"The SS Hilda is a nice wreck within reach of experienced divers"
Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - SMS Cormoran
In 1909 a ship called SS Ryazan (also referred to as Rjasan or Rjaezan) was launched at the Schichau Yard at Elbing, Danzig, Germany. The new ship was built as a Russian passenger/cargo vessel for use on the North Pacific route, from Russia to the USA. The ship was 87 metres long and displaced 3,500 tons. She had at least two boilers which provided steam for a five cylinder triple expansion steam engine driving a single prop. She was capable of 17.0 knots.
World War 1 started on 2 August 1914 and on 4 August 1914, the Ryazan was captured by the German light cruiser, SMS Emden. The Emden was later sunk (on 9 November 1914) off the Cocos Islands by HMAS Sydney.
The Emden put an armed crew aboard the Ryazan and she was escorted to Tsingtao in the German colony Kiautschou (now called Qingdao in China). Here the Ryazan was converted to an armed raider and commissioned as SMS Cormoran II on 10 August 1914. She now had eight 104 mm quick firing guns which interestingly had been taken off the SMS Cormoran I which was laid up in Tsingtao.
On 10 August 1914 the Cormoran left Tsingtao Harbour under the command of Captain Adalbert Zuckschwerdt and sailed to the South Pacific Ocean. It is reported that Japanese warships (remember Japan was an Ally of Great Britain and Australia in World War 1) caused her to divert from her intended route. On 14 December 1914 the Cormoran entered Apra Harbor in the US Territory of Guam. She had not really got a long way, and her coal bunkers were almost empty, with only 50 tons of coal remaining.
The Governor of Guam, William John Maxwell, refused to supply more than a token amount of coal to the Cormoran. This was not only because it was in short supply in Guam, but because the US may have been covertly supporting Great Britain.
He ordered the Cormoran to leave the port within 24 hours or be detained. However, a stand-off situation occurred and nearly two years later the Cormoran was still anchored in Apra Harbor.
Governor Maxwell was placed (involuntarily) on sick leave and his deputy William P. Cronan was made acting Governor. He decided that the Germans should be treated as guests of the USA. They were not permitted to leave Guam, but they apparently became minor celebrities.
When the USA declared war on Germany on 7 April 1917, Captain Zuckschwerdt ordered the sea cocks to be opened so that the ship could be scuttled. When this started, the US naval forces apparently fired a shot over the bow of the Cormoran. This was said to be the first shot fired by the US in World War 1.
As strange as it seems, nine crew members lost their lives during the scuttling. They were buried with full military honours in the Naval cemetery at Agana, only a short distance away. Today there is a small memorial there as well as the graves.
The memorial to the men of SMS Cormoran in the Naval Cemetery at Agana
One of the graves of the sailors who died
The surviving crew were sent to Fort McPherson, Georgia where they were made prisoners of war. They were sent back to Germany on 7 October 1919. The bell of the Cormoran was recovered and today is exhibited at the US Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis, Maryland. The shipwreck was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
An interesting fact is that in 1943, the Japanese ship Tokai Maru would sink right next to the wreck of the SMS Cormoran after being torpedoed by three different submarines. Click here to read more about the Tokai Maru.
At least three divers have died while diving the Tokai Maru and it appears one has died on the Cormoran. As far as I can figure out, this incident happened about 1994 as an article in the July 2005 issue of Faceplate (newsletter of the divers and salvors of US Navy) appears to be about a Navy officer dying while on a dive on a wreck in Guam over 10 years previously. This article (see references) says that he had little sleep over the preceding 30 hours, perhaps as little as four hours. The officer had not dived for eight months and then proceeded to dive to 120 feet (36 metres) on a requalification dive.
In the early afternoon, the officer and another diver descended on the wreck. They only did a four minute bottom time (why so short?) before ascending. The ascent rate was said to be less than 30 feet (9 metres) per minute. Once back at the boat, the officer had difficulty getting into the boat, and once aboard, he slipped to one knee. His chin sank to his neck, all the time the officer was telling the supervisor he was okay. The supervisor decided that he was suffering an arterial gas embolism (AGE).
The officer was put on oxygen and transported to the Navy recompression chamber. Within 18 minutes he was inside and taken down. He reported tingling and decreased sensation. After several hours this worsened. He was kept in the chamber for 49 hours, but in the end he got a lot worse and it was decided he had to be brought back to the surface for attention. He was taken to Intensive Care Unit and 10 days after the dive, he died. It is not known what caused the AGE.
I now know that this happened person was actually diving on the SMS Cormoran on 8 April 8 1994. He died from on 15 April 15 1994.
A diagram of SMS Cormoran (bottom) and the Tokai Maru (top) Courtesy of US Parks Service
Today the Cormoran lies at approximate GPS Reading of N13ΒΊ 27.342' E144ΒΊ 39.233' using WGS84 as a datum. This is about one third of the way from the inner harbour of Apra Harbor to the open ocean. There is a mooring buoy here, close to the red port channel marker. The mooring is attached to the rear of the bridge superstructure of the Tokai Maru.
The Cormoran now rests on her starboard side with the prop shaft touching the bottom hull of the Tokai Maru.
A sonar recording of SMS Cormoran (left) and the Tokai Maru (right) Sent to me but I am not sure who created it
After descending to the bridge of the Tokai Maru, swim to the starboard railing and then head at about 30ΒΊ to your left and across the hull. Within a few seconds you should be able to make out the stern of the Cormoran. As you will see, the stern is almost touching the hull of the Tokai Maru.
In fact, if you look closely, you will see that the propeller shaft is touching the hull. The blades appear to be missing, salvaged a
t some time. I did not look real close, but looking at an enlargement of a photograph I took, I think that it is possible that at least one blade is still there. The prop is sitting in a + relationship to the ship. The blade that was pointing up (as the ship was floating) seems to have been removed by salvers as the bolts are still visible.
However, the one that would have been on the port side and now vertical has no visible bolts. In addition, it looks like the one that was point down and which would now be against the hull of the Tokai Maru may still be there, bent downwards. I cannot see what the other one looks like. If you happen to dive the wreck after reading this, have a look closely and let me know what you think.
The one that is missing may have been salvaged at the same time as the Tokai Maru's props were taken.
The prop shaft of the Cormoran
The stern as you approach from the Tokai Maru - note the gun platform
The Cormoran is angled over at almost 90ΒΊ on her starboard side so that you are swimming along a "vertical wall" with the deck on your left for all the first part of the dive.
The stern of the Cormoran is pretty bare. The gun platform, which is raised over the poop deck, does not have a gun. Whether it fell off or was salvaged I do not know. The poop deck is quite large, I suspect that there was accommodation here, certainly after the ship was turned into an armed raider. There are access doors on the port side that make it easy to enter (there are probably ones on starboard but the port ones are better).
Kelly McFadyen and the front of the poop deck
Kelly coming into Hold 4
Forward of the poop is Hold 4. This is a different sort of hold to most wrecks I have ever dived. It is like a straight in and out hold, with no 'tween decks at all. There is nothing inside the hold.
Forward of here is the rear mast. This has broken off and all that remains is a stub. There are two other short pipes here, one either side of the mast. They may have been supports. There is also a set of small ventilators here as well. Off on the sand there are some objects, but as I did not drop down to look at them I have no idea what they might be.
Hold 3 is forward of the mast. This has hatch beams over it like Hold 4. You can easily enter the hold. It is similar to Hold 4 inside and is also empty.
Hold 3 from outside looking forward
Kelly inside Hold 3 of the Cormoran
Forward of here is the rear of the superstructure. The Cormoran has two funnels, one about a third of the way from the rear bit and the second another third forward. I presume that this means there were two or perhaps four boilers. I will attempt to ascertain the exact number within a few weeks of writing this article.
On the top of the rear part of the superstructure there are what appears to be two large water tanks. I assume that they may be to provide water for the steam engine. The tanks are located either side of the centreline.
The rear mast remains between Holds 3 and 4
The small skylights near the stern
Straight in front of the water tanks are the engine room skylights. This is behind the rear funnel. The skylights are all open (in fact most if not all of the covers are missing) and it is very easy to enter the engine room.
The engine room houses a sort of steam engine I had never seen before. It is a very rare five cylinder triple expansion steam engine. This has five cylinders with one low pressure cylinder in the middle, two intermediate pressure cylinders outside this and two high pressure cylinders outside those two. Unique for me!
The water tanks above the engine room
The engine room skylights of the Cormoran
The very large low pressure cylinder of the steam engine
This is one of the intermediate pressure cylinders of the engine
There is a lot of room in the engine room and it is fairly well lit. As usual there are lots of catwalks and ladders. A bit of a thrill for mechanically minded divers.
Exiting back out the skylights you will see the rear funnel straight ahead. This is relatively intact, but starting to come apart a bit. In front of this are some access hatches. I presume that they provide access to the front boiler room as they are right behind the front funnel.
Inside the engine room with the skylights on the left
The rear funnel of the Cormoran
As we were doing this as a second dive, we did not have time to try and enter the boiler rooms. In addition, the hatches were pretty small and would have required a bit of effort to get in through them. The front funnel has only a small section close to the superstructure left, all the rest has fallen away.
In front of here is the bridge. This has collapsed, at least the upper (timber) part has. I did not see any signs of a telegraph or helm and am sure that they have been stolen 50 or so years ago!
The hatches giving access to the forward boiler room
The forward funnel
The depth all along the wreck from the prop to the forward funnel ranges from 30 to 32 metres. It will take you about 13 minutes to get to the bridge. As such, doing this as a second dive will mean you only have three or four minutes no decompression time by now. There is still a long way to go to the bow so it is probably better to turn around now.
Ascending up the front of the bridge brings you to a passageway. This runs back the whole length of the superstructure. This is not only picturesque, it has some interesting items in and next to it. Swim along back towards the bow. You can also go outside it on the top or to the left. Below as you swim there are some doorways that give access to the superstructure.
The passage on the port side and the hatches giving access to the superstructure
The smaller anchor now on the top of the passageway
Back near the engine room there are a couple of very interesting items. The first is a smaller anchor that is lying on what was the roof of the superstructure. Now it seems to be standing up. It seems to be too small for a ship of this size to be a spare, so perhaps it is one that has been dropped here at some time. There seems to be some chain running up and over the side of the passageway.
The second object is also an anchor. This one is much larger and sits right in the middle of the passageway. In fact, it is a huge anchor, standing upright and with the top outside the wreck itself. Chain runs from it over the port hull. It is possible that this was the mooring anchor used by the Tokai Maru.
It is about 25 metres along this side of the wreck. By now you will have been down about 20 minutes and just entering into decompression. Head back towards the stern.
The huge anchor in the middle of the passageway
Kelly touches both the World War I SMS Cormoran (with her fin) and the World War II Tokai Maru
Back at the stern, if you have time, examine the prop again and also take time to touch both the wrecks at the same time. A unique thing to do. Ascend up over the hull of the Tokai Maru to the mooring line and ascend. You will probably have to do about five minutes at three metres (a bottom time of 26 or so minutes till the ascent).
The visibility here is normally not great, we had about 10 metres or so which is about what can be expected. It is an interesting dive, probably more interesting than the adjacent Tokai Maru.