Coming up next on the Madras special is a very special post from noted scholar and author, V.Dhivakar I am extremely grateful to Dhivakar Sir for sharing this post on the Emden Bombing on my blog . Thanks to Vijay who requested him on my behalf to share this as well. I am extremely delighted to see such rare and archival photographs accompanying this wonderfully written account.Dhivakar Sir has published four books in Tamil and one of them is on the Emden bombing.
For those of you who are wondering what the post is all about, lets rewind to the days of World War 1 when Madras the settlement was controlled by the British. The First World War had its impact in India too and the only city to be bombed was Madras by a German ship, Emden. I first heard about Emden in the summer of 1992 when I was a college student attempting to learn sailing in the erstwhile Royal Madras Yacht Club .A photograph on the wall was the testimony to the bombing and even the walls carried the scar where it was bombed. I did an article on it years ago for an inflight magazine called Touch of NEPC Damania Airlines. Today, neither the airline nor the club officially functions from the premises at the harbour but then my memory of Emden remains. And thanks to Dhivakar Sir’s post, my memories came flooding back.
Over to him for the account of the historic event.
SMS Emden, the “swan of the east” attacked Madras, the ” stem of east” but the excitement stood for short time. Yes , Emden was darling among German Vessels and even had a poem written on her. And the strong fort of Madras was equally famous at that time , called as stem of east for British Imperial India, base for the Royal British Naval Fleet which not only controlled Bay of Bengal but complete Indian Ocean wherever the flags of British fluttered
It was the third day after New Moon (Mahalaya Amavasya), that is 22nd September 1914, 9.20 PM, the German warship which already captured and destroyed around 15 merchant vessels having flags of Italy, British and Australia in just 15 days voyage, entered into the shore of Madras. Under cover of dark she immediately started firing at the harbour, thinking of attacking the Fort St. George and Royal British Navy, instead hitting the Petrol Tanks built at Harbour. 125 shells in ten minutes into the oil storage and destroying 350,000 gallons of oil stored at four Burma shell tanks were destroyed three of them completely, one in half of the way of destruction, but after just ten minutes of bombardment it just silently turned away from Madras shore and fled towards Colombo, as if nothing she created..
It was only ten minutes and the damage was also limited, but the ego of British Royalty was already hit.Emden attacking the city of Madras was the beginning of unfortunate and inauspicious time for the British Government in Madras. The city’s limited telephone lines were buzzing with various rumours very rapidly. Both the local and British press did not believe the reassuring messages from Fort St George whole heartedly. They printed the news and rumours they gathered in a big way. This made the position of the government even more difficult. Many did not know that the cable messages reaching the British government were not entirely true. However Emden’s attack on Madras caught every ones imagination. Rumours were flying like a wild fire throughout the Imperial India. Some claimed to have seen Emden and waved to it near the coast off the French Puducherry. Others were certain Emden achieved her target and even predicted she would not rest until her ‘mission accomplished’ that was to end the British citadel in the eastern seas.
Fine! The time of attack was well planned by the so called Gentleman Capt. Von Muller, who controlled the War Ship SMS Emden. The over confident British Naval Officers stationed at Madras who did not care to give a minute respect to Emden till then, suddenly started crying and searching all over the seas for Emden with their enourmous fleet strength. They could not beleive their eyes. The ship came. Anchored at shore. Bambarded the City, but why just ten minutes only. The sleeping city, sleeping Navy officers, sleeping Naval logistics could have done nothing against the bambarding one man army, but why Emden did not utilize its opportunity which was given in golden plate by her enemy ‘numero uno’ to destroy the base? Though later on, next day, British Navy claimed that Emden ran away because they have responded strongly but in reality that was not there.After Emden reached to very safe distance, the British started responding towards unknown object in the dark sea. Emden could have spoiled and even damaged the whole fort and High court along with Harbour even it stayed for half an hour there with slight moving. But it has not happened. Emden ran back in the dark. Why she ran away? Why she had not utilized the opportunity. Why only rubbing salt on wounds which ultimately pained the whole world and angered them in vengence for next 7 weeks..
This was a big question I asked myself that led to lot of research on Emden’s full voyage from the start of her sailing in 1908. The world war started only in July 1914, but the situation in the eastern seas were totally different in that time and vibrant competition made them to venture against each other among European giants.
There was lot of talk that Dr. Shenbaga Raman Pillai was a Doctor worked for German Navy and while bambarding Madras, it was told that the whole plan was his. But it is not all true and Dr. Shenbaga Raman was not in Emden while she was engaged in world war. The whole list of occupants of ill-fated Emden is available and no name of such there. Fortunately we have a direct account of Madras bombardment from the Vice Captain Commander Von Mukke, who later became author of many books, and one book he named as Emden, clearly giving the accounts of voyage took place from 8th August 1914 to 9th November 1914 and have mentioned so many incidents. But no Shenbagaraman was found. Instead he did mention one Indian (he mentioned as Hindu passenger) from whom he got several news through cables and newspapers captured from merchant vessels.
This is a major point I have taken as a link to my novel which was named ‘SMS Emden 22-09-1914’. Yes! the same date Madras got bombarded.