Action of 10 March 1917
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (September 2010)|
|Action of 10 March 1917|
|Part of World War I
War at Sea
The sinking of SS Otaki by SMS Möwe.
| British Empire
|Commanders and leaders|
|Archibald Smith†||Nikolaus zu Dohna-Schlodien|
|2 steamers||1 auxiliary cruiser|
|Casualties and losses|
1 steamer sunk
1 steamer scuttled
1 auxiliary cruiser damaged
The Action of 10 March 1917 was a single-ship action during World War I fought between SMS Möwe, a German commerce raider, and an armed New Zealand Shipping Company cargo ship SS Otaki. Although the Otaki was sunk, the Möwe was badly damaged.
SMS Möwe was already famous. Her commander Kaptain Count Nikolaus zu Dohna-Schlodien had taken Möwe around the world in 1915 and early 1916, sinking several vessels and fighting one engagement with the British. With a veteran crew and ship, Kaptain Dohna-Schlodien ran the British blockade of Germany in December 1916 and headed for the mid-Atlantic, taking several vessels along the way. Möwe was armed with four 150-millimeter guns, one 105-millimeter gun and two 503-millimeter torpedo tubes. She had a complement of 235 officers and men; also on board were hundreds of sea mines.[clarification needed]
On March 10, 1917, after months at sea and now returning to Germany, the SMS Möwe was in open ocean. At about 2:00 am she encountered the 4,491-ton Pacific Steam Navigation Company vessel SS Esmerelda, which was sailing west to Baltimore. The Esmerelda was stopped, her crew was taken off and then she was scuttled with explosives.
Just then a second merchant ship, SS Otaki, appeared on the horizon. She was a 7,420-gross-ton refrigerated cargo ship of the New Zealand Shipping Company sailing from London to New York. Her defence was a single 4.7 inch gun mounted aft with a Royal Navy commander and gun crew of two.
Otaki carried a wireless and could have alerted the British to the Mowes position. In heavy seas and squalls Dohna-Schlodien immediately gave chase, and when the Möwe drew near (2,000 yards), Dohna-Schlodien signalled Otaki to stop. Her master, Archibald Bisset Smith, refused to surrender his ship. The Germans fired warning shots and were answered with heavy fire from Otaki's bow 155-millimeter gun.[clarification needed]
Shot after shot pounded the Möwe at a range of 2,000 yards; the New Zealanders[clarification needed] badly damaged the raider before the Germans were capable of firing a shot in return. When Möwe began counter firing, her 150-millimeter shells were accurately directed. Several shells struck the Otaki, and after a battle that lasted around twenty minutes, she capsized and sank. The British colours were never struck; Lieutenant Smith directed his crew to abandon ship but he stayed behind. By the end of the action, the German auxiliary cruiser was on fire, so her crew had to extinguish the flames as a matter of priority. Five crewmen and Smith went down with the SS Otaki; the survivors were quickly rescued by the Germans. One of the dead was a fifteen-year-old midshipman; a plaque in Scotland commemorates his falling in action. Well over 200 prisoners were taken from the Esmerelda and Otaki. Möwe suffered heavily as well; most of the Otaki's rounds struck topside; five men were killed, another ten were wounded.
The damage caused by Otaki started fires in the Mowe's coal bunkers, which burned for two days and nearly reached the ship's magazine. She had already suffered serious flooding after being holed by Otaki's shells; this had required counter-flooding to correct the list, and more was let in to quench the fires. Due to the damage his ship sustained, Dohna-Schlodien was forced to consider returning to Germany. Within a month the raider was back in friendly waters after running the British blockade a fourth and final time. Once again Dohna-Schlodien was rewarded accordingly. The survivors of Otaki and the crew of Esmerelda were taken to Brandenburg, where they remained prisoners for the rest of the Great War. Möwe spent the remainder of the war serving with the German fleet in the Baltic Sea as a minelayer.
Archibald Smith's actions were not fully recognized until after the end of the war. For "conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty", he was given a posthumously promotion to (temporary) Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve so that he could be awarded the Victoria Cross, which as a civilian he was otherwise ineligible for.
- Cranwell 1970, p. 243.
- Launched 1908: ss OTAKI Clydesite.co.uk
- Bridgland 1999, p. 200.
- Halpern 1994, p. 371.
- Bridgland, Tony (1999). Sea Killers in Disguise. Anapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-895-X.
- Cranwell, John Philips (1970). Spoilers of the Sea. New York: Books for Libraries Press. ISBN 0836915631.
- Halpern, Paul G. (1994). A Naval History of World War I. Annapolis: United States Naval Institute. ISBN 0-87021-266-4.
- the story of SMS Möwe