How M.Sci Ole Bostrup heard about zirconium

The telecast of June 2002 on The Flying Enterprise, produced by Lasse Spang Olsen and associated deep-sea divers and filmmakers, triggered Ole Bostrup into writing to Dansk Kemi Nr. 1 2003* i.e. the periodical of professional chemistry in Denmark. - [The Flying E was an amer. freighter underway from UK to NY, damaged by sea Dec. 28. 1951 300 nautical miles sw of Ireland. Capt. Kurt Carlsen stayed after ordering all to abandon to be saved by other ships. webmaster inset1]

Mr. Bostrups purpose is to confirm that the word, "zirconium", did come up early from Capt. Carlsen himself.

In 1951 Mr. Bostrup was a student at "Polyteknisk Læreanstalt", now DTU, to get the degree Master of Science in Chemistry. Speculations on The Flying Enterprise´s cargo filled the air. By January 10. 1952 [ when the towline from TURMOIL had snapped and The Flying Enterprise sank] half the world rushed to Falmouth, UK [ to chew on this strange marine hero. What motivated him? The gold in the ships safe? Loyalty to the owner, Hans Isbrandtsen, also a danish-american? webmaster´s inset2]

"Only a few noticed", Bostrup wrote, "that Carlsen said zirconium".

Himself one of those few. He had recognised the word because of an explanation on how to read the 684 pages in the Holleman-Wiberg-Handbook: Articles in "petit" were not examination subjects. Zirconium had one half page in petit.

As a service to the reader Mr. Bostrup gives a shortcut to the science history of zirconium. By 1922 professor Niels Bohr [ developer of quantum mechanics] - was given the Nobel-Price in Physics. - In his speech in Stockholm Bohr gave his associates the credit for isolating a new element, later called hafnium, latin for Copenhagen where the discovery took place. - What science had hitherto taken for "pure zirconium" did actually contain 1 % of hafnium.

One thing his old Holleman-Wiberg did tell about zirconium: The material was used in fireproof ceramics and crucibles. That is: It don´t burn slag (fr: crasse) by high temperatures. Only Germany produced it.

But - "In January 1952 some tonnes of zirconium didn´t seem interesting." Mr. Bostrup states.

When USS Nautilus, the first nuclear submarine, was ready a few years later, uranium in pure zirconium pipes fulled the submarine-reator. Only pure zirconium without any hafnium makes a shield to neutron-radiation.

"That´s the important element in the Navys presence to assure the saving of Capt. Carlsen and The Flying Enterprise... Nobody said it then. But now you can." Mr. Bostrup ends.


My conclusion: Speculations on zirconium now outdated, we form a Flying-E-Cargo-Public-Picture-One: Captain Kurt Carlsen told world news [Ole Bostrup witness] of this materal and, at the mikes, did not violate US laws. The arguments, whatever their power or validity, behind governments keeping tight security for years on subjects already openly discussed, seems of minor interest here ¤). But for naval and leasure vessels, commercial arguments of course are behind every ship moving on the oceans.

By a naturalistic view the fight for The Flying Enterprise contains "sub-stories" on how rapidly changing rough sea conditions forced the OCEAAN, the dutch ocean tug at first detailed for The Flying E., to go to assistance of her sister ship, the ZWARTE ZEE, struggling with another costumer. And the french tug, the ABEILLE-25, underway only to show up as number two on the scene, which is why this ship is known today for some fine photos, as the one of its competitor The TURMOIL connecting the towline.

The 1.118 tons (deplacement) british ocean tug TURMOIL towed a tanker into Falmouth on New Years day, then turning without delay for The Flying Enterprise. The titel graphic shows the square, nearly lifeboat-like hull of the TURMOIL: The full stem will lift out dry in nearly any sea, the afterdeck provides a lot of working space, likewise above the waves, not drawn down by the propellers, placed deep enough to keep grip.

To Mr. Bostups remark on why the american navy were there I'd say: Whatever the reason, the first of two amer. destroyers US DD 701 of The North European Force reached the "casualty"# from Bordeaux, January 2., relieved by US DD 775 January 5. Like navies and coast guards nowadays, they MIGHT have acted for reasons of seamanship whatever the cargo. Because they were there. Like they did when the Royal Greenland's ship HEDTOFT disappered in a winter hurricane. - Like TURMOIL's first mate, Kenneth Dancy:

Mr. Dancy became known to the world later the same day, when he jumped from the TURMOIL to The Flying Enterprise to help Capt. Carlsen grab the light line, the tug shot over, to be followed by a loop of a hawser - a technique developed by Capt. Dan Parker - with this loop the tug's main winch pull the heavy towline in place without muscle work on board the casualty. Still the two men had to keep the bow bullnose greased, and when eventually on January 9 the towline parted, 9 they worked for hours with a hacksaw to clear the foredeck of damaged towing gear...

Fx. two shackles 15 kilo a-piece to be ready for a new towline. "Imagine those two men, wrote Ewart Brookes (litt. pg. dwn) hanging on grimly by one hand and cutting through that stubborn steel, more than half the time submerged under the cold water which tore at them with tremendous power". Dancy stayed with Carlsen. His motive pure seamanship. They jumped together on January 10, swam away to TURMOIL and got picked up. 40 minutes later, 16:11 GMT The Flying Enterprise went down.

In fact I might have heard the word zirconium myself. Four years old a the time I liked listening to the DR radio reporting on the drama out at sea. Later on my parents said, I asked that newspapers be red aloud, even our german schaefer listened; but the two of us didn`t make notes as Mr. Bostup guessed.

My websites orig. 3.2006. Latest link and text revisal May 2014. mail to webmaster

Notes and links

*) On-line edition of Bostrup's 1.2003 paper (Layout as printed)

#) "Casualty": The term always used by Captain Daniel Parker of the TURMOIL, source, E. Brookes, Rescue Tug, N.Y. 1957 (on 1952 conversations with Capt. Parker and Kenneth Dancy)

¤) On another Naval Archive overtaken by international networking, see frontpage catch

The Telegraph, Aug. 2013 on Mr. Kenneth R. Dancy

Steve Kipping's photos of his TURMOIL-model at

Photos of the TURMOIL with The FLYING E taken from french tug, ABEILLE-25

Flying Enterprise - webmasters introduction og noteringer

Kurt Carlsen, afterwards, told Danmarks Radio's renown reporter Gunner (NU)Hansen, that he shortly after evacuating crew and passengers searching usable provision (ships power gone, galley stowes cold) found a large Christmas Cake ( Big Dundee Type ) in the main salon pantry - Carlsen explained to Hansen how he put his arm through the hole in the middle ( that's why we said big ) - both hands free to get a hold here and there tumbling through the listing ship, while at the same time kicking cans of fruit and juice up the stairs too. This cake and the canned fruit was all the food he had, until the amer. destroyers send over sandwiches and a bucket of hot coffee.

The Capt. Carlsens Christmas Cake [in danish "Kapt.CarlsensJulekage1952"] is recreated by Marian Siebken, and then manhandled to the bridge by six black bears at our cartoon-style website

All rights Steen Siebken MA Marine hist. & phil.of science (ret)