from ‘Deeds That Thrill the Empire’
'How Captain J. C. T. Glossop
Destroyed the German Cruiser "Emden"'

A Modern Corsair

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


How Captain J. C. T. Glossop, On H.M.S. "Sydney," Destroyed the German Cruiser "Emden"

Probably no nation in history ever looked upon an enemy warship as the people of this Empire looked upon the German cruiser Emden. Making her way from the Far East into the Indian Ocean during the first weeks of the war, she succeeded in doing relatively enormous damage amongst our shipping, capturing, and generally sinking, nineteen British and one Japanese merchantman, shelling Madras and setting oil- tanks on fire there on September 22nd, and destroying the Russian cruiser Jemtchug and the French destroyer Mousquet at Penang on October 28th.

It is estimated that she inflicted four million pounds' worth of damage to our trade— the best of reasons why a "nation of shopkeepers" should not love her, to say the least of it. Yet there was throughout the Empire an admiration for the Emden which no German, certainly, could ever understand. Her commander, Captain Karl von Muller, combined cunning with audacity to a remarkable degree; the odds against him were tremendous; and he invariably treated the passengers and crews of captured merchantmen with the greatest possible courtesy. It was, perhaps, this last characteristic, standing out in such strong contrast against the behaviour we had become accustomed to in other Germans, that made us made us regard von Mueller in such a curiously friendly way, considering the astuteness of her former exploits the Emden went to her doom in a singularly artless fashion. Disguised with a dummy funnel—a device she had used before— she approached the wireless and cable stall on at Cocos Island, due south of Sumatra, at six o' clock in the morning of November 9th, 1914, and proceeded to land a party of forty-three officers and men to destroy the gear; but long before the boats could reach the shore the news of her arrival had been cabled to Singapore and flashed out by wireless. Well under a hundred miles away, the message was picked up by the Australian cruisers Melbourne and Sydney, which were convoying to Europe transports laden with troops from the Commonwealth, and the Sydney was immediately ordered to Cocos at full speed.

Shortly after nine o'clock the two warships sighted each other's smoke, and the Emden, leaving her landing-party ashore, steamed out to meet the newcomer. Her captain must have known, as soon as he recognized his antagonist, that there was no hope for him. The Sydney was faster, larger, and more modern, and she had a broadside of five 6-inch guns firing 100lb. shells against the Emden's five 4.1-inch, whose projectiles weighed only 355lb. With heavier guns and superior speed, the Sydney possessed all the material factors of victory, and her commander, Captain John C. T. Glossop, extracted every ounce of value from them. The Emden opened fire at 9.40, and for a few rounds her shooting was good; but as the Sydney's shells took effect the Germans began to fire wildly, and after the first few minutes, in which the British cruiser lost four men killed and twelve wounded, not a round was accurately fired. The Sydney used her speed to get the best advantage out of the superior range of her guns, and after an hour and forty minutes the German ship was reduced to such a condition that her captain ran her ashore on North Keeling Island to prevent her from sinking.

In the meantime, another vessel had appeared from seaward, and after satisfying himself that the Emden was fast ashore Emden was fast ashore, Captain Glossop went off in pursuit of the stranger. She proved to be a British collier, the Buresk, which had been captured by the Emden and put in charge of a prize crew. She surrendered at once — but not before those on board had opened and destroyed the sea-cocks, so that it was impossible to save the vessel from sinking.

Having taken the Buresk's men on board the Sydney returned to where the Emden had grounded. Despite her helpless position her flag was still flying at the masthead, indicating that she did not yet admit herself beaten. The rest of the story is best told from Captain Glossop's official report:

"I inquired by signal, 'Will you surrender?' and received a reply in Morse, 'What signal? No signal books.' I 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 (those taken by the Sydney from the Buresk) 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, as she showed white flags and hauled down the ensign by sending a man aloft."

So ended the career of the most troublesome of the enemy's commerce raiders. She had lost 7 officers and 108 men killed, and of the 211 taken off by the Sydney 56 were wounded, four of them mortally. These figures are a sufficient indication of the tremendous battering she received before hauling down her flag, while the skill with which the Sydney and her guns were handled is shown by her own small casualty list of sixteen all told.

This was the first action fought by a unit of the young Australian Navy, and the people of the Commonwealth were delighted that it should have been fought to such a finish against such a ship. The crew, among whom were a large number of youngsters and men under training, were very highly praised by Captain Glossop, and the proper pride of all Australians was still further touched when they learned subsequently that the Emden was not beyond repair, but could be salved and added to their own fleet. Nor did they forget what was due to an honourable foe in his defeat; indeed, so curious are the feelings that Britons can entertain towards a sportsmanlike opponent, even in the life and death game of war, that it was even suggested in all seriousness that Captain von Mueller should have a public reception on his arrival in Australia! Captain Glossop was made a Companion of the Bath for his services, and six men of the Sydney's crew received the Distinguished Service Medal.

As for the forty-three men left behind by the Emden at Cocos, they lost no time in seizing a schooner the Ayesha, that lay in the harbour and making good their escape. After passing through many strange adventures, they succeeded in landing on the coast of Arabia, and it is believed that nearly all of them got safely back to Germany.


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