Sinking of the SS Otaki

K.T. Roussell’s painting of the New Zealand Shipping Company cargo liner Otaki battling the German commerce raider Moewe on 10 March 1917. Read more about this battle.

As the survivors were taken prisoner it was some time before the Otaki's fate was known. On 5 July 1917 the Auckland Weekly News reported on the battle:

Mr R McNISH, late Chief Officer of the Otaki, now a prisoner at Karlsruhe, has contacted the NZ Shipping Co: ‘I beg to state that the Otaki was sunk on 10 March by a German cruiser. I regret to report the following casualties:

Captain SMITH went down with his ship.
Chief Steward WILLIS was drowned.
KILNER and MARTIN, apprentices, and KEWSTON, seaman, and A H LITTLE, third engineer, were killed.
GLITZ, trimmer, had a leg amputated
JACKSON, seaman, PAYNE, apprentice, LANCASTER, RANDALL and GROVES, firemen, were wounded but not seriously.

Several others were slightly wounded. All hands lost every stitch they had except what they stood up in. Please excuse postcard, as it is all I am allowed to write.’

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3 comments have been posted about Sinking of the SS Otaki

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Stuart McCann

Posted: 11 Apr 2014

My deceased uncle, Captain Alex Smart, was the 3rd Officer on the Esmeraldas when it was captured by the Moewe on the same date as the sinking of the Otaki. A letter sent by him to his mother dated the 28th March, 1917 describes how his ship was taken. All the crew were taken on board the Moewe and their ship scuttled.
The following is part of his letter :-
"I had just put my light out then bang ! Right over the ship. I jumped out and there was a tramp steamer with a searchlight on us . I knew what it was so I went on the bridge and we stopped. They came aboard us and told us we were to leave the ship immediately . We were stopped at 1.10 am and I was put on board the raider by their own boat at 4. am. I got some of my most necessary gear away but have lost most of it. We did not do so bad aboard the Moewe of course there was not so much and as she had six hundred prisoners but the German officers and sailors treated us very respectfully. It was terrible when she sighted a ship and came into action, we were all locked below and our minds were concentrated on the firing. In one case the same day as we were captured the S/s Otaki began to reply to the raider with a 4.7 inch gun. It was fierce while it lasted and some of our men were nearly causing a panic. It was a great suspense for us as we could not see what was going on, but later the crew came aboard. They put up a brave fight but they did not know what they were up against. I myself are thankful to be on dry land."
Alex was put in a prison camp for the rest of the war and one of his letters requested a pair of white cricket trousers and sweater.
This letter came to light when another relative was asked if she had anything relative to the first world war and it was produced in her village magazine. Another resident of the village saw it. He was a member of the crew of the fourth Otaki and stated that there was a painting of the action in the Officers Mess room together with a copy of the Victoria Cross which was awarded to the captain of the Otaki. No doubt it was the painting shown on this web site.

Rev, Brian Dingwall

Posted: 10 Mar 2014

Midshipman or Apprentice Martin is remembered on a plaque on the wall of a deserted Church in Aberdeenshire.
This memorial was raised by his parents and for some reason was left in situ when the building was stripped .

Daniel Kirmatzis

Posted: 25 Sep 2013

Roland Leonard Hastings McNish attended Emanuel School in Battersea, London. In November 2014 we will be commemorating Emanuel alumni who served in both the First and Second World Wars. I have a blog with some of my research http://emanuelschoolatwar.wordpress.com