The Royal Navy in the Mediterranean 1900-1915



The "Straits" Trilogy by Geoffrey Miller



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Enver Pasha, Turkish Minister of War
Enver Pasha, Turkish Minister of War


On 19 February 1915 the guns of the massed Anglo-French fleet off Cape Helles opened fire on targets on the European and Asiatic shores of the Ottoman Empire. The Dardanelles campaign had begun. There is, however, little in-depth analysis of the way in which the campaign came about. Turkey’s pre-war alignment with Germany culminated with the signatures of the German Ambassador and Turkish Grand Vizier on the formal Treaty of Alliance on the afternoon of Sunday, 2 August 1914, but for months the treaty remained no more than a scrap of paper. The Turks mobilized only as fast as their moribund economy allowed while at the same time continuing to give the outward appearance of an anxious, if hardly disinterested, neutral.

The menacing days of August passed; the Turks prevaricated, neither in the War nor immune from it. Unable to contain himself any longer, the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, actively sought Greek co-operation for a planned major offensive against the Turks at the Dardanelles. His plea for assistance reached the British Officer at the head of the Greek Navy, Rear-Admiral Mark Kerr, who set impossible conditions which he knew would result in the proposal being rejected in London. With his plans having thus gone awry, Churchill turned his gaze away from the plain of Troy — temporarily.

By October, 1914 the patience of the Germans had also snapped. With the connivance of the Turkish Minister of War, but against the wishes of the majority of the Turkish Cabinet, the German Admiral at the head of the Turkish Navy single-handedly forced the issue. At the helm of the magnificent battle cruiser Goeben, which had escaped from the pursuing British Squadron in the first days of the war and had sought refuge at Constantinople, Admiral Souchon steamed into the Black Sea and deliberately shelled Russian ships, ports and shore installations. The Turks, reluctant to the last, were finally propelled into the war. Yet, would this outcome have eventuated without the presence of Souchon and Goeben? The Turkish fleet by itself was too weak to risk a sortie in the Black Sea. Without Goeben could the issue have been forced? Now that the Turks had become involuntarily embroiled in the War, Churchill’s eyes once more turned eastward.

STRAITS takes the opening bombardment at the Dardanelles not as the starting point but as its culmination in an endeavour to explain how it was that Turkey was aligned with Germany — a ruinous alliance which was by no means preordained. British diplomatic policy towards the Ottoman Empire failed comprehensively when the result could have been so different. Why, for example, was every Turkish appeal for an alliance with Britain rebuffed? The Young Turk revolution of 1908 presented the British Foreign Office with a quandary — to support the new régime, which had successfully restored the constitution, or continue to remain aloof, as had been the policy during the reign of Abdul the Damned. Support was grudgingly provided but the improved British position at the Sublime Porte was jeopardized by two events: the new Ambassador, who was deeply antagonistic to the new régime, and the Anglo-Russian convention which meant that the British Foreign Secretary had to try somehow to support the Turks without alienating the Russians.

The common thread running through the book is the struggle to control the Straits of the Dardanelles and Bosphorus from the period when the British Squadron at Malta commanded the Mediterranean Sea unopposed at the turn of the century through to the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire first as a result of the Turco-Italian and Balkan Wars and then following Turkey’s forced, and ultimately disastrous, entry into World War I. This struggle encompassed Russian aspirations, Greek ambition, French colonial ardour and British Imperial and oil considerations — all underpinned by the constant desire of the Turks themselves to prevent the collapse of their Empire.

British diplomatic policy towards the Ottoman Empire failed comprehensively when the result could have been so different.



Please click to go to the "Straits" web-site Straits
British Policy Towards the Ottoman Empire and the Origins of the Dardanelles Campaign
xxvi + 604 pages, 12 illustrations, 1 map
Full bibliography, notes and index
Card cover, 5¾" x 8¼"
ISBN 0 85958 635 9
Hardcover ISBN 0 85958 663 4 [out of print]
Published 1997



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HMS Agincourt
HMS Agincourt (formerly the Turkish ship Sultan Osman)


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HMS Berwick : Original artwork © 2004 Geoffrey Miller
HMS Berwick
[Original artwork © 2004 Geoffrey Miller]


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