Marauders of the Sea, German Armed Merchant Ships During W.W. 2
Komet (Ship 45)
'Komet," was the last of the first wave of Raiders, and had made a most unusual voyage to reach the Pacific. She had taken the northern route around Russia and Siberia, made possible in July of 1940 because, at that time Russia was maintaining neutrality. It was of course later that this stance was shattered by Hitler deciding to invade Russia.
Like "Thor," 'Komet," was only a small ship of 3,200 tons, and had been named 'Ems," a part of the former Norddeutscher Lloyd line. Her Commanding Officer, Robert Byssen, joined the Navy in 1911, and had spent two long periods in the Adrniralty in Berlin.
The Russians assisted the northern passage of "Komet" by providing ice pilots, and ice breakers, without them, this voyage would have been impossible. After negotiating the final ice barrier, "Komet" was secured alongside the Russian ice breaker "Lenin," and Byssen was invited on board the Russian ship for a celebration party. The vagaries of time played a major role here, the Germans still keeping Central European time, whilst their hosts kept local time. The German Captain found himself partying with copious amounts of both Vodka and Zakurka, at, for him, the unearthly hour of 0600 (6AM.)
This northern passage involved 23 days, and a distance covered of 3,300 miles. For their services supplied, the Russians, put in a bill for 950,000 Reichinarks, or in Sterling, 80,000 Pounds.
It was the 10th. of September by the time '~omct" reached the Pacific Ocean, and they made for the Japanese Island of Ailinglap, it was here, in 1914, that Spee had hidden from Allied Squadrons searching for him.
Fyssen was ordered to meet "Orion," and on the 14th. of October this Raider was at Lamutrik, to fuel from '"Kulmerland," it was thought that the use of Allinglap may have become known to the Allies when the Tanker "Weser," bringing supplies from Mexico for the two Raiders, had been captured in September by the Canadian Armed Merchant Cruiser, "Prince Robert."
The fact that 'Komet" had not sighted a single enemy ship over the 5 months since she sailed from Germany, was a depressing one for her Captain. The joint expedition of'Komet," "Orion," with their Tanker 'Kulmerland," has already been related in the section that covers "Orion," and her exploits. Now on the 23rd. of December, 'Komet," was once again on her own.
Eyssen now planned to attack Rabaul, using his small fast launch or E-Boat that he carried on board, however, owing to an engine break down this idea had to be disgarded. "Komet" made her way back to Nauru, and signalled in a somewhat quaint and convoluted way to the Administrator:- "I will shoot without regards if you use wireless. If you don't use wireless I only destroy your phosphate pier and oil tanks behind and the lighters. Evacuate this area at Once diminish casualties. If you don't use wireless your station won't be demolished."
Just after gunfire commenced, the oil tanks were set alight, followed by a series of heavy explosions. In Australia, an announcement indicated there were no casualties, but heavy damage was caused to both plant and buildings.
This attack put the Japanese and Germans at loggerheads- it made public the fact that the Japanese were, contrary to International Law, providing facilities for German Raiders. SKL ordered this type of attack to cease and observed that 'Komet" could easily have been a victim herself and been sunk at Nauru.
Good news for Eyssen, on New Year's eve 1940/1941 he learned that notwithstanding his rebuff for his attack on Nauru, he was now a Rear Admiral.
'Komet" was hoping to get supplies from home sent overland via the Trans-Siberian railway, but, at this stage the Russians were playing "hard to get," and they would need to rely only on supply ships "Aistertor," and "Alsterufer."
Fyssen wanted to cover the Panama Australial New Zealand supply route by proceeding to the Galapagos Islands, but his Control vetoed the idea, saying it fell within the Pan American zone of neutrality. Instead, he was told, go to Antartica in the Ross Sea, and operate against the Allied Whaling Fleet.
By the 16th. of February 1941, they were within the ice barrier, and Eyssen found himself totally surrounded by ice bergs, his diary recorded:-" The ice is not dangerous, as it is not freezing solid, but is broken up by the swell, but.... there is always danger to the screw and rudder."
The ship gained an unexpected bonus, by sailing through all this ice, the ship's bottom had become totally cleaned, giving them a smooth hull once again.
Although a Japanese Whaling Factory was met, no Allied ships were sighted, off to Kerguelen to meet up with "Alstertor" for mail and ammunition. At Kerguelen, an opportunity to get off the ship allowed crew members to hunt down rabbits, and collect local cabbages, a relief from the monotony of canned vegetables.
"Pinguin" arrived on the 12th. of March, and then "Adjutant" joined them. Two days later 'Komet" was on her way to the Indian Ocean, to a beat known as Area Siberia, West of Perth, and they took on oil from "Ole Jacob."
Six weeks of numbing, deadly cruising followed, nothing in sight, no ships, no smoke on the horizon. By the 8th. of May, "Komet" was off the town of Onslow, Western Australia, and the following day learned from an enemy radio broadcast, that a Raider had been sunk, Byssen knew it could only be '~inguin" and he requested SKL place "Adjutant" under his orders, as she was now on her own, they agreed.
The 2 ships met on the 21st. of May once again the ship's Navigators had prevailed, and found each other at a single speck in the vast stretches of the Indian Ocean 'Komet," to conserve oil, took "Adjutant in tow, and fitted her out with a 60mm. and 2 by 2Omm guns, a range finder, magnetic mines, caretully set to detonate in the Southern hemisphere, navigational equipment, plus a smoke laying capability.
Passing South of both Australia and New Zealand, the two ships entered the Pacific Ocean, it was planned for mines to be sown by "Adjutant" off Port Nicholson and Port Lyttelton, and 'Komet" went of to the North East towards Balbo, there to meet "Anneliese." Enroute, Byssen received a signal from "Adjutant" saying her engines were now useless, and she was going to scuttle herself, 'Komet" needed to go to her rescue.
By the 24th. of June "Adjutant" had cruised within sight of New Zealand, and was abheam of Wellington, she started to lay her mines when a searchlight pin pointed them, in her haste, the mines were laid too early, instead of in 10 fathoms ( 60 feet ) they were let go in 15 fathoms ( 90 feet) of water. Radio traffic alerted the little ship that both Aircraft and Ships were seeking her out, the engines now gave up, and Karsten, in command, set sails to keep them underway. He managed to hold out, and in 3 days time, rescue was at hand as 'Komet" came in sight, all the crew were taken on board, and the ship scuttled.
By the 5th. of July, 'Komet" had been at sea for a year, although her results had not been spectacular, Eyssen was informed that 5 Iron Crosses First Class were his to dispose of as he wished, all other crew members were to receive the Iron Cross Second Class.
The "Anneliese Essberger" was met at Balbo on the 14th. of July, she wore the disguise of a Japanese vessel, flielling was to take place, but all her oil hoses had been given to "Orion" and it was only with great difficulty they took on board 1,400 tons of oil via fire hoses.
Towards the end of July, having sent off his War Diary and the ship's mail with the Tanker, "Komet" set out for the area around the Galapagos Islands, by mid August, in this area, Pyssen, at last, sighted an enemy ship, for 227 days he had scoured the oceans, but they had remained totally empty. This turned out to be the 5,000 ton "Australind." Two warning shots did not stop her, and "Komet" fired off 7 salvoes, hitting her bridge, killing the Captain and 2 Engineering Officers. Other survivors were taken aboard, and explosive charges used to dispose of this ship.
The next day a Dutch ship was sighted, chased, and lost, as "Komet's" 12 knots was not fast enough to run down this Dutchman, who merely sailed on, quite oblivious to the threat from the Raider.
That same night, an intercepted signal from the British refrigerator ship "Lochmonar," 9,500 tons indicated she was due at Panama.
Eyssen quickly worked out that this ship would need to pass close by, he stopped to lie in wait. Once again, it shows that a Raider must gather intelligence from every possible source, here we find a resourcetul Captain picking up a signal, then turning the information into a window of opportunity for his ship and himself. It is only through results, ships caught, ships captured or sunk by a Raider, that the success or failure of a specific Captain and his ship may be measured and judged.
On the 17th. a ship was sighted, but it was not the intended victim, as it was a much smaller ship, here was an added bonus, it turned out to be the Dutch "Kota Nopan" of 7,000 tons, going from Macassar to New York, with a very valuable cargo on board, rubber, tin, manganese ore and sago flour.
Although responding to "Komet's" warning fire, with her own stern gun, its firings fell short, this Dutchman was captured intact. She carried a crew of35 Dutch and 16 Javanese, their capture had only enough oil for about another 10 days steaming, it was out of the question to get her home to Germany without the possibility of reflielling her.
SKL were asked if they could assist with supplying tuel, meantime Eyssen ordered that they commence to strip out the valuable segment of the cargo, in case he had to scuttle this prize capture.
Another vessel now appeared, 'Komef' opened fire at 4 miles, and the alarm was raised, after near misses, the ship now stopped. It was the British "Devon," an ancient coal burner, 9,036 tons, having a very miscellaneous cargo of 4,576 tons, later to be described by SKL "as a worthless cargo" back in Berlin, they seemed to be getting "choosey."
The crew carried included 31 British, and 113 Indians. In Roskill's Volume 1 of" The War at Sea, "he says that "Devon," had picked up 'Kota Nopan's" report of a Raider, but ignored it, only to steer straight into 'Komet's" waiting arms.
On the 24th. opf August, the British issued a warning that a Raider was operating in "Komet's" area, this alerted the Americans to the fact that a Raider was in their Pan-American zone of neutrality, and American warships were reported to be on their way to the Galapagos. SKL told both 'Komet" and "Atlantis" to make for Balbo, to oil from 'Munsterland."
"Komet" sheperding along "Kota Nopan" met up with the Tanker and her fellow Raider, Fyssen was the Senior Officer, and argued with Captain Rogge from "Atlantis" about the distribution of fresh food available from the Tanker, the captured ship 'Kota Nopan" was fuelled, and she joined 'Komet" to sail via Cape Horn for home, at least for the Raider, and a forced new home for the Dutchman.
Enroute ships were sighted, including some American ones, they were all lefi in peace, then on the 1st. of November, another ship came into view, but proved too fast for 'Komet" to catch. After crossing the equator for the 8th. time, 'Komet" was ordered to cease her war against commerce, and to come home. West of the Azores,U-561, and U-652 provided the escort, and on the 26th. of November, Cherbourg was reached after 512 days at sea.(35)
The :"Kota Nopan" being faster had already reached Gironde. "Komet" was ordered on to Hamburg, and was attacked on the way by Coastal Command Bombers, a bomb hit the ship, but failed to explode. On the last day of November, she finally reached the safety of Hamburg, the Raider had travelled 87,000 miles, more than 3 times round the globe, however, with a lot of effort, and little to show for it, 6.5 ships sunk, to total 42,950 tons.
Eyssen did not get another Command at sea, he filled a number of shore appointments, to retire from the Navy in April, 1945. "Komet" did attempt a second cruise.