The discovery of mines and evidence of the Wolf

In January 1918, came the first real evidence of the Wolf‘s presence and activities off the New South Wales and New Zealand coasts. In a Confidential telegram dated 15 January 1918 from the Commander-in-Chief China to Navy Office the following information was relayed:

“Bottle found in sea 9th December off TOLI TOLI CELEBES by natives contained two papers forwarded to me by Consul-General Batavia. First (begins) Prisoners on board German Raider, will finder please notify British Authorities that German Raider passed Celebes this day 29th August on her way we presume to mine Singapore, Pedra Blanca, having previously mines [sic] CAPETOWN BOMBAY COLOMBO NORTH CAPE NEW ZEALAND COOK STRAIT GABO ISLAND.
Crews of following vessels are on board “TURRETELLA” “JUMNA” “WORDSWORTH” “DEE” “WAIRUNA” “WINSLOW” “BALUGA” “ENCORE” “MATUNGA” she has on board 110 mines to mine we think RANGOON CALCUTTA. She was formerly “WACHENFELS” of German Merchant Service (ends). Second Paper is a descriptive drawing of vessel, three island type one funnel two masts seven 6″ guns two on forecastle two on broadsides, one on poop, four torpedo tubes 18 inches. …”

On the 17 January 1918 the Senior Naval Officer (S.N.O.), Wellington received from Navy Office, in reference to the above message, a telegram, that advised:

“…am issuing following orders to Officers who issue War Warnings (begins):
Danger areas exist
Off Gabo
Off Cape Farewell Cook Strait
Off North Cape New Zealand.
Continue to issue warnings as before for (1) and (2).
For (3) vessels are to go North of Three Kings Islands and keep outside the hundred fathom line. (ends).

AA 18/0352

By this stage the Wolf was near to completing her epic voyage. Successfully avoiding the British Blockade in the North Sea for the second time, the raider eventually re-entered the [Baltic] and steamed into Kiel Harbour in February 1918. Her triumphant return and exploits were announced by the Germans with stories appearing in The Times . It was several days or weeks later when the major Australian and New Zealand dailies broke the news. The Australian and New Zealand public were thus informed of the fate of a number of missing vessels, including the Wairuna and Matunga and their crews, and of how close the enemy had infiltrated their home waters.

When the Wolf returned home she had already effectively destroyed some nine ships, including the Wairuna and Matunga had been sent to the bottom by her guns, and a further [ten] including the Cumberland and Port Kembla had fallen victim to her mines. A number of people had also lost their lives.

With the breaking of the news via London, it wasn’t long before an official announcement became necessary:

“According to official announcements 11 enemy mines had been located and destroyed on the New Zealand coast. Eight of these had been discovered and destroyed off Cape Farewell, at the western entrance to Cook Strait, in an area which had been suspected for some time past by the naval authorities, and which vessels had been warned to avoid. On February 15 [1918] a telegram from Wellington stated that the Naval Adviser had announced that an enemy mine had been discovered and exploded off Cape Farewell. On February 18 another official announcement was made that a second mine had been located in Cook Strait, and had been destroyed. On Febrary 25 it was stated by Captain Hall-Thompson that a further five mines had been exploded, while on May 5 it was announced that another mine had been found in the same area. The first mine discovered in the north was washed ashore on the eastern coast of the Great Barrier Island on March 11, and was stated by the Naval Adviser to be a derelict which had broken away from a mine-field.
A week or two ago the New Zealand Naval Adviser (Captain J. H. Hall-Thompson) announced that further operations of the New Zealand mine-sweeping trawler had located an enemy mine-field. Two mines had been recovered and destroyed. The operations of the mine-sweepers, the naval Adviser stated, were still continuing. He warned the public “that the mines are liable to break away and be washed on shore,” and added, “ Should any person find a mine, he should report the fact at once to the nearest naval, military, police, or Customs authority, and is advised not to tamper with it in any way beyond endeavoring to make sure that it does not again float to sea.”
The mines located are somewhat oval in shape with five horns, two lifting bolts at the top end and mooring arrangements at the base, with a height of about 4ft. 6in. and a diameter of about 3ft.”

newspaper report

“The New Zealand trawlers Simplon and Nora Niven, and later the whaler Hananui were chartered from their owners, together with their crews of fishermen, and these, assisted by naval ratings from the Philomel were employed for 15 months in this work. … 47 mines out of a total of 60, which the Germans now state they had laid, were actually accounted for.”

[to be continued…]

© Ralph L. Sanderson 2004-2021

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