Tag Archive | Hilfskreuzer

Warship Wednesday, July 17, 2019: Willy’s Vulture

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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, July 17, 2019: Willy’s Vulture

Deutsches Bundesarchiv Bild 134-C0105

Here we see the three-masted bark-rigged “kleiner geschutzter kreuzer” (small protected cruiser) SMS Geier of the Imperial German Kaiserliche Marine photographed at the beginning of her career around 1895. A well-traveled Teutonic warship named after the German word for “vulture,” she would repeatedly find herself only narrowly avoiding some of the largest naval clashes of her era.

The final installment of the six-ship Bussard-class of colonial cruisers, all of which were named after birds, Geier and her sisters (Falke, Seeadler, Condor, and Comoran) would today be classified either as corvettes or well-armed offshore patrol vessels. With an 1800~ ton displacement (which varied from ship to ship as they had at least three varying generations of subclasses), these pint-sized “cruisers” were about 275-feet long overall and could float in less than three fathoms. While most cruisers are built for speed, the Bussards could only make 15-ish knots when everything was lit. When it came to an armament, they packed eight 10.5 cm (4.1″) SK L/35 low-angle guns and a pair of cute 350mm torpedo tubes, which wasn’t that bad for policing the colonies but was hopeless in a surface action against a real cruiser.

Geier’s sister, SMS Seeadler, in a postcard-worthy setting. The six ships of the class ranged from the West Indies to Africa, the Indian Ocean, and the Pacific. Much more exotic duty than the typical Baltic/North Sea gigs for the High Seas Fleet

Constructed between 1888 and 1895 at four different Northern German yards, the half-dozen Bussards were a very late 19th Century design, complete with a three-masted auxiliary barquentine rig, ram bows, and a wooden-backed copper-sheathed hull. They carried a pair of early electric generators and their composite hull was separated into 10 watertight compartments. Despite the “geschutzter” designation given by the Germans, they carried no armor other than splinter shields.

The only member of the class built at Kaiserliche Werft, Wilhelmshaven, Geier was laid down in 1893 and commissioned 24 October 1895, with Kaiser Wilhelm himself visiting the ship on that day.

SMS “Geier” der kaiserlichen deutschen Marine

SMS “Geier”, Kaiser Wilhelm II. spricht zur Besatzung

SMS “Geier”, Kleiner Kreuzer; Besichtigung des Schiffes durch Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Notably, Geier was the largest and most developed of her sisters, using a slightly different gun arrangement, better engines and 18-inch torpedo tubes rather than the 14s carried by the preceding five ships of the class.

All six Bussards were subsequently deployed overseas in Willy’s far-flung colonies in Africa and the Pacific, a tasking Geier soon adopted. Setting off for the West Indies, she joined the German squadron of old ironclads and school ships that were deployed there in 1897 to protect Berlin’s interests in Venezuela and Haiti.

The next year, under the command of Korvettenkapitän (later Vizeadmiral) Hermann Jacobsen, Geier was permitted by the U.S. fleet during the Spanish-American War to pass in and out of the blockaded Spanish ports in Cuba and Puerto Rico on several occasions, ostensibly on humanitarian grounds to evacuate neutral European civilians.

The unprotected cruiser SMS Geier entering Havana Harbor, Cuba, in 1898, during the SpanAm War

However, Jacobson dutifully kept a log of ships that ran the American blockade and their cargo as well as conducted a detailed analysis of the damage done to the Spanish ships at the Battle of Santiago. These observations were later released then ultimately translated into English and published in the USNI’s Proceedings in 1899.

By 1900, Geier was operating in the Pacific and, operating with the German East Asia Squadron, was in Chinese waters in time to join the international task force bringing the Manchu Dynasty to its knees during the Boxer Rebellion. She remained in the region and observed the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05, notably poking around at Chemulpo (Inchon) where the Russian protected cruiser Varyag and gunboat Korietz were scuttled after a sharp engagement with a superior IJN force under Baron Sotokichi.

GEIER Photographed early in her career, before her 1908-1909 refit that reduced her Barkentine Rig to Brigantine Standard. NH 88631

Returning to Germany in 1909 for repair and refit, her rigging was changed from that of a three-mast barquentine to a two-mast topsail schooner while her bridge was enlarged, and her boilers replaced.

Geier with her late-career schooner rig

Recommissioned in 1911, she was assigned to the Mediterranean where she spent the next couple years exercising gunboat diplomacy in the wake of the Moroccan Crisis while eating popcorn on the sidelines of the Italian-Turkish War and Balkan Wars, all of which involved a smattering of curious naval actions to report back to Berlin. By 1914, although she had never fired a shot in anger, our Vulture had already haunted five significant wars from Tripoli to Korea and Cuba, very much living up to her name.

To catch us up on the rest of the class, by the eve of the Great War, the Bussards was showing their age. Sisterships Seeadler and Condor in 1914 were converted to mine storage hulks in Wilhelmshaven and Kiel, respectively. Bussard and Falke had already been stricken from the Naval List in 1912 and sold to the breakers. Meanwhile, in the German Chinese treaty port of Tsingtao (Qingdao), Cormoran was laid up with bad engines.

Speaking of which, when the lamps went out across Europe in August 1914, Geier was already en route from Dar es Salaam in German East Africa (where she had been relieved by the doomed cruiser Konigsberg) to Tsingtao to join Vizeadmiral Count Maximilian von Spee’s East Asia Squadron in the Pacific.

Once the balloon went up, she was in a precarious situation as just about any British, French, Russian or Japanese warship she encountered could have sent her quickly to the bottom. Eluding the massive Allied dragnet, which was deployed not only to capture our old cruiser but also Von Spee’s much more serious task force and the downright dangerous SMS Emden (which Geier briefly met with at sea), Geier attempted to become a commerce raider and, taking on coal from two German merchant ships, managed to capture a British freighter, SS Southport, at Kusaie in the Eastern Carolines on 4 September. After disabling Southport’s engines and leaving the British merchantman to eventually recover and report Geier’s last position, our decrepit light cruiser missed her rendezvous with Von Spee’s squadron at Pagan Island in the Northern Marianas and the good Count left her behind.

Alone, short on coal and only a day or so ahead of the Japanese battleship Hizen (former Russian Retvizan) and the armored cruiser Asama, Geier steamed into Honolulu on 17 October, having somehow survived 11 weeks on the run.

After failing to leave port within the limits set by neutral U.S. authorities, she was interned on 8 November and nominally disarmed.

Bussard Class Unprotected Cruiser SMS Geier pictured interned in Hawaii, she arrived in Honolulu on October 17th, 1914 for coaling, repairs and freshwater– and never left

Meanwhile, the Graf Spee’s East Asia Squadron had defeated the British 4th Cruiser Squadron under RADM Christopher Cradock in the Battle of Coronel on 1 November, sinking the old cruisers HMS Good Hope and Monmouth and sending Cradock and 1,600 of his men to the bottom of the South Atlantic Pacific off the coast of Chile. A month later, Spee himself along with his two sons and all but one ship of his squadron was smashed by VADM Doveton Sturdee’s battlecruiser squadron at the Battle of the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic.

Schlacht bei den Falkland-Inseln (8.12.1914) Battle Falklands Islands, German chart

Our Vulture had evaded another meeting with Poseidon.

As for Geier, her war was far from over, reportedly being used as a base for disinformation (alleging a Japanese invasion of Mexico!) and espionage (tracking Allied ship movements) for the next two years.

German cruiser Geier shown interned in Honolulu. Photo by Herbert B Turner. NARA 165-WW-272C-006

German cruiser Geier shown interned in Honolulu. Photo by Herbert B Turner. NARA 165-WW-272C-006

Finally, in February 1917, the events came to a head.

According to the U.S. NHHC:

German reservists and agents surreptitiously utilized the ship for their operations, and the Americans grew increasingly suspicious of their activities. Emotions ran hot during the war and the Germans violated “neutrality,” Lt. (j.g.) Albert J. Porter of the ship’s company, who penned the commemorative War Log of the USS. St. Louis (Cruiser No. 20), observed, “with characteristic Hun disregard for international law and accepted honor codes.” Geier, Korvettenkapitän Curt Graßhoff in command, lay at Pier 3, moored to interned German steamer Pomeran when a column of smoke began to rise from her stack early on the morning of 4 February 1917. The ship’s internment prohibited her from getting steam up, and the Americans suspected the Germans’ intentions.

Lt. Cmdr. Victor S. Houston, St. Louis’ commanding officer, held an urgent conference on board the cruiser at which Cmdr. Thomas C. Hart, Commander SubDiv 3, represented the Commandant. Houston ordered St. Louis to clear for action and sent a boarding party, led by Lt. Roy Le C. Stover, Lt. (j.g.) Robert A. Hall, and Chief Gunner Frank C. Wisker. The sailors disembarked at the head of the Alakea wharf and took up a position in the second story of the pier warehouse. Soldiers from nearby Schofield Barracks meanwhile arrived and deployed a battery of 3-inch field pieces, screened by a coal pile across the street from the pier, from where they could command the decks of the German ship. Smoke poured in great plumes from Geier and her crewmen’s actions persuaded the Americans that the Germans likely intended to escape from the harbor, while some of the boarding party feared that failing to sortie, the Germans might scuttle the ship with charges, and the ensuing blaze could destroy part of the waterfront.

The boarding party, therefore, split into three sections and boarded and seized Pomeran, and Hart and Stover then boarded Geier and informed Graßhoff that they intended to take possession of the cruiser and extinguish her blaze, to protect the harbor. Graßhoff vigorously protested but his “wily” efforts to delay the boarders failed and the rest of the St. Louis sailors swarmed on board. The bluejackets swiftly took stations forward, amidships, and aft, and posted sentries at all the hatches and watertight doors, blocking any of the Germans from passing. Graßhoff surrendered and the Americans rounded-up his unresisting men. 1st Lt. Randolph T. Zane, USMC, arrived with a detachment of marines, and they led the prisoners under guard to Schofield Barracks for internment.

Her crew headed off to Schofield Barracks for the rest of the war, some of the first German POWs in the U.S. (Hawaii State Archives)

Wisker took some men below to the magazines, where they found shrapnel fuzes scattered about, ammunition hoists dismantled, and floodcocks battered into uselessness. The Germans also cunningly hid their wrenches and spans in the hope of forestalling the Americans’ repairs. Stover in the meantime hastened with a third section and they discovered a fire of wood and oil-soaked waste under a dry boiler. The blaze had spread to the deck above and the woodwork of the fire room also caught by the heat thrown off by the “incandescent” boiler, and the woodwork of the magazine bulkheads had begun to catch. The boarders could not douse the flames with water because of the likelihood of exploding the dry boiler, but they led out lines from the bow and stern of the burning ship and skillfully warped her across the slip to the east side of Pier 4. The Honolulu Fire Department rushed chemical engines to the scene, and the firemen and sailors worked furiously cutting holes thru the decks to facilitate dousing the flames with their chemicals. The Americans extinguished the blaze by 5:00 p.m., and then a detachment from SubDiv 3, led by Lt. (j.g.) Norman L. Kirk, who commanded K-3 (Submarine No. 34), relieved the exhausted men.

German cruiser Geier with boilers on fire being sabotauged by her crew Honolulu Feb 4 1917 Photo by Herbert NARA 165-WW-272C-007

German cruiser Geier with boilers on fire being sabotauged by her crew Honolulu Feb 4 1917 Photo by Herbert NARA 165-WW-272C-007

The Germans all but wrecked Geier and their “wanton work” further damaged the engines, steam lines, oil lines, auxiliaries, navigation instruments, and even the wardroom, which Porter described as a “shambles.”

As such, she was the only German Imperial Navy warship captured by the U.S. Navy during World War I.

Coupled with the more than 590,000 tons of German merchant ships seized in U.S. ports April 1917, Geier was reconditioned for American service and eventually commissioned as USS Schurz, a name used in honor of German radical Carl Schurz who fled Prussia in 1849 after the failed revolution there. Schurz had, in turn, joined the Union Army during the Civil War and commanded a division of largely German-speaking immigrants in the XI Corps at Second Manassas, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Chattanooga, rising to the rank of major general.

[Of XI Corps’s 27 infantry regiments, at least 13 were “Dutch” (German) regiments with many German-born/speaking commanders prevalent. Besides Schurz, brigades and divisions of the XI Corps were led by men such as Col. Ludwig Blenker and Brig. Gen. Adolph von Steinwehr, formerly officers of the Royal Armies Bavaria and the Duchy of Brunswick, respectively.]

Postwar, Schurz was a senator from Missouri, where a large German population had settled, and later served as Interior Secretary in the Hayes Administration.

Don’t let his bookish looks fool you, although Schurz was a journalist who served as editor of the New York Evening Post, he also fought in the German revolution and saw the elephant several times in the Civil War.

Under the command of LCDR Arthur Crenshaw, the new USS Schurz joined the fleet in September 1917 and served as an escort on the East Coast. Her German armament landed; she was equipped with four 5-inch mounts in U.S. service.

USS Schurz off the foot of Market Street, San Diego, California, in November-December 1917. Note the U.S. colors. Courtesy of the San Diego Maritime Museum, 1983 Catalog #: NH 94909

While on a convoy from New York for Key West, Fla., on 0444 on 21 June 1918, she collided with the merchant ship SS Florida southwest of Cape Lookout lightship, North Carolina, about 130 miles east of Wilmington.

As noted by the NHHC, “The collision crumpled the starboard bridge wing, slicing into the well and berth deck nearly 12 feet, and cutting through bunker no. 3 to the forward fire room.” One of Schurz’s crewmen was killed instantly, and 12 others injured. The 216 survivors abandoned ship and Schurz sank about three hours later in 110-feet of water.

A later naval board laid the blame for the collision on Florida, as the steamer was running at full steam in the predawn darkness in the thick fog without any lights or horns and had failed to keep a proper distance.

USS Schurz was stricken from the Navy list on 26 August 1918, and her name has not been reissued. The Kaiserliche Marine confusingly recycled the name “Geier” for an auxiliary cruiser (the former British merchant vessel Saint Theodore, captured by the commerce raider SMS Möwe) as well as an armed trawler during the war even while the original ship was interned in Hawaii with a German crew pulling shenanigans.

Of SMS Geier‘s remaining sisters in German service, Seeadler was destroyed by an accidental explosion on the Jade in April 1917 and never raised, Cormoran had been scuttled in Tsingtao and captured by the Japanese who scrapped her, and Condor was broken up in 1921.

Today, while she has been extensively looted of artifacts over the years the wreck of the Schurz is currently protected as part of the NOAA Monitor National Marine Sanctuary and she is a popular dive site.

NOAA divers swim over the stern of the USS Schurz shipwreck. Photo: Tane Casserley, NOAA

Photo: Tane Casserley, NOAA

Photo: Tane Casserley, NOAA

East Carolina University conducted an extensive survey of her wreckage in 2000 and found her remarkably intact, with her boilers in place as well as brass fasteners and copper hull sheathing with nails still attached.

Specs:

Displacement, full: 1918 tons
Length: 275 ft oal, 261 wl
Beam: 34 ft. 10.6
Draft: 15 feet 4.74 mean 5.22 deep load
Machinery: 2 HTE, 4 cylindrical boilers, 2880 hp, 2 shafts
Coal: 320 tons
Speed: 15.5-knots max
Range: 3610nm at 9kts
Complement: 9 officers, 152 men (German) 197 to 217 (US)
Armor: None
Armament
(1895)
8 x 1 – 4.1″/32cal SK L/35 single mounts
5 x 1-pdr (37mm) revolving cannon (removed in 1909)
2 x 1 – 450mm TT with 5 18-inch torpedoes in magazine
(1917)
4 x 5″/51cal U.S. mounts

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Prince busters, Philly edition with Niobe tie-in

NH 42252 Explosive Torpedoes Found under the interned German ships Prinz Eitel Friedrich and Kronprinz Wilhelm after they were seized by the United States in April 1917 scuttling charge

Photographed at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania, 12 April 1919. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 42252 *Click to big up and read the list of items*

“Explosive Torpedoes Found under the interned German ships Prinz Eitel Friedrich and Kronprinz Wilhelm after they were seized by the United States in April 1917. These devices, shown here disassembled with components labeled, were placed by the ships’ German crewmembers in anticipation of the seizure, in hopes of disabling the ships and thus rendering them useless to the U.S. ”

A 16,000-ton passenger liner turned German auxiliary cruiser (Hilfskreuzer) with the help of 14 small deck guns, SMS Prinz Eitel Friedrich had claimed 11 Allied ships over the winter of 1914-15 before she escaped destruction at the hands of the Warship Wednesday alumni, Royal Canadian Naval Service’s HMCS Niobe, by presenting herself to the captain of the port at Hampton Roads. She was later moved to Philadelphia Naval Yard and interned alongside Kronprinz Wilhelm. She was renamed USS DeKalb (ID-3010) and placed in commission on 12 May 1917 to serve as a troopship to carry Doughboys “over there.” She was later used as the liner Mount Clay, scrapping in 1927.

SS Kronprinz Wilhelm in better days

The 24,000-ton liner/hilfskreuzer SMS Kronprinz Wilhelm had much the same story as Friedrich and renamed USS Von Steuben after her seizure in 1917 in honor of Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, of Valley Forge fame. She put into Halifax on the afternoon of 6 December 1917 to respond to the terrific explosion at the port– which also damaged HMCS Niobe, giving her and Friedrich another connection.

Postwar, she continued to sail for the U.S. Shipping Board simply as Von Steuben until 1923.

In a final tie-in between the two German liners and Niobe, the Canadian vessel was scrapped in Philadelphia in 1923.

Warship Wednesday Feb.22, 2017: The Kaiser’s Cormorants

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 their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday Feb.22, 2017: The Kaiser’s Cormorants

Noted as “Received from Office of Naval Intelligence”, Naval History and Heritage Command Catalog #: NH 64265 (Click to big up 1200x881)

Noted as “Received from Office of Naval Intelligence”, Naval History and Heritage Command Catalog #: NH 64265 (Click to big up 1200×881)

Here we see the Bussard-class unprotected cruiser SMS (Seiner Majestät Schiff =His Majesty’s Ship) Cormoran of the Kaiserliche Marine as she appeared early in her career (pre-1908) with her three-masted barquentine rig. She floated around the far-flung colonies of Imperial Germany– and even help establish some of them—then went on to serve (in a way) during the Great War.

Germany got into the colonialism thing late in the game and it was only after unification and at the prodding of an anxious Kaiser that the new Empire got took part in the “scramble” by picking up German South-West Africa (current Namibia) and German New Guinea in 1884. The problem with overseas territories is that they are over-seas and Germany had a very small Baltic-centric naval force. This led Prussian Gen. Leo von Caprivi, then head of the Navy, to order two 1,300-ton/13-knot steam “cruisers” (let’s be honest, they were more gunboats than anything else) of the Schwalbe-class in 1886.

Recognizing the shortcomings of these warships, the German Navy upped the ante with the follow-on Bussard-class vessels in 1888.

The six warships of the class could eke out a bit more speed than the Schwalbe‘s (15.5-kts as designed) and, if they packed coal in every nook and cranny, extend their range to 3,610 nm which could further be stretched by their barquentine rig (and were the last German fighting ships to be designed to carry canvas). With a hull of yellow pine, they were sheathed with cupro-lead Muntz metal to prevent fouling.

Armed with eight 4.1-inch 105/32 RK L/35 C/86 rapid-fire singles, they packed a decent punch that was augmented by a pair of 350mm torpedo tubes as well as five 37mm/27cal revolving cannons.

With a full load approaching 1,868-tons, these 271-footers could float in 15 feet of calm water and carried a half-dozen small boats that enabled them to land a company-sized force of armed sailors while keeping enough of a skeleton crew aboard to fire a few guns and keep the boilers warm.

The hero of our tale, SMS Cormoran, was built to a modified design which was capable of 16.9-knots on a quartet of coal-fired boilers and mounted slightly upgraded 105/32 SK L/35 C/91 guns. Laid down at Danzig Kaiserliche Werft in 1890, she commissioned 25 July 1893, Korvettenkapitän Robert Wachenhusen in command.

Following sea trials, Cormoran headed for East Africa, where she remained as a station ship in Portuguese Mozambique for seven months before transferring to East Asian waters in Sept. 1895.

After helping the stranded gunboat SMS Iltis, Cormoran steamed up the Yangtze where her shallow draft made her quite useful. She was still there when, on 1 November 1897, the Big Sword Society slaughtered two German Roman Catholic priests of the Steyler Mission in southern Shandong.

Ordered by Admiral von Diederichs to join his cruisers there for a punitive expedition-turned-land-grab, Cormoran showed up in Kiautschou Bay on 13 November and at 0600 the next morning steamed into the inner harbor of Tsingtao with 717 German sailors in small boats from the larger cruisers SMS Kaiser and Prinzess Wilhelm to land at the dole and proceed into the city.

Schutzgebiet Kiautschou Besitznahme von Kiautschou am 14. Nov. 1897 durch Kaiserl. Marineeinheiten

Schutzgebiet Kiautschou, Besitznahme von Kiautschou am 14. Nov. 1897 durch Kaiserl. Marineeinheiten

Reinforced by a battalion of Marines sent from Germany the next January, the Chinese granted a 99-year lease to the port in April. Germany had her Hong Kong at the point of Cormoran‘s guns.

When the Americans and Spanish began to scrap in the PI during the Span-Am War in 1898, Cormoran was sent to poke around Cavite but was rebuffed by Dewey with the cruiser USS Raliegh closing danger close on the German.

Following this, she became a persistent presence in Samoan waters, adding to the tension there as Britain, Germany and the U.S. hashed out just who owned which rock.

USS ABARENDA, right and SMS CORMORAN saluting the Naval Station. Description: Copied from Amerika Samoa by Capt. J. A. C. Gray, MC, USN, (following page 108); Catalog #: NH 117548

USS ABARENDA, right and SMS CORMORAN saluting the Naval Station. Description: Copied from Amerika Samoa by Capt. J. A. C. Gray, MC, USN, (following page 108); Catalog #: NH 117548

Over the next several years Cormoran continued her colonial work among the islands, landing sailors to disarm locals, enforce German laws, and arrest those breaking them while conducting survey work in the uncharted archipelagos the Kaiser now counted as his own.

It should be remembered the German flag flew at the time over the Solomon Islands (Buka, Bougainville, and several smaller islands), the Carolines, Palau, the Marianas (except for Guam), the Marshall Islands, and Nauru.

German forces being trained in New Guinea via Australian War Memorial

German forces being trained in New Guinea via Australian War Memorial. Cormoran would ship these local police troops all over the colonies.

In 1908, Cormoran returned to Germany and was rebuilt and re-rigged as a topsail schooner, landing her quaint revolving cannon.

Compare to her appearance with three masts above

Compare to her appearance with three masts above

Cormoran (ship) moored opposite the Botanic Gardens in Brisbane after 1909. Note her two-mast rig

Cormoran (ship) moored opposite the Botanic Gardens in Brisbane after 1909. Note her two-mast rig and extensive awnings. SMS Cormoran was well known in Brisbane where she had regular refits and the squadron as a whole had been active in policing the colonies

She returned the Pacific in time to help put down the very messy Sokehs Rebellion of 1910-11 in the Caroline Islands at the hands of Polizei-Soldaten commander Karl Kammerich and his 160~ locally recruited constabulary troops. In early 1913, Korvettenkapitän Adalbert Zuckschwerdt arrived aboard and commanded the ship and her crew in putting down a disturbance on Bougainville.

p011_0_00_1By 1914, the Bussard class was showing their age. Sisterships Seeadler and Condor were that year converted to mine storage hulks in Wilhelmshaven and Kiel, respectively. Bussard and Falke had already been stricken from the Naval List in 1912 and sold to the breakers. Only SMS Geier (Vulture), the youngest of the class, was serving actively in East Africa while Cormoran was hobbled in Tsingtao with bad engines.

The SMS Cormoran in the waters of Tsingtao, 1914. Photo from the Herbert T. Ward collection courtesy of the Micronesian Area Research Center (MARC).

The SMS Cormoran in the waters of Tsingtao, 1914. Photo from the Herbert T. Ward collection courtesy of the Micronesian Area Research Center (MARC).

By this time our elderly cruiser was done for and was looking for a new ride.

Zuckschwerdt had her crew strip everything useful from Cormoran and move it aboard the captured 3,400-ton Russian freighter SS Ryazan— which had been seized at sea by the German raider SMS Emden on the first day of the Great War and brought to Tsingtao on 4 August as a prize. The Ryazan was a fast ship for a merchantman (17 knots) and had been built in Germany at the Schichau shipyard in Elbing just five years before which meant her engineering suite was at least marked in the right language.

Hilfskreuzer S.M.S. CORORAN II im Jahre 1916 im Hafen von Apra, Guam (Fotograf unbekannt, Marineschule Mürwik)

Hilfskreuzer S.M.S. CORORAN II im Jahre 1916 im Hafen von Apra, Guam (Fotograf unbekannt, Marineschule Mürwik)

On 10 August, at the Imperial Dockyard at Tsingtao, with the crew of the (old) SMS Cormoran on board as well as the warship’s 8x105mm guns, 1,200 shells and stores crammed in every room, the (new) hilfskreuzer SMS Cormoran II was commissioned in her place. As she was a much larger vessel, the crews of the scuttled gunboats SMS Vaterland and Iltis were piled aboard to be used as prize crews for captured merchantmen the new raider was sure to take on the high seas.

A comparison of the old Cormoran, right, and new one

A comparison of the old Cormoran, right, and new one, from the 1915/16 New Year card made by the crew.

The former Russian freighter turned auxiliary cruiser left the Chinese coastline the same day she was commissioned, stalked by the still nominally neutral Japanese navy.

On 15 August 1914, two weeks after the outbreak of World War I in Europe, British-allied Japan delivered an ultimatum to Germany demanding that it relinquish control of the disputed territory of Kiaoutschou/Tsingtao and when they didn’t Japan declared war on 23 August.

The stripped and crewless (old) SMS Cormoran was scuttled on the night of 28–29 September 1914 by dockyard workers to prevent her capture and Tsingtao fell to the Japanese on 7 November after a siege and blockade that cost the lives of over 1,000. Her wreck was salvaged by the Japanese in 1917.

A Japanese lithograph, showing the Japanese fighting German troops during the conquest of the German colony Tsingtao (today Qingdao) in China between 13 September and 7 November 1914. Via National Archives.

A Japanese lithograph, showing the Japanese fighting German troops during the conquest of the German colony Tsingtao (today Qingdao) in China between 13 September and 7 November 1914. Via National Archives.

As for the (new) Cormoran, she had left China dangerously low on coal and spent 127 days at sea on the run and only narrowly remained uncaught.

Map of SMS Cormoran travels before reaching Guam on 14 December 1914. Courtesy of Tony “Malia” Ramirez. Guampedia Foundation

Map of SMS Cormoran travels before reaching Guam on 14 December 1914. As you can see, she shuttled between Yap and German New Guinea extensively and poked around the nuetral Dutch East Indies. Courtesy of Tony “Malia” Ramirez. Guampedia Foundation

On 23 September, she came within 200 meters of Warship Wednesday alumni, the Challenger-class protected cruiser HMAS Encounter (5,800-tons/11 × 6-inch guns/21kts) on a moonless night and avoided sure destruction.

In October, Cormoran took on 98 officers and men of the stricken survey ship SMS Planet at Yap, one of the last German-held islands in the Pacific.

The German radio station at Yap Island. Cormoran called here while on the run and left with the crew of the scuttled SMS Planet

The German radio station at Yap Island. Cormoran called here while on the run and left with the crew of the scuttled SMS Planet

For a time, she hid in the lagoon of sparsely populated Lamotrek atoll in the Carolines and Zuckschwerdt considered scuttling her there, ala HMS Bounty-style, and going native but in the end decided against it.

Out of coal, low on rations save for coconuts and without being able to take any prizes, the overfilled (355 men, 22 officers aboard) Cormoran put into the U.S. territory at Guam on 14 December with British, French and Japanese ships combing the waters for her. She was ordered to moor within range of the three 7″/45cal naval guns mounted ashore at Fort San Felipe del Morro.

USS Supply, Guam's station ship, left, with SMS Cormoran in the center

USS Supply, Guam’s station ship, left, with SMS Cormoran in the center. She would stay in place for over two years.

The event made the papers in the States, front page news.

16 December 1914, Sacramento Union:

cormoran-1914

Zuckschwerdt and the Americans eyed each other cautiously over the next 28 months as the ship was disarmed and interned but kept up good spirits.

The re-purposed Russian steamer carried the crews not only from Cormoran but two German gunboats, a survey ship and several colonials

The re-purposed Russian steamer carried the crews not only from Cormoran but two German gunboats, a survey ship and several colonials

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Swim call in Apra harbor

Swim call in Apra harbor

By June 1916 some of the crew were reportedly “driven mad by isolation.”

When the U.S. declared war on Germany on 7 April 1917, American officials attempted to seize the Cormoran and fired at least one warning shot into the air. The hopelessly outgunned station ship at Guam, USS Supply (3,100-tons/6x6pdrs) put a prize crew of 32 men afloat to board the German ship, though the Germans outnumbered them 11:1.

Zuckschwerdt was cordial and told Supply‘s captain, LCDR William P. Cronan, he could surrender his men but not the cruiser and as soon as the bulk of the men orderly jumped ship, blew her hull out at her mooring in the harbor and she sank in 120 feet of water, tragically taking nine of her crew with her.

From an August 1931 Proceedings article:

“The stricken ship settled by the stern, slowly listing heavily to starboard. For a moment the port half of the deck was exposed to view, the ship lying almost horizontally on her starboard beam ends. Then, as one blinked an eye there was nothing but a small column of water hanging suspended, a bubbling seething area of surface disturbance, a bit of flotsam shooting up like a fish jumping and falling back with a splash, two or three laden boats, and heads, hundreds of heads, bobbing here and there.

“Men clinging to bits of wreckage, oars, life preservers, chests, were swimming toward the shore in all directions; pigeons, apparently carriers released from the ship, hovered over the water, circled, and were gone; men clinging to bits of flotsam with one arm, put bottles to their lips and drank from brown bottles, square colorless bottles; the black men of New Guinea, some carrying bundles dry on their heads, some pushing small chests, paddled off businesslike toward the nearest land. And then a voice was lifted, a strong true deep voice singing Deutschland über alles, and the chorus went up from many a throat.

The crew was rescued by USS Supply, with Cronan noting his German counterpart as “a large, well-formed man, with jet black mustache and Vandyke [beard], always spotlessly attired, spoke English with the elegantness of the educated foreigner, was a gifted conversationalist, possessed a rare charm of manner, and, incidentally, must have been an able disciplinarian to have maintained the high morale evident in his personnel during their long sojourn in Guam.”

As noted by the NPS, “U.S. Marine Corporal Michael B. Chockie fired a shot across the bow of the Cormoran‘s supply launch in an attempt to stop the fleeing launch. Chockie’s shot was the first one fired by an American in the Great War–later known as World War I.”

The dead were buried at the naval cemetery at Agana and are remembered today.

19409792_137955832318

“Die Toten von SMS Cormoran“—”the Dead of the SMS Cormoran”—April 7, 1917.

As for Zuckschwerdt and the rest of his crew, they were the first German POWs in America and were only repatriated in 1919 with the non-German individuals from China and German New Guinea separated.

The good Korvettenkapitän returned to post-Versailles Germany where he was given a position in the drastically smaller Reichsmarine. Continuing to serve, he was a Konteradmiral in the Kriegsmarine in WWII where he commanded coastal fortifications along the French coast until his retirement in May 1944– just before D-Day. When the Brits occupied his hometown in April 1945, he was arrested and put into a POW camp again where he died in July 1945 near Hövelhof, aged 71.

The last of her sisters afloat, SMS Geier, was interned at Hawaii in October 1914, seized 7 April 1917 and pressed into service as USS Schurz. She was sunk off the North Carolina coast 21 June 1918 after a collision with the steamer Florida.

SMS Geier's crew under arrest by Army regulars in Hawaii, 7 Aprl 1917.

SMS Geier’s crew under arrest by Army regulars in Hawaii, 7 April 1917.

As for (new) Cormoran, she is still in Agana harbor, with the wreck of the 8,300-ton Japanese freighter Tokai Maru— sank by U.S. submarines in 1944– atop her and is a popular dive spot.

15888574968_c250914e93_b

In July 1974, the SMS Cormoran II was listed on the Guam Register of Historic Places, and a year later, the vessel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In April 2007, Guam commemorated the 90th anniversary of the scuttling of the SMS Cormoran II. The festivities included wreath-laying ceremonies at Apra Harbor and the US Naval Cemetery in Hagåtña, and a series of lectures and an exhibit. Surviving descendants of the original crew and other German representatives were invited to participate. The graves continued to be visited and honored.

The Guampedia Foundation has kept the ship and her crew’s memory alive and have compiled crew lists, oral histories and accounts.

They have a great gallery of images of the Cormoran online

SMS Cormoran II

The country of Palau, a former German colony, commemorated both versions of Cormoran with recent postage stamps and German Imperial post cancellations.

palau-navire-allemand palau-sms-cormoran-1914

Specs:

Drawing via Wiki

Drawing via Wiki

Displacement: 1,864 t (1,835 long tons; 2,055 short tons)
Length: 82.6 m (271 ft. 0 in)
Beam: 12.7 m (41 ft. 8 in)
Draft: 4.42 m (14 ft. 6 in)
Propulsion: 2 × 3-cylinder triple expansion engines, 2 screws
Sailing rig: 3-mast bark with 9,440 sq. ft. canvas as built, 2-mast schooner after 1908
Speed: 15.5 knots (28.7 km/h; 17.8 mph), 16.9 kts
Range: 2,950 nmi (5,460 km) at 9 knots (17 km/h) with standard 315t coal load.
Complement:
9 officers
152 enlisted men
Armament:
8 × 10.5 cm (4.1 in) SK L/35 rapid fire guns, 1200 shells
5 × revolver cannon (deleted in 1908)
2 × 35 cm (14 in) torpedo tubes, five torpedoes
Bronze ram bow

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