Warfare against an enemy’s naval commerce is not new. For centuries this was accomplished primarily through privateers. A government would issue Letters of Marque to private owners of ships that would authorize him to attack enemy shipping. The owner would add cannon to his ship, recruit a crew and off a hunting he would go. The victims of the privateer would invariably be the unprotected or very lightly protected merchantmen. The prize and cargo would be sold and the proceeds divided between captain, crew and owner. It was a form of legalized piracy and if caught, privateers were often treated like pirates. For the government, one big disadvantage was the lack of control over the privateer. Some would go too far and attack enemy, neutral or friend, basically becoming pirates. The privateer would return to port whenever he had enough loot. The privateer was a loose cannon.
With the coming of steam privateers disappeared. However, a new solution was found to attack the enemy’s commerce, the naval raider. Since the ship was part of the navy, control could be exercised in some degree over her operations. From 1862 to 1865 the Confederate States of America actively and very effectively used raiders to attack the merchantmen of the United States. CSS Florida, CSS Shenandoah, and especially CSS Alabama terrorized Union shipping and claimed so many victims that it took the US merchant marine a generation to recover.
At this same time traditional rivals Great Britain and France were busily engaged in building ironclads in competition with each other. However, France fell behind as she did not possess the industrial capacity to match that of the British. In the last half of the 19th century a new philosophy of naval warfare arose in the French navy. Called the Ecole Jeune, Young School, the philosophy embraced asymmetrical tactics. Since France could not build ship for ship with the British, it contemplated building multitudes of the cheap new wonder weapon, the torpedo boat, to attack and attrit the warships of the Royal Navy. At the same time long range cruisers would be built specifically to break through a British blockade and attack the British merchant marine on its world wide trade routes. In theory it posed a significant threat to Britain, which was dependent on her sea commerce.
World War One saw the introduction of a variant on the theme, the AMC, armed merchant cruiser. Both Germany and Britain converted merchantmen, usually liners, because of their size, coal capacity and speed, into AMCs for raiding for Germany or escort/AMC hunting for Britain. The AMC was also utilized by the Royal Navy in World War Two. The conversion was a simple process of slapping some guns on the deck. However, whether the commerce raider was a regular unit of the navy, such as the SMS Emden, or an AMC, the vessel flew the naval ensign of her country and did not try to hide her identity. Another variation came about with the Q ship. Since the German U-Boat fleet proved to be the most serious threat to British merchantmen, Britain equipped some merchant steamers with hidden guns. The U-Boat would normally attack on the surface, especially against an unarmed merchant. The Q ship would lure the U-Boat into close range and then open up on her vulnerable gun crew and fragile hull. The Q ship proved very effective at using this deception.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s Germany went back to the idea of cruiser designed specifically to attack trade. Restricted to building battleships of 10,000 tons, German naval designers came up with the panzer schiffe. Armed with six 11-inch guns, moderately armored and with a speed of 26 knots, the Deutchland, Admiral Scheer and Admiral Graf Spee could theoretically outfight anything faster and outrun anything stronger, except for the limited number of battlecruisers. Powered by diesel engines, the ships had tremendous range and posed a tremendous threat in commerce warfare. With the outbreak of World War Two, that was exactly how they were employed, as commerce raiders. However, even with their long range, they still had to refuel and rearm and were dependent upon supply vessels. As the supply vessels were captured or sunk, they eventually had to return to German controlled ports.
Germany came up with another solution that melded the concept of the AMC with the Q ship, the Hilfskreuzer. Rather than use fuel hungry liners that could be easily recognized and would out of place in many sea lanes of the world, nondescript merchant ships were armed, usually with outmoded deck guns, which were hidden in the manner of the WWI British Q ship. Deception would be one of the prime ingredients in their tactics. The longer that they could operate unrecognized and undiscovered, the longer that they would live. Not only were the larger hilfskreuzer given deck guns, but also they received torpedo tubes and Ar 196 reconnaissance seaplanes to find targets. The mission of the hilfskreuzer was not to engage allied naval units. That was to avoided at all costs because the large slow ships made large slow targets and were very vulnerable to gunfire. The sole mission was to attack undefended merchantmen.
Eight hilfskreuzer were outfitted by the Kriegsmarine; Orion HSK-1, Atlantis HSK-2, Widder HSK-3, Thor HSK-4, Pinguin HSK-5, Stier HSK-6, Komet HSK-7 and the last Kormoran HSK-8. The smallest was the Komet of 377 feet in length and 7,500 tons and the largest was the Kormoran of 538 feet in length and 19,000 tons. These large converted merchantmen had one tremendous asset conferred by their size, tremendous range. The larger the ship, the more fuel, ammunition and provisions could be stored. The Widder had the shortest range at 34,000nm with the Kormoran holding the longest range, an incredible 84,500 nm. The Kormoran would use her range to the fullest extent.
On September 15, 1938 the Krupp works at Kiel launched a new diesel powered motorship for the Hamburg-Amerika Line named the Steiermark. Early in 1940 the ship was taken over by the Kriegsmarine, armed for war as a hilfskreuzer and rechristened the Kormoran. She was fitted with six 5.9-inch (150mm) guns, four 37mm AA guns, four 20mm AA guns, four 21-inch torpedo tubes, 420 mines, two Ar-196 floatplanes and one Motor Torpedo Boat MTB (SL3), designed to carry 30 mines, for work in shallow waters. The two propeller shafts were each turned by two nine cylinder diesel-electric motors for a total of 16,720 bhp. Maximum speed was 18 knots. Of course to optimize her range to the full 84,500 nm, the cruising speed was 10 knots.
By December 1940 the Kormoran was ready for deployment. On December 3, 1940, under the command of Korvettenkapitan (Lt Cdr) Theodore Detmers, she sailed from Germany to break through the British blockade. This was the start of a raiding cruise that would end almost one year later. She successfully passed through the Denmark Strait without detection and initially operated in the North Atlantic. On January 6, 1941 Kormoran found her first victim, the Greek freighter Antonis. The crew was taken off the freighter before Detmers sank the Antonis with explosive charges. Twelve days later on January 18 the raider found the British Union, a tanker of 7,000 tons. The tanker was armed and engaged Kormoran with gunfire before the tanker caught fire and was abandoned. A torpedo finished her off. The British Union had radioed for help so the Kormoran could not stay to rescue the entire crew. However, 28 of the crew were taken aboard but another 17 were left in lifeboats. It was a night engagement and Kormoran used her searchlights to illuminate the tanker. The Australian AMC HMAS Arawa heard the tanker’s distress call, saw the gunfire & searchlights of the raider and sped to the scene. She narrowly missed intercepting the Kormoran, which escaped in the darkness.
Eleven days later on January 29 Kormoran enjoyed her most successful day of her one year cruise. She caught two ships. The Africa Star of 11,900 tons was the largest victim sunk during Kormoran's raid. She was a refrigerator ship carrying over 5,000 tons of meat from Argentina, plus 600 tons of butter. Her distress signals were successfully jammed by Kormoran. The ship was sunk by explosive charges after 76 crew and passengers were rescued. On the same day the medium freighter Eurylochus, 5,725 tons, was engaged. The freighter was carrying 16 bombers destined for the 8th Army in North Africa. The Eurylochus returned fire but was no match for the raider. After stopping 42 of the crew were rescued as the Kormoran’s crew set explosive charges. These charges were insufficient to sink the freighter and she was finally sunk by a torpedo. Another 38 crewmen of the freighter escaped in lifeboats and 28 were rescued the next day by a Spanish ship. Unfortunately one of the lifeboats had been destroyed when the torpedo hit the Eurylochus. On February 7, 1941 Kormoran rendezvoused with supply ships Nordmark and Duquesa. As Kormoran took on fuel and provisions, the captured allied crews were transferred to the supply ships. Also around this time there were rendezvous with the Admiral Scheer and Pinguin HSK-5. The Kapitain zur See (Captain) of the Pinquin proposed to Detmers, now a Fregattenkapitain (Commander), that the two raiders work together but Detmers preferred to work alone rather than as a subordinate to the other raider commander.
The North Atlantic was getting a little too hot, so Kormoran steamed south with the intent to round the Cape of Good Hope and enter the Indian Ocean. In March the raider bagged to merchantmen. On the 22nd the small tanker Agnita was engaged. The tanker tried to run but was soon stopped. Explosive charges and 5.9-inch fire failed to sink the small tanker because she was empty and the vacant oil tanks provided extra buoyancy. She was finally sunk by torpedo with 38 crewmen being rescued. On the 25th the 11,300 ton Canadian freighter Canadolite was encountered. The Canadolite had also been built by Krupp and was a new ship. The prisoners were transferred to her and under a prize crew Canadolite successfully reached occupied France, where she was converted into the blockade runner Sudetenland. Between March 28 and April 3 Kormoran made rendezvous with supply ships Nordmark and Rudolf Albrecht, as well as U-105 and U-106.
April saw two more sinkings. Craftsman, an 8,020-ton British freighter was caught on April 9. She was carrying a large torpedo net for Capetown, South Africa. After trying to run and then returning fire, the freighter finally surrendered. Explosive charges failed to sink her because of the floats for the net. Finally a torpedo was used. The floats came out the ruptured stern of Craftsman and for weeks later were reported by British ships as a German mine field. On the 21st the Greek freighter Nicolaos 5,485-tons. She was carrying lumber to Durban, South Africa. Explosive charges and gunfire failed to sink her because of the lumber, so she was left abandoned to eventually sink as the lumber became water logged. After this there were two more rendezvous with supply ships and also one with the raider Atlantis HSK-2.
Victims were becoming more difficult to locate in the Indian Ocean and two more months were to pass before Kormoran made another score. On June 26, 1941 the raider had another two-ship day. First was the small Yugoslav freighter Velebit 4,155-tons. The freighter refused to stop and was hit by 29 5.9-inch rounds. The freighter caught fire and nine of the crew were rescued. Kormoran left the freighter in flames but she did not sink. With the remaining crew, she managed to reach the Andaman Islands, where she was run aground as a wreck. The Australian freighter Mareeba 3,470-tons heard the distress calls of Velebit but could not escape the Kormoran. Carrying a load of sugar, the Mareeba was sunk by explosive charges after the crew of 48 had been rescued. Another three months passed before Kormoran sank her last merchantman. On September 23 she encountered the Greek freighter Embiricos 3,940-tons. The ship was sunk by explosive charges but only six of the crew were rescued. The next day one of the AR-196 floatplanes discovered the other lifeboats of the freighter and the other 24 crewmen of the freighter were picked up. Kormoran again replenished, this time from the supply ship Kulmerland. In November Detmers decided to try his luck off of the west Australian coast. This resulted in one of the great mysteries of the war when she encountered the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney.
On November 19, 1941 the Kormoran was operating off Shark’s Bay of northwest Australia. At 1600 she sighted HMAS Sydney. The Kormoran was seriously outmatched by Sydney at only wished to play for time in order to allow the cruiser to come closer to 6,000 to 8,000 yards, within the effective range of Kormoran’s older guns, or to escape in the darkness. The Sydney closed with the Kormoran and started to flash signals to ascertain her identity. Sydney never radioed shore authorities for an identification check. At about 15,000 yards range the Kormoran signaled that she was the Dutch freighter Straat Malakka and answered with a destination when further queried. Sydney never told her to heave to but just continued to close range.
"The range continued to come down and the cruiser ’ … came up steadily with an unchanging bow wave..’ and was obviously still uncertain; she had brought her six-inch turrets to bear on the raider but that was the only indication of readiness and as the two ships got closer it was possible to see ‘…pantrymen in white coats lining the rails to have a look at the supposed Dutchman.." Cruisers in Action 1939-1945, 1981, by Peter C. Smith and John R. Dominy, at page 119.
To confuse Sydney, Kormoran radioed an emergency QQQ signal, which was acknowledged by Perth. Sydney closed range to a point-blank 1,000 yards steering a parallel course. At 1730 Kormoran lowered the Dutch flag she had been flying and raised the German battle ensign. She immediately opened up with everything she had. Hits were immediately achieved on the bridge of the Sydney. Sydney immediately returned fire but as Kormoran continued to pump out the shells, the firing from Sydney’s forward turrets ceased. Kormoran fired two torpedoes. One missed but the other hit under B turret of Sydney. The turret was blown overboard, either as a result of the torpedo explosion or as the result of a secondary magazine explosion. "The fifth salvo from the raider set the Walrus aircraft afire but despite the hail of fire directed at her, the cruiser managed to bring her two after turrets into action and Y turret in particular, was fired with ‘.. considerable accuracy…the first salvo was too high and it ripped through the funnel at about bridge height but its next hit amidships and set the engine room on fire…" Cruisers in Action 1939-1945, 1981, by Peter C. Smith and John R. Dominy, at page 122.
Sydneycrossed the stern of Kormoran but apparently all of her guns were out of action as the barrels pointed at a number of awkward angles. At 1800 Kormoran tried to follow but lost her main engines. Sydney apparently fired torpedoes, which missed and Kormoran also fired another torpedo, which missed. However, the damage had been done. Sydney was a mass of flame "…from the forebridge to the stern mast…" At 1825 Kormoran ceased firing as Sydney slowly opened range to 10,000 yards.
"The stricken cruiser continued to move away at very slow speed. The Sydney now little more than ‘…a flaming hulk…’ faded into the gathering darkness but the glow from her was still visible at 2100 at which time the ‘…flames suddenly darted up even higher as though from an explosion…’ and after that nothing more was seen of her from the Kormoran which herself was so badly damaged that with no hope of escape she was finally scuttled at midnight, though she did not finally sink until 0035." Cruisers in Action 1939-1945, 1981, by Peter C. Smith and John R. Dominy, at pages 122-123. The most probable explanation is that the fires aboard Sydney finally reached one or more of her magazines. There were no survivors from Sydney.
However, Kormoran had also been fatally damaged during the brief gunfire from Sydney. Although only hit by four 6-inch shells from the cruiser, the raider was after all a converted freighter and not designed to survive a cruiser’s gunfire. The engine room fire was out of control. Additionally the fire fighting equipment was destroyed in the exchange of fire. With all of the stored mines and other munitions aboard Kormoran, it was only a question of time before she went up. Detmers ordered the crew to abandon ship. Twenty of the crew had been killed during the fight and another forty wounded died when their lifeboat capsized while abandoning the ship. At 01:20 the fire reached the mines and Kormoran exploded off the Abrolhos Islands, two weeks short of one year since leaving Germany. The balance of the crew, amounting to Detmers and 320 crewmen were rescued and interned as prisoners of war in Australia. (Bulk of history from Cruisers in Action 1939-1945, 1981, by Peter C. Smith and John R. Dominy; German Warships of the Second World War 1975 by H.T. Lenton; Material on merchantman victims of Kormoran from http://www.deutschland-class.dk/hilfskreuzer/kormoran.html)
The NNT Kormoran
If you look at the profile of the hull casting, you clearly see that it is a merchant but the eyes are instantly drawn to the large rectangular opening on each side of the hull in front of the bridge. Those openings are for the twin torpedo tubes on each side. So one of your first options is how to portray this position. Do you want the torpedo position doors up, with Kormoran still in disguise as a harmless freighter? Or do you want the doors down, with the torpedo tubes swung out for action, with Kormoran baring her fangs? For most modelers, the answer will probably be the second course. The hull sides have a small series of portholes along the raised focsle and quarterdeck. These areas were machinery spaces and were sites of crew work in freighters and of course the bulk of the hull was for cargo and had no need of portholes. Solid bulkheads are found in several places along the hull but no exclusively. Solid bulkheads are found at the bow, at the focsle/maindeck break and on each side of the center superstructure. What is notable about this is the delicate thinness of the bulkheads in the NNT kit. If you look at the photographs of the focsle area of the kit, you will notice that these bulkheads are translucent, rather than opaque, indicating the thinness of resin in this area. This is a mark of fine craftsmanship as well as the cutouts in the bulkhead for lines for the first set of bollards. Hidden behind the solid bulkheads amidships is the first level of the superstructure, which is cast as part of the hull. If you look along this level, every face has fine detail of typical square windows and doors for a freighter.
However, it is really along the decks that you really start to see the detail that NNT has incorporated into this kit. The Kormoran has steel decks so you will not find wood planking. Since most warships of this size have wooden decks, the black-gray steel decks of Kormoran will make the kit stand out among any collection of 1:700 scale warships. The focsle has quite a bit of detail cast in place. Anchor run plates, windlass plates, six sets of bollards and other machinery plates are present. What is unique are the joints or lines for the drop down façade for the first pair of 5.9-inch guns. These were placed in the raised focsle just where it breaks to the main deck. The kit portrays these positions with the collapsible bulkheads and deck panels in an up position with the guns concealed. However, the joint lines for the collapsible panels are clearly incised into the hull sides and focsle deck. Additionally the focsle has a prominent crown. It is fairly flat at centerline but has a clear slope towards the hull edges.
The forward cargo area is dominated by three large cargo hatches. Each hatch has its own size and shape with prominent flat crowns and sloping side facets. Each position has raised coaming with clearly defined exterior support ribbing. All three of the forward hatches are shown with the covers in place. There is also a machinery base/housing for the forward cargo derrick as well as locator holes for cargo kingposts and one set of bollards on each side.
With the aft cargo deck NNT has taken a different tact. There are two cargo hatches here but they are portrayed as opened, which allows for several options. These two hatches concealed the Arado AR-196 floatplane in one and LS3 fast attack boat in the other. Since NNT provides separate hatch covers for these positions, one option is to attach the hatch covers to the openings, again to portray the innocent freighter appearance. Another option is to leave the covers off and show the AR-196 and SL3 in their stowed position inside. To do this for the AR-196, which is cast as wings extended, you’ll have to cut the wings of the AR-196 casting at the root where they meet the fuselage of the aircraft, as the wings folded backward when the aircraft was stored. The NNT instructions show a plan of the AR-196 in the stowed position so you’ll know how to reattach the wings to get the right angle and positioning. The SL3 is simply positioned on the chocks cast at the bottom of the boat well. A third option, which will appeal to those that like to add action to their models or like dioramas, could portray the AR-196 or SL3 alongside the Kormoran or in mid-air being swung by the cargo derricks to or from the water. The choice of course is the modelers. Both of these open cargo areas also feature side support ribbing. The deck also has the derrick machinery housing and two sets of bollards on each side.
The quarterdeck has another enclosed machinery structure, which like the focsle, conceals another two 5.9-inch guns. As with the focsle the drop down panels are portrayed in the up position. The deck and hull again have panel joint lines with more base plates on the deck. The deck at the extreme stern drops down to main deck level and has a cluster of bollards.
The superstructure is made up of a series of decks. The first deck includes another open cargo hatch. In the well is the deck mount plating for a 5.9-inch gun. This is the only 5.9-inch gun position that can be displayed in the open or action position. The Kormoran carried six of the guns, four were mounted at the sides with drop down panels as already mentioned and the fifth was a centerline gun in the middle cargo position on the forward cargo deck. The next level has the stack base and lower bridge level with the third level being the upper bridge. As with other motorships, there are machinery fittings at the top of the funnel, rather than the hollow funnel found in steamships.