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Johnny E. Balsved


The Battle off Gedser (1980):

Øsstysk minestryger af KONDOR-klassen

It was an East German minesweeper of the KONDOR-class, as shown above,
which rammed the Danish home guard cutter.

East German Minesweeper rams Danish Home Guard Cutter

The Naval home guard cutter MHV 94 was July 8, 1980 rammed by an East German minesweeper.
Luckily, only material damage occurred.

In the diplomatic game, the two sides in the incident was standing firmly on their story, in spite of the pictures telling the true story of the incident at Gedser.

These incidents wasn’t uncommon, during the entire duration of “The Cold War”, and already earlier that same year, a Danish minelayer and a Russian frigate had a collision.

By Leo Bram/translated by Jakob Dalgaard

On July 8, 1980, the Naval Home Guard cutter MHV 94, with crewmembers from the 136th Home Guard Flotilla in Sønderborg embarked, left Lübeck, heading for the naval base at Holmen in Copenhagen.

On a south-easterly heading, south of Gedser, MHV 94 observed an East German naval vessel, a KONDOR-class Mine Sweeper.

The KONDOR-class trailed along on the starboard side of MHV 94, at a distance of 2,2 nautical miles for approximately 2 hours, then the vessel increased speed and overtook MHV 94.

On a south-easterly heading, south of Gedser, an East German naval vessel,
a KONDOR-class, was observed by MHV 94.
(Photo: Leo Bram)

After a while, the KONDOR-class turned port and steamed directly towards MHV 94 from a distance of a couple of miles.

The bearing didn't change

The KONDOR-Class were checked several over the compass for changes in the bearing from MHV 94, but the bearing didn’t change.

The thick black smoke, rising from the chimney, and the large wave from the bow, revealed that the KONDOR-Class had increased its speed considerably, properly 20-24 knots.

At that time, I came up on the foredeck, with my camera, and realized that a WAPA (Warsaw-pact) vessel was heading straight towards us, and would come very close to MHV 94, maybe so close that I could take some nice close-up of the ship.

Master of the vessel, Svend Elefsen, that were on duty on the bridge as navigator, realized that the KONDOR-Class came closer with high speed, and that a anti-collision-situation was imminent.

MHV 94 was on a steady course and speed, as prescribed in "International Rules of The Sea".

KONDOR-klassen på vej ned mod MHV 94

The KONDOR-class mine sweeper is heading straight toward the MHV 94.
(Photo: Leo Bram)

On the foredeck, I began taking a series of pictures of the KONDOR-Class as is came closer and closer.

At approximately 100 meter, the KONDOR-Class changed its course a bit towards port in order to pass close to the bow of MHV 94.

Across the bow of MHV 94 and in contradiction to the rules of the sea

A manoeuvre, crossing in front of another vessel are against the rules of the sea and good seamanship.

When the bow of the KONDOR-Class was directly aligned with the bow of MHV 94, I took a picture.

 Da KONDOR-klassens stævn var ret ud for MHV 94 stævn tog jeg et foto

KOMET heads directly in front of MHV 94 and a collision seems almost unavoidable.
(Photo: Leo Bram)

The name of the ship, KOMET, was written on the bow of the ship.

KOMET was going high speed, and it directly occurred to me, that a collision was unavoidable.

I let got of my camera, so that it hanged in its strap, and grasped the railing with both hands.

The long slender vessel raced in front of our bow at a distance of 5 – 10 meters.

When the bridge of the KOMET was directly aligned with the bow of MHV 94, a door on the starboard side opened, and an officer in his mid-twenties came out.

For a split second, our eyes met, but no salutes or smiles were exchanged from either side. The officer then looked aft along his vessel.

As I saw it, there was the expression of surprise painted in the mans face, when he realized that a collision was unavoidable. He quickly returned to the wheelhouse where a fatal command to the helmsman was given.

KOMET drejede bagbord over

The KOMETs port turn forced its stern to starboard, right into the bow of MHV 94.
Notice the bump in the plate on the starboard side of the KOMET.
(Photo: Leo Bram)

The KOMET turned port and her stern swung into the bow of MHV 94.

If the master had maintained his course, or had turned starboard, a collision could might be avoided, but this was not to be.

The Collision

A loud crash, and MHV 94 rolled heavily to starboard, and at the same time, it was thrown 180° to an opposite course.

The bow of MHV 94 hit the bulwark of the KOMET and it was bend inwards for 5-10 meters. The bow of MHV 94 grated along the side of the KOMET, until the two vessels were free from each other.

Not thinking about it, I raised the camera and took a picture of the KOMET from the rear, when it was heading away, high speed. This photo was displayed in Ekstra Bladet (a Danish newspaper) a couple of days later on page 2.

KOMET slowed down shortly after the crash, and lay dead in the water at a distance of 3-400 meters.

KOMET steaming full speed away from the place of the collision.
(Photo: Leo Bram)

In the collision MHV 94 received a dent and a hole in the bow, between the waterline and the free deck.

The hole was adjacent to the anchor chain guard, and their was no danger of flooding.

No one onboard was hurt.

Enroute Holmen with a hole in the stern

Master Svend Elefsen contacted the duty officer at Admiral Danish Fleet headquarter via Lyngby Radio who told him not to contact KOMET, and proceed directly towards Holmen.

KOMET på vej væk

KOMET disappears from the collision site without further contact to MHV 94.
(Photo: Leo Bram)

A night the wind increased in strength, and every time our stern hit the waves MHV 94 drank a bit of seawater, but no more than our pumps could keep up.

We arrived at Takkeloftsgraven at Holmen in radiant sunshine the next morning.

Interrogations in Copenhagen

The master, the helmsman Eiler Jepsen and yours truly had been summoned to immediate meetings with the naval intelligence service and the naval home guard command.

It's pretty exciting to meet these offices as a "key person".

The naval intelligence mostly wants to hear about the technical details, whereas the home guard command, wants to know who did what and clarify who was to blame for the incident.

Presseklip mm.

An extract of the many Danish newspaper commentary.

My film are being confiscated as secret evidence, but no more secret than the newspaper "Ekstra Bladet" gets hold of one of the pictures.

We are ordered not to talk to the press.

Our explanations are taken into considerations, and with the evidence presented, our backs are cleared.

There's no doubt in our mind that KOMET didn't observe the rules of the sea and made way. KOMET furthermore went in front of us, and the collision was unavoidable, even if the Master was reversing at full throttle in the last minute.

It is pointed out, that there wasn't given 5 short blows with the horn, from MHV 94  meaning ”What are your intensions”, - but Svend apparently hadn't got the time to do so.

Fierce diplomatic activity

In the time following the incident, several letters are going back and forth between the East German and Danish authorities, but it is clear to the East Germans that MHV 94 are to be blamed for the incident.

Their written reports says :

KOMET was at a speed of 16 knots, on course 155° at  19:35.5 at a distance of 70 meters on a parallel course with MHV 94 doing 11 knots.

According to the international rules of the sea, KOMET was therefore the overtaking ship and MHV 94 are obliged to maintain course and speed.

Nevertheless MHV 94 at 19:54 turned to port, during the overtaking manoeuvre of the DDR vessel and thereby undoubtly caused the collision.

Hjemmeværnskutter af MHV 90-klassen

Home guard cutter of MHV 90-class
(Photo: Naval Home Guard)

Obviously the East German wanted the case presented as a overtaking manoeuvre, but this is not in accordance with the pictures, showing KOMET coming in on our port side, ahead of our bow.

Another item in the explanation which raised questions, were the claim that we had been sailing on a parallel course for approximately 20 minutes, at a distance of 70 meters, and a difference in speed of 5 knots. 

If this had been the case, then KOMET would have gone 1.5 miles ahead of MHV. No photos confirms this claim.

DDR "drops demands of compensation"

Due to the minor damages that KOMET had received in the collision, "DDR dropped the demands for compensation".

The incident was raised several times to East German authorities by the Danish foreign ministry, but it became clear to the Foreign ministry that they couldn't do more in this matter.

It is my personal opinion that the collision, wasn't deliberate from  KOMETs side, but more of an attempt to harass us, that went out of hand for the Master onboard KOMET.

The only thing to back me up on this opinion, are the surprised look on the Masters face, when he opens the door to the bridge and looks at me and then looks at the vessels.

The look on his face is not that of surprise, but the fact that he rushes back to the bridge house, in order to get the course changed, seems strengthening to the case.

If the Master of KOMET had intended to harass or frighten MHV 94 to make an evasive manoeuvre at an earlier stage during the incident, he should might have considered to find another adversary than Svend Elefsen.

Svend was known to fight all battles to the limit, and that's what the German experienced.

Other cases of harassments

In this particular period of time, several episodes and rude harassments incidents combined with bad seamanship from the WAPA ships, took place in the Baltic

 Minelæggeren FYEN

Coastal minelayer FYEN collided with a Soviet frigate of the MIRKA-class
on April 18, 1980, in the Baltic .
(Photo: Danish Navy)

Amongst other, the coastal minelayer FYEN, that same summer, collided with a Soviet frigate. The frigate was overtaking FYEN when the collision occurred.

The frigate was to close to FYEN and the ships were "sucked" together with large material damage as a result.

Both episodes were mentioned in the TV-medias news broadcasts.

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This story has previously been published in:

Marinehjemmeværnet 50 år 1952-2002, by Jacob Wisby and Helle Kolding (ed.), Forlaget Wisby & Wilkens, Viborg 2002,

and is published here by permission from the author

44You are also referred to the Naval Bibliography

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This page was first published: January 18, 2003

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