SMS Wolf

SMS Wolf
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, collection ID P05338.173

By late 1916 the German battleships were tied up in port by the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet and the only avenue for striking at Allied merchant shipping was through the U-boat fleet and surface raiders. Wolf was a merchant ship fitted with seven hidden 150mm guns, four torpedo tubes, 465 mines, and a reconnaissance seaplane (“Wölfchen”).

SMS Wolf Seaplane ("Wölfchen")
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, collection ID P05338.110

Her major task was to lay mines off Allied ports in the Indian Ocean and act as an independent marauder. The Wolf was relatively slow, with a top speed of only 11 knots but her bunkers could hold 8,000 tons of coal, giving her a huge cruising range of 32,000 nautical miles at eight knots. And those bunkers were regularly replenished over the course of her voyage from the supplies of the merchant steam ships that she captured.

Loading Mines onto SMS Wolf in Kiel
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, collection ID P05338.004.

SMS Wolf mined, captured and sunk allied shipping during a round trip voyage from Germany lasting from November 30, 1916 to February 24, 1918. After a year at sea, accompanied by the captured Spanish steamer Igotz Mendi, she headed back to Germany. The Igotz Mendi ran aground off Skagen, Denmark and was seized by the Danish military. Wolf reached Kiel, Germany on February 24, 1918 after a voyage of 100,000 km over 1 year, 2 months, and 25 days.

SMS Wolf Route Map

For the first 3 months, the Wolf concentrated on laying mine fields around South Africa, Ceylon and India. After laying mines along the entrance routes to Bombay the Wolf started to focus on acting as a surface raider. After a few months of raiding, the Wolf arrived off the coast of New Zealand and laid mine fields off New Zealand and in the Tasman Sea before resuming its raiding activities on the way to Singapore, where it laid its remaining mines. From there, the Wolf started on the long voyage home taking shipping prizes as they became available.

South Africa

Mines were first laid of the coast of South Africa in January 1917.

Laying Mines off the Coast of Africa 16-Jan-1917
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The following ships, with a combined gross tonnage of 21,384, were struck by mines off the Cape of Good Hope and sank:

Ship Flag Gross Tonnage Date
Matheran British 7,654 26-Jan-17
Cilicia British 3,750 12-Feb-17
C. de Eizaguirre Spanish 4,376 26-May-17
City of Athens British 5,604 10-Aug-17

The following ships, with a combined gross tonnage of 16,244, were struck by mines off Cape Agulhas (the geographic southern tip of the African continent) and were damaged but did not sink:

Ship Flag Gross Tonnage Date
Tyndareus* British 11,000 06-Feb-17
Bhamo British 5,244 26-Aug-17

*The Tyndareus struck a mine about 10 miles (16 km) off Cape Agulhas. The explosion tore a large hole in the forward part of her hull and she began to sink by the head. On board were 30 officers and 1,000 men of the 25th (Garrison Service) Battalion, The Middlesex Regiment, who were bound for Hong Kong.

Despite rough seas, all the troops were successfully transferred to the SS Eumaeus and the hospital ship HMHS Oxfordshire, which had responded to Tyndareus’s SOS signals. A British cruiser, HMS Hyacinth, arrived from Simonstown accompanied by a tug to assist the stricken troopship. The captain of Hyacinth ordered that Tyndareus be beached, as it was a hazard to shipping, but Captain Flynn ignored the order and was able to pilot the sinking ship safely into Simonstown, where she was repaired.

Some accounts of the SMS Wolf appear to characterize SS Tyndareus as a “war ship” since it was acting as a Troop Transport rather than a pure merchant ship.

India and Ceylon

After laying mines off the coast of South Africa the SMS Wolf steamed to Colombo laying more mines off the Port of Colombo and the Southern tip of India. From there mines were laid along all the major access routes to Bombay.

SMS Wolf Mine Laying off Colombo 15-Feb-1917
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Launching a Sea Mine from the SMS Wolf
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, collection ID P05338.010.
Mines Laid on the Approaches to Bombay Harbour. February 1917.

The following ships, with a combined gross tonnage of 36,711, were struck by mines off the coast of Bombay, British India and either sank or were so damaged that they had to be scrapped.

Ship Flag Gross Tonnage Date
Worcestershire British 7,175 17-Feb-17
Perseus British 6,728 21-Feb-17
Unkai Maru No. 7** Japanese 2,143 16-Jun-17
Mongolia British 9,505 24-Jun-17
Okhla British 5,288 29-Jul-17
Croxteth Hall British 5,872 17-Nov-17

** The Unkai Maru No 7 struck a mine from the SMS Wolf but photographic evidence indicates that it did not immediately sink and managed to make it into the Port of Bombay.

Unkai Maru View from Aft

The mines laid by SMS Wolf did not always stay in the place they were laid and several of them came ashore over the following months.

Mine being examined
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The following ship with a gross tonnage of 9,373 was damaged by a mine but managed to make it into the port of Bombay.

Ship Flag Gross Tonnage Date
City of Exeter British 9,373 11-Jun-17

The City of Exeter, a passenger ship, struck a mine in the Indian Ocean, about 400 m. from Bombay. Number 1 hold filled at once, and the master gave orders for the passengers and crew to leave the ship. Then the master and chief engineer returned and, at grave risk, made a thorough examination of the ship. They decided that, with the exercise of the greatest care, the crippled vessel could reach Bombay under her own steam. The passengers re-embarked and the ship safely arrived in port.

New Zealand

The SMS Wolf laid mines around the coast of New Zealand in June 1917.

SMS Wolf Mine Laying in the Cook Strait June-1917
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The following ships, with a combined gross tonnage of 8,322 tons, struck mines laid by SMS Wolf and sank off the coast of New Zealand (off Cape Farewell and in the Cook Strait, respectively).

Ship Flag Gross Tonnage Date  
Wimmera British 3,622 26-Jun-17  
Port Kembla British 4,700 17-Sep-17  

Australia (Tasman Sea)

In July 1917, the SMS Wolf laid mines in the Tasman Sea which quickly sank the following ship.

SMS Wolf Maine Laying off the Coast of Australia July-1917
Ship Flag Gross Tonnage Date
Cumberland British 9,471 06-Jul-17

Singapore

After laying mines in the Tasman Sea the SMS Wolf meandered her way to Singapore eventually laying mines there in September 1917. No allied merchant ships were reported damaged or sunk by these mines.

Mines Laid around Singapore Sept 1917

Aden

Back in February, after laying the mine field, at Bombay on the 19th February, Captain Nerger began seeking out enemy shipping.

SMS Wolf Mine Laying Route Bombay-Colombo Feb-1917

With great irony, the first vessel encountered was the SS Turritella, a sister ship to Wolf, (previously called the Gutenfels), captured by the British at the beginning of the war, at Port Said, and subsequently renamed and sold to the Anglo-Saxon Oil Company.

On February 27, 1917 the Turritella was re-captured off Colombo. The ship was renamed Iltis, after a ship in which Captain Nerger had served in China in 1900. A prize crew was placed on board along with 25 mines and a 12 pounder gun. She was ordered to place her mines around the port of Aden.

Turritella
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, collection ID P05338.043.

Port bow view of the 5,528 ton British freighter, Turritella, alongside the SMS Wolf. Crew members line the railing around the bow of the Turretella, which has just been captured.

On March 5th, 1917, while laying a minefield in the Gulf of Aden, she was spotted and chased by the British warships HMS Odin and HMS Fox. The crew, however, managed to scuttle her to avoid her changing hands for the third time in the war.

Two ships were damaged by the mines laid by Iltis but neither one sunk or was damaged beyond repair:

Ship Flag Gross Tonnage Date
Danubian British 5,064 20-Mar-17
Hong Moh British 3,910 05-Jan-18

Surface Raider

From February 1917 onward, the SMS Wolf was primarily engaged as a surface raider. In all, 14 ships with a combined gross tonnage of 38,391 tons were captured by the SMS Wolf over the following months.

Ship Flag Grt Captured Sunk
Turritella British 5,528 27-Feb-17 15-Mar-17
Jumna British 4,152 01-Mar-17 03-Mar-17
Wordsworth British 3,509 11-Mar-17 18-Mar-17
Dee British 1,169 30-Mar-17 30-Mar-17
Wairuna British 3,947 02-Jun-17 17-Jun-17
Winslow USA 567 16-Jun-17 22-Jun-17
Beluga USA 507 09-Jul-17 11-Jul-17
Encore USA 651 17-Jul-17 17-Jul-17
Matunga British 1,618 06-Aug-17 26-Aug-17
Hitachi Maru Japanese 6,557 26-Sep-17 07-Nov-17
Igotz Mendi* Spain 4,648 10-Nov-17 22-Feb-18
John H. Kirby USA 1,296 30-Nov-17 01-Dec-17
Marechal Davout France 2,192 15-Dec-17 15-Dec-17
Storebror Norway 2,050 04-Jan-18 04-Jan-18

*Igotz Mendi was being sailed back to Germany but ran aground and was stranded off Skagen, Denmark on February 22, 1918.

SS Jumna

The 4,152 ton British merchant ship, Jumna, sinking, her bow and funnel still visible above the surface, as viewed from the SMS Wolf. She was captured 650 miles west of Minikoi Island.

Jumna Sinking
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, collection ID P05338.045.

SS Wordsworth

Captured 680 miles east of Mahe, Seychelles on 11 March 1917, her crew and passengers, totaling 30, and some of her cargo of rice were transferred aboard the SMS Wolf before she was sunk by explosives on 18 March 1917.

SS Wordsworth Dynamited
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, collection ID P05338.048
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Wairuna

The 3,947 ton New Zealand steamship, Wairuna, was Captured by SMS Wolf on 2 June, 1917. The Wairuna accompanied her to Sunday Island where the crew of 40 and her cargo of cheese, milk, meat and 1,200 tons of coal were transferred aboard the raider before the steamer was sunk by explosives on 17 June, 1917.

Wairuna
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, collection ID P05338.053.
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Winslow

The 567 ton United States four-mast schooner, Winslow, captured by the SMS Wolf, off Raoul Island in the Pacific Ocean on 16 June, 1917. Her crew and cargo were transferred aboard before she was set alight and left to burn on 22 June 1917.

Winslow Burning
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, collection ID P05338.088.

SS Beluga

Viewed from the deck of the SMS Wolf, smoke rises on the horizon from the 507 ton United States steam whaler, Beluga, captured in the Pacific Ocean off Howe Island on 9 July, 1917. She was sunk with 19 rounds of gunfire on 11 July, 1917. Her crew, master, and 12 passengers were taken prisoner, the second mate died aboard SMS Wolf on 10 October, 1917.

SS Beluga Sinking
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, collection ID P05338.060.

Encore

Smoke on the horizon from the remains of the 651 ton United States three-mast schooner, Encore, captured in the Pacific Ocean by the SMS Wolf on 13 July, 1917. After being relieved of some cargo, and her passengers and crew, oil was poured over the schooner and deck cargo, her rigging was cut away, and the vessel set on fire on 15 July, 1917.

Encore on Fire
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, collection ID P05338.089.

Matunga

Port bow view of the 1,608 ton British merchant ship, Matunga. After intercepting a radio message, the SMS Wolf stalked Matunga to Rabaul, New Guinea, and captured her along with her 500 tons of coal and supplies of liquor on 6 August, 1917. SMS Wolf and her new captive steamed in company for a week until they reached the remote island of Waigeo, where stores were transfered. On 26 August, 1917 46 crew and passengers were transferred to the raider as prisoners and Matunga was scuttled a few miles out at sea off the coast of New Guinea.

Matunga
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, collection ID P05338.064.

Hitachi Maru

The 6,557 ton Japanese freighter, Hitachi Maru, was captured south of the Maldive Islands on 26 September, 1917. Damage from SMS Wolf’s guns can be seen on Hitachi Maru’s hull. Passengers, including women, and crew members line the railings. Wolf jammed the radio transmission and fired 14 rounds into the ship, killing 16 and wounding 6 of the Japanese crew before she surrendered. For over a month the Hitachi Maru anchored with the raider at Suvadiva Atoll, where she was removed of her passengers, crew and cargo including a large amount of coal. She was scuttled among the Cargados Carajos Islands on 7 November, 1917.

A gripping account of her capture and the subsequent trials and tribulations as life as a prisoner of the SMS Wolf is well documented in the book, A Captive on a German raider, by Trayes, F. G.

Hitachi Maru
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, collection ID P05338.065.
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Igotz Mendi

Port bow view of the 4,648 ton Spanish steam ship, Igotz Mendi. The steamer was captured on 10 November, 1917, south of the Mauritius Islands in the Indian Ocean. Although the Igotz Mendi was a neutral ship, she was carrying 5,000 tons of coal for the Royal Navy. A prize crew was placed on board and 1,000 tons of coal was transferred to the raider as they sailed for the Cocos Islands. Both ships were painted grey and they travelled around the Cape of Good Hope and proceeded across the South Atlantic towards the Ilha da Trinade.

During February 1918, the SMS Wolf and her prize sailed through the North Atlantic en route for Ruhleben via Iceland. Both ships had been badly damaged when the raider had coaled from the collier at sea in rough weather. Conditions for prisoners on board both ships were almost unbearable, the temperature reaching as low as minus 10 degree Celsius. Violent storms were encountered with huge waves that constantly washed over the decks. The two ships made the coast of Norway on 21 February, 1918 but before reaching the safety of the port of Kiel the Igotz Mendi ran aground off the Danish coast in thick fog on 22 February, 1918. A Danish gunboat retrieved the crew and prisoners on board but the Igotz Mendi remained firmly aground and was abandoned by the Wolf.

Igotz Mendi
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, collection ID P05338.079.

John H Kirby

Sailors crowd the deck of the SMS Wolf (left), to view the sinking of the 1,359 ton United States three-mast barque, John H Kirby, her masts and stern still visible above the water. The barque was captured by SMS Wolf in the Pacific Ocean, 320 miles southeast of Port Elizabeth, Africa on 30 November, 1917. Her cargo of 270 Ford cars remained on board but she was stripped of useful supplies of toiletries and her passengers transferred aboard the raider before she was scuttled using explosives the following day.

John H Kirby Sinking
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, collection ID P05338.078.

Journey’s End

Wolf arrived back at Kiel, Germany on February 24, 1918 after a voyage of 100,000 km over 1 year, 2 months, and 25 days and without entering a single port of any kind . She had mined and sunk 13 ships with a gross tonnage of 75,888 tons and severely damaged five others with a combined gross tonnage of 34,591 tons. In addition, she had captured 14 vessels with a combined gross tonnage of 38,391 tons, sinking 12 of them.

References:

  1. Der Kreuzerkrieg in den ausländischen Gewässern, by Raeder, E.
  2. A Captive on a German raider, by Trayes, F. G.
  3. Additional pictures from, ‘Ruhmestage Der Deutschen Marine‘ by Kapitanleutnant Norbert v. Baumbach, Hamburg, 1933.

 

UNKAI MARU No 7

The Unkai Maru No. 7 was a 2,143 gross tonnage steamer owned by the shipping company Nakamura & Co., of Osaka Japan.

LLOYD’S WAR LOSSES, The First World War, casualties to shipping through enemy causes 1914-1918 (ISBN1-85044-314-9 LLoyd’s of London Press) reports that the Unkai Maru No. 7 struck a mine on 16 June, 1917 at 18° 33′ N, 72° 10′ E, bound for Bombay carrying rice.

The mine was laid by the German Raider SMS Wolf in February 1917.

Mines Laid on the Approaches to Bombay Harbour. February 1917.

And the map below shows the relative position of the Unkai Maru No. 7 to Bombay when it struck the mine, approximately 45 nautical miles south west of Bombay Harbour.

 

Pte. Monks took these photos of a “Japanese ship mined in Bombay Harbour” and labeled the date as Aug 1916, (although you can clearly see that he originally wrote 1917 and overwrote it).

Unkai Maru After Deck

However, research shows that this date that he wrote must be incorrect.

Unkai Maru View from Forward

Only two Japanese ships were sunk through hostile actions in Q3 1916, the Kohina Maru (sunk August 2, 1916 near Alexandria by German Submarine UB46) and the Tenmei Maru (sunk Aug 10, 1916 off the south coast of France MED by German Submarine U35).

"Maru" Midships from Foredeck. Bombay Harbour.

The VITA was in Bombay from June 4-22, 1917 (at Alexandra Dock No2 Shed) and it is reasonable to surmise that Pte. Monks was able to get out and about around the harbour during this extended stay. The Unkai Maru No 7 hit a mine laid by SMS Wolf on June 16 at 18° 33′ N, 72° 10′ E, bound For Bombay with a cargo of rice. It is recorded as being destroyed and the assumption was that it sank. However, rather than sinking, if it had in fact been able to make it into Bombay harbour (approximately 45 nautical miles) then it would have been there exactly during the time that Pte. Monks was also there. And it’s not difficult to imagine that any ship arriving at the harbour after striking a mine would have been of great interest to all sailors currently there, especially coming just 10-days after the SS City of Exeter also suffered the same fate and managed to sail into Bombay under her own steam.

Unkai Maru View from Aft

So, the conclusion is that it was the Unkai Maru No7 that he saw, boarded and photographed in Bombay harbour and it happened in June 1917 rather than August 1916. It’s not difficult to imagine that several years later he could confuse the exact date (which he originally wrote as 1917 and then changed to 1916) but it is hard to believe that he would get the ship’s nationality (Japanese) and demise (striking a mine) wrong. The only Japanese steam ship listed in this region in Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, RETURNS OF VESSELS TOTALLY LOST, CONDEMNED, etc. during 1916 and 1917 is the Unkai Maru No 7. LLOYD’S WAR LOSSES, The First World War, casualties to shipping through enemy causes 1914-1918 (ISBN1-85044-314-9 Lloyd’s of London Press) further indicates that this was the only Japanese ship struck by a mine in this region and confirms the date and location of the incident.

This account is the only plausible version that fits with the information from Lloyds Register of Shipping (the definitive source). Regardless, the activities of the SMS Wolf certainly impacted the safety of the VITA and its crew and must have been a cause for grave concern for all shipping in and out of Bombay during this time.

The complete list of Japanese steam ships lost, missing, abandoned, etc. in 1916 and 1917 is shown below.

Ship Name Cause Date Lost
Chikyu Maru ran aground (wrecked) 31-Jan-1916
Takata Maru collision 1-Feb-1916
Daijin Maru collision 2-Feb-1916
Seiun Maru ran aground (wrecked) 24-Feb-1916
Kenkon Maru No.11 abandoned 26-Feb-1916
Seiko Maru missing 23-Mar-1916
Chiyo Maru ran aground (wrecked) 31-Mar-1916
Wakatsu Maru ran aground (wrecked) 31-Mar-1916
Kagawa Maru ran aground (wrecked) 23-Apr-1916
Yamaguchi Maru ran aground (wrecked) 15-May-1916
Oyo Maru ran aground (wrecked) 4-Jun-1916
Daiyetsu Maru gunfire – shelled 24-Jun-1916
Yeijo Maru ran aground (wrecked) 16-Jul-1916
Kohina Maru torpedo 2-Aug-1916
Temmei Maru gunfire – shelled 10-Aug-1916
Heiyo Maru missing 11-Aug-1916
Kansai Maru No.1 collision 28-Aug-1916
Chokyu Maru No.2 collision 29-Aug-1916
Kiyo Maru No.2 ran aground (wrecked) 12-Sep-1916
Take Maru missing 21-Sep-1916
Hiroshima Maru ran aground (wrecked) 22-Sep-1916
Kachidate Maru foundered 27-Sep-1916
Kaiho Maru ran aground (wrecked) 11-Nov-1916
Nagata Maru scuttled 30-Nov-1916
Taki Maru torpedo 16-Dec-1916
Michi Maru collision 21-Dec-1916
Wakamatsu Maru ran aground (wrecked) 1916
Ship Name Cause Date Lost
Chinto Maru charges/explosives 4-Jan-1917
Suruga Maru ran aground (wrecked) 12-Jan-1917
Kisagata Maru No.3 torpedo 20-Jan-1917
Matsu Maru ran aground (wrecked) 21-Jan-1917
Gishun Maru missing 30-Jan-1917
Sakatagawa Maru foundered 1-Feb-1917
Zenra Maru ran aground (wrecked) 27-Feb-1917
Shinsei Maru torpedo 28-Feb-1917
Hoyen Maru foundered 1-Mar-1917
Sawa Maru torpedo 6-Mar-1917
Taizan Maru charges/explosives 2-May-1917
Tamon Maru No.11 foundered 12-May-1917
Kokai Maru ran aground (wrecked) 22-May-1917
Tansan Maru torpedo 22-May-1917
Miyazaki Maru torpedo 31-May-1917
Nikko Maru ran aground (wrecked) 10-Jun-1917
Unkai Maru mine 16-Jun-1917
Otaru Maru No.1 missing 26-Jun-1917
Daito Maru collision 2-Jul-1917
Shinsan Maru torpedo 2-Jul-1917
Shigizan Maru mine 7-Jul-1917
Tamon Maru No.16 foundered 7-Jul-1917
Kageshima Maru torpedo 20-Jul-1917
Kotohira Maru ran aground (wrecked) 27-Jul-1917
Kinryo Maru ran aground (wrecked) 9-Aug-1917
Bandai Maru gunfire – shelled 15-Aug-1917
Toyokawa Maru foundered 1-Sep-1917
Hikosan Maru torpedo 2-Oct-1917
Kobe Maru foundered 2-Oct-1917
Ikoma Maru scuttled 20-Oct-1917
Moyori Maru gunfire – shelled 20-Oct-1917
Kochi Maru fire 23-Oct-1917
Sakai Maru ran aground (wrecked) 5-Nov-1917
Hitachi Maru (II) scuttled 6-Nov-1917
Yanagawa Maru collision 8-Nov-1917
Fukuyama Maru No.6 missing 11-Nov-1917
Yeisho Maru missing 17-Nov-1917
Kounyu Maru collision 1-Dec-1917
Taikosan Maru collision 14-Dec-1917

References:

Lloyds Register of Shipping, Returns of Vessels Totally Lost, Condemned, etc. 1916.

Lloyds Register of Shipping, Returns of Vessels Totally Lost, Condemned, etc. 1917.

Lloyds Register of Shipping, Returns of Vessels Totally Lost, Condemned, etc. 1918.

Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, RETURNS OF VESSELS TOTALLY LOST, CONDEMNED, etc.

Wrecksite

 

 

Serbian Silver Medal

Foreign Gallantry Awards

Foreign gallantry awards were sometimes given as a “consolation” if a British medal was not awarded.  In some cases men were recommended for a Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and it was downgraded to a Mentioned in Despatches (MiD) as it passed up the chain of command. Foreign awards were slightly different in that they generally passed down the chain of command and therefore there was more certainty over their award. The Military Medal was not established until March 1916 and although it was possible to make a retrospective award, it often didn’t happen and of course was not available in 1915.

Some foreign medals seem to have been made available to the British on a reciprocal basis, and were awarded to men who were chosen by British commanders as being particularly deserving, but who did not, for some reason, qualify for a British gallantry medal.

One particular feature of some of these foreign awards (which was in effect an MiD with related medal) was that they could be awarded posthumously. The French Croix de Guerre as an example. This made it especially useful for awarding to men who had lost their lives in gallant circumstances but who fell short of the requirements for the Victoria Cross, the only British gallantry medal that could be awarded posthumously. Confusingly, one hears sometimes of apparently posthumous awards of ‘lesser’ British gallantry medals, but on investigation these turn out to be confirmations after the recipient’s death of awards for which they had already been recommended.

Pvt. WILLIAM SHEEKEY (2231) 1/9th Manchester Regiment was one such man who was awarded the Silver Medal, otherwise known as the Serbian “Milos Obilic” Silver Medal of Valour.  In the London Gazette, the Serbian Silver Medal was listed under the heading of “Decorations and medals conferred by HIS MAJESTY THE KING OF SERBIA” and awarded for “gallantry and distinguished service in the field” which is the only citation available.  [Gazetted Feb 15, 1917]

Silver Medal Background:

Milos Obilic was a medieval Serbian knight, considered an epitome of bravery and honesty, and who, legend has it, was captured by the Ottoman Turks at the end of the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. Presented as a prisoner of war to the Turkish Sultan Murad I, Obilic produced a hitherto-hidden dagger and stabbed and killed the Sultan, an act for which Obilic was beheaded.  Ever since he personified the fearless, heroic Serbian warrior, ready to sacrifice own life in face of threatening defeat.

In the summer of 1913, the Kingdom of Serbia was overhauling its gold and silver Medals for Bravery, both in design and regulations, and opted to use the name and image of the great Serbian hero, Milos Obilic, in the design.

Award Criteria:

The medal was awarded for valour on the battlefield:

  • The gold version of the medal could be awarded to officers for “valour tested in battle” and, in exceptional cases, to NCOs for “fearless bravery in battle”.
  • The silver version could be awarded to NCOs and enlisted men for “bravery in battle”.

Description:

On one side of the medal is an ideal portrait of Milos Obilic in profile, wearing his armour and, near the edge, his name in Serbian Cyrillic, ‘MИЛОШ ОБИЛИЋ’.

Serbian Silver War Medal Front

On the other side of the medal, a cross with a pair of diagonal swords and, in the centre, the Serbian Cyrillic text, ‘ЗА ХРАБРОСТ’, which transliterates as ‘Za Hrabrost’, and translates to ‘For Bravery’.

Serbian Silver War Medal Back

Serbian recipients of the Milos Obilic Medal were exempt from taxes and it was the highest ranking Serbian medal at the time, which meant that, for a set of Serbian medals, it was worn in the leftmost position of the medal group, with the lower-ranking medals in their respective, regulated order or rank, being worn to the right of the Obilic medal.

References:

  1. ‘Serbian and Yugoslavian Orders and Decorations, 1859-1941’ by Pavel Car and Tomislav Muhić, 2009.
  2. The Europeana Collections Web Site.

Scabies in WW1

Pvt. Arthur Slater was hospitalized for Scabies twice during his service in World War One.  He was not unusual in this.

The information below is primarily from Medical Services; Diseases of the War, Volume II, by Sir W. G. Macpherson.

Treatment of Scabies in WW1

The principles underlying the treatment of scabies included first, the exposure of the parasite and ova, secondly, their destruction by a suitable parasiticide, and thirdly, disinfection of contaminated articles of clothing and bedding.

Of all remedies, sulphur is generally acknowledged to be the most efficient, and by reason of its procurability and cheapness it was especially suited for the extensive requirements of the army.

During the war many preparations of sulphur were tried. After experiment the old-fashioned plan of inunction with the B.P. ointment was found to be the most satisfactory, although good results were obtained with sulphur in other forms, such as Vlemingkx’s solution*. Reference may be made to the “sulphur vapour treatment,” for it obtained a certain vogue. A number of instances of the after results came under observation. It proved an unsatisfactory and unreliable form of treatment; cure was uncertain, and severe secondary dermatitis common.

The treatment of scabies as adopted by MacCormac may be outlined as follows. On the first day the patient was thoroughly rubbed with soft soap for fifteen minutes. He then entered a warm bath where he lay for twenty minutes; during the last five minutes the infected sites were gently scrubbed with a soft brush. This procedure was designed to open up the burrows and expose the acari and ova. Steam or shower baths could not accomplish this satisfactorily and were therefore unsuitable. After drying, a liberal quantity of sulphur ointment (B.P.) was rubbed over the whole body below the neck, special attention being paid to the hands, feet, and penis. This inunction was repeated on the second and third days. On the fourth day, but not before, the patient was given a second bath and supplied with clean clothing and bedding. Such articles as socks, wrist straps, gloves, and the string of identification discs also required disinfection.

This routine procedure was successful in the vast majority of cases. Occasionally, it caused some degree of dermatitis, a condition easily allayed by simple ointment or dusting powder. This dermatitis was of importance; it usually made its first appearance five to seven days after sulphur treatment had been completed and was associated with itching, and therefore occasionally led to the false conclusion that relapse had occurred.

It should be noted that the preliminary bath was solely intended to expose the parasite and ova, therefore no disinfectant had to be added. In applying the sulphur preparation the whole body below the neck had to be treated, otherwise a few insects might escape destruction, with consequent re-infection. The sulphur ointment was employed on three days only; further application was unnecessary and might cause severe dermatitis. Finally, unless all contaminated material was disinfected, relapse was probable.

In 1918 a pamphlet on scabies was issued to the army. While it represented the result of much careful investigation reference may be made to it since it differed in certain respects from what has been said above. Moreover, dermatologists will hardly concur in the recommendation that the parasiticide liquor calcis sulphuratae should not be allowed to run on to the glans penis. This was a region very commonly found to be infected and therefore required special attention in treatment.

The severe type of scabies commonly met with in France required 31-7 days for cure as against three days for the average early case. But these severe types were in themselves evidence that disease had been present for a considerable time during which the infected man was capable of contaminating others. Early detection, therefore, not only shortened the period of treatment but also served as a means of preventing the spread of disease. Such early detection demanded first, familiarity on the part of the medical officer with the prevalent and unusual type of scabies; and secondly, the provision of sufficient opportunities for complete inspection. Early treatment was complementary to early diagnosis and was of equal importance. It has been shown that 30-29 days elapsed before a man affected with skin disease reached the base. Where treatment was carried out near the front area this figure was reduced, but, on the other hand, the more accessible the unit the less adequate must the means of treatment be unless this duty was undertaken specially. The provision of scabies hospitals for each army corps would seem to satisfy all requirements under conditions of active service, for they would afford early and skilled treatment, thereby both shortening the period of treatment and limiting the opportunities for spreading infection.

* Vleminckx’ solution is an orange-colored solution containing sulfides of calcium made by boiling a mixture of hydrated lime and sublimed sulfur in water and applied externally as a topical antiseptic and scabicide.  Also called Sulfurated Lime Solution.

Thresh Disinfector

Thresh Disinfector HM HS Vita

Sanitation was a huge issue in World War One. Soldiers in the trenches, both on the Western Front and in Gallipoli, living for months (and years) in difficult circumstances contracted various infestations and diseases related to the unsanitary conditions. Pvt Arthur Slater was twice hospitalized for scabies and men were also hospitalized for lice infestations. In such cases, apart from medically treating the patient, it was also necessary to disinfect their clothes and personal effects. The Thresh Disinfector was used for this purpose.

In Mesopotamia, disease (at least in the early years) was almost as dangerous to the health of the soldiers as the Turks.  The war diary of the Assistant Medical Director Services, Basra makes mention of Thresh Disinfectors being ordered, arriving and being distributed to the various camps used by the troops.

Some History

In 1870, Washington Lyon was working in the field of chemical disinfectants and served as the chair of his local sanitary committee. He took an interest in the process of vermin disinfection which lead to his high pressure Steam Disinfector patent ten years later.

In 1904, John Thresh, of the Thresh Disinfector Company of 66 Victoria Street, Westminster, London, took out a patent for an improved Disinfector – a device by which low pressure steam was used to disinfect bedding and clothing. Hot air was also created within the appliance, enabling drying of the contents to also take place. These disinfectors, sometimes mounted on wheels, were supplied to the War Office as well as Crown Agents for sale and use across the colonies. The appliances were made in Keighley, West Yorkshire.

Thresh Disinfectors used a calcium chloride solution to create steam that could penetrate materials at lower pressures than previous methods and could complete disinfection in as little as fifteen minutes. The basic process was as follows. First, infected materials including clothing, sheets, and mattresses were wheeled into the chamber and the chamber door was closed, providing an airtight seal. Next, low-pressured steam entered the interior chamber through the inlet valve, penetrating materials inside at a high, constant temperature. Finally, the steam was blown off the materials with hot air and the other chamber door was opened to wheel the materials out. The entrance and exit were separated to prevent contact between infected and disinfected materials.