Action of 8 May 1941

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Action of 8 May 1941
Part of World War II
HMS Cornwall (56).jpg
HMS Cornwall in 1929.
Date May 8, 1941
Location off the Seychelles, Indian Ocean
3°30′N 57°48′E / 3.5°N 57.8°E / 3.5; 57.8Coordinates: 3°30′N 57°48′E / 3.5°N 57.8°E / 3.5; 57.8
Result British Victory
United Kingdom United Kingdom Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
Commanders and leaders
Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg Manwaring Nazi Germany Ernst-Felix Krüder(POW)
1 heavy cruiser 1 auxiliary cruiser
Casualties and losses
1 heavy cruiser slightly damaged,
1 killed
1 auxiliary cruiser sunk
332 killed
60 captured
Civilian Casualties: ~200 killed

The action of 8 May 1941 was a single ship action fought during the Second World War in the course of which the British heavy cruiser HMS Cornwall sank the German auxiliary cruiser Pinguin. The engagement took place in the Indian Ocean off the Seychelles archipelago, north of Madagascar.


Cornwall carried eight 8 in (200 mm) guns in four twin turrets, four 4 in (100 mm) anti-aircraft guns in two twin turrets, two four-barrel 2-pounder pom-pom guns, and two .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns. Cornwall also carried three aircraft with one catapult.

The auxiliary cruiser Pinguin was originally the freighter Kandelfels, which had been launched in 1936. As an auxiliary cruiser, she carried six 150 mm (5.9 in) guns, one 75 mm (3.0 in) gun, two 37 mm (1.46 in) anti-aircraft guns, four 20 mm (0.79 in) autocannon, and two torpedo tubes. She also carried one Arado Ar 196A-1 floatplane. Of the two ships, Cornwall‍ '​s armament was the more powerful.

In January 1941, Pinguin was at the high point in her commerce raiding career while Cornwall was receiving rudder repairs in Selborne. By 15 January, Pinguin had captured 14 Norwegian merchant vessels. She took three factory ships and 11 whalers, all belonging to the same whaling company. She sent the prizes to occupied France where one was renamed Adjutant and was used as minelayer for the German raiders in the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean.

Months later, in May, Cornwall‍ '​s mission was to find and destroy the German raider as it cruised off Africa. Pinguin‍ '​s position and description was given away as it sunk an oil tanker whose crew managed to get the warning out[citation needed]. On 8 May, Cornwall found Pinguin.


The battle began when Cornwall sighted a vessel off the Seychelles. She pursued and challenged what her captain thought was an unarmed freighter, but was actually the dangerous Pinguin. (As was customary among German commerce raiders, it was disguised as a merchant ship and flew the flag of a neutral country.) Catching the British off guard, Captain Ernst-Felix Krüder of Pinguin attacked Cornwall. At least one shell hit Cornwall, causing minor damage that needed repairs after the battle. The two vessels exchanged volleys, with the armoured Cornwall outgunning her adversary; she also had superior range finders and director fire-control systems instead of local gun control. Eventually, after receiving several heavy shell hits above, at, and below the water line, Pinguin 's mine magazine was detonated and she blew up with the heavy losses of lives.


One British sailor, who was somewhere near Cornwall‍ '​s stern when Pinguin opened fire, was killed in the engagement. No Britons are known to have been wounded.

Among the men on Pinguin were 222 prisoners, merchant sailors who the Germans had taken captive from over 30 different merchant vessels; only 22 survived.

Around 332 Germans were killed; 60 were rescued and taken captive. Pinguin sank and Cornwall returned to Durban for repairs.[1]


  1. ^ Allen, Tony. "Pinguin (+1941)". wrecksite. Retrieved 7 May 2012. 


  • British and Empire Warships of the Second World War, H T Lenton, Greenhill Books, ISBN 1-85367-277-7
  • August Karl Muggenthaler (1977). German Raiders of World War II. ISBN 0-7091-6683-4.