SMS Seeadler (1888)

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Pass of Balmaha later SMS Seeadler.png
Pass of Balmaha, later SMS Seeadler
United Kingdom
Name: Pass of Balmaha
Namesake: Pass of Balmaha
  • 1888-1908 David R Clark (Messrs Gibson & Clark), Glasgow
  • 1908-1909 The River Plate Shipping Company Ltd, Montreal
  • 1909-1914 Ship Pass of Balmaha Company Ltd, Montreal
Port of registry: Glasgow
Builder: Robert Duncan and Company, Port Glasgow
Yard number: 237
Launched: 9 August 1888
In service: 5 September 1888
Out of service: 1914
Identification: ON 95087
United States
Name: Pass of Balmaha
Owner: Harby Steamship Company, New York
Port of registry: Boston, Massachusetts
Acquired: 1914
Out of service: 1915
German Empire
Name: SMS Seeadler
Namesake: sea eagle
Acquired: 1915
Commissioned: 1915
Fate: Wrecked 2 August 1917
General characteristics
Displacement: 4500 tons (1,571 GRT)
Length: 83.5 m (273 ft 11 in)
Beam: 11.8 m (38 ft 9 in)
Draught: 5.5 m (18 ft 1 in)
Installed power: 900 hp (670 kW)
Propulsion: 1 shaft auxiliary diesel engine
Sail plan: 3 masts, full rig, 2,600 square metres (28,000 sq ft) sail area
Speed: 9 knots (17 km/h)
Complement: 64
This page is about a commerce raider. For the World War I cruiser, see SMS Seeadler.

SMS Seeadler (Ger: sea eagle) was a three-master steel-hulled sailing ship. She was one of the last fighting sailing ships to be used in war when she served as a merchant raider with Imperial Germany in World War I. Built as the British-flagged Pass of Balmaha, she was captured by the German submarine SM U-36, and in 1916 converted to a commerce raider. As Seeadler she had a successful raiding career, capturing and sinking 15 ships in 225 days until she was wrecked, in September 1917, in French Polynesia.

Pass of Balmaha[edit]

The ship was launched as Pass of Balmaha by Robert Duncan & Company, Port Glasgow, Scotland, on 9 August 1888 as a steel-hulled ship-rigged sailing vessel measuring 1,571 gross register tons (GRT).[1][2] She was 245 feet (75 m) long, 39 feet (12 m) in beam and with a depth of 23 feet (7.0 m). Delivered in the following month to the ownership of David R Clark, a partner in Gibson & Clark, Glasgow, she was registered at that port with Official Number 95087 and signal letters KTRP.[2][3]

In February 1908, Pass of Balmaha was sold at Leith by Gibson & Clark for £5,500 to The River Plate Shipping Company Ltd of Montreal. Her port of registry remained Glasgow, but she was managed by American interests in Boston, Massachusetts[4][5] By 1910, she had been transferred to the Ship Pass of Balmaha Company Ltd, Montreal, and under the management of George I Dewar, Toronto.[6] Both of these companies were controlled by American shipping and lumber interests.[7][8]

Soon after the outbreak of World War I in 1914 Pass of Balmaha was transferred to the neutral United States flag and registered at Boston in the ownership of the Harby Steamship Company Ltd of New York, part of the Harris-Irby Cotton Company.[9][10]


Pass of Balmaha was captured by U-36 in the North Sea in 1915 under somewhat peculiar circumstances. She departed from New York Harbor in June 1915, bound for the Arctic port of Arkhangelsk with a cargo of cotton for Russia. She was intercepted by the British auxiliary cruiser Victorian off the coast of Norway. Victorian's captain led a boarding party to inspect the cargo for contraband. The British captain found reason for suspicion, and ordered Pass of Balmaha to sail to Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands for further inspection. A prize crew of an officer and six marines was left aboard to ensure compliance.

The British also ordered the neutral American colours struck and replaced with the British flag, against the will of Pass of Balmaha's Captain Scott, who realised that this would mark the ship as a belligerent. Soon after, U-36 intercepted Pass of Balmaha. To avoid being impounded, Scott hid the British prize crew in the hold and replaced the Union Jack with the Stars and Stripes. The commander of U-36, Captain Ernst Graeff, was not entirely convinced by this ruse and ordered Pass of Balmaha to sail for Cuxhaven for inspection. A German ensign was left aboard. Scott and his crew, resentful of what they perceived as British meddling, kept the British marines locked in the hold.

Pass of Balmaha reached Cuxhaven without major incident, and was boarded by a German inspection party. Captain Scott then revealed the British prize crew to the Germans, who took them prisoner. For their cooperation, the Americans were allowed free passage to a neutral country, but Pass of Balmaha became property of the German Navy.[11]

SMS Seeadler[edit]

SMS Seeadler by Christopher Rave
The German auxiliary cruiser SMS Seeadler capturing the French bark Cambronne off the Brazilian coast on 20 March 1917. Depicted by Willy Stöwer.

By 1916 the Allies had blockaded German warships in the North Sea, and any commerce raiders that succeeded in breaking out lacked foreign or colonial bases for resupply of coal. This gave rise to the idea of equipping a sailing ship instead, since it would not require coaling.

Seeadler was equipped with an auxiliary engine, hidden lounges, accommodation for additional crew and prisoners, two hidden 105 mm guns that could emerge from the deck, two hidden heavy machine guns, a pair of torpedo tubes for anti-cruiser purposes, and rifles for boarding parties. These weapons were rarely fired (the torpedo tubes never), and many of the 15 ships encountered by Seeadler were sunk with only one single accidental casualty on either side during the entire journey.

Seeadler wrecked

On 21 December 1916, she sailed under the command of Kapitänleutnant Felix von Luckner. The ship was disguised as a Norwegian wood carrier and succeeded in crossing the British blockading line despite being boarded for an inspection. The crew had been handpicked partly for their ability to speak Norwegian. Over the next 225 days, she captured 15 ships in the Atlantic and Pacific and led the British and US Navies on a merry chase.

Her journey ended wrecked on a reef at the island of Mopelia 450 kilometres (280 mi) from Tahiti in the Society Islands, part of French Polynesia. Luckner and some crew sailed for Fiji, where they were captured and imprisoned. The French schooner Lutece, of 126 tons, was captured by the remaining crew on 5 September 1917. They sailed to Easter Island as Fortuna, arriving on 4 October and running aground there, after which they were interned by the Chilean authorities.

Captured ships[edit]

Route of SMS Seeadler and locations of ships engaged (1–2 North Atlantic, 3–11 Mid-Atlantic, 12–14 Pacific)

Sixteen ships, totaling 30,099 tons, were captured by Seeadler between 21 December 1916 and 8 September 1917. Unless otherwise noted, all vessels in the list were steamships.

  • Gladis Royle, 3,268 tons, captured and sunk 9 January 1917.
  • Lundy Island, 3,095 tons, captured and sunk on 10 January 1917.
  • Charles Gounod, 2,199 tons, French barque captured and sunk on 21 January 1917.
  • Perce, 364 tons, schooner captured and sunk on 24 January 1917.
  • Antonin, 3,071 tons, French barque captured and sunk on 3 February 1917.
  • Buenos Ayres, 1,811 tons, Italian sailing vessel captured and sunk on 9 February 1917.
  • Pinmore, 2,431 tons, schooner captured on 19 February 1917 and later sunk after being used to obtain supplies.
  • British Yeoman, 1,953 tons, sailing barque captured and sunk on 26 February 1917.
  • La Rochefoucauld, 2,200 tons, French barque captured and sunk on 27 February 1917.
  • Dupleix, 2,206 tons, French barque captured and sunk on 5 March 1917.
  • Horngarth, 3,609 tons, captured and sunk on 11 March 1917.
  • Cambronne, 1,833 tons, French barque captured and released 21 March, arrived at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on 30 March 1917.
  • A. B. Johnson, 529 tons, United States schooner captured and sunk on 14 June 1917.
  • R. C. Slade, 673 tons, United States schooner captured and sunk on 18 June 1917.
  • Manila, 731 tons, United States schooner captured and sunk on 8 July 1917.
  • Lutece - see above.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Launch at Port Glasgow". Glasgow Evening Citizen. 9 August 1888. p. 2. Retrieved 1 October 2017.
  2. ^ a b "Pass of Balmaha". Scottish Built Ships. Caledonian Maritime Research Trust. Retrieved 1 October 2017.
  3. ^ Mercantile Navy List. 1890. p. 549. Retrieved 1 October 2017.
  4. ^ "Shipping Notes". Belfast News-Letter. 24 February 1908. p. 11. Retrieved 1 October 2017.
  5. ^ Mercantile Navy List. 1909. p. 826. Retrieved 5 February 2019.
  6. ^ Mercantile Navy List. 1910. p. 841. Retrieved 1 October 2017.
  7. ^ "The River Plate Shipping Company". The Canada Gazette (Vol XL, No.49). 8 June 1907. p. 2982. Retrieved 5 February 2019.
  8. ^ "The Ship Pass of Balmaha Company". The Canada Gazette (Vol XLII, No.35). 27 February 1909. pp. 2404–2405. Retrieved 5 February 2019.
  9. ^ Williams, Greg H. The United States Merchant Marine in World War I. Jefferson NC: McFarland & Co. pp. 46–47. ISBN 978-1-4766-6703-4. Retrieved 5 February 2019.
  10. ^ Starbuck, Edwin Diller (1936). Actions speak Volume 2 of Living Through Biography. World Book Company. p. 243. Retrieved 5 February 2019.
  11. ^ Pardoe, Blaine (2005) The Cruise of the Sea Eagle: The Amazing True Story of Germany's Gentleman Pirate Guilford, CT, The Lyons Press


  • Allen, Oliver E. and the editors of Time-Life Books. 1978. Captain Sea Devil of the "Seeadler". The Windjammers pp. 120–143. (The Seafarers, vol. 6.) Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books.
  • Lowell, Thomas. 1929. "The Sea Devil" London: Heinemann.
  • Hoyt, Edwin P. 1969. "Count von Luckner : Knight of the Sea" (published in England in 1970 as "Sea Eagle") David McKay Co. Inc.
  • Pardoe, Blaine. 2006. "The Cruise of the Sea Eagle: The Story of Imperial Germany's Gentleman Pirate" Crecy Publishing.
  • Jefferson, Sam. 2017. "The Sea Devil: The Adventures of Count Felix von Luckner, the Last Raider under Sail" Osprey.

External links[edit]