We are grateful to John for another post about one of the treasures of his collection
Captain Koenig and the Crew of the Deutschland. Interesting. This Real Photo postcard dating from 1916 appeared – at first glance – to be the Captain and senior officers of a German ocean liner, interned by the Americans on the outbreak of the First War. When I saw it, I assumed that it would fill a useful slot in The Sayers Collection. There are other cards of this genre, and the year 1916 would be logical for this assumption.
No such luck. A check on returning home from the event where I purchased this card showed that the liner Deutschland had been renamed in 1910 after 10 years of Transatlantic service, so was not operating under that name after 1910. And it wasn’t the battleship Deutschland, which had gone into service in 1903.
So who are these men? What were they doing in 1916? And why the varied range of attire, some of it casual except for their hats? Surprise! They are the crew of a significant German submarine, which went into service in 1916 as a cargo vessel for the North German Lloyd line, christened as the Deutschland. She and a sister submarine were unarmed non-naval vessels designed to evade the British warships blockading Germany. With a capacity of 700 tons, they were designed to carry strategic materials from America and deliver high-end German products like aniline dyes to the U.S. It appears that they were the first-ever purpose-built cargo-carrying submarines.
There was considerable controversy because the British blockade of Germany could not stop these undersea ships from carrying strategic cargo. Britain claimed that by not interning this boat the Americans were favouring Germany. America was neutral at this stage of the war and concluded that it could not discriminate in regard to what was essentially a cargo ship. If it had been armed and a ship of the German navy, the position would have been different.
Deutschland made only two trips – one to New York and a second one which involved Baltimore. There are images online from the second voyage, but none of this first voyage! Photographer and publisher is G.L. Thompson, New York.
In 1917 Deutschland was taken over from the North German Lloyd shipping line by the German navy, armed for war service, and renamed U-155. Her cargo-carrying ability was inadequate and the need for more attack submarines transcended her value as a cargo carrier. Even though her design was not that of a conventional submarine, serving until the end of the War she reportedly sank over 20,000 tons of Allied shipping.
This postcard, and thousands of other pieces of ephemera, is contained in The Sayers Collection in the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library. A vast quantity of other ocean liner ephemera capturing social, shipping, historical, and commercial information in The Sayers Collection, continues to migrate across the Atlantic to the John Johnson Collection.