STRAITS British Policy towards the Ottoman Empire and the Origins of the Dardanelles Campaign © 1997-2005 Geoffrey Miller





STRAITS : British policy towards the Ottoman Empire and the Origins of the Dardanelles Campaign © Geoffrey Miller



Map of Turkey
STRAITS British Policy towards the Ottoman Empire and the Origins of the Dardanelles Campaign © 1997-2005 Geoffrey Miller



Chapter 10




The Open Mind






During the first half of April 1913 Grey had decided that a change was required in Constantinople. Not only had Lowther been tarnished by his close association with Fitzmaurice but his early anti-C.U.P. bias had broadened into a more general anti-Turkish inclination which debased the value of his reports. If, ultimately, Lowther’s professed belief in the inability of anyone to govern satisfactorily at the Porte proved correct, the Foreign Office did not need constant reminding of it. By 12 April Grey had drafted a letter to Lowther informing him of his recall though, before dispatching it, the Foreign Secretary sent it to Nicolson to read through, accompanied by the following covering letter:

I shall be glad if you will look at this letter to Lowther. If you think there is anything I can or ought to say that would make it more soothing please return it to me with any suggestions…This sort of thing hurts one very much to do and I would gladly make it as little hurtful to Lowther as I honestly could. But I can’t say he has done splendidly and been very helpful; and I don’t like to say (what I am sure is true) that he has been handicapped very much by ill health, because I fear he would resent that…I am very conscious in these last five years that I have made several mistakes about Constantinople things and anyone in Lowther’s place might justly say that he hasn’t had very much help; but that doesn’t alter the necessity in the public interest of a change.[1]

Confirmation of Lowther’s standing in the Constantinople diplomatic community came from another source that month when Wangenheim recorded his own harsh judgment: although a distinguished man, Lowther was ‘ill and therefore weak. He is not strong enough to free himself from the influence of his First Dragoman. As long as Fitzmaurice continues his career here it will be in vain even to try for a rapprochement with England …England must realise that she can do nothing in Turkey without us or against us.’[2]

                The issue of Lowther’s recall raises the question of whether it is possible to judge the extent of his influence on the prevailing mood in the Foreign Office during his five year tenure at the Porte. It has been argued that ‘Lowther certainly could not be blamed for the high policy considerations which decided in favour of Britain’s anti-Ottoman attitude, and it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that when he left Constantinople he was simply made a scapegoat…No doubt Lowther’s antipathy contributed to the estrangement between the two countries, but on the real issues which stood between them there was no difference between Whitehall and Embassy.’[3] This is too sweeping a judgment. For a variety of reasons, Grey would have preferred to have been on good terms with a strong Turkey. That he eventually lost patience with the regime in Constantinople owed much to Lowther’s reports; Grey was, after all, an easily influenced Foreign Secretary. It is usual to think of foreign policy being decided after due weight has been given to conflicting interests and other considerations. Yet politicians and diplomats are also human, bringing with them to their office their own prejudices and inclinations. Some of these could be set for life, others could change in response to external conditions (such as Churchill ‘switching sides’ during the Turco-Italian war). If the maintenance of close and friendly relations with the Young Turks could not be accommodated alongside the constraints of the Anglo-Russian Convention, it was still of importance that German influence, which had slumped after the revolution, should not regain its former position.

                It should have been a primary consideration of British foreign policy to have fostered friendly if disinterested relations, with the intention of keeping the Young Turks unaligned to any particular Power grouping. If this task would otherwise have proved difficult, it was made impossible by Lowther’s attitude which finally succeeded in estranging Grey. Every overture made to London was rebuffed despite some advocates who pressed for closer ties. All Grey’s problems revolved around the difficulty of attempting to pursue mutually conflicting policies. The Foreign Secretary needed a strong Turkey as a bulwark but a strong Turkey was a threat to Egypt; overt support for the Porte risked offending the Russians; pressure applied to the Porte ran the risk of ‘Muslim agitation’ in Egypt and India (however much this threat was exaggerated). There was little that Lowther could have done to help reconcile these competing aims but he could have worked actively to subvert the rise of German influence, for in the coming months this would loom large and would bring with it its own problem — the risk of a break-up of the Ottoman Empire as Germany sought to further her own interests in Asia Minor. There is no doubt that, following the revolution, Grey would have preferred to deal with a strong, purposeful, even autocratic, administration at the Porte, at the risk of again raising the thorny issue of internal reform. The various power groupings (the C.U.P., the Army, the Grand Vizier and Parliament) complicated an already complex situation and contributed in turn to the weakness of the country. Unable to govern in its own right the C.U.P. dared not come out into the open,[4] another factor in the alienation of Lowther.

                Grey had one further imperative in the recall of Lowther. Following the recall of the Mediterranean battleships in 1912 the strength of the British Mediterranean Squadron stood at precisely one battle cruiser in the first half of 1913.[5] Even at its mooted full strength of four battle cruisers by the summer of 1914 the Squadron would then have to face at least one, possibly more, modern British-built Turkish dreadnoughts[6] in addition to the German Mittelmeerdivision and the dreadnoughts of Germany’s alliance partners, Italy and Austria-Hungary, not to mention, at some future date, the projected Russian Black Sea dreadnoughts. The realization that Britain would not be able to exert naval pressure in the Eastern basin of the Mediterranean without the unappealing expedient of withdrawing heavy units from the North Sea would have been a strong reason to pursue a new line with the Porte. Grey had already been warned that, according to Admiralty calculations, it would not be possible ‘to provide a Battle Squadron worthy of the name for the Mediterranean until the Spring of 1915’,[7] though it was hoped the position would then allow for the dispatch of dreadnoughts. Now, therefore, was the time to foster better relations through the medium of a more sympathetic Ambassador before the danger period of the summer of 1914. In the meantime, Churchill arranged for part of the Home Fleet to take part in manoeuvres in the Mediterranean in the autumn of 1913. ‘It is an important feature in our present policy’, Churchill argued, ‘to show the great mobility of the Fleet, and to make it impossible for any foreign Power to calculate the force that may be brought against them in the Mediterranean.’[8] It was a feature which depended on a good deal of bluff.


Meanwhile, Kiamil Pasha, the former Grand Vizier ousted in the January coup, had kept busy in Cairo planning the counter-coup that he hoped would remove the C.U.P. and re-install him in power. One early setback occurred when he attempted to enlist Britain’s help by approaching Kitchener, the consul-general. Kitchener then informed Grey that Kiamil sought foreign control of the Turkish administration as the elderly intriguer could no longer undertake this; in the circumstances this was the last thing Grey wanted, and Kiamil went on plotting. The military disasters befalling Turkey appeared to provide a perfect opportunity for him to return to Constantinople to proclaim the popular uprising he felt sure was bound to follow once he arrived at the Porte. Instead, as indiscreet as ever, his plans became openly known, and his arrival on 28 May was greeted by his prompt arrest and immediate detention at his son’s house ‘under the strictest police supervision’. Aware that Kiamil’s appearance was the signal for his co-conspirators in the Liberal Union to co-ordinate their actions, the Military Governor of Constantinople, Djemal Bey (a member of the C.U.P. Central Committee), wished to spirit his detainee away from the capital as quickly as possible. Before he could do so Lowther, backed – or should one say, pushed – by Fitzmaurice, intervened claiming that Djemal’s action was unconstitutional and a suppression of personal liberty.

                Humiliatingly, Djemal could not afford to ignore the protest and so Kiamil remained a further 72 hours in Constantinople. Djemal, furious at the intrusion, threatened to submit his resignation to the Grand Vizier before finally convincing Shevket that Kiamil’s return presaged an uprising. Eventually – the proprieties having been attended to in that communication was allowed between the British Embassy and the prisoner – Kiamil was placed on the first direct steamer for Smyrna. Despite the three day enforced delay, Djemal’s timely action had undermined the plotters whose original plan called for the assassination not only of the Grand Vizier but leading members of the C.U.P. as well: the events of 23 January were to have been avenged completely. However, notwithstanding Djemal’s intervention, the absence of Kiamil combined with the signing of the Treaty of London, compelled the conspirators to act prematurely and put into effect at least the first part of their plan — on 11 June, while driving his motor car near the Ministry of War, the Grand Vizier, Shevket Pasha, was attacked by a number of armed men and killed.

                Djemal, who might have reckoned that his name would also appear prominently on any death list, had just left the Grand Vizier (Shevket had been particularly jovial), when he heard a sound coming from War Office Square: ‘five regular taps as if someone was knocking a large drum with a hammer.’ Expecting an attempt at assassination, Djemal asked Kemal Bey, who was with him, whether the noise was not revolver shots. Kemal thought not; it was probably someone beating carpets or pounding nails. Five minutes later they were gorily disabused when the mortally wounded body of Shevket, streaming with blood, was returned to the room in the War Office from which he had departed shortly before. As his ‘husky death rattle’ vibrated through the room, Djemal looked into the Pasha’s pallid face and asked himself, ‘Where does duty call me?’ It was a question which hardly needed answering. In anticipation of just such an event Djemal had ordered the Prefect of Police to ‘draw up a list of all persons of every class who might be expected to attempt to exploit the situation.’ They were all promptly arrested and, with Djemal proclaiming martial law immediately, the counter coup collapsed. Instead of restoring the Liberal Union to power the assassination gave the new C.U.P. Ministry,

a pretext for still more firmly consolidating their position by proceeding against their political opponents, many of whom if not implicated in the crime may have sympathized with the murderers. Some 500 persons were deported to Sinope including many prominent officials, journalists, deputies and ex-officers. 12 men found guilty of murder…were hanged on the 24th June and others…were condemned to death in their absence.[9]

                Talaat who had, until now, exercised his power discreetly within the inner circle of the C.U.P., became President of the Council; and, in a change just as profound, the new Grand Vizier was the man Talaat succeeded, Prince Mehmed Said Halim Pasha, a cousin of the Khedive who had settled in Constantinople from Cairo after the 1908 revolution. The British Embassy’s appraisal of Said was forthright, if not entirely flattering:

His fortune, derived from landed estate in Egypt, formerly considerable, has been decreased by extravagance and bad management. He is one of the few members of the present Government who can be described as a… gentleman judged by European standards, and is the only one who gives receptions and dinners, which are on a lavish scale…In person he is small, almost insignificant, if it were not for a briskness of manner suggestive of energy and mental alertness rare among Orientals. He has strong likes and dislikes…He is supple and conciliatory…One of his principal characteristics is a light hearted optimism, which blinds him to the possible consequences of a policy…his colleagues frequently take important decisions without referring to him. He is not a man of dominating character, and is rather the figurehead than the leader of the Government.[10]

The first reports to reach London suggested that nothing much had changed: Goschen, in Berlin, wrote disdainfully that when he had visited his Turkish colleague to offer condolences ‘about the latest assassination at Constantinople’ the Ambassador ‘seemed to me to take a very detached view of it. He shrugged his shoulders in a truly Oriental way and said “Well! it was quite certain that the murder of Nazim would be avenged; not that the latter did not deserve to die, but he ought to have been shot in a regular way after a Court martial!” He then proceeded to discuss Balkan affairs…’[11]

                What the assassination had accomplished was to bring to power – behind the figurehead of Said Halim – the triumvirate of Talaat, Enver and Djemal[12] who would now guide the destiny of the Ottoman Empire through the period until the outbreak of war in 1914 and beyond. One of their first actions was to make an immediate approach to Britain, the day after the assassination, to reconsider the offer of a defensive alliance that had been first proposed in October 1911. And, as before, the medium used to deliver the proposal, Tewfik Pasha, was rebuffed. The approach did, however, provide the Ambassador-designate, Louis Mallet (then an Assistant Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office), with an opportunity to set out his stall by writing a long memorandum on Anglo-Turkish relations which deserves quoting at length as an illustration of the attitude that would be adopted by Lowther’s successor:

I assume that it is to the interest of Great Britain that the integrity of what remains of the Turkish Empire should be maintained — a division of the Asiatic provinces into spheres of interest could not benefit us, but would seriously affect the balance of power on the Mediterranean, our position in Egypt, in the Persian Gulf, to say nothing of India, and might bring about a European war.

                All the Powers, until quite recently, have been unanimous in this view…The present communication from the Turkish Ambassador in reality raises the whole question upon which I venture to offer the following observations. The communication must be read in connexion with the application made by His Excellency on October 31st, 1912 [sic, should be 1911], in which the Turkish Government said that they were disposed to enter into ‘pourparlers’ for the conclusion of an alliance with Great Britain alone, or to participate eventually in the entente…

                On that occasion Tevfik Pasha was informed that the moment was not opportune to discuss such a question, as hostilities between Turkey and Italy were still in progress but His Excellency was assured that His Majesty’s Government highly appreciated the friendly sentiments of the Turkish Government and shared their desire that the relations between the two countries should be sincerely cordial and that the Ottoman Empire ‘should enter upon an era of prosperity and progress.’

                The same reason no longer exists for deferring a decision, which so far, at any rate, as an alliance with Great Britain is concerned cannot fail, I think, to be in the negative. If other Powers with confessed ambitions in the near East did not exist or were not strong enough to make their voices heard, their would be something very attractive in undertaking the regeneration of the Turkish Empire – which we have practically been invited to do – in devoting ourselves to the reform of the administration, the improvement of the condition of the people and the commercial development of a great and rich country. In a short time there is little doubt that British Administration could convert a decaying Power into a strong ally, who owing to her geographical position would be a source of strength to us. But this is not within practical politics and if Turkey is to be reformed it will have to be with the assistance of all the Great Powers.

                An alliance with Turkey would in present circumstances unite Europe against us and be a source of weakness and danger to ourselves and Turkey. The 2nd [sic] part of the Turkish proposal — namely that which relates to the inclusion of Turkey in the Triple Entente is a question on which His Majesty’s Government will, I imagine, wish to know the views of the French and Russian Governments. To a certain extent the criticism which is applicable to an alliance with Great Britain alone is also applicable to the inclusion of Turkey in the Triple Entente. Such a policy might arouse the jealousy of Germany, Austria and Italy and although Turkey, having lost nearly all her European and outlying African possessions is perhaps not now so vulnerable to the Triple Alliance, it is doubtful whether Germany would not regard an event of this nature almost in the nature of a challenge from the Triple Entente to the Triple Alliance. Subject to a discussion with France and Russia, I should be disinclined to encourage Turkey to lean exclusively upon the Triple Entente. I do not however think that we can be satisfied with a purely negative attitude which might throw Turkey into the arms of the Triple Alliance who would conceivably not be so reluctant to entertain her requests.

                I have referred at the beginning of this minute to the importance, which appears to be of almost a vital character, of maintaining the integrity of the Asiatic possession of the Turkish Empire. Turkey’s way of assuring her independence is by an alliance with us or by an understanding with the Triple Entente. A less risky method would be a treaty of Declaration binding all the Powers to respect the independence and integrity of the present Turkish dominion, which might go as far as neutralisation, and by participation by all the Great Powers in financial control and the application of reforms.[13]

The last suggestion appealed to Grey, who was keen to avoid having to deal with Turkey in isolation: ‘We alone’, he noted, ‘can certainly not put Turkey on her feet: she would when her fears subsided resist efforts at reform and play off one Power against another unless all were united.’[14] Grey saw Tewfik Pasha again on 2 July to assure him of the Government’s ‘strong desire to see tranquillity, order, justice, good gov[ernment] and a sound financial system firmly established’ in the Ottoman Empire but that ‘these objects cannot be attained by a defensive alliance between Turkey and any one Power alone but require for their realisation the whole-hearted co-operation of the Ottoman Govt with the Govts of all the Great Powers…’ This applied particularly to Great Britain, with her special interest in the Turkish Empire.[15] And that was as far as Grey was prepared to go.


As the situation settled down in Constantinople late in June under the iron fist of Djemal, the incipient unrest in the Balkans floated to the surface once more. The Treaty of London had been no more than a plaster applied to the festering boil of Balkan aggrandizement when what was needed was the lance. The Bulgarians had faced the main Turkish army, had done the bulk of the fighting in the First Balkan War and required, as a reward for their effort, a commensurate territorial reward. Their claim, on this basis, to large areas of Macedonia and the important port of Salonica upset the Greeks. The Serbs, for their part, confronted with the creation of an autonomous Albania which would deny their territorial ambitions in that direction, looked to the same part of the map upon which Bulgarian eyes fell. As early as January 1913 – that is before the resumption of fighting at Adrianople – informal meetings had been held between the Greek and Serb Royal families to consider the position in case Bulgarian expansion resulted in a clash of arms between the erstwhile allies. Grey was certainly aware that something was up when, by the middle of April, after Serbian troops had assisted (however passively) in the capture of Adrianople, Bax-Ironside reported from Sophia that, ‘owing to fears entertained of the exaggerated territorial pretensions of Bulgaria in the direction both of Monastir and Salonica, I learn on good authority that the Greek and Servian Governments are contemplating a more formal agreement…and that negotiations are proceeding at Athens for the settlement of the frontier between the future Greek and Servian possessions in Macedonia, and for a secret defensive treaty between the two countries…’[16] Bax-Ironside’s intelligence was, as usual, accurate; the formal treaty was signed on 1 June after continued skirmishes in Macedonia.

                Following the conclusion of hostilities against the Turks, the Bulgarians had begun moving their army away from that front and into Macedonia, opposite the Serbs and Greeks, to stake their claim. The Bulgarians attacked their former allies on the night of 29/30 June. However, they had made three calamitous miscalculations: first, that the Greeks and Serbs would not provide serious opposition; second, that Roumania would sit back and complacently watch events unfold on her southern border, or, at the very least, would be restrained by Austria-Hungary; and third, that the Turks would not dare violate the Treaty of London by advancing beyond the Enos-Midia line. Of these miscalculations, the most disastrous was the second, for the Roumanians declared general mobilization on 3 July. Grey laconically reported to the Cabinet that the Balkan ‘allies’ still called themselves allies and ‘that though not technically “at war” they were fighting battles with one another.’[17] The Roumanian declaration of war on 10 July was followed by a swift advance on Sophia, while, with Thrace now all but undefended, the Turks could hardly resist the temptation to profit from the difficulties of Bulgaria. Nevertheless, while the C.U.P. advocated just such a move, the Cabinet remained divided with one section concerned that, by so acting, they would precipitate some fresh disaster. In the circumstances, it was almost predictable that Talaat and Enver would force the issue — the Ottoman Army duly marched on 12 July. Rodosto was taken two days later, then Lule Burgas and finally, with Enver at its head, Adrianople was entered unopposed on 21 July.[18]

                Five days before Enver’s jubilant re-entry, and keeping his German counterpart fully informed, Grey had telegraphed Constantinople to urge the Turkish Government not to advance beyond the Enos-Midia line: by doing so ‘she may provoke consequences as disastrous to her as those which have been brought on Bulgaria by the forward policy of the Bulgarian Government.’ Despite this, the Foreign Secretary was not unduly alarmed, while Nicolson – somewhat out of character – was ‘really pleased’ that Adrianople had been reoccupied.[19] For the rest, the Balkan ‘allies’ could sort things out for themselves. This wishful thinking ignored the Russians, who favoured the Bulgarians (without wishing to see them in Constantinople) but had no desire either to see Greece expand east towards the Straits or Turkey expand to the north. Indeed, the Russian Ambassador, as reported by his German colleague in June, had been using the question of reforms in Armenia to keep Turkey in Asia in such a condition as would justify Russian military intervention.[20] After the initial euphoria, occasioned by the belief that the so-called Balkan allies deserved all they got, had died down the new fear felt in Whitehall was that Russia would march into Asiatic Turkey, thus precipitating an unholy scramble amongst the Powers which would make the Balkan Wars seem like a minor squabble. The British Cabinet faced this possibility in July and decided that, for the time being, the preservation of Ottoman rule in Asia was the only safe policy. While Asquith was in general agreement he did not refrain from mentioning to the King his own ‘strong opinion that it was only a matter of time before the same causes of instability and rottenness which have led to the practical expulsion of the Turks from Europe would bring about the same downfall in Asia, and that we ought to face these probabilities.’[21] At the same time Nicolson set out the Foreign Office view:

Our policy is to endeavour to maintain and consolidate Turkish dominion in Asia. I should not if I were called upon to do so defend such a policy upon any higher ground than simple expediency and an unwillingness to be parties to any measures that might alienate or disappoint our moslem population in India. In my heart of hearts I have the very gravest doubts, apart from any question of morals, whether it will be possible to maintain the Turkish dominion for any great length of time. The prestige of the Turk as a fighting machine and also as a soldier of Islam has entirely disappeared and there are many indications to show that the spirit has gone out of the Turks and that they are no longer capable of maintaining the position they have hitherto enjoyed. This fact will I doubt not soon become general throughout the Asiatic provinces and will I expect lead to movements tending to disintegration. We shall find the liquidation, should it of necessity come to pass, of the Turkish succession in Asia a far more delicate and difficult performance than that which has recently taken place in Europe. It will not be the small countries like the Balkan States which will be filled with the desire of acquiring rich provinces, but it will be the Great Powers who will be scrambling to obtain their share of the spoils. We shall certainly do our best to co-operate in any measures which may help in maintaining Turkish rule surrounded naturally by all limitations and safeguards for the welfare of subordinate races. I think that a very long time will elapse before we have done with these matters and they will afford us many months if not years of very anxious work and anxiety.[22]

                The Turkish army would soon confound Nicolson though, it must be admitted, against limited opposition. The crisis came when, first, the Turks retook Adrianople on 21 July and then when they showed no inclination to limit their gains to this city but pushed on into territory that had been awarded to Bulgaria by the Treaty of London in May. As the Turks marched back triumphantly into Adrianople Grey discussed privately with the German Ambassador the situation in the Balkans before the delegates at the St James’s Conference resumed their sitting: the Foreign Secretary was insistent that the Enos-Midia line be agreed by all the Powers as the boundary between Turkey and Bulgaria, and, if the Turks proved intransigent, the question of taking coercive action would arise. If all the Powers agreed upon a naval demonstration Britain would join in, even though forcing the Straits would be difficult and, in any case, the Turks could simply disregard the demonstration; a better course, Grey intimated, would be to withhold from the current Turkish regime ‘support of any kind, financial or otherwise.’

                However, once the actual conference was under way, Grey raised the question of applying force, studiously avoided mentioning that Britain would, if necessary, participate in a naval demonstration, and instead asked Lichnowsky to request that the German Government express their views. Having been put on the spot, Lichnowsky agreed in principle to the adoption of the Enos-Midia line but wished to postpone the question of the demonstration: Grey was not going to get the Germans to do his dirty work for him! On the following day, with the Turks still occupying Adrianople and Grey having to admit that he had no clue as to their intentions, he conceded that, while leaving Enos and Midia as the endpoints, the line between could be drawn more favourably for the Turks as ‘nobody would wish any longer to contest the Turks’ right to secure for themselves strategically favourable points’; but he was adamant that this could not extend to Adrianople whose continued possession by Turkey left Grey anxious that the Russians might interfere. Apart from this, the Foreign Secretary was somewhat more upbeat, expecting an early termination of Balkan hostilities — whether this was a considered opinion or the confident expectation that the situation would not spoil his summer holidays is unrecorded.[23]

                As Russian forces were not in a position to threaten the Porte itself Sazonov continued to urge that a collective naval demonstration should be made and then, finding the mood unreceptive, that the Entente Powers alone should participate.[24] Grey was horrified at this suggestion, hardly less so than the French: in Paris Bertie saw both President Poincaré and Foreign Minister Pichon and reported on 23 July that Pichon

would join though unwillingly in a collective action by all the Powers which, however, he considers as impossible of realization owing to the objection of Germany. He is opposed to a naval demonstration by Russia, France and England as pitting the Triple Entente against the Triple Alliance and as thereby creating a dangerous situation. He would strongly object to any isolated action by Russia which M Sazonow has spoken of…and he has instructed M Delcassé to intimate to M Sazonow that the French Govt cannot subscribe to or in any way take responsibility for such isolated action.

Bertie also asked Pichon whether, if the Russians persisted either navally or else by landing troops in the vicinity of Constantinople and this, in turn, resulted in either Austria or Germany ‘moving large bodies of their troops towards the continuous Russian frontiers’ would the Russians persist? Pichon thought not.[25] Four days later, Bertie reported further parts of his conversation: ‘I suggested’, he informed Grey,

that any isolated action by Russia…would be very embarrassing to France as well as to England on account of the strong resentment that would be felt by the Mussulman population of Algeria, Tunis and Morocco and of India at the two Powers consenting to forcible pressure being put on the Turks to oblige them to withdraw from Adrianople a city which for reasons of faith they attach great importance.

                I also said that if the Russians invaded Asia Minor the Porte might call upon us to defend Turkey as we had by the Cyprus Convention of 1878 undertaken to do. This would be very embarrassing for though we claim that owing to the Turks having failed to institute reforms in Asia Minor as they had promised in the Convention it has become caduque [lapsed] the non-fulfilment of our obligations would have a bad appearance and create a bad impression in the Mussulman world.

As the Germans had knocked the idea of a collective demonstration on the head, an Entente demonstration would probably create a dangerous situation with Germany and Austria; besides, if the demonstration went ahead and the Turks ignored it the Powers would either have to use more force or else ‘they would look stupid.’[26]

                With Wangenheim reporting that the re-conquest of Adrianople had united all the parties at the Porte momentarily, and that any attempt to snatch it away from Turkey ‘would have serious consequences and might easily lead to a smash-up in Asia Minor’[27] both German and British policy towards Turkey-in-Europe had to be formulated upon the basis of the respective governments’ fears regarding the future of their interests in Turkey-in-Asia. Fortunately, in view of the delicate diplomatic balancing act that would have ensued, the Turkish push into Bulgarian territory was of a limited nature and the forces, having made their point, pulled back to Adrianople. Grey was able to calm Bertie by replying that for the Entente alone to attempt to coerce Turkey ‘would be the worst conceivable course. It would, in my opinion, be absolutely disastrous, and we could not join in it.’ When the Turks had marched into Bulgaria Grey admitted that he thought Russia’s hand might be forced, ‘but now that the Turks have withdrawn from Bulgaria and it is only a question of Thrace, I hope that Russia will not take separate action.’ As for Adrianople, he was ‘not very sanguine about getting the Turks out’ either by bargaining or diplomatic pressure, ‘but we must see what can be done.’[28] But first, he had to wind up the Ambassadors’ Conference — Grey saw Lichnowsky on 28 July to warn him that, after the following day’s sitting, he would probably hold a final sitting on 1 August and then adjourn rather than conclude the sittings altogether in order not to convey the impression the Conference ‘had broken down owing to the disunion of the Powers.’ Grey at least hoped to settle the Albanian question before the week was out as he intended ‘going into the country next week, returning here occasionally for a day or two.’[29] He was able to inform the Cabinet that week that matters were progressing satisfactorily and that, as the Turks had withdrawn entirely from Bulgarian territory, no ‘measures of immediate coercion’ were called for but that the Enos-Midia line should be respected ‘subject to some possible modifications.’ Adrianople, however, could not be retained.[30]


Following the calamities on the battlefield, the victorious Christian Balkan states gathered in Bucharest in August to place their demands before the Bulgarians, who were in no position to argue and so lost most of their recent gains. The Treaty – ‘to establish peace between their long-suffering peoples’ – was signed on 10 August.[31] Grey had, by now, in a manner that was fast becoming his usual method of dealing with the Turks, adopted both a private and a public stance over Adrianople: he told Lichnowsky that the Turks had been advised to keep quiet in Adrianople and make no further advances, in which case ‘the concessions to be granted them in the evacuation of the town will be solved as favourably for them as possible.’ Once more though he could indicate no means by which the Turks could be made to evacuate, echoing the sentiment expressed in his letter to Bertie. On 13 August Lichnowsky reported to Berlin that Grey still thought Adrianople should be given up and, with the Treaty of Bucharest now signed, it was the right time to approach the Porte; he would rejoice if the Germans could agree with the Russians on the right steps to be taken, if only to pre-empt unilateral Russian action. But Wilhelm, as always seeing phantoms where none existed, declined the invitation: if England feared Russian action – which he did not – ‘England ought to go with Russia and try and scare the Turks out; she ought to bear the odium before the Mohammedan world. How should we be so stupid as to do it for England?’[32] The All-Highest was quite content for the Turks to remain in Adrianople.

                Privately, Grey tended to follow the line argued by his officials: Alwyn Parker, an assistant clerk at the Foreign Office then conducting the Persian Gulf negotiations with Hakki Pasha, could not see what would be gained by ejecting the Turks. If the Bulgarians were reinstalled, the danger was risked of a fresh war between Bulgaria and Greece. If the Turks refused to budge the Russians could hardly use force either for fear of having the Straits closed or of destroying the Entente.[33] Louis Mallet, the Ambassador-elect, was also in sympathy with these views but was puzzled by the official British reaction, particularly Asquith’s speeches, in which the Turcophobe spoke instead of the Statesman. ‘Both politically and commercially’, Mallet wrote Hardinge on 11 August, ‘it is to our interests that the Turks should hold Adrianople and remain a fairly strong power. The longer we can postpone the break-up of Turkey, the better. I have strongly urged these views and your telegram about Mussulman feeling had a great effect, but there is no consistency in our policy…We alone shall suffer for our foolish words.’ Mallet sought Hardinge’s help as the Viceroy could ‘exercise more influence than anyone in the formation of a policy towards Turkey.’

If [Mallet continued] the break-up of the Asiatic dominion of Turkey is something to be avoided, and I imagine that it would be a great misfortune for India to see Russia in the six Vilayets, Germany in Asia Minor and France in Syria, a consistent policy of maintaining and strengthening the Ottoman Empire (coupled with reforms) should be pursued and might be insisted on by India…[34]

A week later, as the time approached for Mallet to begin preparations for his departure to Constantinople, the full implication of the posting became apparent. With Hardinge gone Mallet now conceded that ‘the chances of my succeeding Nicolson [as Permanent Under-Secretary] were not very secure’ and he knew that Eyre Crowe would eventually get the job he coveted. To justify the position to himself, and to come to terms with the disappointment, he confided to Hardinge that he was ‘heartily sick of being an Assistant Under Secretary especially under Nicolson with whom, however, my personal relations are excellent.’[35] It was not a convincing denial.

                Shortly after, to test the resolve of the Powers, the Turkish army advanced into Thrace once more and Grey despaired. He was all but powerless and the Germans were refusing to act in concert. ‘Nothing but fear of provoking Russia to the point of war will stop the Turks’, he minuted.[36] On 21 August the Porte gave a formal and categorical assurance that the army had no intention of going beyond the line Maritza-Adrianople[37] but, as it became obvious that no Power was in a position to force the Turks out of Adrianople, the Bulgarians had little option but to commence direct negotiations with the Porte, with the tacit acceptance that the city was already conceded. The Bulgarian delegates arrived in Constantinople on 3 September and a treaty was concluded on 29 September.[38] Throughout this period the Embassy in Constantinople had been in the hands of the Chargé d’Affaires, Charles Marling, following Lowther’s departure and before the arrival of Mallet on 24 October. General Sir Henry Wilson, who had been in Constantinople early in October, was not sanguine. ‘I have heard more, learnt more, and understand more of the Eastern Question now’, he recorded on the 10th of that month, ‘than I have done in the three years as D. M. O. And, overshadowing everything else, and coming from every side, is our loss of prestige.’ And who was the source of much of this information? None other than that old reprobate, Fitzmaurice! Working his charm on Wilson (who felt obliged to note that Fitzmaurice ‘knows the Turk better than any European alive’) the Dragoman expressed ‘grave doubts as to the future existence of Turkey.’ Not of a democratic bent, Fitzmaurice contended that the ‘substitution of party government for the Padishah and Islam may, probably will, be fatal to the country’. Wilson could do no more than express again what, to him, was patently obvious: ‘Our loss of prestige out here is appalling.’ With his own mind now firmly closed, it was only left for Wilson to lament that Mallet, who was due to arrive the following week, would bring with him ‘that awful thing “an open mind.” ’[39]

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[1]    Grey to Nicolson, 12 April 1913, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/365. Note: Heller, British Policy, p. 198, note 120, maintains that, in this letter, Grey sought to defend Lowther which seems a forced interpretation based on the last sentence only. Heller’s source is Lowe & Dockrill, Mirage of Power, p. 128, which – again – only quotes the last sentence.

[2]    Wangenheim to Bethmann-Hollweg, 24 April 1913, Dugdale, German Diplomatic Documents, vol. IV, pp. 240-1.

[3]    Heller, British Policy, p. 99.

[4]    Ibid., p. 98.

[5]    Note however that the Third Battle Squadron of weak pre-dreadnoughts was on temporary duty during the crisis caused by the Balkan Wars.

[6]    At the time the Turks had one dreadnought, Reshadieh, completing but rumours persisted (e.g., Lowther to Grey, 17 January 1913, PRO Adm 1/8365/8) that they were attempting to purchase the Brazilian dreadnought being built on the Tyne and which, like Reshadieh, was due for completion in the summer of 1914.

[7]    Memorandum by Churchill, 6 July 1912, PRO CAB 37/111/89.

[8]    Churchill to Battenberg, 7 June 1913, First Lord’s Minutes, Naval Historical Library.

[9]    Turkey: Annual Report, 1913, PRO FO 371/2137; Djemal Pasha, Memories of a Turkish Statesman, 1913-19, (London, 1922), pp. 29-36; Ahmad, The Young Turks, pp. 126-30; Shaw and Shaw, vol. II, p. 296.

[10]  Turkey: Annual Report, 1913, “Personalities”, PRO FO 371/2137. Feroz Ahmad, The Young Turks, p. 140, argues that Said Halim’s appointment heralded a change to an Islamic policy predicated upon the basis of appeasing the Arabs in view of the loss of the non-Muslim areas of the Balkans.

[11]  Goschen to Nicolson, 13 June 1913, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/367.

[12]  Djemal was later described thus: ‘His is a character teeming with conflicting elements: cruelty and clemency, firmness and caprice, ideality and hedonism, self-seeking and patriotism…Djemal’s stoutly built figure is rather under medium height. His hair is brown; his squarely cut French beard is somewhat lighter; his beautiful brown eyes can be soft or hard as occasion demands. His manner has the charm of perfect social ease.’ F Bliss, Djemal Pasha: a Portrait, The Nineteenth Century and After, vol. 86, p. 1151.

[13]  Memorandum by Sir Louis Mallet, 19 June 1913, B.D., X, i, (Appendix), pp. 901-2.

[14]  Minute by Grey, ibid., p. 902.

[15]  Grey to Tewfik, 2 July 1913, ibid.

[16]  Bax-Ironside to Grey, no. 139 Secret, 15 April 1913, PRO FO 371/1812.

[17]  Asquith to the King, 3 July 1913, PRO Cab 41/34/24.

[18]  Turkey: Annual Report, 1913, PRO FO 371/2137; Ahmad, The Young Turks, pp. 131-2; Crampton, Hollow Detente, p. 101; Shaw and Shaw, vol. II, p. 297.

[19]  Granville, Chargé d’Affaires, Berlin to Jagow, 17 July 1913, German Diplomatic Documents, p. 184; Heller, British Policy, p. 82.

[20]  Dugdale, German Diplomatic Documents, editorial note, vol. IV, p. 209.

[21]  Asquith to the King, 10 July 1913, PRO Cab 41/34/25.

[22]  Nicolson to Bax-Ironside, 8 July 1913, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/368.

[23]  Lichnowsky, Abyss, pp. 214-6.

[24]  Crampton, Hollow Detente, p. 103.

[25]  Bertie to Grey, Draft, Private and Confidential, 23 July 1913, Bertie mss., PRO FO 800/180.

[26]  Memorandum by Bertie, 27 July 1913, Bertie mss., ibid.

[27]  Wangenheim to Foreign Office, 25 July 1913, German Diplomatic Documents, vol. IV, pp. 186-7.

[28]  Grey to Bertie, 31 July 1913, Bertie mss., PRO FO 800/180.

[29]  Lichnowsky, Abyss, p. 245.

[30]  Asquith to the King, 31 July 1913, PRO Cab 41/34/29.

[31]  Hurst (ed.), Key Treaties for the Great Powers, vol. II, pp. 863 ff.

[32]  Lichnowsky to Bethmann-Hollweg, 13 August 1913, marginalia by the Emperor, German Diplomatic Documents, vol. IV, pp. 191-2.

[33]  Crampton, Hollow Detente, p. 104.

[34]  Mallet to Hardinge, 11 August 1913, quoted in, Heller, British Policy, p. 102.

[35]  Mallet to Hardinge, 19 August 1913, quoted in, Zara Steiner, The Foreign Office, 1905-1914, in Hinsley (ed.), op. cit., pp. 57-8.

[36]  Minute by Grey, 14 August 1913, quoted in, Crampton, Hollow Detente, p. 105.

[37]  Turkey: Annual Report, 1913, PRO FO 371/2137.

[38]  Ahmad, The Young Turks, p. 133.

[39]  Diary entries for 9, 10 and 12 October 1913, quoted in, Callwell, Wilson, vol. I, p. 128. Wilson also recorded his impressions of Talaat and Djemal: whereas the latter was leniently described as ‘a nice looking, bearded soldier and man of action’ Wilson did not take at all to Talaat. ‘I did not like the look of him,’ the General privately noted, adding that he was ‘a stout, modernized Turk, who a short time ago was a telegraph clerk’ and, if this were not indictment enough, Talaat was harshly judged ‘An oily schemer without principles or, I should say, backbone.’



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