Passengers on the motorship Challenger (American South African Line), which arrived last week in Boston from Capetown, told how, in mid-Atlantic near the Equator, they were surprised to see land planes flying about, many hundreds of miles from any land. Presently the watchers sighted a British aircraft carrier and a British cruiser, also a French cruiser. Challenger's passengers then realized they beheld part of the far-flung Allied hunt for Nazi sea raiders.
Last fortnight the British tanker Africa Shell was sunk in the Mozambique Channel two miles off Portuguese East Africa by two bombs placed in her by an emaciated boarding party (wearing British lifebelts) from a German raider of some 10,000 tons, identified by Africa Shell's crew as the pocket battleship Admiral Scheer.
The German freighter Adolph Woer-mann (8,577 tons) slipped out of Lobito, Angola,* where she had lain interned since war began. With her escaped the German liner Windhuk (16,662 tons), a vessel built in 1936, reputedly for special war work: raiding. Germans in Lobito said Windhuk, heavily armed, had been altered to resemble a British ship. They also said the two ships had finally made a break because their crews were becoming restive, cooped up on short rations. Windhuk had a crew picked from other German ships lying in Lobito. She still carried several passengers stuck aboard her for three months.
Acting as a decoy, Adolph Woermann ran down toward Capetown, last week scuttled herself when overhauled by a British patrol. Lighthouses were doused, radio to ships cut off, harbor restrictions applied all around the coast of the Union of South Africa, for fear of hungry Admiral Scheer, angry Windhuk.
If these raider rumors seemed remote and nebulous, the fate of 16,697-ton Rawalpindi was definite. This ship, a fast Peninsular & Oriental steamer requisitioned by the Royal Navy and armed as a merchant cruiser, was assigned to the North Atlantic contraband patrol. When she was sunk Nov. 23 southeast of Iceland with the loss of 280 lives, the Admiralty announced her attackers were two German raiders, one of them the pocket battleship Deutschland. The Admiralty said that when Rawalpindi ignored a shot across her bows, Deutschland fired a salvo with her 11-inch guns at 10,000 yards. Rawalpindi replied with all four of her starboard 6-inchers. Deutschland's, third salvo put out all the Britisher's lights, halted the electric ammunition hoists; a fourth tore away the bridge and wireless room. The second raider circled astern and attacked from Rawalpindi's, port side, but she fought on for half an hour until her last gun was silenced and she was ablaze everywhere except forecastle and poop. Of three boatloads of survivors, two were believed captured by Deutschland. All remaining hands perished when, after burning four hours, Rawalpindi turned turtle to starboard and foundered. Another British cruiser, speeding to the scene, was too late to catch the raiders, who slipped away in stormy darkness. Search for them, said the Admiralty, "is continuing in tempestuous weather both night and day."
* Portuguese West Africa.