Friday, October 31, 2008

Fullbore Friday

It is time to sing the praises of the pinnacle of what it means to be Fullbore. Time to remember, again, an exploit of the SMS Emden in the Battle of Penang.
On the morning of October 28, Emden, with her false smokestack raised to impersonate HMS Yarmouth and, in a rare lapse of Müller's sense of chivalry, flying British colors, slipped into Penang Harbor and picked out among the many vessels there the 3,050-ton Russian light cruiser Zhemchug. Built in 1903, Zhemchug had participated in the Battle at Tsushima in May 1905 but had escaped that debacle to be interned in neutral Manila. Now she joined her former Japanese enemies in the hunt for Emden, having arrived at Penang on October 26 to clean her boilers. Against the advice of Admiral Jerram, commander in chief of Allied fleets in Indochinese waters, who encouraged him to take extra precautions, Captain Second Grade Baron Cherkassov had gone ashore that night to visit a lady friend, leaving his ship with torpedoes disarmed, all shells stowed save 12 and no extra men posted on watch.

At about 5:13 a.m., Emden struck her British flag, raised the imperial German naval ensign, opened fire, and at 5:18 loosed her starboard torpedo. Half of Zhemchug's shells had been left by the after gun, which was put out of action when a blown-away ship's boat fell on it, and the other six shells were by the No. 2 starboard gun, which was pointing in the wrong direction. Her surprised crew dragged the ammunition to the forward gun and returned fire

but scored no hits, one shell passing over the German cruiser and hitting a merchant ship in the harbor. After reversing course, Emden launched her port torpedo, which struck below Zhemchug's bridge and conning tower and blew her up, killing 89 of her crewmen and wounding 143. Deciding not to press his luck, Müller then headed out of the dangerous confines of the harbor. In August, a naval court at Vladivostok sentenced Zhemchug's captain and his first officer, Senior Lieutenant Kulibin, to a "house of correction" (3 1/2 years for Cherkassov, 1 1/2 years for Kulibin). Both officers were also stripped of their rank, their decorations and their status as members of the Russian nobility.

Of the French warships defending Penang, the third-class cruiser D'Iberville and the destroyer Fronde were laid up with boiler trouble. Although she herself suffered from bearing trouble, the destroyer Pistolet raised enough steam to take off in pursuit of the Germans at 20 knots. Meanwhile, Emden, mistaking an oncoming unarmed patrol vessel for an armed ship, fired on it and left it in a sinking condition, fortunately without inflicting casualties among its crew. Müller next encountered the steamer Glenturret and stopped her only long enough to ask her captain to convey his apologies for shooting at the unarmed vessel and for not being able to rescue Zhemchug's crew. Emden then encountered the remaining French destroyer, the 310-ton Mousquet, which fired one torpedo and engaged the Germans with one of her guns before being demolished in an uneven 10-minute fight. Emden's crew rescued one officer--whose leg would later have to be amputated--and 35 men and cared for them as best they could while raising full speed to outdistance the game little Pistolet, which they finally lost in a rain squall. Two days later, the Germans stopped the British Newburn and transferred the French aboard the steamer to be conveyed to Sabang, Sumatra, minus three who had died of wounds and were buried at sea with full naval honors.

While Emden lost herself in the open sea and lay low, the newspapers spread the word of her latest outrage against the Allies. In Germany, the Kaiser conferred on Müller the Iron Cross First and Second Classes and the Iron Cross Second Class to 50 men to be picked from among his crew.

The Swan of the East. Sigh - what a ship, a crew, and a Captain.

Learn her lessons - and watch out for those who also have.

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