The Emden’s Last Fight. [By the Cable Operator at Cocos Islands.] The New York Times Current History of the European War, Vol 1, Issue 4, January 23, 1915, p.758
KEELING, Cocos Islands, Nov. 12, (Dispatch to The London Daily Chronicle.)
It was early on Monday that the unexpected arrival of the German cruiser Emden broke the calm of these isolated little islands, which the distant news of the war had hitherto left unruffled. One of the islands is known as Direction Island, and here the Eastern Telegraph Company has a cable station and a staff engaged in relaying messages between Europe and Australia. Otherwise the inhabitants are all Malays, with the exception of the descendants of June Clunies Ross, a British naval officer who came to these islands ninety years ago and founded the line of “Uncrowned Kings.” The war seemed to be very far away. The official bulletins passed through the cable station, but they gave us very little real news, and the only excitement was when it was rumored that the company was sending out rifles in case of a raid on the stations, and orders came that the beach must be patrolled by parties on the lookout for Germans. Then we heard from Singapore that a German cruiser had been dispatched to these islands, and toward the end of August one of the cable staff thought he saw searchlights out over the sea. Then suddenly we were awakened from our calm and were made to feel that we had suddenly become the most important place in the whole worldwide war area. At 6 o’clock on Monday morning a four-funneled cruiser arrived at full speed at the entrance to the lagoon. Our suspicions were aroused, for she was flying no flag and her fourth funnel was obviously a dummy made of painted canvas. Therefore we were not altogether surprised at the turn of events. The cruiser at once lowered away an armored launch and two boats, which came ashore and landed on Coral Beach three officers and forty men, all fully armed and having four Maxim guns. The Germans–for all doubt about the mysterious cruiser was now at end–at once rushed up to the cable station, and, entering the office, turned out the operators, smashed the instruments, and set armed guards over all the buildings. All the knives and firearms found in possession of the cable staff were at once confiscated. I should say here that, in spite of the excitement on the outside, all the work was carried on in the cable office as usual right up to the moment when the Germans burst in. A general call was sent out just before the wireless apparatus was blown up. The whole of the staff was placed under an armed guard while the instruments were being destroyed, but it is only fair to say that the Germans, working in well-disciplined fashion under their officers, were most civil. There was no such brutality as we hear characterizes the German Army’s behavior toward civilians, and there were no attempts at pillaging. While the cable station was being put out of action the crew of the launch grappled for the cables and endeavored to cut them, but fortunately without success. The electrical stores were then blown up. At 9 A.M. we heard the sound of a siren from the Emden, and this was evidently the signal to the landing party to return to the ship, for they at once dashed for the boats, but the Emden got under way at once and the boats were left behind. Looking to the eastward, we could see the reason for this sudden departure, for a warship, which we afterward learned was the Australian cruiser Sydney, was coming up at full speed in pursuit. The Emden did not wait to discuss matters, but, firing her first shot at a range of about 3,700 yards, steamed north as hard as she could go. At first the firing of the Emden seemed excellent, while that of the Sydney was somewhat erratic. This, as I afterward learned, was due to the fact that the Australian cruiser’s range-finder was put out of action by one of the only two shots the Germans got home. However, the British gunners soon overcame any difficulties that this may have caused and settled down to their work, so that before long two of the Emden’s funnels had been shot away. She also lost one of her masts quite early in the fight. Both blazing away with their big guns, the two cruisers disappeared below the horizon, the Emden being on fire. After the great naval duel passed from our sight and we could turn our attention to the portion of the German crew that had been left behind, we found that these men had put off in their boats obedient to the signal of the siren, but when their ship steamed off without them they could do nothing else but come ashore again. On relanding they lined up on the shore of the lagoon, evidently determined to fight to the finish if the British cruiser sent a party ashore, but the dueling cruiser had disappeared, and at 6 P.M. the German raiders embarked on the old schooner Ayessa, which belongs to Mr. Ross, the “uncrowned king” of the islands. Seizing a quantity of clothes and stores, they sailed out, and have not been seen since. Early the next morning, Tuesday, Nov. 10, we saw the Sydney returning, and at 8:45 A.M. she anchored off the island. From various members of the crew I gathered some details of the running fight with the Emden. The Sydney, having an advantage in speed, was able to keep out of range of the Emden’s guns and to bombard her with her own heavier metal. The engagement lasted eighty minutes, the Emden finally running ashore on North Keeling Island and becoming an utter wreck. Only two German shots proved effective. One of these failed to explode, but smashed the main range finder and killed one man. The other killed three men and wounded fourteen. Each of the cruisers attempted to torpedo the other, but both were unsuccessful, and the duel proved a contest in hard pounding at long range. The Sydney’s speed during the fighting was twenty-six knots and the Emden’s twenty-four knots, the British ship’s superiority of two knots enabling her to choose the range at which the battle should be fought, and to make the most of her superior guns. The Sydney left here at 11 A.M. Tuesday in the hope of picking up any of the survivors of the Buresk, the collier that had been in attendance on the Emden and was sunk after an engagement on the previous day. Finally, with a number of wounded prisoners on board, the Sydney left here yesterday, and our few hours of war excitement were over.