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The Königsberg Incident - I
The Königsberg Incident - II
A summary of her career

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The Indian Ocean and Rufiji Delta

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Königsberg Summary - Continued
Captain Looff took Königsberg back out to sea on the afternoon tide. By evening, the German cruiser was steaming for Zanzibar at her safe cruising speed of 10 knots. At five o'clock in the morning she fired on and disabled the channel pilot boat and approached the harbor mouth from the south. Soon Pegasus was clearly in view and Königsberg opened fire at 9,000 yards range. Within twenty minutes, the British cruiser was giving off heavy smoke and going down slowly by the bows. Königsberg swung around and headed out of the harbor, firing three rounds at the British radio station which was sending frantic requests for help. As the German cruiser left the harbor several zinc cordite casings were thrown into the water to give the effect of minelaying.

Unfortunately for Königsberg, one of her main engines had broken a piston-rod crosshead and Looff's plans for a raid along the South African coast were shelved. Only the machine shops at Dar-es-Salaam could manufacture the spare parts needed. So twenty-four hours after her departure Königsberg was back in the Rufiji delta, the only safe place on the coast for her to moor. The delta was separated into numerous channels, and the Germans were the only ones who knew that several of these were navigable by medium draft ships. In case of an emergency, Königsberg would have several escape routes. Both Königsberg and Somali were camouflaged and many of Königsberg's light weapons were moved ashore to keep out curious British landing parties. Soon, they were joined by forces from the land army who garrisoned the local islands and dug entrenchments and spotting posts throughout the seaward edge of the delta.

HMS Pegasus sinking
Captain Looff was unaware of several events going on around him at this point. Two days after his attack at Zanzibar, the German cruiser Emden steamed into the British harbor at Madras, India, and bombarded it. This double blow to British interests was not to be stood for, not to mention the strangling effect the German attacks had on shipping. The 5,400 ton cruisers HMS Chatham, HMS Weymouth and HMS Dartmouth were all dispatched to find and destroy Königsberg. The first breakthrough for the British occurred when Chatham searched the German liner Präsident and discovered an order for shipments of coal to be delivered to the Rufiji delta. By the afternoon of October 20, Chatham anchored near a clear area of the delta and sent a landing party ashore. Soon, a British sailor had climbed a tree and could see the disguised masts of the Königsberg and Somali rising above the vivid green canopy of the river delta's forests. By the next morning, the British cruisers Dartmouth and Weymouth arrived offshore and the blockade had begun.

Königsberg at low tide in the Rufiji
On November 2, the three British cruisers zeroed in on what they now knew to be the German ship's masts and fired throughout the day. No targets were hit but Looff moved his flotilla two miles further upstream as a precaution. Several days later Chatham scored several hits on Somali during the course of a general attack. Somali soon began to burn and eventually became a total loss. On November 9 the mouth of the Ssuninga Channel was blocked when the British sank the freighter Newbridge there in a daring raid. In reality this last action had little effect on events, as Königsberg never acquired adequate quantities of coal to make a run for the sea.

There now began an eight month long impasse, during which Königsberg was unable to escape from the Rufiji delta, and the British were unable to get close enough to bombard her. Her topmasts were removed, preventing the British from using their rangefinders, and more entrenchments were dug throughout the delta, creating a fortified zone which no British force could hope to secure. On the British side, there were several attempts to bring aircraft in for reconnaissance. This sometimes worked, causing alarm when the spotters inevitably reported Königsberg with steam up and ready to run for the open ocean. After a few encounters with the increasing numbers of British aircraft, Captain Looff arrayed a series of light cannon and machine gun positions as an anti-aircraft defense. These were very effective and brought down at least one of the British planes.

The White Flag

Soon after the short battle at Zanzibar, a story reached the press that the naval ensign for Pegasus had been shot away during the firing but was then held aloft by Royal Marines who heroically ran out into the rain of shell fire to keep their flag flying. In reality Captain Ingles of Pegasus had ordered the ensign struck and a white flag raised in order to prevent further loss to his crew. The unpleasant fact that a British man of war had struck her colors was never endorsed during the war and the story of the brave marines continued to inspire accounts and paintings for years afterward.

In April of 1915, a blockade running ship named Rubens bearing supplies for Königsberg and the land army arrived in the Indian Ocean after a long voyage from Germany. Disguised as a Danish freighter, she was bearing 1600 tons of high grade Westphalian coal for the Königsberg, as well as thousands of rounds of ammunition, machine tools, cutting torches, clothing, fresh and canned provisions and a universe of other supplies. She also carried millions of rounds of ammunition, rifles and machine guns for the land army. The British however, knew of her arrival in the area and when Rubens finally reached Manza Bay the British cruiser Hyacinth appeared from the south, kicking up a bow wave at flank speed. Captain Carl Christiansen, a reserve officer assigned to Rubens was mortified that he should experience such luck at the end of his long voyage. He brought his ship into the bay and grounded it in shallow water before sending an emergency radio message, evacuating the crew and ordering fires to be set. Little did he know that Hyacinth had suffered a major engine failure and was now only approaching at half speed. Had Rubens dashed to the open sea, the British vessel could not have followed him. Hyacinth hove to outside the bay and shelled the Rubens. Christiansen had also scuttled the ship before abandoning her, and little damage was done by the shelling. By the time the British returned a few weeks later, they discovered that the Germans had salvaged everything which had been on Rubens, except for the coal and some of the ammunition.

The loss of Rubens meant that Königsberg was indefinitely confined to the Rufiji Delta. What the Captain did not know was that the British had begun systematically charting the location of the Königsberg and her complex web of defenses. The Admiralty dispatched two shallow-draft river monitors, Mersey and Severn, to the East African coast, where they arrived in June, 1915 after a long and difficult journey. The Royal Navy remained concerned that a supply ship would somehow reach Königsberg. If that were to happen, the embarrassment would be intolerable and so plans to destroy the German raider continued apace.

On July 6, 1915, the British finally executed the plan which they had worked toward for months. Severn and Mersey headed up the Kikunja branch of the river delta against light small arms fire. As they closed within firing range one of the two operational planes in the Rufiji area dropped several bombs near Königsberg, mostly to act as a diversion. At 0645 the monitors opened fire at a range of 10,600 yards, and at 0700 Königsberg opened fire on the monitors. By 0740 Mersey had been hit twice, one of which nearly destroyed the ship. She retired a short distance, leaving Severn to continue the bombardment. Eventually both ships opened the range to over 11,000 yards before retiring. Immediately after Severn moved off, five shells from Königsberg landed exactly where she had been moored. The British counted their luck; they had fired 635 rounds from their six inch guns and scored three hits on Königsberg. Mersey had lost one of her two main guns and Severn missed being blown out of the water by what her captain called sheer good luck.

Salvaging the Rubens

For four days all was quiet, but early on Sunday, July 11, British aircraft began circling Königsberg, announcing the renewal of some sort of British effort. By 1145 the monitors were in the entrance to the river and at 1215 Königsberg began firing with four of her main guns. The monitor's carefully rehearsed system for aerial observation and fire control worked perfectly the second time. Königsberg was so low on ammunition that she was unable to maintain the same rate of fire as the two monitors and soon numerous direct hits impacted along the length of the German cruiser. One of the first hits landed next to the conning tower, followed by others which brought down the middle funnel and started a fire near the forward magazine which cause the ship's hollow mast to smoke like a chimney. The land line to the Pemba Hill observation post was cut and by 1300 all was lost. Königsberg was firing blind, burning and under continuous accurate shell fire. The order was sent out to abandon ship and the remaining crew scrambled down the side of the ship, bringing with them what wounded they could.

As six inch shells continued to rain down, First Officer Koch placed torpedo heads to blow out the cruiser's keel, and at 1400 on the afternoon of July 11, 1915, SMS Königsberg heaved slightly as the torpedoes detonated. A roar and a blast tore open the cruiser's hull plating and she heeled to port, sinking into the mud of the Rufiji River. By 1500 the two British monitors had ceased firing and retired back down the river to Mafia Island, which was the British base during the Rufiji operations.

The Germans immediately salvaged the ten main guns from Königsberg, all of which were used during the course of the East African land campaign. The Dar-es-Salaam machine shops manufactured carriages for the big guns and for a long time they were the heaviest artillery present in the bitterly contested land battles which followed. Of the Königsberg's original crew of 350 men, only 15, including Captain Looff, survived the war and returned to Germany.    
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