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|Hilfskreuzer (Auxiliary Cruiser / Raider) Atlantis|
|Type||Auxiliary Cruiser (Raider)|
|British Admiralty Letter||C|
|Builder||Bremer Vulkan Werft, Bremen-Vegesack.|
|Previous Owner||Deutsche Dampfschiffahrts Gesellschaft (Hansa Line) Bremen.|
|Previous Name||Goldenfels - Sistership of the Kandelfels which was converted into the HK Pinguin|
|General Cruise Details|
|Commander||Fregattenkapitän (Captain) Bernhard Rogge (Knights Cross with Oak Leaves)|
|Sail date||11 March 1940|
|End date||22 November 1941|
|Fate||Sunk by the British heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire|
|Ships Sunk / Captured||22 ships sunk 6 captured|
|Days at Sea||622|
|Tons per Day||234,67|
|Main Armament||6 x 150 mm|
|Secondary Armament||1 x 75 mm, 2 x 37 mm Flak, 4 x 20 mm Flak|
|Torpedo Tubes||4 x 53,3 cm|
|Aircraft||2 x Heinkel He-114 A-2 - later supplied with three Arado Ar-196 A-1 aircraft.|
|Engine Type||Two 6-cylinder two-stroke MAN diesels|
|Endurance||60.000 nautical miles at 10 knots|
|Wartime||347 (21 officers 326 men)|
|Hilfskreuzer (Auxiliary Cruiser / Raider) Atlantis|
Launched on December 16 1937 at the Bremer-Vulkan Werft in Bremen-Vegesack for the Deutsche Dampfschiffahrts-Gesellschaft (D.D.G) HANSA, the 7,862-ton freighter Goldenfels was one of seven sister-ships, and a half-sister of the Kandelfels, which was later converted into the Hilfskreuzer Pinguin.
155m long with a beam of 18.7m, and powered by two 6-cylinder two-stroke MAN diesel engines, producing 7,600 horse-power, driving a single shaft, for a top speed of 16 knots, she had a range of 60,000 sea-miles at 10 knots.
Converted into an Auxiliary Cruiser at the Deschimag-Werft in Bremen in 1939, she was armed with six rapid-fire 150mm L/45 C/16 guns, one 75mm cannon, two 37mm flak guns, four 20mm flak guns, four 53.3cm torpedo tubes, with 24 torpedoes, two Heinkel He-114 A-2 seaplanes, and carried 92 sea-mines.
On December 19 1939, fourteen weeks after she had docked at the Deschimag yard, Schiff 16 was commissioned into the Kriegsmarine by the 40-year-old, newly-promoted Kapitän zur See, Bernhard Rogge, former captain of the sail training-ship Albert Leo Schlageter
As it was the privilege of each raider captain to name his ship, Rogge informed his 346 hand-picked officers and crew that he would be naming her the Atlantis.
Officially designated as the Handelsschützkreuzer 2 (HSK II) a ‘Trade Protection Cruiser’ for security reasons, Schiff 16 commenced her naval career disguised as an auxiliary minesweeper, or Sperrbrecher, in Kiel, on December 21 1939.
On March 11 1940, following the old World War One battleship Hessen, being employed as an ice-breaker, through the Kaiser-Wilhelm canal to the North Sea, she set sail with two other raiders, Schiff 21-Widder, under the command of Korvettenkapitän der Reserve Hellmuth von Ruckteschell, and Schiff 36-Orion, under Kapitän zur See Kurt Weyher, to begin her arduous working-up and gunnery practice programme.
With First Officer, Kapitänleutnant zur See Erich Kühn, mustering the crew, and Gunnery Officer, Oberleutnant Lorenz Kasch, putting his gun crews through their paces, Bernhard Rogge worked his ship and his men so intensely for several days off the Jade inlet, that signals were intercepted from coastal stations reporting a major naval battle taking place within German waters!
On March 19, Rogge announced that the Atlantis would not be returning to Kiel.
On March 23, anchored in Süderpiep Bay, Schiff 16 adopted her first operational disguise, as overnight, the two-funnelled German naval auxiliary became the single-funnelled 5,749-ton Norwegian motorship Knute Nelson.
Taking on the identity of the Fred Olsen line vessel, the overall naval grey was replaced with a green hull, white superstructure and, to discourage curiosity, a yellow quarantine flag.
As he considered conditions to be too fine to safely attempt the breakout, Rogge waited for seven days for the weather to deteriorate, during which time several British reconnaissance aircraft inspected the anchored ‘Norwegian’ ship.
For the breakout he decided to convert the ship again, overnight, on March 31, into the 5,114-ton Russian Fleet Auxiliary Kim, complete with Soviet Naval ensign, hammer and sickle on the bridge, giant red star on Number 2 hatch, and an indecipherable Cyrillic inscription - the only one Adjutant Ulrich Mohr could find to copy - over her counter, which warned, ‘Keep Clear of the Propellors’ but which to the average Englishman could certainly pass for the ship’s name.
The new look was completed by having one of Flying Officer Richard Bulla’s two Heinkel HE-114 seaplanes, placed in plain view in full Russian airforce livery.
Escorted by the 933-ton Torpedo-boats, Leopard (Kptlt. Hans Trummer) and Wolf (Oblt. z S. Broder Peters) and a submarine, the U-37 (KrvKpt. Werner Hartmann) the Atlantis sailed on April 1 in perfect weather - wind, rain and zero visibility.
* The U-37 went on to become the second most successful U-Boat of World War two.
Heading into the potentially dangerous waters between the Shetland Islands and the coast of Norway, that were continuously patrolled by the Royal Navy, Rogge maintained his course as if heading in the direction of Murmansk.
As the weather deteriorated into a full Force-10 gale, with mountainous waves, the U-37 could no longer safely keep up with the raider and fell behind, soon after which the silhouettes of two warships were spotted on the horizon.
Realising that the Atlantis had been spotted, Rogge called for maximum speed in the belief that out-running the enemy was his only chance of survival.
With the massive 6-cylinder diesel engines driving her at her top speed of seventeen and a half knots, the Atlantis plunged and smashed her way through the huge waves into the teeth of the gale, with the warships in hot pursuit.
While Chief-Engineer Wilhelm Kielhorn was worried that the engines were being driven too hard, and also consuming vast amounts of fuel, the crew were afraid that the ship, which was taking a horrendous battering, would simply come apart.
The warships finally gave up the chase and disappeared, leaving the Atlantis to slow down and ride out the storm as she continued towards the north-east, only swinging west when she had reached the Murmansk to Iceland shipping lane, setting course for Jan Mayen Island, where she met and re-fuelled the U-37.
Maintaining his Russian disguise while slipping through the Denmark Strait with the U-Boat in sub-zero temperatures and mountainous seas, Rogge had to bid Hartmann farewell when again conditions threatened the safety of the submarine.
On April 8, Navigation Officer Kamenz and First Officer Kühn reported to Rogge that the Atlantis had made it through into the Atlantic ocean.
Sailing south into the Atlantic shipping lanes, Schiff 16 crossed the Equator on April 22, but had to wait until two days later, when they were in safer waters, to welcome ‘King Neptune’, ‘Admiral Triton’ and their ‘guard of honour’ on board, and begin the customary ceremonies and initiation rites, after which the crew enjoyed refreshments and were given the rest of the day off.
With the initiates below decks still recovering from their ordeal, the serious work of once more changing the ship’s disguise began, as the trappings of the Soviet Navy were removed and replaced by new ones.
Adjutant, Ulrich Mohr, had chosen several ships that resembled the Atlantis from Lloyd’s register, including the 8,408-ton passenger freighter Kasii Maru of the Japanese Kokusai Kisen line, into which she could easily be disguised.
The same black hull, but with yellow masts and ventilators, a black funnel with a large letter K painted on it, and a red top.
Japanese characters, copied out of a magazine by Mohr, replacing the Cyrillic Russian propellor warning, and the flag of the Rising Sun painted onto the ship’s sides, completed the transformation.
On May 2, when smoke from an approaching ship was sighted, Rogge got his first opportunity to put the rest of his disguise to the test, visibly deploying some of the shorter darker-skinned members of the crew, dressed as Japanese seamen and civilian passengers about the ship.
The smaller among them posed as women, one of whom was accompanied by Pilot-Officer Richard Bulla, pushing a ‘baby’ in a pram.
But, he decided that the ship, identified as the 9,654-ton Ellerman Line armed passenger ship City of Exeter, was probably not worth attacking, as she could be carrying several hundred passengers including ‘real’ women and children.
With her officers clearly scrutinising the Atlantis through binoculars, the liner passed the raider without acknowledgement of any kind, a blatant discourtesy on the high seas, leading Rogge to assume that it was probably because the snooty English felt that a mere Japanese freighter did not merit courtesy.
He was wrong.
The liner’s captain reported the Kasii Maru as ‘a suspicious ship’, a report that was to have implications for the raider’s subsequent operations.
The next day, with Mohr and other members of the crew again dressed in their kimonos posing as Japanese women, some pushing baby carriages, and other crewmen lounging or strolling about the deck like Japanese sailors or tourists, the Atlantis finally went into action.
Having spotted a freighter off the coast of Portuguese West Africa, Rogge altered course to intercept and approached her at top speed.
Seemingly unnoticed, he closed to within 10,000 metres, dropped his disguise, ordered his gunners to line up on the radio room, and ran up his battle flag.
Signalling ‘Heave to or I fire!’ and ‘Do not use your wireless!’, he was astonished to see the Allied vessel make no response whatsoever and continue on her way.
Two 75mm warning shots across the bow produced a bizarre flag signal saying ‘Half’, but no discernable reduction in speed, prompting Rogge to order two shots from his 150mm main armament.
Making as if to comply with the raider’s signals, the freighter suddenly altered course and made off at top speed, followed immediately by another 155mm salvo which struck her stern, causing massive damage and starting a fire.
When a further salvo struck the ship amidships causing more serious damage and starting an even larger fire, Rogge ordered a cease fire to enable the crew of the stricken vessel to surrender and abandon ship, but almost immediately, her radio operator began to transmit a QQQ signal, causing him to resume firing.
As four more heavy salvos were fired at the now frantically signalling freighter, with one bringing the radio mast down, and another setting the cargo on fire, her captain finally brought her to a halt, and boats were lowered.
The boarding party, Adjutant Mohr, demolition officer, Leutnant Johann Fehler, a prize officer and nine armed sailors swarming over the rails of the elderly vessel, identified her as the 6,199-ton British T.J.Harrison & Co. steamer, Scientist.
En route from Durban to Liverpool via Freetown, she was carrying a mixed cargo of 2,500 tons of maize, 1,150 tons of chromium, copper bars, asbestos, zinc concentrate, flour, jute, hides and 2,600 tons of tanning bark.
Despite the seacocks being opened, and Fehler’s 40-pound scuttling charges, attached to the bulkheads between the engine room and the fore and aft holds, detonating, the vessel settled very slowly, and was soon burning so furiously as to be visible for miles.
In order to avoid attracting attention, Rogge ordered Kasch to sink her with 150mm gunfire, but when even that failed, she was sunk by a torpedo.
While two members of her crew had lost their lives, with another dying later on the Atlantis, the surviving seventy-six, including her radio operator who had to have splinters removed by the Rogge’s doctors, settled into their new life in his prisoner accomodation.
Heading south, the Atlantis rounded the Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean, and promptly turned back, to appear as if she was coming from the East.
Over a period of four and a half hours on the evening of May 10, Rogge laid his ninety-two magnetic contact mines off Cape Agulhas in South Africa, to disrupt the Allied shipping lanes around the Cape, and on the following day played out an elaborate deception to convince his prisoners that a U-Boat had laid them!
Over the next few days Rogge was pleased by intercepted reports confirming the success of the minefield, but was then staggered to hear that a propaganda broadcast from Berlin had boasted that ‘A minefield, sown by a German raider’ had sunk no fewer than eight merchant ships, with three more overdue, not to mention three minesweepers, and was causing major problems for the Royal Navy, which, it claimed, wasn’t capable of finding ‘a solitary raider’ operating in ‘it’s own back yard’.
Not only did this give the game away as to his presence off the Cape, but it was also sure to antagonise the British into increasing vigilance and would certainly expose his ship to even greater danger.
As if this news wasn’t bad enough, a signal sent from Ceylon on May 20, based on the report sent to the Admiralty by the master of the City of Exeter, warned shipping of a German raider disguised as a Japanese ship in the southern ocean.
Deciding it was therefore time to change his disguise, Rogge selected, from the ever-shortening list of suitable options presented to him by Mohr, the 7,906-ton Dutch Holland-Ost-Azie Lijn motor vessel Abbekerk as a suitable identity.
On the morning of May 21, in squally weather, the task of transforming the ship from the bright Japanese colours to the more sober tones of the Vereenigge Nederlansche Scheep Vaarts My, NV. began.
Within twenty-four hours the job was done, and the ‘MV Abbekerk’ was on her way, but before she could even put her new disguise to the test in action, an American news bulletin announced that the Abbekerk had been sunk!
The report was in fact inaccurate, but this was not known on board the raider.
Reluctant to start over and put his crew through all the work again so soon, Rogge decided to take the chance that as the Dutch line had a number of very similar ships, he would most likely get away with it.
And so it was that on June 10, having sighted mastheads and headed at full speed towards them, seemingly without arousing any suspicion, Rogge was convinced that his new disguise was working, until, at a range of 9,000 metres, the enemy ship suddenly altered course and took off at high speed.
On slightly converging courses, the two ships continued flat out at just over seventeen knots for nearly four hours, with the Atlantis slowly closing the gap.
With the range down to just over 5,000 metres, Rogge turned the Atlantis, dropped his camouflage and ordered the enemy ship to stop, but on receiving no response, brought her fully broadside on, and ordered Kasch to fire at will.
The first salvo was short, the second salvo long, and before another could be fired, the vessel commenced sending distress calls identifying herself as the Norwegian motor-ship Tirranna.
This fast 7,230-ton Wilhelm Wilhelmsen line merchant-ship continued to try to outrun the ‘Abbekerk’, transmitting distress signals, even returning fire, and zig-zagging so effectively that Kasch’s gunners missed with the next five salvos.
The Atlantis had fired seven salvos before registering a hit, and it took a further thirty salvos, 150 rounds, in just over three hours, to finally persuade her to stop.
No one was seen trying to get off the ship as all her lifeboats had been shattered by the raider’s shells, and so, when Mohr, Kapitänleutnant Kühn and the boarding party climbed aboard, they were met by the vessel’s very angry captain.
A two-year-old 7,230-ton German-built vessel, under British Admiralty orders, she was bound for Mombasa from Australia, with a cargo of 3,000 tons of wheat, 27,000 sacks of flour and 6,000 bales of wool, as well as 178 army trucks, 5,500 cases of beer, 300 cases of tobacco, 3,000 cases of canned peaches and 17,000 cases of jam - for the Australian troops fighting in the Middle East.
With five of her crew having lost their lives during the chase, and many more lying badly wounded, Rogge had Kapitänleutnant Kammenz and a work crew sent across to her to assist with their evacuation.
Her Captain complained to Mohr that Norway had made peace with Germany that very day, and later claimed to Rogge that, thinking the Atlantis was a Dutch ship of the Kerk class, and unable to read her flag signals as she was in silhouette, he had thought they were just having a bit of sport racing with her!
Taking this with a large grain of salt, Rogge was nonetheless pleased that his new disguise had been so convincing.
A 27-man prize crew, including twelve armed German seamen under Leutnants Waldmann and Mundt, was put on board, but due to the vessel having only two hundred tons of fuel left in her tanks, insufficient for her to make it back to Europe, she was sent south to wait until the Atlantis could capture a tanker.
On June 13, Rogge assembled the entire crew for a severe tongue-lashing on what he had witnessed during the capture of the Norwegian ship, followed by a lecture on what he required from their behaviour in future.
Prisoners were to be treated with respect, and all souvenir hunting was to be strictly monitored by himself and his officers.
There were to be no exceptions.
On June 14, Rogge decided to change his disguise once more, this time taking on the identity of another Wilhelmsen liner, the 7,229-ton motor-ship Tarifa, which, like the Tirranna, was sailing under British Admiralty orders.
On completion of the work, two days later on June 16, he sailed east, but for the next three and a half weeks, found nothing.
As the days dragged by, with the Atlantis often drifting on the ocean currents to conserve fuel, the boredom of the daily routine, coupled with the humidity and the relentless stifling heat, pushed everyone to the limits of their endurance.
At some point during her operations in the Indian Ocean, one of the Atlantis’s crew, Matrosehauptgefreiter Martin Jester, died of heatstroke. (The Recollections of Wilhelm Müller Atlantis crewman - 2006)
On July 11, the monotony was broken, when a large amount of smoke was sighted on the distant horizon, quickly followed by a pair of masts.
Ordering full speed, the Atlantis closed the range, and at 7,500 metres could see that the newcomer, armed with a single deck gun aft, was clearly British.
Making no attempt to turn away, the enemy ship allowed the raider to close to within 3,000 metres, whereupon Rogge had to temporarily postpone his challenge and attack routine until after the daily, internationally-recognized interval of radio silence during which all regular radio traffic ceased so that shore stations could scan for distress calls.
Once this interval had passed, he dropped his disguise, ran up the battle flag, fired a couple of warning shots and signalled to the ship to heave to.
The vessel immediately began to send the expected ‘QQQQ’ distress signals, but got no further than one phrase, as a 150mm direct hit on the radio room from a well-aimed gun silenced her, and her crew began to lower their boats.
As Mohr and his boarding party set off towards the now stationary ship, they once again saw evidence of the irrational fear that had been instilled into so many Allied seamen by the propaganda that all Germans were murderous thugs.
The men in the lifeboats, rather than be captured, were desperately trying to escape to an almost certain slow and agonising death adrift in the Indian Ocean.
Identified by the boarding party as the 7,506-ton British Ellerman Line freighter City of Bagdad, the crew of the Atlantis took some satisfaction in capturing her.
Bound for Penang from the UK with a crew of eighty-one, and carrying 9,324 tons of steel, chemicals and machinery, she had previously been the German ship Geierfels, a Hansa Line vessel taken by Britain in 1921, as a World War One reparations prize under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles!
When Ulrich Mohr, who had led the boarding party, commented on her Captain’s fine RCA Victor radio set, the skipper helped him dismantle it, and was rewarded with nightly visits to Mohr’s cabin on the Atlantis, where he chatted with the raider’s officers, enjoyed drinks, and was even allowed to listen to the BBC!
Having taken her crew of eighty-one on board, the City of Bagdad was sunk by Rogge’s explosives expert, the livewire red-headed Leutnant Fehler, who decided to remain on the ship, with 260 pounds of explosives, six times the insufficient amount he had used to try to sink the Scientist.
The resulting explosion took even him by surprise, as the ship foundered so rapidly that he almost failed to get off in time, injuring his arm in the process.
He had been told by Rogge to use 200 pounds, so when brought before him to explain his actions, he said “I just wanted to experience the sensation!”
He quickly experienced the sensation of a stern dressing down from his Captain.
Among the papers found on the City of Bagdad was a copy of the report sent by the captain of the City of Exeter, describing the Atlantis in minute detail, including a photograph of the Freienfels, a ship not unlike the raider, confirming that he had not been deceived by her ‘Japanese’ disguise for one moment.
As a result of this, Rogge had his ship’s profile altered, paying particular attention to the outline of her masts, adding two new ones.
When more smoke was sighted on July 13, the Atlantis approached the vessel, a large cargo-liner, cautiously, while gradually reducing the range, through slight alterations in course and speed, to 5,400 metres, at which point, on being told that the ship’s radio transmitter was being tuned up, Rogge ordered the battle flag to be raised, the disguise dropped and four rapid salvos fired from the main armament, concentrating on the radio shack.
All four salvos missed the target, but following some swift adjustments, salvos five and six found their mark, setting the liner on fire.
She did not transmit any distress calls, but signalled that she was preparing to stop and that she would require medical assistance.
Pleased that his new tactic of surprise-attack had paid off so smoothly, Rogge ordered the Atlantis to close with the vessel as her boats were being lowered.
Seeing that there were many passengers, including women and children, in the boats, he decided that he could well do without all these extra mouths to feed.
He was looking at the liner’s spacious passenger accomodation and thinking that she was an ideal ship onto which he could also transfer his one hundred and eighty prisoners and solve his overcrowding problem, when suddenly, a shot rang out from her 3-inch deck gun, sending a shell howling past the raider’s bridge.
Angry at having to open fire at point-blank range in such circumstances, Rogge called for full speed and ordered his gunners to rake the stern of the enemy ship.
When Navigator Kamenz pointed out that there had been just one man on the now abandoned gun, and that it could have been a mistake, Rogge ceased fire.
Realising that the second round of shelling meant that the vessel was no longer any use as a prison ship, he nonetheless dispatched the boarding party to inspect the damage as the liner’s boats drew alongside the Atlantis in mountainous seas.
They found that the 7,769-ton British & Burmese Steam Navigation Company, India-Burma cargo liner, Kemmendine, now firmly ablaze, was a write-off.
Bound for Rangoon from Glasgow via Gibraltar and Cape Town, she was carrying a crew of one hundred and twelve and thirty-five passengers, including five women and two children, and a small cargo of whiskey, beer and piece goods.
Unable to get below to place the demolition charges because of the raging fires, and having left them on the deck while they investigated and searched where they could, the boarding party returned to find them ringed by flames.
Dumping them swiftly overboard they evacuated the liner in a hurry!
By now blazing furiously, and sending huge plumes of black smoke high into the sky to attract enemy warships, the Kemmendine had to be sunk quickly.
Requiring two torpedos to do it, adding further to Rogge’s annoyance, it was the second one, combined with the heavy swell, that broke the liner’s back.
With her bow and stern briefly pointing skywards, she slid beneath the waves.
Amazingly, there were no casualties on either side, but the hazardous task of lifting the women and small children onto the raider from the violently pitching lifeboats, was overcome by the use of the raider’s coal buckets lowered on ropes!
After several hours all one hundred and forty-seven souls, including an expectant mother, were safely on board bringing the total number of prisoners on the Atlantis to just under three hundred and thirty.
A court of inquiry was held on board the Atlantis, to establish why the liner’s gun was fired a full nine minutes after she had signalled that she had surrendered and required medical assistance.
Consisting of Rogge, Mohr, Kammenz and the Kemmendine’s captain R.B.Reid, the court established that the gunner, a London window-cleaner in civilian life, had not heard the order to abandon his gun, while his captain, unaware of this, had signalled to the raider that he was heaving to and surrendering.
By June 25, radio messages were being sent to the overdue Tirranna from all around the Indian Ocean, and, as he had failed to find a tanker, Rogge decided that the Atlantis would provide his first prize-ship with sufficient fuel to reach Bordeaux with his 300 prisoners.
Keeping the rendezvous with her as planned on July 29, the arduous task of making sure she was sufficiently sea-worthy for the long voyage began.
The raider’s diesels were also long overdue for overhaul, so, while Kammenz began the transfer of over 400 tons of fuel and various supplies, and prisoners were being shuttled between the ships, Chief Kielhorn organised the stripping down and servicing of the starboard engine, and First Officer Kühn organised the repair and maintenance crews swarming all over both ships.
The good-natured mood that had permeated this hive of activity was shattered on August 1, when Mohr discovered that the eleven-man Tirranna prize-crew had rifled the mailbags on the Norwegian vessel, looted their contents for items of value, and then dumped the mail overboard.
When he had discovered this, the prize-crew captain, Leutnant Mund, had ordered the men to replace everything, bar one or two essential items of winter clothing, but when he and the Adjutant searched their lockers, they found that all eleven of them had disobeyed the order.
On hearing this, and that someone had stolen binoculars belonging to Captain White of the City of Bagdad, Rogge immediately convened a court martial.
He made it known to the crew that if the guilty man returned the binoculars there would be no further action taken, but when they were not returned, and he then threatened to punish the entire crew, an anonymous note was found stating that the thief had thrown the glasses overboard.
With Mohr investigating, the list of possible culprits was narrowed down to five, at which point the Adjutant donned his handwriting analyst’s hat and quickly identified the probable thief, who, under the mounting pressure, soon confessed.
Although the British captain pleaded on behalf of the guilty man, Rogge insisted on initiating court martial proceedings against him, which, in due course, sentenced him to be shipped home on the next available ship to serve two years in prison in Germany, to be dismissed from the Navy, and to pay compensation to Captain White for the loss of his property.
When he had completed this task, Rogge called the crew together and gave them a stern lecture on how he expected them to conduct themselves in future.
He assured them that if souvenir hunting was conducted under the supervision of their officers, all members of the crew could select suitable mementoes, and not just the members of the boarding parties.
With this unfortunate incident out of the way, attention returned to the task of completing the transfer of fuel to the Tirranna and preparing her for her journey.
On August 2, as both she and the Atlantis, resplendent in new coats of paint and with engine overhauls nearing completion, drifted side by side with a fuel line rigged between them, 450 tons of fuel was transferred into the freighter’s tanks.
As the work details were applying their finishing touches, a ship was spotted emerging from a rain squall and heading straight towards them at high speed.
With the sudden arrival of this ship out of the rain cloud, the alarm bells sounded, and hundreds of men dropped what they were doing and leapt into action.
Chief Kielhorn fired up his one fully re-assembled engine and got the Atlantis under way, leaving many of her officers and crew on the Tirranna or stranded in small boats between the two ships.
After a six-minute chase and four 150mm salvoes, the newcomer stopped and surrendered, but as all of the launches and cutters normally used by the boarding parties had been left behind, Rogge had to hold the Atlantis alongside her until they caught up, before sending a squad to board her.
The peculiar and seemingly reckless approach of this vessel, the 6,732-ton German-built Norwegian freighter Talleyrand, a sister-ship of the Tirranna, and yet another Wilhelmsen liner, was explained by the fact that her Second Officer, seeing the familiar shape of the Tirranna and another ship side by side, with small boats moving between them, has assumed that one or other of them had stopped with engine trouble and was being assisted by the other, and so he had decided to approach to offer a helping hand.
Like the Tirranna, she was a valuable ship, carrying a cargo of 4,500 tons of steel, 16,000 bales of wool, 22,686 sacks of wheat and 240 tons of teak, and would have made a suitable prize.
With a crew of thirty-six, one of them a woman, and, also like the Tirranna, armed with one 4.7-inch gun, she had been on her way from Sydney to the UK via Fremantle, and, again like her sister, she was low in fuel.
What fuel she had, just over 400 tons, was transferred to the Atlantis, thereby gaining the raider an extra two month’s endurance, as well as an excellent motorboat, while her crew and ammunition were transferred to the Tirranna.
Briefly used as a target-ship for Bulla’s Heinkel He-114, which dropped dummy bombs on her, strafed her with machine-gun fire and practiced tearing away her radio antenna with a trailing grapnel hook, the Tallyrand was scuttled by Fehler’s demolition crew which completed its deadly business in under eight minutes.
At midnight on August 5, Leutnant zur See Waldmann and Leutnant Mund, with an eighteen-man prize crew, and two hundred and seventy-four of Rogge’s three hundred and sixty-five prisoners, set sail for France in the the refitted Tirranna.
On the night of August 10, she narrowly and unknowingly, avoided a potentially lethal encounter with the raider Pinguin, which was disguised as the Greek freighter Kassos, and only because her captain, Ernst-Felix Krüder, thought that she may have been a British Armed Merchant Cruiser and avoided her.
Negotiating the heavily-patrolled shipping lanes off the Cape of Good Hope and in the South Atlantic, surviving encounters with eight ships, including a British cruiser, and making it through the U-Boat hunting grounds, the Tirranna arrived safely off Cap Le Ferret on September 22.
Seeking sailing instructions from Naval Command in Berlin and a pilot from the harbour authorities, Waldmann received no response until the following day, when he was told to remain where he was to await an escort.
Just after midday on September 23, while still waiting for the minesweepers to escort her into Bordeaux, the Tirranna was hit by three torpedoes fired by the British Trident-class submarine HMS Tuna, and sank within two minutes.
Eighty-seven people, including women and children, and one of the prize-crew, Obermaschinenmaat Karl Seeger, who evidently died trying to save a terrified woman passenger who would not leave the ship, lost their lives.
All this, despite the fact that Rogge, at no small risk to his own ship, had done everything in his power to ensure that the SKL was aware of the prize ship’s imminent arrival, only to find out later that Berlin had been sending instructions to her on the wrong radio frequency.
Early in the morning of August 24, the peculiar, suspicious behaviour and continually changing speed of a freighter off Madagascar, intrigued Rogge so much that he shadowed her for two hours before coming to the conclusion that she was a Q-Ship, and that his ship was being drawn into some sort of trap.
Opening fire without any warning, first with a torpedo, which missed, and then with a 155mm salvo, which did not, the virtually stationary vessel was soon ablaze, with four cadets and a cabin boy lying dead.
Realising his mistake, and that the now fiercely burning ‘enemy’ was a harmless merchantman, Rogge immediately ordered that two motor-boats be launched to assist her surviving crew, all of whom were rescued from the mountainous seas.
One man succumbed to his wounds later on board the Atlantis.
Identified as the 4,744-ton British Reardon Smith Line freighter King City, bound for Singapore from Cardiff carrying 7,300 tons of coal and coke on board for the British Admiralty, her strange manoeuvring was explained as having been the result of chronic engine trouble.
Reduced to a blazing inferno, with her cargo of coal pouring out through the holes in her side creating a column of black smoke and steam that could be seen for miles above the busy shipping-lane, she was swiftly sunk by gunfire.
On September 9, approaching to within 8,500 metres of a yellow-funnelled tanker without appearing to be menacing, in the Australia to Africa shipping-lane during the International Distress Call period, Rogge did not respond when the vessel briefly raised her ensign in a polite request for him to do likewise and identify himself, waiting instead for the allotted ‘silent time’ to elapse.
Closing to 6,500 metres, Rogge opened fire, causing the ship to instantly radio her position, at which critical point, the Atlantis somehow went out of control, with her steering jammed to starboard, enabling the tanker to try to escape.
Regaining control, Rogge quickly caught up with her, and resumed his attack, with the enemy again radioing her position and returning fire.
Several salvos later the gun was abandoned, the signalling stopped, and she came to a halt, but with her hull so badly damaged that it was clearly no longer possible for the Atlantis to take on any of her valuable cargo of oil.
With a boat on its way in response to a signal requesting medical assistance, fresh radio signals were picked up by Radio Officer Wenzel, which were initially thought to be coming from the stricken ship, causing Rogge to re-open fire, but were then found to coming from another ship somewhere not very far away.
Identified by the boarding party as the 9,557-ton United Molasses Company, Athel Line motor-tanker Athelking, bound for East Africa from Australia, she was so badly damaged as to constitute a major hazard, and was sunk by gunfire.
It took ninety-one 150mm rounds to finally sink her.
With her Captain and two others killed, and three missing, the surviving forty members of her crew, were picked up.
Moving north-eastwards to avoid overlapping with Pinguin’s area of operations, which had been extended by the SKL, the Atlantis quickly found her next victim, when her lookouts spotted another ship the following day.
Rogge immediately called Flying-Officer Bulla to the bridge and instructed him and Borchert to overfly the target, shoot up the bridge and the funnel and to try to remove her radio aerials with a grappling-hook.
While being followed closely by the Atlantis, the freighter altered course several times before Rogge spotted his chance to launch the aircraft unseen.
As he increased his speed to close with the enemy vessel, she began to transmit the usual QQQ distress signals, at which point she was was bombed and strafed with machine-gun fire, and had her aerials ripped away by the seaplane, preventing her from sending any more.
Returning to their mother ship, and setting down the airmen were surprised when she continued on her way towards the enemy vessel, leaving them behind.
Approaching at top speed with battle-flag flying, guns uncovered, and ordering her to heave to, Rogge was astonished when there was absolutely no reaction.
Hoping to capture this ship without having to fire on her, Rogge ordered Kasch to fire a couple of warning shots across her bows, but having still failed to produce any response, the next salvo was aimed over the bridge, bringing her to a halt.
With Mohr’s boarding-party already on its way, the enemy ship began to transmit more distress signals, via an emergency aerial, leaving Rogge with no alternative but to open fire in earnest, setting the vessel’s cargo ablaze.
The crew, which was busy abandoning ship just as the boarding-party came alongside, was ordered back on board to fight the fire, as the boarding party was joined by a fire-fighting team from the Atlantis.
Identified as the 5,800 ton Ben Line Steamers William Thompson & Co. ship, Benarty, with a mixed, but valuable cargo of lead, zinc and wolfram, en route to Liverpool from Rangoon via Durban, and a crew of forty-nine, this was the ship that had betrayed her presence the previous day by re-transmitting Athelking’s distress signals, causing Rogge to re-open fire on the luckless tanker.
Official documents, thirty bags of mail, including secret mails for the British Admiralty, and fragments of paper found in the ship’s wrecked wireless-room made it possible for Mohr and Radio Officer Wenzel, with a little help from the code-breakers in Berlin, to read part of the new British Merchant Navy codes, which had replaced those taken earlier from the City of Bagdad.
Rogge was pleased to discover that not one of the freighter’s 49-man crew had been wounded, and so, having removed sacks of documents and mail, and kept two of her boats for further use, the Benarty was sunk by demolition charges.
Another satisfying piece of news, gleaned from the captain of the Benarty was that the Atlantis’ disguise as an Allied ship had worked very well.
Rogge decided to enhance this still further by making the raider’s aft 155mm gun appear more like a British 4.7-inch, and by leaving it fully exposed to view.
Over the week that followed the sinking of the Benarty, ever careful to remain clear of any possible overlapping with the Pinguin, the Atlantis spent some time drifting to conserve fuel and to attend to some maintenance.
When a lookout spotted dense smoke astern late on September 19, while the crew were so engaged, Rogge called for full speed, and soon closed with what appeared to be a large passenger-liner travelling at high speed without lights.
Approaching to within 3,500 metres of the vessel shortly after midnight, and signalling to her to stop, maintain radio silence, and await a boarding party, she signalled agreement, identifying herself as the Commissaire Ramel.
Stopped and with her lights on, her radio operator commenced sending distress signals, forcing Rogge to open fire at point-blank range, setting her on fire.
Having initially seen this as the ideal vessel to solve his overcrowding problems, and reluctant to fire on a passenger ship, particularly at close range, his gunners continued firing until her radio fell silent, at which point he ordered a cease fire.
Almost immediately the distress signals recommenced, leaving him with no choice but to open fire again, this time telling Kasch to fire at will. When over fifty high-explosive 150mm shells had slammed into her, destroying the radio room and setting her firmly ablaze, she signalled for a boat to be sent.
By the time they reached the 10,061-ton former French Services Contractuels des Messageries Maritimes liner, she was blazing so furiously that the boarding-party were unable to board her, and with the sea running high it took them some time to rescue the surviving members of the 66-man crew.
Furious that she had commenced transmitting distress signals after she had surrendered, Rogge demanded an explanation from her skipper, Captain MacKenzie, who explained that while on his way to the bridge he had told the radio-operator to send the usual distress signal, only to arrive on the bridge to find that his French First Officer had already agreed to surrender!
The largest ship yet taken by the Atlantis, and potentially an ideal prison-ship, the Commissaire Ramel had a largely Australian crew, and a valuable cargo of steel, wheat, soap, leather and fruit.
Once the survivors were safely aboard the raider, the by now worthless hulk was sunk by gunfire, burning fiercely as she went down in a cloud of smoke and steam, her red-hot hull hissing under the waves.
The new prisoners added a further sixty-three to the two hundred and thirty already on board the Atlantis.
Once they had cleared the immediate vicinity of their latest success, Rogge gave Chief Kielhorn the go-ahead to service the engines, to dismantle the giant diesels and overhaul them one at a time.
As the work progressed on the first engine over the next few days, and Kühn’s work crews touched up her camouflage, the raider drifted, with the crew enjoying the break, until on September 27, they received the shattering news of the sinking of the Tirranna off the coast of France, with eighty-seven people that the crew of the Atlantis had come to know during their long stay on board, losing their lives, including one of their shipmates, Karl Seeger.
Apart from the loss of so many innocent people, a fine prize ship and its valuable cargo, all of their personal mail, the first communication any of them had had with their loved ones in over six months, had also been lost.
Clearly caused by a combination of inefficiencies at Naval Command in Berlin, which failed to establish contact with the Tirranna and neglected to provide her with an escort into port, and carelessness by local shore units instructing her commander, Leutnant Waldmann, to sail to Bordeaux without adequately warning him of the danger of submarine attack, this news had such a serious impact on the morale of the Atlantis’s crew that Rogge decided to lay up for a while.
Having kept his ship well away from the shipping-lanes for several days in order to give the crew a chance to recover from the news, Rogge set course for the entrance of the Sunda Strait on October 1, to resume hunting, but found the normally busy intersection of several shipping-lanes strangely empty.
As the long days of inactivity dragged on into weeks, the crew, and the several hundred prisoners on board the Atlantis became increasingly ill at ease. The tension among the prisoners was spreading to the German crew and there was a very real danger of a breakdown in discipline.
With so many prisoners on board, and the food and water situation becoming ever more critical, Rogge was anxious to capture a ship to which he could transfer them, and they in turn were anxious to get off the raider. It was not pleasant to be locked into a sweltering hold next to a mine storage room on a ship that could be blown to smithereens at any moment.
When the lookouts spotted a ship in the early hours of October 22, and Rogge closed to within 2,000 metres of her, ran up the battle ensign and ordered the rusty old ship to heave to, it was some time before there was any response.
When a man dressed in pyjamas eventually appeared and acknowledged the signal, both ships came to a standstill, but when the freighter then briefly used her radio, although inexplicably neglecting to include her position, Rogge decided not to open fire, but simply uncovered his guns, and the signalling stopped.
Mohr’s boarding-party reported that the filthy 27-year-old, 5,623-ton neutral Yugoslav, identified as the Dubrovacka Plovidba liner, Durmitor, formerly the Lamport and Holt ship Plutarch, was en route to Japan from Spain with a cargo of 8,200 tons of salt, and was due to call at an enemy port ‘for orders’.
This, plus the fact that she had used her radio when specifically ordered not to, led to Rogge’s decision to declare her a legitimate prize.
When it was further established that she had enough coal on board to get her as far as Japan, her future role as a prison-ship was assured!
Under the command of Leutnant z.S. Emil Dehnel, and a prize-crew of fourteen, she was sent to a rendezvous point, while Rogge took the Atlantis into the Sunda Strait to continue his search for enemy shipping in the hope of capturing some much needed water and provisions for the soon-departing prisoners.
Hearing that there was growing disenchantment among the crew, Rogge had them assembled before him and spoke to them in very plain terms about how all their lives depended on unity and discipline on board.
He also announced some relief measures, including a ‘Leave-On-Board’ scheme, whereby members of the crew would have days off, and reduced work schedules.
Meeting up with the Durmitor as arranged on October 26, two hundred and sixty prisoners were transferred, and as much food and water as could be spared to cover the estimated three-week journey to Italian-occupied Somaliland.
Totally ill-suited for carrying passengers, conditions on board the Durmitor were appalling, as she was infested with rats and cockroaches.
The prisoners had to sleep in the holds on top of the cargo of salt, without any bedding, and with even less fuel on board than originally thought, and her hull badly fouled, she was barely capable of making 7 knots.
Anything and everything that could be used to supplement the diminishing supply of coal was burned, including ‘home-made’ briquettes, made from coal dust, paint, sawdust, petrol, ashes and grease.
Dehnel had ‘sails’, made from hatch-cover tarpaulins, rigged to keep her moving.
Barely making any headway in the intense heat and humidity, and with the mutinous prisoners, upon whom discipline was only being maintained by a constantly manned machine-gun trained on them, down to one cup of water per man per day, the Durmitor soon became a ‘hell-ship’.
Arriving off the port of Warsheik, 70 km north of Mogadishu, on November 22, and in the absence of a pilot to take him in, Dehnel initially ran the Durmitor aground, and was then ‘taken prisoner’ by his Italian allies.
Managing to re-float her, and to transfer his prisoners to an uncertain fate ashore, he took the freighter down the coast to the port of Kismaayo, where he and his crew very happily bid the Durmitor farewell.
* They were to re-join the Atlantis in February, from the supply ship Tannenfels, which had been detained in neutral Somaliland at the outbreak of war, but then released once Italy had joined in the conflict on the German side.
* Incredibly, the Durmitor, commandeered by the British in 1943 and re-named the Radwinter, was to survive the war, and, having been returned to her owners in Dubrovnik, remained in service for a further twenty years, until finally being scrapped in 1963!
Continuing to search in the Sunda Strait, in early November the Atlantis headed for the Bay of Bengal, where, on the night of November 8, a tanker was spotted against the moonlit horizon.
Approaching to within 500 metres, Rogge ordered his powerful searchlight to be trained on the vessel’s bridge, signalled to her to heave to, and not to use her wireless, and asked her to identify herself.
Immediately identifying their ship as the Teddy from Oslo, the temporarily blinded Norwegian officers requested that the raider identify herself in turn.
Claiming to be the British Auxiliary Cruiser HMS Antenor, Rogge had a boarding party alongside her, and Mohr, disguised as a Royal Navy officer, identifying himself as an officer of the Kriegsmarine on her deck, before her startled crew realised what they were dealing with!
The 6748-ton Klaveness and Company vessel, carrying 10,000 tons of fuel oil, and 500 tons of diesel oil from Abadan to Singapore, had been taken by a ploy, without a single shot being fired.
A prize-crew was put on board under Leutnant Breuers, and she was sent five hundred miles to the south to await further orders at ‘Point Mangrove’.
There, her cargo of precious diesel oil could be safely transferred into the raider’s bunkers, effectively extending her raiding cruise by two months.
With his seaplane repaired, Leutnant Bulla found another tanker on November 10.
Rogge decided not to approach her until nightfall, hoping to capture her in the same bloodless way he had captured the Teddy the night before, but, having spotted the Atlantis coming up fast astern at moonrise, she immediately changed course, increased speed and commenced sending a Raider Attack call.
Reluctant to open fire as he wished to keep both the ship and her precious cargo of, hopefully, diesel fuel, intact, Rogge again identified his ship as HMS Antenor, and signalled the tanker to heave to and to prepare to be boarded for inspection.
The response from the tanker was a request to the raider to stop following her, but a repitition of Rogge’s ‘British AMC signal’ ordering her to stop, finally brought her to a halt, although her Captain clearly did not believe his antagonist to be British, and continued sending distress signals.
Signalling that he was sending an officer in a boat to speak with the captain and inspect the ship, Rogge ordered the searchlight to be switched on.
With only Mohr, Kamenz and their helmsman visible, but with ten heavily-armed seamen hidden under the boat’s tarpaulin, the launch crossed to the enemy ship.
Aware that the tanker’s deck gun was manned and clearly trained on the Atlantis, and that her rail was lined with armed men, Mohr pulled alongside in his Royal Navy hat and coat and waited for the right opportunity to jump aboard.
With the tension palpable, and being challenged to identify himself, Mohr and the boarding-party leapt out of the launch, over the rail and onto the tanker.
Tearing off his Royal Navy coat, and placing his German Navy cap on his head, Mohr wrenched the rifle from the grasp of the nearest man and tossed it into the sea, after which he politely identified himself as an officer of the Kriegsmarine and commanded them to surrender, which, after a short, but extremely tense confrontation, they did.
Moments later, on the bridge, aware that a pitched gun-battle on a ship carrying 11,000 barrels of high-octane aviation spirit was not recommended, their Captain followed suit and identified his ship as the 8,306-ton Norwegian Ole Jacob.
Signalling the bad news about the type of cargo she carried to Rogge, Mohr also informed his captain that he was cancelling the tanker’s earlier distress calls.
Although captured in more or less the same way as the Teddy, this brand new Johannes Hansen Tankreederei vessel, on her way from Singapore to Suez, and yielding a valuable cargo of aviation fuel, had none of the vital diesel oil Rogge had hoped would keep him on the high seas for a few more months.
Transferring most of her crew onto the Atlantis, and replacing them with a prize crew under his Navigation Officer, Kapitanleutnant Paul Kamenz, she was sent several hundred miles to the south to wait at ‘Point Rattang’ off Christmas Island, close to where the Teddy was waiting, with orders to wait there until the raider rejoined them on November 15.
The next day was Armistice Day, and as the crew of the Atlantis gathered on deck to remember those who had lost their lives during World War One, they were quickly reminded of World War Two, when smoke was sighted astern.
Ordering the crew to action stations, and stopping briefly to calculate the approaching ship’s course and speed, Rogge then proceeded at a reduced speed, held his course and waited for the newcomer to catch up with him.
Spotting the Atlantis ahead holding the same course into the Sunda Strait as himself, and taking her for a Dutch freighter, the captain of the approaching ship saw no reason to take any sort of evasive action.
Finally coming clearly into view, and recognisable as a ‘Blue Funnel’ liner by her tall ‘old-fashioned’ smokestack, the freighter was holding her converging course, when at a range of 4,600 metres, Rogge raised his battle flag, ordered a sharp turn to starboard and fired a warning shot across her bows.
The vessel’s response was to send a Raider Attack signal, identifying herself as the Automedon, causing Rogge to open fire, completely destroying the bridge and the radio shack with the first salvo.
Despite this, the stricken vessel continued steaming at full speed, taking eleven more direct hits in the process, which devastated the entire midships area.
About to call a cease fire, Rogge’s attention was drawn to a member of the ship’s crew who had been spotted running towards the gun mounted in the stern.
Several further well-aimed salvoes put paid to any recklessly gallant ideas he may have had, and the burning ship slowly came to a halt.
When they finally clambered aboard the shattered vessel, Mohr’s boarding-party was appalled at the sight of dead and badly-wounded men everywhere.
The Captain, all of the officers but one, and everyone else who had either been in the vicinity of the bridge and in the radio shack, had been killed instantly.
En route to the Far East from Liverpool, the 7,528-ton Alfred Holt and Company ship was carrying a cargo of military and technical goods for the Allied war effort, that included aircraft, cars, machinery spares, medicines, service uniforms, bicycles, cameras, microscopes, steel, copper sheet, textiles, whiskey, beer, cigarettes and one hundred and twenty bags of mail.
She was also carrying Top-Secret documents and fifteen bags of Government mail, and with her Captain and all of his officers, bar the First Officer, killed before they could be destroyed or thrown overboard, all of these fell into the hands of Ulrich Mohr’s boarding-party.
They included notes of the military defences of Singapore, details of Naval and Royal Air Force deployment and strength in the Far East, Port defence layouts, Merchant Navy decoding tables and cipher pages, Royal Navy fleet orders, and many other top-secret documents prepared by the British War Cabinet.
Conscious of how suspicious the situation might look, with two ships, one of them a smouldering wreck, sitting stationary in the middle of a busy shipping-lane, and anxious to depart, Rogge ordered Leutnant Fehler and his demolition crew to complete the transfer of stores as quickly as possible, but had to keep granting extensions, as the indefatigable officer uncovered still more irresistable booty, such as 550 cases of whiskey and 2.5 million Chesterfield cigarettes!
Eighty-seven people, including twenty survivors of the sinking of the British freighter Anglo-Saxon by the Widder (Kpt.z.S.Hellmuth Von Ruckteschell) in the North Atlantic in August, and three passengers, including a woman, were taken on board the raider.
The British crew were so grateful at being, unexpectedly, allowed to retrieve their clothing and possessions from their ship, that they helped in the transfer of fresh food and frozen meat to the Atlantis.
They forgot however, to mention the 6,000 gallons of cider stored in a special cold room, only remembering it after the ship had been scuttled and sunk, much to the disappointment of just about everyone on board.
After the sinking of the Automedon, the Atlantis kept her rendezvous with the Teddy, and having taken the 500 tons of diesel fuel and everything else of use out of her, Rogge ordered Leutnant Fehler to scuttle her with demolition charges.
When the first charge failed to explode, ‘Dynamite’ had to hurriedly return to the tanker and place a second charge on board.
This one did not fail, detonating the tanker’s cargo of oil in a massive explosion that turned her into a raging inferno, sending first a gigantic fireball followed by a colossal column of thick black smoke high into the heavens that would certainly have been visible well beyond the horizon, causing Rogge to depart at top speed.
This action prompted the SKL to criticise Rogge for not sending her home as a prize, or for not at least passing her cargo of fuel oil on to another raider.
His view had simply been that the risks involved in contacting the SKL or other German ships by open-text messages, in the absence of any other secure way of doing so, in order to arrange the transfer of the fuel, were far too great.
On the following day the Atlantis rendezvoused with the tanker Ole Jacob.
Rogge had decided to send her, with her valuable cargo of aviation spirit, plus the secret documents found on the Automedon, to Japan under a prize crew. He knew that the fuel on board would be valuable in bargaining with the Japanese for fuel and supplies for German raiders in the Pacific, and that the documents would be of incalculable value to both the Japanese and German governments.
Taking on as much diesel oil as he could stow, leaving the tanker with just sufficient to enable her to reach Japan, Rogge placed his Navigation Officer Kapitänleutnant Paul Kammenz in command of a German prize-crew, her own original crew and the crew of the Teddy.
The Ole Jacob departed on November 16 and reached Kobe on December 6.
Exchanging her cargo for 11,000 tons of diesel oil, to be made available to the German Naval Attache in Tokyo, and an aircraft, to be supplied at Lamotrek in the Caroline Islands - a neutral venue chosen by the Japanese, who had not yet joined in the war and were anxious not be seen as contravening neutrality laws - she briefly served as a supply ship to the Orion (Kpt.z.S. Kurt Weyher) before eventually making her way back to Bordeaux, arriving there in July 1941.
* Re-named Benno, a diminuitive of Bernhard, after Rogge, she was used as a supply ship until sunk by British bombers off the coast of Spain on December 23 1941, which incidentally delayed the departure of the raider Thor (Kpt.z.S.Gumprich) on her second cruise.
Giving copies of the captured British documents to the Japanese, who couldn’t believe they were genuine, Paul Kammenz, posing as a senior German official, travelled to Vladivostok, and from there to Berlin, via the Trans-Siberian Railway.
* Once he had delivered his report, Paul Kammenz was sent to Lorient, from where he embarked on the U-106 (Kptlt. Jürgen Oesten) from which he transferred to the supply ship Nordmark, from which he eventually re-joined the Atlantis in April 1941.
Back on the Atlantis Rogge was concerned that his fresh water supplies were running low, and that his officers and men had for some time needed a break and a chance to get off the ship and onto dry land for a while, if only to spend some time away from one another, was also conscious of the fact that the ship itself needed work done on her engines.
Scanning the charts found on the Teddy, with Ulrich Mohr, he decided to make for the remote Kerguelen Islands, where there were countless inlets and bays in which they could lay up unobserved, and also an abundant supply of fresh water.
While on course for the islands, an intercepted message on December 1, revealed that Kapitän zur See Ernst-Felix Krüder of the Pinguin had captured the 8,998-ton Norwegian tanker Storstad, with a cargo of 10,000 tons of diesel oil on board, and was planning to send her back to Europe with his 400 prisoners.
Rogge immediately requested that they rendezvous to re-fuel the Atlantis first.
He was delighted to hear that the SKL had already planned to not only re-fuel the Atlantis, but the Komet and Orion as well, and so on December 8, amid joyful scenes of mid-ocean reunion and celebration, Krüder stepped aboard the Atlantis.
The captured tanker arrived the next day, and the re-fuelling commenced.
On December 10, as the Pinguin played host to Rogge, a signal was received from Berlin announcing the awarding of the Ritterkreuz, the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, to the Commander of the raider Atlantis, which prompted further celebration, after which the three ships went their separate ways.
The Atlantis resumed her course for the Kerguelens, the Pinguin headed south for her historic rendezvous with the Norwegian whaling fleet in the Antarctic Ocean, and the Storstad set off on the long journey back to France.
The Atlantis reached Kerguelen, an archipelago situated at 49°20' S, 70°20' E, midway between Africa, Antarctica and Australia, on December 14 1940.
Rogge sent Mohr and a heavily-armed landing party ashore at Port Couvreux to make sure that the settlement there was uninhabited, and having ascertained that it had been deserted since 1936, they were recalled to the ship.
Sending boats ahead to take depth-soundings, the Atlantis moved slowly towards the natural inner harbour through a narrow channel and promptly ran onto a hidden rock, tearing a hole 6 metres long by 2 metres wide in her outer hull.
She was to remain stuck fast on this rock for nearly three days.
Following three days of back-breaking hard labour by all on board, she was finally re-floated and dropped anchor near the deserted former French whaling station at Port Couvreux, where she remained until January 11, repairing and replenishing her damaged hull and fresh water tanks, carrying out the engine overhaul and some general maintenance.
On Christmas Eve, the Atlantis suffered her first casualty on board, when a rope supporting the platform from which Leading Seaman Bernhard Herrmann was painting the funnel, was severed by hot exhaust gases inadvertantly released by the engine-room crew starting up the diesel engines for a routine inspection, throwing him heavily to the deck below, shattering both of his legs.
Despite the best of medical care, he died of his horrific injuries on December 29, and was laid to rest with full military honours, wrapped in the German naval ensign, in what was to be the southernmost German grave of World War Two.
* Concealed by his shipmates when they departed a few weeks later, the grave was re-located, with the assistance of the French authorities, in May 1965.
Twenty-six days after he had moored the Atlantis in Gazelle Bay, Rogge weighed anchor on January 11 1941 and took her slowly out towards the open sea.
With the damaged hull repaired, 1,000 gallons of the purest fresh water in her tanks, her engines completely reconditioned and with a new identity, this time as the 7,256-ton Norwegian Wilhelmsen line freighter Tamesis, she was ready to resume raiding operations … if she proved to be still sufficiently seaworthy.
There was not a man on board who was not extremely apprehensive as Rogge slowly took her up to speed, and conducted rigorous tests of manoeuverability and performance, including the firing of a full broadside while under way, until he was fully satisfied that she was once again fit for action.
Had the repairs to her hull not held, they knew that she would most certainly have foundered before they could get her back to the islands, and they would have been cast adrift in the freezing, storm-tossed and deserted Antarctic ocean.
Forbidden by the SKL to return to his earlier zone of operations as it was now being covered by another raider, Rogge decided to make for the Arabian Sea.
Throughout mid-January, once again under the scorching tropical sun, he had Bulla carry out a series of reconnaissance flights, until eventually, in the busy shipping-lane between India and Madagascar, on January 23, they paid off, when the aircrew reported a ship sixty miles to the north.
Altering course to intercept her, and spotting the vessel’s smoke on the horizon, Rogge brought the Atlantis within range, and waited for nightfall.
Under cover of the pitch black tropical night, he approached at top speed on a converging course, and was astonished to find that the ship had vanished.
When a search proved fruitless, he waited until first light on January 24, at which point the seaplane quickly found the enemy ship again.
Returning to the Atlantis, Bulla was ordered to bomb the ship and attack it with machine-gun fire while the raider charged in to finish the job.
With a motorboat launched, loaded with extra fuel and ammunition as back up, and the Atlantis following up at speed, the Heinkel took off, and swooping down out of the sun onto the unsuspecting ship, tore away her aerials on it’s first run.
On his second run, as the raider appeared on the horizon, Bulla dropped his two 110-pound bombs, straddling the ship.
Her captain’s response was to take evasive action and increase speed, while his radio men rigged an emergency aerial, and machine guns were set up on deck.
Lashing the bridge and deckhouses with machine gun fire, with the British trying in vain to return fire, Bulla roared over the ship once more, before breaking off the attack and heading back to the motorboat.
Identifying herself as the Mandasor, and frantically sending distress calls via her newly-rigged aerial, Rogge closed in on the zig-zagging freighter at top speed until, from a range of 8,500 metres, he turned and gave her a full broadside.
This first salvo missed, but the second struck home amidships with devastating force, silencing the radio and setting the ship on fire.
The 5,144-ton Brocklebank & Co.freighter, en route to the UK from Calcutta, with a crew of eighty-eight, and a cargo of 2,000 tons of pig iron, 1,800 tons of tea and some jute fibre, lay dead in the water, her ‘midships area a mass of flames, and the surviving eighty-two members of her crew hastily abandoning ship.
But the Atlantis still had to pursue her, firing a total of sixty-one 155mm shells, scoring eight hits, which killed six members of her crew, before the by now fiercely burning ship hove to and finally came to a halt.
As Ulrich Mohr, in command of the boarding party, moved his launch in to assist the men in the water, he noticed some of them being menaced by sharks and promptly opened fire on the predators with his submachine gun, driving them off.
With large quantities of fresh and canned foods, charts, weapons and important documents discovered on board, it was some time before Fehler’s demolition squad could go about their deadly business, but, after several hours, during which most of it was transferred to the raider, they set their fuses and left.
Within six minutes of the charges going off, the twenty-year-old Mandasor went down, bow first, leaving nothing to mark her passing but a large patch of tea.
As darkness rapidly approached, Rogge anxiously returned to where he had left Bulla and his back-up launch, only to find the Heinkel upside down in the water, the motorboat’s engine incapacitated and the crews of both seriously seasick.
With the nauseous men and the boat safely back on board, the capsized Heinkel, Rogge’s ‘eye-in-the-sky’, which had proved invaluable, had to be sunk by gunfire.
The loss of the plane was a bitter blow to the Atlantis’s operational prospects.
Sighting what they thought was the 81,235-ton liner Queen Mary on January 27, and quickly turning away for fear of falling foul of her escort, Rogge returned to the tanker lanes off the Persian Gulf, where a ship was spotted on January 31.
*It was in fact the 22,281-ton P&O liner Strathaird, being used as troop transport.
Approaching at speed by moonlight, Rogge ordered the target illuminated, after which three salvos from the Atlantis quickly brought the vessel to a stop, without transmitting any distress signals.
The boarding party found the 5,154-ton Andrew Weir & Company, Bank Line freighter Speybank, bound for New York from Cochin, with a valuable cargo of manganese ore, monazite, ilesite, carpets, teak and shellac, undamaged.
A typical British freighter, with no fewer than sixteen almost identical sister ships, and fully stocked and fueled for a long journey, the Speybank was an ideal prize, and a ship that would be very suitable for conversion to a naval auxiliary.
Having put a ten-man prize-crew on board, under Leutnant Breuers, Rogge dispatched her south to the Saya de Malha Bank to await his further orders.
Subsequently converted into an auxiliary minelayer, Schiff 53 /Doggerbank, under the command of Leutnant Paul Schneidewind, was to carry out one of the most daring minelaying operations of the war, off Cape Town, but was sunk in error off the Azores by U-43 (Oblt. Hans-Joachim Schwantke) on March 3 1943 with all but one of 365 men on board losing their lives.
(Further Reading: The Survivor - by Hans Herlin and Death of a Phantom Raider by Charles Gibson)
There was a brief contact with the 7,421-ton Blue Funnel liner Troilus, which, on spotting the Atlantis, changed course and took off, while repeatedly transmitting that she was ‘suspicious’ on February 1, causing Rogge not to give chase.
Unbeknownst to him, this was his closest call yet, as the British immediately sent a task force, code-named Force K, to locate and intercept the raider which was fast becoming a thorn in their side, consisting of the 23,000-ton Illustrious-class fleet carrier HMS Formidable and the 9,800-ton heavy cruiser HMS Hawkins.
On finding the Troilus safe and sound both warships returned to base.
On the following evening Rogge stalked his next target for several hours, after which a searchlit banner, especially made for the occasion, that ordered the ship to stop and to refrain from using her radio was hung over the side of the raider.
Backed up by three 150mm salvos fired over her bridge, this strategy brought a medium-sized tanker to a halt, again without making any attempt to escape, resist or transmit distress signals.
The boarding party identified her as the 7,031-ton Norwegian Th. Brøvig line Ketty Brøvig, the first completely unarmed ship the Atlantis had come across, amidst scenes of wild panic among her predominantly Chinese crew, who were frantically throwing themselves overboard.
An ear-splitting roar was eminating from a severed steam line on the funnel, damaged during the attack, as lifeboats were literally being dumped into the sea.
Carrying a cargo of 6,370 tons of fuel oil and 4,125 tons of diesel oil from Bahrain to Lourenco Marques, and a crew of fifty-two, this was yet another suitable prize.
Next morning, with the steam-pipe repaired, part of her crew taken prisoner, and the rest, remaining on board as part of the prize-crew under Leutnant Fehler, she was sent to wait at rendezvous point ‘Oak Tree’.
Informing the SKL of his two prizes, Rogge requested permission to send the Speybank back to Europe, and proposed a meeting with his fellow raider Schiff 41 Kormoran (Kpt.z.S. Theodor Detmers) and the heavy cruiser Admiral Scheer in order that they might share the Ketty Brøvig’s cargo of fuel.
He was ordered to rendezvous with the supply ship Tannenfels and the Italian submarine Perla, both of which were running low in fuel, at position ‘Nelka’, and granted permission to rendezvous with the two warships, provided that the Admiral Scheer be re-fuelled from his own oil reserves, and not from the lower grade diesel fuel in the Ketty Brøvig’s tanks!
The Atlantis rendezvoused with the Speybank as planned on February 8, taking on some stores, before dispatching her to wait at position ‘Pineapple’, and met with the Ketty Brøvig on the following day.
On February 10, the supply-ship Tannenfels, her appearance showing ample evidence of having been bottled up in port in Somaliland since the beginning of the war, arrived, with Leutnant Dehnel and the Durmitor prize-crew on board.
Over the next forty-eight hours these four ships, each of which lacked certain vital comodities, and had others in abundance, remained together, while the procedure by which they would exchange essential supplies until all four were re-stocked in basic operational requirements, was planned and finalised.
Before this massive logistical task could be carried out, Rogge had his prisoners transferred to the Tannenfels, and recalled his demoliton expert Johann Fehler and his prize-crew from the Ketty Brøvig, replacing them with the more experienced Emil Dehnel and his crew.
By February 12, with all four ships re-stocked and ready to resume operations, Rogge led his small fleet south, to keep his appointment with the Admiral Scheer.
Two days later, at midday, in the middle of a violent storm, the unmistakable shape of a heavy cruiser was sighted, and the crew of the raider, hitherto unaware that they were about to rendezvous with a warship, heaved a collective sigh of relief when they finally recognised the Admiral Scheer as one of their own.
For their part, the crew of the Scheer were initially disappointed, when what they had first thought was a sitting-duck of a convoy, turned out to be Rogge’s flotilla, but their disappointment soon transformed into wild celebration and welcome.
Invited by Kapitän zur See Theodor Kranke, to come on board as soon as the weather and the heavy seas permitted, Rogge nonetheless braved the elements and immediately crossed to the cruiser with his Adjutant Ulrich Mohr.
When the Ketty Brøvig, which had fallen some way behind the others in the heavy seas, finally joined the Atlantis, Tannenfels, Speybank and the Admiral Scheer, the five together constituted the largest group of German ships to gather outside European waters in the entire war.
Following the customary visits to and fro between the ships, much enjoyed by all, the arrival of the tanker concentrated minds on business, and re-fuelling began.
The SKL instruction on diesel was ultimately ignored, when the Scheer’s chief engineer found the oil in the Ketty Brøvig’s bunkers to be of a high standard and ordered that twelve hundred tons of it be pumped into the cruiser’s tanks.
The Tannenfels and the Atlantis then both re-fuelled, after which the supply-ship was dispatched to France with the raider’s prisoners.
Gifts were exchanged from their respective stocks of captured booty, a new fountain-pen for each man on the Scheer, and 150,000 fresh eggs from the captured British refrigerator-ship Duquesa, for the crew of Atlantis, who hadn’t even seen an egg in months.
With the two warship captains agreeing to rendezvous again on February 25, they departed for their separate zones of operation, with the Speybank accompanying the Atlantis, while the Ketty Brøvig headed south to a point off the Saya de Malha Bank to await further instructions.
With the Speybank scouting for him, Rogge had effectively doubled his search capacity, and quickly realised the advantages when she made two contacts for him almost immediately, albeit both with neutral vessels.
After several more uneventful days he decided to head for the second rendezvous point with the Admiral Scheer, only to find on arrival that she had fled from a British task-force sent to sink her, but had sent one of her prizes, the 6,994-ton tanker British Advocate to meet him for supplies before heading for France.
Soon afterwards the SKL ordered Rogge to detach the Ketty Brøvig to a point off the coast of Australia, where she was to join the 8,000-ton Nord-Deutsche Lloyd supply ship Coburg as an auxiliary supply-ship for the raider Pinguin.
Arriving at the pre-ordained location on March 4, unaware that German supply ship transmission codes had been broken, the two ships were ambushed by the Australian cruisers HMAS Canberra and HMS Leander.
With the Coburg soon hit and sinking, Dehnel ordered the sea cocks to be opened and the Ketty Brøvig was scuttled, after which he and his crew were captured.
On March 21, following several more frustrating weeks of no targets and eating nothing but eggs, Rogge rendezvoused with the Speybank.
Replacing his prize captain Leutnant Breuers with the former First Officer of the supply-ship Tannenfels, Leutnant Paul Schneidewind, he dispatched him with a prize-crew of twelve to Bordeaux, where he duly arrived on May 12.
Keeping his rendezvous with the dilapidated Italian submarine Perla, which was as low on morale and fighting-spirit as it was on fuel and food, on March 8, and re-stocking her with all but the first two comodities, the Atlantis spent several more frustrating weeks vainly looking for prey in the stifling tropical heat.
Following a series of encounters with neutral vessels, including the 14,825-ton Vichy-French troop-transport Chenonceaux, during which the Atlantis had revealed herself as a raider, the SKL decided to move her to the South Atlantic zone of operations, where she was to rendezvous with the supply-ships Dresden, bringing the Atlantis urgently-needed fresh fruit and vegetables, the Alsterufer and the Babitonga, collect his much-travelled Navigation Officer Paul Kammenz from the U-Boat supply-tanker Nordmark, and meet Schiff 41 / Kormoran.
Leaving the Indian Ocean on April 8, and arriving at the mid-ocean rendezvous on April 16, to find only the Dresden present, Rogge discovered that due to the bureaucratic stupidity of the German Naval Attaché in Brazil, his much-needed supply of fresh foodstuffs had been spoiled by being removed from the Dresden and shipped in the Babitonga, a vessel without any cold-storage facilities.
Taking what supplies the Dresden did have on board, and instructing her captain, Walter Jäger, to remain in the area until he could determine whether or not the raider Kormoran had any prisoners to transfer, Rogge headed back eastwards in the early hours of April 17.
One hour after leaving the Dresden, a large four-masted vessel was spotted travelling without lights, but clearly silhouetted against the bright moonlit sky.
When Rogge was in England representing Germany in a yacht-race as part of the celebrations surrounding the coronation of King George VI in 1937, he had seen several such vessels at the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, and been told that many of them had been retained by the Admiralty as troop transports.
Recognising her immediately as just such a former First World War ‘Bibby Liner’ her erratic behaviour convinced him that the blacked-out ship now zig-zagging in front of him was an Armed Merchant Cruiser.
He was almost right … but also fatally wrong.
Deciding to follow her and attack without warning at daybreak on April 18, to avoid any return fire, he finally closed in just before 6 a.m. and opened fire.
While the first salvo missed, and the second knocked out the radio room, the following salvos registered hits on the superstructure and caused heavy damage in the engine-room area and on the waterline.
Coming to a halt with her lights on, her crew were seen to be abandoning ship, lowering lifeboats in panic, and leaving their passengers to their fate.
As the sun rose and the liner slowly settled, Rogge ordered two motor-boats to be lowered, under the command of Mohr and Fehler, to secure the lifeboats and give assistance to the mass of terrified humanity, including many women and children, some of whom were seen to be floundering in the shark-invested water, while the cowardly crew pulled away from them in half-empty boats.
Reaching the raider’s side, some of these wretches tried to save themselves by climbing onto the lines lowered by the German sailors to secure the boats so that they could help the passengers.
They soon found themselves being roughly shaken off.
With several further boats lowered to rescue the people in the water and take others off the slowly sinking liner, Ulrich Mohr boarded her.
Rogge had been only partly right.
She was indeed a former Bibby Liner, the Leicestershire, and a former troopship, that had been re-named British Exhibitor, and sold before the outbreak of war.
Now the Egyptian liner ZamZam, of the Société Misr de Navigation Maritime, en route from New York to Cape Town with a cargo of lubricating oil, tin plate, ambulances, trucks, steel bars, radios, batteries, typewriters, cosmetics, girdles and Coca-Cola, she was carrying a crew of one hundred and twenty-nine men.
Consisting mainly of Egyptians and Sudanese, but with Turks, Greeks, Czechs and French among them, her captain and her Chief Engineer, were Englishmen.
She was also carrying two hundred and two unhappy passengers made up of one hundred and thirty-eight Americans, twenty-six Canadians, twenty-five Britons, five South Africans, four Belgians, two Greeks, one Italian and one Norwegian.
Among them there were one hundred and fifty missionaries, including Catholic, Lutheran, Adventist, Baptist and twelve other denominations, twenty-four American volunteer ambulance drivers, seventy-three women, of whom five were pregnant, including Americans, British, French and some ‘very photogenic’ Greek nurses and thirty-five children.
Also, and significantly as it would turn out, were Charles J.V.Murphy, editor of Fortune Magazine, and a major contributor to TIME and LIFE magazines, as well as LIFE magazine photographer, David E. Sherman.
Aware that the taking of this ship was going to have far-reaching and serious consequences both for himself and the Atlantis, Rogge instructed his officers and crew that these people were to be treated with generosity and kindness, so that they might at least limit the inevitably unfavourable news coverage.
Having spent four hours collecting as much of the passenger’s clothing and as many of their belongings as possible, including finding a little girl who had become lost, and a child’s tricycle, the boarding party spent another five hours plundering the slowly sinking liner’s freezers and larders and stripping her bar!
As Fehler’s demolition charges detonated and the old liner rolled onto her side and slid beneath the waves, Rogge permitted Scherman to take photographs of her final moments, and also of life on board the Atlantis, as part of his ongoing campaign to put as favourable a slant as possible on the sinking.
Unfortunately for Rogge, the American had already taken a full-length photograph of the raider ‘Tamesis’ from one of ZamZam’s lifeboats, a photograph which would ultimately play a significant role in her destruction.
Calling together a representative group from among the passengers, including Charles Murphy, and inviting them to his cabin, Rogge reminded them that apart from the fact that Egypt, although nominally neutral, was providing bases for forces at war with Germany, their ship had been observing radio silence, sailing without lights, under British Admiralty orders, and carrying war materials.
Cargo such as the 10,000 barrels of oil, the aviation fuel, the radios, the steel and the one hundred army trucks for use by a country engaged in war with Germany, made the ZamZam a legitimate target.
On the following day, April 19, as the Atlantis rendezvoused with the Dresden and the 2,719-ton supply ship Alsterufer, the former Sloman Line fruit carrier, Rogge called their captains to confer with him on the treatment of this particular group of prisoners, repeating the instructions he had already given to his own crew.
Joined by Schiff 41, the Kormoran, under the command of newly-promoted Fregattenkapitän Theodor Detmers, on April 20, the two raider captains spent some time discussing the ever-changing situation in the Indian Ocean, before Rogge gave his younger colleague a complete tour of the Atlantis.
Bidding farewell to the Kormoran, before taking such supplies from the Alsterufer as to be as well-stocked as he had been at the beginning of the cruise, plus three new, crated, Arado Ar-196 seaplanes, Rogge then arranged the transfer of the prisoners to the Dresden, instructing her master, Captain Jäger, to remain in the vicinity to await further orders.
On April 26, the two ships rendezvoused for the last time, during which Rogge instructed Captain Jäger to proceed to the nearest neutral port to land the prisoners, suggesting the Canary Islands, but leaving the final decision to him.
As it turned out, the SKL over-ruled this and ordered the Dresden to proceed to the French port of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, where she duly arrived on May 20.
The Atlantis also received two experienced new petty-officers, Leutnant Fröhlich and Leutnant Dittmann, formerly of the ‘pocket battleship’ Admiral Graf Spee, who had been posing as ordinary seamen Meyer and Müller on the Dresden.
When the story of the sinking of the ZamZam by the German raider ‘Tamesis’ finally hit the streets of the United States in newspapers and periodicals, in most cases incorporating some of David Scherman’s photographs, it described a ‘brutal’ attack on an unarmed ‘neutral’ vessel and Rogge was labelled ‘a butcher’.
Bad as this may have been for the raider’s captain, who had done everything in his power to aleviate the discomfort of the liner’s passengers, far worse was the photograph Scherman had surrepticiously taken of the Atlantis, which was by this time in the hands of the intelligence services of the Royal Navy and the RAF.
The Atlantis and the Alsterufer remained at the rendezvous point until they were joined by the 10,848-ton supply-tanker Nordmark, the former Westerwald, which had been instructed to re-fuel both ships.
Re-joining the Atlantis, from the Nordmark, following his epic voyage from the Far East, was Rogge’s Navigation Officer, Kapitänleutnant Paul Kammenz, who had been delivered to the supply ship by the U-106 (Kptlt. Jürgen Oesten).
The three ships remained together for a week, until April 27, when the Atlantis departed for the tanker lanes off west Africa, which, according to a recently received SKL directive, were poorly protected by the Allies.
On April 29, Rogge pointed out to Erich Kühn that it was time for the Atlantis to take on a new disguise, and the transformation of the 7,256-ton Norwegian Wilhelmsen line motor-ship Tamesis into the 9,246-ton Dutch Ruys & Zonen Rotterdamsche Lloyd NV line motor-ship Brastagi began.
With the work completed by April 30, and one of the new Arados assembled and fully-operational, the Atlantis was ready to resume hunting.
Unable to catch a ship spotted by the new aircraft on May 1, Rogge rendezvoused with the 4,422-ton supply-ship and former Hamburg-Südamerikanischen Dampdschiffahrts-Gesellschaft vessel Babitonga, disguised as the Dutch ship Jaspara, on May 4, and dispatched her to a holding point to await instructions.
Having stalked and pursued another possible target on May 7, only to discover it was the 5,700-ton Vichy-French Compagnie des Messageries Maritimes freighter Lieutenant de la Tour, Rogge had her checked for contraband, and let her go.
Six days later, Rogge took the Atlantis into the Freetown to Cape Town shipping lanes, unaware that having captured the U-110 on May 8, complete with her ‘Enigma’ encryption-machine and code-books, the Allies could now decipher all the coded messages to and from U-Boats and their supply-ships.
On the night of May 13, in roughly the same sea-area where he had found and sunk the Scientist more than a year earlier, Rogge’s lookouts spotted a ship.
Receiving no response when closing with her and signalling to her to stop, Rogge ordered her to be illuminated by searchlight.
Still seeing no reaction, he ordered Kasch to fire a warning-shot across her bows, fully expecting this to persuade her captain to stop.
Instead, she turned and tried to escape, causing Rogge to open fire in earnest, making two hits and such devastation that the vessel quickly began to sink.
With fires sweeping through the ship, seven of her 54-man crew dead and the rest, including four passengers and nine wounded, hastily abandoning her, her captain signalled to the Atlantis for assistance.
Thirty minutes after the action began the ship went down, the boarding parties rescued the survivors, but made no attempt to board the blazing vessel.
Identified as the 5,618-ton W.R.Carpenter Overseas Shipping Co.ship Rabaul, bound for Capetown from the UK with a cargo of coal, her peculiar behaviour when challenged was explained by the fact that the officer on watch was elderly and had hoped that if he ignored her, the Atlantis would get fed up and go away!
Just after midnight on May 18, drifting in the calm moonlit waters of one of the Capetown to Freetown shipping lanes, with her engines shut down to conserve fuel, the lookouts spotted two large blacked-out ships approaching at speed.
As it quickly became apparent that they were warships, and heading straight for the Atlantis, Rogge ordered the raider’s engines carefully started, and instructed the helmsman to move slowly away to starboard out of their path.
As she did so, the leading ship was identified as the 33,900-ton British battleship HMS Nelson, armed with nine 16-inch guns, and the second vessel was clearly an aircraft carrier, but it was this move, presenting a stern-on view to them, plus the fact that for some reason the two ships also altered course, that led to them passing just 7,000 metres astern of the Atlantis, yet somehow not spotting her.
The ships were on their way to Gibraltar to join Force H, being assembled to assist in the pursuit of the battleship Bismarck.
On the following day, having decided that the second vessel had most probably been the 38,500-ton fleet-carrier HMS Eagle, Rogge had a service of thanksgiving conducted on board for their miraculous deliverence.
On May 21 the Atlantis again stalked what turned out to be a neutral ship, the Rethymnis & Kulukundis line freighter Master Elias Kulukundis, a 5,548-ton Greek vessel on charter to Switzerland, and again two days later at nightfall on May 23, when she approached the American ship Charles H.Cramp.
But on May 24, she shadowed and closed with her next, clearly British, victim and opened fire, scoring several hits, demolishing the radio shack and setting her deck-cargo ablaze.
Furiously burning amidships, the ship turned away and tried to escape from the raider, which unleashed ten further salvoes, smashing the funnel, the masts, the deckhouses, and the bridge and jammed her rudder hard over.
Still proceeding, but locked in a tight turn, and heading straight at the Atlantis, Rogge decided to sink the stricken ship with torpedoes.
The first two torpedoes malfunctioned, with one actually threatening the Atlantis herself, but the third one staggered the burning ship and sent her down.
Identified as the 4,530-ton British Glen Line freighter Trafalgar, with a cargo of 4,500 tons of coal and two aircraft en route for the Cape and Alexandria, she took twelve members of her crew down with her.
* Not to be confused with the Wilhelmsen liner Trafalgar, below, whose identity was adopted by the raider Pinguin in the Indian Ocean on August 31 1940.
Rescue operations proved difficult in the dark, as Rogge was reluctant to permit his launches to use their lights for fear of being spotted in the busy shipping-lane, but thanks to the small flashing red lights on their lifejackets, thirty-three British survivors were eventually picked up.
Setting course immediately for the rendezvous with the Babitonga where he intended to transfer his prisoners, Rogge and the crew of the Atlantis received several items of news via BBC radio broadcasts picked up by Adjutant Mohr.
First came news of the sinking of their prize the Ketty Brøvig and the supply-ship Coburg, by the cruisers HMAS Canberra and HMS Leander at Saya de Malha, and then of the sinking of their sister-ship and fellow-raider, Pinguin, with great loss of life, by the heavy cruiser HMS Cornwall, in the Indian Ocean on May 8.
Later in the month, on May 24, the staggering news of the destruction of the pride of the Royal Navy, the 42,0000-ton HMS Hood by the battleship Bismarck, and finally, the loss of the mighty Bismarck herself, hunted down and destroyed by the British Home Fleet on May 27.
Rogge transferred his prisoners to the supply-ship Babitonga on May 30, ordering her captain to transfer them to the U-Boat supply-tanker Esso Hamburg before returning to the Atlantis, after which she would be sent to a new meeting place to await further instructions.
Rogge chose to remain at the first rendezvous point, to spend a couple of weeks working on the Atlantis’s new disguise, overhauling her engines and carrying out general repair and maintenance work on the ship.
Having been instructed by the SKL to proceed to the South American shipping lanes and to the northern end of the Cape Town to Freetown routes, the Atlantis created history on June 16, setting a new record for the number of days at sea.
445 days had passed since she departed from Germany, and she now held the record for more consecutive days spent at sea than any raider in history.
Over the first few weeks of June 1941, the British capacity to break the German naval codes led to the sinking of no fewer than nine supply-ships, including Rogge’s auxiliary the Babitonga, scuttled by her crew off the coast of West Africa when approached by the 13,200-ton heavy cruiser HMS London on May 21.
With fewer and fewer ships now sailing outside the Allied convoy system, the odds were slowly but surely increasing against both the raiders and the U-Boats.
On June 17, however, Rogge’s seaplane found one ship that was travelling alone.
Following her and firing a warning shot across her bows as night fell, she immediately transmitted a raider attack call and fired a shot at the Atlantis.
This left Rogge with little alternative but to hammer the vessel to a standstill with thirty-nine 150mm shells, after which she quickly began to sink.
Her captain gave the ‘Abandon Ship’ order while she still had some way on her, causing two of her lifeboats to be swamped as they hit the water fully-loaded.
Identified as the brand-new 4,762-ton Watts, Watts & Co. British Steamship Co., freighter Tottenham, en route from the UK to Alexandria via the Cape, she was carrying supplies for the British army in Palestine, aircraft, aircraft spares, ammunition, tractors, trucks and cars.
The raider’s torpedoes again proved to be unreliable, with two missing the target completely and the third causing insufficient damage to sink the freighter, she had to be sunk by gunfire, and, according to Mohr, “She erupted like a volcano!”
With his position now known ashore, Rogge watched as twenty-nine survivors were picked up, including the ship’s captain, then immediately departed the area.
When asked by the captain to search for his Second Officer and eleven members of his crew, plus five others they had picked up, who had managed to escape in a boat to avoid capture, Rogge refused, as he knew that the Tottenham’s distress calls had been picked up by the Ascension Island station and at Walvis Bay.
When the lifeboat subsequently turned up empty and awash at Rio de Janeiro nine weeks later on August 22, Rogge was branded as a callous murderer, and blamed for the deaths of the men who had been in it.
But, they were alive and well, having been picked up by the British steamship the SS Mahronda, on June 28, eleven days after the sinking of the Tottenham.
On June 22, the Atlantis followed and made a night attack on what was to be her penultimate victim, closing to within 9,600 metres, at which point the vessel, spotting the raider, radioed RRR, increased speed and began to zigzag, stern-on.
With the German operators jamming her SOS transmissions with the fake signal, “Hope to meet you next Friday … Love and Kisses, Evelyn”, Rogge’s gunners poured forty salvos 192 150mm and 53 75mm rounds, at the vessel’s retreating stern with only four hits, until two of the raider’s forward 1550mm guns, and the No.5 gun overheated, and the recoil systems jammed.
Having already turned his ship to bring the starboard battery into action, Rogge was on the verge of giving up the chase, when to his surprise, the freighter was seen to stop and lower boats.
The boarding party identified her as the 5,372-ton Lamport and Holt motor-ship Balzac, bound for Liverpool from Rangoon with a cargo of 4,200 tons of rice, ‘vast quantities of beeswax’ (Ulrich Mohr) and other mixed cargo.
Three of her crew of fifty-one had lost their lives during the attack, while another died later on board the Atlantis.
With some bags of mail transferred to the raider and the survivors picked up, the 21-year-old ship was quickly sent to the bottom.
To Rogge, the problem with the guns was yet another indication of how the long and arduous cruise of the Atlantis was wearing out both men and equipment, and so, having decided on a novel scheme whereby the crew could ‘go on leave’ and take a short break on board, he took his ship south-east to the isolated waters away from the shipping-lanes, where for almost a week the crew carried out some small maintenance tasks, but mainly just rested.
Instructed by the SKL, on June 27, to provide fellow-raider Schiff-36 / Orion with 700 tons of fuel, sufficient to enable her to reach home, the Atlantis, with her crew suitably rested, departed for the pre-ordained rendezvous to the north of the island of Tristan da Cunha early on July 1.
Approaching one another cautiously in the early morning, and having exchanged the pre-arranged recognition signals, the two ships, that had last been together seventeen months earlier, conducting gunnery drills, drew alongside one another.
Kapitän zur See Bernhard Rogge found her commander, the feisty Kurt Weyher, an angry and frustrated man, quickly pointing out that if he didn’t get the fuel he would have to switch off his engines and drift about in enemy-infested waters for six weeks or more, until the Anneliese Essberger arrived, if she arrived at all.
Having seen no action in almost eight months of fruitless searching for targets, while suffering interminable problems with his old, oil-guzzling, unreliable engines, Weyher, who wanted to keep the Orion at sea until September so as to at least try to make up for his lack of success, asked Rogge for 1,200 tons of oil.
Already instructed by the SKL to take the Atlantis out of the narrow confines of the Atlantic and into the Pacific Ocean, where he was to rendezvous with the tanker Münsterland, off the Society Islands, Rogge refused, pointing out that as the Orion’s inefficient engines would consume in one week the amount of oil that would keep his ship operational for two months, it would simply be a waste of the fuel, emphasising that as he had to remain at sea until the autumn, while the Orion was on her way home, all he could afford to offer was 580 tons.
Weyher was understandably disappointed, but, despite this, the two commanders parted company amicably enough on July 6, with the Orion headed west towards the coast of South America, while the Atlantis once more headed south, towards the Cape of Good Hope, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.
Explaining his intentions to his bitterly disappointed crew, he explained them by stating that the Atlantis still had over 60% of her ammunition on board, a full load of fuel and a plentiful supply of food, and he justified them by pointing out that by mid-winter, the bad weather in the Atlantic would afford them the best possible cover for a safe journey back to Germany.
Passing Gough Island and rounding the Cape for the third time, only this time a prudent nine hundred miles to the south, the Atlantis set off into the stormy waters of the Roaring Forties, and headed east, across the South Indian Ocean.
Celebrating her 500th day at sea while passing the Crozet Islands, she ran into a Force 11 hurricane while passing the Prince Edward Islands and had to heave to for several days until the storm passed over.
She sailed on, north of the Kerguelen Islands, past the islands of St Paul and New Amsterdam, and onwards well to the south of Australia and New Zealand, until, she was patrolling the same shipping-lanes in the Pacific that had earlier been patrolled by the Orion, nine weeks after bidding farewell to her in the Atlantic.
Shortly after sundown on September 10, halfway between New Zealand and the Society Islands, the raider’s lookouts spotted the poorly-darkened shape of an unmistakably British merchant ship approaching on an opposing course.
Rogge had the guns unmasked, increased speed, and turned to pursue her.
Spotting the Atlantis, the freighter began to transmit a raider attack warning, identifying herself as the motor-ship Silvaplana and giving her position.
Due to a faulty connection, the attempts by the radio operators on the Atlantis to jam these transmissions failed, and her non-stop stream of signals went out.
Anxious to capture this fine and obviously new ship without firing on her, Rogge instructed his signalman to order her to stop her tranmissions and her engines.
As the vessel complied with both instructions and stopped, Rogge immediately sent a boarding party over to her to send a further signal, using her own key, cancelling the first one, which was, albeit reluctantly, acknowledged.
This modern, fast and beautiful 4,793-ton Norwegian Tschudi & Eitzen motorship, en route from Singapore to New York was carrying 400 tons of crude rubber, 100,000 pounds of coffee, 50 crates of Balinese carved wooden idols, and a valuable mixed cargo of hides, tin, copper, wax, sago, vanilla and spices, plus a full deck cargo load of teak.
Rogge had decided to keep her as a prize, but as she did not have sufficient quantities of either fuel or stores on board to sustain her on the journey back to Europe, he put a prize-crew aboard and dispatched her to a meeting point to the south, while he went to search for a ship that might provide what she needed.
After several days without success, he rendezvoused with her again in order to transfer her valuable cargo of rubber into the raider’s holds as ballast.
He then awaited the arrival of the 6,315-ton supply-ship Münsterland, which was due to re-supply him at the end of September, to re-provision both ships.
Sending the Silvaplana to another meeting point, off the Orne Bank, he set off to rendezvous with the supply-ship, traversing the New Zealand to Panama shipping lanes until September 21, and then heading for the designated meeting place.
Arriving there, expecting to find just the supply-ship and the raider Komet’s prize the 7,325-ton Dutch motor-vessel Kota Nopan there, to his surprise, he found the Schiff-45 Komet herself waiting, while the Münsterland, having been re-routed and held up by a typhoon, did not arrive for another two days.
As the Atlantis approached the Komet, Adjutant Mohr reminded his captain that her commander was a flag officer, leading the grateful Rogge to instruct him to prepare the ship to receive an Admiral.
Konteradmiral Robert Eyssen was piped aboard the Atlantis following what was without doubt the first, and probably will remain the only, gun salute ever fired to honour a German Admiral in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Initially there were difficulties, as the Admiral, much to Rogge’s frustration, demanded for the Komet some of the supplies earmarked for the Atlantis, but once he had managed to persuade Eyssen that the needs of his crew, who had, in 540 days at sea, never once received a fresh supply of vegetables, were greater than those on the Komet, which had been re-supplied five times in a 430-day cruise, and were on their way home anyway, Rogge re-stocked his ship from the bounty of the Münsterland’s vast holds.
The stocking of this supply-ship with everything an operational warship might need, was the work of Vice-Admiral Paul Wenneker, former commander of the ‘pocket battleship’ Deutschland, and now the German Naval Attaché in Tokyo.
Re-fuelled and transferring his prisoners to the Komet and the Kota Nopan, and discussing his plans with the admiral, telling him he intended to return home before Christmas, he instructed Mohr to give the good news to the crew.
On September 24, the ships set sail, with the Komet and her prize bound for Europe, and the Münsterland heading back with the Atlantis to rendezvous with the Silvaplana.
Re-fuelled and re-provisioned by the now highly-motivated crew of the Atlantis, a prize-crew, under Leutnant Dittmann, formerly of the Admiral Graf Spee, on board, and thirty-two prisoners, the Silvaplana was dispatched to Bordeaux on September 27, arriving off the Gironde on November 17.
* Re-named Irene, she served as a supply-ship and blockade-runner until October 4 1943, when she was challenged by the British minelayer HMS Adventure, and scuttled by her crew.
With the Münsterland sent back to Japan, the Atlantis searched for prey along the course of the Silvaplana’s last voyage for two weeks, but with no success.
In consultation with Adjutant Mohr, Rogge selected a virtually uninhabited coral atoll in the Tuamotu archipelago named Vana Vana, at which he could lay up for a while, allow his crew to go ashore, and from where the seaplane could safely take off from calm waters to carry out far wider sweeps than normally possible at sea.
On October 10, the Atlantis dropped anchor in a crystal clear lagoon, a mere fifty metres from the beach in a South Pacific ‘paradise’, and the crew were permitted to go ashore for the first time in ten months.
Accepted and welcomed by the inhabitants of the atoll, they enjoyed two blissful days of swimming and sunbathing and living the life of tourists.
The ship’s doctors went some way towards repaying the hospitality of the people by treating those among them who were suffering with eye infections.
Over the two days Flying Officer Bulla conducted six searches of the surrounding ocean, all of them fruitless, leaving Rogge with little alternative but to weigh anchor and continue on his way.
Stopping briefly on Henderson Island, one of the Pitcairn group, on the way, the Atlantis rounded Cape Horn on October 29, and, entering the South Atlantic for the last time, turned northwards, increased speed and headed for home.
Well aware of the difficulties being experienced by the SKL in keeping U-Boats operational, particularly since so many of their supply ships had so recently been sunk, Rogge notified them of the surplus fuel in the Atlantis’s tanks that could be distributed to those in need as he headed home.
He was not surprised when on November 8, a week after he and his crew had celebrated their 600th consecutive day at sea, Naval Command instructed him to rendezvous first with the U-68, under Korvettenkapitän Karl-Friedrich Merten, and later with the U-126, under Kapitänleutnant Ernst Bauer.
Although this would inevitably delay their arrival home, the crew understood the reasons for it and were happy to be able to make a contribution, but when Rogge and navigation officer Kammenz plotted the co-ordinates of the first designated location they were horrified to discover that the SKL had selected a position right in the middle of the busy shipping-lanes to the Cape.
Having signalled Berlin, expressing the view that it would be suicidal to meet in such an exposed location, he was gratified when the U-68’s commander, Merten, an old friend of Rogge’s from their pre-war yachting days, agreed, and even more so when the SKL agreed to change the position of the rendezvous to a slightly less dangerous point to the southwest of the island of St Helena.
Meeting in weather conditions ill-suited for the efficient re-fuelling of a submarine on November 13, the two commanders agreed to move to a point further north where they were likely to find calmer waters.
With Merten on board enjoying a drink with Rogge, the transfer of the oil, stores and drinking water to his boat was carried out in no time at all by an efficient and highly-motivated crew with one eye firmly fixed on Christmas at home.
By now seriously concerned by the fact that the SKL seemed to want to convert the Atlantis into a U-Boat supply-ship, and not as confident as some in Berlin about the security of the U-Boat codes, Rogge wished his old friend good hunting on November 16, and headed westward.
The following day he instructed Executive Officer Kühn to once again alter the appearance of the Atlantis, this time to take on the identity of the 6,269-ton Dutch Reederei Oceaan motor-vessel Polyphemus.
While having to undertake such an arduous task when so relatively close to home did not exactly please the crew, what was to be the raider’s final disguise, was fully completed within a day, leaving Rogge free to indulge in a little hunting before meeting up with the U-126 off Ascension Island on November 22.
When a ship was spotted by her seaplane on November 19, the Atlantis gave chase, only to discover that once again she had pursued and caught a neutral, but when Bulla reported another possible target at dawn on the following day, the raider again took off in hot pursuit, only on this occasion she was unable to catch the vessel, which simply increased speed, causing Rogge to call off the chase.
The Arado had sustained some damage when setting down, and the next day, also spent fruitlessly searching for targets, was spent trying to repair it, but a heavy landing the following day capsized the aircraft, putting it out of action.
It was beginning to appear as if luck was rapidly running out for the Atlantis.
The loss of his aircraft was a serious setback for Rogge, who had hoped to use it as an eye-in-the-sky to cover his second, and hopefully last, U-boat re-fuelling job, it would very shortly turn out to be the least of his problems.
His concerns about the security of the German U-Boat codes were well-founded, as the British Intelligence services began to reap the benefits of the equipment and code-books captured with the U-110, plus the fact that with their detailed knowledge of the characteristics of the South Atlantic, they had a fairly good idea where supply-ships were most likely to rendezvous with them.
At first light on November 22 1941, drifting on the gentle South Atlantic swell, in the middle of the busy shipping-lanes between Freetown and the Cape of Good Hope, the raider Atlantis, waiting for the U-126 to arrive, was being watched.
The Walrus seaplane of a British County-Class heavy cruiser had spotted the stationary ship and radioed its position to her host ship forty miles away, which on receipt of the information, increased speed and set course to intercept.
Unaware of the rapidly approaching danger, the crew of the Atlantis, while welcoming the arrival of Bauer’s U-126, a Type IX-C submarine, which had closed with the raider and hove to alongside her stern, lowered the re-fuelling lines and the motorboat that would deliver the fuel hoses to her.
Soon her hoses were delivering the precious oil to the U-Boat tied up alongside, her motorboat was ferrying supplies, Ernst Bauer and his officers were on board enjoying hot baths, a glass of sherry and some good coffee, and her port engine was stripped down to replace a piston.
With no air cover due to the loss of the Arado on the previous day, the Atlantis could hardly have been more vulnerable.
Shortly after 8 o’clock, the peace of this tranquil scene was shattered by the lookout’s cry, “Enemy Cruiser! … Enemy Cruiser in Sight”
The three funnels and masts of the 9,850-ton British London-Class heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire had appeared on the horizon and were closing fast.
As the fuel lines were rapidly cut, Rogge turned his one-engined ship, to present her stern to the enemy and to try to hide the U-Boat from the cruiser’s seaplane.
With Bauer, and several of his officers still on board the Atlantis, the U-126, under the command of her young and inexperienced First Officer, Oberleutnant zur See Kurt Neubert, crash dived, but with a large oil slick marking where the fuel hoses had been severed, the hoses floating nearby, and the submerged boat itself clearly visible to the aircrew, an immediate SSS signal was sent from the seaplane to the cruiser, warning her of the presence of the submarine.
The Atlantis was no match for a heavy cruiser armed with eight 8-inch guns, and even with both engines fully operational, she was slower by about 14 knots, so Rogge knew that his only hope was to lure her closer, within range of his guns and torpedoes or into a position where the lurking U-Boat might get a shot at her.
The cruiser, from long range, fired two 8-inch salvos, one to the left, one to the right, to which Rogge responded by stopping, signalling RRR, and identifying his ship as the Dutchman Polyphemus.
Having been informed that there was a U-Boat about, and because the Atlantis had signalled with only three Rs instead of the required four, the Devonshire’s commander, Captain R.D.Oliver, remained cautious, calling up the C-in-C South Atlantic to make sure that the suspicious ship was not the Polyphemus.
He also well remembered how HMS Cornwall had closed to within range of the Pinguin’s big guns and had suffered potentially lethal damage.
Keeping his ship out of range, his seaplane circled above the raider with its crew comparing the ship below with a photograph they had received.
This was the photo of the raider ‘Tamesis’ taken by LIFE Magazine photographer David E Scherman, from one of the ZamZam’s lifeboats in April, published in the magazine in June, and later given to all Allied intelligence services.
With Rogge hoping that somehow the U-126 would manage to attack her, the Devonshire stood off for over an hour, steaming backwards and forwards at twenty-six knots at a range of over 17,000 yards, until Captain Oliver finally received confirmation that the Atlantis could not possibly be the Polyphemus.
Unfortunately for Rogge, the inexperienced Leutnant Neubert, in the mistaken and inexplicable belief that the cruiser would close with the Atlantis, stayed close to the raider so as to have a better chance of using his torpedoes!
Coming about with all battle flags flying, the Devonshire straddled the Atlantis with three 8-inch salvos, scoring two hits, with further salvos into the now helpless and almost stationary ship, registering more hits, knocking out part of the ship’s electrical supply and the internal telephone system.
With his ship now on fire and clearly doomed, Rogge reduced speed and ordered a smokescreen, as boats were launched, explosive charges were set and the Atlantis was prepared for scuttling.
No longer able to see his target, Captain Oliver ceased firing, allowing Rogge to continue to manoeuvre slowly under the protection of the smokescreen as his crew abandoned ship, leaving only himself, Chief Petty Officer Wilhelm Pigors, Johann Fehler’s demolition party and Adjutant Ulrich Mohr still on board.
As the smokescreen dissipated, the Devonshire resumed firing, reducing the Atlantis, which had by now received eight direct hits, to a battered listing wreck.
With Fehler’s scuttling charges beginning to go off deep in the engine room and he and his crew leaving, their job done, Kapitän zur See Bernhard Rogge stood on the bridge of his sinking ship and contemplated the future.
He wondered if they had somehow been betrayed or if all of this had somehow been his fault, and thought of Captain Hans Langsdorff of the Admiral Graf Spee and how he had dealt with the loss of his ship. He wondered how he would be received back in Germany, and questioned whether or not he could find a place in Hitler’s ‘New Order'.
As he told Pigors and Mohr to leave the bridge and to get off the ship, Pigors, an old friend from their sail training days together, refused, telling him that there was no sense in him staying as there was nothing left to do, and that his crew needed him now more than ever, but when his captain still refused to leave, the older man told him simply that if he stayed, he would stay with him.*
* Oblt z. S. Wilhelm Pigors lost his life when U-130 was sunk with all hands on March 12 1943
With this finally persuading Rogge to leave, the two men followed Ulrich Mohr, who had also refused to leave his captain on the bridge, over the side, just seconds before the magazine received a direct hit and caught fire.
Having swam a safe distance from the crippled ship, thinking they had been the last to leave, they looked back to see a young man, who had clearly not heard the ‘Abandon Ship!’ order, suddenly appear on the now rapidly sinking raider’s forecastle and leap into the sea!
This was Oberfunkgefreiter Heinz Müller, one of the Atlantis’s radio operators, who had stayed at his post until he felt the ship beginning to sink under him.
He was dragged under as she went down and was never seen again.
The Devonshire was still firing as the Atlantis foundered, killing two men as they tried to swim away from the sinking ship, but Rogge was grateful to her captain for not using nose-fused impact shells, which would have exploded among the men on deck, and which would have killed dozens more among the hundred or so men still in the water around the Atlantis.
Her captain, R.D.Oliver, realising that the Atlantis could no longer do him any harm, but nonetheless determined to sink her, had ordered his gunners to use base-fused delayed shells, which would penetrate the ship before exploding, in order to limit the number of casualties on deck.
The case of Mohr’s helmsman Willi Krooss, however, was tragic.
A veteran of all the Atlantis’s boarding parties, Willi Krooss lost his life due to his inate politeness, stepping aside on the companionway to the boat deck to allow an officer to pass, he was killed by a direct hit seconds later.
At 10.14 the last of Fehler’s charges rocked the ship, the magazine exploded, and, going down by the stern, the Atlantis sank within two minutes.
In the middle of a group of about twenty members of his crew, Captain Rogge, drew himself up as tall as he could in the water, and with tears in his eyes, raised his hand to his forehead and held the salute to his ship as she slid slowly back beneath the South Atlantic waves to her final resting place.
With the 350 survivors of the raider’s crew and their one remaining prisoner, the American Frank Vicovari, plus Kapitänleutnant Bauer of the U-126, and the seven members of his crew that had been on the Atlantis when the attack started, in the water being picked up by the lifeboats and rafts, and with a U-Boat still in the vicinity, Captain Oliver took HMS Devonshire away northwestwards at top speed.
Over three hundred men were left struggling in the water with an ever-increasing number of sharks feeding on their dead comrades, but as yet not on them.
Wilhelm Pigors words were soon borne out when Rogge climbed into a lifeboat, stood up, and called to the scattered boats and rafts and to the other groups of survivors clinging to wreckage to muster around him.
By midday all the survivors, divided among two motor launches, three steel cutters, five rafts and assorted debris lashed together, were gathered around their captain’s boat and a roll call was conducted.
The roll call identified Heinz Müller, the last man seen leaving the sinking ship, and who had clearly been dragged down by her, Mohr’s boatswain Willi Krooss, and three others, Anton Dettenhofer, Horst Gerstenhauer and Johann Schäffer, who were all victims of the Devonshire’s guns, as having died, plus dozens of others shocked and wounded, including Kapitänleutnant zur See Erich Kühn.
When Leutnant Neubert finally brought the U-126 to the surface, to be welcomed by his furious commander berating him for not atttacking the Devonshire, he explained that having come up to periscope depth to assess the situation, just as one of the cruiser’s 8-inch salvos exploded in the water around the boat, he believed he was being depth charged and crash dived.
Rogge and Bauer decided that the best of option was to make for the coast of Brazil, more than 900 miles away, with the U-126 towing the boats.
As this was a voyage of at least two weeks under the blistering South Atlantic sun, the U-Boat commander signalled Admiral Donitz’ at his HQ to appraise him of the situation and to request fuel, assistance and supplies.
The reply confirmed that two further U-Boats the U-124 and the U-129 would be diverted from the central Atlantic operational area to assist with the rescue.
With fifty-five men, those with a specialist value and the wounded, in the U-Boat, a further fifty-two huddled on her decks in lifejackets, and the remaining two hundred distributed as evenly as possible in the four overcrowded steel boats and five rubber rafts, with tow ropes rigged between them and onto the submarine, the U-126 set course for Brazil in the late afternoon of November 22.
The two motor-boats were used as shuttles between the boats, for ferrying food and water to the exposed and suffering men who were all dressed in the light tropical kit they’d had on at the time of the sinking, which afforded them scant protection against the heat of the sun and none against the chill of the night.
During the first night Oberfunkgefreiter Ernst Felchner and Oberbootsmaanmaat Emil Bührle lost the battle against their injuries despite the best efforts of doctors Reil and Sprung, but, on the following day, the revelation that they had already covered almost 150 miles, suggesting that with conditions remaining as they were, their journey would be completed in six days, half the expected time, helped cheer up the now seriously suffering men.
As the tow ropes continually broke and had to be repaired until they were no longer serviceable, concerns were raised as to how long those they had left would last, but, on November 24, a signal to the U-126 confirmed that not only were three other U-Boats being re-directed to their aid, but that the 3,664-ton former Afrikanischen Frucht Kompanie passenger liner, and now supply-ship, Python, under Korvettenkapitän Lüders, en route to re-fuel and supply both the U-68 (Merten) and the U-A (Korvettenkapitän Hans Eckermann) was also on her way.
Appearing at first light on November 24, as the U-Boat tender hove into view and closed with the U-126, Rogge thanked God that his crew’s ordeal was over.
Within one hour, as his crew were settling into the their new surroundings, Rogge insisted that their cutters, launches and rafts be picked up too, just in case.
Bidding farewell to the re-stocked and re-fuelled U-126 late on November 24, when she set sail for France, the supply-ship followed several hours later.
Hearing of the sinking of the 4,850-ton British cruiser HMS Dunedin by the U-124 off St. Paul’s Rocks, Rogge reflected bitterly on the sinking of his own ship, lost during ‘ … a supply operation which had not been included in her operational orders’ and could not help regretting that she’d been abandoned without at least giving the Devonshire a bit of a fight.
While understandable, these feelings were tempered by the knowledge that in doing what he did, he undoubtedly saved the lives of the majority of his crew.
A signal received by the Python from Grand Admiral Raeder on November 28, supporting this view, and expressing approval of his decision to save his crew, and maintain his disguise when there was no realistic chance of offering resistance, provided Rogge with a little consolation.
A further signal received by the supply-ship, was less encouraging, as she was instructed to make for yet another rendezvous, seven hundred miles to the south of Saint Helena, to re-stock and re-fuel the U-68 and U-A on November 30.
She was also to await the arrival of the U-124 (Kapitänleutnant Jochen Mohr) and the U-129 (Kapitänleutnant Nico Clausen) on December 4.
Re-supplying Merten’s U-68 as arranged, on November 30, the supply-ship waited until first light on the following day for the arrival of Eckermann’s U-A.
With the men of the Atlantis enjoying life as passengers, the crew of the Python set to work connecting the fuel lines to the two U-Boats and commenced pumping oil into their tanks.
Cranes hoisted torpedoes from the supply-ship’s holds and swung them over her sides, and crates of ammunition and boxes of food were stacked on her decks, as she was transformed into a bustling hive of activity.
While the survivors of the Atlantis had not been officially assigned to any duties on the Python, it was one of her lookouts, who had been deployed to reinforce their inexperienced supply-ship counterparts, and from a position well below the Python’s lookout in the crows-nest, that spotted the mastheads and funnels of the fast-approaching British cruiser, in the mid-afternoon, and raised the alarm.
With the dreaded words, “Enemy Cruiser! … Enemy Cruiser in sight!” the alarm bells sounded and all hell broke loose on the Python.
The oil pipelines were disconnected and capped, the cranes were locked down, boats recovered and the ship prepared for action.
Caught with hatch covers open and crewmen frantically shoving a torpedo they’d been loading through one of them, Merten had no alternative but to crash dive the U-68, and immediately lost control of it.
The boat ‘plunged like a stone’, well beyond its maximum safe operational depth, towards the sea bed, before he finally managed to bring it under control again.
Eckermann’s U-A simply cast off the fuel lines and calmly slid beneath the waves, and was in some sort of position to attack the approaching cruiser.
Unaware of Merten’s predicament, Lüders called for maximum speed and turned the Python away from the rapidly closing warship.
Identified as a yet another County-class heavy cruiser, this time the 9,950-ton HMS Dorsetshire, the ship that had delivered the coup de grace to the Bismarck, he hoped that he might draw her across the bows of the two U-Boats.
Although this did draw the Dorsetshire within range of them, only Eckermann was in any sort of position to attack her, but with her captain, A.W.S.Agar, keeeping his ship at long range, and at top speed, all five torpedoes missed.
Having noticed the frenzied activity all around the Python as he approached her, Agar now signalled to the fleeing supply-ship, demanding her identity.
On receiving no reply, he fired two warning shots, straddling the ship, causing Lüders to heave to and give the order to abandon ship.
As she was being prepared for scuttling, and the boats, including the Atlantis’s cutters and launches, were being lowered on an orderly manner, a member of the Python’s crew, thinking he was protecting the four hundred men abandoning ship under the 8-inch guns of an enemy cruiser, and to the horror of the raider’s men, briefly started up the ship’s smokescreen generator, which could have led to the Dorsetshire opening fire in earnest.
Fortunately Captain Agar held his fire as the smoke quickly dissipated, and the motor-boats and cutters towed the rubber rafts clear of the doomed supply-ship.
He watched as, having already been set on fire by her crew, she burst into flames, the scuttling charges detonated, and she slowly listed to port, rolled over, capsized and sank, leaving 414 men adrift in eleven open boats and seven rafts.
Certain that the sinking ship was a naval supply vessel, and fearing a counter attack from the U-Boats, he took the Dorsetshire away southwards at top speed.
* At some point after the sinking, while the lifeboats were tied together, drifting under the blistering sun, Matrose Obergefreiter Otto Vorwergk, badly shocked by having earlier seen a comrade blown to pieces by the Devonshire’s shells, and unable to face the prospect of a slow agonising death, threw himself overboard and was lost.
(According to Ulrich Mohr’s book Atlantis he was rescued and hauled back into the boat, but in his shipmate Wilhelm Müller’s personal recollection he was not - 006)
His death, combined with those who had lost their lives during the sinking of the Atlantis and the Python, plus the loss of Hans Seeger on the prize-ship Tirranna, Bernhard Hermann in Kerguelen, and Martin Jester in the Indian Ocean, brought the total number of fatalities among the crew of Schiff 16 / HK Atlantis to eleven.
Btsmt. Toni Dettenhofer, Mech.Mt. Horst Gerstenhauer, Matr.Ob.Gefr. Willi Krooss and Matr.Ob.Gefr. Johann Schäfer were all killed by HMS Devonshire’s guns during the sinking of the Atlantis.
Fk.Ob.Gefr. Heinz Müller was taken down with the ship.
Fk.Ob.Gefr. Ernst Felchner and Btsmt. Emil Bührle died in the lifeboats.
Matr.Ob.Gefr. Otto Vorwergk was lost overboard from a lifeboat.
Matr.Hpt.Gefr. Martin Jester died of sunstroke in the Indian Ocean.
Ob.Masch.Maat Karl Seeger died during the sinking of the prize-ship Tirranna.
Matr.Gefr. Bernhard Herrmann died from injuries sustained at Kerguelen.
In eleven boats and seven rafts, the combined crews of both the raider Atlantis and the supply-ship Python, totalling four hundred and fourteen men, were adrift on the high seas, waiting for the U-Boats to re-appear.
With Eckermann’s U-A surfacing first, followed shortly afterwards by Merten in the U-68, both had to crash dive again immediately as the cruiser’s seaplane returned and circled above the boats before again disappearing back to its ship.
Once it was gone, Rogge again mustered the boats and rafts, eighteen in all, around him and, conducting a roll call, established that there was not a single man missing following the sinking of the Python.
As the senior officer, Rogge assumed overall command, working from the U-68.
As each U-Boat took one hundred men on board, with each towing five lifeboats, and the remaining men huddling in the rubber rafts on their decks, the flotilla began it’s long journey towards land.
Johann Fehler’s motor-launch ferried hot food and water to the men in the boats from the U-Boat’s galleys, and was also employed rounding up any boats that were set adrift by parting towlines.
Informed of the sinking of the Python, the SKL notified Admiral Karl Dönitz, who re-directed two further U-Boats, the U-129 (Kptlt. Nico Clausen) and the U-124 (Kptlt. Jochen Mohr), fresh from the sinking of the elderly British light cruiser HMS Dunedin, to proceed immediately to assist in the rescue effort.
Anxious to get all the exposed men out of the lifeboats and inside the submarines before they ran into the colder and rougher weather further north, Rogge was formulating a plan by which this could be achieved, when Nico Clausen arrived on December 3, followed two days later by Jochen Mohr.
With all the men finally inside, the lifeboats were scuttled.
As Rogge and the four U-Boat commanders discussed how best to proceed, the unco-operative Hans Eckermann not only refused to remain part of the combined rescue, but also refused to share his fuel with Mohr, whose boat was running low.
While the U-A left for France alone that night, followed later by Clausen’s U-129, Merten, despite being low in fuel himself, supplied Mohr with fifty tons of fuel after which both boats set course for France on the morning of December 6.
With each one crammed with an extra hundred men, the performance and operational capabilities of these U-Boats were effectively reduced to nil, and conditions on board quickly became unbearable for all concerned.
On December 12, each of the four boats was instructed to rendezvous with Italian submarines off the Cape Verde Islands to offload some of their passengers.
Between December 13 and 17, as each of them established contact, the Italian boats each took up to seventy men, greatly easing the claustrophobic conditions.
Fifty from the U-A boarded the Luigi Torelli (Capitano di Corvetta Antonio de Giacomo), seventy from Merten’s U-68 joined the Enrico Tazzoli (Capitano di Corvetta Carlo Feccia di Cossato), a further seventy from the U-129 went to the Giuseppe Finzi (Capitano di Corvetta Udo Giudice) and the same number boarded the Pietro Calvi (Capitano di Corvetta Emilio Olivieri).
The eight submarines headed for the port of Saint-Nazaire, with the Luigi Torelli, on December 23, being the first to arrive, despite having been depth-charged by a British warship while crossing the notorious Bay of Biscay.
The U-68 docked on December 25, with the U-A not far behind, with the Enrico Tazzoli later completing the trio of boats that arrived on Christmas Day.
On December 27, both the U-129 and the Pietro Calvi arrived, followed by the Giuseppe Finzi on December 28, and finally the U-124 on December 29.
Following 655 consecutive days at sea, during which they had covered 110,000 miles on the Atlantis, 1,000 miles in open lifeboats and rafts plus a further 5,000 miles crammed into U-Boats, the crew spent two idyllic days in the luxurious surroundings of the Nates Hotel at Saint-Nazaire, specially requisitioned by the Kriegsmarine, where, following a final roll-call from their captain, they were released to re-acquaint themselves with the pleasures of life on dry land.
The entire ship’s company then assembled at Nantes, where they remained until New Years Day, catching up on the two years of mail awaiting them and being kitted out with new clothes, after which they travelled by special train to Berlin, where they had an appointment with the Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine Gross Admiral Erich Raeder, who greeted and decorated every one of them.
Following the ceremonies, Bernhard Rogge assembled his crew for the last time.
Issuing each man with the authorization for the two months leave due to them, and instructions to report to Wilhelmshaven once it was completed, he gave the crew of the Atlantis their final command with the words “Crew dismissed!”
Assembled for the last time at Wilhelmshaven, where each of the officers was promoted by one grade in rank, and each of the ratings was promoted to Petty Officer, they received their orders, and went their separate ways.
The cruise of the raider Atlantis lasted 622 days, longer than any other raider, covering 102,00 miles, sinking or capturing 22 ships for a total of 145,968 tons.
Kapitän-zur-See Bernhard Rogge was promoted to Konteradmiral (Rear Admiral) on March 1 1943, and to Vizeadmiral (Vice Admiral) exactly two years later.
Appointed commander of Kampfgruppe Rogge, which included the heavy cruisers Lützow and Admiral Scheer, and with his flag in the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, he assisted the retreating German armies along the northern Baltic coastline from November 1944, helping to rescue over 500,000 troops and almost 2,000,000 civilian refugees from the advancing Russian armies.
On the afternoon of May 7 1945, in Copenhagen, in compliance with the terms of the German surrender, and the last order he received in the Second World War, Rogge instructed the captain of the Prinz Eugen, to lower his battle ensign.
On the following day, two Royal Navy vessels arrived to formally accept the surrender and take control of the ship.
One of them was the cruiser Devonshire - the ship that had sunk the Atlantis.
On May 24, the Prinz Eugen left Copenhagen, escorted by HMS Devonshire, arriving at Wilhelmshaven on May 26, where Vizeadmiral Rogge surrendered her to the Allied authorities.
Two days later, instructed to do so by the British commander, he issued an order dissolving his command, effective May 28 1945.
Recalled to active service as part of the reconstitution of the German armed forces by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), he joined the newly formed Bundesmarine, with the rank of Konteradmiral on June 1 1957.
With responsibility for the Military District of Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg, he was subsequently promoted commander of all ground, air, and sea forces responsible for the defence of northern Germany, a position in which he continued to serve until his retirement on March 31 1962.
Bernhard Rogge died in Hamburg on June 29 1982, aged eighty-three.
|List of Officers|
Kapitän-zur-See Bernhard Rogge
Adjutant: Leutnant-zur-See Dr Ulrich Mohr
First (Executive) Officer: Kapitänleutnant zur See Erich Kühn
Navigation Officer: Kapitänleutnant Paul Kamenz
Chief Engineer: Wilhelm Kielhorn
Gunnery Officer: Oberleutnant Lorenz Kasch
Radio Officer: Oberleutnant Adolf Wenzel
Administration Officer: Korvettenkapitän Fritz Lorenzen
Principal Medical Officer: Marine-Stabsarzt Dr. Georg Reil
Assistant Medical Officer: Dr. Hans-Bernhard Sprung
Meteorological Officer: Dr. Wolfgang Collmann
Demolition Officer: Leutnant Johann-Heinrich ‘Dynamite’ Fehler
Chief Petty Officer: Oberleutnant Wilhelm Pigors
Flying Officer: Leutnant Richard Bulla
|Ritterkreuzträger Konteradmiral Bernhard Rogge
Commander HK Atlantis 1939 to 1941
Born on August 4 1899, in Schleswig, Bernhard Rogge was a pleasant, genial man, but a military perfectionist, who handpicked his officers, and insisted on the right to review the service record of every man assigned to his command, and to reject those he felt to be unsuitable, which was about 50%!
The son of a Government official, he joined the Imperial Navy as a cadet in 1915, and having served on cruisers during World War 1, on the light cruiser Karlsruhe, and the sail training vessels Gorch Fock and Albert Leo Schlageter during the mid to late 1930s, he took command of the Hilfskreuzer Atlantis in 1939.
Apart from his military capabilities, and his prodigious instinct for survival, Rogge, whose ice cool nerve was legendary, was a true gentleman, appreciated by both his crew and by his many prisoners.
Even in the most difficult situations, he remained calm and sharp, as when, instead of opening fire on HMS Devonshire, well beyond the maximum range of his guns, he chose to scuttle his ship before the enemy could identify her, thus saving the lives of his crew.
The cruise of the raider Atlantis lasted 622 days, longer than any other raider, and for her record of 22 ships, totalling 145,968 tons, roughly the same as that sunk by the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in ‘Operation Berlin’, Rogge was awarded the Knight’s Cross in 1940, and the Oak Leaves in 1941.
Promoted Konteradmiral in March 1943, and Vizeadmiral two years later, he joined the newly-formed Bundesmarine, with the rank of Konteradmiral in 1957.
In the preface to Schiff 16, he wrote that he wished “… there was a common endeavour which could bring men together in the way they came together during war, but without the horrors of war … to work together without the constant presence of pain, suffering, and death”.
He died in Hamburg on June 29 1982.
Das Grosse Abenteuer - Deutsche Hilfskreuzer - Jochen Brennecke
|Deutsche Hilfskreuzer des Zweiten Weltkriegs Zvonimir Freivogel|
|The Secret Raiders David Woodward|
|German Raiders of World War II August Karl Muggenthaler|
|German Raiders Paul Schmalenbach|
|Hitler’s Secret Pirate Fleet James P. Duffy|
|The German Raider Atlantis Bernhard Rogge and Wolfgang Frank|
|Atlantis Dr Ulrich Mohr and A.V.Sellwood|
|The Cruise of the German Raider Atlantis Joseph P Slavick|
|Raider 16 Edwin P Hoyt|
|Bernhard Rogge Fritz-Otto Busch|
|Dynamite for Hire Johann ‘Dynamite’ Fehler and A.V.Sellwood|
|Germany’s Last Mission to Japan Joseph Mark Scalia|
|Sea Prison and Shore Hell Roy Alexander|
|The Personal Recollections of Wilhelm Müller HK Atlantis|
|Atlantis - War Records from 30-03-1940 to 22-11-1941|
|3||City of Bagdad||Freighter||United Kingdom||11-07-1940||7.506||Sunk|
|6||King City||Freighter||United Kingdom||24-08-1940||4.744||Sunk|
|9||Commissaire Ramel||Passenger Liner||France||20-09-1940||10.061||Sunk|
|Total Atlantis Prizes||145.968|
|1||Sunk with explosive charges.|
|2||Very valuable ship and cargo. Dispatched to Bordeaux with over 300 prisoners on board. Torpedoed and sunk off the Gironde by HMS Tuna. 60 prisoners, men, women and children, lose their lives.|
|3||Sunk with explosive charges.|
|4||Set on fire. Sunk by two torpedoes.|
|5||Used as a "target ship" for seaplane attack tactics. Sunk with explosive charges.|
|6||Sunk by gunfire. Six dead.|
|7||Sunk by gunfire.|
|8||Captured by the seaplane. Sunk by explosive charges.|
|9||Sunk by gunfire.|
|10||Sent to Mogadishu in Italian Somaliland with 312 prisoners on board.|
|11||After replenishing Atlantis’ fuel tanks she was sunk with explosive charges.|
|12||Sent to Japan with her entire load of high-octane aircraft fuel and top-secret documents about the defences of the port of Singapore taken from Automadon. As a consequence, granted approval by the Japanese Government to use the small Muag Island in the Marianas as rest-refitting-replenishment area for raiders and blockade runners.|
|13||Valuable cargo and secret documents. Sunk with explosive charges. Meeting with Pinguin. Rest at Kerguelen Islands.|
|14||Seaplane removes radio antennas. Seaplane later capsizes and sinks. Ship sunk by explosive charges.|
|15||Converted in an auxiliary. Later sent to Bordeaux with prisoners and valuable cargo of manganese and rubber.|
|16||Converted in auxiliary supply tanker. Meeting with blockade runner Tannenfels and Admiral Scheer, Ketty Brövig replenishes the three German ships. This auxiliary ship also re-fuels the prizes of other raiders, plus the Italian submarine Perla.|
|17||With the crew of 110 and 217 passengers, most of them Americans, taken prisoner, among them 100 Protestant Ministers, 76 women - American, Greek, British and French - 35 children, some members of the American and French Red Cross, a Fortune Magazine journalist and a Life Magazine photographer, life becomes very difficult on board.|
|18||Sunk by gunfire. Crew, plus the other prisoners on board the raider are transferred to the blockade-runner Dresden, which safely reaches Bordeaux some weeks later.|
|19||Sunk by gunfire and torpedoes.|
|20||Sunk by gunfire.|
|21||Sunk by gunfire. Around 60 prisoners in total. Meetings with Etappendienst supply ships Asterufer, Babitonga and Nordmark, all escaping from British hunting groups after the Bismarck sinking. Meetings with Kormoran and Orion.|
|22||Valuable ship with a cargo of rubber. Sent to Bordeaux where she arrived safely. Some weeks rest at Vana-Vana in the Cook Islands. Atlantis crew see friendly girls for the first time in almost 18 months. Meeting with U-68 and U-126. Sunk by the heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire with 10 casualties. Devonshire leaves the area at high speed, not rescuing survivors. Atlantis crew rescued by the supply ship Python, which is later sunk by the heavy cruiser HMS Dorsetshire. Both crews, 400 men, taken by U-A, U-68, U-124, U-126 and the Italian submarines Tazzoli, Finzi, Calvi and Torrelli. All of them safely reach Saint-Nazaire at Christmas 1941.|
|Additional Info about the Ships engaged by Hilfskreuzer Atlantis - 11 March 1940 to 22 November 1941|
|1 - Scientist|
En route from Durban to Liverpool with a mixed cargo, including 2.500 tons of maize, 1.150 tons of chromium and 2.600 tons of wattle bark on board, this elderly 6.199-ton British Harrison steamer refused to stop and sent repeated ‘raider-attack’ signals.
Hit by several 150mm shells, and firmly ablaze, she was abandoned by her crew.
Despite the sea-cocks being opened, and the explosive charges detonated, she settled very slowly, and was burning so furiously as to be visible for miles, and so, to avoid attracting too much attention, she was quickly sunk by a torpedo.Two members of her crew had lost their lives.
|2 - Tirranna|
This fast, spacious Norwegian liner tried to outrun the Atlantis, which fired seven salvoes before scoring a hit, thirty-two more, 150 rounds, over three hours, being required to stop her.
A 7,230-ton Wilhelmsen liner, she was bound for the UK, with a cargo of wheat, flour and wool, as well as 178 trucks, 5,500 cases of beer, 300 cases of tobacco, 3,000 cases of canned peaches and 17,000 cases of jam!
Five of her crew lost their lives during the chase, and her Captain complained bitterly that Norway had just made peace with Germany that very day! A prize crew was put on board, but due to the Tirranna being so low in fuel, she was sent to the south to wait until the Atlantis could capture a tanker.Having failed to do this, Rogge ordered that she sail to Italian Somaliland with his prisoners, and then rejoin the raider.
Having duly returned, and with over three hundred prisoners on board, the Tirranna was dispatched to Bordeaux, arriving on the September 22, only to be torpedoed and sunk off the Gironde, within sight of land, by the British submarine HMS Tuna, with over sixty men, women and children losing their lives.
|3 - City of
The crew of the Atlantis took particular satisfaction in capturing this 7,506-ton ‘British’ freighter, carrying a crew of eighty-one, and 9.300 tons of steel, chemicals and machinery, as she had previously been, the Geierfels, a Hansa-Line German ship taken by Britain as a World War One reparations prize!
When Rogge’s Adjutant, Leutnant Ulrich Mohr, who led the Atlantis’ boarding parties, commented on the Captain’s RCA Victor radio set, the skipper helped him dismantle it, and was repaid with nightly visits to Mohr’s cabin on the Atlantis, where he was served drinks, enjoyed chats with the raider’s officers … and was allowed to listen to the BBC!Once her crew had been taken on board, the City of Bagdad was sunk by explosives expert, Leutnant Johann ‘Dynamite’ Fehler, who remained on the ship, as 280 pounds of explosives went off, seven times the amount he’d used on the Scientist!
When reprimanded by his captain he said, “I just wanted to experience the sensation!”
|4 - Kemmendine|
An unfortunate error led to this 7.769-ton liner, outward bound to Rangoon, via Capetown, from Glasgow with one hundred and forty-seven passengers and crew, and a cargo of whisky, beer and piece goods, being fired upon and set ablaze.
Radio tuning transmissions from the raider’s own auxiliary station below decks were thought to be coming from the vessel, and so the Atlantis re-opened fire.
Having stopped, surrendered and with boats being lowered, a shot was fired from the liner’s 3-inch deck-gun, causing a furious Rogge to open fire again. Fortunately there were no casualties on either side, and the boats drew safely alongside the Atlantis.
The hazardous task of lifting small children from their mother’s arms in violently pitching lifeboats onto the raider, was overcome by the use of her coal buckets lowered on ropes!
The liner was so well ablaze that the boarding party, which had been busy searching for documents, had to evacuate her in a hurry, but having left the scuttling charges lying on the deck, they returned to find them ringed by flames!
As a result she had to be sunk by torpedo, and it took two to do it, much to the further annoyance of the raider’s commander.The Atlantis now had over three hundred and thirty prisoners on board.
|5 - Talleyrand|
On August 2nd, with the Atlantis drifting, her crew busily painting her, and the Tirranna, having returned from Somaliland, embarking prisoners in squally weather, the 6.732-ton Norwegian Tallyrand, a Wilhelmsen sister-ship of the Tirranna, suddenly appeared out of the fog.
After a six-minute chase and four 150mm salvoes, she stopped and surrendered. With a cargo of 4.500 tons of steel, 16.000 bales of wool, 22.686 sacks of wheat and 240 tons of teak, a crew of thirty-six, one of them a woman, and, like the Tirranna, armed with one 4,7-inch gun, she was on her way from Sydney to the UK. Like her sister, the Talleyrand was low in fuel, and what she had, was transferred to Atlantis, thereby gaining the raider two months extra endurance, while her ammunition was transferred to the Tirranna. She also yielded an excellent motorboat!She was subsequently used a target ship for Atlantis' Heinkel seaplane, which dropped dummy bombs on her and practiced tearing away her radio antenna with a trailing grapnel hook.
|6 - King City|
The peculiar behaviour and the slow and continually changing speed of this 4.744-ton British freighter off Madagascar, caused Rogge to believe his ship was being drawn into some sort of trap, so he opened fire without warning, first with a torpedo, which missed, and then with a 150mm salvo, which did not. This quickly set the by then almost stationary vessel ablaze, killing four of her crew, with another missing and causing a further man to succumb to his wounds later on board the Atlantis. Realising too late that the ‘enemy’ was a harmless merchantman, Rogge immediately ordered that two whalers, taken from the Tirranna, be launched to assist her remaining crew, all of whom were fortunately rescued from the mountainous seas.Bound for Singapore from Cardiff with 7.300 tons of coal on board, her strange manoeuvring was later explained as having been the result of engine trouble.
A blazing inferno, she was sunk by gunfire.
|7 - Athelking|
This 9.577-ton British motor tanker, on her way from Australia to East Africa, refused to heave to when ordered to do so, radioed her position and returned fire.
It took ninety-one rounds to finally bring her to a halt, with her captain and two crewmen dead, and her hull so badly damaged that it was not possible for the Atlantis to take on any of her valuable cargo of oil.
With a boat being lowered in response to a signal requesting medical assistance, fresh radio signals were picked up, which were thought to be coming from the Athelking, causing Rogge to re-open fire on the stricken tanker, but were in fact coming from another ship nearby, the Benarty, which was duly intercepted, making off at top speed, by the raider’s aircraft the next day.Sunk by gunfire, the surviving thirty-seven members of the Athelking’s crew were picked up.
|8 - Benarty|
Having betrayed her presence by re-transmitting the Athelking’s distress signals the previous day, this 5.800-ton freighter, carrying a mixed cargo of lead, zinc and wolfram, was bombed and strafed in spectacular fashion with machine gun fire the following day by Atlantis’ seaplane, as she tried to escape, enabling the raider to approach and bring her to a halt with gunfire.Fragments of paper found in her wrecked wireless room made it possible for the Germans to read part of the new British merchant navy code, which had recently replaced that taken from the City of Bagdad earlier. She was sunk by explosive charges.
|9 - Commissaire Ramel|
Having first agreed to stop and maintain radio silence, this blacked-out 10.061-ton French passenger liner, initially seen by Rogge as an ideal vessel to solve his overcrowding problems, commenced signalling and was sunk by gunfire, burning fiercely as she went down in a cloud of smoke and steam, her red-hot hull hissing under the waves like lava, adding sixty-three more prisoners to the two hundred and thirty already on board the Atlantis.The largest ship yet taken by the raider, she had a largely Australian crew, and a cargo of steel, wheat, soap, leather and fruit.
|10 - Durmitor|
Because the Captain of this filthy 27-year old, 5.623-ton ‘neutral’ Yugoslavian vessel, used his radio when challenged, and admitted he was bound for an enemy port for ‘orders’, his ship was declared a legitimate prize.
When it was established that she had enough coal on board to get her as far as Japan, her fate as a Prison Ship was sealed!Infested with rats and cockroaches, and carrying a cargo of 8.200 tons of salt, she was provisioned and sent to Italian Somaliland under a prize crew of fourteen with three hundred and twelve mutinous prisoners, duly arriving three weeks later.
|11 - Teddy|
This 6.748-ton Norwegian tanker carrying 10.000 tons of fuel oil and 500 tons of diesel oil from Abadan to Singapore, was taken intact by a ruse in the Bay of Bengal, as the raider, pretending to be the British Armed Merchant-Cruiser HMS Antenor, had a boarding party alongside before the tanker’s crew realised what she really was!With a prize crew on board she sailed south to await further orders.
After the sinking of the Automedon, Rogge took on as much fuel as he could stow from the Teddy, and then had her scuttled. This prompted criticism from the SKL for not trying to send her home as a prize, or at least passing her oil on to another raider.
|12 - Ole Jakob|
This modern 8.306-ton Norwegian tanker with 10.000 tons of aviation fuel, was captured in the same way as the Teddy. Despite the fact that she continued to send wireless signals, and even asked the Atlantis to stop following her, Rogge did not open fire, as he needed her cargo.She was sent to Japan under a prize crew with the secret documents about Singapore found on board Automedon, and having exchanged her cargo of fuel with the Japanese for diesel oil, she eventually made her way back to Bordeaux.
|13 - Automedon|
This 7.528-ton Blue Funnel liner, en route from Liverpool to the Far East, with a cargo of aircraft, cars, machinery, textiles, cigarettes, mail and other provisions, sent an SOS when challenged, and so Rogge opened fire from close range, killing the captain and everyone else on her bridge with the first salvo, followed by a further three salvoes until the signals stopped. Having quickly ceased firing, a man was seen running towards the liner’s deck gun, and so a further three salvoes were fired into the shredded vessel.
As the Captain and all his officers had been killed, the ship’s confidential papers and documents fell into the hands of Mohr and the raider’s boarding party. These included notes of the military defences of Singapore, details of Naval and Royal Air Force deployment and strength, and many other top-secret documents drawn up by the Planning Division of the British War Cabinet.Having yielded it’s treasures, the Automedon was scuttled.
|14 - Mandasor|
This 5.144-ton British freighter en route to the UK from Calcutta, with a crew of eighty-eight, and a cargo of 2.000 tons of pig iron and 1.800 tons of tea, was located by the Atlantis’ Arado, and attacked with bombs and machine-gun fire. Having torn away the ship’s radio antenna, the plane came under fire from her anti-aircraft gun as her crew rigged a spare aerial and began signalling QQQ.Closing to within 8.500 metres, the raider, opened up, firing sixty-one 150mm shells, and having scored eight hits, which killed six members of her crew, the Mandasor stopped signalling, and was soon fiercely on fire, as the surviving eighty-two members of her crew abandoned ship. As they did so, the Arado, putting down beside the lifeboats, damaged one of her floats, capsized and sank!
The Mandasor was sunk by explosive charges.
|15 - Speybank|
This 5.154-ton British freighter bound for New York from Cochin with a cargo of manganese, ore, carpets, tea and shellacwas captured at night before she could send any signals.
Having put a prize crew on board, Rogge dispatched her to Bordeaux.Re-named the Doggerbank, and converted into an auxiliary minelayer, she was sunk in error off The Azores on March 3 1943 by the U-43 (Oblt. Hans-Joachim Schwantke) with all but one of the three hundred and sixty-five men on board losing their lives.
|16 - Ketty Brovig|
This fast 7.301-ton Norwegian tanker, carrying 6.370 tons of fuel oil and 4.125 tons of diesel oil from Bahrain to Lourenco Marques, and the first completely unarmed ship Atlantis had ever come across, was surprised and captured in another night attack, which left her stopped, and her predominantly Chinese crew, in a wild panic, throwing themselves overboard.
As she had made no attempt to transmit any signals, shelling was stopped. The next morning, after a steam pipe on the funnel, damaged during the attack, was repaired, a prize crew was put on board and she was sent to a rendezvous point.
As an auxiliary supply ship, the Ketty Brovig re-fuelled the Admiral Scheer, several other raiders and their prizes, before being sunk with the supply ship Coburg by the Australian and British cruisers HMAS Canberra and HMS Leander on March 4.Having rendezvoused with the Tannenfels and the Italian submarine Perla, the Atlantis later met again with the Tannenfels, the Ketty Brovig, the Speybank and the Admiral Scheer, and finally again with the Speybank, the Ketty Brovig and the Scheer’s prize, the British Advocate.
|17 - ZamZam|
This 8.299-ton Egyptian passenger liner, the former Bibby liner Leicestershire, sold to Egypt a few months before the outbreak of war, en route from New York to Cape Town, with an exotic crew of one hundred and ten, Egyptians, Sudanese, Turks, Greeks, Czechs and French, and over two hundred very unhappy passengers, Americans, British, French, Greeks, Canadians, South Africans, Norwegians and Italians, which included one hundred and fifty missionaries, Catholic, Lutheran, Adventist, Baptist and twelve other denominations, twenty-four American volunteer ambulance drivers, seventy-six women, of whom five were pregnant, Americans, British, French and some ‘very photogenic Greek nurses’, thirty-five children, Charles J. Murphy, editor of FORTUNE magazine, LIFE magazine photographer, David E. Sherman, and a mixed cargo of lubricating oil, tin plate, ambulances, trucks, steel bars, radios, typewriters, batteries, girdles, cosmetics and Coca-Cola, was identified as a ‘Bibby’ troopship and attacked by moonlight, without warning, from a range of 9.200 metres. The first two salvos missed, but the third salvo knocked out the radio room.
The crew, having abandoned ship and taken to the lifeboats in panic, leaving their passengers to their fate, found themselves being shaken off Atlantis’ lines so that the Germans could help the women, children and the many others who were seen floundering about in the water.
Having collected as much of the passengers clothing and as many of their belongings as possible, including a little girl who had become lost, and a tricycle for someone small and deserving, the boarding party spent over five hours aboard the slowly sinking liner, plundering her larder and stripping her bar!Everyone was safely picked up and transferred two days later to the supply ship Dresden, from where, despite Rogge’s wish to have them transferred to a neutral ship or landed in a neutral country, they were ordered instead to France.
|18 - Rabaul|
Having rendezvoused with the HK Kormoran, the tanker Nordmark and the supply ship Alsterufer, from which, among other much needed provisions, the Atlantis received no fewer than three new crated Arado-196 A-1 floatplanes, this 6.809-ton British freighter bound for Capetown from the UK with a cargo of coal, failed to stop when requested, was shelled, and sank in flames.With seven of her 58-man crew killed, the rest, including three wounded, were picked up.
|19 - Trafalgar|
A week after having narrowly missed being caught, while stopped, by the British battleship HMS Nelson and the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle, as they passed, a mere 7,000 metres astern, the Atlantis used one of her new Arados to locate her next victim, the 4.530-ton British freighter Trafalgar, with a cargo of 4.500 tons of coal and two aircraft.
Having stalked her all day, she was attacked and battered to a standstill by six rapid salvos, which left her deck cargo, the aircraft, on fire, her funnel and mast down, rudder jammed, twelve of her crew dead, and the rest in the water.
On fire, abandoned and circling for a possible collision with the Atlantis, Rogge ordered a torpedo fired to finish her off.
The torpedo went out of control, briefly threatening the raider itself, narrowly missing her bows, and having missed with a second torpedo, he finally washed the treacherous fires out with a third.Rescue operations were difficult in the dark, but due to the small red flashlights pinned to their lifejackets, thirty-three survivors were eventually picked up.
|20 - Tottenham|
This 4.762-ton British freighter, bound from the UK to Alexandria via the Cape, carrying aircraft, aircraft parts, ammunition, tractors and cars, was followed for a day and attacked at nightfall with a warning shot across her bows. The RRR signal was heard and one shot was fired from the freighter’s 4-inch gun, which, although it fell short, prompted Rogge to open up with thirty-nine 150mm and eleven 75mm shells, scoring two hits.
Her Captain ordered his crew to abandon ship while she was still under way, causing two of the lifeboats to be swamped as they hit the water fully laden. Once again the raider’s torpedoes proved unreliable, with two missing completely and the third causing insufficient damage to sink the freighter, so that she had to be sunk by gunfire. According to Ulrich Mohr, “She erupted like a volcano!”
With his position now known to the British, Rogge, having picked up twenty-nine men, including the Captain and Chief Engineer, from one boat, but having failed to find the seventeen men in the other, and anxious to get away, called off the search.
Eight weeks later, the boat drifted ashore on the coast of Brazil, near Rio, abandoned, awash and empty.Trafalgar’s Second Officer Cameron, and sixteen others had deliberately avoided rescue, and having found five more men on life rafts, and then drifted for eleven days, were luckily picked up by the SS Mahronda on June 28.
|21 - Balzac|
This 5.372-ton British freighter, bound for Liverpool from Rangoon with a crew of forty-seven and a cargo of 4.200 tons of rice, "vast quantities" of beeswax and other mixed cargo, having been attacked from a range of 9.000 metres, radioed RRR and began to zigzag.
Having fired forty salvos, one hundred and ninety-two 150mm, and fifty-three 75mm rounds, with only four hits, two of the raider’s port 150mm guns overheated and the recoil systems jammed, but as Rogge turned the ship to bring his disengaged starboard battery into action, the Balzac was seen to stop and lower boats.With three of her 54-man crew killed, and another losing his life later on board Atlantis, the survivors were picked up.
|22 - Silvaplana|
Having rendezvoused with the HK Orion in the South Atlantic Ocean on July 1, the Atlantis rounded the Cape of Good Hope and sailed for over a month to the south of Australia and the Pacific waters east of New Zealand, where, when pursued by her at full speed, this modern, 4.793-ton Norwegian motor vessel, with an exotic and valuable mixed cargo of rubber, tin, copper, teak, wooden idols, 100.000 lbs of coffee, wax, sago, vanilla and spices, immediately sent QQQ alarm signals.
As the Germans tried in vain to jam them, they finally stopped her and having put a prize crew aboard, they sent a further signal cancelling the first one.
A fast and beautiful ship, Rogge decided to keep the Silvaplana as a prize, and duly dispatched her to Bordeaux, where she arrived safely on November 17.
The Atlantis rendezvoused with the Munsterland, the HK Komet and her prize Kota Nopan, and having rested at Vana Vana in the Cook Islands, and on Henderson Island, Rogge then met with the U-68 (Kptlt. Karl-Friedrich Merten) off St Helena , to supply her with oil, water and food.Against his wishes and better judgement, the Atlantis’ commander then had to comply with an SKL instruction to likewise supply the U-126 (Kptlt. Ernst Bauer) in the crowded and dangerous sea-lanes off Ascension Island.
|The Hunter becomes the Hunted - The Sinking of HK Atlantis|
November 22 1941: Drifting on the gentle South Atlantic swell, smack in the middle of the crowded traffic lane between Freetown and the Cape, with fuel hoses connected, her launch ferrying supplies, U-Boat officers on board enjoying hot baths, a glass of sherry and good coffee, her port diesel engine stripped down to replace a piston, and with no air cover, due to the loss of her seaplane on the previous day, the raider Atlantis could hardly have been more vulnerable.
The peace of this tranquil scene was shattered by a lookout’s cry, “Feindlicher Kreuzer! … Fiendlicher Kreuzer in Sicht!
The three funnels and masts of the London-Class heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire (Captain R.D.Oliver) had appeared on the horizon and were closing fast.
As the fuel lines were rapidly cut, Rogge turned his one-engined ship, to present her stern to the enemy and to try to hide the U-Boat from the cruiser’s ‘Walrus’ seaplane.
The U-126, spotted by the aircraft, which immediately signalled SSS, with her Commander and several other officers still on board the Atlantis, and a large oil slick marking where the fuel hoses had been severed, immediately crash-dived.
The Atlantis was no match for the heavy cruiser, armed with eight 8-inch guns, and even with both engines fully operational, he was slower by about 14 knots, so Rogge knew his only hope was to lure her closer, within range of his guns and torpedoes.
But the cruiser, from long range, fired two 8-inch salvos, one to the left, one to the right, to which Rogge responded by stopping, signalling RRR, and identifying his ship as the 6.269-ton Dutchman Polyhemus.
Suspicious of a possible trap, having heard that there was possibly a U-Boat about, and because Atlantis signalled with only three Rs instead of the required four, Captain Oliver was cautious. Remaining out of range, with his Walrus circling the raider, he called up Commander-in-Chief South Atlantic to make sure the ship was not the Polyhemus.
He well remembered how HMS Cornwall had closed to within range of the Pinguin’s guns and had suffered heavy damage.
With Rogge hoping that somehow the U-126 would manage to attack her, the cruiser stood off for over an hour, steaming backwards and forwards at 26 knots at a range of over 17.000 metres, until her captain finally received confirmation that the Atlantis could not possibly be the Polyhemus.
Unfortunately, the First Lieutenant of the U-Boat had, in the mistaken belief that the Devonshire would close with the Atlantis, stayed close to the raider to have a better chance of using his torpedoes.
Coming about with all battle flags flying, the Devonshire straddled the Atlantis with three 8-inch salvos, scoring two hits. A further thirty salvos into the helpless, stationary ship, registering six more hits, killed seven men on board and in the water.
As the doomed raider was now firmly on fire and making smoke, boats were launched, charges were set in place as she was prepared for scuttling and her crew abandoned ship.
With her commander being the last to leave, Leutnant Fehler’s charges rocked the ship, her magazine exploded, and the Atlantis sank in two minutes.
With the sunken raider’s entire crew in the water, and secure in the knowledge that there was definitely a U-Boat in the vicinity, HMS Devonshire made off at top speed.Fifty-five men, having been picked up, were on the U-126, back under the command of her shipwrecked skipper Bauer, the remainder of her crew, fifty-two huddled on her decks, and two hundred and one others in four boats on tow behind the submarine, were eventually picked up by the supply ship Python, which was on her way to re-fuel and replenish the U-68 (Kptlt. Merten) and the U-A (Kptlt. Eckermann).
|The Final Chapter - The Sinking of Supply Ship Python|
On the afternoon of November 30 1941, with the U-68 re-fuelled, the U-A connected to the fuel lines, and four hundred German seamen busy transferring supplies from the Python to the two submarines, in an almost exact repetition of what had happened to the Atlantis, the British heavy cruiser HMS Dorsetshire, a sister-ship of the Devonshire, was seen approaching at 25 knots.
The U-68, her deck hatches open, taking on torpedoes, could not dive immediately, but the U-A, having quickly let the fuel lines go, turned away to intercept the enemy.
The Python, which had been stopped, fired up her engines, but giving no response to the cruiser’s signals, and having made smoke, immediately came under heavy fire, was set ablaze and abandoned.
The Dorsetshire, remaining at a range of about eight miles, and steaming at high speed for fear of a possible U-Boat attack, was fortunate that by doing so, the five torpedoes fired at her by the U-A all missed.In eleven boats and seven rafts, the combined crews of both ships, totalling over four hundred and fourteen men, were adrift on the high seas, waiting for the U-Boats to re-appear.
With about 100 crammed into each of the two U-Boats, and the rest in ten boats, with a motor launch ferrying hot food to them from the sub’s galleys
Two more submarines the U-129 (Krvkpt. Nico Clausen) arriving on December 3, and the U-124 (Kptlt. Jochen Mohr) two days later on the 5th, alleviated the crowding, followed over the next two weeks by four Italian submarines, the Luigi Torelli, the Enrico Tazzoli, the Giuseppe Finzi and the Pietro CalviAll eight rescue submarines safely reached Saint-Nazaire between December 23 and December 29 1941.
|These notes were researched and compiled mainly from - German Raiders of World War II by August Karl Muggenthaler (1977) and The Secret Raiders by David Woodward (1955).|
|Alfonso Arenas, Spain||Got the idea and founded the Hilfskreuzer section.|
|Jonathan Ryan, Ireland||Creator of the Hilfskreuzer section, as it is today, based on his knowledge and private archive.|
|Hilfskreuzer (Auxiliary Cruiser / Raider)|
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