Tonnage: 8,467 / 12,125dwt
Cargo: Copra, cotton, opium.
Captured off Freetown in approx. pos. 08º 00”N 15º 00”W
The Uhenfels was built in 1931 at the Bremen yards of Deschimag Werk Weser, being completed for service with DDG Hansa in March that year. Built as one of four early heavy lift ships for DDG Hansa, she was designed to carry Locomotives and other large cargo. She operated for several years under this name, until the outbreak of the Second World War saw her outside Germany.
She made a number of attempts to sail back, before making her third attempt, departing Lourenço Marques on 13 October 1939, bound for Germany and disguised as the Dutch merchant Aagtekerk. She was carrying opium , worth £250,000, as well as cotton and hides. Three of her crew deserted before the ship sailed from Lourenço Marques. They made their way to Zululand, where they were arrested by the police and brought to Maritzburg. After being fined, they were interned in South Africa for the duration of the war.
During her crossing of the Atlantic she ran into Force K, a number of British ships that had been deployed in search of the German commerce raider the Admiral Graf Spee. Attached to the force was the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, whose aircraft had spotted another disguised German merchant the previous month, when on 9 October they had sighted the German tanker Altmark.
The Altmark had been disguised as the American Delmar , and consequently had escaped unmolested. The Uhenfels was not so fortunate. Detected on 5 November the aircraft reported the German ship, and the destroyer HMS Hereward was directed to secure the German merchant.
The crew attempted to scuttle the ship but a boarding party from the Hereward was able to prevent this. The captured ship was brought into Freetown the following day. The 61 crew were marched off to a prison camp ashore, defiantly singing Nazi songs. By the time she had been captured the Uhenfels was running short of food.
Uhenfels was then taken to Gibraltar for drydocking and inspection, arriving on 18 March. She arrived at London on 5 April 1940, the first captured German vessel to arrive in port there. Her cargo consisted maize, Palm Kernels and other foodstuffs from the West Indies. She was also carrying 122 tanned sheepskins, which were offered for sale by public tender "in prize.