Several German ships, including the commerce raiders Prinz Eitel Friedrich and the Kronprinz Wilhelm, entered the Chesapeake Bay seeking the relative safety of neutral waters in 1915 for repairs, fuel, and to disembark hundreds of passengers from ships they had sunk, including a neutral American vessel off the coast of South America. With Royal Navy warships patrolling off the Virginia capes, these ships remained in Hampton Roads following the completion of repair in Newport News and were later interned by the U.S. government and transferred to the Philadelphia Naval Yard. By mid-1916, around the time the Deutschland arrived in the Chesapeake, the United States was beginning to gear up for a possible entry into the war. The British government also established a remount station at Newport News where horses, mules, grain, and other commodities were shipped to Europe to support the Allied war effort. Not surprisingly, the arrival of the Deutschland caused a great deal of concern within certain U.S. and Allied circles who suspected that it was more than just a merchant ship.
Given Baltimore’s large and influential German population, it is also understandable that the arrival of a new German merchant submarine stirred up quite a bit of local interest despite these other concerns. Since the mid-19th century, Locust Point, the site of the North German Lloyd piers where the Deutschland and the Neckar were moored along the southern embankment of the Patapsco River, was home to the city’s immigrant Polish, Italian and Irish communities as well as dry-docks, warehouses, and railroads serving the city’s growing maritime trade.
From the time of the Deutschland’s arrival, allegations arose that Captain König and his crew were actually German naval reservists with extensive U-boat experience. On July 12, two days after its arrival, officers from a U.S. naval inspection commission made a detailed inspection of the Deutschland to determine whether it was actually an unarmed merchantman, as the German government insisted, or a disguised military vessel as alleged by the British and the French ambassadors to the United States. After a thorough three hour inspection, the commission ruled that, despite the fact that it was a submarine, the Deutschland was an unarmed merchant vessel. The British were none too pleased with this determination; they were of the opinion that any submarine was by its very design a warship and therefore should be treated as such. Regardless of the findings of the naval commission, once the Deutschland sailed beyond the three mile territorial limit on its return voyage, Allied warships would be free to sink it without warning.
Allied allegations aside, the German ambassador and other representatives from the embassy in Washington came to Baltimore to inspect the Deutschland while it was loading cargo for its return trip to Bremen. The ambassador hosted a luncheon for the captain and crew at the local Germania clubhouse and Baltimore’s mayor James H. Preston (1911-1919) presided over a dinner in honor of the ambassador’s visit and to celebrate the arrival of the Deutschland in America and the importance of its visit to the city. When not busy unloading and loading cargo, Captain König and crew were the toast of the town and attended picnics and various soirees.
On August 1, the crew said their final farewells to their hosts, completed all formalities necessary for departure, and awaited a tide sufficient to allow the Deutschland to move out of the Patapsco River and back into the Bay. Lines were cast off at the North German Lloyd piers at 3:20pm and the Deutschland set sail from Baltimore Harbor with a cargo of nickel, tin and rubber. Moving down the river channel accompanied by the tugs Baltimore and Timmins and a flotilla of press boats past the quarantine station and the shore-gun batteries at Fort Smallwood and Fort Howard, the vessel was escorted into the Bay by Baltimore Harbor police boats and a Maryland revenue cutter. Curious people lined the shores to catch one last glimpse of the German submarine as it began its dangerous return voyage. Once in the Bay, the escort vessels turned for home and the Deutschland throttled up to full speed and plowed through the whitecaps. Only the Timmins would escort her down the length of the Bay to the Virginia capes and the open Atlantic. Moving down Chesapeake Bay early the next morning, the Deutschland reached sufficient free water near the Bloody Point Bar Lighthouse, which is situated southeast of Annapolis at the deepest part of the Bay, to make its first trial dive to check its trim and to prepare to take evasive measures should they encounter hostile naval forces in the Atlantic. They rose to periscope depth without being observed by the nearby Timmins some two miles away.
The Deutschland arrived at the Virginia capes at dusk on August 2. The Timmins turned north for Baltimore and the Deutschland was left to its own devices. It was illuminated by search lights on two trawlers and Captain König, fearing his coordinates were passed to Allied warships off the coast, took evasive measures by setting a southerly course and submerging. He surfaced briefly a couple of times to get his bearings before submerging to make his run into the Atlantic and past any Allied ships lurking nearby hoping to sink her. Shortly after midnight the Deutschland surfaced having successfully evaded the Allied blockade. The American coastline disappeared into the mist at sunrise as she continued into the Atlantic running at top speed on the surface. No other vessels were visible. The return voyage was accomplished without incident and on August 23 the Deutschland arrived at the mouth of the Weser. It docked in Bremen two days later having traveled 8,450 nautical miles on its maiden voyage.
Captain König and the Deutschland returned to the United States on a second voyage in early November 1916, arriving at New London, Connecticut with a $10 million cargo of gemstones, securities, and medicines. This visit did not go very well; British protests continued and the German submarine accidentally rammed the American tugboat T. A Scott, Jr. in Long Island Sound killing five American crewmen. The Deutschland returned to port for a week of repairs which delayed its departure. It was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing and allowed to return to Germany in December with several tons of silver bullion. A third voyage was planned but cancelled.
By February 1917, on the eve of the United States’ entry into the war, the Deutschland was converted from a merchantman into a military submarine designated U-155. Two torpedo tubes and a deck gun were added and she was deployed along the Eastern Seaboard. Additional "Deutschland" class converted mercantile submarines operated in German home waters as blockade runners, and along the west coast of Spain, Gibraltar, and West Africa. By the summer of 1918, a number of large "Deutschland" class vessels operating off the Eastern Seaboard of the United States where they were engaged in mine-laying and attacking unescorted shipping. The mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, at the Virginia capes, was a favorite operational zone for obvious reasons. The New York Times reported on July 6 a rumor of a hostile submarine operating in the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Ships in the area described seeing a periscope near Fort Monroe, at Hampton Roads, and American naval patrols were dispatched to the area but found nothing.
The Deutschland made three successful wartime deployments as U-155, sinking 42 ships and damaging one. It returned to Germany on November 12, 1918, the day following the armistice, and it was surrendered with other submarines and taken to England and displayed as a war trophy. It was sold for scrap in September 1921 and while being broken up in Birkenhead, an explosion ripped the boat apart killing five workmen. Like the country it was named for, the Deutschland met an ignominious end.
Harkening back to my conversation with my son about the voyage of the Deutschland while cruising the same waters of Chesapeake Bay she had sailed through almost 93 years earlier, Ian, whom I am proud to say is well-versed in submarine lore, provided me with some additional information on the Deutschland. On another fishing trip the following month, I found myself in the waters around the Blood Point Bar Lighthouse where the Deutschland had run its diving trials as it sailed down the Bay on its return voyage to Germany. I could almost picture its conning tower slicing through the water before disappearing again to resurface again God knows where.
Shortly thereafter Sally Ann and I decided to do a little exploring in search of some of the places associated with the Deutschland’s visit to the port of Baltimore in the summer of 1916. Our journey began at Fort Smallwood which is now a park administered by Anne Arundel County. It is situated on the Bay’s Western Shore, at the mouth of the Patapsco River and the entry to Baltimore Harbor. One of the two original shore-gun batteries - Battery Hartshorne - is still there, a silent reminder to another time when "homeland security" was on many people’s minds. I tried to picture the Deutschland and the Timmins passing by on their way into the harbor.
From there we drove northward toward Hawkins Point and the former site of Fort Armistead and the old quarantine station at Thoms Cove. Both are gone now. The quarantine station was closed in 1928 and subsequently torn down in the late 1960s. In its place are the western approaches to the Francis Scott Key Bridge and the Baltimore city landfill. We found Quarantine Road and Cove Road and drove them as far as we could hoping we might be able to find some evidence of the buildings dating back to that earlier time. Regrettably, nothing seem to be left but a rather unattractive industrial backwater.
Our next stop was Fort McHenry, a few miles farther up the Patapsco River and standing guard at Locust Point and the entrance to the Inner Harbor. It was here in 1814 that Francis Scott Key, held prisoner on a British man-of-war in the harbor, watched the bombardment of the fort and penned the lyrics to our national anthem. The fort is well preserved as a National Historic Site and also offers a wonderful 360-degree panorama of the harbor and the surrounding city scape. The Star-Spangled Banner waved in the gentle summer breeze as we walked along the water’s edge while watching boats and ships of every description shuttling from one place to another in one of the nation’s largest and busiest ports, just as it did almost a century ago . . . and earlier.
Just west of the fort lies the Locust Point neighborhood and what is left of the old industrial and commercial waterfront along the southern edge of the Inner Harbor. It is still a bastion of the city’s immigrant population since the early 18th century. Since 1868, when the first immigration station opened there at the north end of Andre Street, the influx of steamers from Germany, most of them operated by the North German Lloyd Line whose piers were located adjacent to the station, contributed to the city’s expanding ethnic communities. Eventually over one million immigrants, many of them from Germany, arrived here before the immigration station closed in 1914 as war loomed on the horizon. An immigration museum is now being established at the site shared with oil storage tanks. Gone, too, are the North German Lloyd piers and warehouses where the Deutschland and the Timmins once moored. The only ships to be found here now are those tied up at the Coast Guard station between here and Fort McHenry, and along the wharf serving the Domino Sugar refinery to the west. A few rotting pilings are all that is left of an era when this was the port’s heart and soul.
It was all as I expected it to be. Nothing lasts forever, or so it seems the older I get. Yet standing there along the rip-rap and rotting pilings at the end of Andre Street, if I squinted my eyes as I stared out into the harbor, I could imagine the Timmins standing by as the crew of the Deutschland cast off their lines and moved out into the harbor as they prepared for their return trip down the Chesapeake Bay at the beginning of a long and perilous voyage back to Germany. We returned to our car parked nearby. We would drive to the other side of the harbor for a bowl of mussels and a couple pints of beer before heading home. I could not help but wish Captain König and his brave crew fair winds and a following sea and recall the old sailors prayer.
And I will not lie me down
This rain a-ragin
'I will not lie me down
In such a storm
And if this night be unblessed
I shall not take my rest
Till I reach another shore