SMS Cormoran (1909)

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SMS Cormoran
Career (German Empire) 44px
Name: SMS Cormoran aka SMS Cormoran II
Namesake: SMS Cormoran I
Builder: Schichau Yard at Elbing
Launched: 1909 as SS Ryaezan
Acquired: captured by SMS Emden
Commissioned: 10 August 1914 as SMS Cormoran II
Fate: scuttled at Apra Harbor, Guam on 7 April 1917
General characteristics
Displacement: 3,500 tons
Speed: 17 knots (31.5 km/h)
Armament: Eight 10.5 cm (4.1 in) rapid fire guns (10 x 1)
SMS Cormoran
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
Location: Apra Harbor
Nearest city: Piti, Guam[1]
Coordinates: 13°27′33″N 144°39′15″E / 13.45917°N 144.65417°E / 13.45917; 144.65417Coordinates: 13°27′33″N 144°39′15″E / 13.45917°N 144.65417°E / 13.45917; 144.65417
Built/Founded: 1909[1]
Governing body: US Department of the Interior
Added to NRHP: April 4, 1975
NRHP Reference#: 75002156

SMS Cormoran or SMS Cormoran II was built at Danzig, Germany in 1909 for the Russian merchant fleet and named SS Ryaezan (Rjasan or Rjäsan). She was used by imperial Russia as a combination passenger, cargo and mail carrier on North Pacific routes.

SS Ryaezan was captured southeast of the Korean peninsula by the light cruiser SMS Emden on 4 August 1914 as the first prize of the war with the Russian empire.[2] The SS Ryaezan was taken to Tsingtao in the German colony Kiautschou and converted to an armed merchant raider and renamed SMS Cormoran II. The “new” Cormoran replaced a small, shallow draft cruiser of the same name that had a long imperial navy career in the Pacific Ocean and had participated in the events that brought Kiautschou into the German colonial empire in 1897/1898. The small ship was now laid up at Tsingtao with serious maintenance issues. All armaments from this old Cormoran were transferred and mounted on the captured Russian ship.

On 10 August 1914 the "new" Cormoran or Cormoran II left Tsingtao harbor and sailed throughout the South Pacific region, spending all of her time avoiding Allied warships pursuing her all through the Pacific. On 14 December 1914 Cormoran II finally pulled into Apra Harbor in the United States Territory of Guam with only 50 tons of coal remaining in her bunkers.

Due to strained diplomatic relations between the United States and Germany and the limited amount of coal stored at Guam, the local military governor refused to supply Cormoran with more than a token amount of coal. Thus, the ship was forced into internment on Guam. Over the next two years the crew became guests of the Guamanians, and relations were very good. Eventually, the crew moved off the ship and settled into routine life ashore.

With the American war entry against Germany on 7 April 1917, captain Adalbert Zuckschwerdt scuttled the ship. The naval forces at Guam took note of the German crew preparing to sink the ship and fired a shot over the bow of Cormoran II, which is often cited as the first shot fired by the U.S. military in World War I. Nine crew members perished during the scuttling of the ship and were buried with full military honors in the naval cemetery at Agana. The U.S. Navy conducted a limited salvage operation of the sunken ship. Cormoran II’s bell was recovered and is exhibited today at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum at Annapolis, Maryland. Other artifacts have been removed by divers over the years.

The remainder of the German crew was then sent to Fort Douglas, Utah and others were transferred to Fort McPherson, Georgia for the duration of the war. They were finally returned home to Germany on 7 October 1919.

The SMS Cormoran II has another unusual claim. She rests 110 feet (34 m) below the waters of Apra harbor on her port side, with the Japanese cargo ship Tokai Maru leaning against her screw. It is one of the few places where divers can explore a ship from World War I next to a ship from World War II.[3]

The shipwreck was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.[4] The ship was listed because of its association with the history of World War I [5]

List of Crew Members

  • Wilhelm Hermann Grallert, Lindenau, Kreis Landeshut, Niederschlesien, Prussia


  1. 1.0 1.1 NPS Archeology Program: Abandoned Shipwreck Act Guidelines
  2. van der Vat, Gentlemen of War, p. 36
  3. "Tokai Maru Shipwreck in Guam". Micronesian Divers Association. Retrieved 2007-11-27. 
  4. "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2008-10-25. 
  5. Lotz, David T. (1974). SMS Cormoran National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service. 
  • Burdick, Charles Burton (1979). The Frustrated Raider: The Story of the German Cruiser Cormoran in World War I. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. ISBN 9780809308996. OCLC 4194620. 
  • Van der Vat, Dan (1984). Gentlemen of War, The Amazing Story of Captain Karl von Müller and the SMS Emden. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.. ISBN 0-688-03115-3. 
  • Ward, Herbert T. (1970). Flight of the Cormoran. New York: Vantage Press. OCLC 99260. 

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