Scuttling of SMS Cormoran commemorated 100 years later

by Jeffrey Landis
U.S. Naval Base Guam

APRA HARBOR, Guam (April 7, 2017) – Several hundred distinguished visitors, government officials, historians, local residents, U.S. military and members of Guam’s German community gathered at sea and on shore to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of SMS Cormoran II, April 7, 2017. The Cormoran, a German cruiser ship, was scuttled 100 years ago in Apra Harbor as the United States entered World War I.

Two memorial services honored the century mark of a significant event in history – the start of World War I in the Pacific in Guam. One, a wreath laying at sea over the site of the ship in Apra Harbor and memorial placed on the ship 120 feet below the surface, and another at the U.S. Naval Cemetery/Padre Palmo Park in Hagatna to honor the German Sailors who lost their lives – drew hundreds to see the elaborate commemoration activities hosted by the Guam Visitors Bureau. Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo, Delegate of the U.S. territory of Guam, Michael Hasper, Chargé d’Affaires to the German Embassy in Manila, Philippines, and Rear Adm. Shoshana Chatfield, Joint Region Marianas commander, helped punctuate the activities of the day with their remarks during the afternoon ceremony.

Hasper explained this commemoration as a mark of continued peace between nations. “The scuttling of this ship and the fate of this ship in Guam 100 years ago has a special place in history for Germany and the United States of America,” he said. “We pause and remember those who died. Our commemoration reminds us of how fortunate we are after two horrific wars. The Germans and Americans today commemorate together as friends and allies. The wreck of the SMS Cormoran, the German soldiers killed in Guam on the 7th of April 1917, as well as the fallen and the dead of the First World War, point to the horror of war and the blessing of peace. May our remembrance today of the 100th anniversary of the scuttling of SMS Cormoran in Guam send a message of peace to the world.”

The two-part peace memorial event included educational, promotional and diving opportunities for the public to create better exposure for the Cormoran’s unique place in Guam history. The area on Apra Harbor is not only the site of the first shot fired by the United States in the Pacific entering World War I, but also the same site of the Japanese freighter, Tokai Maru, which sank Aug. 27, 1943. The two ships now lay adjoined, about 120 feet below the surface, in what has been refuted as the only place on earth where shipwrecks from both world wars share the same site – and now a popular, world renowned dive site.

War was declared April 7, 1917, and the U.S. Marines and Sailors on Guam positioned themselves on an old screw schooner, USS Supply, requesting the German surrender of Cormoran. The Governor of Guam, with an artillery battery of three 7-inch guns at Mount Tenjo pointed at Coromoran, ordered the ship’s captain, Captain Adalbert Zuckschwerdt, to surrender the Cormoran. Accounts of the event differ, but some say the first shot was fired when an unassuming supply boat failed to stop while approaching Coromoran, unaware of the new conditions – some say it was a warning shot. Captain Zuckschwerdt, not wanting to surrender Coromoran, thought it would be more patriotic to scuttle her. After that first shot and at a quicker pace, the Germans finished setting their explosives and began to evacuate. The Cormoran exploded and sank to the bottom of the harbor in less than four minutes, where she remains today.

“Guam has long been the crossroads of the Pacific,” said Capt. Hans Sholley, commanding officer of U.S. Naval Base Guam. “The scuttling of the Cormoran a century ago reminds us how strategic this island remains. Today we join together in peace to remember the Sailors who gave their lives in the service of their nation.”

Cormoran II – it’s official name – originally a passenger and cargo ship, named SS Ryaezan and built by the Germans in 1909 for the Russian merchant fleet, was captured off the coast of Korea and transformed into an auxiliary cruiser with eight 4.1-inch rapid fire guns that came from the original SMS Cormoran. Cormoran first came to Guam in December 1914, out of coal and in need of stores after avoiding enemies throughout the Pacific. Although the U.S. was not involved in the war at the time, the Guam governor decided against refueling and restocking the ship, but did allow its German sailors to come ashore. The ship and its crew stayed for nearly two and a half years before entering WWI.

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