Sydney v Emden, a century later

Darragh Christie, 9 November 2014 · # · ·

At Bradleys Head, Mosman, overlooking Sydney Harbour, the mast of the HMAS Sydney serves as a memorial to the brave souls who have fought for Australia in the maritime services.

Specifically it commemorates the victory of the first HMAS Sydney over the German light cruiser Emden at the Cocos Islands in 1914.

Today the HMAS SYDNEY Association will hold a memorial service at Bradleys Head to remember this battle. Emden‘s brief but successful career as a raider of commercial and military vessels came to an end at the hands of the heavier cruiser Sydney by 11am on the 9th of November 1914, exactly 100 years ago.

Underwater plaque at Cocos (Keeling) Islands that commemorates the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Cocos.

Underwater plaque that commemorates the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Cocos. Further wreck photos can be seen at the Cocos (Keeling) Islands’ Sydney-Emden 100 website.

From Emden’s twisted wreck were recovered several 4.1-inch (10.5 cm) guns, one of which is a permanent memorial in Sydney’s Hyde Park near the Hyde Park War Memorial.

If we compare the Emden’s gun with the 6-inch guns from HMAS Sydney, it becomes obvious that even the intrepid and highly competent Captain of the Emden – Karl Von Müller – was up against the odds once Sydney’s greater range and calibre shells came into play on that fateful day a century ago.

Guns of the Emden and Sydney compared

Left: Emden gun at HMAS Penguin base, 2004. Photo courtesy Kevin Browning via Geoff Green. Right: Sydney gun at Fleet Air Arm museum, Nowra. Photo by the author.

The British and Australian public, government and press greeted the news of the Emden’s demise with a mixture of jubilation and relief tempered with respect and even admiration at the daring exploits of their adversary. The Captain and crew of the enemy ship had conducted their lone war on the high seas in an almost chivalrous manner, at the same time as creating havoc in sea lanes and ports, eluding the Royal Navy and her allies. After the battle the Captain and crew of the Sydney responded in kind, affording every courtesy to the captured Von Müller and excellent treatment of his brave crew, some of who had been horrifically injured in the carnage caused by Sydney’s accurate and deadly gunnery.

Sydney’s boarding party closes the stricken Emden to evacuate the wounded. Source:

The National Maritime Museum currently has an excellent exhibition on the 1914-18 War at Sea featuring first-hand accounts and multimedia. The Memorials at Hyde Park (in the heart of the City) and at Bradleys Head (near Sydney’s Taronga Zoo) are ideally located and well worth a visit.

Sources & further reading

Aird, Claire. Australia’s first naval victory commemorated 100 years after battle between HMAS Sydney and German raider SMS Emden Retrieved 08/11/2014 from ABC Online

Carlton, Mike. First Victory 1914: HMAS Sydney’s Hunt for the German Raider Emden; Random House, North Sydney: 2013.

Carroll, ‘Jack’ D. The Streets of Mosman; p.72-74 2nd rev. ed. [Sydney] : Mosman Historical Society, 1981.

Gillet, Ross. Australian and New Zealand Warships 1914-45; Doubleday, Sydney: 1983

Mallet M.H. The Kaiser’s Pirate Ship – The Astounding Voyage of SMS Emden Retrieved 08/11/2014 from Military History Now

Massie, Robert K. Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea; Random House, New York : 2003.

Souter, Gavin. Mosman: a history; p 161-2 , Carlton, Vic. : Melbourne University Press, 1994

Werner, Arthur. Memories of Emden & Captain Karl Von Mueller: Australian Sea Heritage, No.24; p15-18.