HMAS Sydney (I)

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About This Unit

HMAS Sydney (1) 1913-28 (

The first warship to bear the name HMAS Sydney, steamed through Sydney Heads as part of hte newly established Royal Australian Navy on the 5th October 1913.

Built in the United Kingdom, she was a 'Cruiser 2nd Class' armed with  8 inch guns in armoured turrents,  second only to the Battleship HMAS Australia in term of firepower.

Within just 12 months she was to be deployed on the first Australian military action of WW 1 as part of the Expeditionary Force to New Guinea.

She was then recalled to Sydney and re-assigned as an escort to the great convoy conveying the AIF to the Middle East.    As part of that assignment  she was to  become the pride of the fleet and the nation, when she engaged and destroyed the German raider 'EMDEN' off the Cocos Keeling Islands.

See the Story under the tab below for details of this action, and the unique mementos that survive as 'wearable commemoration' of this event.

Had the Emden got amongst the ANZAC convoy, Australia's participation in WW1 could have taken on a far different complexion.  As it happened, the Sydney gave Australian great heart and drew the attention of the world to Australia's first major ship-on-ship naval action.


Help us find the men who crewed the HMAS Sydney.......



The Emden Action - 20 Nov 1914 and beyond

The S.M.S. Emden was a Dresden class light cruiser, was built at the Imperial dockyard at Danzig and launched in July 1909. The vessel was part of the German East Asia squadron, based in Tsingtao, and in 1913 came under the command of Karl von Müller (1873-1923). In a daring but short career of destruction in the opening weeks of the War, the Emden wrought havoc in the Indian Ocean. Between 10 September and her destruction by H.M.A.S. Sydney on 9 November 1914, she had captured or sunk no fewer than 23 ships, including a Russian cruiser and a French destroyer in the battle of Penang on 28 October 1914.

The combined value of the captures was estimated at £4 million. Arriving off the Cocos Keeling islands the Emden sent 53 men, under the first officer, Kapitänleutnant Hellmuth von Mücke (1881-1957), ashore to destroy the wireless apparatus at Port Refuge. A wireless message sent before those on the station were overpowered by the Germans was picked up by the Sydney, 52 nautical miles away. The Germans believed they had sufficient time to decommission the wireless station and for the landing party to rejoin the Emden, but with the rapid arrival of the Sydney von Mücke’s men had to be left to their own devices while von Müller attempted to retaliate to the superior firepower of the Sydney. Within the space of an hour the conflict had concluded and von Müller beached the Emden on North Keeling island, raising white flags of surrender. In the battle the Emden lost 133 officers and men killed, out of a crew of 376, while Sydney had four crewmen killed and 13 wounded.

Von Müller and his surviving crew were captured and taken to Malta, from where in October 1916 he was taken to England and interned with other German officers at Sutton Bonington, Nottingham. In 1917 he led an escape of 21 prisoners through an underground tunnel, but was recaptured and, as part of a humanitarian prisoner exchange, sent to another camp at Noordwijk-am-Zee, Holland.

Von Mücke and his landing party seized a derelict schooner, the Ayesha, made her seaworthy, renamed her Emden II, and escaped the attentions of the Sydney by sailing her to Padang, Sumatra. There, a German freighter transported them to Hodeida, Yemen. After many adventures in the Arabian peninsula, including an overland journey along the Red Sea and battling hundreds of armed Bedouin tribesmen, von Mücke and 48 other survivors arrived in Constantinople in May 1915, from where they returned to Germany as heroes.


The Emden Silver Pesa

Reginald GRIMLEY's medal set includes a medal fashioned from a Mexican Silver Pesa.

These were Unofficial medals made from a silver Mexican dollar (pesa) and surmounted by a King's crown and scroll. The obverse of the dollar shows an eagle surrounded by a wreath and the words 'REPUBLICA MEXICANA'. The scrolls on the fitting above read 'NOV 1914' and 'HMAS.SYDNEY.SMS.EMDEN'. The reverse of the coin shows a liberty cap surrounded by stylised sun rays. Treasury details are located around the rim. The reverse of the fitting is marked with the maker's name, 'W.KERR SYDNEY' and engraved with the owners name.

Mexican dollar commemorating HMAS 'Sydney' and SMS 'Emden'. Obverse: An eagle, a snake held in its beak and talons, poised on a prickly pear. Legend: 'REPUBLICA MEXICANA'. Reverse: The cap of liberty, rays proceeding from it inscribed: 'LIBERTAD'. Legend: '8 R . ZS . 1894. F . Z . 10DS . 20 GS'. Set in a mount by W. Kerr with a crown and ring and bands engraved with the names of the two ships and date. On suspension bands: Obverse: 'NOV 9 1914 HMAS . SYDNEY . SMS . EMDEN.'

Following the capture of SMS 'Emden' by HMAS 'Sydney' off the Cocos Islands on 9th November 1914, 6,429 Mexican dollars were seized which were being carried on board as cash. 1, 000 were converted into medals with the addition of a clasp. Some were presented to the captain and crew of 'Sydney', the Admiralty and other public bodies in Australia. The remainder were sold to the public, the profits going to the Royal Australian Navy Relief Fund.

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