Hilfskreuzer

HK Komet

Hilfskreuzer (Auxiliary Cruiser) Komet
General Details
Nationality German
Type Auxiliary Cruiser (Raider)
Ship Number 45
HSK Number VII
British Admiralty Letter B
Builder Deschimag AG, Bremen
Launched 1937
Previous Owner Norddeutsche Lloyd
Previous Name Ems
Conversion Howaldtswerke, Hamburg
General Cruise Details (1. Cruise)
Commander Kapitän zur See Robert Eyssen - winner of the Knights Cross
Sail date 3 July 1940
End date 30 November 1941
Fate Safely returned to Germany
Performance (1. Cruise)
Ships Sunk / Captured 7 ships sunk - (Two with HK Orion) - One captured
Tonnage Sunk 41,568 - including 50% of the Rangitane and the Triona
Days at Sea 516
Tons per Day 80,55
General Cruise Details (2. Cruise)
Commander Kapitän sur See Ulrich Brocksien
Sail date 8 October 1942
End date 14 October 1942
Fate Sunk by British Motor Torpedo Boat MTB 236 off Cherbourg
Performance (2. Cruise)
Ships Sunk / Captured 0
Tonnage 0
Days at Sea 6
Tons per Day 0
Displacement
Displacement 3.287 tons
Dimensions
Length 115 metres
Beam 15,3 metres
Weapons
Main Armament 6 x 150 mm
Secondary Armament 1 x 60 mm, 1 x Twin 37 mm Flak, 4 x 20 mm Flak
Torpedo Tubes 6 x 53,3 cm (24 torpedoes)
Mines 30
Aircraft
Aircraft 2 x Arado Ar-196 A-1
Small boats
Light Speedboat LS-2 - an 11.5-ton Motor Minelayer named Meteorit
Propulsion
Engine Type Two 6-cylinder two-stroke MAN diesel engines
Horsepower 3.900
Endurance 51.000 nautical miles at 9 knots
Speed 16 knots
Fuel Type Oil
Complement
Wartime 279 on Cruise 1 – 251 on Cruise 2

Hilfskreuzer (Auxiliary Cruiser / Raider) Komet
The History

Launched on January 16 1937 at the Deschimag-Werk-Weser in Bremen, for the Nord-Deutscher Lloyd line, the 3,287-ton freighter Ems had four sister-ships, the motor-ships Drau, Eider, Iller and Mur, and two half-sisters, the Saar and Memel, and was the smallest of all the German Auxiliary Cruisers.

115 metres long, a beam of 15.3 metres, powered by two 6-cylinder two-stroke MAN diesel engines, producing 3,900 horse-power, driving a single shaft, she had a top speed of 16 knots and a range of 51,000 sea-miles at 9 knots, but as a cruiser, her top speed was no more than 14.5 knots.

Armed with six 150mm- L/45  C/16 guns, one 60mm cannon, one twin 37mm C/30 flak mounting, four single 20mm C/30 flak guns and six 53.3cm torpedo tubes, with 24 torpedoes, two Arado Ar-196 A-1 seaplanes and a Light Minelaying Speedboat, LS-2, with 30 sea-mines.

The extensive work of converting the Ems into Schiff 45 / Hilfskreuzer Komet began in 1939 at the Howaldtswerken in Hamburg and was completed in 1940.

Having volunteered for service as the commander of an auxiliary cruiser at the outbreak of war, 48-year-old Kapitän zur See Robert Eyssen knew exactly what kind of ship he wanted, and personally chose the smallest of those being prepared for Hilfskreuzer service, Schiff 45, the 3,287-ton Ems, less than 359 feet long, little more than 50 feet at the beam and drawing less than 20 feet of water … and named her the Komet

Keen to establish whether a German ship could sail across the top of the Soviet Union to the Pacific by way of the North-East Passage, the Naval High Command was determined to get at least one vessel through, preferably an auxiliary cruiser.

The advantages of being able to safely transfer warships from the Atlantic to the Pacific and back were obvious, and when informed of the idea, Eyssen was confident that he and his tiny ship could be the ones to do it.

By far the longest-serving of all the raider commanders, and the most experienced in Arctic waters from his time serving on the survey-ship Meteor, the Komet was one of several vessels to have had their hulls especially strengthened for just such a voyage.

With thirty-five German cargo vessels stranded in the Pacific region by the outbreak of war, the SKL was anxious to test the feasibility of bringing them home during the summer of 1940, as well as exploring the possibility of using the Arctic route for other shipping, preferably commerce raiders, enabling them to safely pass to and from the Pacific.

Having arranged with the Soviets to provide ice-breakers to assist her passage through the Arctic ice fields, the Komet, the last of the first wave of raiders to put to sea, sailed from Gotenhafen on July 3 1940, and in the company of minesweepers M17 and M18, set course for Norway.

Briefly forced to seek refuge at Kristiansand on July 6 due to the reported presence off-shore of a British light cruiser and three destroyers, Schiff 45 resumed her journey and reached Bergen, re-fuelling there on July 8 from her supply tanker Esso, taking on 400 tons of oil and 200 tons of drinking water.

The tanker had been scheduled to accompany the raider all the way to the Pacific, but had run aground off the Norwegian port, sustaining damage that put the hazardous voyage through the Arctic seas out of the question.

Topping up his tanks with as much oil and water as he could carry, and taking extra supplies in barrels which were integrated into his camouflage, Eyssen left Bergen on July 9 for his rendezvous with the Soviet ice-breakers on July 15.

With his ship disguised as the 3,578-ton Soviet cargo ship Deynev, Eyssen bid farewell to the two minesweepers, and headed into the frigid wastes of the Barents Sea in the company of the patched-up Esso, a crew of 270, and vast quantities of fuel, ammunition and supplies.

Eventually losing his supply ship, which had to turn back because of her hull damage, he was forced to wait a month, due to the reportedly unfavourable conditions in the Arctic pack ice.

Passing North Cape on July 12, but unable to proceed much further east, Eyssen rejected the Soviet suggestion that he wait in the port of Murmansk until conditions improved, where the SKL felt his ship would be spotted by the Allies and his mission compromised, and chose to remain at sea, awaiting his Soviet pilots off the island of Novaya Zemlya.

Between July 15 and August 13, still disguised as the Deynev, the Komet remained in the icy wastes of the Barents Sea, mainly drifting with the currents in order to conserve fuel, and occasionally at anchor.

Eyssen used this unexpected free time to train and drill his crew in the art of raider warfare, and prepared them for what lay ahead in the Arctic Ocean, while in the evenings the ship’s seventy-nine feature films, twenty-eight other films and library of over 560 books helped relieve the boredom.

During the second week of August as reports were received of favourable conditions for a passage through the pack-ice, Eyssen received orders to proceed eastwards with all possible speed.

Leaving his thirteenth anchorage on August 13, and heading into the entrance of the Matochkin Strait, the seaway that passes through the island of Novaya Zemlya, Eyssen was finally embarking upon his record-setting voyage through the Kara Sea, the Laptev Sea and the Eastern Siberian Sea to the Bering Strait.

The following day, August 14, the Komet arrived at the rendezvous point and took on two Russian pilots, who had been awaiting the raider for eight days.

Proceeding over 160 miles into the Kara Sea, but with no ice-breaker yet available to assist her, Eyssen was forced to return to the Matochkin Strait the following day, August 15, and remain at anchor there for three days, where his crew were briefly allowed to go ashore.

On August 19, he received his orders to proceed along a very precise course. Newly disguised as the 2,931-ton German freighter Donau, the Komet forced her way through the now melting ice-field, and reached open water on August 22.

On August 23, she was finally joined by the 3,828-ton ice-breaker Lenin, at the time the most powerful icebreaker in the world, which was capable of a speed of 19 knots, and proceeded to follow her through the Vilkitsky Strait.

By midnight on August 26 the two ships had passed Cape Chelyushkin, and later that day were joined by the massive 11,000-ton ice-breaker Stalin, flagship of the Soviet Arctic Fleet.

The three ships tied up together and their captains spent the evening enjoying refreshments on board the Stalin, and on the following day, in the wake of the huge ice-breaker, the raider resumed her journey eastwards.

As the Lenin turned back on August 27 to resume her duties in the Kara Sea, the Stalin slowly but surely led the Komet through the thick pack-ice and dense fog into open waters on August 28.

At the limit of her orders, she bid the raider farewell, leaving instructions with Eyssen to contact the 4846-ton ice-breaker Kaganovitch, the HQ ship of the Eastern Sector, should she run into any difficulties.

Experiencing little difficulty with ice over the next two days the Komet was joined by the Kaganovitch on August 30, and was instructed to follow closely in her wake as heavy ice was expected ahead.

After a difficult 24-hour period, during which the raider twice became trapped in the ice and had to be freed under searchlights, and even sustained damage to her rudder, the two ships dropped anchor on September 1.

Relieved that the worst of the ice was now behind him, Eyssen was stunned when the Soviet Eastern Sector Director announced that because of the reported presence of American warships in the Bering Strait, he had received orders to return the Komet to European waters immediately.

The Soviet government was concerned that their having assisted a German warship to reach the Pacific could be construed as a breach of their neutrality.

As he was now only 400 miles from the ice-free Bering Strait and the open sea beyond, Eyssen managed to persuade the Soviet official to allow him to proceed by giving him written assurances that he understood the Soviet position and was taking full responsibility for his actions.

Bidding the Soviets farewell, the Komet sailed on alone, and on the morning of September 5, finally reached the Bering Strait, where there was no sign of warships of any kind.

Completing the 3,300-mile, 23-day jouney, and admitting that he would not volunteer to undertake such a voyage again, Eyssen freely acknowledged that he could not have achieved it without the assistance of the icebreakers, for which the German Government paid the Soviet Union the equivalent of $130,000.00.

Briefly dropping anchor in Anadyr Bay to carry out the necessary repairs to his ice-damaged rudder, the Komet proceeded southward down the coast.

On September 10, once again disguised as the Soviet freighter Deynev, the raider Komet entered the Pacific Ocean and headed for her operational zone.

Instructed to operate off the coast of Australia and in the Indian Ocean, and if possible to seek out the Antarctic whaling fleets, Eyssen was also to lay mines off ports in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Surviving high winds and a typhoon off the coast of northern Japan, Eyssen launched his Arado early on October 2 to widen his search options, only to lose it when it crashed on setting down later that day.

The Komet continued south towards the former German colony of Lamotrek, in the Caroline Islands, which had been under Japanese mandate since 1914, to keep a rendezvous with the 7,363-ton former Hamburg-Amerika line supply-ship Kulmerland, without sighting a single target.

Having originally been instructed to rendezvous with the 9,179-ton supply-ship Weser, which was to supply both the Komet and the Orion at Ailinglapalap Atoll in the Marshall Islands, Eyssen received news that the former Norddeutschen-Lloyd vessel had been intercepted off the coast of Mexico by the Canadian Armed Merchant Cruiser HMCS Prince Robert.

Proceeding instead to Lamotrek Atoll to rendezvous with the Kulmerland, under Kapitän Pschunder, he was to await the arrival of the raider Orion, under Fregattenkapitän Kurt Weyher, and the supply-ship Regensburg, under Kapitän Harder, both reportedly disguised as Japanese vessels.

Continuing southeastwards between the Solomon Islands and New Guinea, Eyssen decided that as the presence of a Soviet ship so far to the south was sure to attract attention, he gave instructions for the ship to be re-camouflaged, transforming the Komet into the 2,904-ton Tokyo Kisen K.K. ship Manyo Maru.

On October 14, he rendezvoused with the Kulmerland, disguised as the 4,163-ton Sawayama Kisen K.K. vessel Tokyo Maru, at a quiet lagoon at Lamotrek, and took on supplies and enough fuel to last until July.

On the evening of October 18, anchored alongside the ‘Tokyo Maru’, the crew of the Komet were treated to the sight of three ‘Japanese’ ships entering the lagoon in quick succession.

The second vessel was the Orion, disguised as the 7,005-ton Nanyo Kaiun K.K. ship Maebasi Maru, followed closely by the 8,068-ton former Norddeutschen Lloyd ship Regensburg,, which by an extraordinary and embarrassing coincidence, was also disguised as the Tokyo Maru.

As no one on board the Orion had known how to write the name Maebasi Maru in Japanese characters when adopting the disguise, her captain had some words found on a roll of film manufactured in Yokohama copied onto the side of his ship!

To those who could read Japanese, the raider now appeared to operating under the unusual name of  ‘Not Suitable For The Tropics’!

Not only that, but she and the Regensburg appeared to be eagerly pursuing the leading vessel, which turned out to be the only ‘genuine’ Japanese ship present, the 4,495-ton passenger liner Palao Maru!

While the captain of the Palao Maru, now fortunately identified by her pursuers, urgently discussed the situation by radio with the port authorities, querying the presence and identity of these mysterious vessels, the German captains could do little but wait and hope that the camera-toting tourists crowding the liner’s rails wouldn’t see anything that might subsequently compromise their operations.

Shortly after the liner departed the lagoon, an official Japanese government inspection ship arrived to investigate the four ‘Japanese’ ships anchored there.

A uniformed officer, boarding the Komet, asking questions about their identity, was told by Eyssen that they were simply four German merchant ships attempting to get back to Europe via the hostile waters of the Pacific.

Making reference to the newly-signed Tripartite Pact and that they had only adopted Japanese identification as protection against Allied warships, and explaining that they had chosen the lagoon as a suitable place to safely exchange fuel and supplies, he took the officer on an inspection tour of the largest of the German ships, the unarmed Kulmerland, and produced genuine Japanese documents that had been issued to both that ship and the Regensburg, when they had cleared the Japanese ports at which they had purchased supplies.

Seemingly satisfied, and totally unaware that he had been on a warship, the official then attempted to board the dilapidated-looking Orion, which seemed to interest him most, but was prevented from doing so by a combination of language difficulties and the mysterious absence of a gangway.

Finally giving up, he returned to his ship, and shortly afterwards, sailed away.

Under the command of Eyssen, who was the senior officer present, the four German vessels left Lamotrek on October 20, with the Regensburg, her entire cargo distributed, returning to Japan to re-stock with supplies, and the other three, steaming abreast, the Kulmerland in the middle, heading southeastwards.

The ‘Far East Squadron’ cruised the Panama to New Zealand sea routes without success, until at a meeting on November 24, Eyssen suggested that they head north to attack the Australian trust island of Nauru, a former German possession, lost to the British during World War One, that was rich in phosphate, exporting between 700,000 and 800,000 tons of it annually, and destroy the facilities there.

As he was the senior commander, Weyher and Pschunder more or less had to agree to what had become a pet project for the Komet’s captain.

On the following day, November 25, the Komet finally caught her first victim.

Spotting a small vessel off Chatham Island, Eyssen rapidly closed in on her, ordering her to stop and not to use her wireless.

Her captain, reluctant to risk the lives of the women and children on board his ship, complied immediately, and the boarding party identified her as the 546-ton New Zealand Holm Line coaster, Holmwood, with a crew of seventeen and twelve passengers, including four women and five children, taking a cargo of 1,370 sheep, a horse, and wool from the island to Lyttelton, New Zealand.

Eyssen and Weyher briefly discussed the possibility of using the little coaster as an auxiliary minelayer, but rejected the idea due to her maximum speed being a mere 9 knots, and decided to sink her.

Her crew, passengers, and as many of the sheep as could be accommodated, were taken on board the three German ships, and the coaster was scuttled.

Opening her sea cocks, the boarding party then left the little vessel to the mercies of the Komet’s gunners, who put in some much-needed target practice.

For thirty minutes they shot the little steamer to pieces, turning her blazing wreck into a funeral pyre for the thousand or so unfortunate sheep that had remained on board and went down with her.

On Eyssen’s orders, the horse had been put down before the shooting began.

While the crews of all three ships initially welcomed the fresh meat, not surprisingly, in no time at all, they came to detest the taste of mutton.

In the early hours of the morning on November 27, in poor visibility, a large ship, running without lights, was sighted by the Orion’s lookouts, and reported by lamp signals to the Komet, which circled around her in order to trap her between the two raiders, while the unarmed Kulmerland withdrew, out of the line of fire.

Although not certain whether he was looking at a large cargo ship or a warship, when his radio operators reported to him that the vessel was transmitting distress calls, stating that she was being approached by a suspicious ship, Weyher had a signal morsed to her, ordering her to immediately cease all radio transmissions, and to stop.

Now clearly visible as a large passenger liner with two funnels, the vessel was transfixed in the mist between the Orion and the Komet, clearly silhouetted by the glare of the Orion’s powerful searchlights, which reflected off the misty rain, giving the Komet’s gunners an easy task when ordered to open fire, straddling her with their first salvo.

The Orion’s gunners immediately following suit, but hampered by their own searchlight beams reflecting back off the heavy mist, were wide of the mark.  

Continuing to transmit, and this time reporting that she was being attacked by two German warships, the burning liner vainly attempted to turn away.

Firmly boxed in by the raiders, and with her radio mast shot away, she finally surrendered, precipitating a frantic scramble, as boarding parties from all three German ships raced each other to be the first to claim her, the largest ship ever taken by a raider as a prize, with the Komet’s party getting there first.

Identified as the 16,712-ton New Zealand Shipping Company passenger liner Rangitane, on her way from Auckland to Liverpool via the Panama Canal, with a crew of 192 and 111 passengers, thirty-six of whom were women, a cargo of 124,881 cases of butter, 33,255 cases of frozen pork and mutton, 23,646 cases of cheese, as well as equally large quantities of cocoa beans and other foodstuffs, she was also carrying forty-five bars of silver.

This was a very valuable cargo, as the Rangitane was a very valuable ship.

With an armoured bridge and wheelhouse, and unusually heavily armed, she had a 127mm gun, and a 75mm mounted on her stern, several American-made light flak weapons mounted on the wings of her bridge, a depth-charge launcher, and devices to protect her against both contact and magnetic mines.

In many ways, she was better equipped than both of her attackers.

Despite all of this, and her undoubtedly superior speed, her captain had made no serious effort to defend his ship in any way, or to escape from the trap.

Had she not been boxed in by them, and caught in a cross-fire, she could easily have outrun both of them.

She had been badly damaged, with her steering and lighting systems out of action, and had sustained severe damage to the midships section, where five people, three passengers and two members of the crew, had lost their lives.

Some prisoners were transferred to the Kulmerland, which now had thirty-nine women and five children on board, while military passengers and ships companies were transferred from the supply ship and the Orion, to the Komet.

As her distress signals had been picked up and re-transmitted to Australian and New Zealand naval units, it quickly became clear from intercepted radio traffic, that both warships and aircraft were rushing to the scene, so, unfortunately for the German prize crews, there was just enough time to transfer the passengers and crew before the burning and slowly sinking liner, and her valuable and tempting cargo, had to be sent to the bottom.

With her sea cocks opened, she listed slightly, but, showing no signs of going down, a torpedo was fired from the Komet, which opened a large hole in her side, causing her to capsize and sink, after which the three German ships left the scene at top speed to the northeast and the island of Nauru.

Two flying boats, the Aotearoa and the Awarura, searched the area later in the day, and on the afternoon of the following day, November 28, the light cruiser HMNZS Achilles arrived at the scene, finding nothing but debris.

While Weyher had agreed with the plan to attack shipping around Nauru, and to put men ashore there to destroy the harbour installations, the radio station, and the phosphate plant, when Eyssen suggested that they leave their accumulated prisoners there, the idea did not at all appeal to the skipper of the Orion.

Fearing that on being rescued, the experienced seamen and military personnel among them would give accurate descriptions of the German ships to the Allies, Weyher suggested that all of the women and children should be transferred to the non-combatant Kulmerland, and that only the coloured prisoners should be left on the island, a suggestion that Eyssen agreed to, and subsequently implemented, as all the women and childen were transferred to the tanker on November 28.

On December 5, Eyssen summoned Weyher to a meeting to finalise the details of the proposed operation against Nauru, outlining his plan to put a 185-man party ashore on December 8, eighty-six of them from the Komet and ninety-nine from the Orion, under Komet’s Executive Officer, Joseph Huschenbeth.

Early on December 6, while work parties once more busily reverting the Orion to her original camouflage, her lookouts sighted smoke.

Immediately passing the information to the Kulmerland and the Komet, so that Eyssen could also participate, the Orion approached the stranger which was seen to be a rather distinctive-looking and familiar vessel.

Certain that she was the 4,413-ton British Phosphate Commissioners freighter Triona, that had escaped from him four months previously, and that she was bound for Nauru, where her imminent arrival would compromise the planned operation against the installations the following day, Weyher assured Eyssen,  who had reported that he believed her to be a neutral American ship, and Pschunder of the Kulmerland, as to her true identity.

Closing to within ten miles, still unseen by the enemy ship, Weyher used the cover of rain showers, and a smoke screen that hung in the misty air, to creep closer while remaining concealed to the south of his prey, from where he hoped to drive her towards the other two ships which lay to the north of her.

When the Komet and the Kulmerland suddenly emerged from a low rain cloud, having missed the Triona in the thick mist, Eyssen immediately turned and took off to the north of her, as Weyher headed the Orion straight into the cloud that concealed the enemy, emerging from it minutes later to find the freighter caught between himself and the Komet, from which position, there would be no escape.

Nine hours after first being spotted, a warning shot was fired across the bows of the Triona by the Komet, leading the enemy radio operator to instantly transmit a QQQ signal, which was just as quickly ‘jammed’ by the Komet’s radio officer, loudly broadcasting a Japanese radio call on the same frequency.

During one final desperate attempt to escape into a nearby surface-level rain cloud, which was halted by a well-aimed salvo from the Orion, the freighter hove to and was seen to lower her boats.

Once again, the Komet’s prize crew were the first to board the surrendered ship, confirming her identity and reporting that she was carrying a cargo of foodstuffs and piece goods from Melbourne and Newcastle to Nauru and Ocean Island, and a sixty-four-man crew, three of whom had been killed.

With Komet, the faster, and more reliable ship, departing to conduct some reconnaissance around Nauru, Weyher replenished his storerooms from the freighter’s cargo of food supplies, after which she was torpedoed and sunk.

Among the sixty-one survivors picked up, were six women and a child.

In the evening of December 7, as the Komet approached the island, where two ships were found lying offshore waiting to load under the giant cantilevered loading platforms, a third vessel appeared, and was immediately shelled and stopped without being able to send a distress signal.

Identified by the boarding party as the 5,181-ton Norwegian Ditlev-Simonsen motorship Vinni, in ballast for the island, where she was to load phosphates for Dunedin, her crew of thirty-two, clearly delighted to hear that they would be released the next day, were taken on board and the freighter was scuttled.

That evening, as the Orion and the Kulmerland lay to the west of Nauru, preparing to commence the attack, the Komet was preparing to the east.

Meeting as planned early on the morning of December 8, Eyssen reported that while having found no ships under the loading platforms, he had seen three British freighters waiting to load off the north-east coast of the island, and had evolved a plan in which the Orion would round the island to the south, while the Komet rounded it to the north, to approach and attack them without warning from opposite directions in the early morning half light.

As she moved in to within four miles of the coastline and headed south in pitch darkness and driving rain, the Orion’s lookouts spotted a large, brightly-lit ship.

Stealthily closing to within 1,300 metres of her, Weyher challenged her by signal lamp to identify herself and ordered her to stop.

Receiving no response, a warning shot followed, causing the ship’s captain to switch off his running lights, turn away and attempt to escape.

Once the Orion’s searchlight had picked out the gun mounted on the stern, establishing that the stranger was an enemy ship, Weyher’s gunners opened fire, registering hits with each round, killing one man, shooting away the freighter’s radio aerials and crippling her steering gear.

Four salvos later, with his ship ablaze, her captain decided to stop, dumped his papers overboard, and began to lower his two lifeboats.

Taking no time to pick up the survivors, as he’d spotted the lights of another ship to the east, which had been switched off when the shooting started, suggesting that she too was an enemy vessel, Weyher signalled to the Kulmerland to do so, while he went in search of his second victim.

Eyssen, who had observed the action, but had not wished to become embroiled in it for fear of accidentally tangling with the Orion, had rounded the island again, and returned to pick up one of the boats, leaving the other to the Kulmerland, identified the vessel as the 6,378-ton British Phosphate Commissioners, Triadic.

Leaving his first victim’s boats to the Kulmerland and the Komet, Weyher, now demanding every ounce of speed from his engines, pursued the second vessel until she was within range, and opened fire.

With four salvos quickly bringing her to a stop, her captain ordered his boats to be lowered, and abandoned ship without using his radio.

The prize crew identified her as the 6,032-ton British Phosphate Commissioners freighter, Triaster, as Weyher had her captain and his sixty-three man crew taken on board the Orion.

Reporting nothing of interest or value on board, the prize crew was ordered to scuttle her with demolition charges.

As they calmly made their way off the ship, having set their charges in one of the holds, the Triaster suddenly erupted.

Taking on a severe list, the men, some of whom had been searching the ship for items of interest, rushed topside and scrambled frantically to get off, with one of the officers taking a nose dive into the sea, much to the amusement of the crew, and just made it before a second charge went off, taking her down by the bow.

Returning to the listing, burnt-out Triadic, which, despite having sustained fifteen direct hits, had still not sunk, a demolition charge also failed to sink her, and so, once again, Weyher had to employ one of his precious torpedoes.

When even this failed, a demolition crew had to be sent back to carry out the extremely perilous task of placing the charges outboard, against the ship’s bow, and getting away from the red-hot wreck as quickly as possible, before the charges blew a large hole in her hull and sent her to the bottom.

With Weyher busy dealing with the Triaster, Eyssen helped sort out Triadic’s boats, and having taken some verbal abuse from her First Officer, set off in pursuit of the third freighter.

Signalled to stop and to refrain from using her wireless, her captain ordered full speed, radioed for help and tried desperately to escape.

Opening fire and registering several direct hits which silenced the radio and killed two of the officers on the bridge, by the fourth salvo the vessel came to a halt.

Identified by the boarding party as the brand new 3,900-ton Union Steamship Company of New Zealand freighter Komata, her crew of thirty-three were taken on board the Komet and she was scuttled.

This action concluded a very successful forty-eight hours during which five ships had been sunk, totalling 26,000 tons, and over 160 prisoners taken, bringing the total number aboard the three German ships to over 675, of whom fifty-two were women, and eight were children.

The only disappointment was that the proposed landing on the island had not been possible due to the high seas.

* As Eyssen had considered putting all of his prisoners, including the crew of the Rangitane, ashore on Nauru, the liner’s captain, H.L.Upton and Captain Miller of the Holmwood, wrote to him expressing his gratitude for the fair treatment they and their crews had received while on board the Komet.

6/12/40

To Captain Eyssen

Sir,

On behalf of our ships companies, we wish to thank you and your Officers and crew for the way we have been treated on board your ship as prisoners. Everything possible has been done for us in the circumstances and we have received all considerations. The issue of cool clothing and tobacco was most considerate and everything was done for the sick and wounded.

Signed by Captain Upton and Captain Miller

Agreeing to meet with Weyher again on December 13, for another shot at putting a demolition squad on Nauru, the Komet and the Kulmerland left for Ailinglapalap Atoll to re-fuel while the Orion continued to search for fresh targets off Ponape.

Arriving at the rendezvous off Nauru on the designated day, the Orion ran into gale force winds and high seas, as once again it seemed as if the weather would prevent the operation going ahead.

With no sign of the Komet or the Kulmerland until December 16, she had to wait for three days in appalling weather for them to arrive.

Tired of operating with the Orion, a ship that was constantly in need of repairs, Eyssen decided to break up the ‘Far East Squadron’, but decided, that before doing so, it had one final task to perform.

As both he and Weyher had received instructions from the SKL in Berlin not to send any prisoners to Japan, but to return them to Europe whenever possible, he proposed that as that was not possible from such a remote location, that they release every one of their 675 captives, 153 from his ship, 265 from the Orion, and 257 from the Kulmerland, on Emirau Island in the Bismarck Archipelago.

Once again, Weyher objected, suggesting that only the women, the children, the disabled and the ‘coloured’ prisoners be put ashore, and that the rest should be put on the 6,528-ton former Hamburg-Amerika vessel Ermland, which was about to set sail, from Japan, for Europe.

By noon on December 21, 343 European and 171 ‘coloured’ prisoners, along with tents and provisions to tie them over until they were picked up, had been landed into the care of the two English families living on Emirau.

* Eyssen was later criticised by the SKL for this decision as the information gleaned from those picked up at Emirau provided Allied Intelligence with vital information about the operational activities of the raiders, their secret re-fuelling points and their use of Japanese facilities and disguises.

The prisoners were subsequently picked up on December 29, by the 6,942-ton British auxiliary Nellore of the Eastern & Australian Steamship Company and landed at Townsville, North Queensland.

One hundred and fifty prisoners remained on the Orion for ‘security reasons’.

When the raiders had replenished and re-fuelled from the Kulmerland, the supply ship set off for Japan to re-load, Weyher and the Orion departed for Lamotrek Atoll and the Komet headed back to pursue Eyssen’s pet project, the destruction of the phosphate facilities on Nauru.

Twice the two raiders had approached the island with the intention of putting men ashore to blow up the loading platforms, harbour installations and oil storage tanks, and on both occasions, heavy seas had prevented it.

On December 23, on his way there, Eyssen had hoped to lay mines off Rabaul, employing LS-2 / Meteorit, but was unable to do so due to engine failure in the tiny craft, leaving him perhaps regretting the sinking of the 546-ton coaster Holmwood, which would have made an ideal auxiliary minelayer.

Arriving off Nauru on December 27, Eyssen identified himself and warned the operators that he was about to shell the loading facilities and the oil tanks, stressing that if they maintained radio silence, he would spare their living quarters and administration buildings.

No signals were sent, and so, once satisfied that the area was fully evacuated, the Komet’s gunners confined their attention to the loading platforms, cranes and oil tanks, causing considerable damage, and destroying 13,000 tons of oil.

Out of action for ten weeks, the facility did not return to full capacity until long after the war was over.

Immediately departing the area, Eyssen decided it was once again time to alter the appearance of his ship, taking on the identity of the 2,962-ton Japanese Osaka Shosen KK freighter Ryoku Maru.

On January 1 1941 as he headed for his next operational area, the Indian Ocean, Eyssen learned that he had been promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral, making him the highest ranking officer in the German Auxiliary Cruiser fleet.

Ordered south, to look for the Anglo-Norwegian whaling fleets, he took Komet on a great arc through the islands of French Polynesia before turning southwards past New Zealand, arriving off the coast of Antarctica on February 13.

Finding no sign of them, and hearing only Japanese radio traffic, on February 22 he came across a Japanese whaler and subsequently two huge factory ships, the 16,801-ton Nisshin Maru and the 19,262-ton Tonan Maru, with whom he traded information, learning that all his potential targets were operating further west.

Instructed by the SKL to head for the Kerguelen Islands, in the hope of finding the whalers at anchor there, he found all the anchorages deserted.

Meeting the supply-ship Alstertor on March 8, Eyssen kept a rendezvous with fellow raider Pinguin with its auxiliary the Adjutant, the former Norwegian whaler, on March 12, to the east of the Kerguelens.

Replenishing his stocks of ammunition from the Alstertor, he provided the Pinguin with fresh water as he and her commander, Kapitän zur See Ernst-Felix Krüder, exchanged their war stories.

Heading north again on March 14 to patrol the sea-lanes between Australia and Africa, on March 25 the Komet re-fuelled from the Ole Jacob, the former Norwegian tanker, captured by the raider Atlantis on November 10 1940.

Due to the high level of raider activity in the Indian Ocean, with neutral shipping increasingly under British Admiralty control, and ships sailing alone increasingly harder to find, the following months were unproductive for the Komet.

On May 9, while cruising off the coast of western Australia, Eyssen learned of the sinking of the Pinguin by the British heavy cruiser HMS Cornwall, and immediately signalled to the SKL, requesting that her former consort, the whaler Adjutant, be assigned to him so as to enhance his scouting range.

On May 21, the ex-whale catcher, under the command of the Pinguin’s former adjutant, Leutnant zur See Hans-Karl Hemmer, joined the Komet.

Having decided to employ the tiny craft as an auxiliary minelayer, Eyssen had her equipped with one 60mm and two 20mm flak guns captured from the liner Rangitane, a range finder and a supply of magnetic mines, which were to be laid off the harbours of Lyttelton and Port Nicholson in New Zealand a month later.

With Oberleutnant z. S. Karsten replacing Hemmer, who remained on board as navigator, the mines were laid on the nights of June 25 and 26, but with the Adjutant suffering an almost terminal engine failure, she was three days late returning to rendezvous with the Komet.

On July 1, with its engine irreparably broken down, Eyssen reluctantly ordered the destruction of the little whaler, with Leutnant Hemmer being permitted to take her bell and wheel as souvenirs before she was scuttled.

Two days later, the young officer was awarded the Knights Cross in recognition of his fine performance in command of the little auxiliary, and for his service as a member of the crew of the raider Pinguin.

Setting course for the Panama Canal zone in the hope of finding some targets  there, but finding nothing, on July 14, the Komet met with the  5,173-ton tanker Anneliese Essberger, under Kapitän Prahm, to re-fuel.

As the tanker had no hoses, and Eyssen had given his to Weyher on the Orion, fire hoses had to be used, causing the painstaking transfer of the 1,400 tons of oil to take five days to complete.

Receiving instructions to have the Komet back in Germany by October so that she could undergo a re-fit prior to embarking on a second cruise, Eyssen was determined to take a few more victims on his way home.

Also told that he could now enter the previously off-limits Pan American Neutrality Zone, he headed towards the Galapagos Islands, where, on the afternoon of August 14, the first enemy ship the crew of the Komet had seen for seven and a half months, paid no attention whatsoever to her.

Still disguised as a Japanese ship, Eyssen had the German naval ensign run up, followed by his admiral’s pennant and two warning shots, fired from a range of about 5,000 metres, and soon got her attention.

Refusing to stop, the vessel began transmitting distress signals and manned the 4-inch gun mounted on her stern, at which Komet’s gunners, with the range now down to 3,000 metres, fired seven salvoes into her, severely damaging her bridge, killing her captain and one other officer, and severely wounding another.

With the raider’s operators successfully jamming the freighter’s weak signals, she was seen to be coming to a halt and preparing to lower her boats.

Identified as the 5,020-ton Australind Steamship Company freighter, Australind en route to the UK from Adelaide by way of the Panama Canal, with a cargo of zinc, fruit, jam, honey and piece goods, forty-three survivors were picked up and she was scuttled.

The wounded man died soon afterwards and was buried at sea with full honours.

This was the first time since leaving Germany, thirteen months before, that the raider Komet had sunk an enemy ship on her own.

The following night, August 16, the raider’s radio operator intercepted a signal from the 9,412-ton British refrigerator ship Lochmonar, revealing her current position and estimated time of arrival off the entrance to the Panama Canal.

Establishing that she would have to pass close to his present position at some time within the next twenty-four hours, Eyssen spent the next day lying in wait.

With her engines switched off until nightfall, the Komet drifted all day, only firing them up to avoid being caught napping should the Lochmonar appear.

When a freighter did come into view early on the morning of August 17, it was not the Lochmonar, which had presumably gone on her way, unaware of how close she had come to an untidy end.

Approaching from dead ahead, Eyssen closed with the newcomer, which turned sharply away towards the Galapagos Islands and increased speed.

When the she began signalling her position and reporting that she was being pursued by an unknown ship, Eyssen ran up his battle flag and instructed his gunnery officer to open fire.

Returning fire with her stern gun, with both shots falling short, and unable to shake the Komet off, the freighter’s captain soon realised the hopelessness of his position and brought his ship to a halt.

The boarding party identified her as the 7,322-ton Dutch Rotterdamschen Lloyd motor-ship Kota Nopan, bound for New York from Macassar, with a a crew of fifty-one and a cargo of rubber, tin, manganese, ore and sago flour.

A valuable prize, with a very valuable cargo, particularly to a nation at war, and Eyssen very much wanted to put a prize crew on board and send her home to Germany, but she had insufficient oil in her tanks to get her there.

Signalling to the SKL in Berlin to see if there was any possibility of locating some fuel to enable her to do so, in the meantime Eyssen decided to have some of the more valuable parts of her cargo transferred to his own ship.

Two days later, on August 19, with his engines shut down and several of his boats in the water busily transferring cargo from the the Dutch ship and still awaiting a reply from Naval Command, another vessel appeared.

Recalling the boats and firing up his engines, Eyssen soon had the Komet under way and caught up to the slow coal-burning stranger, firing two warning shots at her from a range of 8,000 metres.

Despite transmitting some alarm signals, after several near misses, she stopped.

Identified as the 9,036-ton British India Steam Navigation Company freighter Devon, she was bound for New Zealand from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, with a crew of 144, and a ‘miscellaneous’ cargo of 4,570 tons of machine and aircraft parts, and used car tyres.

As this cargo was not deemed to be of sufficient value to save and even described in a subsequent SKL report, as ‘worthless’, the Devon’s crew were taken aboard the raider and she was sunk by gunfire.

With three ships sunk over such a short period of time, the British and the Americans were bound to be on the lookout for him, Eyssen left the area.

Finally instructed by the SKL to re-fuel the Kota Nopan from the tanker Münsterland at Balbo, he headed south to keep an appointment with her and the raider Atlantis.

Arriving at the rendezvous point to the east of New Zealand on September 20, with his prize ship, Eyssen soon found himself embroiled in an argument with the commander of the Atlantis, Kapitän zur See Bernhard Rogge, about supplies, particularly the fresh vegetables, which the crew of Atlantis had not seen for nearly eighteen months.

With some considerable justification, Rogge argued that for this reason alone and also because his ship was remaining at sea while the Komet was going home, the bulk of these should be assigned to his ship, and got his way.

With both the Kota Nopan and the Komet taking on sufficient fuel to enable them to reach Europe, they departed for Cape Horn, and home, on September 24.

Rounding the Cape on October 10, the Kota Nopan, being the faster of the two ships, went on ahead to conserve fuel, and reached Bordeaux on November 17.

* Re-named Karin, she was lost in 1943.

The raider Komet, once again re-camouflaged, and taking on the identity of the 5,213-ton Portuguese freighter S.Thomé briefly cruised the area off St Helena, before setting course for France.

With her speed now down to 12 knots, her raiding days were effectively over.

She rendezvoused with the U-652 (Kptlt. Georg-Werner Fraatz) on November 17, west of the Azores, and on the following day, the U-561 (Krvkpt. Robert Bartels) which over the next six days saw her safely into the Bay of Biscay.

Disguising his ship as the Sperrbrecher 52 on November 23, by the following day he was under the protection of aircraft and three boats from the Eighth Minesweeper Flotilla, she dropped anchor at Cherbourg on November 26.

Reaching Le Havre on November 27, she proceeded up the Channel escorted by the torpedo boats T-4, T-7 and T-12 from the Second Torpedo Boat Flotilla, the minesweepers M-9, M-10, M-12, M-21 and M-153, and the R-Boats  R-65, R-66, R-67, R-72 and R-73, where she was unsuccessfully attacked by British bombers and Motor Torpedo Boats between Boulogne and Dunkirk.

Spending a day in Dunkirk, she continued on up the coast of Holland and was attacked by bombers again on November 29, sustaining one hit but little damage.

By 0715 she was anchored off Cuxhaven, where her prisoners were put ashore, and by 1115 off Brunsbüttel, where Eyssen conferred with Günther Gumprich, who was outward-bound in the raider Thor, embarking on her second cruise.

Escorted into port by Sperrbrecher 15 and Sperrbrecher 17, the Komet tied up at Hamburg at 1800 hours on November 30, ending an epic voyage of 516 days, during which she had crossed the Equator eight times.

In a voyage of over 87,000 miles, she sank seven ships, two in conjunction with the raider Orion, and sent one home as a prize, for a total of 41,568 tons.

Eyssen knew that she would be sent out again in a few months time, but both he and his die-hard Executive Officer Joseph Huschenbeth, believed that by then it would probably be too late.

THE ATTEMPTED SECOND BREAKOUT

Following a complete re-fit, the raider Komet was prepared for her second cruise.

With forty-two-year-old Kapitän zur See Ulrich Brocksien assuming command in February 1942, she was re-armed with six new 150mm-L/48 C/36 guns, four 37mm and four 20mm anti-aircraft guns, and retained her six torpedo tubes, but was to carry no mines, no Light Speedboat and no aircraft.

With only two of her original officers on board, including the highly sceptical Huschenbeth, she departed Vlissingen on October 7, disguised as a Sperrbrecher, and escorted by several 125-ton Motor Minesweepers and despite being attacked by British Motor Torpedo Boats, she reached the port of Boulogne unscathed, having sunk two of them and severely damaged two more.

Off the port Dunkirk however, four of her minesweepers, the  R-77 R-78 R-82 and R-86, were lost in a freshly-laid British minefield.

Following almost almost a week in Dunkirk, the Komet lmade a run for the open sea on October 12 and continued on to Le Havre, departing from there the next evening, escorted by the 844-ton T-4, the 839-ton T-10, and the 853-ton T-14 and T-19 of the Third Torpedo Boat Flotilla under Fregattenkapitän Hans Wilke.

But two British ‘Battle Groups’ were waiting.

‘Force A’, comprising four Hunt-class destroyers, HMS Albrighton, Cottesmore, Glaysdale, Eskdale and Quorn, and eight Vosper type Motor Torpedo Boats, and ‘Force B’, comprising three further British destroyers, HMS Brocklesby, Tynedale and Fernie and one Polish vessel, the Orp Krakowiak.

Spotted from the air shortly after midnight on October 14 off Barfleur by an RAF Swordfish, which dropped flares, the German ships were attacked at 0205 as they passed Cherbourg.

The flotilla leader, Wilke, in T-14, urged Brocksien to put into Cherbourg, but with little or no time to decide what best to do, the Komet’s commander inexplicably maintained his course.

In the ensuing fierce and chaotic battle, several of the raider’s escort vessels suffered damage and fifteen men were reported killed or missing, including Wilke.

It was later reported that despite good visibility, the raider’s forward 20mm flak gunners appeared to panic and opened fire on the T-14 as well as on the T-4 and T-19.

By refusing to alter course to seek refuge when it was still possible to do so, Brocksien sealed the Komet’s fate as shortly after two torpedoes were fired at her by the M.T.B. 236 off Cap De La Hague, at 0215, she was seen to be on fire.

The flames spread rapidly, and fifteen to twenty seconds later, a massive explosion, that sent a ball of flame hundreds of feet into the night sky, literally blew the ship to pieces.

Her back broken, she went down immediately, taking all 251 officers and men on board with her.

In the ensuing skirmishes between the British ships and the raider’s escorts the Torpedo Boat T-10 and the destroyer HMS Brocklesby were slightly damaged.

While the British credited the Komet’s destruction to the torpedoes from the M.T.B.236, it was the considered view of the escorting ship’s officers, none of whom saw any torpedo hits on her, that it was gunfire from the destroyers that must have scored a direct hit on her forward magazines.

The Komet's Sister Ships and Half-sister Ships

Launched on January 16 1937 at the Deschimag-Werk-Weser in Bremen, for the Nord-Deutscher Lloyd line, the 3,287-ton freighter Ems had four sister-ships, the motor-ships Drau, Eider, Iller and Mur, and two half-sisters, the Saar and Memel, and was the smallest of all the German Auxiliary Cruisers.

The Eider, Saar and Iller were bombed and sunk during the war, while the Memel was sold to the Soviet Union in 1940, re-named Viborg and was subsequently torpedoed and sunk by the German-built Finnish prototype submarine Vesikko.

The Drau, taken to the United States in 1947, and later given to Norway, where she was re-named Sunny and later Tindefjell, was sold on to the Philippines and re-named Cebu, ran aground in 1973 and was broken up in 1974.

Launched at Deschimag-Werft Wesermünde on March 12 1939, the motorship Mur was requisitioned by the Kriegsmarine on December 21 1942 and converted into the Sperrbrecher 32.

Based at Royan she served in the Gironde estuary off La Pallice and Saint-Nazaire until August 20 1944.

Converted into a Naval Hospital-Ship in late 1944 and re-named München, she was forced to remain tied up at Saint Nazaire, due to the shortage of fuel, where she served as a accomodation-ship for navy divers.

When captured there by the American and French liberation forces on May 8 1945, she was found to be in excellent working order and was requisitioned into the French Navy as a  War Reparations Prize on August 29 of that year.

Armed and re-named Ile d’Oléron, she served as a naval transport ship until 1952 employed in the repatriation of displaced persons and colonial troops to North and West Africa, and on one such trip she carried 400 tons of gold.

On May 10 1947 she departed Toulon for French Indo-China (Vietnam) from where she served on numerous transport assignments between Saigon, Hong-Kong, Singapore and Madagascar until November 1948 when she returned to France.

She arrived back in Toulon on December 21 carrying two elephants, which were a gift to the French from Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia.

Following an overhaul and re-fit she departed once more for Saigon in early February 1950, remaining on general freight service throughout South-East-Asia and the Indian Ocean for two years before returning to Toulon on April 24 1952, after which she was placed in the special Naval Reserve at Brest.

In 1958, the Ile d’Oléron received a new lease of life as the French Navy sought a suitable vessel for testing the latest anti-aircraft and radar systems.

Dramaticaly modified, she was armed and converted into the Test and Experimentation Ship (Le Bâtiment d’Essais et d’Expérimentation) A 610.

Based mainly at Toulon, she took part in the testing of all French offensive and defensive missile systems including Malafon, Masurca, the Exocet MM38 and Exocet MM40, Crotale, Otomat, Milas and Aster as well as Auto-Defense systems and every type of Naval Radar and Transmission system employed by the French Navy.

In 1997 she was further modified to accommodate the SAAM anti-missile system that would be fitted in the 40,000-ton aircraft-carrier Charles De Gaulle and other naval vessels, and over the next four years took part in the joint Franco-Italian missile testing programme in the Mediterranean.

On July 25 2001 the last active service crew embarked on the Ile d’Oléron which put to sea on her final sortie on March 22 2002.

She retired nine days later on March 31, ending 63 years of loyal service.

Konteradmiral Robert Eyssen
Commander HK Komet

Robert Eyssen was born in April 1892, in Frankfurt/Main, the son of a Guatamalan coffee plantation owner, Robert Eyssen joined the Kaiserliche Marine in 1911, serving on the heavy cruiser Hansa and the light cruiser Bremen before being posted as an ensign to the light cruiser KMS Karlsruhe in World War One.

The cruiser, having sunk or captured 17 ships, blew up in November 1914 in an unexplained explosion off Trinidad, taking 263 members of her crew with her, but Eyssen was one of the 150 who survived, seeing out the war on the light cruiser Amazone, the Torpedo-boat V-108, the heavy cruiser Kaiserin Augusta, further postings with the torpedo-boat flotillas and with the Inspectorate of U-Boats.

Between the wars he served in the Baltic minesweeper flotillas, coastal defence, torpedo-boats, commanded the survey ship Meteor, and carried out staff duties with the Admiralty in Berlin, but on the outbreak of World War Two, he volunteered for duty on an Auxiliary Cruiser.

The 48-year-old Eyssen, the longest-serving of all the raider captains, knew exactly what kind of ship he wanted, and personally chose the smallest of those being prepared for Hilfskreuzer service, Schiff 45, the 3,287-ton former Nord-Deutscher Lloyd freighter Ems, and named her Komet.

With 35 German cargo vessels stranded in the Pacific region by the outbreak of war, German Naval High Command was anxious to test the feasibility of bringing them home across the top of Russia by way of the Northeast Passage during the summer of 1940, as well as exploring the possibility of using this route for other shipping, preferably disguised commerce raiders, enabling them to pass to and from the Pacific, unmolested.

Eyssen expressed confidence that he and Komet could accomplish this task, particularly as she was one of the raiders whose hull had been especially strengthened for possible encounters with Arctic pack ice.

Komet may have been small, but her armament was almost identical to that of her larger sisters, and her two 6-cylinder diesel powered engines gave her a cruising speed of 16 knots.

Leaving Gotenhafen on July 3, Eyssen took Komet, disguised as the Soviet cargo ship Deynev, and in the company of the supply tanker Esso, a crew of 270, and a vast array of ammunition and supplies into the frigid wastes of the Barents Sea, where, having first lost her supply ship with hull damage, she was forced to wait a month, due to unfavourable conditions in the Arctic ice pack.

Rejecting the Soviet suggestion that he wait in Murmansk, Eyssen chose to remain at sea, mainly drifting with the currents to conserve fuel, and occasionally at anchor, and used this unexpected free time to train and drill his crew in the art of raider warfare, and prepared them for what lay ahead in the Arctic Ocean.

On August 13, he embarked upon the record-setting 3,300-mile, 23-day voyage through the Kara Sea, the Levdev Sea and the Eastern Siberian Sea, assisted some of the way by the Lenin, at the time the most powerful icebreaker in the world, the Stalin, and the Kaganovitch, finally passing through the Bering Strait early on September 5.

Eyssen acknowledged that he could not have achieved it without the assistance of the icebreakers, for which the Germans paid the Soviets the equivalent of $130,000, and that it was a voyage he would not volunteer to undertake again!

Setting no records for ships sunk or captured, three on her own, and seven with Orion, Komet was unusual in that she actually operated in conjunction with another raider, and that she was the only raider to shell a shore installation.

Making Rear Admiral during Komet’s cruise, becoming the highest ranking officer in the Hilfskreuzer fleet, he was awarded the Knight’s Cross in November 1941.

After he left Komet, Rear Admiral Eyssen served in a variety of posts, including as Naval Liaison Officer with Luftflotte IV (Airfleet IV) in Russia from March 1942 until August of that year, and from then to July 1944 as Chief of the Naval Depot in Oslo, with responsibility for shipping and supplies.

His last post was Commander of the 3rd Military District in Vienna, from which he retired on 30 April 1945.

He died in Baden-Baden on March 31 1960, two days before his 68th birthday.

At his funeral, his former gunnery officer, Balser, delivering a grateful eulogy said, “You spared lives … you will live … as a beaming good friend

Adjutant Karsten, in a dedication to a book on the Komet, wrote that he had been was a revered commander, ‘Remembered with gratitude’.

PRIMARY SOURCES
HSK Komet - Kaperfahrt auf allen Meeren - Robert Eyssen – Koehler 2002
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
German Warships of World War II – J.C.Taylor
German Surface Warships – H.T.Lenton

Notes on the Ships Captured or Sunk by HK Komet with HK Orion - 3 July 1940 - 26 November 1941
1 - Holmwood

Under the command of Eyssen, the ‘Far East Squadron’ sailing line abreast, with the tanker Kulmerland between the raiders, cruised the Panama to New Zealand sea routes with no success, until finally, at a meeting on November 24, Eyssen and Weyher decided to attack the Australian trust island of Nauru, which exported nearly a million tons of phosphates and copra every year.

On November 25, the Komet found her first victim, this tiny 546-ton New Zealand coaster with twenty-nine passengers and crew, taking a cargo of 1.370 sheep and wool from Chatham Island to Lyttelton.

Eyssen and Weyher discussed the possibility of using the coaster as an auxiliary minelayer, but rejected the idea as her maximum speed was a mere 9 knots.

Her 17-man crew, twelve passengers, and as many of the sheep as could be accommodated, were taken on board the three German ships, and the little coaster was scuttled with demolition charges.
2 - Rangitane

At 3 a.m. on November 27, a large ship, running without lights, was sighted by the Orion’s lookouts. On being informed, the Komet circled around in order to catch the vessel between the two raiders.                                       

She was the 16.712-ton passenger liner Rangitane, on her way from Auckland to Liverpool via the Panama Canal, with three hundred and three passengers and crew, thirty-six of whom were women, and a cargo of 124,881 cases of butter, 33.255 cases of frozen pork and mutton, 23.646 cases of cheese, as well as equally large quantities of cocoa beans and other foodstuffs. She was also carrying forty-five bars of silver.

Unusually heavily armed, and with an armoured bridge, she had a 5-inch and a 3-inch mounted on her stern, as well as several light anti-aircraft guns mounted on the wings of the bridge, and a depth charge launcher, yet despite all this, and her undoubtedly superior speed, her master Captain Lionel Upton, made no serious effort to escape the raider’s trap, or to defend his ship in any way.

Ordered to stop and to cease all radio transmissions, the liner was transfixed in the mist between the two raiders, clearly silhouetted by the Orion’s powerful searchlights, giving Komet’s gunners an easy task when ordered to open fire.

The Orion’s gunners immediately followed suit, but were hampered by their searchlight beams reflecting back off the mist.

Having refused to cease transmitting, and now reporting that she was being attacked by two German warships, the burning liner vainly attempted to turn away, but, firmly boxed in by the raiders, and with her radio mast shot away, she surrendered.

This precipitated a frantic scramble, as boarding parties from all three German ships literally raced to be the first to claim the ship, the largest vessel ever taken by a raider, as a prize. The crew from the Komet won.

The Rangitane's distress signals had been picked up by Australian and New Zealand naval units, and it quickly became clear that both warships and aircraft were rushing to the scene, so, unfortunately for the German crews, there was only time to transfer the passengers and crew, before the slowly sinking liner and her valuable and tempting cargo, was sent to the bottom by a torpedo from the Komet.

Three people had lost their lives in the action. Some prisoners were transferred to the Kulmerland, which had thirty-nine women and five children on board, while military passengers and ships crews were transferred from the supply ship and the Orion, to the relative comforts of the Komet.

Leaving the scene as quickly as possible, the raiders headed north to attack the shipping around the island of Nauru, a former German possession, lost to the British during World War One, that was rich in phosphate, exporting between 700.000 and 800.000 tons of it annually.
3 Triona

On December 6, having decided to land a raiding party on the island, with three hundred and ten prisoners, the squadron ran across this 4.413-ton freighter, carrying a cargo of foodstuffs and piece goods, from Melbourne and Newcastle to Nauru and Ocean Island, that had escaped the Orion four months previously, and finally managed to corner her after a chase that lasted over nine hours, during which three of her 64-man crew were killed.

Among the sixty-eight survivors picked up, were six women and a child. The Komet having departed, the freighter was torpedoed and sunk by the Orion.
4 - Vinni

The next day, December 7, as the Komet led the squadron in towards the island, where two ships were found lying offshore waiting to load under the giant cantilevered loading platforms, a third vessel appeared, and was immediately shelled and stopped without being able to send a distress signal.

She was the 5,181-ton Norwegian motor vessel Vinni, in ballast for Nauru , where she was to load phosphates for Dunedin.

With her crew of thirty-two, having been taken on board the Komet, clearly delighted to hear that they would be released the next day, the freighter was scuttled.
5 - Triadic

Having conferred for two hours early on December 8, Weyher and Eyssen took their ships in opposite directions around the island, Komet to the north, Orion to the south, where this 6.378-ton British freighter, also in ballast, was approached at first light, and ordered to stop.

Her captain immediately ordered all his running lights switched off, turned away and tried to escape.

It was only after the Orion’s gunners had opened fire, killing one man, shooting away the freighter’s radio aerials, and crippling her steering gear, that he stopped, dumped his papers and lowered his lifeboats.

Taking no time to pick up survivors, as he’d spotted another ship to eastward, Weyher ordered the Kulmerland to do so.         Eyssen, having observed the action, and not wishing to become embroiled in it, rounded the island once more, and returned to pick up one of the Triadic’s boats, leaving the other to the Kulmerland, after which the freighter was then scuttled.
6 - Komata

Having sorted out the Triadic's boats, and taken some verbal abuse from her First Officer, Eyssen ran this 3.900-ton British freighter down, signalling to her to heave to.

Unable to decipher the Komet’s signal, her captain ordered full speed, and tried desperately to escape.

Full speed was not enough to shake off the raider, whose guns silenced his radio, blew his First Officer to pieces along with the port wing of the bridge, and mortally wounded his Second Officer.

Her crew having been taken on board, the Komata was scuttled.
7 - Triaster
Having left the Triadic’s boats to the Kulmerland and the Komet, Weyher stopped this new 6.032-ton British freighter in ballast, and having prevented her from raising the alarm, took her captain and his 63-man crew on board, and scuttled her.
Aftermath - First Cruise

This concluded a very successful 48 hours during which five ships had been sunk, totalling 26.000 tons, and over one hundred and sixty prisoners taken, bringing the total number aboard the three German ships to over six hundred and seventy-five, of whom fifty-two were women, and eight were children.

Some of these, and a number of ‘coloured’ crewmen having been set ashore on Emirau Island , from where they were rescued by the British soon afterwards, Eyssen disbanded his squadron.

The Orion retired to Lamotrek, where she arrived on New Years Eve, the Kulmerland headed for Japan for supplies, and the Komet set off to pursue Eyssen’s pet project, the destruction of the phosphate facilities on Nauru.

Twice the raiders had approached the island with the intention of putting men ashore to blow up the loading platforms and oil storage tanks, and on both occasions, heavy seas had prevented it.

Arriving off the island on December 27, Eyssen identified himself and warned the operators that he was about to shell the loading facilities and the oil tanks, stressing that if they maintained radio silence, he would spare their living quarters and administration buildings.

No signals were sent, and so, once satisfied that the area was fully evacuated, the Komet’s gunners confined their attention to the loading platforms, cranes and oil tanks, causing considerable damage, and burning 13,000 tons of oil.

Out of action for ten weeks, the facility did not return to full capacity until after the war was over.

As the Komet headed for her next operational area, the Indian Ocean, Eyssen learned that he had been promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral, making him the highest ranking officer in the German Auxiliary Cruiser fleet.

Ordered south, to look for the Anglo-Norwegian whaling fleets in Antarctica, Eyssen found no sign of them, and so, headed for the Kerguelen Islands, hoping to catch them at anchor there, but found them to be deserted.

On March 12, 120 miles east of the Kerguelens, Komet kept a rendezvous with the raider Pinguin and the supply ship Alstertor.

Due to the high level of raider activity in the Indian Ocean , with ships sailing alone increasingly harder to find, the following months were unproductive. On May 9, off the coast of western Australia, having heard the news of the sinking of the Pinguin by HMS Cornwall, Eyssen, signalled to the SKL, requesting that her former consort, the Adjutant, be assigned to him.

On May 21, the former whaler, turned auxiliary minelayer, under the command of former Pinguin officer Leutnant Hans-Karl Hemmer, joined the Komet, and was equipped with three light weapons, one 60mm and two 20mm, a range finder and a supply of magnetic mines, which were laid off New Zealand a month later.

Reluctantly, on July 1, with it’s engine irreparably broken down, Eyssen ordered the destruction of the little whaler, with Hemmer being permitted to take her bell and her wheel before she was scuttled.

Two days later, he pinned a Knights Cross on the young officer, in recognition of his fine performance as commander of the Adjutant, and as a member of the crew of Pinguin.

On July 14, Komet re-fuelled with great difficulty, from the tanker Anneliese Essberger, which had no oil hoses, and, as the raider had given hers to the Orion, fire hoses had to be used to take on the 1.400 tons of oil.
Notes on Ships Sunk or Captured by HK Komet 14 August 1940 to 19 August 1941
8 - Australind

On the first leg of his journey home for a refit, and with Komet disguised as a Japanese ship, Eyssen headed towards the Galapagos Islands, where on August 14, this 5,020-ton British freighter, en route to the UK from Adelaide, with a cargo of zinc, fruit, jam, honey and piece goods, and the first enemy ship to be seen for 227 days, paid no attention whatsoever to the raider.

When the German naval ensign, followed by the admiral’s pennant, was run up the mast and two warning shots were fired, she refused to stop, signalled the alarm and tried to man her 4-inch stern gun.

The Komet’s gunners fired seven salvoes into her, severely damaging her bridge, killing her captain and one other officer, and severely wounding another, who died later on board the Komet.

With the raider’s operators successfully jamming the freighter’s signals, she was finally seen to be coming to a halt and preparing to lower her boats.

Forty-three survivors were picked up and taken on board and the Australind was scuttled. This was the first time since leaving Germany, thirteen months before, that the Komet had sunk an enemy ship alone.
9 - Kota Nopan

As the Komet was lying in wait, with her engines switched off, for the British refrigerator ship Lochmonar, whose signals she’d picked up the previous day, a freighter came into view on the morning of August 17.

Starting his engines, Eyssen gave chase towards the Galapagos Islands, with the freighter signalling her position and returning fire with her stern gun.

Suddenly coming to a stop and running up her flag, she turned out to be the 7,322-ton Dutch motor-ship Kota Nopan, on her way to New York from Macassar, with a cargo of rubber, tin, manganese, ore and sago flour, and a crew of fifty-one.

A valuable prize, with an extremely valuable cargo, Eyssen very much wanted to send her home to Germany, but as she was low in oil, and as he began to have some of the more valuable parts of her cargo transferred to his own ship, he signalled to the SKL to see if there was any possibility of locating fuel for her.
10 - Devon
On August 19, while awaiting a reply from the SKL regarding the fuel for the Kota Nopan, this 9,035-ton coal-burning British freighter appeared. Eyssen opened fire from 8.000 yards, and the freighter immediately gave the alarm, but after several near misses, she stopped. Bound for New Zealand from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, with 4.570 tons of "miscellaneous goods", and a crew of 31 British and 113 Indians on board, she was sunk by gunfire. Her cargo, described in a subsequent SKL report, as ‘worthless,’ was not deemed to be sufficiently valuable to save.
Aftermath - Fate of the Hilfskreuzer Komet and Kapitan zur See Robert Eyssen

On August 19, while awaiting a reply from the SKL regarding the fuel for the Kota Nopan, this 9,036-ton coal-burning British freighter appeared.

Eyssen opened fire from 8.000 metres, and the freighter instantly gave the alarm, but after several near misses, she stopped. Bound for New Zealand from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, with 4.570 tons of ‘miscellaneous goods’, and a crew of one hundred and forty-four, she was sunk by gunfire.

Her cargo, described in a subsequent SKL report, as ‘worthless,’ was not deemed to be sufficiently valuable to save.

On September 24, having been instructed by the SKL to re-fuel his prize from the tanker Munsterland at Balbo, to the east of New Zealand, in company with fellow raider Atlantis, the Kota Nopan and the Komet departed for Cape Horn, and home.

Being the faster of the two ships, the freighter went on ahead, reaching Bordeaux on November 16, while the raider, having picked up two escorting U-Boats, U-652 (Kptlt. Georg Werner Fraatz) and U-561 (Krvkpt.Robert Bartels) west of the Azores, reached Cherbourg under the further protection of aircraft and minesweepers, on November 26.

Reaching Le Havre on November 27, and finally, despite being hit by a British bomb that failed to explode on November 29, she tied up at Hamburg on November 30, bringing a voyage of 516 days and over 87.000 miles, to an end.


KAPITAN ZUR SEE ROBERT EYSSEN

Kapitan zur See Robert Eyssen was forty-eight when he took command of Schiff 45. The son of a Guatamalan coffee plantation owner, he had been posted as an ensign to the light cruiser KMS Karlsruhe in WW1. The cruiser, having sunk or captured seventeen ships, blew up in November 1914 in an unexplained explosion off Trinidad, taking two hundred and sixty-three members of her crew with her.

Robert Eyssen was one of the one hundred and fifty men who survived to fight again.

Between the wars he had served in staff duties with the Admiralty in Berlin, and had commanded the survey ship Meteor, but on the outbreak of World War Two, he volunteered for duty on an Auxiliary Cruiser.

Eyssen knew exactly what kind of ship he wanted, and personally chose the smallest of those then being prepared for Hilfskreuzer service, the 3.287-ton former Nord Deutsche Lloyd Line freighter Ems, and christened her Komet.

She was less than 359 feet long, little more than 50 feet at the beam, and most significantly, drew less than 20 feet of water!

With thirty-five German cargo vessels stranded in the Pacific region by the sudden outbreak of war, German Naval Command was anxious to test the feasibility of bringing them back to Germany across the top of Russia by way of the Northeast Passage during the summer of 1940, as well as exploring the possibility of using this route for other shipping, preferably disguised commerce raiders, enabling them to pass to and from the Pacific, unmolested.

Eyssen expressed confidence that he and his small ship could accomplish this task, particularly as she was one of the raiders whose hull had been especially strengthened to deal with possible encounters with Arctic pack ice.

Komet may have been small, but her armament was almost identical to that of her larger sisters, and her two 6-cylinder diesel powered engines gave her a cruising speed of 16 knots.

Leaving Gotenhafen on July 3, Eyssen took Komet, disguised as the Soviet cargo ship Deynev, and in the company of the supply tanker Esso, a crew of 270, and a vast array of ammunition and supplies into the frigid wastes of the Barents Sea, where, having first lost her supply ship with hull damage, she was forced to wait a month, due to unfavourable conditions in the Arctic ice pack.

Rejecting the Soviet suggestion that he wait in Murmansk, Eyssen chose to remain at sea, mainly drifting with the currents to conserve fuel, and occasionally at anchor, and used this unexpected free time to train and drill his crew in the art of raider warfare, and prepared them for what lay ahead in the Arctic Ocean.

On August 13, he embarked upon the record-setting 3.300-mile, 23-day voyage through the Kara Sea and the Western Siberian Sea, assisted some of the way by the Lenin, at the time the most powerful icebreaker in the world, the Stalin, and the Kaganovitch, finally passing through the Bering Strait early on September 5.

He acknowledged that he could not have achieved it without the assistance of the icebreakers, for which the Germans paid the Soviets the equivalent of $ 130.000, and that it was a voyage he would certainly not volunteer to undertake again!

Setting no records for ships sunk or captured, three on her own, and seven with the Orion, the Komet was unusual in that she actually operated in conjunction with another raider, and that she was the only raider to shell a shore installation.

After he left the Komet, Rear Admiral Eyssen served in a variety of posts, including as Naval Liaison Officer with Luftflotte IV (Airfleet IV) in Russia from March to August 1942, and from then to July 1944 as Chief of the Naval Depot in Oslo, with responsibility for shipping and supplies.

His last post, until 1945, was as Commander of the 3rd Military District in Vienna, from which he retired on 30 April.

Robert Eyssen died in 1960, two days before his 68th birthday.

At his funeral, his former gunnery officer, Balser, delivering a grateful eulogy said, “You spared lives … you will live … as a beaming good friend”.

Adjutant Karsten, in a dedication to a book on Komet, described him as a revered commander, "‘Remembered with gratitude"

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).

Komet - War Records from 07-04-1940 to 30-08-1941
Number Prize Name Type Flag Date Tonnage Fate
1 Holmwood Freighter United Kingdom 25-11-1940 546 Sunk
2 Rangitane Passenger United Kingdom 27-11-1940 *8.356 Sunk
3 Triona Freighter United Kingdom 06-12-1940 *2.207 Sunk
4 Vinni Freighter Norway 07-12-1940 5.181 Sunk
5 Komata Freighter United Kingdom 07-12-1940 3.900 Sunk
6 Australind Freighter United Kingdom 14-08-1941 5.020 Sunk
7 Kota-Nopan Freighter The Netherlands 17-08-1941 7.322 Captured
8 Devon Freighter United Kingdom 19-08-1941 9.036 Sunk
Total 41.568
* 50% Credited to the HK Orion
Notes to:
1 Operating in association with Orion. Sunk by gunfire. 29 prisoners and over 200 sheep taken on board, leading to a drastic change of diet on Orion, Komet and Kulmerland!
2 Sunk by gunfire. 310 prisoners, including 36 women. Only one dead. Some days later 310 prisoners are landed at Nauru in the Solomon Islands.
3 Sunk by gunfire and torpedoes.
4 Sunk by explosive charges.
5 Sunk by explosive charges.
6 Sunk by gunfire.
7 Very valuable ship and cargo of rubber and manganese. Sent to Bordeaux and arrives safely.
8 Sunk by explosives charges. Eyssen promoved to Konter [Rear] Admiral. Meeting with Munsterland and HK Atlantis, where he receives a full ‘Salutation to the Admiral’ by Atlantis’ crew. Komet arrives safely back to Hamburg.

Gallery

Credits
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.