Chicago Tribune Nov. 18, 1941


Disguised Vessel Taken to Puerto Rico.

Washington, D. C., Nov. 17 (/iV.- The United States Navy report its first major prize of the battle of the Atlnntic -- the disguised German motor ship Odenwald, loaded with rubber and automobile tires destined for the or for Nazi - Tated Europe.

The ship captured in the South Atlantic in the guise of the American merchant ship Willmoto, was brought into the harbor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, with a United States naval crew aboard. The vessel was seized Nov. 6 by an American cruiser.

Prompt legal action was anticipated to forfeit the Odenwald, a craft of 5,098 tons, and its cargo of more than 3,000 tons of rubber, for violating laws of the sea. The status of the crew of 12 officers and 33 men, who were taken into naval custody.

Story of Ship's Capture.

The navy department issued the following eyewitness account today of the capture of the Odenwald:

'At dawn on Nov. 6 we sighted a ship about 11 miles away. We approached the ship and investigated, and signaled by searchlight, but recived no answer. On approaching closer, we found that it carried the name Willmoto of Philadelphia. It was flying the American flag at the stern, had an American flag on the counter which was to the screen of the lower bridge on each side. On one of the hatches there was painted also another American flag. On the bow there was painted on each side the name Willmoto. Over the bridge there was another Willmoto.

'When we approached closer, we that she had the signal flying indicating that she was the ship Willmoto, but still she failed to answer our searchlight signal. We approached close enough to talk by n. to their bridge and gathered the information that she was bound from Cape Town to New Or- . These questions were answered in poor English, and no answer given to our question,' Why don't you answer signal?'

Toss Packages Overboard.

'About this time during the mega-phone conversation, we observed being thrown over the side -- a continuous stream of packages. Suspicions were aroused as to whether or not this ship was the Wilimoto and in order to identify the ship, the commanding officer of the cruiser ordered a boarding party to leave the ship and make further investigation.

As this party left the cruiser, the Willmoto hauled down her cail, hoisted the International code flag with the signal meaning, 'I am sinking-please send boats,' and at the same time commenced lowering lifeboats.

By the time our boarding party had reached the ship, two of their had been loaded and men were coming down for the third boat, As the boarding party reached the ship, there were two explosions aft and smoke from an explosion came out of the stack. When the ship was 1- the name of the ship was determined to be the Odenwald.

Expectedl Vessel to Sink.

'Alter that tile boarding crew searched the German crew to gain information concerning any time bombs which might have been planted. They gave no information except that the ship would sink in 20 or 30 minutes. They had been so frightened that two of them jumped into the ocean from the deck rather than wait to go down the ladder. They were recovered by two boats in the water that were manned at this time.

Attempts were made to go below and investigate the damage done and try to repair it, but smoke-filled compartments prevented this. Upon his arrival on the ship, and verifying the ships disguise, the boarding party reported to the captain of the cruiser that she was a German ship in disguise and that the German crew was scuttling her. Upon receiving information the commanding officer immediately made preparations to send a repair party. He mustered all of the available men with diesel engine experience and lowered the ..., which lost no time in getting to the sinking ship.

" First Indications from the sinking ship were that she was not sinking as fast as the Germans expected and there was good possibility of saving her. She had also taken list and had settled down by the stern. Later, however, the salvage party found difficulty in reading German labels and operating the proper valves and sent for more interpreters which were provided by the cruiser's crew.

All Cargo is Removed.

"At this time the boarding officer reported that he did not think the ship could be saved and the cruiser's commanding officer directed that all cargo of any value be saved. This cargo was placed in the boats. It included ship's papers, official records, ship's bell, chronometers, personal effects or whatever the men from the cruiser aboard the ship could get their hands on.

"The cargo consisted of over 3,000 tons of baled raw rubber, many United States made auto tires with inner tubes. Bags of peanuts, rice, and about 60 of the tires were heaved over-board. Most of these were recovered later. The peanuts were not recovered.

"The salvage party from this point was successful in locating the damage. As far as could be determined at this point, there was no hole -- only leaky seams, but the position of these leaky seams was such that repair work was impossible. The German crew claimed that the explosives used were inferior, and were disappointed that the ship did not sink. However, they still held hope that her crew would never be able to keep her afloat and get her going. They gave no cooperation at all.

Gets One Engine Started.

"In the early afternoon, our salvage party succeeded in getting one engine started. We had sent divers over the side to locate the damage and repair it, but this was not possible. Finally, we were able to remove the water leaking in at a faster rate than it entered the ship. At 6 o clock at night the salvage party was successful in getting both engines started, and the ship got under way.

"All Germans were aboard the American cruiser except one of the engineers. Aboard the American cruiser, the German crew, which consisted of 33 men and 12 , all of whom the Odenwald ..., was given comfortable accomidations -- the officers in the officer part of the ship and the crew in the crew part of the ship.

"They were kept under constant guard and the officers messed in the wardroom and the crew messed with the crew of the cruiser.

" revealed that the Odenwald had left Yokohama two months previous and made its way around Cape Horn and it was believed her destination was Bordeaux. She wasn't armed -- had no guns other than revolvers and pistols. She is listed as a American ship."

No Basis for Comment -- Nazis.

BERLIN, Nov. 17 (/M'.-An authorized German spokesman said today Germany had no factual basis for commenting on the capture of an axis ship flying the American flag, as announced by the United States navy.

"In general it can be said, however, that the practice of using a false flag has been initiated by America's good friend, England,' he added.

(Partially corrected from an early scan. -- webmaster)