Kaiser-class troopship, USS Von Steuben (ID-3017) (1917) - The Blue Riband privateer

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Note: This suggestion were imported over from the old WT forums.

Hello. Today I would like to suggest another converted auxillary ship, this time for the US Navy. This is the USS Von Steuben (ID-3017) (or SMS Kronprinz Wilhelm under German service) . This is a German ocean liner with successful military and civilian career, as an transatlantic ocean liner and then a merchant raider being being seized by the US Navy. Who converted her into a troopship and became a backbone of US war effort.


USS Von Steuben in New York harbor during her repatriate trip from France, September 1919.

Before her American ownership, USS Von Steuben were originally built as SS Kronprinz Wilhelm, the second of the four Kaiser-class ocean liners for North German Lloyd lines. She were ordered after the success of her sister ship SS Kaiser Wilhelm de Grosse (which created the four funnel liner craze during her launch in 1898) and SS Deutschland from the rival Hamburg America Lines. She was built by the AG Vulcan company in Stettin, Germany, and launched on 30 March 1901.

No photo description available.

Colorized photo of the Kronprinz Wilhelm during her time with North German Lloyd.

Kronprinz Wilhelm’s civilian career, as with her sister ships, is very successful, primarily due to her speed and spacious accomodations. Though without occasional mishaps. A day after her maiden voyage from Cherbouge to New York on 18 September 1901, she was damaged from a rouge wave that strike her bow. The next year, she was involved in two separate collisions off the water of Southampton, the first with the cargo ship Robert Ingham and later with the British destroyer HMS Wizard, sinking the first while damaging the other, while Wilhelm herself only suffers minor damage.

Prior to her collision with the Wizard, Kronprinz Wilhelm won the Blue Riband award for the fastest Atlantic crossing, with a time of five days, 11 hours, 57 minutes, with an average speed of 23.09 knots (~42 km/h) . Though this record would later be beaten by the rival Deutschland a year later in 1903, which also held the previous record that the Wilhelm broke in 1902.


Kronprinz Wilhelm in 1914 after returned to Germany for conversion into merchant raider. Note the hastily-painted dull gray paint on her hull to avoid internment.

When World War I broke out on July 1914, Kronprinz Wilhelm were on the west side of the Alantic when she was ordered to rendezvous with light cruiser SMS Karlsruhe on early August, though she would only be armed with two 88 mm guns and a few small arms before they were spotted by the British cruiser HMS Suffolk. Before departing, Karlsruhe’s navigation officer, Lieutenant Commander Paul Thierfielder, along with some of Karlsruhe’s crewmen boarded the ship and took her command as captain.

While she is quite underarmed for a merchant cruiser, Wilhelm’s high top speed (for her type) and size made her an intimidating ship for any of the merchant ship she came across. Captain Thierfielder would later exploit this by either overtaking the victim ship and demand their surrender, or posing as a ship in distress or a friendly ship and caught them by surprise. Though unlike other merchant raider, her crew maintained their chivalric code of never open fire without warning (in which the ship never actually fire a single shot) and only sink the enemy ship by a detonation charge once all of their occupants, their belongings, and cargo were evacuated on board the Wilhelm. Because of this, Wilhelm managed to sink a total of 15 ships with ~57,000 GRT total, while never actually cause the loss of life on both sides involved.

She missed one potential “kill” on 14 September 1914 when she came across the British armed merchant cruiser HMS Carmania, whose her hull were crippled after her battle with SMS Cap Trafalgar. Believing that a British warship is nearby, Captain Theirfielder ordered retreat without firing at Carmania.


Kronprinz Wilhelm at Newport News harbour in April 1916, where she was interned. Note the 120 mm guns that she captured from the British cargo ship La Correntina mounted at the stern.

After 8 months of continuous sailing around the Atlantic, Kronprinz Wilhelm’s machinery began to worn out. Her coal supply dwindling due to the ship consuming a massive amount of them, and her crews became sick due to malnutrition as a result of relying on meat-heavy supplies from captured ships. Because of this, Captain Thierfielder decided to intern the ship to the then neutral United State port at Newport News, Virginia, on 11 April 1915.


USS Von Steuben (ex-Kronprinz Wilhelm) while fitting out for her conversion as a troopship, 31 October 1917.

Two years later, on 6 April 1917, the United States declared war upon Germany, in that same day, president Woodrow Wilson issued the executive order to seize all German ships that were interned in the American ports. This includes the Kronprinz Wilhelm, which were later transferred to the United States Navy and renamed USS Von Steuben (ID-3017) after the German-born Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, one of the founding fathers of the United States.

Initially, the Von Stuben were intended to be used as an auxillary cruiser. As such she were equipped with a substantial armaments for its class consists of eight 5-inch/51 (127 mm) guns, the same guns equipped as a secondary armament of American battleships at that time, four 3-inch/50 (76 mm) Mark 2 guns, two dual-purposes 3-inch/50 (76 mm) Mark 5 guns, four 37 mm QF 1 “Pom-pom” autocannons, and eight .30 machine guns.

However, as the Allied powers already gained virtual control of the sea, the need of an additional combatant were deemed unnessary. As such, on 21 September, the US Navy reclassified the Von Steuben as a troopship, though her armaments were retained, and pressed her into troop and supplies transport duty as soon as she completed her fitting on October.


The three remaining Kaiser-class ocean liners now under the US flag. From left to right: USS Mount Vernon (ex-Kronprinzessin Cecilie), USS Agamemnon (ex-Kaiser Wilhelm II), and USS Von Steuben (ex-Kronprinz Wilhelm). 10 November 1917. Note the damage on Von Stuben’s bow as a result of her collision with Agamemnon.

As if history has repeated itself, Von Steuben’s maiden voyage under the US Navy started with a collision. This time with her sister ship USS Agamennon (ID-3004), formerly the SS Kaiser Wilhelm II, on 9 November 1917. Damaging her bow and guns. She nevertheless pressed on with the convoy, arrived in Brest three days later.

After temporary repairs, Von Steben made her returning trip on 28 November. She then diverted to Halifax, Nova Scotia for coal. On 6 December, while she was around 64 km from Halifax harbor, the ship was rocked by a massive explosion in the harbour, of which the crew initially though the ship was hit by mines or torpedoes. The ship learned about the explosion, which later became known as the Halifax explosion, when she entered Halifax harbor. There she responded to the disaster by deploying her men and crews to provide medical aid. The ship stayed in Halifax until 10 December, heading for Newport News and then Balboa, Panama for her repairs.


USS Von Steuben with dazzle camouflage, June 1918.


Bow view of the Von Steuben while in rough seas, 1918. Note the old model 3-inch gun next to the 5-inch mount.



On 18 June 1918, after completing three transatlantic trips to France, Von Stuben encountered the German submarine U-151 after the former found the wreckage of the SS Dwinsk, a ship sunk by the U-boat earlier. After attempting to avoid the submarine by making zig-zag manoever in an attempt to rescue the Dwinsk’s crew, Von Steuben was forced to retreat after narrowly avoided U-151’s torpedoes, though not before damaging U-151 with gun-launched depth charges and forcing the latter to retreat as well. Her captain during that voyage, Yates Stirling Jr., - who later became a naval critics and rear admiral - was later awarded the Navy Cross and the French Legion of Honor awards for this feat. Meanwhile, the crew of the Dwinsk were later rescued by the American convoys which arrived a few hours later.

Von Steuben would be involved with another ship in distress just two weeks later on 29 June, when she aided the fellow troopship USS Henderson (AP-1) in evacuating more than 2,000 troops after the Henderson caught fire in her forward cargo hold. She would later arrived in Brest on 9 July in a somewhat overcrowded ship. While Henderson returned safely to the US.


Full view of the Von Steuben in New York harbor, 1919.

After finished her ninth wartime voyage on 8 November, Von Steuben returned to New York and began repairs at Brooklyn on 10 November. After armistice, she began sailing again to repatriate American troops from Europe on 2 March 1919. She would continue this duty until 13 October 1919, when she was decommissioned from the US Navy and transferred to the United States Shipping Board (USSB). Returning to the civilian service, the aging and worn out ship served for 4 years before being retired and scrapped in 1923.

Additional images:





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In War Thunder:

Well, while the ship is quite similar to the HMS Carmania I’ve made a suggestion before, especially in terms of size, the Von Steuben is somewhat more versatile. As she is equipped with weaker but faster-firing 5-inch/51 guns (that actually has an access to an AP shell with better penetration but worse filler than the later 5-inch/38 guns), has an actual (but still a bit weak) anti-air and secondary armament, is somewhat faster, and with twice the crew size. She would be fine as an “early cruiser” that can take several hits with her sheer size and crew count and can fight back well enough against destroyers and early cruisers.

Specifications (1917, troopship):

Displacement: 14,908 tons empty load, 24,900 tons full load

Length: 194.2 meters registered, 202.17 meters overall

Breadth: 20.2 meters

Draft: 8.5 meters

Depth: 12 meters

Polpusion system: 2 x Six-cylinders quadruple expansion engines, 2 x propellers

Power: 33,000 h.p.

Top speed: 23.53 knots (44 km/h)

Armor: None, save for the gun shield

Armament: 8 x 1 5-inch/51 (127 mm) guns, four on the bow and stern each, 4 x 1 3-inch/50 Mk. 2 (76 mm) guns, 2 x 1 3-inch/50 Mk. 5 (76 mm) dual-purposes guns, 4 x 1 37 mm QF 1-pounder “Pom-pom” autocannons, 8 x 1 .30 machine guns, option for a gun-launched depth charges

Crew: 975



SS Kronprinz Wilhelm - Wikipedia

Kronprinz Wilhelm (Schiff, 1901) – Wikipedia (in German)

Von Steuben (ID 3017)

USN Ships--USS Von Steuben (ID # 3017)

Bonsor, NRP (1975) [1955]. North Atlantic Seaway. Newton Abbot: David & Charles. ISBN 978-0-7153-6401-7.

Hoyt, Edwin Palmer (1974). Ghost of the Atlantic: the Kronprinz Wilhelm, 1914–19. London: Arthur Barker Ltd. ISBN 978-0213165116.

Ruggles, Logan E; Norton, Owen W (1919). The Part the U.S.S. Von Steuben Played in the Great War. Brooklyn: Brooklyn Eagle Press. OCLC 10551594.

Schmalenbach, Paul (1979). German raiders: A history of auxiliary cruisers of the German Navy, 1895–1945. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-824-7.

Mertens, Eberhard (Hrsg.): Die Lloyd-Schnelldampfer. Kaiser Wilhelm der Große, Kronprinz Wilhelm, Kaiser Wilhelm II., Kronprinzessin Cecilie. Olms Presse, Hildesheim 1975. ISBN 3-487-08110-5 (in German)

Thierfelder, Paul Wolfgang: Schnelldampfer “Kronprinz Wilhelm” als Hilfskreuzer 1914–1915. Berlin, 1927 (Meereskunde. Sammlung volkstümlicher Vorträge, Band XV, 8, Heft 174) (in German)