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Episodes & Studies Volume 1

Operations of the Pinguin

page 25

Operations of the Pinguin

AT the end of 1940 seven German raiders were operating on the high seas. Besides the Orion and Komet in the Pacific, there were the Atlantis and the Pinguin in the Indian Ocean and the Thor in the Atlantic. The pocket battleship Admiral Scheer was on her way down the Atlantic after sinking HMS Jervis Bay and six merchant ships in a convoy and the Port Hobart in the West Indies area. The Kormoran had sailed from Germany on 3 December 1940 to operate in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The Widder had returned to Germany at the end of October after sinking twelve ships in the Atlantic.

On her way to the Indian Ocean the Pinguin sank five ships and captured another, in which the crews of her other victims were sent to Bordeaux. In the Bay of Bengal she captured the Norwegian tanker Storstad, which was renamed Passat and to which she transferred some of her mines. Both ships then sailed south of Australia. During the night of 28 October 1940, the Pinguin laid three rows of minés between Newcastle and Sydney, one of which sank the coastal vessel Nimbin, 1052 tons. After laying others off Hobart, the Pinguin worked in to the coast of South Australia and, during the night of 6 November, planted three rows of mines across the entrance to Spencer Gulf. It was in this field that the Federal Steam Navigation Company’s steamer Hertford, 11,785 tons, was badly damaged on 7 December 1940. In the meantime, the Passat had laid her mines off the north-east coast of Tasmania, and off Wilson’s Promontory and Cape Otway. Between them, the Pinguin and Passat laid a total of 230 mines. The Federal Company’s steamer Cambridge, 11,373 tons, was mined and sunk off Wilson’s Promontory on 7 December, and the American steamer City of Rayville, 5883 tons, off Cape Otway on the following day.

Returning to the Indian Ocean, the Pinguin sank three well-known New Zealand traders— the Maimoa, 10,123 tons, on 20 November, the Port Brisbane, 8739 tons, on the following day, and the Port Wellington, 10,065 tons, on 30 November. The Pinguin then continued on far to the south-west and on 14–15 January 1941 captured the Norwegian whaling factory ships Ole Wegger and Pelagos (formerly the Athenic), the supply ship Solglimt, and eleven whale catchers. The whaling fleet was taken to France by prize crews, with the exception of one catcher which was renamed Adjutant and retained by the Pinguin as a reconnaissance vessel. The Adjutant reappears later in this account. During the next five months the Pinguin sank three more ships, but her raiding career was ended on 8 May 1941, when she was intercepted and sunk in the north-west area of the Indian Ocean by HMS Cornwall. The Pinguin was the most successful of the German raiders. During her cruise of eleven months she sank or captured thirty-one vessels totalling 156,910 tons.

After shelling Nauru Island, the Komet proceeded north about the Gilbert Islands and thence far to the south-eastward through the central Pacific. About this time Captain Eyssen received notice of his promotion to the rank of Rear-Admiral. During the latter half of January 1941, the raider passed between the Marquesas Islands and the Tuamotu Archipelago, round Pitcairn Island, and thence along the Panama-New Zealand route; but no ships were seen. Rounding the Chatham Islands on 6 February, she went due south on the 180th meridian to the Antarctic, where she was held up by ice in the Ross Sea about 250 miles east of Cape Adare, the north-east extremity of Victoria Land. She then headed north-west and, passing close by the Balleny Islands, sailed within sight of the ice-bound Antarctic Continent until 28 February, when she shaped course for page 26 Kerguelen Island. There she met the raider Pinguin and the Adjutant, as well as the supply ship Alstertor, and spent some time taking in stores and ammunition.

The Komet then went north into the Indian Ocean and spent more than two months in fruitless cruising along and across the Australian shipping routes. At the end of March she refuelled from the Ole Jacob. On 21 May she was joined by the Adjutant, and on 1 June they headed away well south of Australia for the Pacific. On 11 June the Komet transferred to the Adjutant the mines that six months earlier were to have been laid outside Rabaul.