SMS Cormoran (1909)

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SMS Cormoran (1909).jpg
SMS Cormoran
German Empire
Name: SMS Cormoran aka SMS Cormoran II
Namesake: SMS Cormoran I
Builder: Schichau Yard at Elbing
Launched: 1909 as SS Ryazan
Acquired: captured by SMS Emden
Commissioned: 10 August 1914 as SMS Cormoran II
Fate: scuttled at Apra Harbor, Guam on 7 April 1917
General characteristics
Displacement: 3,500 t (3,400 long tons)
Speed: 17 kn (31 km/h; 20 mph)
Armament: 8 × 105 mm (4.1 in) quick-firing guns
SMS Cormoran
SMS Cormoran (1909) is located in Guam
SMS Cormoran (1909)
Location Apra Harbor
Nearest city Piti, Guam[2]
Coordinates 13°27′33″N 144°39′15″E / 13.45917°N 144.65417°E / 13.45917; 144.65417Coordinates: 13°27′33″N 144°39′15″E / 13.45917°N 144.65417°E / 13.45917; 144.65417
Area 0.1 acres (0.040 ha)
Built 1909[2]
NRHP Reference # 75002156[1]
Added to NRHP April 4, 1975

SMS Cormoran or SMS Cormoran II was built at the Schichau shipyard in Elbing, Imperial Germany in 1909 for the Russian merchant fleet and was named SS Ryazan (Rjasan or Rjäsan, from the Russian town of Ryazan). She was used by imperial Russia as a combination passenger, cargo and mail carrier on North Pacific routes.


Kurt Moraht.jpg

The SS Ryazan was captured southeast of the Korean peninsula by the light cruiser SMS Emden on 4 August 1914 as the first prize of World War I from the Russian empire.[3] She was taken to Tsingtao in the German colony Kiautschou, where she was converted to an armed merchant raider. The new Cormoran replaced the original SMS Cormoran, a small shallow draft cruiser that had a long Imperial Navy career in the Pacific, having taken part in the events that brought Kiautschou into the German colonial empire in 1897–98. The old Cormoran was laid up at Tsingtao with serious maintenance issues and unable to go to sea, and her armaments were transferred to the captured merchant ship.

On 10 August 1914, the new Cormoran (or Cormoran II) left Tsingtao harbor and sailed through the South Pacific region, pursued by Japanese warships.[4] On 14 December, she pulled into Apra Harbor in the U.S. Territory of Guam, having only 50 t (55 short tons) of coal remaining in her bunkers.

Due to strained diplomatic relations between the United States and Germany, plus the limited amount of coal stored at Guam, Governor William John Maxwell refused to supply Cormoran with more than a token amount of coal. He ordered the ship to leave within 24 hours or submit to detention. This created a standoff between the German crew and the Americans that lasted nearly two years, until Governor Maxwell was involuntarily placed on the sick list and replaced by his subordinate, William P. Cronan, who decided the German crew should be treated as guests of the United States. The Cormoran was not allowed to leave the harbor, but the crew were treated as friends, achieving a minor celebrity status on the island.

When the U.S. Congress declared war on Germany on 7 April 1917, Captain Adalbert Zuckschwerdt scuttled his ship rather than surrender her. This resulted in the "first shot" of the war between the U.S. and Imperial Germany.[5] Sailors at Guam saw the German crew preparing to scuttle the ship and fired a shot across their bow in an effort to stop them. However, the German sailors continued to scuttle the vessel, and nine crew members perished (probably in the explosion that sank her). They were buried with full military honors in the naval cemetery at Agana. After the American sailors rescued and made prisoners the surviving Germans, Governor Cronan congratulated Captain Zuckschwerdt for the bravery of his men. The U.S. Navy later conducted a limited salvage operation and the ship's bell was recovered. It is exhibited at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum at Annapolis, Maryland. Other artifacts have been removed by divers over the years.

The German crew was sent to Fort Douglas, Utah, from where some were transferred to Fort McPherson, Georgia. All returned home on 7 October 1919, almost a year after the war's end.

The wreck of the SMS Cormoran II rests 110 ft (34 m) below the surface on her port side. A Japanese cargo ship, the Tokai Maru, sunk by the submarine USS Snapper, leans against her screw. This is one of the few places where divers can explore a World War I shipwreck next to a ship from World War II.[6]

In 1975, the wreck was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.[1] She was listed because of her association with World War I.[7]

On 2 May 2016 a headstone was found in Westview cemetery in Atlanta Georgia bearing the name Kurt Moraht. The headstone is written completely in German, claiming the resting place of Oberleutnant Kurt Moraht of the SMS Cormoran, listing his birth as 28 April 1886 and death 24 December 1918, and lists the place of death as Fort MacPherson, Ga. Research has yet to reveal if Kurt Moraht was among the crew that scuttled the ship or if he was a prisoner who died at Ft. MacPherson.

List of crew members[edit]

  • Wilhelm Hermann Grallert, Lindenau, Kreis Landeshut, Niederschlesien, Prussia
  • Fritz August Hermann Kutz, Labes, Kreis Regenwalde, Pommern, Prussia
  • Jakob Runck, Landau, Pfalz, Bavaria
  • Emil Bischoff, Unterschefflenz, Baden, Germany
  • Ernest Max Adolf, Freiburg/Br, Germany
  • Johannes Heinrich Dammann, Nutteln, Schleswig-Holstein


  1. ^ a b National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ a b NPS Archeology Program: Abandoned Shipwreck Act Guidelines
  3. ^ van der Vat, Gentlemen of War, p. 36
  4. ^ New York Times: "Diary Bares Plots by Interned Men," December 28, 1917, accessed March 31, 2011
  5. ^ Robert F. Rogers (January 1995). Destiny's Landfall: A History of Guam. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 139–. ISBN 978-0-8248-1678-0. 
  6. ^ "Tokai Maru Shipwreck in Guam". Micronesian Divers Association. Archived from the original on 2007-09-30. Retrieved 2007-11-27. 
  7. ^ Lotz, David T. (1974). SMS Cormoran National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service. 


  • Burdick, Charles Burton (1979). The Frustrated Raider: The Story of the German Cruiser Cormoran in World War I. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. ISBN 978-0-8093-0899-6. OCLC 4194620. 
  • Van der Vat, Dan (1984). Gentlemen of War, The Amazing Story of Captain Karl von Müller and the SMS Emden. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc. ISBN 0-688-03115-3.