- A.N. Other and NHSA Webmaster
- RAN operations, History - WW1, WWI operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Sydney I, HMAS Melbourne I
- June 1987 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
IN OCTOBER 1914, Sydney and her sister ship Melbourne detached from the Flagship (Australia) and returned to Australia to form a unit of the escort of the first Anzac convoy consisting of 38 transports escorted by HMS Minotaur, HMA Ships Melbourne and Sydney and the Japanese cruiser Ibuki. The entire convoy sailed from Albany on 1st November 1914. It was timed to pass some 50 miles east of the Cocos Islands on the morning of the 9th November 1914.
About 0620 on 9th November, WT operators in several transports and in the warships heard signals in an unknown code followed by a query, from the Cocos Island WT Station — ‘What is that code’. It was in fact the German cruiser Emden ordering her collier Buresk to join her at Port Refuge. Shortly afterwards Cocos signalled ‘Strange warship approaching’.
Sydney, the nearest warship to the Cocos group was ordered to proceed at full speed. By 0700 she was ‘away doing twenty knots’ and at 0915 simultaneously sighted the island and the Emden some seven or eight miles distant.
Emden opened fire at a range of some 10,500 yards using the then very high elevation of thirty degrees. Her first salvo was ‘ranged along an extended line but every shot fell within two hundred yards of Sydney’. The next was on target and for the next ten minutes the Australian cruiser came under heavy fire. Fifteen hits were recorded but fortunately ‘only five burst’. Four ratings were killed and several wounded.
Sydney‘s first salvo went ‘war over the Emden’, the second fell short, and her third scored two hits. Meanwhile Emden‘s captain (Captain von Muller) aware that his only chance lay in putting Sydney out of action quickly, maintained a high rate of fire, said to be a salvo every six seconds. It was to no avail. Sydney, taking full advantage of superior speed and firepower, raked the German cruiser. Her shells wrecked the enemy’s steering gear, shot away both range finders and smashed the voice pipes providing communication between the conning tower and the guns. Shortly afterwards the forward funnel toppled overboard and then the foremast, carrying away the primary fire control station and wrecking the fire-bridge. Despite the damage and the inevitable end, Muller continued the engagement. Half his crew were disabled until ‘only the artillery officer and a few unskilled chaps were still firing’. Finally with his engine room on fire, and the third funnel gone, he gave the order ‘to the island with every ounce you can get out of the engines’. Shortly after 1100 Emden was seen to be fast on the North Keeling Island reef. She lost 134 men killed in action, or died of wounds.
(Note: Many of the survivors of Emden taken on board Sydney after the battle were almost naked and clothes were provided by the crew of the Australian cruiser. Surgeon Darby who treated many of the wounded received several mentions in German records for his kindness and humane treatment of the prisoners.)