Marauders of the Sea, German Armed Merchant Raiders During World War I


On the 31st of December 1899, the clock clicked down on the 19th Century, and at midnight, the 20th Century was spawned.

On the morning of January 1st sunrise dawned on the most powerful fleet world wide, the Royal Navy.

Back in 1889, the newly crowned Emperor of Germany, Wilhelm 11, invited by his grandmother Queen Victoria, was at Spithead in England to review ships of the Royal Navy.

He had to be impressed with all this Naval might drawn up before him, and no doubt he would have wondered where his own navy stood in relationship to these ships of war, as well as those of his immediate neighbour, France.

Germany had largely relied on British and French shipyards to fulfil both their Naval and Merchantship requirements.

It was now time for Germany to become more self sufficient in this regard, and German yards now commenced, with the advantage of State funds, to build vessels that would soon compete for the Blue Riband, awarded for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic.

In 1897, Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse wrested this title from Carmenia, by making the fastest eastbound crossing at a speed of 22.35 knots.

In 1903, Kaiser Wilhelm 11 was completed by AG Vulcan of Stettin.

As larger passenger ships were being constructed in Germany they were earmarked to serve as Armed Merchant Cruisers in time of war, e.g.. Kronprinzessen Cecilie, was designed so that her rudder and steering gear were well below the waterline, and that she could mount three calibre of guns, namely, 5.9 inch, 4.1 inch and 3.4 inch. Provision was also made to allow two small Torpedo Boats to be hoisted inboard and stowed on deck together with sixteen torpedoes for these craft.

Thus, German Naval planners put in place the ability in time of war to quickly convert Merchant Ships into Armed Merchant Ships for Naval service.

In the event of war, Britain would need to rely on her merchant fleet to carry the necessary imports she would need for her population to survive. To purchase life sustaining foods and other necessary commodities, British exports of coal, machinery, textiles etc were needed to flow from British ports out across the oceans of the world. Any attack on their ships scurrying back and forth would strike at the very heart of her survival.

Not only did this apply to Britain in WW1, but exactly the same conditions were to obtain during WW2, and victory over the onslaught of German U-Boats in the Battle of the Atlantic had to be sustained, before Britain and her Allies were able to bring that conflict to a successful conclusion.

Over the preceding years to WW1, Germany had consciously been building up a Colonial Empire, and when war came in 1914, she had created overseas, close to a million square miles of territory populated by fourteen million people.

The War Begins
On the 4th. of August 1914, Britain went to war against Germany.  Australia and New Zealand did not hesitate in deciding their place was alongside the Mother Country, both countries declaring war against Germany. Let me quote Sir Ronald Munro-Ferguson, the Governor General of Australia's cable to the Secretary of State for the Colonies: "There is indescribable enthusiasm and entire unanimity throughout Australia in support of all that tends to provide for the security of the Empire in war."

At this time, units of the German Navy were scattered around the globe with some ships in the Pacific. They were all a potential threat to the British merchant fleet as commerce raiders, and this work should firstly record the need for the Royal Navy to hunt down and destroy German light Cruisers such as:-

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