World War II Pacific: The early years
Helmut Ruge, German POW #1
Your life story could be made into a book.
You were a specialist in the Kreigsmarine.
With the pocket battleship, merchant raider Admiral Graf Spee
when she captured and sank 9 ships with no loss of life.
Participated in the famous battle with 3 enemy cruisers off the
River Platt, 13 Dec 1939.
Were among the crew put ashore before she was scuttled off Montevideo Harbor.
[ to do : add short story of cruise of Graf Spee and the battle off
the Rio de la Platt.]
I will answer your questions
1 ) From 1940 to mid 1941, the crew was interned in different camps, I ended up in San Juan
2 ) My intent was to try to return to Germany via Siberian train. Escaped with a chinchilla-hunter over the Andes Mountains
3 ) There were two of us, another radio-operator who was a friend
of the time on PT-boats. We were not
selected for this venture, we voluntarily wanted to get home.
4 ) Worked in the German Embassy in Tokyo with the German Navy-attaché as a radio operator
5 ) I was ordered home by the Navy-command and
6 ) to become a crew-member of the merchantman Odenwald
7 ) yes,and it was Nov.6-1941
8 ) Those shipmates nearer to Buenos Aires were organized by different means to try to get home via Brazil, Spain, etc.
Nov 4, 1941 Tuesday. Atlantic.
British RFA oiler Olwen reports German surface raider attack at 03°04'N, 22°42'W . Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic, Vice Admiral Algernon U. Willis, RN, orders heavy cruiser HMS Dorsetshire (accompanied by armed merchant cruiser HMS Canton) to investigate. Light cruiser HMS Dunedin and special service vessels HMS Queen Emma and Princess Beatrix are ordered to depart Freetown, Sierra Leone to join in the search. Dorsetshire and Canton part company, with the former heading southeast and the latter steaming toward a position to the northwest, to be supported by TG 3.6, light cruiser Omaha (CL-4) and destroyer Somers (DD-381), which are at that time well to the northwest of the reported enemy position. Light cruiser Memphis (CL-13) and destroyers Davis (DD-395) and Jouett (DD-396), near to Olwen's position, search the area without result; Omaha and Somers search unsuccessfully for survivors.
Nov 5, 1941 Wednesday. Atlantic
Search for German raider reported by British RFA oiler Olwen the previous day continues; Comm-in-Chief South Atlantic (VAdm Willis, RN) informs British ships of the unsuccessful efforts by the five U.S. ships (two light cruisers and three destroyers) involved in the search the previous day.
Nov 6, 1941 Thursday. Atlantic.
Unsuccessful search for German raider reported by British RFA oiler Olwen on 4 November is not entirely fruitless: TG 3.6, light cruiser Omaha (CL-4) (Captain Theodore E. Chandler) and destroyer Somers (DD-381), en route to Recife, Brazil, returning from the 3,023-mile patrol, captures German blockade runner Odenwald, disguised as U.S. freighter Willmoto, in Atlantic equatorial waters, 00°40'N, 28°04'W . Boarding party from Omaha (Lt. George K. Carmichael) reaches Odenwald as Germans explode charges to scuttle the ship. Omaha's sailors, however, joined by a diesel engine specialist from Somers, prevent Odenwald's loss while the cruiser's Curtis Seagull SOCs and her accompanying destroyer screen the operation.
The three ships then proceed to Trinidad because of possible complications with the Brazilian government; in view of the precarious fuel state in the American ships, Somers's crew ingeniously rigs a sail that cuts fuel consumption and allows her to reach her destination with fuel to spare. British RFA oiler Olwen subsequently reports that she had made the "raider" signal, "QQQ", when what was probably a surfaced submarine had fired upon her at dawn on 4 November 1941. Ten U.S. and British warships had searched for two days for a phantom enemy.
The U.S. was officially a neutral in the war at this time.
Justification for escorting convoys was made by saying the U.S.Navy escort was for an American ship
and that any other ships were allowed to join the protection of the convoy, say 30 Britishers.
The mid-ocean meeting point (MOMP) south of Iceland was established an equal distance from Newfoundland and
England. Transfer of responsibility changed there between the USN and the RN. The escorts then put into Iceland to refuel and picked up the next convoy going the other direction.
USS Kearny torpedoed Oct 17 while escorting slow convoy
SC-48 (7 knots) from Belle Isle, Newfoundland, to the mid-ocean meeting point south of Iceland. Kearny lost 11 bluejackets and 22 injured, but Kearny made Iceland under her own power. (more)
USS Reuben James escorting fast convoy HX-156 (9 knots) was torpedoed and sunk with 100 men lost. (more)
In early November, just as Omaha (CL-4) (Capt Chandler) and Somers (DD-381) were about to cross the Line at Long 27° 44'W en route to Recife, they captured the German blockade runner Odenwald, disguised as "S.S. Willmoto of Philadelphia," carrying a cargo of rubber from Japan to Germany. They escorted her safely into San Juan, P.R., on 11 November 1941. Captain Chandler, somewhat uncertain of the legality of this capture, but remembering the Navy's African patrol of a century ago, reported that the Odenwald was a suspected slave trader!
9 ) When captured, no reason was given. US ran patrol together with UK
10) I left Yokohama on the same date that two years earlier, Graf Spee left Wilhelmshaven: 21 of August. I was disappointed to be captured and detained by a neutral power.
We were taken to Puerto Rico, arriving 11 November 11.
11) On Dec. 13 I was transferred on troop transport to New York
and to Camp Upton on Long Island.
12) Later moved to Fort Mead, Maryland, to Camp Forrest, Tennessee, to Fort Stanton, New Mexico, to Fort Lincoln at Bismarck, North Dakota, and lastly to Ellis Island, NY, until April 1946 when I finally
13) Met a Costa Rican coffee-grower, imprisoned by the US during the war as enemy-alien (?!) who returned after the war to Costa Rica and started a new plantation and needed a helper.
14) Worked as an interpreter for the 8th Army Air Corp in Nordholz Air-Base, Cuxhaven.
Now you know more or less,
with best regards
Subject: Helmut Ruge and my grandfather
I could not believe my eyes when I saw the result of the research when I typed
Graf Spee and Helmut Ruge. I am currently reconstructing my grand-father's life
story and while going through the internment years, I found a paragraph where
he mentioned practicing Ice hockey in Fort Lincoln, North Dakota and his
principal opponent on ice being Helmut Ruge from the Graf Spee. So I typed not
thinking I would get any results. Mister Ruge's story is quite amazing and
really should be made into a book.
In short, my grandfather was a young German businessman living in Haiti.
His family had been implanted there since 1839 but had remained German.
After Pearl Harbor all the Germans of Haiti were arrested and all of their
businesses sequestrated. Some of them were sent to the internment camps in
the US. He was sent first to Fort Kennedy Texas and then to Fort Lincoln
where other Germans from South America were also interned.
How can I reach Mister Ruge? I would love to get in touch with them to
share information. I would love to know if he remembers playing hockey with
my grandfather and if he has more information about life in the camp.
Waiting impatiently to hear from you,
Your email has been forwarded. For the contributor's personal privacy, I do not published email addresses.
I will be happy to forward any information they send back
about this fascinating bit of WW2. And unknown -- I have
never seen that Germans were relocated, let alone from So America
(and I have been reading about it for over 50 years). These little known, true
aspects need to be made available as shown through this Story of the Life of Helmut Ruge."
September 25, 2008
Thanks for your mails and I am glad to see, that Jim is still around (and thanks
God, so am I with 91.9 years).
Although every day somehow has it's story, the memory, written in German, about 100
pages, some 5 years ago and about 50 pages in English, noted by a friend during breakfast conversations.
can give you a general idea of my adventures. So, let me know, I can add some
interviews written in English, breakfast conversations with the secretary of my son-in-law.
My daughter lives in England with 3 grandchildren, my oldest son, an
architect, with 2, in Costa Rica, and my youngest son, with 3, MS , Ambassador of
Costa Rica in Chile.
Well, that's it and best regards,
The English version has arrived and transcription has begun.
Date: Sat, October 18, 2008 5:51 pm
Dear Jim : I am not very pleased to see the story published in internet,
because they contained a lot of intimate details, so you better leave it at
the first 5 chapters and we will talk it over. I take this opportunity the refer to my pages
which clearly describes how some men behaved - but they are all dead - so it is
better that they rest in peace, and not even their grand children will know how their
grandparents behaved. Best regards and thank you for the confidence. Helmut
"The Helmut Ruge Story" is not on the whole Internet, it only
on my WW2Pacific website and is accessible to you and my readers only.
I only got to chapters six and seven this morning. Those last two
chapters have now been DELETED until they can be revised to avoid embarrassment
to their grandchildren. I will review the earlier chapters, too.
You have had a fascinating life, are a part of history, and have overcome every obstacle,
and have thrived using intelligence, personality, courage, and hard work, and with a bit of luck, too.
I am sure that many people will want to read your story.
Did you have a chance to look at the picture of the Odenwald crew when captured?
Are you in that picture?
The USN story is found at,
Was this radio officer you? Was this the English you had learned at Flensburg?
Date: Tue, October 21, 2008 12:26 pm
You are right, there are other embarrassing details to be ignored, for example, . . .
But you will understand that it gives me the creeps to raise all the stuff again.
As to the capture story, it is
not true that the crew returned on gun point to return on board of the Odenwald.
I learned some English during my apprentice time in Cuxhaven , ship-broker -
Now, how I made it off : The 3rd officer, Voss, and myself got the order from
Capt. Loertsd to send
a telegram to Norddeich radio with the text, more or less, redacted by the 3rd said,
"werden von amrikanischen Einheiten aufgebracht,versenken Schiff. Es lebe der
Fuehrert - Heil Hitler, Odenwald / "are being captured by American units, will sink
ship" etc. - Now, while giving the message with a 40 watt sender, by a miracle Norddeich
answered immediately, At the same time, we felt and heard a strong explosion and,
leaving the radio op. room, I saw the two boardside boats about 50 m away,
with all the officers, including captain drifting in the quiet sea. Mr Voss decided to
jump overboard and swam to the boats. While I said "Hello" to the first of the
boarding party and decided not to jump, knowing that the party would not let me go
down with the ship. After looking on the starboard side boats, one was hanging in the
davits with broken lines, while the second starboard boat was tied along side with 4
crew-members waiting -- the captain's steward, the cook and two more .While the boarding
party hurried all over the ship, I decided to go down to the boat and we together
rowed to the 'Omaha', where we climbed up the rope ladder and were cordially received
by a Lieutenant. About half an hour later the two other boats arrived and all were
comfortably accommodated. After some moments : the first Officer, we had two of
them on board, Hans Hermann Schmidt reprimanded me, that I did not wait for the rest
of the party to board the 'Omaha'.
The boarding party was extremely well organized as I could watch
them taking the precautions, etc., until I left for the 'Omaha'.
The rest of the US-report is correct. The second
Engineer, Willi Seidel, finally started the engine and we ended in Porto Rico where we
were kept in tents, the officers kept apart from the crew. Transferred to New
York, interned in Camp Upton, Long Island, A big
rumble called the attention of the members of my tent (Voss, the 2nd mate, and
myself) when the whole crew attacked the captain's and the two 1st officers', and 1st Engineer's
tent, claiming betrayal of the Fatherland for handing over the ship to the enemy. We
went over and tranquilized the men, The whole crew together rejected Seidel,
who was taken into US Army protection for almost a year. A few days later the first enemy
aliens, civilians from New York, arrived and the routine began as internee of war
for the duration. After we arrived in Camp Forrest, Tenn., where I accepted Seidel in my tent,
together with two enemy aliens, since I was separated from the Odenwald officers.
Part of my many experiences.
OK Jim, keep smiling and regards, Helmut
I had sent some 'presidental' dollar coins, which got this response.
I used to receive a silver dollar, serving breakfast to Lucky Luciano on Ellis Island, where I was working in the kitchen,
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About this page:
Ruge - Comments by POW #1 in email correspondence with amplifying information from other sources.
Original March 28, 2003. Last updated on 21 Oct 2008 to add memories.
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