There was a brief contact with the 7,421-ton Blue Funnel liner Troilus, which, on spotting the Atlantis, changed course and took off, while repeatedly transmitting that she was ‘suspicious’ on February 1, causing Rogge not to give chase.
Unbeknownst to him, this was his closest call yet, as the British immediately sent a task force, code-named Force K, to locate and intercept the raider which was fast becoming a thorn in their side, consisting of the 23,000-ton Illustrious-class fleet carrier HMS Formidable and the 9,800-ton heavy cruiser HMS Hawkins.
On finding the Troilus safe and sound both warships returned to base.
On the following evening Rogge stalked his next target for several hours, after which a searchlit banner, especially made for the occasion, that ordered the ship to stop and to refrain from using her radio was hung over the side of the raider.
Backed up by three 150mm salvos fired over her bridge, this strategy brought a medium-sized tanker to a halt, again without making any attempt to escape, resist or transmit distress signals.
The boarding party identified her as the 7,031-ton Norwegian Th. Brøvig line Ketty Brøvig, the first completely unarmed ship the Atlantis had come across, amidst scenes of wild panic among her predominantly Chinese crew, who were frantically throwing themselves overboard.
An ear-splitting roar was eminating from a severed steam line on the funnel, damaged during the attack, as lifeboats were literally being dumped into the sea.
Carrying a cargo of 6,370 tons of fuel oil and 4,125 tons of diesel oil from Bahrain to Lourenco Marques, and a crew of fifty-two, this was yet another suitable prize.
Next morning, with the steam-pipe repaired, part of her crew taken prisoner, and the rest, remaining on board as part of the prize-crew under Leutnant Fehler, she was sent to wait at rendezvous point ‘Oak Tree’.
Informing the SKL of his two prizes, Rogge requested permission to send the Speybank back to Europe, and proposed a meeting with his fellow raider Schiff 41 Kormoran (Kpt.z.S. Theodor Detmers) and the heavy cruiser Admiral Scheer in order that they might share the Ketty Brøvig’s cargo of fuel.
He was ordered to rendezvous with the supply ship Tannenfels and the Italian submarine Perla, both of which were running low in fuel, at position ‘Nelka’, and granted permission to rendezvous with the two warships, provided that the Admiral Scheer be re-fuelled from his own oil reserves, and not from the lower grade diesel fuel in the Ketty Brøvig’s tanks!
The Atlantis rendezvoused with the Speybank as planned on February 8, taking on some stores, before dispatching her to wait at position ‘Pineapple’, and met with the Ketty Brøvig on the following day.
On February 10, the supply-ship Tannenfels, her appearance showing ample evidence of having been bottled up in port in Somaliland since the beginning of the war, arrived, with Leutnant Dehnel and the Durmitor prize-crew on board.
Over the next forty-eight hours these four ships, each of which lacked certain vital comodities, and had others in abundance, remained together, while the procedure by which they would exchange essential supplies until all four were re-stocked in basic operational requirements, was planned and finalised.
Before this massive logistical task could be carried out, Rogge had his prisoners transferred to the Tannenfels, and recalled his demoliton expert Johann Fehler and his prize-crew from the Ketty Brøvig, replacing them with the more experienced Emil Dehnel and his crew.
By February 12, with all four ships re-stocked and ready to resume operations, Rogge led his small fleet south, to keep his appointment with the Admiral Scheer.
Two days later, at midday, in the middle of a violent storm, the unmistakable shape of a heavy cruiser was sighted, and the crew of the raider, hitherto unaware that they were about to rendezvous with a warship, heaved a collective sigh of relief when they finally recognised the Admiral Scheer as one of their own.
For their part, the crew of the Scheer were initially disappointed, when what they had first thought was a sitting-duck of a convoy, turned out to be Rogge’s flotilla, but their disappointment soon transformed into wild celebration and welcome.
Invited by Kapitän zur See Theodor Kranke, to come on board as soon as the weather and the heavy seas permitted, Rogge nonetheless braved the elements and immediately crossed to the cruiser with his Adjutant Ulrich Mohr.
When the Ketty Brøvig, which had fallen some way behind the others in the heavy seas, finally joined the Atlantis, Tannenfels, Speybank and the Admiral Scheer, the five together constituted the largest group of German ships to gather outside European waters in the entire war.
Following the customary visits to and fro between the ships, much enjoyed by all, the arrival of the tanker concentrated minds on business, and re-fuelling began.
The SKL instruction on diesel was ultimately ignored, when the Scheer’s chief engineer found the oil in the Ketty Brøvig’s bunkers to be of a high standard and ordered that twelve hundred tons of it be pumped into the cruiser’s tanks.
The Tannenfels and the Atlantis then both re-fuelled, after which the supply-ship was dispatched to France with the raider’s prisoners.
Gifts were exchanged from their respective stocks of captured booty, a new fountain-pen for each man on the Scheer, and 150,000 fresh eggs from the captured British refrigerator-ship Duquesa, for the crew of Atlantis, who hadn’t even seen an egg in months.
With the two warship captains agreeing to rendezvous again on February 25, they departed for their separate zones of operation, with the Speybank accompanying the Atlantis, while the Ketty Brøvig headed south to a point off the Saya de Malha Bank to await further instructions.
With the Speybank scouting for him, Rogge had effectively doubled his search capacity, and quickly realised the advantages when she made two contacts for him almost immediately, albeit both with neutral vessels.
After several more uneventful days he decided to head for the second rendezvous point with the Admiral Scheer, only to find on arrival that she had fled from a British task-force sent to sink her, but had sent one of her prizes, the 6,994-ton tanker British Advocate to meet him for supplies before heading for France.
Soon afterwards the SKL ordered Rogge to detach the Ketty Brøvig to a point off the coast of Australia, where she was to join the 8,000-ton Nord-Deutsche Lloyd supply ship Coburg as an auxiliary supply-ship for the raider Pinguin.
Arriving at the pre-ordained location on March 4, unaware that German supply ship transmission codes had been broken, the two ships were ambushed by the Australian cruisers HMAS Canberra and HMS Leander.
With the Coburg soon hit and sinking, Dehnel ordered the sea cocks to be opened and the Ketty Brøvig was scuttled, after which he and his crew were captured.
On March 21, following several more frustrating weeks of no targets and eating nothing but eggs, Rogge rendezvoused with the Speybank.
Replacing his prize captain Leutnant Breuers with the former First Officer of the supply-ship Tannenfels, Leutnant Paul Schneidewind, he dispatched him with a prize-crew of twelve to Bordeaux, where he duly arrived on May 12.
Keeping his rendezvous with the dilapidated Italian submarine Perla, which was as low on morale and fighting-spirit as it was on fuel and food, on March 8, and re-stocking her with all but the first two comodities, the Atlantis spent several more frustrating weeks vainly looking for prey in the stifling tropical heat.
Following a series of encounters with neutral vessels, including the 14,825-ton Vichy-French troop-transport Chenonceaux, during which the Atlantis had revealed herself as a raider, the SKL decided to move her to the South Atlantic zone of operations, where she was to rendezvous with the supply-ships Dresden, bringing the Atlantis urgently-needed fresh fruit and vegetables, the Alsterufer and the Babitonga, collect his much-travelled Navigation Officer Paul Kammenz from the U-Boat supply-tanker Nordmark, and meet Schiff 41 / Kormoran.
Leaving the Indian Ocean on April 8, and arriving at the mid-ocean rendezvous on April 16, to find only the Dresden present, Rogge discovered that due to the bureaucratic stupidity of the German Naval Attaché in Brazil, his much-needed supply of fresh foodstuffs had been spoiled by being removed from the Dresden and shipped in the Babitonga, a vessel without any cold-storage facilities.
Taking what supplies the Dresden did have on board, and instructing her captain, Walter Jäger, to remain in the area until he could determine whether or not the raider Kormoran had any prisoners to transfer, Rogge headed back eastwards in the early hours of April 17.
One hour after leaving the Dresden, a large four-masted vessel was spotted travelling without lights, but clearly silhouetted against the bright moonlit sky.
When Rogge was in England representing Germany in a yacht-race as part of the celebrations surrounding the coronation of King George VI in 1937, he had seen several such vessels at the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, and been told that many of them had been retained by the Admiralty as troop transports.
Recognising her immediately as just such a former First World War ‘Bibby Liner’ her erratic behaviour convinced him that the blacked-out ship now zig-zagging in front of him was an Armed Merchant Cruiser.
He was almost right … but also fatally wrong.
Deciding to follow her and attack without warning at daybreak on April 18, to avoid any return fire, he finally closed in just before 6 a.m. and opened fire.
While the first salvo missed, and the second knocked out the radio room, the following salvos registered hits on the superstructure and caused heavy damage in the engine-room area and on the waterline.
Coming to a halt with her lights on, her crew were seen to be abandoning ship, lowering lifeboats in panic, and leaving their passengers to their fate.
As the sun rose and the liner slowly settled, Rogge ordered two motor-boats to be lowered, under the command of Mohr and Fehler, to secure the lifeboats and give assistance to the mass of terrified humanity, including many women and children, some of whom were seen to be floundering in the shark-invested water, while the cowardly crew pulled away from them in half-empty boats.
Reaching the raider’s side, some of these wretches tried to save themselves by climbing onto the lines lowered by the German sailors to secure the boats so that they could help the passengers.
They soon found themselves being roughly shaken off.
With several further boats lowered to rescue the people in the water and take others off the slowly sinking liner, Ulrich Mohr boarded her.
Rogge had been only partly right.
She was indeed a former Bibby Liner, the Leicestershire, and a former troopship, that had been re-named British Exhibitor, and sold before the outbreak of war.
Now the Egyptian liner ZamZam, of the Société Misr de Navigation Maritime, en route from New York to Cape Town with a cargo of lubricating oil, tin plate, ambulances, trucks, steel bars, radios, batteries, typewriters, cosmetics, girdles and Coca-Cola, she was carrying a crew of one hundred and twenty-nine men.
Consisting mainly of Egyptians and Sudanese, but with Turks, Greeks, Czechs and French among them, her captain and her Chief Engineer, were Englishmen.
She was also carrying two hundred and two unhappy passengers made up of one hundred and thirty-eight Americans, twenty-six Canadians, twenty-five Britons, five South Africans, four Belgians, two Greeks, one Italian and one Norwegian.
Among them there were one hundred and fifty missionaries, including Catholic, Lutheran, Adventist, Baptist and twelve other denominations, twenty-four American volunteer ambulance drivers, seventy-three women, of whom five were pregnant, including Americans, British, French and some ‘very photogenic’ Greek nurses and thirty-five children.
Also, and significantly as it would turn out, were Charles J.V.Murphy, editor of Fortune Magazine, and a major contributor to TIME and LIFE magazines, as well as LIFE magazine photographer, David E. Sherman.
Aware that the taking of this ship was going to have far-reaching and serious consequences both for himself and the Atlantis, Rogge instructed his officers and crew that these people were to be treated with generosity and kindness, so that they might at least limit the inevitably unfavourable news coverage.
Having spent four hours collecting as much of the passenger’s clothing and as many of their belongings as possible, including finding a little girl who had become lost, and a child’s tricycle, the boarding party spent another five hours plundering the slowly sinking liner’s freezers and larders and stripping her bar!
As Fehler’s demolition charges detonated and the old liner rolled onto her side and slid beneath the waves, Rogge permitted Scherman to take photographs of her final moments, and also of life on board the Atlantis, as part of his ongoing campaign to put as favourable a slant as possible on the sinking.
Unfortunately for Rogge, the American had already taken a full-length photograph of the raider ‘Tamesis’ from one of ZamZam’s lifeboats, a photograph which would ultimately play a significant role in her destruction.
Calling together a representative group from among the passengers, including Charles Murphy, and inviting them to his cabin, Rogge reminded them that apart from the fact that Egypt, although nominally neutral, was providing bases for forces at war with Germany, their ship had been observing radio silence, sailing without lights, under British Admiralty orders, and carrying war materials.
Cargo such as the 10,000 barrels of oil, the aviation fuel, the radios, the steel and the one hundred army trucks for use by a country engaged in war with Germany, made the ZamZam a legitimate target.
On the following day, April 19, as the Atlantis rendezvoused with the Dresden and the 2,719-ton supply ship Alsterufer, the former Sloman Line fruit carrier, Rogge called their captains to confer with him on the treatment of this particular group of prisoners, repeating the instructions he had already given to his own crew.
Joined by Schiff 41, the Kormoran, under the command of newly-promoted Fregattenkapitän Theodor Detmers, on April 20, the two raider captains spent some time discussing the ever-changing situation in the Indian Ocean, before Rogge gave his younger colleague a complete tour of the Atlantis.
Bidding farewell to the Kormoran, before taking such supplies from the Alsterufer as to be as well-stocked as he had been at the beginning of the cruise, plus three new, crated, Arado Ar-196 seaplanes, Rogge then arranged the transfer of the prisoners to the Dresden, instructing her master, Captain Jäger, to remain in the vicinity to await further orders.
On April 26, the two ships rendezvoused for the last time, during which Rogge instructed Captain Jäger to proceed to the nearest neutral port to land the prisoners, suggesting the Canary Islands, but leaving the final decision to him.
As it turned out, the SKL over-ruled this and ordered the Dresden to proceed to the French port of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, where she duly arrived on May 20.
The Atlantis also received two experienced new petty-officers, Leutnant Fröhlich and Leutnant Dittmann, formerly of the ‘pocket battleship’ Admiral Graf Spee, who had been posing as ordinary seamen Meyer and Müller on the Dresden.
When the story of the sinking of the ZamZam by the German raider ‘Tamesis’ finally hit the streets of the United States in newspapers and periodicals, in most cases incorporating some of David Scherman’s photographs, it described a ‘brutal’ attack on an unarmed ‘neutral’ vessel and Rogge was labelled ‘a butcher’.
Bad as this may have been for the raider’s captain, who had done everything in his power to aleviate the discomfort of the liner’s passengers, far worse was the photograph Scherman had surrepticiously taken of the Atlantis, which was by this time in the hands of the intelligence services of the Royal Navy and the RAF.
The Atlantis and the Alsterufer remained at the rendezvous point until they were joined by the 10,848-ton supply-tanker Nordmark, the former Westerwald, which had been instructed to re-fuel both ships.
Re-joining the Atlantis, from the Nordmark, following his epic voyage from the Far East, was Rogge’s Navigation Officer, Kapitänleutnant Paul Kammenz, who had been delivered to the supply ship by the U-106 (Kptlt. Jürgen Oesten).
The three ships remained together for a week, until April 27, when the Atlantis departed for the tanker lanes off west Africa, which, according to a recently received SKL directive, were poorly protected by the Allies.
On April 29, Rogge pointed out to Erich Kühn that it was time for the Atlantis to take on a new disguise, and the transformation of the 7,256-ton Norwegian Wilhelmsen line motor-ship Tamesis into the 9,246-ton Dutch Ruys & Zonen Rotterdamsche Lloyd NV line motor-ship Brastagi began.
With the work completed by April 30, and one of the new Arados assembled and fully-operational, the Atlantis was ready to resume hunting.
Unable to catch a ship spotted by the new aircraft on May 1, Rogge rendezvoused with the 4,422-ton supply-ship and former Hamburg-Südamerikanischen Dampdschiffahrts-Gesellschaft vessel Babitonga, disguised as the Dutch ship Jaspara, on May 4, and dispatched her to a holding point to await instructions.
Having stalked and pursued another possible target on May 7, only to discover it was the 5,700-ton Vichy-French Compagnie des Messageries Maritimes freighter Lieutenant de la Tour, Rogge had her checked for contraband, and let her go.
Six days later, Rogge took the Atlantis into the Freetown to Cape Town shipping lanes, unaware that having captured the U-110 on May 8, complete with her ‘Enigma’ encryption-machine and code-books, the Allies could now decipher all the coded messages to and from U-Boats and their supply-ships.
On the night of May 13, in roughly the same sea-area where he had found and sunk the Scientist more than a year earlier, Rogge’s lookouts spotted a ship.
Receiving no response when closing with her and signalling to her to stop, Rogge ordered her to be illuminated by searchlight.
Still seeing no reaction, he ordered Kasch to fire a warning-shot across her bows, fully expecting this to persuade her captain to stop.
Instead, she turned and tried to escape, causing Rogge to open fire in earnest, making two hits and such devastation that the vessel quickly began to sink.
With fires sweeping through the ship, seven of her 54-man crew dead and the rest, including four passengers and nine wounded, hastily abandoning her, her captain signalled to the Atlantis for assistance.
Thirty minutes after the action began the ship went down, the boarding parties rescued the survivors, but made no attempt to board the blazing vessel.
Identified as the 5,618-ton W.R.Carpenter Overseas Shipping Co.ship Rabaul, bound for Capetown from the UK with a cargo of coal, her peculiar behaviour when challenged was explained by the fact that the officer on watch was elderly and had hoped that if he ignored her, the Atlantis would get fed up and go away!
Just after midnight on May 18, drifting in the calm moonlit waters of one of the Capetown to Freetown shipping lanes, with her engines shut down to conserve fuel, the lookouts spotted two large blacked-out ships approaching at speed.
As it quickly became apparent that they were warships, and heading straight for the Atlantis, Rogge ordered the raider’s engines carefully started, and instructed the helmsman to move slowly away to starboard out of their path.
As she did so, the leading ship was identified as the 33,900-ton British battleship HMS Nelson, armed with nine 16-inch guns, and the second vessel was clearly an aircraft carrier, but it was this move, presenting a stern-on view to them, plus the fact that for some reason the two ships also altered course, that led to them passing just 7,000 metres astern of the Atlantis, yet somehow not spotting her.
The ships were on their way to Gibraltar to join Force H, being assembled to assist in the pursuit of the battleship Bismarck.
On the following day, having decided that the second vessel had most probably been the 38,500-ton fleet-carrier HMS Eagle, Rogge had a service of thanksgiving conducted on board for their miraculous deliverence.
On May 21 the Atlantis again stalked what turned out to be a neutral ship, the Rethymnis & Kulukundis line freighter Master Elias Kulukundis, a 5,548-ton Greek vessel on charter to Switzerland, and again two days later at nightfall on May 23, when she approached the American ship Charles H.Cramp.
But on May 24, she shadowed and closed with her next, clearly British, victim and opened fire, scoring several hits, demolishing the radio shack and setting her deck-cargo ablaze.
Furiously burning amidships, the ship turned away and tried to escape from the raider, which unleashed ten further salvoes, smashing the funnel, the masts, the deckhouses, and the bridge and jammed her rudder hard over.
Still proceeding, but locked in a tight turn, and heading straight at the Atlantis, Rogge decided to sink the stricken ship with torpedoes.
The first two torpedoes malfunctioned, with one actually threatening the Atlantis herself, but the third one staggered the burning ship and sent her down.
Identified as the 4,530-ton British Glen Line freighter Trafalgar, with a cargo of 4,500 tons of coal and two aircraft en route for the Cape and Alexandria, she took twelve members of her crew down with her.
* Not to be confused with the Wilhelmsen liner Trafalgar, below, whose identity was adopted by the raider Pinguin in the Indian Ocean on August 31 1940.
Rescue operations proved difficult in the dark, as Rogge was reluctant to permit his launches to use their lights for fear of being spotted in the busy shipping-lane, but thanks to the small flashing red lights on their lifejackets, thirty-three British survivors were eventually picked up.
Setting course immediately for the rendezvous with the Babitonga where he intended to transfer his prisoners, Rogge and the crew of the Atlantis received several items of news via BBC radio broadcasts picked up by Adjutant Mohr.
First came news of the sinking of their prize the Ketty Brøvig and the supply-ship Coburg, by the cruisers HMAS Canberra and HMS Leander at Saya de Malha, and then of the sinking of their sister-ship and fellow-raider, Pinguin, with great loss of life, by the heavy cruiser HMS Cornwall, in the Indian Ocean on May 8.
Later in the month, on May 24, the staggering news of the destruction of the pride of the Royal Navy, the 42,0000-ton HMS Hood by the battleship Bismarck, and finally, the loss of the mighty Bismarck herself, hunted down and destroyed by the British Home Fleet on May 27.
Rogge transferred his prisoners to the supply-ship Babitonga on May 30, ordering her captain to transfer them to the U-Boat supply-tanker Esso Hamburg before returning to the Atlantis, after which she would be sent to a new meeting place to await further instructions.
Rogge chose to remain at the first rendezvous point, to spend a couple of weeks working on the Atlantis’s new disguise, overhauling her engines and carrying out general repair and maintenance work on the ship.
Having been instructed by the SKL to proceed to the South American shipping lanes and to the northern end of the Cape Town to Freetown routes, the Atlantis created history on June 16, setting a new record for the number of days at sea.
445 days had passed since she departed from Germany, and she now held the record for more consecutive days spent at sea than any raider in history.
Over the first few weeks of June 1941, the British capacity to break the German naval codes led to the sinking of no fewer than nine supply-ships, including Rogge’s auxiliary the Babitonga, scuttled by her crew off the coast of West Africa when approached by the 13,200-ton heavy cruiser HMS London on May 21.
With fewer and fewer ships now sailing outside the Allied convoy system, the odds were slowly but surely increasing against both the raiders and the U-Boats.
On June 17, however, Rogge’s seaplane found one ship that was travelling alone.
Following her and firing a warning shot across her bows as night fell, she immediately transmitted a raider attack call and fired a shot at the Atlantis.
This left Rogge with little alternative but to hammer the vessel to a standstill with thirty-nine 150mm shells, after which she quickly began to sink.
Her captain gave the ‘Abandon Ship’ order while she still had some way on her, causing two of her lifeboats to be swamped as they hit the water fully-loaded.
Identified as the brand-new 4,762-ton Watts, Watts & Co. British Steamship Co., freighter Tottenham, en route from the UK to Alexandria via the Cape, she was carrying supplies for the British army in Palestine, aircraft, aircraft spares, ammunition, tractors, trucks and cars.
The raider’s torpedoes again proved to be unreliable, with two missing the target completely and the third causing insufficient damage to sink the freighter, she had to be sunk by gunfire, and, according to Mohr, “She erupted like a volcano!”
With his position now known ashore, Rogge watched as twenty-nine survivors were picked up, including the ship’s captain, then immediately departed the area.
When asked by the captain to search for his Second Officer and eleven members of his crew, plus five others they had picked up, who had managed to escape in a boat to avoid capture, Rogge refused, as he knew that the Tottenham’s distress calls had been picked up by the Ascension Island station and at Walvis Bay.
When the lifeboat subsequently turned up empty and awash at Rio de Janeiro nine weeks later on August 22, Rogge was branded as a callous murderer, and blamed for the deaths of the men who had been in it.
But, they were alive and well, having been picked up by the British steamship the SS Mahronda, on June 28, eleven days after the sinking of the Tottenham.
On June 22, the Atlantis followed and made a night attack on what was to be her penultimate victim, closing to within 9,600 metres, at which point the vessel, spotting the raider, radioed RRR, increased speed and began to zigzag, stern-on.
With the German operators jamming her SOS transmissions with the fake signal, “Hope to meet you next Friday … Love and Kisses, Evelyn”, Rogge’s gunners poured forty salvos – 192 150mm and 53 75mm rounds, at the vessel’s retreating stern with only four hits, until two of the raider’s forward 1550mm guns, and the No.5 gun overheated, and the recoil systems jammed.
Having already turned his ship to bring the starboard battery into action, Rogge was on the verge of giving up the chase, when to his surprise, the freighter was seen to stop and lower boats.
The boarding party identified her as the 5,372-ton Lamport and Holt motor-ship Balzac, bound for Liverpool from Rangoon with a cargo of 4,200 tons of rice, ‘vast quantities of beeswax’ (Ulrich Mohr) and other mixed cargo.
Three of her crew of fifty-one had lost their lives during the attack, while another died later on board the Atlantis.
With some bags of mail transferred to the raider and the survivors picked up, the 21-year-old ship was quickly sent to the bottom.
To Rogge, the problem with the guns was yet another indication of how the long and arduous cruise of the Atlantis was wearing out both men and equipment, and so, having decided on a novel scheme whereby the crew could ‘go on leave’ and take a short break on board, he took his ship south-east to the isolated waters away from the shipping-lanes, where for almost a week the crew carried out some small maintenance tasks, but mainly just rested.
Instructed by the SKL, on June 27, to provide fellow-raider Schiff-36 / Orion with 700 tons of fuel, sufficient to enable her to reach home, the Atlantis, with her crew suitably rested, departed for the pre-ordained rendezvous to the north of the island of Tristan da Cunha early on July 1.
Approaching one another cautiously in the early morning, and having exchanged the pre-arranged recognition signals, the two ships, that had last been together seventeen months earlier, conducting gunnery drills, drew alongside one another.
Kapitän zur See Bernhard Rogge found her commander, the feisty Kurt Weyher, an angry and frustrated man, quickly pointing out that if he didn’t get the fuel he would have to switch off his engines and drift about in enemy-infested waters for six weeks or more, until the Anneliese Essberger arrived, if she arrived at all.
Having seen no action in almost eight months of fruitless searching for targets, while suffering interminable problems with his old, oil-guzzling, unreliable engines, Weyher, who wanted to keep the Orion at sea until September so as to at least try to make up for his lack of success, asked Rogge for 1,200 tons of oil.
Already instructed by the SKL to take the Atlantis out of the narrow confines of the Atlantic and into the Pacific Ocean, where he was to rendezvous with the tanker Münsterland, off the Society Islands, Rogge refused, pointing out that as the Orion’s inefficient engines would consume in one week the amount of oil that would keep his ship operational for two months, it would simply be a waste of the fuel, emphasising that as he had to remain at sea until the autumn, while the Orion was on her way home, all he could afford to offer was 580 tons.
Weyher was understandably disappointed, but, despite this, the two commanders parted company amicably enough on July 6, with the Orion headed west towards the coast of South America, while the Atlantis once more headed south, towards the Cape of Good Hope, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.
Explaining his intentions to his bitterly disappointed crew, he explained them by stating that the Atlantis still had over 60% of her ammunition on board, a full load of fuel and a plentiful supply of food, and he justified them by pointing out that by mid-winter, the bad weather in the Atlantic would afford them the best possible cover for a safe journey back to Germany.
Passing Gough Island and rounding the Cape for the third time, only this time a prudent nine hundred miles to the south, the Atlantis set off into the stormy waters of the Roaring Forties, and headed east, across the South Indian Ocean.
Celebrating her 500th day at sea while passing the Crozet Islands, she ran into a Force 11 hurricane while passing the Prince Edward Islands and had to heave to for several days until the storm passed over.
She sailed on, north of the Kerguelen Islands, past the islands of St Paul and New Amsterdam, and onwards well to the south of Australia and New Zealand, until, she was patrolling the same shipping-lanes in the Pacific that had earlier been patrolled by the Orion, nine weeks after bidding farewell to her in the Atlantic.
Shortly after sundown on September 10, halfway between New Zealand and the Society Islands, the raider’s lookouts spotted the poorly-darkened shape of an unmistakably British merchant ship approaching on an opposing course.
Rogge had the guns unmasked, increased speed, and turned to pursue her.
Spotting the Atlantis, the freighter began to transmit a raider attack warning, identifying herself as the motor-ship Silvaplana and giving her position.
Due to a faulty connection, the attempts by the radio operators on the Atlantis to jam these transmissions failed, and her non-stop stream of signals went out.
Anxious to capture this fine and obviously new ship without firing on her, Rogge instructed his signalman to order her to stop her tranmissions and her engines.
As the vessel complied with both instructions and stopped, Rogge immediately sent a boarding party over to her to send a further signal, using her own key, cancelling the first one, which was, albeit reluctantly, acknowledged.
This modern, fast and beautiful 4,793-ton Norwegian Tschudi & Eitzen motorship, en route from Singapore to New York was carrying 400 tons of crude rubber, 100,000 pounds of coffee, 50 crates of Balinese carved wooden idols, and a valuable mixed cargo of hides, tin, copper, wax, sago, vanilla and spices, plus a full deck cargo load of teak.
Rogge had decided to keep her as a prize, but as she did not have sufficient quantities of either fuel or stores on board to sustain her on the journey back to Europe, he put a prize-crew aboard and dispatched her to a meeting point to the south, while he went to search for a ship that might provide what she needed.
After several days without success, he rendezvoused with her again in order to transfer her valuable cargo of rubber into the raider’s holds as ballast.
He then awaited the arrival of the 6,315-ton supply-ship Münsterland, which was due to re-supply him at the end of September, to re-provision both ships.
Sending the Silvaplana to another meeting point, off the Orne Bank, he set off to rendezvous with the supply-ship, traversing the New Zealand to Panama shipping lanes until September 21, and then heading for the designated meeting place.
Arriving there, expecting to find just the supply-ship and the raider Komet’s prize the 7,325-ton Dutch motor-vessel Kota Nopan there, to his surprise, he found the Schiff-45 Komet herself waiting, while the Münsterland, having been re-routed and held up by a typhoon, did not arrive for another two days.
As the Atlantis approached the Komet, Adjutant Mohr reminded his captain that her commander was a flag officer, leading the grateful Rogge to instruct him to prepare the ship to receive an Admiral.
Konteradmiral Robert Eyssen was piped aboard the Atlantis following what was without doubt the first, and probably will remain the only, gun salute ever fired to honour a German Admiral in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Initially there were difficulties, as the Admiral, much to Rogge’s frustration, demanded for the Komet some of the supplies earmarked for the Atlantis, but once he had managed to persuade Eyssen that the needs of his crew, who had, in 540 days at sea, never once received a fresh supply of vegetables, were greater than those on the Komet, which had been re-supplied five times in a 430-day cruise, and were on their way home anyway, Rogge re-stocked his ship from the bounty of the Münsterland’s vast holds.
The stocking of this supply-ship with everything an operational warship might need, was the work of Vice-Admiral Paul Wenneker, former commander of the ‘pocket battleship’ Deutschland, and now the German Naval Attaché in Tokyo.
Re-fuelled and transferring his prisoners to the Komet and the Kota Nopan, and discussing his plans with the admiral, telling him he intended to return home before Christmas, he instructed Mohr to give the good news to the crew.
On September 24, the ships set sail, with the Komet and her prize bound for Europe, and the Münsterland heading back with the Atlantis to rendezvous with the Silvaplana.
Re-fuelled and re-provisioned by the now highly-motivated crew of the Atlantis, a prize-crew, under Leutnant Dittmann, formerly of the Admiral Graf Spee, on board, and thirty-two prisoners, the Silvaplana was dispatched to Bordeaux on September 27, arriving off the Gironde on November 17.
* Re-named Irene, she served as a supply-ship and blockade-runner until October 4 1943, when she was challenged by the British minelayer HMS Adventure, and scuttled by her crew.
With the Münsterland sent back to Japan, the Atlantis searched for prey along the course of the Silvaplana’s last voyage for two weeks, but with no success.
In consultation with Adjutant Mohr, Rogge selected a virtually uninhabited coral atoll in the Tuamotu archipelago named Vana Vana, at which he could lay up for a while, allow his crew to go ashore, and from where the seaplane could safely take off from calm waters to carry out far wider sweeps than normally possible at sea.
On October 10, the Atlantis dropped anchor in a crystal clear lagoon, a mere fifty metres from the beach in a South Pacific ‘paradise’, and the crew were permitted to go ashore for the first time in ten months.
Accepted and welcomed by the inhabitants of the atoll, they enjoyed two blissful days of swimming and sunbathing and living the life of tourists.
The ship’s doctors went some way towards repaying the hospitality of the people by treating those among them who were suffering with eye infections.
Over the two days Flying Officer Bulla conducted six searches of the surrounding ocean, all of them fruitless, leaving Rogge with little alternative but to weigh anchor and continue on his way.
Stopping briefly on Henderson Island, one of the Pitcairn group, on the way, the Atlantis rounded Cape Horn on October 29, and, entering the South Atlantic for the last time, turned northwards, increased speed and headed for home.
Well aware of the difficulties being experienced by the SKL in keeping U-Boats operational, particularly since so many of their supply ships had so recently been sunk, Rogge notified them of the surplus fuel in the Atlantis’s tanks that could be distributed to those in need as he headed home.
He was not surprised when on November 8, a week after he and his crew had celebrated their 600th consecutive day at sea, Naval Command instructed him to rendezvous first with the U-68, under Korvettenkapitän Karl-Friedrich Merten, and later with the U-126, under Kapitänleutnant Ernst Bauer.
Although this would inevitably delay their arrival home, the crew understood the reasons for it and were happy to be able to make a contribution, but when Rogge and navigation officer Kammenz plotted the co-ordinates of the first designated location they were horrified to discover that the SKL had selected a position right in the middle of the busy shipping-lanes to the Cape.
Having signalled Berlin, expressing the view that it would be suicidal to meet in such an exposed location, he was gratified when the U-68’s commander, Merten, an old friend of Rogge’s from their pre-war yachting days, agreed, and even more so when the SKL agreed to change the position of the rendezvous to a slightly less dangerous point to the southwest of the island of St Helena.
Meeting in weather conditions ill-suited for the efficient re-fuelling of a submarine on November 13, the two commanders agreed to move to a point further north where they were likely to find calmer waters.
With Merten on board enjoying a drink with Rogge, the transfer of the oil, stores and drinking water to his boat was carried out in no time at all by an efficient and highly-motivated crew with one eye firmly fixed on Christmas at home.
By now seriously concerned by the fact that the SKL seemed to want to convert the Atlantis into a U-Boat supply-ship, and not as confident as some in Berlin about the security of the U-Boat codes, Rogge wished his old friend good hunting on November 16, and headed westward.
The following day he instructed Executive Officer Kühn to once again alter the appearance of the Atlantis, this time to take on the identity of the 6,269-ton Dutch Reederei Oceaan motor-vessel Polyphemus.
While having to undertake such an arduous task when so relatively close to home did not exactly please the crew, what was to be the raider’s final disguise, was fully completed within a day, leaving Rogge free to indulge in a little hunting before meeting up with the U-126 off Ascension Island on November 22.
When a ship was spotted by her seaplane on November 19, the Atlantis gave chase, only to discover that once again she had pursued and caught a neutral, but when Bulla reported another possible target at dawn on the following day, the raider again took off in hot pursuit, only on this occasion she was unable to catch the vessel, which simply increased speed, causing Rogge to call off the chase.
The Arado had sustained some damage when setting down, and the next day, also spent fruitlessly searching for targets, was spent trying to repair it, but a heavy landing the following day capsized the aircraft, putting it out of action.
It was beginning to appear as if luck was rapidly running out for the Atlantis.
The loss of his aircraft was a serious setback for Rogge, who had hoped to use it as an eye-in-the-sky to cover his second, and hopefully last, U-boat re-fuelling job, it would very shortly turn out to be the least of his problems.
His concerns about the security of the German U-Boat codes were well-founded, as the British Intelligence services began to reap the benefits of the equipment and code-books captured with the U-110, plus the fact that with their detailed knowledge of the characteristics of the South Atlantic, they had a fairly good idea where supply-ships were most likely to rendezvous with them.
At first light on November 22 1941, drifting on the gentle South Atlantic swell, in the middle of the busy shipping-lanes between Freetown and the Cape of Good Hope, the raider Atlantis, waiting for the U-126 to arrive, was being watched.
The Walrus seaplane of a British County-Class heavy cruiser had spotted the stationary ship and radioed its position to her host ship forty miles away, which on receipt of the information, increased speed and set course to intercept.
Unaware of the rapidly approaching danger, the crew of the Atlantis, while welcoming the arrival of Bauer’s U-126, a Type IX-C submarine, which had closed with the raider and hove to alongside her stern, lowered the re-fuelling lines and the motorboat that would deliver the fuel hoses to her.
Soon her hoses were delivering the precious oil to the U-Boat tied up alongside, her motorboat was ferrying supplies, Ernst Bauer and his officers were on board enjoying hot baths, a glass of sherry and some good coffee, and her port engine was stripped down to replace a piston.
With no air cover due to the loss of the Arado on the previous day, the Atlantis could hardly have been more vulnerable.
Shortly after 8 o’clock, the peace of this tranquil scene was shattered by the lookout’s cry, “Enemy Cruiser! … Enemy Cruiser in Sight”
The three funnels and masts of the 9,850-ton British London-Class heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire had appeared on the horizon and were closing fast.
As the fuel lines were rapidly cut, Rogge turned his one-engined ship, to present her stern to the enemy and to try to hide the U-Boat from the cruiser’s seaplane.
With Bauer, and several of his officers still on board the Atlantis, the U-126, under the command of her young and inexperienced First Officer, Oberleutnant zur See Kurt Neubert, crash dived, but with a large oil slick marking where the fuel hoses had been severed, the hoses floating nearby, and the submerged boat itself clearly visible to the aircrew, an immediate SSS signal was sent from the seaplane to the cruiser, warning her of the presence of the submarine.
The Atlantis was no match for a heavy cruiser armed with eight 8-inch guns, and even with both engines fully operational, she was slower by about 14 knots, so Rogge knew that his only hope was to lure her closer, within range of his guns and torpedoes or into a position where the lurking U-Boat might get a shot at her.
The cruiser, from long range, fired two 8-inch salvos, one to the left, one to the right, to which Rogge responded by stopping, signalling RRR, and identifying his ship as the Dutchman Polyphemus.
Having been informed that there was a U-Boat about, and because the Atlantis had signalled with only three Rs instead of the required four, the Devonshire’s commander, Captain R.D.Oliver, remained cautious, calling up the C-in-C South Atlantic to make sure that the suspicious ship was not the Polyphemus.
He also well remembered how HMS Cornwall had closed to within range of the Pinguin’s big guns and had suffered potentially lethal damage.
Keeping his ship out of range, his seaplane circled above the raider with its crew comparing the ship below with a photograph they had received.
This was the photo of the raider ‘Tamesis’ taken by LIFE Magazine photographer David E Scherman, from one of the ZamZam’s lifeboats in April, published in the magazine in June, and later given to all Allied intelligence services.
With Rogge hoping that somehow the U-126 would manage to attack her, the Devonshire stood off for over an hour, steaming backwards and forwards at twenty-six knots at a range of over 17,000 yards, until Captain Oliver finally received confirmation that the Atlantis could not possibly be the Polyphemus.
Unfortunately for Rogge, the inexperienced Leutnant Neubert, in the mistaken and inexplicable belief that the cruiser would close with the Atlantis, stayed close to the raider so as to have a better chance of using his torpedoes!
Coming about with all battle flags flying, the Devonshire straddled the Atlantis with three 8-inch salvos, scoring two hits, with further salvos into the now helpless and almost stationary ship, registering more hits, knocking out part of the ship’s electrical supply and the internal telephone system.
With his ship now on fire and clearly doomed, Rogge reduced speed and ordered a smokescreen, as boats were launched, explosive charges were set and the Atlantis was prepared for scuttling.
No longer able to see his target, Captain Oliver ceased firing, allowing Rogge to continue to manoeuvre slowly under the protection of the smokescreen as his crew abandoned ship, leaving only himself, Chief Petty Officer Wilhelm Pigors, Johann Fehler’s demolition party and Adjutant Ulrich Mohr still on board.
As the smokescreen dissipated, the Devonshire resumed firing, reducing the Atlantis, which had by now received eight direct hits, to a battered listing wreck.
With Fehler’s scuttling charges beginning to go off deep in the engine room and he and his crew leaving, their job done, Kapitän zur See Bernhard Rogge stood on the bridge of his sinking ship and contemplated the future.
He wondered if they had somehow been betrayed or if all of this had somehow been his fault, and thought of Captain Hans Langsdorff of the Admiral Graf Spee and how he had dealt with the loss of his ship. He wondered how he would be received back in Germany, and questioned whether or not he could find a place in Hitler’s ‘New Order'.
As he told Pigors and Mohr to leave the bridge and to get off the ship, Pigors, an old friend from their sail training days together, refused, telling him that there was no sense in him staying as there was nothing left to do, and that his crew needed him now more than ever, but when his captain still refused to leave, the older man told him simply that if he stayed, he would stay with him.*
* Oblt z. S. Wilhelm Pigors lost his life when U-130 was sunk with all hands on March 12 1943
With this finally persuading Rogge to leave, the two men followed Ulrich Mohr, who had also refused to leave his captain on the bridge, over the side, just seconds before the magazine received a direct hit and caught fire.
Having swam a safe distance from the crippled ship, thinking they had been the last to leave, they looked back to see a young man, who had clearly not heard the ‘Abandon Ship!’ order, suddenly appear on the now rapidly sinking raider’s forecastle and leap into the sea!
This was Oberfunkgefreiter Heinz Müller, one of the Atlantis’s radio operators, who had stayed at his post until he felt the ship beginning to sink under him.
He was dragged under as she went down and was never seen again.
The Devonshire was still firing as the Atlantis foundered, killing two men as they tried to swim away from the sinking ship, but Rogge was grateful to her captain for not using nose-fused impact shells, which would have exploded among the men on deck, and which would have killed dozens more among the hundred or so men still in the water around the Atlantis.
Her captain, R.D.Oliver, realising that the Atlantis could no longer do him any harm, but nonetheless determined to sink her, had ordered his gunners to use base-fused delayed shells, which would penetrate the ship before exploding, in order to limit the number of casualties on deck.
The case of Mohr’s helmsman Willi Krooss, however, was tragic.
A veteran of all the Atlantis’s boarding parties, Willi Krooss lost his life due to his inate politeness, stepping aside on the companionway to the boat deck to allow an officer to pass, he was killed by a direct hit seconds later.
At 10.14 the last of Fehler’s charges rocked the ship, the magazine exploded, and, going down by the stern, the Atlantis sank within two minutes.
In the middle of a group of about twenty members of his crew, Captain Rogge, drew himself up as tall as he could in the water, and with tears in his eyes, raised his hand to his forehead and held the salute to his ship as she slid slowly back beneath the South Atlantic waves to her final resting place.
With the 350 survivors of the raider’s crew and their one remaining prisoner, the American Frank Vicovari, plus Kapitänleutnant Bauer of the U-126, and the seven members of his crew that had been on the Atlantis when the attack started, in the water being picked up by the lifeboats and rafts, and with a U-Boat still in the vicinity, Captain Oliver took HMS Devonshire away northwestwards at top speed.
Over three hundred men were left struggling in the water with an ever-increasing number of sharks feeding on their dead comrades, but as yet not on them.
Wilhelm Pigors words were soon borne out when Rogge climbed into a lifeboat, stood up, and called to the scattered boats and rafts and to the other groups of survivors clinging to wreckage to muster around him.
By midday all the survivors, divided among two motor launches, three steel cutters, five rafts and assorted debris lashed together, were gathered around their captain’s boat and a roll call was conducted.
The roll call identified Heinz Müller, the last man seen leaving the sinking ship, and who had clearly been dragged down by her, Mohr’s boatswain Willi Krooss, and three others, Anton Dettenhofer, Horst Gerstenhauer and Johann Schäffer, who were all victims of the Devonshire’s guns, as having died, plus dozens of others shocked and wounded, including Kapitänleutnant zur See Erich Kühn.
When Leutnant Neubert finally brought the U-126 to the surface, to be welcomed by his furious commander berating him for not atttacking the Devonshire, he explained that having come up to periscope depth to assess the situation, just as one of the cruiser’s 8-inch salvos exploded in the water around the boat, he believed he was being depth charged and crash dived.
Rogge and Bauer decided that the best of option was to make for the coast of Brazil, more than 900 miles away, with the U-126 towing the boats.
As this was a voyage of at least two weeks under the blistering South Atlantic sun, the U-Boat commander signalled Admiral Donitz’ at his HQ to appraise him of the situation and to request fuel, assistance and supplies.
The reply confirmed that two further U-Boats the U-124 and the U-129 would be diverted from the central Atlantic operational area to assist with the rescue.
With fifty-five men, those with a specialist value and the wounded, in the U-Boat, a further fifty-two huddled on her decks in lifejackets, and the remaining two hundred distributed as evenly as possible in the four overcrowded steel boats and five rubber rafts, with tow ropes rigged between them and onto the submarine, the U-126 set course for Brazil in the late afternoon of November 22.
The two motor-boats were used as shuttles between the boats, for ferrying food and water to the exposed and suffering men who were all dressed in the light tropical kit they’d had on at the time of the sinking, which afforded them scant protection against the heat of the sun and none against the chill of the night.
During the first night Oberfunkgefreiter Ernst Felchner and Oberbootsmaanmaat Emil Bührle lost the battle against their injuries despite the best efforts of doctors Reil and Sprung, but, on the following day, the revelation that they had already covered almost 150 miles, suggesting that with conditions remaining as they were, their journey would be completed in six days, half the expected time, helped cheer up the now seriously suffering men.
As the tow ropes continually broke and had to be repaired until they were no longer serviceable, concerns were raised as to how long those they had left would last, but, on November 24, a signal to the U-126 confirmed that not only were three other U-Boats being re-directed to their aid, but that the 3,664-ton former Afrikanischen Frucht Kompanie passenger liner, and now supply-ship, Python, under Korvettenkapitän Lüders, en route to re-fuel and supply both the U-68 (Merten) and the U-A (Korvettenkapitän Hans Eckermann) was also on her way.
Appearing at first light on November 24, as the U-Boat tender hove into view and closed with the U-126, Rogge thanked God that his crew’s ordeal was over.
Within one hour, as his crew were settling into the their new surroundings, Rogge insisted that their cutters, launches and rafts be picked up too, just in case.
Bidding farewell to the re-stocked and re-fuelled U-126 late on November 24, when she set sail for France, the supply-ship followed several hours later.
Hearing of the sinking of the 4,850-ton British cruiser HMS Dunedin by the U-124 off St. Paul’s Rocks, Rogge reflected bitterly on the sinking of his own ship, lost during ‘ … a supply operation which had not been included in her operational orders’ and could not help regretting that she’d been abandoned without at least giving the Devonshire a bit of a fight.
While understandable, these feelings were tempered by the knowledge that in doing what he did, he undoubtedly saved the lives of the majority of his crew.
A signal received by the Python from Grand Admiral Raeder on November 28, supporting this view, and expressing approval of his decision to save his crew, and maintain his disguise when there was no realistic chance of offering resistance, provided Rogge with a little consolation.
A further signal received by the supply-ship, was less encouraging, as she was instructed to make for yet another rendezvous, seven hundred miles to the south of Saint Helena, to re-stock and re-fuel the U-68 and U-A on November 30.
She was also to await the arrival of the U-124 (Kapitänleutnant Jochen Mohr) and the U-129 (Kapitänleutnant Nico Clausen) on December 4.
Re-supplying Merten’s U-68 as arranged, on November 30, the supply-ship waited until first light on the following day for the arrival of Eckermann’s U-A.
With the men of the Atlantis enjoying life as passengers, the crew of the Python set to work connecting the fuel lines to the two U-Boats and commenced pumping oil into their tanks.
Cranes hoisted torpedoes from the supply-ship’s holds and swung them over her sides, and crates of ammunition and boxes of food were stacked on her decks, as she was transformed into a bustling hive of activity.
While the survivors of the Atlantis had not been officially assigned to any duties on the Python, it was one of her lookouts, who had been deployed to reinforce their inexperienced supply-ship counterparts, and from a position well below the Python’s lookout in the crows-nest, that spotted the mastheads and funnels of the fast-approaching British cruiser, in the mid-afternoon, and raised the alarm.
With the dreaded words, “Enemy Cruiser! … Enemy Cruiser in sight!” the alarm bells sounded and all hell broke loose on the Python.
The oil pipelines were disconnected and capped, the cranes were locked down, boats recovered and the ship prepared for action.
Caught with hatch covers open and crewmen frantically shoving a torpedo they’d been loading through one of them, Merten had no alternative but to crash dive the U-68, and immediately lost control of it.
The boat ‘plunged like a stone’, well beyond its maximum safe operational depth, towards the sea bed, before he finally managed to bring it under control again.
Eckermann’s U-A simply cast off the fuel lines and calmly slid beneath the waves, and was in some sort of position to attack the approaching cruiser.
Unaware of Merten’s predicament, Lüders called for maximum speed and turned the Python away from the rapidly closing warship.
Identified as a yet another County-class heavy cruiser, this time the 9,950-ton HMS Dorsetshire, the ship that had delivered the coup de grace to the Bismarck, he hoped that he might draw her across the bows of the two U-Boats.
Although this did draw the Dorsetshire within range of them, only Eckermann was in any sort of position to attack her, but with her captain, A.W.S.Agar, keeeping his ship at long range, and at top speed, all five torpedoes missed.
Having noticed the frenzied activity all around the Python as he approached her, Agar now signalled to the fleeing supply-ship, demanding her identity.
On receiving no reply, he fired two warning shots, straddling the ship, causing Lüders to heave to and give the order to abandon ship.
As she was being prepared for scuttling, and the boats, including the Atlantis’s cutters and launches, were being lowered on an orderly manner, a member of the Python’s crew, thinking he was protecting the four hundred men abandoning ship under the 8-inch guns of an enemy cruiser, and to the horror of the raider’s men, briefly started up the ship’s smokescreen generator, which could have led to the Dorsetshire opening fire in earnest.
Fortunately Captain Agar held his fire as the smoke quickly dissipated, and the motor-boats and cutters towed the rubber rafts clear of the doomed supply-ship.
He watched as, having already been set on fire by her crew, she burst into flames, the scuttling charges detonated, and she slowly listed to port, rolled over, capsized and sank, leaving 414 men adrift in eleven open boats and seven rafts.
Certain that the sinking ship was a naval supply vessel, and fearing a counter attack from the U-Boats, he took the Dorsetshire away southwards at top speed.
* At some point after the sinking, while the lifeboats were tied together, drifting under the blistering sun, Matrose Obergefreiter Otto Vorwergk, badly shocked by having earlier seen a comrade blown to pieces by the Devonshire’s shells, and unable to face the prospect of a slow agonising death, threw himself overboard and was lost.
(According to Ulrich Mohr’s book Atlantis he was rescued and hauled back into the boat, but in his shipmate Wilhelm Müller’s personal recollection he was not - 006)
His death, combined with those who had lost their lives during the sinking of the Atlantis and the Python, plus the loss of Hans Seeger on the prize-ship Tirranna, Bernhard Hermann in Kerguelen, and Martin Jester in the Indian Ocean, brought the total number of fatalities among the crew of Schiff 16 / HK Atlantis to eleven.
Btsmt. Toni Dettenhofer, Mech.Mt. Horst Gerstenhauer, Matr.Ob.Gefr. Willi Krooss and Matr.Ob.Gefr. Johann Schäfer were all killed by HMS Devonshire’s guns during the sinking of the Atlantis.
Fk.Ob.Gefr. Heinz Müller was taken down with the ship.
Fk.Ob.Gefr. Ernst Felchner and Btsmt. Emil Bührle died in the lifeboats.
Matr.Ob.Gefr. Otto Vorwergk was lost overboard from a lifeboat.
Matr.Hpt.Gefr. Martin Jester died of sunstroke in the Indian Ocean.
Ob.Masch.Maat Karl Seeger died during the sinking of the prize-ship Tirranna.
Matr.Gefr. Bernhard Herrmann died from injuries sustained at Kerguelen.
In eleven boats and seven rafts, the combined crews of both the raider Atlantis and the supply-ship Python, totalling four hundred and fourteen men, were adrift on the high seas, waiting for the U-Boats to re-appear.
With Eckermann’s U-A surfacing first, followed shortly afterwards by Merten in the U-68, both had to crash dive again immediately as the cruiser’s seaplane returned and circled above the boats before again disappearing back to its ship.
Once it was gone, Rogge again mustered the boats and rafts, eighteen in all, around him and, conducting a roll call, established that there was not a single man missing following the sinking of the Python.
As the senior officer, Rogge assumed overall command, working from the U-68.
As each U-Boat took one hundred men on board, with each towing five lifeboats, and the remaining men huddling in the rubber rafts on their decks, the flotilla began it’s long journey towards land.
Johann Fehler’s motor-launch ferried hot food and water to the men in the boats from the U-Boat’s galleys, and was also employed rounding up any boats that were set adrift by parting towlines.
Informed of the sinking of the Python, the SKL notified Admiral Karl Dönitz, who re-directed two further U-Boats, the U-129 (Kptlt. Nico Clausen) and the U-124 (Kptlt. Jochen Mohr), fresh from the sinking of the elderly British light cruiser HMS Dunedin, to proceed immediately to assist in the rescue effort.
Anxious to get all the exposed men out of the lifeboats and inside the submarines before they ran into the colder and rougher weather further north, Rogge was formulating a plan by which this could be achieved, when Nico Clausen arrived on December 3, followed two days later by Jochen Mohr.
With all the men finally inside, the lifeboats were scuttled.
As Rogge and the four U-Boat commanders discussed how best to proceed, the unco-operative Hans Eckermann not only refused to remain part of the combined rescue, but also refused to share his fuel with Mohr, whose boat was running low.
While the U-A left for France alone that night, followed later by Clausen’s U-129, Merten, despite being low in fuel himself, supplied Mohr with fifty tons of fuel after which both boats set course for France on the morning of December 6.
With each one crammed with an extra hundred men, the performance and operational capabilities of these U-Boats were effectively reduced to nil, and conditions on board quickly became unbearable for all concerned.
On December 12, each of the four boats was instructed to rendezvous with Italian submarines off the Cape Verde Islands to offload some of their passengers.
Between December 13 and 17, as each of them established contact, the Italian boats each took up to seventy men, greatly easing the claustrophobic conditions.
Fifty from the U-A boarded the Luigi Torelli (Capitano di Corvetta Antonio de Giacomo), seventy from Merten’s U-68 joined the Enrico Tazzoli (Capitano di Corvetta Carlo Feccia di Cossato), a further seventy from the U-129 went to the Giuseppe Finzi (Capitano di Corvetta Udo Giudice) and the same number boarded the Pietro Calvi (Capitano di Corvetta Emilio Olivieri).
The eight submarines headed for the port of Saint-Nazaire, with the Luigi Torelli, on December 23, being the first to arrive, despite having been depth-charged by a British warship while crossing the notorious Bay of Biscay.
The U-68 docked on December 25, with the U-A not far behind, with the Enrico Tazzoli later completing the trio of boats that arrived on Christmas Day.
On December 27, both the U-129 and the Pietro Calvi arrived, followed by the Giuseppe Finzi on December 28, and finally the U-124 on December 29.
Following 655 consecutive days at sea, during which they had covered 110,000 miles on the Atlantis, 1,000 miles in open lifeboats and rafts plus a further 5,000 miles crammed into U-Boats, the crew spent two idyllic days in the luxurious surroundings of the Nates Hotel at Saint-Nazaire, specially requisitioned by the Kriegsmarine, where, following a final roll-call from their captain, they were released to re-acquaint themselves with the pleasures of life on dry land.
The entire ship’s company then assembled at Nantes, where they remained until New Years Day, catching up on the two years of mail awaiting them and being kitted out with new clothes, after which they travelled by special train to Berlin, where they had an appointment with the Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine Gross Admiral Erich Raeder, who greeted and decorated every one of them.
Following the ceremonies, Bernhard Rogge assembled his crew for the last time.
Issuing each man with the authorization for the two months leave due to them, and instructions to report to Wilhelmshaven once it was completed, he gave the crew of the Atlantis their final command with the words “Crew dismissed!”
Assembled for the last time at Wilhelmshaven, where each of the officers was promoted by one grade in rank, and each of the ratings was promoted to Petty Officer, they received their orders, and went their separate ways.
The cruise of the raider Atlantis lasted 622 days, longer than any other raider, covering 102,00 miles, sinking or capturing 22 ships for a total of 145,968 tons.
Kapitän-zur-See Bernhard Rogge was promoted to Konteradmiral (Rear Admiral) on March 1 1943, and to Vizeadmiral (Vice Admiral) exactly two years later.
Appointed commander of Kampfgruppe Rogge, which included the heavy cruisers Lützow and Admiral Scheer, and with his flag in the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, he assisted the retreating German armies along the northern Baltic coastline from November 1944, helping to rescue over 500,000 troops and almost 2,000,000 civilian refugees from the advancing Russian armies.
On the afternoon of May 7 1945, in Copenhagen, in compliance with the terms of the German surrender, and the last order he received in the Second World War, Rogge instructed the captain of the Prinz Eugen, to lower his battle ensign.
On the following day, two Royal Navy vessels arrived to formally accept the surrender and take control of the ship.
One of them was the cruiser Devonshire - the ship that had sunk the Atlantis.
On May 24, the Prinz Eugen left Copenhagen, escorted by HMS Devonshire, arriving at Wilhelmshaven on May 26, where Vizeadmiral Rogge surrendered her to the Allied authorities.
Two days later, instructed to do so by the British commander, he issued an order dissolving his command, effective May 28 1945.
Recalled to active service as part of the reconstitution of the German armed forces by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), he joined the newly formed Bundesmarine, with the rank of Konteradmiral on June 1 1957.
With responsibility for the Military District of Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg, he was subsequently promoted commander of all ground, air, and sea forces responsible for the defence of northern Germany, a position in which he continued to serve until his retirement on March 31 1962.
Bernhard Rogge died in Hamburg on June 29 1982, aged eighty-three.