Auxiliary Cruiser (Raider)

Michel

Michel (HSK-9) was an auxiliary cruiser of the German Navy that operated as a merchant raider during World War II. Built by Danziger Werft in Danzig 1938/39 as the freighter Bielsko for Polish Gdynia-America-Line (GAL), she was requisitioned by the Kriegsmarine at the outbreak of World War II and converted into the hospital ship Bonn and in summer 1941 into auxiliary cruiser Michel, commissioned on 7 September 1941. Known to the KM as Schiff 28, her Royal Navy designation was Raider H. She was the last operative German raider of World War II.

First Raiding Voyage

Although Michel was scheduled to leave at the end of November 1941 she was unable to depart before March 1942 due to reconstruction delays. After moving under heavy escort through the Channel to a port in occupied France, Michel sailed on 20 March 1942 under the command of FK (later KzS) Helmuth von Ruckteschell (who had previously commanded HSK 3, the raider Widder).

Michel grounded at on her first attempt to run through the Channel and had to return but managed to reach the Atlantic on 20 March after a second try. Thereby on 14/15 March the cruiser and the escorts were repeatedly attacked by British forces, without success. Michel was to operate in the South Atlantic and first sank the British tanker Patelle (7,469 gross register tons (GRT)) on 19 April. On 22 April her small torpedo boat sank the US tanker Connecticut (8,684 GRT) but on 1 May an attack on the faster British freighter Menelaus failed. After its warning the Royal Navy sent out the cruiser HMS Shropshire and two AMCs.

Michel sank the Norse freighter Kattegat (4,245 GRT) on 20 May.

LS 4 Esau discovered the struggling US Liberty ship SS George Clymer (6,800 GRT) and scored two torpedo hits but the freighter refused to go down. The nearby British AMC Alcantara dashed forward and rescued the crew but the ship had to be abandoned. The Germans retreated when the British ship came in sight but nevertheless both the British and US ships did not see the Michel and thought the George Clymer was attacked by a submarine.

Various other successes followed, as Michel operated in the South Atlantic and Indian oceans. After a successful cruise of eleven and a half months, Michel arrived in Japan in March 1943, via Singapore where rescued sailors were off loaded.

In 346 days she encountered and sank 15 allied ships, totalling 99,000 tons (GRT).

Second Raiding Voyage

After a refit, Michel sailed from Yokohama on 21 May 1943, this time under the command of KzS Günther Gumprich, who had previously commanded the Thor on her second voyage.

Cruising the west coast of Australia, and crossing the Pacific Ocean to the coast of South America, Michel encountered and sank three ships over a five-month period for a total of 27,632 GRT, before returning to Japan.

The fate of the last victim of Michel, the Norwegian tanker India, sunk in the southern Pacific on 11 September 1943 with all hands, was not known until the end of the war.

On 29 August, Michel´s lookouts had sighted what they identified as a Pensacola-class cruiser. Gumprich ordered a northern course to avoid meeting the enemy unit. According to the log of the American light cruiser USS Trenton, she had a radar contact which lasted for 15 minutes on the previous day. Trenton was patrolling between 22°05′S 172°46′W and 20°16′S 174°56′W. Had the American cruiser investigated further, is quite possible that the India might have been saved.

Fate

On her return to Japan, just 50 miles (80 km) out from port, and not zigzagging, Michel was sighted by US submarine Tarpon, that attacked in one of the few instances of American submarines attacking a German vessel during World War II, hitting her with three torpedoes.

Michel sank, with 290 of her crew, including her captain. The survivors, 116 in total, were able to reach Japan after a three-day journey in open boats. Scores of men had been left on rafts and floating wreckage, but the Japanese Navy reported that search aircraft had seen nothing.

This caused some controversy amongst German Navy officers in Japan and at Naval Headquarters, with the Japanese seeming to have a blasé attitude towards possible German survivors. This event ended the war cruises of German auxiliary commerce raiders.

Raiding career

First Voyage

    1942-04-19 Patella 7,468 GRT

    1942-04-22 Connecticut 8,684 GRT

    1942-05-20 Kattegat 4,245 GRT

    1942-06-07 George Clymer 7,176 GRT

    1942-06-11 Lylepark 5,186 GRT

    1942-07-15 Gloucester Castle 8,006 GRT

    1942-07-16 William F Humphrey 7,893 GRT

    1942-07-17 Aramis 7,984 GRT

    1942-08-14 Arabistan 5,874 GRT

    1942-09-10 MS American Leader 6,778 GRT

    1942-09-11 Empire Dawn 7,241 GRT

    1942-11-02 Reynolds 5,113 GRT[5]

    1942-11-29 Sawokla 5,882 GRT

    1942-12-08 Eugenie Livanos 4,816 GRT

    1943-01-02 Empire March 7,040 GRT

Second Voyage

    1943-06-15 Høegh Silverdawn 7,715 GRT.

    1943-06-17 Ferncastle 9,940 GRT

    1943-09-11 India 9,977 GRT

Korvettenkapitan Helmuth von Ruckteschell, commander of Michel.


Died in prison in 1948 after being convicted of failing to show sufficient concern for the safety of crews of the Allied merchantmen that he attacked without warning.


(Deutches U-Boot Museum)

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