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Warship Wednesday, Sept, 19, 2018: The well-traveled Sea Otter

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018: The well-traveled Sea Otter

Here we see the deteriorating Qing Empire’s most modern warship, the 1st class protected cruiser Hai-Chi (also seen as Hai Chi, Haicang, and Hai Qi), of the Northern Fleet of the Imperial Chinese Navy as she sat at anchor in the Hudson off Gotham on Sept. 11, 1911. Note her Yellow Dragon Flag, flown by the Qing Dynasty from 1889 through 1911. This proud ship was an important turning point in Chinese military history.

The sleeping dragon that was old Imperial China had a rude awakening in 1894-95 when the Japanese picked a fight in Manchuria over Korea that ended in humiliation for the larger country. Scarcely 10 months long, the First Sino-Japanese War saw the Japanese slaughter the vaunted Chinese Beiyang Fleet, hailed at the time as the largest and most battle-ready in Asia, complete with a pair of German-built armored turret ironclads — the 8,000-ton Dingyuan and Zhenyuan— both outfitted with thick armor and modern Krupp guns. The latter was even commanded by American naval mercenary and Annapolis legend Philo Norton McGiffin.

However, the Beiyang Fleet was filled with ill-trained landsmen, at the mercy of corrupt officials (who sold off the explosives and powder charges, replacing them with flour and sand) and had just an overall poor tactical appreciation of modern naval warfare. This showed in the disastrous Battle of the Yalu River (also termed the Battle of the Yellow Sea), the world’s first large fleet action since 1866. At the end of the engagement, the Chinese fleet was, for all intents, combat ineffective, bested by a smaller but more professional Japanese force that had done their homework.

From the First Sino-Japanese War Battle of the Yellow Sea by Kobayashi Kiyochika ca. 1894

Following the Japanese capture of Weihaiwei four months later, the battered Zhenyuan was taken as a war prize while Dingyuan was scuttled. The Beiyang Fleet commander, Qing Adm. Ding Ruchang, along with his deputy, Adm. Liu Buchan, committed suicide and were posthumously drummed out of the service. Philo McGiffin, shattered and suffering from wounds incurred at the Yalu, blew his own brains out in a Manhattan hospital two years after the battle, aged a very hard 36.

Philo Norton McGiffin as a naval agent of China in England, left, a USNA cadet, right, and after the Yalu, center

Suffice it to say, China needed a new fleet.

In the immediate aftermath of the war, Germany seized Tsingtao, the British took over Weihaiwei, Russia moved into Port Arthur and the French took over Kwangchow Wan, all on “leases” set to run out in the 1990s.

Between the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki in April 1895, which ended the war, and the Chinese Revolution that saw the end of the four-century-long Great Qing dynasty in 1911 and birthed the Republic of China, the Manchu court ordered over 40 new warships from around the globe. A trio of small cruisers, the 3,000-ton Hai-Yung, Hai-Chu, and Hai-Chen, were ordered from Vulkan in Germany. From Vickers came the 2,750-ton cruisers Ying Swei and Chao-Ho. French-made torpedo boats, Krupp-built river monitors, Kawasaki-produced gunboats (ironically), destroyers from Schichau. It was a rapid expansion and recrafting.

The largest of the orders, placed at Armstrong for production at its Elswick, Newcastle upon Tyne shipyard, was for a pair of 4,500-ton (full load) protected cruisers, Hai-Chi (Yard No. 667) and her sister Hai-Tien (#668).

(One note about the naming convention of our subject here, some translate Hai Chi as “Boundary of the Sea” while others go with “Sea Otter,” anyway, back to the story)

The design by British naval architect Sir Philip Watts, KCB, FRS, was what we would term “off the shelf” today, simply a very slightly modified version of the Chilean cruiser Blanco Encalada and the Argentine ARA Buenos Aires, also produced by Armstrong.

Armstrong Yard No. 612. ARA Buenos Aires, Hai-Chi’s sistership, sort-of. Note the big 8-incher up front. Completed in 1896, Buenos Aires continued in use with Argentina until 1932 and sold for scrapping in 1935. (Photo via Postales Navales)

Armstrong Yard No. 605. The Chilean cruiser Blanco Encalada in 1904 note her bow crest and national ensign. The longest lived of the four sisters to include her two Chinese classmates and Buenos Aires, she was hulked in 1944 and broken up in 1946.

These cruisers were fast, at some 22 knots (which was surpassed on builder’s speed trials for the Chinese ships, whose hybrid Yarrow/Bellville boiler arrangement allowed them to break 24kts), and had long legs, capable of cruising some 8,000 miles– an important factor for ships in the Pacific.

Further, they were big, with twin 8″/45 cal Armstrong Pattern S guns in single fore and aft mounts (the Japanese also fitted these to their Kasagi and Takasago-class cruisers), and a secondary of 10 QF 4.7 inch Mk V naval guns. Add to this a host of smaller anti-torpedo boat guns, the latest Maxim machine guns, and five above-water torpedo tubes and you had a brawler. Armor protection ranged from 4 to 6 inches and a 37mm deck sheath. The ships were modern, with the best Barr & Stroud optics, electric lights and shell hoists, as well as powered turrets and forced ventilation.

Note the Qing functionaries and Edwardian locals at her christening in 1897. Not surreal at all.

The bow of the mighty Hai-Chi, complete with Imperial dragons

The very modern (and western-attired) crew shown between the forward pair of QF 4.7-inch guns, at the time of her commissioning of what could be a German-made Hai-Chen-class cruiser. Thanks for the update, Georgios Nikolaides-Krassas.

Hai-Chi was commissioned 10 May 1899. When arriving in China later that summer, Hai-Chi was the nominal flagship of Admiral Sa Zhenbing (Sah Chen-ping), commander of the Imperial Chinese Navy– the seniormost survivor of the Battle of the Yalu. Luckily the Navy did not become involved in the mess that was the Boxer Rebellion, although some Army units did, and were the worse for it.

HAI CHI in a Chinese port 1907-09. Photographed from USS CLEVELAND (C-19). Copied from the album of Assistant Paymaster Francis J. Daly, Courtesy of Commander Thomas M. Daly, USN, 1984. Description: Catalog #: NH 100017

Her sister, Hai Tien, foundered 25 April 1904 after hitting a rock in at night in Hangzhou Bay, ending her career after just five years of service.

She was wrecked some 60 miles from Shanghai on what was then known as Eagle Point on Elliot Island near Guzlaf light. Her crew was saved by Chinese customs officals and the Armstrong-built cruiser USS New Orleans (CL-22) in May landed a team nearby to inspect her unoccupied wreckage.

Salvage largely failed due to the hazardous conditions in the shoal, although her guns were reportedly saved by the Chinese.

In 1911, Hai-Chi was tapped to participate by the dynasty in King George V’s coronation review in Spithead alongside an all-star cast of international warships. For the circumnavigational voyage, she was fitted with a Marconi wireless system, one of the first in the Chinese Navy.

Photograph (Q 22235) Chinese Cruiser HAI CHI, 1911. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

On the way back to the Pacific, she crossed the Atlantic and paid lengthy port calls in New York and Boston.

The New York Times noted the event as the arrival of the “cruiser Hai-Chi of the Imperial Navy of China, the first vessel of any kind flying the yellow dragon flag of China that has ever been in American waters.”

Both hosting local dignitaries aboard and sending an honor guard to Grant’s Tomb (the former U.S. President was a key ally to China while in and out of office and was well-respected), the Chinese made a splash akin to visiting Martians in pre-Great War New York.

Note the big 8″/45 over her stern. She carried two of these monsters.

Photo shows Rear Adm. Chin Pih Kwang of the Imperial Chinese Navy and New York City Mayor William Jay Gaynor at Grant’s Tomb in New York City on Sept. 18th, 1911. (Source: Flickr Commons project, 2009, and New York Times archive Sept. 19, 1911, via Bain News Service.)

A landing party headed to Grant’s Tomb to lay a wreath given in friendship, all in this series from the LOC

Note the Mauser I.G.Mod.71 rifles, China purchased over 1 million of these big black powder bolt guns which fired from a tubular magazine from Germany in the 1890s and they were evidently still good enough for Naval service in 1911. The Chinese Army at the time this picture was snapped fielded the Hanyang 88, itself a domestically-made copy of the German Gewehr 88.

Recalled to China at the fall of the Dynasty, Ha-Chi became part of the new Republic’s navy and remained the most significant Chinese naval asset until the two-ship Ning Hai-class cruiser class was completed after 1932. During WWI, she served in home waters after China entered the conflict in 1917 on the side of the Allies, with no one around to fight.

HAI-CHI At Chefoo, China, circa 1914-1916 Description: Collection of C.A. Shively, 1978. Note she has the ROC flag. Catalog #: NH 88554

She was later scuttled as a blockship in the Yangtze River at Jiangyin along with 39 other ships on 11 August 1937 to obstruct the Japanese advance during the Second Sino-Japanese war.


Via 1914 edition of Janes

4,300 tons (standard)
4,515 t (full load)
Length: 423 ft 11 in o/a
Beam: 46 ft 7 in
Draught: 17 ft 11 in
Propulsion:2 shafts, 4 Humphrys & Tennant, Deptford VTE engines, four double-ended Bellville and four single-ended Yarrow 12-cylindrical boilers, 17,000 bhp at a forced draught.
Speed: 24.15 knots
Range: 8,000 nmi at 10kts on 1,000 tons of coal
Complement: 350-450 (sources vary)
2 × 203.2mm (8.00 in)/45 Armstrong Pattern S (2 × 1)
10 × 120mm (5 in)/45 Armstrong (10 × 1)
16 × 47mm (2 in)/40 Hotchkiss (16 × 1)
6 x Maxim machine guns
5 × 450mm (18 in) torpedo tubes (1 × 1 bow, 4 × 1 stern broadside) for Whitehead torpedoes.
Armor: Armstrong Harvey nickel-steel
Deck: 37–127 mm (1–5 in)
Turrets: 114.3 mm (5 in)
Barbettes: 51 mm (2 in)
Conning tower: 152 mm (6 in)

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Great War coastal grave robberies made right

Authorities in the UK are getting it done when it comes to those illegally salvaging trophies from war graves offshore.

Last month, the bell of the SS Mendi was presented to the President of South Africa by the Prime Minister Theresa May at a ceremony in Cape Town. Mendi, a 4,000-ton steamship of the British and African Steam Navigation Company, was requisitioned for WWI service and never made it back home.

On 21 February 1917 a large cargo steamship, Darro, collided with her in the English Channel south of the Isle of Wight. Mendi sank killing 646 people, most of whom were black South African troops of the 5th Battalion of the Native Labour Corps. In a terrible twist, her bell was looted by persons unknown from the wreck and in 2017 given to a BBC reporter who turned it over to the Maritime & Coastguard Agency. After a year on display in England, it was repatriated to South Africa.

Another example, that of the two props from the Kaiserliche Marine coastal minelaying U-boat SM UC-75, which was sent to the bottom after she was rammed and sunk by the RN destroyer HMS Fairy, 31 May 1918, concluded last week. The props, reported by the BBC as found in a storage unit in Bangor, Gwynedd, a year ago and thought destined for the scrap metal trade, will go to the Royal Navy Museum in Portsmouth while and one back home to Germany.

The returned propeller was handed to German naval attaché CPT Matthias Schmidt by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s chief executive, VADM Sir Alan Massey, in London.

“It’s not a case of ‘finders’ keepers’ and all recoveries of wreck material must be reported to the Receiver of Wreck so that legal owners can be given an opportunity of having their property returned and museums and other institutions can be given an opportunity to acquire artifacts of historic significance,” the MCA’s receiver of wrecks, Alison Kentuck.

Combat Gallery Sunday: Sons of Empire

Much as once a week I like to take time off to cover warships (Wednesdays), on Sundays (when I feel like working), I like to cover military art and the painters, illustrators, sculptors, photographers and the like that produced them.

Combat Gallery Sunday: Sons of Empire

Here we see the 1899 Boer War-era poster “Defenders of the Empire” showing a great selection of British Commonwealth military 1899 unforms by artist Harry Payne. It is for the 1914 National Relief Fund.

The poster was published by Raphael Tuck & Sons, Ltd and also billed as “Sons of the Empire,” for the benefit of the Transvaal War Fund for Widows and Orphans.

It shows 23 assorted figures ranging from Grenadier Guards and Gordon Highlanders to the 5th Royal Irish Lancers. Overseas units from Australia, New Zealand, Rhodesia and Natal are also present as are men from the Royal Marines and Royal Navy.

A better image with a different background, omitting Indian troops to the right and adding more Naval gunners, to the left:

And last but not least, the key:

Born in 1858 at Newington, London, Payne was a noted military illustrator who notably also made an extensive series of oilette uniform postcards for Tuck & Sons that typically sell today for less than $20.


1914 Raphael Tuck, Harry Payne Artist-Signed Postcard Royal Scots Greys

Payne died in 1927 but his voluminous work will no doubt live on.

Thank you for your efforts, sir.

The man behind the 1911 poster

One of the most iconic images of the M1911 is the Great War recruiting painting “First to Fight” by James Montgomery Flagg.

Flagg’s portrait, made from a sitting by then-U.S. Marine Capt. Ross Erastus “Rusty” Rowell, graces man caves and military museums around the world.

Photo courtesy of Archives & Special Collections Branch, Library of the Marine Corps

According to the Marine Corps Museum, who provided the photos:

Flagg combined two important attributes of the Corps in the painting “First to Fight and Always Faithful.” He used quick strokes of the brush to create this work and only lightly painted the white stripes of the flag. And like many of the artists working for the Recruiting Bureau, Flagg donated his services.

The original painting is currently on display in the museum’s Combat Art Gallery exhibit A World at War: The Marine Corps and U.S. Navy in World War I.

As for Rowell, the Iowa State College grad and former U.S. Geological Survey topographer joined the Marines as a 2nd Lieutenant in 1906. Following WWI, he became a Marine aviator and early flight pioneer, later commanding VO-1M in Nicaragua during the Banana Wars and Commanding General, Marine Aircraft Wings, Pacific (MAWP) during WWII. He retired after 40 years of service in 1946, ranked major general. He is buried at Arlington.

Yankees medics show ‘Primum non nocere’ 100 years ago today

A group of wounded German Army prisoners receiving medical attention at first aid station of U.S. 103rd and 104th Ambulance Companies (Field Hospital), attached to the 26th “Yankee” Division’s 101st Sanitary Train. These prisoners were taken from second line trenches during the opening attack of the Battle of Saint Mihiel on the 12th of September 1918, while the Yanks were “over there” as part of the American Expeditionary Force.

Formed largely from six New England National Guard units– half from Massachusetts– as noted by the Army’s CMOH, “During World War I, a press conference of Boston newspapermen was called by the Commanding General [ Maj. Gen. (Nat. Army) Clarence Ransom Edwards, USMA 1883] to determine a nickname for this division, which had just been inducted from New England National Guard units. The adopted suggestion was, ‘Call it the ‘Yankee Division’ as all New Englanders are Yankees’, and a dark blue monogrammed ‘YD’ on an olive drab background was officially designated as the division insignia.

The 26th still exists today, as the 26th Maneuver Enhancement “Yankee” Brigade, in Natick, Mass, primarily a unit of the Massachusetts Army National Guard. In addition to a host of streamers earned on its second trip to Europe in 1944-45, the Yankees earned streamers in 1917-18 for Champagne-Marne, Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne, Ile de France and the Lorraine, suffering an amazing 100% casualty rate, some 18,000 soldiers.

The Mass Guard celebrated the 100th Anniversary of the division recently.

A ceremony for the 26th’s 100 birthday, with Doughboys standing with the colors in front of a mural showing the Decoration of regimental colors, U.S. 104th Regiment, U.S. 26th Division, at Boucq, France, April 28, 1918, by General Passaga, 32nd French Army Corps, the first American regiment cited for bravery under fire.

One enduring legacy of the 26th is Sgt. Stubby, an orphan pup the big-hearted Yankees adopted in 1917 and later became the mascot of the divisions’ 102nd Infantry Rgt. Postwar, he lived at Georgetown University and has been in the Smithsonian since then, still wearing his medals and 26th YD patch.

Warship Wednesday, Sept 5, 2018: Der Piratenjäger

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Sept 5, 2018: Der Piratenjäger

Here we see Kaiserliche Marine’s proud, twin-funneled flusskanonenboot (river gunboat) SMS Otter on the Yangtze River in China sometime between 1910 and 1914. She was one of a kind and had an interesting backstory.

You see, long before the Germans showed up in Kiautschou Bay on 13 November 1897 and the next morning steamed into the inner harbor of Tsingtao to carve out a colony by force, the Imperial German Navy wanted a riverboat to smash roving bands of waterborne Chinese pirates and protect Teutonic interests in the region. While corvettes, sloops, and other traditional bluewater warships could muscle their way into China’s coastal cities and exercise gunboat diplomacy, you needed something much shallower to penetrate the sprawling Yangtze river system and ward off hostile junks filled with sword and musket-armed bandits.

Thus, in 1876, F. Schichau in Elbing was contracted to work up a warship like the Germans had never used before. Displacing just 130-tons (165 max) the 101-foot long gunboat could float in a gentle 5.4-feet of water. Carrying a 120mm rifle forward and an 80mm aft, she could plod along at 8-knots on her coal-fired steam plant (when not using her auxiliary sail rig) and accommodate some 43 officers and men. She was to be a littoral combat ship of the late 19th Century:

The design for the 1877 German pirate buster. She never did get her canvas

The name of this mighty river-going pirate buster? Well, the Germans were fond of animal names for gunboats and Otter just seemed to fit. Commissioned 1 April 1878, everything seemed set.

She even boasted dragons on her prow.

However, the nearly flat-bottomed Otter proved a horrible sea boat, nearly swamping on trials, and the prospect of her sailing from the Baltic to Nanking was thought to be just a drawn-out suicide. This relegated her to a career spent as an artillery tender, compass trials boat and pierside training ship that never left sheltered waters or put to sea on a cloudy day. Decommissioned in 1907, the Navy kept her around as a hulk and test ship until she was scrapped in 1926, never seeing China. Indeed, never even really leaving German coastal waters.

Sadly, this version of Otter never went to China, losing her name in 1907 to a second Otter that did.

Putting their desire for a river gunboat on ice, the Germans eventually acquired the 147-foot Shanghai-built river steamer Woochow locally and, after adding some Germans to her crew as well as a couple of four-pounders, dubbed her SMS Vorwärts (Forward) like her deployment, just in time for the Boxer Rebellion. The same was done with the smaller 120-foot coaster Tong Cheong, which became SMS Schamien. However, they did not prove very well suited to the task and purpose-built craft were urgently requested.

Therefore, two new flat-bottomed gunboats were purpose-built by Schichau on experience learned from Otter— the 157-foot SMS Vaterland and Tsingtau.

Frankes Collection vintage postcard Kaiserliche Marine German river gunboat SMS Tsingtau

Armed with an 88mm gun and a four-pounder, they were built in nine sections and shipped to the region in pieces, solving Otter‘s biggest drawback. Vaterland went via the HAPAG steamer Bisgravia in February 1904, then reassembled in Shanghai and put into service on 28 May 28, 1904. Tsingtau was carried by Prinzzess Marie to Hong Kong the previous September and was in service by Feb. 1904. Once they were operational, they replaced Vorwärts and Schamien, who were sold locally.

However, things were heating up in China. In 1905, no sooner than the two new gunboats entered service, riots broke out in Shanghai that required landing forces. International (read= European) efforts to penetrate and extend influence on the upper reaches of the Yangtze as well as the Min and Pearl river systems taxed the two boats and their crews.

Enter a new and improved Otter!

The boatyard of Joh. C. Tecklenborg, Geestemünde, laid down Germany’s purpose-built fourth (and largest) Chinese river gunboat from a development of the Vaterland/Tsingtau design. Some 177-feet overall (173 at the keel), she could float in just 3.2-feet of water. Equipped with Thornycroft-Schulz steam boilers vented through twin stacks, her two VTE steam engines allowed her to reach a blistering 15.2-knots (faster than Vaterland/Tsingtau‘s 13) despite her flat-hull, or poke around at 5-knots for an impressive 4,300 miles.

Her armament was a pair of fast-firing 5.2-cm SK L/55 Krupp guns— popguns still capable of poking smoking holes in random junks or blowing apart suspect buildings 2,000 yards from the river banks– and three big water-cooled Spandau machine guns.

The 2.05″ 5.2-cm SK L/55 gun was found on German torpedo boats and cruisers of the 1910s. Otter carried two as her main armament, with about 300 shells carried in her magazine.

To protect against small arms fire, she was given 5mm of steel armor plating on her sides and over her vitals.

Completed in 1909, Otter trailed on the Weser before she was disassembled and was shipped overseas in nine sections aboard the Leonhardt & Blumberg GmbH steamer Marie Leonhardt.

German river gunboat SMS Otter, built for China service, round about 1909 on the river Weser under national flag prior to commissioning.

Reassembled and ready for service by April 1910 after inspection by Vice Admiral Friedrich von Ingenohl himself, Otter was the pride of the East Asia Squadron’s riverine operations. Over the next few years she calmly did her job and ranged the rivers of China, the biggest German on the block once you moved inland, and the fastest thing on the brown water.

Otter in China service. Note she has her Reichskriegsflagge flying

Going back to the days of the Woochow, the commander of each German river gunboat was given an operating budget to buy supplies for their ship, as they were not attached to a base. These funds were typically in Mexican silver pesos as they were the easiest to move in China (keep in mind that the famous Tsingtao brewery was started with 400,000 Mexican silver pesos in 1903). The budget also allowed for the hiring of as many as a dozen local Chinese auxiliaries to serve as stokers, pilots, cooks, and stewards besides, of course, doubling as terps. The practice was common on European (and American) river gunboats of the era. It was a quiet life, interrupted by periods of terror. Think The Sand Pebbles but with more sauerkraut and better beer.

A local aboard Otter with the ship’s mascots. via Auktionshaus Christoph Gärtner GmbH & Co. K

Enter the July 1914 crisis that turned into the guns of August.

The German Navy in Asia was far-flung in the late summer of 1914. Under the command of the Vice-Admiral Graf Spee, his East Asia Squadron proper was homeported in Tsingtao. This included the armored cruisers Scharnhorst (his flag) and her sister, Gneisenau, as well as the light cruisers Emden, Leipzig, and Nurnberg; and the four Iltis-class gunboats Iltis, Jaguar, Tiger, and Luchs. Also in the principal German colony in China was the old cruiser Cormoran, which was laid up; a torpedo boat (S90), the tug/minelayer SMS Lauting, and a few steamers quickly converting to auxiliary cruisers.

Out in the German Pacific island colonies– which the Allies would rush to capture, setting the stage for the island-hopping campaigns of 1943– were the old cruiser Geier (Vulture) and the survey ship Planet. Poking around the Pacific coast of Latin America was the cruiser Dresden, complete with a moody junior officer by the name of Wilhelm Canaris.

At Canton on the Pearl River was the flusskanonenboot Tsingtau and on the Yangtze at Nanking with Otter was Tsingtau‘s sister, SMS Vaterland.

The whole of the Kaiser’s military ashore in Asia.

With the likelihood of being able to fight it out with the large Russo-Anglo-French fleets in the Far East when the balloon went up, the good Graf Spee got going. His East Asia Squadron sans the auxiliary cruiser Cormoran and light cruiser Emden beat feat for the Atlantic (which didn’t go well) leaving the aforementioned ships to embark on commerce raiding on their own.

The four Iltis-class gunboats were left at Tsingtao and scuttled before the Japanese could capture them, although their crew and guns were used to arm auxiliary cruisers that largely made it out before the siege. The hardy torpedo boat S90 scuttled after breaking out– as she sank the Japanese mine cruiser Takachiho (3,700-tons) — and had her crew interned by the Chinese in Nanking. By March 1915, the last of von Spee’s squadron, the weathered Dresden, scuttled off windswept and remote Robinson Crusoe Island of southern Chile.

Geier went to Hawaii and was interned. SMS Tsingtau was abandoned on 2 August at Canton with a skeleton crew who later sank her in the river. On 7 October, the crew of Planet scuttled the vessel off the island of Yap to avoid capture by the Japanese.

In Nanking, things went a little differently.

In an effort to have their cake (not be destroyed by the Allies) and eat it too (not lose their ships to the Chinese), the crews of the river gunboats Vaterland and Otter were converted to non-combatants and their ships sold to a private company (although they still apparently kept their armament from what I understand). Vaterland became Landesvater and Otter became München (Munich) on 18 August. The crews, leaving their Chinese auxiliaries behind along with a handful of volunteers to keep the boats afloat, let out for Tsingtao colony as best they could.

This subterfuge of the gunboats-that-weren’t lasted until China, stretching her newfound legs of post-Imperial nationalism, drifted into the Great War on the side of the Allies. In 1917, the German unrestricted U-boat campaign saw the freighter Athos I sunk off Malta with 754 Chinese workers aboard in February (some 200,000 laborers were recruited by French and British agents in the country to work behind the lines on the Western Front.) The next month, China broke off its diplomatic ties with Germany, and on 20 March promptly requisitioned (seized) the two “civilian” gunboats in Nanking although they ran into some trouble as much of the vital equipment on both were wrecked or tossed overboard. Vaterland/Lansesvater subsequently became the Chinese gunboat Li-Sui (also seen as Li Chien) while Otter/München became Li-Tsieh (also seen in Western sources as Li Chieh, Li Jie, Lee Ju, or Lee Jeh, as transliteration is bullshit).

Both ships, reworked and rearmed, went on to serve on the Chinese Sungari flotilla along the Amur river throughout the confusion of the Russian Civil War and Allied Intervention followed by the terrible warlord era in that part of the globe that persisted through the 1920s.

During the 1929 border clash known as the Sino-Russian War, Soviet aircraft from the seaplane-carrier Amur working in tandem with Tayfun-class river monitors of the Red Amur River Flotilla apparently sank Otter/München/Li-Tsieh during this period of undeclared confrontation. Otter‘s fate was sealed in a duel with the monitor Krasnyi Vostok (alternatively credited as killed by Sverdlov on Navypedia) on 12 October at what was termed invariably the Battle of Lahasusu (Sanjiangkou), although the old German ship in Chinese hands reportedly scored hits on two Soviet gunboats. Grounded, she later was scrapped in 1932 or 1942 (again, sources vary).

As for Vaterland/Lansevater/Li-Sui, she was rebuilt several times and, captured by the Japanese in 1932, became part of the puppet Manchukuo Navy until 1945 as the Risui. The Soviets then captured her when they swept into Manchuria and she became the gunboat Pekin for a time under the Red banner– which would have been at least her 4th.

To wrap things up:

Many of the 1914 German river gunboat crewmen looking to leave managed to ship out of China on the auxiliary cruiser Cormorman, only to be interned in Guam for the duration. Others, falling in with one Kapitänleutnant Erwin von Möller, formerly the of the SMS Tsingtau, managed to make it to the Dutch East Indies where they fitted out the schooner Marboek and took her 82 days Westward to the Arabian coast, in hopes of making the Ottoman Empire. However, they were reportedly caught by Arabs and killed in the desert in March 1915.

Kapitänleutnant Erwin von Möllers party

Otter‘s prewar skipper, Korvettenkapitän Rudolph Firle, made it to the Ottoman Empire on his own by late 1914 and was put in command of the Turkish torpedo boat flotilla at Constantinople. He went on to win two Iron Crosses and two Ritterkreuz before the Armistice. His most noteworthy action came on a moonless night in 1915 when, at the conn of the Schichau-Werft-built Ottoman destroyer Muavenet-i Milliye (765-tons), he was instrumental in sinking the moored old Canopus-class pre-dreadnought HMS Goliath (14,000-tons) in Morto Bay off Cape Helles with three torpedoes. He later had escapades with the Bulgarians and in the Baltic. Leaving the Navy in 1921, he became a big wheel at Norddeutscher Lloyd and was later instrumental in the design of the 1930’s passenger liners Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Potsdam.

A fez and RK/EK-clad Firle, left, among his Ottoman Navy buddies, Yuzbasi Ali Riza (commander of torpedo boat Sultanhisar), and Binbashi Ahmed Saffed (commander of Muavenet-i Milliye) around 1916.

The Tsingtau – historischbiographisches Projekt (in German) has a list of Otter‘s final Kaiserliche Marine crew.

About the biggest reminder of Germany’s past colony in China that endures is the Tsingtao Brewery, which is now publicly traded and is China’s second largest such activity. Further, Oktoberfest is alive and well in the Qingdao region, as it is known today.

As far as I can tell, the German Navy never had another warship named Otter but did brush off “Piratenjäger” assignments, contributing ships to anti-piracy operations in the EU’s Operation Atalanta and NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield/CTF-151 in the Gulf of Aden, Guardafui Channel, Arabian Sea, and Indian Ocean over the past decade. In all, at least a dozen frigates and replenishment ships flying the black, red and gold Bundesdienstflagge have been mixing it up in regular deployments off the HofA since 2008.

If only they had dragons on their bows.


Otter compared to her predecessors Tsingtau and Vaterland, via the 1914 Janes

Displacement: 280 tons
Length: 177-feet overall
Beam: 28.3-feet
Draft: 3.2-feet
Engineering: 2 Thornycroft-Schulz steam boilers, 2VTE 3cylinder steam engines, 1730hp, twin stacks, twin 1.4m screws
Speed: 15.2 knots designed (listed as 14 in Janes, 13 by Navypedia)
Range: 4350@5kn on 87 tons of coal
Complement: 3 officers, 44 men, + auxiliaries
Armor: 5mm steel sides
(As built)
2 x 5.2-cm SK L/55 Krupp rapid-fire four-pdrs with 300 shell magazine
3 x MG08 machine guns
(the 1920s, Chinese service)=?

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The Big I gets a well-deserved rest, 120 years ago today

Here we see America’s first seagoing battleship, USS Iowa (BB-4) entering dry dock September 1, 1898, for peacetime maintenance and repair shortly after her first wartime service.

You see hostilities were halted just 18 days prior to this image being taken, with the signing in Washington of a Protocol of Peace between the United States and Spain. During said conflict, Iowa served in Sampson’s blockade and was key in the Battle of Santiago de Cuba.

It was to be the highlight of her career.

As noted by DANFS:

She served along the West Coast until February 1902, when she began a year with the South Atlantic Squadron.

Iowa‘s return to the U.S. Atlantic Coast in early 1903 was followed by an overhaul and, from late 1903 until mid-1907, active service with the North Atlantic Fleet. She was then placed in reserve, recommissioning in May 1910 after a modernization that gave her a new “cage” mainmast. The next four years were spent on training service, including taking Naval Academy Midshipmen to European waters . Again out of commission from May 1914 until April 1917, Iowa was employed during the First World War as Receiving Ship at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and as a training and guard ship in the Chesapeake Bay region.

Decommissioned at the end of March 1919, the now thoroughly-obsolete Iowa was renamed Coast Battleship No. 4 a month later in order to free her name for use on the new South Dakota class battleship BB-53 [which was never built]. In 1920 the old warrior was converted to the Navy’s pioneer radio-controlled target ship. While serving in this role, she was sunk by the guns of USS Mississippi in March 1923.

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