SMS Wolf

SMS Wolf
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, collection ID P05338.173

By late 1916 the German battleships were tied up in port by the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet and the only avenue for striking at Allied merchant shipping was through the U-boat fleet and surface raiders. Wolf was a merchant ship fitted with seven hidden 150mm guns, four torpedo tubes, 465 mines, and a reconnaissance seaplane (“Wölfchen”).

SMS Wolf Seaplane ("Wölfchen")
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, collection ID P05338.110

Her major task was to lay mines off Allied ports in the Indian Ocean and act as an independent marauder. The Wolf was relatively slow, with a top speed of only 11 knots but her bunkers could hold 8,000 tons of coal, giving her a huge cruising range of 32,000 nautical miles at eight knots. And those bunkers were regularly replenished over the course of her voyage from the supplies of the merchant steam ships that she captured.

Loading Mines onto SMS Wolf in Kiel
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, collection ID P05338.004.

SMS Wolf mined, captured and sunk allied shipping during a round trip voyage from Germany lasting from November 30, 1916 to February 24, 1918. After a year at sea, accompanied by the captured Spanish steamer Igotz Mendi, she headed back to Germany. The Igotz Mendi ran aground off Skagen, Denmark and was seized by the Danish military. Wolf reached Kiel, Germany on February 24, 1918 after a voyage of 100,000 km over 1 year, 2 months, and 25 days.

SMS Wolf Route Map

For the first 3 months, the Wolf concentrated on laying mine fields around South Africa, Ceylon and India. After laying mines along the entrance routes to Bombay the Wolf started to focus on acting as a surface raider. After a few months of raiding, the Wolf arrived off the coast of New Zealand and laid mine fields off New Zealand and in the Tasman Sea before resuming its raiding activities on the way to Singapore, where it laid its remaining mines. From there, the Wolf started on the long voyage home taking shipping prizes as they became available.

South Africa

Mines were first laid of the coast of South Africa in January 1917.

Laying Mines off the Coast of Africa 16-Jan-1917
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The following ships, with a combined gross tonnage of 21,384, were struck by mines off the Cape of Good Hope and sank:

Ship Flag Gross Tonnage Date
Matheran British 7,654 26-Jan-17
Cilicia British 3,750 12-Feb-17
C. de Eizaguirre Spanish 4,376 26-May-17
City of Athens British 5,604 10-Aug-17

The following ships, with a combined gross tonnage of 16,244, were struck by mines off Cape Agulhas (the geographic southern tip of the African continent) and were damaged but did not sink:

Ship Flag Gross Tonnage Date
Tyndareus* British 11,000 06-Feb-17
Bhamo British 5,244 26-Aug-17

*The Tyndareus struck a mine about 10 miles (16 km) off Cape Agulhas. The explosion tore a large hole in the forward part of her hull and she began to sink by the head. On board were 30 officers and 1,000 men of the 25th (Garrison Service) Battalion, The Middlesex Regiment, who were bound for Hong Kong.

Despite rough seas, all the troops were successfully transferred to the SS Eumaeus and the hospital ship HMHS Oxfordshire, which had responded to Tyndareus’s SOS signals. A British cruiser, HMS Hyacinth, arrived from Simonstown accompanied by a tug to assist the stricken troopship. The captain of Hyacinth ordered that Tyndareus be beached, as it was a hazard to shipping, but Captain Flynn ignored the order and was able to pilot the sinking ship safely into Simonstown, where she was repaired.

Some accounts of the SMS Wolf appear to characterize SS Tyndareus as a “war ship” since it was acting as a Troop Transport rather than a pure merchant ship.

India and Ceylon

After laying mines off the coast of South Africa the SMS Wolf steamed to Colombo laying more mines off the Port of Colombo and the Southern tip of India. From there mines were laid along all the major access routes to Bombay.

SMS Wolf Mine Laying off Colombo 15-Feb-1917
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Launching a Sea Mine from the SMS Wolf
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, collection ID P05338.010.
Mines Laid on the Approaches to Bombay Harbour. February 1917.

The following ships, with a combined gross tonnage of 36,711, were struck by mines off the coast of Bombay, British India and either sank or were so damaged that they had to be scrapped.

Ship Flag Gross Tonnage Date
Worcestershire British 7,175 17-Feb-17
Perseus British 6,728 21-Feb-17
Unkai Maru No. 7** Japanese 2,143 16-Jun-17
Mongolia British 9,505 24-Jun-17
Okhla British 5,288 29-Jul-17
Croxteth Hall British 5,872 17-Nov-17

** The Unkai Maru No 7 struck a mine from the SMS Wolf but photographic evidence indicates that it did not immediately sink and managed to make it into the Port of Bombay.

Unkai Maru View from Aft

The mines laid by SMS Wolf did not always stay in the place they were laid and several of them came ashore over the following months.

Mine being examined
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The following ship with a gross tonnage of 9,373 was damaged by a mine but managed to make it into the port of Bombay.

Ship Flag Gross Tonnage Date
City of Exeter British 9,373 11-Jun-17

The City of Exeter, a passenger ship, struck a mine in the Indian Ocean, about 400 m. from Bombay. Number 1 hold filled at once, and the master gave orders for the passengers and crew to leave the ship. Then the master and chief engineer returned and, at grave risk, made a thorough examination of the ship. They decided that, with the exercise of the greatest care, the crippled vessel could reach Bombay under her own steam. The passengers re-embarked and the ship safely arrived in port.

New Zealand

The SMS Wolf laid mines around the coast of New Zealand in June 1917.

SMS Wolf Mine Laying in the Cook Strait June-1917
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The following ships, with a combined gross tonnage of 8,322 tons, struck mines laid by SMS Wolf and sank off the coast of New Zealand (off Cape Farewell and in the Cook Strait, respectively).

Ship Flag Gross Tonnage Date  
Wimmera British 3,622 26-Jun-17  
Port Kembla British 4,700 17-Sep-17  

Australia (Tasman Sea)

In July 1917, the SMS Wolf laid mines in the Tasman Sea which quickly sank the following ship.

SMS Wolf Maine Laying off the Coast of Australia July-1917
Ship Flag Gross Tonnage Date
Cumberland British 9,471 06-Jul-17

Singapore

After laying mines in the Tasman Sea the SMS Wolf meandered her way to Singapore eventually laying mines there in September 1917. No allied merchant ships were reported damaged or sunk by these mines.

Mines Laid around Singapore Sept 1917

Aden

Back in February, after laying the mine field, at Bombay on the 19th February, Captain Nerger began seeking out enemy shipping.

SMS Wolf Mine Laying Route Bombay-Colombo Feb-1917

With great irony, the first vessel encountered was the SS Turritella, a sister ship to Wolf, (previously called the Gutenfels), captured by the British at the beginning of the war, at Port Said, and subsequently renamed and sold to the Anglo-Saxon Oil Company.

On February 27, 1917 the Turritella was re-captured off Colombo. The ship was renamed Iltis, after a ship in which Captain Nerger had served in China in 1900. A prize crew was placed on board along with 25 mines and a 12 pounder gun. She was ordered to place her mines around the port of Aden.

Turritella
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, collection ID P05338.043.

Port bow view of the 5,528 ton British freighter, Turritella, alongside the SMS Wolf. Crew members line the railing around the bow of the Turretella, which has just been captured.

On March 5th, 1917, while laying a minefield in the Gulf of Aden, she was spotted and chased by the British warships HMS Odin and HMS Fox. The crew, however, managed to scuttle her to avoid her changing hands for the third time in the war.

Two ships were damaged by the mines laid by Iltis but neither one sunk or was damaged beyond repair:

Ship Flag Gross Tonnage Date
Danubian British 5,064 20-Mar-17
Hong Moh British 3,910 05-Jan-18

Surface Raider

From February 1917 onward, the SMS Wolf was primarily engaged as a surface raider. In all, 14 ships with a combined gross tonnage of 38,391 tons were captured by the SMS Wolf over the following months.

Ship Flag Grt Captured Sunk
Turritella British 5,528 27-Feb-17 15-Mar-17
Jumna British 4,152 01-Mar-17 03-Mar-17
Wordsworth British 3,509 11-Mar-17 18-Mar-17
Dee British 1,169 30-Mar-17 30-Mar-17
Wairuna British 3,947 02-Jun-17 17-Jun-17
Winslow USA 567 16-Jun-17 22-Jun-17
Beluga USA 507 09-Jul-17 11-Jul-17
Encore USA 651 17-Jul-17 17-Jul-17
Matunga British 1,618 06-Aug-17 26-Aug-17
Hitachi Maru Japanese 6,557 26-Sep-17 07-Nov-17
Igotz Mendi* Spain 4,648 10-Nov-17 22-Feb-18
John H. Kirby USA 1,296 30-Nov-17 01-Dec-17
Marechal Davout France 2,192 15-Dec-17 15-Dec-17
Storebror Norway 2,050 04-Jan-18 04-Jan-18

*Igotz Mendi was being sailed back to Germany but ran aground and was stranded off Skagen, Denmark on February 22, 1918.

SS Jumna

The 4,152 ton British merchant ship, Jumna, sinking, her bow and funnel still visible above the surface, as viewed from the SMS Wolf. She was captured 650 miles west of Minikoi Island.

Jumna Sinking
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, collection ID P05338.045.

SS Wordsworth

Captured 680 miles east of Mahe, Seychelles on 11 March 1917, her crew and passengers, totaling 30, and some of her cargo of rice were transferred aboard the SMS Wolf before she was sunk by explosives on 18 March 1917.

SS Wordsworth Dynamited
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, collection ID P05338.048
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Wairuna

The 3,947 ton New Zealand steamship, Wairuna, was Captured by SMS Wolf on 2 June, 1917. The Wairuna accompanied her to Sunday Island where the crew of 40 and her cargo of cheese, milk, meat and 1,200 tons of coal were transferred aboard the raider before the steamer was sunk by explosives on 17 June, 1917.

Wairuna
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, collection ID P05338.053.
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Winslow

The 567 ton United States four-mast schooner, Winslow, captured by the SMS Wolf, off Raoul Island in the Pacific Ocean on 16 June, 1917. Her crew and cargo were transferred aboard before she was set alight and left to burn on 22 June 1917.

Winslow Burning
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, collection ID P05338.088.

SS Beluga

Viewed from the deck of the SMS Wolf, smoke rises on the horizon from the 507 ton United States steam whaler, Beluga, captured in the Pacific Ocean off Howe Island on 9 July, 1917. She was sunk with 19 rounds of gunfire on 11 July, 1917. Her crew, master, and 12 passengers were taken prisoner, the second mate died aboard SMS Wolf on 10 October, 1917.

SS Beluga Sinking
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, collection ID P05338.060.

Encore

Smoke on the horizon from the remains of the 651 ton United States three-mast schooner, Encore, captured in the Pacific Ocean by the SMS Wolf on 13 July, 1917. After being relieved of some cargo, and her passengers and crew, oil was poured over the schooner and deck cargo, her rigging was cut away, and the vessel set on fire on 15 July, 1917.

Encore on Fire
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, collection ID P05338.089.

Matunga

Port bow view of the 1,608 ton British merchant ship, Matunga. After intercepting a radio message, the SMS Wolf stalked Matunga to Rabaul, New Guinea, and captured her along with her 500 tons of coal and supplies of liquor on 6 August, 1917. SMS Wolf and her new captive steamed in company for a week until they reached the remote island of Waigeo, where stores were transfered. On 26 August, 1917 46 crew and passengers were transferred to the raider as prisoners and Matunga was scuttled a few miles out at sea off the coast of New Guinea.

Matunga
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, collection ID P05338.064.

Hitachi Maru

The 6,557 ton Japanese freighter, Hitachi Maru, was captured south of the Maldive Islands on 26 September, 1917. Damage from SMS Wolf’s guns can be seen on Hitachi Maru’s hull. Passengers, including women, and crew members line the railings. Wolf jammed the radio transmission and fired 14 rounds into the ship, killing 16 and wounding 6 of the Japanese crew before she surrendered. For over a month the Hitachi Maru anchored with the raider at Suvadiva Atoll, where she was removed of her passengers, crew and cargo including a large amount of coal. She was scuttled among the Cargados Carajos Islands on 7 November, 1917.

A gripping account of her capture and the subsequent trials and tribulations as life as a prisoner of the SMS Wolf is well documented in the book, A Captive on a German raider, by Trayes, F. G.

Hitachi Maru
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, collection ID P05338.065.
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Igotz Mendi

Port bow view of the 4,648 ton Spanish steam ship, Igotz Mendi. The steamer was captured on 10 November, 1917, south of the Mauritius Islands in the Indian Ocean. Although the Igotz Mendi was a neutral ship, she was carrying 5,000 tons of coal for the Royal Navy. A prize crew was placed on board and 1,000 tons of coal was transferred to the raider as they sailed for the Cocos Islands. Both ships were painted grey and they travelled around the Cape of Good Hope and proceeded across the South Atlantic towards the Ilha da Trinade.

During February 1918, the SMS Wolf and her prize sailed through the North Atlantic en route for Ruhleben via Iceland. Both ships had been badly damaged when the raider had coaled from the collier at sea in rough weather. Conditions for prisoners on board both ships were almost unbearable, the temperature reaching as low as minus 10 degree Celsius. Violent storms were encountered with huge waves that constantly washed over the decks. The two ships made the coast of Norway on 21 February, 1918 but before reaching the safety of the port of Kiel the Igotz Mendi ran aground off the Danish coast in thick fog on 22 February, 1918. A Danish gunboat retrieved the crew and prisoners on board but the Igotz Mendi remained firmly aground and was abandoned by the Wolf.

Igotz Mendi
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, collection ID P05338.079.

John H Kirby

Sailors crowd the deck of the SMS Wolf (left), to view the sinking of the 1,359 ton United States three-mast barque, John H Kirby, her masts and stern still visible above the water. The barque was captured by SMS Wolf in the Pacific Ocean, 320 miles southeast of Port Elizabeth, Africa on 30 November, 1917. Her cargo of 270 Ford cars remained on board but she was stripped of useful supplies of toiletries and her passengers transferred aboard the raider before she was scuttled using explosives the following day.

John H Kirby Sinking
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, collection ID P05338.078.

Journey’s End

Wolf arrived back at Kiel, Germany on February 24, 1918 after a voyage of 100,000 km over 1 year, 2 months, and 25 days and without entering a single port of any kind . She had mined and sunk 13 ships with a gross tonnage of 75,888 tons and severely damaged five others with a combined gross tonnage of 34,591 tons. In addition, she had captured 14 vessels with a combined gross tonnage of 38,391 tons, sinking 12 of them.

References:

  1. Der Kreuzerkrieg in den ausländischen Gewässern, by Raeder, E.
  2. A Captive on a German raider, by Trayes, F. G.
  3. Additional pictures from, ‘Ruhmestage Der Deutschen Marine‘ by Kapitanleutnant Norbert v. Baumbach, Hamburg, 1933.