Within a fortnight of the Wolf laying mines off Gabo Island her first victim in Australian waters was claimed.

The 8993 [9471] ton British vessel and Federal Steam Navigation Co. steamer, S.S. Cumberland, departed Sydney on the 5th of July 1917. Constructed by W. Hamilton & Co. Ltd of Port Glasgow in 1915, she was bound for London via southern Australian ports with a cargo of meat and mails. As she passed some ten miles off Gabo Island on 6 July she unknowingly entered the third and final minefield to be sown by the Wolf. She struck a mine and the subsequent explosion caused serious damage to the ship’s hull near No. 2 hold yet despite this she remained afloat and was able to be steered toward Gabo Island and beached without loss of life. Assistance was called for and salvage measures carried out which enabled the vessel to be refloated. However, whilst under tow by the tug James Patterson in heavy seas, the repairs failed and the Cumberland sank off Green Cape southeast of Eden in 35 fathoms of water.

SS Cumberland at Gabo Island
SS Cumberland at Gabo Island
Detail from Postcard. Author’s Collection.

At this time the Wolf was still close enough to intercept radio signals from Australia. and so inform Nerger and his crew of their success. It would have been amusing to Nerger from news reports that suspicion for the disaster had fallen on the International Workers of the World (IWW), a labour organisation that was blamed for planting an “infernal machine” or bomb on board the vessel. It was eight months out and Nerger’s luck was still holding.

The loss of the Cumberland was attributed to an internal explosion – an enquiry and evidence given by divers off the Japanese Cruiser (Hirado) suggested this was the cause.

S.S. Cumberland ashore at Gabo
Postcard. Author’s Collection.

It was either too incredible to believe or acknowledge that a mine, laid by the enemy so close to Australia’s shores, could have been the cause. Nevertheless, within weeks of the Cumberland‘s loss newspapers throughout Australia reported the following:

Newspaper report - Mine-sweeping Section is formed in Australia
Herald, Thursday 19 July 1917, page 16

© Ralph L. Sanderson 2004-2021

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