Cocos | Emden | 09 Nov 1914

There’s far too much all happening at once right now. Germans attack north of Ypres! British land troops in Mesopotamia! Berbers in Morocco giving the French Empire a hard time! Austria-Hungary pushing the Serbian armies back towards Belgrade! But first, more news from the high seas, and it’s from Captain Muller of the Emden.

Battle of Cocos

When last we saw Emden, she was raiding Penang about ten days ago. Captain Muller was eager to interfere with the British effort to find his ship, and so set course for Direction Island, one of the Cocos Islands. It’s in the Indian Ocean, and the Cocos are home to a British communications-station. Destroying it will considerably interfere with the Royal Navy’s ability to coordinate the search for Emden.

The ship arrives at the Cocos Islands in the evening, and launches her attack under cover of darkness. Captain Muller opts for stealth, sending a landing-party ashore to disable the transmitters, commanded by his first officer. The attack succeeds, but the wireless station is able to send out a distress call before being silenced. This in itself is not that serious; but Captain Muller’s luck is out. The first ANZAC troop-convoy is sailing through the area, and it dispatches the modern Australian cruiser Sydney to the Cocos to investigate.

Emden is prepared for her arrival at the Cocos, and opens fire first, scoring several hits. However, it’s not enough to cancel out Sydney’s considerable advantage in firepower. Captain Muller soon finds himself out of options, and orders the ship beached on North Keeling Island, not eager to fight to the bitter end.

Meanwhile, the fifty-strong heavily-armed landing-party watches from the beach. Just as Emden runs aground, Sydney catches sight of one of her colliers, and turns to pursue. Thinking quickly, the German sailors head to the docks, commandeer a large schooner, and disappear from the Cocos stage right. This begins an epic (and slightly ridiculous) voyage that deserves to have a movie made about it; and a few years ago, it did. We’ll catch up with them later.

Fao Landing

The British Empire had two chief concerns when the Ottomans declared war. The first was the security of Egypt and the Suez Canal. The second was the security of the refineries of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (quelle surprise). To that end, another major force has just landed on the Persian coast. The Ottoman port of Fao has just fallen today, after a few days of unremarkable battle.

A small detachment landed, besieged the Fao Fortress, and tried not to die while its heavy artillery was landed and set up. That done, the fortress soon fell, and the main body of men is today disembarking in Fao. They’ll soon be marching up the Shatt-al-Arab, the great waterway formed by the confluence of the Tigris and the Euphrates. Their goal is Basra, again with the intent of denying the Ottomans a base from which attacks on the oil fields might be launched.


We’ve occasionally been encountering the exploits of French colonial troops in Flanders, particularly Zouaves from North Africa. This is less than ideal for the French Empire. Since June, they’ve been fighting a war in Morocco with local Berber tribesmen, and now they’ve had to cut their forces there right down to the bone to resist the German invasion. The local French commander has been ordered to stand and wait for some diplomacy to happen, but he’s running out of patience.

Ypres salient

As though offended by yesterday’s French attempt to relieve the northern part of the Ypres salient, the Germans now begin turning their guns in more force on the French line, from Langemarck to Dixmude. The position on the Menin Road continues to sway a few hundred yards back and forth. You could write half a book on what was going on as the British Official History records another “uneventful” day.

The latest problem for the BEF is rifle oil. The Lee-Enfield rifle was a fine weapon, but it can only cope with so much rain, and so much mud. Rifle oil is almost more valuable than water in places. The vital cotton pull-throughs that the men use to clean their weapons are now so frayed and dirty that they’re more trouble than they’re worth. And the weather is still poor enough to ground aeroplanes. Mist and low cloud hangs heavy over the salient. And still the guns fire. Something has to break soon.


On the Eastern Front, the German retreat from the River Vistula has finished, and now the Russians feel secure enough for the next little while to renew the siege of Przemysl. Considerable numbers of Austrian troops are still freezing to death in the passes over the Carpathians. Whatever happens here, it’s not going to be pleasant.

And finally…

General Bergmann calls off the attacks on Cakir Baba, and rediscovers the joys of following orders. He orders his men to entrench, and obediently waits for either reinforcements or further orders.

Actions in Progress

Battle of Ypres (First Ypres)
Bergmann Offensive
Siege of Przemysl

Further Reading

The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. In today’s paper: Reality shines through again for a brief moment on page 5. “The term ‘battle’ has in this war lost its conventional significance. The successive trials of strength between the Allies and Germans in the west have had no such unity of time and locality as used to be associated with battles in other days.” They’re not wrong. This is war on a scale not known before. This is also why a lot of operations in this war have been given names like “X Offensive”. They’re simply too big to be a “battle”, as the contemporary understanding had it.

Meanwhile, there’s a very odd story on Page 11. The paper is confused as to why the recent cowardly shelling of Yarmouth by the malevolent Hun has not caused the people of the town to flood to the recruiting-offices. (The “raid” consisted of a few shells landing harmlessly on the beach.) It spends plenty of time pontificating about the apparent lack of fighting spirit in the town, but does also print a letter from a Yarmouth resident (apparently signed “One of the Cowards”) who explains why he himself has not joined up yet.

The excellent tumblr Today in World War I of course turns its eye to the Emden.

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