On 10 March 1917 the cargo ship SS Otaki was crossing the Atlantic, en route from London to New York.
As a New Zealand ship, the Otaki was Allied to Britain during the First World War.
At the same time, the German raider ship SMS Moewe was returning home across the Atlantic. At about 2pm, the Moewe met the British ship SS Esmerelda, sailing west to Baltimore. The heavily armed Moewe forced the Esmerelda to stop and the crew to disembark, before setting an explosion to sink the ship.
As the Esmerelda sank beneath the waves, the Otaki arrived on the scene. The chase began, with the Moewe signalling the Otaki to stop, intending to sink her just like the Esmerelda. The Otaki’s captain, Archibald Smith, refused to surrender and began to fire on the Moewe.
But the Moewe was heavily armed, while the Otaki had just a single gun. The Otaki was able to cause serious damage to the Moewe before finally being sunk.
The captain and five of his crew went down with the ship. The rest were taken prisoner and joined the sailors of the Esmerelda, taken to Germany where they stayed for the rest of the war.
Captain Smith was honoured after his death with a Victoria Cross. As part of the First World War centenary commemorations, a memorial stone was unveiled in his memory on 10 March 2017.
Captain Smith, the crew, and the Otaki are being commemorated in the Abandon Ship! exhibition.