|In 1918 lOOOcoinsweremountedbythe Sydney jeweler W Kerr and presented by Captain John CI Glossop to the officers and men oftheSydney who were on board at the time of the engagement Others weregiven to thestaffon Cocos Island as well as the Admiralty, the Australian War Museum (Ed: Memorial) and other approved museum. Theremainderweresoldtothepublic Of the remaining tin-mounted coins 653 were distributed to the Department of Navy, 343 weresoldto the public and 4433 were melted down and the money used by tlie RAN Relief fund.
Theabovedescription was provided courtesy ofJohnSmithattheNavalHistoricalSociety, from a researched document The numbers ofcoinsaregiven verbatim, and it is not known what discrepancy has resulted in the amountsnottallyingtothegiven1000,or even 10,000. (Ed.)
nobody in the navy, not the gunnery experts at Whale Island, not the entire British Admiralty knew that Emden's guns had a range of well over 10-thousand metres. The Germans could elevate their barrels to an unheard of 30 degrees, whereas the best the British could manage was not quite 20. The difference was crucial.
Von Muller's action report, written after the war, said he opened fire at 8,900 metres. Sydney's gunnery officer,
Medalmade from the silver dollars Emden was carrying as coin and which were taken from her hulk on North Keeling Island (Public domain)
Journal of the Australian Naval Institute
Lieutenant Denis Rahilly thought it was more like 10,000. But either way, Emden's gunners were experienced and accurate, and they hit hard and fast.
One of those shots might have changed the entire battle. It struck Sydney's bridge where the captain was conning the ship on the compass platform. In the words of Leading Signalman John Seabrook, who was there: "This shot first of all cut away a pair of signal halyards, cut the rangetaker's leg off below the knee, cut the rangefinder in half, went through the hammocks lining the inside of the bridge, cut a bridge rail off, went through the screen and then burst in the awning, which was rolled up and flaked around the upper bridge. One piece went straight through the lower bridge screen, taking exactly half a pair of binoculars with it, which were left hanging there. The rangetaker, a 30 year old able seaman named Albert Hoy, collapsed on the deck, blood pumping from a severed artery. He died later. But that was it. No one else on the bridge was scratched. Again the ship might have been lost but for the quick thinking and courage of two young Australian-born sailors, 17 year old Boy First Class Tom Williamson of Melbourne, and 19 year old Ordinary Seaman Les Kinniburgh of Mildura who, with their bare hands, flung overboard some burning cordite charges which might have blown back to the ship's magazines.
Von Muller's luck had drained away. Fifteen of his shells struck Sydney, but only five exploded. Four of Sydney's crew were killed, and half a dozen more were injured. And then fortunes changed.
Shocked but still thinking, Glossop quickly withdrew out of range and began pouring in a fire of his own. Both ships were heading more or less northeast at around 20 knots. Less
experienced, and without the bridge rangefinder - and the aft rangefinder, which had also been damaged -Sydney's guns took a while to get the eye in. Director fire was unknown, of course. But when they did get the range it was devastating, it was carnage, with the bloody inevitability of a heavyweight boxer battering a flyweight. Emden twisted and turned like a hunted animal, trying to draw in close for a lucky torpedo shot, Sydney holding off.
But slowly and surely the Swan of the East was smashed to pieces, her guns falling silent one by one. Von Muller called for a torpedo attack but that, too, failed because the torpedo compartment was wrecked and flooded. This is a description from one of her petty officers:
Almost all those who had been in the ammunition rooms as well as those at the guns had been killed. Blood was flowing in streams on deck, and terribly mutilated corpses were lying about. We were answering the fire of the enemy, but more feebly. I myself had only a few unimportant injuries. My mate Hartmann came towards me to give me an order, but he had not opened his lips when shrapnel came bursting over us between the tower and the bridge. Hartmann fell, and I got a shell splinter on the right hand.
The ship was burning in several places. Several shells of ours exploded on deck; the fourth gun on our starboard side exploded and the feeding machinery threw down all the crew, opened the compartment and threw a crewman of the 5* gun overboard. An officer went overboard too. Miraculously, Captain von Muller on his armoured bridge was only slightly scratched. He determined he would not allow Emden to be taken, and he
decided to run her aground on one of the Cocos group, North Keeling Island, which lay dead ahead to the north. He gave the order for full speed and with one final, convulsive lunge from her engines, she crunched onto a coral reef, never to move again. It was j ust after 11 am. The battle had lasted almost exactly two hours.
Glossop sent a signal which electrified the navy and the world. Just five words: "Emden beached and done for."
But he had more work to do, and there were more chapters to be written. First, he took care of Emden's accompanying collier which had been hovering uncertainly on the horizon, her German prize officers scuttled her as she approached, and the crew had to be taken off.
He sent a boat to Emden with food and water and medical supplies, carrying one of the German prize officers. And then Sydney returned to Direction Island and the wireless station - where, for all Glossop knew, there might have been fighting, with civilian dead and wounded. In fact there hadn't been. Emden's shore party had behaved impeccably, not harming a hair on anyone's head, and leaving civilian possessions strictly alone. Von Mucke had been efficient and courteous, and the station staff actually offered the Germans sandwiches and a cup of tea. In one, almost surreal incident, they realised the Germans were going to blow up the signals mast. They went to von Mucke and asked him:
"Would you mind not bringing it down on the tennis court?" they said.
"Certainly!' said the Germans.
And the mast toppled the other way - although unfortunately it crushed some cases of scotch whisky which had been carefully hidden from the invading Hun. The raiding party had vanished, though, before Sydney's arrival, getting away on a schooner they'd commandeered in the lagoon.
Journal of the Australian Naval Institute
Vernon Parker Oration 2014, with Mike Carlton
The story of their escape and eventual return to Germany via the Red Sea and Constantinople is quite extraordinary.
Sydney returned to the wreck of the Emden at around 1600 the next afternoon, the 10th of November. What happened next was a collision of misunderstanding on both sides so sad and so devastating that it colours the memory of the battle to this day. John Glossop opened fire again on Emden's shattered and still smouldering hulk.
He did not do so immediately. Sydney slowed almost to halt perhaps four kilometres off, while Glossop and the watch on the bridge scanned the enemy with glasses and telescopes. They could clearly see the destruction they had wrought and the men in the midst of it, but they could also see that the enemy ensign still flying from what was left of her mainmast. Perhaps the Germans wanted to keep fighting.
Glossop ordered a signal to be sent by flag hoist: "Do you surrender?" There was a pregnant pause and then they could see a small figure replying by waving semaphore flags, a jerky message in English which read: "What signal? No signal books."
Glossop tried again, this time also by semaphore. He repeated his first signal, "Do you surrender?" and then, a few minutes later: "Have you received my signal?"
There was no reply, and so he ordered Lieutenant Rahilly to open fire again. He would say later in his report that he did so reluctantly, which there is no reason to doubt. He, too, was a humane and decent man. The official historian of the Australian naval war, Arthur Jose, wrote that:
As long as the German flag still flew, the Emden was still a resisting enemy; moreover, although all her guns were destroyed or dismantled, she had used no torpedoes and, so far as Glossop knew, might still be able to discharge one, or to resist
with rifle fire any boat he should send to board her. His duty was unmistakeable; if von Miiller chose to avoid surrender, he must endure the further use of force to compel him. That is a faulty judgement, I think, the victor writing 10 years after the war when the scars were still raw. With the hindsight of 100 years, it would have been perfectly possible for Sydney to stand off in a position out of torpedo range while sending a boat to Emden under a white flag of truce.
But Glossop kept firing for another five minutes until a German sailor, with incredible courage, climbed what the mast and brought the ensign down. Von Muller ordered him to throw it into the fires, it would not become a trophy for the enemy, to be displayed in some naval chapel somewhere.
With darkness upon him, Glossop decided not attempt to bring off Emden's survivors. Surf was still smashing against the side of the wreck. But he had written a letter to his opponent, the captain of His Imperial German Majesty's Ship Emden, remarkable for its tone of decency and chivalry:
Sir, I have the honour to request that in the name of humanity you now surrender your ship to me. In order to show how much I appreciate your gallantry, I will recapitulate the position. You are ashore, 3 funnels and one mast down, and most guns disabled. You cannot leave this island and my ship is intact. In the event of your surrendering in which I venture to assure you there is no disgrace but rather your misfortune, I will endeavour to do all I can for your sick and wounded and take them to a hospital.
I have the honour to be,
Your obedient servant.
In the end, it was never delivered, although it has been preserved for posterity, and a copy of it hangs in the captain's cabin of the current HMAS Sydney.
First thing the next morning, the rescue began, of men from the ship, and the handful who has somehow managed to swim and scramble ashore through the surf onto the island. Many were severely wounded, in agonies of thirst and hunger. They were treated with great care and compassion, with Sydney's two doctors and one of the German surgeons working on them for hours on end.
134 of Emden's crew had died, with 65 wounded. The last to be recovered was von Muller himself. He had asked for no special treatment, but Glossop sent his gig for him, and the defeated captain was properly piped aboard, where he was welcomed by Glossop and saluted by a circle of officers, and ushered below to the captain's cabin. Over dinner, the two captains drew a track of the battle, which they both signed.
One of the most touching accounts of this day comes from an unidentified Emden sailor, who had been badly lacerated by two pieces of shrapnel, one of which tore a hole in his back. He wrote:
We were rowed along to the Sydney one by one, put into a crane and hoisted on board. I myself was put in the wardroom, which had been transformed into a hospital. Here too were berthed the wounded of the Sydney. We were at once properly bandaged, and well treated as far as circumstances allowed. Next to me lay a sailor of the Sydney. He had his right foot blown away. He bent himself towards me and gave me his hand. The two men lay there, side by side, German and Australian, holding hands in a silent affirmation of their humanity.
Journal of the Australian Naval Institute
I admired the Germans for their seamanship, their patriotism and above all, their courage. I admired the young, untried crew of Sydney for their bravery and skill as well...they were aware that they were laying down a foundation stone for the traditions of the RAN. And they rose magnificently to the task.
The tragedy is that these men were not very different. Australian, British or German. They were serving their country in a war that was not of their making.
The destruction of the Emden sent Australia wild with delight. None other than Banjo Patterson was travelling with the AIF convoy as a war correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald, and he wrote:
Arrived in Colombo to find everybody in a wild state of excitement over the sinking of the Emden by the Sydney. We can hardly believe that Australia's first naval engagement could have been such a sensational win, for our people are not sea-going people and our navy - which some of us used to call a pannikin navy -was never taken very seriously. And now we have actually sunk a German ship! Telegrams of congratulations poured in from around the world. Patriotic songs and marches and poems were written by the score, including one hilarious effort from the British poet Sir Henry Newbolt, which went:
The Sydney and the Emden They went it shovel and tongs, The Emden had her rights to prove, The Sydney had her wrongs: The Sydney had her wrongs, my lads.
And a crew of South Sea blues; Their hearts were hot, and as they shot
They sang like kangaroos -Which caused a certain amount of amusement then, too. Underlying it all
was a feeling of relief. In some exalted circles, particularly in Britain, there had been a nagging worry that Australians, the descendants of English and Irish convicts, might not be up to the job. But they had proved themselves worthy sons of Britannia. The Australian High Commissioner in London, Sir George Reid, wrote to Winston Churchill that: "The Mother Country will see that the breed is all right, and that it was never more all right than when Australians are on Australian ships under the White Ensign with the Australian flag at the jackstaff"
100 years on, it is right and proper to pause and reflect. World War I swept away great Empires: The German, the Austro-Hungarian, the Russian Empire, the Ottoman Empire. It opened the world to the evils of Communism and Nazism. We still see the effects of the war today, most notably in the Middle East.
There's a view of the past that I love, from the British poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge: "If men could learn from history, what lessons it might teach us. But passion and party blind our eyes, and the light which experience gives us is a lantern on the stern, which shines only on the waves behind us."
In that lantern's light, I think the Sydney-Emden battle holds lessons and truths for today and the future. Lessons and truths that were re-enforced in World War II.
Paramount of these is that Australia is a maritime nation. We are one of the world's great trading powers, but no other has a coastline like ours, washed by the waters of three great oceans. And none of those great trading powers is so dependent, so reliant as we are, on the security of the seas to sustain the inbound and outbound trade in commodities that is our lifeblood. Maritime security is not merely desirable for Australia; it is the very core of our existence.
I'm not trying to teach you to suck eggs here. But I fear these truths are sometimes not appreciated, or sometimes lost altogether, by government, parliament and people.
Speaking as a j ournalist, I concede that much of this is the fault of the media, which understands only two stories about Navy. Story One: coloured flags, brass bands, frigate home from the Gulf. And Story two: rum, sodomy and the lash, frigging on the fo'c'sle.
So Navy must never give up on the job of explaining itself to the Australian people. Sometimes you are not very good at it, even now most Australians believe the Collins Class submarines were duds, ruinously expensive white elephants, a disaster. You cannot afford to let that happen again, to lose the public relations battle with the new submarine acquisition.
You must hammer home that the RAN is not just a glorified coastguard, stopping SIEVS off Christmas Island, not just a ferry service to take the Army somewhere. The Australian people must grip the fact that this maritime nation requires a blue water navy capable of trade protection and war fighting wherever those imperatives arise.
I'm delighted tonight to see here some young men and women from ADFA, the Australian Defence Force Academy. What a future lies before you. Some of the ships you will serve in - perhaps command - have yet to be imagined or designed. You and they will be the envy of the grey and grizzled old admirals at the tables here this evening. Good luck with your careers.
Sol finish tonight with words written some 300 years ago; which appeared as a preamble to the Royal Navy's Articles of War in the reign of the Stuart kings; which are carved in stone at the Royal Naval College, HMS Britannia, at Dartmouth. "It is upon the navy under the good Providence of God that the safety, honour and welfare of this realm do chiefly attend."
Personally, I'm not so sure about God. But nearly four centuries on, and a world away, those lines still proclaim an essential truth which we ignore at our peril.
I Mike Carlton
Journal of the Australian Naval Institute
Thank you so much for inviting me this evening. iW