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German auxiliary cruiser Atlantis

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Atlantis, known to the Kriegsmarine as Schiff 16 and to the Royal Navy as Raider-C, was a converted German Hilfskreuzer (auxiliary cruiser, or merchant or commerce raider) of the Kriegsmarine, which, during World War II, travelled more than 161,000 km in 602 days, and sank 22 ships totaling 144,384 tons. Atlantis was sunk on November 21, 1941.

She was commanded by Kapitän zur See Bernhard Rogge, who received the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.

Such commerce raiders do not usually engage other warships, but rather seek to sink enemy shipping, similar to the work done by submarines.

Table of contents

Design of Atlantis

This ship was 155m long and displaced 7,862 tons. She had a single funnel[?] amidships. She had a crew of 349 (21 officers and 328 enlisted troops) and a Scottish terrier[?], Ferry, as a mascot. The cruiser carried a dummy funnel, variable-height masts, and was well supplied with paint, canvas, and materials for further altering her appearance, including costumes for the crew and flags. Schiff 16 was capable of being modified to 26 different silhouettes[?].

Weapons and Aircraft

The ship carried one or two Heinkel He-114B[?] seaplanes[?], four waterline torpedo tubes, and a 92-mine compartment. The ship was also equipped with six 5.9-inch guns[?] (120mm), one 75mm gun[?] on the bow, and two twin-37mm[?] and four 20mm automatic cannons[?]; all of which were hidden, mostly behind pivotable false deck structures. A phony crane[?] and deckhouse[?] on the aft section hid four of the 5.9-inch guns.

Engines

Atlantis had dual, 6-cylinder engines, which powered a single propellor. Her top speed was 17.5 knots.

History of Atlantis

Atlantis, Krim, and Kasii Maru

In 1939, Atlantis was part of the Hansa Line[?] and known as Goldenfels. In 1939, she became the command of Kapitän Bernhard Rogge. Commissioned in mid-December, she was the first of nine or ten merchant ships armed by the Third Reich for the purposes of seeking out and engaging enemy cargo vessels. Atlantis was delayed by ice until March 31, 1940, when the former battleship Hiessen, now a radio controlled target vessel[?], was set to act as an icebreaker[?]. This ship cleared the way for Atlantis, Orion, and Widder.

Schiff 16 headed past the North Sea minefields[?], between Norway and Great Britain, across the Arctic Circle, and after passing between Iceland and Greenland, headed south. By this time, Atlantis was pretending to be a Soviet vessel named Krim by flying the Soviet Naval Ensign[?], displaying a hammer and sickle on the bridge, and having Cyrillic[?] and English warnings on the stern, "Keep clear of propellors."

After crossing the equator, on April 24-25, she "became" the Japanese vessel Kasii Maru. The ship now displayed a large K upon a red-topped funnel, identification of the Kokusai Line[?]. She also had rising sun symbols[?] on the gun flaps and Japanese characters, copied from a magazine, on the aft hull.

City of Exeter

On May 2, the British passenger liner City of Exeter encountered Raider-C. Rogge, unwilling to cause massive noncombatant casualties, informed his officers, "there will be no attack." Once the ships had parted, Exeters Captain radioed his suspicions about the "Japanese cruiser" to the Royal Navy.

The Scientist

On May 3, Atlantis met a British freighter[?], The Scientist, which was carrying ore and jute[?]. The Germans raised their battleflag[?] and displayed signal pennants stating, "Stop or I fire! Don't use your radio!" The 75mm gun fired a warning shot. The British immediately began transmitting their alarm signal, "QQQ...QQQ...Unidentified merchantman has ordered me to stop," and the Germans began transmitting so as to jam the signals.

The Scientist turned to flee, and on the second salvo[?] from Atlantis, flames exploded from the ship, followed by a cloud of dust and then white steam from the boilers. A British sailor was killed and the remaining 77 were taken as prisoners of war. After failing to sink the ship with demolition charges, the crew of Schiff 16 used their guns and a torpedo to finish off The Scientist.

Cape Agulhas

Continuing to sail south, Atlantis passed the Cape of Good Hope, reaching Cape Agulhas[?] on May 10, here she discharged her load of 92 horned contact naval mines. Then she headed into the Indian Ocean. Intercepting a British radio message warning about "a raider disguised as Japanese", they adopted a new disguise, that of Abbekerk, a Dutch vessel.

Tirranna, City of Baghdad, and the Kemmendine

On June 10, Raider-C stopped the Norwegian motor ship Tirranna with 30 salvos of fire. Five members of that ship's crew were killed, others were wounded. Filled with supplies for Australian troops in the Middle East, Tirranna was captured and sent to Germany.

On July 11, the liner City of Baghdad was fired upon at a range of 1.2km. A boarding party discovered a copy of Broadcasting for Allied Merchant Ships[?], which contained communications codes. City of Baghdad, like Atlantis, was a former Hansa Liner[?], having been captured by the British after World War I.

At 1009, on July 13, Schiff 16 opened fire on a cargo ship, Kemmendine, which was heading to Burma. Filled with whiskey, Kemmendine was quickly ablaze and a boarding crew returned with only two stuffed animals[?]. Lifeboats were taken aboard which carried women and children.

Talleyrand and King City

In August, Atlantis sunk Talleyrand, the sister ship of Tirranna. Then she encountered King City[?], carrying coal, which was mistaken for a British Q-Ship due to its erratic maneuvering, which was caused by mechanical difficulties. Three shells destroyed the bridge, killing four merchant cadets[?] and a cabin boy[?]. Another sailor died on the operating table[?] aboard Atlantis.

Athelking, Benarty, Commissaire Ramel, Durmitor, Teddy, and Ole Jacob

In September Atlantis sunk Athelking[?], Benarty[?], and Commissaire Ramel[?]. All of these were sunk only after supplies, documents, and POWs were taken. In October the Yugoslavian steamer[?] Durmitor was taken and was loaded with documents and 260 POWs, lacking sufficient fuel the steamer resorted to sails and drifted towards Italian-controlled Mogadishu. In the second week of November, Teddy[?] and Ole Jacob[?] were seized.

Automedon and its Secret Cargo

At about 0700 on November 11, Schiff 16 encountered the cargo ship Automedon northwest of Sumatra. As soon as the Germans fired a warning shot, Automedon began transmitting, "RRRR", the signal for "raider". From a distance of more than 1.5km, 28 shells are believed to have hit the bridge. The captain and all the officers were killed.

The Germans boarded the cargoship and axed into the captain's safe[?]. Obliging the ship's lone female passenger, they then blasted open a nearby strongroom[?] and discovered 15 bags of mail marked, "Safe hand. By British Master only." This mail included the whole of the Top Secret mail for the High Command, Far East[?], new code tables, and a War Cabinet[?] report on British forces, defenses of Singapore, informatin regarding Australia and New Zealand, and an appraisal of Japanese intentions. Automedon was sunk at 1507.

The documents, POWs, and 10,000 tons of aviation fuel were sent to Japan, aboard Ole Jacob. The mail reached the German embassy in Tokyo, on December 5, and was then hand-carried to Berlin via the Trans-Siberian railroad. A copy was given to the Japanese and it is sometimes argued that this played a prominent part in the Japanese decision to initiate what it referred to as the, "Greater East Asia War". Rogge was rewarded with an ornate Samurai sword.

Antarctica and Africa

During the Christmas period, Atlantis was at Kerguelen Island[?], Antarctica. There they did maintenance and replenished their water supplies. The crew suffered it's first fatality when a sailor fell while painting the funnel. He was buried in what is sometimes referred to as "the most southerly German soldier's grave".

In late January of 1941, off the eastern coast of Africa, Raider-C sunk the British ship Mandasor and captured Speybank. Then on February 2, the Norwegian tanker Ketty Brövig was relieved of her fuel, which was used not only for the German raider, but also to refuel the Kreuzer (cruiser) Admiral Scheer[?] and an Italian submarine.

Zamzam

By April, Atlantis had retured to the Atlantic where, on the 17th, Kapitän Rogge, mistaking the Egyptian liner Zamzam for a British liner being used as a troop carrier or Q-ship, opened fire at 8.4km. The second salvo hit and the wireless room was destroyed. 202 people were captured, including missionaries, ambulance drivers, Fortune Magazine[?] editor Charles J.V. Murphy[?], and Life Magazine photographer David E. Scherman[?]. The Germans allowed Scherman to take photographs, and although his film was seized when they returned to Europe aboard a German blockade runner[?], he did manage to smuggle four rolls back to New York. It is generally believed that his photos later helped the British identify and destroy Raider-C. Murphy's account of the incident, as well as photos by Scherman, were in the June 23 issue of Life.

Bismarck is Sunk

After Bismarck was sunk, Rogge began to fear the Royal Navy. As a result, he disobeyed orders to remain in the Atlantic, and returned to the Pacific, but not before sinking the British ships, Rabaul[?], Trafalgar[?], Tottenham, and Balzac[?]. On September 10, east of New Zealand, Raider-C captured the Norwegian motor ship Silvaplana. After resupplying from a supply ship and a brief period where they operated from a base in the Polynesian Islands[?], they returned to the Atlantic.

U-68, U-126, a Nightmare, and HMS Devonshire

On the October 18, Rogge was ordered to rendezvous with the submarine U-68[?], 800km south of St. Helena and refuel her, then he was to refuel U-126[?] at a location north of Ascension Island. They met with U-68 on November 13. On November 21 or 22, Atlantis rendezvoused with U-126 and Kapitänleutnant Ernst Bauer[?] came aboard to take a bath. It was around this time that Kapitänleutnant Ulrich Mohr[?], Rogge's adjutant, awoke from a nightmare about a three-funnelled British cruiser.

At 0816, the foremast[?] lookout[?] shouted "Feindlicher Kreuzer in Sicht!" ("Enemy cruiser in sight!"). This was the three-funnelled heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire[?].

Sunk and Sunk Again

U-126[?] dove, leaving its captain behind. From 14-15km away, outside the range of Atlantis 5.9in guns, Devonshire opened fire. There is dispute as to whether Rogge ordered his ship to move at full speed and emit smoke, or ordered it to stop. It is believed that they were, at this time, posing as the British ship Polyphemus and had begun to transmit the British code RRR, not realising that recent Allied orders had changed this proceedure, and the RRR signal should now be sent as RRRR.

After 20-30 seconds, 8-in (200mm) shell began to arrive at their target. The first salvo missed, but the second and third salvos slammed into the ship. Seven sailors were killed as the crew abandoned ship[?], Rogge was the last off. Ammunition exploded and the bow rose, then the ship sank.

Devonshire left the area and the German submarine resurfaced and picked up 300 Germans and a wounded American prisoner, whom it began carrying or towing to Brazil (1500km west). Two days later the refueling ship Python arrived and loaded the sailors. By 1830 on December 1, while refueling two submarines, HMS Dorsetshire[?], which had sunk Bismarck, had sunk Python. Eventually, various German and Italian submarines brought Rogge's crew back to Germany.



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