Kommodore Johnson



Officers of Kommodore Johnson


Kommodore Johnson

1936 – 1945 

In light of Norddeutsche Lloyd’s positive track record with training junior officers on sail training ships for more than thirty years, the company considered the purchase of a large square-rigged sailing ship to serve as a training ship in the middle of the Thirties. Therefore, when the four-master MAGDALENE VINNEN returned from her journey to La Plata in the spring of 1936 and it became known that Vinnen had decided to sell the ship, the Norddeutsche Lloyd was interested immediately. A thorough viewing of the vessel showed a ship whose design features and seaworthiness almost cried out to be used as a training ship. Everything was of such quality and sturdiness, easily allowing long voyages around Cape Horn. Norddeutsche Lloyd bought the ship on 9th August 1936 and modified her in its own shipyard as a cargo-carrying training ship. More accommodation had to be provided, as the ship, apart from her permanent crew, was to have a compliment of 50 to 60 trainee officers on each journey.

Thus, the new Norddeutsche Lloyd training ship could already be commissioned on 12th August 1936 at Bremen and was given the name KOMMODORE JOHNSON. She was named after a man who, through his diligence, loyalty and endurance, had worked himself up through the ranks from a lowly ship’s boy to master of Norddeutsche Lloyd’s fastest and largest steamship and, finally, to Commodore of the Lloyd fleet. Sea-faring circles in particular approved of Norddeutsche Lloyd’s intention to run the ship as a cargo vessel. The curriculum emphasised thorough mastery of seamanship and cargo services. On the KOMMODORE JOHNSON, the young aspiring seamen and captains were to be familiarised with all the hardships but also with the beautiful side of their occupation. 

On 8th October 1936, the KOMMODORE JOHNSON sailed out of Bremerhaven for the first time as a training ship. The ship with her cargo of hard coal arrived at her destination Montevideo on 6th December 1936 in only 58 days. She covered 6,820 nautical miles. The home-bound barque left Buenos Aires on 8th January with a cargo of wheat.

On this journey, the vessel encountered the probably the most critical situation of her entire career. Around the Azores, the KOMMODORE JOHNSON got into a severe storm which developed into a hurricane. This in itself was not particularly special, however, the situation became dangerous when the ship developed a 20-degree list to port. The ship had to work hard in the seething hurricane. Heavy breakers swept over the deck from port so that the foredeck with the hatches and the astern hollow was completely under water. 

Around 2 am, the KOMMODORE JOHNSON heeled heavily to port and continued to list 20 degrees to port, however, increasing hourly. When the crew checked the cargo they noticed that it had shifted to port as the longitudinal bulkhead under hatch III had given way. The entire crew tried to re-trim the cargo but despite their efforts the list increased to 50 degrees. At times, in excess of 20 tons of water were on the port deck. On the morning of 3rd March 1937, The KOMMOPDORE JOHNSON sent out an SOS. Her call for help was received by the Dutch freighter Sliedrecht and the German Tanker Winkler, and both ships came to the aid of the damaged barque. On the evening of 3rd March 1937, after the tanker had put oil over board to weather and the wind had dropped a bit, the frantic work in the cargo holds was finally met with success. After almost 24 hours, the crew had finished rescuing the ship and the two tankers could be gratefully sent on their way. The KOMMODRE JOHNSON had been very lucky indeed! 15 days later she sailed into Hamburg. 

On 1st of April 1937, Gottfried Clausen took command of the KOMMODORE JOHNSON.  He commanded her for 3 voyages taking her all over the world. The KOMMODORE JOHNSON returned from her last voyage as a Norddeutsche Lloyd training ship on 11th August 1939, just a few days before the beginning of the war. In 1945, the sailing ship, together with the Padua, was moored in the Flensburger Förde. On 20th December 1945, the British handed over the ship to the Soviet Union as war reparation. Under the Norddeutsche Lloyd’s flag the ship had completed 4 voyages during 1936 - 1939 and covered 97,469 nautical miles, 4 times the circumference of the Earth.


Shield of the Norddeutscher Lloyd