|PLAN of xht LAST FIGHT; ~EMOEN~v'$YDNEY?
almost inactive, doing no harm to the enemy in the long weeks of crossing the Pacific. And his personal account of that conference survives in the German Naval History. He wrote:
I asked that consideration might be given to whether it might not be a good thing to detach at least one small cruiser from the squadron to the Indian Ocean, where circumstances were particularly favourable for trade warfare, and where the intervention of German forces against the Indian littoral would have a favourable influence on the morale of the Indian population. There was a silence in the cabin, each officer aware of what this meant. To all intents and purposes, the Indian Ocean was a British lake. The Dutch East Indies were neutral, offering only limited port entry to a belligerent warship. And anyway, turning up in a Dutch port would only alert British intelligence.
So a lone German cruiser would be thrown on her own resources. Emden would at first have a supply ship with her, but eventually she would have to sustain herself on whatever coal and food she could capture.
And coaling itself - it was filthy, backbreaking work alongside in harbour. Coaling at sea, which she would have to do, would be a nightmare job. She could not replenish her ammunition, for Allied shells would not fit her guns. Engine maintenance, too - she had no fewer than twelve water-tube boilers, which would have to be regularly cleaned. And perhaps most challenging of all, the morale and fighting efficiency of the ship's company would have to be maintained, 400 men alone at sea for months on end, with no chance for a run ashore and no contact from home.
In theory, all this was possible. It was known as cruiser warfare -
or Kreuzerkrieg in German - the destruction of the enemy's maritime trade. But it had never been done in the age of steam. In the age of sail yes, when a ship could keep the sea almost indefinitely as long as water could be obtained. It was the legalised piracy of the centuries.
But by 1914 naval warfare had changed beyond recognition,and in ways that even its most skilled practitioners barely understood. The arrival of wireless was bringing even more revolutionary advances in the control and command of ships and squadrons and fleets, of the very seas themselves.
But even if Emden and von Muller overcame all these odds and were successful in their war on British trade, their troubles would just be beginning. They could be certain that the might of the British navy would be turned into the hunt for them. They might survive if the war were to end quickly in a German victory, but if it were to drag on there would be little chance of ever returning home. Even if coal could be obtained for the voyage north across the world - a virtual impossibility - they would have to go via the Cape of Good Hope or the Horn, for Suez and the newly opened Panama Canal would be closed to them. And if, by some miracle, they made it north through the Atlantic and back to the North Sea, the British blockade would be lying there in wait. Every officer there in the admiral's cabin in Scharnhorst knew this.
The hush was broken by Spee's chief of staff who, to everyone's surprise, said he agreed with von Muller.
Journal of the Australian Naval Institute
Vernon Parker Oration 2014, with Mike Carlton
out, the perfect man for the mission: he proved to be a skilled seaman, with extraordinary qualities of leadership and endurance, and a firm grasp of tactics and strategy. He had courage and resolve. And indeed humanity. His steward recorded that he kept a biography of Horatio Nelson by his bedside.
And either by accident or design - certainly by marvellous good fortune
his Executive Officer
or First Officer, as the Germans called them -Kapitanleutnant Helmuth von Mucke, was the right choice as well. Von Mucke was also highly competent - but where his captain was reticent, thoughtful and aloof - the XO was the opposite: energetic, gregarious, a flamboyant character who took no nonsense but was nonetheless liked and respected
by the ship's company. They made the perfect pair. The wardroom was full of handpicked young lieutenants, many of them aristocrats with the "von" in front of their surnames, one of them a Hohenzollern prince who was a distant cousin of the Kaiser.
Emden herself was a graceful, elegant ship, commissioned into the navy in 1909 and later nicknamed the Swan of the East. Curiously, she was almost exactly the same size as one of our modern Anzac frigates: a length of 118 metres; she displaced some 3,600 tons. For any engineers present, she had two triple-expansion, 3-cylinder steam engines, the last in her class before turbines arrived. Flat out on her trials, she notched a top speed of 24 knots, but that was exceptional. Her optimal cruising speed was around 12 knots. Depending on the quality of her coal, that gave her a range of some 6,000
She bristled fore and aft and port and starboard with Germany's most modern naval weapons: no fewer than ten 10.5cm or 4.1 -inch quick firing guns, of such an advanced design they were still in use in Hitler's Kriegsmarine in World War II. There were also two 18" or 45cm torpedo tubes, amidships on either side. In her final wartime months, her ship's company numbered just over 400 men. God knows where they put them all.
But by any standards, Emden was an impressive vessel, a ship any sailor could be proud of. Von Muller would command her from his bridge in an armoured conning tower, a small space but usefully protected from the weather, and from flying shrapnel.
And so, with the admiral's blessing, she set off, to create havoc in the Indian Ocean. By late August she had scraped through the Dutch East Indies and was there, with a supply vessel, the Markomcmnia, to keep her company.
Von Muller set about his task with energy and audacity. He was bold and clever, dodging here and there, turning up where he was least expected; now in the Bay of Bengal, next south of Ceylon,
then off India's west coast. Luck, and the weather, and skill and seamanship were with him. For three months from late August 1914, he caught and sank no fewer than 18 ships, 16 of them British merchant vessels.
Emden learned on the job. She would halt her quarry by signal lamp, rarely having to fire a shot across the bows. That done, she would lie off to windward while her boats plied back and forth, taking off the crew and the spoils. No fancy RHIBs dashing about; Emden did have a steam pinnace, but that was rarely used because it took time to make ready. The boat work was oar-power, men pulling whalers.
To the chagrin of her gunnery officer, though, it proved extraordinarily difficult to sink a ship by gunfire, no matter how many shells were poured into or below the waterline. Torpedoes were an option, but Emden carried only five of them, and they were not to be wasted. Eventually the ships had to be scuttled, by sending a party below to open the Kingston valves and to lay explosive charges in the bilges. That worked.
Von Muller obeyed all the rules of war at sea as they stood at the time. This
German cruiser SMS Emden, beached on Cocoslslandin 1914. (State Library of New South Wales)
Journal of the Australian Naval Institute
was before the onslaught of unrestricted submarine warfare, which changed everything. Before that, the rules required civilian crews to be taken off to a place of safety, unquote. Von Muller kept one or two of his captured vessels as accommodation ships, and when they were full hed pack them off to the nearest British port. Not one life was lost in any of those merchant ships he took and sank. Those merchant seamen set free spoke of him with high praise: the gentleman raider, they called him. To the despair of the Admiralty in London.
The Royal Navy threw what few ships it had available into the hunt - a handful of cruisers from the China station - but it was the classic search for the needle in the haystack. And not made any easier by the meddling of the First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, who had already begun his lifelong habit of interfering in naval operational matters beyond his competence, and who harried the wretched First Sea Lord, Prince Louis of Battenberg, with directives, orders, queries and ideas. Most of them quite impractical.
Emden and Von Muller also bombarded Madras on the east coast of India - modern day Chennai - setting fire to the oil storage tanks there and, as hed planned, causing panic in the population. Doubling back, he made a daring raid on Penang, in modern Malaysia, on the 28th of October, where he dashed into the harbour at speed just after dawn and torpedoed and sank a Russian cruiser, dashed out again, and then sank a French torpedo boat destroyer that set after him in pursuit.
The Swan of the East was thumbing her nose at the British Empire and its allies with apparent impunity. And causing much anxiety for the governments of Australia and New Zealand, who would very soon be sending the flower of their young men across the Indian Ocean to join the war.
Time and again the convoy sailing from Albany was postponed.
But eventually it set off on the 1st of November. Coincidentally, on that very same day, across the Pacific, von Spee destroyed the weak and obsolete ships of a British squadron at the Battle of Coronel off Chile, with the loss of 1,500 men. The Admiralty had paid a tragic price for ignoring George Patey.
But it was now that von Muller in Emden made his fatal miscalculation. In early November he decided to destroy the British cable and wireless station at the Cocos Islands. This station was a vital link in Australia's communication with the Empire and the world. An undersea cable ran to and from Perth and then on to Europe. To cut that would be a crippling blow to both Britain and Australia.
Emden arrived there in the lagoon early in the morning of Monday the 9* of November. All was quiet as she dropped anchor. She sent a raiding party ashore, 50 sailors under the command of the XO, Helmuthvon Mucke armed with axes and hammers and explosives to smash the wireless and cable gear and demolish the mast.
But as they landed, the Cocos wireless operators managed to get off an SOS. "Strange
ship in harbour," they sent. That spelt Emden's doom.
Because that great AIF troop convoy was just 50 miles, away, heading northwest towards Colombo. The Germans had no idea it existed, let alone that it was so close. Cocos didn't know about it either, for it was maintaining absolute radio silence. But that convoy was escorted by three warships - the cruisers Melbourne and Sydney and by a big black Japanese battlecruiser, the Ibuki, a ship notable for the vast clouds of smoke it emitted.
They heard the SOS and guessed that the strange ship could only be
Emden's Focsle and Charthouseafterthe battle-smashed to pieces by Sydney's shells (RAN)
Journal of the Australian Naval Institute
Vernon Parker Oration 2014, with Mike Carlton
Emden. Melbourne heeled over in a turn to port and set off, until, to his bitter disappointment, her captain -Mortimer Silver, RN - realised that as escort commander his duty was to stay with the convoy. He then ordered Sydney away. What a moment it must have been: the ship working up to full speed, black smoke pouring from her funnels, plates vibrating, stern digging deep from the thrust of her four propellers. She would be at the Cocos in two hours.
Sydney was in every way bigger, faster and more powerful than Emden. 138 metres long, 5,500 tons, and a top speed of close on 26 knots (again depending on the coal.) Her main armament of eight 6-inch guns packed a much bigger punch than Emden's 4.1-inch. She was modern, state of the art.
Her commanding officer, Captain John Glossop was an Englishman, the son of a country vicar, now 43 years old. He had served as a midshipman and then lieutenant on the old Australia station in colonial days, had liked the life, and had therefore expressed a desire to their Lordships of the Admiralty that he might command a ship of the brand new RAN.
Glossop had never fired a shot in anger. But he was a competent officer, schooled in the finest navy the world had known. And now here he was, presented with an opportunity that every cruiser captain would have given his right arm for. With 300 years of naval tradition behind him, he knew what he had to do, and he set off to do it.
Most of his officers and senior rates were British as well, although his first lieutenant, Lieutenant Commander John Linlayson, was Australian born, the son of a manager of the Bank of New South Wales from Vaucluse. Sydney had a crew all up of around 400 men. (I was never able to find a definite, accurate figure.) Just over a third of them were Australians, native born.
Many of them teenagers, boys as young as 16, brought up for the sea in the old training ship Tingira, a hulk moored in Rose Bay. Glossop had not been keen to take them, but there they were. With time to spare, he sent the hands to breakfast, and then when that was finished, he cleared lower deck and spoke to the ship's company in words that were j otted down later by Able Seaman Jimmy Stewart:
"There is a German ship at or near the Cocos Islands and, should it be a German cruiser, this young ship's company is going to taste its baptism of fire. This opportunity will probably be given to our young Australian Navy to make history, and I want every officer and man aboard this ship to do his duty quickly but coolly and with every co-operation. I hope to bring an action, if there is one, to a successful completion." Then they went to action stations.
The two ships sighted each other just after 9 o'clock that morning, in fine, calm weather. Glossop ordered his yeoman to hoist the challenge, but everyone knew what they had met. Emden had been trapped; caught at anchor, with her guard down. At first von Muller had thought the smoke coming towards him from the nor-east was from a collier he'd captured and kept in company and which was due to join him that morning.
But soon enough the speed of the approach and the volume of smoke told him he was facing a warship. He frantically went to action stations, called for steam, weighed anchor, and began to move, leaving his shore party behind at the wireless station. Sydney bore down towards him.
Miraculously it was Emden which drew first blood. Captain Glossop had underestimated the range of the German's guns, and he'd brought Sydney in too close. It was not his fault;