Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The Prinz Eitel Friedrich and SS William P Frye

The common conception of the Kaiserliche - Marine's attacks on neutral and especially American shipping was the sinking of the Lusitania but the first shots fired against the neutral United States occurred on the 27th January 1915 by the Hilfkreuzer SMH Prinz Eitel Friedrich.

Here is the German cruiser's journey and the consequences it encountered by attacking the neutral vessel.

SMH Prinz Eitel Friedrich
As vice-admiral von Spee's fleet prepared to head south for Cape Horn a final instruction to Captain Thierichsens which was to make the most of the German naval superiority and to attack British trade whilst giving the impression that the East Asiatic Squadron were still operating there with action and radio messages. He set about sending messages with Leipzig's call sign "Li" repeatedly as if Leipzig was signalling Scharnhorst. Allied shipping, like German merchants a few weeks previously had taken to port or sailing at night and close to shore to avoid detection. Prinz Eitel Friedrich only achieved one victory at this time when she encountered the SS Charcas on a foggy 5th December before boarding, taking the crew off and sinking her with her cargo of 220 tonnes of nitrate. It had been a lucky catch because the local head of the New York and Pacific steam company had put out an order following a sighting of the Prinz Eitel Friedrich at Valparaiso for all shipping to stay in port. As this was not an official order from head office the Charcas sailed keeping to the territorial waters however the fog had forced her away from the coast but still forty miles away from the usual track.

Having waited for the designated amount of time Thierichsens prepared to follow after his Admiral around the cape and hopefully catch up at a later point. Bad news struck on the 10th December when a radio message from Montevideo to Stanley that alluded to the defeat of the East Asiatic, a fact that was confirmed on the 11th when a Daily Mail radio query to the Bishop of the Falklands asking about the sinking of Scharnhorst, Gneisnau and Leipzig.

Thierichsens had to revaluate his plans for his vessel in the light of a superior British fleet at the Falklands would soon be rounding the cape to secure British trade routes and be searching for the vessel that had been transmitting on behalf of Leipzig and his vessel was known by sight. The Pacific colonies had long been overrun so he knew that there was no point returning there but he was also constrained by the threat of British warships in the South Atlantic and in all probability sweeping around the Horn. There was a simpler solution; Thierichsens took his vessel to a "dead zone" in much the same way Huhn took Leipzig to the Galapagos. Easter Island was chosen as the place they could sit out and wait for the British searches to pass. If von Spee's fleet had been wiped out in its entirety then any sweep would be cursory and would hopefully leave quickly allowing Prinz Eitel Friedrich free reign. Then again his vessel was known in the region and there was no doubt they would be looking for the vessel that had been masquerading as Leipzig.

As the German vessel turned towards her new destination she came across the French barque Jean carrying 3500 tons of coal, a very welcome stroke of luck. A prize crew was sent over and the vessel taken into tow its cargo would be transferred in the remote harbour at Easter Island. The very next day the Prinz Eitel Friedrich came across a British barque, the Kidalton bound for Calou from Liverpool. As her cargo was of no use to the Germans the ship was promptly sunk and they continued on their way with the Jean in tow arriving at Cook’s bay on 23rd December.  On arrival the Germans set about coaling from the Jean whilst Mr. Edmunds the manager of the Williamson-Balfour sheep company was brought aboard to see Thierichsens who issued a demand for forty sheep for provisions after Christmas but refused to bring any news of the war or what his vessel or intentions were. It was an interview that made Edmunds so uncomfortable that he declined a later invitation for Christmas festivities aboard for fear he would be taken prisoner.

Thierichsens’ forces set up a radio antennae on one of the highest points on the island to listen for news from the Americas and more importantly any approaching ships. This was a flagrant violation of the rules of neutrality but this was of no concern to the German Captain, the island was far too remote to worry about any Chilean naval intervention and his officers reportedly treated the island as if they owned it. Once their primary concerns of coal and stores had been addressed they took Jean out to sea and sank her with gunfire on the XX January. The crews of the fallen barques were put ashore on the 6th January and Thierichsens put the island to his rudder. The prisoners were picked up two months later by a Swedish freighter save for a few who had died due to an outbreak of dysentery on the island and a half of the Jean’s crew who had promised not to raise in arms against Germany, the others were willing to abandon their parole having already turned down rescue by the British vessel Skerries on the 28th February.

Thierichsens had enough coal and mutton to last until April and knowing his Admiral was gone, the Pacific was closed to him and the Atlantic seaboards were closing with the Royal Navy and their Japanese allies were scouring the seas for any raiders left behind. There were only two options left to him both of which involved sailing up the trade spines causing as much damage as possible and then break for Germany or intern in a neutral port. Obviously they hoped for the former. The Prinz Eitel Friedrich was beginning to suffer from the extended time at sea too, her engines were tired, her boilers needed cleaning and her belly was fouled causing her top speed to drop below her original 15 knots. This was a matter of concern for Thierichesens, however not as great a problem as how he was going to avoid the British navy. The only way to round the Horn was to go as far south as possible as the British would more than likely be checking channels and islands to the north but not along the 61st Parallel which was as close to the Antarctic as they could. It was exceptionally cold especially for men in tropical uniforms and the ship’s company was on alert for ice as there was a very real danger from “growlers” and icebergs.

Knowing that his vessel’s speed was compromised and not wanting to draw attention Thierichsens decided to avoid the faster steamer lane and opted for the sailing route believing that he could still make captures without the Allied navies being drawn to investigate. Although fewer in number and harder to spot there was the advantage of their due dates being a lot more flexible if a vessel was delayed there was no great concern or the were months rather than weeks away. More importantly none of the vessels carried wireless sets and so could not call for help and they could not run even from his tired vessel. Although he had enough supplies there was still hope that they would come across a collier or ship that could be plundered to restock his holds but what would be desirable would be a tender to arrive but the likelihood of that was becoming very diminished.

What hadn’t factored in to pre-war German planning was the damage to the local economies that commerce raiding was doing and this led the South American republics to begin to enforce their neutrality by force. The SS Union, was caught by the Kronprinz Wilhelm was carrying 3500 tons of coal for the Argentine Railway and Electric power stations which was a big blow. It also damaged relations with British companies who traded meat, grain, nitrates and other valuable materials in these countries and there was a worry that Britain could take her very lucrative trade contracts elsewhere.

There also came the question of violating their sovereignty and all the German warships that had passed through South American waters were responsible in one way or another. Leipzig and Nürnberg had stopped vessels in territorial waters, Karlsruhe had allegedly had a secret cove on the Brazilian coast where she had gone for coaling and had messages concerning British movements, the whole East Asiatic squadron and Dresden had spent lengthy periods of time sheltering in neutral territory at Mas a Fuera and Easter Island. No action could be taken against the East Asiatic Squadron as it was too powerful and more importantly it was known after his stay in Valparaiso that von Spee was merely passing through the area and his Cruiser units did not harass the trade routes to the extent that was feared, though complaints were made to the German consulate. The Germans though did not pay them much heed as it was considered a means to an end with cordial relations being re-established after the war and the German merchant marine taking up some of Britain’s lucrative trade contracts. The South American republics were not going to wait for the end of the war and instead took action to reassert their sovereignty and take action against the lingering Auxiliary cruisers that were lingering.  The Kosmos line cruisers that had assisted Leipzig and von Spee were all interned whilst others were watched very carefully whilst the Roland line’s SS Holger‘s actions saw the company penalized significantly. Holger was believed to have lain in port at Pernambuco transmitting information concerning trade movements to Karlsruhe and Kronprinz Wilhelm an action that saw her boarded by the Brazilian authorities and her wireless set dismantled! To make matters worse Holger sailed out of port on the 1st January 1915 without permission to resupply  Kronprinz Wilhelm with coal, food and water before moving on to Buenos Aires carrying prisoners. Pernambuco was locked down with the port Captain and other senior officers being replaced and when rumours of the battle cruiser SMS Von der Tan’s escape from the North sea reached them only the Otavi managed to escape the impound. The Brazilians also took action against rumours of a secret base for Karlsruhe somewhere along the coast as well as a network of coast watchers with hidden wireless sets and although nothing was found the coastline and surrounding countryside was scoured. All of the nations tightened up their rules on coaling times and repair times and any vessel known to have acted as a tender or had intentions of acting as a tender was interned immediately including the Seydlitz when it turned up in KLJKJKLJKLJ. The Odenwald was caught leaving San Juan in Puerto Rico by the Americans and the Norwegian vessel Gladstone changed her name to Mariana Quesada and was given permission to change nationality by the Costa Rican consulate in Newport Virginia to sail under their colours. Under her German captain she sailed for Costa Rica and arrived at Limon on the 5th December where the Costa Ricans immediately impounded her and took away the right to sail under their flag. This did not stop the Mariana as she snuck out of harbour without a flag or orders on new years day and skirted around the coast of Brazil finally putting in on the 23rd January at Pernambuco where she was immediately impounded and her machinery dismantled so there would be no further escape. Elsewhere the Patagonia was arrested by an Argentinian cruiser and taken to Bahia Blanca on 21st December and the Mera was which had put to sea to meet von Spee was forced to return to Montevideo and was impounded.

SS William P. Frye
How much of this Thierichsens knew is debatable but having seen his support network in the Pacific dry up quickly it is safe to assume that he was not going to take any chances and avoided using radio traffic to give away his position. It was a valid move that meant that the first news of the Prinz Eitel Friedrich was from the Skerries which had seen the crews of Jean and Kidalton in late February and placed the vessel in the Pacific. With ample space aboard the former liner prisoners were held aboard and not set ashore unlike the other raiders which would frequently offload them on prizes or tenders leaving a rough trail. The first confirmed sighting of the ship and her position would not come until she arrived at Newport News in Virginia in March.

The sailing lanes were a lot quieter than perhaps Thierichsens had hoped for and it was not until 26th January when they caught the Russian sailing vessel Isobel Browne and on the following day the French Pierre Loti. Both ships had their crews removed and the vessels sunk with gunfire. The 27th also saw the first shots fired at an American vessel by Germany when the William P. Frye was pulled over carrying cargo of grain to Queenstown in Ireland. Although not a contraband cargo the German Captain believed that the grain could be given to the British army or by selling it to the Irish civilians could allow other grain to be passed on to the army and so ordered his men to destroy the cargo by throwing it overboard. By the following day with the task still not complete and spurned on by either impatience or through worry of being caught out in the same place for too long Thierichsens gave the order for his men to take the American crew from the vessel and to sink her with gunfire. The American Captain Kiehne was furious and protested but to no avail.

Sailing on the French vessel Jacoben was caught and sunk on the 28th February as well and these four prizes in three days gave the crew a morale boost for the first time since capturing the Jean and hoping to add to the tally the Prinz Eitel Friedrich began to patrol the same area of the sailing lanes and advanced north at a slow speed to conserve fuel eventually capturing the Invercoe and her cargo of wheat on the 12th February only a few hundred miles from where he had sunk the Jacoben and only thirty miles away from where Kronprinz Wilhelm had caught the Sementha only nine days before! It was around this time that they intercepted a message from Berlin for Kronprinz Wilhelm.  It advised the larger liner that the naval situation had drastically changed, the blockade was tightening up and there were too many Royal Navy vessels ahead and behind them and the German Navy would be unable to meet them and the chances of a tender were next to impossible. They believed the best course was for the liner to intern itself in a neutral port be it Spain or the United States. The German crew were pleased to learn that there was another vessel nearby but the feeling that of disappointment that they had come so far only to be denied at the final hurdle must have been very hard for them to stomach. No contact was attempted with Kronprinz Wilhelm and instead they continued to press northwards with dwindling coal and food supplies and as the number of captures had significantly dropped they believed they had exhausted the sail route knowing that internment was now the only option.

They reached the St Paul Rocks – Fernando Noronha line and on the 18th February stopped the 3605 ton steamer Mary Ada Short bound for St Vincent carrying a cargo of 5000 tons of maize from Rosario. Unlike Thierfelder Thierichsens did not take the ship off the route and strip her of anything and everything useful including every last lump of coal and instead sank her and moved on quickly. This turned out to be a very clever move as the following day HMS Otranto passed the spot carrying the survivors of the East Asiatic Squadron to their POW cages. Had she come across the raider the British vessel would no doubt have added another significant amount of von Spee’s men to her holds.  The move also meant that they were able to catch the French liner Floride of the Compagnie Générale trans Atlantique line taking on her passengers and crew before turning east. On the 20th February he caught his last vessel, SS Willerby from Marseille to Plate carrying nothing but water ballast. The Prinz Eitel Friedrich was in a bad way, her engines were in severe need of overhauling and his engines broke down regularly and with as many prisoners as crewmen the stores were dwindling quickly. It was only a matter of time before they would have to put into a neutral port.

Having narrowly missed the auxiliary Edinburgh Castle on her journey south and pulled into Newport News, Virginia having sailed 3000 miles from where she had taken Willerby. The arrival of the raider finally revealed to the world that they had been in the Atlantic. Other than the report from the Skerries, the only other report of Thierichsens’ vessel came from the Iquique which had reported sighting her on the 7th March just four days before she arrived in Virginia. Her arrival caused quite a stir that was reported in the local papers such as the Troy Times of New York after the customs team came aboard and discovered their arms and prisoners. The German officers knew that they could not continue without a serious overhaul of the engines, a thorough scraping of the befouled belly which had picked up barnacles and other parasites from two oceans and a complete restocking of the coal bunkers they were reported to be tight lipped but all hoping for internment. 
Prinz Eitel Friedrich serving as the USS DeKalb (© IWM (Q 58257)) 

Whilst customs officer Captain Hamilton conferred with the neutrality board in Washington, Thierichsens sent communications to the German Consulate naval attaché, Captain Boy-Ed whilst closing his vessel to everyone save for the customs officials. Of the three hundred or so prisoners only the Captains were allowed ashore with the first class passengers of the Floride who were kept under watch of the American Customs officers but the one person that Hamilton wanted to speak to was the one person that would cause the most problems for Thierichsens as Captain Kiehne of the William P. Frye told his tale. Thierichsens had other problems too. As the Ship’s band played “Deutschland uber Alles” to celebrate his birthday he had to contend with reports of Royal Navy wireless transmissions growing closer, they finally knew where he was and he knew the reports were confirmed by the two British steamers, Bolton Hall and a second carrying horses to Avonmouth. There was also the question of what to do with the prisoners with many refusing to honour any parole agreement that would see them not take up arms with Germany again. Captain Monssion of the Floride told the press on the 8th March that the German Commander had said he was willing to take his vessel out to fight the British with his prisoners still aboard.

As the investigation into the sinking of the Frye continues the German captain played for time refusing to hand over the American vessel’s papers claiming they should go to the prize courts in Berlin and that the Americans should make their claims of compensation there but as a concession he would make a copy of the papers. On the other hand he was trying to seek permission to extend his stay from twenty four hours to the seven weeks he believed his ship required. This was eventually agreed by the US neutrality board but under strict supervision to make sure the strength of the vessel was not increased. On the 18th March the Secretary of State W J Bryan wrote to the German Ambassador, Bernstorff, to tell him that the Prinz Eitel Friedrich required fourteen working days to be made seaworthy and by extension were allowed to stay in port until midnight on the 7th April or face internment. On the 29th March Thierichsens was told by the Secretary of State that the twenty-four hour rule would take effect should a British ship leave port further delaying any departures but this was of little concern and did not change the fact that the Royal Navy would soon be outside and waiting for him.

As the diplomatic debates intensified so did British interest and HMS Cumberland and HMCS Niobe were sent to the Chesapeake to await her departure which was considered to be the first move of a fresh campaign by axillaries in the Atlantic. The Germans had heard their signals and now the choice was fight and lose or intern. The Royal Navy strategists were suspiciously eying the German liners in New York and fearing that if they were to try to break out they assigned vessels to watch from Halifax to Bermuda. Weight was added to the argument as the SS Pisa began to coal and resupply in New York harbour being fully ready to leave on the 28th March. There was another rumour that the German fleet had detached more cruisers to run the blockade and head out into the Atlantic, including the elusive Von der Tam.

The 2nd April saw a blizzard strike the bay and with communications to the American main land

lost and visibility at a minimal the British feared that Thierichsens had seized the moment and broken forth. When the snow cleared she was seen to still be in port. The time was nearing though with the Prinz Eitel Friedrich taking on a pilot on the 6th April and making it be known that he was going to sail with all of his prisoners and go down fighting against the British. He also told the press that he had word from the Von der Tam and that the German battle cruiser was on her way to assist him by decimating the blockade. With his stores and coal collated Thierichsens prepared to leave port on the 8th April.

Everybody held their breath. Would the German commander really hide behind his human shield and go muzzle to muzzle with the Royal Navy? Would the British fire upon a ship laden with prisoners including women? Would the mighty Von der Tam appear on the horizon and save Thierichsens and his men?

The raider never left port and to the relief of everybody waiting in the harbour, on the British and Canadian ships and indeed on the German vessel, the ship powered down and Thierichsens officially requested internment. His prisoners and armaments were handed over as there was no reason to fight on, no where to go and no reason to sacrifice his men and the prisoners for a gesture. They would sit out the war in a shanty town with the crew of the Kronprinz Wilhelm until America declared war in 1917, took their ships into their service and placed the crews in various Prisoner of war camps finally releasing them in 1919.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

von Mücke's odyssey

The Emden's landing force before embarking on Ayesha
Korvetten-kapitän Helmuth von Mücke sat in a boat with the rest of his fifty strong landing force watching HMAS Sydney chasing the heavily damaged Emden and realised that he had to do something and ordered his men back to Cooling Island. He had enough fire power to defend the island from an armed landing and if he could dig in on the beaches his four machine guns could make short work of any boats approaching. The big problem was that as soon as the boats had been shot at the Sydney would begin firing her big guns and with no cover to speak of he would only bring death to his small command. What else could be done? Honour demanded that he at least make a show of force especially against an enemy he bitterly despised. He gave the relieved civilians permission to take boats to one of the other islands and ordered his men to dig in and prepare the beaches for an assault but then his eyes settled on the schooner Ayesha in the harbour, his men hadn’t got around to destroying it and suddenly an escape plan began to form. Whilst Sydney was finishing off Emden and looking for Buresk he personally inspected her sea worthiness and satisfied that she could make it at least to a neutral port where another boat could be procured he returned to the beaches and ordered his relieved men to begin massing supplies and anything they could feel that would be useful to an escape attempt or long periods of time at sea. Their foraging was aided by some of those on the island who brought out pipes, tobacco, clothing, water, drums of petrol and blankets as well as offering information about tides, courses, wind and weather in the region. Von Mücke was also advised that Ayesha’s bottom was rotten and that HMS Minotaur and a Japanese cruiser were nearby as well as the Sydney. What hope would he have in a rotten ship that was no longer used with little in the way of supplies? Nevertheless as the sun set the Emden’s steam launch towed “His Majesty’s newest ship” under the battle flag of the Imperial Navy out of the harbour.

Life aboard was pretty basic with the majority of the men sleeping on the iron ballast below decks as the only two beds were reserved for von Mücke and the off duty Lieutenant. Day to day running was the complete opposite of life on a modern steam driven warship and soon the strict German military discipline was allowed to slide with washing in stale water or in impromptu baths during rain storms, shaving was not compulsory and cleaning of teeth was abandoned as were uniforms which rapidly fell into a state of disrepair leaving the crew in a state of semi nudity. There were also hardships with water turning bad in rusted containers which was rectified by catching rain water through a crafted canvas chute and carried in pales to the cleaned tanks. There was also boredom with no room to drill and after cleaning the deck little housekeeping to be done and the majority of downtime was taken up with singing, talking or the few of the crew who were knowledgeable about Sail teaching the others.

For von Mücke there were weightier concerns. The Ayesha was indeed rotten, he had discovered how bad it was shortly after Direction Island whilst poking around in the hold. Should they run over a reef the ship would be torn apart. He was aiming for the Dutch ports of Padang or Batavia but his overall destination was even more ambitious with a choice of three, either German East Africa to join up with General von Lettow-Vorbeck’s forces, locate Königsberg and report to Kapitän Looff or to return to Tsingtaō. He also had to contend with the nagging concern of being intercepted by the Allies. His total armament was four machine guns and twenty nine rifles and his plan was to bring his schooner close to the enemy ship and open fire with what he had whilst sitting under the cruiser’s big guns. They did however take no chances with all the weapons stored below decks and the state of undress only added to the illusion that of a simple trading vessel. With no ability to run or turn away all they could do was hope not to be spotted or questioned and on the one occasion a steamer paid too much attention they were able to bluff their way past.

Wind and weather were a continual problem and damage to the sails and equipment had to be repaired where possible. It took several days to get into Padang harbour where an on going debate with the Dutch authorities developed with them mounting pressure on the three German officers to quietly intern their vessel. With that came news from the other German and Austro-Hungarian steamers. Tsingtaō had fallen, Königsberg had been forced to hole up in the Rafugi estuary and was under siege. There was also news of hard battles and campaigning in East Africa and von Lettow-Vorbeck disappearing into the bush. Whilst the Dutch refused fresh clothes, combs and toothbrushes as it was deemed that it would increase the fighting strength of the vessel. Despite all of the set backs von Mücke and his two officers said they were going to sea and with their fresh food and gear donated by the German vessels in port they sailed into the night singing “Wacht am Rhein” only to be joined by a row boat carrying an reservist officer and engineering officer who wished to join them.

Von Mücke kept the Ayesha heading west hoping that the captains of the German ships in Padang would come looking for them and after two weeks on a foggy 14

th December the freighter Choising caught up with them and the Emden’s crew transferred to the steamship. It was with a heavy heart that the crew gathered to watch their home of 1709 Nautical Miles disappeared beneath the waves with her sea cocks open and holes bored through the rotten hold at 16:58 on the 16th December.

The Choising was only a moderately better vessel and only averaged four knots with cramped conditions as most of the men were delegated an ex-coal bunker for quarters. Nevertheless it was the hand that had been dealt and von Mücke was going to take it and he had a new destination. News in Padang had revealed Turkey was waging war against England and as his men were not infantry trained nor able to locate von Lettow-Vorbeck’s forces and Kapitän Looff had enough of his own problems without fifty more mouths to feed  and so it was decided to head for Turkish territory. After crafting an Italian flag and disguising the vessel as the merchant vessel Shenir they headed for the straits of Perim without charts of the region finally arriving on the 7th January 1915. As they approached a small British blockade von Mücke prepared to sacrifice the Choising and get his men to shore in the largest rowboats with orders to “Obey your officers”.

As a precaution the Choising was blacked out and hugging the coast so as to avoid being silhouetted they were however, illuminated by the Perim lighthouse but attracted no attention from the British gunboats and the Germans were able to slip past and land outside Hodeida the following day. There was a very optimistic belief that all they had to do was march into the town of Hodeida, board the Hejaz railway to Constantinople and they would be back in Kiel in a fortnight. After a misunderstanding which almost saw the garrison attack them as an Allied force making a hostile landing they were greeted with great ceremony and for the first time since leaving Emden they slept on real beds in the local barracks. The path ahead was a tricky one with the sea guarded by the Allies and a long route on land would take two months but with the certainty of the Allies catching them in the thin straits of the Red sea they were forced to prepare for a land march and von Mücke requested the necessary camels, water, food, guns and equipment from the Turkish commander. This endeavour would take two weeks. The climate was hard for the European sailors and despite boiling the water and regularly taking Quinine disease like Malaria and Dysentery quickly caught hold of them and fearing the complete loss of his men before they marched out von Mücke sought advice as to where he could take his men. He was directed to Sanaa in Yemen where the mountainous climate was similar to that of Europe and the water cleaner. The Germans set out on horseback for the journey which proved uneventful but was excellent preparation for the march they would have to endure from Hodeida to the railway. Although Sanaa did prove a better place to rest than Hodeida the sicknesses continued to ravage his forces and they sat for four weeks until they were well enough to ride back to the sea. The land journey was no longer an option, his men would never survive, they would have to sail.

On arriving back at Hodeida von Mücke was able to secure two Turkish Zambuks, a type of sail boat which only had one deck and room for about forty men in each. He divided his forces, their Turkish escorts and equipment in two and placed the wounded under Leutnant Gerdts. Together, under cover of darkness on the 14th March the two vessels moved up the straits and split up so as to lessen the chance of capture by the British blockade manned by two gunboats and the auxiliary HMS Empress of Russia. Taking the chance that the British would not be on duty on a weekend they pressed through the shallows and passed the line where the British ships were stationed without any incident. Life on the Zambuks was very basic, they were small and cramped and there was a continuing problem with lice which were removed from clothing every morning, the most in one shirt was seventy-four! The journey was slow and a little tedious, more so than it had been on the Ayesha as there was absolutely no room to move about at all and everyone huddled under the woollen blankets at night to stay warm and in the sun to stay cool. This was not a great way to travel for the sick but was their only hope as travelling by land and camel would be a virtual death sentence. Knowing that they needed a break von Mücke ordered the boats moved to land at the island of Marka. Their pilot guided von Mücke’s boat over the shallow reef which they passed over a  with a concerning shudder but passed out the other side unscathed, the second boat was less fortunate and Gerdts’ boat ruptured and sank quickly. As the sun sank quickly von Mücke risked his whole party by firing flares, making noise and even lighting a fire on his boat to attract the survivors who were now swimming in the dark shark infested water towards the shoreline. Through some stroke of luck there had been no fatalities with non-swimmers and the sick being brought in on makeshift rafts and a canoe. With no other option but to press on they managed to squeeze all seventy men into one boat and pressed onwards having spent the morning trying to recover what they could from their sunken fellow. With their luck returning a stiff southerly wind caught high in the sail and brought them into Coonfidah where they were able to get hold of a larger Zambuk and proceed further by sea in the company of a Turkish official and his wife who were likewise heading to Constantinople and relished the escort of heavily armed Germans.

The journey by water stopped at Leet in the 24th March as they had been using the 350 mile long reefs known as the Farisan bank to dodge pursuit with their shallow bottom Zambuks but beyond Leet it was wide open sea and there was more news that their planned destination of Djidda was under Naval blockade by the British and absolutely no ship got past without inspection. There was no other choice but to continue by land so Camels and supplies were gathered. The landing party suffered its first casualty at 3am on the 27th March as Seaman Keil, who had contracted Typhus in Hodeida finally succumbed. The shipwreck had weakened him further and the loss of all of their medical supplies in Gerdts’ Zambuk had condemned him. The day after burying him at sea the column of ninety camels moved out tied muzzle to tail marching for eighteen hours a day and only camping between 10am and 4pm during the hottest period. Their road was a perilous one along the coast in territory that was known to be crawling with robbers. Fortune continued to shine on them as there was a full moon that illuminated their trek but they took no chances with weapons at the ready, the machine guns divided between the head of the column and the rear guard under Leutnant Schmidt. On the 31st they were greeted by a Turkish officer and his seventeen men at a water hole, they were from the garrison of Djidda sent ahead to meet them. They brought news that they were only a day’s march away but that the land ahead was plagued by a band of robbers numbering forty men an insignificant number considering the firepower they were carrying and if seventeen men could get past them then there should be no problem pushing on after a few hours rest. During the night Bedouins were sighted on the dunes but they backed away leaving the column unharrassed, with their goal so close von Mücke finally began to relax his guard and unclipped his bandolier and laid his rifle across his lap before turning his camel down the line to check in with Schmidt.

The firing came from nowhere and everywhere, the whole column was surrounded with bullets raining down from all directions, von Mücke led a group of men to the head of the column rifles at the ready, this time there could be no avoiding an infantry engagement. The Camels were pulled down and the two machine guns were deployed and sprayed in the areas of rifle flashes whilst they evaluated the situation. Although the fire came from  ahead and to the left there was no way of telling how many foes surrounded them until the sun had risen properly and then the sea of Bedouin that were camped out around them became crystal clear, von Mücke would later estimate there were three hundred against his fifty German and twenty-four Turkish troops. The Germans had twenty four pistols, thirteen German rifles left supplemented by ten old and three new Turkish rifles with the four machine guns. Bayonets were fixed and the enemy charged, an organised infantry manoeuvre with silver bayonets shining in the sun caused the Bedouin to scatter leaving one German wounded and seventeen Turkish missing and later found in Djidda after beating a retreat much to the German’s consternation. There were also injuries to the Arabic porters who had taken shelter with the camels which had drawn the most fire. The Bedouin dead could not be counted but fifteen were found during the bayonet charge armed with the latest breach loading British rifles.

The equipment was quickly redistributed between the unwounded camels, the wounded men strapped to the sides and quickly formed into lines abreast with a skirmish line in the front under Leutnant Gerdts and rear under Leutnant Schmidt heading for the sea. If they could reach the coast they would illuminate a side of attack. Dr Lang and Leutnant Wellmann led the main caravan whilst Leutnant Gyssling took charged of the flanks ready to respond to any attack. They rode for ten minutes before the enemy fire resumed but thankfully fell short. Leutnant Schmidt’s force bore the brunt of the fire and a shot killed one of the machine gun bearing camels. A request was sent forward for a fresh beast whilst Schmidt ordered the machine gun deployed and fired at the horde that was forming around him, moments later he was laying mortally injured and seaman Josef Rademacher was killed outright and Wellman took command as he brought up two spare camels. This was becoming more and more like an organised attack rather than just a random raid by bandits, von Mücke had mad it common knowledge that a heavily armed German company was moving up to Djidda to try and scare off bandits but it seemed to have attracted a stronger foe.

The fire stopped suddenly as two of the remaining Turkish soldiers ran towards the Bedouins waving white flags of parley which provided time for the Germans to dig in with sandbags filled, camels circled, machineguns placed at the corners of the compound, wounded and Dr Lang placed in a secure position and the water buried where it could not be hit by random gunfire. The Bedouins demanded the Germans disarmed themselves, handed over all of their supplies, ammunition, water, camels and £11,000s before being allowed to move on unmolested to which von Mücke refused. The firing went on all day until nightfall but with no more casualties despite the growing accuracy. It was hot and the men hadn’t eaten all day, the moment they so much as lifted their heads above the parapet than a bullet whistled past. Ammunition was running short especially that half of it was defective having lain underwater in the Zambuk shipwreck for a day and an order was quickly circulated to conserve the “dry” ammunition for the machineguns in case of night attack. As night fell the trenches were deep enough that the men could relax and the men were allowed to sleep in shifts leaving half on duty under an officer after an inspection and cleaning of all weapons. They also had to bury Leutnant Schmidt who had died at 9:00 pm.

A runner was sent on to Djidda which von Mücke estimated as eight hours march on foot away and before dawn the men were roused, given water and hard tack biscuits. As the sun rose so did their opponents who began their incessant shooting again only to be met with full disciplined volleys from the German line as they tried to bluff their strength and coordination but the ammunition situation meant that it soon dwindled. Fireman Lanig was hit twice and died whilst another man was severely wounded. All Dr Lang could do was to dose the wounded up with brandy and patch the wounds with the bandage packs left over from Emden, it was heart breaking to watch the men die and not to be able to do anything to assist but it was all Lang could do until they got to Djidda. There was also an infestation of dung beetles that began swarming over the encampment crawling over the faces and clothes of the sleeping and wounded alike and increasing the chance of a lockjaw infection. On top of that was the incessant heat of the desert and the ever present sand that coated their faces, stung their eyes and filled their trenches but yet they held on for another day.

As night fell again two more runners were sent out for Djidda and the Germans tried to get some sleep. The prolonged combat was starting to take its toll upon the sentries and when a pack of jackals were attracted by the smell of dead camels they opened fire believing it to be a Bedouin raiding party.

The beginning of the third day was critical for the small band of sailors as water was almost depleted as was the ammunition with no word from Djidda. To surrender opened up too many possibilities none of which were palatable to von Mücke who instead planned to sit out the day, hope for relief and if none was to arrive break out on foot. It was a risk but there was a chance that some of his men might make it but he would be forced to sacrifice the sick and wounded.

An envoy from his aggressors quickly put any fears to rest by lessening the demand and asking for £20,000s and allowing them to keep arms and supplies. The wily German commander believed they were briefly because they had seen the approach of a relief column. He gambled with his men’s lives by posturing and telling his visitor that he had more than enough ammunition and water for four weeks, his men were in an excellent position covered by their machine guns. He also invited his opposite number to entreat with him face to face but this was angrily refused. He was told to surrender and meet the terms or face the consequences. The demand was met with curt refusal. Silence followed a last frantic Bedouin volley but the Germans held their ground in case it was a trap. Soon camels of the Turkish army arrived under the Emir of Mecca’s second son arrived and after redistributing supplies they marched leaving forty dead camels and their two fallen comrades.

Having reached Djidda his sick and wounded were taken to the military hospital which slowed their departure time by some days but they were finally getting treatment. There was great apprehension at proceeding on foot in case they were ambushed by the same group of Bedouins and so they once again decided to run the British blockade in a zambuk. News was spread that they would be travelling by camel to try and draw attention to the desert and away from the sea lanes. During the night of the 8th and 9th April they stole out of the harbour and proceeded by shallows and coast as far as Sherm Rabigh where they traded for a fresh boat and headed out again. A general weariness was setting in, they had been travelling in one way or another since August six months before and Germany was still a long way off. With three dead and others wounded and sick there must have been a growing worry that they might not make it through but their commander was determined and considering what they had faced getting this far they had faith in him to get them through.

They reached Serm Munnaiburra on the 28th April which lay 10 nautical miles short of El Wegh their destination but it also marked the end of the protective reefs and not willing to push their luck they proceeded over land arriving the following day and enjoying the well needed baths and sleep. With one final mountain trek with camels to El Ula before them von Mücke decided to take no chances finding his outlook coloured by the previous caravan becoming more suspicious and cautious ordering that every night rudimentary trenches were dug, loaded rifles kept to hand and sentries set. They found that the mountain climate was cooler, far more agreeable to Europeans and more importantly there was plenty of fresher drinking water.

Despite encroaching on a Sheikh’s territory and causing upset for not using his camel the journey was uneventful and the tired Germans arrived at El Ula station and into another world unscathed. Their commander had ridden ahead and things were prepared for them including bathing facilities, food, cold German wine, fresh uniforms, letters from home, the Iron Cross and comfortable chairs.

During the journey to Constantinople they were treated as celebrities and greeted with cheers and marching bands a far cry from the hardships of their global trek. The atmosphere in Constantinople was electric. The landing party headed by von Mücke, his officers and the war flag they had carried before them since leaving Emden flying on their left paraded with every bit of precision they had done at Kiel before the Commander in Chief of the Turkish Navy Admiral Wilhelm Souchon. Coming to a halt von Mücke lowered his sword and reported;

“The landing party of the Emden, five officers, seven petty officers and thirty men strong”

Their only loses being two killed by the Bedouin and one to disease and others too sick to parade. It had been an epic journey that ensured von Mücke would be elevated to national hero and his books Emden and Ayesha would go on to be best sellers in Germany during the war and worldwide afterwards.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Karlsruhe's survivors voyage home

SMS Karlsruhe was gone but a third of her crew remained
With his Cruiser and commanding officer lost to the depths Kapitän-lieutnant Studt had to make serious decisions as to how to proceed and what was best for the men. He was a long way from home with limited resources and in hostile waters. The options were ultimately surrender, internment in a neutral port or trying to return to Germany or one of her allies. The role of a German First officer was to be in charge of the running of the vessel and the visible face of command whilst the Captain led a solitary existence. The Captain only appeared at important junctures to add to his gravitas and was tied by strict discipline to avoid any fraternization with the ships officers outside of commands. This left the First officer as the disciplinarian, day to day commander and the conduit of messages to the Captain in short he was well prepared to command a vessel or body of men and make decisions.

Kapitän-lieutnant Studt climbed aboard the Rio Negro after the remains of Karlsruhe slipped beneath the waves and immediately began to assess the situation. One hundred and twenty one men had survived the explosion that had taken 21 men including Kohler to their watery graves with them went all the weaponry, supplies and ammunition, he was left with the two tenders and off ahead the other collier the Farn. As the senior officer he took command of the flotilla as well as relieving Oberleutnant zur See Tepfer of his command on Rio Negro and held a quick conference to discuss how best to proceed. Stopping at a neutral South American port was out of the question, an anti-German feeling had been growing in Brazil and British diplomatic pressure would force their internment as enemy combatants and news that Karlsruhe was gone would spread quickly. It would be beneficial for the war effort and the survivors that the Royal Navy kept up their search for the elusive cruiser rather than them. They could try and sail south but that was where Craddock’s mighty warships had gone, true von Spee would more than likely come around the Horn but what could he add to the East Asiatic other than his tenders empty of coal? There was also the dangerous journey. Could they contact Kronprinz Wilhelm? It was a possibility but the liner could be far out of range of their W/T set and could attract far too much attention especially if they were to organise a rendez-vous point. Studt knew that they were alone and would have to remain so for the meantime.

The next big question was where to go if south was out of the question and with no eapons and no wish for internment little point in going north it was clear that they would have to head east to Germany. Knowing that the British would be policing their home waters heavily to keep the German navy bottled up. Studt suggested a sunnier route via the Azores, slipping past Gibraltar at night and heading for neutral but German friendly Italy or Austro-Hungary. On the surface this seemed the most reasonable rout, a shorter journey and less chance of running into the Royal Navy. One of his engineering officers, Grabe, disagreed pointing out the British maintained warships at Cape Verde and regular patrols from Gibraltar to the coast of Africa and then there was the probability of the French fleet. Grabe successfully argued that although the weather would be deteriating at this time of year there was a better chance of avoiding British patrols and making contact with the German fleet or travelling via one of the Scandinavian ports.

They would need to be cautious of how they proceeded though as the Rio Negro was well know by British Intelligence from countless debriefs from former prisoners, she would, at least on the eastern coast of the Americas, be recognised quickly. The problem was of the three vessels available to him the Rio Negro was the best suited for the journey but what to do with the others? Farn was too far away and too much unnecessary W/T traffic including coordinates for a meeting would surely draw attention. After working out coal supplies they realised they didn’t have enough coal for Indrani and Rio Negro so decisions were made. Rio Negro was better suited for carrying the survivors rather than the more modern collier. If they pulled into a neutral port they would be able to bluff their way as a group of reservist sailors heading home on a German vessel rather than on a British vessel which would point to them being combatants.

Farn was directed to detach and remain at sea until further notice whilst Rio Negro and Indrani moved to the remote part of the Tesstigos Islands where the crews cannibalised the unfortunate Indrani for her 3000 tonnes of coal and anything that was of value for the journey home and also took the time to get rid of any evidence of the Karlsruhe including ribbons on hats, lifeboats and anything with the insignia or name. From now on they were strictly reservists trying to get to Kiel, it was a longshot but it could just be the difference between internment or returning to the Fatherland. With Indrani scuttled  the Rio Negro began her slow journey at 12 knots across the Atlantic as far from populated land as possible and steering away from any ship that crossed his path. As they turned for Iceland on the 19th November a warship was seen approaching and panic set in. A Union jack was hoisted up and the Rio Negro continued on her course casually hoping to fit in as one of the many merchants and vessels travelling across the Atlantic in the increased traffic. As the vessel drew nearer they must have felt that their long journey had been wasted and they would spend the rest of the war as prisoners, the Atmosphere was tense and the crew held their collective breaths  until she passed with the US flag fluttering on her mast as she sailed west.

The journey was long and tedious with the only news from the wireless to tell them what was going on in the outside world. They celebrated von Spee’s victory at Coronel and commiserated on the 20th when they heard a message from the Admiralstab for Karlsruhe telling them their work was done and come home. There was other bad news as well, they heard of the sinking of the Kaiser Wilhelm der grosse and they must have wondered about the fate of Kronprinz Wilhelm. The weather and wind was bitterly cold and the crew only had their light weight tropical whites but that suited Studt as it meant the majority of the men were below deck at anyone time which added to the façade of a collier or merchant ship. Then came the storm. On the 23rd November freezing sleet and snow rained down freezing the decks and making access to the mast observation points impossible so that all they could do was keep pressing on through the gap between Iceland and the Faroes Islands. By the 26th the storm passed leaving only minor damage to the vessel and the crew, cold and tired but still fighting fit. By the 28th Leutnant Frese plotted the course for Norway despite not having any specific maps and charts if the area but using the general Steiler’s Atlas he not only managed to get them to Norway but also to the very target port of Aalesund.

It was more than luck that saw the vessel through the blockade. As the weather turned to winter and the cold storms set in the Royal Navy found their Edgar class cruisers and destroyers were unsuited and sending them out was putting the vessels and cews at risk so withdrew the 10th Squadron. The Admiralty was in the process of of organising merchant ships which were of a hardier design to take over the blockade and through this loop hole sailed the Rio Negro.

On arrival Studt reported to the senior Naval commander, who was the officer commanding the gunship Troll which guarded the harbour. He reported that he was carrying 159 reservists from South America bound for Kiel and that his last port of call was Para. On consulting with his superiors in Oslo the Captain searched and held the vessel whilst the German consul brought a few luxuries and promised to dispatch coded letters to Germany telling the Admiralstab of their status.

With the radio set temporarily disabled by the Norweigans to prevent sending coded messages or intelligence all Studt could do was sit and see what came about. It did not take long before the Norweigans granted them permission to sail south in their territorial waters which gave the Germans some protection from British interference. There was also word from Germany, vessels of the Kaiserliche marine would be looking out for them as they approached home waters and would escort them. To be certain Oberleutnant Aust (the ship’s adjutant) and Leutnant Eyring were to travel via civilian post liner so that if the worse came to the Rio Negro someone would be able to report the fate of Karlsruhe.

Rio Negro began the last dangerous leg on the 1st December staying well within Norweigan territorial waters with her original commander, Tepfner, taking station on the bridge for the duration. Using the charts supplied by the German consul Tepfner hugged the coastline as closely as possible all the way down to the Skagerrak but ultimately it was bad weather that kept the British naval cordon away. During the voyage the Germans broke their neutrality agreement with Norway by sending transmissions to the High seas fleet as Studt was apprehensive about approaching German waters and the minefield which was not on the civilian charts they had acquired. On arrival at Fredrickshavn Studt went ashore to secure some fresh charts whilst an exhausted Tepfner retired to bed after thirty-six consecutive hours on the bridge. They broke Denmark’s neutrality as well by communicating with their superiors to state their position and request an escort which was granted. On the 5th December the torpedo boat S-124 met with them and began to lead them to the safety of German waters and the Naval base at Kiel.

A veil of secrecy was quickly drawn over the new arrival and Admiral Hebbinghaus the officer commanding of Kiel boarded the vessel and quickly ordered them to silence only they and the Admiralstab knew of the fate of Karlsruhe, Studt had not even told the commander of S-124 who they were and had stuck rigidly to their cover story. Regular radio intercepts and intelligence reports showed the British were still searching for Karlsruhe and Admiral Patey’s squadron had swung around the Horn whilst Stoddart was scouring the coast of Brazil and all the while Britiain was searching for a phantom they were committing resources they could be utilising elsewhere such as the Mediterranean. Although rumours did leak that Karlsruhe’s crew had returned and one of the crew was recognised and his return reported to British intelligence only for it to be dismissed as hearsay and not enough to cancel the sweeps which would confirm the ship’s loss. Studt’s men were congratulated by Prinz Heinrich von Hohenzollern and they were reassigned to the cruiser Regensburg which had just been completed.

The last of Karlsruhe’s crew still at sea aboard the Farn put into San Juan harbour when her food supplies ran out having received no further orders from Studt. They gave themselves up to internment with no hope of returning to Germany on their own or linking up with other German forces following the loss of the East Asiatic Squadron.