When World War I broke out in August 1914, the German gunboat Geier was enroute from Tanganyika to Tsingtao to join Adm. von Spee’s Far Eastern Squadron. Since British, French and Japanese warships threatened further progress toward her destination, she commenced elusive tactics.
In early September, she captured a British freighter, Southport, at Kusaie in the Eastern Carolines; disabled the merchantman’s engines; and steamed on. However, the freighter’s crew repaired the damage; and Southport sailed to Australia where she reported the German gunboat’s presence in the Carolines.
For another month, Geier eluded her hunters; then, in need of repairs and short on coal, she headed for neutral territory and headed to Hawai‘i. (US had not entered the war, yet.) (Navy)
The Geier entered Honolulu in an unseaworthy condition. She put into the port of Honolulu, and on October 15 the captain requested permission to make repairs to render the vessel seaworthy, and estimated the time for this work to be one week.
The naval constructor of the United States at the port of Honolulu examined the vessel on October 20 and recommended that the time be extended eight days from October 20, in order to place the boilers in a seaworthy condition. (Naval War College, International Law Situations, 1931)
The commanding officer reported the necessity of extensive repairs which would require an indefinite period for completion. The vessel was allowed the generous period of three weeks (to November 7) to make repairs and leave the port, or, failing to do so, to be interned.
A longer period would have been contrary to international practice, which does not permit a vessel to remain for a long time in a neutral port.
Shortly after the Geier entered the port of Honolulu the steamer Locksun arrived. It was found that this vessel had delivered coal to the Geier en route and had accompanied her toward Hawaii. She had thus constituted herself a tender or collier to the Geier she was accorded the same treatment and interned on November 7. (American Journal of International Law, 1922)
Both went beyond the November 7, 1914 deadline and both were interned (and the ships and most of their crews remained in the Islands for almost 3-years.)
Unbeknownst to many, “The Geier, although interned was using her wireless all the time … they caught practically all transpacific messages. Here is one entry showing successful wireless communication: December 22, 1914: ‘Telegram received from consulate: Geier will transmit messages to Connoran.’” (Star-Bulletin, December 13, 1917)
“(Individual pledges from the Captain and other officers of) “the Geier (were) handed over to the navy department immediately after internment. It is a promise to the American government to observe all its laws and respect its neutrality.” (Star-Bulletin, December 13, 1917)
The Geier crew was making friends in the Islands. “’Geier Night’ was a gala night at the YMCA last evening and for three solid hours more than 400 members of the German colony of Honolulu with the officers and crew of the Geier enjoyed themselves at every feature on the program.”
“One of the pleasing features of the meeting was the concert by the Geier band. As a musical organization the Geier band has won a leading place in the ranks of the bands in the city.” (Star-Bulletin, August 25, 1916)
Then, a fire, started February 4, 1917, aboard the Geier was evidence of a “concerted action taken by the commanders of the German merchant and naval vessels in port, to disable them completely in case they should fall into the hands of the United States.”
“Although the ship was fired in no other place than the engine room where the boilers were burned out and absolutely ruined the intense heat generated by the redhot metal spread to the steel deck over the engine-room which in turn set fire to a three-inch wooden deck which covered the steel.” (Star Bulletin, February 5, 1917)
“Later military officers in charge went on board and arrested the entire crew after Capt. Grasshof of the Geier had officially surrendered his ship to the United States, and then began the task of removing all the German officers and men and marching them to places of detention at the army posts under guard of regulars.”
“The actual interning of the Geier was performed … by Collector of the Port Malcolm A. Franklin, and the boat and crew were then turned over to the navy department. These paroles or pledges, therefore, were given to the navy’ department, Admiral Charles B. T. Moore, commandant.” (Star-Bulletin, December 13, 1917)
The “Navy took charge of crew and officers of Geier … and turned them over to the army for transfer of place of internment. The crews being divided between Schofield, Shafter and DeRussy.”
“It was stated today that all the Germans taken over by the army yesterday are in guardhouses and under guard. They will be allowed exercise every day, but in general their imprisonment will be close.” (Maui News)
“Virtually they are prisoners, though they were taken yesterday under the status of ‘interned aliens.’” (Star-Bulletin, February 5, 1917)
“The flag and pennant were left up and a small number of crew left on board In accordance with internment regulations. On going on board it was found that Geier machinery and half the boilers had been disabled.” (Star Bulletin, February 5, 1917)
On April 6, 1917, the US entered the war. Geier was seized and refitted for United States Navy service; renamed Schurz on June 9; and commissioned on 15 September 1917, Comdr. Arthur Crenshaw in command.
On October 31, Schurz stood out of Pearl Harbor to escort Submarine Division 3 to San Diego. Arriving on November 12, she continued on with the submarines, K-3, K-4, K-7, and K-8, in early December. At the end of the month, the convoy transited the Panama Canal, whence the gunboat and her charges moved northwest to Honduras.
Assigned to the American Patrol Detachment, Schurz departed Charleston toward the end of April and, for the next two months, conducted patrols and performed escort duty and towing missions along the east coast and in the Caribbean.
On June 19, she departed New York for Key West. At 0444 on the 21st, southwest of Cape Lookout lightship, she was rammed by the merchant ship, Florida. Florida hit Schurz on the starboard side, crumpling that wing of the bridge, penetrating the well and berth deck about 12 feet, and cutting through bunker no. 3 to the forward fire room.
One of Schurz’s crew was killed instantly; twelve others were injured. Schurz was abandoned. Three hours later, she sank. The name Schurz was struck from the Navy list on August 26, 1918. (Navy)