Heroes and Heroic Deeds of the Great War - D. A. Mackenzie

Battles with Sea-Raiders

Several German war-vessels conducted raids upon British shipping. The most notorious of these was the cruiser Emden, which was under the command of Captain von Muller. It could steam at 24 knots an hour, carried twelve 4-inch guns, and had a crew of 361.

Shortly after war commenced she slipped out from the German port of Tsing-tao, in China. Then for about three months she roved the seas, obtaining coal and supplies from steamers that were met at various places by appointment. Guided by spies, and wireless telegraphic messages from Germany, she suddenly appeared, early in September, in the Bay of Bengal while British war-ships were conducting transports with Indian soldiers towards the Suez Canal.

Among the first of the Emden's  victims was a British trading-steamer. One day her captain received a wireless message, asking if he knew anything of a German cruiser in the Bay. He replied: "It does not exist." To his astonishment he was then informed: "Oh yes, it does! I am It." Soon afterwards the Emden, from which this humorous and tantalizing message had been sent, hove in sight. The captain and crew of the trader were arrested and taken off and the vessel was sunk. Five other steamers were disposed of in like manner. A seventh was captured and used as a prison ship. Captain von Muller was very courteous, and on each occasion apologized for having to send the vessels to the bottom. He waited for the City of Rangoon, a large liner, which was to sail from Calcutta, but the authorities were warned of the Emden's  presence in the Bay of Bengal by an Italian captain, and her sailing was postponed.

On 22nd September the German cruiser began to bombard Madras. But the forts opened fire on her and she retired speedily.

Two oil tanks were ignited by shells and three persons were killed. On the last day of the month five vessels were sunk by the Emden  off Ceylon.

H.M.S. Yarmouth  went in pursuit of the raider and captured two of her supply-ships. The Emden managed, however, to double back and captured seven vessels. Five were sunk, and 7000 tons of coal taken off one of them. On 27th October a Japanese liner was sunk near Singapore.

Next day the German raider appeared off the picturesque British town of Penang, on Prince of Wales Island, at the north entrance of the Straits of Malacca. The people there had been anxiously awaiting news of her capture. H.M.S. Yarmouth, which was using the port as a base, was known to be searching for her.

Dawn was breaking when the sound of big-gun firing broke out suddenly like a tropical thunderstorm. Windows rattled, and here and there panes were shivered to pieces. The whole town was awakened, and along the shore many heads were thrust out from windows to ascertain what was happening.

A grey mist hung over the sea, and everything was blurred and indistinct.

"What is happening?" someone asked gruffly.

"Battle practice, I suppose," suggested another.

There were a few war-ships in the bay—a small Russian cruiser, a French gunboat, and two torpedo-boats.

"The Russian is firing heavily," said the first speaker; "but what other vessel is that coming in and blazing away?"

Through the scattering mist loomed the dark hull of a war-ship with four funnels.

"It must be the Yarmouth," the other remarked.

"That's a German cruiser," a woman exclaimed excitedly. "Don't you see it's firing at the Russian. There—a shot has struck." A cloud of black smoke obscured the small cruiser for a few seconds.

"It can't be the Emden," urged the man who thought the new arrival was the Yarmouth. "The Emden  has only three funnels."

This was quite true. But Captain von Muller had rigged up a sham extra funnel to mislead those who sighted his vessel, which approached the bay at full speed, flying the British flag. Suddenly the British flag was hauled down and the German one hoisted. Then the firing commenced.

When the spectators on shore—who had been roused from sleep by the thunder of the guns—realized that a German vessel was giving battle the excitement became intense. As the sky brightened they obtained a better view of the approaching war-ship. It kept up a fierce cannonade, and the shells fell thick about the Russian cruiser. Volumes of smoke drifted across the waters, and sometimes the contending vessels were completely obscured. It soon became evident that the Russian was doomed. The German vessel was more than a match for her. Indeed the fire from the Russian was slow and inaccurate compared with that of the Emden.

But all the German shots were not well placed. Occasionally a shell landed on the beach. One burst over a house, but fortunately no one was injured by the scattering fragments.

"Surely the German is not going to bombard the town," exclaimed a stout man who had been leaning out at an open window and started back suddenly as the shell crashed above the roof.

"Where in the world is the Yarmouth?"  growled a friend who had entered the room. "Look! look!" cried the stout man's wife as she peered towards the harbour; "the Russian cruiser is on fire."

Through the smoke haze a tongue of crimson flame was seen shooting up from the doomed vessel, which had begun to sink. Shells continued to burst on it and near it, and for a time it was completely hidden in the heavy clouds of black smoke. When the air cleared again the Russian had vanished.

"She has gone!" cried a woman with trembling voice.

"Sunk to the bottom," her husband said, horror-stricken and amazed.

"Will the Yarmouth never come!" exclaimed someone anxiously.

"Where is the Yarmouth?" men asked one another.

Several people rushed to boats to rescue the Russians who were seen swimming about in the harbour. One volunteer, who had hastily dressed himself in his uniform, took command of a steam ferry-boat and was the means of saving a good many lives.

The Emden  made no attack on the town. She began to retire slowly about 6 a.m., and when nearly 3 miles out seemed to linger as if looking for some expected vessel. A British steamer was stopped, but after a short period was allowed to pass in to the harbour. Then at 7:20 more firing was heard.

"Has the Yarmouth returned?" many asked.

In a few minutes the firing ceased. It appears that a French torpedo-boat had been out scouting. When the Emden  was sighted the daring commander raced against her at full speed, endeavouring to get within torpedo-range. A shower of shells pounded his vessel to pieces, and the Frenchman went down like a diving whale. Everyone on board perished. Then the Emden  steamed away, and faded on the horizon.

But by this time the days of the German raider were numbered. British, French, Russian, and Japanese cruisers were searching for her. One November morning she approached the Cocos or Keeling group of islands to obtain a supply of fuel from a collier which she had arranged to meet there.

These islands are situated in the Indian Ocean, south of Sumatra, and were discovered by Captain William Keeling in 1609. Their "king" owes allegiance to Great Britain. He is the great-grandson of Captain Ross, an adventurous Scotsman who deserted from the British navy in the eighteenth century and for several years led the life of a privateer. He afterwards settled on Direction Island, and became "king" of a mixed community of run-away Malay slaves and others. One of the curiosities of the Cocos is a great and wonderful land-crab which can climb trees and open coconuts. It is referred to by Darwin in his Voyage of the "Beagle".

The Cocos group is now of great importance as a link of Empire. Direction Island is the headquarters of the Eastern Extension Cable Company, whose employees there number about 200. The cables connect Australia and other eastern countries with the rest of the world. There is also a wireless station, which is of great service to the British navy.

As soon as the Emden  arrived off Direction Island, Captain von Muller sent out an armed party to cut the cables and destroy the wireless station. But before the Germans were able to render the wireless instruments useless a brief message, intimating the arrival of the Emden, was tapped out by a cool-headed operator. It was picked up and transmitted hither and thither. Ere the wireless station was destroyed the Emden's  presence at the Cocos was known as far off as Melbourne.

Fortunately H.M. Australian cruiser Sydney  was at the time scouring the seas for German raiders, and acting in consort with other war-ships to protect the trade routes. A transport carrying British troops to Egypt was only about 100 miles distant from the Cocos on that fateful day.

A rather curious fact may here be mentioned regarding the Sydney. Its commander had arranged the night before that battle practice should be held, beginning at 9:30 a.m. About 7 a.m. came the wireless telegraphic message regarding the Emden's  arrival at the Cocos. The Sydney  at once hastened to meet her, getting up a speed of 20 knots. It made a record dash, and its gunners began to give battle at 9:40 a.m. Little did they think on the previous night, that their target was to be a German cruiser.

The Emden  was anchored beside the collier, and the landing-party was engaged wrecking the wireless station when the Sydney's  smoke appeared on the horizon. Captain von Muller at once gave orders to get to sea and clear for action. He was not certain of the four-funneled cruiser's identity. At first he thought it was the Yarmouth.  Then an officer perceived that it flew the Australian flag. The captain smiled. "If she's an Australian," he declared, "I'll sink her." Apparently he was not aware that several of the gun-layers on board had served in the Imperial navy, and that the Australian "tars", as a whole, were quite smart, although mostly young.

The Emden  got up speed and went briskly into the fight. Her first three shots struck the Sydney. One of them destroyed the range-finder, which was rather unfortunate. Another pierced the side of the Australian cruiser and fell back into the sea. A stoker who was standing in the wardroom got a glimpse of the nose of the shell coming through. He scampered away to escape the explosion, and when he returned saw only a handy "peep-hole", which gave him glimpses of the battle. The Sydney's  armour-plate was too thick for the Emden's shots. An officer on deck had a narrow escape. A shell whizzed over his head, displaced his cap, and killed a man behind him.

All this happened in a few seconds. With her eight 6-inch guns the Sydney  was more than a match for the German with her twelve 4-inch guns. Ere long the Australian gunners got the range, and their shells did great havoc. First the Emden's  foremost funnel went down; then her fore mast followed with a crash. How the young bluejackets cheered! Then the second funnel was swept away. Again they cheered.

"Keep cool, boys!" exclaimed the older hands.

"Bang, bang, bang!" went the Sydney's  guns.

"There goes the last funnel!" shouted the Australians, some of whom were not more than eighteen years old.

The Sydney  was being cleverly manoeuvred. She was able for most of the time to keep out of range of the Emden's  guns. During the hour and a half that the battle continued she covered about 56 miles and increased her speed to 26 knots. Down below stokers and engineers worked with tremendous energy. The chief engineer was suffering from appendicitis, but he stuck to his post grimly, and never spared himself.

The Emden  made a vain effort to escape northward, but the Sydney  hung on to her like a British bulldog. At length the stern of the German was shattered, and she began to settle down. She was consequently turned towards the beach on North Keeling Island, steaming at 19 knots, and grounded with such violence that the man at the steering-wheel was killed.

The Sydney  fired two broadsides in rapid succession, wrecking the last of the Emden's  guns, and then turned away to follow the collier, which by this time had taken flight. In less than an hour this vessel was overtaken and ordered to "heave to". She turned out to be a captured British steamer, named the Buresk, which had been manned by an alien crew consisting chiefly of Germans and Chinamen. When the Australian "tars" boarded her she was found to be in a sinking condition, for the German officers had opened and damaged the sea-cocks. After taking off the entire crew the Sydney hastened the end of the Buresk  by pounding her with four shells.

The Emden  was again visited towards evening. "She still had her colours at the mainmast-head," Captain Glossop of the Sydney  has reported. "I enquired by signal, International Code, 'Will you surrender?' and received a reply in Morse: 'What signal? No signal-books.' I then made in Morse: 'Do you surrender?' and subsequently: 'Have you received my signal?' to neither of which did I get any answer. The German officers on board (who had been taken prisoners off the collier) gave me to understand that the captain would never surrender, and therefore, though very reluctantly, I again fired at her at 4:30 p.m., ceasing at 4:35, as she showed white flags and hauled down her ensign by sending a man aloft."

By this time it was growing dark, and the Sydney  turned away to pick up two boats from the collier. Then Captain Glossop sent a boat to the Emden  saying he would return to give assistance next morning. It was unknown whether or not the German cruiser Konigsberg  was in the vicinity.

Meanwhile the armed landing-party which had destroyed the wireless station on Direction Island, having seen the Emden  disposed of, seized a small schooner, named the Ayesha, and set sail for the open sea.

Next morning the Emden  was boarded by the Australian victors. She presented a terrible spectacle. The deck was strewn with the mangled bodies of nearly 200 men. Only one gunner remained alive. All the survivors were suffering badly from thirst.

The first British officer who boarded saluted Captain von Muller and said: "I think you fought splendidly, sir;" and received in answer a gruff "No." So he turned away. The Emden's  captain, after a few minutes had elapsed, walked after the Sydney's  officer and said: "It was very kind of you to say we fought splendidly. I was not satisfied myself, and still think we could have done much better. It was lucky for you that at the very outset one of your shells destroyed our voice pipes."

The whole day was spent removing the wounded and prisoners to the Sydney. Among the latter was a German prince, a relative of the Kaiser's, who was serving on the Emden  as a junior officer. He had taken refuge in the torpedo-room. When brought out, after the battle had ended, it was thought he was dead. But he had only fainted.

One of the most remarkable happenings in connection with the fight was the rescue of a German sailor. He was one of seven who had been blown overboard by the explosion of a shell from the Sydney. For eight hours he kept afloat in the shark-infested sea before he was observed and picked up. His escape from death seemed a miracle.

Among the heroes of the Sydney  were two Australian boys who had volunteered for active service from a training-ship a few weeks previously. Captain Glossop did not want them, but, as they were keen and enthusiastic, decided to accept their services. An officer relates as follows how they conducted themselves during the fight with the Emden:  "One little slip of a boy did not turn a hair, and worked splendidly. The other boy, a very sturdy youngster, carried projectiles from the hoist to his gun throughout the action without so much as thinking of cover. I do think, for two boys absolutely new to their work, they were simply splendid."

Sinking of Emden


The German cruiser Konigsberg, which had vanished from Far East waters, fled to German East Africa. She was located hiding in shoal water about 6 miles up a river opposite Mafia Island. Part of her crew landed and entrenched themselves. H.M.S. Chatham  bombarded the concealed raider and rendered her unseaworthy. The British commander also took the precaution of sinking colliers in the only navigable channel, completely blocking it. So ended the career of another German raider.