Our zero hour

The Second World War ended 70 years ago – and for Hapag and Norddeutscher Lloyd, the process of rebuilding their fleets began for the second time.

Destroyed: The Lloyd-Building in Bremen.

8 May 1945 – the official end of the war 70 years ago today. Germany lay in ruins, and Hapag and Norddeutscher Lloyd also found themselves at their zero hour. After the Second World War ended, there seemed to be little hope for northern Germany’s two major shipping companies. The Allied Powers had decided to exclude Germany from international shipping and prohibit the country from maintaining its own fleet. Whatever remained of the fleets of German shipping companies after the war had been either destroyed or seized.

Norddeutscher Lloyd was left with none of its 64 sea vessels: 42 were sunk, 21 had to be handed over to the Allies and one has been adventurously given to Japan during the war, although the “Bogotá” was returned to Norddeutscher Lloyd in the mid-1950s. In 1945 the shipping company had no more than a few excursion steamers, barges and tugs, most of which were badly damaged.

Given to Japan, the "Bogota" returned to Norddeutscher Lloyd in the mid-1950s.

Hapag had lost a total of 106 sea vessels during the war – as a result of war events, forced sales and the Allies, who sank seven ships after the war ended and seized the remainder.
The buildings owned by the two shipping companies in Hamburg and Bremen were little more than ruins: Norddeutscher Lloyd’s headquarters, equipment warehouse and passenger terminal facilities and Hapag’s technical, quayside and port operation facilities had been completely destroyed along with many other buildings and facilities.

Both shipping companies had also lost the majority of their employees in the war – many had fallen as soldiers at the front. Before the war, Hapag had employed some 13,000 people and Norddeutscher Lloyd around 12,000. Now in 1945, the shipping companies had to let the remaining sailors, employees and workers go, with few exceptions, “in view of the circumstances”.
When Hapag turned 100 in May 1947, its annual report stated: “There is no cause for celebration. For the second time in its history, our shipping company has lost its entire fleet as a result of war; the work of generations has been destroyed.” For the second time – the fleet had already been lost in the First World War except for a few very small ships.

The end? No – a new beginning, albeit a modest one.

The two shipping companies resumed their business on a very small scale with their remaining barges and tugs. They also opened restaurants, “to provide at least some of our service and kitchen staff with a new living”. In addition, Hapag took charge of handling and distributing packages from abroad. Its shipping operations were a slow uphill struggle as well: in 1948, Hapag acquired an excursion steamer, the “Vorwärts” (“Forwards” in English). One of Norddeutscher Lloyd’s two remaining excursion steamers, the “Glückauf” (“Good Luck” in English), sailed between the East Frisian Islands and the mainland from 1946 onwards – the beginning of the process to rebuild its fleet.

One of the first steamers after the War: The "Glückauf" ("Good luck").

Incidentally, command of the 68-metre “Glückauf” was given to Gottfried Clausen, the famous captain of the Lloyd sailing school ship the “Kommodore Johnsen”, which he had navigated around the stormy Cape Horn. Now he was navigating an excursion steamer through the Wadden Sea.

Famous captain on a small vessel: Gottfried Clausen.

From 1947 on, the bans that excluded Germany from international shipping were gradually removed. The final restrictions were lifted in 1949, paving the way for the renewed commercial success of Hapag and Norddeutscher Lloyd. Later in 1970 they merged to become Hapag-Lloyd.

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