Count Dohna and His SeaGull ©
Ships - Samland
Samland, a Belgian steamship, was captured and released by SMS SeaGull on December 4, 1916, 630 miles west from Fastnet, Ireland.
Samland was a Belgian flagged steamship built by New York Shipbuilding, Camden, New Jersey. She was launched as the Mississippi for the Atlantic Transport Line on December 15, 1902. She was purchased in July 1906 by the Red Star Line, renamed Samland and transferred to the Belgian flag. In 1911-1913 she was loaned to the White Star line and sailed as the Belgic. She was a 9,748 ton ship, with a length of 490 feet, one funnel, four masts and twins screws. She was equipped with wireless and refrigerated cargo spaces.
Samland is a city in Norway.
Captain Wadsworth was in command when Samland was stopped by SeaGull. She sailed from Hoboken, New Jersey with a cargo of 9,000 tons of frozen meat, bound for Rotterdam, Netherlands. Under charter to the American Commission for Relief in Belgium, she carried papers of safe passage issued by the German Consulate in Washington, D. C. It was after arrival on December 7, 1916 in Falmouth, England when the story of the encounter with SeaGull became publicly known.
The American Commission for Relief in Belgium was acting as a neutral agency representing the people of Belgium. As a neutral agency they are not allowed to act in favor of any belligerent nation. It would then be a violation of the rules of war to report the encounter with the SeaGull. However, the crew being mostly English, no doubt promptly reported the engagement on arrival in Falmouth. The British Admiralty was then in a difficult position. If they reported the facts as they happened, the German Government could and would make a formal protest and disrupt the Belgian relief efforts.
On December 7, the admiralty released a statement describing an encounter that "took place" on December 2nd. HMS Teutonic, a British blockade ship, searching for contraband being shipped to or from Germany, stopped a vessel that identified itself as the "Dutch steamship Gamma, outward bound from Kirkwall." She appeared harmless, it was too rough to board her and so she was permitted to proceed on her voyage. Later it was learned the Gamma was at Kirkwall, Scotland on this date and did not leave until December 3rd. The story goes, this was a German raider evading the British blockade. With this as a "cover story" a warning of a "raider loose in the Atlantic" was broadcast.
The raider warning caused troop transports at the Cape of Good Hope, Dakar and Sierra Leone to remain in harbor. Five transports, which were known to be at sea, were ordered back to Sierra Leone. Twenty-four British warships and their supply vessels were assigned the task of locating and destroying the SeaGull. A number of French warships were also relocated to the Atlantic sea-lanes.
At the time of the "Gamma sighting," SeaGull was about 900 miles away, having passed the location four days earlier.
After the war, in August 1919, Samland resumed her prior Antwerp, Belgium, to New York sailings. She met her end in 1931 when she was scrapped. This ship was the only White Star Line vessel to have been built in the United States.
THE SEA RAIDERS, by Edward Keble Chatterton.
DER MOEWE FAHRTEN UND UBENTEUER, by Graf zu Dohna, 1927.
NAVAL OPERATIONS: Official History of the WWI, VOLUME IV, by Sir Henry John Newbolt.
Last Revision: March 4, 2007.
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