Theophil Bock and the SMS Kronprinz Wilhelm

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Theophil Bock and the SMS Kronprinz Wilhelm

2013-12-25 14:05

In 1915, the German passenger liner turned auxiliary cruiser, Kronprinz Wilhelm, interned in Philadelphia. After capturing 15 merchant ships since the outbreak of World War I, the ship was low on fuel and ravaged by sickness in its crew. While the ship was laid up in the Philadelphia Navy Yard, its crew lived in a nearby camp. However, when the United States joined the war in 1917, the United States seized the Kronprinz Wilhelm and relocated its crewmembers to Fort McPherson in Georgia as prisoners of war. 

Theophil Bock was one of the German sailors, probably a stoker, brought to Fort McPherson. Bock’s collection of photographs and postcards document both his wartime service on the Kronprinz Wilhelm and the years of his internment in Georgia. While serving, Bock photographed everything from the use of airplanes during warfare to his fellow Kronprinz Wilhelm crewmembers.


Once relocated to Fort McPherson, Bock’s photographs capture how these prisoners of war entertained themselves with activities ranging from theatre productions to card games.

Although the men on the Kronprinz Wilhelm lived in the United States beginning in 1915, they remained proud of their German roots, integrating names like "Mozart" and "Bethoven" on street signs. 

During his time in the United States, Bock wrote multiple postcards in English to Miss Elsie Badholzner in Philadelphia, often signing his cards “as ever yours Theophil Bock.” After the end of World War I, Bock appears to have remained in the United States, returning to Philadelphia. A postcard sent to Bock in January 1928 was addressed to “Mr. Th. Bock, 4615 Frankford Ave, Phila, Pa,” an address in northeast Philadelphia.


Submitted by Lauren Kinsman-... (not verified) on

I am researching the life of Joseph Kanske, my great grandfather. My grandfather told me that he was a German merchant marine on the Kronprinz Wilhelm and illegally jumped ship before settling in Detroit, MI. Where are the photographs you discuss in this blog post located? I'm looking for any proof my that my great grandfather was ever a crew member and/or passenger on this ship (his name is not on any publicly available passenger lists that I've found online). Thanks!--Lauren

Submitted by on

Hi Lauren,
Thanks for your comment. Your research into your great-grandfather's life sounds really interesting! The photographs I discuss in this blog post are part of the Theophil Bock collection, which is located at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. It's a pretty small collection, with about 50-100 of Bock's photographs and postcards. Feel free to reach out to the Historical Society if you're interested in looking further into the collection.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on

I'm always amazed at the historical records which contain information about the Kronprinz Wilhelm, Civil War stories, etc. It's very interesting and always sparks a process of discovery. Thank you.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on

My grandfather also said he was a German Merchant marine who jumped ship, his us census records show he arrived in the us in 1915 his name in the us was King he said his German name was Koenig I think that is how its spelled is there an Edward Koening ? listed on that crew list

Submitted by GE (not verified) on

My grandparents in Philadelphia hosted a crewman from the Kronprinz Wilhelm for a holiday dinner. As a thank you the crewman sent my grandfather a handmade copper and wooden letter holder. The copper is engraved with "SMS Kronprinz Wilhelm." On the bottom is a handwritten note. It looks like the crewman's name was Andenhen (?) Conrad Hafermas.

Submitted by Tim in Delaware (not verified) on

I found a wood carving "SMS Kronprinz Wilhelm" from Fort McPherson. It is signed by GPOW- Matthias Schiffers. Does anyone know how to go about finding more records on these prisoners?

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