The Last Cruise of a German Raider: The Destruction of SMS EMDEN. By Wes Olson. Seaforth Publications, Barnsley, 2018
Reviewed by Greg Swinden
FINALLY after 104 years the definitive history of the action between HMAS SYDNEY and SMS EMDEN has been written. The first known published account of the action, in a book, appeared in July 1918 as a chapter titled ‘How the Sydney met the Emden’ in Bennet Copplestone’s ‘The Secret of the Navy’.
Over the next one hundred years several books on the action have appeared regularly; ranging from the quite good – such as Mike Carlton’s ‘First Victory 1914 – HMAS Sydney’s Hunt for the German Raider Emden’ published in 2014 – through to the barely readable and often incorrect ‘Guns in Paradise – The Saga of the cruiser Emden’ by Fred McClement published in 1968.
Wes Olson has done an outstanding job is detailing EMDEN’s history from her construction during 1906-1908 to her final action with HMAS SYDNEY on 9 November 1914 off the Cocos Islands. The final action is dealt with in great depth with several first hand recollections from both sides – but the story does not end there. Wes details the extensive activity to recover EMDEN survivors and the subsequent medical work done by both RAN and German medical staff to keep the numerous badly wounded and dehydrated men alive. EMDEN’s landing party under Kapitanleutnant Helmuth von Mucke and their epic journey in the schooner ‘Ayesha’ to the neutral Dutch East Indies and then via steamer, to the Red Sea, and afterwards overland to Constantinople also receives a lengthy analysis.
The story of the wreck of EMDEN finalises the history of this famous ship. Several of her guns were recovered and, along with other artefacts, brought to Australia for display with many still visible today in Sydney and Canberra. In a little known event, in 1933, the Australian Government returned EMDEN’s name plate to Germany and it was formally presented to the German President Paul von Hindenburg in recognition of the bravery of EMDEN’s ships company and the chivalry of her commanding officer Karl von Muller.
The book is well illustrated and contains the complete nominal roll of both ships company including the often forgotten civilian canteen staff in SYDNEY. The German nominal roll also details the 47 EMDEN prisoners of war who were held captive in Australia during the war
If you want to read the complete history of the SYDNEY – EMDEN action then this is it!