My Service on the Battle Cruiser Goeben

Otto Runkel was born in Cologne, Germany on 28 June 1892. He joined the Imperial German Navy in 1912 at age 20 and served until November 1918. From his enlistment until 1916 he was a Gunner First Class in Alpha turret on the battle cruiser SMS Goeben. From 1916 until his discharge he served on an outpost vessel off the Jade and on the Rhine. He sprained an ankle in October 1918 while jumping from the deck of the outpost vessel on to a torpedo boat and was hospitalized. Upon his release from the hospital in November 1918 he was discharged from the service.  Otto and his wife Louise immigrated to the United States in 1927 and lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he became a citizen of the United States on 11 September 1934. Otto was employed as an electrician in several companies in Milwaukee and West Allis. He passed away in Lake Worth, Florida, in August 1972.  This account of his service was given as part of an oral history project of the University of Wisconsin and the Milwaukee County Historical Society. The interview was conducted by Robert G. Carroon on 10 and 11 October 1962 in Milwaukee.

Otto Runkel

Upon joining the German Navy I went into training at Wilhelmshaven for on shore instruction which included such items as infantry drill. Upon the completion of my basic training I was assigned to the battle cruiser S.M.S. Goeben. I joined the Goeben at Kiel and we engaged in further training which included torpedo evasion maneuvers.  

The ship returned to Wilhelmshaven and was then ordered to Constantinople. We steamed the distance from Wilhelmshaven to Constantinople in ten days' time.  While on the way we stopped at Malta to coal. The Goeben was equipped with electric cranes for loading coal, but the British refused to allow us to use these devices and forced us to load from British lighters using Maltese native labor in a very hot environment. The coaling, which would normally have taken the Goeben eight hours, lasted three days. We Germans were certainly not impressed.

sms flying ensign.jpg

Following the stop at Malta the Goeben steamed to Constantinople.  The harbor was filled with ships of all nations and tension was high as the Balkan War was then in progress. An incident in the Dardanelles almost caused the Goeben to fire on some Russian ships but the withdrawal of the Russians eased the situation. The Goeben remained at Constantinople until March 1913 and we then sailed to Greece and thence on a general Mediterranean cruise. We stopped at Messina to bury several of our shipmates who had died as a result of an accident on the deck.

The food on the way out had been excellent, but as soon as fresh provisions had run out we were placed on regular rations of salt beef and hardtack.  This was not replenished when the ship made port, although the officers had fresh food. This caused considerable unrest among the men and upon anchoring at Venice some members of the crew went so far as to paint a large sign in red letters reading "Revolution" on the side of the ship facing toward shore.


At this time there was a change in officers and Admiral (Wilhelm) Souchon assumed command replacing Admiral (Erich)Trommel. The conditions, if anything, became more strict and hard. Admiral Souchon, however, had the respect of the men for he had brains and ability which were at once recognized.  At the same time Captain Phillips was replaced by Captain Ackermann. Phillips was an excellent navigator and bought the Goeben into Venice through dangerous sand banks right up to the plaza in front of St. Mark's Cathedral.  While there the Goeben was cleaned and repainted from stem to stern in anticipation of a visit by Kaiser Wilhelm II and the Kings of Italy and Greece. The night before the arrival of the Kaiser, Captain Ackerman, who had them assumed command, in moving the ship hung it up on a sand bank. Italian cruisers tried to tow her off with cables and failed.   All coal, gun mounts, and anything heavy were removed and the cruisers tried again. After midnight the ship finally floated free. Goeben was a filthy mess from stem to stern and the royal party did not come on board. The Goeben then accompanied the S.M.S. Hohenzollern (the Imperial Yacht) to Trieste.

At Trieste the Goeben was inspected by the Kaiser, the King of Italy, and Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary who was soon after assassinated.  Leaving Trieste about the middle of May the Goeben went to Corfu and Maura.  We were six weeks in this area.  At Vidu we held a sports meet with the S.M.S. Breslau, and the Hohenzollern. The Kaiserin and the Queen of Greece presented prizes. This was in June and we received at this time the report of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.

Rear-Admiral Wilhelm Souchon

It was agreed that in case of war the Goeben was to go to Constantinople, however she was not to remain long enough to be interned. Following the receipt of the news of the assassination the Goeben steamed to Constantinople.

While coaling at Constantinople an army camp area caught fire. This fire spread to surrounding houses and reached disastrous proportions.  We seamen from the Goeben helped to fight the fire. In throwing out flea ridden bedding we became ourselves infected  with fleas and had to be deloused.  Four crewmen were lost when some ceilings collapsed. The Goeben was given an extension on the time she was to spend in Constantinople in order to bury the dead. The Turks were much friendlier towards us Germans after this incident.

After leaving Constantinople the Goeben proceeded to Italy and Austria, cruising back and forth between the two countries. At Pola she refitted. 4,000 new boiler pipes were replaced. The fitters and crews worked day and night. On the trials Goeben's  speed was up to full steam and speed, but this information was kept secret from the British and French who continued to calculate Goeben at her former speed.

At 12 midnight the war telegram declaring war against France was received. The Goeben  and the Breslau  made straight for Algiers and bombarded Bizerte and Philippeville at dawn and returned to Italy.  At Messina there was no coal to be had. Soon, however, the General, a German collier appeared with coal and provisions. There was also an English coal boat in the harbor. The German officers drank the English captain under the table and got him to sell them the coal. We remained at Messina for the allotted 24 hours and left in the late afternoon.  We met with an English cruiser and were followed for two days but managed to shake her. This was done in the following manner. The night was alternately bright moonlight and cloudy sky. Whenever it became obscure and cloudy Goeben and Breslau  would alter course jamming with their wireless which was high frequency. 

The next day we coaled which was very hard to do. We placed look outs on shore on top of the hills and coaled in the dark with no lights. At this time I think we met up with two large English ships. All guns were cleared for action and no salute was fired. The Goeben headed for Constantinople. The men stood watch as follows: four hours in the stoke hold shoveling coal, four hours at the guns, four hours at look out and then back to the coal. This pattern was repeated with no rest for ten days until we reached the Dardanelles.

As soon as the announcement was made that the treaty between Germany and Turkey was signed the Goeben went into Constantinople. The Turkish forts were in such poor condition, for example, ammunition did not fit the guns, the Goeben could have gone in treaty or no treaty. The Turkish navy was in very poor condition. They had not seen action for a long time and their technical ignorance was phenomenal. For example, they could not read boiler gauges so hand chalk marks were made where steam was to come to before it was not safe. This resulted in many burst boilers and casualties.

As soon as she was ready Goeben and Breslau plus a Turkish ship sailed to Sevastopol, Odessa, and one other place whose name I do not recall. There were mines at Sevastopol, but they were avoided. Early in the morning Goeben began the bombardment of Sevastopol. The Goeben blew up the waterfront and sank possibly two Russian destroyers. During the action off Sevastopol the ship was hit several times in the upper works and  the Russians scored two hits on the smoke stack of the  Goeben. No one was injured on Goeben and she waited for the heavier Russian ships to come out, but none did. The ships returned to Constantinople and there was a great celebration. Turkey and Russia were now at war, much to the pleasure of Emile Pascha who was German trained and pro German.

Field Marshal von der Goltz came up from Iraq where he was fighting the English. The Field Marshal game on board the Goeben and made a speech in which he said , "I expected much of you and would like to have some action with you."  In response to the Field Marshal's request a fourteen day cruise was performed but no action occurred except the sinking of a Russian mine layer and the taking of its crew (70 prisoners all told).  On the way into Constantinople on the return from the cruise Goeben hit two mines, first on one side and then on the other.  The Field Marshal was sent on ahead in a destroyer.  Two of my shipmates were sleeping in their hammocks in areas close to the side of the ship which was against regulations when steaming through enemy or suspect waters and were killed when the mines hit. The compartment in which the two sailors were killed was not accessible as the water tight compartment could not be opened until the holes were repaired and pumped out. At the time the Goeben struck the mines the Russian prisoners made a rush to the deck but were forced back. They were quite safe in the forward compartments.

In order to deceive the Turks, and also the Russians, as to the actual condition of the Goeben, until  permanent repairs could be effected emergency repairs were made via coffer dams alongside the ship.  Later, on another cruise, I am uncertain as to exactly when this occurred, the Goeben came in contact and engaged several battleships of the Russian fleet. The Goeben was hit two times and her secondary battery on the right side of the ship was hit in a casemate about mid ship.  Ammunition had been stacked in readiness for firing, which was against regulations, instead of being brought up when needed. This spread in an explosion to all casemates forward and killed all the crews of the guns, either by direct hit or explosion of gas. This was a very tragic thing.

Soon after these events Gunner Runkel along with a number of his shipmates returned to Germany and took up duties on other vessels. The Goeben was eventually sold to the Turkish navy. She was decommissioned in 1951 and sold for scrap in 1972.

Information was taken from the following site If you would like more information please click the link.