Karl von Müller

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Karl von Müller
Karl von Müller.jpg
Born June 16, 1873
Hanover, Prussia
Died March 11, 1923(1923-03-11) (aged 49)
Braunschweig
Allegiance  German Empire
Service/branch  Kaiserliche Marine
Years of service 1891–1919
Rank Kapitän zur See
Commands held SMS Emden
Battles/wars

Second Chinese Revolution
World War I

Awards Iron Cross 1st class
Pour le Mérite

Karl Friedrich Max von Müller (June 16, 1873 – March 11, 1923) was Captain of the famous German commerce raider, the light cruiser SMS Emden during World War I.

Early life and career[edit]

The son of a Prussian Army colonel, he was born in Hanover. After attending gymnasium at Hanover and Kiel, he entered the military academy at Plön in Schleswig-Holstein, but transferred to the Imperial Navy, on Easter 1891. He served on the schoolship Stosch, then on the 'cruiser-frigate' Gneisenau on a voyage to the Americas. He then became signal lieutenant of battleship Baden in October 1894, and later, on her sister ship the Sachsen.

Von Müller was promoted to Oberleutnant zur See, and posted to the gunboat Schwalbe. During the Schwalbe's deployment to German East Africa, he caught malaria which troubled him for the remainder of his life.

After returning to Germany in 1900, he served ashore before becoming second gunnery officer of the battleship SMS Kaiser Wilhelm II. An appointment to the staff of Admiral Prince Heinrich of Prussia proved to be his "big break". After receiving high praise and ratings from his superiors, he was promoted to the rank of Korvettenkapitän in December 1908, and assigned to the Reichsmarineamt in Berlin where he impressed grand admiral Alfred von Tirpitz.

In command[edit]

As a reward, von Müller was given command of the SMS Emden in the Spring of 1913. Soon he achieved fame and notoriety in both the German and other imperial powers' newspapers for initiative and skill in shelling rebellious forts along the Yangtze at Nanjing (or Nanking). He was awarded the Order of the Royal Crown Third Class with Swords.

At the outbreak of World War I, Emden was anchored in the German base at Tsingtao. She departed in the evening of July 31, 1914. On August 4, she intercepted and captured the Russian mail steamer Rjäsan, the first prize taken by the Imperial German Navy (Kaiserliche Marine) of the Great War. Emden then rendezvoused with the German East Asia Squadron of Admiral-Graf (Count) Maximilian von Spee in the Mariana Islands.

It was during a conference at the island of Pagan that Müller proposed a single light cruiser of the squadron be detached to raid Allied commerce in the Indian Ocean, while the remainder of von Spee's Squadron continued east across the Pacific. Kapitän von Müller and Emden were given the assignment.

In the following 12 weeks the Emden and Müller achieved a reputation for daring and chivalry unequalled by any other German ship or Captain. Müller was highly scrupulous about trying to avoid inflicting non-combatant and civilian casualties. While taking fourteen prizes, the only merchant sailors killed by the Emden's guns were five victims of a shore bombardment of British oil tanks at the port of Madras, India, despite the precautions Müller had taken so the line of fire would miss civilian areas of the city. Emden also sank the Russian cruiser Zhemchug and the French destroyer Mousquet during a daring raid on Penang, Malaya. Thirty-six French survivors from Mousquet were rescued by the Emden, and when three died of their injuries, they were buried at sea with full honours. The remaining Frenchmen were transferred to a British steamer, Newburn, which had been stopped by the German ship, but not attacked, so as to enable them to be transported to Sabang, Sumatra, in the neutral Dutch East Indies.

Defeat and captivity[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Battle of Cocos.

When the Emden sent a landing party ashore to destroy a radio station at Port Refuge in the Keeling Islands on November 8, 1914, she was finally cornered by the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney, and was defeated by its heavier guns. Müller, with the rest of his surviving crew, was captured and taken to Malta. A detachment of the crew which had gone ashore was missed, and escaped to Germany under the leadership of Emden's first officer Hellmuth von Mücke. On October 8, 1916, two days after the German resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare, Müller was separated from the rest of the Emden crew prisoners and taken to England where he was interned at a prisoner of war camp for German officers located at the Midlands Agricultural and Dairy College (now the Sutton Bonington Campus of the University of Nottingham). In 1917 he led an escape of 21 prisoners through an underground tunnel, but was recaptured. The climate of England disagreed with his malaria, and he was eventually sent to the Netherlands for treatment as part of a humanitarian prisoner exchange. In October 1918 he was repatriated to Germany.

Kapitan v. Müller Street in Hanover

Final years[edit]

After some controversy[clarification needed], Müller was awarded the Pour le Mérite (or Blue Max) and finally promoted to Kapitän zur See. In early 1919, he retired from the Navy on grounds of ill health, and settled in Blankenburg. He politely refused to write a book detailing his service and exploits. He was elected to the state parliament of Brunswick (Braunschweig) on an anti-class platform as a member of the German National People's Party. He died there quite suddenly, most likely weakened by frequent malarial bouts, on March 11, 1923.

References and links[edit]