Military Wiki
SMS Cormoran (1909)
SMS Cormoran (1909).jpg
SMS Cormoran
Career (German Empire)
Name: SMS Cormoran aka SMS Cormoran II
Namesake: SMS Cormoran I
Builder: Schichau Yard at Elbing
Launched: 1909 as SS Ryazan
Acquired: captured by SMS Emden
Commissioned: 10 August 1914 as SMS Cormoran II
Fate: scuttled at Apra Harbor, Guam on 7 April 1917
General characteristics
Displacement: 3,500 t (3,400 long tons)
Speed: 17 kn (31 km/h; 20 mph)
Armament: 8 × 105 mm (4.1 in) quick-firing guns

SMS Cormoran or SMS Cormoran II was built at Danzig, Germany in 1909 for the Russian merchant fleet and named SS Ryazan (Rjasan or Rjäsan, from the Russian town of Ryazan). She was used by imperial Russia as a combination passenger, cargo and mail carrier on North Pacific routes.


SS Ryazan was captured southeast of the Korean peninsula by the light cruiser SMS Emden on 4 August 1914 as the first prize of World War I from the Russian empire.[1] SS Ryaezan was taken to Tsingtao in the German colony Kiautschou and converted to an armed merchant raider. The new Cormoran replaced the original SMS Cormoran, a small shallow draft cruiser that had a long Imperial Navy career in the Pacific, having taken part in the events that brought Kiautschou into the German colonial empire in 1897-1898. The old Cormoran was laid up at Tsingtao with serious maintenance issues and unable to go to sea, and all of her armaments were transferred to the captured merchant ship.

On 10 August 1914, the new Cormoran or Cormoran II left Tsingtao harbor and sailed through the South Pacific region, pursued by Japanese warships.[2] On 14 December, Cormoran II pulled into Apra Harbor in the U.S. Territory of Guam with only 50 t (55 short tons) of coal remaining in her bunkers.

Due to strained diplomatic relations between the United States and Germany and the limited amount of coal stored at Guam, Governor William John Maxwell refused to supply Cormoran with more than a token amount of coal. U.S. authorities ordered the ship to leave within 24 hours or submit to detention. This created a standoff between the German crew and the Americans that lasted nearly two years, until Governor Maxwell was involuntarily placed on the sick list and replaced by his subordinate, William P. Cronan, who decided that the German crew should be treated as guests of the United States. The Cormoran was still not permitted to leave the harbor, but the crew were treated as friends, achieving a minor celebrity status on the island.

When the U.S. Congress declared war on Germany on 7 April 1917, Captain Adalbert Zuckschwerdt scuttled his ship rather than surrender her. This caused the "first shot" to be fired between the United States and Imperial Germany during World War I[citation needed], though almost no US history books mention it. Naval forces at Guam saw the German crew preparing to sink the ship and fired a shot over their bow. Ironically, nine crew members perished during the scuttling of the ship and were buried with full military honors in the naval cemetery at Agana. After Americans rescued and captured the surviving Germans, Cronan congratulated Zuckschwerdt for the bravery of his men. The U.S. Navy conducted a limited salvage operation and the ship's bell was recovered. It is exhibited at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum at Annapolis, Maryland. Other artifacts have been removed by divers over the years.

The German crew was sent to Fort Douglas, Utah, where some were transferred to Fort McPherson, Georgia. They were returned home to Germany nearly one year after the war's end on 7 October 1919.

SMS Cormoran II rests 110 ft (34 m) below the surface on her port side. The Japanese cargo ship Tokai Maru, {sunk by USS Snapper (SS-185)}, leans against her screw. It is one of the few places where divers can explore a World War I shipwreck next to a ship from World War II.[3]

In 1975 the wreck was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.[4] The ship was listed because of its association with World War I [5]

List of Crew Members

  • Wilhelm Hermann Grallert, Lindenau, Kreis Landeshut, Niederschlesien, Prussia
  • Fritz August Hermann Kutz, Labes, Kreis Regenwalde, Pommern, Prussia
  • Jakob Runck, Landau, Pfalz


  1. van der Vat, Gentlemen of War, p. 36
  2. New York Times: "Diary Bares Plots by Interned Men," December 28, 1917, accessed March 31, 2011
  3. "Tokai Maru Shipwreck in Guam". Micronesian Divers Association. Archived from the original on 2007-09-30. Retrieved 2007-11-27. 
  4. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named nris
  5. Lotz, David T. (1974). SMS Cormoran National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service. 


  • Burdick, Charles Burton (1979). The Frustrated Raider: The Story of the German Cruiser Cormoran in World War I. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. ISBN 978-0-8093-0899-6. OCLC 4194620. 
  • Van der Vat, Dan (1984). Gentlemen of War, The Amazing Story of Captain Karl von Müller and the SMS Emden. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.. ISBN 0-688-03115-3. 

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).