German auxiliary cruiser Thor

German auxiliary cruiser Thor

"Thor" (HSK 4) was an auxiliary cruiser of the German Kriegsmarine in the Second World War, intended for service as a commerce raider. Also known to the Kriegsmarine as Schiff 10; to the Royal Navy she was Raider E.

Early history

Formerly a freighter named "Santa Cruz", she was built by Deutsche Werft, Hamburg, (DWH) in 1938, and was owned and operated by the Oldenburg Portuguese Line (OPDR), Hamburg. In the winter of 1939/40 she was requisitioned by the KM and converted to a war ship by DWH. She was commissioned as the commerce raider "Thor" in March 1940.

First cruise

The "Thor" began its first combat cruise on June 6 1940, under the command of Captain Otto Kähler.cite web | title=Hilfskreuzer Thor|url=|accessdate=March 13| accessyear=2007] "Thor" spent 328 days at sea, and sank or captured 12 ships, for a combined tonnage of 96,547.

The Thor stopped its first victim on July 1, the 9290-ton Dutch freighter "Kertosono". The "Kertosono" was carrying a cargo of petrol, timber, asphalt, and agricultural machinery. Captain Kaehler decided to send the ship under a prize crew to Lorient, France, where she arrived safely 12 days later. At the time, "Thor" was disguised as a Yugoslavian freighter.

On July 7 "Thor" encountered the "Delambre", a 7,030 ton British freighter. "Thor" fired several broadsides, the third of which hit the "Delambre", stopping her dead in the water, after which the "Thor's" boarding party scuttled the ship with demolition charges.

Two days later "Thor" intercepted the Belgian freighter "Bruges", which was carrying a cargo of wheat. The "Bruges" was scuttled, and her crew of 44 was taken aboard the "Thor". On the 14th, "Thor" stopped another freighter carrying wheat; the British freighter "Gracefield". The "Gracefield" was sunk by demolitions.

On July 16 the British freighter "Wendover" was attacked without warning, as she was seen to be armed. The "Wendover" was hit by several shells from "Thor" and set on fire. A boarding party set demolition charges, which caused the "Wendover" to capsize, so it was sunk by gunfire.

The Belgian freighter "Tela", en route to the UK, was intercepted on July 17. "Thor" fired a shot across the bow of the "Tela", which stopped without sending distress signals. The crew of 33 abandoned the ship and were taken aboard the "Thor", after the "Tela" was sunk by demolition charges.

On July 28, "Thor" encountered the British Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS "Alcantara", which was armed with eight 6-inch guns. Kaehler turned away from the "Alcantara", and tried to outrun her for three hours, until he realized the "Alcantara" was a faster ship, at which point he decided to turn and fight, attempting to inflict enough damage to allow the "Thor" to escape. "Thor" scored three early hits, one between the bridge and funnel, a second towards the aft of the "Alcantara", and a third on the waterline, which caused flooding in the engine room, forcing the "Alcantara" to reduce speed. "Thor" turned away from the "Alcantara" and received two hits from her 6" guns, killing three crew members. Instead of risking further combat, "Thor" made its escape under cover of a dense smoke screen.

Following the battle with "Alcantara", "Thor" made repairs to battle damage, cleaned her boilers, and changed her disguise. Thor rendezvoused with the supply ship "Rekum" on August 25 and then returned to Brazilian waters. Two weeks later, on Sept 8th, the Yugoslav "Federico Glavic" was stopped, but allowed to proceed unmolested, as Yugoslavia was neutral at the time. On September 26 "Thor's" float plane discovered the Norwegian whale-oil tanker "Kosmos", which was carrying over 17,000 tons of whale oil. The "Kosmos" would have been a highly valuable prize ship, but the fact that she was short of fuel, slow, and easily recognizable made her unretainable. Kaehler ordered "Kosmos" to be sunk by gunfire.

On October 8 "Thor" caught the 8,715 ton British refrigeration ship "Natia". "Thor" scored a direct hit, which set the "Nadia" dead in the water, though she continued wireless transmissions. "Thor" hit "Natia" 7 or 8 more times with gunfire, and a torpedo that tore open her side, another 35 rounds were fired before she sank. 84 crewmembers of "Natia's" 85 were taken aboard "Thor", bringing her total to 368. Most of these prisoners were transferred to the supply ship "Rio Grande" in mid November.

On December 5 "Thor" encountered another armed merchant cruiser, HMS "Carnarvon Castle", a 20,000 ton ship armed with eight 6" and two 3" guns. "Thor" carried three of her four 5.9" guns aft, so Cpt Kaehler decided to force the "Carnarvon Castle" into a stern chase. "Thor's" gunners found their target in the fourth salvo, after which Cpt Kaehler changed course, turning the chase into a circular fight, in order to bring the entire weight of "Thor's" broadside to bear. "Thor" was in command of the engagement; her gunners registered more than 20 hits, forcing the "Carnarvon Castle" to turn and flee to Montevideo, Uruguay.

Following this engagement, "Thor" was ordered to rendezvous with the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer to transfer crewmen for prize crews for "Pinguin's" captured whaling fleet.

On March 25 "Thor" intercepted the "Britannia", an 8,800 ton British passenger ship. After scoring several hits on the fleeing ship, Kaehler allowed her to be abandoned, before firing 16 5.9" rounds into the waterline, sinking the ship. German wireless operators intercepted a message from a nearby British warship approaching at full speed, from approximately one hundred miles away. Kaehler decided to not risk an encounter with an enemy warship, and reasoned that the British ship would arrive and provide assistance to those in the water. Unfortunately, the British warship failed to locate the survivors. 331 out of approximately 520 were ultimately rescued, primarily by the Spanish ships "Cabo de Hornos", "Raranga", and "Bachi". 33 survivors eventually made landfall at Sao Luis, on the coast of Brazil, after 23 days and 1,500 miles adrift at sea.

On the same day, March 25, "Thor" stopped the 5,045 ton Swedish motor vessel "Trolleholm". In less than 90 minutes, all 31 crewmembers were transferred to "Thor", and the freighter was sunk by demolition charges.

On her return trip to Germany, "Thor" encountered a third armed merchant cruiser of the Cape Verde islands, HMS "Voltaire", a 13,245 ton ship armed with eight 6" and three 3" guns. "Thor" approached head on, and in response to "Voltaire's" signalling of a series of AAA's (an order to identify oneself), fired a shot across "Voltaire's" bow. "Thor's" first salvo hit "Voltaire's" generator and radio room, rendering her unable to transmit and further signals. . [cite web||url=|accessdate=March 15| accessyear=2007] "Voltaire" was turned into a blazing inferno. Two of "Voltaire's" 6" guns continued to fire, though they only scored one hit on "Thor", disabling her radio aerial. "Thor's" obsolete guns overheated and had to cease firing, at which point the "Voltaire" raised a white flag. "Thor" began rescuing the crew of the "Voltaire", from a safe distance of 4,000 yards, to avoid damage from any secondary explosions. The captain of the "Voltaire" along with 196 men were rescued out of a crew of 296.

The last ship intercepted by "Thor" during her first cruise came on April 16, on her way back to Germany; the Swedish ore carrier "Sir Ernest Cassel". Two warning shots were fired, which stopped the ship; her crew was taken aboard the "Thor", and she was sunk by demolition charges.

econd cruise

"Thor" set out on its second cruise on November 30 1941 under the command of Captain Günther Gumprich. [cite web | title=Kriegsmarine: the Illustrated History of the German Navy in World War II|url=,M1|accessdate=March 15| accessyear=2007] "Thor" sank or captured 10 ships during her second cruise, for a total of 58,644 tons, during 328 days of operation. The "Thor" was ultimately destroyed in Yokohama harbor, Japan, when the supply ship "Uckermark", moored alongside, caught fire and exploded. [cite web | title=Kriegsmarine Ships|url=|accessdate=March 15| accessyear=2007]

On March 13 "Thor" was stopped by the British cruiser HMS "Durban". "Thor" identified herself as the British freighter "Levernbank", which satisfied "Durban", who went on her way. The following day "Thor" was again challenged, this time by the armed merchant cruiser "Cheshire". "Thor" again identified herself as a British freighter, and was allowed to proceed. [cite web | title=Marauders of the Sea, German Armed Merchant Ships During W.W. 2|url=|accessdate=March 16| accessyear=2007]

"Thor" encountered its first victim on March 23, the 3,490 ton Greek freighter "Pagasitikos". Her crew of 33 was taken aboard "Thor", and she was sunk by a torpedo. The next day, March 24, "Thor" replenished its stocks from the supply ship "Regensburg".

On March 30 "Thor" pursued the 4,470 ton British freighter "Wellpark" for seven hours. Cpt Gumprich sent his seaplane to strafe the freighter, but was driven off when the "Thor" opened fire on the "Wellpark". Within 15 minutes, the "Wellpark's" crew abandoned ship, and she was sunk.

On April 1 "Thor" intercepted another British freighter, the 4,565 ton "Willesden". Gumprich again ordered his floatplane to destroy the vessel's radio aerial before opening fire from the "Thor". Following the plane's strafing run, "Thor" opened fire with her 5.9" guns, and set the oil drums on the "Willesden's" deck on fire, forcing the majority of the crew to abandon the ship; the only remaining crewmembers were the gunners, though they only managed to fire six shots before they were also forced to abandon the ship. "Thor" fired 128 shells into the "Willesden", and finished her off with a torpedo.

Two days later on the 3rd, the Norwegian freighter "Aust" fell victim to the same tactics. She was unable to send a distress or raider signal before she was disabled and sunk by demolition charges.

"Thor" detected the 4,840 ton British freighter "Kirkpool" on his radar, the first installed on an armed merchant cruiser, on April 10. Poor visibility and fog forced Cpt Gumprich to abandon his usual tactics and instead shadow the "Kirkpool" until nightfall. At close range, "Thor" attacked first with a torpedo and a salvo of her 5.9" guns, both of which missed. The second salvo scored three hits, and set the "Kirkpool's" bridge and wheelhouse alight. With the helm unattended, "Kirkpool" veered towards "Thor", in what appeard to be an attempt to ram her attacker, which was avoided. "Kirkpool's" crew began abandoning the ship, and after a three hour search, 32 men were pulled from the water, including the Captain, Chief Engineer, and First Officer of the "Kirkpool". The ship was finished off with a torpedo.

All of "Thor's" victims thus far were near the Cape of Good Hope, in the shipping lanes. The Kriegsmarine High Command (SKL) ordered "Thor" to move into the Indian Ocean, but was warned to be aware of Japanese submarines operating in the area.

On May 10 "Thor's" seaplane sighted the 7,130 ton Australian liner "Nankin", en route to Bombay. From a distance of 13,000 yards, "Thor" opened fire with her 5.9" guns, scoring several hits. The Captain of the "Nankin" issued the order to abandon ship and lowered his flags. The crew attempted to scuttle the ship, but the German boarding party managed to repair the damage done to the ship's engines. The "Nankin" was renamed the "Leuthen" and taken as a prize ship to rendezvous with the "Regensburg". Following resupply and prisoner transfer, the "Leuthen" and "Regensburg" both travelled to Japanese held ports.

On June 14 "Thor's" radar picked up a contact at 10,000 yards, and by using a converging course, was able to approach to within 1,800 yards, "Thor" attacked what turned out to be the 6,310 ton Dutch Shell tanker "Olivia". The first salvo set the "Olivia" ablaze, killing most of the crew. The Third Officer, 3 other Dutchmen and 8 Chinese were able to lower a single boat, but "Thor" was only able to locate one man in the water. These 12 men were adrift for a month before their boat capsized in the breakers off Madagascar; 1 Dutch and 7 Chinese sailors had died during the month at sea.

Five days later on the 19th, "Thor" intercepted the Norwegian oil tanker "Herborg". Her seaplane disabled "Herborg's" radio aerial, and a warning salvo from "Thor" brought "Herborg" to a stop. The entire crew was taken aboard "Thor", and a prize crew took the renamed "Hohenfriedburg" to Japan.

On July 4 "Thor" stopped another Norwegian oil tanker, the 5,895 ton "Madrono". The "Madrono" was halted in the same manner as "Herborg", and a prize crew took her to Japan as well, renamed as "Rossbach". The "Rossbach" was eventually torpedoed by the American submarine USS "Burrfish, in the Kii Channel, Japan, in May 1944. [cite web | title=D/T Madrono|url=|accessdate=March 16| accessyear=2007]

"Thor's" tenth and final victim came on July 20, the British refridgerated freighter "Indus". "Indus" was determined to put up a fight, and turned away at full speed, firing with her stern gun, though she only fired two shots before a shell from "Thor" hit the gun directly, killing the chief gunner and destroying the gun. The freighter's radio operator kept up a steady stream of distress signals, until another shell from "Thor" hit the bridge, killing him and knocking out the radio, and setting the bridge on fire. The "Indus" was now a raging inferno, and most of her crew went overboard. "Thor" ceased firing, and began rescue operations, picking up 49 survivors, before finishing "Indus" off.

"Thor" transferred her prisoners to the blockade runner "Tannenfels", and made for Yokohama, Japan, by way of Batavia, Indonesia.


"Thor" arrived in Yokohama on 9 October 1942 where she commenced refitting in preparation for a third voyage. However on November 30 a series of explosions on the supply ship "Uckermark" destroyed her superstructure, sending a large amount of burning debris onto "Thor", which was moored alongside. Both ships were rapidly set ablaze, along with the "Nankin/Leuthen" and the Japanese freighter "Unkai Maru". All four ships were destroyed in the fire, and 12 of "Thor's" crew were killed. "Thor" was wrecked beyond repair, and was abandoned. Her captain, KzS Gumprich, later commanded the raider "Michel" on her second raiding voyage, from which he did not return.

[ German newsreel Hilfskreuzer "Thor"]


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