Saturday, 10 August 2013

SMS Emden and the shelling of Madras

SMS Emden
It was a normal September's evening in the harbour of Madras. Even though the First World War was already tearing Europe apart there were no Central Powers forces to worry about in the far east save for the SMS Emden which was out in the Indian ocean somewhere but her presence was not widely known and she was harrassing merchant shipping,  it was of no concern here.

At about 21.30 a four stacked light cruiser drifted in, her silhoutte looked like a Royal Navy Cruiser like HMS Yarmouth and she coasted lazily into the centre of the harbour.

Then the shooting started.

The German Light Cruiser SMS Emden was the last vessel of the German East Asia squadron in the theatre. Admiral Von Spee had taken the rest towards the Atlantic and the main German high seas fleet. Korvettenkapitan von Mueller had began raiding allied shipping to cause confusion and chaos. With a dummy smoke stack errected and the colours of the Royal Navy Emden looked like HMS Yarmouth, she would quickly swap colours, fire a warning shot and order them to "Stop engines, no wireless."

Now, in a daring move Kapitan von Mueller led his vessel into Madras harbour. Fire was concentrated on the Burmah oil companies storage tanks and after thrity well placed shells they burst into flames lighting up the night's sky.

The German raider's guns were turned on to the vessels in the harbour and the city itself. One vessel was sunk with the death of five crew and twenty six injured. Within half an hour of the attack commencing Emden, already coming under fire from the shore batteries, turned and left the port having expended 125 rounds of ammunition.

The material losses were not great but in her wake Emden left chaos.

Around 20,000 people fled the city [1] fearing that Emden may return with reinforcements, even the governor of Madras did not come to the city until 25th September (three days after the raid) after assurances the Germans had left and even then he did not linger.[2]

The British press did not want to admit that they had lost Emden and that she was still roaming the Indian Ocean unhindered. They also didn't want to publicise how easily a German warship had entered a British port and caused damage.

Their silence did nothing to belay fears of the populous and the exodus continued. Emden became synonymous with fear and cunning, mothers in Ceylon would tell naughty children that the Emden bogeyman would get them. Even today the word Emdena means someone who is crafty and sneaky.

The people of Madras always kept an eye on the horizon for the German's return and did not breathe a sigh of relief until news of her fate reached them on the 11th November 1914, but that is another story...

No comments:

Post a Comment