The Brief Life of the MV Weser

Ten and twenty pfennig notes for use on board MV Weser.

In 1932, the German finance ministry imposed a number of restrictions to assist on controlling the economy. Among these was making the reichsmark inconvertible and prohibiting the export of the mark. Currency control was so strict that marks could not be used on German cruise ships and they had to use a form of scrip known as ship’s money orders.

The 10 and 20 pfennig notes shown above were used on the German ship Weser. Weser had a brief and interesting history.

The ship was built in 1929 in the Kiel shipyards for the Norwegian firm, Linea Sud Americana, as the Sud Americano. It was intended for service between New York and South America. It was primarily a cargo vessel but had twenty-one staterooms available for passengers.

The ship was returned to the builder a little more than a year after delivery because it could not achieve the contracted cruising speed. It was renamed Schleswig and eventually sold to the Norddeutscher Lloyd Line. NDL renamed it the Yakima Star and it went into service as a fruit runner bringing Washington apples and pears to Europe.

Yakima Star was refitted in 1934 with new diesel engines, an additional 34 feet and renamed Weser after the German river. It continued service between Germany and the western United States until 1938.

Weser in the port at Manzanillo, Mexico in 1940. (Maritime Museum of British Columbia).

In 1939, the ship was again refitted, this time as a supply ship for the Kriegsmarine. It is believed that Weser served the auxiliary cruiser Orion which was raiding commercial vessels in the Pacific and Indian Oceans after WWII started in Europe in September 1939.

In 1940, Weser was at Manzanillo, Mexico. Despite Mexican neutrality, the ship was not interned although it remained in the harbor to avoid capture by Allied vessels blockading Mexican ports.

HMCS Prince Robert

The Royal Canadian Navy sent the Prince Robert to Manzanillo for blockade duty. Before departing, the Admiralty planted a story in the Vancouver press that the Prince Robert was out for sea trials and crew training. German spies in the Pacific Northwest passed this misinformation onto the Kriegsmarine. Thinking the way out of Manzanillo was clear, the Weser prepared to flee to open water.

On the evening of September 25, 1940, Prince Robert observed a dark object heading out from the Mexican port. Prince Robert positioned herself between the departing vessel and the harbor using the mountainous coast as a backdrop to disguise her silhouette. The Canadians closed quickly as soon as they verified they were outside Mexican waters.

Sailors from HMCS Prince Robert escorting the crew of the Weser.
(Maritime Museum of British Columbia).

Casting her searchlight onto the pilot house of the Weser, Prince Robert ordered the German vessel to halt. Thinking they were being stopped by the Mexican Coast Guard for running without lights and not expecting any Allied ships in the area, Weser complied. Prince Robert‘s boarding party was aboard before the German crew realized their mistake and the Weser was captured without a fight.

A prize crew took control of the ship. The Canadians had no experience with the diesel engines on the Weser and some of the German crew remained on board to operate them. They would each receive CAD$244.80 from the Prize Court for their services.

Niemieckie okręty podwodne (U-Booty typu VII) na północnych wodach USA (2-2547).jpg
U-558 in the North Atlantic.

The ship was taken to Esquimalt, British Columbia and refitted for use by the Canadian Merchant Marine. It was renamed the Vancouver Island. In October, 1941, Vancouver Island left Montreal for Belfast carrying aluminum, copper, steel, asbestos and zinc. She was sunk in the North Atlantic by U-558 with all hands lost on October 15, 1941.

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