Monday, September 22, 2014

Emden (German Light Cruiser) Attack on Madras Turns One Hundred Years

Emden, German Cruiser (Frontline)
Plaque Indicating the point of Shell attack by Emden, the German Cruiser (Wikipedia)
It was, exactly one hundred years ago, on 22nd September 1914 the third day after New Moon (Mahalaya Amavasya), 9.20  pm., SMS Emden, the German light cruiser aka. “swan of the east”  stealthily approached the city of Madras (Chennai), British India, on the southeastern coast of the Indian peninsula and  fired 130 shells on Madras, and the vessel disappeared into the darkness. The Bombardment of Madras, one of the most important colonial centres of the British Raj by the German light cruiser Emden was an engagement of World War I.  Thus the city of Madras forming base for the Royal  British Naval Fleet and Fort St.George,  the stem of east for British Imperial India colonial naval base entered the history books.

SMS Emden, equipped with 10 SK L/40 guns of 10.5 cm calibre each and two 50 cm torpedo tubes, with Captain Karl von Müller in command, had already demolished about 15 merchant vessels after 15 days sail and took position 2,500 m off shore near the Madras harbor.  Captain Müller passed the order to engage at 9:30 pm, Emden fired 125 shells in ten minutes at 2,500 m on several large oil tanks within the harbor (close to the High Court), which belonged to the Burmah Oil Company. All of a sudden the bombardment destroyed four Burma shell tanks storing around 350,000 gallons of oil i.e, three of them totally, and the fourth in parts. After the attack Emden fled towards Colombo silently.

Though the unexpected attack on Madras by Emden caused little damage, it was a severe blow to British morale and touched their ego. The British at Fort St. George never expected and the  British Royalty English press could not believe this. Several rumors spread  across Imperial India.

Since the  seaward wind was blowing heavily, the city fortunately escaped from causalities and damage to residential localities. Few shells hit even the public offices like the High Court  and the National Bank of India. You can locate the plaque indicating the point hit by Emden shell on the eastern walls of the Madras High Court building even today. Also one more plaque at Clive's Battery, at Royapuram. The Fort Museum is also exhibiting few shells recovered around harbor.

The SMS Emden was later defeated by the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney, the first victory for the Royal Australian Navy. Australian Consulate General is celebrating the centenary of this attack and an exhibition, 'Centenary of the Emden Spirit: 100 Years of Shared Military History' held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. The exhibits included rare photographs, portraits and artifacts provided by Australian War Memorial, the Royal Australian Navy's Sea Power Centre and the Royal Madras Yacht Club.


  1. Exhibition of centenary of Emden's attack of Madras being held Business Standard Monday, September 22, 2014
  2. Madras special – The Bombing of Madras by Emden by Lakshmi Sharath. on August 13, 2011
  3. Remembering a German ship that rocked Madras by M T Saju, Sep 22, 2014.
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