Cruise and Destruction of the Emden

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WWI Document Archive > 1914 Documents > Cruise and Destruction of the Emden

Reports of Lieutenant Hellmuth von Müecke and Captain John C.T. Glossop,
2 August - 9 November 1914

Report of Lieutenant Hellmuth von Müecke of the Emden

August 1, while cruising in the middle of the Yellow Sea, Commander von Müeller appeared on the poop, holding in his hand a telegram such as we used for radio reports. Six hundred eyes eagerly watched the lips of the captain, as he began: "A radio has been received from Tsingtau as follows: "His Majesty, the Kaiser, has, on August 1, ordered the mobilization of the entire Army and Navy. Following an invasion of German territory by Russian troops, the Empire now finds itself embroiled in war with Russia and France.... Commerce destruction is our principal rule. To the best of our knowledge, the Russian and French men-of-war are gathered near Vladivostok. Therefore, it is quite likely that we may fall in with them. In that case, I know I can safely rely on my entire crew." "Three cheers for H. M. the Kaiser," resounded over the broad surface of the Yellow Sea.... And so we were at war....

At 15 knots we steamed toward Tsushima Straits. War watches were set on the Emden as darkness approached.... At 4 a.m. the port watch, which I commanded, was relieved. The captain took charge. Day began to break. I had hardly reached my room and prepared to get some sleep when I was awakened by the shrill calls of the alarm bells and the loud stamping of many running feet. "Clear ship for action," was passed from one compartment to another. And now everybody was ready at his battle station. Were we really lucky enough to meet a Russian or a Frenchman on the first day, as our dispatches indicated them to be in the neighborhood of Vladivostok?

In the gray daylight we saw, dead ahead. a large vessel, lights out, that appeared to be a man-of-war. The captain was approaching her at full speed. The ship had hardly seen us when she came about in short order and headed away from us. Heavy black clouds issued from her smokepipes, a sign that her engines were working at full power. The pursued vessel immediately set a course for the Japanese Islands, about 15 sea-miles away. A heavy smoke cloud hung close to the water and soon enveloped us entirely. As we could see only the mast heads, we had no means as yet of recognizing the ship. But her actions clearly showed that she was not a neutral vessel. Of this, however, more later.

Meantime it became light. The signal, "Stop at once," flew from our foremast. As the order did not, after a certain time, produce results, it was followed by a blank shot; and, as even this did no good, we fired a few shells at her. There was now no more use of the steamer's trying to reach neutral Japanese waters. When our shell fell close aboard her, she stopped, turned around and hoisted the Russian flag at all mast heads. And so in the first night of the war, we took our first prize. It was foreseen, on the whole, that this would be the first German prize. She was the Russian volunteer steamer Rjesan. During peace she plied the passenger trade between Shanghai and Vladivostok. During war she would be armed and used as an auxiliary cruiser. She was a brand new, speedy ship, built at the German works of Schichau.

The Russian captain made two strong protests against our taking her. She was a peaceful merchantman and it was therefore unjust to divert her. Above all he did not understand this. His knowledge of the rights of the sea was pretty weak. Our question as to why he had attempted to run away from us he allowed to remain unanswered. The captain had him informed that his fate would be decided in Tsingtau. . . .

We arrived at Tsingtau without having been annoyed. . . .

Our captain received orders there from our squadron commander, Count von Spee. This squadron, consisting of the armored cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the small cruiser "Nürnberg," was in the South Sea steaming northward. The Emden was directed to intercept the squadron at a predetermined rendezvous in the South Sea....

Calm, clear weather prevailed as the Emden slowly steamed out of the inner harbor. Our band played "The Watch on the Rhine." . . .

The Emden proceeded cautiously through the openings in the mine field ... and very early in the morning of September 11, a few hours after our squadron hat received its first addition, with the rising of the sun, a large steamer appeared dead ahead who, thinking we were an English man-of-war, was so overjoyed at our presence that she hoisted a huge British flag while still at a great distance. I do not know what kind of expression came over her captain's face when we hoisted our flag and invited him most graciously to tarry with us awhile. The steamer had left Calcutta and, having been detailed for transport duty between Colombo and France, was fitted out in fine style. Especially were we touched by the fact that she did not disown the English desire for cleanliness and therefore had taken such a big cargo of soap that our small crew, itself in the greatest need of this most necessary assistant to Kultur, would have enough to last a whole year. We also found a beautiful racehorse aboard. A bullet behind the ear saved the animal the agonies of a death by drowning. We had less compassion for the numerous built-in, beautifully numbered, horse stalls and gun mounts aboard the ship. A half hour later the sharks could, at closer quarters, occupy their attention with these.

The crew of the ship was transported to our "lucky bag." The "lucky bag" was always one of the captured ships which was either empty or in ballast and therefore of little value, or which contained neutral cargo and could therefore not be sunk without a loss. At the end of the war, all neutral cargo destroyers must be paid for. The "lucky bag" always followed along behind the Emden until she was finally filled up with people taken from the captured vessels. Then she was detached and sent into the nearest harbor. Under these circumstances, the Pontoporros was detailed to the rule of "lucky bag."

A seaman always has a peculiar feeling when he sees a ship sinking. Even we, accustomed to helping vessels in distress, were affected not a little by the sight of sinking vessels, even those that we had to destroy. The destruction was usually done in the following way: We went into the engine-room and removed the bonnet of a main overboard discharge valve. The water immediately came into the engine room in a stream twice a man's height and more than a man's thickness. The watertight doors to the adjoining fire-room were opened and secured against closing, so that at least two large compartments of the ship would certainly fill up with water. In addition, two smaller compartments were also filled, either by exploding bombs -- this at night or by firing shells into them.... Then the Emden would go ahead to meet the next oncoming mast head....

At sunrise on the morning of November 9th the Emden was close to the entrance to Port Refuge, the anchorage of the island of Keeling. The difficult channel through the reefs was found and a landing was effected by several boats without resistance. After about two hours the work ashore was completed. The landing force was making ready to re-embark when the Emden sent a signal by search light, "Expedite work." Shortly thereafter the Emden blew her siren. That meant danger. The landing force saw the Emden quickly hoist her anchor, turn around and leave the harbor. The attempt to cut across the reefs and thereby catch up with the ship failed. In a few minutes the Emden hoisted her battleflags and opened fire on an opponent that could not be seen from the boats. Its presence, however, was denoted by the high splashes caused by shells striking near the Emden. It proved to be the English Australian cruiser Sydney, one and a half times larger, five years younger, equipped with sidearmor, and carrying a battery with the same number of guns per broadside as the Emden, but each gun one and a half times larger. Having the superior speed, the result of this engagement was never in doubt. . . .

Soon the ships engaged in a running fight at a range of about four to five thousand meters. Broadsides were exchanged. At first it seemed as if the enemy had suffered heavily. Then a heavy salvo landed on the Emden's stern. The heavy shells easily penetrated her unarmored sides, causing extraordinary damage. Fire broke out under the poop. For about 15 minutes flames shot 20 to 25 meters in the air out of the after end of the ship. The gray clouds were streaked with white steam, indicating that a steam pipe on the starboard side must have been pierced. These serious injuries did not, however, prevent the Emden from continuing her energetic attack on the enemy. She turned with full rudder and went after him.

The stream of projectiles from her bow guns never ceased. A few minutes after the Emden turned toward him the enemy cruiser also turned away to starboard and drew away from our ship. As we had meanwhile noticed that he had been hit several times, we, on shore, silently hoped that he had received some fatal injuries. Evidently this was not the case. He headed away at full speed, but shortly after he came about again. No doubt he was trying to increase the range in order to use his more powerful guns and still keep outside the effective range of the Emden's lighter battery.

Meanwhile the Emden received more serious injuries. While turning toward the enemy, a shell knocked the forward smokepipe down. This huge, bulky mass lay athwart the forecastle. Almost at the same time another shell carried the foremast by the board. When I saw this I knew that at least one of my comrades lived no more --the control officer in the foretop. The fire aboard the Emden continued to rage, seeming gradually to suffocate them all. Instead of flames we now saw clouds of smoke evidently caused by their attempting to put the fire out. Running along side by side, firing heavily all the time, the two engaged cruisers disappeared over the horizon. The fight started shortly after 8.30 a.m .... At sunset the Sydney broke off the engagement and steered in a northwesterly direction. The Emden was heading easterly. Gradually the ships drew outside of the range of their guns. The firing ceases. The sun sets. It is getting dark. Like a shroud, night draws over both ships....

Report of Captain John C. T. Glossop, of the Sydney

I have the honor to report that while on escort duty with the convoy under the charge of Captain Silver, H. M. A. S. Melbourne, at 6:30 a.m., on Monday, November 9, a wireless message from Cocos was heard reporting that a foreign warship was off the entrance. I was ordered to raise steam for full speed at 7 a.m., and proceeded thither. I worked up to 20 knots, and at 9.15 a.m., sighted land ahead and almost immediately the smoke of a ship which proved to be H. I. G. M. S. Emden, coming out toward me at a great speed. At 9.40 a.m. fire was opened, she firing the first shot. I kept my distance as much as possible to obtain the advantage of my guns. Her fire was very accurate and rapid to begin with, but seemed to slacken very quickly, all casualties occurring in this ship almost immediately. First the foremost funnel of her went, secondly the foremast and she was badly on fire aft; then the second funnel went and lastly the third funnel, and I saw she was making for the beach on North Keeling Island, where she grounded at l l.20 a.m. I gave her two more broadsides and left her to pursue a merchant ship which had come up during the action.

Although I had guns on this merchant ship at odd times during the action, I had not fired, and as she was making off fast I pursued and overtook her at 12.10, firing a gun across her bows and hoisting International Code Signal to stop, which she did. I sent an armed boat and found her to be the s.s. Buresk, a captured British collier, with 18 Chinese crew, 1 English steward, 1 Norwegian cook, and a German Prize Crew of 3 Officers, 1 Warrant Officer and 12 men. The ship unfortunately was sinking, the Kingston knocked out and damaged to prevent repairing, so I took all on board, fired 4 shells into her and returned to Emden, passing men swimming in the water, for whom 1 left two boats I was towing from Buresk.

On arriving again off the Emden, she still had her colours up at mainmast head. I inquired by signal, international code, "Will you surrender?" and received a reply in Morse "What signal?" "No signal books." then made in Morse, "Do you surrender?" and subsequently, "Have you received my signal?" to neither of which did I get an answer. The German officers on board 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 p.m., as she showed white flags and hauled down her ensign by sending a man aloft.

I then left Emden and returned and picked up the Buresk's two boats, rescuing 2 sailors (5.00 P.M.), who had been in the water all day. I returned and sent in one boat to Emden, manned by her own prize crew from Buresk, and 1 Officer, and stating I would return to their assistance next morning. This I had to do, as I was desirous to find out the condition of cables and Wireless Station at Direction Island. On the passage over I was again delayed by rescuing another sailor (6.30 p.m.), and by the time I was again ready and approaching Direction Island it was too late for the night.

I lay on and off all night and communicated with Direction Island at 8 a.m., November 10, to find that the Emden's party, which had landed on Keeling Island, consisting of 3 officers and 40 men, 1 launch and 2 cutters, had seized and provisioned a 70-ton schooner, the Ayesha, having 4 Maxims with 2 belts to each. They left the previous night at six o'clock. The wireless station was entirely destroyed, 1 cable cut, 1 damaged, and 1 intact. I borrowed a doctor and two assistants and proceeded as fast as possible to the Emden's assistance.

I sent an officer on board to see the captain, and in view of the large number of prisoners and wounded and lack of accommodation, etc., in his ship, and the absolute impossibility of leaving them where they were, he agreed that if I would receive his officers and men and all wounded, then as for such time as they remained in the Sydney they would cause no interference with ship or fittings, and would be amenable to the ship's discipline. I, therefore, set to work at once to tranship them -- a most difficult operation, the ship being on the weather side of the island and the sand alongside very heavy. The condition in the Emden was indescribable. I received the last word from her at 5 p.m., then had to go round to the lee side to pickup 30 more men who had managed to get ashore from the ship.

Darkness came on before this could be accomplished, and the ship again stood off and on all night, resuming operations at 5.00 a.m. on 11th November, a cutter's crew having to land with stretchers to bring wounded round to embarking point. A German Officer, a Doctor, died ashore the previous day. The ship in the meantime ran over to Direction Island to return their Doctor and Assistants, send cables, and was back again at 10.00 a.m., embarked the remainder of wounded, and proceeded for Colombo by 10.35 A.M., Wednesday, 11th November.

Total casualties in Sydney: killed 3, severely wounded (since dead) 1, severely wounded 4, wounded 4, slightly wounded 4. In the Emden I can only approximately state the killed at 7 Officers and 108 men from Captain's statement. I had on board 11 Officers, 9 Warrant Officers, and 191 men, of whom 3 Officers and 53 men were wounded, and of this number 1 Officer and 8 men have since died of wounds.

The damage to Sydney's hull and fittings was surprisingly small; in all about 10 hits seem to have been made. The engine and boiler rooms and funnels escaped entirely.

I have great pleasure in stating that the behaviour of the ship's company was excellent in every way, and with such a large proportion of young hands and people under training it is all the more gratifying. The engines worked magnificently, and higher results than trials were obtained, and I cannot speak too highly of the Medical Staff and arrangements on subsequent trip, the ship being nothing but a hospital of a most painful description !

I have the honour to be. Sir,

Your obedient Servant,

John C. T. Glossop,

WWI Document Archive > 1914 Documents > Cruise and Destruction of the Emden