SS Prinz Eitel Friedrich (1904)

SS Prinz Eitel Friedrich was a German passenger liner which saw service in the First World War as an auxiliary cruiser of the Imperial German Navy. Though largely overlooked, Prinz Eitel Friedrich was, after SS Kronprinz Wilhelm, the most successful of Germany’s first wave of auxiliary cruisers. She was able to remain at large for seven months, from August 1914 to March 1915, and sank 11 ships, for a total tonnage of 33,000 GRT.

SS Prinz Eitel Friedrich on 28 March 1917, interned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania
German Empire
Name: Prinz Eitel Friedrich
Builder: Vulcan. Stettin
Launched: 1904
Commissioned: 5 August 1914[1](p46)
Fate: Interned 1915, seized 1917
General characteristics
  • 16,000 tons[1](p48)
  • (8,797 GRT)
Length: 153.3 m (503 ft)
Beam: 16.9 m (55 ft)
Draught: 7.1 m (23 ft)
Propulsion: 2 × 4 cylinder expansion
Speed: 15 kn (28 km/h)
Range: 10,000 nm
Complement: 402[1](p24)

Early career

Prinz Eitel Friedrich was built for the Norddeutscher Lloyd, a former shipping company of the Hapag-Lloyd, by the AG Vulcan shipyard in Stettin, in 1904. For the ten years prior to the First World War she served on NDL routes in the Far East. On the eve of war in August 1914 she was at Shanghai, with orders to proceed to the German naval base at Tsingtao for conversion as an auxiliary cruiser (Hilfskreuzer).[2](p72)

Service history

At Tsingtao Prinz Eitel Friedrich was equipped for her role as a commerce raider, transferring the armaments and crews of the aging gunboats Luchs, and Tiger. KK Max Therichens, of Luchs, took command.

She was commissioned on 5 August 1914 and sailed from Tsingtao the same day to join company with Admiral Graf von Spee and the German East Asia Squadron. These were at Pagan in the Caroline Islands, and Prinz Eitel Friedrich arrived there on 12 August.

On 13 August she was detached for independent operations and with a remit to attack and destroy allied commerce. She sailed south to start this mission along the coast of Australia.[2](p72)

In the following seven months she operated in the Pacific and South Atlantic, sinking 11 vessels, mostly sailing ships, for a total of 33,423 gross register tons (GRT).

In March 1915, with her bunkers nearly empty and her engines worn out, Prinz Eitel Friedrich headed for the neutral United States, and on 11 March 1915 sailed into Newport News harbour, to be interned.[2](p82)

Beer at risk

The Washington Times reports that if the Eitel dashes out to sea in defiance of the waiting British and French cruisers and is smashed by the Anglo-French shells, there will be a great wreckage of perfectly good bottled beer. Five hundred thousand bottles of it have been requisitioned by the German raider. What officials here cannot understand is why Captain Thierichens should be willing to expose his favorite beverage to such danger. It leads them once more to doubt whether the captain is going to leave Hampton Roads. They think possibly he sees a long, dry summer ahead, tied up at the docks at Newport News. Secretary Daniels has approved the list of provisions and amount of coal to be placed on board the Prinz Eitel Friedrich. The quantity is supposed to suffice to run to the nearest German port in the list, there appears a liberal supply of bottled beer. Secretary Daniels was a dry official, but he found nothing in the neutrality requirements to prevent him from giving it his O.K.[3]


Four 10.5 cm SK L/40 cannons. Two each mounted fore and aft. The port aft gun pictured at right.

An original 10.5 cm SK L/40 naval gun from Prinz Eitel Friedrich can be seen at the Cambridge Memorial Park.[4][5]


DateShipTypeNationalityTonnage GRTFate
11.12.1914JeanSailing shipFrench2,207Retained as collier
Scuttled 31.12.14
12.12.1914KidaltonSailing shipBritish1,784Sunk
26.1.1915Isabel BrowneSailing shipRussian1,315Sunk
27.1.1915Pierre LottSailing shipFrench2,196Sunk
27.1.1915William P Frye*Sailing shipAmerican3,374Sunk
28.1.1915JacobsenSailing shipFrench2,195Sunk
12.2.1915InvercoeSailing shipBritish1,421Sunk
18.2.1915Mary Ada ShortSailing shipBritish3,605Sunk
  • William P Frye was the first U.S. ship sunk during World War I. Its sinking urged the neutral U.S. to enter the war.

Internment and United States flag

Prinz Eitel Friedrich failed to leave the neutral port in the time prescribed by international law and was interned on 9 April 1915. The ship, still under the German flag, moved, was moved to the Philadelphia Navy Yard where, upon the United States declaration of war with Germany on 6 April 1917, she was seized by U.S. Customs officials and then transferred to the Navy.[6]

U.S. Naval service

Reconditioned and refitted as a troop transport and given the identification number (Id.No.) 3010, she was renamed and commissioned USS DeKalb (ID-3010) at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 12 May 1917, Cmdr. Walter R. Gherardi in command. DeKalb served for the remainder of the war as a troopship on the trans Atlantic route.[6]

Immigrant ship

The ship was acquired by W. Averell Harriman and included with ten previous ships acquired from the Kerr Navigation Company in a name change so that all were prefixed with an American mountain and thus renamed Mount Clay.[7] The ship was specially modified to be a steerage only immigrant ship for the United American Line of New York.[8] Mount Clay made the initial voyage as an immigrant ship on Christmas Day 1920 (Marine Review) or 26 December (DANFS).[7][6]

Mount Clay made the last westbound voyage from Hamburg to New York on 15 October 1925 and was laid up until scrapped in 1934.[6]


  1. Schmalenbach, Paul (1979). German raiders: A history of auxiliary cruisers of the German Navy, 1895-1945 (First ed.). Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-85059-351-4.
  2. Halpern, Paul G. (1994). Naval History of World War I (2nd hardcover printing ; 1st paperback printing. ed.). London: U. C. L. P. ISBN 1-85728-295-7.
  3. "Beer in danger if Eitel makes dash". Washington Times. 2 April 1915. p. 18. Retrieved 11 July 2018. If the Prinz Eitel Friedrich dashes out to sea in defiance of the waiting British and French...there will be a great wreckage of perfectly bottled beer.
  4. Costello, Michael. "10.5 cm/40 SK L/40". NavWeaps, Naval Weapons, Naval Technology and Naval Reunions. Tony DiGiulian. Retrieved 2 February 2016.
  5. DiGiulian, Tony. "Germany 10.5 cm/40 (4.1") SK L/40 - NavWeaps".
  6. Havern, Christopher B., Sr. (2 May 2018). "DeKalb (Id. No. 3010)". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Naval History And Heritage Command. Retrieved 29 August 2018.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. "W. A. Harriman as a Ship Operator". The Marine Review. Vol. 51 no. April. 1921. p. 178. Retrieved 29 August 2018.
  8. "An Immigrant Ship, De Luxe". The Marine Review. Vol. 51 no. February. 1921. p. 56. Retrieved 29 August 2018.
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