The Dutch steam trawler Voorbode was a fishing vessel, until it was confiscated by the Germans during World War II and used for military transport.
In April 1944, it was on its way from Oslo to Kirkenes when it faced mechanical problems, forcing it to seek repair in Bergen. Due to lack of control, the ship was allowed entrance to Bergen harbor loaded with 124,000 kg of explosives, even though the ship did not satisfy security regulations and should not have been allowed into major cities with this cargo.
On April 20 at 8:39, the ship exploded at the quay in the center of Bergen. The force of the explosion caused a water column that was hundreds of meters high, spreading heavy debris. Several ships were thrown on land and the Voorbode's anchor was later found on the 417 m high mountain Sandviksfjellet. The air pressure from the explosion and the tidal wave that followed flattened whole neighborhoods near the harbor; then fires broke out and further destroyed the wooden houses, leaving 5,000 people homeless; 160 people were killed and 5,000 wounded, mostly civilians.
The Germans initially tried to conceal the extent of the catastrophe, probably because it exposed their failure to maintain security regulations. Because the explosion occurred on Adolf Hitler's birthday, there was some suspicion of sabotage, but investigations revealed that the explosion was an accident caused by self-ignition. Rescue efforts after the event were extensive and have been well documented.
Enormous explosion at Bergen and Vågen at 8 o'clock this morning. An estimated 130 were killed, 500 seriously injured, 3700 with minor injuries. Indescribable horrors followed the accident. It started when a German ship, with a cargo of explosives collided with a tanker which caught on fire. The flames spread with tremendous speed and reached the ammunition vessel, which blew up with a huge detonation. A great amount of ships in the harbour sank, among them the passenger ship Rogaland. The explosion caused terrible damage to bussinesses and private buildings. Bergenske Dampskibsselskab's large building, and valuable historical buildings, like Bergenhus, with Haakonshallen and the Rozenkrantz Tower and Nykirken became victims of the flames.