- 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)
As captain of the newly commissioned Melbourne, Silver sailed into the City of Melbourne and made an official call upon the Governor of Victoria, Sir John Fuller, Bt. KCMG, on 27 March 1913, then along with his officers was welcomed by the Lord Mayor who “…expressed his pleasure, and that of the citizens of Melbourne, in meeting Captain Silver and his officers, and the pride he felt at seeing the first fighting cruiser coming through the heads on Wednesday…Captain Silver, in response, expressed his pleasure at the welcome, and hoped that the officers and men of the cruiser would make her worthy of the fine city whose name she bore” . On 4 October, 1913, he sailed with his ship into Sydney Harbour (along with sister-ship Sydney and the battle-cruiser HMAS Australia) as part of Australia’s First Naval Squadron.
Upon the outbreak of hostilities Melbourne took part in operations against German possessions in the Pacific. This included the capture of Samoa and landing a small force to capture Nauru on 9 September, 1914. Silver’s career was now looking much more exciting and he must have enjoyed this time in his career and what opportunities lay ahead.
SILVER PLAYS HIS PART IN AUSTRALIA’S FIRST NAVAL VICTORY
Melbourne returned to Australia and on 9 November 1914 Silver was in command of the first ANZAC convoy then en route to Egypt. Melbourne had originally been at the rear of the convoy, with HMS Minotaur at the van. However, Minotaur had been ordered sail to Mauritius the night before. Melbourne took the position of Minotaur at the head of the convoy which now meant the closest ship to the Cocos was not Melbourne, but Sydney. The other warship in the convoy was the Japanese heavy cruiser Ibuki, launched in 1908.
Upon receiving a signal from the wireless station at the Cocos Islands that they were under attack from a ‘strange warship’, Silver knew he had to act quickly to investigate the mystery vessel. He initially made orders to set a course for Melbourne to intercept the strange warship. However, just as desperate for a fight were the Japanese in Ibuki; they raised steam and pillars of thick black smoke flowed from Ibuki’s funnels. Silver had to threaten punitive action to keep the Japanese cruiser in line. While Ibuki clearly was the strongest of the warships in the escort, Silver may have been concerned the aging Japanese cruiser lacked the speed necessary to pursue the mystery ship should it fall outside the range of Ibuki’s guns. Aside from the fact Sydney was the closest ship to the Cocos, Silver may have also wanted the honour of the fight to fall on a British Imperial ship rather than that of an allied but competing power.
Once Silver realised his primary duty was to protect the convoy, he decided to send Sydney to investigate the strange warship and sail into immortality – the strange warship was the legendary Emden. It has been reported that the Japanese in Ibuki wept in frustration as Sydney raised steam and headed for the Cocos. Sydney’s victory against this most enterprising of enemy warships would be Australia’s first naval victory and won instant fame for the RAN.
McClement (1979) described the moment Silver made his decision:
Sick at heart, Captain Silver knew now that he could not leave the convoy…It meant that he would be denied the action that he craved, the action that all his men wanted since they had been placed on duty…He was [the convoy’s] leader, and to risk his ship in an action might have led to grave consequences…“Order the Sydney to raise steam and report to me when ready.”
The 2000 document Australian Maritime Doctrine – RAN Doctrine 1 includes this episode in a section entitled ‘Selection and Maintenance of the Aim’:
When the news came through to the first Australian Imperial Force convoy in the Indian Ocean of the German cruiser Emden’s attack on the wireless station at Cocos in November 1914, the escort commander in HMAS Melbourne (I) was sorely tempted to detach his own ship in pursuit. Captain Mortimer Silver remembered, however, his responsibility as escort commander for the protection of the ships containing the lead elements of the First AIF on their way to Egypt. He thus remained with the convoy ensuring its safe and timely arrival, but leaving the glory of a successful action to the unit he detached for the purpose, the cruiser HMAS Sydney (I).