German Light Cruiser Köln

I have written about the German light cruisers previously including the Köln. The Köln was the third of the three ‘K’ class light cruisers built.

The K class light cruisers suffered from many design problems since they were designed and built in the late 1920’s and had to adhere to the strict limit’s imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles. As the design problems became increasingly apparent, the duties of the ships were limited to compensate and they increasingly failed to serve in the role they were intended to.

The Köln patrolled the coasts of Spain and Portugal during the Spanish Civil War in 1937 and then spent the remainder of her life in the Baltic and North Sea. She participated in the Invasion of Norway and then she resumed mining operations and limited attacks on Allied Convoy shipping. In February 1943, the Köln was damaged in a submarine attack and remained out of service until March 1944 receiving repairs. She recommissioned as a training ship for cadets. On 12 December 1944, she was heavily damaged by a British bombing raid. She was transferred to Wilhelmshaven in February 1945 to begin extensive repairs. Once there, she was sunk on even keel during another British bombing raid on 3 March 1945. Her turrets remained above water and continued to shell the oncoming Allied advance.

The Köln was captured on 5 May 1945 by the Polish First Armored Division along with 200 other ships of the Kriegsmarine in the surrender of the Wilhelshaven garrison. She was finally scrapped in 1946. Collected below is a photograph and account of the Köln during her visit to Guam in June 1933.

Köln (German Light Cruiser, 1930-1945). Underway, circa the early 1930s. This photograph was presented as a gift to Mrs. Ruth M. Bence at the time of the ship’s visit to Guam in late June 1933. See below for her comments on Köln‘s stay at Guam.

Department of the Navy – Naval History & Heritage Command

Comments by Mrs. Ruth M. Bence, provided in 1975. In 1933 she and her husband, Lieutenant Clarence E. Bence, USN, were stationed at Guam.

“From the writeup I did while I still had the details on tap. My two girls were teenagers at the time.”

“On June 30th, 1933 the German Cruiser ‘KOELN’ made us a visit on a Round the World Tour. Before it arrived all officer personnel were asked to entertain an officer or some cadets and be their official hosts during the visit. We decided to give our teenagers a break & volunteered to entertain 4 cadets, all tall.”

“Governor and Mrs. Root gave a garden party & reception for the incoming Governor Alexander (both Root and Alexander were Navy Captains) and the officers & cadets from the KOELN. Clarence & I went to this affair where we met our four cadets. However, Lieut. Von Mudhlendahl, radio officer on the KOELN, had himself introduced to Clarence as he wanted to discuss communications with him. It developed that he had not been assigned to anyone in Guam so we invited him to come home with us also. It was a bit awkward because evidently officers & cadets did not mingle socially. However after dinner the Knowles (Navy Doctor) brought down their two cadets and their victrola and the young folks danced at one end of the lanai (it was 10′ wide by 60′ long) while the rest of us sipped our drinks and chatted at the other end.”

“The KOELN stayed a week & one afternoon the girls & I had coffee aboard with Lt M. and had a partial tour of the cruiser. Everything was very clean & neat & the crew, working with nothing on above the belt, were a perfect physical example of what the Nazis were hoping to build as the ‘Master Race’. The cadets were all on duty. As mascots on the ship they had a lion cub that roamed at will, a kangaroo that did likewise, and a tiny puppy whose name was ‘Whiskey”. The Lt. was quite annoyed with the lion cub who had wandered into his room while he was absent and chewed a hole in a woven rug he had bought in Suva.”

“Of our four cadets two were German, one Polish & I think the other was Russian. We liked the Lt. very much. He had spent a couple of years in the US and spoke English very well. He was anxious to get home and see his first baby, a boy, who had been born during his absence. We had an urgent invitation to visit him and his family in the Black Forest but never made it and have often wondered what happened to him and his little family in WWII.”

“The name on the picture I do not recall. It is likely that these recollections are interesting only to me but use any part if you wish. I have set down only part of that week which was a series of parties ashore & on board all week.”

[Images courtesy of the Department of the Navy – Naval History & Heritage Command.]

Published by

Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

Leave a Reply