- Werner, Arthur
- WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 1980 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Our Captain gave the order to launch torpedo, the torpedo officer ordered the torpedo-room, ‘Starboard torpedo, ready!’
Top-flags were hoisted and our guns were aimed at the Russian cruiser. ‘Starboard torpedo ready!’ came the answer from the torpedo-room. ‘Attention – Fire!’ came the order from the torpedo officer and at 5.10 a.m. the first torpedo left the tube.
I was standing on the bridge and thus able to fully observe the track of the torpedo as it struck the Russian in the stern. There was a huge crash and a loud rumbling. The stern of the ship was lifted yards out of the water and it began to sink slowly.
Great activity was now to be observed on the Russian ship. Most of the crew had been sleeping in their hammocks and many appeared on deck only half-clothed, looking in amazement at our ship. When they saw that we were a German cruiser with our guns trained on them, they started to jump overboard where they managed to be picked up by some native boats which happened to be in the area.
After the first torpedo had struck our Captain then gave permission to open fire with our guns to prevent the Russians beating us to it. The gunnery officer gave repeated orders to fire and every seven seconds the guns were loaded and fired. Broadside after broadside thundered out, tearing huge holes in the bows of the ship where the majority of the crew were sleeping. A sea of fire was raging in the bows; the iron plates were now red-hot, yellow and black smoke mingled with the flames that were pouring out of the scuttles. In great despair, the crew ran out of their quarters to the decks, crying for help and looking for shelter. Everywhere our shells struck the ship with devastating force and terrible slaughter was done amongst the crew.
To avoid running aground we now had to make a narrow turn in the harbour. Whilst this was being carried out the Russian ship, aided by another one, opened fire on us but the shells passed over us and struck a Japanese merchant ship.
A great many ships were lying in the port, including some interned German steamers, the crew of which, quite naturally, cheered us heartily. We now had to pass the Russian cruiser on the port side. The second torpedo was loaded and as we passed the ship it was fired. The torpedo hissed through the water, striking just below the bridge, presumably in the ammunition-room. A huge column of fire, almost 300 feet high rose into the sky. Huge pieces of iron, wood and other materials were thrown high into the air. Both mast and funnels fell at the same moment and within a few minutes the Schemtschuck disappeared. It was the most unpleasant experience of my life and will remain in my memory forever.
A Russian report – published some time later – stated that the Russian captain of the Schemtschuck had been given orders to search for the Emden and hunt her down. His wife, to whom he was very devoted, had followed him by steamer from Vladivostock and during the time of the action in which his ship was sunk he was actually ashore with his wife in a hotel. At the court-martial which followed he was sentenced to thirty months imprisonment in a fortress and dishonourable discharge from the Navy. His second-in-command was also sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment for carelessness.
Our Captain now turned his attention to the French destroyer D’iberville which was firing on us from the moles. Our guns had hardly been aimed at her with the intention of destroying her when the lookout called, ‘Ship approaching us at full speed!’ Believing it to be a torpedo-boat, (she was hidden in a thick cloud of smoke) we opened fire at long range. To save herself the boat ran ashore and as the distance between us lessened, we realized that it was a Government boat, so we ceased fire immediately.
A fortunate case of bad shooting on our part resulted in no direct hits being registered.
Another vessel approached us and a prize crew was prepared to take over, but at this moment a voice from the crow’s nest bellowed, ‘Enemy warship to the north!’ The prize-crew was at once recalled and the boat hoisted aboard. Later we learned that the newcomer was the guard-ship which we had passed during the night. On hearing the thunder of our guns she had left the guard station to investigate what was taking place in the harbour.