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World One War: An Epic Voyage of Destruction...

Updated on May 31, 2011
SMS Wolf
SMS Wolf
German illustration of the capturing of the Hitachi Maru 1917
German illustration of the capturing of the Hitachi Maru 1917
Commander of the SMS Wolf, Karl August Nerge
Commander of the SMS Wolf, Karl August Nerge
World Map showing SMS Wolfs' Cruise
World Map showing SMS Wolfs' Cruise
15cm (5.9 inch) gun on the deck of the German armed merchant raider SMS Wolf
15cm (5.9 inch) gun on the deck of the German armed merchant raider SMS Wolf
Crew of the SMS Wolf returning to Germany in February 1918
Crew of the SMS Wolf returning to Germany in February 1918

Although the SMS Emden sailed into history as one of Imperial Germany’s greatest surface raiders, the story of the SMS Wolf was just as, if not, more epic than that of the Emden.

SMS Wolf was an Auxiliary Cruiser or armed merchant raider of the Imperial German Navy during World War One.

Sailing from Germany in 1916, the ‘Wolf’ left Germany for the High Seas and an unknown future and sowed a forgotten legend of an epic voyage of destruction.

Designed as a commerce raider, the ‘Wolf’ was equipped with six 15cm (5.9inch) heavy guns, three 5.2cm guns, four 500mm torpedo tubes and 465 mines.

Command of the ‘Wolf’ was under Karl August Nerger, a logical, disciplined and ruthless adversary of the allies.

On the 30th of November 1916 SMS Wolf left the German port of Kiel with a total crew of 348 men.  Escorted by U-66 to the Arctic Circle, the ‘Wolf’ passed north of Scotland and then steamed south into history…

Following an arduous sea journey, the ‘Wolf’ arrived at the Cape of Good Hope where Nerger proceeded to lay a minefield in order to sink supply and military vessels.

The ‘Wolf’ then proceeded to pass into the Indian Ocean where she would become a destructive ghost to the allies.

Despite being used as a commerce raider, the ‘Wolf’ had not been designed for speed and the ship could only reach 11 knots.  The ships advantages, which cost allied lives and ships, included fake funnels and masts, false sides which kept her weapons hidden and a range of over 32,000 miles due to a coal bunker capacity of 8,000 tons.

Aboard the ‘Wolf’ was ‘Wolfchen’ or (Little Wolf) which was a Friedrichshafen FF.33 two-seater seaplane, which was used for reconnaissance and to locate enemy merchant ships.

Steaming through the Indian Ocean, ‘Wolf’ left a trail of fire and destruction as the number of merchant ships either sunk or captured increased.

Laying mines in the Gulf of Aden, around Indian ports and as far as Australia, the allies struggled blindly against a ship which could not be located.

One reason as to why the ‘Wolf’ was never sighted or cornered as that the ship fed off the supplies from captured vessels.  Throughout its entire cruise, the ‘Wolf’ did not once sail into port or harbour.  When capturing an enemy vessel and after the remaining crew and vital supplies were transferred to the ‘Wolf’, the German crew then sank the vessels.

In total SMS Wolf destroyed 35 merchant vessels and 2 warships, which totalled over 110,000 tons!

One notable action of the ‘Wolf’s cruise was the battle against the Japanese freighter Hitachi Maru.

The Japanese liner which was carrying supplies and a number of passengers was at the southern end of the Maldives Islands when she was chased by the ‘Wolf’ on the 26th September 1917.

The Japanese vessel was equipped with one gun with which Captain Tominaga ordered to be used against the ‘Wolf’ whilst he sent out distress calls for aid.  The defiant Japanese spirit continued until 14 of the Japanese crew had been killed and 6 had been wounded.

Surrendering to Nerger, the Japanese ship lay with her captor for over a month whilst her provisions were stowed aboard the ‘Wolf’.  The passengers and remaining crew were transferred to the ‘Wolf’, amongst them Captain Tominaga.

On the 7th of November, when the ‘Wolf’ and Hitachi Maru reached the Cargados Carajos Islands, the Japanese ship was sunk with time-delay charges.  In respect of the Japanese Imperial Navy, the cruiser Tsuhima spent the October 1917 searching for the missing vessel and survivors.  Finally the Japanese Navy concluded that she had been wrecked.  Despite Japan’s admonitions, the French Cruiser D’Estress continued the search.    

The SMS Wolf captured in total 14 ships, which totalled 38,391 tons!  Laying mines across a number of seas and oceans, the mines claimed 13 ships which totalled 75,888 tons!

Accompanied by the captured Spanish steamer ‘Igotz Mendi’ the ‘Wolf’ sailed for Germany.  The ‘Wolf’ returned to Germany on the 24th February 1918 with 467 prisoners after sailing continually for 451 days

In addition to this sailing record, the ‘Wolf’ carried substantial quantities of rubber, copper, zinc, brass, silk, copra, cocoa and other vital supplies.

It is astonishing to know that without a Naval help of any kind, the SMS ‘Wolf’ made the longest voyage of a warship during World War One.

For his bravery, exploits and determination, Kaptain Nerger was awarded the highest military decoration of the five main states of the German Empire.  

For the remainder of World War One, the ‘Wolf’ was deployed to the Baltic Sea and following the war, she was given to France.  The terror of the seas in 1917-1918 was finally scrapped by Italy in 1931.

The list below gives details of some of the ships sunk by SMS Wolf.

Turritella , 5,528 tons, captured on January 27, 1917. Converted to the auxiliary cruiser Iltis , scuttled to avoid capture on March 15, 1917.
Jumna , 4,152 tons, captured on March 1, and sunk March 3, 1917.
Wordsworth , 3,509 tons, captured on March 11, and sunk March 18, 1917.
Dee , 1,169 tons, three-mast schooner captured and sunk March 30, 1917.
Wairuna , 3,947 tons, captured on June 2, and sunk June 17, 1917.
Winslow , 567 tons, United States four-mast schooner captured on June 16, and sunk June 22, 1917.
Beluga , 507 tons, United States steam whaler captured on July 9, and sunk July 11, 1917.
Encore , 651 tons, United States four-mast schooner captured and sunk July 17, 1917.
Matunga , 1,618 tons, captured on August 6, and sunk August 26, 1917.
Hitachi Maru , 6,557 tons, Japanese freighter captured on September 26, and sunk November 7, 1917.
Igotz Mendi , 4,648 tons, Spanish steamer captured on November 10, 1917 and stranded off Skagen, Denmark on February 24, 1918.
John H. Kirby , 1,296 tons, United States schooner captured on November 30, and sunk December 1, 1917.
Marechal Davout , 2,192 tons, French three-mast barque captured and sunk December 15, 1917.
Storebror , 2,050 tons, Norwegian four-mast bark captured and sunk January 4, 1918.

List of ships sunk by mines set by Wolf during the voyage from November 30, 1916 to February 24, 1918. Five other steamships struck the mines but were not sunk.

Matheran , 7,654 tons, sunk January 26, 1917, off Cape of Good Hope.
Cilicia , 3,750 tons, sunk February 12, 1917, off Cape of Good Hope.
Worcestershire , 7,175 tons, sunk February 17, 1917, off Colombo, British India.
Perseus , 6,728 tons, sunk February 21, 1917, off Colombo.
C. de Eizaguirre , 4,376 tons, Spanish steamship sunk May 26, 1917, off Cape of Good Hope.
Unkai Maru , 2,143 tons, Japanese steamship sunk June 16, 1917, off Bombay, British India.
Mongolia , 9,505 tons, sunk June 24, 1917, off Bombay.
Wimmera , 3,622 tons, sunk June 26, 1917, off Cape Farewell, New Zealand.
Croxteth Hall , 5,872 tons, struck a mine July 6, 1917, off Bombay. Sank July 11 while being towed to Bombay.
Cumberland , 9,471 tons, sunk July 6, 1917, in the Tasman Sea.
Okhla , 5,288 tons, sunk July 29, 1917, off Bombay.
City of Athens , 5,604 tons, sunk August 10, 1917, off Cape of Good Hope.
Port Kembla , 4,700 tons, sunk September 18, 1917, in the Cook Strait, New Zealand.

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      suvadiva atoll Maldives 2 years ago

      SMS Wolf visit to maldives Atoll suvadiva atoll in 1917 and take many photos of this island local men and woman's so if you have the photos pls up lord it

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      David Hunt 5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      I was researching the SMS Wolf and up popped your hub in Google. Very nice article and pictures (especially the one showing the 150-mm and torpedo tube). Voted up and interesting.

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      smnmcshannon 6 years ago from England

      Hi Stigma31

      Thanks for the comment :) My team at Dugout WW1 attempt to pick out the niche topics which shed light on little or unknown events of WW1

      Reserve your free edition at the links above to get access to our publication.

      If you know anyone who is interested in WW1 please pass on our details

      All the best


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      Stigma31 6 years ago from Kingston, ON

      Very intersting..I never heard this story before. Great article! Voting up!