On 30 September, 1943, the southbound coastal express steamer was on her way from Ålesund to Måløy in a heavy south-westerly gale. In the village of Ervika at Stadlandet people were busy harvesting their potato crops. At about 7 in the evening, the potato pickers suddenly got other things on their mind. A fleet of aircraft came sweeping in from the ocean and attacked the ship that had just come into view. She was immediately set ablaze, and the ship changed her course towards land. Captain Alsagher managed to run the ship aground on the islet of Kobbeholmen to the east of Buholmen, close to the north-western point of Hovden. Fortunately, the ship ran aground so close to Kobbeholmen that survivors managed to climb up on the islet itself by means of a fastened hawser.
The people of Ervik rushed to their boats and came to the assistance of the crew and passengers. Under the extremely difficult circumstances, they were able to save more than 70 persons. 44 Norwegians lost their lives, as well as between 12 and 20 German soldiers. Two of the Norwegians came from the county of Sogn og Fjordane.
The heroic rescue operation
Captain S. Alshager has given his own account of the rescue operation by the Ervik people in an interview in the local paper "Fjordenes Tidende" 14 years later: "They saved 50 persons immediately after the blazing ship was set aground on the rock, and the following day they rescued 20 persons from the islet of Kobbeholmen. This was such a heroic rescue operation so brilliantly carried out that it is a miracle to all those who owe them their lives. Besides, the operation was carried out without any accidents."
The ship bell
The shipwreck remained on the submerged rock for two-three days before she disappeared into the sea. A man from Ervik was asked to make an attempt to save the ship bell. With an assistant, he managed to break loose the ship bell and get it safely ashore. Soon afterwards it was sent to Stavanger. The steamship company of "Det Stavangerske Dampskibsselskab" engraved the bell and returned it to the people of Ervik as a symbolic token of their gratitude. The bell is now used as a church bell in the memorial chapel at Ervik.
The engraved text is as follows: "To the people of Ervik in appreciation of the rescue of human lives when D/S "Sanct Svithun" went down on 30 September, 1943."
The ship inspector Brækhus was among the rescued. He is said to be the first to put forward the idea that the people of Ervik should get a memorial chapel in recognition of their efforts in the rescue operation. Many people supported the idea, and as early as 1944, the foundation stone was laid. The ongoing war, however, held up any further work, and only in 1968 was the work resumed with a new foundation stone at a different place close to the graveyard. The memorial chapel - called "Ervik Kapell" - was completed in 1970, and was consecrated on 14 June by the bishop Per Juvkam. Close to 1000 persons attended the ceremony. The chairman of the building committee, Daniel Berstad, thanked all those who had supported the work financially, and then handed over the building to the municipal authorities of Selje.
Reaction to the attack
D/S "Sanct Svithun" was in regular civil service for a Norwegian steamship company. The ship was marked in accordance with current identification regulations. The allied forces in Britain had standing orders not to attack ships in civil passenger and supply service.
The Norwegian Resistance Movement reacted against the "Sanct Svithun" action in a telegram sent to the Norwegian exile government in London through the Norwegian Legation in Stockholm. The telegram was read at a government conference on 26 October, 1943:
"We have received a report from a reliable source in western Norway who has collected reliable information from eye witnesses and survivors concerning the sinking of "St. Svithun". He declares that the German reports in the press are on the whole correct.
When the unfortunate consequences have not become worse, this is due to the fact that everybody in Norway refuses to believe that the English could have behaved in such a way. This contrasts strongly to the experiences made by people at home for nearly three years. If this were to occur once more, it would have an extremely detrimental effect."