High Adventure on the Seven Seas and in the Arabian Desert
August 19, 2006 4:05 PM   Subscribe

The cruiser Emden was launched in 1910. When World War One broke out, she was under the command of Korvettenkapitän Karl Friedrich Max von Müller, with Kapitänleutnant Hellmuth von Mücke as executive officer, who "was as extroverted as his commander was modest." When Graf von Spee, commander of the East Asiatic Squadron, decided to keep it united and head for Chile to coal up, Müller said he'd rather go off on his own and harass British shipping. Spee agreed, and the Emden embarked on a spree of destruction that made him a hero not only to the Germans but even to the British; when it was over, the Telegraph said: "It is almost in our hearts to regret that the Emden has been captured and destroyed.... There is not a survivor who does not speak well of this young German, the officers under him and the crew obedient to his orders. The war on the sea will lose some of its piquancy, its humour and its interest now that the Emden has gone."
posted by languagehat (35 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
But wait—it's not over yet! Just before the final Battle of Cocos, Müller had put a landing party ashore under von Mücke, who seized the aged schooner Ayesha and made for Sumatra. From there he and his men made their way to Arabia, where they braved the desert and the Bedouins (who, unfortunately for the Germans who were theoretically their allies, had just embarked on their rebellion against the Turks, so memorably described by T.E. Lawrence) and successfully reached Constantinople, where a German journalist asked von Mücke whether he'd prefer a bath or Rhein wine. "Rhein wine," said von Mücke. Are you wishing you could get his story firsthand? You can—he wrote it all down, it was published and translated into English, and now it's on the Internet, complete with pictures. If you like tales of derring-do on the high seas, follow the links and read away, me hearties!
posted by languagehat at 4:06 PM on August 19, 2006 [2 favorites]

Now this is a story someone should make a movie about.
posted by SenshiNeko at 5:05 PM on August 19, 2006

What a great tale! In reading these accounts (and others), what strikes me is how much respect each side showed the other. Rules of engagement were strictly observed, and credit for the enemy's valor and tactical brilliance readily given. Your Telegraph quote evinces this attitude, as does the presence of one of the Emden's guns as a monument in Sydney's Hyde Park.

Contrast this with official attitudes and pronouncements today: the demonization of the other (as well as domestic opponents) coupled with the fetishization of militarism paint a sad picture indeed.
posted by rob511 at 6:05 PM on August 19, 2006

"Contrast this with official attitudes and pronouncements today: the demonization of the other ... the fetishization of militarism"

I partly agree with what you've said here, and indeed there was a sort of "gentlemanly" aspect to war that is absent from the conflicts of the present day. However, the fetishization of militarism was, I think, in full swing during the WW1 era, it's just that it was, well, more gentlemanly. Still insidious, though. But it is clear we're talking another era altogether when people use words like piquancy, humour and interest to describe war.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:38 PM on August 19, 2006

I think that's because it's a case of symmetrical warfare - empire-to-empire, admiral-to-admiral, general-to-general - which hasn't been seen on a large scale for half a century. Everyone's playing "the great game" for the same stakes, so they can acknowledge a good move when they see one. Similarly, Rommel vs Montgomery in WWII had a sort of allstars air to it. In asymmetrical warfare (or colonial occupation, depending on how you look at it), everyone has to fight dirty and take things very personally. It's a race to the bottom.
posted by stammer at 6:39 PM on August 19, 2006

Interesting read, languagehat - thanks for the link.
posted by caution live frogs at 6:54 PM on August 19, 2006

First, great post.

Part of the horror of world war I was caused by this treatment of the first mechanised war like a skirmish from the 19th century.

Troops shot by their own side for 'cowardice in the face of the enemy' - usually caused by shell shock. Troops marched by the thousand into relentless machine-gun fire, because two sides squaring off shooting at each other till one broke was 'how it was done'.

We still have rules of engagement and proper treatment of prisoners etc, the geneva conventions. What do you do when neither side is prepared to follow them? Unlawful combatants, my ass.

Still, this german captain does sound like the kind of enemy you'd like to have, one who concentrated mainly on the economic aspect, and went well out of his way to avoid killing civilians, and risked his own ship to save enemy crew from the sea. If a war must be fought, you would hope men like Mücke would be fighting in it.
posted by ArkhanJG at 7:36 PM on August 19, 2006

Everyone's playing "the great game" for the same stakes, so they can acknowledge a good move when they see one.

Maybe that's what this "War on Terrorism" needs: the gravitas to require a true multinational effort.

I mean, I could really get serious about a "War on Terror" if it were well-defined, plainly-spoken, no-bullshit. What we got isn't a war on fuck-all: it's plainly a naked power grab by a lunatic hell-bent on hijacking the entire world in one grand last finale before his black little heart finally kacks it. "Cheney's Last Stand," the few survivors will call it, watching their skin fall off in rags.

I swear, if I were a Christian I'd pretty much have to consider the US Vice-President the anti-Christ.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:30 PM on August 19, 2006

Come to think of it, the very best chance of increasing his popularity among the electorate would be for Bush to shoot Cheney dead on television...
posted by five fresh fish at 8:31 PM on August 19, 2006

Do you know, fff, as a thought experiment, I tried to decide how I'd feel, what I'd think, etc., if I discovered GWB had offed Cheney in the manner you describe, and I'm having a hard time doing it. Would such brazen, unholy, violent action make me like our President better? It's an interesting thing to try to think about.
posted by cgc373 at 8:41 PM on August 19, 2006

I'd like him better; but, that's like saying I'd like a rattlesnake better if it bit someone who was robbing me at gunpoint than if it bit me. I still wouldn't like the snake very much.
posted by taosbat at 9:25 PM on August 19, 2006

I suppose it wouldn't make him better, but surely the man who kills the Anti-Christ is a hero.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:59 PM on August 19, 2006

Great post, languagehat. If I ever get around to compiling an all time favorite MeFi list, this one is going near the top. And I haven't even gotten to your second link yet.

Anyway, the lesson I'm coming away with here is that by strictly following the rules of engagement, and in some cases going beyond them, Muller and Mucke were able to keep their humanity intact in war but also used thier chivalrous behavior to tactical advantage. After a certain point, the Emden's reputation became such an embarrassment to the British that honor becameart of the crew's stategy What a depressing comparison this makes to the hawkish rhetoric now that bloviates about 'hearts and minds' one minute and defends the actions at Gitmo & Abu Ghraib the next.

And so many great details in this story. The part about the laundry soap is hilarious.

Anyway, onto Mucke's great escape. Thanks again!
posted by maryh at 11:38 PM on August 19, 2006

(sorry about that lack of punctuation.)
posted by maryh at 11:40 PM on August 19, 2006

Fantastic post. I've just spent a great half-hour wading through all the links. Mücke's story in particular is fascinating, and there are so many great turns of speech - this one caught my eye, for instance:

coal from India, the very dirtiest coal in the world

Thanks for the links.
posted by greycap at 1:16 AM on August 20, 2006

posted by zoinks at 1:32 AM on August 20, 2006

Outstanding post thanks. I found the soap episode particularly amusing. Fancy that! Overpower a ship full of toilet soap and 2 weeks later your exploits become part of that soap company's advertising campaign.

I had gone off trawling for more info before looking inside the thread. A [more inside] message on the front page is a good thing - not remonstrating, just noting. Now I'll go and take a peek at the gregarious executive officer's tales.

The bow of HMAS Sydney (the vessel that downed the Emden) now holds pride of place under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, just by the by.
posted by peacay at 2:40 AM on August 20, 2006

The mast of (the first) HMAS Sydney is also on the harbour, just near Taronga Zoo.

I think there is a lot of pride in the fact that one of our ships actually did something, once upon a time.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:26 AM on August 20, 2006

A [more inside] message on the front page is a good thing

Yeah, sorry about that. I was so focused on getting the first comment ready to go the instant I hit Post that I forgot to add the promise of more to the initial post; as soon as I saw it in white on blue I thought "Damn, I forgot the [more inside]" (yes, my thoughts include square brackets), but it was Too Late. Glad y'all liked the post!
posted by languagehat at 6:16 AM on August 20, 2006

Thank you, LanguageHat. This is why I love MF.

I also found interesting Peacay's post of the HMAS Sydney's memorial beneath the bridge — wow. I'd read that the Romans hung the prows of enemy triremes in the Rostra, but hadn't seen it done in commemoration of one's own. With the battered name, the truncated, fixed vestige of the vanished ship forever facing the sea, it struck me as delightfully melancholy. And I bet kids like to climb on it, too.
posted by Haruspex at 8:15 AM on August 20, 2006

I finally got to read the articles.

Best. Pirate Story. Evah.

He's like a Lawrence of Arabia of the sea. What a delightful story!
posted by five fresh fish at 10:22 AM on August 20, 2006

While the soap was amusing, I enjoyed the Scottish captain who denied having an English ship. I mean, wouldn't you?

Nice post, Languagehat. WWI was horrible (read MacNaughton's nursing memoirs), but part of the horror was that some still tried to play by the old rules.
posted by QIbHom at 10:24 AM on August 20, 2006

From Mücke's account:

On the eighteenth of September, in the evening, the Emden entered the harbor. It so happened that this was the day after the one on which the joyful tidings of the Emden's destruction had been officially announced. To celebrate the happy occasion, a large company had assembled for dinner at the Club. As we were not aware of this, it was hardly our fault that the Emden's shells fell into the soup. Had we known of the dinner party, we would, of course, gladly have deferred our attack until another day, as it is the part of wisdom never to exasperate the enemy unnecessarily. A due regard should always be shown for sacred institutions, and dinner is an institution with regard to which the English are always keenly sensitive.

Hee hee! Thanks, languagehat!
posted by Pallas Athena at 10:57 AM on August 20, 2006

Von Muecke's later career (he died in 1957) saw him as an anti-Nazi, something of a lefty, and a decided peacenik. For those with German (and even those without), some details can be found here and a fuller bio described here.

Muller died in 1923 and so avoided the worst of times.

(He's a bit old for it now, I suppose, but Dennis Hopper has a bit of the von Muecke thing going on, don't you think? For the movie no one will ever make, I mean.)
posted by IndigoJones at 12:35 PM on August 20, 2006

I especially enjoyed this paragraph from Mücke's account:

One captain was especially amusing. His was the unenviable duty of taking a bucket- dredger from England to Australia. No seafaring man can help sympathizing with the unfortunate who has to conduct one of these rolling tubs, with a speed of not more than four nautical miles at best, all the way from Europe down to Australia. And so, from a purely humane standpoint, we could fully appreciate this English captain's joy at being captured. Rarely have I seen anyone jump so high for joy. He must have been a past master in the art of jumping to be able to keep his feet in spite of the terrible rolling of his Ship. Tears of gratitude coursed down his weathered cheeks as he exclaimed, "Thank God, that the old tub is gone! The five hundred pounds I was to have for taking her to Australia were paid me in advance."
posted by A dead Quaker at 1:11 PM on August 20, 2006

The Ayesha: Adventures of the Landing Squad of the Emden by kapitänleutnant Hellmuth von Mücke.
posted by nickyskye at 9:55 PM on August 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

Great find, nickyskye! Another gripping read:
The burning heat of the sun made life intolerable during the day. While firing, we could not wear our light-colored head-cloths, as they afforded the enemy too good a target. The intense bright light dazzled our eyes, and made our heads ache. Everything was so hot that we burned our hands when, in firing, they occasionally touched the barrel of our rifles... High in the air, just over our camp, circled from twenty to thirty great vultures.
And it turns out that the Rhine-wine-or-a-bath anecdote happened at El Ula (the Hejaz Railway station from which they took the train north to Syria after their adventures) rather than in Constantinople—I was misled by Hew Strachan. Tsk, tsk, Hew!

While I'm here, I'll give a description of another great WWI saga I had hoped to make a post of, but it turns out there's nothing online in English. The hero of this one is Ömer Fahreddin Pasha (1868-1948; Fahreddin is also rendered as Fakhreddin or Fahrettin; when Atatürk made Turks take family names in 1933, he chose Türkkan). I quote A.L. Macfie's excellent The End of the Ottoman Empire, 1908-1923:
Ottoman control of Medina, sustained throughout the war by a garrison of some 3,250 officers and men, obliged Sherif Husein to keep most of his forces in the southern part of the Hedjaz until the closing stages of the war, for it was deemed inadvisable to risk the advance of substantial forces while so strong an enemy remained in the rear. The story of the defence of the city, led by Fahreddin Pasha, the 'Tiger of the Desert', has, thanks to an account of the defence later rendered by Naci Kashif Kiciman [Naci Kaşif Kıcıman], an intelligence officer attached to Fahreddin Pasha's staff, become something of a Turkish legend.

...Fahreddin issued a proclamation declaring his intention to defend Medina, the 'apple of the eye of the Caliphate', to the last bullet, the last drop of blood, and the last soldier... Following the proclamation the defences of the city were strengthened and the bulk of the civilian population evacuated, for food was in short supply... On 16 December [1917] the birthday of the Prophet was celebrated with a recital of the Mevlid (a Turkish poem celebrating the birth of the Prophet), and the troops were feasted with a menu of helva and pilaff—though the food situation remained critical. In February 1918, when Fahreddin rallied forth to confront the forces of Abdullah, surrounding the city, Abdullah simply fled, leaving behind 45 camels; but in March the railway link with Damascus was finally cut. Thereafter the garrison remained isolated; but Fahreddin refused to give up. In April a freak hailstorm occurred, covering the city with white, icy hailstones. A day or two later the temperature reached 35°C in the shade. In June, when the temperature reached 47°C [116.6°F] in the shade the rations of the officers and men were further reduced...

Reports of the loss of Damascus and the Mudros Armistice, which ended the Ottoman participation in the First World War, did nothing to quench Fahreddin's spirit. Ordered to surrender by Ahmed Izzet Pasha, the grand vizier and minister of war, on 6 November 1918, he refused to obey unless instructed to do so by the sultan-caliph. On 6 December he delivered the sermon for Friday prayers in the Prophet's Mosque; and in the following weeks he continued to repel Bedouin attacks on the outposts of the garrison. By then, however, as even Fahreddin had come to realise, the position was hopeless. Supplies were again running short; and both officers and men, afflicted by an epidemic of Spanish influenza and hunger, were deserting. As a result on 5 January, Fahreddin, finally defeated, ordered the closure of the special fund [for contributions by officers and men to buy food from the Bedouins] and resigned. Shortly thereafter, Colonel Necip Bey, his successor, concluded an agreement with Husein's son, Ali, arranging for the surrender of the city.
That should make a great movie! (There's an account in Turkish here, if anyone here, unlike me, reads Turkish.)
posted by languagehat at 6:58 AM on August 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

it turns out there's nothing online in English.

Anything offline, in English or otherwise? (Just if you know offhand.) Thanks in advance (as well as for original post. I'm a sucker for WWI stuff.)
posted by IndigoJones at 3:41 PM on August 24, 2006

Just the Macfie stuff I quoted; that's where I learned about the guy. If you find more, please post it here (or let me know, if the thread is closed)!
posted by languagehat at 6:23 PM on August 24, 2006

OK, Macfie sources the story to S. Tanvir Wasti, “The Defence of Medina, 1916-19,” Middle Eastern Studies, XXVI, 4 (1991): 642-653, so that's where you could look for further information (and more references).
posted by languagehat at 5:07 AM on August 25, 2006

Good enough, first chance I get. Many thanks
posted by IndigoJones at 5:22 AM on August 25, 2006

Wasti gets most of his material from E. Kedourie, The Surrender of Medina, in his (Kedourie's) book Islam in the Modern World (London 1980,) pages 277-296.

(Are you aware, by the way, that the NYPL will post short articles in pdf format and send you a link if you have the full citation and if the article is off site?)
posted by IndigoJones at 2:01 PM on August 25, 2006

No, I wasn't—thank you! What a great service!
posted by languagehat at 2:44 PM on August 25, 2006

And I just had my library order the Kedourie book with one click! I love this modern world...
posted by languagehat at 2:47 PM on August 25, 2006

(My bad- Kedourie takes his material from the British Foreign Office, Wasti complements it with Arab sources. I glanced at article too quickly while at work. But all to the good, as one likes hearing both sides of the story.)

The article service can be exploited by writing to
callaheadhssl@nypl.org. Should have mentioned that earlier. Rushed at work on a Friday afternoon is my only excuse.
posted by IndigoJones at 8:13 AM on August 26, 2006

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