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Captain Daehne: „Open the valves, abandon the ship“!

Helenus Lubben and the history of the Hotel Columbus in Bremerhaven

This was his order when he was about to scuttle his ship in 1939 off the US east Coast. Before the outbreak of World War II the SS”Columbus” was cruising in the Caribbean, most of her passengers being US-Citizens. When war seemed inevitable Captain Daehne decided to disembark all passengers on Cuba and then set course for VERA CRUZ.

There the giant ship was anchoring in the roads for eight weeks. On 12th December 1939 the Captain assembled his crew to announce his decision to try a breakthrough to Germany. Two days later the ship is en route at full speed.


A destroyer is following the SS“Columbus”. On high seas she is shadowed by American warships. It is quite obvious that the Americans intend to pass on the “Naziship” to the British.

After 4 days of pursuit the British destroyer “HMS Hyperion” at full speed approaches the SS“Columbus”. Dazzling flashes like lightening can be seen at the destroyer, the roaring of guns crosses the sea, water fountains are rising up in front of the SS“Columbus”.

The meaning of the warning shots is clear: “Stop the ship immediately!” Everybody on board knows what´s to be done. “Sink her as fast as possible by setting her afire, all valves are to be opened” so the captain orders. In no time flames are all over the ship, slowly she begins to sink. Then follows the captain’s ultimate order: “Abandon the ship!” Crew members are climbing down the rope ladders to the lowered life boats. The captain is the last to leave the ship. The SS”Columbus” ocean giant and luxury liner of the “North German Lloyd” is sinking on even keel into a depth of 4000 metres. Unfortunately for unknown reasons three stokers don´t manage to reach the lifeboats and are dying in the flames.

An American cruiser, the “Tuscaloosa” bound for NEW YORK, takes all shipwrecked on board. Nobody saw the SS“Columbus” sinking definitely. A fiery red gleam at the horizon and the evening sky was the last to be seen of the beautiful ship.

In NEW YORK the shipwrecked were interned at ELLIS ISLAND, and later on transferred to ANGEL ISLAND.

A part of the crew could return home in 1940 via SAN FRANCISCO, JAPAN, SOVIET UNION – SIBERIA. Among them was the managing chief steward Helenus Lübben from Bremerhaven. On arrival in Japan the German Embassy requested him to stay and work in their office counting on his knowledge of five foreign languages. He only got home after the war in 1947 returning on board of an American ship.

In remembrance of his seafaring time he founded 1950 the “Columbus Hotel” in Bremerhaven furnished with nice souvenirs of maritime character and ambiance. The hotel is now managed by the 3rd generation of the Lübben family and is enjoying a good reputation by his guests as a middle class hotel. Reviewing all this there is a long period of time from the last voyage of the SS”Columbus” in the Caribbean, then VERA CRUZ, the sinking of the ship in the Atlantic and further on to NEW YORK, TOKIO and SIBERIA up to the present time at Bremerhaven. Here the Lloyd ship yard is domiciled, the homestead of the ship and there are still many other places and institutions in Bremerhaven recalling the destiny of the once famous luxury ocean liner of the “North German Lloyd”.

Helenus Lübben, 1937 with his crew

(Helenus Lübben, 1937 with his crew)