SMS Cormoran
SMS Cormoran or SMS Cormoran II was built at Danzig, Germany in 1909 for the Russian merchant fleet and named SS Ryazan (Rjasan or Rjäsan, from the Russian town of Ryazan
Ryazan is a city and the administrative center of Ryazan Oblast, Russia. It is located on the Oka River southeast of Moscow. Population: The strategic bomber base Dyagilevo is just west of the city, and the air base of Alexandrovo is to the southeast as is the Ryazan Turlatovo Airport...

). She was used by imperial Russia as a combination passenger, cargo and mail carrier on North Pacific routes.


SS Ryaezan was captured southeast of the Korean peninsula by the light cruiser
Light cruiser
A light cruiser is a type of small- or medium-sized warship. The term is a shortening of the phrase "light armored cruiser", describing a small ship that carried armor in the same way as an armored cruiser: a protective belt and deck...

  on 4 August 1914 as the first prize of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 with the Russian empire. SS
Ryaezan was taken to Tsingtao in the German colony Kiautschou and converted to an armed merchant raider
Merchant raider
Merchant raiders are ships which disguise themselves as non-combatant merchant vessels, whilst actually being armed and intending to attack enemy commerce. Germany used several merchant raiders early in World War I, and again early in World War II...

 and renamed SMS
Cormoran II. The "new" Cormoran replaced a small, shallow draft cruiser of the same name that had a long imperial navy career in the Pacific Ocean and had participated in the events that brought Kiautschou into the German colonial empire in 1897-1898. The small ship was laid up at Tsingtao with serious maintenance issues. All armaments from this old Cormoran were transferred and mounted on the captured Russian ship.

On 10 August 1914, the "new" Cormoran or Cormoran II left Tsingtao harbor and sailed throughout the South Pacific region
Oceania is a region centered on the islands of the tropical Pacific Ocean. Conceptions of what constitutes Oceania range from the coral atolls and volcanic islands of the South Pacific to the entire insular region between Asia and the Americas, including Australasia and the Malay Archipelago...

, pursued by Japanese warships. On 14 December, Cormoran II pulled into Apra Harbor
Apra Harbor
Apra Harbor is a deep-water port on the western side of Guam in the Mariana Islands. The harbor is formed by Orote Peninsula in the south and Cabras Island in the north. To the south, the harbor narrows and then widens again to form an inner harbor. The southern end of the harbor is the location...

 in the U.S. Territory of Guam
Guam is an organized, unincorporated territory of the United States located in the western Pacific Ocean. It is one of five U.S. territories with an established civilian government. Guam is listed as one of 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories by the Special Committee on Decolonization of the United...

 with only 50 t (55.1 ST) of coal remaining in her bunkers.

Due to strained diplomatic relations between the United States and Germany and the limited amount of coal stored at Guam, Governor William John Maxwell
William John Maxwell
William John Maxwell was a United States Navy officer who served as the 18th Naval Governor of Guam. He entered the United States Naval Academy in 1874, but was not commissioned as an ensign until 1883. He served aboard many ships before becoming one of the inaugural members of the General Board of...

 refused to supply Cormoran with more than a token amount of coal. U.S. authorities ordered the ship to leave within 24 hours or submit to detention. This created a standoff between the Germans and the Americans that lasted nearly two years, until Governor Maxwell was involuntarily placed on the sick list and replaced by his subordinate, William P. Cronan
William P. Cronan
William Pigott Cronan was a United States Navy Captain who served as the 19th Naval Governor of Guam. During his tenure in the Navy, he became decorated, commanded a number of ships, and came to be known as "the most popular man in the Navy". He participated in the Battle of Santiago de Cuba...

, who decided that the Germans should be treated as guests of the United States. While the Cormorant was still not permitted to leave harbor, the Cormoran crew were treated as friends, achieving something of a minor celebrity status on the island.

When the U.S. declared war on Germany on 7 April 1917, Captain Adalbert Zuckschwerdt
Adalbert Zuckschwerdt
Adalbert Zuckschwerdt was captain of the German raider, the SMS Cormoran, that sailed from the German colony of Tsingtao , China, until she was stranded and finally interned at Guam by the Americans...

 scuttled the ship. This incident is understood to be the first shot fired between the US and Germany during WWI, but almost no US history books mention the incident. The naval forces at Guam took note of the German crew preparing to sink the ship and fired a shot over the bow of Cormoran II, which is often cited as the first shot fired by the U.S. military in World War I. Nine crew members perished during the scuttling of the ship and were buried with full military honors in the naval cemetery at Agana. The U.S. Navy conducted a limited salvage operation of the sunken ship. Cormoran IIs bell was recovered and is exhibited today at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum at Annapolis, Maryland
Annapolis, Maryland
Annapolis is the capital of the U.S. state of Maryland, as well as the county seat of Anne Arundel County. It had a population of 38,394 at the 2010 census and is situated on the Chesapeake Bay at the mouth of the Severn River, south of Baltimore and about east of Washington, D.C. Annapolis is...

. Other artifacts have been removed by divers over the years.

The remainder of the German crew was then sent to Fort Douglas
Fort Douglas, Utah
Camp Douglas was established in October 1862 as a small military garrison about three miles east of Salt Lake City, Utah, for the purpose of protecting the overland mail route and telegraph lines along the Central Overland Route. In 1878, the post was renamed Fort Douglas. The fort was officially...

, Utah
Utah is a state in the Western United States. It was the 45th state to join the Union, on January 4, 1896. Approximately 80% of Utah's 2,763,885 people live along the Wasatch Front, centering on Salt Lake City. This leaves vast expanses of the state nearly uninhabited, making the population the...

 and others were transferred to Fort McPherson
Fort McPherson
Fort McPherson was a U.S. Army military base located in East Point, Georgia, on the southwest edge of the City of Atlanta, Ga. It was the headquarters for the U.S. Army Installation Management Command, Southeast Region; the U.S. Army Forces Command; the U.S. Army Reserve Command; the U.S...

, Georgia
Georgia (U.S. state)
Georgia is a state located in the southeastern United States. It was established in 1732, the last of the original Thirteen Colonies. The state is named after King George II of Great Britain. Georgia was the fourth state to ratify the United States Constitution, on January 2, 1788...

 for the duration of the war. They were finally returned home to Germany on 7 October 1919.

SMS Cormoran II has another unusual claim. She rests 110 ft (33.5 m) below the waters of Apra harbor on her port side, with the Japanese cargo ship Tokai Maru leaning against her screw. It is one of the few places where divers can explore a ship from World War I next to a ship from World War II.

The shipwreck was placed on the National Register of Historic Places
National Register of Historic Places
The National Register of Historic Places is the United States government's official list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects deemed worthy of preservation...

in 1975. The ship was listed because of its association with the history of World War I

List of Crew Members

  • Wilhelm Hermann Grallert, Lindenau, Kreis Landeshut, Niederschlesien, Prussia
  • Fritz August Hermann Kutz, Labes, Kreis Regenwalde, Pommern, Prussia
  • Jakob Runck, Landau, Pfalz


| first = Dan | last = Van der Vat | year = 1984 | location = New York | publisher = William Morrow and Company, Inc.| isbn = 0-688-03115-3 | oclc = }}
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