Monday, 27 October 2014

World war I Bombing of Madras by SMS EMDEN - 1914

The German light cruiser SMS
The British India naval base at Madras was considered one of the best in the British empire and under the British rule, and it was not easy to access the Madras harbor because the Bay of Bengal was  dominate by Brish mercantile ships. Further, Singapore was an important port for the British. India was drawn into world war I because of unfavorable circumstances. The Indian troops and money played a major role. Until September,1914, Madras harbor was considered a safe place free from enemy attack.

SMS Emden.Boming of Madras, British India. en
The German light cruiser SMS Emden’s  planned, but lightning  assault on Madras changed that perception and it was so spectacular it created a lasting impact on the then people of Madras.Though there was no causality, the morale of the British rulers took a severe beating. The public and the British navy were taken aback. The purpose of the  sudden attack was to create panic among the citizens, and the commandant’s goal was to destroy the tanks of Burma Oil Company. When Emden approached  Madras stealthy on the night of September 22, 1914, there was no Allied warship around, and by 9-45 pm. It lay 2,500 meters off shore near the harbor, with the starboard side facing the city.

The commandant of SMS Emden, Karl Von Muller, keen on avoiding any civilian casualty, ordered the gunners to keep away from the streets and aim only at the oil tanks, which were close to the High Court. When the searchlights of the ship were turned on, the powerful beams could easily pick up the three oil tanks, painted white with red stripes the attack lasted 30 minutes. After firing 130 shells and way before the British shore batteries could respond, Emden turned and disappeared into the darkness in a jiff. After bombing within moments all three tanks were hit. One of them was empty but the other two caught fire and  5,000 tonnes of kerosene oil stored in the tanks went up in flames. There is still a plaque on the Eastern wall of the Madras High Court building marking the spot hit by an Emden  shell. There was a similar plaque in Clive’s Battery  at Royapuram (Chennai) also.

German shelling resulted in the death of five crew members and 26 wounded of a small merchant ship near the harbor  that night. In the aftermath of bombing by the German ship, there was panic in the city and this infuriated the mighty British  military forces and the crown. It was a major  topic of discussion not only in Madras and but also in other towns and cities.Even there were cases of hundreds of families moving down southern districts  in case there was a second attack. In England, it became a big topic of discussion and debate among the British politicians. The Emden German Cruiser attack on Madras rattled the entire British Empire whose honor was at stack.