The Sea Raiders - E. Keble Chatterton - ebook

“No more risky enterprise day after day, week after week, can be conceived than that of hovering about on the sea-lanes, usually within wireless range of the British cruisers; and the narrow escapes, the coincidences, the exciting moments rival breathless fiction.”In this gripping narrative, Chatterton describes the journey of German-American liners across the world’s marine highways, through rough waters to Pacific islands and tropical climates followed by treacherous winds and snow-capped mountains.He includes rare first-hand accounts and information from the British Admiralty Archives, providing unrivalled descriptions of one of the greatest and most controversial Naval adventures.

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E. Keble Chatterton


Arcadia Ebooks 2016

[email protected]

Copyright © 1931 E. Keble Chatterton

The Sea Raiders




THIS is the story of Germany’s marvellous raids, the period 1914-18. The exploits of Emden, being so well known, are purposely omitted, but the general public may find more than ordinary interest in the marvellous world-wide organization and the thrilling events which marked the German endeavour to destroy liners, tramp steamers, colliers, food ships, sailing craft, and others. In its vastness, its carefully thought out detail, daring and originality, its bluff and deception, its amazing situations and fierce duels, we have one of the most gripping narratives in the whole story of the sea.

The author has been privileged by the British Admiralty to examine the requisite documents in the Admiralty archives, and to obtain information from participants in the case of certain happenings. This is not the story of how sea-borne trade was carried on during the war, nor is it a record of the work done by the crews of brave merchantmen. My object has been to present a picture of German-American liners and other units being sent out as armed raiders to make the seas dangerous for traffic; and to show to what extent they were assisted by regular, naval, cruisers. The problem of finding food and fuel on voyage, the ramifications of secret agents in North and South America, West Indies, and along the Pacific coast are now capable of being appreciated as a whole.

No more risky enterprise day after day, week after week, can be conceived than that of hovering about on the sea-lanes, usually within wireless range of British cruisers; and the narrow escapes, the coincidences, the exciting moments rival breathless fiction. But it is not merely a campaign of iron men, steel ships, wireless, secret cyphers, strong passions, delicate diplomacy, but a cinematograph-like panorama of wide oceans, tropical seas, romantic islands, snow-capped mountains, lonely hiding-places, and terrible gales of wind. And we can study these adventures with the knowledge that this was honest warfare. For none of the submarine brutalities and the mean tricks, the murdering of women and children comes into these chapters. On the contrary, these raider captains fought with clean hands and had scrupulous regard for civilians. The days of privateering being long since passed, and piracy being now confined to Chinese waters, there is something about this modern steamship raiding which affords in its reading a secret vicarious pleasure. Most of us in the younger days had a sneaking regard for rovers of the sailing ship era who sallied forth to “refresh” themselves from peaceful merchantmen and then go off to find fortune in another locality. We had the feeling that this must be glorious fun to live exciting life at its fullest.

So, in the ensuing pages, we shall cruise as far north as the Arctic, as far south as Cape Horn, eastward across the Pacific, westward across the Atlantic, in and out of secret bays, through mist and fog, sunshine and moonlight. It all reads like a piece of exaggerated fiction — one of those novels that make one forget the monotony of safety — yet every word is historically true and supported by facts. These were living men in real ships, and the crises were more wonderful than any human imagination could invent. For those who take a serious interest with regard to naval problems there emerges from this narrative a valuable set of data touching the necessity of cruisers. We see, as in a concentrated plan, the world’s marine highways spread out before us, and the highwaymen pouncing upon the rich cargoes. The drama which arises is the means of illustrating by actuality all that was mere theory. But, because it is a story so human and filled with the glamour of the unexpected, and the contest of brains is so keen, we find ourselves led on and on without stopping to worry about principles.

I desire to return thanks to the Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Charles Madden, late First Sea Lord, and to Rear-Admiral B. E. Domvile, C.B., C.M.G., late Director of Naval Intelligence, for the facilities so courteously granted in making researches at the Admiralty; to Vice-Admiral J. D. Allen, C.B., and Captain Selwyn M. Day, C.B., D.S.O., R.N.R.; to the Imperial War Museum; to the Cunard Steamship Company, and the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, for valuable assistance in supplying information and for permission to reproduce illustrations. The photographs of Kent and Dresden, taken on such unique occasions, form an historical record of particular interest.



THE story of the German surface sea-raiding campaign is one of extraordinary interest, alike for its meticulous plans as for the determination and daring in its operation. In comparison with the submarine efforts, we shall find in these surface attacks not the same persistent policy: yet there is a series of brilliant achievements and of enterprising successes that composes one of the most thrilling sections of naval warfare. And to-day, now that at last we are able to have the facts before us, we can view the whole fascinating drama in its right perspective.

If, however, this phase of hostilities was more intermittent than that of the U-boat periods, yet the sphere was far wider. It demanded an organization that had to be in perfect working order long before the European War broke out; and there had to be trustworthy, reliable officials overseas who would maintain this secret system throughout the months when communication with Berlin would be difficult and even impossible. The German pre-war plan in regard to merchant ships was twofold: the preservation of her own property and the destruction of her enemies’ vessels.

How was this to be brought about? What were the problems which presented themselves? In actual practice we shall observe that the carrying out of well-considered schemes was adequately rewarded: the vast machinery for assaulting ocean commerce was set going with remarkable celerity, and it worked extraordinarily well. That same enterprise, far-sightedness, and astute cunning which had built up the German Mercantile Marine in seventy years, contrived likewise that its rivals should suffer when peaceful competition ended. Germany in 1914 was second only to the British Empire as owner of steamships, but there was a greater solidarity and cohesion.

For, about 60 per cent of German shipping was in the hands of ten lines which amounted to one powerful union ready for the Government’s instant service. These ten comprised the Hamburg-Amerika, the North German Lloyd, the Hamburg South American, the Hansa, the German-Australian, the Kosmos, the Roland, the German East Africa, the Woermann, and the Hamburg-Bremen-Africa lines. This huge association represented 3,194,000 gross tons, and there was also the German Levant Line of 155,000 tons. Subsidised to the extent of £107,950 annually, the whole of this mercantile navy was in effect a powerful national combine. Down to the early nineteenth century the Honourable East India Company had been the largest shipowners in the world’s history: but in August 1914 the Hamburg-Amerika Line with its fleet of about 500 vessels, its seventy-five distinct services calling at four hundred of the principal ports and carrying over 400,000 passengers yearly, was the biggest shipping corporation that had ever existed. Founded in May 1847 with a capital of 465,000 marks, it began with three sailing ships of 717 tons, and so prospered that on the eve of war it possessed 1,093,000 steam tonnage.

Similarly the North German Lloyd Company rose to rapid affluence. Their first Atlantic steamer was the Bremen, built by Caird of Grennock in 1858, but such was the wealth of their passenger trade that in 1897 they were able to launch the twin-screw Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse. It was this vessel which with a speed of 22.81 knots was able to outstrip the Campania and Lucania, and thus for the first time the “blue riband” of the Atlantic passed from Britain to Germany. The historic part which this four-funnelled liner was to play in commerce-raiding will presently emerge. Another of the North German Lloyd modern liners was the Berlin, built in 1908, and she likewise was destined to play an important part in our story. Altogether this company owned 716,000 of all Germany’s tonnage when finally the Great War broke over the sea.

It is, however, to be noted that the policy of the German Mercantile Marine was to rely chiefly on liner trades; and she was able to build her costly mammoth passenger steamers, often capable of breaking Atlantic records, because she had cleverly attracted a considerable amount of emigrant traffic from the continent of Europe. Just as seventeenth-century Holland built up a magnificent commercial navy on the herring fisheries, so two hundred years later Germany created hers largely through poor emigrants from Russia. At one period there was an average annual emigration of 113,000 Germans to the United States, but in the decade ending in 1914 this figure had dropped to only 34,000. On the other hand, the stream of Russians wishing to change their homes for habitation in North America gradually increased from an average of 2000 in the decade ending in 1874 to 199,000 just prior to the Great War. Now in the year 1894 the German Government erected what were known as control stations at various parts of the Russian frontier. The original aim was to prevent the spread of cholera by Russian emigrants passing through Germany. But the erection and management of these controls was placed in the hands of the Hamburg-Amerika and North German Lloyd companies, who continued to use them in such a profitable manner that it was most difficult for any intending emigrant to get through unless he were about to travel by one of these two lines. The Government legislation made it still more awkward and costly for these passengers to reach the United States except in German ships. The facilities of through-rates over the continental railways, and the geographical position of Germany’s ports contrived to guide hordes of travellers into German-American vessels and thus maintain a steady revenue.

The British Isles depended for its supplies and overseas trade largely on what is known as the tramp steamer, a name that scarcely does justice to the many excellently built and well-conditioned steamers of moderate tonnage. It was these vessels which were keeping the country’s factories, institutions, finance, and actual human bodies from perishing. Thus, whilst Germany concentrated rather on ocean-going passenger ships (and especially in the Atlantic), 60 per cent of British tonnage was made up of tramp steamers, and only 40 per cent were liners. All this “loose”, mobile superiority arose because British shipping had become the chief carriers of the world, just as at one period of history the Netherlandish craft were the great “waggoners of the sea”.

Very valuable, as it turned out, was this tramp fleet when the Royal Navy demanded so many auxiliaries after July 1914, and such heavy pressure was put on cargo-carrying steamers for maintaining supplies at home. The fast Atlantic passenger ships could never have had enough space available. But the pre-war cause of all this tramp tonnage is traceable to the seasons of nature. Whilst there was a steady trade to be done outward-bound in taking coal from Cardiff or the north-east coast of England, the homeward-bound voyage was modified by the reason that the earth’s crops become ripe in different countries at different times. In order, therefore, to return with such commodities as corn, wheat, rice, sugar, wool, cotton, jute, the collier must needs wander from one part of the globe to another and not according to strict schedule. She went where she was wanted and when required. In the month of January the Burmah rice crop was waiting to be shipped before the monsoons occurred; the Calcutta jute season opened in August; the Australian wheat trade began in December; the United States grain trade in July; and so on.

On the other hand, there was a steady flow of cargo borne in British steamers which also carried passengers, though these were not the fastest ships. Some liners were confined, however, to the transport not of human beings but of commodities which were needed with regularity and despatch. The collier could amble along at slow speed, but foreign meat and bananas and certain other produce must not be delayed. So it came to this: if war should ever arrive, it would be sound strategy for Germany to hide her own liners in the most convenient harbours, and send out cruisers to harass all vessels bringing cargoes to the British Isles. For reasons which will presently become apparent, it was not the best wisdom to attack purely passenger liners, nor even those which carried half cargo and half people. The finest effect would be when a big steamer was caught fetching meat from South America, or grain from North America; or, in fact, any supplies that were relied upon for the continuance of life and war.

It followed naturally, then, that the raiding cruisers must first reach those trade-routes along which this traffic should pass. For the few sailing ships which still survived there were recognized routes across the world based on the direction of the trade winds. The steamer tracks were as definitely laid down, subject to navigational dangers, as a road stretches across any country. Just as a highwayman used to find the crossways a most excellent locality for ensuring opportunity, so the meeting of two sea routes suggested a lucrative station to any raider. For example, the vicinity of the Canary Islands is the converging area through which passes an enormous amount of shipping. Hither steamed vessels from New Zealand, via the Horn; others from the Pacific, via the Magellan Straits; others from Buenos Aires, Monte Video, Rio Janeiro, Pernambuco; and all to mingle with that other trade coming up from the West Coast of Africa, the Cape of Good Hope, and even the East African ports. Thus we shall not be surprised when we see this part of the ocean off Africa’s north-west shoulder much frequented by German raiders.

Another obvious spot was the north-east shoulder of Brazil near Cape San Roque, for here the traffic divides into that which proceeds north-west to the West Indies and the Atlantic seaboard of the United States, and that which flows north-east across the Atlantic to the Canaries. It was thus logical enough that German raiders should be found operating off Cape San Roque and its contiguous Rocas Reef. The North American route from the United States and Canada to Europe was the most valuable of all. Nevertheless, it presented difficulties for a raider. Civilized warfare demands that some respect must be had for non-combatants. However much German submarine commanding officers on certain occasions displayed callousness and brutality, this accusation can never be laid against the captains of their ships which raided on the surface. There is no parallel, among this more strict brotherhood, to the Lusitania episode.

The aim of the surface raider was to destroy but to conceal both his whereabouts and his existence. If he cruised much over the North Atlantic routes, he would sooner or later be seen by some fast passenger steamer who would by superior speed have every chance of escaping, and meanwhile of reporting the raider’s position by wireless to one of the British cruisers. On the other hand, if the raider were fortunate in stopping and capturing this Atlantic flier, what could be done with two or three thousand passengers? Certainly there would be no room aboard the German vessel, and it would be consequently useless to sink the prize. Altogether the latter would be an embarrassment. Unless she were well laden with munitions of war, or carrying an impossible cargo of food supplies, the raider’s efforts would be wasted, and the risks have been enormous. For this reason, then, there was little North Atlantic raiding, except later by submarines, and on those lucky occasions when some surface raider happened to cross the traffic track whilst proceeding to or from her assigned operational area.

During the last four hundred years whatever sea route was used to India became an attractive path for the enemies of merchant vessels. In different ages the rich commerce being carried to European ports from the Orient has been waylaid as close to its source as the Indian Ocean, and as near to its destination as the Bay of Biscay and English Channel. But, seeing that under modern conditions the Eastern route passes through the Suez Canal and Mediterranean, the obvious areas for a raider must be either outside the Gibraltar Straits or east of the Red Sea. The Emden chose the latter, and during a meteoric period of activity caused considerable havoc along the Indian Ocean. Here was an area additionally suitable because there were so many lonely islands where she could arrange to meet her colliers without the likelihood of being disturbed for a while. She found such localities as Minikoi, Felidu Atoll (in the Maldives), and Diego Garcia (in the Chagos Archipelago) invaluable to this end.

Raiding has become more difficult in the age of steam. So long as a sailing ship had fresh water, meat, and biscuits — supplies which were not so difficult to obtain — she could roam the seas for many months till the hull become so foul that the ship must be careened. But the modern raider is limited by the amount of her fuel, which means that at the best she can operate only for a few weeks. Moreover, there comes a time when boilers need to be cleaned and engines to be overhauled. But besides these factors there must be reckoned the element of speed. If the raider is slow, but economical in coal consumption, she is obviously no match for fast modern cargo ships, and she cannot hope to overtake any vessel which has got a fair start before nightfall. Nor must the raider be capable of high speeds, for that would mean extravagant use of fuel and frequent recourse to a collier. Further complications are bound to occur when, through some special emergency, the engines are driven beyond their normal speed and become inevitably ruined.

Our inquiry does not concern Emden more than to remark that her principles of commerce raiding were in accordance with those manifested by German onslaughts in other waters. Her career is too well known, and it was confined to one area. At the same time her compact and picturesque adventures exemplify both the strength and weakness of modern steamship raiding. In greater detail we shall notice from the following chapters the four facts which are basic. Firstly, that when once the raider has reached a regular trade route, nothing but very bad luck can prevent her from doing an immense amount of damage to shipping. Secondly, this series of captures and sinkings can go on for months at a time. Thirdly, the raider must rely either on (a) her own colliers always arriving at the secret rendezvous to time, or (b) the colliers which must first be captured along the traffic tracks. Of these two the first is risky, and advisable only as a temporary makeshift till the enemy’s vessels have begun to be made prizes. Fourthly, with very few exceptions, the raider (however fortunate and destructive) will not be able to evade being herself destroyed eventually, so long as there is an efficient cruiser force hunting her. The chase may be weeks or months, but sooner or later she will become a victim as surely as the average crook finds that crime cannot ultimately succeed.

Let us elaborate this for a moment and consider the problem from the German’s point of view. It is obvious that if she is to do any good she must be on the move most of the time; continuously steaming along or across the steamship lanes, ever keeping a keen look out for the first signs of smoke coming over the horizon, and always nervous lest the upper works of the stranger may turn out to be the bridge of a cruiser. The suspense, the strain on human endurance, the intercepted wireless messages indicating that the net is gradually closing round her have a cumulative effect on the crew. At the end of a year — if not earlier — these men will decline in moral, a disgruntled mutinous spirit will manifest itself and the captain’s hand may be forced to intern his vessel in some neutral port. It is either that or fighting to a finish some rival cruiser or concentrated superior naval strength.

Or, again, picture the successful raider, who has sunk several big cargo ships, now reaching the limit when bunkers must be replenished at all costs, else she must give up the game. She is making for her rendezvous at the back of some island and recognizes the familiar markings on the funnel of her anchored collier. But that collier has already been captured by a British cruiser, there is a prize crew on board, and the raider steams straight into the trap: H.M.S, Nonesuch is watching and waiting round the corner to pounce on the raider and shell her with 4.7-inch salvoes. And even if the Nonesuch be mortally wounded, other cruisers will now be on their way in answer to wireless summons: the result is predestined.

But, supposing the raider has terrorized one or two colliers of slow speed into surrender and sent them in charge of an armed party to wait the other side of a reef till more important and bigger vessels have been sunk; what then? As soon as the holds have been emptied of their coal supply, all the accumulated prisoner crews must be transferred from raider to collier and within a few weeks at the most sent into port. Will those angered crews keep their mouths shut when landed? Will not the indignant master mariners inform the Press reporters, the British consul, their owners, and the available authorities that in a certain latitude and longitude the raider was last seen on a particular date? From that moment cables will be busy, messages will pour into the Admiralty, and from Whitehall will be sent orders immediately across the seas. For a little longer the game of hide-and-seek will be played, but then one day the raider has no more luck: she must be sunk or she must surrender. Her machinery has been too long denied its overhaul, the breakdowns have become more serious and more frequent. Moreover, the old trade routes are no longer crowded but empty: shipping has been warned to keep fifty or a hundred miles away along new lanes. Nor is this all. The raider has noticed that most of the merchant ships now carry a gun aft for defensive armament; and, whilst this is of distinct inferiority to the German’s, yet it is capable of holing the latter on the water-line, of penetrating through into the engine-room, or flooding the stokehold, or turning the bridge into a roaring furnace. In either case the raider is not efficient for many more of these duels. She must either limp home — if near enough, seeing that her colonies no longer exist — or she must steal through the nocturnal darkness into some convenient neutral harbour.

Whether she will be allowed to effect her repairs and hurry forth again will depend on the local authorities and the force at their disposal for imposing obedience. It is one thing to defy international law when using the facilities of an isolated Chilean harbour that cannot even boast of a telegraph cable: it is something quite different if this resting-place is Newport News or New York, with Customs officers, pilots, harbour-masters, and warships at hand.

There remains to be considered the Pacific as a sphere for raiders. In general this was not given the attention which belonged to the Atlantic, and the reason was sound enough. The Panama Canal had not been opened for traffic when war began. Still, there was a certain attraction in the 5000-mile track from the Far East to Vancouver and San Francisco; in the routes between Western America and Australia; in the local shipping between Sydney and New Zealand. After the United States had entered the war, there was an even greater possibility of a raider’s cruise in the Pacific being worth while. In due course we shall note how German cruisers, both regular and improvised, utilised lonely Pacific islands and unfrequented channels with utter disregard for international law but with considerable benefit to themselves. Romantic Crusoe-like bays and adventures, scenes and narrow escapes, introduce additional colour and drama into the story, as if to prove that the drab North Sea with its highly mechanized grey battle-fleets was not the only theatre of war.

In the main, however, it was not the Pacific with all its vastness and limited shipping that formed the most tempting region for commerce attacks, but that part of the South Atlantic where the ocean is at its narrowest and there steamed the greatest concentration of valuable cargo-cruisers. No Navy could hope to dispose her protecting cruisers so as to ensure that merchantmen proceeding on their lawful occasions should escape molestation all the time. The most that could be attempted was to be at hand in selected areas, such as those of the Canaries, the Cape Verdes, with visits to islands and reefs suspected of being rendezvous for coaling; and the patrolling of vicinities where captures had definitely taken place.

All this was far more complicated than may be immediately realized. The commanding officers entrusted with the job of upsetting overseas trade were all handpicked and used every possible circumstance at their disposal. They were able by clever management to create a sense of mysterious uncertainty, simply by ensuring that between their actions and the tidings of their operations a sufficient period should have elapsed which allowed the raider to shift herself north, south, east, or west. For the British cruisers matters were further complicated by the spreading of unsubstantiated and often worthless rumours. And in the meantime an elusive game was being played which, even if confined to that portion of the ocean where the South American coast comes nearest to Africa, was apt to become tantalizing when the hunters never came in sight of the pursued.

Such, then, were the possibilities and particular problems in the campaign for striking violent blows against the most sensitive part of Britain’s national organization. Privateering being no longer permissible, the raiders’ efforts on the part of armed merchant cruisers against defensively lightly-armed non-combatants were the nearest approach to the olden days when letters of marque were granted. Let us now pass on to watch how the Germans devised their plans and how these plans were transformed into action.


INASMUCH as Germany was inferior to Britain in nominal naval strength, but owned so many ocean liners, she foresaw that in the event of hostilities there was a large potential fleet of fine steamers which in a few hours and by careful organization could be transformed into cruisers. They would require no external alteration, except what could be done with black paint; and, in fact, the more they looked like liners so much the less would they create suspicion when met at sea. Having coaled and provisioned, they would be armed with guns and sent out to waylay those merchantmen whose existence was vital for a nation of islanders. In certain localities there must be arrangements for a supply of coal; and at least part of this supply must be mobile. That is to say, a number of well-filled colliers must be stationed at suitable centres and ready to steam to given rendezvous. But, on the other hand, a very important factor could be relied upon: of all Britain’s exports, not less than seventy-five per cent consisted of coal. In other words, these armed liners could always be sure of helping themselves to as much sea-borne fuel as they required.

As far back as six years before the Great War, Germany had issued her instructions to the captains of her liners. If hostilities seemed imminent, and the ship chanced to be lying in a neutral port, then she was to remain there. If she were on passage, she must make for the nearest neutral harbour and wait till the receipt of further instructions. As recently as February 1914 these orders were supplemented. Every master of a North German Lloyd vessel equipped with wireless received a document marked “Strictly Confidential”, which told him that, in order to announce the outbreak of war, news would be transmitted by the Norddeich wireless station. All German ships were accordingly to listen-in at 7 a.m., 1 p.m., and 11.10 p.m. In April of that year directions were given for wireless practice to take place daily between German trading vessels and men-of-war.

The German Admiralty also compiled a “Cruiser Handbook”, and in this was given a list of secret rendezvous, where liners so ordered could make for immediately and be fitted with their guns. One of these places was near the Bahamas: another was off that lonely South Atlantic island of Trinidada, a most inhospitable spot several hundred miles east of Brazil, notorious alike for its terrible land-crabs, its heavy seas, and for the futile visits of treasure searchers finding nothing but desolation. It was off the Bahamas that the Kronprinz Wilhelm was to be changed into a raider, as we shall soon see: Trinidada was the rendezvous where Dresden and Cap Trafalgar both bunkered from German colliers during the first few weeks of the war, but it was also here that the Hamburg-Amerika steamship Navarra with supplies for German cruisers was found on November 11 (1914) by the British armed merchant cruiser Orama. After a chase, Orama was able to sink Navarra and rescue the crew.

It was typical of Germany’s pre-war thoroughness to have taken the greatest pains with regard to supplies in the Atlantic. This, being the richest of all the seven seas, must inevitably be the principal sphere for raiding operations, so it was dotted with a number of Supply Centres, each supervised by a Supply Officer. These centres were at New York, Las Palmas, Havana, Rio Janeiro, and Buenos Aires; that is to say, at the north, east, west, and south of the Atlantic trading area. There were also smaller centres at the Danish island of St. Thomas in the West Indies; at Para in Brazil; at Pernambuco and Bahia in Brazil; at Santos further down the same coast; at Monte Video in Uruguay; and even as far south as Punta Arenas in the Magellan Straits. A reference to the map will show that there was thus a chain of stations all the way up the east American coast from Cape Horn to New York. On the opposite side of the Atlantic there were small centres at Lome in Togoland; at Tenerife in the Canaries; whilst at Horta in the Azores there was a mid-Atlantic rendezvous.

Each Supply Officer was responsible for seeing that the requisite colliers were in his appointed area. The raider had only to consult her “Cruiser Handbook” and select one of the rendezvous, go alongside, and begin bunkering. There was no necessity to send out wireless messages saying she required so many hundred tons by a certain date: the coal was already there waiting. The Supply Officer-in-Chief, or Controller-General of all these centres was that German naval officer, Fregatten-Kapitän Boy-Ed, of the German Embassy at Washington. Extremely able, astute, cunning, dangerous, this organizer did his share of the work till late on into the war, when he left the United States and came back to Europe.

After the first few days of war Korvetten-Kapitän Leonhardi was the Supply Officer in charge at Las Palmas, and his activities caused no little trouble to the British Navy. A number of German steamers were here interned, and not all of them were content to remain thus immobilized. Whilst British cruisers had to be employed keeping watch to prevent these vessels all emerging and assisting the attack on commerce, there was the unpleasant fact that during this first critical ten days of war it was still possible for the internees, and for Leonhardi, to communicate with the German Admiralty in Berlin. This was effected by the following chain. In accordance with the orders previously enunciated, a number of German steamers had availed themselves of neutral ports in Spain, Portugal, and elsewhere. Among those in Spanish waters was the cable ship Stephan at Vigo, and the Frankenwald at Bilbao. These picked up the wireless messages sent out from Nauen, and then sent them on to the German Embassy at Madrid, whence in turn the telegrams were transmitted to Cadiz. From there the cable connected with Tenerife and Las Palmas, but also across the Atlantic to Pernambuco, Rio Janeiro, and Buenos Aires, so that the Supply Officers could be advised quite effectively.

During the first week of war German colliers with coal from Cardiff and Barry were able to reach Las Palmas and, as we shall witness, come out to supply the raider Kronprinz Wilhelm. The Hamburg-Amerika Line chartered a number of neutral steamers to carry coal and provisions from Atlantic ports for other raiders, Newport News being a favourite supply base. Indeed, later events will show that the raiders were generally more than attracted by this Virginian port. The wide entrance to the Chesapeake was much to be preferred, when British cruisers were hovering about somewhere in the darkness, to some narrow and tricky channel. But there were the ship-repairing yards, dry docks, and the facilities for coaling which encouraged drooping spirits after months of strenuous roving. One of the neutral supply ships thus chartered by the Hamburg-Amerika Company was the Norwegian S.S. Thor, but between September 7 and 13 the British cruisers of the West India Squadron captured Thor as well as four other supply vessels.

The close co-operation between the German steamship owners and their Government was such that in time of emergency the former became practically a department of the latter, employing a huge Atlantic organization as a kind of extended Admiralty. The Hamburg-Amerika Line had contracted, in the event of war, to provide 75,000 tons of coal each month to German cruisers working in the Atlantic, and the intention was to maintain these supplies from North American ports. This grandiose scheme, however, collapsed owing to the very fact of the war itself. There were not enough colliers available, credit could not be granted, and the United States Government showed a firm hand. None the less, Boy-Ed succeeded in sending as many as fifteen ships out from his area, and still had four more ready.

The instruction for German liners to make for the nearest neutral port was not always the wisest precept to practice. Better for them would it have been if the order had been thus: “Make for the nearest port of a neutral country that is most likely to remain neutral.” On August 3,1914, two of the Hamburg-Amerika liners were off the western entrance of the English Channel, when their wireless informed them that war had broken out between Germany and France. These two steamers therefore selected the first neutral port, which happened to be Falmouth, and I saw them anchored up the Fal. Not many hours elapsed before Britain became a belligerent, and Falmouth ceased to possess neutrality. Off the entrance one saw the arrival of British cruisers, a small steamboat was lowered, and hurried up the Fal alongside the first liner. Three naval officers stepped out on to the gangway and were met by a German mercantile officer; both liners were detained, and later condemned. German crews and passengers were taken ashore, and before the month was out these two Atlantic ships steamed to the open sea, but with the White Ensign flying at the stern over German colours and a prize crew on board. The first was the Kronprinzessin Cecilie, of 8689 tons, and the other was the slightly smaller Prinz Adalbert, of 6030 tons.

In like manner those German ships which had interned themselves in Portugal and the United States were at later dates to suffer irreparable misfortune.

Now the first of the German merchant cruisers to get through the Narrow Seas into the Atlantic was the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse. This four-funnelled passenger ship, which had once been the fastest liner afloat, still belonged to the North German Lloyd. Seventeen years previously she had been built by the Vulcan Company on the agreement that she was first to run a trial trip to New York, and if during this voyage she failed to reach the requirements of the contract, then the North German Lloyd need not accept her. In October 1907, whilst homeward bound, she encountered bad weather and lost her rudder when about seven hundred miles from Halifax; but that did not prevent her from steaming safely another 2300 miles to Bremerhaven, calling at Plymouth on the way. Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse was of 14,349 tons and at her prime could attain a mean speed of over 22 knots. Internally, she was regarded at one period as the most decorative ship afloat and is certainly still remembered as one of those vessels which have made steamship history so notable.

At the beginning of August she was lying at Bremerhaven, but on the third of that month her familiar yellow funnels and white upperworks were all painted black, she received her guns, a naval crew came aboard, and Captain Reymann took over command. On August 4 she came out of the Weser, stood up the North Sea, and then adopted a course that was to be followed by other raiders which were subsequently to leave Germany for the Atlantic. The great nervousness created in the raiding captains by the British blockading cruisers, and the desire to reach the ocean without being seen by one of the patrols, brought about a route which long before the end of war was pretty well stereotyped, receiving modifications only because of weather, atmosphere, or the amount of daylight at the particular season. Thus, it would be a raider’s aim to utilise fog, heavy gales, dark moonless long wintry nights, for passing through that portion of the British waters where likelihood of encountering warships was most possible. Daylight hours must therefore be as few as practicable, and spent in some high latitude away from close patrols. Eventually it became a matter of choosing a ship with the right speed to bring her to the patrol area at the proper time. It also meant, and became the practice, that outward-bound raiders had better leave Germany in either late November or December, returning home not later than about March.

Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse was the first of the pioneers, and she had far greater speed as well as tonnage than most of them. She was also — like the rest of these crack fliers — most extravagant with coal, and consumed over 250 tons a day at half-speed. The seriousness of this is at once appreciated, since her cautiousness took her by such a roundabout way that she had used up most of her fuel by the time she had reached her area. For she could never have dared to rush the Dover Straits and down the short English Channel, but instead had to hug the coast of Norway, then go right up north to Iceland waters, next well to the westward of the British Isles and so down to that previously mentioned busy trade south of Tenerife. By August 7 this black liner was no further than 50 miles WNW of Stalberg, Iceland, where she wasted effort by sinking the British 227-ton trawler Tubal Cain and took the crew prisoners.

She had to steam another eight days before she met her second ship, and this was the Union Castle liner Galician, passing through the Canaries area on voyage from Capetown for London. Had the raider only known that the Cruiser Squadron, which was to act as the Northern Patrol, was still in the English Channel when Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse came up the North Sea, much time might have been saved. By the time the latter reached the Canaries district there were only two British cruisers — Vindictive and Highflyer — in the assigned area. Captain Reymann had certainly arrived on the right spot, and his wireless soon intercepted en clair signals from steamers ordering coal for them at Tenerife. As they gave their names, it was quite easy for Reymann to open Lloyd’s Register, turn over the pages of that volume till his finger stopped at the column where full particulars of her tonnage, ownership, and so on could be at once noted.

The occasion was not without humour. “Is the track clear?” Galician was heard to inquire on the air, and Reymann flashed back to Captain E. M. Day an encouraging message, so that at 2.45 p.m. the two liners met. “If you communicate by wireless I will sink you,” was the German’s greeting. But at five the following morning came another signal releasing her. Why was that done? The answer is the Galician could be nothing but an embarrassment to the raider. Here were 250 passengers from South Africa, of whom some were women and children, who would soon eat up the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse’s provisions. But two hours after dismissing Galician there arrived the S.S. Kaipara, 7392 tons, on a voyage from New Zealand and Monte Video, with 4000 tons of meat and no passengers. This was ideal. She was promptly sunk and her crew were taken prisoners; but on the same day the Royal Mail liner Arlanza, bound from Buenos Aires, was stopped and then released because she was a 15,000-ton passenger ship with women and children. Still on the same August 16 came next the S.S. Nyanga, a 3000-ton cargo vessel with a cargo of African produce, so her crew were removed and the ship sent to the bottom.

Thus twelve days and considerable steaming had brought about the destruction of only one trawler and two cargo steamers. The raider herself had now run out of coal and proceeded eastward, but on the same night reached that lonely and unfrequented anchorage of Rio de Oro, which is in Spanish territory on the northwest shoulder of Africa. Administered by the Governor of the Canary Islands, it has on the settlement a sub-Governor; but a German raider paid scarcely any more respect for rulers of white men’s settlements than would have been shown to a cannibal chief. Might was right, and opportunity was always legitimate. She now waited for supply ships to reach this rendezvous and bring her coal as well as provisions. Thither after five days came therefore the German S.S. Duala and the Arucas. The former had defied the Spanish authorities at Las Palmas by staying forty-eight hours and then proceeding on a pretence of being bound for New York. The latter had escaped from Tenerife. A few days later two more supply ships came to the raider’s succour. One was the Austrian Magdeburg, with 1400 tons of coal and provisions, and the other was the Bethania, which had brought from Las Palmas Supply Centre some 6000 tons of coal.

On the few occasions when these raiders were boarded at anchor, the excuse was always the same: they had come in to effect engine repairs. A Spanish official having come to inquire as to the presence of Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse spending several days in these territorial waters was given the usual lie, but he was completely fooled into believing she was nothing more than a liner: for the crew were wearing on their caps the ribbon of the North German Lloyd. She was still completing her coaling when on August 26 there suddenly appeared a three-funnelled British cruiser. This was the 5600-ton Highflyer, well known as a training ship, armed with eleven 6-inch guns as opposed to the raider’s six 4-inch. The latter, having refused to surrender, was engaged and eventually sunk. Captain Reymann, nine other officers, and seventy-two of the crew reached the shore and walked to the Spanish fort, where the sub-Governor took charge of them. They were later interned aboard three German ships in Las Palmas. Four hundred others escaped in the Bethania, which steamed across to the North Atlantic coast of America, where she was sighted by H.M.S. Essex, who chased her, captured her, and brought her into Kingston, Jamaica. The other supply ships had made off before Highflyer opened fire, and aboard Arucas went the transferred crews of Kaipara and Nyanga.

So the first raider from Germany had not achieved much success. Whilst she destroyed about £400,000 worth of shipping, she had lost her own more valuable life. But she was not quite suitable for the job, her appearance (with that characteristic German gap between the second and third funnel) being not materially altered by paint, and her coal consumption being both a danger to herself and a terrible strain on the supply organisation. It was indeed just because she had to spend so much time waiting and coaling in Rio de Oro that news reached Highflyer in sufficient time. Except for special “rush” incursions of short duration British record-breaking Atlantic liners likewise were not the useful war auxiliaries which it had been hoped they would become. To use them in the best manner was to turn them into either (a) minelayers, or (b) hospital ships. And the same remark very much applied to steamers of the cross-Channel type, such as the Dover-Calais class.

In the first month of war Britain made the same mistake and learned the same lesson as Germany. The fast Cunard liners Lusitania, Mauretania, and Aquitania were found too extravagant with fuel and altogether of too great a tonnage for cruiser work, which demands moderate consumption of oil or coal, a reasonable amount of mobility (seeing that she will have to be stopped and manoeuvred when arresting or fighting another steamer), and a speed somewhere between 14 and 18 knots. It was for this reason that both Lusitania and Mauretania were handed back to their owners, as indeed was Aquitania after she had been in collision. The first-mentioned did excellent work in maintaining rapid communication between America and England until torpedoed, and Mauretania was invaluable as a hospital ship when hundreds of sick and wounded had to be rushed home from the Dardanelles, whilst Aquitania was to render notable service as a transport. Similarly the rapid, handy, but short-radius class of cross-Channel packets evolved by such vessels as Riviera, Empress, Engadine could be usefully employed either to carry seaplanes during some particular brief occasion, or to lay hurriedly a minefield and then scurry home.


THE story of how Germany sent out one of the biggest North German Lloyd passenger liners to lay a minefield off the British coast is to be considered not so much as a separate incident but rather as part of a raiding policy. Under different circumstances this warfare against traffic was carried on by demolition charges, by opening the sea-cocks of arrested steamers, by shelling them from guns, but there was also the adoption of minelaying tactics.

At 7.30 p.m. on August 4, when the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse was leaving the Weser astern, a smaller two-funnelled steamer owned by the Hamburg-Amerika Line received by wireless in the Ems an order to proceed at utmost speed towards the Thames and lay a cargo of mines. Her name was the Konigin Luise, and she was a popular excursion screw vessel which sometimes came as far west as within the Isle of Wight. Her instructions now were to lay a minefield as near as possible to the east coast of England, but not to the north of Lat. 53: in other words, the area was to be in the North Sea's southern portion. This vessel had been chosen because she was most appropriate for those waters. As soon as her yellow funnels and white hull were painted a hurried coat of black, she very much resembled any of those Great Eastern Railway steamers which plied regularly between Harwich and the Hook of Holland. Consequently no suspicion would be aroused if she were espied along the imaginary line which joins the Maas Lightship to Orfordness. Another convenient feature was that her after-deck was very suitable for the space and little railroad track required in the operation of dropping mines overboard.

Armed with her explosive cargo and two guns, she put to sea under cover of darkness at 10 p.m., steamed westward past the Dutch coast, picked up the Terschelling and Haaks Lightships, and was off the Maas Lightship about 8 a.m. (both of these being German time). She then altered course to get hold of the East Anglian shore and had made up her mind to foul the East Swin Channel, which is one of the busiest thoroughfares for merchantmen trading between London and the North Sea or Baltic ports. But Konigin Luise was destined never to get anything like so far. At 10.40 a.m. (G.M.T.) on August 5 she was steaming at 16 knots and was now some thirty miles east of Orfordness, when she was sighted by -H.M.S. Amphion with her flotilla of destroyers. In command of Konigin Luise was Commander Biermann, and he became alarmed: the last thing in the world to be desired was an engagement whilst all these explosives were still on board. He therefore threw his deadly cargo into the sea, altered course first to the south and then south-east in the effort to run back homeward. This, however, was not possible.

At 11.15 a.m. (G.M.T.) the flotilla began shelling her, though not before she had sparked off a wireless message informing the High Sea Fleet that the mines had been laid. Within three-quarters of an hour she had been sunk, and her survivors taken prisoners aboard Amphion. The tactical error consisted in the hour selected for her setting forth. Had she so worked her schedule as to enable the mines being laid during the dark hours, then she would probably never have been caught, but the minefield would have dramatically revealed itself later as an undefined danger area causing heavy losses. And this is exactly the result that was obtained when three weeks later during the night of August 25-26 extensive minefields were laid off the Tyne and Humber. The minelayers were undetected and got away safely back to Germany.

Konigin Luise really owed her finale to a British trawler which happened to be in the neighbourhood and noticed her “throwing things” overboard as soon as the destroyer flotilla had been sighted. The trawler informed Amphion, and the action followed. But on the next morning Amphion herself hit one of those mines and foundered. That, however, was a mere incident. What mattered was that the initial German minefield had been discovered as soon as it was laid, the area could be in future avoided, the North Sea charts off Orfordness given a pink patch to indicate danger, and the minesweepers told exactly where they could work. To the end of hostilities this Southwold Area, as it was always known, was not more dangerous to British shipping than it remained for German submarines which eventually would hunt those very waters.

Now the next phase centres round a much larger minelayer, and the sequence of events shows the intimate relationship between psychology and operations. It will be recollected that on August 28, 1914, was fought the Battle of Heligoland Bight. The result of this was so alarming that the Kaiser insisted on a future naval policy that was characterised by extreme caution. History always shows that enforced inactivity is most disastrous through its effect on the moral of fighting men, and by September this defensive attitude towards her greatest naval enemy was already injuring the moral of Germany’s crews. Some sort of raid beyond the Heligoland Bight, without risking the High Sea Fleet was, however, likely to improve the marine tone. The tremendous potentialities of the mine having been proved off Orfordness, the Tyne and Humber, suggested that a more ambitious attempt might do wonders. The question still remained: should the mines be laid to entrap merchantmen, or should the British Grand Fleet be the target?

We know to-day that in September 1914 the German naval intelligence had not yet been able to discover where the Grand Fleet was based, but believed that Moray Firth was the locality. This was a natural enough inference, for the British Navy had been using Cromarty Firth in the years immediately preceding the war. Also it was true that the last-mentioned anchorage was being used by the First Light-Cruiser Squadron and Second Cruiser Squadron. The Battle-Fleet and Battle-Cruisers were, however, based on Scapa Flow, whence periodical sweeps were occasionally made down the North Sea towards the Heligoland Bight.

It is at this stage that we introduce the North German liner Berlin, another noble twin-screw, twin-funnel vessel. She had been completed for her owners in 1909 at Bremen for the Mediterranean-New York service and to carry 3630 persons inclusive of crew. She was of 17,324 gross tons and 590 ft. in length, with typically lofty upper works so characteristically Teutonic. She was taken over by the German Navy, repainted, fitted out as a minelayer, and assigned the duty of fouling areas not in the North Sea, but at the north-west approaches to the British Isles.

The intention was twofold. Many ships were steaming in and out of the Clyde, and a blow was thus to be struck outside Glasgow. There was also an indirect but extremely sound reason for laying a trap athwart the Clyde channels; for a huge convoy of 33 steamships was about to leave Canada and cross to the British Isles with troops eventually destined to reach France. Germany got to know not merely this fact, but that the sailing date was to be September 23. That which she did not definitely ascertain was the port for which these ships were bound. It was, however, fair to assume that they would make neither for Liverpool nor some harbour on the English Channel, but for the nearest and most direct terminus via the north of Ireland to Glasgow. Thus the laying of a minefield at the Clyde entrance would be a menace to the Canadian convoy and all other shipping alike.

Next came the choice of a suitable moment. Arguing from the general to the particular, the matter worked out thus. The mines should be deposited under cover of night, on a date not too far from new moon when darkness could be ensured, but the time must not be too much ahead of the convoy’s probable period for arrival in the Clyde. Now it happened that new moon was on September 19, so preparations were made for Berlin to leave Germany on September 21. She was placed under the command of Captain Pfundheller, carried 200 mines, had a speed of 17 knots, and, being armed with six 4.1-inch guns, was also a powerful cruiser capable of playing havoc with any merchantman. As the German Admiralty possessed the names of the convoy units, Berlin was disguised to resemble several of these ships; the hope being that if she were found anywhere between Ireland and Scotland she would be taken for a British liner.