Military Wiki
SS Libau
Model of the vessel displayed at the Cork Public Museum
Career (UK)
Name: SS Castro
Laid down: 1907
Fate: Captured by German Navy 1914
Career (Germany)
Name: SMS Libau (Aud)
Acquired: 1914
Fate: Scuttled 1916
General characteristics
Type: Merchant vessel
Length: 220 ft
Beam: 12 ft
Speed: 10 knots

The Libau (pronounced [lɪˈbaʊ]; also known as SS Castro) was a merchant steam ship. In 1916 it masqueraded under the cover name of Aud ([ʔaʊ̯d]) in an attempt to carry arms to Ireland as part of the preparation for the Easter Rising.[1]


The SS Castro was a steam cargo transport (1062 ton, 220 x 32 x 12 ft) built for the Wilson Line of Hull, England in 1907. The ship was captured by the Imperial German Navy in the Kiel Canal, at the beginning of World War I in August 1914. Renamed the Libau (the German name of Liepāja), she remained inactive until 1916, when designated as the vessel to carry a cargo of arms to Ireland, to aid the Easter Rising, and given the name Aud.

Smuggling operation

Masquerading as the SS Aud —an existing Norwegian vessel of similar appearance— the Libau set sail from the Baltic port of Lübeck on 9 April 1916, under the Command of Karl Spindler, bound for the south-west coast of Ireland. Under Spindler was a crew of 22 men, all of whom were volunteers. The Libau/Aud, laden with an estimated 20,000 rifles, 1,000,000 rounds of ammunition, 10 machine guns, and explosives (under a camouflage of a timber cargo), evaded patrols of both the British 10th Cruiser Squadron and local Auxiliary patrols.

After surviving violent storms off Rockall, the Libau arrived in Tralee Bay on 20 April. There they were due to meet with Roger Casement and others, with Casement having been landed nearby by U-19. Due to a combination of factors (primarily as the ship carried no radio and was unaware that the date for its arrival off Fenit had been altered from Thursday, 20 April to Sunday, 23 April) the transfer of arms did not take place. The Libau, attempting to escape the area, was trapped by a blockade of British ships. Captain Spindler allowed himself to be escorted towards Cork Harbour, in the company of Acacia class sloop HMS Bluebell. The German crew then scuttled the ship.[2]

Spindler and crew were interned for the duration of the war.[3]

At this point Roger Casement and his companions who had been landed by the submarine U-19 in Kerry had been captured in an old ringfort or rath, between Ardfert and Tralee .

The car-load of Volunteers who were supposed to meet Spindler had crashed, many miles away, near Kenmare so there was no hope of an organised transfer of arms. With Spindler and his crew on a ship with no radio or other means of communicating their plight the poorly organised gun-running plan was nearing an end.


"Aud rifles"

A number of rifles were recovered from the Libau before the vessel was scuttled. Several examples exist in various museums in Britain and Ireland. Among these are the Cork Public Museum in Fitzgerald's Park in Cork, a museum in Lurgan County Armagh, the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, and the Imperial War Museum in London. The majority of these rifles are the model known as the Mosin–Nagant 1891, or "three-line rifle", captured in the German rout of Russian forces in the Battle of Tannenberg. These rifles have been referred to in various publications as being 'outmoded and out of date;'[4] – in fact they were well comparable with many of the leading makes of the era. They were a different calibre from German rifles and therefore, for logistic reasons, the Germans preferred not to issue them for the use of their own troops. They were magazine rifles, which enabled the user to pre-load five rounds from a clip plus, when needed, one more in the breech, and then fire in reasonably rapid succession with good accuracy, using relatively modern .30 calibre ( in millimetres 7.62×54mmR ) spitzer-nosed bullets. Per Russian preference, the rifles aboard the Libau were equipped with the Russian model of socket bayonets, s.c. "Rat-tails".


In 2012 a licenced salvage operation raised the Aud's anchors from the wreck site in Cork harbour. Following conservation and desalination works the anchors are expected to be put on public display.[5]


Further sources and reading

  • de Courcy Ireland, Dr John (1966). The Sea and the Easter Rising. Dublin: Maritime Institute of Ireland. 
  • Xander Clayton: AUD, Plymouth (GAC) 2007, ISBN 978-0-9555622-0-4

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