The raid on Madras of 22 September 1914 was typical of the daring that made the Emden the most famous German commerce raider of the First World War. Having entered the Bay of Bengal in early September, she had sailed north along the shipping lane from Colombo to Calcutta, capturing seven steamers and forcing the British to close the shipping lane. She had then travelled east to Burma, but without success. Captain von Müller became aware that powerful British cruisers were beginning to enter the Bay of Bengal from the east, and were planning to patrol the mouth of the bay. Accordingly he decided to dash west across the bay, attack the port of Madras, and then escape to the south before the British cruisers had reached so far west.
The Emden arrived at Madras at 9.20pm on 22 September, after dark. Under cover of the dark she got close into shore, and opened fire on her target, the oil storage tanks of the Burmah Oil Company. Five tanks were hit. One was empty. On another the German shell entered the tank above the level of the oil, and no fire began. On a third a shell hit but exploded outside the tank. The final two tanks caught fire, and burnt until all 425,000 gallons of oil had burnt away.
The only other damage came while the Emden was getting her range – the steamer Chupra was damaged, and some shells fell in the town of Madras. Alerted by the gunfire, the coastal defence batteries of Madras then opened fire on the Emden. Von Müller turned away, and made his escape down the east coast of Sri Lanka. The Emdenwould then have a very successful period raiding off Colombo and the southern tip of India.
The raid on Madras had a massive impact on the trade of India. All along the coast traders fled into the hills. Much to the alarm of the British tea exports fell, and stayed low until the Emdenhad been sunk. Just as serious was a fall in the export of jute, a natural fibre used in hessian cloth and burlap. The shipping lanes in the Bay of Bengal, opened at 8 am on 22 September, had to be closed once again. The attack on Madras was an unusual act for a commerce raider, but played a big part in the success of the Emden.