Guben was built at the German AG Neptun shipyard and launched shortly before war was declared in 1914. She was taken over by the German navy for conversion to a commerce raider in 1916 and renamed Greif. Her external appearance was altered by removing her distinctive second funnel. She was disguised as a Norwegian freighter with large Norwegian flags painted on her sides plus the name “NORGE” (Norway) like her future sister ship Leopard.
She steamed to the North Sea in February 1916. It is unclear how her departure was discovered by the British. Some say she was spotted by a British submarine while others theorize that a few indiscreet words were overheard and relayed back to British intelligence. In any event, three different British groups were dispatched to search for the elusive German ship.
Two armed merchant cruisers HMS Alcantara (included in the Action Card Deck) and HMS Andes were patrolling in the Norwegian Sea when the Andes first spotted the Greif on a northeasterly heading about 100nm off the coast of Norway. Since she was closer to the German, Andes signaled Alcantara to investigate the suspicious ship. As she approached, Alcantara ordered Greif to immediately stop and standby for inspection.
Captain Tietze recognized that surprise was his only option as he could neither outrun nor outgun the larger, faster and more heavily armed British ship (8-6 inch and 2-6pdr guns). He continued to signal that they were a neutral Norwegian ship bound for their home port all the while preparing to quickly open fired on Alcantara while she unsuspectingly cleared to board.
Greif’s initial salvo caught the British ship completely by surprise and succeeded in disabling her communications equipment and steering gear. The German poured on the fire as Alcantara struggled to regain control. The exchange of fire was observed by Andes and she quickly turned to assist her beleaguered shipmate. Greif was now being hammered by both Andes and Alcantara which had regained steering control.
The combined weight of the British fire reduced Greif to a blazing wreck. However, the German’s pointblank gunnery and a torpedo hit also took a heavy toll on Alcantara, which rolled over and sank. Greif was later sunk by Andes after being abandoned by her crew.
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Ships captured (c), sunk (s), or mined (m): 1 totaling 16,034 tons