Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations
June 28th, 1918.
PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL.
My dear Admiral,
I have just returned from a visit to our forces in Ireland, including some of the air stations. While I was there, I ran across an officer who was in command of the vessel that sank the last raider that Germany attempted to send to sea.1
This occurred on March 16th <1917> which was before my arrival here. The destruction of this vessel was not reported by the British and was never acknowledged by the Germans. The circumstances were such that there were no survivors and of course the British did not want the Germans to know what had become of her. The latter have made enquiries from time to time as to the whereabouts of certain people who were on board, this with the object of ascertaining whether the vessel had been captured or destroyed.
The cruiser ACHILLES, a member of the northern patrol, was cruising in latitude about 65 and longitude about zero. She was in company with a boarding vessel. A steamer was sighted which to all appearances was a regular merchant steamer. The usual signals were made to which she replied that she was the RENA NORDE with a general cargo. She stated the port she came from but I do not remember what this was. It was some port in America.
The boarding steamer, DUNDEE, sent a boat on board a distance of about a thousand yards. The ACHILLES was something over five thousand yards away. After the boat had been alongside for some time on the opposite side from the ACHILLES the DUNDEE was seen to open fire. It was subsequently ascertained that the action was begun by the raider firing two torpedoes at the DUNDEE, both of which missed. She also fired a torpedo at the ACHILLES which broached astern of that vessel. The ACHILLES immediately opened fire. The raider did not reply until after the DUNDEE had fired about fortyfive shots. The incidents of the engagement were as follows:-
At 3.45 the DUNDEE and raider began firing and the ACHILLES joined in from a range of 5300 yards. The raider made a smoke screen. Shortly afterwards a submarine periscope was reported. The ACHILLES shots began hitting immediately and the raider was at once set on fire forward. The ACHILLES also fired a torpedo which made a hit. At 4 p.m. the ACHILLES checked her fire as the raider was burning fiercely and there were a number of explosions heard on board of her. The submarine was not sighted by the ACHILLES, but the DUNDEE reported to the ACHILLES that there was a submarine between her and the raider. Therefore xxxxxxxxxxxxxx firing was again opened until 4.33 when the raider listed and sank horizontally. She was a mass of flames at the rime and was red hot forward. The position at this time was 64.54 N. O. 22 E.
The boarding crew consisting of Lieutenant Lawson and five crewmen.2 They were on board during the action and were lost with the vessel. It is assumed that as soon as the[y] discovered the nature of the raider the latter attempted to torpedo the ACHILLES and DUNDEE and the action began. The raider was of about seven or eight thousand tons and had two screws. She flew the Norwegian flag and fought under those colors. She was armed with 4 6” guns on each side and one forward. She probably had another 6” gun in the stern. She had two or three smaller guns on each side.
The guns were concealed behind Norwegian flags pain[t]ed on ports and hinged at the bottom. These ports were dropped when she fired the two torpedoes.
It is not known why the raider did not open fire with her guns immediately she fired the torpedoes.
The DUNDEE fired 44 4” shots and 25 3-pounders, from a rangex of 1000 yards before the raider replied with her guns. The raider took a lot of sinking. The ACHILLES fired the following projectiles at her:-
9.2 Common pointed shell............9
9.2 H.E.Troyle.------------------ 108
7.5 Common pointed -------------- 9
9.2 H.E.Lyddite ----------------- 60
The raider had two torpedo tubes on each side, also masked by the Norwegian flag.
So far as is known this is the only raider the Germans have attempted to send out since the early part of 1917.
You will note that her battery was of very considerable power, and that she could probably have defeated the vessels of the TACOMA class, not to mention the BIRMINGHAM class.
The above is for your personal information, as the British do not wish information about this vessel to get out.
Very sincerely yours,
P.S.Neither the ACHILLES nor DUNDEE was hit. It is not known why the raider did not open fire sooner. Her shooting was very wild. She was bound out, and possibly the men had little training. The captain of the ACHILLES believes that when the men knew the nature of the ship was discovered, the men, believing they would all be killed (they assumed at that time that the British would take no prisoners), broke into the “rum” supply. All of their shooting was very wild. One gun was still firing when she went down.
Admiral W.S.Benson, U.S.Navy,
Chief of Naval Operations, Navy Department,
Source Note: LTS, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 23.
Footnote 1: The officer in question is Capt. Francis M. Leake, Commanding Officer, Achilles. As described in the rest of this letter, Sims is referring to the action of Achilles and Dundee in sinking the German raider Leopard on 16 March 1917. For more on this event-including copies of the war diaries of Achilles and Dundee, see, http://www.naval-history.net/WW1Battle1703Leopard.htm.
Footnote 2: Lt. Frederick H. Lawson, Seaman Henry Anderson, Seaman Henry J. Anderson, Seaman John M. Anderson, Seaman, Robert J. Anderson, Able Seaman Alfred Birchall, all members of the Royal Naval Reserves.