In 1914, the elegant luxury ship Kaiser Wilhelm Der Grosse was converted to an Armed Merchant
Cruiser along with other German liners upon the outbreak of war. She sank three British liners, but
allowed ships with women and children on board to go free. This chivalrous policy came to a halt
when the British began using their passenger ships as a ruse to mount sneak attacks and fire upon
unsuspecting German crews and their vessels.
The Kronprinzessin Cecilie (Crown Princess Cecilie), a twin of the Kaiser Wilhelm II, had an even
more illustrious tale: Carrying a cargo of $10,000,000 in gold and $3,400,000 in silver consigned to
British and French bankers, with an estimated value of over $5,000,000 in herself, the luxury ship  
constituted probably the finest sea prize open to capture. She was half-way across the Atlantic Ocean
enroute to the Fatherland when war was declared in 1914 . Her Captain turned around in mid-ocean
and headed back to the U.S.A. rather than face all but guaranteed British capture. Some passengers
were dismayed and a few American millionaires even offered to buy the ship so as to fly the U.S.
flag legitimately, but her Captain had crew members paint the tops of the ship's funnels black to
disguise the ship as White Star's Olympic just long enough to deceive any passing merchant ships.
In bad condition and with a sick crew after a lengthy cruise and various battles, Kronprinz Wilhelm,
also a converted luxury liner, sailed through patrolling British cruisers and made a run for Norfolk,
Virginia in the still neutral USA on April 10, 1915. When the U.S. later entered the War, she was
taken and renamed the Von Steuben and served as a US troopship.
The Kronprinzessin, known as the 'Kaiser's Treasure Ship', vanished according to news headlines. In
reality, after help from an American banker/yachtsman, the Captain put into Bar Harbor, Maine.
Residents of the fancy 'playground of the rich' awoke to find the Kronprinzen moored in their harbor
under its fake name 'Olympic'.
The ship's real identity was discovered and the ship with her refreshed, amused crew was escorted to
Boston where they were interned. She was snatched from Germany later and used as a US troop
ship called the Mt. Vernon. She survived a torpedo before eventually rusting to a slow death.
While the seized ships were being guarded against sabotage and prepared for war on the side of the
Allies, the Bureau of Immigration arranged for the internment of the crews who were not technically
considered prisoners of war, but rather "illegal aliens from an enemy country". At first the men were
detained in the ports where they were seized, but the Bureau soon located a hotel in Hot Springs,
North Carolina which could hold the 2,000 or so detainees. They were soon joined by 300 other
German seamen and aliens brought into custody under the President's Alien Enemy Proclamation. In
1918, the Department of Labor relinquished its control to the Justice Department and the men were
placed within the War Department's regular camps for all alien enemies, although some of them were
eventually paroled and allowed to hold jobs.
In the months immediately before the purportedly neutral US entered the war on the British side, US
government officials took inventory of German merchant ships trapped in American harbors. The
internment of these ships, coupled with the Royal Navy blockade of the Central Powers, had of
course limited the ability of Germany to acquire munitions from the U.S. and transport them across
the ocean. There were no such corresponding limitations on the Allies buying and transporting such
materials. In 1917, the US formally entered the war and all German ships they had previously
ordered interned in American harbors were easily confiscated including Kronprinzessin Cecilie,
Kronprinz Wilhelm, and other luxury liners. As these were not warships, the Navy had no authority
over their crews but suggested that the Labor Department did have authority under "matters of  
immigration". Wilson directed the Bureau of Immigration, in coordination with the Customs Bureau,
to prepare to take custody of the officers and crew members of the German ships, and one minute
after war was declared, Wilson had the conveniently waiting Customs Bureau officials cabled with
authorization for the pre-planned taking charge of German vessels and crews.
Some of these beautiful ships faced slow deaths. The massive 54,000 ton "Vaterland" was the largest
liner afloat in 1914. Just as she was ready to leave New York for her July 31 eastbound voyage after
only seven Atlantic crossings, officials cancelled the trip. England declared war on Germany on
August 4th and the ship was trapped at her Hoboken pier and totally immobilized. For the next three
years, this magnificent ship was not officially interned but "still awaiting orders". The New York
Times spread rumors that the ship was ready to carry 10,000 German sympathizers willing to go to
war against England and head for German waters. In the next few months, meanwhile, over half of
the crew refused the chance to return home and opted instead to stand regular watches on their ship.
They even hosted concerts on shore in order to raise funds for the German relief effort. The
"Vaterland" was formally seized when the US declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. The 300
man crew was taken to Ellis Island and their ship was renamed the "Leviathan" by Wilson and used
as a troop carrier, making 19 round trips until the end of the war. After the war, the worn out ship
was at first laid up for a couple of years, then unsuccessfully converted to a passenger liner, and then
reduced to being a cruise ship. In  1934, she was laid up for four years in Hoboken where she had
previously spent six wasted years, until she was sailed away in January 1938 to her rusty, ugly death
in a Scottish scrap yard.
The Hamburg-Amerika-Line's "Bismarck" was another unfortunate German ship. Her launching on
June 20, 1914 was only eight days after the events at Sarajevo. The massive ship was not even
completed when war broke out. The "Bismarck", intended to be the world's largest ship and the
flagship of the German merchant fleet, rusted away in the shipyard. Hopes that the liner would be
finished after the war to reactivate German transatlantic service were shattered by the Treaty of
Versailles which greedily ordered the Germans to complete the ship at their expense and hand it over
to the British government! It took until May 1922 to finish the world's largest ship, partly because the
workers were so angry and disgusted at the humiliating demand. When the "Bismarck's" new
owners, the staff members of the White Star Line, arrived in Hamburg to fetch their booty, they
found the funnels painted in Hamburg-America colors and the name "Bismarck" on the bow. The
shipyards workers had converted the captain's cabin into a garbage storage closet. Finally, she sailed
away under the new name the "Majestic". Her White Star running mates included other German
war-prizes. She was eventually sold for scrap, but then converted into a training ship for the British
admiralty and commissioned as the "Caledonia" in 1937. She burned in 1939 and was scrapped in
1940. World War One effectively ended German competition at sea forever, one of its primary goals.
Kaiser Wilhelm Der Grosse was very first German super liner. Built by Norddeutscher Lloyd, she
shocked the British by winning the coveted the 'Blue Ribbon' trans-Atlantic speed record from them
in 1897. On August 26, 1914, she was caught refuelling off the shore of Rio de Oro in western
Africa by British cruiser HMS Highflyer. Badly outgunned, the crew abandoned her when they ran
out of ammunition. She became the first passenger ship sunk during World War I.
Slaughtered in their Youth: Knocking out the Competition
Federal officials and military personnel henceforth took possession of 91 German-owned vessels in
American waters with a combined displacement of about 600,000 tons. 27 of the vessels were in
New York harbor and the others were scattered in ports on all three coasts and in several overseas
possessions. The German ships seized were worth a fortune equivalent to an estimated $100 million.
Above: Kronprinzessin Cecilie. Center: At Bar Harbor. Inset right (black & white image) shows her dining salon (clcik).
At the Right: She together with Kronprinz Wilhelm (shown in the picture below) rusting away later.
Hamburg Amerika designed Deutschland to be larger and faster than Kaiser Wilhelm Der Grosse. On
July 6, 1900, she began her maiden voyage from Hamburg to England and New York. After crossing
in six days, she took the Blue Riband from Kaiser Wilhelm Der Grosse and held it in both directions
until North German Lloyd’s Kronprinz Wilhelm took the westbound record in 1902. Deutschland
held the eastbound record until the North German Lloyd’s Kaiser Wilhelm took that title in 1904.
The following year, Deutschland regained the westbound record, an honor she lost to Lusitania in
1907. Deutschland was returned to her builders in 1910 to undergo a thorough refit. She emerged
from the shipyard in 1911 under the new name of Victoria Louise. Mechanical problems beginning in
1914 led to the ship being laid up throughout World War One, and this saved her the sorry fate of the
other German luxury ships. When the war ended, Victoria Louise was the only large German liner the
Allies had not confiscated. When her repairs were completed in 1921, Hamburg Amerika returned
her to the Hamburg - New York run under the name Hansa, but she lost money after the US passed
laws restricting European immigration. The beautiful ship was taken out of service in 1924 and
scrapped at Hamburg in 1925.
Previously, we saw the stories of thes great German luxury ships. Here are their sorry fates.
Laid up at Hamburg during the war, the gorgeous SS Kaiserin Auguste Victoria was seized by Great
Britain in March 1919 and chartered to the US Shipping Board who used her to carry American
troops home from Europe to America, temporarily flying the American flag. She was
decommissioned in 1919 and chartered to Cunard where under a British flag, the SS Kaiserin
Auguste Victoria sailed between Liverpool and New York. As a British ship, her life was short-lived
and predictably full of bad luck.
Influenza raged on board her during her passage to New York on Jan. 17, 1920, infecting hundreds,
some of them dying within a day's time. On May 13, 1921, she was sold to Canadian Pacific and
re-named the "Empress of Scotland", converted to oil fuel and refitted to carry passengers. She
embarked on her first voyage from Southampton to New York on January 22, 1922. Three months
later, she made her second trans-Atlantic voyage, and two months after that she transferred to the
Hamburg-Southampton-Cherbourg-Quebec service. In 1923, she was involved in a collision with the
SS Bonus at Hamburg. In 1926, she was refitted again, this time with more accommodations for
passengers. In 1927, another refit resulted in even more. The Empress of Scotland made her last
voyage from Southampton to Cherbourg and Quebec on October 11,1930 before being sold for
scrap. She was gutted by fire and sank in the shipbreakers yard at Blyth, then raised and scrapped.
By 1933, at only 28 years of age, the once magnificent German ship SS Kaiserin Auguste Victoria
was gone, never to remind others of the glorious days of the German births of she and her sisters.
Kronprinz Wilhelm and Vaterland
Deutschland and  Kaiserin Auguste Victoria