Orion (Ship 36)
"Orion," formerly the single screw vessel "Kurmark" of 7021 tons, had been built in 1930 and was engined with half the propelling plant from the liner "New York."
In an attempt to match the speed of the Cunard, French, and Italian fast merchant ships, "New York" was made longer and refitted with new and more powerful engines. Thus, half of her old engines were given to "Orion," a decision which was to bring incredible problems to "Orion's" crew.
This raider made a cruise lasting from April 6, 1940, to August 23, 1941. Her armament was similar to that fitted in "Atlantis," but she had 6 torpedo tubes and 228 mines. The aircraft on board was an Arado 196, to be replaced in Japan by a Nakajima 90-Il
Her first disguise was as the Dutch "Beemsterdijk" but just after sailing, it was learned that her new identity was actually in the West Indies, so she quickly became a Russian vessel, the "Soviet."
"Orion" was to be stationed in the eastern half of the Indian Ocean but, on March 6, her captain was ordered to wait in the North Atlantic. Her flrst victim was the British ship "Haxby" sunk on April 24. Disguise was again changed, this time, "Orion" became the Greek, "Rocos."
On May 1, the equator was crossed, then Cape Horn rounded on May 21, as "Rocos" headed for New Zealand waters, having been ordered to operate off Australia and New Zealand from mid June to the end of September, at that time to rendevous with a Supply ship in the Caroline Islands, and then go via the Indian Ocean into the Atlantic.
The life of a German commerce raider was a lonely one, their only contact with home was the radio, or when meeting up with a Supply ship, the unchanging seascape always there, a vigilent lookout being mandatory to avoid being surprised by a hostile Naval ship or discovered by an aircraft, but the latter was much safer than the former.
By June13, "Orion" was off Auckland, where she laid her nest of mines. In due course, they had snared the "Niagara" of 13,415 tons, the "Port Bowen," 8267 tons and the smaller "Baltavia," just 1739 tons. A good return for a relatively small outlay
On her way to the meeting with "Winnetou" her Supply ship, "Orion" stopped the Norwegian Motor Ship "Tropic Sea" wiith a load of Australian wheat bound for the US. A prize crew and 55 prisoners they were carrying were put on hoard, and the ship sent home to Germany. Having almost made it, she was stopped by the British Submarine "Truant," and was then scuttled. Such were the vagaries of the war at sea!
"Truant" picked up the prisoners from the 'Haxby," a Sunderland Flying Boat from Coastal Command collected some Norwegians - the remainder including the Gerrman prize crew made it ashore into Spain.
"Orion" spent many fruitless days on the trade routes of the Pacific, but the seas remained bare. On August 10, she sighted the phosphate carrier "Triona," off Brisbane, Australia. This ship quickly altered course 180 degrees and made off in the direction that she had come from. Captain Weyher believed his ship was not fast enough to catch up with "Triona" before nightfall, and, as she had not sent out an alarm signal, he wanted to keep his presence in the area a secret.
Weyher now decided he would take a look at "Noumea" although lighthouses on the coast were unlit, he found the street lighting ablaze, and useful for navigation's purposes, just as Gerrnan U-Bloats were assisted by city lights on the East coast of the US, before Pearl Harbor
"Orion's" Arado aircraft had been forced down on the ocean by fuel pump defects, and most of August 14 was spent searching for it. Finally it was found and recovered, and the pilot reported that 3 ships were alongside in Noumea. "Widder" a sister ship to "Orion" had been reported to be at large by the British so Weyher changed his ship's appearance by cutting down 2 derrick masts, and rigging a further mast aft.
"Orion" now headed south and 2 days later came across a vessel heading for Noumea, the tropic darkness descended, and the ship switched on her navigation lights, "Orion" followed suit, then by signal lamp ordered this ship to stop, and not use her radio, a warning shot soon reinforced the "STOP ORDER," it was the French ship "Notu" of 2,489 tons, she was soon sunk.
West of Cook Strait, "Orion" on the 20th. of August, came across "Turakina" who had a cargo of lead, grain, and 7,000 tons of wool, she finally slipped beneath the waves after taking 7 hits from the Raider's gunfire, and Torpedoes.
Ships steaming alone were always at the mercy of an Armed Raider. On many occasions it was not possible or practicable to send off a distress signal. To break radio silence tended to make the victim very vulnerable to withering gunfire, and extra loss of life for her crew members.
As a case in point, 'Turakina." firstly did not stop when ordered. She broadcast a distress message, and, when engaged by gunfire, she bravely returned that fire with her single stern gun. But, she was to pay a high price for this resistence. Out of a crew of 57, only 21 were picked up, and 7 of those were wounded.
The loss of"Turakina," brought lively radio traffic from Brisbane, and between ships and aircraft and Weyher decided to take himself away from this area and made for the South west corner of the Australian continent, where it had been reported that on average, some 50 ships per month could be expected to pass through the area.
"Orion" was sighted by a Hudson of the Royal Australian Air Force which was working out of BusseIton but Weyher merely continued to cruise a westerly course, and on the 9th. of August was ordered via radio to rendezvous in a month's time in the Marshall lslands with the Supply ship "Regensburg." He had a long way to steam and set off to the east on his way to carry out this command from his control in Germany.
On the 4th. of October "Orion" fell in with the Norwegian "Ringwood" who was making for Ocean Island, having sailed from Shanghai in ballast with the intention of loading phosphates on her arrival. Alas she was not destined to make it, the vagaries of war deciding her fate, and she was scuttled
Four days later, "Orion" met up with her fellow raider "Komet" together with the tanker "Kulmerland" and the three ships steamed in line abreast just far enough apart, so that any enerny ship was unable to pass unsighted between any two of the German ships. Using this formation some 100 miles of oecan were scoured at any one time.They sailed to the junction of Cook Strait/Panama and the juncton of Auckland/Panama but found nothing. They then moved Southward some 300 miles, but again drew a blank. This group of ships now decided to move against Nauru, the phosphate lsland.
However, on the 27th of November, at 0300 (3 A.M.) a large ship, all blacked out, was sighted. It proved to be the "Rangitane" of 16,712 tons, carrying 303 passengers and crew. She was bound for Liverpool via the Panama Canal with 14,000 tons of butter and frozen meat. She was the largest passenger ship to he sunk by German Surface Raiders during the war.
On the way to Nauru, the "Triona" was despatched via a Torpedo. This action was subsequently criticised by their Gernnan control as a waste of a Torpedo. At such a distance, not really knowing the prevailing circumstanees, it is difficult to sit in judgement on the Captain or Captains involved in a specific action. Surely the man on the spot must have freedom of action to fight his ship as he sees fit, as long as he is always mindful of the safety of his command and his crew.
Off Nauru, the Norwegian "Vinni" of 5,181 tons was scuttled before she could arrive and then load Phosphates for Dunedin in New Zealand.
As a high swell was runring. the Captains of these German raiders decided that rather than land at Nauru, they would sink any Freighters laying off the island - thus "Komet" sank the N.Z. vessel "Komata." "Orion," not to be outclassed, soon disposed of two British ships, "Triadic," and "Triaster," both of 6,000 tons. 166 prisoners were taken, all achieved without any casualties.
In German hands were now 675 prisoners, of whom 52 were women and 8 were children. This large number posed problems with space, feeding and their general care. To keep all the Raiders fuelled and victualled, as they prowled the oceans, required a tremendous amount of planning, and organisation coupled with coordination to get any individual Raider to meet up with a designated Supply ship or Tanker at a selected spot on a particular chart, at an agreed date and time.
One can hear a Raider Captain asking his Navigating Officer: "Pilot, what course and speed do you want me to set, so that we will make our rendevous on time?" The poor Navigator may not have been able to get any sun or star sights because of bad weather; he is running on dead reckoning and prevailing tides could be playing havoc with his estimated positions.
He crosses his fingers, makes his best guesstimate, and tells the "Old Man" in a casual manner, "Steer 045 degrees, speed 12 Knots, and we would expect to sight our Tanker at 0725 in the morning." He leaves the bridge, hoping and praying that he will get some star shots that evening which will confirm or deny the accuracy of his advice. Any one of my readers who have had the responsibility of navigating a ship will indeed know all about that hypothetical scenario.
It was time to off load some of the prisoners, try and imagine what it must have been like to be captured by a German Raider. Firstly, comes the trauma of the action when the vessel you are aboard is confronted with an order "to stop, and do not use your wireless!" You need to abandon ship, most likely leaving all your possessions behind. If you have children aboard, you are petrified that something awul may happen to them. You ask yourself a woman, "will the Germans rape me?"
Once onboard the Raider, you are confined below decks, and never know where you are heading, or when you will arrive. There are further actions, and more prisoners are crowded onboard, some of whom are coloured, and your life has never before exposed you to such experiences, nor taught you how to cope with such drama.
Now you are to he landed and left behind on a lonely spot in the Pacific, at Emirau Island, situated south of Nauru. Will we be rescued? What other misfortunes could possibly happen to me now? In the event, all those put ashore at Emirau Island were soon to be rescued by the British.
The two German Captains had differing viewpoints on the landing of prisoners. Eyssen from the "Komet" landed everyone who was not a Regular soldier, or a R.A.F. volunteer, but Weyher, would only put ashore coloured prisoners.
Given the number of Armed Merchant Raiders that Germany put out into the Oceans, and their usual thoroughness in their planning, it is rather surprising that a comrnon polcy had not been formulated and published as to how the disposal of prisoners would be handled.
"Orion" after spending 268 days at sea, was due to refit (to be carried out by her own crew.) It was now decided that as prisoners had been released, they may well have disclosed that Raiders used the formerly secret bases of Ailinglap and Lamutrik, north and north west of the island of Nauru.
Thus, Maug, 800 miles to the north, was the site chosen for "Orion" to carry out the much needed maintenance and change of appearance. The tanker "Ermland" had yet to arrive, and when she did finally show up, carrying 183 white prisoners, it was necessary to keep her out of sight so that, in the future, these prisoners would not be aware of "Orion's" changed identity.
"Prisoners per se" posed many problems for their captors. It must have been tempting for the Germans, at the time of taking them, and after extracting any useful intelligence, to then just cast prisoners adrift in any available boats and be done with them.
Besides bringing the sustenance of oil fuel, "Ermland" also had on board a welcome addition, a "Nakajima" 90-11 seaplane, much superior to the present "Arado" aircraft. "Ermland" now made her way back to German occupied Europe, arriving at Bordeaux on the 13th. of April.
Eight different ships had now been used to keep "Orion" operational and, by the 2nd. of February 1941, she was ready to sail for the Indian Ocean, in company with "Ole Jacob" the plan being to lay a course that would take her to the east of New Zealand, and then south of Australia.
"Ole Jacob" was sighted by a Sunderland Flying Boat and reported to Port Morseby who in turn called a ship which the Germans thought was the Australian Navy H.M.A.S. "Stuart" an old destroyer.
Not wanting to be located in the Coral Sea, the two ships separated, and when "Orion" sighted a ship, she decided that it would be prudent not to attack it, thereby bringing the Sunderland back hot on her trail.
A long, uneventiul passage took place bringing "Orion" into the Indian Ocean, about half way between Australia and the east coast of Africa. All remained quiet, once again she luelled and set out for the area of Madagascar.
The "Arado" was flown off early in the morning of the 18th. of May. It was almost due to return to the ship when it reported a heavy British Cruiser but 45 miles away. "Orion" altered course to place distance between herself and the enemy warship. The British used their 8 by 8 inch gun County Class Cruisers to hunt down Armed German Merchant Raiders. They had a long range, if needed, they could steam at high speeds in the vicinity of 32 knots, and would be more than a match for any Merchant Ship type Raider.
After rushing off for 2 hours, Weyher was suprised to sight smoke a long way off on the horizon; it followed them, but to his relief it then disappeared. He did some calculations at his bridge chart table to discover that prior to his "Arado" warning, he had been on a course that would have delivered his ship into the waiting arms of the British Cruiser. It had indeed been a close run thing.
Once more, the value of carrying aircraft which could extend his eyes to a wider horizon was brought home to Weyher. In all, some 85 flights were made by the two aircraft aboard "Orion."
The Naval ship which his aircraft had seen was either "Cornwall" or "Glasgow," both Cruisers of the Royal Navy, the former, a County class ship had been responsible for sinking "Pinguin" a sister Raider, only 10 days earlier.
It was time to leave such a dangerous area, but the "Nakajima" was lost when taking off whilst close to Madagascar.
"Orion" now rounded the Cape of Good Hope in foul weather and entered the South Atlantic, proceeding west to Tristan de Cunha, where she fuelled from "Anneliese Essberger." Any Captian of a Raider is constantly worrying whence his next fuelling will come from and Weyher was no exception. He now learned from his control at home that two tankers destined to supply him had both fallen into British hands. So, at last, on the 21st. of July l94l, it was time for Weyher and his tired crew to go home.
"Orion" had not had a "Victory at sea" over the past 7.5 months. The tide turned, and they sighted a merchant ship in ballast, judged to be about 5 to 6,060 tons. Although 10 torpedos were used, none exploded, (the German torpedo had proved to be quite unreliable; it had exhibited poor depth keeping qualities and the magnetic pistol for exploding the warhead was also a problem.
Donitz, their U-Boat Commander, commented, "I do not believe that ever in the history of war have men been sent against the enemy wtth such a useless weapon." Strong words indeed from such a respected source!) This ship, the "Chaucer" was now sunk by gunfire, and her total crew of 48 rescued.
By the 15th. of August "Orion" was off the coast of Spain, and she conveniently changed her identity to become a neutral ship, the Spanish "Contramestre Casado," and was now picked up by a U-Boat escort, then German aircraft. This German Raider was certainly going to make it home.
She finally arrived at Gironde on the 23rd. of August, 1941, her record outstanding: 510 days at sea, 112,337 miles steamed, 12.5 ships sunk, totalling some 80,279 tons, the half ship being "Rangitane" which she shared with "Komet."
Her engines had been quite unreliable, there was no point in her going to sea again in her Raider capacity. All her armament was removed, to be fitted to other Merchant Raiders in due course to fight another day.
Carrying the new name of "Haktor" this successful Raider was sunk by bornbs off Swinemunde on the 4th. of May in 1945.
Weyher saw out the war in various Naval posts in the Black Sea, Crete, and in the east Frisian Islands.
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