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Modern Ocean Raiders

The exploits of armed German merchantmen and certain independent cruisers such as the Dresden during the war of 1914-18 - exploits rife with incidents and coincidence - make the story of these raiders more entertaining than fiction


HMS Kent had a designed speed of 23 knots and was largely responsible for the destruction of the SMS Dresden in 1915

A CRUISER OF 9,800 TONS DISPLACEMENT, built in 1903, H.M.S. Kent had a designed speed of 23 knots. She was largely responsible for the destruction of the Dresden in 1915. The Kent had a length of 440 feet, a beam of 66 feet and a mean draught of 24 ft. 6 in. Her armament consisted of fourteen 6-in. quick-firing guns, ten 12-pdrs., eleven smaller guns and two submerged torpedo tubes.

AN island nation such as Great Britain, dependent for its trade, its raw materials, and largely for

its food, on shipping arriving from overseas, at once offers to an enemy, on the outbreak of hostilities, long routes of exceedingly vulnerable traffic. The sea lanes, for example, extending from South America to the English Channel, could not help being given primary attention during the war of 1914-18, because British steamers were regularly going out with cargoes of coal and returning with grain.

The chilled meat trade from the Argentine had reached immense proportions, and, if it had been cut off, millions of British people would have been left short of meat. Where homeward-bound vessels from South Africa crossed the South American routes in the neighbourhood of the Cape Verde Islands, the Canaries and the Azores, the risk of attack was greater still.

In addition there was a large and valuable exchange of goods always going on between the British Isles and North America, and between the West Indies and the British Isles. A tempting bait was also offered by the rich trade which came up from India, Australasia and the Orient through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, the Mediterranean and the Bay of Biscay into British waters.

The Germans, on the outbreak of war, with their keen perception and preparedness, were not slow to appreciate where lay Great Britain’s vulnerability, their own weakness and their own special opportunities. Thus they soon sent the light cruiser Emden to operate in the Indian Ocean and cause great anxiety, until she was finally sunk by a British cruiser. The Konigsberg likewise had a brief period of molesting off the East African coast until things got too dangerous for her and she hid herself up the River Rufiji (in Tanganyika), never again to emerge.

In the area covered by the North and South Atlantic there took place not merely a clever campaign, but also a series of incidents replete with thrilling adventures. The narrow escapes, the surprising coincidences, the varying phases, the employment of wireless and the use of modern steel ships, all combine to make this story far more entertaining than any work of fiction.

By August 1914 Germany had in seventy years built up such a Mercantile Marine that it was second only to the British. Controlled by ten powerful steamship companies such as the Hamburg-Amerika and the North German Lloyd, subsidized to the extent of £107,950 annually, this great combine represented 3,194,000 gross tons able to be handed over to the German Government immediately.

The outbreak of war hurried the German liners into neutral ports, where they were mostly interned for the next four years and rendered useless through fear of the Royal Navy. The British nation, however, still owned the world’s largest fleet of mobile moderate-sized and small steamers, which throughout hostilities continued to carry on the country’s maritime business. Whereas some of the biggest British ocean liners were soon taken over as armed merchant cruisers, the tramp steamers bravely voyaged to all parts with coal, and fetched home the corn, wheat, rice, sugar, wool, cotton and many other things as well.

Seeing that the Grand Fleet dominated the High Seas Fleet, Germany’s primary hope was to send out armed steamers stealthily, escape (if possible) attention off the North of Scotland, and then try extensive raiding in those areas where the few remaining British passenger liners and the majority of the smaller steamers might be expected to be discovered. In the olden days of sail, so long as a ship had fresh water, salt beef and biscuits, she was independent of the shore and could roam the seas for three or four years, varied by an occasional stoppage at the back of some lonely island or secluded bay, where her foul hull could be cleaned after careening. But a modern steamship is far less independent, and is entirely at the mercy of her fuel.

Moreover, there comes a time when boilers must be cleaned and engines overhauled, necessitating repairs that demand the facilities of a dockyard. If, too, she is a fast steamer, then every few days she must replenish fuel, and this means that colliers must meet her on a given date at a particular rendezvous. How, amid the risks of war and the uncertainties of events, can this be guaranteed? If the raider is running short of fuel, how can she avoid being herself captured when some smart grey naval unit comes rushing towards her?

It was the Emden which sought to overcome this difficulty by capturing every collier she met, putting a prize crew on board, and ordering the colliers to wait in some assigned locality. Other raiders copied that idea with considerable success, and even robbed vessels carrying general cargo; but the game could not be easy, and was influenced by geographical conditions. To empty a steamer alongside her in the open sea and damage both hulls, as the ocean swell rendered fend-offs useless, was to ruin both vessels — though this method had to be attempted more than once. Generally speaking, although transference could be made if fairly conveniently close to some island of the Indian Ocean, it was barely practicable in the wide Atlantic.

Secret Rendezvous

The Germans, however, fared well, largely because of their forethought. Six years before the war they had issued instructions to their liner captains as to what would be their duties should hostilities break out; a “Cruiser Handbook” had been compiled, giving a list of secret rendezvous whither liners could make and be fitted with guns. One such spot was near the Bahamas and another was off the lonely South Atlantic island of Trinidad, east of Brazil. It was here that the Cap Trafalgar bunkered during the first weeks of the war, and here that the Hamburg-Amerika Navarra, with supplies for German cruisers, was found on November 11, 1914, by the British armed merchant cruiser Orama. After a chase, the Orama sank the Navarra but rescued the crew. Another feature of the Germans’ foresight was the arrangement of supply centres, each supervised by a supply officer north, east, west and south of the Atlantic trade area. The principal centres were at New York, Las Palmas, Havana, Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, and smaller centres were located at the Danish (now American) island of St. Thomas in the West Indies, at Para, Pernambuco, Bahia, and Santos in Brazil, at Montevideo in Uruguay, and at Punta Arenas in the Magellan Straits.

By means of wireless and telegraph cables this remarkable chain maintained an unbroken connexion with Berlin through New York. Even such spots as Lome, in Togoland, Tenerife, in the Canaries, and Horta, in the Azores, were not too remote for the organization. Each supply officer had to ensure that the requisite number of colliers could be found in his area, so that any raider had only to look into the “Cruiser Handbook”, select her rendezvous, arrive, and go alongside for bunkering without unnecessary wirelessing. At the head of this extensive organization, and Controller-General of Supplies, was that astute, able, and dangerous naval attaché, Fregatten-Kapitan Boy-Ed, of the German Embassy, with headquarters in New York.

Thoroughness was the characteristic of this Atlantic system, and the details of one section will suffice as an instance. Korvetten-Kapitan Leonhardi was the supply officer at Las Palmas, where a number of German steamers were interned, likely to break forth at any moment. Meanwhile, they could receive messages from Berlin and transmit intelligence concerning British cruisers patrolling the neighbourhood. Coded instructions would be flashed from Germany by Nauen wireless station, and picked up by the German cable ship Stephan at Vigo, Spain, which would repeat them by land wire to the German Embassy in Madrid. The latter then relayed them by the telegraph line to Cadiz, where the cable connected with Tenerife and Las Palmas, as also with Pernambuco, Rio de Janiero and Buenos Aires, in South America.

During the first week of war German colliers with coal from Cardiff and Barry managed to reach Las Palmas. The Hamburg-Amerika Line also chartered a number of neutral steamers to bring coal and supplies from United States ports for the raiders. Even the best-laid Teutonic schemes could not always stand the strain when put to the test, as the Hamburg-Amerika Company found.

the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse became an armed merchant cruiser and began ocean raiding on the outbreak of war in 1914

FORMERLY AN ATLANTIC RECORD-BREAKER, the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse became an armed merchant cruiser and began ocean raiding on the outbreak of war in 1914. Of 14,350 tons gross, she was 625 feet in length and 66 feet in beam. After a brief but effective career she was sunk by H.M.S. Highflyer off Rio de Oro, northwest Africa.

This company had contracted to provide 75,000 tons of coal for German cruisers every month, but this arrangement collapsed because not enough colliers were available afloat, credit could not be granted, and the United States Government began to show a firm hand. All the same, Boy-Ed succeeded in dispatching fifteen steamers from his district, and still had four more vessels in readiness.

The first German armed merchant cruiser to rush the Narrow Seas was the North German Lloyd Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse. This four-funnelled ship, of 14,350 tons and 22 knots, had nee been a crack passenger liner on the route to New York (see the chapter “The Blue Riband of the Atlantic”). On August 4, 1914, a few hours before Great Britain entered the war, that impressive and majestic steamer hurried out of the River Weser, up the North Sea, past the coast of Scotland, and on August 7 when 50 miles west-north-west of Stalberg, Iceland, she sank the British steam trawler Tubal Cain (227 tons), taking the fishermen prisoners. Keeping clear of Ireland’s western coast, the cruiser steamed south, and eight days later encountered the Union Castle liner Galician, bound through the Canaries area from Capetown for London. It was going to be a long and complicated war. The British Navy had not yet got into its stride, and only two cruisers, H.M.S. Vindictive and H.M.S. Highflyer, had reached that Atlantic district. Nor had British mercantile ships yet learned to be discreet. Captain Reymann in the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse was more than interested when his wireless intercepted messages from steamers ordering coal to await them at Tenerife, at the same time giving their names. He had only to open Lloyd’s Register and find in its pages all that he wanted as to their tonnage and general characteristics.

“I Will Sink You!”

“Is the track clear?” he heard the Galician calling.

The German raider wirelessed back an encouraging message, and at 2.45 p.m. the two liners met.

“If you communicate by wireless, I will sink you”, Captain Reymann abruptly ordered. But for the reason that the Galician carried 250 passengers, who would be an embarrassment and soon eat up the German provisions, the raider next morning at five o’clock allowed her to proceed. Two hours later Reymann stopped the British steamship Kaipara, 7,392 tons, homeward-bound from New Zealand and Montevideo with 4,000 tons of meat and no passengers. He sank her, captured the crew and on the same day met the Royal Mail liner Arlanza coming from Buenos Aires. She was a fine ship of 15,000 tons, but carried women and children, so he released her also. Next arrived the steamer Nyanga, 3,000 tons, carrying a cargo of African produce, so Reymann had no hesitation in sending her to the bottom.

The Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse had been built for the purpose of making quick passages between Germany and New York. She was most extravagant with coal, and consumed 250 tons a day even at half-speed. She had been already twelve days at sea, and now turned eastward for one of the appointed rendezvous — that lonely and unfrequented anchorage of Rio de Oro, which lay in Spanish territory on the northwest shoulder of Africa. Here she had to wait five days till there arrived the two German colliers Duala and Arucas.

The Duala had defied the Spanish authorities at Las Palmas by staying forty-eight hours and then putting to sea on a pretence of being bound for New York. The Arucas had escaped from internment at Tenerife. A few days later Captain Reymann was joined by the Austrian steamer Magdeburg, which brought 1,400 tons of coal and provisions, and by the Bethania, carrying 6,000 tons of coal from the Las Palmas supply centre.

H.M.S. Highflyer sank the German ocean raider Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse on August 26, 1914

A SECOND-CLASS CRUISER of 5,600 tons displacement, H.M.S. Highflyer sank the German ocean raider Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse on August 26, 1914. Built in 1900, the Highflyer was armed with eleven 6-in. guns, eight 12-pounders and two submerged torpedo tubes. Lying alongside her is the armed merchant cruiser Marmora, of 10,509 tons gross.

Thus amply supported by the secret organization, the raider looked forward to further successes with replenished bunkers. She was still taking in coal on August 26 when into the anchorage there suddenly steamed H.M.S. Highflyer, a 5,600-tons three-funnelled cruiser armed with eleven 6-in. guns as opposed to the German’s six 4-in. Guns. Called upon to surrender, the ex-liner refused, was engaged, and eventually sunk. Captain Reymann with nine other officers and seventy-two of the crew reached the shore, where the Spanish Sub-Governor took charge of them. Later they were interned in three German ships at Las Palmas. Four hundred other men escaped in the Bethania, which steamed across towards America, but H.M.S. Essex sighted her and brought her into Kingston, Jamaica. The other supply ships got away before the Highflyer opened fire, the Arucas carrying the transferred crews of the Kaipara and the Nyanga.

The Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse had a short yet effective career in her new role. She had destroyed about £400,000 worth of British shipping, but the enforced delay caused by waiting for coal had been fatal and had enabled the Highflyer to learn of her whereabouts. Moreover, apart from her being greedy for fuel, the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse was not the right type for raiding. Her very appearance, with that characteristic German gap between the second and third funnels, would eventually have betrayed her. Still, it needed more months before Germany was to realize that the most ordinary, medium-sized steamer was the ideal “trap-ship”.

Meanwhile the Atlantic trade routes became increasingly perilous to merchantmen. Since no more vessels, naval or mercantile, dared just now to come out of German ports, Germany could have recourse only to those of her regular cruisers belonging to the China or West Indies stations, or to any liners which happened to be in foreign waters and could escape internment.

One of these cruisers was the Dresden, sister ship to the Emden, six years old, armed with ten 4-in. guns, with a speed of 24 knots and a coal capacity of only 850 tons. Her displacement was 3,592 tons. On July 28, 1914, the Dresden left Port-au-Prince, West Indies, and coaled at the Danish island of St. Thomas, being about to return home for refit and to be relieved by the 4,820-tons cruiser Karlsruhe. By July 30 European affairs had become critical, and the Dresden next day was heading north-east for the Azores, when a wireless signal from Porto Rico ordered her to carry on warfare in the Atlantic Ocean.

Coaling in Mid-Atlantic

She turned south, cruised along the shipping track that led to Europe from South American ports, and on August 6 off Para stopped the British steamer Drumcliffe from Buenos Aires. When it was found that the steamer was in ballast, needed fuel, and that the master had brought with him his wife and child, the German captain let the ship go, after having destroyed the wireless and pledged master as well as crew not to take part in war against Germany.

An hour later came the steamship Lynton Grange, bound for Barbados. She shared a similar experience, but in the meantime the Hostilius was also stopped and her people all refused to sign the declaration of inactivity. Even so, considering this 3,325-tons steamer not worth destruction, Captain Ludecke finally let her go.

After having cruised athwart the shipping tracks the Dresden ran short of coal and wirelessed the steamship Corrientes, which had been waiting in Maranhao. The two met in the afternoon of August 8, and the Dresden took the Corrientes into the little-known and rarely visited harbour of Jericoacoara. which is a Brazilian inlet lying just west of the fortieth meridian, between Cape San Roque and Para. During August 9 and 10 the cruiser received 570 tons of fuel, and then resumed her patrol.

At first she was not successful, and again the fuel problem had to be faced. Fortunately the supply system worked well, and the Hamburg-Amerika collier Baden, with 12,000 tons of fuel, had reached Pernambuco on August 7. The Dresden therefore wirelessed her to a rendezvous at Rocas Reef, and during August 13 these two vessels lay alongside one another. The heavy Atlantic swell rose and fell, coaling became difficult and dangerous, fend-offs were chewed to pieces, hawsers snapped as if they were string, hulls were damaged in the crashing, yet the warship succeeded in taking 254 fuel tons before she turned southwards.

The Corrientes was sent back into Pernambuco, but presently two more supply steamers, the Prussia and the Persia, came out, so the Dresden was being well looked after. On August 15 she sank the Hyades, 3,352 tons, carrying a cargo of grain. The prisoners were put on board the Prussia and were landed at Rio Janeiro. The Dresden then made for Trinidad Island with the Baden. Here assembled the small German gunboat Eber, which had escaped from Capetown, the German steamship Sleiermark from German South-West Africa, and also the German Santa Isabel, which brought forty bullocks, oil, shovels and coal-bags. She had left Buenos Aires on August 9 pretending that she was bound for Togoland, but a week later she met the German steamer Sevilla, which supplied her with a wireless set and operator.

The German cruiser Dresden was caught on March 14 1915, at the island of Juan Fernandez

DISCOVERED AT A LONELY PACIFIC ISLAND after having escaped detection tor more than three months, the German cruiser Dresden flew the white flag at her foremast in surrender. She was caught on March 14, 1915, at the island of Juan Fernandez, having escaped destruction at the battle of the Falklands. She stood high out of the water because she was extremely light, due to her empty bunkers. Her normal draught was 17 ft. 9 in.

Having replenished with food and fuel, the Dresden was off again southwards with the Santa Isabel and the Baden as tenders. On August 26 she sank the Holmwood, which was carrying Welsh coal from Newport (Mon.) for Bahia Blanca. Her crew was transferred to the Baden.

Captain Ludecke was now bound round Cape Horn into the Pacific to meet at a later date Admiral von Spee coming eastwards from China waters. As the Dresden was then approaching cold latitudes, and her machinery had not been given an overdue refit, Ludecke sent the Santa Isabel ahead to procure warm clothing and materials necessary for engine repairs.

This tender reached Punta Arenas, in the Magellan Straits, on September 4, whence she telegraphed the supply centres at Buenos Aires and Valparaiso, cabled the German Admiralty at Berlin, and acted as wireless link with the Dresden, which temporarily hid herself in Orange Bay, Hoste Island, by Cape Horn. So rarely do vessels of any sort touch at this inhospitable spot that mariners by long custom “leave their card” here, writing on a board their ship’s name and the date. Thus when the Dresden’s storm-tossed liberty men were allowed to stretch their legs ashore, they inscribed the word “Dresden” with the date, September 11, 1914. It was a natural but imprudent act, for when H.M.S. Good Hope called less than a month later at this bay, Admiral Cradock thus found confirmatory evidence of the German’s visit.

A Lone Fugitive

Having left this windswept anchorage on September 16, with the Baden, the Dresden two days later chased the Pacific Steam Navigation Company’s liner Ortega, bound for England from Valparaiso. Captain D. R. Kinneir, rather than surrender to a 24-knots enemy, got his engine-room staff to work his 14-knots steamer up to 18 knots, risked entering the Magellan Straits by the difficult Smyth’s Channel, and so escaped out into the Atlantic. This fine bit of work won him the D.S.C.

The Dresden, having feared to follow, proceeded up the Pacific, coaled from the Baden in St. Quentin Bay (Gulf of Penas), reached the lonely island of Mas-a-fuera, and here on October 3 got in touch with von Spee by wireless. In the ensuing battles of Coronel and the Falklands, the Dresden alone escaped the Falklands disaster on December 8, and for the next three months this raider played brilliantly the game of hide-and-seek, to the great worry of the British Navy.

Having barely survived the Falklands defeat at the hands of the British squadron, the Dresden needed coal, but her wireless calls for a supply ship received no reply. On December 10 she entered the tricky Cockburn Channel and came to anchor at 4 p.m. in Sholl Bay, some sixty miles south of Punta Arenas.

This Magellanic area would not be too healthy, with perhaps one or two British cruisers searching for her in the district, but Ludecke was in a dilemma. He came in, so to speak, by the back door. He hoped to find at least one of the supply ships at Punta Arenas, and meanwhile he had only 160 tons of fuel in his bunkers. So desperate had his condition become after fast steaming that at Sholl Bay he sent his men ashore to cut down trees, but this timber was so rain-soaked as not to be the ideal food for hungry furnaces.

WITH GUNS STILL TRAINED ON THE ENEMY, the Dresden was abandoned by her crew

WITH GUNS STILL TRAINED ON THE ENEMY, the Dresden was abandoned by her crew at Juan Fernandez, where she was cornered by H.M.S. Kent, H.M.S. Glasgow and the Orama. This photograph was taken from one of the boats sent to take possession of her, but the Dresden was on fire aft and finally sank.

Along came the Chilean torpedo-gunboat Almirante Candell, which reminded Ludecke of the international law, and that the cruiser must not stay beyond twenty-four hours. At 10 a.m. on December 12, therefore, the Dresden weighed anchor and brought up off Punta Arenas. There also lay the United States steamship Minnesotan, which had arrived from the north with 7,000 tons of coal, consigned nominally to a local German firm, though intended for von Spee’s squadron. The American, being suspicious, refused to let the Dresden touch the cargo.

Luckily for Ludecke, however, the German Roland liner Turpin had been at Punta Arenas ever since hostilities had broken out, and she allowed the Dresden 750 tons of briquettes, which were transferred by the evening of December 13. At 10 p.m. the German cruiser steamed away down the Straits under cover of darkness, but five hours later there reached Punta Arenas the British cruiser Bristol.

From now onwards the Dresden led an exciting life comparable only with that of some delinquent “on the run”. Hunted incessantly, she hid herself in different parts of the Magellan Straits, where there is a bewildering labyrinth of channels and islands, and even the British Admiralty charts were far from accurate because of inadequate surveys.

The environment here was reminiscent of Norway, though far more fierce in its primitiveness. Valleys, wild gorges, snow-clad mountains, sheer precipices, savage isolation, swift-running channels sometimes 4,000 feet deep, with tricky pinnacle traps to pierce a steel ship’s bottom; howling gales that swept down from the heights in squally “williwaws”; blue glaciers, vast forests, fog, waterfalls, fern, moss — these were the setting for months of elusiveness.

The German consul at Punta Arenas tried to persuade Ludecke to intern the Dresden, but he declined and, having picked his way cautiously through Magdalena Sound, Cockburn Channel and

many rock-strewn passages, reached Hewett Bay, which is at the south-west end of Barbara Channel. In Hewett Bay he found the supply steamer Amasis, for she had been sent there by von Spee, the original intention having been that this merchant vessel should fill up from the Minnesotan. For several days the people of the Amasis had been fearing the worst, and now the Dresden’s crew confirmed the painful news.

British cruisers continued to comb this channel and that, exploring bays and fjords; but their work was rendered incomplete because of the charts. In important places where the sheet indicated land this was water. The Germans, however, obtained invaluable local knowledge, chiefly through their efficient Consul at Punta Arenas and through German subjects who had in preceding years settled down thereabouts as sheep-farmers or seal-trappers.

Identity Discovered

Outstanding among the trappers was Albert Pagels, who had once served with his nationals in the Boxer rebellion. Pagels was a genius at overcoming obstacles and an ardent patriot of the Fatherland. In his little 26-feet motor-boat Elfreda he had explored almost every corner of the Straits, so that a better pilot did not exist. This red-bearded, resourceful fisherman now became the link between Ludecke and the Punta Arenas Consul, the confidential adviser of Ludecke, the man who made dangerous and difficult boat trips through horrible weather to and from the Dresden.

On December 20, Ludecke sent the Amasis to Punta Arenas, hoping that the Minnesotan’s coal would be transferred, but the Chilean authorities forbade the transference and detained the Amasis. There arrived, however, at Punta Arenas the Hamburg-Sud-Amerika liner Sierra Cordoba, which had on December 18 left Montevideo with 1,500 tons of coal and provisions. She left Punta Arenas on December 26 for Hewett Bay, but was compelled to hide in a narrow fjord named Martinez Inlet, off Magdalena Bay.

When next Pagels visited Ludecke, it was to learn that on this same December 26 a motor sailing-boat called the Galileo, owned by a French trapper, had been in Hewett Bay, and had spoken to some of the Dresden’s men in one of the cruiser’s boats.

“Why, you’re Germans!” remarked the French hunter.

“No, we’re not.”

“Yes, you are. Look at the tattooing on your arms.”

That gave the Dresden’s nationality away. The British cruisers would soon discover the hiding-place, wherefore Pagels, on December 27, piloted Ludecke to a small cove further north-west, near Gonzalez Channel, at the top of Stokes Bay, marked on the British chart as unexplored dry land. Ludecke named it Christmas Bay and resumed his seclusion. The French trapper hurried back to Punta Arenas and informed Mr. Milward (the indefatigable British Consul there), who in turn told Admiral Stoddart, in charge of the eager, searching British cruisers. The flag-officer, however, did not believe the report. Moreover, the chart showed Hewett Bay to be land. He decided that this strange news was merely a trick for enticing H.M.S. Carnarvon and H.M.S. Bristol on to dangerous rocks.

Built in 1900, the Galician, 6,762 tons gross, was 440 ft. 4 in. long

HELD UP BY AN OCEAN RAIDER, the Galician was later allowed to proceed to Southampton because she had 253 passengers who would have been an encumbrance to the raiding vessel, the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse. Built in 1900, the Galician, 6,762 tons gross, was 440 ft. 4 in. long, 52 feet in beam and 27 ft. 7 in. in depth. Her name was later altered to Glenart Castle, and when serving as a hospital ship she was sunk by an enemy submarine in the Bristol Channel on February 26, 1918.

Meanwhile, by the daring pilotage of Pagels, the big supply steamer Sierra Cordoba was brought from Martinez Inlet at night and joined the Dresden on January 19. On January 28, the Dresden was again found out by an otter-hunter, and next arrived a Chilean destroyer, which ordered the German to shift within twenty-four hours. Ludecke thus moved to a third hiding-place farther north-west, situated at the south of Santa Ines Island, on February 5. Two days previously he had sent through Punta Arenas a telegram to Berlin, but a small craft did not bring him the reply till February 10. He was advised by his Admiralty to try making for Germany along the sailing ship route up mid-Atlantic, and colliers would await him at the Lavandeira Reef in lat. 5° S., long. 36° W., off the north Brazilian coast.

But Ludecke, while conscious that further delay would ensure his capture, preferred the Pacific. By zig-zagging across its trade routes and taking advantage of unprotected islands and bays, he could continue his raiding, help himself to steamers’ coal, and carry on for a longer period. So on February 15, at 5.30 p.m., the Dresden worked herself out of the difficult bay, entered the Pacific swell, and went 200 miles west of the Chilean coast to avoid any likely British patrols, sending the Sierra Cordoba 100 miles ahead as lookout. It was on February 27 that the Dresden, having sighted the British barque Conway Castle (1,694 tons) bound from Australia with barley and now 560 miles south-west by west of Valparaiso, sank her, and a week later transferred the sailing vessel’s crew to a Peruvian barque.

Next hastened the climax. It was that modern need for fuel which caused the trouble. Ludecke sent the Sierra Cordoba into Valparaiso, where she arrived on March 3 and was allowed to get away with 1,200 tons of coal four days later. But the Dresden was not meeting with the prizes she expected, her coal was running short and the Sierra Cordoba had not yet returned.

A Thrilling Chase

Among all the false rumours, one invaluable bit of information reached the British Navy. An intercepted message stated that the German collier Gotha, which had left Montevideo on the night of February 20, was to make a rendezvous about 200 miles south of Mas-a-Fuera, off the Chilean coast, between March 5 and March 30.

It was already March 5, and H.M.S. Kent (Captain J. D. Allen) was still seeking the Dresden among the narrow, twisting waterways near the Magellanic Barbara Channel. As soon as it was light enough, the Kent put to sea, worked up to 16 knots, and an hour before dawn on March 7, reached the rendezvous. To the crew’s intense disappointment not another ship was in sight, and the Kent herself had now only 575 tons of coal left.

Captain, later Vice-Admiral, Allen elected to wait, and March 8 found the Kent riding to the ocean swell, with engines stopped and making only the slightest smoke. During the forenoon some boats were lowered and the ship’s bottom was cleaned. It was so dirty that the ship’s speed had been considerably reduced. So the day wore on, varied by mist and fine rain. Suddenly, at 3.50 p.m., Leading Signalman Hill, on the fore-bridge, sighted a three-funnelled cruiser nine miles away. It was the Dresden.

“Full speed ahead!” The order was given and the Kent altered course so as to head her off. The Kent was undoubtedly closing on the Dresden, when suddenly she turned away till she was stern on to the British vessel. The Dresden was so light out of the water that she was undoubtedly in great need of fuel, but the Kent made the enemy consume coal still more seriously as the chase became fast and furious. Spars and spare bits of wood were thrown into the Kent’s furnaces, canvas screens were removed to lessen windage, and the stokers managed to get 26,000 horse-power instead of the 22,300 which had once been reached on her trials some eleven years before. Although the boilers at the backs were red-hot and long red flames burst forth from her funnels, the Kent could not catch her enemy. Finally, with only 43 tons left in her, the Kent had to make for Coronel and get more coal.

But the Dresden’s condition, out in the Pacific, far from the South American continent, was worse. She sent out two separate messages on her wireless. The Kent picked these up, could not decipher the code, but called up H.M.S. Glasgow and repeated the signals. For days the cleverest minds on board that cruiser made nothing of the puzzle till early in the morning of March 13 a lieutenant elucidated it. These were orders for some unknown ship — undoubtedly a collier — to meet the Dresden at the island of Juan Fernandez. Thus, when the Glasgow, Kent and Orama on the morning of March 14, having previously coaled, steamed up to this Robinson Crusoe’s island, they had the Dresden at their mercy.

Thinking she was about to escape, all three fired on her for five minutes. Then the German hoisted a white flag, the crew began rowing or swimming to the shore, the ship, on fire aft, began to sink and finally disappeared bows first into the water. That was the end of an exciting career, the finish of a dangerous raider which had given British cruisers endless trouble.

Thanks to the persistence of British patrolling cruisers, and the ultimate breakdown of Germany’s supply system, the enemy’s Atlantic raiders had shot their bolt long before the end of 1915. In December of that year, however, a certain revival was attempted though on a far smaller scale.

Ocean surface raiding demands a special kind of commanding officer and a particular kind of ship. Big liners and fast cruisers, by their fuel extravagance, are the most unsuitable. At the end of 1915, therefore, the Germans sent forth a steamer to which they gave the name Moewe. She was really the Pugno, 4,500 tons, with a speed of 14 knots, built in May 1914 to carry bananas from German Africa to Hamburg. This was a much more suitable, single-screw type ordinary in appearance, economical of fuel. Externally she was unlikely to arouse the slightest suspicion.

Fourteen Ships Captured by One Raider

Armed with 4.1-in. and other guns, the Moewe had torpedo tubes and many handy methods for disguising herself. Choosing the period for the longest nights — December to March — her gallant and enterprising captain twice rushed the British blockade. He it was who in a heavy gale laid that terrible minefield off the western approach to the Pentland Firth, whereby on January 6, 1916, the well-known battleship King Edward VII came to a disastrous end.

The Moewe then cruised about the Atlantic, where this single-funnelled “cargo” ship fooled British merchant steamers by signalling “What is your name?” then ordering them to stop, hoisting the German ensign, firing a shot and commanding the surprised vessel to be abandoned. A few more shells would then sink the unlucky ship.

That was how the steamship Farringford met her fate. Sometimes, however a British master, with great pluck, refused to surrender, as for instance that of the Corbridge (3,687 tons), carrying coal from Cardiff for Brazil. Having made a smoke screen, she tried for two thrilling hours to get away, but the German was slightly faster and a second shell made the Corbridge heave-to. The enemy realizing the value of this coal, put a prize crew on board and sent her off to a secret rendezvous.

In spite of narrow escapes, the Moewe got back to Germany by the north-about route at the beginning of March, and on November 22, 1916, for a second time left Germany for the Atlantic. One day in March 1917 she received a hammering from the defensively armed British steamer Otaki. Although the Otaki sank, yet the raider suffered such damage that she could not have survived another tussle of that nature.

Neither the Moewe nor her captain tried the game again, although others did, sometimes with failure, sometimes with success. The ex-Hansa liner Wachtfels (5,809 tons) which became the Wolf, made a wonderful voyage across the world from Germany, laying mines off the Cape of Good Hope, capturing ships off the Australian coast, laying more mines in New Zealand waters, roving among Pacific islands, and doing just as she pleased. She reached Germany again after having taken captive fourteen vessels.

The Lynton Grange was built in 1912 at Newcastle-on-Tyne.

ONE OF THE MANY VESSELS STOPPED by the German cruiser Dresden and later released was the Lynton Grange. On August 6, 1914, she met the German raider off the Brazilian coast. A vessel of 4,252 tons gross, the Lynton Grange was built in 1912 at Newcastle-on-Tyne. She had a length of 380 feet, a beam of 49 ft. 1 in. and a depth of 26 ft. 5 in.

You can read more on “Battle of the Falklands”, “German Shipping” and “Trap Ships of the Fishing Fleet” on this website.