Here is the German cruiser's journey and the consequences it encountered by attacking the neutral vessel.
|SMH Prinz Eitel Friedrich|
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|
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 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
th 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.