SMS Möwe (1914)

Coordinates: 61°12′N 5°50′E / 61.200°N 5.833°E / 61.200; 5.833
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German Empire
NamesakeMöwe, German for "seagull"
BuilderJoh. C. Tecklenborg Ship Yard, Geestemünde
Launched1914 as Pungo
In service1 November 1915
FateAwarded as war reparations to the United Kingdom, sunk as German freighter Oldenburg 7 April 1945
General characteristics
Displacement9,800 tons (4,788 gross register tons (GRT))
Length123.7 m
Beam14.4 m
Draught7.2 m
Propulsion1 × 3-cylinder triple expansion; 5 × boiler; 3,200 hp
Speed13 knots
Range8,700 nm at 12 kn

SMS Möwe ([ˈmøːvə]; German: Seagull) was a merchant raider of the Imperial German Navy which operated against Allied shipping during World War I.

Disguised as a neutral cargo ship to enable it to get close to targets, the Möwe was effective at commerce raiding, sinking 40 ships in the course of the war.

Early history[edit]

Model of the SMS Möwe

Built by the Joh. C. Tecklenborg yard at Geestemünde, she was launched as the freighter Pungo in 1914 and operated by the Afrikanische Fruchtkompanie for F. Laeisz of Hamburg. After an uneventful career carrying cargoes of bananas from the German colony of Kamerun to Germany she was requisitioned by the Imperial German Navy for use as a minelayer. Her conversion took place at Imperial shipyard at Wilhelmshaven in the autumn of 1915, and under the command of Nikolaus zu Dohna-Schlodien, she entered service on 1 November that year.

First raiding voyage[edit]

Möwe slipped out of Wilhelmshaven on 29 December 1915 for her first task, to set a minefield in the Pentland Firth, near the main base of the British Home Fleet at Scapa Flow. This was completed in severe weather conditions. A few days later the pre-dreadnought battleship HMS King Edward VII struck one of the mines; despite attempts to tow her to safety she sank. Möwe then moved down the west coast of Ireland to France. There she laid another mine field off the Gironde estuary, which sank a further two ships.

This part of her mission complete, Möwe then moved into the Atlantic, operating first between Spain and the Canary islands, and later off the coast of Brazil.

Action of 16 January 1916[edit]

The single ship action was fought between a German auxiliary cruiser and a UK cargo ship off the Portuguese islands of Madeira in the Atlantic Ocean.

Möwe was steaming about 120 miles south of Madeira with the merchant steamer Appam, a ship previously captured by the Germans who installed a prize crew and transferred several dozen prisoners of war to her. At sunset, lookouts aboard Möwe sighted smoke on the horizon, indicating a ship. Kapitän Dohna-Schlodien ordered Appam to remain behind while he went to investigate. Several minutes later, at about 21:00, Möwe came within distance of making out that the smoke had originated from a large merchant ship, later identified as Clan Mactavish.

By the time Möwe came within close range, it was dark, so Möwe approached cautiously. Using a signal lamp, Dohna-Schlodien asked the cargo ship's name. Clan Mactavish replied by asking that the German ship first identify herself. Dohna-Schlodien signalled that his ship was Author, a Harrison Line ship sailing from Liverpool to Natal. Möwe reportedly looked very similar to Author, which had been sunk by the German Navy a few weeks earlier. Clan Mactavish then signalled her name and that they were returning to Britain from Australia.

Having identified the British ship, Dohna-Schlodien crossed her bow and ordered a halt. Instead of complying, Clan Mactavish changed course and increased speed, hoping to outrun the raider. Möwe fired warning shots and gave chase. Clan Mactavish returned fire with her single gun, but repeatedly missed, and the German ship suffered no damage or casualties. Möwe fired salvoes with her four 150 mm guns. Clan Mactavish sent wireless telegraph distress signals that were received by the armoured cruiser HMS Essex. However, the telegraphist aboard Essex failed to tell his superiors, so no help was sent. After taking several hits topside, Clan Mactavish caught fire and her captain signalled his surrender to Möwe. Möwe then manoeuvred for boarding.

All of the German rounds were hits, apart from the warning shots. A boarding party from Möwe seized Clan Mactavish and removed her surviving crew as prisoners. There were 18 crewmembers killed in or after battle,[clarification needed] and five others had been wounded. Clan Mactavish's captain was a Royal Navy reservist and her gun was crewed by two Royal Navy gunners. The remainder of her crew were civilians. This marked a total of more than 500 Allied prisoners of war on Möwe and Appam.

The boarding party scuttled Clan Mactavish with explosive charges.

After sinking Clan Mactavish, Möwe reunited with Appam and set a westward course to avoid any Royal Navy cruisers in the area. Two cruisers were just over 100 mi (87 nmi; 160 km) away and could have intercepted Möwe had the telegraphist aboard Essex responded.

Möwe went on to sink several more Allied ships before returning home. Upon arrival, Kapitän Dohna-Schlodien was awarded the Iron Cross second class. Richard Stumpf records that there were a number of Africans amongst the crew upon this arrival.[1] Felix von Luckner served aboard SMS Möwe before his journey with SMS Seeadler in late 1916 to late 1917.

Interlude as Vineta[edit]

In an effort to maintain security, Möwe was renamed Vineta, after another auxiliary cruiser which had been withdrawn from service. In this guise she set out on a series of short cruises during the summer of 1916 to attack Allied shipping off the coast of Norway. This only brought one success, however, before she was ordered in for a refit prior to another sortie into the Atlantic.

Second raiding voyage[edit]

Advertisement for the four-part Hearst newsreel The Sea Raider 'Moeve' (April 1920)

Departing on 23 November 1916, Möwe had even more success on her second cruise into the Atlantic.

On 6 December 1916, she captured and sank the Canadian Pacific Steamship freighter SS Mount Temple outbound from Halifax to Liverpool. Mount Temple′s cargo included 700 horses bound for the Canadian Expeditionary Force in France and many crates of dinosaur fossils collected from Alberta's Red Deer River badlands by Charles H. Sternberg destined for the British Museum of Natural History. On 12 December, it was the turn of SS Georgic, sunk along with her cargo of 1,200 horses that would have been used on the Western Front.[2]

In four months she had accounted for another 25 ships totalling 123,265 GRT. One of these, SS Yarrowdale, was sent as prize to Germany and, as Dohna-Schlodien had recommended, was outfitted as a commerce raider herself. Möwe also retained SS Saint Theodore as a collier, before arming and commissioning her as the auxiliary Geier. Geier operated in this role for six weeks, accounting for two ships sunk, before being disarmed and scuttled by Möwe prior to returning home. On 10 March, she was damaged in action against an armed New Zealand merchant ship Otaki off the Azores in the Atlantic. Armed with a single 120mm stern gun, the Otaki fought a gallant but doomed action. The Möwe was hit several times and a serious fire was put out with difficulty. The Otaki, however, was hit some thirty times before sinking. Otaki's captain Archibald Bisset Smith was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross, finally going down in his ship with the British colours still flying”. Five of her crewmen were killed and another ten men were wounded. The damage forced the raider to return course for Germany.

In March 1917 Möwe again successfully ran the British blockade, ironically at the same time as Yarrowdale, now the auxiliary cruiser SMS Leopard, was cornered and sunk by the same blockading force. Möwe arrived home safely on 22 March 1917.

Later history[edit]

On her return Möwe was taken out of service as a raider, being reckoned too valuable as a propaganda tool to be risked again. She served in the Baltic as a submarine tender, before becoming the auxiliary minelayer Ostsee in 1918. After the Treaty of Versailles, she went to Britain, to be operated by Elders and Fyffes as the freighter Greenbrier. In 1933 she was sold to a German shipping company. As the freighter Oldenburg, it served the route between Germany and occupied Norway in World War II.

On 7 April 1945 she was attacked by Bristol Beaufighters of Coastal Command aircraft from No. 144 Squadron RAF, No. 455 Squadron RAAF, and No. 489 Squadron RNZAF at her moorings sheltering off the coast of Norway—near the village of Vadheim in Sogn og Fjordane county. Following an intense strafing and rocket attack, holed by their rockets and strafed by cannon fire, she burned and sank.[3]

Raiding career[edit]

In three raiding voyages Möwe captured and sank 40 ships, grossing in excess of 180,000 GRT. She also laid mines which accounted for two more ships and a capital warship. This made her the most successful German raider in either the First or the Second World War.

Ships sunk or captured by Möwe on her first raiding voyage[4]
Date Ship Type Nationality Tonnage GRT Fate
11 Jan 16 Corbridge Cargo ship  United Kingdom 3,687 Retained as prize; scuttled 30 Jan 16
11 Jan 16 Farringford Cargo ship  United Kingdom 3,146 sunk
13 Jan 16 Dromonby Cargo ship  United Kingdom 3,627 sunk
13 Jan 16 Author Cargo ship  United Kingdom 3,496 sunk
13 Jan 16 Trader Cargo ship  United Kingdom 3,608 sunk
15 Jan 16 Ariadne Cargo ship  United Kingdom 3,035 sunk
15 Jan 16 Appam Cargo ship  United Kingdom 7,781 Retained as prize; detached 17 Jan 16; returned 28 Mar 17[5]
16 Jan 16 Clan McTavish Cargo ship  United Kingdom 5,816 sunk in action
20 Jan 16 Edinburgh Sailing ship  United Kingdom 1,473 sunk
4 Feb 16 Luxembourg Cargo ship  United Kingdom 4,322 sunk
6 Feb 16 Flamenco Cargo ship  United Kingdom 4,540 sunk
8 Feb 16 Westburn Cargo ship  United Kingdom 3,300 Retained as prize; detached 9 Feb 16 to Santa Cruz de Tenerife
9 Feb 16 Horace Cargo ship  United Kingdom 3,109 sunk
24 Feb 16 Maroni Cargo ship  France 3,109 sunk
25 Feb 16 Saxon Prince Cargo ship  United Kingdom 3,471 sunk
Sunk by mines from Möwe on her first raiding voyage[6]
Date Ship Type Nationality Tonnage GRT Location
6 Jan 16 King Edward VII Pre-dreadnought battleship  Royal Navy 16,350 t disp Scotland
13 Jan 16 Bayo Cargo ship  Spain 2,776 Gironde
13 Jan 16 Belgica Cargo ship  Spain 2,068 Gironde
22 Feb 16 Duckbridge Cargo ship  United Kingdom 1,491 Scotland
Ships sunk or captured by Möwe, sailing as Vineta[4]
Date Ship Type Nationality Tonnage GRT Fate
27 Jul 16 Eskimo Cargo ship  United Kingdom 3,326 Taken as a prize
Ships sunk or captured by Möwe on her second raiding voyage[7]
Date Ship Type Nationality Tonnage GRT Fate
2 Dec 16 Voltaire Cargo ship  United Kingdom 8,618 sunk
4 Dec 16 Hallbjørg Cargo ship  Norway 2,586 sunk
6 Dec 16 Mount Temple Cargo ship  United Kingdom 9,792 sunk
8 Dec 16 Duchess of Cornwall Sailing ship  United Kingdom 152 sunk
8 Dec 16 King George Cargo ship  United Kingdom 3,852 sunk
9 Dec 16 Cambrian Range Cargo ship  United Kingdom 4,235 sunk
10 Dec 16 Georgic Cargo ship  United Kingdom 10,077 sunk
11 Dec 16 Yarrowdale Cargo ship  United Kingdom 4,652 retained as prize;
detached to Swinemunde, 31 Dec 16.
Converted to auxiliary cruiser Leopard
12 Dec 16 Saint Theodore Cargo ship  United Kingdom 4,992 Commissioned as auxiliary cruiser Geier;
scuttled 14 Feb 17
18 Dec 16 Dramatist Cargo ship  United Kingdom 5,415 sunk
26 Dec 16 Nantes Sailing ship  France 2,679 sunk
2 Jan 17 Asnieres Sailing ship  France 3,103 sunk
5 Jan 17 Hudson Maru Cargo ship  Japan 3,798 sunk/released
7 Jan 17 Radnorshire Cargo ship  United Kingdom 4,310 sunk
9 Jan 17 Minteh Cargo ship  United Kingdom 2,890 sunk
10 Jan 17 Netherby Hall Cargo ship  United Kingdom 4,461 sunk
15 Feb 17 Brecknockshire Cargo ship  United Kingdom 8,423 sunk
16 Feb 17 French Prince Cargo ship  United Kingdom 4,766 sunk
16 Feb 17 Eddie Cargo ship  United Kingdom 2,652 sunk
24 Feb 17 Katherine Cargo ship  United Kingdom 2,926 sunk
4 Mar 17 Rhodanthe Cargo ship  United Kingdom 3,061 sunk
10 Mar 17 Esmeraldas Cargo ship  United Kingdom 4,678 sunk
10 Mar 17 Otaki Cargo ship  United Kingdom 9,575 sunk in action
13 Mar 17 Demeterton Cargo ship  United Kingdom 6,048 sunk
14 Mar 17 Governor Cargo ship  United Kingdom 5,524 sunk


In 1917 the imperial Bild- und Filmamt in Berlin produced Graf Dohna und seine Möwe, one of the best-known propaganda films of World War I. The distributor was Paul Davidson; part of the production the Projektions-AG »Union« (PAGU), Berlin. The film was first released on 2 May 1917 in the Deutsches Opernhaus (Deutsche Oper Berlin) in Berlin.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Englund, Peter (2012). The Beauty and the Sorrow. An Intimate History of the First World War. New York: Vintage. p. 232.
  2. ^ "Ships - Georgic". Count Dohna and His SeaGull. March 4, 2007.
  3. ^ Tanke, Darren H.; Rondeau, Robin M. (June 15, 2005). "Diving on the D/S Oldenburg Vadheim, Norway, 2005". Dinosaurs in the Deep. Archived from the original on January 1, 2006.
  4. ^ a b Schmalenbach p137
  5. ^ Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Appam Case, The" . Encyclopedia Americana.
  6. ^ Schmalenbach p140
  7. ^ Schmalenbach p137-8

Further reading[edit]

  • Hoyt, Edwin P. Elusive Seagull (Frewin 1970). ISBN 0-09-101570-7.
  • Hoyt, Edwin P. The Phantom Raider (Ty Crowell Co. 1969). ISBN 0-690-61732-1.
  • Schmalenbach, Paul German raiders: A history of auxiliary cruisers of the German Navy, 1895–1945 (Naval Institute Press 1979) ISBN 0-87021-824-7.
  • Nikolaus zu Dohna-Schlodien: S.M.S. "Möwe", Gotha 1916.
  • Nikolaus zu Dohna-Schlodien: Der "Möwe" zweite Fahrt, Gotha 1917.
  • Nikolaus zu Dohna-Schlodien: El Möwe. Relato de la prim. campaña de este crucero alem. en el Atlantico, por su command., el Cap. de corbeta Conde de Dohna-Schlodien, Ciudad Mexico c. 1917.
  • Conde de Dohna-Schlodien: El Möwe, Buenos Aires 1917.
  • Nikolaus zu Dohna-Schlodien: A "Möwe" kalandjai, Budapest 1917.
  • Reinhard Roehle (ed.): Graf Dohnas Heldenfahrt auf S.M.S. "Möwe". Nach Berichten von Teilnehmern dargestellt. Mit 4 Einschaltbildern, 4 Textabbildungen und 1 Kartenskizze, Stuttgart/Berlin/Leipzig 1916.
  • Hans E. Schlüter: S.M.S. "Möwe": ihre Heldenfahrt und glückliche Heimkehr. Nach Berichten von Augenzeugen und anderen Meldungen, Leipzig 1916.
  • Graf Dohna: Der „Möwe“ Fahrten und Abenteuer, Stuttgart/Gotha 1927.
  • Kapitän zur See a. D. Hugo von Waldeyer-Hartz: Der Kreuzerkrieg 1914–1918. Das Kreuzergeschwader. Emden, Königsberg, Karlsruhe. Die Hilfskreuzer, Oldenburg i. O. 1931.
  • Eberhard von Mantey: Die deutschen Hilfskreuzer, Berlin 1937.
  • John Walter: Die Piraten des Kaisers. Deutsche Handelszerstörer 1914–1918, Stuttgart 1994.
  • Albert Semsrott: Der Durchbruch der "Möwe". Selbsterlebte Taten und Fahrten von Kapitän Albert Semsrott, Stuttgart 1928.
  • Otto Mielke: S M Hilfskreuzer "Möwe". Der erste Blockade-Durchbruch. SOS Schicksale deutscher Schiffe, Vol. 125, München 1957.
  • Otto Mielke: Hilfskreuzer "Möwe" (2. Teil). SOS Schicksale deutscher Schiffe, Vol. 130, München 1957.

External links[edit]

61°12′N 5°50′E / 61.200°N 5.833°E / 61.200; 5.833