The German Navy of the First World War had been built to fight a major naval battle somewhere in the North Sea, but a handful of ships took part in a campaign against Allied shipping instead. These ships fell into three categories. The first were a number of purpose built warships, all cruisers, that happened to be serving on oversees stations when war broke out. Not all of the available cruisers were used against Allied shipping, so here we focus on the five that did at least some commerce raiding.
The second category was fast ocean liners that could be converted for use as auxiliary warships. Six of the liners selected for this role operated as surface raiders. Finally a number of merchant ships were converted into raiders, in the hope that their greater endurance would make them more effective than the liners. Here the author focuses on the three merchant ships that had some success as raiders, including one fully rigged sailing ship.
This feels very much like an overview or summary of the subject – many of these ships have entire books devoted to their exploits, but it is useful to have a complete set of summaries of their activities. Each section looks at the ship itself, the course it took during its raids, the individual ships that it captured, and its eventual fate. Each ship gets one or two pages of text, plus supporting illustrations, a mix of contemporary photos and modern artwork.
One gap that I do think should have been filled was to include those commerce raiders that failed to achieve anything – ships like the first Wolf, which ran aground on her first sortie. These successful ships wouldn't have needed that much space- perhaps just a list, and a sentence or two for each, but it would have completed the picture.
Otherwise this is a useful overview of German surface commerce raiding during the First World War.
German Naval Units Abroad in August 1914
SMS Cap Trafalgar
SMS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse
SMS Kronprinz Wilhelm
SMS Prinze Eitel Friedrich
Author: Ryan K. Noppen