World War I Battle in SE Asia Remembered


We expect to see frequent news items about World War I centennial commemorations. Nearly all of them will be held in France or nearby. But this week there was a World War I battle commemoration held near the spot where scores of Russian & French sailors died in a little known but deadly battle in Malaya (now Malaysia). 

100 years ago the German raider Emden stealthily entered Penang harbor in the dark of the night disguised as a British warship. There she found the Russian cruiser Zhemchug anchored. A bold blitz attack set Zhemchug afire & then to the bottom killing over 80 Russian sailors & grieviously burning many others. On her escape away from Penang Emden then encountered the French destroyer Mousquet & surprised her sinking her as well. The German navy stunned the Allies in the Battle of Penang.

This week the centinnial of the Battle of Penang was observed when the Russian Ambassador to Malaysia, diplomats & military officers from several countries, local politicians, historians & a Russian Orthodox priest came to remember the fallen.

A memorial marking the grave of several of the Russian sailors killed in the battle is found in a shaded place in the Western Road Cemetery.

The Russian sailor's grave is marked by the anchor recovered from the sunken Zhemchug.

A plate lists the names of all the Zhemchug sailors who sucumbed in the Battle of Penang.

On this centinnial of the battle an unusually large crowd assembled for this annual event.

A Russian Orthodox nun approaches with a crucifix.

 She lights candles prior to prayers for the lost sailors.

A young Russian Orthodox priest chants prayers over the fallen sailors, incense spreading in the air.

Russian Orthodox faithful accompany the prayers with chanted intercession.

The Chief Minister of Penang stands alongside the Russian Ambassador during prayers.


Russian Ambassador Lyudmila G. Vorobyeva thanks Malaysia for how her people rushed to pull injured Russian sailors out of the water after the Zhemchug sank in Penang harbor.

A Russian navy officer salutes his country's fallen sailors.

Military, diplomats & clergy join in remembering war heros.

British historian J. D. Robertson--whose recent book "The Battle of Penang" is largely responsible for reviving interest in this far-off World War I battle--gives an interview to Russian televsion while standing before the Zhemchug mass grave.

A few kilometers away the anchor to the lost French destroyer Mousquet lies on display before the Penang State Musuem. Strangely, the French make no commemoration of their fallen in the Battle of Penang. Though there is a rumor that they intend to build a memorial & make a major remembrance of their fallen sailors later this year.

In the meantime, the sun rises again on a quite, usually forgotten mass grave where Allied sailors died far from home in World War I.

It all seems too bizarre to be true--a Russian Orthodox service in predominately Muslim Malaysia commemorating Russian sailors killed by a World War I German attack in Malaysia? But these things really happened. It's no wonder that the Great War eventually became known as World War I.

Do you know of any other World War I battle commemorations being held further from the French trenches than this one? If so, please tell us.  

You may see a few more of my images of this centinnial remembrance in my Demotix article here