At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the Australian Fleet consisted of a battle cruiser, six light cruisers, six destroyers, two submarines and support and ancillary craft.
One of the biggest threats to British trade routes in the Indian Ocean was the SMS Emden, a German cruiser that formed part of the German East Asiatic Squadron. Emden stalked Indian Ocean shipping routes, capturing or sinking 21 vessels, and became the scourge of Allied naval ships.
HMAS Sydney was escorting the first convoy of Australian and New Zealand troops to Egypt when it received news of a strange vessel close by on Direction Island in the Cocos Islands.
Sydney was detached to investigate the sighting, and on the 9th of November 1914 surprised the Emden while it was attacking the British radio station on the Cocos Islands. A short battle ensued with the Sydney overpowering the Emden, which was deliberately run aground and sunk on North Keeling Island. This victory marked the first battle of the Royal Australian Navy.
Several salvage operations were carried out on the wreck of the Emden, and three of the four guns found new homes in Australia, including the Australian War Memorial.
On 9 November 1941, the bow of the original HMAS Sydney was unveiled overlooking Sydney Opera House as a memorial commemorating the sinking of the German Raider Emden by HMAS Sydney.