Cocos Islands to mark Sydney-Emden battle

Published on LEUT Debra Holland (author), Mr Bob Crawshaw (author), Unknown (photographer)

Location(s): Cocos Islands

HMAS Sydney (I). (photo: Unknown. Image scanned from Navy Historic Archive.)
HMAS Sydney (I).

On 9 November 1914, HMAS Sydney destroyed the German raider SMS Emden in a furious and bloody clash in the Cocos Islands earning Australia’s first naval victory.

Sydney was undertaking escort duties of the first troop convoy from Australia to the Middle East, which left Albany, Western Australia, on 1 November 1914.

A century later, Royal Australian Navy personnel, along with descendants of the Sydney and Emden crews will come together in peace and join the Cocos Islands community in dedicating two memorials to the sailors who fought the battle.

Sydney-Emden 100 Project Manager, Ms Jules Bush, said that the memorials acknowledge that both Australia and Germany took pride in the battle in 1914.

“We don't know of any other Great War memorial in Australia that pays tribute to both the German and Australian forces,” said Ms Bush.

It was Australia’s first victory at sea and ensured safe passage for the 1st Australian Imperial Force convoy which had sailed from Albany, only eight days earlier. 

Germans praised Emden for skilfully and humanely conducting operations in the Indian Ocean and paralysing Allied shipping early in the Great War.

A commemorative gazebo on Direction Island recounts the battle and lists the crews of both vessels including the 136 crewmen from Emden and four sailors from Sydney who died.

A special commemorative service this weekend will dedicate a Friendship Mast featuring replicas of the bells of both ships in honour of their crews. Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Tim Barrett, will attend in honour of those who died on both sides.

The battle was triggered when 50 sailors from Emden raided Direction Island (in the Cocos) to disable a wireless and cable station that helped link Australia to the rest of the world. In just under two hours Sydney outgunned and out-manoeuvred Emden, forcing the enemy Captain to ground his vessel.

Commemorative activities on the Island are part of the broader events marking the Centenary of Anzac.