German hospital ship Ophelia

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Career (Germany) War Ensign of Germany
Name: Ophelia
Operator: Imperial German Navy
Route: 1912-14 Hamburg London Linie
1914 Imperial German Navy Hospital ship [1]
Builder: Flensburger Schiffsbau Gesellschaft [1]
Completed: 1912 [1]
Fate: Seized by British naval forces on October 17, 1914
Career (UK) 60px
Name: SS Huntly
Fate: Torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat UB-10 .75 miles (1.21 km) off the Boulogne LV on December 21, 1915.[2]
General characteristics
Tonnage: 1,153 [1]

German hospital ship Ophelia was a steam ship originally built by a German shipping company, but requisitioned for use as a Imperial German Navy hospital ship during the First World War. After being viewed acting suspiciously, the Ophelia was boarded on October 17, 1914 and seized by the Royal Navy for violating the Hague Convention X of 1907 concerning hospital ships.


On October 17, 1914 a number of German torpedo boats were destroyed during the Battle off Texel by the British cruiser, HMS Undaunted, while laying mines off Haak lightship.[3] German command sent out a hospital ship to supposedly search for survivors. Suspicion were aroused when British intelligence learned that Ophelia was using a wireless radio set[4], at that time unusual for a hospital ship, to communicate with the German wireless base at Norddeich station. In addition to using wireless radio she was using coded wireless transmissions; secret codes or their use are forbidden on hospital ships.[4]

While in the area British submarine, HMS D8, shadowed the German ship.[5] When the Ophelia noticed the sub she began to flee the area further raising suspicions as her supposed task of searching for German survivors was not completed. Under Article four of the Hague Convention X hospital ships cannot be seized but they can be inspected by enemy craft. Therefore the Ophelia had nothing to fear from the British sub and had no reason to run unless she had something to hide.[6]

The HMS Meteor was sent to investigate the ship.[2] As it approached for boarding and inspection it was observed that her commander, Dr. Pfeiffer, threw overboard a number of documents and secret codes.[3][7]

Reasons for seizure

The British Admiralty seized the Ophelia as a prize of war and not a hospital ship covered by the Hague convention because of the following reasons:

  • Dumping of documents by the crew, sending a coded message before the boarding and the destruction of the ships wireless set.[4][8]
  • The ship was not included in the list of hospital ships that were exchanged at the start of the war.[9]

Another reason cited as to cast doubt on her status as a hospital ship was that it had an enormous number of Verey lights on board. Fired from special pistols Verey lights can be used as signal devices. The Ophelia had 600 green, 480 red and 140 white lights and all records of how much she had before the seizure were destroyed before boarding. As comparison a British hospital ship, which saw much more action, stocked about 12 lights of each color.[6]

German response

Germany was able to use the seizure of the Ophelia to later justify its attacks on hospital ships:

On October 17, 1914 ... we sent out the hospital ship Ophelia to pick up any survivors. However, the English captured her and made her prize, charging us with having sent her for scouting purposes, although she was obviously fitted up as a hospital ship and bore all the requisite markings. we also considered ourselves released from our obligations and with far more justification took action against hospital ships which, under cover of the Red Cross flag, were patently used for the transport of troops.


The British renamed the ship SS Huntley transporting fuel from Portishead to Boulogne. On December 21, 1915 she was torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat UB-10 .75 miles (1.21 km) off the Boulogne LV.[1][2]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 "Kirsten - The Fleets". The Ships List. 2009. Retrieved September 3, 2009. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Huntly". 2009. Retrieved September 3, 2009. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Hold German Hospital Ship" (PDF). The New York Times. May 22, 1915. Retrieved September 2, 2009. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Dieter Fleck, Michael Bothe. The handbook of humanitarian law in armed conflicts (1999 ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 479; Clause: 1058. ISBN 0198298676.  - Total pages: 589
  5. "HM Submarine D8". March 21, 2009. Retrieved September 3, 2009. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Frederick Edwin Smith Birkenhead. Famous Trials of History (2003 ed.). Kessinger Publishing. p. 273. ISBN 0766161676.  - Total pages: 316
  7. Thomas E Beam, Linette Sparacino. Military Medical Ethics, Volume 2 (when ed.). DIANE Publishing. p. 750. ISBN 1428910662. 
  8. "Convention (II) for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea. Geneva, 12 August 1949.". International Committee of the Red Cross. 2009. Retrieved September 3, 2009. 
  9. "The Ophelia's status" (PDF). The New York Times. November 6, 1914. Retrieved September 2, 2009. 
  10. Sir Andrew Macphail (February 28, 2000). "Royal Canadian Naval Medical Service". Great War Primary Documents Archive, Inc.. Retrieved September 2, 2009. 

External links