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Ponape Buried Mail

On 20 June 1914, the armored cruisers S.M.S. Scharnhorst (MSP 16) and S.M.S. Gneisenau (MSP 22) departed Tsingtau for a routine cruise to the German colonies in the South Pacific. They stopped at Nagasaki (22 June); Pagan, Marianen (28 June); Saipan, Marianen (29 June); Rota, Marianen (3 July); Olol, Karolinen (5 July); and Truk, Marianen (6 July). While at Truk, they were informed that war was imminent, and were ordered to proceed to Ponape, Karolinen, where they would be met by the light cruiser S.M.S. Nürnberg, then en route from the west coast of North America.

Upon the arrival of S.M.S. Nürnberg on 6 August 1914, the three cruisers departed for Pagan, Marianen, where they were to meet the light cruiser S.M.S. Emden. Prior to departing Ponape, however, the cruisers offloaded their accumulated mail with the local German postmaster, Herr Ludwig. This was a particularly important shipment of mail as the crewmembers knew by this point that they were going to war, and the mail contained the wills of many crewmembers as well as last wishes to family in Germany.

In the following months, Herr Ludwig was unable to send the mail back to Germany. The commercial steamship services had been disrupted by the outbreak of war, and no mail was coming or going from Ponape. In October 1914, in advance of the arrival of Japanese forces to occupy the island, Herr Ludwig handed the mail over to local Capuchin monks who buried it beneath the altar of the local Catholic church.

Catholic Church, Ponape

Altar of the Catholic Church, Ponape

Remains of the Catholic Church, Ponape
Destroyed while used as storage depot by the Japanese in WWII

The last mail drop for S.M.S. Scharnhorst and S.M.S. Gneisenau prior to arriving in Ponape was 22 June 1914, the date they arrived in Nagasaki, thus setting the earliest possible cancellation date for mail from those vesssels as 22 June 1914.  The S.M.S. Nürnberg‘s last mail drop was on 27 July 1914 in Honolulu as it made its way west to Ponape.

The latest cancellation dates are 6 August 1914, the date the mail was delivered to Herr Ludwig.

Items from early in the eligible time period are franked in amounts that were standard for MSP of the time.  Items dated 5-6 August 1914 were unfranked as Feldpost mail.

Items with Marianen or Karolinen postage are possible, as the S.M.S. Scharnhorst and S.M.S. Gneisenau stopped in those locations prior to arriving at Ponape.

Items were also mailed by personnel on board the supporting vessels accompanying the cruisers (steamer Titania and Japanese collier Fukoku Maru), but as these vessels had no on-board postal facilities, items from those crewmwmbers can only be identified by the contents of the writings.

Following their departure from Ponape, the S.M.S. Scharnhorst, S.M.S. Gneisenau, and S.M.S. Nürnberg rendezvoused with several other ships of the German navy and went to war.  They won a victory over the Royal Navy at the Battle of Coronel on 1 November 1914, before all three were sunk at the Battle of the Falkland Islands on 8 December 1914.

In 1923, Japan permitted Germany to recover the mail that had been buried at Ponape.  Environmental conditions had caused damage to most, but the Marine-Postbureau attempted delivery of the surviving items.  Two labels were attached.  One translates as:

Arrived here from the Office of Foreign Affairs on 20 September 1923. No postage due is to be collected since this was legitimately mailed in the year 1914 and was sufficiently franked. Naval Post Office Berlin C-2, Berlin N65, Seestr. 37.

The other as:

Mail from the Cruiser Squadron of August 1914

These items are among the rarest items in German colonial philately.

The card shown above was sent by Friedrich “Fritz” Kirchhoff, a Torpedo Machinists Mate assigned to the 1st Company of the II. Torpedo Division on board the S.M.S. Gneisenau, to his father, also named Friedrich, in Oebisfelde, Germany.

S.M.S. Gneisenau

The text translates as:

Ponape, August 5

 

Sending you final greetings before the battle.

 

Fritz

When the S.M.S. Gneisenau sank during the Battle of the Falkland Islands, 187 of her approximately 600-man crew were rescued by the British. Fritz Kirchhoff was not among them. Along with the remaining unaccounted-for crewmembers, he was officially listed as missing in action in the Germany Navy’s Casualty List Nr. 28a, dated 20 April 1915.

Excerpt from Casualty List

Set Date(s)

22 June / 27 July 1914 - 6 August 1914

Album Page(s)

Certificate(s)

Ponape Buried Mail

On 20 June 1914, the armored cruisers S.M.S. Scharnhorst (MSP 16) and S.M.S. Gneisenau (MSP 22) departed Tsingtau for a routine cruise to the German colonies in the South Pacific. They stopped at Nagasaki (22 June); Pagan, Marianen (28 June); Saipan, Marianen (29 June); Rota, Marianen (3 July); Olol, Karolinen (5 July); and Truk, Marianen (6 July). While at Truk, they were informed that war was imminent, and were ordered to proceed to Ponape, Karolinen, where they would be met by the light cruiser S.M.S. Nürnberg, then en route from the west coast of North America.

Upon the arrival of S.M.S. Nürnberg on 6 August 1914, the three cruisers departed for Pagan, Marianen, where they were to meet the light cruiser S.M.S. Emden. Prior to departing Ponape, however, the cruisers offloaded their accumulated mail with the local German postmaster, Herr Ludwig. This was a particularly important shipment of mail as the crewmembers knew by this point that they were going to war, and the mail contained the wills of many crewmembers as well as last wishes to family in Germany.

In the following months, Herr Ludwig was unable to send the mail back to Germany. The commercial steamship services had been disrupted by the outbreak of war, and no mail was coming or going from Ponape. In October 1914, in advance of the arrival of Japanese forces to occupy the island, Herr Ludwig handed the mail over to local Capuchin monks who buried it beneath the altar of the local Catholic church.

Catholic Church, Ponape

Altar of the Catholic Church, Ponape

Remains of the Catholic Church, Ponape
Destroyed while used as storage depot by the Japanese in WWII

The last mail drop for S.M.S. Scharnhorst and S.M.S. Gneisenau prior to arriving in Ponape was 22 June 1914, the date they arrived in Nagasaki, thus setting the earliest possible cancellation date for mail from those vesssels as 22 June 1914.  The S.M.S. Nürnberg‘s last mail drop was on 27 July 1914 in Honolulu as it made its way west to Ponape.

The latest cancellation dates are 6 August 1914, the date the mail was delivered to Herr Ludwig.

Items from early in the eligible time period are franked in amounts that were standard for MSP of the time.  Items dated 5-6 August 1914 were unfranked as Feldpost mail.

Items with Marianen or Karolinen postage are possible, as the S.M.S. Scharnhorst and S.M.S. Gneisenau stopped in those locations prior to arriving at Ponape.

Items were also mailed by personnel on board the supporting vessels accompanying the cruisers (steamer Titania and Japanese collier Fukoku Maru), but as these vessels had no on-board postal facilities, items from those crewmwmbers can only be identified by the contents of the writings.

Following their departure from Ponape, the S.M.S. Scharnhorst, S.M.S. Gneisenau, and S.M.S. Nürnberg rendezvoused with several other ships of the German navy and went to war.  They won a victory over the Royal Navy at the Battle of Coronel on 1 November 1914, before all three were sunk at the Battle of the Falkland Islands on 8 December 1914.

In 1923, Japan permitted Germany to recover the mail that had been buried at Ponape.  Environmental conditions had caused damage to most, but the Marine-Postbureau attempted delivery of the surviving items.  Two labels were attached.  One translates as:

Arrived here from the Office of Foreign Affairs on 20 September 1923. No postage due is to be collected since this was legitimately mailed in the year 1914 and was sufficiently franked. Naval Post Office Berlin C-2, Berlin N65, Seestr. 37.

The other as:

Mail from the Cruiser Squadron of August 1914

These items are among the rarest items in German colonial philately.

The card shown above was sent by Friedrich “Fritz” Kirchhoff, a Torpedo Machinists Mate assigned to the 1st Company of the II. Torpedo Division on board the S.M.S. Gneisenau, to his father, also named Friedrich, in Oebisfelde, Germany.

S.M.S. Gneisenau

The text translates as:

Ponape, August 5

 

Sending you final greetings before the battle.

 

Fritz

When the S.M.S. Gneisenau sank during the Battle of the Falkland Islands, 187 of her approximately 600-man crew were rescued by the British. Fritz Kirchhoff was not among them. Along with the remaining unaccounted-for crewmembers, he was officially listed as missing in action in the Germany Navy’s Casualty List Nr. 28a, dated 20 April 1915.

Excerpt from Casualty List

Set Date(s)

22 June / 27 July 1914 - 6 August 1914

Album Page(s)

Certificate(s)