German auxiliary cruiser Atlantis

German auxiliary cruiser Atlantis

The German auxiliary cruiser "Atlantis" (HSK 2), 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 or captured 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.

Early history

Formerly a freighter named "Goldenfels", she was built by Bremer Vulkan in 1937, and was owned and operated by the Hansa Line, Bremen. In late 1939 she was requisitioned by the KM and converted to a war ship by DeSchiMAG, Bremen. and was commissioned as the commerce raider "Atlantis" in November 1939. [cite book|date=1955 (2nd printing)|title=Ship 16: The Story of the Secret German Raider Atlantis|author=Ulrich Mohr as told to Arthur V. Sellwood|publisher=T. Werner Laurie Ltd., London|pages=p6-7]

Design of Atlantis

This ship was 155 m long and displaced 17600 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. "Atlantis" 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 150 mm guns, one 75 mm gun on the bow, and two twin-37 mm guns and four 20 mm 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 150 mm guns.


"Atlantis" had dual, 6-cylinder engines, which powered a single propeller. Top speed was 16 knots (30 km/h).

General characteristics

"From Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1922-1946"
*Displacement: 17,600 tons, (7862 gross register tonnage)
*Length: 155 m
*Beam: 18.7 m
*Draught: 8.7 m
*Machinery: 1 shaft , 2 -6 cylinder MAN diesels, Convert|7600|hp|kW|-1|abbr=on
*Speed: convert|17|kn|km/h|0
**6 x 150 mm guns
**1 x 75 mm gun
**2 x 2 x 37 mm guns
**4 x 20 mm guns
**4 x 533 mm torpedo tubes
**92 mines
** 2 float planes
*Crew: 349-351

History of Atlantis

"Atlantis", "Krim" and "Kasii Maru"

In 1939, "Atlantis" was part of the Hansa Line under the name "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 31 March 1940, when the former
battleship "Hessen" was sent to act as an icebreaker clearing the way for "Atlantis", "Orion", and "Widder".

"Atlantis" headed past the North Sea minefields, between Norway and 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 Russian and English warnings on the stern, "Keep clear of propellors". The Soviet Union was neutral at the time.

After crossing the equator, on 24/25 April, 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 she met the British passenger liner "City of Exeter". Rogge, unwilling to cause massive noncombatant casualties, informed his officers, "there will be no attack.". Once the ships had parted, "Exeter"'s Master radioed his suspicions about the "Japanese cruiser" to the Royal Navy.The radio code "QQQQ" was used, which indicated an armed surface raider. [, url retrieved 2008-09-04.]

"The Scientist"

On May 3, "Atlantis" met a British freighter, "The Scientist", which was carrying ore and jute. The Germans raised their battle flag and displayed signal pennants stating, "Stop or I fire! Don't use your radio!" The 75 mm 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, guns and a torpedo were used 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, "Atlantis" stopped the Norwegian motor ship "Tirranna" with 30 salvos of fire after a 3 hour chase. [cite book|url=|date=1956|title=Ship 16: The Story of the Secret German Raider Atlantis|author=Arthur V. Sellwood, Ulrich Mohr|publisher=John Day Co|pages=p79-80] 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 1.2 km. 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 during World War I.

At 10:09, on July 13, "Atlantis" 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" sank "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" sank "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 her Secret Cargo

At about 0700 on November 11, "Atlantis" encountered the cargo ship "Automedon" northwest of Sumatra. As soon as the Germans fired a warning shot, Automedon began transmitting, "RRR...", the signal for "raider". From a distance of more than 1.5 km, 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. They then blasted open a nearby strongroom and discovered 15 bags of mail marked, "Safe hand. By British Master only." This mail included a whole shipment of Top Secret mail for the British Far East Command, new code tables, a British War Cabinet report on British forces, the defences of Singapore, information regarding Australia and New Zealand, and an appraisal of the Empire of Japan's 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 railway. 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 katana Samurai sword.

Kerguelen and Africa

During the Christmas period, "Atlantis" was at Kerguelen Island, in the Indian Ocean. There they did maintenance and replenished their water supplies. The crew suffered its 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".citequote

In late January 1941, off the eastern coast of Africa, "Atlantis" sank the British ship "Mandasor" and captured "Speybank". Then, on 2 February, the Norwegian tanker "Ketty Brövig" was relieved of her fuel. The fuel was used not only for the German raider, but also to refuel the German cruiser ("Kreuzer") "Admiral Scheer" and, on 29 March the Italian submarine "Perla". The "Perla" was making its way from the port of Massawa in Italian East Africa, around the Cape of Good Hope, and to Bordeaux in France.


By April, "Atlantis" had returned to the Atlantic where, on April 17, "Kapitän" Rogge, understandably mistaking the Egyptian liner "Zamzam " for a British liner being used as a troop carrier or Q-ship, as she was in fact the former Bibby Liner "Leicestershire", opened fire at 8.4 km. 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 "Atlantis". Murphy's account of the incident, as well as photos by Scherman, were in the June 23 issue of "Life".

Post "Bismarck"

After the "Bismarck" was sunk, the North Atlantic was swarming with British warships. As a result, Rogge decided to abandon the original plan to return to Germany, and instead returned to the Pacific. [cite book|date=1955 (2nd printing)|title=Ship 16: The Story of the Secret German Raider Atlantis|author=Ulrich Mohr as told to Arthur V. Sellwood|publisher=T. Werner Laurie Ltd., London|pages=p185-7] En route, "Atlantis" encountered and sank the British ships, "Rabaul", "Trafalgar", "Tottenham", and "Balzac". On September 10, east of New Zealand, "Atlantis" captured the Norwegian motor vessel "Silvaplana".

"Atlantis" then patrolled the South Pacific, [cite web|url=|title=Part 1 — Royal New Zealand Navy|publisher=New Zealand Electronic Text Centre] initially in French Polynesia between the Tubuai Islands and Tuamotu Archipelago. Without the knowledge of French authorities, the Germans landed on Vanavana Island and traded with the inhabitants. They then hunted Allied shipping in the area between Pitcairn and Henderson Islands, with a landing being made on the latter, uninhabited island. The seaplane from "Atlantis" made several fruitless reconnaissance flights. On 19 October, "Atlantis" headed back to the Atlantic, and rounded Cape Horn ten days later.

U-68, U-126, and HMS "Devonshire"

On October 18, Rogge was ordered to rendezvous with the submarine
U-68, 800 km 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 recurring nightmare about a three-funnelled British cruiser. [cite book|date=1955 (2nd printing)|title=Ship 16: The Story of the Secret German Raider Atlantis|author=Ulrich Mohr as told to Arthur V. Sellwood|publisher=T. Werner Laurie Ltd., London|pages=p208]

At 0816, the foremast lookout shouted "Feindlicher Kreuzer in Sicht!" ("Enemy cruiser in sight!"). This was the British County class heavy cruiser HMS "Devonshire". The "Counties" were distinctive of their three funnels.

unk and Sunk Again

U-126 dived, leaving her captain behind. From 14 to 15 km away, outside the range of "Atlantis"'s 150 mm 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 Greek ship "Polyphemus" and had begun to transmit the British code "RRR", not realising that recent Allied orders had changed this procedure, and the RRR signal should now be sent as "RRRR".

After 20-30 seconds, 8-in (200 mm) shells 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 (1500 km west). Two days later the refueling ship "Python" arrived and took on the sailors. On December 1, while refueling two submarines, the third of the British cruisers seeking the raiders, HMS "Dorsetshire", appeared. The U-boats dived immediately. The crew of the "Python" scuttled her so the "Dorsetshire" departed and it was left to the U-boats to recover the crew. Eventually, by means of various German and Italian submarines Rogge's crew was brought back to Germany.


* Seki, Eiji. (2006). [,+Japan,+and+the+Second+World+War&client=firefox-a "Mrs. Ferguson's Tea-Set, Japan and the Second World War: The Global Consequences Following Germany's Sinking of the SS Automedon in 1940."] London: Global Oriental. 10-ISBN 1-905-24628-5; 13- ISBN 978-1-905-24628-1 (cloth) [reprinted by University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 2007 -- [ previously announced as "Sinking of the SS Automedon and the Role of the Japanese Navy: A New Interpretation"] .]
* [ Hilfskreuzer Atlantis]

Further reading

*Duffy, James P. "Hitler's Secret Pirate Fleet: The Deadliest Ships of World War II" Praeger Trade, 2001, ISBN 0275966852.
*Hoyt, Edwin Palmer "Raider 16" World Publishing, 1970.
*Mohr, Ulrich And A. V. Sellwood "Ship 16: the Story of the Secret German Raider Atlantis" John Day, New York, 1956.
*Muggenthaler, August Karl "German raiders of World War II" Prentice-Hall, 1977, ISBN 0133540278.
*Rogge, Bernhard "The German Raider Atlantis" Ballantine, 1956.
*Schmalenbach, Paul "German raiders: A history of auxiliary cruisers of the German Navy, 1895-1945" Naval Institute Press, 1979, ISBN 0870218247.
*Slavick, Joseph P. "The Cruise of the German Raider Atlantis" Naval Institute Press, 2003, ISBN 1557505373.
*Woodward, David "The secret raiders;: The story of the German armed merchant raiders in the Second World War" W.W. Norton, 1955.

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