- Patterson, Andrew Barton (Banjo)
- Biographies and personal histories, Ship histories and stories, WWI operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Sydney I
- March 2000 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
`She had no idea that there was any vessel of her own power in that part of the Pacific, and she came out looking for a fight – and she got it. She must have got a surprise when she found she had to fight the Sydney; and I got a surprise, too, I can tell you. When we were about ten thousand five hundred yards apart I turned nearly due north so as to run parallel with her, and I said to the gunnery lieutenant that we had better get a thousand yards closer before we fired. I knew the Emden’s four-point-one guns would be at their extreme limit at ten thousand yards, and I got a shock when she fired a salvo at ten thousand five hundred and two of the shells came aboard us. That’s modern gunnery for you. Fancy one ship, rolling about in the sea, hitting another ship – also rolling about in the sea – six miles away! She must have elevated her guns and fired in the air, for we were technically out of range; but it was great gunnery.
`Her first salvo was five guns, of which two shells came aboard us. One shell burst and carried away the after-control, wounding all the men, including Lieutenant Hampden, but no one was killed. The other shell passed within six inches of the gunnery lieutenant and killed a man working a range-finder, but it never burst. There was luck again for me – I was in that control and if the shell had burst I suppose I would have been a goner.
`There was a boy of about sixteen in the control working a telescope.When the shell landed he was stunned by the concussion and was lying under the body of the man that was killed. As soon as he came to himself he threw the man’s body off him and started looking for his telescope. “Where’s my bloody telescope?” was all he said. That’s the Australian Navy for you.
`The whole thing didn’t last forty minutes, but it was a busy forty minutes. She tried to get near enough to torpedo us, but she could only do seventeen knots and we could do twenty-seven, so we scuttled out of range. The Emden had a captured collier called the Buresk hanging about, trying to get near enough to ram us, and I had to keep a couple of guns trained on this collier all the time. We hit the Emden about a hundred times in forty minutes, and fourteen of her shells struck us but most of them were fired beyond her range and the shells hit the side and dropped into the water without exploding.
`When the Emden made for the beach we went after the collier, but we found the Germans had taken the sea-cocks out of her so we had to let her sink. They were game men, I’ll say that for them.
`Then we went back to the Emden lying in the shallow water and signalled her “do you surrender”. She answered by flag-wagging in Morse “we have no signal book and do not understand your signal.” I asked several times but could get no answer and her flag was still flying, so I fired two salvos into her and then they hauled their flag down. I was sorry afterwards that I gave her those two salvos, but what was I to do? If they were able to flag-wag in Morse, they were surely able to haul a flag down. We understood there was another German warship about and I couldn’t have the Emden firing at me from the beach while I was fighting her mate.
`We waited off all night with lights out for this other vessel, but she never showed up, and then we sent boats ashore to the Emden. My God, what a sight! Her captain had been out of action ten minutes after the fight started from lyddite fumes, and everybody on board was demented – that’s all you could call it, just fairly demented – by shock, and fumes, and the roar of shells among them. She was a shambles. Blood, guts, flesh, and uniforms were all scattered about. One of our shells had landed behind a gun shield, and had blown the whole gun-crew into one pulp. You couldn’t even tell how many men there had been. They must have had forty minutes of hell on that ship, for out of four hundred men a hundred and forty were killed and eighty wounded and the survivors were practically madmen. They crawled up to the beach and they had one doctor fit for action; but he had nothing to treat them with – they hadn’t even got any water. A lot of them drank salt water and killed themselves. They were not ashore twenty-four hours, but their wounds were flyblown and the stench was awful – it’s hanging about the Sydney yet. I took them on board and got four doctors to work on them and brought them up here.