Zhemchug crew remembered in 104-years old Battle of Penang

Battle of Penang: Defense attaches of the Russian Embassy to Malaysia place wreaths on the monument with the national anthem of the country playing. Video by Maxim Salnikov

By Jonathan Edward

On Oct 28, 1914, the cruiser Zhemchug (Pearl) was sunk in the Battle of Penang. This was during World War 1 in a naval action that took place in the Straits of Malacca.

On Saturday, Russian diplomats in Malaysia marked the loss of 88 Russian sailors aboard the cruiser.

In the solemn ceremony, the Embassy lays a wreath in their honour at the monument. Valery Yermolov ambassador of Russia to Malaysia and a defence attaché stands by a rendition of the Russian national anthem.

“The loss of these sailors and their ship Zhemchug is a tragedy that we will continue to remember and mark with each passing year.

“Their untimely fate so far from home reminds us of the sacrifice by these young men over a hundred years ago. We will never forget them and we will continue to carry them in our memories,” he says.

Some 20 members of the Russian expatriate community attended. The ceremony was held at the Western Road Cemetery along Jalan Utama in George Town.

A brief Orthodox Church memorial service follows the wreath laying.

Penang historian Salma Khoo was present. She is the writer of “More than just Merchants” a 2006 book.

The book details the lives of the German-speaking community in colonial Malaya. It includes passages on the Battle of Penang.

“Not many Malaysians are aware of any of actions during the first World War in Malaysia. But it is a spectacular incident from that time.

“The quick and deadly raid caught the imagination of many. Certainly widely spoken about in that time. Malay fishermen were on hands, saving a number of the Russian sailors. The German ship was still firing but the fishermen bravely saves the sailors,” she said.

Khoo points out there is, in fact, two memorials – the well-known one at the cemetery and another on Pulau Jerejak. Jerejak is a small island off-Penang Island. It underwent renovations by Soviet sailors in 1972 and 1987.

“When two of the sailor’s bodies washed up on Jerejak the decision was to bury them on site. A smaller monument stands erect on the island.”

The Battle of Penang is a naval action in the Straits of Malacca, in which the German cruiser SMS Emden sank two Allied warships.

The Zhemchug and the French destroyer Mousquet lie in the waters off Penang island.

The Russian cruiser is famous for the Tsushima Sea Battle during the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. Its trip to the Penang Harbor for maintenance in early October happens to be its last.

Early on the morning of Oct 28 the German light cruiser SMS Emden, disguises with a fake smokestack.

Its appearance in the straits and penetration in the harbour was surprising, misleading Allied naval vessels on alert.

Mistaken for the British cruiser HMS Yarmouth, it opens fire.

Before the Allied forces on guard respond, a torpedo hit the Zhemchug point blank.

This was followed by a salvo of shells which crippled the ship.

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