- A.N. Other
- Biographies and personal histories, WWI operations
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Sydney I, HMAS Melbourne I
- March 2012 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
By Midshipman D.M. Greenwood, RAN
Damian Greenwood was born in Hong Kong. After completing high school at Forbes in NSW he attended the University of Hong Kong where he gained a Masters degree in Social Sciences majoring in Criminology. A keen historian and medal collector, he is a long-time member of both the Australian National Maritime Museum and the Orders & Medals Research Society, serving as the Honorary Secretary of the Hong Kong Branch from 2002-2008. He lives in Sydney with his partner and their three-year-old son. He joined the RAN in January 2011 and is training to become a Maritime Warfare Officer.
Thus one advances without seeking glory, retreats without avoiding blame, only protecting people…thus rendering valuable service to the nation.
By the evening of 9 November 1914, the German cruiser SMS Emden (Captain Helmuth von Muller) lay as a smouldering wreck, beached on North Keeling Island to prevent her from sinking. Her nemesis HMAS Sydney (Captain John Glossop, RAN) skulked in the dusky horizon. Sydney had just scored Australia’s first significant naval victory and brought to an end the amazing career of a warship that had in four months sunk or captured 28 Allied ships, sunk a Russian cruiser and a French destroyer, raided Penang Harbour and had single-handedly bombarded Madras. Emden had become a legend in its own time and the destruction of such a legendary ship in turn gave worldwide fame to Sydney, her captain and the RAN, then one of the world’s newest navies.
Meanwhile, in the background, out of the news, was CAPT Mortimer L’Estrange Silver, RN. On that fateful day in November 1914, Silver was in command of HMAS Melbourne and commander of the 38-ship convoy transporting the first ANZAC troops across the Indian Ocean. Had circumstances been slightly different, Silver and Melbourne would have taken their place in history instead of Glossop and Sydney. It was Silver who gave the order for Sydney to destroy Emden, denying him the action and excitement absent for almost all of his thirty years in naval service.
In this essay we will review Silver’s career and the events leading up to the victory over Emden. We will analyse his actions and what positive attributes can be learned from them to benefit today’s RAN.
SILVER’S EARLY LIFE AND CAREER
Mortimer Silver was born in 1869, the son of Jacob Mortimer Weir Silver, a Colonel in the Royal Marine Light Infantry and later an Anglican priest serving in Hawaii and France, and his wife Annette Louisa Graves. His paternal grandparents were Jacob Silver, a Captain in the Royal Navy, and Charlotte Masters.
Silver entered the Royal Navy as a Midshipman on 15 July 1882. In 1891 he was posted aboard HMY Victoria and Albert, the Royal Yacht based at Portsmouth, and promoted to Lieutenant on 1 September of the same year. On 30 September 1894, Silver qualified as a Torpedo Lieutenant and was posted to HMS Vernon, a Torpedo School Ship at Portsmouth. He was appointed to his first command on 6 October 1902 as captain of the 810 ton Torpedo Gunboat HMS Jaseur, a tender to Vernon. On 31 December 1902 he was promoted Commander and transferred to the battleship HMS Temeraire, depot ship of the Fleet Reserve and Flagship at Devonport. On 2 June 1903 he was posted as Executive Officer aboard the 14,000-ton battleship HMS Exmouth in the Mediterranean. He then served on three further battleships, HM Ships Prince of Wales, Revenge and Britannia. On 13 August 1907 he was again given a command, this time of Torpedo School Ship HMS Actaeon which formed the new Torpedo School at Sheerness. Promoted to Captain on 30 June 1908, he was in command of the 4th Destroyer Squadron from 5 August 1910 to 1 August 1912.
SILVER BEGINS HIS SERVICE TO AUSTRALIA
In August 1912, his career took a new turn when he was loaned for duty with the Australian Government to help develop the fledgling RAN. It was formally announced on 7 August 1912 that he would be in command of the new cruiser Melbourne and that he “…has an excellent record of service in the Royal Navy”. The Australian Navy List from 1 July 1914 shows Silver as sixth in Navy military branch hierarchy and the most senior sea-going Captain.