GERMAN COMMERCE RAIDERS
MINE AUSTRALIAN WATERS DURING WW2

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German commerce raiders including the rogue German U-Boat U-862, operated off the Australian coastline during World War 2.

During their stay in Australian waters the German Raiders laid extensive mine fields off New South Wales, Hobart and in Bass Strait between the mainland and Tasmania. 

The German Raider "Orion" placed dummy mines in the entrance to the port of Albany in Western Australia.

In 1940, the German commerce raider "Pinguin" accompanied by a tender ship sailed through Bass Strait and laid mines along the Victorian Coast, including the area off Apollo Bay. This field claimed two ships, "S.S. Cambridge" and "MS City of Rayville" (see below).

The "MS City of Rayville" was the first US merchant ship sunk in WW2.

The "Pinguin" also laid mines in South Australian waters including the Gulf of St. Vincent and Investigator Strait (near Kangaroo Island) areas. Numerous mines were reported washed ashore along the coast of South Australia, especially along the south east coast area. "Pinguin" also operated off Newcastle, Sydney and Hobart.

On about 5 November 1940, Pinguin's Captain, Ernst-Felix Kruder, launched a Heinkel floatplane south of Kangaroo Island for a reconnaissance mission. Kruder wanted to be sure there were no major naval ships in the area which might interfere with their mining operations. Ken Cain, the son of the lighthouse keeper at the Cape Willoughby Lighthouse on the eastern tip of Kangaroo Island saw the floatplane and ran to tell his disbelieving father, Percy Cain. During its return flight to the Pinguin, Percy Cain sighted the floatplane and noted the sighting in the Lighthouse log book. The floatplane had flown from the area of the lighthouse over the narrow waters of Backstairs Passage and north towards Adelaide a distance of about 100 miles. The Heinkel then flew to Parafield Airfield where it was seen by Gordon White, son of a farmer working near the airfield. The Heinkel was spotted by a woman at Largs Bay near Port Adelaide. Reg Lawrence, a young farm worker at Normanville also spotted the floatplane. He said that it was grey coloured and flew very low at an altitude of a few hundred feet. The floatplane was recovered by Pinguin which then proceed to lay mines in Investigator Strait until 7 November 1940.

The War Diary Summary for the Naval Depot and Headquarters at HMAS Torrens in Port Adelaide in South Australia reported as follows:-

War Diary Summary - HMAS Torrens
"German Mines - S.A. Coast. A number of mines came ashore during the quarter and were apparently from the minefield laid at the Western end of the Investigator Strait. 12th. July, 1941. Mine reported off shore near Beachport. This mine was subsequently landed by R.M.S. Party and self detonated on the beach after landing, causing the death of two members of the R.M.S Party. - Able Seaman Todd and Danswan."

It is believed that these two Naval ratings were the first men killed on Australian soil as a result of enemy action.

The War Diary continued to list numerous other mines that were reported. It then continued as follows:-

"All mines were of the German Yx type with "C" Mechanism Plate, and had been laid approximately 8 months."

"Pinguin" had earlier captured a Norwegian tanker "Storstad" in the Indian Ocean. The "Storstad" was converted to an auxiliary minelayer and renamed as the "Passat".

"Passat" operated in the Bass Strait area. It is believed that "Pinguin" and "Passat" laid about 60 mines in Australian waters. "Passat" laid four fields of ten mines off Cape Otway and two fields of five mines off Wilson's Promontory. John McNamara reported that that the crew of "Passat" may have landed on the west coast of Victoria, possibly looking for fresh water. A total of approximately 18,000 tons of allied shipping was lost due to mines laid by German Commerce raiders as follows:-

7 November 1940 "S.S. Cambridge" British registered merchantman Sunk off Wilson's Promontory
8 November 1940 "MS City of Rayville" American freighter Sunk off Cape Otway
5 December 1940 "MV Nimbin" Australian freighter Sunk off Norah Head, NSW with loss of 7 lives
7 December 1940 "Hertford" British freighter Severely damaged off Liguana Island, SA at the entrance to Spencer Gulf. Temporary repairs carried out at Port Lincoln. Later towed to Adelaide for further repairs.
26 March 1941 "Millimumal" Trawler Sunk off Barenjoey Head, NSW with seven crew killed. Struck mine laid by 5 months earlier by Pinguin.

 

A German mine that had been laid in Spencer Gulf came ashore on a beach at Beachport, South Australia. On 14 July 1941 two ratings from a Rendering Mines Safe party were killed trying to make the mine safe.

 


Photo:- Rick Hanning

German Mine from the Passat which washed up on the
beach between Seaspray and Golden Beach in 1941.

 


Photo:- Rick Hanning

The mine was spotted by the RAAF on the beach and was guarded by VDC until an RAN
Detachment  removed the detonators and explosive. The explosive was burned on the 
Ninety Mile Beach. It is now on display at the Gippsland Armed Forces Museum in Sale.

 

German U-Boat attacks off the Australian Coast during WW2
Attacks one ship and sinks two others

 

REFERENCE BOOKS

Firkins, Peter, "Of Nautilus and Eagles - History of the Royal Australian Navy", Cassel Australia,1975

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

I'd like to thank Rick Hanning, John McNamaraRussell Holroyd and Gordon H. Steer for assisting me with this home page.

 

Australian Coastline mined during WW2
by the Allies, the Japanese and the Germans

 


 

German U-Boat attacks off the Australian Coastline during WW2

 

Japanese Submarine Activities off the Australian Coastline during WW2

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Peter Ingman for his assistance with information on the German floatplane flight from the Pinguin.

 

Can anyone help me with more information?

 

"Australia @ War" WWII Research Products

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 Peter Dunn OAM 2020

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This page first produced 22 November 2000

This page last updated 22 February 2020