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|Hilfskreuzer (Auxiliary Cruiser) Kormoran|
|British Admiralty Letter||G|
|Builder||Krupp-Germania Werft, Kiel.|
|Previous Owner||The Hamburg-Amerika line|
|Conversion||Deutsche Werft AG, Hamburg.|
|General Cruise Details|
|Commander||Korvettenkapitän Theodor Detmers winner of the Knights Cross|
|Sail date||3. December 1940|
|End date||19. November 1941|
|Fate||Sunk and was sunk by - the light cruiser HMAS Sydney, off the west coast of Australia.|
|Ships Sunk / Captured||11 Sunk 1 Captured|
|Days at Sea||350|
|Tons per Day||195.06|
|Displacement||At 8,736 tons, the Kormoran was the biggest of the raiders, over twice the size of Thor and Komet.|
|Main Armament||6 x 150 mm guns one from World War One battlecruiser SMS Seydlitz.|
|Secondary Armament||1 x 75mm (Removed) 1 x Twin 37mm Flak, 2 x 37mm Army Anti-Tank guns, 5 x 20mm Flak|
|Torpedo Tubes||6 x 53,3 cm (15 torpedoes)|
|Mines||360 Type C|
|Aircraft||2 x Arado Ar-196 A-1|
|Engine Type||Four 9-cylinder four-stroke Krupp-Germania Diesel-Electric Engines.|
|Endurance||84.500 nautical miles at 10 knots|
|The Wreck of HSK Kormoran Found|
The wreckage of the HSK Kormoran was found by the search team on board the SV Geosounder at 17:30 (AWDT) on 12. March 2008. The wreck site is located off the west coast of Australia, northwest of Perth, in the approximate position 26° 05' 49,4" S 111° 04' 27,5" E. The depth of the wreck site is aproximately 2.560 meters and the wreck is located 12,2 nautical miles from the wreck of HMAS Sydney.
The initiative for the search that led to the finding of HSK Kormoran was taken by The Finding Sydney Foundation. Search Director was David Mearns who is known for the finding of the British battlecruiser HMS Hood.
|Hilfskreuzer (Auxiliary Cruiser / Raider) Kormoran|
Launched on September 15 1938, at the Krupp-Germania Werft in Kiel, for the Hamburg-Amerikanische-Paketfahrt AG or Hapag, for their Far East service, the 8,736-ton passenger-freighter Steiermark, one of two sisters, with the 8,730-ton Ostmark, was the largest of the German Auxiliary Cruisers, being over twice the size of the 3,862-ton Thor and the 3,287-ton Komet.
164 metres long with a beam of 20.2 metres, and powered by four 9-Cylinder four-stroke Diesel-electric engines, coupled with four Siemens-Schuckert generators, producing 16,000 horse-power, driving two shafts, for a top speed of 18 knots, she had a range of 84,500 miles at 10 knots.
Designated as Schiff 41 she was converted into Auxiliary Cruiser HSK VIII between March and October 1940, at the Deutsche-Werft in Hamburg.
Armed with six 150mm L/45 C/13 guns, one 75mm L/35 cannon, two elderly 37mm-Pak 35/36 L/45 anti-tank guns, and five 20mm C/30 Flak guns.
Fitted with six 53.3cm torpedo tubes, two of which were below the waterline, with 15 torpedoes, she carried two Arado Ar196 A-1 seaplanes, 360 Typ C sea-mines and a further 30 TMB mines for the Light Speedboat LS-3.
On June 17 1940, Korvettenkapitän Theodor Detmers, the thirty-eight-year-old captain of the 2,200-ton destroyer Z7 / Hermann Schoemann, took his ship into a repair dock at the Kriegsmarinewerft in Wilhelmshaven, for a thorough overhaul, following a sortie off Norway with the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, and the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper.
For his part in the operation he was awarded the Iron Cross First Class.
Informed by telephone that as of that moment he was the new commander of Schiff 41, and instructed to report to Hamburg immediately for further details.
Arriving in Hamburg the next day, he discovered that Schiff 41, being converted at the Deutsche-Werft since early March, was to be an Auxiliary Cruiser.
Designated Handelsschützkreuzer 8 or ‘Trade Protection Cruiser’ (HSK VIII) for security reasons, Schiff 41, was the last of the first wave of raiders.
As the youngest of the raider captains, and as a Korvettenkapitän, also the lowest-ranked, Detmers, who hadn’t given much thought to what he might call his ship, decided to name her Kormoran, following a recommendation by Fregattenkapitän Günther Gumprich, who would later become commander of the raiders Thor and Michel.
Receiving the standard six obsolete 150mm guns, he discovered that his No.3 gun, had come from the battlecruiser SMS Seydlitz, and had seen action at the Battle of Jutland.
As there were no 37mm anti-aircraft guns available, and not satisfied with having only 20mm guns, he scrounged two 37mm anti-tank guns and several thousand rounds of armour-piercing ammunition from the army, which he had mounted on either side of the bridge of his ship.
After six months in the dockyard, Captain Detmers and his Navigation Officer, Kapitänleutnant Gustav Oetzel, who was to have been the Steiermark’s peacetime captain, put their ship through her preliminary sea-trials in the middle of September with many dockyard personnel still on board, followed by further trials and calibration tests on the ‘take-over’ cruise later in the month.
Briefly put ‘on stand-by’ for ‘Operation Sealion’, the proposed invasion of Britain, until it was eventually cancelled, the final alterations and tests were carried out, until finally, she was commissioned into service on October 9 1940.
With the work complete, and her tanks filled with fuel, Detmers took her out early on the following day, October 10, camouflaged as a Sperrbrecher, or ‘Pathfinder’, complete with dummy guns, on a short shakedown and working-up cruise.
Reaching Brunsbüttelkoog by midday, and proceeding into the Kaiser-Wilhelm canal, they arrived in Kiel that evening, just as an air-raid on the base began.
The following morning, Detmers was shaken out of his sleep by the alarm bells sounding, as a fire had broken out in one of the Kormoran’s Power-Rooms.
Opening the hatches to the torpedo-battery below Hatch No 3, in order to clear the smoke so that the shore-based fire crews could find the source of the blaze, the fire was soon located and extinguished.
Fortunately, from a security point of view, there were no repercussions from the many curious shipyard workers and dockers who stopped to watch the fire being put out, noticing that what appeared to be a lowly ‘Pathfinder Ship’ was equipped with two torpedo tubes.
Convincing the authorities at Kiel that the repairs to the damaged Power-Room could be carried out by shipyard workers remaining on board, and without going back into dock, Detmers prepared to set sail for Gotenhafen.
Over the next few days, under the scrutiny of her Administration Officer, Kapitänleutnant Herbert Bretschneider, the ship took on enough provisions to last a year at sea, followed by the loading of ammunition, torpedoes and explosives.
Leaving Kiel in a convoy through the Gjedsby minefield to Arkona, the Kormoran then set course for Gotenhafen, which was to be her final base before departure.
Spending several gruelling days, and nights, conducting arduous gunnery training exercises, under Oberleutnant Fritz Skeries, and torpedo firing drills, under Torpedo Officer Oberleutnant Joachim Greter, off the port, the crew were slowly moulded into an efficient fighting unit.
As the dockyard workers gradually completed the on-board repair work, the Kormoran’s Motor Torpedo Boat, LS-3, arrived from Friederichshafen … by train!
Capable of a top speed of twenty-two knots, and of ten hours of independent action, it could also carry four mines.
Experiencing problems with launching and retrieving the LS-3, as they’d had with retrieving their lifeboats and motor-launches earlier, they had similar difficulties with the lowering of the two Arado Ar-196 seaplanes, which had to be dispatched to Holtenau to have their cannons fitted, before they could resolve them.
The first auxiliary cruiser to be fitted with radar, about which Detmers was an enthusiast, the equipment supplied was still at the prototype stage, and despite diligent attempts to get it to function, he was forced to reluctantly abandon it.
The Power-Room repair work was completed after four weeks, and the Kormoran carried out her speed trials off the Frischer Haff, reaching a speed of 18 knots.
Keeping them company during these trials was the powerful new 42,000-ton battleship Bismarck, which was busily carrying out her own sea-trials.
While carrying out her live-ammunition gunnery and torpedo trials the Kormoran suffered her first loss, when a young torpedoman named Erich Demniky fell through an open torpedo flap off Brüsterort, and despite several hours searching by the raider’s cutters under three searchlights, his body was never found.
Apart from this tragic set-back, the trials were a resounding success, and it was clear to Detmers that his armament was excellent and his crew ready to prove it.
Reporting his ship and her company ready in mid-November to embark on their first mission, on November 20, Detmers welcomed Grand Admiral Erich Raeder on board for a tour of inspection, during which he voiced his concerns regarding the use of a ship with un-tested engines being used as an auxiliary cruiser.
Giving him the option of postponing his departure until after some of these concerns were attended to, an offer which Detmers politely declined, the Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy was pleased with what he saw and heard during a thorough tour, and bid the Kormoran farewell and good hunting.
Reporting to the Chief of Naval Staff in Berlin before departure, Detmers was assured that once at sea, he would be completely independent to choose whichever course of action he deemed appropriate in a given situation, and that if he needed anything, all he had to do was request it by wireless transmission, and every attempt would be made to get it to him.
Assigned to operate in the Indian Ocean and in the waters around Australia, the Kormoran was subjected to a final equipment check and overhaul in order to be ready to put to sea at a moment’s notice.
Fully provisioned with ammunition and torpedoes for her own use, she took on extra supplies for two U-Boats, the U-37 (Kptlt. Nicolai Clausen) and the U-65, (Krvkpt. Hans-Gerrit von Stockhausen) and finally took her three hundred mines, which included thirty of the magnetic variety, on board.
On December 2, the ship was re-camouflaged, with dark blue-grey stripes being painted onto the pale grey, and a dummy gun mounted on the stern.
With her full complement of eighteeen Officers, seven Prize Officers and three hundred and seventy-five Petty Officers and men on board, and only her two seaplanes still to come back from Holtenau, Detmers quietly instructed his First Officer, Kurt Foerster, and his Chief Engineer, Kapitänleutnant Hermann Stehr, to be prepared to sail the following day.
At midday, a signal was received from the naval flying-boat base off Danzig, stating that his Pilot Officer, Oberleutnant Heinfried Ahl, and another pilot, had arrived in the two Arados.
Choosing to try to break out the longer, safer way, through the Denmark Strait, to the North Atlantic, rather than the shorter, but more hazardous route through the English Channel to the mid-Atlantic, Detmers took the raider Kormoran out of Gotenhafen just after two o’clock on the afternoon of December 3 1940.
Picking up his two seaplanes off Hela, and heading westward, he rendezvoused, at the lightship Adlergrund off Bornholm, with a real Sperrbrecher, that was to escort the Kormoran out through the Great Belt into the Kattegat.
By December 6, she had negotiated the minefields and reached the Danish port of Frederikshavn at the entrance to the Skaggerak, where the ‘Pathfinder Ship’ escort left her, being replaced on the following morning, December 7, by three units of the First Torpedo-Boat Flotilla, the 844-ton T1 and T5 and the 839-ton T12, which took her across the Skagerrak and up the coast of Norway in high winds and heavy seas.
By midday, conditions were so rough that Detmers released the Torpedo Boat escorts, which, at about 840-tons displacement, were really struggling, as he was satisfied that a submarine attack was highly unlikely in such weather.
Forced to put into Hoegs Fjord and the port of Stavanger later that evening, due to four of his torpedoes breaking free of their mountings and being impossible to stow due to the violent pitching and rolling of the ship, the Kormoran dropped anchor in the harbour late on December 8.
Instead of heading though the chain of small islands between Stavanger and Stadlandet, along the channel used by the ore-carriers coming south from Narvik, to minimise the risk of submarine attack, as instructed, Detmers chose to sail straight out of the anchorage late on the following afternoon, December 9, under cover of a heavy storm which reduced visibility to virtually nil, and by early on December 10, was headed northward, as if setting course for Narvik.
After dark, the Kormoran altered course and headed west, away from the coast.
At first light on December 11, well out to sea, and safely out of sight of the coast, the work of shedding her Sperrbrecher camouflage, and taking on her first operational disguise, as an anonymous neutral, began.
Dismantling the dummy guns, and making several alterations to the ship’s profile, her hull was painted a grey/brown colour, the superstructure brown, and the funnel black with a red hoop.
By the following day, December 12, having chosen to take on the identity of the 7,500-ton Soviet freighter, Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet Foreign Minister’s name, registered at Leningrad, and heading westwards, Detmers received a report, warning that as the bad weather was temporary, any attempt to run the Denmark Strait under its cover would be ill-advised.
At midday, Detmers chose to once again disregard official warnings, and contrary to his instructions, set course for the break-through into the North Atlantic.
But by eight o’clock that evening, the situation had dramatically changed, as the wind dropped and a full moon produced excellent visibility, forcing him to abort the move and stand off near the North Cape (Cape Horn) of Greenland.
The ship was tossed about so badly there by the heavy seas, that some of her crew came up with a new name, unofficially christening her the ‘Rollmoran’
As the winds freshened around midnight, he changed his mind, and his course, and with the crew called to action stations, called for full speed ahead for the break-through to the open ocean.
On the morning of December 13, ploughing southwards at top speed, through huge seas and high winds, the Kormoran cleared the strait, and by midday had reached the open sea without a sign of the enemy anywhere along the way.
On the morning of December 14, conditions deteriorated to such an extent that Detmers decided to turn into the sea and ride out the storm.
During the breakthrough he had remained on the bridge for seventy-four hours.
Slowed to three knots, and scarcely moving at all, the Kormoran crept south for two days, during which Detmers received a signal suggesting that as the weather had turned bad, there might be an opportunity to attempt the break-through!
On December 16, he received another signal stating that he was now under the direct control of the Seekriegsleitung (SKL) or Sea Warfare Command.
As he had left Gotenhafen later than originally planned, the two U-Boats for which he was carrying supplies, the U-37 and the U-65, had had to abandon the idea of being supplied at sea and return to base, leaving Detmers with ammunition and torpedoes that were of no use whatsoever to him as ‘ballast’ on board his ship.
On the night of December 19, the Kormoran passed into her designated area of operations, and heading steadily southwards over the following twelve days in ever improving conditions, celebrated Christmas and the New Year in traditional fashion, but without seeing a single enemy ship.
Following three weeks of sighting nothing but neutral ships bearing the flag of the United States, vessels he had been warned to avoid at all costs to prevent signals being sent that might attract British warships, and having tried unsuccessfully to launch his seaplane on December 29, with disastrous results, Detmer’s war began in earnest when smoke was sighted on the afternoon of January 6, after which a freighter slowly came into view.
Converging on courses that would have the two ships pass one another anyway, Detmers simply maintained his course and speed until they were 3,000 metres apart, at which point he signalled to the stranger to identify herself.
Running up the flag of Greece and identifying his ship as the Antonis, the vessel’s captain immediately found himself looking down the barrels of the Kormoran’s de-camouflaged guns.
With his battle ensign fluttering overhead, Detmers signalled instructions to him to heave to, maintain radio silence and await a boarding party.
The officer commanding the boarding party, Leutnant z. S. Johannes Diebitsch, reported that the 3,729-ton A.G.Lemos freighter was carrying 4,800 tons of top quality Welsh coal under British charter, from Cardiff to Rosario, in Uruguay, and that they had found several British machine-guns and seven sheep on board.
Her twenty-eight-man crew, plus a stowaway, charts, documents, the sheep, (slaughtered the next day) a quantity of fresh food, the machine-guns and one thousand rounds of ammunition, were taken on board the Kormoran.
In keeping with his chosen policy, Detmers explained to the ship’s pleasant and agreeable Captain that despite having cabins on board specifically built for captured Captains and any possible female ‘passengers’, he would prefer him to remain with his crew in the prisoner accomodation.
This policy, he believed, eased potential communication problems, and helped in the maintenance of order among the captured crews.
As the boarding party returned, the demolition charges they had placed in the freighter’s boiler-room detonated, sending her down slowly by the stern.
With no distress signals sent, and therefore no need to head away from the scene at speed, Detmers departed to the north-east at a steady fifteen knots.
* Had Detmers only known that further south the supply-ship Nordmark was guarding the British refrigerator ship Duquesa, carrying a cargo of fifteen million eggs and 900-tons of frozen meat, captured by the Admiral Scheer in December, which was running short of the coal necessary to keep her refrigeration plant functioning, he would certainly have kept the Antonis afloat.
As the days of frustrating inactivity stretched into weeks with only the novelty of the twenty-nine ‘guests’ on board to break the boredom, the Kormoran headed northwards, sighting fewer and fewer ships, and those they did see all neutrals, Detmers’ Chief Engineer, Kapitänleutnant Hermann Stehr, reported serious problems with the ship’s bearings.
Hearing that the soft white metal, WM10, that had been used in manufacturing the casings was wearing away too quickly, causing the bearings to overheat and burn, Detmers made a note to carefully monitor the situation and request that a supply of the harder steel, WM80, be sent to them.
Having reached a line roughly level with Gibraltar, the Kormoran turned back on her course, and headed southwards, whereupon one of her lookouts spotted smoke on the horizon on the evening of January 18.
Using the darkening sky behind her as cover, Detmers increased speed and soon identified it’s source as a tanker sailing westward into the setting sun.
Silhouetted against the western skyline, the outline of the gun mounted on her stern, and the fact that she was sailing without running lights, confirmed that she was an enemy ship.
Still concealed against the gathering darkness astern, Detmers ordered the camouflage dropped and ran up his battle flag.
Having the forward masthead searchlight switched on, his gunners opened fire from a range of 6,000 metres, and immediately lost sight of their target when the smoke from the first salvo obliterated the searchlight beam.
As the tanker was reported to be using her radio, transmitting a raider-attack SOS, giving her position, and left with no alternative but to switch the searchlight off, which plunged the entire scene into pitch blackness, Detmers ordered starshells to be fired over the fleeing ship, which was also now seen to return fire.
With the range down to under 4,000 metres, and brilliantly illuminated, the enemy vessel, still transmitting a steady stream of distress signals, was hit several times by the raider’s third salvo, which set her stern on fire.
The radio finally silenced, Detmers closed to within 2,000 metres, and ordered the searchlight switched on again, revealing the tanker slowing to a stop and her crew preparing to lower their boats.
Bringing the Kormoran to a halt, he instructed his gunners to cease fire and lowered a motor launch, dispatching the boarding party to the blazing ship.
A signal flashed back from the stricken ship, identified her as the 6,987-ton British Union, belonging to the British Tanker Company of London, with a crew of forty-five, en route to Trinidad and Aruba, from Gibraltar, to load with oil.
As two badly-damaged and slowly-sinking lifeboats made their way to the raider, the demolition squad placed their charges and prepared to get off the ship.
One of the lifeboats capsized as it came alongside the Kormoran, when the men in it rushed forward to seize the ropes and scramble aboard, throwing most of them into the sea, where they desperately clung to the upturned boat.
Two of the raider’s crew scrambled down a rope ladder and dragged them out of the water one by one, until there was just one left, clinging to the boat’s oars.
As the men reached for him, he passed out and went under, followed immediately by the two German sailors, who dived in and hauled him to safety.
Twenty-eight men were picked up, plus a monkey, and a bird in a cage, but as the Kormoran had to leave the scene as soon as possible because of the signals sent, the remaining seventeen crewmen were presumed to have been either killed during the attack, or to have escaped in a lifeboat.
Just as the boarding party returned, the demolition charges went off, and the tanker began to settle deeper in the water, but it soon became evident that with her huge storage tanks half-empty, she was not going to sink, so Detmers instructed his torpedo officer, Leutnant Joachim Greter, to finish her off.
Seven of her crew were later picked up by the 14,462-ton Armed Merchant Cruiser, HMS Arawa, armed with seven 6-inch and two 3-inch guns, and crewed by Australian reservists, which had received the radio signals.
Having seen the Kormoran’s searchlight and gun flashes, she raced to the scene, fearing that they were about to face the mighty Admiral Scheer, but fortunately for the raider, they arrived too late to engage her, as she escaped into the night.
In view of the signals transmitted by the British Union, Detmers was instructed by the SKL to rendezvous with the tanker Nordmark to transfer the supplies and torpedoes he was carrying for the U-Boats, before heading for his designated operational area in the Indian Ocean.
Several days later, while cruising in hazy conditions on the Cape route off the coast of West Africa, a ship was sighted in the early afternoon of January 29.
Turning towards her and increasing speed, Detmers closed to within 10,000 metres, from where the 4-inch anti-submarine gun mounted on her stern was clearly visible, confirming that she was an enemy vessel.
Despite having obviously spotted the approaching raider, and even turned away from her, the enemy ship still did not use her wireless, prompting Detmers to drop his camouflage, run up his battle flag, fire a warning shot across her bows and signal three times for her to heave to and maintain radio silence.
Her response was to increase speed and begin transmitting SOS messages, although the deck gun was not manned.
Opening fire from a range of 10,000 metres, the raider’s gunners soon registered several hits, while their colleagues in the radio room jammed the calls for help.
Realising the hopelesness of his situation, the ship’s captain, hove to and ceased transmitting, leading Detmers to cease fire and order him to abandon ship.
But when men were reported approaching the gun, he ordered one more salvo to be fired, after which lifeboats were seen being lowered.
Closing to within 2,000 metres, the boarding party was dispatched.
Identified as the 11,900-ton British Blue Star Line refrigerator ship Afric Star, bound for the UK from Buenos Aires with a cargo of 5,790 tons of Argentine meat and 634 tons of butter, she was a fine and valuable prize, but unfortunately so badly damaged during the brief action that she had to be scuttled.
Again, despite the painstaking and very time-consuming efforts of the Explosives Officer to ensure that all the watertight-doors between the many refrigeration compartments were opened, and his careful placing of the charges in the ship’s engine room, the demolition charges failed to sink her.
Settling slowly by the stern, it took one of Greter’s torpedoes to finally sink her.
The captain, the seventy-one members of his crew and his three passengers, arrived alongside the Kormoran in two lifeboats, and were taken on board.
When Detmers heard that among them were two young British women in their bathing costumes, who had been having coffee and sunbathing on deck when the attack commenced, he arranged for them to be supplied with tropical uniforms.
Given first-class accommodation in a small cabin by the sick bay, the two women enjoyed excellent treatment, and remained a source of constant fascination to the crew, while on board.
The entire action having taken three hours, Detmers decided to leave the scene at top speed towards the south-west.
Among the items taken from Afric Star was the latest British Merchant Navy Code Book containing the current enciphering tables.
Less than three hours later, shortly before eight o’clock, off the coast of Sierra Leone, while the watch-officer who had spotted the Afric Star was enjoying his reward of a bottle of champagne, a small custom instituted by Detmers, the new officer of the watch spotted yet another ship, sailing on the same course as the Kormoran, but without lights, confirming that she was an enemy vessel.
Approaching her from astern, and having challenged her to identify herself, and received the reply Eurylochus, Detmers increased his speed to draw abreast of the ship, which was by now very obviously a ‘Blue Funnel’ line freighter, and had the usual ‘stop and do not use your wireless’ instructions flashed over to her.
Ignoring the order to stop, and beginning to use her wireless, the fleeing ship was immediately illuminated by starshell and came under heavy and accurate fire from the raider’s main armament and anti-aircraft weapons for several minutes, during which she appeared to return fire.
Ordering the searchlight switched on and off to confuse the enemy gunner, the Kormoran’s gunners concentrated their fire on the ship’s stern, registering a direct hit on the gun position there, which also damaged her steering, before she finally ceased transmitting, and slowly came to a halt.
As Detmers could clearly see that the gun was no longer manned, and that the crew were busy lowering their boats, he brought the Kormoran to a stop within 1,000 metres of the ship, and dispatched Diebitsch and his boarding party.
Identifying her as the 5,723-ton Alfred Holt & Co. ‘Blue Funnel’ liner Eurylochus, carrying a cargo of sixteen heavy bombers, minus their engines, from Liverpool to Takoradi, on the Gold Coast, where they were to be fitted with their engines prior to being flown to Egypt to operate against Rommel’s Afrika Korps, Diebitsch and his party searched the ship, placed the demolition charges and prepared to return to the Kormoran.
Distress signals from both the Afric Star and the Eurylochus from more or less the same location within such a short space of time created quite a furore on the 600-metre waveband.
One ship, clearly nearby, which had been travelling with the Eurylochus, and was carrying the bomber’s engines, now signalled to London for instructions as to whether there was any point in her continuing her journey now that the bombers had been destroyed.
The naval authorities in Freetown, however, responded by dispatching the heavy cruisers HMS Devonshire and HMS Norfolk to search for the Kormoran, but by the time they reached the area she was long gone.
Meanwhile, two of the Eurylochus’ lifeboats, all of which had disappeared into the darkness away from the beam of the searchlight, re-appeared in a sinking condition and were ordered to come alongside to be picked up.
Containing the Third Officer, and forty-two seamen, three of whom were seriously wounded, it transpired that the captain and a further thirty-eight seamen, were missing, or had made off in the boats.
The survivors also confirmed that in response to the raider’s sixty-seven shots, their gun had fired four, all of which had probably fallen short.
After the boarding party returned on board and the demolition charges exploded, it was reported from the radio-room that the freighter’s radio was sending again, leading a sceptical Detmers to nonetheless instruct his gunners to spray the doomed vessel’s upperworks with 20mm anti-aircraft fire, until it stopped.
With his Radio Officer insisting that it really had been the Eurylochus signalling, and that she had been named, making it even more imperative to leave the scene as soon as possible, Detmers ordered a torpedo fired to quickly finish her off.
Just as the torpedo hurtled on it’s way, and to the horror of the Kormoran’s watching crew, one of the missing lifeboats was seen to be returning to the stricken freighter, possibly to rescue the radio operator, and was clearly going to reach her side at exactly the point where the torpedo was about to hit.
Detmers immediately ordered the searchlight to be switched off, had the speeding torpedo’s track illuminated by a powerful hand-lamp, and warning signals flashed to the men in the boat.
But, even if they had seen them, there wasn’t enough time for them to react, as they, and the torpedo, arrived at the ship’s side together, and in the ensuing massive explosion, the lifeboat, and everyone in it, was blown to bits.
With the Eurylochus going down shortly afterwards, the Kormoran circled the area looking for survivors but, finding nothing, departed at top speed to keep her rendezvous with the supply-ship Nordmark.
The Eurylochus’ captain and twenty-seven of his crew were picked up the next day by the Spanish ship, Monte Teide, confirming that eleven of their shipmates had lost their lives.
With his Chief reporting that he was having further trouble with the bearings, necessitating the shutting down of one of the engines, Detmers briefly considered, and just as briefly rejected, the idea of putting into a French port for repairs, deciding instead to cruise at slower speeds, and to only use top speed in emergencies or when overtaking a target, after which he notified the SKL of his predicament and requested that a quantity of the harder metal be sent to him.
Sailing further and further south, Detmers decided it was about time they held the postponed celebrations of Crossing the Line, instructing his Adjutant, Leutnant Foerster, to notify the crew of the selected date.
Unleashing the traditional preparations for the arrival on board of King Neptune’s ambassador Triton, on the eve of the visitation, followed on the next day by His Aquatic Majesty and his consort, who carried out a thorough inspection of the ship’s crew, and selecting those who needed to be cleansed of the filth and dross of the Northern hemisphere.
With over 350 men on board who had never before crossed the Equator, it took several hours to suitably cleanse and initiate them, much to the amusement of the entire crew and the raider’s 175 prisoners.
On February 7, the Kormoran arrived at the chosen mid-Atlantic point ‘Andalusia’ and rendezvoused with the 10,000-ton tanker Nordmark, the former Westerwald, which was painted grey and disguised as the American ship Dixie, and which had the 8,650-ton former British refrigerator-ship Duquesa, on tow.
The twenty-year-old Duquesa, one of the first refrigerated ships in the world, had been captured by Captain Theodor Krancke in the heavy cruiser Admiral Scheer on December 18 1940, while carrying a cargo of 9,000 tons of meat and fruit, including 3,500 tons of frozen meat, tinned meats and almost fifteen million eggs.
Re-named the Herzogin, and soon nick-named The Commissary Department Wilhelmshaven South, it had not been possible to send the coal-burning vessel back to Europe as a prize, due to her shortage of fuel.
What fuel she had remaining in her bunkers was being used exclusively to keep her refigeration-plant working as she supplied half the ships of the German Navy with prime Argentine beef and as many eggs as they could carry.
Detmers regretted not knowing about her when he sent 4,800 tons of premium Welsh coal to the bottom of the Atlantic with the collier Antonis on January 6.
Invited by Kapitän Peter Grau of the Nordmark to help himself to the plentiful supplies on the Duquesa, Detmers instructed his crew to transfer 216,000 eggs and 100 sides of chilled beef, into the raider’s coldrooms.
Over the next two days the Kormoran took on 1,338 tons of fuel oil, and Detmers transferred 170 of his prisoners, including the two women passengers from the Afric Star, to the supply ship, where they were well treated.
* Subsequently transferred to the blockade-runner Portland, en route from Chile, Mr Frank Evans, the husband of one of the women, found himself caught up in a violent confrontation in the prisoner’s quarters, between armed German guards and a group of British seamen who, having had a plan to take over the ship frustrated, set fire to the cargo in an adjoining hold, while approaching the coast of France, hoping to attract the attention of British aircraft or warships.
When, in the ensuing melee, the lights failed, causing one of the German guards, fearing for his life in the darkness, to open fire, two men from the Afric Star were killed, one of whom was Mr Evans.
The Portland reached Bordeaux on March 14.
Prior to the prisoners departure for Europe, Detmers called the ship’s captains among them for a farewell drink, where he thanked them for their co-operation in maintaining discipline among their crews while on board the Kormoran.
The Nordmark was unable to supply him with the metal that he so urgently needed for Engines Two and Four, which had bearings manufactured from the softer WM10, as opposed to those in Engines One and Three, which had been cast from the harder WM 80, and with two shifts of engineers employed full-time to meet the constant demand, some of the bearings failed on February 18, once again necessitating the casting of new ones.
Leaving the Nordmark on February 11, Detmers headed east to patrol the coast of southern Africa, hoping to employ his Light Speedboat the LS-3, as a minelayer in Wahlfish Bay, only to be prevented from doing so by bad weather.
Contacting the SKL in Berlin, on February 18, to urgently request 700 kilos of the required metal, he received a reply that it would be brought by a U-Boat, or by a blockade-runner from South America.
As repairs to Engine Two were completed on February 20, Engine Four failed.
Back on line by the following morning, Engine Two failed again.
On February 25, to keep a pre-arranged rendezvous with the raider Pinguin, the Kormoran approached the meeting place, to find her sister raider already there, but as neither captain was willing to commit himself until the agreed identification signals had been exchanged and verified, the two ships cautiously skirted around one another, before finally coming together amidst much wild cheering.
The Pinguin had just arrived from a meeting with the Nordmark, where her captain Ernst-Felix Krüder, had had to scuttle the ‘Floating Delicatessen’, the bountiful Duquesa, which had finally run out of luck and combustible material.
He was however, able to provide Detmers with 210 kilos of the precious WM80.
The two captains also exchanged films, and there was much lively traffic back and forth between the two ships.
Having enjoyed one another’s company, exchanging operational experiences and advice, and agreed to meet again on June 1 in the Indian Ocean, the captains bid one another farewell on February 26, and went their separate ways.
* The proposed meeting would never take place, as on May 7, in an unequal engagement with the British cruiser HMS Cornwall in the Arabian Sea, the Pinguin, received a direct hit in her mine storage hold, causing a massive explosion that blew her to pieces and sent Krüder, 342 members of his crew and 213 of his prisoners to the bottom of the sea.
As the Pinguin set off for the Indian Ocean, Detmers received a signal from the SKL informing him that the U-124 and the U-105 would each bring him 350 kilos of WM 80, and decided to remain in the Atlantic to await them.
Pleased that this would enable him to get rid of the unwanted ‘ballast’ of U-Boat equipment he was carrying, he headed north-west to cruise off Freetown, but at a reduced speed, enforced by always having one engine down for bearing repairs.
On the evening of March 11, two separate sources of bearing trouble were reported and by the following day two more bearings had gone, leaving Detmers to ruefully recall his observation to the SKL prior to leaving Germany, regarding the wisdom of choosing a ship that had yet to make her maiden voyage, with engines of a new and untested design, for conversion into an auxiliary cruiser.
Early on March 15, the Kormoran rendezvoused with the ‘Edelweiss Boat’, U-124, under the command of Kapitänleutnant Georg-Wilhelm Schulz, to the north-east of St Peter and Paul’s Rocks, to supply it with provisions and seven torpedoes.
Having exchanged recognition signals, Schulz signalled to the Kormoran that she looked ‘very peaceful’, prompting Detmers to reply, asking if the commander wished to see his ship in her ‘warpaint’, while simultaneously sounding the alarm.
With his crew suddenly fearing that the U-Boat was in fact an enemy vessel, they hit their action stations in record time, and within one minute, the startled U-Boat skipper was looking down the barrels of four 150mm guns, and promising himself that he would never again approach so close to an unidentified ship, no matter how peaceful she appeared to be!
With the rough seas preventing the transfer of the torpedoes and supplies, the two captains decided to move further south to seek calmer waters, and informed the Admiral Scheer of the move.
Early on the following morning, the Kormoran reached the new rendezvous point, and waited to keep her appointment with the heavy cruiser Admiral Scheer.
The U-124, which had also been instructed to meet the cruiser in order to deliver a replacement quartz for her top-secret radar apparatus, arrived a little later.
When the smoke of an approaching ship was sighted soon afterwards, the U-Boat dived, but re-surfaced later, once the Scheer had been formally identified.
Detmers paraded his crew to welcome the cruiser, which in turn had her own crew lined up to greet the Kormoran.
Accompanied by his Chief Engineer, Detmers went aboard the Scheer, which was also unable to supply him with any bearings metal, but where he and Schulz spent some time with her commander, Kapitän zur See Theodor Krancke, who described the cruise of the Admiral Scheer, which had, to date, sunk or captured 156,000 tons of Allied shipping, and appraised Detmers of the altered situation in the Indian Ocean.
Having transferred the non-functioning radar apparatus, and mail, to the cruiser, the two ships, with cheering crews lined up on deck, bid one another farewell.
Failing to find suitable conditions for the delicate job of transferring torpedoes to the south, Detmers and Schulz abandoned the job and headed north again.
On the following day, in calmer waters, the transfer of supplies began, followed by the torpedoes, and having experienced great difficulties transferring fuel oil to the submarine due to the incompatibility of the fuel line connections, a problem only overcome by the manufacture of an adaptor by the raider’s engine-room staff, the arduous task was finally completed.
While all this was going on, Detmers invited Willi Schulz and the crew of his battle-weary submarine, which had already sunk 92,000 tons of Allied shipping, to come aboard the Kormoran, in two groups, each of which spent a half day on board, enjoying the spaciousness, the ‘swimming-pool’, the showers and the services of the ship’s barbers.
In return, those among the crew of the Kormoran who had never been on a submarine, were invited to go aboard the U-124 in groups of twenty or so, and a lively traffic soon developed between the two warships, with the groups of U-Boat men deriving great amusement from the assorted pets on the Kormoran, and each enjoying a sit-down meal, a beer, and a movie whilst on board.
When the supplies, torpedoes and fuel had been safely transferred, the U-Boat was taken in tow, as several of the Kormoran’s welders repaired a persistant leak in her hull, with the required electrical power being supplied via a cable slung between the two ships.
Soon, this job was also successfully completed, but, before the submarine departed, each of the two ships put on a show of it’s operational efficiency in performance for the other, with the U-Boat carrying out an emergency crash-dive within a minute, and then re-surfacing to much applause from the crew of the Kormoran, lining the ship’s rails, and the raider, in turn, transforming itself from being a harmless-looking freighter into a warship, and back into camouflage again within minutes, to the loud cheers of the watching submariners, after which the two crews lined up and bid one another goodbye and good hunting.
On the hazy morning of March 22, while still sailing northwards to the east of the US neutrality zone, on the Freetown to South America route, Detmers was just about to turn south, when a tanker was sighted, heading towards the Kormoran.
Without altering course or speed, the men on the bridge of the raider studied the ship for signs of her nationality, until the 4-inch gun mounted on her stern confirmed that she was an enemy, and she was challenged to identify herself.
Responding that she was the Agnita, en route, in ballast, to Carapito, Venezuela, from Freetown, it was clear that her captain had assumed that like himself, the Kormoran was a British ship, but when Detmers de-camouflaged, ran up the flag and ordered him to stop and not use his wireless, the captain turned his ship sharply away, called for full speed, radioed his position, and tried to escape.
Several rapid salvoes brought him to his senses, and his ship to a halt, having taken two direct hits in the engine room, and with the wireless silenced, his crew were seen to be lowering their boats.
The boarding party reported that the 3,552-ton motor-tanker, belonging to the Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Company, with a crew of thirty-eight, was armed with the usual 4-inch and two anti-aircraft guns, and that she had sustained serious damage to her engine room.
In view of this, Detmers decided to scuttle her.
As her crew were being picked up, the demolition charges placed in her engine room, exploded, but the ship, supported by her empty oil tanks, remained afloat.
When nine 150mm shells into her tanks and hull were similarly unsuccessful, she was finished off by a torpedo, sinking slowly by the stern.
The boarding party had found a chart of Freetown harbour and environs on the tanker, indicating not only the location of the defensive minefields around the busy port, but the routes through them, so Detmers had copies made, and gave one to every U-Boat commander he subsequently met.
With his radio officer confident that he had successfully jammed the Agnita’s SOS signals, Detmers set a course that would bring him back to the same location in three days time, sailing south for a day and a half then turning back north.
At eight o’clock on the morning of March 25, in almost identical conditions to those of three days earlier, a momentary glimpse of a light-grey painted ship was spotted through the thick morning mist, coming towards the Kormoran.
Detmers sounded the alarm, and called his crew to action stations.
Light-grey could mean a merchant ship, but it could also mean a warship.
As the men on the bridge focused their glasses, and the gunnery officer his direction finder, towards the position of the sighting, the sun made a brief appearance, illuminating the stern of the vessel, revealing that she was a tanker, with the tell-tale 4-inch anti-submarine gun mounted there.
Dropping his camouflage and running up the battle flag, Detmers called for a speed of fifteen knots and closed in on her.
Maintaining her course and speed, the enemy ship did not spot the raider, until the mist parted and she found herself face to face with the Kormoran, from which a signal flashed, ordering her to heave to and maintain radio silence, followed by a warning shot across her bows.
Like the Agnita, she turned sharply away, and making smoke, increased speed and began transmitting distress signals.
Alternately disappearing and re-appearing in the thick mist, the tanker tried desperately to escape with Detmers increasing his speed to seventeen knots and moving ever closer to her.
Suddenly the mist cleared, and there she was, a larger ship than first imagined, and by the look of her, an ideal prize to send home.
Ordered by Detmers to open fire carefully so as not to damage her too much, the Kormoran’s gunners quickly found the range, leaving the vessel’s captain, who soon realised that resistance was futile and escape impossible, with little alternative but to cease his transmissions, shut down his engines, bring his ship to a stop and abandon her.
Seeing that boats were being lowered, Detmers instructed the boarding party to keep the tanker’s crew on board until they could establish whether or not she was worth retaining as a prize.
Soon the details were being morsed back to him on the bridge, that the ship was the 11,309-ton Canadian tanker Canadolite, which, like the Kormoran herself, had been built by Krupp-Germania in Kiel, and that she was undamaged.
Built as a reparations ship, and now owned by the Imperial Oil Shipping Company of Montreal, she was, again like the Agnita, bound for Carapito in Venezuela, out of Freetown, in ballast, to take on a cargo of oil.
Having decided to send her back to Europe, Detmers put a sixteen-man prize crew on board, under Leutnant von Bloh, who had developed sciatica and needed to get home for treatment.
Drawing up the safest possible course for him to follow, Detmers instructed him as to which of the tanker’s officers he was to send over to the Kormoran, and wished him luck, but just as he was about to set off for his new command, a signal was received from the Canadalite, stating that she had only sufficient fuel in her bunkers to get her to Carapito.
Instructing Von Bloh to assess the fuel situation for himself once on board, and that if there was an insufficient amount in her tanks to get her to Bordeaux, he was to proceed to rendezvous point ‘Andalusia’ to re-fuel from the Nordmark.
The original boarding party returned, with the tanker’s Captain, Chief Engineer, Wireless Officer and Petty Officer gunner, as their ship, under it’s new owners, set off westwards for France with the rest of her crew.
They also brought back another monkey!
* Arriving at the Gironde, on April 13, and subsequently converted and commissioned into the Kriegsmarine as the Sudetenland, the Canadolite was sunk by British bombers at Brest in 1944
Meeting with the tanker Nordmark again on March 26, Detmers was informed that his prize had not shown up, leading him to assume that Von Bloh had decided the Canadolite had enough fuel after all.
The following day, March 27, the U-105, under Kapitänleutnant Georg Schewe, and the U-106, under Kapitänleutnant Jürgen Oesten, arrived at the rendezvous point, with the former, with an important delivery to make, tying up alongside.
The latter tied up alongside the Nordmark.
Arriving on board, Georg Schewe presented Detmers with the consignment of the desperately-needed bearings metal, with the best wishes of the SKL.
Although dismayed at how little had been sent, Detmers was nonetheless grateful at having received it, as it would keep him at sea without the risk of being recalled for dockyard repairs.
Once again, as the torpedoes and supplies were being transferred to the U-Boat, her crew were welcomed on board the raider in groups, and by the following afternoon, March 28, the transfer was complete.
Bidding one another farewell with the same mutual display of operational prowess as had been performed with the U-124, the two vessels parted, with the Kormoran heading north-west to rendezvous with the tanker Rudolf Albrecht, which had left Tenerife on March 22, on her way back to Germany.
On April 3, Detmers greeted Kapitän Engellandt, the master of the 3,817-ton former Max Albrecht KG, vessel, with the same question he’d had for Captains Krüder, Schultz, Krancke and Grau.
Enquiring if he had any of the white bearings metal on board, he got the same disappointing response he’d received from all the others.
Not requiring any fuel, having so recently topped up from the Nordmark, the raider took on fresh supplies of fruit and vegetables, some highly-appreciated German illustrated magazines, English and Spanish cigarettes, plus a live pig, and a small white Spanish puppy.
In return the Kormoran supplied the tanker with several crates of German beer, one of the Afric Star’s lifeboats, a chronometer and a sextant.
Following the traditional cheering farewells, the two ships went their seperate ways, with the Kormoran heading south-east to the edge of the U-Boat hunting grounds off Freetown.
Early on April 9, smoke was spotted astern.
Remaining on course, but increasing speed gradually in order to take a closer look at the ship, which like the Kormoran was heading south, she was soon clearly visible and although travelling quite slowly, was making a lot of smoke.
Satisfied that this meant she was not an auxiliary cruiser, as he had first feared, Detmers nonetheless ordered his crew to action stations and reduced his speed slightly to allow the newcomer to catch up.
Unable to identify her in any way as she was approaching bow-on, and reluctant to do anything that might draw attention to himself should she turn out to be a neutral American, Detmers decided to ignore her completely as she drew closer, and did not ask for her name and destination.
When at last she drew close enough to be revealed as an enemy, complete with 4-inch gun on the stern, sailing on a parallel course, and clearly not in the least bit suspicious of him, he still took his time, waiting until she was about 5,000 metres away and exactly level with the Kormoran.
Dropping his camouflage, running up the battle flag and signalling for her to stop and to maintain radio silence, Detmers was hardly surprised when, true to form, she turned sharply away and tried to escape.
With the radio room reporting that the vessel had commenced transmitting distress calls, giving her position, and her gun crew running aft to man their gun, Detmers ordered his gunners to open fire and called for full speed.
It was ten minutes before the freighter’s captain finally obeyed the order to stop his engines, by which time his ship was badly damaged and on fire amidships, and when his radio operator ceased transmitting, Detmers called a ceasefire.
Closing to within 2,000 metres, he dispatched the boarding party, which signalled back that the vessel was the 8,022-ton T.J.Harrison freighter Craftsman, bound for Capetown from Rosyth with 1,500 tons of ballast and a large anti-submarine net intended for use at the entrance to Capetown harbour.
Five of the ship’s crew were reported killed, with a number of others wounded, including her Captain, who had been severely lacerated and blinded by flying particles of sand from a direct hit on the sandbags he had incautiously deployed as protection on the bridge of his ship.
He, and forty-five other survivors were taken on board the Kormoran, and after the usual interval the scuttling charges went off and the ship settled.
But she would not sink, being kept buoyant by the large floats attached to the anti-submarine net in her hold.
A torpedo was fired, which blew open her stern compartments, releasing hundreds of these floats, each about the size of a mine, onto the surface of the sea, after which the freighter went down fairly quickly.
The floats also looked like mines, and were subsequently reported as being mines, leading to confusion and anxiety over a very wide sea area, between the coasts of Brazil and West Africa for many weeks afterwards.
Leaving the scene briskly, Detmers set course eastwards, and for three days not a single ship was sighted, but on April 10, he was informed that he had been promoted to the rank of Fregattenkapitän.
As the Kormoran was heading westwards towards the US Neutrality Zone, smoke was spotted to the south at first light on April 12.
Increasing speed and altering course southwards before the vessel came over the horizon, and closing in to take a better look at her, Detmers found that she was a medium-sized freighter on a south-easterly course with a deck cargo of timber, which made identification difficult.
Once satisfied that she was not American, he requested her name, and although slow to respond, she eventually identified herself as the Greek, Nicolaos D. L.
On receipt of this information Detmers instructed her captain to stop his engines and to maintain radio silence, but when he failed to comply with either order, a few well-aimed salvoes quickly changed his mind.
As he brought his ship to a halt, and his crew began to lower their lifeboats, the raider’s boarding party was already on its way, and soon reported back that the 5,486-ton N.D. Lykiardopoulos freighter, carrying a cargo of Oregon pine, above and below decks, from Vancouver to Durban by way of the Panama Canal, had sustained serious damage to her bridge and steering gear.
Although a fine ship with a valuable cargo, Detmers realised that as so much damage had been done, there was no point in keeping her as a prize.
Her thirty-eight-man crew came alongside the Kormoran in their lifeboats as demolition charges were placed in her engine-room, and the lashings of her deck cargo were undone.
The explosion failed to sink her, and it soon became clear that, while going down slowly, here was yet another ship being kept afloat by her cargo.
Reluctant to waste a torpedo, Detmers instructed his gunners to try to set the deck cargo ablaze with their 20mm and 37mm anti-aircraft guns, but the timber would not catch fire, and when four 150mm direct hits on the waterline also failed to sink her, he decided that as his operators had failed to jam her distress calls, which had been acknowledged by several other ships, the Nicolaos D.L. would best be left to sink in her own good time.
Moving quickly away from the stricken ship, which was slowly shedding her deck cargo into the sea, plank by plank, Detmers headed south to rendezvous once more with the Nordmark, the raider Atlantis, and two other German ships, the 5,567-ton Dresden and the 4,422-ton Babitonga, that had broken out of South American ports.
On the following day, April 13, the Kormoran was informed that her prize-ship the tanker Canadolite, had arrived safely off Bordeaux.
The Kormoran arrived at the rendezvous on April 19, to find the raider Atlantis under Kapitän zur See Bernhard Rogge, already there, with the 2,719-ton supply ship Alsterufer on tow.
The three were joined on the following day, Hitler’s birthday, by the Nordmark.
Having replenished from the Dresden and transferred his prisoners to her, Rogge had instructed her captain to await the Kormoran before departing for France.
When he’d first learned that the two German ships were going to run the Brazilian blockade, Detmers had requested that they bring with them some of the hard white metal he so badly needed, and now asked if the Dresden was the ship that had it, only to be told that it was the Babitonga that had taken it on board, and that she had not sailed with the Dresden.
Knowing that to put into a French port for repairs would mean spending a long time in dock, and would run the risk of the SKL recalling the Kormoran from active duty altogether, Detmers decided to remain at sea and to take his chances of maybe finding some suitable metal on one of his future prizes.
While the Nordmark was re-fuelling the Atlantis, the Kormoran replenished her food supplies from the Alsterufer, and on the following day April 21, hove to alongside the 7,862-ton raider Atlantis.
Joining Captain Rogge on board the Atlantis, Detmers listened carefully as the commander of the most successful of Germany’s auxiliary cruisers related his experiences in the Indian Ocean, emphasising the changing situation in that theatre of operations as the Allies re-directed shipping closer inshore within range of air cover, and then conducted him on a tour of his ship.
Bidding Rogge farewell on April 24, Detmers then supervised the transfer of ammunition from the Alsterufer, the former Sloman Line fruit-carrier, including two hundred 155mm shells, a further 300 tons of fuel oil from the Nordmark, and transferred seventy-seven prisoners to the Dresden.
Before departing Detmers had all his U-Boat supplies transferred to the Nordmark, and also decided to alter the Kormoran’s appearance by having the hull painted black in order to facilitate her disguising as a Japanese vessel later, after which he paraded his crew on deck, bid them all farewell, and set course towards the south-east, and the Indian Ocean.
Sailing due east at first in the hope of finding a target in the west African shipping routes, the Kormoran had no luck.
Turning south, past Cape Town, and on into the Roaring Forties and mountainous seas, the ship performed very well, much to the satisfaction of her captain.
Turning eastwards in high seas, but better weather, and rounding the Cape about three hundred miles to the south, on May 2, the ship maintained her course impeccably, which Detmers gradually began to change northward in order to take her into the Indian Ocean where the bad weather soon disappeared.
Cruising eastwards on the Fremantle to Cape Town route, Detmers received a signal from the SKL, containing the bad news of the destruction of the Pinguin, sunk by the British cruiser HMS Cornwall, south of the Seychelles, on May 8, with the loss of her captain Ernst-Felix Krüder, 341 of his crew, and 213 prisoners.
The signal also contained instructions to rendezvous with the 354-ton ex-whaler, Adjutant, one of eleven captured with the Norwegian Whaling Fleet in the Antarctic by the Pinguin, which Krüder had been using as an auxiliary minelayer and scout, prior to sending it to join up with Schiff 45, the raider Komet.
He was also to dispatch the supply-ship Alstertor home.
En route to the meeting place, Detmers decided that as the Indian Ocean was such an unlikely place in which to find a Soviet ship, it was time to change the Kormoran’s identity, taking on the guise of the 7,126-ton Japanese freighter, Sakito Maru of the Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha of Tokyo, with the Rising Sun flag painted on each side of the hull, and authentic Japanese markings which they had taken with them from Germany.
Arriving at the rendezvous on May 14, the Kormoran found the Alstertor already there, and the whaler Adjutant arriving with them.
The tiny vessel, under the command of Leutnant Hans-Karl Hemmer, former adjutant to the late Captain Krüder, hence the ship’s name, and a prize crew of twelve former crewmen of the Pinguin, had been detached by Krüder to join the supply-ship on May 7, the day before the raider was sunk.
Having received a request from Admiral Eyssen of the Komet for the whaler to join him, the SKL had instructed Detmers to re-fuel and replenish her prior to her departure to a rendezvous with Schiff 45, off the coast of Australia.
With re-fuelling complete by late afternoon, the Adjutant was sent on her way, and on the following day, May 15, after taking both of the Alstertor’s prize officers and replacements for the prize crew he had put on board the Canadolite, an angry Detmers provided the supply ship with 200 tons of the Kormoran’s fuel oil, a reversal of the normal roles that did not at all appeal to him, and dispatched the Alstertor on the long voyage back to France.
Intercepted and attacked by seaplanes on June 22, off Cape Finisterre, the Alstertor put up such a fight, shooting one of them down, that she was reported as being an auxiliary cruiser.
The next day she was cornered by the OBV, HMS Marsdale and the destroyers HMS Faulknor, HMS Fury and HMS Fearless, and scuttled by her crew.
Detmers had been advised by Rogge and Krüder, that the Indian Ocean was no longer the hunting ground it had once been, and as the days of searching the shipping lanes without a ship in sight, turned into weeks, the Kormoran’s crew decided that Nicolaos D.L. meant ‘Nicolaos der letzte’ … Nicolaos the Last!
On June 5, Detmers decided that, while retaining his Japanese identity, he would alter his camouflage again, converting the Kormoran into the 9,305-ton freighter Kinka Maru of the Kokusai Kisen Kabushiki Kaisha of Tokyo.
Cruising the sea lanes between Colombo and Sabang and later on into the Bay of Bengal, the Kormoran’s lookouts sighted nothing other than an American vessel sailing with all her lights on on June 12,, and a large passenger ship, possibly the lightly-armed 3,000-ton British auxiliary HMS Shenking, sighted approaching on an opposite course, on June 16.
This vessel had to be let go when the smoke-making apparatus on the raider’s bow malfunctioned, swathing the ship in smoke, causing the enemy vessel to turn away and use her radio to report a ‘suspicious ship’.
Entering the Bay of Bengal in sweltering conditions on June 19, it was not until five days later, just after midday on June 24, that smoke was sighted, which turned out to be from a Madura-class ship of the British India Line.
As Detmers ordered his crew to action stations, and pondered over whether or not he should risk attacking her so far into the Bay, where his escape could so easily be cut off, the vessel made smoke, and turned sharply towards him.
Recognising this maneouvre as that of an auxiliary cruiser, he turned about and made off at top speed, with the British ship, which indeed was an auxiliary cruiser, the 15,784-ton former P & O liner HMS Canton, giving chase for over an hour, before finally giving up.
Heading southward out of the Bay of Bengal on June 25, at 2 o’clock the following morning, June 26, Kormoran’s Pilot Officer Leutnant Ahl, doing his shift as Officer of the Watch, spotted a ship sailing without lights, crossing the raider’s bows.
Dropping his camouflage and sending the crew to action stations to enable the gunners to adjust to the darkness, Detmers challenged the stranger to identify herself, although sailing at night without lights confirmed her as an enemy.
When, after two further requests, there was still no response, he ordered his gunners to open fire under the glare of starshells, which revealed a ship high in the water and clearly travelling empty.
Refusing to stop when commanded to do so, several salvoes soon set her on fire, after which Detmers ordered his gunners to cease fire, and angrily morsed to her to stop and to maintain radio silence.
Although there was no report of wireless activity, the vessel continued on her way until several more salvoes finally brought her engines to a standstill.
By this time she had been shot to pieces, having suffered twenty-nine 150mm hits over a seven minute period, and was firmly ablaze in several places, with her upper deck a mass of flames, leading Detmers to abandon any thoughts he may have had of sending a boarding party.
Closing to within 500 metres of the burning ship, the men of the Kormoran could see what a sad state she was in, as the high winds fanned the flames and quickly reduced the twisted wreck to a floating furnace.
As the raider moved slowly around her stern, one lifeboat was spotted, clearly in difficulty in the heavy seas, and as Detmers ordered his searchlight crew to sweep the surface to look for others, he brought the Kormoran around to bring the labouring lifeboat, and it’s nine occupants, under her lee.
Taking the men aboard, they identified their ship as the 4,153-ton Yugoslav Yugoslovenska Oceanska Plovidba freighter Velebit, in ballast from Bombay to Moulmein, with a crew of thirty-four, to pick up a cargo of rice.
The ship’s extraordinary behaviour was explained by the fact that her captain had been dealing with a problem in the engine-room at the time of the Kormoran’s arrival, and the Officer of the Watch did not understand enough Morse Code!
Not wishing to waste any more ammunition on the doomed vessel, Detmers left her at the mercy of the strong winds, drifting towards the uninhabited Andaman Islands, where she finally ran onto a reef to the west of the islands with the fires eventually burning themselves out.
Of the eight surviving members of her crew, six somehow remained alive and were picked up by a passing ship, four and a half months later.
Later that day, at about noon, a ship was spotted leaving the Ten Degree Channel, the strait that seperates the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, heading towards the Kormoran, presumably on its way to Colombo.
Not wishing to be seen, Detmers continued on his course but slowed slightly before seeking the cover of a large rain squall, in which he turned about and headed towards the ship at top speed.
Emerging suddenly from the rain cloud at a distance of 6,000 metres, and heading towards the stranger, Detmers de-camouflaged, ran up his flag, and signalled to her to stop and to maintain radio silence.
True to form, she immediately turned away and began to transmit a raider attack signal, which was jammed by the Kormoran’s radio operators, but as she was being rapidly overtaken, and was soon within 4,000 metres of the raider’s guns, she was a ‘sitting duck’.
After several direct hits had destroyed her radio room and set her ablaze, and she was seen to stop her engines, Detmers ordered a cease fire.
Realising that their ship was mortally wounded, her crew quickly lowered their lifeboats and abandoned ship.
The boarding party, under Leutnant Diebitsch, reported that the 3,472-ton Australasian United Steam Navigation Company freighter Mareeba, was carrying 5,000 tons of raw sugar, from Batavia to Colombo, and a crew of forty-eight, and most significantly, on checking the ship’s log, that at 8 o’clock that morning she had sighted the British light cruiser HMS Durban, in the Ten Degree Channel.
This last piece of information confirmed that Detmers had been quite right not to have engaged the auxiliary cruiser Canton, which would most certainly have called upon the Durban for assistance, and that he had been very lucky that the unfortunate Velebit had not used her wireless.
A vessel that would have made a fine auxiliary minelayer, the Mareeba had taken several hits in the engine-room, and as she was already sinking, the boarding party placed their demolition charges and left the ship, which, shortly afterwards, went down rapidly by the stern.
Uncertain as to whether his Radio Officer had successfully blocked the vessel’s SOS calls, Detmers had her captain and forty-seven-man crew taken on board, after which he called for full power, and racing through the night and most of the following day at top speed, departed the Bay of Bengal on June 30.
Withdrawing to a secluded spot in the south Indian Ocean on July 2, to overhaul his engines, which were once more experiencing bearing troubles, the work took until July 17 to complete, during which time the ship’s electrical systems were also given some attention, and preparations were made for the major alterations planned for the autumn, when the Kormoran was due to meet her supply-ship.
While all this was going on, the ship was careened to expose as much of her hull as possible to enable working parties to scrape and clean the underwater plates which had developed a thick green carpet of barnacles and plantlife.
Deciding that as his ‘Japanese’ camouflage was no longer advisable for a variety of reasons, this would be a good time to change the ship’s identity, he sought to find a ‘less obvious’ one, similar to his original ‘Soviet’ guise, that would give the impression of an anonymous-looking ‘friendly ship’.
Choosing to adopt the guise of the 6,439-ton Dutch motorship Straat Malakka of the Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappi of Batavia, a ship that may have been smaller than the Kormoran, but was very like her in outline.
Having never seen the vessel other than in a silhouette, they decided to paint her as unobtrusively as possible, dark grey hull, dark brown superstructure, black funnels and light-yellow masts, a colour scheme that satisfied both Detmers and his Chief Boatswain, when they took a cruise around the ship afterwards.
She looked neutral, as if she had nothing to do with the war, and most significantly, she no longer looked anything like the Kormoran.
The disguise was completed by the erection of a dummy ‘4-inch’ anti-submarine gun on the stern, constructed by the ship’s carpenter, that would fool anyone.
During this period there was the first of two fatalities on board the Kormoran, when a young Artificer called Hans Hoffmann was electrocuted while welding the floats on one of the Arado seaplanes, and was buried with full naval honours.
With the engine overhaul completed, Detmers headed northwards and then eastwards to explore the Singapore shipping routes, but with no success, after which he moved south again to check out the Sunda Strait.
By the end of August he had also searched the Bali Strait, but with no luck.
The next two months were spent vainly looking for targets, with Detmers, First Officer Foerster and others spending long hours inventing games and other activities to keep the crew amused and stimulated, including an exhibition of hobbies, that revealed the depth of artistic talent on board and produced an astonishing diversity of exhibits.
A Petty Officer’s training course, under the guidance of Torpedo-Officer Leutnant Greter, was another fruitful venture, serving not only to provide the successful candidates, chosen from the different Divisions on board, with a fresh challenge, but as an incentive to those not selected for the course on this occasion to strive to be selected next time.
The second fatality occurred in the prisoner’s quarters, when one of the crew of the Mareeba, an apparently vigourous sixty-year old Australian, Norwegian by birth, suffered a fatal heart attack.
He too was consigned to the deep, with his skipper, Captain Skinner, conducting the burial service.
Giving up on the idea of laying his mines in the Bay of Bengal, Detmers cruised off Indonesia, then headed south of Sumatra and Java to the north-west of Australia, where he considered laying mines off Carnarvon or Geraldton, but decided against wasting them there as there was so little traffic off the ports.
For the following, I am indebted to ‘Prisoner of the Kormoran’ based on the memoirs of W.A.Jones, a seaman from the ‘Mareeba’ - by James Taylor
Having spent over a month on board the raider, it had become clear to the crew of the Mareeba that Detmers ‘had a soft spot’ for Australians in particular, and other ‘Anglo-Saxons’ in general, as they received more privileges than the other nationalities among the Kormoran’s prisoners.
But this favouritism reached new and unexpected heights one evening in August, when two German officers, one of whom was apparently the raider’s navigator, entered the Australian’s quarters and presented them with four bottles of rum!
The incredulous prisoners were informed that it was the commander’s birthday, and that he wished them to briefly forget the war and celebrate the occasion!
This answered a question that had been puzzling the Australians since earlier that afternoon, when some of them, enjoying their daily exercise on deck, had noticed that Detmers, and one or two other German officers had appeared to be a little unsteady on the bridge.
When the astonished Aussies had polished off the rum, the Germans departed, but an even greater surprise was in store for the prisoners.
A Petty Officer arrived to inform the master of the Mareeba, Captain Skinner, that the commander was about to pay them a visit and have a drink with them!
As a guard placed a chair among them, the ‘Chief Bo’sun, the Gunnery Officer and one of the Flying Officers’ entered, bearing a further six bottles of rum, followed, shortly afterwards, by Captain Theodor Detmers himself.
Evidently keen to put his captives at ease, he chatted with Captain Skinner while the drinks were being dispensed, after which he addressed the entire company, inviting them to momentarily put aside the fact that their countries were at war, and to join him in celebrating his birthday.
Explaining his presence among them with fond recollections of a visit he had made to Australia before the war, on the cruiser Köln in 1933, he praised the people of Australia for the kindness and hospitality they had shown to the crew, and recalled that at the time he had promised himself that if he ever got the chance to repay that hospitality, he would do so.
He then asked them to sing for him!
Following a rousing rendition of ‘Roll Out the Barrel’, they took a chance and sang ‘We’re Going to Hang Out Our Washing on the Siegfried Line’ which, to their utter amazement, Detmers joined in, and afterwards described as being ‘very funny’!!
Having noticed the powerful contribution being made by the Mareeba’s carpenter, known to his shipmates as ‘Chips’, Detmers requested that he sing a solo.
A rousing rendition of ‘Rolling Down to Rio’ apparently brought tears of laughter to the eyes of the Kormoran’s commander, who promptly called for another bottle of rum, and instructed his Bo’sun to ‘pour a special tot’ for the singer.
Seeing Detmers in such an agreeable and relaxed frame of mind, and no doubt slightly carried away by the affects of the rum, Jones, to the astonishment of his shipmates, took a calculated risk and asked him if he could possibly see his way to putting his prisoners ashore on an island from where they might be picked up.
Emphatically explaining that this would not be possible due to the fact that the men of the Mareeba had seen far too much of his ship to be let go to describe her to his enemies, he pointed out that as a loyal officer in the German Navy he was bound to fulfill his orders and carry out the unpleasant task of sinking ‘beautiful’ ships to the best of his abilities.
Swiftly changing the subject, he requested further chanties, and even contributed a song himself, singing a ballad about Hamburg on the Elbe - most probably ’‘Hamburg an der Elbe’ - after which he rose, explaining that he had to ‘have one little drink’ with his Petty Officers, bid them all ‘good night’, saluted, and left.
* Although the book describes the above events as having taken place on August 9, Detmers actual birthday, his thirty-ninth, was not until August 22.
Cruising northwards, once again searching the Sunda Strait, but without sighting anything, on August 28, Detmers took the Kormoran within sight of the summit of Mount Boea Boea on Engano Island, at the entrance to the strait.
For the men of the Kormoran, this was the first glimpse of land since they’d left the coast of Norway, 258 days previously, and was the longest period that the crew of any auxiliary cruiser had been at sea without once sighting land.
In no time at all, the ship’s rails were lined with men, as the entire company stood gazing wistfully at the fairy-tale tropical paradise, so close, but so far away, and as the Kormoran turned and headed out to sea again, most of them stayed where they were until all trace of the little island had disappeared.
Heading northwards up the coast of Sumatra and then westwards to explore the Singapore to Colombo route, but again without success, Detmers decided that he would patrol off Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in the hope of finding unsuspecting vessels leaving Colombo that he could follow until out of range of land-based aircraft, it soon became apparent that the British Admiralty had issued new instructions to shipping on what to do when encountering a stranger.
Informed by the SKL that the raider Thor would be sent to relieve him in the Indian Ocean, on September 3 he was cruising southwards again towards the Chagos Penninsula.
Taking the Kormoran around the islands and heading north-westward, he entered the Arabian Sea, where in fine weather, he was at last able to use his seaplane.
In ideal conditions for taking off and touching down, and with perfect visibility, the Arado carried out enormous sweeps over the ocean, but found nothing.
On September 23, however, the Officer of the Watch spotted a ship sailing with her lights on, which suggested that she was a neutral, but Detmers decided to investigate her anyway.
On a course that would take her across the raider’s bows, the ship was closely scrutinised, and as there was no sign of a neutral flag painted on her sides, or illuminated elsewhere, Detmers ordered the crew to action stations.
When close enough to flash a signal, he requested the vessel’s identity.
After a pause, she replied that she was the Greek, Stamatios G. Embiricos.
Obeying the order to heave to and not to use his wireless, that quickly followed receipt of this information, and clearly under the impression that he was being stopped by a British vessel, the Greek captain was astonished when confronted by Leutnant Diebitsch, and the 3,941-ton coal-burning Embiricos Line freighter, was captured without a shot being fired.
A fine, modern ship, in ballast from Mombasa to Colombo, but low on fuel, with just enough to get her to her destination, she was of little use as an auxiliary minelayer or as a prison-ship, for both of which she would have been ideal, Detmers reluctantly decided to scuttle her.
Lowering three lifeboats, her crew abandoned ship, with one boat, containing her captain and five men, making for the raider and being picked up, while the other two made off into the darkness, presumably in an attempt to escape captivity.
With the boarding party returning, the demolition charges soon did their work, and the Greek freighter slid beneath the waves.
As the Stamatios had not used her wireless, the Kormoran was safe to remain in the vicinity of her sinking during the night, and the next day the Arado took off and located the two lifeboats without any difficulty, taking the twenty-five remaining men on board.
When asked why he had been travelling with his lights on, the Greek captain explained that it was a tactic that had always worked for him.
He said he reckoned that the captains of German ships on seeing his lights had assumed him to be a neutral and had left him alone.
Detmers had been the exception that proved the rule.
Remaining in the Arabian Sea for several more days, but with no further luck, on September 29, Detmers decided to set course for a pre-arranged rendezvous with his supply-ship the 7,363-ton former Hamburg-Amerika liner Kulmerland.
Sailing from Kobe, Japan on September 3, loaded with 4,000 tons of diesel oil, lubricating oil and six months provisions, she was also carrying a large supply of the high-quality white metal, WM80, that the Kormoran so urgently needed.
As the designated meeting place, ‘Point Marius’ was off Cape Leeuwin, opposite Perth, at the South-Western tip of Australia, she had to sail south-eastwards right across the entire Indian Ocean to get there.
Almost immediately following their punctual arrival on the morning of October 16, a ship was sighted through the mist.
Sounding the alarm that called the crew to action stations, Detmers flashed the ‘What Ship?’ signal at the stranger, while at the same time identifying his own vessel as ‘Schiff 41’, and received the response he’d expected … ‘Kulmerland’.
The crew of the supply-ship had had a fright as they had failed to recognise the Kormoran as a fellow HAPAG vessel, and had also stood to action stations.
Sailing north-westwards for a day with the Kulmerland to find more suitable weather for the transfer of fuel and supplies, the replenishment lasted a week.
On Ocober 24, the raider’s prisoners were transferred to the supply-ship, along with five members of her crew who were unwell and needed to get home for proper treatment, including Navigation Officer Leutnant Petzel, who was replaced by Leutnant Henry Meyer.
When the re-fuelling and replenishment was complete, the Kormoran was in a position to remain at sea for a further six months.
The Kulmerland departed on Octber 24,, returning to Japan via the Society Islands, where the Kormoran’s prisoners were transferred to a blockade-runner for the long voyage back to Europe.
Not wishing to remain at a point where he’d already spent a week, Detmers decided to head westwards for a couple of days to a remote spot where he could carry out an electrical overhaul of his engines.
With the work successfully completed, and a with a renewed sense of security about the ship, the Kormoran headed towards the coast of Australia, where, if the opportunity presented itself, Detmers intended laying some of his mines off Perth, and more further north at Shark’s Bay, before continuing once more northwards towards the Bay of Bengal.
Turning eastwards towards Cape Leeuwin, he received a warning from the SKL of a convoy heading westwards from the Cape, escorted by the 9,750-ton heavy cruiser HMS Cornwall, the ship that had sunk the Pinguin on May 8, causing him to alter course to the northwest and spend several days of evasive action before approaching the coast again further north.
On November 19, as the Kormoran approached the area off Shark’s Bay from the south-west in warm sunshine and perfect visibility, Detmers decided to maintain his course and wait until dark before turning eastwards towards the coast.
At five minutes to four in the afternoon, as he was enjoying a cup of coffee in the wardroom, the alarm bells sounded, and a ship, thought to be a sailing ship, was reported approaching through the shimmering light on the horizon.
With the foretop lookout initially unable to identify what type of ship it was through the heat haze, but maintaining a running commentary on what he thought he could see, Detmers, called the crew to action stations, turned the Kormoran about through 260 degrees and called for full speed.
Studying the approaching vessel through the sighting telescope of the gunnery control point on the signal deck, his worst fears were soon realised as the ominous shape of the approaching vessel became clearer.
Detmers knew that with four hours to go until nightfall, he had nowhere to hide, and with what was becoming clearer by the second in the gunnery glasses capable of a top speed that was twice that of his own ship, he also knew that evasive action would be out of the question.
Bearing down on the Kormoran was a 6,830-ton Perth-class light cruiser, armed with eight six-inch guns, and a top speed of over 32 knots.
Although the Kormoran was also armed with six-inch guns, they did not have the range of those on the cruiser which could easily bombard her from a range of 10,000 metres with all the advantages of modern fire-control and four twin turrets, without ever having to come within range of her guns.
Disregarding the fact that as a converted freighter with an unarmoured wafer-thin hull, she was unlikely to have any chance against an armoured regular warship of this type anyway, Detmers felt that unless he could somehow get within 6,000 or even 8,000 metres, where the advantages of the cruiser’s fire-control system would be far less significant, he knew that his position would be hopeless.
Apart from anything else, one stray shell into the 420 high-explosive mines she was carrying and the Kormoran, like the Pinguin, would be blown to smithereens.
Knowing that his chances of survival were virtually nil, Detmers resolved to ensure that he would at least be in a good opening position should it come to a fight, and hoped that the enemy might make a mistake that he could exploit.
Playing for time, during which the cruiser might just come closer, he knew he had to rely heavily on his disguise and pray for luck.
Dropping the foretop lookout and lowering the crow’s nest so as not to arouse too much suspicion, Detmers had groups of seamen deployed among the ‘shipping crates’ around the decks in civilian clothing, altered course to present his stern to the oncoming cruiser, and slightly increased his speed.
When the signal N.N.J. was repeatedly flashed from the cruiser, neither Detmers, his Chief Signalman, Erich Ahlbach, nor anyone else on the Kormoran’s bridge had a clue what it meant, so it was ignored, but when it was followed by the demand ‘What ship?’, Detmers astonished his signalman, who was about to morse the response with either the ship’s searchlight or her top lamp, by instructing him to reply with ‘flag wagging’, merchant-navy fashion … slowly and awkwardly.
In the meantime the cruiser was coming steadily closer.
It was abundantly clear to Detmers that as he had no alternatives and was going to have to fight this cruiser, he wanted her as close as possible to remove some, if not all, of her advantages.
The more confusion his signalmen could create with their flags, and the longer they took to respond to the enemy’s signals, the less time he would have to ask awkward questions that Detmers could not answer.
With the cruiser now about 15,000 metres off the starboard quarter, approaching at a speed of about 20 knots and, by the amount of smoke she was making, clearly firing up her engines, Detmers replied to the ‘What ship’ demand, by instructing the signal-code pennant to be hoisted half-way, meaning, ‘I can see your signal, but I can’t make out what it is’, after which he allowed some more time to elapse before flagging that he now understood, followed, a little later, but very slowly, first with one flag missing, and then with several tangled flags, by the Straat Malakka’s recognition signal.
This last ruse was one of Leutnant Ahlbach’s own ideas, as he skillfully assisted his commander in his playing for time, slowly lowering the entangled flags before hoisting them again so clumsily that the obviously highly-irritated officers on the bridge of the cruiser had to signal twice to get him to hoist his signal clear.
With the cruiser now 12,000 metres away, she acknowledged receipt of the ‘Dutchman’s’ identification signal, and flashed a further signal requesting his port of destination.
Detmers, who couldn’t understand why the enemy ship was still maintaining radio silence and why he hadn’t yet been asked to heave to, could only assume that her captain did not consider the Kormoran as a suspicious ship, replied ‘Batavia’.
By this time the cruiser was between 8,000 and 9,000 metres and closing.
Viewing her through the less conspicuous and portable anti-aircraft rangefinder from the bridge, Detmers could see that her four twin 6-inch turrets as well as her port torpedo tubes, were all trained on him, but noted that none of her 4-inch anti-aircraft guns were manned.
Without any noticable reduction in speed, and showing the narrowest of profiles, the cruiser continued to close with the Kormoran, while flashing a further signal, this time requesting the nature of her cargo.
In replying ‘Piece Goods’, the German signalmen worked so inefficiently and so slowly that it was virtually incomprehensible to the enemy.
To add to the confusion, at about five o’clock, Detmers ordered that the Dutch flag be raised and instructed his Radio Officer, Reinhold von Malapert, to transmit a ‘QQQ Straat Malakka’ distress signal, which was picked up and acknowledged by the Perth station.
Conscious of the fact that his crew had been at action stations for over an hour, and that for all of that time they could see and hear nothing, Detmers spoke to them quietly over the intercom.
Telling them that they were about to go into action against ‘a small cruiser’ that they should be well able to dispose of, he received an answering cheer that told him all he needed to know about their state of readiness.
Noticing that the cruiser’s seaplane was on it’s catapult being prepared for take off, Detmers realised that the Kormoran would not stand close scrutiny from the air, but on the other hand, it’s mother ship was now only 3,000 metres away, and turning slightly to starboard, thus presenting a little more of her silhouette.
As 3,000 metres was the extreme effective range of the Kormoran’s anti-aircraft guns, ideally, he wanted the distance between the two ships to close even further so that when the time came for action he could bring all his guns to bear at their maximum effectiveness, and so, he left the initiative with the enemy captain.
Unable to believe the enemy’s total lack of caution in approaching what was an unidentified ship, the officers on the bridge of the Kormoran had for some time expected the cruiser to call their bluff by requesting their secret call sign letters, which of course they did not know.
But at last, it came.
Hoisting the letters ‘IK’, part of the Straat Malakka’s four-letter secret call sign, the cruiser came abeam of the Kormoran no more that 1,000 metres away, at a reduced speed, and so close that the Germans could see members of her crew leaning on the rails staring at this strange ‘Dutch’ freighter.
Reminding Ahlbach to keep it slow with the flags, Detmers watched as the cruiser repeated the demand for the secret letters, this time in clear, and wondered if he now needed to go through the whole time-wasting routine of demanding the cruiser’s name, as any self-respecting Dutch captain might be expected to do in such circumstances, and as he would certainly have done had she asked for his secret call sign earlier, but decided that he no longer needed to.
He needed no more time.
The cruiser was now sailing directly abeam of the Kormoran at a greatly reduced speed and at a range of under 1,000 metres.
At exactly 17.30, within the space of a record six seconds, Detmers crew dropped the Dutch flag and their camouflage and ran up the German battle flag.
On hearing Ahlbach report ‘War flag flying!’ he gave Skeries the order to fire at will, with the starboard 37mm guns and three of the first 150mm salvo scoring hits on the cruiser’s bridge and forward gunnery fire-control position.*
* Jakob Fend, the gunner manning the starboard 37mm mounting, was awarded the Iron Cross First Class by Detmers, the only sailor to be so decorated.
As the raider’s second 150mm salvo was fired, the cruiser opened up with a full eight-gun broadside, which passed harmlessly high over the Kormoran’s stern.
The Kormoran then fired eight salvos in succession, at six second intervals, without any fire coming back, due to the damage done to the enemy’s fire-control centre by her first salvo.
At this range it was virtually impossible for the German gunners to miss, with every 155mm shell scoring a direct hit.
While the twin 37mm AA guns pumped shells into the cruiser’s bridge and the 20mm flak and machine guns hammered away at her upper decks, preventing her crew from manning their anti-aircraft weapons and torpedo batteries.
Leutnant Greter got two torpedos away, one of which struck the cruiser below the forward gun turret, putting both turrets, A and B, out of action and staggering the ship, causing her to slow still further, leaving just the two after turrets, X and Y, firing independently, scoring three direct hits.
The first went through the Kormoran’s funnel, and exploded on the disengaged side of the ship, killing two men in the radio shack, the second exploded in the auxiliary boiler-room and oil bunker amidships, starting a fire and putting her fire-fighting system out of action and most significantly, the third destroyed the sensitive transformers of the main engines.
With the engine room soon fiercely ablaze from ruptured oil pipelines, and the personnel desperately trying to control the fire, by 1745 hours the Kormoran’s engines were inaccessible.
But her gunners kept up their merciless barrage, doing a tremendous amount of damage and slowly reducing the cruiser to a blazing wreck.
The roof was blown off turret B, the Walrus seaplane was blown off it’s catapult into the sea, and flames were shooting up everywhere.
The German anti-aircraft and heavy machine-gun fire was so intense that no one could move on the cruiser’s decks and not one torpedo was fired at the raider.
Turning slowly towards her, the crippled and burning ship appeared to be trying to ram her tormentor, but with so little speed and already down by the stern, she passed harmlessly behind her, with all her turrets pointing to leeward and out of action, and exposing her hitherto undamaged starboard side to the ferocity of the Kormoran’s anti-aircraft guns.
Enjoying a brief respite as she passed astern of the raider, during which Detmers maintained his course to present the smallest possible target in case of a torpedo attack, and the German gunners took the opportunity to cool their overheated gun barrels with water, the shattered cruiser was subjected to another onslaught as she appeared in the sights of Skeries’ port side 155mm guns.
Intending to turn to follow the crippled enemy ship to finish her off, Detmers found that his ship was slowing, as the engine-room telegraph reported that both diesels were losing power and that contact with the engine-room had been lost.
Fortunately for him and for the Kormoran, the ship still had some way on her, as someone on the cruiser managed to fire a spread of four torpedoes, all of which passed harmlessly astern, just as the ship shuddered as her engines finally failed.
Having given instructions that the Chief was to use his discretion as to whether or not to abandon the control room, the messenger returned to report that the engine room was out of action and that there was no reply from anyone.
It began to look as if Chief Engineer Scheer and all of his control room and engine room crew had lost their lives in the flames.
Meanwhile the gunners kept up their devastating fire, scoring direct hit after direct hit, reducing the shattered and hapless cruiser to a mass of flames.
At 1825 hours, with the daylight rapidly fading and the burning warship drifting over 10,000 metres away, the German guns, having fired 450 shells, registering over fifty 150mm hits, fell silent, as Detmers ordered a cease fire.
For the next two and a half hours the crew of the Kormoran, which was almost as badly ablaze as her enemy, could see the glow of the fires ravaging what was left of the cruiser disappearing slowly into the gathering gloom, until suddenly, they saw one massive flame, as if from a gigantic explosion, and after that, nothing.
Having tried in vain to gain access to the engine room to rescue those trapped there, and realising that the only way to put out the raging fires would be by flooding, it was soon clear to Detmers that his ship was now a ‘sitting duck’, and he gave the order to prepare to abandon ship.
Aware that twenty men had died during the battle, and determined to save as many of his remaining crew as possible, and hoping to have a few more hours before the time came to get off, Detmers assigned a party to monitor the temperature on the mine storage deck and to report any significant changes there, happy in the knowledge that at least the mines would ensure that there was nothing left of the Kormoran.
With two motor-boats and one of the ship’s two cutters destroyed by the fires, the remaining cutter plus four lifeboats from which the crews of various ships had come on board, four inflatable rubber dinghies and a selection of life rafts were launched, but, with the wind rising to Force 5 or 6, they were soon straining on the lines that tied them to the ship.
Tragically, there was little anyone could do when the first inflatable dinghy that was manned, which contained mainly wounded men, tore itself loose and drifted away into the darkness, where it capsized with the loss of forty men.
At 2100 hours, with a sufficient number of gunners retained on board to man four of the 150mm weapons in case another enemy vessel should be attracted to the scene by the flames, the boats cast off, and Detmers assembled his surviving officers and the remaining 120 men on the Kormoran’s foredeck.
There were two large steel cutters stored in Hold Number 1, but as the derrick proved to be unusable and the electrically-powered winch gear was out of action, they had to be lifted by block and tackle by hand.
By 2330 hours they were launched, and as one pulled away, the fire-watching party reported that things were rapidly deteriorating on the mine-storage deck, leaving Detmers with just one final task to carry out.
Instructing his Explosives Officer to do to his own ship what he had done to so many others since leaving Germany, and to place his demolition charges beside one of the oil bunkers, he secured his pennant and the Kormoran’s war flag, and gave the order to abandon ship.
Just before midnight, Theodor Detmers was the last man to leave the Kormoran.
With sixty-two men in the boat and only three oars, it was quite a task to get away quickly from the doomed ship, and they were still under her bows when at 0010 hours, on November 20, the demolition charges went up.
Fortunately, the boat was on the lee side from the explosion, so no one came to any harm, but with the 420 mines about to go up, there would be no lee side.
Twenty-five minutes later, when they had managed to get about 300 metres away, there was a massive explosion, as the entire midships and stern sections of the ship were engulfed in a gigantic sheet of flame that shot at least a thousand feet into the night sky and rained a shower of metal fragments into the sea.
As the huge flame subsided, the Kormoran’s bows lifted into the air and she slid slowly backwards under the waves, leaving 317 Germans and three Chinese laundrymen adrift in five seriously overcrowded boats and two rafts.
Her adversary, shattered, ablaze and wracked by internal explosions, last seen drifting into the gathering dusk, was never seen again.
Not one of her 645 officers and men survived.
Not one was ever found.
All the Germans and the three Chinese were subsequently picked up, although it was eight days before some of them made landfall.
On the morning of November 24, twenty-six German sailors were picked up by the 44,786-ton liner Aquitania, employed as a troop-transport en route to Australia from Singapore.
They said they had been in a fight with a cruiser.
Assuming that the cruiser would have filed a report of the action by now, the liner’s captain continued on his way to Sydney, maintaining radio silence, and did not report the matter until three days later.
The 7,406-ton British tanker Trocas picked up twenty-five men a few hours later, and reported her find, thus pinpointing the location of the survivors, where, on November 27, the 990-ton auxiliary HMAS Yandra, sent out to search for the cruiser Sydney, found a further seventy-three German seamen.
One life raft, on which fifty-seven men occupied a space twenty-five feet by ten feet, fetched up about seventy-five miles north of Carnarvon, on November 25, while another, with forty-six men on board, landed nearby.
Thirty-one men were rescued by the 4,372-ton government ship Koolinda on November 26.
On the evening of November 26, Detmers used starshells to attract the attention of the 3,222-ton Holt freight liner Centaur, which took the boats on tow for two days, finally setting them ashore on the evening of November 28.
On November 29, Detmers and his Executive Officer, Foerster, were interrogated and asked if they knew anything about the whereabouts of the Australian light cruiser, HMAS Sydney, which was missing.
Admitting that he had engaged a ship of the Perth-class, Detmers pointed out that he had not known which ship it was, and gave the position in which the battle had taken place as 111° East by 26° 34’ South.
Initially interned at Murchison Camp near Melbourne, on January 1942 Detmers and his officers were later moved to an officers camp at Dhurringile.
Theodor Detmers was awarded the Knight’s Cross on December 4 1941.
In April 1943, he was promoted to the rank of Kapitän zur See (Captain) making him the highest ranking officer in the camp.
By then already the elected Camp Leader, on the night of January 10/11 1945, he led an escape attempt with nineteen other officers through a 120 metre tunnel that had taken seven months to construct.
Re-captured at Shepparton on January 18, Detmers and the other officers were imprisoned in the Old Melbourne Gaol for twenty-eight days, after which he returned to the camp at Dhurringile, where, on March 15, he suffered a stroke that left him partially paralysed.
Transferred to the Heidelberg Military Hospital in Melbourne, he remained there for three and a half months undergoing therapy, after which he was released from hospital and returned to the POW Camp.
Detained in Australia for almost two years after the end of the war, Detmers and his surviving crew were finally released for repatriation in January 1947.
Taken by train on January 21 to board the liner Orantes at Station Pier in Port Melbourne for the journey home to Germany, they noticed a familiar-looking ship, about to depart from the adjacent Prince’s Pier.
It was the Dutch freighter Straat Malaaka.
Detmers and the crew of the Kormoran arrived back in Germany, docking at Cuxhaven, on February 28 1947.
Theodor Detmers was released from Münster Camp in May 1947, the last member of the Kormoran’s crew to be freed.
To this day, neither the Sydney nor the Kormoran have been found.
The ferocious, close-range battle that took place off Shark Bay, Western Australia, in the late afternoon of November 19 1941, remains one of the most extraordinary and controversial sea battles in history.
The key question, which has been the subject of ludicrous conspiracy theories, several excellent books, and bitter controversy to the present day, is why did such an experienced naval officer as Captain Joseph Burnett RAN, bring his ship so close to a vessel which he had not only failed to identify, but had not even established what type of vessel she was?
The concensus view would appear to be that he was under the impression that he was dealing with an unarmed supply-ship, most probably the Kulmerland, which bore a striking resemblance to the Kormoran, and which was known to have been operating in Australasian waters disguised as the Tokyo Maru, and that he was intent on sending a boarding-party to prevent her crew from scuttling her.
The only photograph of ‘Raider G’ (Schiff 41 - Kormoran) available to British Naval Intelligence, and supplied to the Sydney and all Allied warships, showed the ship as the Hamburg-Amerika line passenger freighter Steiermark, before she was converted into an auxiliary cruiser.
Not only does the photograph show the ship riding high in the water, unlike the Kormoran, but it does not provide a clear view of her ‘cruiser’ stern, indeed it could be said to suggest a semi-cruiser, semi-counter stern.
The Kulmerland, on the other hand, like the Kormoran, had a full cruiser stern.
Following the sinking of the Pinguin on May 8 1941, information provided by survivors prompted the British Naval Intelligence Service to issue a Supplement on German Raiders with Weekly Intelligence Report No.64 on May 30.
Broadly outlining the tactics of the auxiliary cruisers, their disguises, strategies, methods of supply and communication, it also sought to describe each of the ships, giving her original identity, alternative names and disguises, appearance, armament and so on.
While Raiders A to F were each described in some way, some comprehensively, Raider G, the Kormoran, remained largely, a mystery.
No identity, name, silhouette, or disguises, she was described as having a ‘squat funnel in the centre of a rather high superstructure’, a ‘half-cruiser, half-counter’ stern, and was reported to resemble ‘a modified Kulmerland’.
Approaching the ship, the humane and naturally cautious Burnett, not noted for his bravado, was reluctant to open fire on what still could have been an innocent merchantman, and in the mistaken belief that even if she was a German vessel, she was unarmed, chose instead to send a boarding party.
One of the Kormoran’s torpedo men, Erich Meyer, who had been taken ill on the raider, and whom Detmers had hoped to repatriate on the Kulmerland, but couldn’t, due to the supply-ship not having a doctor on board, and who somehow managed to survive the ordeal of several days in an open boat, to be admitted to hospital in Perth, passed away shortly afterwards, and was buried with naval honours in a cemetary there.
In a poignant and remarkable turn of events, the family of an Australian sailor who had gone down with the Sydney, generously offered to tend his grave.
|Kapitän zur See Theodor Detmers
Commander HK Kormoran
Theodor Detmers was born on August 22 1902, at Witten in the Ruhr, and entered the Reichsmarine, the Navy of the Weimar Republic, in April 1921.
Following service on the battleships Hanover and Elsass, the sail training ship Niobe and the cruiser Berlin, in October 1925 he was appointed as a sub-lieutenant to the cruiser Emden, named after the cruiser forced ashore at the Cocos Keeling Islands by the first HMAS Sydney, in 1914.
Promoted to the rank of lieutenant in July 1927, a year with the Emden was followed by two years service ashore before being posted to the torpedo boat Albatros in October 1928.
Between October 1930 and October 1932 he was posted to the naval staff and then appointed to the cruiser Köln.
During his two years aboard the cruiser, he was promoted to lieutenant commander and visited Australia in the course of a training cruise in 1933.
From 1934 until his appointment to the Kormoran, Detmers’ service was mostly involved with the torpedo boat and destroyer arm of the navy of the Third Reich, the Kriegsmarine.
The exception was a two-year posting to the Personnel Division of the Naval staff following his promotion to junior commander in October 1937.
In October 1938 he was appointed to command the 2,200-ton destroyer Hermann Schoemann, on which he took part in the Norwegian campaign in June 1940.
In July 1940 Detmers assumed command of the auxiliary cruiser Kormoran.
During the Kormoran's cruise he was promoted senior commander.
After the Kormoran's loss, he became a prisoner of war in Australia.
He was awarded the Knight’s Cross on 4 December 1941 and promoted captain in April 1943.
Repatriated after the war, but, having been rendered unsuitable for further naval service by two strokes suffered while in captivity, he did not join the post-war German navy.
He died on 4 November 1976.
As a Korvettenkapitän, Theodor Detmers was at the same time, the youngest and the lowest-ranked of all the Hilfskreuzer commanders.
His performance was not particularly outstanding, taking just 12 ships, totalling 75,375 tons, during 351 days at sea, but his last day afloat was the most glorious of all the Hilfskreuzer commanders, if not of all German naval commanders in WW2.
He took on a regular warship, the Australian Navy’s 6,830-ton Perth-class light cruiser, HMAS Sydney, sister-ship of the Ajax and Achilles, packing eight 6-inch guns and capable of a top speed of 32 knots … and sank her.
Without any doubt, his fate should have been the same as that meted out to the HK Pinguin six months earlier by HMS Cornwall, but, inexplicably, the Sydney’s commander, Captain Joseph Burnett, seemingly unaware of the lessons learned in that battle, closed the distance to the Kormoran to around 1,000 metres.
Clearly the Kormoran’s disguise was excellent, and the reply to the key question "Give me your secret identification code" like all the dialogue between the ships, was by flag, with continuous repetition due to the deliberate flag fumbling and the poor English of the supposed ‘Dutch’ skipper of the ‘Straat Malakka’.
Detmers was a master in the art of such time wasting, during which the cruiser moved ever closer, enabling him to open fire on her at almost point-blank range.
The Sydney suffered many hits even before the first full broadside from the raider’s main armament hit her.
The automatic fire from the Kormoran’s 37mm and 20mm guns and heavy machines-guns was devastating, killing everybody on the bridge and decks, setting the Walrus seaplane on fire on its catapult, where it sat, engine running, but not ready for launching due to the catapult being trained inboard, and destroying all the lifeboats and rafts.
Seconds later, a torpedo struck the Sydney below the forecastle, taking both A and B turrets out of action.
The Sydney scored four hits on the Kormoran with her X and Y turrets, setting her on fire, but in an apparent effort to ram the raider, the crippled cruiser crossed her wake, exposing her entire starboard side to the German gunners.
Once again, the automatic fire from the Kormoran destroyed everything on Sydney’s starboard superstructure, and as with the previously devastated port side, this included all the lifeboats and rafts.
This is believed to have been the main reason for the loss of all 645 officers and men on board when she subsequently went down.
When it became clear to Detmers that the fire on the Kormoran was out of control, and threatening the mines, he gave the order to abandon ship.
HMAS Sydney was never seen again.
Months later, a damaged and empty life-raft bearing her name was found thousands of miles away.
The wrecks of both ships are believed to rest in swallow waters, a few miles off the Abrolhos Islands, on the west coast of Australia.
With twenty men killed in the battle, and a further forty being lost when their life-raft capsized, the surviving members of the Kormaran’s crew were picked up and interned in Australia for over five years, during which time Detmers was promoted to the rank of Kapitän zur See and awarded the Knight’s Cross.
No charges were ever brought against Detmers, despite some suspicion about possible ‘foul play’ against the Sydney, a controversy that still rages to this day, and the Australian Government finally released him and his crew on January 21 1947, nearly 21 months after the end of the war.
Some people, again, not all of them Germans, think this prolonged internment was a form of revenge.
Detmers’ health never fully recovered from Australian hospitality, during which he suffered two minor strokes, resulting in his being declared unsuitable for service in the post-war Bundesmarine, but, for many people, he is to be credited with probably the most extraordinary sea action of World War Two.
Partially disabled by strokes, Theodor Detmers lived out the rest of his life in Hamburg-Rahlstedt remembering what he called ‘The challenging days’, but still remaining true to the byword by which he fought and lived.
‘There are no impossible situations’.
He died, aged 74, on November 4 1976.
|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|
|Hilfskreuzer Kormoran Theodor Detmers + Jochen Brennecke|
|The Raider Kormoran Theodor Detmers|
|Prisoner of the Kormoran James Taylor|
|The Battleship Scheer - Theodor Krancke and Jochen Brennecke|
|Under Three Flags The Story of the Nordmark Geoffrey Jones|
|Who Sank the Sydney? Michael Montgomery (1981)|
|HMAS Sydney - Fact Fantasy and Fraud Barbara Winter (1984)|
|HMAS Sydney Loss and Controversy - Dr Thomas Frame (1993)|
|Bitter Victory - The Death of HMAS Sydney Wesley Olson (2000)|
|Kormoran - War Records from 03-12-1940 to 19-11-1941|
|2||British Union||Tanker||United Kingdom||18-01-1941||7.000||Sunk|
|3||Afric Star||Freighter||United Kingdom||29-01-1941||11.900||Sunk|
|11||Stamatios G. Embiricos||Freighter||Greece||23-09-1941||3.940||Sunk|
|12||HMAS Sydney||Light Cruiser||Australia||19-11-1941||7.100||Sunk|
|Total Kormoran Prizes||75.375|
|1||Sunk by explosives charges.|
|2||Sunk by torpedo.|
|3||Sunk by explosive charges. 72 prisoners are taken. Two young British ladies of apparently outstanding beauty, like many shipwrecked survivors, taken by surprise, climb aboard Kormoran in their bathing costumes. They enjoyed the best of facilities on board, being given a first class cabin over the swimming pool deck, with their own bathroom. The German crew always gave them courteous and respectful treatment.|
|4||Sunk by torpedo. Several dead. Meeting with tanker Nordmark, for refuelling, and Duquesa, for food replenishment. 170 prisoners transferred to Nordmark. Meeting with Pinguin. Krüder proposes to Detmers that they operate as a team, but the Fregattenkapitän, refuses to put himself in a subordinate position to Kapitän zur See Krüder. Meeting with Admiral Scheer and the U-105.|
|5||Sunk by torpedo. 38 prisoners taken.|
|6||Very valuable ship. Dispatched to Bordeaux with prisoners. She arrives safely, and is later converted into a blockade runner and re-named Sudetenland. Meeting with U-105, U-106 and Nordmark.|
|7||Sunk by gunfire and torpedo.|
|8||Sunk by torpedo. Meeting with Dresden, Alsterufer and HK Atlantis.|
|9||Destroyed by gunfire and abandoned, she runs aground on the Andaman Islands with part of her crew.|
|10||Sunk by explosive charges.|
|11||Sunk by explosive charges. Meeting with Kulmerland, for refuelling and replenishing of supplies.|
|12||Battle with the light cruiser HMAS Sydney at a close range of 1.000 meters off the coast of western Australia. Kormoran suffers four 6-inch hits, that start a major fire midships. Abandoned with 60 deads, she explodes and capsizes off the Abrolhos Islands. 320 survivors interned for five years in Australian POW camps. The Sydney, after sustaining more than a thousand hits of 152 mm, 75 and 37 mm AA, heavy machine gunfire and a torpedo hit, sinks with all 645 officers and men.|
|Additional Info about the Ships engaged by Hilfskreuzer Kormoran - 3 December 1940 to 19 November 1941|
|1 - Antonis|
|This 3,729-ton Greek ship, carrying 4.800 tons of coal was sunk in mid-Atlantic on January 6 1941 with her twenty-eight man crew, and one blind passenger, being taken on board.
In keeping with his normal policy, Detmers asked her Captain to stay with his crew despite there being cabins on board specifically built for captured Captains and any possible female passengers.
This policy, he believed, helped ease communication problems and to maintain of order among the captured crews.
|This 6,897-ton British tanker exchanged fire with Kormoran, and sent radio signals, but was abandoned on being set on fire. Twenty-eight members of her crew were picked up, plus a monkey … and a bird!
Due to the distress signals sent, Kormoran had to leave the scene immediately, leaving seventeen men adrift in life boats. Eight of these were later picked by HMAS Arawa, an Australian AMC, which had received the radio signals, and had in fact seen Kormoran's searchlight and gun flashes, but narrowly missed engaging the raider as she escaped into the night.
|3 - The Afric Star|
|An 11,900-ton British refrigerator ship with a cargo of 5.708 tons of Argentine meat and 634 tons of butter, had her radio signals jammed by Kormoran's operator, and after 4 minutes of gunfire stopped and surrendered.
Unfortunately this fine, valuable ship was no longer any use as a prize due to the damage she had sustained. Seventy-two members of her crew and four passengers, including two young British women, who, had been sunbathing on deck,and arrived on board the raider in their bathing costumes!
The women's clothing was retrieved by the raider's boarding party before the Afric Star was sunk and they were given first class accomodation and treatment on board the Kormoran.
Among the items taken from Afric Star were radio code tables that enabled the Germans to read all British signals.
|4 - Eurylochus|
|This 5,723-ton Blue Funnel liner carrying a cargo of sixteen heavy bombers, minus engines, was bound for Takoradi where the bombers were to be fitted with their engines and flown to Egypt to operations against Rommel's Afrika Korps.
The engines were aboard another ship travelling with the Eurylochus, which signalled to London for instructions once it became clear to her Captain that the bombers had been destroyed.
The Eurylochus refused to stop, radioed RRR and returned the Kormoran's fire - four shots to the raider's sixty-seven, during which eleven of her crew were killed.
Forty-two survivors were picked up as the scuttling charges were being set, while another eighteen escaped in the boats. After the charges exploded it seemed as if her radio had started sending again, and so the Kormoran re-opened fire, spraying the bridge with 20mm anti-aircraft fire until it stopped.
A torpedo was then fired to finish the Eurylochus off, but to the horror of the raider's watching crew, one of the missing lifeboats was seen to be approaching the liner amidships, at exactly the point where the torpedo was about to hit. Despite signals and warnings flashed from the Kormoran, there wasn't time for the men in the boat to react, and they and the torpedo arrived alongside together.
In the ensuing explosion the boat and everyone in it were blown to bits. Her Captain and twenty-seven crewmen were picked up next day by a Spanish ship.
On February 7 the Kormoran rendezvoused with the tanker Nordmark and the Admiral Scheer’s refrigerated prize ship Duquesa taking on oil and provisions and transferring prisoners.
|5 - Agnita|
|When ordered to stop this small 3,552-ton armed tanker radioed her position and tried to escape.
Several salvoes brought her to a halt and due to the damage done to her engine room it was decided to sink her. The scuttling charges were set and exploded, but she would not sink, being kept afloat by her empty oil tanks.
After nine 150 mm shells had been put into her without success, she was finally sunk by a torpedo, and her thirty-eight-man crew was picked up.
|6 - Canadolite|
An 11,309-ton Canadian tanker built by Krupp Germania, also used her radio and tried to escape when challenged to stop. The Kormoran, having tried to jam the signals, opened fire and the tanker stopped.
Her crew of forty-four were taken on board along with yet another monkey!. As she was such a fine new ship, she was dispatched to Bordeaux under a prize crew, with most of her own crew, other captured crews and passengers on board.
Her Captain, Chief Engineer, Wireless Operator and the senior member of her gun crew had been detained on the Kormoran for security reasons, and having safely arrived in the Gironde , she was converted into the blockade-runner Sudetenland.The Kormoran met with the Nordmark, the U-105 and the U-106 between March 28 and April 2, and with the Rudolf Albrecht on April 3, when she took on supplies of oil and provisions, including potatoes, bananas, oranges, magazines and English cigarettes … plus a live pig, a small dog!
|7 - Craftsman|
Bound for the Cape with a large anti-submarine net intended for use at the entrance to Cape Town harbour, the 8,022-ton Craftsman approached the Kormoran so fast from astern that at first Detmers feared she might be an AMC and took evasive action, but having established that she was in fact a freighter, he signalled to her to stop.
But the Craftsman tried to escape, sending radio signals as she did so.
These were jammed by the Kormoran's operator as the raider opened fire, and after a ten minute gun battle the stricken freighter stopped, on fire amidships, with five of her crew killed, and her Captain blinded by flying sand from sandbags he had foolishly deployed on the bridge.
As forty-six survivors were taken on board the Kormoran, scuttling charges were set off and the ship settled. But she would not sink, being kept afloat by the buoyancy of the large floats attached to the anti-submarine net in her hold.
A torpedo blew open her stern holds, releasing hundreds of the floats, which looked like mines, onto the surface!They were subsequently reported as being mines, over a very wide sea area, for many weeks afterwards!
|8 - Nicolaos D.L.|
Carrying a cargo of Oregon Pine, both above and below decks, from Vancouver to Durban by way of the Panama Canal, this 5,486-ton vessel was sent the usual "Heave to! No Wireless!" signal by the Kormoran, but she did not stop.
A few 150mm salvoes brought her to a halt.
Although a fine ship with a quality cargo, there was no point in keeping her as a prize as too much damage had been done to her bridge and steering gear, but the scuttling charges failed to sink her.
Heavy gunfire, including four 150mm hits on the waterline, also failed as she was being kept afloat by her cargo of timber. As ammunition and torpedoes were considered too precious to waste, she was left to sink in her own time, and her thirty-eight- man crew was picked up.Rendezvous with the tanker Nordmark, supply ship Alsterufer and fellow raider Atlantis.
|9 - Velebit|
|This elderly 4,153-ton Yugoslav freighter in ballast refused to stop despite repeated requests to do so and intense gunfire. Twenty-nine 150mm shells hit her over a seven minute period until she was engulfed in flames.
Only nine of her 34-man crew were picked up as the wrecked and doomed vessel continued towards the Andaman Islands where she finally ran aground and was abandoned by the remaining members of her crew.
|10 - Mareeba|
This 3,472-ton Australian freighter, carrying 5.000 tons of sugar, which had picked up the Velebit's signals, radioed her position when ordered to stop by Detmers, who had skilfully stalked her, and only did so when after several hits, she began to sink.
Her Captain and 47-man crew were taken on board the Kormoran.
|11 - Stamatios G. Embiricos|
As this 3,941-ton coal-burning Greek freighter was low in fuel when captured, she was of little use as an auxiliary or as a prison ship and was scuttled.
While her Captain and five crewmen were being picked up from one lifeboat, twenty-four other crew members drifted away in another, and were not discovered until the next day by the Kormoran's seaplane.
|12 - HMAS Sydney|
The battle that took place off the northwest coast of Australia between this 6,830-ton Leander class light cruiser and the raider Kormoran remains one of the most extraordinary and controversial sea battles in history.
Having challenged the raider, which was masquerading as the Dutch freighter Straat Malakka, to identify herself, and not having received a satisfactory response, the cruiser's captain, Joseph Burnett, inexplicably brought his ship to within 1.000 metres of her - with disastrous results.
In such circumstances Theodor Detmers had little choice but to open fire, and in the following action quickly devastated the cruiser, with a torpedo strike and sustained gunfire, which wiped out her bridge and fire control systems. The raider herself sustained four fatal hits from the cruiser's 6-inch guns, causing a major fire amidships, serious damage to her engine room and destroying her fire fighting equipment.
It was clear that the Kormoran could not be saved, and with so many mines stored on board, and the fires out of control, Detmers decided to abandon ship.
Approximately twenty of the Kormoran's crew had been killed in the battle, and a further forty, mostly wounded, died when their life raft capsized while the ship was being abandoned.
At 01:20 hours the mines blew up with a gigantic explosion hundreds of feet high, and the Kormoran went down, stern first.
HMAS Sydney, ablaze and wracked by internal explosions, was last seen drifting into the dusk, and was never seen again. Not one of her 645-man crew survived.Commander Detmers and the surviving members of the Kormoran's crew were picked up and interned in Australia until 1947.
|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.|