Aircraft mother ship Santa Elena

The Santa Elena was a cargo ship, which drove the route between South America and Germany. With the outbreak of war, the ship was rebuilt by the Imperial Navy to an aircraft mother ship and used in the Baltic Sea. After the war, the Santa Elena went through the countries of Britain, USA, France, Italy and finally the 3rd Reich.


Launching and design:

The Santa Elena was a Santa class cargo ship, as 15 of the 16 ships in the class started with Santa.

The ship was built for the Hamburg-South American Steamship Company (Hamburg Süd), it was the largest ship in the Santa class. The ship was designed mainly for freight traffic, but could also accommodate up to 1,198 passengers in the intermediate deck.

The launch of the Santa Elena took place on 16 November 1907, the commissioning on 21 December 1907.




Use in the war:

After commissioning, the Santa Elena sailed the route between South America and Germany.

When the First World War broke out, the ship was already in Germany and was drafted by the imperial navy. The conversion to the aircraft mother ship was initially carried out in Danzig. However, when the Marineleitung could not be satisfied with the result, the ship was brought to Hamburg to Blohm & Voss and rebuilt there according to the idea again.

On July 2, 1915, the reconstruction work was completed and the ship could be put into service as SMH (Seiner Majestät Hilfsschiff) Santa Elena in the Imperial Navy. As a result of the conversion, the ship now received two 8.8 cm anti-aircraft guns and was able to take in each of the two hangars two seaplanes. 2 more aircraft could be placed on the open area of ​​the ship.

After the takeover, the Santa Elena was relocated to the Baltic Sea. The first and only major operations in which the ship participated, was the occupation of the Baltic islands in September and October 1917 during the enterprise Albion.


Santa Elena as aircraft mother ship


Crew members of the aircraft mother ship


Santa Elena as aircraft mother ship




Use after the First World War:

When the German Empire capitulated, the Santa Elena was already interned in Sweden. According to the provisions of the Versailles Treaty, the ship had to be delivered to Britain in April 1919.

After arriving in England, the British handed over to the US Navy on April 26, 1919, where it was renamed USS Santa Elena and put into service. Until August 20, 1919, the ship was used as a troop transport to bring the US soldiers back from Europe to the United States. Subsequently, the out of service and returned to England.

England again had no use for the ship and handed it over to France in 1920. By February 1922 it was overhauled, then renamed Linois and used as a freighter for the shipping company Chargeurs Reunis.

During the Second World War, the ship fell into the hands of the Italians as these parts of France occupied. The ship was rebuilt, renamed Orvieto and used in the Mediterranean as a troop transport for the African theater of war.

When in Italy in 1943 the moderate fascists deposed the Duce and declared war on the 3rd Reich, Santa Elena fell into the hands of the Wehrmacht in September 1943 when they occupied Genoa. The ship was renamed Santa Elena and taken over by the German Mediterranean shipping company and deployed in the Mediterranean.





As the German troops gradually had to withdraw from France, the Santa Elena was sunk in August 1944 in the port of Marseille to serve as a block ship against Allied transport ships.

The wreck was raised in 1945 and then scrapped.




Ship data:


Santa Elena




German Empire
Great Britain

Ship Type:  

Cargo ship
Aircraft carrier




Blohm & Voss, Hamburg




November 16th, 1907


December 21st, 1907


Sunk as a block ship on August 22nd, 1944


137,7 meters


19,7 meters


Max. 7 meters


Max. 7.415 Tons


122 Men


Quadruple expansion engine


3.000 PS

Maximum speed:  

11 kn (20 km/h)


2 x 8.8 cm anti-aircraft guns








You can find the right literature here:


German Battleships 1914–18 (1): Deutschland, Nassau and Helgoland classes (New Vanguard)

German Battleships 1914–18 (1): Deutschland, Nassau and Helgoland classes (New Vanguard) Paperback – February 23, 2010

Supported by official documents, personal accounts, official drawings and specially commissioned artwork, this volume is an enlightening history of the Deutschland to Osfriesland classes. Detailing the last of the pre-dreadnaught battleship classes, this book goes on to explain the revolutionary developments that took place within the German Imperial Navy as they readied themselves for war. This included creating vessels with vast increases in size and armament. This account of design and technology is supplemented by individual ship histories detailing combat experience complete with first-hand accounts. The specially commissioned artwork also brings this history to life with recreations of the battleship Pommern fighting at Jutland and ships of the Osfriesland class destroying HMS Black Prince in a dramatic night-time engagement.

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The Imperial German Navy of World War I, Vol. 1 Warships: A Comprehensive Photographic Study of the Kaiser’s Naval Forces

The Imperial German Navy of World War I, Vol. 1 Warships: A Comprehensive Photographic Study of the Kaiser’s Naval Forces Hardcover – December 28, 2016

The Imperial German Navy of WWI is a series of books (Warships, Campaigns, & Uniforms) that provide a broad view of the Kaiser's naval forces through the extensive use of photographs. Every effort has been made to cover all significant areas during the war period. In addition to the primary use of photographs, technical information is provided for each warship along with its corresponding service history; with a special emphasis being placed on those warships that participated in the Battle of Skagerrak (Jutland). Countless sources have been used to establish individual case studies for each warship; multiple photos of each warship are provided. The entire series itself is unprecedented in its coverage of the Kaiser's navy.

Click here!



German Battlecruisers of World War One: Their Design, Construction and Operations

German Battlecruisers of World War One: Their Design, Construction and Operations Hardcover – November 4, 2014

This is the most comprehensive, English-language study of the German Imperial Navy's battlecruisers that served in the First World War. Known as Panzerkreuzer, literally "armored cruiser," the eight ships of the class were to be involved in several early North Sea skirmishes before the great pitched battle of Jutland where they inflicted devastating damage on the Royal Navy's battlecruiser fleet. This book details their design and construction, and traces the full service history of each ship, recounting their actions, drawing largely from first-hand German sources and official documents, many previously unpublished in English.

Click here!



The Kaiser's Battlefleet: German Capital Ships 1871-1918

The Kaiser's Battlefleet: German Capital Ships 1871-1918 Hardcover – March 15, 2016

The battleships of the Third Reich have been written about exhaustively, but there is little in English devoted to their Second Reich predecessors. This new book fills an important gap in the literature of the period by covering these German capital ships in detail and studying the full span of battleship development during this period. The book is arranged as a chronological narrative, with technical details, construction schedules, and ultimate fates tabulated throughout, thus avoiding the sometimes disjointed structure that can result from a class-by-class approach. Heavily illustrated with line drawings and photographs, many from German sources, the book offers readers a fresh visual look at these ships. A key objective of the book is to make available a full synthesis of the published fruits of archival research by German writers found in the pre-World War II books of Koop & Schmolke, Großmer's on the construction program of the dreadnaught era, Forstmeier & Breyer on World War I projects, and Schenk & Nottelmann's papers in Warship International. As well as providing data not available in English-language books, these sources correct significant errors in standard English sources.

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