Today is the 104th anniversary of the Emden bombing of Madras. It was after a gap of more than a century that Madras was being attacked by an enemy and it caused a lot of flutter
Unlike the later world war india was not a participant and had the least inkling it would be attacked. A majority of its defenders were relaxing in clubs and parties when the German light cruiser SMS Emden hurled 130 shells on the unsuspecting city from a safe distance of 2 kilometers offshore.
Emden was part of the German naval squadron in a German concession in China, north of Shanghai and was captained by Kapitan-Lieutenant Karl von Muller.
Perhaps the trickiest man on the high seas Muller added a dummy fourth funnel which made it look like a British ship (HMS Yarmouth). Enemy ships ignored it. Some even saluted it as they passed by.
Emden was a lone raider expecting no orders from anyone and could choose its targets. It had a very successful year with over 40 vessels sunk or captured by it.
After sinking ships in Rangoon it approached Madras. But why Madras? Was there an Indian to guide them to its port? The mysterious legend persists still.
Shrapnel hit the court, sailing club, General Hospital, Vepery, Haddow’s Road in Nungambakkam, Poonamallee High Road, the gun battery in Royapuram, Casa Major Road and George Town. The city was scared out of its wits. Fearing more attacks people left and had to be reassured with special songs which were composed and distributed. The word Emden crept into the tamil lexicon as an alter name for somebody who had to be feared.
Though thousands of Indians fought in the war, geographically this was the only encounter India had in world war 1
Letting madras suffer its sleepless nights the Emden left eastwards. In a couple of months emden which had bullied weaker ships all its life met its match. After a memorable victory run of 56,000 km Emden was outgunned and beached on North Keeling Island, in the Cocos archipelago in a battle with HMAS Sydney with better guns·
Sydney’s heavier shells battered Emden. Muller refused to give up. Almost half the crew dead because Muller was adamant on not surrendering and the Sydney kept firing till the German flag was lowered from the ships mast.
Inspite of its loss, the German ruler the Kaiser was very pleased at the life and times of the beached Emden and awarded the Iron Cross to the ship. Many of the surviving members were allowed to add the name Emden to their own.