Penang Raid, 28 October 1914

The raid on Penang of 28 October 1914 was one of the more daring incidents during the cruise of the Emden, the most successful German commerce raider of the First World War. Having successfully attacked British shipping in the Bay of Bengal and off Colombo, von Müller, her captain, decided to attack part of the naval force being assembled to trap him. His target was the port of Penang, at the northern end of the Malay Peninsula. To assist his passage across the mouth of the Bay of Bengal he disquised the Emden with a false fourth funnel, in an attempt to make her resemble a British Weymouth class cruiser (HMS Yarmouth was herself part of the naval force hunting for the Emden). Early on the morning of 28 October 1914, the Emdenappeared out of the mist and sailed straight into Penang harbour.

Her first victim was the Russian cruiser Zhemchug (or Jemtchug). She was a 3,080t cruiser, launched in 1903 and armed with eight 4.7in guns. In theory she should have been able to inflict some damage on the Emden, but on 28 October she had just returned from a sweep of the Andaman and Nicobar islands. Most of her crew were below decks being entertained, the captain was in the town, only twelve shells were in place for the guns, and no lookout was posted. As the Emdenemerged out of the early morning mist she hit the Zhemchug with torpedoes and shells. The Zhemchug was destroyed by an internal explosion. Her captain was stripped of his commission and jailed for his behaviour.

Further up the harbour were three French ships – two destroyers and the torpedo gunship D’Iberville. She was a 952 ton ship, launched in 1892 and armed with one 3.9in gun, three 9pdrs and three 18in torpedo tubes.  When the Emden appeared these three ships were tied up at their moorings, and would prove unable to interfere in the escape of the Emden.

Von Müller was unwilling to risk a confrontation with torpedo craft in the narrow waters of Penang harbour, and having destroyed the most dangerous ship in the harbour, turned to make his escape.

As the Emden emerged from the mist into the harbour, she ran into the liner Glenturret. The Glenturret was carrying a cargo of ammunition and explosives, and would have been a prime target for von Müller. She was flying the “explosives” warning flag, and so von Müller stopped to question her. The captain of the Glenturret replied that he was carrying paraffin, and before von Müller could investigate further the French destroyer Mousquet appeared, returning from a patrol.

She was a 298 ton Arquebuse class destroyer, armed with one 2.5in gun, six 1.8in guns and two 15in torpedo tubes, and was massively outclassed by the Emden. After a short battle, the Mousquet was sunk, but during the fight the Glenturret had escaped into Penang harbour and the relative protection provided by the three French warships. Stopping only to pick survivors from the Mousquet (typical of his behaviour during the cruise of the Emden), von Müller made his escape to the south.

Daring though it was, the raid on Penang did little to lengthen the career of the Emden. On 9 November she was caught by the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney at Cocos Island and forced to beach herself after a gun battle lasting over an hour.

Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (27 September 2007), Penang Raid, 28 October 1914 ,

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