- Clark, Bryan
- Biographies and personal histories, RAN operations, WWI operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Sydney I
- September 1989 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
At a distance of about 9000m we opened fire. The second volley was well placed. The Sydney soon retired to make repairs, hiding herself behind a thick smoke screen and at the same time we thought we had sufficiently scared her off to continue the completion of our objective.
Some time later, however, the Sydney returned and, keeping well out of the range of our guns, opened fire. Soon her shells found their mark. We were helpless. The only hope to get the Sydney within the range of our guns was to deceive her by circling around and around making unexpected loops. Our Captain succeeded several times and even at one moment the Sydney came within the torpedo range. She was already considered a sure prey. Captain Witthoefft, being torpedo officer, standing in the conning-bridge, aiming at the Sydney, shouted the preparatory command: “Achtung!”
The men at the torpedo tubes stiffened ready to loose the apparatus when, a bare second too soon, a shell from the Sydney crashed into the torpedo room, filling it within moments with water. Now we were doomed to perish, but, again and again the Emden circled around, to draw nearer to the Sydney. The ship was sinking slowly, gaining much water every minute.
All our gunners had been killed. No ammunition. No men left at the guns. The ship was a mass of fire and smoke. To save the rest of the crew, the Captain ran the ship ashore.
I was in the starboard engine room, which had been under fire the whole time. The cranks of the engine were already beating the water to white foam when we got the order to open the stop cocks and come up to the deck. This we did, but the engine room had been so demolished by enemy fire that only two of the 20 men could follow the order. All others had been killed during the fight or perished in the boiling water and steam from broken pipes. I and an old warrant-officer were the fortunate ones. I was saved from being scalded to death while opening the stop cocks by a flow of oil from an open faucet. For a minute I would work and then run back for a shower of cool oil under the faucet. My clothes were blown from my body. I was not conscious of my nakedness until I reached for something in my pocket. I was embarrassed when I found I had neither pockets nor garments.
Through a hole I crawled onto the deck on the portside. Shells were still bursting everywhere. Through the smoke and flames I saw huge waves coming on and sweeping the deck. I thought we were just disappearing beneath the waves. Others apparently thought the same for they jumped overboard to get free from the sinking ship. I was about to follow them when something, maybe my good angel, caused me to stop right in the jump, to turn around and walk through smoke and flames to the starboard side. There I came upon Captain von Mueller who was caring for the wounded. The smoke cleared away a little and we saw, crying with joy and forgetting everything around us, that our flag was still flying from the mast. At this moment a bleeding sailor stumbled forth from his damaged gun and shouted: “Three cheers for the Captain!”
Scarcely had the cheers died away when the man fell down on the deck, silent for ever. Shells were still bursting everywhere. Our own shells’ concussion blew many of us overboard.
Three times I pulled a friend from the water, but he fell in a fourth time, I learnt later, and was drowned. I myself was blown over the side but managed to grasp a rope dangling from the mast, now shot down to a position level with the water. Later I became unconscious, overcome from picric acid from the shells. I was lying in front of the conning tower when I was wakened by the sound of bursting shells. The Sydney had returned in the late afternoon and opened fire again because we had not answered her signal to surrender. I saw Captain von Mueller ordering the survivors to take protection behind the armoured tower while he remained in front of it. There he stood out clear against the horizon, tall and motionless, calmly facing the flashing guns of the Sydney like a firing squad. I could not help thinking that he was determined to share the fate of most of his men. But, strange to say, though the shells were bursting around him killing and wounding many who had taken cover, he stood there untouched. Fate refused to allow him to die with his men and his ship.