German auxiliary cruiser Atlantis

From SpottingWorld, the Hub for the SpottingWorld network...
Hilfskreuzer Atlantis
Career (Germany) Merchant Navy Flag of Nazi Germany)
Name: Goldenfels
Operator: Hansa Line
Builder: Bremer Vulkan
Launched: 1937
Homeport: Bremen
Fate: Requisitioned by Kriegsmarine, 1939
Career War Ensign of Germany (1938-1945)
Operator: Kriegsmarine
Builder: DeSchiMAG
Yard number: 2
Commissioned: 30 November 1939
Renamed: Atlantis, 1939
Reclassified: Auxiliary cruiser, 1939
Nickname: HSK-2
Schiff 16
Fate: Sunk, 23 November 1941, in the South Atlantic
General characteristics [1]
Type: Merchant raider
Tonnage: 7,862 gross register tons (GRT)
Displacement: 17,600 t (17,300 long tons)
Length: 155 m (509 ft)
Beam: 18.7 m (61 ft)
Draught: 8.7 m (29 ft)
Installed power: 7,600 hp (5,700 kW)
Propulsion: 2 × 6-cylinder diesel engines
1 × shaft
Speed: 17 knots (31 km/h; 20 mph)
Range: 60,000 nmi (110,000 km; 69,000 mi) at 10 kn (12 mph; 19 km/h)
Endurance: 250 days
Complement: 349-351
Armament: 6 × 150 mm (5.9 in) guns
1 × 75 mm (3.0 in) gun
2 × twin 37 mm anti-aircraft guns
2 × twin 20 mm cannons
4 × 533 mm (21 in) torpedo tubes
92 × mines
Aircraft carried: 2 × Heinkel He 114B

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 (100,000 mi) in 602 days, and sank or captured 22 ships totaling 144,384 t (142,104 long tons). Atlantis was sunk on 21 November 1941.

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

Commerce raiders do not seek to engage warships, but rather to attack enemy merchant shipping; the measures of success are tonnage destroyed (or captured), and time spent at large. Atlantis was second only to Pinguin in tonnage destroyed, and had the longest raiding career of any German commerce raider in either world war.

She had a significant effect on the war in the Far East due to capture of highly significant secret documents from SS Automedon.

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 Kriegsmarine and converted to a warship by DeSchiMAG, Bremen, and was commissioned as the commerce raider Atlantis in November 1939.[2]:6-7


Atlantis was 155 m (509 ft) long and displaced 17,600 t (17,300 long tons). She had a single funnel amidships. She had a crew of 349 (21 officers and 328 enlisted sailors) 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 (5.9 in) guns, one 75 mm (3.0 in) gun on the bow, two twin-37 mm anti-aircraft guns and four 20 mm automatic cannons; all of these were hidden, mostly behind pivotable false deck or side structures. A phony crane and deckhouse on the aft section hid two of the 150 mm (5.9 in) guns; the other four guns were concealed via flaps in the side [3][4]:46 that were lowered when action was needed.


Atlantis had two 6-cylinder diesel engines, which powered a single propeller. Top speed was 16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph).

Service history

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 propellers". 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 2 May, she met the British passenger liner SS City of Exeter. Rogge, unwilling to cause non-combatant casualties, declined to attack. Once the ships had parted, Exeter's Master radioed his suspicions about the "Japanese" ship to the Royal Navy.[5]

The Scientist

On 3 May, Atlantis met a British freighter, The Scientist, which was carrying ore and jute. The Germans raised their battle ensign and displayed signal pennants stating, "Stop or I fire! Don't use your radio!" The 75 mm (3.0 in) 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 10 May. Here, she set up a minefield with 92 horned contact naval mines, in a way which suggested that a U-boat had laid them. The minefield was successful, but the deception was foiled and the ship's presence revealed by a German propaganda broadcast boasting that "a minefield, sown by a German raider" had sunk no fewer than eight merchant ships, three more were overdue, three minesweepers were involved, and the Royal Navy was not capable of finding "a solitary raider" operating in "its own back yard". Furthermore a British signal was sent from Ceylon on 20 May and intercepted by Germany, based on the report from City of Exeter, warning shipping of a German raider disguised as a Japanese ship[5].

Atlantis headed into the Indian Ocean disguised as Dutch vessel MV Abbekerk. She received a broadcast—which happened to be incorrect—reporting that Abbekerk had been sunk, but retained that identity rather than repainting, as there were several similar Dutch vessels[5].

Tirranna, City of Baghdad, and the Kemmendine

On 10 June, Atlantis stopped the Norwegian motor ship Tirranna with 30 salvos of fire after a three-hour chase.[2]:79–80 Five members of Tirranna's crew were killed and others wounded. Filled with supplies for Australian troops in the Middle East, Tirranna was captured and sent to France.

On 11 July, the liner City of Baghdad was fired upon at a range of 1.2 km (0.75 mi). 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. A copy of the report sent by City of Exeter was found, describing Atlantis in minute detail and including a photograph of the similar Freienfels, confirming that the "Japanese" identity had not been believed. Rogge had his ship’s profile altered, adding two new masts[5].

At 10:09 on 13 July, Atlantis opened fire on a cargo ship, Kemmendine, which was heading for Burma. Filled with whisky, 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 steamboat Durmitor was taken and was loaded with documents and 260 POWs, and dispatched to Italian-controlled Mogadishu. Lacking sufficient fuel, the steamer resorted to sails and, after a "hellish" voyage, made landfall in Somaliland on November 22, five weeks after departure. In the second week of November, Teddy and Ole Jacob were seized.

Automedon and her secret cargo

At about 07:00 on 11 November, Atlantis encountered the Blue Funnel Line cargo ship Automedon about 250 mi (400 km) northwest of Sumatra. At 08:20, Atlantis fired a warning shot across Automedon's bow, and her radio operator at once began transmitting a distress call of "RRR – Automedon – 0416N" ("RRR" meant "under attack by armed raider").[citation needed]

At a range of around 2,000 yd (1,800 m) Atlantis shelled Automedon, ceasing fire after three minutes during which she had destroyed her bridge, accommodation, and lifeboats. Six crew members were killed and 12 injured.

The Germans boarded the stricken ship and broke into the strong room, where they found 15 bags of Top Secret mail for the British Far East Command, including a large quantity of decoding tables, fleet orders, gunnery instructions, and naval intelligence reports. After wasting an hour breaking open the ship's safe, to discover only "a few shillings in cash", a search of the Automedon's chart room found a small weighted green bag marked "Highly Confidential" containing the Chief of Staff's report to the Commander in Chief Far East, Robert Brooke Popham. The bag was supposed to be thrown overboard if there was risk of loss, but the personnel responsible for this had been killed or incapacitated. The report contained the latest assessment of the Japanese Empire's military strength in the Far East, along with details of Royal Air Force units, naval strength, and notes on Singapore's defences [4]:117. It painted a gloomy picture of British land and naval capabilities in the Far East, and declared that Britain was too weak to risk war with Japan.

Automedon was sunk at 15:07. Rogge soon realised the importance of the intelligence material he had captured and quickly transferred the documents onto the recently acquired prize vessel Ole Jacob, ordering Lieutenant Commander Paul Kamenz and six of his crew to take charge of the vessel. After an uneventful voyage they arrived in Kobe, Japan on 4 December 1940.

The mail reached the German embassy in Tokyo on 5 December, and was then hand-carried to Berlin via the Trans-Siberian railway. A copy was given to the Japanese where it provided valuable intelligence prior to their commencing hostilities against the Western Powers. Rogge was rewarded for this with an ornate katana Samurai sword; the only other Germans so honored were Hermann Goering and Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.

After reading the captured Chief of Staff's report, on 7 January 1941 Japanese Admiral Yamamoto wrote to the Naval Minister asking whether, if Japan knocked out America, the remaining British and Dutch forces would be suitably weakened for the Japanese to deliver a deathblow: the Automedon intelligence on the weakness of the British Empire is credibly linked with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the attack leading to the fall of Singapore[6][7].

At 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 southernmost of all German war graves" [4]:134.

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 Brøvig was relieved of her fuel. The fuel was used not only for the German raider, but also to refuel the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer and, on 29 March the Italian submarine Perla. Perla was making its way from the port of Massawa in Italian East Africa, around the Cape of Good Hope, to Bordeaux in France.


By April, Atlantis had returned to the Atlantic where, on April 17, Rogge, 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 (5.2 mi). 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.[citation needed] Murphy's account of the incident, as well as photos by Scherman, were in the June 23 issue of Life.


After the German battleship 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.[2]:185–7 En route, Atlantis encountered and sank the British ships Rabaul, Trafalgar, Tottenham, and Balzac. On 10 September, east of New Zealand, Atlantis captured the Norwegian motor vessel Silvaplana.

Atlantis then patrolled the South Pacific,[8] 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 uninhabited Henderson islands, making a landing on Henderson Island. The seaplane from Atlantis made several fruitless reconnaissance flights. Atlantis headed back to the Atlantic on 19 October, 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 (500 mi) 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 13 November. On 21 or 22 November, Atlantis rendezvoused with U-126 and Kapitänleutnant Ernst Bauer came aboard to take a bath. Around this time Kapitänleutnant Ulrich Mohr, Rogge's adjutant, is reported to have woken from a recurring nightmare about a three-funneled British cruiser.[2]:208

Sunk and sunk again

Early on the morning of 22 November Atlantis was intercepted by British heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire of the 3-funnel County class. U-126 dived, leaving her captain behind. There is dispute as to whether Rogge ordered his ship to stop engines. [4]:190 At 08:40, Atlantis transmitted a raider report posing as the Dutch ship Polyphemus, but by 09:34 Devonshire had received confirmation that this was false[9]. From 14–15 km (8.7–9.3 mi) away, outside the range of Atlantis's 150 mm (5.9 in) guns, she opened fire.

After 20–30 seconds, salvos of 8 in (200 mm) shells began to reach Atlantis; the second and third salvos hit 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 U-126 resurfaced and picked up 300 Germans and a wounded American prisoner, whom it began carrying or towing to Brazil (1,500 km (930 mi) west). Two days later the German refueling ship Python arrived and took on the sailors. On 1 December, while Python was refueling two submarines, the third of the British cruisers seeking the raiders, HMS Dorsetshire, appeared. The U-boats dived immediately, and Python's crew scuttled her; Dorsetshire departed and it was left to the U-boats to recover the crew. Eventually various German and Italian submarines took Rogge's crew back to Germany.

Raiding career

Ships sunk or captured by Atlantis[2]:Frontispiece
Name Type Nationality Date Displacement Fate
Scientist Freighter  United Kingdom 3 May 1940 6,200 t Sunk
Tirrana Freighter  Norway 10 June 1940 7,230 t Captured
City of Baghdad Freighter  United Kingdom 11 July 1940 7,505 t Sunk
Kemmndine Passenger liner  United Kingdom 13 July 1940 7,770 t Sunk
Talleyrand Motor vessel  Norway 2 August 1940 6,730 t Sunk
King City Freighter  United Kingdom 24 August 1940 4,745 t Sunk
Athelking Tanker  United Kingdom 9 September 1940 9,550 t Sunk
Benarty Freighter  United Kingdom 10 September 1940 5,800 t Sunk
Commisaire Ramel Passenger liner 22x20px France 20 September 1940 10,060 t Sunk
Durmitor Freighter 22x20px Kingdom of Yugoslavia 22 October 1940 5,620 t Captured
Teddy Tanker  Norway 9 November 1940 6,750 t Sunk
Ole Jacob Tanker  Norway 10 November 1940 8,305 t Captured
Automedon Freighter  United Kingdom 11 November 1940 7,530 t Sunk
Mandasor Freighter  United Kingdom 24 January 1941 5,145 t Sunk
Speybank Freighter  United Kingdom 31 January 1941 5,150 t Captured
Ketty Brøvig Freighter  Norway 2 February 1941 7,300 t Captured
Zamzam Passenger liner 22x20px Egypt 17 April 1941 8,300 t Sunk
Rabaul Freighter  United Kingdom 14 May 1941 6,810 t Sunk
Trafalgar Freighter  United Kingdom 24 May 1941 4,530 t Sunk
Tottenham Freighter  United Kingdom 17 June 1941 4,760 t Sunk
Balzac Freighter  United Kingdom 23 June 1941 5,375 t Sunk
Silvaplana Motor vessel  Norway 10 September 1941 4,790 t Captured
Total: 145,960 t


  1. Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1922-1946
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Ulrich Mohr as told to Arthur V. Sellwood (1955 (2nd printing)). Ship 16: The Story of the Secret German Raider Atlantis. T. Werner Laurie Ltd., London. 
  3. Muggenthaler, August Karl German Raiders of World War II Prentice-Hall, 1977, ISBN 0133540278, p16
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Rogge, Bernhard The German Raider Atlantis, Ballantine, 1956
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Hilfskreuzer (Auxiliary Cruiser / Raider) Atlantis - The History
  6. The sinking of Automedon
  7. Seki, Eiji. (2006). 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.
  8. "Part 1—Royal New Zealand Navy". New Zealand Electronic Text Centre. 
  9. HMS Devonshire 1929-1954, Neil McCart

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.
  • Swanson, S. Hjalmar (editor) Zamzam: The Story of a Strange Missionary Odyssey 1941.
  • Woodward, David The Secret Raiders;: The Story of the German Armed Merchant Raiders in the Second World War W.W. Norton, 1955.

Coordinates: 4°12′0″S 18°42′0″W / 4.2°S 18.7°W / -4.2; -18.7

bg:Атлантис (спомагателен крайцер) de:Atlantis (Hilfskreuzer) el:Ατλαντίς (καταδρομικό) es:Atlantis (HSK 2) fr:Atlantis (croiseur) it:Atlantis (HSK 2) he:אטלנטיס (סיירת עזר) ja:アトランティス (仮装巡洋艦) no:«Atlantis» (1939) pl:HSK Atlantis ru:Атлантис (вспомогательный крейсер)