Note: Article automatically translated with software from Italian
The first time I heard this curious name, or the Pinguin, was during my early childhood (about 8 years old) reading a book about the navy of the Third Reich that was given to me.
This name has always remained in my mind, associating it with the definition of “Wolf in sheep’s clothing”.
Captain Krüder was placed in command of the auxiliary cruiser HK-33 which would later take the name of Pinguin. Sources cite that the choice of the name was not accidental, in fact it referred to the nice bird from which it takes its name from the clumsy and harmless appearance but which is said to steal the eggs of others.
The cruiser Pinguin during her activities sailed for more than 109,000 km, about twice around the world.
The launch of the Pinguin
The Pinguin with a tonnage of 7’700 tons was launched in 1936 in the German port of Bremen as a merchant ship and initially took the name of Kandelfels. Shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War at the beginning of 1940, the harmless merchant ship was transformed into a lethal cruiser, namely the Hilfskreuzer 33, then became part of the family of 9 auxiliary cruisers available to the German navy.
A disguised warship
Auxiliary cruisers such as the Pinguin, or of this type, had the characteristic of traveling in a camouflaged way, which had the main purpose of going unnoticed as defenseless and then surprisingly sinking the allied merchantmen who had the misfortune to meet them.
The equipment supplied
The lethal armament supplied to the HK-33, useful for the sinking of allied ships during the Second World War consisted essentially of:
- 6 guns of 150mm
- 7 anti-aircraft guns
- 4 tubes launches torpedoes
Obviously the weapons supplied were meticulously camouflaged so that they could not be noticed.
On board the Pinguin, two small reconnaissance aircraft were kept in the holds in addition to a load of naval mines. The false “clothing” even consisted of an ingenious system that raised and lowered fake trees and the relative funnels. He usually hoisted foreign flags so as not to reveal their actual nationality to anyone who crossed it.
The beginning of the Pinguin mission
The Pinguin, or rather the HK-33, set sail for her mission on 15 June 1940 heading towards the coasts of Scandinavia and then circumnavigated Iceland to the north, then descending southwards towards the southern Atlantic and then continued her “cruise”.
During the 11 months of the mission, the Pinguin would have reached a real record of captured and sunken ships becoming a true legend in the Navy.
A ship with many names
During its war activities the Pinguin assumed different names, such as Kassos taking the identity of a Greek merchant ship.
One of the purposes of ships such as the Pinguin consisted in addition to the fact of sinking enemy ships also the burden of procuring supplies to other German ships and submarines as in July 1940 when the German submarine UA, now short of torpedoes, was rescued and provisions.
The first victim of the Pinguin seems to have been the British cargo ship Domingo de Larringa which took place on July 31, 1940 off the coast of Africa. It seems that the crew of the Pinguin, after having fired some warning shots and after having drilled the British machine gun ship, proceeded to board the ship by evacuating the ship and then proceeding to the sinking by means of a torpedo.
The victims of the Pinguin will be many, including the British ship Benavon sunk off Madagascar on 12 September 1940
The wolf becomes prey
In the period between April 20, 1941 and May 7, 1941, the Pinguin, which for the occasion had taken the form of a cargo ship called Tamerlane, managed to bring a substantial booty check by capturing three allied ships, bringing the amount of prey to 28. However, something went wrong for the Pinguin, in fact the British Emperor radio officer despite being seriously injured and aboard his burning tanker managed to send his last message with the location of the Pinguin.
The British cruiser Cornwall decided to take off some seaplanes which flew over the Pinguin. What betrayed the German pirate ship was the fact that the crew did not say hello to the pilots flying overhead, giving rise to suspicion.
On May 8, 1941, Cornwall reached the Pinguin off the east coast of Africa, which being inferiorly equipped to her British rival lost her last battle. Part of the castaways (we quote the number of 22) of the Pinguin were rescued by the British ship Cornwall escaping an inevitable death by drowning or worse still by sharks, common in this stretch of sea.
However, the Pinguin sank in a short time taking more than 550 men to the bottom of the sea, including about 210 prisoners captured during the mission.
This is the story of one of the ships that helped make the German navy fleet legendary and formidable during World War II. This is the story of the legendary Pinguin.
Resources and sources consulted for the writing of this article:
- The Third Reich wars on the sea
- Wikipedia the free encyclopedia