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Episodes & Studies Volume 1

Raiders’ Long Cruises End

page 31

Raiders’ Long Cruises End

AT the end of September 1941, the Komet also started on her homeward journey via Cape Horn. On 17 October she parted company with her prize, the Kota Nopan, which arrived at Bordeaux a month later. Near the Azores the Komet was met by two U-boats which escorted her to Cape Finisterre; then she closely hugged the European coastline all the way to Hamburg, where she arrived on 30 November after a cruise of 515 days, during which she had travelled 86,988 miles. In October 1942, having started on a second cruise, the Komet was sunk by British destroyers off Cape de La Hague, in the English Channel.

As was mentioned earlier, the raider Orion, after leaving Emirau Island, had gone north to the Caroline Islands, where she arrived on 31 December 1940, and found the Regensburg and the tanker Ole Jacob from Japan awaiting her. Captain Weyher, fearing that the secrecy of his island bases had been compromised, decided to go still farther north. On 5 January 1941 the German motor-ship Ermland, 6528 tons, arrived and 183 prisoners from seven ships were transferred to her. Two days later the Orion sailed from Lamotrek, followed by the Ole Jacob and the Ermland. On the 9th the Ermland parted company and left for Europe via Cape Horn. She took on board 148 prisoners from another German ship in the South Atlantic, and arrived at Bordeaux on 3 April.

The Orion and her tanker arrived on 12 January at Maug, the most northerly but one of the Marianas Islands, and carried on the overhaul of her engines and boilers. The Regensburg arrived on 18 January with fresh water from Japan, and on 1 February the Munsterland came in with stores and a Japanese seaplane to replace the German aircraft which was unserviceable. Orders were received from Berlin that the Orion was to operate in the Indian Ocean, and on 6 February she sailed from Maug in company with the Ole Jacob. The ships passed through Bougainville Channel, in the Solomon Islands, during the night of 15 February. It was Captain Weyher’s intention to sail south through the Coral Sea and the Tasman, but in the afternoon of 16 February the ships were seen by a flying-boat which circled the Orion and then reported by wireless to Port Moresby.

The ships separated during the night and the Orion steamed eastward to the Santa Cruz Islands, from which she passed down between the New Hebrides and Fiji. On 25 February the Orion refuelled from the Ole Jacob in a position about 180 miles north-east of the Kermadec Islands. Thereafter the ships steamed in company across the trade routes east of New Zealand, but not a single vessel was seen. They passed west of Chatham Islands on 2 March 1941 and rounded New Zealand to the south of Stewart Island three days later.

For the next three months the Orion cruised unsuccessfully in the Indian Ocean, the only non-German merchant ships sighted being neutrals—a Vichy French vessel and an American. During much of that time she employed the Ole Jacob as a reconnaissance vessel, and for a short period kept the supply ship Alstertor in company for the same purpose. The raider’s aircraft also made thirty-eight reconnaissance flights.

In the morning of 18 May, when the Orion had just crossed the Equator north-east of the Seychelles Islands, her aircraft returned from a flight with the alarming report that a heavy cruiser had been sighted on an intercepting course about forty-five miles away. The Orion at once altered course away to the south-east at her utmost speed of 13 knots. Two hours later, smoke was seen to page 32 the northward, but in half an hour it had disappeared. The cruiser was probably HMS Cornwall, which, ten days earlier, had intercepted and sunk the raider Pinguin about 200 miles farther north.

For some time the oil-fuel supply had been a matter of concern to the raiders. It had been hoped to refill the tanks of the Ole Jacob from the tanker Ketty Brovig, which had been captured on 2 February 1941 by the Atlantis and placed in charge of a prize crew. But, on 4 March, the Ketty Brovig and the supply ship Coburg had been intercepted and sunk by HMAS Canberra and HMNZS Leander. The Germans did not learn of this loss until after the sinking of the Pinguin.

The Orion now received orders to leave the Indian Ocean. She refuelled from the Ole Jacob for the last time on 3 June and the empty tanker was sent away, arriving at Bordeaux on 19 July. The Orion rounded the Cape of Good Hope on 20 June. Two expected supply ships, one a tanker, had been sunk in the Atlantic on 4–5 June by HMS London, and the homeward-bound Alstertor was scuttled when intercepted by British destroyers on 23 June. The Orion, therefore, was compelled to load 500 tons of fuel from the raider Atlantis, which was met on 1 July about 300 miles north of Tristan da Cunha.

The Orion crossed the Equator on 25 July and four days later intercepted her last victim, the British steamer Chaucer, 5792 tons, which was attacked by gunfire and torpedoes. Ten torpedoes were discharged, but all failed to detonate. The ship was finally sunk by gunfire, her crew of forty-eight, of whom eighteen were wounded, being taken prisoner. The Chaucer was the only ship sunk by the raider in the period of nearly nine months since she was off Nauru Island.

On 16–17 August the Orion met the U-boats, U.75 and U.205, west of the Azores and was escorted by them to Bordeaux, where she arrived a week later after a cruise of 510 days, during which she had steamed 112,337 miles. For his exploits Captain Kurt Weyher was complimented by the Fuehrer, awarded the Knight’s Insignia of the Iron Cross, and promoted Rear-Admiral.

In the course of their cruises, which covered a period of nineteen months, the Orion and the Komet accounted for seventeen ships totalling 114,118 tons, of which all but two were sunk or captured in the Pacific. One ship was captured in the Pacific by the Atlantis, and three more were sunk and one badly damaged by the Pinguin’s mines on the Australian coast. Only four ships were sunk by the Orion and the Komet in New Zealand waters over a period of about six months. The Turakina and the Rangitane were the only refrigerated cargo ships lost to the raiders at a time when such vessels were leaving New Zealand at the rate of eight or nine a month and a similar number were arriving to load. Another refrigerated cargo steamer, outward-bound, the Devon, was sunk by the Komet a day’s steam from Balboa. In view of the fact that the raiders systematically patrolled the Panama route, the loss of only three such vessels (one of them in the Tasman Sea) is a remarkable proof of the protective value of the evasive routeing of merchant shipping. In the event, the operations caused no check to the regular flow of the Dominion’s overseas trade; but, after the sinking of the Rangitane, HMNZ Ships Achilles and Monowai were employed for the next twelve months in escorting refrigerated cargo ships from their ports of departure until they were well clear of New Zealand waters.