The Battle of Cocos was a single-ship action that occurred on this day in 1914, after the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney (under the command of John Glossop) responded to an attack on a communications station at Direction Island by the German light cruiser SMS Emden (commanded by Karl von Müller).
After the retreat of the German East Asia Squadron from south-east Asia, Emden remained behind to function as a commerce raider. During a two-month period, the German cruiser captured or sank 25 civilian vessels, shelled Madras, and destroyed two Allied warships at Penang. In early November, von Müller decided to attack the communications station at Direction Island, in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, to hamper Allied communications and frustrate the search for his ship. Around the same time, a convoy of Europe-bound transports carrying Australian and New Zealand soldiers departed from Albany, Western Australia, with HMAS Melbourne and HMAS Sydney.
During the night of 8–9 November, Emden reached the islands, and sent a party ashore at around 06:00 to disable the wireless and cable transmission station on Direction Island. The station was able to transmit a distress call before it was shut down. Melbourne received the message, and ordered Sydney to investigate. The Australian ship arrived off Direction Island at 09:15, spotting and being spotted by Emden. Both ships prepared for combat, with Emden opening fire at 09:40: surprising those aboard Sydney by scoring hits well beyond what British intelligence estimated her guns were capable of. The German ship was unable to inflict disabling damage to the Australian cruiser before Sydney opened up with her more powerful main guns. At 11:20, von Müller ordered that the heavily damaged Emden beach on North Keeling Island.
Of Emden ’s crew, 134 were killed and 69 wounded, compared to only 4 killed and 16 wounded aboard Sydney.