Tuesday, May 18, 2010

SMS Geier/USS Schurz


Figure 1: The German cruiser SMS Geier of the Imperial German Navy, circa 1894 to 1914. Courtesy Deutsches Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive). Click on photograph for larger image.


Figure 2: Kaiser Wilhelm II visiting the German cruiser SMS Geier and addressing the crew, date unknown, probably at the Imperial Dockyard at Wilhelmshaven, Germany. Courtesy Deutsches Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive). Click on photograph for larger image.


Figure 3: Kaiser Wilhelm II inspecting the officers of the German cruiser SMS Geier, date unknown, probably at the Imperial Dockyard at Wilhelmshaven, Germany. Courtesy Deutsches Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive). Click on photograph for larger image.


Figure 4: Kaiser Wilhelm II inspecting the crew of the German cruiser SMS Geier, date unknown, probably at the Imperial Dockyard at Wilhelmshaven, Germany. Courtesy Deutsches Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive). Click on photograph for larger image.


Figure 5: Kaiser Wilhelm II on the bridge of the German cruiser SMS Geier, date unknown, probably at the Imperial Dockyard at Wilhelmshaven, Germany. Courtesy Deutsches Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive). Click on photograph for larger image.


Figure 6: SMS Geier in the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal, date unknown. Courtesy: http://www.kaiserliche-marine.de/. Click on photograph for larger image.


Figure 7: Post card showing SMS Geier in 1894, probably shortly after being launched. Courtesy theFrankes.com, also at: http://www.thefrankes.com/wp/?p=593. Click on photograph for larger image.


Figure 8: SMS Geier, date and place unknown. Courtesy U.S. Warships of World War I. Click on photograph for larger image.


Figure 9: USS Schurz, formerly SMS Geier, date and place unknown. Courtesy Robert Hurst . Click on photograph for larger image.


SMS (which stands for Seiner Majest├Ąt Schiff or His Majesty's Ship) Geier was a 1,630-ton Bussard class cruiser that was built by the Kaiserliche Werft (Imperial Dockyard) at Wilhelmshaven, Germany, and was launched on 18 October 1894. Geier, which means vulture in German, had a steel hull and coal-fired engines, and was equipped with a barque sail rig to extend her range (this was later changed to a schooner rig). The ship was commissioned into the German Imperial Navy (Kaiserliche Marine) on 24 October 1895. Geier was approximately 254 feet long and 32 feet wide, had a top speed of 16 knots, and had a crew of 197 officers and men. Geier originally was armed by the German Navy with eight 4.1-inch guns, five 37-mm guns, and two 17-inch torpedo tubes, but was converted to carry only four 5-inch guns when the ship was commissioned into the US Navy.

Although originally built to serve in Germany’s overseas colonies, Geier remained in local German waters for roughly four years. Her extensive colonial duties began in 1898, when she steamed to Haiti to assist in suppressing an uprising there. Later that same year, she participated in the evacuation of German citizens from Havana, Cuba, during the Spanish-American War. For the next two years, Geier patrolled off the coast of South America, visiting German and foreign naval bases. In 1899, Geier was re-classified from a cruiser to a light cruiser. In 1900, Geier was sent to China to protect German troops and interests during the infamous Boxer Rebellion. The ship remained in China until 1905 and then returned to European waters. From 1911 to 1913, Geier took part in the Italo-Turkish war, protecting German citizens and property during that violent conflict. In 1913, the ship was ordered to sail to Dar es Salaam, located in what then was known as German East Africa. While in East African waters, Geier resumed her usual duties of guarding German citizens and financial interests in the area. She also was re-classified once again in May 1914 and was downgraded from a light cruiser to a gunboat.

Shortly after the start of World War I in August 1914, Geier was ordered to steam from German East Africa to Germany’s colonial base at Tsingtao, China. Once there, she was to join Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee’s Far Eastern Squadron. However, patrolling British, French, and Japanese warships in the area prevented the small gunboat from reaching her destination. Geier, therefore, began independent commerce raiding operations while eluding Allied warships. In early September, Geier captured the British freighter Southport in the Eastern Caroline Islands. Geier’s crew attempted to disable the merchant ship’s engines and then sailed on. But the crew of the Southport was able to fix the damaged engines and sail to Australia, where her captain reported the incident to British Naval authorities. Geier then was a hunted ship, but managed to avoid being captured for roughly a month. By this time Geier also had covered a lot of ocean and was in urgent need of repairs and coal. Her captain, therefore, decided to enter a neutral port to buy some time for his ship. On 17 October 1914, Geier entered the neutral US port at Honolulu, Hawaii. Soon after her arrival, though, two Japanese warships (the battleship Hizen and the armored cruiser Asama) arrived in the area and began patrolling outside of Hawaii’s three-mile limit, waiting for Geier to leave the neutral port. But on 8 November, Geier was interned by the United States.

Once the United States entered World War I on 6 April 1917, Geier was seized by the US Navy and on 9 June were renamed Schurz, after Carl Schurz, the famous American writer, speaker, Union Army general, and politician. The ship was overhauled and officially commissioned into the US Navy as USS Schurz on 15 September 1917. On 31 October, Schurz left Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and escorted Submarine Division 8 to San Diego, California. After arriving on 12 November, Schurz continued her journey in early December by escorting four submarines south to the Panama Canal. After transiting the canal at the end of December, the small convoy proceeded north to Honduras. On 4 January 1918, Schurz was relieved of escort duty and steamed to Key West, Florida. After making a brief visit to New Orleans, Louisiana, Schurz left on 1 February for Charleston, South Carolina, to be dry docked and overhauled.

Schurz left Charleston by the end of April 1918 and was assigned to the American Patrol Detachment. For the next two months, Schurz patrolled the waters off America’s east coast and the Caribbean and was given escort and towing missions. On 19 June, she left New York for Key West. But during the early morning hours of 21 June 1918, Schurz was rammed off Cape Lookout, North Carolina, by the merchant ship Florida. Florida hit the gunboat on the starboard side, smashing part of the bridge and causing major damage below the waterline. One of Schurz’s crewmembers was killed during the collision and twelve others were injured. Seeing that the gunboat could not be saved, USS Schurz’s captain, Commander Arthur Crenshaw, gave the order to “abandon ship” and three hours later she sank.