Nov 6

Neutrality Patrol Seizes German Prize, 6 November 1941

Sunday, November 6, 2011 12:01 AM

While on neutrality patrol in the Atlantic Ocean near the Equator on 6 November 1941, the light cruiser OMAHA (CL 4) and the destroyer SOMERS (DD 381) sighted a suspicious vessel.

Although flying the American flag and carrying the name WILLMOTO of Philadelphia on her stern, the freighter refused to satisfactorily identify herself and took evasive actions. The Americans ordered the stranger to heave to. As OMAHA’s crew dispatched a boarding party, the freighter’s crew took to life boats and hoisted a signal which indicated that the ship was sinking.

When the OMAHA party pulled alongside they could hear explosions from within the hull, further arousing their suspicions. Upon boarding they soon discovered that their quarry was the German blockade runner ODENWALD. Only one of the ship’s generators was operating and selected watertight doors were open, clearly indicating that the crew was attempting to scuttle her. In spite of the dangerous conditions, in short order the men from OMAHA salvaged the vessel, rendered her safe, and had her underway for Puerto Rico.

In 1947 the crews of SOMERS and OMAHA were awarded salvage money by the United States District Court for Puerto Rico for their prize.

 
 
 
  • Andy (JADAA)

    Thanks for this great little “glimpse” into the other Neutrality Patrol events, so usually dominated by the Reuben James incident. Of interest is the issue of prize money, as I honestly thought for all these years that we had prohibited prize money to WWII crews!

  • LTJG DO WeberUSNR

    From Wikipedia (footnote): “Oldenwald was taken to Puerto Rico. An admiralty court ruled that since the ship was illegally claiming American registration, there was sufficient grounds for confiscation. At that point, some sea lawyers got into the act. Observing that the attempt to scuttle the ship was the equivalent of abandoning her, they claimed that the crews of the two American ships had salvage rights, to the tune of $3 million. This led to a protracted court case, which was not settled until 1947. At that time it was ruled that the members of the boarding party and the prize crew were entitled to $3,000 apiece, the equivalent today of over $25,000 according to the Consumer Price Index, but easily nearly twice that on the basis of the prevailing minimum wage, while all the other crewmen in Omaha and Somers were entitled to two months’ pay and allowances at their then current rate.” This was the last prize money awarded by the US Navy.

  • Jim Valle

    I think it is equally interesting the the U.S. Navy took it upon themselves to intercept this ship. Blockade running is only punishable by the county doing the blockading. As a neutral the U.S. had no legal standing to interfere with a merchant ship lawfully transiting the high seas even if she did belong to a belligerent that we were not favorably disposed to. I assume our only justification was the Odenwald’s misuse of our flag and falsely claiming registry in an American port?

  • Andy (JADAA)

    Jim, I’m going to guess that the “using US flag as a false flag” was what CNO was going to hang his hat on to justify the operation.

    For the web-folk: Just because we don’t comment much, doesn’t mean you’re not being read! Despair not; just work on making sure the popular mil-bloggers know to send people here for a daily (ok, sometimes weekly) dose of naval history!

  • http://jame-basketball-shoes.com lilian

    Upon boarding they soon discovered that their quarry was the German blockade runner ODENWALD. Only one of the ship’s generators was operating and selected watertight doors were open, clearly indicating that the crew was attempting to scuttle her.

 
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