SMS Emden, from photomechanical print in A. Jose, The Royal Australian Navy, 1935[see part two, part three, part four, part five for the entire history of its exploits and sinking by HMAS Sydney] … The SMS Emden as a Dresden class light cruiser commissioned in August 1908. She was armed with ten 10.5 cm (4.1 inch) guns which inflicted serious damage to to the allied maritime service. At the end of July 1914 she was stationed at Qingdao (Tsingtao)i in the Shandong province of Eastern China and was commanded by one of Germany’s more inspirational captain’s, Karl Von Muller. On 30 July Muller privately told his officers to put her into fighting trim and on the 31st she left Qingdao to cruise in Korea Strait and avoid the risk of being shut up in harbour. News of the outbreak of war between Germany and Russia reached her on 3 August, and Muller made directly for the passage between Tsushimaii and Japan to commence raids upon the trade route between Shanghai and Vladivostok.
Early on the morning of 4 August 1914 she captured the Russian volunteer cruiser Ryazan, a brand-new steamer of 3,500 tons, which Muller promptly sent back to Qingdao. Here she was stripped of her mercantile fittings, armed, manned with a German crew and re-named Cormoran, the old, small gunboat of that name being afterwards sunk in the Qingdao harbour.
On 5 August Maximilian von Spee a German Vice Admiral ordered the Emden to join the fleet at Pagan Island, in the Marianas in the Pacific Ocean. This trip was made from Qingdao with the auxiliary cruiser Prinz Eitel Friedrichiii and a coal supply ship the Markomannia. After joining them there on the 12th von Spee found out the next day that Japan was entering the war on the side of the allies and on the 13 August the fleet left Pagan.
Almost all of the fleet was destined for the coast of South America but von Spee had, at the request of Muller, gave the Emden and her collier the Markomannia. a special dispensation to begin independent operations in the Indian Ocean. On the 14 she parted with the main fleet and headed south-west
On 28 August she crossed the narrow strait between Lombok and Bali, which allied vessels were also navigating. To deceive the enemy they made a fourth funnel for the Emden out of sailcloth and consequently when seen in the dusk were often taken for an English cruiser. Using this disguise she made it safely through the strait.
On 4 September she ran in under the lee of Simalur, an island off the north-western side of Sumatra, where she coaled and re-provisioned ore a Dutch Government vessel ordered them to leave the harbour at once. From this period until her final end the Emden started on a career not easily paralleled in naval history.
Darting back and forth across some of the most frequented trade-routes in the world, hunted up and down by bigger cruisers of three allied nations, she kept herself unhurt and undiscoverable for two months. Within six weeks she had captured or sunk twenty-one vessels, of nearly a hundred thousand tons in all. In addition she made a bombardment of Madras and a raid on warships at anchor in Penang Harbour in Malaysiaiv.
On 9 September she captured the Greek coal steamer Pontoporros. By the 13th she had captured five more ships four of which were sunk. The fifth the Kabinga was used, like the Markomannia, to carry the captured crews. Shortly after sinking the Diplomat, the Emden sighted an Italian vessel, the Loredarro, caught her up and requested that her captain to take the prisoners with him to Calcutta. The Italian at first refused, and, when on further request he consented, it was too late to carry out the transfer before night. As Italy was still outside the war, the Loredarro could not be detained; but von Muller was quite sure that she would report the Emden’s activities the very moment she got into touch with Calcutta. He therefore decided that after one day on the Madras-Calcutta route he would turn away towards Rangoon.
News of her exploits led to Vice Admiral Martyn Jerramv ordering the Hampshire, Yarmouth and Japanese cruiser Chikuma vi to search for the Emden. The British armoured cruiser Minotaur and the Japanese armoured cruiser Ibuki were sent to patrol likely coaling stations.
However this early part of her campaign was not a complete success and the loss of the Markomannia and the Pontoporros is the subject of the next installment on 22 September.