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Episodes & Studies Volume 1

The Komet Enters the Pacific

The Komet Enters the Pacific

THE Komet, which had arrived in the Pacific after an extraordinary passage across the Arctic Ocean and the Behring Sea, was commanded by Captain Robert Eyssen. She was a relatively small ship of 3287 tons gross register, built in 1937 as the Ems for the Norddeutscher-Lloyd. Propelled by two sets of oil engines geared to a single shaft, the ship had a speed of 15 knots or better. She was armed with six 5.9-inch guns, nine anti-aircraft guns, six deck and four underwater torpedo tubes. She carried one Arado seaplane and a high-speed motor-launch. Her complement was 270 officers and men.

The Komet had sailed from Gdynia on 3 July 1940, passed close inshore round the heel of Norway, and then made a wide sweep clear of the coast until she reached the North Cape. She then headed eastward across the Barents Sea to the south end of Novaya Zemlya, where she arrived on 15 July.

The Russian ice-breaker, which was to have met her, failed to appear, and the Komet spent the next four weeks cruising and waiting. Captain Eyssen had good reason to believe that the Russians were ‘carrying on a skilful delaying policy’. On 13 August he received orders to proceed to Matochkin Strait, the narrow channel which bisects Novaya Zemlya, but when the Komet arrived there she found no sign of the promised ice-breaker, the Lenin, which had gone on with a convoy a week before. Captain Eyssen pushed on into the strait, where he picked up two Russian ice-pilots. The Komet finally passed through the strait on 19 August, and, following close behind the ice-breaker Stalin, she safely cleared Cape Chelyuskin, the most northerly point of Siberia, 720 miles from the North Pole. Escorted by the ice-breaker Lazar Kaganovich, the raider had a stormy passage across the East Siberian Sea. On 1 September, when there were still 600 miles to go to Behring Strait, the ice-breaker suddenly stopped and reported that ‘orders had come from Moscow’ not to accompany the Komet any farther eastward but to bring her back.

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Black and white sketch of ship


Captain Eyssen, ignoring the Russian protests, went on alone; after passing Wrangel Island, the Komet experienced fine, clear weather, and the sea was free of ice. During the night of 4–5 September she entered the Behring Sea. ‘From receipt of orders in the Barents Sea we had taken twenty-three days for nine of which we were stopped or at anchor; that is to say, we took only fourteen days on passage to cover a distance of 3,300 sea miles, of which 720 were through ice.’ On the passage southward from the Behring Sea the Komet was joined by the Kulmerland from Kobe.

On 20 October the Regensburg sailed for Yokohama, and the two raiders, with the Kulmerland in company, left Lamotrek to operate in the area east of New Zealand, raiding shipping on the Panama route. The Komet and the Kulmerland were camouflaged as Japanese ships, the former bearing the name Manyo Maru and the latter Tokyo Maru. They had these names and the Japanese mercantile flag painted on their hulls. During daylight hours the three ships steamed in line abreast at masthead visibility distance apart, this giving them a range of observation in clear weather of from 90 to 100 miles. At night the raiders closed to within visibility distance of the Kulmerland.

The ships passed south between Nauru and Ocean Islands ‘in the rather vain hope of coming upon steamers carrying cargoes from there to Australia.’ From 29 to 31 October the raiders were steaming through the area between the New Hebrides and Fiji. In the evening of 3 November the lights of a ship were sighted in a position about 250 miles north-west of the Kermadec Islands. She stopped when warning shots were fired ahead of her and proved to be the American motor-vessel City of Elwood, 6197 tons. Her name and United States markings were seen when searchlights were turned on her and ‘without further questioning she was released.’

On 7 November 1940 the raiders arrived in an area some 400 miles east by north of East Cape, New Zealand, on the lookout for ships on the Auckland-Panama route. ‘After four days of unsuccessful patrolling in conditions of poor visibility, operations were transferred 300 nautical miles further south, so as to concentrate activity on the Wellington route’, 500-odd miles due east of Cape Palliser. This area was combed for ten days without success, so, assuming that shipping was being routed south of the Chatham Islands, the Germans left on 20 November for a position about 100 miles south-east of that group. Four days of cruising in that area failed to locate any shipping, and on 24 November the raiders headed northward intending to proceed direct to Nauru Island, which was to be attacked on 8 December.

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Black and white map of sea route


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Black and white illustration of ship


Black and white illustration of ship


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Black and white map of sea route

This reproduction of the Orion’s chart of her course across the approaches to the Hauraki Gulf shows also the position of ships sighted while her minelaying was in progress. The numbers added in black give a key to translations of the notes on the map:

(1) vessel in sight; (2) steamer in sight; (3) steamer in sight; (4) position of sinking of Niagara; (5) steamer in sight; (6) Moko Hinau light; (7) blacked-out vessel; (8) vessel; (9) moon bearing at 2100 hours. The main heading at the bottom of the map states that it is to be superimposed on British 2543, enclosure No. 2 to Report No. 201 of 7 August 1940. The thin line shows the raider’s course, the thicker line shows mines about 800 metres apart, and the double lines show mines about 400 metres apart.

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Black and white photograph of soldiers on boat

Lifeboats from the Niagara

Black and white photograph of navy officer next to mine

A German mine washed up in the Manukau Harbour

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Black and white photograph of ship

HMNZS KILLEGRAY at sea near Auckland

Black and white photograph of navy personnel

Checking the wire on a minesweeper operating between Auckland and Whangarei

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Black and white photograph of ship

The raider Komet (Ship No. 45)

Black and white photograph of ship

The supply ship Kulmerland

Black and white photograph of ship at sea

The Russian ice-breaker Stalin from the Komet

Black and white photograph of navy officer

Rear-Admiral Robert Eyssen, commanding officer of the Komet

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Black and white map of sea route

The operations of the raider Orion, June to October 1940

Black and white photograph of ship

The Turakina, sunk in the Tasman Sea by the Orion on 20 August 1940 after a gallant action

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Black and white photograph of ship

The Rangitane, victim of the raiders Orion and Komet

Black and white photograph of ships at sea

German raiders at anchor off Emirau Island. The Komet, partly obscured by a palm tree, is at left. The funnel and one mast of the Orion show behind the supply ship Kulmerland, with Japanese markings, on right

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Black and white photograph of nzvy personnel

Engineers from the Rangitane

Black and white photograph of navy personnel and ladies

Chief Engineer A. T. Cox (centre) and passengers from the Rangitane

Black and white photograph of ship at sea

The steamer Nellore which took the survivors of the ships sunk by the raiders from Emirau Island

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Black and white photograph of navy personnel on ship

On board the Nellore

Black and white photograph of group of navy personnel

Three of these men are naval airmen from the Rangitane; the fourth is a Leading Seaman from the Port Hobart. They were prisoners of war in Germany

Black and white photograph of navy officers

Chief Engineer A. T. Cox, Captain H. L. Upton, and Chief Officer E. H. Hopkins of the Rangitane