German Cruisers visit Easter Island in WW1


German Cruiser Scharnhorst

German ships visited Easter Island in 1914 - a cruiser squadron in October and a single warship, the auxiliary cruiser Prinz Eitel Frederich in December.

Due to the sinking of the German ships in the Battle of the Falklands in December 1914, which resulted in the complete destruction of the squadron and the death of some 2,200 German sailors and officers, virtually all first hand accounts and photos of the squadron stopping at Easter Island are lost. .There is but one account Before Jutland : Admiral von Spee's last voyage : Coronel & the battle of the Falklands / by Hans Pochhammer

And, in 1915, the Prinz Eitel Frederich , her bunkers nearly empty and her engines worn out, headed for the neutral United States, and on 11 March 1915 sailed into Newport News harbour, to be interned. No first hand accounts of her stay at the Falklands appear to exist.

The only person to record their visit on Easter Island was the British archeologist Katherine Routledge The Mystery of Easter Island by Katherine Routledge.

A German expert on cruiser warfare, Vice-Admiral Curt von Maltzan, wrote, control of the sea meant control of sea lanes to achieve economic and military aims. This was the task of the East Asian Cruiser Squadron based at Tsingtau in the northern Chinese "leased territory" of Kiautschou . To maximise the Squadron's use, the German Admiralty authorised Spee to break off cruiser warfare and to proceed home with all the ships he could assemble. In 1914 the Squadron consisted of the armoured cruisers and sister ships Scharnhorst (flagship) and Gneisenau, three modern unarmoured cruisers Emden, Leipzig, and Niirnberg, the Geier and Cormoran (unarmoured cruisers) on the Australian Station, the gunboats Iltis, Jaguar, Luchs, Otter, Tsingtau, 7iger, and Vaterland in Chinese waters,

Mon 12 Oct 1914. Routledge says that in the morning 12 German ships appeared, they said they were "from the China station to Valparaiso" 4 were warships, the rest colliers and smaller ships.The Germans kept silent on the European war, and the people on the island had no idea that there was a war. The German ships were Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Nurnberg, Leipzig (light cruiser, which arrived a few days later) and Dresden (light cruiser).

The German ships had agreed to meet up at Easter Island, having come from different directions. The Dresden accompanied by the steamer Baden was the first to arrive during the night, and signaled the rest of the squadron that there was no sign of the enemy, so the rest of them anchored in the morning of the 12th Oct, close to land and on the west of the island. A boat "manned by very dirty men came alongside the Gneisenau" and they tried to get eggs and poultry from them. The crews report that periods of rest were disagreeable as a strong south westerly swell made them roll day and night which made coaling and launching boats difficult.

The Gneisenau was re coaled by the Yorck and the Goettingen.

The Nurnberg had one of her propellers damaged by a tender, and spent the next few days healed over at 15 degrees while divers repaired the damage. By the time the squadron left, she was seaworthy once again.

That night the Germans were spooked by 4 large fires on the island. Although the island was Chilean and therefore neutral, the cattle owner was English. Although the Germans believed that he knew nothing of the war, they were suspicious. In addition, they picked up unintelligible wireless signals. So the admiral gave orders to drop anchor and move away from the island. They spent the night at sea at action stations, blacked out, with the steamers to the north west of the island, and the cruisers to the south west.

Tuesday Oct 13. The fleet returned to anchorage the next morning and resumed coaling. It turned out that the fires were harmless, and that the radio signals were from one of their own boats just testing equipment.. The next day the Germans negotiated the purchase of cattle, which were rounded up and slaughtered on the spot, then the carcasses taken on board and stowed in refrigerated rooms.

Routledge says that they covered up their best archeological finds, and wrote letters to be posted with the ships. "To the credit of the enemy almost all of the letters subsequently arrived"

Mr Edmonds sold them over £1000 of meat, and turned down the offer of gold in payment, opting for a cheque instead - a decision that was later "sadly lamented". He was concerned that he would be robbed of the gold by the natives. The Germans wrote that they were amused by his indecision as to which form of payment to take.

Wed Oct 14. The Leipzig now arrived and joined the squadron. She was accompanied by 3 steamers, Amasis, Anubis and Karnak.

Thursday Oct 15.The Germans turned out to be unpopular "they did not come ashore, and had given no clothes, food or soap". The Gneisenau was re coal off the south coast, as this gave some protection from the swell.. The sky was clear blue, with bright sun and a refreshing breeze. A German petty officer died of dysentery and had to be buried at sea.

Fri Oct 16. Another German sailor died

Rumours started to circulate that something odd was happening. The Germans said that they had no newspapers and they seldom came ashore, and they carried no lights at night. And why did one officer say "in two months Germany will be at the top of the tree". Routledge dismissed it all as "bazaar talk"

Sat 17. Coaling continued all day. By now the Yorck was emptied, and was sent off to Valparaiso with mail.

Sun Oct 18. The German tobacco planter from the island went aboard the warships, and, against orders, the crew told him about the European war. The news got out to the rest of the foreigners on the island. And that night the squadron left, saying that they would be back the next day, but they never returned.

Prinz Eitel Frederich.

1914 Dec 23. Another German warship - Prinz Eitel Friedrich , a merchant ship which had been converted into an auxiliary cruiser and had been operating as a raider, arrived off Easter Island. She had with her the French barque "Jean" which was carrying coal. Also on board were the crew of the English ship "Kildalton" which had been captured and sunk off the Horn. The German officers and crew landed daily and "behaved as if the whole place belonged to them". However they were courteous and always saluted Routledge. However they remained far beyond the 24 hours that they were entitled to stay in a neutral port. They set up a signal station on Rano Aroi to keep a look out for "enemy ships".

1915 Jan 1. The cruiser left port towing the "Jean", which she proceeded to sink by gunfire a few miles offshore. The cruiser returned to Easter Island and landed 48 crew from the two British and French ships. A camp was made for them at the wool sheds at Hanga Piko and a room found for Captain Sharp of the English ship at the manager's house. A Swedish ship appeared 2months later and took the men off.

Easter Island Holiday