from the British magazine : 'T.P.'S Great Deeds of the Great War', November 28, 1914
'The Career of the Emden'
By Archibald Hurd

A Modern Corsair

the 'Emden' at full steam in the Indian Ocean
a German illustration
see also :
The Voyage of the 'Emden' - from the Seven Seas to the Arabian Desert

Had there been a dozen von Mullers in command of a dozen Emdens scouring the Seven Seas, how would British ocean-borne commerce have fared in the early months of the war? Now that the Emden is no more we can afford to suggest the inquiry. Happily the German Navy produced only one officer of the calibre of Commander Karl von Muller, of world-wide fame. But his success has shown that the "impossible" is possible- that a cruiser may emulate the exploits of the Alabama and her consorts during the Civil War, in spite of the change from sails to steam, and the consequent dependence on coal supplies, and in spite of the advent of wireless telegraphy, which, it was assumed, would make the whole world resemble a whispering gallery.


the last minutes of the 'Emden' - in battle with the 'Sidney'
a British illustration


The Captain of the "Emden"

Picture a young man of; about thirty, tall, cleanshaven, with closely cut hair land keen eyes, a neatly proportioned body, the manners of a man used to drawing-rooms, revealing deference to women and children, possessed of a keen sense of humour, and an extensive knowledge of the sea and its affairs. Such is the captain of the Emden, who has been taken prisoner, but by Admiralty orders has not been asked to relinquish his sword. He is receiving, with his surviving officers and men, all the honours of war. This mark of respect to a brave man, a German gentleman as well as a German officer, will convince the world that the British people hold in esteem a clever, courageous, and humane man, though he be an enemy.

The "Alabama" Outdone

Commander von Muller has made history: he has done in three months more than Captain Semmes, of the Alabama, achieved in two years. He had under his command a little ship, hardly larger than a gunboat. She was of only 3,600 tons, and consequently displaced about five-sixths less water than the notorious German ship - the Goeben. Moreover, she had little in the way of guns, only ten 35-pounders, with eight 5- pounders and two torpedo tubes. Commander von Muller is full of virility and "go," and he realised at the outset that the speed of his small ship - about twenty-four knots - was a valuable military asset: it would enable him to be in one place one day and in another the next, when a hue and cry had been raised at one of his audacious exploits.

"On his Own"

When the war opened he was at Tsing-tao, the port of the "model settlement," to quote the German Emperor, at Kiao-Chau-the jewel of the Colonial Empire and the peculiar pride of the Fatherland. There were two big and four small cruisers also in the harbour when the peace was broken, and they all put to sea.

Vice-Admiral von Spee took the ships, less the Emden, with him to cruise far afield, intent on doing us any mischief that was possible. He left the Emden, weakly armed, to her own resources. Why? It is safe to assume that he knew that Commander von Muller was an officer.of exceptional parts, qualified to carve out a career which would make the world ring with his name.

This young captain had served in the mercantile marine: he knew all the moods and tenses of the sea: he was acquainted with the routes taken by British ships: he had a very intimate knowledge of the out-of-the-way bays and hardly-heard-of islands which could be used as hiding-places when it was inconvenient for him to be in the public eye. The admiral was right in leaving Commander von Muller "on his own"; he fully justified the confidence reposed in him.

All Theories Upset

It is now apparent that he had made a careful study of the best methods of attacking Commerce. By his amazing success he has proved that all the theories which had been accepted far and wide as to the impossibility of running a guerre de course were ill- founded. It had been said that an enemy cruiser could not live without coal, and she would be unable to get any; it had been stated that, Germany having no convenient ports in the outer seas, there would be no places into which to take any prizes; it had been asserted that, owing to wireless telegraphy, the whereabouts of a marauder would soon become known, and she would be speedily hunted down and destroyed; it had been assumed that a cruiser would seize a merchant ship here and another there, and that her very success would prove her undoing, as, with her captures with prize crews on board, she would become conspicuous.

A Clever Plan

The captain of the Emden proved that each and all of these assumptions were wrong. First of all, he settled on an ocean highway frequented by crowds of ships and with plenty of hiding-places. Then he waited until he could make a "bag," for he did not believe in sniping here and there. He rounded up half a dozen or so ships, boarded them in succession, smashed their wireless installations before an alarm could be raised, collected all the crews on board one of the captured vessels, and then, with a mine or a few shots, sent the remainder to the bottom. But before the coup de grace was given, he took what coal and provisions he required; thus he lived on his captures.

Keen as he was on serving his country by injuring us, he was always considerate and courteous, and his officers and men emulated his example. On one occasion he seized a ship with some women on board. As soon as he discovered the fact, rather than place them to any inconvenience, he released his prize - let her go scot free, with hardly a moment's hesitation. He gave the ship, on another occasion, to the captain's wife as a "gift."

The captain of the Emden, indeed, revealed himself as a very Raleigh of the twentieth century, for Queen Elizabeth's knight, like Drake, Hawkins, and Frobisher, and the other sailors of that period, was something of a freebooter-loving the roving life of the sea, and intent on capturing Spanish galleons, just as von Muller seized our richly laden ships.

Contrasts in "Hauls"

I have said that in three months the captain of the Emden did more damage than the Alabama did in two years. It may seem a surprising statement, for the "tiger of the sea," which held up the trade of the Northern States, has filled a vivid page in naval history; it has always been assumed that she had extraordinary luck, and that no other vessel ever did, or ever could, range the sea with so much success. As a matter of fact, although £ 9,476,166 compensation was claimed, claimants could be found for only a portion of the £ 3,200,000 actually awarded.

This most famous of privateers of modern times sank about 100,000 tons of shipping in two years: Commander von Muller, with his little cruiser of 3,600 tons, seized British ships of 74,000 tons in a period of three months. Many of the ships had valuable cargoes. The total loss exceeds 2,000,000. Nor does this complete the story of the destruction wrought by the Emden. She bombarded the city of Madras, setting alight the oil tanks near the water's edge. Then she steamed to Penang, where she found the Russian cruiser, a fairly modern ship-ten years old only - with six 4.7-inch guns, in a state of deshabillé. Rushing in with the cry, "I am the Yarmouth " (a British cruiser), "coming to anchor," the Emden, with a dummy funnel, rigged up so that she might resemble the British cruiser, torpedoed the Russian vessel, as well as a French destroyer, and that once more disappeared into space.

Long; immunity from capture made the Emden's captain overbold and reckless. Not satisfied with having beaten the record of Captain Semmes, of the Alabama, he determined to visit Keeling-Cocos Island, where the cocoanuts come from, and where the Scotch family of Ross reign in something like kingly and very romantic dignity. A cable is landed on this island, and there is a wireless station. Commander von Muller determined to destroy both, and he organised a party from his crew to carry out these tasks and put them ashore.

His First - and Last - Mistake

He probably realises by this time that he made his first-and last-mistake. But perhaps he calculated that with so many cruisers hunting for him, he could not elude capture much longer, and wanted to carry out one final coup.

His success hitherto had depended on his speed-the facility with which he jumped, so to speak, from one scene to another, like some mosquito. At Keeling-Cocos Island the conditions were exceedingly pleasant, and he calmly brought his ship up within four miles of the shore. He had worked hard, and he felt, apparently, that in this out-of-the-way place he could concede himself a respite while his little party were engaged on shore.

The Last Exploit

Directly the Emden appeared on the horizon, a- message had been sent out from the island announcing her approach, and before the active captain knew what was happening, the Australian cruiser Sydney appeared. The conditions were such that the Emden could not escape. She was forced either to surrender forthwith or fight. Commander von Muller, of course, chose the latter alternative - though the odds were against him. The Sydney possessed no fewer than eight of the best British 6-inch guns, throwing projectiles weighing 100 lbs. each, and the Emden, with forty-three men ashore, including, it may be, some of the guns' crews, could bring into action only her ten 35-pounders. The action was, nevertheless, fought heroically. Over two-thirds of the officers and men of the German ship were killed, and thirty wounded were taken from the vessel after she had been driven ashore, burning fiercely after the terrific cannonade. Fortunately, the hero of her exploits was not killed, and he and the other officers, including Prince Franz Joseph of Hohenzollern, a kinsman of the German Emperor, have become the first prisoners of war ever secured by a ship of the new Australian Navy. But even in defeat Commander von Muller had his compensation, for the landing party succeeded in smashing the wireless station and in making their escape in a boat.

All the Honours of War

Thus closed the career - so far, at least, as this war is concerned - of one of the most enterprising, courageous, dexterous, intelligent, considerate, and courteous of naval officers. He has shown the world what a small ship with a few guns can do, if she be handled by a man who is not only a master of his profession, but conversant with all the intricacies of the trade routes, and withal possessed of a sense of humour and a measure of chivalry which make his enemies his friends. He has become a hero among those whose property he destroyed; he retains his sword, though a prisoner, and is receiving "all honours of war." The incident is one which redounds to his credit, and may it not be added to ours.

But there remains the question: Had there been a dozen von Mullers in command of a dozen Emdens scouring the Seven Seas, how would British ocean-borne commerce have fared in the early months of the war This question will have to be examined and answered definitely in the future if our sea-borne trade, which is our life, is to be thoroughly safeguarded.


after the battle - the wreckage of the Emden

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