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HMAS Sydney's hunt for the German raider, Emden.

HMAS Sydney's hunt for the German raider, Emden.

When the ships of the new Royal Australian Navy made their grand entry into Sydney Harbour in October 1913, a young nation was at peace.

Under a year later Australia had gone to war in what was seen as a noble fight for king, country and Empire. Thousands of young men joined up for the adventure of having ‘a crack at the Kaiser’. And indeed the German threat to Australia was real, and very near – in the Pacific islands to our north, and in the Indian Ocean.

In the opening months of the war, a German raider, Emden, wreaked havoc on the maritime trade of the British Empire. Its battle against the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney, when it finally came, was short and bloody – an emphatic first victory at sea for the fledgling Royal Australian Navy.

This is the stirring story of the perilous opening months of the Great War and the bloody sea battle that destroyed the Emden in a triumph for Australia that resounded around the world.

In the century since, many writers have been there before Mike Carlton. Most were German, some of them survivors of the battle, others later historians, and they have generally told the story well. British accounts vary in quality, from good to nonsense, and there have been some patchwork American attempts as well. Curiously, there has been very little written from an Australian point of view. This book is – in part – an attempt to remedy that, with new facts and perspectives brought into the light of day.


A meticulously researched, finely illustrated and well-indexed book ... First Victory is a pleasure to read. And as a historian it is gratifying to be told, in some detail, how men of foresight had campaigned for our new nation, which had only federated on January 1, 1901, to have our own navy ... First Victory is a finely written and engrossing tale.

Ross Fitzgerald, Australian

[Mike Carlton] has a reporter’s eye for Australia and her people at this turbulent time, and he beautifully depicts the characters on board both ships, with sympathy and a profound knowledge of sailors and the sea. First Victory is a worthy sucessor to his best-selling Cruiser, the story of HMAS Perth in World War Two.

Inside History magazine

No other book on this first victory for the Australian Navy tells the story as well as Mike Carlton’s masterly and thrilling First Victory ... Carlton – who has experience as an ABC war correspondent in Vietnam – highlights the battle in great detail with a sense of impartiality and humanity ... [he] is the perfect man to make this period of our nation’s history come alive on the page.

InDaily Adelaide Independent News

Most of the book is devoted to providing the best account in recent decades of how the light cruiser Emden and her intelligent and resourceful captain, Karl von Muller, roamed the Indian Ocean ... The account of the last battle of the ''Swan of the East'' with her more powerful nemesis HMAS Sydney is movingly retold with a wealth of detail that brings the battle to life ... a scholarly book, rich with the fruits of careful research from both sides, which can be enjoyed by naval historians and general readers with equal satisfaction.

Desmond Woods, Age

Carlton's love of all things naval comes through in the detail, and the story steams along at a steady 20 knots to its exciting climax.

Herald Sun

This is a cracking read ... written in a style and with a momentum that would not be out of place in a Patrick O’Brian novel of the sea. The tale of HMAS Sydney’s destruction of the German cruiser Emden is told with both authority and clarity, and with light humour as appropriate ... In this centenary year of the outbreak of the Great War, Carlton has written an immensely readable account of a naval battle critical to Australia’s security. First Victory is military history of the first tier.

Stephen Loosley, Spectator

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Formats & editions

  • Trade Paperback


    October 1, 2014

    William Heinemann Australia

    496 pages

    RRP $34.99

    Online retailers

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    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook


    October 1, 2013

    Random House Australia

    496 pages

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