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                                               THOR BATTLES ALCANTARA        

After Leaving germany on 6th June 1940, Thor quickly captured or sank six Merchant vessels between 1 and 17 July. These were the Belgian Bruges, Dutch Kertosono and Tela, and British Delambre, Gracefield and Wendover. The first to fall prey to the raider was the freighter Kertosono on 1 July, aboard which Kähler put a German prize crew and sent her to the French port of Lorient. Thor sank the other five ships, also freighters, after crossing the equator into the South Atlantic. Having dispatched six allied ships ina seventeen-day period, Kähler now had 194 prisoners on board to feed. Aboard Tela, information was discovered regarding “Route 271”, on which the raider’s last victims had been found. This intelligence led Kähler to decide to remain in the same area off the coast of Brazil for ten additional days. During this period, the ship’s crew and prisoners settled into a peaceful routine, without any further successes.

This changed on 28 July when lookouts spotted a large ship approaching fast, the armed Merchant cruiser HMS Alcantara (F88). Thor was now disguised as a non-existen ship, the “Yugoslav” Vir, from the port of Split, em route to Brazil from Liverpool. Kähler had no desire to seek battle with the 22,209-ton former Royal Mail liner, armed with eight 6-inch and two 3-inch guns. Alcantara, commanded by retired royal Navy captain James Geoffrey Penrose Ingham, was assigned to the South Atlantic Station.

With Alcantara still fifteen miles distant, Kähler turned away and increased speed, arousing the suspicions of Ingham,who took up pursuit of the unknown vessel. After three hours, and with the range between the ships now eigh miles, Kähler knew that his best hope of escaping the faster ship lay in inflicting suficiente damage on her to slow her down. Following a challenge from Alcantara requesting the identification of his ship, Kähler by way of reply, slowed to fifteen knots, turned hard to starboard, ran up his battle ensign, crossed the cruiser’s bow and opened fire with a full four-gun broadside, straddling her with third salvo.

As Alcantara turned, to bring her own full broadside to bear, the German gunners, with the afternoon sun direct behind them, had a decided advantage over their British counterparts, and immeditely registered two hits on Alcantara, one between the bridge and the stack ando ne aft. A third salvo scored a hit at the waterline, causing engine-room flooding that significantly reduced the cruiser’s speed. Additional hits knocked her fire-control systemout of action. This condition further handicapped the British gunners in their targeting efforts, but did not diminish the Merchant cruiser’s superior fire power.

Eight minutes into the action, realizing that he now had the advantage of speed over his adversary, Kähler altered course to move farther away from Alcantara, but immediately sustained two hits from the Merchant cruiser’s 6-inch guns, killing three of his crew. Maneuvering to presente only thor’s Stern to the British guns, Kähler then resumed firing at Alcantara. However, with his adversary shielded by steam and smoke, and in recognition that one lucky hit could knock his ship out of action, Kähler broke off engagement and left the area. Over the course of the four-and-a-half hour battle, Thor expended 284 rounds of 150mm ammunition.

Alcantara, scarred, holed and listing, eventually managed to reach Rio de Janeiro. After burying his dead at sea, Kähler took Thor South into calm waters to the north of Tristan da Cunha on 30 July, to carry out repairs. Of the three encounters that would occur between Allied ships and Axis auxiliary cruisers in World War Two, all would involve Thor. The small ship had defeated HMS  Alcantara in a gun battle, and would later do the same with HMS Carnarvon Castle (F25), and sink HMS Voltaire.



Archival footage above shows AMC Alcantara into the harbor of Rio de Janeiro limping to the wharf. Converted into an auxiliary Cruiser, AMC Alcantara was attacked in mid south Atlantic by the German raider Thor.



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