|Theodoor de Booy in the Dominican Republic in 1916 (N04834).|
|Photo by Theodoor de Booy (N04073).|
The story takes place in the harbor of San Juan between August 1914 and March 1915 when the U.S. was still a Neutral Power and Puerto Rico was already an American colony. The three ships were:
|The S.S. Odenwald in San Juan Harbor, 1915.|
Photo by Theodoor de Booy (N04078).
|The S.S. Präsident in San Juan Harbor, 1915. |
Photo by Theodoor de Booy (N04077).
|The S.S. K.D.-III (Farn) in San Juan Harbor, 1915. |
Photo by Theodoor de Booy (N04079).
Days Before the Incident
The story begins on March 18, 1915 when the captain of the S.S. Odenwald, C. S. Segebarth, requested (1) clearance to sail back to Hamburg the next day and (2) 5000 tons of coal for such trip. Suspicious of the request the local authorities decided to consult with Washington, D.C. and, afraid that the vessel may leave without clearance, alerted the commanding officer of the Porto Rico Regiment of Infantry (PRPI) at the fortress of El Morro. Washington approved the use of force if necessary and the German captain of the Odenwald was warned several times. Despite the Germans assurances that they did not intend to leave without clearance, the local authorities made preparations in case a situation developed. A machine gun platoon was placed on the Bastión de San Agustín, 500 feet from the Morro Castle (see plan of the Bay) commanded by Captain Wood and the heavy guns of El Morro were readied under the command of Lt. Teófilo Marxuach.
On the afternoon of March 21, the customs inspector returned to the Odenwald, but his visit was cut short when the Odenwald started her engines around 3:00 pm and began moving on the main channel towards the mouth of the harbor without clearance. The custom collector was asked to leave in a small boat. As the Odenwald passed the Bastión de San Agustín, Captain Wood, standing on the parapet of the sea wall, hailed the vessel several times without success; the Odenwald stayed on course. Captain Woods ordered Puerto Rican Sgt. Encarnación Correa, to fire warning-shots with his machine-gun without any success. Failing to stop the vessel, Lt. Marxuach was ordered to fire a warning shot 300 yards across the bow of the Odenwald from El Morro’s 4.7 inch gun. This was the convincing shot and the Odenwald stopped and dropped anchor at the mouth of the harbor under the fortress. She was eventually moved that same day to the upper harbor with a local pilot.
|Map of San Juan Harbor with annotations and calculations by Lt. Teófilo Marxuach for his report of the incident (National Archives).|
National Museum of the American Indian