The "Emden"—An Epic of the Great War
'The Voyage of the Emden'
by Kapitaenleutnant Hellmuth Von Muecke
of His Emperor's Ship, The "Emden"
Translated by Helene S. White

High Adventure on the Seven Seas and in the Arabian Desert

the Emden at sea

The "Emden"—An Epic of the Great War

left : author Kapitaenleutnant von Muecke
right : captain of the Emden - von Mueller


Experiences Aboard a Gallant Little Fighting Ship

The tale of the Emden is one of the greatest sea stories in all history. Fighting its way through the China Seas, into the Bay of Bengal, and across the Indian Ocean, knowing that sooner or later it must face death, the crew of this gallant ship defeated and captured twenty-four enemy ships, destroying cargoes and property valued at $10,000,000—in two months roving the high seas. The romantic voyage began on September 10th and ended on November 9th, 1914. It was a crew of "jolly good fellows" that sailed under Commander von Müller; their adventures won the admiration not only of their enemies but of the whole world. An authentic story of this epic of the seas is told by Lieutenant Captain von Mücke, of the Emden in a volume relating its exploits. He has also written a book bearing on the adventures of the landing squad in "The Ayesha." There is nothing more sensationally adventuresome in fiction than these voyages. The most improbable romance is outdone by the exploits of the gallant German seamen. Commander von Müller of the Emden is a prisoner of war in England at the time that these accounts are written (1917).

see also : The Career of the "Emden"


I — Story of Adventures on the Yellow Sea

"All hands aft," shrilled the whistles of the boatswain's mate through all the ship's decks. Quickly all the officers and crew assembled on the after deck. Everyone knew what it was for.

It was at two o'clock on the afternoon of the second day of August, 1914, while our ship lay far out in the Yellow Sea, that Captain von Mueller appeared on the poop, holding in his hand a slip of paper such as is used for messages by wireless. In eager expectancy three hundred pairs of eyes were fixed upon the lips of our Commander as he began to speak.

"The following wireless message has just been received from Tsingtao: 'On August first, his Majesty, the Emperor, ordered the mobilization of the entire land and naval forces of the Empire. Russian troops have crossed the border into Germany. As a consequence, the Empire is at war with Russia and with France. . . ."


Three cheers for his Majesty, the Emperor, rang out over the broad surface of the Yellow Sea. Then came the order that sent every man to his post,—"Clear ship for action."

And so it had come to pass—the war was upon us! ...

"Guns ready!" "Torpedo service ready!" "Engines and auxiliary engines ready!" "Leak service ready!" "Steering service ready!" "Signal and wireless service ready!"

Rapidly, one after the other, the reports from all over the ship were now coming in, and demanded my attention to the exclusion of all further thought and reflection. A quick tour of inspection through the ship assured me that all was in readiness, and I could report to our Commander, "The ship is clear for action."

At a speed of fifteen nautical miles we were proceeding toward the Strait of Tchusima. When darkness came on, the war watch was begun on the Emden, which is done in the following manner: Half of the men of the crew remain awake and on duty at their posts,—at the guns, at the searchlights and lookouts, in the torpedo room, in the engine and fire rooms, etc., while the others are allowed to go to sleep with their clothes on, and ready, at a moment's notice, to get to their posts. The commander of the ship takes charge of one of these watches, and the other one is in command of the first officer.

After passing through the Strait of Tchusima, the Emden steered northward. There was no moon, and the night was pitch black. It was too dark to see anything even in our immediate vicinity. We were, of course, traveling with all lights screened. Not a ray of light was allowed to escape from the ship, nor the least bit of smoke from her funnels. There was a moderate sea running, and the water was unusually bright with phosphorescence. The water churned up by our screws stretched away behind the ship in a shimmering wake of light green. The waves dashing high up against the bow, and the water tumbling and breaking against the sides, splashed the whole ship with a phosphorescent glitter, and made her appear as though she had been dipped into molten gold of a greenish hue. Occasionally, there appeared in the water large shining spots of great length, so that a number of times the lookouts reported undersea boats in sight.

At four o'clock in the morning the port war watch, which I commanded, was relieved. The Commander now took charge. The day was just dawning. I had just gone to my cabin, and had lain down to rest, when I was wakened by the shrill call of the alarm bells and the loud noise of many hurrying feet. "Clear ship for action," the order went echoing from room to room. In an instant everyone was at his post. Were we really to be so fortunate as to fall in, on our very first day, with one of the Russian or French ships that had been reported to us as being in the vicinity of Vladivostok?

By the trembling of the ship we could tell that the engine had been put on high speed. In the gray of the early morning we sighted, ahead of us and a little to the right, a vessel somewhat larger than our own, which was also traveling with screened lights, and looked like a man-of-war. Our commander ordered a course toward her at high speed. Hardly had she seen us when she turned hard about, took the contrary course, and ran away from us, the dense column of smoke rising from her funnels indicating that her engines were working at maximum power. The pursued ship took a course directly toward the Japanese Islands, lying about ten miles distant. A black cloud of smoke streamed behind her, rested on the water, and, for a while, hid her from sight entirely. We could see nothing of her but the mast tops, and so found it impossible to discover the nature of the vessel with which we were dealing. That she was not a neutral was evident enough from her behavior. Therefore, after her with full speed!


the Emden sinking Russian and French warships


II — Story of Capture of the Russian "Rjesan"

Meanwhile, daylight had come. The signal: "Stop at once!" was flying at our foremast. When this demand was not complied with after a reasonable time, we fired a blind shell, and when this also failed to have the desired effect, we sent a quick reminder in the form of a couple of sharp shots after her. The fleeing ship could no longer hope to reach the neutral waters of Japan. When our shots fell into the water close beside her, she stopped, turned, and set the Russian colors in all her topmasts. So, on the very first night after the war had begun, we had taken our first prize. It was the Russian volunteer steamer Rjesan. In time of peace she had plied as a passenger steamer between Shanghai and Vladivostok. She was now to be armed with guns and to serve as an auxiliary cruiser. She was a speedy and very new ship, built in the German ship yards of Schichau.

In the sea that was running, the Emden and her prize rolled badly. It was therefore no easy matter to get the cutter, that was to carry the prize crew from the Emden to the Rjesan, into the water. There was danger that it would be pounded to pieces against the sides of the ships. However, everything passed off satisfactorily. In a short time we saw the officer of the prize crew, followed by a number of men, all armed with pistols, climbing up the gangway ladder. The Russian flag was hauled down, and in its place the German colors were run up.

As the steamer was one that could serve our own purposes excellently well—she could be transformed into a very good German auxiliary cruiser—our commander decided not to destroy her, but instead to take her to Tsingtao. At a speed of fifteen miles we made our way southward. Behind us, in our wake, followed the Rjesan. A commanding officer with a prize crew of twelve men remained aboard of her, to make certain that the service of the ship and the engines, etc., would be according to our wishes.


From the newspapers, we had learned that the main body of the French fleet, consisting of the armored cruisers Montcalm and Dupleix, besides a number of torpedo boat destroyers, was lying somewhere off Vladivostok. With these ships the Emden must not be allowed to come in contact by daylight. As we were rounding the southern extremity of Corea, the lookout in the top suddenly sang out, "Seven smoke clouds in sight astern!" To make quite sure of it, the Commander sent me aloft. I, too, could distinctly see seven separate columns of smoke, together with the upper structure of a small vessel, the one nearest to us, just above the horizon. Upon hearing my report, the commander gave orders to change our course. We swept a wide circle, and so avoided the enemy. Without meeting with hindrance of any kind, we arrived at Tsingtao.

On the way we caught up an interesting wireless message. The Reuter Agency, so celebrated for its rigid adherence to facts, was sending a telegram abroad, informing the credulous world that the Emden had been sunk. How many sympathetic people must have shuddered as they read,—and so did we, of course!

During the following night, our prize occasioned us some further trouble. Naturally, her lights, as well as our own, had to be screened. It was a much easier matter to give orders to that effect, however, than to see to it that they were carried out. On the steamer were several women passengers, who, from the outset, were filled with mortal terror as to what the barbarous Germans would do with them. Most of them were fat Russian Jewesses. Every few minutes they would turn on the electric lights in their cabins, so that finally there was nothing left for the officer of the prize crew to do but to have the electric light cable in the engine capped. . . .


III — In the Harbor at Tsingtao

At Tsingtao our commander found orders awaiting him from the Admiral of our squadron, Count von Spee, who, with the armored cruisers, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, and the small cruiser, Nürnberg, was in the South Pacific, steering northward. The Emden's orders were to join this squadron at a stated point of meeting in the South Pacific.

At sunrise on the following day the Emden left Tsingtao in the company of a large number of German ships, all bound for the south, where they were to join the Admiral's squadron.

With fair weather and a smooth sea the Emden slipped out of the harbor moles. Our band played "The Watch on the Rhine." The entire crew was on deck, singing as the band played. Cheers rang from ship to shore, and back again. Everyone was confident and in high spirits.

Cautiously the Emden made her way between the mines which barred the entrance to the harbor. The sun had just risen. Behind us lay Tsingtao, the gem of the far East, brightened by the golden-red beams of the young day—a picture of peace. . . .

As we gazed, there was not one of us who was not conscious of a strange tugging at his heart. But duty called with an imperative voice. Therefore, farewell to the fair scene we were leaving behind us! For us, it was, "Onward, to the South!"

We were accompanied by the Markomannia, the other ships taking different courses. The Markomannia remained our faithful companion for a number of months.


On our way to the South Pacific we learned, by wireless, of the rupture in the relations between Germany and England, and of the latter's declaration of war.

A few days later we learned of Japan's remarkable ultimatum, without its causing us any special anxiety. It might as well all be done up at one and the same time, was the general feeling among us.


On the twelfth of August, in the evening, we had reached the vicinity of the island where we were to join our cruiser squadron, and soon we fell in with some of the ships that were serving as outposts. As we approached the group of assembled warships, we saw the stanch cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau lying in the midst of them, each with a coal tender alongside, and engaged in coaling. To the left lay the slender Nurnberg, also busy with taking on coal. Distributed about the bay, many larger and smaller auxiliary ships and tenders of the squadron could be seen. The Emden was ordered to an anchorage close beside the flagship, in the right-hand half of the bay. Rousing cheers were sent from deck to deck, as we passed by the other ships, and soon our anchor rattled seaward, and to the bottom,—it was to be the last time for many a long day.

Our commander went aboard the flagship to report to the Admiral of the squadron, and to submit to him the proposal that the Emden be detached from the squadron, and be sent to the Indian Ocean, to raid the enemy's commerce.

On the following day the squadron steered an easterly course, the ships keeping a long line, one behind the other, with all the coal tenders bringing up the rear. The Admiral had, for the present, reserved his decision with regard to our Commander's proposition, and we were all impatient to learn what it would be. At last, toward noon, signal flags were seen running up on the flagship. They read, "Emden detached. Wish you good luck!" Sweeping a wide curve, the Emden withdrew from the long line of warships, a signal conveying her Commander's thanks for the good wishes of the Admiral fluttering at her mast head. There was still another signal from the commanding officer of the squadron, ordering the Markomannia to attend the Emden. Ere long we had lost sight of the other ships of the squadron, which now were steering a course contrary to our own, and we all knew full well that we should never meet again.


These days were strenuous ones for our men, as the war watch was continued without intermission, in order that the ship might be ready at a moment's notice for any emergency. There was no opportunity to give the crew even a short season of rest. For us, there was not one harbor of refuge where we might lie free from danger. . . .

To reach the open sea, our course now led us through a number of narrow water ways. These straits swarmed with fishing boats and other small sea craft. The nights were bright with moonlight, which made it possible to recognize the Emden at a considerable distance. To meet so many boats was a source of anxiety to our Commander, who expressed himself as apprehensive that our presence in these waters, and our probable course also, would be noised about by some of these vessels. All English ships have either two or four funnels, whereas the Emden had three.

The happy thought came to me that much might be gained if the Emden were provided with a fourth funnel.

Out of wooden laths and sail-cloth we soon had constructed a funnel of most elegant appearance, and, when it had been placed in position, the Emden was the exact counterpart of the British cruiser Yarmouth.


the Emden sinking a British merchantman


IV — Story of Exploits on the Bay of Bengal

In this way, by the end of the first week in September, we had got as far as the Bay of Bengal. For a period of about five days an English man-of-war, most likely the Minotaur, kept a course close beside our own, which we learned from the frequent wireless messages that we caught up. Gradually, her messages became less distinct, and then ceased altogether. At no time had she come within sight of us.

It was not until the night of September tenth that our work began in real earnest. A steamer came in sight, and we approached her very cautiously, so as to give her a closer inspection. Quietly, and with lights screened, we crept up behind our intended victim. Our Commander ordered an approach to within one hundred meters of the steamer, which was peacefully and unuspectingly proceeding on her course, and, after the manner of merchantmen, was paying little heed to anything except what was ahead of her and showing lights. Suddenly, through the stillness of the perfectly calm night, rang out our challenge through the speaking trumpet:

"Stop at once! Do not use your wireless! We are sending a boat!"

The steamer did not seem to realize what was meant by this order. Perhaps she did not expect, here in the heart of Indian waters, to run across an enemy's man-of-war. Or she may have thought it the voice of a sea god, and therefore no concern of hers. At any rate, she continued on her way undeterred. So, to explain the situation, we sent a blank shot whizzing past her. This made an impression, and, pell mell, her engines were reversed—we truly regretted the start we had given her dozing engineers—and with her siren she howled out her willingness to obey our order.

One of our cutters, with a prize crew in it, glided swiftly to water, and thence to the steamer, of which we thus took possession. An unpleasant surprise was now in store for us, for soon there came flashing back to us a signal given by one of the men of our prize crew: "This is the Greek steamer, Pontoporros."

The Pontoporros was loaded with coal from India, the very dirtiest coal in the world. . . .

I had, in jest, entreated our Commander to capture, as our first prize, a ship loaded with soap, instead of which we now got this cargo of dirty Indian coal. My disappointment was so great that I could not refrain from reproachfully calling our Commander's attention to it, and, with a laugh, he promised to do his best toward providing us with the much-needed soap. And he kept his word.

On the morning of the eleventh of September, only a few hours after we had made the first addition to our squadron, there appeared, forward, a large steamer, which, in the supposition that we were an English man-of-war, manifested her delight at meeting us by promptly running up a large English flag while still a long way off. We could not help wondering what sort of expression her captain's face wore when we ran up the German colors, and politely requested him to remain with us for a while.

The steamer hailed from Calcutta, had been requisitioned to serve as an English transport for carrying troops from Colombo to France, and was fitted out with an abundance of excellent supplies.

We also found aboard the ship a very handsome race horse. By a shot through the head, this noble creature was spared the agony of death by drowning. But our sympathy was hardly sufficient to extend to all the many mounts for artillery, which occupied as many neatly numbered stalls that had been built into the ship. They had to be left to become the prey of sharks a half hour later. The ship's crew was sent aboard our "junkman." . . .

During the next few days our business flourished. It was carried on in this way: As soon as a steamer came in sight, she was stopped, and one of our officers, accompanied by ten men, was sent aboard her. It was their duty to get the steamer ready to be sunk, and to arrange for the safe transfer of the passengers and crew. As a rule, while we were still occupied with this, the mast head of the next ship would appear above the horizon. There was no need of giving chase. When the next steamer had come near enough to us, the Emden steamed off to meet her, and sent her a friendly signal by which she was induced to join our other previously captured ships. Again an officer and men were sent off, boarded her, got her ready to be sunk, and attended to the transfer of all hands aboard her, etc., and, by the time this was accomplished, the mast head of the third ship had usually come in sight. Again the Emden went to meet her, and so the game went on.


the Emden in the Indian Ocean


V — Sea Tales from Ceylon to Calcutta

In this way we cleaned up the whole region from Ceylon to Calcutta. In addition to our old companion, the Markomannia, we were now accompanied by the Greek collier Pontoporros, which, in the meanwhile, had relinquished the role of "junkman" to the Cabigna. The latter was an English steamer carrying an American cargo, the destruction of which would have resulted in nothing but unnecessary charges.

The Cabigna continued with us for several days, although she, the Markomannia, and the Pontoporros were not the only companions of the Emden during that night. We had captured more prizes, whose destruction, however, was deferred to the following day in consideration of the passengers, because of the darkness, and the high seas running. All told, we had six attendants that night. Three of these disappeared in the sea on the coming morning, and the Cabigna was discharged to land her passengers.

Aboard the Cabigna were the wife and little child of the captain. The position at sea, where the other steamers had been sent to the bottom, was so far distant from the nearest shore that it would have been quite impossible for any boats to have reached land. Before the captain of the Cabigna had been told that he would be allowed to proceed, and in the assumption that his ship also was to be sunk, he begged that he might be allowed to take a revolver with him for the protection of his wife and child. . . .

When the captain was informed that it was not our purpose to destroy his ship, he was overcome with joy. I, myself, was aboard his ship for several hours, and he could not find words sufficient to express his gratitude, begging me to convey his thanks to our Commander, and finally handing me a letter to deliver to him.

I had a long conversation with the captain's wife, also, and she expressed sentiments much like those contained in her husband's letter to our Commander. When she discovered, from something I said, that my oil-skins were going to pieces, she pressed me to accept her husband's. Besides this, upon learning that our supply of smoking tobacco was getting low, she urged us to take as many cigarettes and as much smoking tobacco with us as we could carry. These, she declared, were but trifling gifts in comparison with the gratitude she felt. It is hardly necessary to say that we took with us neither the tobacco nor the oil-skins.

At the time that the Cabigna was discharged, her deck was full of passengers, all people from the steamers we had captured. At our order, "You may proceed!" three cheers— "Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!"—rang back to us, one for the Commander, one for the officers, and one for the crew of H. M. S. Emden, in which every person on the crowded deck joined. There were, at the time, about four hundred persons aboard the ship.

In the further progress of our activities we never failed to get three cheers from our discharged "junkmen," as they departed with their collection of passengers from captured steamers.

This seems a fitting place to speak about the attitude taken by the Englishmen when we captured their ships. Most of them behaved very sensibly. After they had recovered from the first shock of surprise, they usually passed into the stage of unrestrained indignation at their government, at which they swore roundly. With but one exception, they never offered any resistance to the sinking of their ships. We always allowed them time enough to collect and take with them their personal possessions. They usually devoted most of this time to making certain that their precious supply of whiskey was not wasted on the fishes. I can say with truth that seldom did we send off a wholly sober lot of passengers on any one of our "junkmen."


oil-tanks shelled at Madras


VI — Two Shells at Madras—and an Explosion

One captain was especially amusing. His was the unenviable duty of taking a bucket- dredger from England to Australia. No seafaring man can help sympathizing with the unfortunate who has to conduct one of these rolling tubs, with a speed of not more than four nautical miles at best, all the way from Europe down to Australia. And so, from a purely humane standpoint, we could fully appreciate this English captain's joy at being captured. Rarely have I seen anyone jump so high for joy. He must have been a past master in the art of jumping to be able to keep his feet in spite of the terrible rolling of his Ship. Tears of gratitude coursed down his weathered cheeks as he exclaimed, "Thank God, that the old tub is gone! The five hundred pounds I was to have for taking her to Australia were paid me in advance."


On the eighteenth of September, in the evening, the Emden entered the harbor. It so happened that this was the day after the one on which the joyful tidings of the Emden's destruction had been officially announced. To celebrate the happy occasion, a large company had assembled for dinner at the Club. As we were not aware of this, it was hardly our fault that the Emden's shells fell into the soup. Had we known of the dinner party, we would, of course, gladly have deferred our attack until another day, as it is the part of wisdom never to exasperate the enemy unnecessarily. A due regard should always be shown for sacred institutions, and dinner is an institution with regard to which the English are always keenly sensitive.

We approached to within 3,000 meters of Madras. The harbor light was shining peacefully. It rendered us good service as we steered toward shore, for which we again take this opportunity to express our gratitude to the British Indian government. A searchlight revealed to us the object of our quest,—the oil tanks, painted white and ornamented with a stripe of red. A couple of shells sent in that direction, a quick upleaping of tongues of bluish-yellow flame, streams of liquid fire pouring out through the holes made by our shots, an enormous black cloud of dense smoke,—and, following the advice of the old adage, "A change is good for everybody," we had sent several millions' worth of the enemy's property up into the air, instead of down into the sea, as heretofore.


Meanwhile the coaling question had come to be a source of annoyance to us. Our faithful Markomannia had no more coal to give us. To be sure, our prize, the Pontoporros, with her cargo of coal from India, was still with us. But this Indian coal is far from being desirable fuel, as it not only clogs the fire kettles with dirt, but, while it gives out a minimum of heat, it sends forth a maximum of smoke, and so our prize was not an unmixed joy to us. However, this vexed coal question was happily solved for us by the English Admiralty in a most satisfactory manner. Before many days had passed, a fine large steamer of 7,000 tonnage, loaded with the best of Welsh coal, en route for Hong Kong, and destined for their own use, was relinquished to us by the English in a most unselfish manner.

So, for the present, we were most generously supplied with the best of fuel, and all further anxiety on this account was dismissed to the uncertain future. The captain of our new coal-laden prize seemed to have no scruples with regard to transferring himself, together with his ship, into German service. Willingly and faithfully he cooperated with the officer of the prize crew that was, of course, placed in command of his ship, all the while cheerfully whistling "Rule, Britannia."

In the meantime, even the English government itself had become convinced that the destruction of the Emden had, after all, not been accomplished.


left : the Emden on the cover of a German children's magazine
right : a British schematic showing the Emden's last battle


VII — Story of Life Aboard the Flying Dutchman

We knew quite well that sixteen hostile ships were in pursuit of us,—British, French, and Japanese. We never had any information with regard to the position of these ships, nor of their character, which, after all, could matter very little to us, since the Emden was the smallest and least formidable of all the war ships in the Indian Ocean. There was not a hostile cruiser, that she was likely to meet, that was not her superior in strength. That the Emden's career must soon be cut short was therefore a prospect of which everyone aboard her felt certain. Many hounds are certain death to the hare.

Our Commander had set this aspect of affairs before us, sharply and clearly, at the very outset of the Emden's career, pointing out that the only future ahead of the Emden was to inflict as much damage as possible upon the enemy before she herself should be destroyed, which, in any event, could be but a question of time.

The devotion of the Emden's crew to their Commander was touching in the extreme. The men appreciated the high qualities of their leader, were proud of their ship, and gloried in its successful career. If, at any time when they were singing, or were otherwise noisy, the word was passed along, "The Commander is tired," they would become instantly quiet. At a word of encouragement from him the men would accomplish some truly wonderful feats in connection with difficult undertakings, such as coaling at sea under most adverse conditions, and in spite of extreme fatigue.

Of "Emden yarns" . . . there was an untold number. On board ship we kept a scrap-book in which they were all preserved, but this, unfortunately, was lost, together with much that was of higher value.

Amusement of a different nature was afforded the officers' mess by our "war cats," as we called them. On the day before we left Tsingtao a cat had come on board, and so had come along with us. In course of time, this cat experienced the joys of motherhood. Lying in my hammock one morning, I opened my eyes upon a charming scene of family life. Just beneath me, a little to one side, on a mattress on the floor of the deck, lay Lieutenant Schall, sleeping the sleep of the just. Close beside him, on the same mattress, lay the cat, with a family of five newly born kittens. After I had quickly wakened the other officers who were sleeping near, so that they might enjoy the sight of this peaceful domesticity, we poked Lieutenant Schall until he, too, opened his eyes upon the scene. At first he did not seem to share our pleasure in it, however, but, with a muttered oath, hurried off to the washroom.

Our kittens were not the only animals that the war had brought aboard our ship. If some one had dropped from the sky, and landed on the Emden on one of these days, he would have opened his eyes in wonderment at sight of this "man-of-war." Forward, in the vicinity of the drain pipe, he would have discovered one or two pigs, grunting with satisfaction. Near by, he would have seen a couple of lambs and a sheep or two, bleating peacefully. By a walk aft he would, in all probability, have scared up a whole flock of pigeons that had been sitting on the rails which served for the transportation of ammunition, and that, at his approach, would take refuge in the pigeon house that had been fastened against one of the funnels. In his further progress he would most likely have frightened up a few dozen hens that would then have run cackling about his heels, the noise they made being only outdone by the still louder cackling of a flock of geese engaged in unsuccessful attempts at swimming in a large half-tub aft, and at the same time trying to drink salt water. We always had a great deal of live stock on board, all of which we had taken from the captured steamers. . . . We had a less practical, but more ornamental addition to our menagerie in a dwarf antelope, which I came upon one day in the forward battery. How the dainty creature got there has always remained a mystery to me.


British cruiser 'Sidney' in Columbo harbor

captured crew of the Emden on board a Britsih warship


VIII — Last Days of the Gallant "Emden"

Every afternoon the ship's band gave us quite a long concert. At such times the men all sat cozily about on the forecastle, listening to the music, some joining in with their voices, while others smoked or danced. In the evening, after darkness had set in, the singers aboard usually got together, and then every possible and impossible song was sung by a chorus that was excellent both in volume and quality. The "possible" songs were, to a great extent, our beautiful German national melodies, and these were always well rendered. The "impossible" ones were frequently improvised for the occasion. In these, clearness of enunciation was always a greater feature than either rhyme or rhythm. The singing invariably closed with the "Watch on the Rhine," in which all hands on deck joined.

Distributing the booty we had taken from a captured ship was always an occasion about which centered a great deal of interest. Anything of a useful nature, especially everything in the line of food, was, as a matter of course, taken aboard the Emden. As a result, veritable mountains of canned goods were stored away in a place set apart for them on the forward deck. Casks full of delectable things were there. Hams and sausages dangled down from the engine skylight. There were stacks of chocolate and confectionery, and bottles labelled "Claret" and "Cognac," with three stars.

So as to be able to do justice to all that fortune bestowed upon us, an extra meal or two had to be tucked in between the usual ones. So, with our afternoon coffee we now had chocolate or bonbons. For the smokers there were more than 250,000 cigarettes stored away, and when, in the evening, they had been passed around, the deck looked as though several hundred fireflies were flitting about it.


the Emden and the Sidney in battle


So we spent the passing days, while certain death lurked round about us. In sixteen ships our enemies were burning their coal, and racking their brains in vain attempt to catch us.


the wreck of the Emden, beached after battle


(Here the Lieutenant-Captain of The Flying Dutchman narrates the adventures of those wonderful days; how they kept the enemy seas fraught with danger; how they were hunted through the oceans; how they lived their gay life of "gentlemen buccaneers," knowing that each day brought them nearer to death and the bottom of the seas. He describes vividly "Our Baptism by Fire;" he tells how they torpedoed the Russian destroyer Schemtschuk; how they fought the French gunboat D'lberville; how they sunk the French destroyer Mousquet; how they wrapped the French dead in the French flag and buried them with naval honors in the sea; until the last fight of the Emden when she met her champion, the Anglo-Australian cruiser Sidney and went down gloriously in the Indian Ocean. The Lieutenant-Captain's description of this last fight is one of the classics of the Great War.)


going ashore to destroy the wireless station on the Cocos Islands


Hide-and-Seek in Eastern Seas

On Sunday, the 9th of November, 1914, the 3,000 tons cruiser “Emden” stood in the southern part of the Indian Ocean.

Her raiding activities had caused suspension of trade around the coast of India, and her Commander, Captain von Muller, decided to make use of this pause to destroy the cables and the wireless station on the Cocos or Keeling Islands. I was second-in- command of the "Emden," and so it was my duty to take charge of the landing party. We went ashore fifty strong, and began our work at sunrise, and our relations with the British telegraphists on the islands were quite peaceable. They were civilians, and therefore did not interest us. We learnt from them, to our surprise, that one of the last Reuter telegrams had reported that the Iron Cross had been conferred on our ship for her work. They then invited us to play a tennis match with them, but I am sorry to say that we couldn't accept this invitation. While we were working away on shore under the palms which screened the view on all sides, the “Emden” sighted what appeared at first to be an old coal ship. When it got closer, however, it was recognised as the 6,000 tons Australian cruiser "Sidney" and before we could get back to the “Emden” she weighed anchor and both ships disappeared fighting over the horizon. The fight ended with the sinking of our ship, but we could not see this and did not hear of it till three weeks later.


the 'Ayesha'


I was now left with forty-nine men marooned on British Islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean, completely cut off. It was obvious that if we didn't get away at once we would soon be made prisoners of war, and the only thing chance offered as far as we could see was an old sailing schooner of ninety-seven tons, named "Ayesha" which had been lying there at Port Refuge, out of commission and crewless, for many years. Helter-skelter and with all speed we made her ready for sea, and managed to take her through the reefs that very evening. We heard later on that in the darkness we passed quite close to the "Sidney" which had returned to the islands in pursuit of us after sinking the "Emden" She was waiting outside the entrance for enough light to enable her to sail in and capture us.

The "Ayesha" leaked badly and her sails kept tearing, which made it very doubtful whether we should get far. Furthermore the monsoon was blowing and caused heavy storms in which we had a number of narrow escapes. In every way it was an uncomfortable voyage. The schooner had been fitted up to accommodate a crew of only five, whereas we were fifty. We had no funds except a single shilling piece which we had happened to find on board, and the absence of razors everywhere produced fine full beards. We had no tobacco either, and tried to make up for this by smoking tea leaves, and we gave up wearing our uniforms so as not to wear them out. Moreover, our navigation equipment was very defective—in fact it consisted entirely of a single chart which covered half the world. We were three weeks at sea in this old hulk, and then we found ourselves in the neighbourhood of the Dutch island of Sumatra, to the north-east.


crew members of the Emden leaving the Cocos Islands for the 'Ayesha'

the wreck of the Emden


I expected to find British and Japanese naval forces around Padang, but decided to risk it and enter the harbour there. And the good luck that seemed to be with us did not fail us now. For, when we arrived at Padang, we learned from the Dutch that a Japanese ship, which had been cruising up and down outside the harbour for nearly a fortnight on the look-out for us, had left to coal just three hours before our mast-tops came in sight. Several German merchant ships, which had retreated into neutral waters, were lying at anchor in the roads, and I decided to induce one of them to put to sea and meet me outside. But the Dutch Government made a lot of difficulties. In fact they tried to intern us and the "Ayesha" under some paragraph of the so-called Law of Nations. But I appealed to another paragraph of the same Law and declared that violence would be answered with violence. In this way I succeeded in getting our schooner recognised as a man-of-war. Good old "Ayesha" What would you have thought of that a few weeks before when you were dreaming among the corals and the palms of Port Refuge?

We were twenty-four hours ashore at Padang and when we had completed our secret arrangements with the German merchant steamer, we put to sea again. Our rendezvous was a long way from the coast, and while we were waiting about there we twice met hostile steamers and tried to capture them, but without success. In this way we whiled away the time, and a fortnight later the steamer from Padang reached us. We immediately transferred ourselves aboard her and sank the "Ayesha".

Here, too, fortune favoured us, for at this very time the British auxiliary cruiser "Himalaya" which was also in pursuit of us, captured a former tender of the "Emden" not six hours from where we were.

I had learnt at Padang of the alliance between the Central Powers and Turkey, so I decided now to make for the Red Sea and to land in Arabia on Turkish soil. But unfortunately, our new steamer, which had been a coaster in China, had no charts of the Indian Ocean or the Red Sea, so we had to do the best we could without.


a view of the 'Ayesha'


However, we got along all right, crossed the ocean and passed the British fortress, Perim, at the narrow entrance of the Red Sea, without being challenged. I now set our course for the Arabian town Hodeida, but since we knew nothing about the situation there we were very anxious about our reception. However we took every precaution and approached the harbour in the darkness, and when we were close in we were delighted to see a row of electric lights. Years previously I had met a French engineer who had told me that he was employed by the Turkish Government in railroad construction from Hodeida to Damascus; so we concluded that this row of lights was a modern harbour, and that the railway was finished. To make sure of this, I embarked my crew in the boats and sent the steamer off with instructions for another rendezvous at sea later on; and this too was a lucky move. For when we had rowed close up to the breakwater with its electric lights, the sun suddenly came out, which happens very rapidly in the tropics and without the warning of dawn, and we saw to our dismay that the breakwater was furnished with two masts, four funnels and armoured turrets. It was the big French cruiser "Desaix." We had no desire to board her, so we dropped away as quickly as possible. It was three months since we had had any definite news of the war situation, but it looked very much as though Hodeida was now occupied by French troops. However, in spite of that, there was nothing for us to do now but to disembark secretly outside the town, and we planned to hide in the desert during the day and send a disguised officer into Hodeida to reconnoitre at night.

Our boats were overloaded, but we passed through the heavy surf safely and landed. Then we collected our kit and were just about to push off inland, when we suddenly noticed that our landing had not been unobserved and we were by no means alone. Not far away, scattered behind the cover of the sand dunes, was a whole company of men, far outnumbering my own, watching us. They were dressed in red and blue uniforms and I supposed them to be French auxiliary troops. We at once took cover too, and waited for them to open fire. But nothing happened. No doubt they were just as mystified about us as we were about them. Then about a dozen of them stood up without arms and flourished a rag which they evidently hoped would be recognised as a white one. I immediately went forward to meet them and an exciting palaver took place. They were Bedouins, and the whole dozen talked at once, gesticulating violently and shouting themselves hoarse; but it was all in Arabian, which I did not understand a bit. However, it was fairly obvious that what they wanted to know was exactly what I wanted to know— whether we were friends or foes. At last I thought of showing them a German coin which we had got at Padang, which had the Kaiser's head on it. They recognised this, and we then learned that they were friends and that the country was still in the hands of the Turks. So we set off to Hodeida, and met on the way the whole Turkish garrison armed with guns and cavalry. Our disembarkation had been reported in the town as an enemy invasion, and they were coming to give battle. However we explained our situation and received information and advice. Alas, the railway I was hoping to find did not exist, and the Turks told us that since there were British and French naval forces in the Red Sea we shouldn't be able to get any further that way.

The best thing we could do, they said, was to march to Sana, up in the mountains, the capital of Yemen, and take the caravan road from there right across Arabia to the Mediterranean. This journey, on camel back, would take seven or eight weeks, but it was better than being captured on the sea in seven or eight hours, and I decided to take their advice. So we set off, and climbed out of the burning desert until we were 12,000 feet up in the Yemen mountains and frequently above the clouds. The days were fresh and the nights bitterly cold, and sometimes there was frost and even snow.

When we arrived in Sana we were not really surprised to find that we could not get any further. The country to the north was in revolt and strong Bedouin tribes were interfering with all communication. The Turks in Hodeida had been perfectly well aware of this, but they had induced us to go to Sana because that town was expecting Arabian attacks at any moment and was so short of arms that it would no doubt find the four Maxim guns which we had with us very useful.

I told the authorities at Sana that I was not at all interested in the Arabians; I only wanted to make my way back to the coast and get on by sea. But they would not hear of this. Such a journey, they said, would mean certain death and they could not undertake the responsibility. I replied that the responsibility for my men was my own affair and they then handed me a paper which they said was a telegram from Mecca which had just been brought in by camel-rider. This telegram purported to be an order from my superiors in Germany that I was not to undertake the hazardous march home, but was to place myself and my men at the disposal of the Turks. I read this and told the Turks that I refused to recognise orders that were not sent in code—although as a matter of fact I had no cipher at hand for decoding messages. I then hurried off to collect a caravan, but I was told that none of the camels in Sana were available.

The Turks were clearly doing all they could to keep me with them. However, I was expecting this difficulty, and I had already got into touch through spies with the tribes outside. If I could not get camels from the Turks, I would get them from the rebels. But unfortunately they wanted a great deal of cash, and my funds did not exceed three shillings. Now there was an old but very rich ex-service General named Ibrahim Pasha living in Sana, and I paid a friendly visit to him and scared him out of his wits. I told him that the rebel tribes were advancing and that it was only a matter of days before the town surrendered and was sacked. The rebels, of course, would rob him of every penny he possessed; so I suggested that he should place his cash in my care, and that I would guard it for him and give him also a guarantee in the form of a cheque on the German National Bank, which he could discharge in Berlin after the war. The good old Ibrahim agreed to this, and in a very short time I had bought all the camels I needed from the rebels.

I realised that I must now proceed with great secrecy and cunning, and decided to lay a false trail, for there were a great many spies about, and I did not want the French cruiser, which was still at anchor in Hodeida harbour, to get wind of our real intentions. So I made an arrangement with the Turks that they should get some sailing boats ready for us at certain places on the coast, and as I particularly wanted this plot to be given away I emphasized the necessity for keeping it strictly secret. My real plans were, of course, quite different. I had met by chance a French-speaking Turkish soldier, an engineer, who had been called up for military service. He told me that a steam launch, belonging to the government, was lying in a bay north of Hodeida. It was his job to keep this launch in order, and he showed me his last report about its excellent condition and the coal and water supplies. I meant to have that boat, but neither he nor anyone else must know of my intention, and my first step was to get the engineer attached to me as my interpreter. We then collected our caravan of camels and rode off as if to keep our appointment with the sailing ships which the Turks had arranged for us. When we had put a sufficient distance between ourselves and Sana, I took the engineer into my confidence, and told him that if he liked I would take him with me aboard the launch. He was most enthusiastic and expressed the greatest delight at the thought of getting out of this God- forsaken country and joining the fighting lines at the Suez Canal. That was his heart's desire, he said. The launch, however, had been put out of commission, and we should need several days to clear her up, so I separated from my caravan and hurried on ahead with a few selected men, including the engineer.

It was a most exhausting journey. Not only had we to move quickly and save as much time as possible in order to have the launch ready for the rest of the caravan when it arrived, but we also had to avoid the usual caravan routes so as not to be seen. So we rushed along for three days and two nights without a wink of sleep and only stopping in order to change our animals. By the time we reached the coast we were practically dead. Then we looked about for the launch. It was there all right, but only the upper part of its funnel was above the surface of the water. I thought that my short stay in Arabia had prepared me for anything; I thought that after living with the Turks nothing would ever astonish me again, but I was certainly unprepared to hear this engineer, who had accompanied me on such an exhausting journey without saying a word, now calmly confessing that the launch had been lying there like this, submerged and in a rotten condition, for years.

I delivered a speech to him of considerable frankness, but he merely interrupted it to ask with a shrug of the shoulders whether I really believed he could report anything so unfavourable to Constantinople. So I gave it up.

But what were we to do now? There remained, of course, the chance of the sailing ships which the Turks had undertaken to prepare for me, but no doubt the enemy already knew about these and I refused to consider them. I ordered the caravan to return one day's journey inland and to wait there until further notice, and I myself rode to Hodeida. Then the expected happened. That morning, at the time fixed for our departure, a gunboat suddenly appeared in the bay and came to anchor near the boats which were awaiting us. So that was that. Both sea passage and land passage were now blockaded; we seemed to be stopped on all sides. But every mouse finds a hole. I was told at Hodeida that they wished to give a banquet in my honour, and I was asked what day would suit me best. I was getting used now to turning life to my own advantage at a moment's notice. No doubt all the nobilities around would be invited to this banquet and there would be much talk about it, and the French cruiser and all the gunboats further out would get to hear of it. All these ships were watching and waiting for the moment when we should attempt to leave by sea. But if there was to be a banquet given for me, on that day they would relax their vigilance. That would be a nice day for us to start. What then would be the best day to suit everyone? Saturday, I said.

Preparations were at once made for a tremendous banquet and it became one of the chief topics of conversation.

Meanwhile, in secret and by bribery, I procured two sailing boats in a bay north of Hodeida, and when I left the town on horseback on the Saturday morning no one smelt a rat, since it was my daily habit. But it was also my daily habit to return, and this time I didn't. My waiting caravan had already received their orders, and in the afternoon everyone and everything was ready at the appointed place. We set sail shortly before sunset at the very moment that I was expected to dinner in Hodeida. In spite of the great heat, I fear that that dinner grew cold. We had no charts at all, so we sailed at a venture, and at sunrise on Sunday morning found ourselves lying becalmed in a position which we did not like at all, that is to say just in front of Kamaran, the harbour of which was used as an advanced base for British gunboats. The calm kept us there until sunset, and at any moment we expected to see the mast-tops of gunboats which relieved each other regularly at that place. But nothing happened. Had I calculated aright? I had chosen Saturday purposely as the day of our departure—for week-ends are sacred.

In our two boats we sailed north through extensive coral-reefs, where larger ships could hardly sail or anchor by day and certainly not by night. I led the way with the smaller boat and a crew of fifteen men; the second boat, which was much larger, carried the rest, and our many sick. Dysentery, malaria and typhoid were rife among us owing to the badness of the climate, the lack of medical supplies and proper clothes, bad nourishment and extreme bodily hardships. Sometimes we had as many as eighty per cent. sick.

Even our boats could not sail in the reef area at night, and so just before sunset we decided to anchor. But the Arab we had taken along with us, who called himself a pilot, misguided us. My boat struck on a reef, but luckily crossed it without much damage in spite of the now heavy seas. But the second boat, through trying to avoid our reef, struck on a neighbouring one and foundered. In a few moments the heavy waves hammered her against the pointed corals and she broke up. The forecastle remained hanging on the reef, and the rest sank. Then the sun set and total darkness covered everything. The reef between us prevented me from going to the rescue and I was obliged to anchor. Two-thirds of my men were now drifting around in the gloom, most of them seriously ill and unable to swim. Moreover there were sharks about. We tried in vain to direct the swimmers towards us by whistling and calling. We heard their voices drifting past us with the current. We tried to show light, but every lantern was blown out by the stormy wind, and the torches we had brought from the "Emden" missed fire. Nothing remained but our carefully preserved signal cartridges, so we fired these and the white sparkling stars streamed up into the sky, brightly illuminating our surroundings, but also betraying our position for a distance of miles.

However these brought the men struggling towards us, but when scarcely half of them had been hauled aboard it was clear that our load was too heavy for the small boat. So everything unimportant, followed later by nearly all the fresh water and food, went overboard to lighten her. Practically nothing remained but our arms and ammunition, which are the last things a soldier parts with. At length, after two hours, we got the last of the wrecked crew aboard, but the gunwale of our own boat was now not more than one and a half feet above the water-line. We were now in a dilemma. We could not continue our general northerly course against the north wind. A southerly course before the wind would have taken us into the open sea. We had only enough fresh water and provisions left to last us for two days, and it would take us about six days to reach the coast against the north wind. But in the middle of the night our luck turned, the wind changed to south and we steered for the Arabian coast, which we reached safely.

We now made a second attempt to get on by land. We had disembarked at a place whose name I have forgotten, and there we managed to procure some camels from an Arab sheik. His son was sick, and from the description given of the illness it sounded like malaria. The sheik asked me if I could do anything for him, and though we had no medical supplies whatever I wanted his friendship and protection, so I said I could. We then concocted a mixture of water, lime juice and vinegar and added a charge of purgatives and presented it, in a bottle, to the sheik with very careful instructions. It was to be taken three times a day for five days. Any departure from these rules would endanger the patient's life and the father himself must keep the bottle in his control.

We then set off on our camels for the north. A little later, when we were within a day's journey of the small Turkish fortress Djidda, shadows suddenly sprang up all round us in the moonlight among the sand drifts, and a sharp rifle fire broke out in front. We took cover at once and brought our Maxims into action, which succeeded in arresting this surprise attack just in time; but it was not long before the blowing sand got into the mechanism of our guns and jammed them. At day-break we found that we were surrounded by a company of Bedouins, about five hundred strong it seemed, whereas only about twenty-five of my own men were fit for fighting. For three days and three nights they kept us busy with rifle fire, dodging about in front of us and on our flanks among the sand dunes; three days and nights at a temperature of 135 degrees, practically without food and water, since most of the camels which carried our supplies were killed. I lost a number of men too, killed and wounded, but eventually we managed to break through the ambush and got into Djidda. Here we learnt certain things from which we concluded that the recent ambush had been arranged by the Emir of Mecca, who as a Turkish subject was really our ally, but had already made a secret pact with the British Government, which became public three months later.

Several of my men had been killed and many wounded; our ammunition was about exhausted; the mast-tops of enemy gunboats could be seen standing out beyond Djidda harbour, and our allies on land were not to be trusted. It was not a hopeful outlook.

It was not long before the Emir sent a friendly message to us offering his protection. He regretted very much that he could not guarantee the obedience of the wild tribes on the coast, and, so that we should be spared further attacks, he invited us to proceed into the mountains to his sacred city of Mecca. He would send forces to protect us on our way thither and beyond. I accepted this generous offer with the deepest gratitude, and while he was assembling his troops in the narrow defiles round Mecca in order to slaughter us as we passed through, we shipped aboard a sailing boat once more and returned to sea. It was early morning and a stiff southerly breeze carried us along. We had got out of the clutches of the Emir, but there were still the gunboats to be reckoned with. At present there were none to be seen; no doubt they believed that we were already on our way like lambs to the slaughter; but soon they would learn the truth and easily catch up with us at daybreak before we could reach the protecting coral reefs once more. So I anchored in a small concealed bay just out of sight of Djidda in spite of the protest of my officers who urged me to sail on and take advantage of the favourable wind.

Next day, in full daylight, we sailed on unmolested and anchored safely among the coral reefs. After we had lain there for two hours we saw a bright light about half a mile off steering past us from south to north along the edge of the reefs. It was a gunboat which had clearly been waiting for us at the entrance to the reefs at sunrise and was now going north in search of us, supposing that we must have passed already. So my precautions the previous night had been well taken. When darkness came down again the gunboat was obliged to make for the open sea, and with her disappearance our last enemy had gone.


left - ceremonial entry of the crew into Damascus
right - a German magazine cover - Kapitaenleutnant von Muecke in Constantinople


We sailed quietly onwards. In Northern Arabia we had to take to the land once more and so without further incident we reached the southern end of the Syrian railway, where we exchanged our camel saddles for railway carriage cushions. A few weeks later we delivered the flag of the “Emden” to our German Naval Authorities in Constantinople.

So, in June 1915, among the roses of Constantinople, ended our journey which had begun in November 1914 under the palms of the Cocos Islands in the Far East.


arrival of the crew members in Constantinople

a pupil of the German school in Constantinople greets the
crew of the Emden in an official ceremony

delivering the Emden's battleflag to German authorities in Constantinople


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