DVIDS – News – A little piece of German heritage from the Norfolk shipyard

Then President Ronald Reagan made a proclamation in October 1983 designating October 6 as German-American Day in honor of the first German immigrants who established Germantown, Pennsylvania on October 6, 1683, which is now part of Philadelphia. It’s time for cities with large German-American populations, like Cincinnati, Ohio; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and St. Louis, Missouri, to name a few, to celebrate their German heritage.

Norfolk Shipyard (NNSY) also has a little German heritage. When the Great War, also known as World War I, broke out in Europe, President Woodrow Wilson addressed Congress declaring that the United States would remain neutral.

Meanwhile, Germany ordered its civilian ship crews to become pirates and loot Allied merchant ships of their coal and supplies before sinking them. Two of these German ships were the Kronprinz Wihelm and the Prinz Eitel Friedrich. High-end passengers considered these ships the two best luxury liners in the country because of their speed and convenience.

After spending several months at sea without seeing a stopover, the ships fell into disrepair. The options for the ships were limited due to the nature of their mission. Most ports would not accept them. However, due to the neutrality of the United States, they were able to call on Newport News Shipbuilding for much-needed repairs. For legal reasons, the vessels were not allowed to remain at Newport News Shipbuilding after repairs were completed; At that time, the two German ships moved to NNSY, then known as the Norfolk Navy Yard.

Due to the proximity of the British fleet, the ships were unable to return to Germany. The two captains, disgruntled as they were, decided to intern the two ships at NNSY, which meant staying seated for the rest of the war.

About 1,000 German sailors were allowed to take free time off and socialize with the people of Portsmouth. It didn’t take long for German sailors to make national news. They were greeted by politicians, local officials, and spent time at beaches and local attractions.

Some sailors were not happy with the idea of ​​spending the rest of the war. There were therefore several escape attempts. One of these escapes took place when six German officers purchased a yacht, the Eclipse, for “recreational” purposes. On the morning of October 9, 1915, the Eclipse left Hampton Roads in plain sight, never to be seen or heard again.

Due to the Eclipse escape and the German submarine attacks and shipwrecks that claimed the lives of many Americans, the United States then confined the German sailors to their ships and to the immediate shore. The German sailors decided to take a creative path to deal with their restrictions. They gathered scrap materials and built a small “German village” on the shipyard waterfront near the Dry Dock 4 area.

The German village consisted of several small houses with window curtains and palisades. They built a church, vegetable plots and flower gardens, and cared for various animals they claimed from ships they had sunk in the past. There has never been a shortage of fresh eggs.

In 1917, the United States could no longer remain neutral during the war. On April 6, the United States joined the war effort, when German sailors became prisoners of war and sent to Fort McPherson near Atlanta, Georgia. The Kronprinz Wihelm and the Prinz Eitel Friedrich were sent to the Philadelphia Navy Yard to be converted into troops. and supply ships.

The German village was demolished because space was needed to support the war efforts. Dry Dock 4 was built in its place, becoming one of the shipyard’s most complex concrete constructions until that time.

Although the stories and photos of the German village are the only things that remain, it is these stories and photos that will remind future generations of a rare moment in the shipyard’s more than 250-year history when a German village was brought to life. was built at NNSY prior to US involvement in “The War to End All Wars”.

Editor’s Note: Information for this article was gathered from NNSY Command Historian and Archivist Marcus W. Robbins and the German Village of Portsmouth: When Old World Europe Came to the Shipyard , written by Portsmouth Museum History Curator Diane Cripps.

Date taken: 10.05.2021
Date posted: 06/10/2021 07:36
Story ID: 406818
Site: PORTSMOUTH, Virginia, United States

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