En route to Colombo on 9 November 1914 the convoy passed some 100kms to the east of the Cocos Keeling Islands. At around 6.30am, a distress signal from the islands' wireless station was picked up. The message read simply "Strange warship approaching... SOS... Strange warship approaching." The transmissions suddenly ended. Sydney was sent to investigate. At 9.15am she spotted the German Raider, SMS Emden anchored off the wireless and cable station at Direction Island. A German raiding party was on the island. When Emden saw Sydney approaching she abandoned her raiding party and weighed anchor to meet Sydney in open waters.
Emden fired the first salvos at more than 9,000 metres and scored 15 direct hits, only five of which detonated. Four of Sydney's crewmen were killed and a number wounded. The ship's range finder was destroyed.
Captain Glossop maneuvered Sydney out of the German's range and returned fire. The two ships moved north as the battle raged but Emden, despite maintaining her fire, eventually succumbed to Sydney's superior firepower and speed. After one and a half hours the German raider was devastated by numerous direct hits. With no chance of survival Emden's Captain, Karl von Muller, deliberately ran his ship aground at North Keeling Island to spare his men drowning.
With Emden 'beached and done for' Sydney went after Emden's supporting collier Buresk, which had been spotted nearby. But before it could be reached the collier was scuttled. Sydney returned to Emden to find the stranded German cruiser was still flying her war ensign – the internationally accepted signal that she still intended to continue the fight. Captain Glossop sent three messages asking Emden to strike her colours but they continued to fly and no intelligible response was received. Glossop fired two more salvoes into Emden. The German's war ensign came down and a white flag was raised. Sydney immediately ceased fire and the Battle of Cocos was over. Australia had recorded its first sea battle.
Emden's survivors, including her Captain, were taken aboard Sydney and the wounded attended to. The German landing party escaped capture, fleeing the island on a derelict schooner found in the port. Sydney took the prisoners to Colombo where they transferred ship for passage to Malta, England or Australia for internment. Sydney proceeded to Malta and then headed to Bermuda to join the North America and West Indies Station.
This is just a taste of the story. For more of this story please contact the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Visitor Centre who have a series of Fact Sheets on Sydney Emden available for purchase.