days immediately following the outbreak of World War I were dominated, in the
Mediterranean, by the chase and escape of the German Mittelmeerdivision,
comprising the battle cruiser Goeben
and her faithful consort, the light cruiser Breslau,
under the command of Admiral Wilhelm Souchon.
The escape is one of the best known episodes of the Great War and has been the
subject of numerous books and articles, the majority of which have sought to
apportion blame for the lamentable events between the Admiralty in London, the
British Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean, Admiral Sir Archibald Berkeley Milne,
and the Commander of the First Cruiser Squadron, patrolling the Adriatic,
Only two previous account have even hinted that there may have been something
amiss in Athens, involving factions within the Greek Government and ruling
what has not been revealed before is that the conspiracy, for conspiracy it was,
to see the German ships safely on their way, involved not only the Greek Premier
and King Constantine, but also Rear-Admiral Mark Kerr, the head of the Greek
navy and a serving British officer.
For the moment, Admiral Souchon had other things on his mind. Having
bombarded the North African ports of Philippeville and Bona early on the morning
of Tuesday, 4 August in an attempt to disrupt the transportation of the Algerian
Corps to France, Souchon first feinted west, to throw any would-be pursuers off
the scent, and then doubled back with the intention of returning to Messina,
there to coal, before resuming his dash to Constantinople. Two days previously,
the Turco-German alliance had been signed
which was sufficient reason to countermand the original order, that Goeben
could not be dispensed with,
and override the wishes of the German Admiralty staff, who believed that the
battle cruiser had no business to be in Turkish waters. Although there would be
a further political difficulty, as the Turkish Grand Vizier attempted to extract
more concessions from his new found Allies, as far as Souchon was concerned,
from the time of the receipt of the signal that had been flashed to his ship
during the night of 3/4 August directing him towards the Dardanelles,
he had but one purpose: to reach Constantinople.
As the German ships raced back to Messina on 4 August, they were
fortuitously intercepted by the British battle cruisers Indefatigable
and Indomitable which had been
detached from their temporary assignment to Rear-Admiral Troubridge’s First
Cruiser Squadron and directed west by the First Sea Lord, Prince Louis of
Battenberg, to close the exit through the Straits of Gibraltar. As war between
Britain and Germany had not yet been declared
the British ships could do no more than silently and sullenly follow their prey,
waiting for the signal that hostilities could commence. It would not come in
time. During the afternoon, by dint of superhuman effort below decks, Goeben,
although way below her trial speed, was able to edge away from her pursuers
until, eventually, she was swallowed by the haze that had descended. Once back
in Messina, Souchon coaled as best he could from the limited stocks available
from half a dozen steamers in the harbour and considered his options. They were
not promising. His erstwhile Italian allies had already declared their
neutrality, while the Austrian fleet seemed disinclined to come to his rescue.
Souchon determined, therefore, to coal as quickly as he could and break out of
the Straits of Messina south and then east, but only after first feinting as if
to go to the Adriatic.
For Admiral Milne, the British Commander-in-Chief, it should have been a
relatively simple task, once Souchon had re-entered Messina, to blockade him
there. With three battle cruisers at his disposal, together with the four heavy
cruisers of Troubridge’s squadron and a further four light cruisers, Milne
could have ordered Indomitable and Indefatigable
to close the northern exit of the Straits, while he, in his flagship Inflexible,
together with three of the four light cruisers,
could have closed the southern exit. Troubridge’s squadron could have been
left on station guarding the entrance to the Adriatic. Instead, convinced that
Souchon intended to break west to interfere in the transportation once more,
Milne placed his heaviest forces to the west of Sicily in a position to block
this move. The northern exit of the Straits of Messina was left unguarded while,
to the south, the humble light cruiser Gloucester
Souchon made his break late on the afternoon of Thursday, 6 August and,
as planned, first feinted north-east, as if to enter the Adriatic to join the
Austrians. He continued on this course until shortly before 11 p.m., when he put
the helm over and headed towards Cape Matapan. It was still possible for Goeben
to have been intercepted by Troubridge’s squadron, but, in a fatal error of
judgment based on a notorious signal from the First Lord of the Admiralty,
Winston Churchill, Troubridge decided that the German battle cruiser constituted
a superior force to the First Cruiser Squadron and declined to intercept.
Throughout most of Friday, 7 August, as Souchon continued towards Cape Matapan,
the British were able to keep in touch through the admirable efforts of Captain
Howard Kelly, who continued to shadow in Gloucester.
Finally however, aware that Kelly was short of coal and fearing that his ship
might be ambushed, Milne ordered Kelly to go no further than the Cape.
When Kelly reluctantly gave up the chase that afternoon it was the last the
British would see of the German ships until they reached the Dardanelles three
days later. Even so, had they been but aware, one last chance remained to catch
Souchon’s squadron. An ideal opportunity presented itself as, himself short of
fuel once more, Souchon planned to coal from a collier he had arranged to meet
at the rocky island of Denusa, on the eastern fringe of the Cyclades. The
collier, which had set out from Athens on Friday morning, would not arrive until
the afternoon of Sunday, 9 August and coaling would continue throughout that
night. After the faulty dispositions previously adopted, Milne was being
presented with an undeserved second chance to destroy the Mittelmeerdivision.
All Milne’s actions that week appeared to be characterized by a lack of
urgency and so it was now. On Friday 7 August, as Souchon raced for Cape Matapan
and the Aegean, Milne calmly gathered his main forces at Malta and proceeded to
coal. Indomitable had only just
arrived from coaling at Bizerta and had a job to stow the small additional
amount taken on board. Finally, after midnight, he set out with the battle
cruisers; precisely 45 minutes later a message was handed to Milne from the
Admiral Superintendent, Malta — ‘Following from Athens begins: from strength
of signals Goeben thought to be near
The Greek Navy had apparently picked up Souchon’s signals
and passed the information to Admiral Mark Kerr, the British Admiral on loan to
the Greek Government for the purposes of reorganizing their fleet. Kerr in turn
roused George Rendel, the Third Secretary at the British Legation in Athens, who
sent, or so he subsequently claimed, a “most immediate” telegram to Malta
that ‘Goeben was known to be off the island of Syra and sailing
Whether Rendel originally mentioned the direction in his signal to Malta cannot
be ascertained, however it is clear that the signal that eventually reached
Milne mentioned only that Goeben was
thought to be near the island of Syra — there was no indication of direction.
Nevertheless, at last it appeared as if Milne had been given a clear idea
of Souchon’s position. If true, that Souchon was heading into the Aegean,
rather than attempting to steam to the Levant to attack the trade routes, what
could be his ultimate destination? The three most probable choices were
Salonica, Constantinople or Smyrna. Milne eliminated Constantinople at once —
that is if he ever considered it in the first place:
Although [Milne was later to inform the Admiralty] I anticipated the possibility of the
German ships going to Salonika to interfere with Servian supplies through that
port, the idea that belligerent ships would proceed into a neutral port…did
not enter into my calculations and, I submit, could not reasonably have been
the circumstances, Milne made his dispositions ‘to ensure that [the German
ships] did not return West or break through towards Egypt and the trade routes’.
Would Milne have reacted differently if he had been convinced that Souchon was headed in a north-easterly direction? For, whatever may have
happened between Athens, Malta and Milne, it is clear that Admiral Kerr also
passed on the information regarding Souchon to the Russian Minister in Athens,
Prince Demidoff, who in turn cabled the Admiralty in St Petersburg. The crucial
difference, however, was that Demidoff, informed of the direction, correctly
passed this information on. From first light on Saturday the Russians, but not
the British, were aware that Souchon was steaming north-east. [xv]
What was Kerr up to? To begin to answer this question, it is necessary to
examine the situation in which the Admiral found himself, following his transfer
the Young Turk revolution of 1908, the Ottoman Government successfully applied
for a British Naval Mission to reorganize their decaying fleet. Not to be
outdone, the Greeks, always wary of their former masters, subsequently requested
their own mission. There was a difference however in that the Mission to
Constantinople comprised officers
on the active list, while that sent to Athens comprised retired personnel.
Objecting to the continued employment of ‘naval pensioners’ the Greeks
refused to renew the contracts of the existing Mission when these expired and
requested, instead, officers from the active list. The First Lord, Winston
Churchill, replied to the Greek Minister of Marine on 2 June 1913:
at the present time the rapid expansion of the British naval forces imposes a
considerable strain upon our own resources in personnel, Prince Louis of
Battenberg and I are anxious on grounds of general naval policy to do our best
to meet your wishes…I should propose to invite Rear-Admiral Mark Kerr to head
the Naval Mission to Greece. This is one of the most gifted and brilliant
officers in our service, of whom we fully expect in the future that he will rise
at an early age to the most important commands. I am confident that there is no
man who could more effectively aid the development of Greek naval power up to
the point where it will be fully equal to the emergencies of the future…
is no doubt that it was Battenberg, a close friend of the Rear-Admiral, who was
responsible for promoting Kerr’s name for the position.
Kerr travelled out to Athens in the late summer of 1913, where he found
that, despite the successful conclusion of the First and Second Balkan Wars,
tension continued to simmer. In particular, Greece and Turkey were at
loggerheads over certain Aegean Islands which the Greeks had occupied in the
course of the Balkan Wars. Indeed, so serious had the situation become that,
egged on by their respective purchases of capital ships, [xviii]
war appeared almost a formality between these quarrelsome neighbours during the
course of 1914. So concerned was Kerr that in December 1913 he wrote to
Battenberg with the following remarkable request:
war breaks out in the spring or summer  when we
are so weak, I feel I should change my nationality and fight for these people. I
know it means ruin for me afterwards, but I have a strong feeling that I should
do so. I would not feel so, except for the fact that they will be so weak,
having no one who knows how to work a flotilla and I may make the difference of
victory or defeat. I am quite serious about this and only ask you to be so good
as to find out the legal point. I prefer not to be an outlaw, and I prefer to be
able to come home some day…Please let me know the legal way of doing this
thing and I think I may have to do it.
the course of his duties Kerr would naturally have come into contact with King
Constantine: George Mélas, the King’s secretary, was later to write, ‘I had
told the Admiral that whenever he wished to see His Majesty, he had but to ring
up and I would take him into the King, without formality and bother, without
aide-de-camp or Court Chamberlain.’ [xx]
Their ensuing friendship would have been strengthened by the fact that
Battenberg’s eldest daughter, Princess Alice, had married Prince Andrew of
Greece, while the King’s brother-in-law, the German Emperor, was godfather to
Kerr’s daughter. On the other hand Kerr was never able to establish close
relations with the Greek Premier, the wily Cretan, Eleutherios Venizelos.
Although the Islands’ dispute continued to cause concern in the summer
of 1914, it was all but forgotten as the wider conflict intervened. Kaiser
Wilhelm, playing a lone hand in his Balkan policy, attempted to carry off the
neat trick of aligning both Turkey and Greece to his cause. Certainly, as has
been shown, he was successful with regard to Turkey. Overriding the reservations
of his Ambassador, who doubted Turkey’s worth as an ally,
Wilhelm had secured, by the afternoon of 2 August, a signature on the
Turco-German Alliance. On the same day, King Constantine was faced with the task
of replying to a similar demand from his impulsive, blustering brother-in-law.
‘It seems to me’, Constantine informed the Emperor, ‘that the interests of
Greece demand her absolute neutrality and the preservation of the status quo in
the Balkans’. [xxii]
This was too much for Wilhelm: ‘Rubbish’, he declared with the certainty of
a man who has the scent of victory in his nostrils, ‘the Balkans are
marching!’ To make certain that he put a stop to this unconsidered wavering,
the Emperor collared Theotokis, the Greek Minister in Berlin, told him of the
alliance that Germany had just concluded with Turkey and warned him that Greece
would now be treated as an enemy if she did not join the alliance at once.
On 4 August, as the British battle cruisers chased Goeben and Breslau back to
Messina after the German ships had bombarded the North African ports, Theotokis
telegraphed the text of the Kaiser’s appeal-cum-threat to Athens:
Emperor [Wilhelm] begs to inform Your Majesty that an alliance has to-day been
completed between Germany and Turkey. Bulgaria and Rumania are also siding with
Germany. The German ships at present in
the Mediterranean are about to unite themselves with the Turkish fleet in order
that they may act together. From the above Your Majesty will understand that
all the Balkan States have allied themselves with Germany in the struggle
against Slavism…If Greece does not range herself on the side of Germany, every
link between Greece and the Empire will be broken…
trying to hang on to his tenuous grip on neutrality, Constantine warned the
German Minister on 6 August not to present a German ultimatum which would only
have the effect of forcing Greece to draw closer to the Entente. He did,
however, inform Quadt that he would be ‘willing to offer binding assurances to
both Turkey and Bulgaria that Greece would under no circumstances act against
them in the event they decided to join Germany.’
[xxv] This was enough to
convince Quadt who cabled Berlin that ‘In general the King wants to help us
fully and with all means and to stand on our side, and he thinks that he would
be able to do this best if he could remain neutral.’
The Foreign Office in Berlin, who preferred this state of affairs, agreed with
Quadt. And there the matter might have ended were it not for the fact that, when
the dramatic appeal arrived from the Kaiser on the 4th, containing as it did the
vital clue as to the destination of Souchon’s squadron, King Constantine took
the telegram to Admiral Kerr, head of the Greek Navy and a serving British
officer! What evidence is there to support this contention? This is Kerr’s own
Constantine had received a telegram from the Emperor practically dictating the
course Greece was to pursue in the war. King Constantine brought
the telegram to my house and read it to me.
He was indignant at the interference in his country’s affairs. However, to
stop such telegrams coming in daily he determined to send on this occasion a
sympathetic answer. I may add that at the same time King Constantine was
supplying me with information from the secret service for our
use in the war and he continued to do so until struck down by illness in the
Letter To ‘The Times’ By
Admiral Mark Kerr, 9 December 1920.
King Constantine showed me telegrams that passed between him and the German
Emperor from time to time, and he was certainly in a very difficult position… [D]uring
the first year…Greece’s entry would
have been a disaster for the Allies. The enemy were overwhelmingly powerful
in this part of the world.
The Case For Constantine By Vice-Admiral Mark Kerr, ‘The Morning
Post’, 11 December 1920
I went to see King Constantine at Lucerne on November 19, 1920…I asked him if
there was anything secret or otherwise that could be brought up against him by
the Allies, as I should have to act as counsel on his behalf in the case of any
disputes as to his past policy…The only other point was the opening sentence
of the telegram…which contained King Constantine’s reply to the Emperor’s
telegram of August 4, 1914, sent through the Greek Minister at Berlin…His
Majesty commenced to explain that he was sugaring the pill which is contained in
the rest of the telegram, and I told him that it was needless to explain it to
me, as I had been with him when he
received the telegram [from the Emperor], and he intimated to me then what
his reply would be.
Mark Kerr, ‘Land, Sea And Air’, (1927), Pp. 188-9.
was in constant touch with King Constantine…The King showed
me all the telegrams which passed between him and the German Emperor and
others, and the replies that he received.
Admiral Mark Kerr, Letter To ‘The Sunday Times’, 10 November 1940.
1925 Kerr wrote the preface for the published edition of some of the King’s
letters and, therefore, was presumably aware of the contents of the book,
including the footnote which appeared after mention of the infamous telegram of
4 August: ‘King Constantine read this telegram to Admiral Mark Kerr,
expressing to him his indignation at the interference on the part of the Emperor
in the internal affairs of Greece.’ [xxviii]
Kerr did not refute this statement.
There would seem to be little doubt then that Kerr was aware of the
telegram and most of its contents; but was he perhaps presented with an edited
version? Here the evidence is of a more negative character. In his continued
defence of Constantine over the next quarter of a century Kerr took pains to
mention that the King had passed him ALL the information that was variously
available. With the flood of diplomatic documents being published in the 1920s
Kerr should have been aware of the full contents of all the telegrams including
that of 4 August from Wilhelm to Constantine. Indeed, as early as 1919 (that is,
before the date of any of the above quotations by Kerr in the King’s defence),
the complete text of the telegram was published in England.
It is inconceivable that Kerr was not aware of this. Would he have defended the
King quite so vehemently if he thought that Constantine had deceived him?
If, on the 4th, Kerr might have assumed that Wilhelm was bluffing, by
first light on the 7th, when he knew that Souchon had rounded Cape Matapan and
continued to steam east, [xxx]
no reasonable explanation remained other than that the Emperor’s message was
genuine — that Goeben and Breslau were
heading for Constantinople. Yet what was he to do with this information? It
seems that, first and foremost, Kerr was at pains to disguise the fact that
Constantine was the source. Although he first alerted the Russian Minister,
Demidoff, to the fact that Souchon was headed for the Aegean, Kerr apparently
waited until units of the Greek Navy could obtain a wireless fix on Goeben
before sending off the warning to Milne just after midnight on 7/8 August. Kerr
had been convinced by the King that, in the interests of self-preservation,
neutrality was the only course Greece could sensibly adopt; but could this be
squared with a calculated decision to let two enemy ships escape? Was there
another way? For the moment, Kerr could do nothing. The Kaiser’s impetuous
telegram provided Kerr with the knowledge of Souchon’s eventual destination,
yet, if he simply informed Milne that Goeben
was near Syra was known to be heading for Constantinople, he stood the risk of
compromising the King, with, perhaps, dire consequences for Greece. Admiral Kerr
waited three days, until the evening of 7 August, when fortunately, or so it
must have seemed at the time, the Greek navy obtained a W/T fix on Goeben. This, at last, provided Kerr with the opportunity to
disguise the source. The signal Milne received after sailing from Malta stated
that ‘from strength of signals Goeben
thought to be near Syra’ so, apparently, Kerr was trying to lead Milne in the
right direction. What he might not have counted on was the fact that Milne would
ignore this new source of intelligence.
Just in case, Kerr had another avenue open to him: the Russians. By
assuming that St Petersburg would pass the information on to London, Kerr was
once more hoping to ensure that his message got through, without revealing the
true source. However, when the information from St Petersburg, that Goeben was steering north-east (which the Russians had obtained from
Kerr), eventually arrived in London early on the morning of Sunday 9 August it
was quietly filed away in the Admiralty while the Foreign Office, unaware of the
source, ironically passed the message on, without comment, to Mr Erskine, the
Chargé d’Affaires in Athens. By late Sunday morning Erskine had drafted his
Tel. No. 247. Your tel No. 112. I am in constant communication with Intelligence
Officer Malta respecting movements of German ships referred to & am being
helped by Admiral Kerr with wireless telegraphy of Greek Ministry of Marine.
Latest news of Goeben was off Syra night of Aug 7. Greek
Govt think she is going into Black Sea. They have warned Greek fleet not to
expose themselves to possible danger.
presumably at the behest of Kerr himself, Erskine re-drafted the telegram and
put it in its final form:
Tel. No. 247. Information is correct. I am in constant communication with
Intelligence Officer Malta respecting movements of German ships referred to
& am being secretly helped by wireless telegraphy of Greek Admiralty. Goeben
was believed to be near Syra evening of Aug 7. Greek Govt think she may
contemplate going into Black Sea & have warned Greek fleet not to expose
themselves to possible danger. [xxxi]
only did the telegram as sent hide Kerr’s involvement it was also far less
definite with regard to its intelligence regarding the whereabouts of Souchon and his destination. In the first draft, Goeben is stated to be ‘off Syra’ while the ‘Greek Govt think she is
going into Black Sea’. This was watered down in the amended final form so that Goeben ‘was believed to
be near Syra’ and ‘Greek Govt think she may
contemplate going into Black Sea’; this was a far more equivocal evaluation.
What happened on the morning of Sunday 9 August to make Erskine change his mind?
There can be little doubt that, as the matter was of the greatest concern to the
Greek navy as well, he must have seen Kerr that morning. In that case, why was
Kerr so keen to disguise his involvement? Surely, if Erskine had cabled London
that morning ‘Admiral Kerr believes, from wireless telegraphy and other
intelligence, that Goeben is going to
Dardanelles’ someone in the Foreign Office or Admiralty might have paid more
attention? And if Erskine really was ‘in constant communication with
Intelligence Officer Malta’ why was this information not relayed to him as a
matter of urgency? The Foreign Office was at last apprised at 4 o’clock that
afternoon that the Russians, acting on Kerr’s information, now believed Goeben
was proceeding to the Dardanelles. [xxxii]
This information, apparently remained within the confines of the Foreign Office.
Kerr’s ploy of alerting the Russians had worked but, again, the result was not
the one he hoped for. Finally, when Erskine’s telegram was received in London
it was – at last – sufficient to alert the Admiralty as to the possibility
that Souchon was making for Constantinople. Certainly, by first thing Monday
morning (10 August), it was believed in the Admiralty that this was, indeed,
Souchon’s destination; characteristically, Milne was not informed.
As far as Third Secretary Rendel was concerned however, the Legation had
done its job: after relaying the information to Milne that Goeben was near Syra on the night of 7/8 August, he later recorded
that, ‘we spent the next two days anxiously expecting news of her destruction.
Instead the news suddenly broke on us that both ships had passed through the
Just possibly Kerr was as dumbstruck as Rendel; he was certainly remarkably
reticent in his post-war writings concerning the escape of Goeben
and Breslau. His 1927 memoirs –
running to 400 pages – contain not a single reference to the German ships. Six
years later, in The Navy in My Time,
his only comment on the escape is a swipe at Milne for not bottling up Souchon
at Messina: ‘it is a primary maxim in strategy to go to the place where the
enemy is, if you know it, and await his exit, and not to take a chance by going
where you think his destination is.’ [xxxv]
Was Kerr trying to absolve himself of blame for not divulging his knowledge of
complicates an already complicated scenario is the fact that there was not one,
but two conspiracies afoot in Athens to see Souchon safely on his way. Deeply
implicated in this second conspiracy was Kerr’s bête
noire Eleutherios Venizelos, the Greek Premier. Venizelos was also aware, by
virtue of the cable from the Greek Minister in Berlin, of the Turco-German
alliance and Souchon’s destination. Indeed, Venizelos saw the British Chargé
d’Affaires, William Erskine, on Wednesday 5th and, as Erskine stated in a
report of the meeting to Sir Edward Grey: ‘M. Venizelos told me this morning
that Greek Minister at Berlin had just learnt from Government circles that
military convention has now been concluded with Turkey.’ So far, Erskine
added, no bait had been offered and Venizelos assured Grey that ‘in no
circumstances, and no matter how great an inducement might be offered, would
Greece range herself against a combination of Powers including Great Britain.’
Indeed, the Premier continued, he could not see ‘what inducements could be
offered to Turkey unless at expense of Greece, but thinks that possibly Greek
Minister may have been deliberately misled by German Government as to convention
[with Turkey] in order to frighten Greece into compliance with their wishes.’
Venizelos withheld two vital pieces of information: the Turco-German alliance
was referred to as a less alarming ‘military convention’ and, more
seriously, he made no mention of the destination of Goeben
and Breslau; he then tried to
undermine the report as a whole by hypothesizing that Theotokis had been
deliberately misled. Venizelos was well aware of the political leanings in
Constantinople yet he consciously played down this information. Like Kerr, but
for different reasons, he had decided to keep quiet about Souchon’s orders to
proceed to Constantinople.
At the same time as Venizelos was thus intriguing, Souchon, having
arrived at Messina, soon became aware that, due to the time limit placed upon
him by the Italian authorities, he would be unable to fill his bunkers with
sufficient coal to allow for a margin of error should he reach the Dardanelles
and find his way blocked. He had to have another source of coal en-route. On the
afternoon of 5 August Souchon duly cabled the German Legation in Athens with
instructions to purchase 800 tons of coal and have it dispatched in a German
collier to rendezvous with him off Cape Malea. The cable was handed to the
German Minister, Quadt, late than night. Aware of the restrictions placed upon
the exportation of coal by the Greek Government, and also of the urgency of the
request, Quadt asked for, and was granted, an immediate audience with Venizelos
despite the lateness of the hour — now approaching 2 o’clock on the morning
of 6 August. Roused from his slumber Venizelos agreed ‘at once’ to the
release and exportation of 800 tons from the sequestrated stock of a German coal
Quadt left clutching Venizelos’ calling card, on which the Prime Minster had
scrawled ‘Eleutherios Venizelos begs the Master of the Port of Piraeus to
allow the coal merchant Plok to dispose out of the coal in his possession eight
hundred tons in favour of the German steamers actually in the Port of
This was despite the prohibition that had been placed on the sale of coal by
private individuals. [xxxix]
Plok was located and dragged from his bed at 4 a.m. and the coal was duly loaded
on to the German collier Bogados; [xl]
however such activity could not escape the notice of the British consul at
Piraeus who informed both the Admiral Superintendent, Malta (at 7.30 a.m., 7
August) and Mr Erskine at the Legation (1 p.m., 7 August) that the Bogados,
after loading ‘about 700 tons of German coal’, had left at daybreak,
destination unknown. [xli]
Once under way the collier was camouflaged so as to resemble a Greek ship and
would sail for her rendezvous with Souchon as the Polymitis.
If Venizelos did not know the precise destination of the Bogados he nevertheless knew where her coal was destined for: the
bunkers of Goeben and Breslau.
The urgency of Quadt’s appeal, coupled with his knowledge from Theotokis of
the route the German ships would be taking, must have left him in no doubt
whatsoever that he was supplying vital fuel to the fleeing warships. Indeed the
Prime Minister later made this admission to his colleagues but excused it on the
specious pretext that, having agreed to supply coal for British men-of-war,
Greece would be failing in her duty as a neutral not to do the same for the
— a sentiment which sits uneasily alongside his earlier effusion to Erskine.
For Souchon the equation was simple: ‘Everything’, he later recorded,
‘depended on my being able to obtain enough start on the pursuing British to
enable us to coal en route, and that we would find at least one of the colliers
ordered to meet us.’ [xliv]
Souchon had three colliers in readiness — first, Bogados;
then a second to rendezvous 20 miles south of Santorin (from 10 August); and a
third at Chanak at the entrance to the Straits.
Of the three Bogados – now disguised
as the Greek Polymitis down to the cap
ribbons of her crew [xlvi]
– was by far the most important. What precious thoughts whirled through the
mind of Venizelos as he returned to his bed in the small hours of 6 August?
Having committed the crime, Venizelos, like Kerr, now had to disguise his
involvement. This introduces the curious subject of the phantom coaling. The
truncated signal Kerr had caused to be sent to Milne on Friday night merely
indicated that Goeben was thought to
be near Syra. As before, Kerr also passed this information on to the Russians
and, also as before, they generously, if tardily, passed it on to both London
and Paris. However there was one crucial difference in the cables that reached
the Admiralty War Room late on the afternoon of Sunday 9 August. The original
signal had stated that Goeben was
‘near Syra’; by the time the Athens-Petersburg-Paris-London circuit had been
completed the information had somehow been altered and now read, as recorded in
the War Room Log Book: ‘Admiralty Paris to Admiralty London 9 August 1914.
Received in War Room 4.50 p.m. Minister of Russian Navy warns that Goeben coaled 8th August Syra (sent to C-in-C Medt) also received wire from
Naval Attaché St Petersburg “Russian Admiralty just received telegram from
Athens dated 8th stating the Goeben
was then coaling at Syra.” ’ [xlvii]
This information, through official channels, was preceded by some hours by an
intelligence report (telephoned to the Admiralty by the Chief Censor of the War
Office) of a message that had just been intercepted. A certain
‘Metriticicas’ in Athens had cabled to ‘Warplume’ in London the
following: ‘…informed Goeben
anchored Syra asked to coal — do not know if demand will be agreed to
following decision of Government to appropriate all available coal.’
How, or why, was this information adulterated so that Goeben, at first correctly reported as being ‘near Syra’ on the
night of 7/8 August, was then reported to be coaling, or attempting to coal, at
Syra during the 8th? (It was not until 5.32 a.m. on the 9th, and at Denusa not
Syra, that Goeben anchored to await
the collier which would then not arrive till that afternoon.) For Milne, however
late, the chase was supposedly on. Nevertheless when, at 6.55 p.m. on the 9th,
he received the adulterated message concerning Syra, Milne chose to ignore it
for the simple reason that neither the British consul at Syra nor the head of
the Eastern Telegraph Company there, Mr Hastings, could hardly have overlooked
such an event as the coaling of a German battle cruiser.
Hastings later stated that it was an ‘absolute fable’ that Goeben
and Breslau went into Syra at all as
he was bound to have heard of it and would have reported it at once although
there was a rumour that two warships had passed between the adjacent islands of
Tinos and Mykonos early Saturday morning, 8 August.
There was no dispute as to the strong pro-Entente sympathies of Venizelos
yet, within the space of 48 hours, he had neglected to pass on vital information
regarding the destination of Goeben
and Breslau; had deliberately played
down the reports being picked up by the entente representatives in Athens of a Turco-German compact; and had supplied coal to the fleeing ships. It would seem
that – at least in relation to the last action – Venizelos realized he had
gone too far and there suddenly occurred, following the mystery of Goeben
‘coaling at Syra’, a further false trail emanating from Athens. Having
already been correctly apprised early on the morning of Friday 7th that Bogados
was a German collier carrying German coal to an unknown destination Athens
telegraphed Milne that night (via Malta) ‘Bogados
is Austrian proceeding Salonica...’ [li]
Who supplied the Athens legation with this false information, and why? Add to
this the transformation of Admiral Kerr’s accurate message that night that Goeben
was near Syra to the message which reached Milne a day and a half later that Goeben
was coaling at Syra (presumably appropriating at gunpoint the stocks of British
coal Milne knew to be there) and it becomes apparent that someone was anxious to
disguise the source of Souchon’s coal.
Who, then, would have the most pressing need to divert attention away
from the humble Bogados and her
precious cargo? None other than Eleutherios Venizelos, an accusation
strengthened by the disingenuousness of his approach to Erskine on 10 August (as
reported to Grey that evening):
Venizelos asked me to-day whether H.M.G. would prefer that Greek Government
should adopt principle of giving belligerent ships enough coal to take them to
nearest home port or refuse all facilities. I said that as British and French
ships in Mediterranean largely outnumbered German and Austrian I thought H.M.G.
would prefer former alternative but that I would ask your instructions. At the
request of Commander-in-Chief have just arranged for purchase of further 2,000
tons at Syra. [lii]
was, of course, some days after
Venizelos had already determined on precisely what action he would take: he was
now seeking retrospective approval of his actions from the British, and in this
he was to be successful. When the matter was subsequently raised in the House of
Commons in 1923 the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, McNeil,
is no reason to doubt that coal was supplied to the Goeben
and Breslau by the order of M.
Venizelos, but I ought to state that at the beginning of hostilities with
Germany and, therefore, before giving this order, M. Venizelos went out of his
way to consult His Majesty’s Government as to the course which he should adopt
in such circumstances. After full consideration His Majesty’s Government
suggested to him that he should follow the principle of International Law and
afford belligerent ships enough coal to take them to their nearest home port.
British ships were similarly treated and supplied with coal by the Greeks, who
were at that time neutral. [liii]
was incorrect. He had confused an inquiry from Venizelos on 3 August 1914
concerning the sequestration of coal stocks – the only inquiry from that
quarter before Venizelos authorized the delivery of coal to Quadt – with the
later inquiry, of 10 August, concerning the position to be adopted with regard
to belligerent vessels. The advice of His Majesty’s Government on this subject
was tendered only after Goeben and Breslau were safely tucked away in the haven of the Dardanelles.
The corruption of Kerr’s message concerning Syra, together with the
retrospective attempt by Venizelos to seek British authorization to coal
belligerent ships, and the curious transformation of the nationality of the
collier Bogados from German (in the
signal from Piraeus to Athens) to Austrian (in the signal from Athens to Malta),
would, the Prime Minister must have hoped, tend to exculpate him with regard to
his own responsibility for making possible Souchon’s escape. Indeed, it is
tantalizing to suggest that ‘Metriticicas’ was an agent of the Prime
Minister and that the message to ‘Warplume’ in London was meant
to be intercepted by the British to show that the Greeks had, apparently,
refused to coal the German ships. Venizelos, above all – if he wished to carry
to fruition his plan to align Greece with the Entente – had the most pressing
reason to conceal the fact that he, personally, had provided the lifeline
Souchon needed if the German ships were to reach the Straits safely.
Venizelos’ clever approach to the artless Mr Erskine on the 10th had,
apparently, worked; but his reputation was not safe yet.
The Prime Minister later accused King Constantine, in league with Admiral
Kerr and the General Staff, of acting treacherously with the inevitable
consequence, he argued, that distrust of Greek intentions was fomented in
London. The clear repercussion, according to Venizelos, was the refusal in 1915
of the Allies to seek Greek assistance ‘for the obvious reason that they did
not trust our General Staff not to give the enemy notice of the attack.’
However, it was Venizelos himself who had three imperative motives for wanting Goeben
and Breslau to reach Constantinople.
Believing – following Quadt’s nocturnal visit – that Souchon was short of
coal, the prospect of the German ships putting in to neutral Athens to coal,
only to have them interned there should the British establish a blockade, must
have been alarming to Venizelos to say the least. It is clear, for example, that
Milne presumed that, once Souchon had entered the Aegean, one of the few options
available to the German Admiral was to seek refuge in a Greek port.
Whenever it suited him, Venizelos played on the King’s alleged German
proclivities to win support for his own cause. Thoughts of a palace inspired
coup against him, supported by the guns of the Mittelmeerdivision,
would have been all the prompting Venizelos required to send Quadt on his way
with a simple message on the back of a calling card and the expression of the
Premier’s ‘friendliest intentions’ towards Germany.
Second, if the Turks were wavering at the prospect of their new
allegiance, the presence of Goeben and Breslau in the Golden Horn would have
signalled the unequivocal alliance of Turkey with Germany, would have jolted
Greek public opinion (which was tired of war and remained neutralist in the
current crisis) and, if Venizelos played his cards right and could win support
from the Entente, would have given him a chance at last to put an end to the
Ottoman Empire, keep the Aegean Islands and perhaps, just perhaps, march on
Constantinople. As evidence of this, once the German ships had arrived in the
Golden Horn, the Venizelist newspaper Patris
began the process of forming public opinion: by arming the enemies of Greece it
declared, Germany had departed from the benevolent neutrality Greece had shown
to Germany. Later, citing the fictitious sale of the German ships to Turkey as a
move directed against Greece, the paper advocated Greek entry into the War.
In gambling so, Venizelos was applying the same logic as Ponceau in the Quai
d’Orsay who, on 10 August, declared to Isvolsky, the Russian Ambassador, that
‘it might be advantageous for us to draw Turkey to the number of our enemies
in order to make an end of her.’ [lvii]
Third, a revivified Turkish navy, manned by German officers, and with the
addition of a first rate battle cruiser and cruiser, would have been
overwhelmingly powerful in the Black Sea
and therefore able to forestall a Russian descent on Constantinople, leaving the
way clear for the Greeks to achieve their ambition, while the Aegean would have
been out of bounds to the German ships due to the presence of the British and
French navies in addition to the Greek. By ensuring that Goeben and Breslau made it
safely through the Dardanelles Venizelos was also ensuring that their future
radius of action would be limited to the Black Sea. From that moment on, Souchon’s only opponents would be the Russians. The Russian Black Sea fleet
could not hope to launch an assault against the Ottoman capital once the Turkish
fleet had been augmented by Goeben and Breslau and, with the Turkish army and
navy fully committed in the east against the Russians, the way was left open for
a Greek move on the Turkish rear, with the ultimate objective being the capture
Kerr’s motives? It seems clear that, having finally decided upon a course of
action, Kerr would not deviate; easily influenced initially he also possessed,
in greater measure than average, a capacity for self-deception — Kerr could
convince himself of anything. As a corollary to this was a predisposition,
evident throughout his career, to an exaggerated appraisal of his own opinions.
Is it not plausible therefore that, for a few crucial days early in August 1914,
an impressionable, egotistical officer who suddenly found himself in possession
of vital information which could affect the course of the war, might not have
taken it upon himself to decide how that information was to be used? What other
explanation is there for Kerr to have kept his silence when, if not by 4 August
certainly by the 7th, he must have known that Souchon was heading for the
Dardanelles? Having been convinced by the King that neutrality was the only
course open to Greece, Kerr could have reasoned that, with the German ships
safely through the Straits, the possibility of Greece now attacking Turkey was
out of the question. Unable to attack Turkey, worried always about Bulgaria, the
only option available then was neutrality.
The irony is that, for a number of different reasons, Venizelos also
desired that the German ships should escape. Again, no other interpretation of
his action in allowing the Bogados to
sail with her precious cargo is tenable. Kerr and Venizelos were applying the
same means to achieve different ends. Venizelos also knew Souchon’s
destination and kept quiet about it. Once at their destination, the German
ships, he could have reasoned, would have precipitated a quick breach between
Turkey and her neighbours under the influence of Turkey’s German allies. With
Turkey in the war it would have made sense for the Entente, as they planned, to
seek active Greek participation. Venizelos could then name his terms, not least
of which would be the fulfilment of long-standing Greek aspirations to large
slices of the Ottoman Empire. What Venizelos did not count on, what robbed him
of his glorious goal, was the reluctance of the Turks to enter the lists. By the
time the Turks were eventually forced into the war by Souchon and Enver Pasha
Venizelos had lost his chance to march, hand-in-hand, with the Entente Powers.
it is unlikely in the extreme that there existed an organized conspiracy to
allow the German ships to escape involving any or all of the Foreign Office,
Admiralty, Milne or Troubridge, there is a strong case however for believing
that factions in Athens, knowing of the Turco-German alliance and the
destination of the ships, actively conspired to ensure their escape. The
alliance became common knowledge in Athens after the telegram from Theotokis,
the Greek Minister in Berlin, was received on 4 August. Any doubts entertained
by King Constantine and Admiral Kerr as to its authenticity should have been
dispelled by 7 August when it became apparent that the German ships had passed
into the Aegean and were heading north-east, confirming the Dardanelles as the
most likely destination. For Venizelos the realization came even earlier, to
precisely the moment when, at 2 o’clock on the morning of 6 August, he was
roused from his sleep by the German Minister who was anxious to secure coal for
Souchon, to which request Venizelos readily agreed. By the end of that week, the
King, Admiral Kerr and the Prime Minister could have been in no doubt as to
where Souchon was heading.
In the light of this evidence W. Gottlieb, writing in 1957, could come to
just one conclusion: ‘William II informed the King of Greece that the two
ships would join the Turkish Navy for combined action, and the communication was
transmitted to the Chief of the British Naval Mission in Greece [Kerr], who must
obviously have sent it on to London.’ [lviii]
Except that Kerr did not. Yet any of the strictures that applied to Venizelos’
motives for not wishing to inform the Entente did not apply to Rear-Admiral Mark
Kerr. At any time from the 4th to the 9th of August Kerr could have caused a
message to be sent to the Admiral Superintendent, Malta to be relayed to both
London and Milne, that the Turco-German alliance had been concluded and that Goeben
and Breslau were making for
Constantinople. He chose not to; in fact, until the evening of 7 August, Kerr
appears to have done nothing at all. Then, only after Greek warships had
apparently obtained a W/T ‘fix’ on Goeben
which placed her near Syra, did he act. On duty at the British Legation in
Athens that night was the Third Secretary, George Rendel, who later recounted
that he ‘received a confidential message from a senior officer of the British
Naval Mission [Kerr] that Goeben was known to be off the island of Syra and sailing North-Eastwards.
We were able to send a most immediate telegram to the Commander-in-Chief,
Mediterranean, and we spent the next two days anxiously expecting news of her
destruction. Instead the news suddenly broke on us that both ships had passed
through the Dardanelles.’ [lx]
If Kerr felt that the information he had, at last, passed on was still not clear
enough, why not mention at least the possibility that the ships might be heading
for Constantinople? No blame would then attach to Kerr if the authorities chose
not to act on his information. Instead he seemed more intent on keeping the
Russians abreast of the latest intelligence.
Mr Erskine, the Counsellor and Chargé at the Legation in the absence of
the Minister, admitted on the morning of 9 August that he was ‘in constant
communication with Intelligence Officer Malta respecting movements of German
ships’ and that he was secretly being aided by Kerr; but not once had the
Admiral deigned to tell the Chargé of the alliance or of Souchon’s
destination. Kerr was presumably aware that Venizelos had raised the possibility
of a Turco-German ‘military convention’ with Erskine, which Kerr knew to be
of more serious import than the Prime Minister made out; he was thus ideally
placed to alert Erskine to the real danger. A malevolent hand was also at work
in Erskine’s telegram to London that morning: as originally drafted Erskine
referred to the fact that the Greek Government thought Goeben was ‘going into Black Sea’. For some reason this was
watered down, and appeared in the final version as ‘Greek Govt think she may
going into Black Sea’ — a much less definite proposition. Also, the specific
mention of Kerr was deleted which, one must assume, could only have been at the
Admiral’s own request.
Kerr’s motives for remaining silent, or at best divulging the least
amount of information consistent with his position, are harder to ascertain.
They range from the speculative – the Admiral was keen to see Turkey enter the
war allowing him to assume his place in battle as C-in-C of the Hellenic Navy
– to the implausible — Kerr as a secret agent feeding misinformation to the
Kaiser only for the whole scheme to go disastrously awry when the Admiral fell
under the spell of King Constantine. [lxii]
Kerr had certainly allowed himself to become firmly entangled in the affairs of
the King, though this aspect of his make up was entirely characteristic. The
Admiral had a deeply emotional side which was no more in evidence than when he
pleaded with Battenberg for help and encouragement in December 1913, in
anticipation of war with Turkey over the fate of the Aegean islands, and
declared his readiness to change his nationality and fight for the Greeks.
Although the anticipated Greco-Turkish war did not break out, the letter is
still extraordinary for the extent of the emotional attachment Kerr had
developed towards Greece in only a matter of months since his arrival there as
the summer of 1913 was drawing to a close.
Similarly, Kerr was quickly accepted into Court circles, and reciprocated
to the full. In the Admiral’s opinion King Constantine, although no diplomat,
absolutely straight and honest soldier, with a great strategical and tactical
brain for war. He was truthful to the last degree and loathed intrigue. He
thought as much about the good of the rank and file, perhaps even more, than he
did about the upper classes. He despised injustice, and was easily touched by
sorrow or misfortune. His only ambition was for his country and the prosperity
of its people… [lxiii]
in the fevered atmosphere of August 1914 in Athens, Venizelos sought to align
Greece, conditionally, with the Entente, while the King advocated neutrality.
Nevertheless, in view of the requirements that had to be fulfilled for
Venizelos’ offer to take effect, particularly the guarantee of Bulgarian
intentions, the Prime Minister’s stance was also tantamount to neutrality; but
it was a stance in which he could adopt a certain amount of sanctimonious
posturing. This route was not open to the King. When Constantine became aware,
on 4 August, of the Turco-German alliance and the destination of Goeben
and Breslau what was he to do with
this information? If he passed it on to the British or French, the likely
outcome, he might have reasoned, would be the destruction of the Mittelmeerdivision, greater pressure upon Turkey to act, and the
creation for Greece of an enemy – Germany – of immense power. This last
consequence would have been even more fraught if, in addition to Turkey, Germany
was also able to enlist the services of Bulgaria: in that event, the prospects
for Greece were bleak.
Constantine realized that the Kaiser’s boast was meant as a threat:
join with me or suffer the consequences. Equally he realized there was nothing
he could do openly with this information, of which Kerr was also now aware,
except to disguise the source so that, if a disaster befell Souchon, it would
not be possible with any certainty to ascribe the blame to the King. This is, I
would suggest, where Mark Kerr came in. From the 4th to the 7th of August Kerr,
I believe, was acting under a vow of secrecy imposed upon him by the King, until
the time at which the information could be relayed to the British fleet as
if coming from the wireless intercepts of the Greek navy. It is also
significant that Constantine waited until the 7th before replying to Wilhelm’s
appeal. Whatever Kerr’s particular motives or displaced loyalties, opinion in
the Foreign Office in London later came to accept that Kerr was responsible for
the fact that Greece did not join the Entente.
[lxiv] As the King’s brother
later admitted in a fulsome tribute, Kerr ‘stood by King Constantine through
thick and thin, and at a moment when it was difficult to do so. He
risked his own career for his friend.’
Venizelos, Constantine and Kerr all, therefore, had their reasons for not
divulging their knowledge of the Turco-German alliance to the Entente ministers
in Athens. One intriguing aspect remains: Kaiser Wilhelm, who knew Kerr
personally, was surely aware both of Kerr’s position as C-in-C of the Greek
Navy and of his close relationship with the King which extended to his being a
confidant of Constantine. Did he not expect Constantine to pass the information
on to Kerr or did he simply, in the heat of the moment when making his threat on
4 August, forget all about Kerr?
escape of Goeben and Breslau can be
traced backwards from their arrival off the Dardanelles on 10 August through a
chain of events stretching back to the turn of the century. Each link in this
chain was forged by the hand of man: that the overall result was one of such
complexity is manifest evidence of the bewildering nature of human motivation.
Fisher’s nascent ideas regarding the desirability of speed and firepower led
to the development of the battle cruiser. The Committee of Imperial Defence,
from Balfour’s grand ideals, withered under Asquith’s premiership into a
technical co-ordinating body. The much heralded Naval War Staff became a
department in name only, its higher functions usurped by Churchill and
Battenberg. The culture of late Victorian England bred an officer such as Sir
Archibald Berkeley Milne: not quite as bad as sometimes made out, but clearly
unsuited to the requirements of the fast moving situation that developed in the
Mediterranean in August 1914. Troubridge, a slightly later product, did not
benefit from the revolution in early twentieth century naval warfare; in fact,
just the reverse. His witnessing of the naval actions off Japan left a firm and
lasting impression of the devastating effect of modern, long range, large
calibre weaponry while his time as the first Chief of the War Staff was not only
not crowned with success but had its own deleterious effect in the assumptions
it produced, and which would be acted upon, during the first week of August
The combination of motives, assumptions and intrigues was all in place by
4 August. Events followed from this combination. It was not fate that caused the
contents of a telegram to be altered; it was not fate that Souchon disobeyed his
orders and then found the coal he needed; it was not fate that Churchill and
Battenberg drafted telegrams whose subsequent interpretations were to prove so
disastrous. All these, and more, were the products of human egos and frailties;
of errors of commission and omission; of the sheer frightfulness of what was
happening around the various participants. More than one observer spoke of the
period as if it were a dream. Yet the two dark, foreboding shapes pushing
through the ancient sea towards the Straits were no spectres. Goeben,
which, if the German Admiralty Staff had had their way, would not have been in
the Mediterranean at all, was 23,000 tons of metal built but with one purpose:
to deliver an 11-inch high explosive shell on a target. On Monday, 10 August
1914 she carried more than her shells, her crew, her Admiral; in the words of
Winston Churchill she also carried, ‘for the peoples of the East and Middle
East more slaughter, more misery and more ruin than has ever before been borne
within the compass of a ship…’ [lxvi]
[i] The Admiralty Intelligence file on
Souchon described him thus: “born 2 June 1864; entered navy 12 April 1881;
5' 8", clean shaven, inclined to stoutness. Born in Leipzig, the son of
a portrait painter. Is an authority on W/T, and has written much on the
subject. Also went in for ballooning. Is accounted an exceptionally capable
flag officer, distinguished by wide knowledge, perspicacity and
imperturbability. Pleasant in manner. Gives the impression of strength of
character.” See, Admiralty notes on foreign naval officers, Public Record
Office [hereinafter PRO] Adm 137/4166.
[ii] The latest full-length treatment by Dan van
der Vat, The Ship That Changed The
World (London, 1985) tenuously includes the French in the list of those
in some way responsible but ignores altogether the events in Athens.
[iii] W. Gottlieb, Studies
in Secret Diplomacy during the First World War, (London, 1957); Ulrich
Trumpener, The Escape of the Goeben
and Breslau: a Reassessment, The Canadian Journal of History, VI,
[iv] At 4 o’clock on the afternoon of Sunday, 2
August. Constantinople to Foreign Office, no. 408, 2 August 1914, in Max
Montgelas and Walter Schücking (eds.), Outbreak
of the World War. German Documents collected by Karl Kautsky, (London,
1924), no. 726, p. 526.
[v] On the evening of Sunday, 2 August, and as
yet unaware of the signing of the alliance, the Kaiser, fully supported by
Admiral von Pohl, the Chief of the Admiralty Staff, had informed the German
Ambassador to the Porte that his request for Goeben
to be sent to Constantinople, to reinforce the Turkish fleet against the
Russians, could not be entertained. For the present, Goeben
could not be spared for such an adventure. Aide-de-Camp (on duty) to Foreign
Office, Berlin, 9.15 pm, 2 August 1914; Secretary of State for Foreign
Affairs to Constantinople, no. 304, Berlin, 6.45 am, 3 August 1914, in Max
Montgelas and Walter Schücking (eds.), Outbreak
of the World War. German Documents collected by Karl Kautsky, (London,
1924), nos. 683, 712, pp. 505, 520; Ulrich Trumpener, The Escape of the Goeben and Breslau: a Reassessment, The Canadian
Journal of History, VI, (1971), p. 173.
[vi] From Berlin to Cruiser Goeben,
no. 15, 1.35 am, 4 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/4065. The signal was intercepted
by receiving stations in England and telegraphed to London at 2.4 a.m. on
the 4th, but it would not be until November that the German codes could be
[vii] No previous account of the bombardment of
Philippeville and Bona has mentioned the fact that, the following day, a
report was received in London from the consul at Algiers stating that,
during the shelling, the British ship Isle
of Hastings had been seriously damaged. It would be interesting to
speculate what effect this news might have had on the deliberations in
London on 4 August if it had arrived immediately by acting as a casus
belli to justify forthwith the instigation of hostilities in the
Mediterranean. There seems little doubt that Churchill would have put this
information to good use if available in time but, with the delay in
reporting and the pressure on the wires, it was not received at the Foreign
Office until just after midday on the 5th. See, Acting Consul-General,
London to Sir Edward Grey, 5 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19.
[viii] That is, Chatham,
Gloucester and Weymouth. The
fourth light cruiser, Dublin, had
been assisting Indomitable and Indefatigable in the shadowing of Goeben.
[ix] For this action he was subsequently court-martialled
and acquitted. See my forthcoming Superior
Force (University of Hull Press) for a detailed account of this episode
and its aftermath.
[x] C-in-C to Gloucester, (1251)
[code time, GMT],
7 August 1914, Naval Staff Monographs, vol. VIII, the Mediterranean,
1914-15, appendix B. Operations Signals extracted from the logs of various
ships. PRO Adm 186/618; E. W. R. Lumby (ed.), Policy
and Operations in the Mediterranean 1912-14, (Navy Records Society,
1970), p. 186.
[xi] A.S., Malta to C-in-C, (2351), 7/8 August (rec’d
1.45 a.m., 8 August), C-in-C’s Signal Log, Milne mss., National Maritime
Museum [hereinafter NMM] MLN 210/7.
[xii] It is clear that the Greek fix had been accurate
and that Goeben had, in fact,
passed Syra on the night of 7/8 August. See, Trumpener, Reassessment,
p. 182, note 45; E. Keble Chatterton, Dardanelles
Dilemma, p. 31.
[xiii] Sir George W Rendel, The
Sword and the Olive, (London, 1957), p. 19 [my emphasis].
[xiv] Milne to Admiralty, 26 August 1914, para. 3, PRO Adm
137/879; Lumby, pp. 223-6.
[xv] Buchanan to Foreign Office, no. 247, dispatched
3.05 a.m., 8 August, rec’d 1.15 a.m., 9 August 1914. PRO Adm 137/HS19. See
also, PRO Adm 137/4083, Admiralty number 9/6.
[xvi] Churchill to the Greek Minister of Marine, 2 June 1913,
in Martin Gilbert (ed.), W. S.
Churchill, Companion volume II, pt. iii, p. 1751.
[xvii] Battenberg to Hamilton, 19 March 1916, Hamilton mss., NMM HTN
[xviii] Greece had ordered the battle cruiser Salamis from Germany, while the Turks had the dreadnought Reschad
V (subsequently Reshadieh)
building at Vickers’ yard in Barrow and, in December 1913, would augment
this by purchasing the Rio de Janeiro (subsequently Sultan Osman), which was nearing
completion in the Armstrong yard on the Tyne.
[xix] Mark Kerr to Battenberg, 9 December 1913, Battenberg
mss., Imperial War Museum [hereinafter IWM] DS/MISC20, reel IV, item 257
emphasis]. Kerr signed off this letter ‘Ever yours aff [ectionate]y’.
[xx] George Mélas, Ex-King
Constantine and the War, (London, 1920), p. 216.
[xxi] Wangenheim to Foreign Office, no. 349, 18 July 1914, in
Max Montgelas and Walter Schücking (eds.), Outbreak
of the World War. German Documents collected by Karl Kautsky, (London,
1924), no. 71, pp. 130-1.
[xxii] In this, the King was merely echoing the decisions reached at a
Council of Ministers held that day which urged neutrality for Greece and
argued for an appeal to be delivered to the Central Powers (the new term for
the Triple Alliance following the defection of Italy) to restrain the
Bulgarians, whom the Greeks feared. George Leon, Greece
and the Entente, (Institute for Balkan Studies nº 143, Thessaloniki),
[xxiii] King Constantine to Wilhelm II, no. 231, 2 August 1914 and note
by Wilhelm, 3 August, in Max Montgelas and Walter Schücking (eds.), Outbreak
of the World War. German Documents collected by Karl Kautsky, (London,
1924), no. 702, p. 515.
[xxiv] J. S. Willmore, The Story
of King Constantine as revealed in the Greek White Book, (London, 1919),
p. 13 quoting White Book, no. 19 [my emphasis].
[xxv] To assuage further the excitable Quadt, Constantine held out
the hope that the Greek merchant marine might secretly supply Germany with
[xxvi] Quadt to Foreign Office, 6 August 1914, quoted in George Leon, Greece
and the Great Powers, (Institute for Balkan Studies nº 143,
Thessaloniki), p. 31.
[xxvii] Note: this, and following italicized passages, are all my emphasis.
[xxviii] Constantine, A
King’s Private Letters, (London, 1925), p. 151.
[xxix] By J. S. Willmore in his The
Story of King Constantine as revealed in the Greek White Book, published
by Longman Green & Co. The telegram is on page 13.
[xxx] C-in-C to AS, Malta (0513), C-in-C to SNO, Malta (0553), 7
August 1914, C-in-C’s Signal Log, Milne mss, NMM MLN 210/7.
[xxxi] Erskine to Grey, no. 140, Secret, sent 11.45 a.m., 9 August
1914, PRO FO 286/572/35656 [my emphasis].
[xxxii] Nicolson to Grey, 9 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2163/37547.
[xxxiii] Dumas, diary
entry for 10 August 1914, IWM PP/MCR/96. The conclusion that Souchon was
heading for Constantinople must have been formed in the Admiralty sometime
after 5.10 p.m. on Sunday 9th (when Milne was informed only that the German
ships were thought to have coaled at Syra the previous day) and before 8.30
the following morning, when Dumas arrived and was told that the ships had
passed Syra and were on their way to the Turkish capital.
[xxxiv] Rendel, Sir
George W., The Sword and the Olive:
Recollections of Diplomacy in the Foreign Service, 1913-1954, (London,
1957), p. 19.
[xxxv] Kerr, Admiral Mark, The Navy in
My Time, (London, 1933), p. 187 [emphasis in original].
[xxxvi] Erskine to
Grey, no. 137, sent 5 p.m., 5 August 1914, rec’d 6 August, PRO FO
371/2162/36270. Note: in the Greek Legation Archives (PRO FO 286/572) the
draft telegram is dated 4 August.
[xxxvii] Frangulis, La
Grèce et la Crise Mondiale, (Paris, 1926), p. 121; Trumpener, Reassessment, p. 174. Quadt, according to Cosmetatos, apparently
sought authorization to coal two German merchant vessels, though, as
Cosmetatos acknowledges, ‘M. Venizelos said that he had granted the
request although he knew that the coal was intended for the Goeben
and the Breslau…’ Cosmetatos, The
Tragedy of Greece, (London, 1928), pp. 6-7.
[xxxviii] Frangulis, La
Grèce et la Crise Mondiale, p. 122. A photograph of the actual card
appears in Sir Basil Thomson, The
Allied Secret Service in Greece, (London, 1931); see also pp. 39-41.
[xxxix] See, The
Times, 4 August 1914.
[xl] This is the generally accepted version of the
ship’s name [as reported by the British consul in Piraeus who watched her
being loaded with Plok’s coal] but other variations have included Bogabos, Bogadir and Bogador. Similarly,
the German coal merchant appears variously as Plock
or Plok. See also Trumpener, Reassessment,
p. 175 and note 17
[xli] British Consul, Piraeus to Mr Erskine, 1 p.m., 7
August 1914, PRO FO 286/581/203.
[xlii] There was a report that the ship had been supplied with
false papers showing her destination as Cape Town, the significance of this
being that, as she was allegedly headed for a British port, she was more
likely to pass unmolested through either Suez or Gibraltar. Frangulis, La
Grèce et la Crise Mondiale, p. 122; Trumpener, Reassessment,
p. 175; Admiral Wilhelm Souchon, The
Breakthrough of the Goeben and Breslau from Messina to the Dardanelles,
The Naval Review, vol. 10, 1922, pp. 480-91. Naval Historical Library P (NS)
341p. 490; Der Krieg Zur See, 1914-18,
The War in Turkish Waters, vol. I, The Mediterranean Division, in Monthly Intelligence Report, Confidential, Admiralty, No. 107, 15
April 1928, p. 48.
[xliii] Thomson, Allied Secret
Service in Greece, p. 39.
[xliv] Admiral Wilhelm Souchon, The
Breakthrough of the Goeben and Breslau from Messina to the Dardanelles,
The Naval Review, vol. 10, 1922, pp. 489.
[xlv] According to the Turkish Minister of Marine, the German
Naval Attaché to the Porte approached the Ministry on 8 August with a
request for coal from Turkish stocks. Djemal Pasha, in consultation with
other Ministers, promptly agreed to the release of five or six thousand
tons. See, Djemal Pasha, Memories of a
Turkish Statesman, (London, 1922), p. 118.
[xlvi] Admiral Wilhelm Souchon, The
Breakthrough of the Goeben and Breslau from Messina to the Dardanelles,
The Naval Review, vol. 10, 1922, pp. 490.
[xlvii] Admiralty, Paris to Admiralty, 9 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/4083.
[xlviii] Telephone Messages Received by Chief Censor R.T. from Chief Censor
War Office, 12.25 p.m., 9 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19.
[xlix] Milne to Admiralty, 20 August 1914, para. 35, PRO Adm 137/879;
Diary of Admiral Phillimore, 9 August 1914, IWM 75/48/3; Henry Horniman,
unpublished typescript autobiography, Smiling
Through, p. 99, IWM PP/MCR/46.
[l] H. G. Barwell, Superintendent, Eastern
Telegraph Co. Ltd, Malta Station to Milne, 14 August 1914, Milne mss., NMM
[li] Ad. Supt., Malta to C-in-C, Rear Adl., (0100)
8 August 1914, C-in-C’s Signal Log, Milne mss., NMM MLN 210/7.
[lii] Erskine to Grey, no. 143, 10 August 1914, PRO Adm
[liii] Parliamentary Debates, Fifth Series, Vol. CLXIV
(1923) 1743, House of Commons (Oral Answers) GREECE - Goeben
and Breslau, (Coal Supplies), 4 June 1923.
[liv] Eleutherios Venizelos, The
Vindication of Greek National Policy, (London, 1918), p. 87.
[lv] Milne, The
Flight of the Goeben and Breslau, (London, 1921).
[lvi] Theodoulou, Greece
and the Entente, p. 26, note 34.
[lvii] Quoted in, Harry N. Howard, The
Partition of Turkey, 1913-23, (Norman, 1931), p. 98.
[lviii] Gottlieb, Studies in
Secret Diplomacy during the First World War, (London, 1957), p. 44.
[lix] The crucial information in this message was not Goeben’s
approximate position, but the fact that she was headed in a north-easterly
direction. This was vital as Kerr was aware that Milne believed the German
ships had gone ‘eastward’ which thereby discounted Constantinople as a
[lx] Sir George Rendel, The
Sword and the Olive, p. 19 [my emphasis]. Towards the end of his life,
when recalling this period, Rendel remembered that ‘Our own naval
authorities very pleased – had the impression they would be sterilized
there [Constantinople] – out of action.’ [I am most grateful to Miss
Rosemary Rendel for providing a transcript of these taped conversations with
[lxii] For an interesting hypothesis regarding Kerr’s pre-war
rôle in this field, see K. M. Wilson and A. Goodearl, ‘Most Obedient and
Devoted Servants’: Some Correspondence of Certain British Naval Persons
with Kaiser Wilhelm II, in The Mariners’ Mirror, vol. 72, No. 1, February 1986, pp. 63-7.
[lxiii] Kerr, Land, Sea, and Air,
p. 194. By contrast, Kerr considered Venizelos ‘a born intriguer’ who
was not to be bribed by money, ‘but his weakness lay in his overweening
[lxiv] Battenberg to Hamilton, 19 March 1916, Hamilton mss., NMM HTN
125. Kerr’s responsibility did not cover this period only, but extended to
September and his negative reply to Churchill’s inquiry regarding Greek
assistance in a possible Allied operation at the Dardanelles which
effectively put paid to the promotion of such schemes.
[lxv] HRH Prince Nicholas of Greece, My
Fifty Years, (London, 1926), p. 317 [my emphasis].
[lxvi] Churchill, The World
Crisis, (One volume, revised and abridged, London, 1931), p. 152.