KMS Orion

"As long as there was a war going on anyway, it [sailing an auxiliary cruiser] was the most independent and thus the finest command of all for a naval officer." Captain Kurt Weyher

The raider Orion, also known as Schiff (Ship) 36, was the second to join combat. Orion was originally the freighter Kurmark and built in 1930 by Blohm & Voss. On 6 April 1940, captain Kurt Weyher took his ship out of Kiel to begin the 510-day long cruise. Disguised as the Dutch Beemterdijk, Orion ran into trouble two days later off the Norwegian coast (then thick with naval activities due to both British and German intentions to occupy Norway) when some British destroyers closed in to investigate. Orion posed as the Russian Soviet to slip through the Denmark Strait, and as the Greek Rocos when Weyher caught his first prey on 24 April.
Next he rounded Cape Horn and spent almost two months crossing the vast Pacific. He mined the area between Couvier Island and Australia, and sank four more ships before joining Admiral Eyssen's KMS Komet and a couple supply ships to form the "Far East Squadron" (the first since World War I). The two raiders combed the sea lanes with little success. They then turned to the island of Nauru where much phosphate was gathered for the British. Orion netted a few more victims, while Komet shelled the island.
Orion sank the Australian freighter Triaster on 8 December. Nothing major happened to the ship in the next 120 days. Boredom was the rule of the day, only intervened by constant engine problems and infrequent sightings by aircraft, which forced the men below the steaming deck. On 1 July 1941, Orion met KMS Atlantis and the crews lined the lengths of the ships to give a hip, hip, hurrah.
Otherwise life on board was dull. There was so much work that entertainment didn't quite exist. The food was nothing short of being horrible. In addition to numerous cockroaches, it was discovered that the cooks had once steamed some captured mice until they were quite "good." The most important thing, the mails, were largely uninspiring pen-pal letters from Bund Deucscher Mädchen (Hitler Youth Girls).
Weyher and his men were unpleasantly surprised on 8 May when the seaplane spotted HMS Cornwall, which had just sunk KMS Pinguin 45 miles away. For once the engineers pushed the ship to 13 knots without breaking down.
Finally mechanical problems and fuel shortage (one week of Orion's consumption could propell Atlantis for two months) forced Weyher to withdraw. Weyher sank his last victim on his way home in mid-Atlantic. The faulty engine caused trouble again when the men were so close to France. As if that were not enough, the crew's nerve was tried several more times by aircraft warnings -- caused by German planes. Orion docked in Royan on 23 August 1941, ending a trip of 203,739km, the longest of all raiders. Weyher was awarded a Knight's Cross and said simply, "We did our duty".

Click on one of the thumbnails below to view the full picture.
Technical data and/or diagram of KMS Orion.
An overview of the tactics used by the raiders that led to their enormous success.
A map showing Orion's journey.
Kurt Weyher (right), captain of Orion, with Fritz Steinkrauss.
Orion disguised to represent the Brazilian Mandu.
The neat disguise of Orion's port triple torpedo mounting is checked.
Orion disguised as the Dutch Beemsterdijk.
The Hamburg America Line cargo steamer Kurmark, later to become Orion.
Orion with her plane (behind her stern).

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