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Battle of Penang 1914



28th October 1914 Battle of Penang 1914  The Battle of Penang occurred on 28 October 1914, during World War I. It was a naval action in the Strait of Malacca, in which the German cruiser SMS Emden sank two Allied warships.

Background

At the time, Penang was part of the Straits Settlement, a British Crown colony. Penang is an island off the west coast of Malaya, now the present day Malaysia. It is only a short distance from the mainland. The main town of Penang, George Town, is on a harbour. In the early months of the war, it was heavily used by Allied naval and merchant vessels. Shortly after the outbreak of the war, the German East Asia Squadron left its base in Tsingtao, China. The squadron headed east for Germany, but one ship, the light cruiser SMS Emden—under Lt. Commander Karl von Müller—was sent on a solitary raiding mission.

Battle

At about 0430 on 28 October, Emden appeared off the George Town roads and attacked the harbour and vessels lying therein. Captain von Müller had disguised his ship by rigging a false smoke stack, which made Emden resemble the British cruiser HMS Yarmouth. Once he had entered the harbor, however, he ran up the German naval ensign and revealed what ship the newcomer actually was. Before any of the Allied naval vessels could respond, a torpedo was fired at the Russian protected cruiser Zhemchug, followed up with a salvo of shells which riddled the ship. A second torpedo, fired as Emden turned to leave, penetrated the forward magazine, causing an explosion that sank the Russian ship. Returning to the harbour from a patrol was the French destroyer Mousquet, under the command of a Lt. Théroinne, which then set off in pursuit of Emden, but was quickly sunk by the German ship. Casualties amongst Zhemchug's crew of 250 amounted to 89 dead and 143 wounded.

Aftermath

The Zhemchug was tied up in a state of non-readiness while her captain, Cmdr. Baron Cherkassov, went ashore that night to visit his wife (some sources say mistress). The keys for the ship's magazine had been taken ashore and no lookouts had been posted. Cherkassov could only watch in helpless horror from the Eastern & Oriental Hotel as his ship sank to the bottom of the Straits. He was court martialled for negligence and sentenced to 3½ years in prison, reduction in rank and expelled from the navy. His deputy, Lt. Kulibin, was sentenced to 1½ years in prison. However, the Tsar changed both sentences to sending to the front as ordinary seamen. Both later distinguished themselves in combat and were decorated with the Cross of St. George. Lt. Théroinne was amongst the Frenchmen lost aboard the Mousquet. Thirty-six French survivors out of a crew of 80 from the destroyer were picked up by the Emden, three of whom later died from their injuries. They were buried at sea at the insistence of von Müller. Two days later, the Germans stopped the British steamer Newburn and transferred the remaining Frenchmen so that they could be conveyed to Sabang, Sumatra, then part of the neutral Dutch East Indies. Emden continued its raiding mission for another 10 days, before being severely damaged and run aground at the Battle of Cocos.

John Doran


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Those known to have served in

Battle of Penang 1914

during the Great War 1914-1918.

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