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Commerce Raider 

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German Commerce raiders  and Auxiliary Cruisers.  Armed passenger Liners have been used in navies since the days of the American Civil war.  The German Imperial Navy, before the outbreak of World war one, requested that the major German Ocean Liner and shipping companies. produce their new ships with special requirements, so that in case of war they could easily be converted to take Armament. (this would mean strengthening the deck area where the guns were to be placed.)

 
Mowe 1914 1933 sold to Germany & re-named Oldenburg, 7 April 1945 torpedoed by British Submarine off Norway, beached then broken up 1953.
Displacement: 9800t; 4788grt             Armament: 4-15cm SKL/45, 1-10.5cm SKL/45, 2-50cm TT         Complement: 234
 
Wolf 14 Jan 1916 Ran aground during her first sortie in the Elbe estuary 26.2.1916, so badly damaged she was decommissioned 
Displacement: 12.900-6648grt            Armament: 4-15cm SKL/40, 2-37mm, 2-50cm TT           Complement: 361
 
Grief 23.1.1916 Sank by AMC Andes & cruiser Comus 29.2.1916
Displacement: 9900t; 4962grt             Armament: 4-15 SKL/40, 1-10.5cm SKL/40, 2.50CM TT         Complement: 307  
 
Wolf 16.5.1919 Turned over to France 1919 & renamed Antinous
Displacement: 11,200t;5809grt               Armament: 7-15cm SKL/40, 4-50cm TT, 465 mines, 1 seaplane           Complement: 347
 
Seeadler 1878 ?
Displacement: 4500t;1571grt             Armament: 2-10.5cm SKL/45          Armament: 64
 
Geier 1913 Scuttled by the Mowe because of her worn out machinery 14.2.1917
Displacement: 9700t;4992 grt            Armament: 2-52mm               Complement: 48
 
Leopard Captured 11th December 1916 Ex-British Yarrowdale, captured by the Mowe.  Operating as Leopard from 9th January 1917.  Sunk 16th March 1917.
Displacement: 9800t;4652 grt            Armament: 5-15cm SKL/40, 4-8.8cm SKL/40, 2-50cm TT               Complement: 319
 
Iltis Captured 27th January 1917 Ex-British Turritella, which was previously the German Gutenfles, before being seized by the British on the outbreak of war.  Captured by Wolf.  Scuttled 15th March 1917.
Displacement: 1070t;5528 grt            Armament: 1-52mm, 25 mines               Complement: 74
 

Deeds That Thrill The Empire. Page 262. Volume II

The First Of The Commerce Raiders (Sinking Of The “Kaiser Wilhelm Der Grosse”)

            For many years before the outbreak of war Germany had been preparing elaborate plans for the starvation of England.  Not only were regular cruisers built with unbroken regularity, but also arrangements were made whereby a large number of liners and merchant ships could be armed with guns and stored with ammunition at very short notice, and proceed at once to the destination of British sea borne trade.  Many people in this country regarded the danger as an extremely grave one for us, and all sorts of demands were made at various times on the Government to provide hordes of cruisers for protection against the menace. 

            When the “real thing” came, however, we were to discover very quickly how hollow the threat really was, and the remarkable promptitude of the Navy in dealing with it.  The Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, though not the largest or the latest, was one of the most famous ships in the German merchant fleet.  When she was built in 1897 she was the fastest on the Atlantic route, and so proud of herself were the Germans at snatching the “blue riband” from Great Britain that they painted along the ship’s sides in great letters the sardonic legend “Made in Germany.”

             The Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse was one of the many ships detailed for the attack on our commerce and early in the war she was able to steal out of New York, mount her guns, and take onboard ammunition and trained without being in any way interfered with by our patrolling cruisers.

            No warship ever had a more inglorious career.  Keeping as far to the north as she could, she came eastward across the Atlantic, and in a few days made her first capture.  She was, let it be remembered, a ship of over 14,000 tons, with a length of 626 feet; and she opened the campaign against the British mercantile marine by sinking a little fishing boat off Iceland!  After that, she picker her way south with the object of waylaying shipping on the way to the Cape, and although she sank only two vessels, her presence in those waters caused a good deal of apprehension in mercantile circles.

            A number of British cruisers, however, were on her track, and her end was not far off.  On the morning of August 26th 1914, she was lying off the mouth of the River Oro, West Africa, taking in coal from two auxiliaries sent out before the war began, when the outline of a British cruiser was dimly seen through the mist to seaward.  For a few moments everyone onboard knew that the hour for action had struck; but the stranger slowly disappeared, and the work of coaling was proceeded with.

             But the respite was a short one.  Within an hour cruiser-it was His Majesty’s Ship Highflyer-had returned, and this time there was no mistaking the fact that it meant business.  When he was about six miles off the British commander, Captain Henry T. Buller, signalled to ask the German if he surrendered. The answer came promptly enough: “Germans never surrender, and you must respect the neutrality of Spain.”  The warning referred to the fact that the Kaiser Wilhelm was actually lying in Spanish territorial waters; but as she was known to have been using the same place as a permanent base for some weeks, the appeal was almost humorously disingenuous. 

             It was here that the characteristic humanity of the British seaman showed itself.  Captain Buller signalled that he should attack I half an hour, leaving ample time for the colliers to get out of harm’s way and for the Kaiser Wilhelm herself to prepare for a square fight.  Perhaps this was “not war;” but, at any rate, it was playing the game in a way that no German could ever be imagined as playing it. 

             The enemy made good use of the interval.  Not only were the prisoners taken from the sunken merchantmen bundled into the colliers, but a large number of the liner’s own crew were sent onboard them as well.  The captain knew it would be almost hopeless to attempt to escape, with the Highflyer waiting for him outside, and therefore only kept onboard sufficient men to enable his ship to make the best use of her means of defence.

             As soon as the period of grace had elapsed the Highflyer again inquired if the enemy would surrender, and when the answer came, “We have nothing more to say,” the action was opened without further parley.  The British cruiser let fly with one of her 6-inch guns at a range of just under 10,000 yards; but the shot fell short.  The enemy’s guns were smaller-4.1-inch but much more modern, and before our shells began to hit the enemy the German projectiles were falling thickly around and upon the Highflyer.  One shell went between a man’s legs and burst just behind him, peppering him with splinters.  Another struck the bridge just after captain had left it to go into the conning tower, and knocked a searchlight overboard.  

             All this time the Highflyer was steaming in so as to get her guns well within range; and when the 100-lb shells began to hit they “kept on the target” in a manner that spoke well for the training of our gunners.  One shot carried away a 4-inch gun on the after deck of the enemy.  Another burst under the quarterdeck and started a fire; a third-perhaps the decisive shot of action-struck her amidships on the water line and tore a great rent in her side.

             From stem to stern the 6-inch shells tore their destructive way, and it was less than half an hour after the fighting began that the “pride of the Atlantic” began to slacken her fire.  The water was pouring into the hole amidships, and slowly she began to heel to port.  Three boatloads of men were seen to leave her and make for the shore.  In somewhat similar circumstances British boats have been shelled and machine-gunned by the enemy, but that is not the British seaman’s way of making war.  The Highflyer immediately signalled that if the enemy wished to abandon their ship, they would not be interfered with; and as the guns of the Kaiser Wilhelm had by this time ceased to answer our fire, the Highflyer ceased also, and two boats were sent off with surgeons, sick berth attendants and medical stores, to do what they could for the enemy’s wounded.  The ship herself was battered beyond all hope, and presently heeled over and sank in about fifty feet of water.

             Although the Highflyer had been hit about fifteen times her losses amounted to only one man killed and five slightly wounded.  The enemy’s loss is unknown, but it is estimated that at least two hundred were killed and wounded, while nearly four hundred of those who had escaped in the colliers were captured a fortnight later in the Hamburg-America liner Bethania.

             The action was in ever way creditable to the British Navy, both in the manner in which it had been fought and the consideration that had been shown to the enemy.  The Highflyer had the advantage of being regular warship, but she was little more than half as long (350 feet) as the Kaiser Wilhelm, which might possibly have escaped by reason of her superior speed if she had had the courage to put to sea and make a run for it.

            It was noteworthy as being the first duel of the naval war and as being the first definite step in the process of “clearing the seas.”  It is not often that the Admiralty evinces any enthusiasm in the achievements of the fleet and the following wireless message despatched to the victorious cruiser is therefore the more remarkable:

            “Admiralty to Highflyer-Bravo!  You have rendered a service not only to Britain, but to the peaceful commerce of the world.  The German officers and crew appear to have carried out their duties with humanity and restraint, ad are therefore worthy of all seamanlike consideration.”  It need hardly be said that the officers and men of the Highflyer needed no advice from home as to the manner in which they should treat their prisoners.  If anything the British fighting man, whether on land or sea, he has too soft a heart in their respect.  It should be added that the Admiralty made no further recognition of the services rendered by the Highflyer and her ship’s company.  Somehow we expect the Navy to do these things, and victory in most cases has to be its own reward. 

 

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