SMS Wolf : World War I’s Greatest Raider

SMS Wolf : World War I’s Greatest Raider

SMS Wolf : World War I’s Greatest Raider One of World War I‘s greatest untold stories is that of the German commerce raider SMS Wolf. Wolf was a merchant ship that had been converted into a military combat vessel. 

Her weapons were well disguised with false sides so that enemies would be surprised at the last moment that they were actually being attacked by Wolf. Furthermore she had great ability for disguise beyond concealing her weapons, she had funnels that could be raised to create the impression of being a cargo liner carrying citizens. 

Unsuspecting ships would not think of her as a war vessel. 

One of her weaknesses was a very slow cruising speed of just 8 knots with an 11 knot max speed, as she was not designed as a military vessel.

However she made up for this with great range. Wolf could carry 8,000 pounds of coal allowing her an amazingly long cruising distance without needing refuel. Wolf’s total range was over 32,000 nautical miles or 59,000 km and her engines would burn 35 pounds of coal daily.

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Wolf was well armed with 6x 5.9 inch guns along with a carrying capacity of nearly 500 mines. In fact half of the boats Wolf took out were from her mines that she laid throughout South Asia and the Indian Ocean.

One of Wolf’s most deadly assets was a two-seater seaplane that she could deploy to spot neighboring vessels ripe for the taking. 

Because of the Royal Navy’s blockade during the war on Germany’s Atlantic cargo transports, Germany was in dire need of metals and materials. Wolf was very useful in this endeavor and any coal she seized she could use for her own storage. 

On November 30th, 1916, Wolf disembarked from her home port of Kiel, Germany with a full crew of 348 men.

SM U-66 would be her only escort vessel throughout World War 1’s longest military voyage, leaving her after Wolf made it to the North Atlantic.

From the North of Scotland she sailed until the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, where she started her military work and began laying mines. 

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Wolf’s record-setting commerce take would include 27 (14 boarded and sunk, 13 by her mines) vessels and over 110,000 tons of supplies during an epic 451 days at sea. When Wolf did return to her home port of Kiel, she had 467 prisoners of war. 

Her captain, Karl August Nerger (pictured below) would go on to be awarded Germany’s highest medal for service, the: Pour le Mérite.

DateShipTypeNationalityTonnage GRTFate
27.1.17Turritella, ex GutenfelsFreighterBritish (captured, ex German)5.528commissioned as Auxiliary Minelayer Iltis;
scuttled to avoid capture 15.3.17
1.3.17JumnaFreighterBritish4,152Sunk
11.3.17WordsworthFreighterBritish3,509Sunk
30.3.17DeeSailing shipBritish1,169Sunk
2.6.17WairunaFreighterBritish3,947Sunk
16.6.17WinslowSailing shipUS567Sunk
9.7.17BelugaSailing shipUS507Sunk
14.7.17EncoreSailing shipUS651Sunk
6.8.17SS MatungaFreighterAustralian1,618Sunk
26.9.17Hitachi MaruFreighterJapanese6,557Sunk
10.11.17Igotz MendiFreighterSpanish4,648retained as prize;
wrecked on Danish coast 24.2.18
30.11.17John H KirbySailing shipUS1,296Sunk
15.12.17Marechal DavoutSailing shipFrench2,192Sunk
4.1.18StorebrorSailing shipNorwegian2,050Sunk
Vessels Wolf seized and boarded, then later sunk.
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DateShipTypeNationalityTonnage GRTLocation
26.1.17MatheranFreighterBritish7,654Cape Town
12.2.17CiliciaFreighterBritish3,750Cape Town
26.5.17Carlos de EizaguirreFreighterSpanish4,350Cape Town
10.8.17City of ExeterFreighterBritish5,604Cape Town
17.2.17WorcestershireFreighterBritish7,175Colombo
21.2.17PerseusFreighterBritish6,728Colombo
16.6.17Unkai MaruFreighterJapanese2,143Bombay
24.6.17MongoliaFreighterBritish9,505Bombay
29.7.17OkhlaFreighterBritish5,288Bombay
17.11.17Croxteth HallFreighterBritish5,872Bombay
26.6.18WimmeraFreighterAustralian3,622New Zealand
6.7.17CumberlandFreighterBritish9,471Australia
18.9.17Port KemblaFreighterBritish4,700New Zealand
Sunk by Wolf’s mines

SMS Wolf : World War I’s Greatest Raider

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