|Action of 8 May 1941|
|Part of World War II|
HMS Cornwall in 1929.
|United Kingdom||Nazi Germany|
|Commanders and leaders|
|1 heavy cruiser||1 auxiliary cruiser|
|Casualties and losses|
1 heavy cruiser slightly damaged,|
1 auxiliary cruiser sunk|
|Civilian Casualties: ~200 killed|
The Action of 8 May 1941 was a single ship action fought during the Second World War in the course of which the British heavy cruiser HMS Cornwall sank the German auxiliary cruiser Pinguin. The engagement took place off the Seychelles, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, north of Madagascar.
Cornwall carried eight 8 in (200 mm) guns in four twin turrets, four 4 in (100 mm) anti-aircraft guns in two twin turrets, two four-barrel 2-pounder pom-pom guns, and two .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns. Cornwall also carried three aircraft with one catapult.
The auxiliary cruiser Pinguin was originally the freighter Kandelfels, which had been launched in 1936. As an auxiliary cruiser, she carried six 5.9 in (150 mm) guns, one 2.95 in (75 mm) gun, two 37 mm (1.46 in) anti-aircraft guns, four 20 mm (0.79 in) autocannon, and two torpedo tubes. She also carried one Arado Ar 196A-1 floatplane. Of the two ships, Cornwall's armament was the more powerful.
In January 1941, Pinguin was at the high point in her commerce raiding career while Cornwall was receiving rudder repairs in Selborne. By 15 January, Pinguin had captured 14 Norwegian merchant vessels. She took three factory ships and 11 whalers, all belonging to the same whaling company. She sent the prizes to occupied France where one was renamed Adjutant and was used as minelayer for the German raiders in the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean.
Months later, in May, Cornwall's mission was to find and destroy the German raider as it cruised off Africa. Pinguin's position and description was given away as it sunk an oil tanker whose crew managed to get the warning out. On 8 May, Cornwall found Pinguin.
The battle began when Cornwall sighted a vessel off the Seychelles. She pursued and challenged what her captain thought was a merchant, unarmed, freighter but was actually the dangerous Pinguin. (As was customary among German commerce raiders, it was disguised as a merchant ship and flew the flag of a neutral country). Catching the British off guard, Captain Ernst-Felix Krüder of Pinguin attacked Cornwall. At least one shell hit Cornwall, causing little damage, but enough to force her to seek repairs after the battle. The two vessels exchanged volleys, with the British having a clear advantage in main artillery: 8 guns of 8 inch-caliber to the Germans 6 guns of 6 inch-caliber. They also had superior range finders and general gunnery direction. Eventually, after receiving several heavy shell hits above, at and below the water line, Pinguin began to sink and her crew were ordered to abandon ship.
Only one British sailor was killed in the engagement; the sailor was somewhere near Cornwall's stern when killed by Pinguin's opening rounds. No Britons are known to have been wounded.
Among the men on Pinguin were 222 prisoners, merchant sailors that the Germans had taken captive from over 30 different merchant vessels. About 200 of the prisoners went down with the ship; only 22 survived. Around 332 Germans were killed; 60 were rescued and taken captive. Pinguin sank and the victorious Cornwall returned to Durban for repairs to her light battle damage.
- British and Empire Warships of the Second World War, H T Lenton, Greenhill Books, ISBN 1-85367-277-7
- August Karl Muggenthaler (1977). German Raiders of World War II. ISBN 0-7091-6683-4.
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