kilos of phosphorus must have exploded instead of developing a smokescreen.

At the same time realizing that just inhaling the toxic air could have killed me.

What happened thereafter stands pretty unclear to me.

But what a nightmare, I woke up a little later and everything hurts and the smell of burned human flesh was penetrating. I heard feet on the deck, and heard Captain Wenck order: "Extinguish the fire on Lieutenant Hammerich".

Lieutenant Commander Rützou died from his injuries

Lieutenant Commander Paul C. Rützou, comman-ding officer of the Torpedo Boat DELFINEN, was one of the Danish officers severely injured in the blast.

Two weeks after the blast, he died from his inju-ries, at the Military Hospital in Vordingborg on June 11, 1923.

Paul C. Rützou died and left his American born wife a widow; he was later buried at the Military Ceme-tery (Garnisons kirkegaarden) in Copenhagen.

Most of the Training Squadrons CO's
sustained injuries in the blast

Lieutenant Commander Paul C. Rützou

Lieutenant Commander Paul C. Rützou
died from his injuries

The Commanding Officer of GEJSER, Commander Godfred Hansen, was also one of the officers severely injured.

He had to resign from his command, as he, together with the other casualties, were transferred to the nearby Military Hospital in Vordingborg.

Commander Godfred Hansen

CO of the GEJSER, Commander Godfred
, was one
of the severely injured

Most of the commanding officers of the Training Squadrons 9 Torpedo Boats and 3 Mine ships were among the injured.

Immediate First Aid was given on board the cruiser.

The injured were transported to the Military Hospital in Vordingborg. The transport was provided by some of the Torpedo Boats.

Marked for life

Just 2, who only suffered minor wounds, were able to return to their duties that same day.

21 of those sustaining minor injuries were transferred to the Naval Hospital in Copenhagen on the next day, May 26.

32 of the officers and men, suffered severe injuries

had to remain at the Military Hospital in Vordingborg for intensive care.

As soon as their health situation improved, they were one by one transferred to the Naval Hospital in Copenhagen.

By the end of the year most were discharged from the hospital.

Many of the casualties were, however, marked for life.

Chief Engineer E. Borg, who had been conducting the demonstration, was blinded for life.

Many of the officers and men involved in the disaster terribly painful and disfiguring wounds to the face, on the neck, the body and the arms.

It took years and many painful operations before the wounds had healed.

Several of the involved were marked for life by disfigurations and big scars. Injuries that even the most skilled Danish and British surgeons could only partially heal by plastic surgery.

Lieutenant Kai Hammerich, one of the officers severely injured as mentioned above, had lost his left ear at the blast and suffered severe burns to his head and neck.

He received almost 3 more years of intensive care, including 14 plastic surgeries in both Denmark and England.

Kai Hammerich

Kai Hammerich
here seen as Captain,
was also one of
the severely injured

Lieutenant Kai Hammerich later became Captain, and was the commander of the Danish Expeditionary Force to Korea in 1950-1953 with the hospital ship JUTLANDIA.

The Training Squadron

The Light Cruiser GEJSER, built back in 1892, had since the beginning of 1923 been the command ship of a Training Squadron performing naval exercises in Danish waters.

The strength of the Training Squadron included 9 torpedo boats, 3 mine ships and 7 submarines, together with a number of seaplanes and the auxiliary vessels GRØNSUND and FENRIS.

Commanding the Training Squadron was Captain H. L. E. Wenck.

Shortly after the disaster and following the necessary reorganizations, the Training Squadron resumed its exercises.

Epilogue: A Narrowly Averted Disaster

Later this summer the Cruiser GEJSER was involved in a further accident, which could easily have resulted in an even greater disaster.

During a submarine attack exercise the GEJSER collided with the sub-merged Danish Submarine BELLONA.

Fortunately, the collision only caused a bent periscope on the sub, and the submarine reported no further damage.

Just two days later, the Submarine BELLONA once narrowly evaded again close to disaster. This time one of the torpedo boats collided with the submerged submarine. And once again the only reported damage was, once again, a bent periscope.

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Af mit livs drama, by Kai Hammerich, J. Frimodts forlag, Copenhagen, 1961


Danske Søofficerer 1933-1982, edited by S. E. Pontoppidan og J. Teisen, Published by Søe-Lieutenant-Selskabet, Copenhagen, 1984.


Det Danske Søofficerskorps 1801-1919, by Th. A. Topsøe-Jensen, Gyldendals Boghandel and Nordisk Forlag, Copenhagen, 1919.


Officerer i den Dansk-Norske Søetat 1660-1814 og den Danske Søetat 1814-1932, Bind I og II, by Th. A. Topsøe-Jensen and Emil Marquard, H. Hagerups Forlag, Copenhagen, 1935


Vore ubåde gennem 75 år - Det danske ubådsvåben 1909-84, by Hans Chr. Bjerg, Hans Chr. Dahlerup Koch and P. B. Nielsen, Forlaget Forum, 1984


Vore krydsere, by R. Steen Steensen, Commander s.g., Marinehistorisk Selskab, Strubes forlag, 1971


Vore orlogsskibe fra halvfemserne til nu, by Kay Larsen, Nyt Nordisk Forlag/Arnold Busck, 1932

44You are also referred to the Naval Bibliography

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Disaster on the GEJSER (1923)


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This page was first published: March 31, 2002

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