Trade and shipping

The Danes’ last – long – expedition to the West Indies

The last Danish naval ship in the West Indies was the cruiser “Valkyrien”. It was dispatched in 1915, and not until 1917, when the islands were sold to the United States, could the ship return home.
“Valkyrien” lying at anchor in the harbor at St. Thomas.
“Valkyrien” lying at anchor in the harbor at St. Thomas. The launch constitutes the connection to land. Ventilation sails have been set up for comfort in the hot climate, and clothing has been hung to dry on the foredeck. (The Danish Naval Museum).

There was unrest in the West Indies in 1915. There was growing dissatisfaction and strikes among workers, as well as unrest in connection with rumors of the sale of the islands to the U.S., and the First World War had broken out the year before. The warship “Valkyrien” was therefore dispatched. When “Valkyrien” arrived, extensive strikes broke out on St. Croix and St. Thomas, and armed seamen from the ship were put ashore to maintain peace and order. Then “Valkyrien”’s crew had to struggle against an unusually violent hurricane that caused havoc in the fall. “Valkyrien” was the only one of the many ships in the harbor at Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas that was not wrecked. The ship’s powerful engines and anchors held it somewhat in place.

The commander, Henri Konow, becomes governor

After the end of the strikes, conditions became more peaceful, and the 230 men on “Valkyrien” figured on soon being able to sail home again. But the political situation evolved, and the islands were to be transferred to the United States. The islands’ governor, Helweg-Larsen, did not want to head up the transfer, so he resigned. Instead, “Valkyrien”’s captain, Commander Henri Konow, became acting governor of the colony in the West Indies.

The transfer ceremony

It took some time to get the formalities with the Americans in order. But finally on March 31, 1917, the Danish soldiers could gather on the parade grounds in front of the barracks in Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas, where the formal transfer ceremony took place. The Danish flag was lowered and the Stars and Stripes were raised during salutes from “Valkyrien” and from an American ship in the harbor. Two days later, the United States entered the First World War. Two days after that, Konow boarded his ship, raised anchor and sailed homeward.

The end of the long expedition

“Valkyrien”’s expedition came to take no less than sixteen months. For the crew, it was an exciting voyage to an enormously remote and exotic destination. But particularly for the ordinary seamen on board, the stay in the colony quickly felt boring and eventually far too long. In reality, there wasn’t much useful to be done until the day of transfer finally came.