The Sinking of the Atlas

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Event.png The Sinking of the Atlas (covert operation,  false flag,  Shipwrecking) Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
PerpetratorsDirection Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure
Blamed onThe Red Hand
DescriptionGerman cargo ship sunk by French agents in 1958. Blamed on fictional Red Hand terrorist organization.

The Atlas was a German cargo ship that was badly damaged by two explosive charges on October 2, 1958 in the port of Hamburg and partially sank. The criminal investigation was unsuccessful. On November 27, 1959 that it became known that the attack had been carried out in the context of the Algerian War, allegedly by terrorist organization the Red Hand.

Although suspected at the time, it was only in the 1990s that it was confirmed as a false flag operation done by the French Service Action.[1]

Technical specifications

The Atlas was launched on 15 March 1951. The ship was 116.3 m long and 15 m wide, with a carrying capacity of 5200 tons. After the 1958 attack, the Atlas was renamed Naguilan in 1959 and at times was chartered in Central and South America. In 1967 the ship was transferred to the Hamburg South American Steamship Company and renamed again to Atlas. From 1969 to 1971 the ship was renamed Nordhaff by the shipping company "Nord". In 1974 the shipping company Siam Maritime Lines in Bangkok took over the ship, where it was called Siam Queen until 1976 and from 1976 the name Simali 1 or Simalee 1. The final fate of the ship is unknown[2]

The attack

On 1 October 1958 at 00:50 a heavy explosion on board the cargo ship lying at quay caused a list of up to 50°. The capsizing of the Atlas was only prevented by the masts of the ship coming to rest on the quay wall. Of the 32-man crew on board under the command of Captain Keller, no one was injured, “miraculously,” according to the contemporary press. The crew was able to use the gangway to get to safety on land, especially since it was not clear whether further explosions would follow.

Due to water flowing in and shifting of the load, the Atlas moved for hours after the explosion and partially straightened up again. The load officially consisted of a good 500 tons of flour and a dozen Volkswagen cars for the Levant. The ship that had arrived in Hamburg eight hours earlier was supposed to leave in 24 hours.

The wreck was immediately examined by a diver who at first could only discover an explosion leak on the starboard front. The inward-facing edges suggested an explosion from the outside. However, the investigating criminal police did not want to issue a statement before the ship had been lifted and put into dry dock. At least one witness had observed a water column on the ship during the explosion, so that an internal detonation, for example by a time bomb, was excluded. An explosion in the engine room was ruled out because an engineer assistant had been there shortly before and had not noticed any irregularities.

Initially it was speculated whether the Atlas had hit an aerial bomb from the Second World War. However, the fact that the freighter still had three meters of water under the keel before sinking spoke against this.

By mid-October 1958, the Atlas was sealed, lifted and brought to the Blohm and Voss wharf with three tugs. On 17 October 1958, the Hamburg police held a press conference on the details of the investigation. Dr. Lesczynski from the Federal Criminal Police Office had concluded that there were two explosion holes that were a good eight to nine meters apart. The explosive charges had apparently been attached to the bilge keel. When and where, that is, in which port the one kilogram charges were placed there, was unclear. Without any reference to the Algerian war, however, it was pointed out that the Atlas was in the Algerian port of Philippeville (now Skikda) in mid-August of that year.

In the contemporary press reports, there were no evidence of any suspects. The Hamburg daily Die Welt also considered the possibility that the attack could never be solved. Neither Die Welt nor other papers expressed any suspicion. Only the local paper Bremer Weser-Kurier provided a context of the Algerian war:

“This is the third bomb attack in Hamburg that has not yet been resolved. The previous cases involved attacks on the Hamburg arms dealer Schlueter.[3]

On September 28, 1956 and June 3, 1957, the arms dealer Otto Schlueter had already been attacked by explosives in Hamburg, an incident which was never solved, but in which Schlueter's business partner and Schlueter's mother had died.

Since Schlueter also handled arms deals with North Africa and the Middle East, there was suspicion that either the colonial power France or the Algerian Front de libération nationale (FLN) was the culprit. Schlueter worked closely with Georg Puchert, a former member of the Navy, alias "Captain Morris", who worked as a smuggler in Morocco from around 1948 and from 1956 also supplied the FLN with weapons. Two of Puchert's cutters , the Bruja Roja ('Red Witch') and Sirocco, which flew Costa Rican flags, were sunk in Tangier harbor in the summer of 1957 by an unknown party.

Subsequent findings

On November 27, 1959, the British daily Daily Mail published an interview with the French national Christian Durieux (aka Roger Durieux, born 1929), who stated, among other things, that he had blown up the Atlas on behalf of the Red Hand. Durieux was contacted by the news magazine Der Spiegel in February 1960 and interviewed in Switzerland. Durieux apparently did not provide any details about the attack on the freighter.

In 1964, the journalist Bernt Engelmann claimed in his work "My friends, the arms dealers. Small wars, big deals" that the Atlas had loaded Norwegian dynamite for the FLN and was sunk by frogmen from Service Action for this reason.


The Official Culprit

The Red HandFrench intelligence service controlled organization to carry out false flag attacks and carry out assassinations for them.


  1. Thomas Riegler: The State as Terrorist: France and the Red Hand, in: Perspectives on Terrorism, Vol. 6, No. 6 (2012)
  2. Reinhold Thiel: Argo-Reederei und Atlas Levante-Linie. 100 Jahre Bremische Seeschiffahrt, Bremen (Verlag H. M. Hauschild GmbH) 1994
  3. Weser-Kurier 18. October 1958, page 1