SMS Konigsberg

World War 1 Naval Combat

World War 1 Naval Combat

Site Search

Contact Me

Konigsberg Königsberg before the war.  She was forced into the Rufiji river for engine repairs, a common problem for the other German cruisers based overseas.  They had to steam long distances without access to dock facilities and their performance suffered accordingly. At the Battle of the Falklands German cruisers failed to outrun nominally slower British ships.  The British had access to a much greater network of world-wide dock facilities which enabled their ships to be better maintained.

SMS Königsberg (Commander Max Looff) was based at Dar es Salaam capital of German East Africa in June 1914.  British naval forces in the area were the pre 1900 cruisers Astraea, Hyacinth and Pegasus under the command of Rear-Admiral King-Hall.

On August 6 two days after the outbreak of WW1 Königsberg captured the City of Winchester in the Gulf of Aden and scuttled it five days later having removed coal and supplies. The first British Merchant ship casualty of the war.

Two days later HMS Astraea attacked Dar es Salaam destroying the wireless station and damaging port facilities but more importantly the Harbour Master panicked and sank a dry dock across the entrance blocking in a number of merchant vessels except the collier Somali which had sailed earlier.

Königsberg coaled from Somali until supplies ran out after which she took refuge five miles up the Rufiji River delta to await a further consignment.  Meanwhile HMS Pegasus put in to Zanzibar to overhaul her boilers, news of which was relayed to Königsberg.  On 19 September she left her lair and sailed for Zanzibar where early the following morning she sighted the armed tug Helmuth patrolling the harbour.   Königsberg fired two rounds to scare off the tug and then at 11,000 yards opened fire on the stationary Pegasus. Although Pegasus returned fire the battle was over within forty five minutes. Pegasus caught fire and sank later that day with the loss of 38 lives and 55 wounded.

Königsberg left the scene proposing to return to Germany but a serious engine failure caused her to return to the Rufiji to undertake repairs.  The Germans set up a warning system of look out posts and gun emplacements around the mouth of the delta linked by telegraph lines to guard against landings and small boat attacks.

HMS Pegasus after the attack by Königsberg. She was at the time of her sinking,   outdated, slow and poorly armed and even if she had not been surprised at anchor when attacked she would still have been easy prey for the more powerful German cruiser. Ships of the Pelorus Class were fitted with a variety of boilers to verify their performance. When new the class generally exceeded their designed speed of 20 knots and were fast for their day but by WWI their speed was reduced to 16 knots while modern cruisers were at least 10 knots faster. All the ships of this class were due for disposal in 1915 had war not been declared. Pegasus

The British sent the modern cruisers Chatham, Dartmouth and Weymouth with Captain Drury-Lowe of Chatham in charge of the hunt.

On September 30 Chatham was near the small offshore island of Komu when a shore party of armed men including Europeans was sighted.  A few shells from the cruiser caused them to flee and a landing party found part of the German warning and supply network.   Information from this landing and later in the month from the merchant/hospital ship Prasident at Lindi indicated Königsberg was at Salale.  On October 30 Chatham landed armed parities at the river delta and captured some locals who confirmed that Königsberg and Somali were upstream at Salale.

On November 1 Chatham fired on Somali at 14,500 yards and set fire to the ship which burnt out and became a total loss. Königsberg responded by moved further upstream.

The British charts of the river delta were poor making the risk of grounding in the shallow delta too great for the deeper draft of the Chatham.  Two days later Weymouth and Dartmouth arrived, Dartmouth was low on coal and moved closer inshore but Königsberg was out of range.

The British decided to blockade the cruiser in the delta by sinking the collier Newbridge across the main channel of the delta.  She was escorted in to the river mouth on 10 November while the cruisers bombarded the shore defences.  Newbridge moved upstream with the armed steamer Duplex to rescue the crew, a steam picket ship armed with two 14 inch torpedoes to sink Newbridge if her scuttling charges failed and three cutters armed with machine guns and rifles as escort.  As dawn broke the Newbridge was sighted and the German shore defences opened fire the British returning fire.  Twenty minutes later Newbridge anchored across the channel and was scuttled, her crew being rescued.

Shortly after the sinking of the Newbridge the navy acquired a civilian Curtis flying boat from Durban piloted by Denis Cutler in order to locate Königsberg with a view to bombing the ship. The first flight on 19 November failed to find the raider and the aircraft was shot down.  HMS Fox was sent to Mombasa to acquire a Ford car radiator to replace the damaged one from the Curtiss.  On 22 November the second flight spotted the cruiser and revealed that she had moved upstream again.  The seaplane was severely damaged on landing but by 3 December the Curtiss flew again with spares cannibalised from another seaplane.  A week later the plane was shot down and Cutler taken prisoner.  The aircraft was a total loss.

The British Admiralty sent a RNAS Expeditionary Squadron under the command of Lt. Cull consisting of two Sopwith 920 seaplanes and twenty men. The squadron arrived off the delta on 20 February. The planes could in theory carry a pilot, observer and bombs but in the hot climate this proved impossible and during testing one of the planes was wrecked.

In early March King-Hall arrived in the pre-dreadnought HMS Goliath to take over the operation and to see if the 12 inch guns of Goliath could reach Königsberg.  They couldn't.  Three additional decrepit Short Folder seaplanes arrived which enabled the flights to continue to monitor Königsberg as she moved further upstream but were totally incapable of carrying bombs. One plane being shot down with the pilot surviving.

As the delta was too shallow to permit large well armed vessels access it was decided to sink Königsberg using shallow water gunboats and so the monitors Severn and Mersey were towed from Malta.  The two ships did not arrive until early June.  After a month of preparation, they entered the river on 6 July using the northern entrance whilst Weymouth lead a diversion from one of the southern channels.

As daylight broke the German shore defences opened fire but were little threat to the monitors. About half an hour later the monitors reached their position and anchored near Gengeni Island five miles down stream from the raider.  Königsberg fired first, targeting via shore spotters, the monitors replying using spotter aircraft.  The German cruiser found the range rapidly but took nearly an hour to score her first hit, disabling Mersey's forward 6 inch gun.  To throw off the German fire Mersey moved position and just after she moved a full salvo landed on her previous position.  A quarter of an hour later the British scored their first hit, knocking out one of Königsberg's guns and then scoring another six hits in the next fifteen minutes.

Königsberg now targeted Severn, forcing her to move.  From her new position Severn spotted the German look out post in a tree and knocked it out.  After that Königsberg's fire deteriorated.  The British shooting was poor and uncoordinated, the spotter planes having difficulty targeting for two separate ships and after a further two hours of near stalemate the British withdrew, having fired over 600 rounds for only about twelve hits.

The next attack was set for 11 July, this time the spotting procedures had been improved with lessons from the last attack.  Mersey was to anchor in the same position as last time as a decoy whilst Severn went 1,000 yards upstream.  Königsberg didn't fall for the decoy and soon switched target from Mersey to Severn, her shooting being close but causing no damage.

Severn hit Königsberg after twelve minutes killing a gun crew and during the next ten minutes Severn repeatedly scored hits.  The aerial spotting was working well and the British fire was gradually "walked" along the length of the German cruiser.   One of the planes was hit by shrapnel and forced to crash land, the crew being picked up by Mersey.
During the next hour Severn repeatedly hit Königsberg, causing several secondary explosions. Mersey then moved past Severn upstream and she too hit the German on a regular basis.  With so much damage being inflicted on his ship and all guns out of action Loof gave the order to abandon ship and a scuttling charge sank the raider alongside the river bank.  Königsberg lost twenty three killed and thirty five wounded.  The wreck was heavily salvaged and all the guns used in the land campaign.  The remains were eventually broken up in 1962.

Severn HMS Severn, above, and Mersey were laid down as river monitors for Brazil but purchased by Britain when Brazil was unable to afford them and war broke out. Their low freeboard and shallow draft were not ideal for ocean operations and they were towed seven thousand miles from Britain via Malta by two tugs per monitor. With a designed speed of 12 knots they suffered from steering problems going astern owing to their shallow draft and never achieved the figures quoted. Severn and Mersey spent most of the war in East Africa before being towed back to the Mediterranean in 1917 and seeing service on the river Danube.

Copyright ©1998-2024