Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Short, But Dramatic, War Service of SMS Emden

Emden Re-provisioning in Colombo

The German ship SMS Emden was a light cruiser that, at the start of the First World War, formed part of the German East Asiatic Squadron. She was detached to stalk the shipping routes across the Indian Ocean and quickly became the scourge of the Allied navies.

Between August and October 1914, the Emden captured or sank 21 vessels. In November 1914, nine Allied vessels were involved in the hunt for the Emden, and the threat she posed led to a particularly heavy escort of four warships being allocated to the first Australian and New Zealand troop convoy. Surprised by one of these escorts, HMAS Sydney, while in the process of destroying the British radio station on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, the Emden was destroyed on 9 November 1914.

Emden Under Attack by HMAS Sydney


  1. In almost every case, Emden allowed the crews of the merchant ships that she sank to take to the boats before sinking the ship. Her surviving crew including the Captain were taken prisoner by Sydney. However, about twenty men were ashore at the time destroying the cable station. They evaded capture, and made an epic journey home to Germany, first stealing a small sailing vessel in the harbour and sailing to Arabia, then crossing the desert and eventually arriving at the German consulate in Constantinople.
    Emden had three funnels; the painting above shows her with an extra dummy funnel as a disguise from the ships hunting her.

  2. Sorry, I meant the photo showing her refuelling, not the painting.

  3. I've been intrigued by this story as well. The ashore crew couldn't chop the undersea cable fast enough with the axes they had. They did have small but heavy arms as well, making their escape in an unseaworthy leaking sailboat belonging to an islander who gave warning of its condition. A big adventure sailing to Yemen where they went over the plateau and desert, having encounters (fire fights) with the various Bedouins. They were treated as heroes in Constantinople where I've heard the Kaiser actually came and presented each with awards.

  4. I am reading Michael Barrett's book on Operation Albion, the German Conquest of the Baltic Islands, and there is a ship call Emden in it. It is a Light Cruiser and I guess it must have been named after the previous Dresden class cruiser. Hoyt's book "The Last Cruise of the Emden" is a fantastic read about the first Emden, I'd recommend it to everyone!