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The Wolf : how one German raider terrorized…

The Wolf : how one German raider terrorized the Allies in the most epic… (alkuperäinen julkaisuvuosi 2009; vuoden 2010 painos)

– tekijä: Richard Guilliatt, Peter Hohnen

JäseniäKirja-arvostelujaSuosituimmuussijaKeskimääräinen arvioMaininnat
1538137,789 (4.16)14
During World War I, a young Australian family sails across the Pacific from San Francisco to Sydney. Less than a thousand miles from Sydney, a freighter appears out of the emptiness. She is in fact the German warship the Wolf, and the family are about to find themselves captive on one of the century's most extraordinary wartime sea voyages.… (lisätietoja)
Teoksen nimi:The Wolf : how one German raider terrorized the Allies in the most epic voyage of WWI
Kirjailijat:Richard Guilliatt
Muut tekijät:Peter Hohnen
Info:New York : Free Press, 2010.
Kokoelmat:Aion lukea
Arvio (tähdet):

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The Wolf: How One German Raider Terrorized the Allies in the Most Epic Voyage of WWI (tekijä: Richard Guilliatt) (2009)


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Although she was technically SMS Wolf II, the original Wolf was forgotten after she broke her back on a sandbar in the Elbe. She was painted all black, which makes me wonder if she was the inspiration for “the Black Freighter” in Kurt Weill’s Pirate Jenny (well, the English translation; it’s a sailing ship, not a black freighter, in the original German). Four coal-fired boilers, a single screw – and seven 150mm naval cannon, four trainable torpedo tubes, 465 contact mines, and a seaplane. It was just a little odd that Fregattenkapitän Karl Nerger received the assignment – he was something of an outcast in the Imperial Navy, since he came from a middle class background and had formed a liaison with a woman of even lower social class – the daughter of a dockyard worker. Even though they had four children, he was not allowed to marry her.

The Wolf was packed with the latest radio receiving equipment; Nerger intended to use it to track down potential targets. However, he maintained absolute radio silence – there’s no evidence Wolf even had a transmitter on board – so once she left her escort in November 1916, there was no further word from her – at least, as far as the Germans were concerned – until she returned to Kiel in February 1918; in fact, the military had just sent out letters informing all the next of kin of her loss at sea.

Australian authors Richard Guilliatt and Peter Hohnen have done a great job of documenting the Wolf’s cruise, with three major themes – the performance of the Wolf and her crew; the lives of the prisoners on board (at one point, the Wolf carried several hundred – exact numbers unknown although all the known names are listed in an appendix); and the reaction of Allied authorities on shore.

The Wolf’s principal mission was minelaying. She laid her first minefield Cape Town, then Bombay, then Colombo, then Sydney, then two off New Zealand, then her final mines off Singapore. The mines sank or damaged 16 ships (plus killing a number of people on shore who got excessively curious when they washed up; the last known mine – up to now – from the Wolf came on shore in New Zealand in 2008). The Wolf captured and sunk 12 other ships; one was outfitted with a prize crew and sent to mine the approaches to Aden but was in turn captured before she could do anything, and another – the Igotz Mendi - was sent back to Kiel with a load of prisoners but ran aground in Denmark and was interned by the Danes. The Wolf took extensive advantage her prizes cargoes, victualing and coaling (although by the end large numbers of her crew and prisoners were suffering from scurvy or beriberi or both). By the end of the voyage, Nerger was having severe problems with his crew; word of the Kiel mutinies had leaked out, plus Nerger’s decision to take the Wolf back to Germany was thought to be suicidal – the crew wanted him to put into a neutral port and be interned. (As it happened, Nerger’s luck held; the British were reorganizing the blockade the week the Wolf transited the North Sea and she didn’t even see a British warship).

Many of the prisoners developed the Stockholm Syndrome, identifying more closely with their captors than the other prisoners. This became especially true after the Wolf captured a Japanese passenger liner, the Hitachi Maru; even though the Japanese were nominally Allies, racism was pretty rampant in 1917 and fistfights broke out between the prisoners. Women were also a problem; there were nine female prisoners on board, some of whom took advantage of the attentions of 400+ German crewmen. Mrs. Rose Flood, wife of another prisoner, was denounced as “a beast of the lowest” by Miss Agnes Mackenzie because of her flirtations with German officers; however, the fortyish Miss Mackenzie developed her own coterie of admirers and reportedly did rather more than just flirt. Mary Cameron, taken off the American sailing ship Beluga in 1917, was left alone, possibly because she became seriously ill shortly after her capture and lost all her hair and because her husband Stan (the Beluga’s captain) was constantly in attendance; however the couple’s 6-year-old daughter Juanita quickly became a crew favorite, to the extent that they made toys for her for Christmas (the Wolf’s seaplane pilot explained that he had intercepted Santa Claus in midair and taken delivery as Santa was too busy to land on the Wolf). A further prisoner may also have been involved in romantic situations, although Guilliatt and Hohnen don’t mention it; when Gerald Haxton, notorious lover of novelist Somerset Maugham, was first seen through binoculars on the deck of Hitachi Maru, he was wearing a kimono, pink silk pantaloons with lace trim, silk stockings and patent leather boots with rosettes. Haxton apparently changed into more conventional male attire before actually coming aboard Wolf.

The prisoner’s life on the Wolf was pretty rough; the men were confined in one of the coal holds, which soon became pretty interesting from combination of tropical heat, tobacco smoke, and human effluvia. Nerger was reluctant to allow prisoners much time on deck; since most of them were sailors he was afraid they would figure out Wolf’s characteristics and position and somehow get word to the Allies. In fact, one of them did exactly that – Tom Meadows, captain of the Matunga, captured while taking supplies to the Australia military garrison in Rabaul, – obtained empty bottles, wrote notes with his best estimate of Wolf’s position, and discretely dropped them overboard. One of these was eventually discovered and aided in sweeping the Wolf’s minefields.

Nevertheless, most of the prisoners agreed after the war that their treatment on the Wolf had been the best Nerger could manage under the circumstances, and a few looked up former Wolf crewmen in the 1920s and reminisced.

The reaction of the Allied naval commands is reminiscent of various more recent outbreaks of official imbecility – they absolutely refused to believe there was a German raider on the loose. Mine explosions were attributed to “infernal devices” smuggled onboard the victims by German sympathizers. Even when divers investigated some of the ships sunk in shallow water, and reported the explosions definitely originated outside the ship and were much too large to be caused by any device that could be conceivably smuggled aboard, officials insisted that the mines had been assembled on shore and transported out by small boats. A naturalized Australian fisherman was repeatedly denounced by his neighbors (who also happened to be fishermen); although two investigations concluded that there was nothing in the reports the third concluded that many complaints must mean something and he was interned. The news media, as usual, didn’t help much; newspapers vied for offering rewards for the capture of the “saboteurs”; published as credible reports of uniformed German soldiers marching around the Australian bush and German aircraft flying over Sydney (although the Wolf had a seaplane, it was under repair while she was cruising off Australia); and demanded that all naturalized Germans and “German sympathizers” be rounded up. Ship captures were attributed to anything but a raider; the Matunga’s disappearance, for example, was supposedly caused by a submarine earthquake. Even after the Allied navies concluded that there was really a raider afloat, they withheld this information from the press and public; merchant ships in the area continued to transmit in the clear which assisted Wolf in a couple of captures. The main success of the Wolf was not in the actual captures and minings, but the enormous panic and confusion caused in the Allied war effort.

Although Nerger returned to a hero’s welcome – Germany being a little short of heroes in 1918 – it didn’t last. He was finally allowed to marry to the mother of his children, by the Kaiser’s personal intervention, but he remained a captain while other raider captains with considerably less success were promoted to admiral. He did receive command of the Baltic minesweeping squadron – not exactly a plum job. After the war he got a job with Siemens as a security manager; his politics are uncertain or at least glossed over by Guilliatt and Hohnen, but he may have been involved in some of Siemen’s slave labor camps. He was captured and imprisoned by Soviets, and eventually beaten to death at age 77 for refusing to surrender his shoes to another camp inmate.

A fine, well-narrated and interesting book, thoroughly researched. The authors provide a map of Wolf’s cruise, a detailed map of her activities off Australia, New Zealand, and the Solomons, a detailed ship diagram, what must be the few surviving photographs, appendices listing the Wolf’s specifications, all her successes, every crew member (there was a Rabe on board), and every identified prisoner. Minor annoyance – Australia’s been metric for years, but presumably in deference to the American market Wolf’s dimensions are given in feet, her voyages in miles, and her guns are 5.9 inches. ( )
1 ääni setnahkt | Dec 31, 2017 |
One of the best books I have read. A great yarn and great history. ( )
  Goebte | Jun 21, 2015 |
Excellent book, really enjoyed it, I don't come across many books with a 1st war theme, made a nice change from the pile of 2nd world war books that I see in the library at work. The flow of the book was fine, and easy to follow, I was interested right up to the end of the book. Well worth a read, will certainty look for more work from this author. ( )
  Claire5555 | Jan 13, 2015 |
By turns this book is charming, educational, cute, horrifying, riveting, and funny. Though it is a historical account, it has a more coherent story and cast of characters than many novels I've read.

Strangely, I spent much of this book about a warship hoping that nobody would be shot (and in most cases my hopes were justified). Most of the times, my hopes were fulfilled. ( )
  wishanem | Oct 16, 2013 |
The WWI-era German ship "Wolf" was a black-painted merchant raider that cruised the world's oceans for over a year. Never coming home to port it fed off the carcases of its victims, stealing coal and food on the run like a high seas Bonnie and Clyde, leaving only minefields behind. Hundreds of civilians were taken from Allied ships and held in the Wolf's festering hold so they would not reveal the raiders mission. The motley assembly of crew and prisoners became a microcosm of the world circa 1917, a metaphor for understanding the times. We see nuanced relationships develop between the Germans and their prisoners, strict propriety was maintained between classes, sometimes leading to hilarious situations. German Navy sailors acted as waiters who served white table-cloth meals to upper-class British prisoners as if on a 5-star cruise, suffering their charges abuses about the quality of service, while keeping the lower class citizens below in the sweltering hold barely supplied. Not unlike the Titanic or Christmas truce, this story will stick with you for the depiction of civil behavior under brutal circumstances, sometimes to bizarre extremes. ( )
2 ääni Stbalbach | Oct 6, 2011 |
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During World War I, a young Australian family sails across the Pacific from San Francisco to Sydney. Less than a thousand miles from Sydney, a freighter appears out of the emptiness. She is in fact the German warship the Wolf, and the family are about to find themselves captive on one of the century's most extraordinary wartime sea voyages.

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