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 11




The Mission




 Sir Louis Mallet

Sir Louis Mallet

 The fact that Mallet was an Assistant Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office and had not been drawn, as was more customary, from the diplomatic service gave rise to speculation that there had been a change of policy in London. Indeed Crowe, who believed that ‘there has been an unfortunate impression at Constantinople that our late Ambassador was too much identified with the anti-Committee parties’, wanted to ‘impress and gratify the Turks’ by having Mallet proceed to the Porte in a British warship. Pragmatic and cautious to a fault, Nicolson could not see what this would achieve and was keen to avoid giving any such hint of a new direction in Anglo-Turkish relations. Besides, as far as Nicolson was concerned, Mallet’s appointment (although made with the hope of improving Anglo-Turkish relations) removed one obstacle from the path of Crowe’s steady rise.[1] However just the fact of Mallet’s arrival was enough to set tongues wagging and rumours flying that, warship or not, a new British policy was now presaged. When even the second dragoman at the Embassy, Andrew Ryan, could surmise that Mallet’s appointment indicated Government willingness to have, as their representative, someone who had been both closely involved with Grey and the Anglo-Turkish negotiations being conducted in London towards a settlement in Mesopotamia and the Persian Gulf and who could therefore express the Government’s policy ‘with full knowledge of what had passed in London’ then there was little hope that Turkish officials, the press, and the other Embassies would view the appointment in any other but the same light.

Mallet’s arrival also coincided with Djemal Pasha’s artless approach to General Wilson — the Governor of Constantinople had just assured the receptive Wilson that, unfortunately, ‘The Turks could not now change their military teachers (Germans), but in all else, in finance, administration, navy, and reforms they wished to be under English guidance.’[2]

                To head this renascence in British prestige and influence there now arrived as His Britannic Majesty’s representative to the Sublime Porte Sir Louis du Pan Mallet. Ryan was not overly impressed, initially, by what he saw: ‘No man could have been a greater personal contrast to Lowther. Mallet was a bachelor, very much of a dilettante in appearance, very quizzical, highly intelligent, as supple as his predecessor had been unbending, and intent on conciliating the Young Turk leaders by friendliness and charm. He did not impress me greatly at first, but he grew on me very much when we became intimate.’[3] Against Mallet there stood the imposing figure of the German Ambassador, Baron von Wangenheim, who was described by his American colleague as having ‘a complete technical equipment for a diplomat; he spoke German, English and French with equal facility, he knew the East thoroughly, and had the widest acquaintance with public men. Physically he was one of the most striking persons I have ever known…He was six feet two inches tall; his huge, solid frame, his Gibraltar-like shoulders, erect and impregnable, his bold defiant head, his piercing eyes, the whole physical structure constantly pulsating with life and activity…’[4] Unfortunately, if understandably, it did not take long for the new Ambassador to come to regard Fitzmaurice as invaluable. Within a fortnight Mallet was informing Grey that he ‘shall not be able to do without’ Fitzmaurice whose knowledge was so extensive and ‘his means of getting it so varied that he is indispensable.’ The British balloon that had so recently been blown up was pricked when Mallet added, ‘I do not believe that his presence here will injure any chance of getting good relations with the Young Turks. On the contrary it is more likely to help me.’[5] Of more immediate concern however, Mallet soon became embroiled in the affair of Liman von Sanders and the German Military Mission which, of necessity, also highlighted the work of Admiral Limpus at the Turkish Admiralty.

  Liman von Sanders (centre) and his Staff

Liman von Sanders (centre) and his Staff


The genesis of Liman’s mission was to be found in the poor performance of the Turkish Army in the First Balkan War which, in turn, was perceived to reflect badly upon the German military instructors and also upon German arms. The remit of the previous incumbent, General Colmar von der Goltz, had been confined to areas such as the organization of manoeuvres and inspection of troops while his mission, as often as not, attracted the wrong type of German officer who took every opportunity to impress upon the Turk his own view of his undoubted superiority. The defeat of the Turkish Army was felt even more humiliatingly as the Serbs and the Greeks in particular relied upon French training and arms.[6] A French military mission, operating in Athens under General Eydoux, had made great strides in raising the efficiency of the army to a level at which the Greeks made an attractive partner for the Balkan allies; as early as January 1913 German inquiries had been initiated to ascertain the conditions under which Eydoux served. By April, when the temporary lull following the fall of Adrianople afforded a suitable breathing space, Shevket’s thoughts turned to strengthening the defences of Constantinople against a renewed Bulgarian attack. He therefore approached the German Military Attaché, Major von Stempel, to request that a suitable Prussian officer be found to formulate new plans for the defence of the capital. Shevket then took up the matter further on 26 April in a long interview with Wangenheim when it transpired that what the Grand Vizier had in mind was a complete reorganization of the army under the responsibility of a large scale military mission with, if required, a German general in actual command of a Turkish Army corps.[7]

                The German Ambassador became a thorough-going convert to the idea, accepting fully that ‘According to Turkish ideas, the Army was the deciding factor in the state.’[8] His conversion owed not a little also to his belief that the Entente Powers had well advanced plans for the partition of Asiatic Turkey which, as yet, Germany was in no position to capitalize on. In that case, it was in Germany’s interests to postpone a scramble amongst the Powers and the best way of achieving this aim was to ensure that the Turks possessed a strong, well-trained army. Wangenheim’s official request for ‘a leading German General’ was telegraphed to Berlin on 22 May 1913. Two days later, at the marriage of the Kaiser’s only daughter (which was attended by King George V and the Tsar), Wilhelm informed his illustrious guests of the Turkish request. To King George it was ‘quite natural that they should turn to you for officers to reorganise their army’, while – apparently – the Tsar, also, was content, believing it was ‘necessary very strongly to fortify the Chatalja Line, so that the Bulgarians could not cross it.’[9] It seems, however, that Wilhelm had left his guests with the impression that the new mission would simply replicate the work of von der Goltz.[10]

                The Kaiser placed a greater reliance upon Turkey as a military ally than many of his officials and there was little likelihood that he would not accede to the Turkish entreaty; all that was required was to find a suitable officer. Nevertheless it was not until 30 June that the Chief of the Military Cabinet reported ‘A general has been discovered – though not without difficulty – who states he is prepared to undertake that duty. He is Lt-Gen. Liman von Sanders commanding the 22nd division at Cassel, a brilliant divisional commander, who would be specially fitted for the position in every way…’[11] Although, for the time being (the Second Balkan War having broken out), it was considered inappropriate for Liman to appear at the Porte, once peace had been concluded with the signing of the Treaty of Bucharest, Wilhelm made it clear that he wished the matter to proceed with dispatch. Negotiations concerning the position, status and remuneration of the mission continued throughout September and October, until finally the resolution of the separate Turco-Bulgarian talks removed the last obstacle. On 28 October, in Berlin, Liman von Sanders signed the draft agreement by which he became commander of the Turkish First Army Corps.[12] Three days later the British Military Attaché in Berlin, Lieutenant-Colonel Alick Russell, reported that there no longer seemed to be any doubt that a new German Military Mission would be sent to Constantinople, and that it would ‘be granted unlimited powers to carry out it’s [sic] work in Turkey. It is a matter for wonder by whom such powers are guaranteed and in what directions they extend.’ Russell also confirmed the universally good impression of Liman.[13]

                By early November Baron Giers, the Russian Ambassador at the Porte, suspected that there was a fundamental difference between the missions of Liman and von der Goltz; a suspicion which was confirmed on 6 November when the Russian Naval Attaché in Constantinople became aware of the actual details of the agreement.[14] The following day, with Sazonov again absent, his understudy Neratov quizzed the German Chargé in St Petersburg about the information he had just received from a secret source in Turkey.[15] Until 17 November, when Sazonov returned, Neratov conducted the talks with the aim of defusing the issue. Neratov maintained that the siting of the mission on the Balkan front – say, in Adrianople – would be a far less serious matter for Russia than to have a German mission in Constantinople or the Dardanelles. It was only on the 17th that matters took a turn for the worse — the Russian Prime Minister Kokovstov, who had been in Paris conducting financial negotiations, planned to break the return journey in Berlin to convey to the Kaiser his gratitude for the order of the Black Eagle which had been recently bestowed upon him. This seemed an ideal chance to broach the dispute in an informal manner and clear up any misunderstandings. In a meeting with Bethmann-Hollweg and Wilhelm, Kokovstov was surprised when Wilhelm referred to the Tsar’s apparent agreement to the mission, expressed at the wedding in May; in any event, Wilhelm tendentiously pointed out, to limit Liman to the same conditions applying to von der Goltz would inevitably produce the same result. Liman must adopt a far more active rôle.

                Upon Sazonov’s return, Bethmann-Hollweg was soon disabused of any notion that the Russians would calmly acquiesce: the Russian Foreign Minister was ‘painfully disturbed’ by the question of the mission. That very month the Russian Admiralty had called for an increased Black Sea building programme with the eventual aim of acquiring a fleet of eleven dreadnoughts by 1919. Until the dreadnoughts currently being constructed at such massive cost could be completed, Russia was helpless. Worse, as Sazonov outlined to the Tsar, was ‘the potential gravity of a seizure of the Straits by a state less responsive to Russian pressure than Turkey.’ Twice, during the Turco-Italian war the Straits had been closed: on the first occasion, as grain could not be exported, prices fell by 15 to 20 per cent and banks refused to handle bills of exchange. The second closure resulted in a massive reduction of the trade balance and an increase in the bank rate.[16]

                The German response was one of great surprise to the strong Russian objections. As the German Foreign Minister later explained to the British Ambassador, the first mention of the subject had been by Wilhelm to the Tsar and, or so it was believed, Nicholas ‘rather encouraged the idea.’ It had been ‘unfortunate’ that the matter had not been discussed when Sazonov was in Berlin but this was only because Bethmann-Hollweg had thought the affair was all arranged and ‘that as it was only a matter of another German officer succeeding General von der Goltz [he] had not thought it worthwhile to discuss it…There had been no bad faith in the matter at all…’[17] Despite the fact that the Germans could always fall back on the convenient excuse that the Turks had, themselves, requested the mission Kokovstov was still able to make some headway with Bethmann-Hollweg. Indeed, Kokovstov’s interviews with Bethmann-Hollweg had led the former to the conclusion that this mission had grown both in functions and numbers after the Chancellor had originally agreed to it, but without his subsequent knowledge. Following his discussions with the Chancellor, Kokovstov believed that Bethmann-Hollweg had accepted, in principle, either that Liman should be allowed to reside in Constantinople, but with modified powers or, preferably, that he should have full powers and reside in Adrianople. However, rather than helping to allay Sazonov’s doubts, the Prime Minister’s opinion that matters had proceeded without Bethmann-Hollweg’s full knowledge merely reinforced Sazonov’s belief that there were two policies in Berlin: one formulated by the Chancellor and the other by the military and the Court.

                If Sazonov needed any proof of this, it was soon provided: despite the progress Kokovstov thought he had made, on 23 November he was informed that the negotiations regarding the mission having been concluded, they could not now be altered.[18] As a sop it was proposed that, when he arrived, Liman could examine the situation on the spot to see whether a transfer to Adrianople or Smyrna would be possible though it was felt that this would not be the case for the simple technical reason that all the military schools were situated in Constantinople; besides the very mention of Smyrna aroused French hackles raising as it did the question of a German presence in the eastern Mediterranean. It was therefore no surprise when the French Foreign Minister informed Sazonov that he agreed entirely with the Russians: while Liman at Adrianople was just barely tolerable, Liman at Smyrna was out of the question.[19]

                British reaction was muted. Hugh O’Beirne, the British Chargé d’Affaires at St Petersburg, reported privately to Nicolson that it was ‘not at all surprising that Sazonow should be very seriously upset by the arrangement just come to by Turkey with regard to the engagement of German officers having executive command. When one thinks what Constantinople means to Russia it is certainly an intolerable thing for her to see the town virtually in the hands of a German commander. But much as I sympathise with Sazonow his attitude seems to me to be one merely of impotent annoyance. He says he has used strong language at Berlin. What good will that do?’ O’Beirne complained that Sazonov had no definite ideas at all as to how to reply to the German coup and that, in his wilder moments, he talked of having a Russian general in command of the Turkish force at Bayazid;[20] or else Russian officers could be appointed in Armenia. In the opinion of the Chargé the ‘only effective reply’ would be to have one or two warships stationed at Constantinople which would be capable of landing a detachment, when called upon, to protect the Russian Embassy: ‘But as Russia is certainly not prepared to take any decided course of that kind any demands for compensation which she may make of Turkey will probably prove quite futile.’[21] The problem for Grey was that, while admitting that the other Powers could, in view of the German action, demand similar advantages ‘to compensate and safeguard their own interests’ he could not see how these could be obtained ‘consistent with the maintenance of Turkish independence’.[22]

                The official response was provided by Grey who conceded that the German command at Constantinople was ‘sufficiently disagreeable for all other Powers’ and added that it was a matter of intimate concern for Russia and, therefore, it was ‘not a question in which we can be more Russian than the Russians.’ Fear of British action would weigh far less heavily on the German Government than apprehension over how far the Russians were likely to take the matter.[23] Nicolson, however, wrote, privately and more illuminatingly, that ‘we are rather puzzled as to what to do in respect of the appointment of the German General’. Personally, he would confine himself to ascertaining Liman’s precise functions and then pointing out to the Turks the ‘dangers to which they are exposing themselves by placing the garrison at Constantinople under the command of a foreigner.’ One obstacle, clearly anticipated by Nicolson, revolved around the widespread antipathy with which Sazonov was viewed at the Foreign Office:

The difficulty always in dealing with Sazonoff is that one never knows precisely how far he is prepared to go. Though we are quite ready to admit that the appointment, if it be really of the character which we are given to believe, is of a very serious nature, still we should look rather foolish if we took the question up warmly and then found that Sazonoff more or less deserted us. In fact there is a certain disinclination on our part to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for Russia…[24]

This disinclination was heightened three days later with the receipt of a dispatch from Mallet that the ‘Advantages of a friendly settlement appear to be very great. If our representations here meet with a rebuff question of compensation must arise…otherwise it would be better not to take so formal a step. Force of circumstances might possibly compel Russian Government to ask for opening of Straits, although this is unlikely…I cannot suggest any special compensation for which we could ask, Admiral Limpus already having command of the fleet, a point which is likely to be made much of by Turks and Germans and which is theoretically a good one’.[25]

                In view of Nicolson’s apprehension regarding the danger for Turkey of having her troops under foreign command, the information from Mallet that the Turkish navy was already under foreign command, and British as well, thoroughly disconcerted the Permanent Under-Secretary: ‘I had no idea’, he minuted incredulously, ‘that Admiral Limpus commanded the fleet. I thought he was merely there as an adviser and instructor. If the fact be as stated by Sir L Mallet we are not on perfectly unassailable ground in demurring to the appointment of the German General.’ When Nicolson, who promptly searched out Limpus’ contract, discovered that, in addition to naval adviser, he was named Commander of the Fleet, with a proviso only that he was not to perform active service in time of war, the realization must have been disconcerting. ‘I do not deny’, he was forced to argue ineffectually, ‘that there is a difference between commander of an inefficient navy and that of C-in-C of the garrison of the capital. Still a point could be made against us.’[26] Nicolson pursued the same line of reasoning when replying to Mallet, although he did have the decency to alter ‘inefficient navy’ – which was as much a slur against Limpus – to ‘a fleet which is hardly yet in existence.’[27] Grey was also obviously disquieted: ‘I did not realize the nature of Admiral Limpus’s command’, he admitted, before adding, ‘We must certainly go very carefully.’[28]

                Grey’s fears were quickly realized. O’Beirne discussed the matter on 8 December with the German Ambassador in St Petersburg, Count Pourtalès, who could not understand what the fuss was about: Liman’s appointment was analogous to Limpus’. Further, he maintained, Liman’s position was less important than von der Goltz who had been Inspector General while Liman would merely command an army corps; ultimately, as a sovereign state, Turkey was free to appoint whomsoever she chose. O’Beirne was aware that Pourtalès had been making the most of the analogy of the British Admiral and German General to Sazonov. It was, therefore, hardly a coincidence that Sazonov was now complaining to him (O’Beirne) that the work of Limpus ‘was a serious thing for Russia.’ The Chargé pointed out that the Turks were determined to have a strong fleet to cope with the Greeks and, if the British did not assist, it was ‘perfectly obvious’ some other Power would. If there were any question of Turkey seriously threatening the Russian naval position in the Black Sea the objection might have some validity, ‘but that was really too remote a contingency to be considered at present.’[29]

                Sazonov’s temper was not improved when he became aware of the iradé published in Turkey on 4 December which confirmed the details of the agreement with Germany signed a week previously. The Foreign Minister, speaking to O’Beirne about the matter ‘with greater seriousness and openness than on any other occasion’ O’Beirne could remember no longer attached great importance to the purely military aspect of the appointment. Liman, he argued, may very likely not be more successful than von der Goltz with the Turkish army, but he was ‘firmly convinced that the command of the First Army Corps will give Germany such a complete political preponderance at Constantinople that other Powers will find themselves definitely reduced to a secondary position in Turkey.’ It was now ‘a test of the value of the Triple Entente’ and while Germany may have weighed the chances of a conflict with France and Russia she could not afford, if Britain became involved, the additional danger of a naval war. The Entente Powers would have to take ‘a really decided stand’ and, therefore, Sazonov was relying greatly on Britain. If Turkey refused to heed the representations, Sazonov proposed to apply pressure by means of a financial boycott, a refusal to agree to the customs increase, and a withdrawal of the Ambassadors (upon which he was particularly insistent). To O’Beirne’s objections on this point, Sazonov countered that once having withdrawn the Ambassadors and to avoid complete loss of prestige even more active measures must be taken; he provocatively suggested ‘the occupation of certain Turkish ports.’[30]

                Threats of this nature made it all the more imperative that a solution be found quickly, preferably involving Russo-German discussions, in the hope of avoiding the problem posed by the presence of the British naval mission. There seemed little likelihood of this when Mallet reported that the whole position of Britain in relation to the fleet and the dockyard concession was ‘much dwelt upon in the Press and in political circles’. Besides, if the intention of the Entente in blocking Liman’s appointment was realized, it was entirely possible that the Triple Alliance would be similarly obstructive regarding the command of the fleet when Limpus’ two year term expired in April 1914. A further complication was that Limpus, under the impression that his prospects for advancement in the Royal Navy were suffering because of his Turkish duty, now showed signs of not wishing to renew his appointment; indeed, he would do so only if pressed. The only way around the recurrence of this obstacle was, in Mallet’s opinion, for an officer to be chosen who would reach natural retirement from the active list within the period of his Turkish tenure and so would have nothing to lose by staying on, a suggestion which found little sympathy in the Foreign Office. As Crowe pointed out, the task of organizing the Turkish fleet required the best abilities of a first-rate officer, who was not likely to be found among the candidates for early retirement.[31]

                Nevertheless, Mallet continued in his attempts to defuse the growing crisis. To do so he used three separate arguments to try to influence Grey: first, he spelt out the extent of Limpus’ power, which included the ‘absolute command’ of the Turkish fleet in peacetime — Limpus ‘could do anything except break the law or exceed the budget.’ Second, Vickers and Armstrong had just obtained a thirty-year concession to modernize the Constantinople dockyard and construct an arsenal and floating dock in the Gulf of Ismid, which made it all the more difficult for Britain to take a strong line. Third, Liman’s command of the First Army Corps would be ‘entirely innocuous to our interests.’[32] While the first two contentions were undeniably true, the last might have seemed an optimistic judgment until it became clear that Liman’s powers were not as great as first thought and did not, for example, extend to control of the Straits. Grey however could not ignore the unrelenting Russian pressure,[33] as Sazonov pushed for a joint démarche at the Porte. Grey preferred a more simple verbal inquiry, an option certainly preferred by Mallet who foresaw (in addition to the riposte regarding Limpus) that joint action would only harden the resolve of Germany and Turkey to resist. ‘Would it be possible’, Mallet suggested, for the British Government ‘to attempt some kind of mediation on the basis of an assurance from the German Government that the German General will, after, say, one month here to study local conditions, propose either to remove the command to Adrianople or be content with the position of adviser, or some other expedient which Russia could accept?’[34]

                In anticipation of being able to offer the Germans a quid pro quo the Russian Ambassadors in Constantinople and London approached Mallet and Grey with a compromise to try to break the deadlock: Mallet telegraphed on 12 December that the Russian suggestion was for Liman to remain in Constantinople as titular head of the mission while his assistant became head of the Army Corps at Adrianople; then, on Britain’s part, the headquarters of the naval mission might be transferred to Ismid and Limpus’ title changed to ‘Adviser’ when his term ended in April 1914.[35] Grey replied that he, too, had been approached regarding the relocation to Ismid, adding, ‘if it is practicable and consistent with performance of his duties by Admiral Limpus and if Turkish Government will agree, I not only will not object, but will encourage the transfer, if it will help to a solution of difficulty about German command.’[36] Unfortunately, no-one had yet quizzed Limpus as to the practicality of the transfer and when Mallet eventually got round to this the Admiral pointed out the obvious objection that, as the proposed dockyards and arsenal there had not even been begun, he would command little more than a building site. Limpus however did agree, reluctantly, for the new contract to refer to ‘naval adviser’ whose duties ‘would comprise any service assigned to him by the Turkish Government’ but felt obliged to stress – as if Grey needed reminding – the delicate position of the naval mission in that the Turks, determined to have a good navy, would simply turn elsewhere if Britain adopted an intransigent tone or made difficulties when the contract expired.[37] Limpus was also upset to find that his one tangible accomplishment, the successful outcome of the protracted negotiations leading to the Docks’ concession being granted to a British consortium, was now being used by one Power to score points against another.[38] To complicate matters further (if that were possible) Mallet had also become aware that the Turks had recently been involved in secret talks to purchase the super-dreadnought building in England for the Brazilian navy, possession of which would profoundly alter the naval balance in the eastern Mediterranean. Unlike Lowther’s continual reports of secret negotiations for the purchase of non-existent battleships this time there appeared to be substance in Mallet’s information. Although such a ship would lend undoubted prestige to the work of the naval mission it was also likely to result in the Turks adopting a more forward policy.[39]

                Grey could do no more than hope that the Germans would agree to modify both Liman’s title and position if that of Limpus were similarly modified and, in looking for an indication that the Germans would be willing, the Foreign Secretary believed that the reply of the Grand Vizier to the collective inquiry, scheduled to be presented on 13 December, might present an opening.[40] Grey was fortunate that it was Mallet, and not Lowther, who now faced the audience with Said Halim; indeed, Mallet’s conciliatory approach was favourably commented upon by the German Embassies in both London and Constantinople. The former reported to Berlin on 12 December for example that, although known as a champion of the Triple Entente, Mallet’s attitude as shown in his dispatches (which had been obtained by ‘confidential and secret means’) was ‘thoroughly moderate and not calculated to decide Sir E Grey to take part in any steps in Constantinople.’ The Germans, being particularly well informed, were aware of the ‘extraordinarily strong pressure’ being brought to bear by the Russians, backed up by the threat that the Russian Government would be bound to regard Grey’s attitude in the matter as ‘a touchstone for England’s feelings towards Russia’, while all the time knowing that Grey’s policy was to avoid a breach with Russia. Unhappily, this abundance of information was not enough to sway Wilhelm from his baser judgment: the Russians were ‘scoundrels’ and Grey was a ‘donkey’ who was betraying his country’s true interests. The Emperor’s lively marginalia displayed slightly more prescience when he was informed that, for forms sake, Britain would join in the collective representation at the Porte, but without Grey himself ‘bringing strong interest to bear’ — ‘That will annoy the Grand Vizier’, he gleefully noted.[41]

                On the afternoon of the 13th the three Entente Ambassadors took turns to read an identical ‘questionnaire’ to the Grand Vizier, the main thrust of which concerned a warning of the possible loss of Turkish independence and the question of the control of the Dardanelles. Having told the representatives of the Powers that this was none of their business, Said Halim asked the Russian Ambassador to leave his copy of the questionnaire; Giers refused. When pressed again two days later by Giers, the Grand Vizier declared that ‘the Straits, the fortifications, and the preservation of order in the capital, are not within the competence of the [German] General. These, as well as the declaration of the state of siege, are directly dependent on the Secretary of War.’[42] Sazonov remained unsatisfied: as far as he was concerned the Entente itself was now under threat. He complained to O’Beirne on 14 December that the matter had provided ‘the first question seriously involving Russian interests’ in which Russia had sought British support, ‘and therefore as furnishing a test of the support which they can expect.’ Sazonov warned further that, if the Entente suffered a defeat on the question, the Turks would conclude definitely ‘that the strength lies on the side of the Triple Alliance’. The result then would be that they would become intractable on the subject of Armenian reforms which might lead to an uprising in that province which, in turn, would ‘necessarily induce the armed intervention of Russia’; the result would certainly be war.[43]

                As Sazonov delivered this chilling warning, Liman and the first ten officers of a projected party of forty-two were arriving at Constantinople.[44] Yet, despite the Russian’s dire prediction – which reached the Foreign Office at 11.30 p.m. on 14 December – when Grey had a long conversation with the German Ambassador the next day Lichnowsky could not but comment on how the Foreign Secretary appeared to be in ‘excellent spirits’; though this could, of course, also be accounted for by the prospect of the forthcoming holidays. Grey believed that the main point at issue was whether Liman’s position corresponded to that of von der Goltz or whether it was something entirely new. Although, he admitted, this was personally a matter of indifference to him,

He could not but fear, however, that if the powers granted to the German officers now in Constantinople represented any considerable extension of their executive functions, Russia might demand compensations in Constantinople in the form of the transfer to her of a command in Armenia. Such a solution seemed to him to be fraught with danger, as it might mean the beginning of the end — the beginning of the partition of Turkey in Asia. He would do everything in his power to prevent things taking such a turn, but in view of the excitement in St Petersburg he could not guarantee that his efforts would be crowned with success.

Inevitably, Lichnowsky raised the question of Limpus, which, just as inevitably, Grey parried: Limpus, he asserted, held the same position as his predecessor, whereas Liman’s appointment was a significant departure from that of von der Goltz; besides, Grey added (exhibiting his usual lack of strategic awareness), the Russians ‘were much less touchy with regard to the fleet than with regard to Constantinople.’ For his part, Lichnowsky maintained that, in Germany, little importance was attached to the dispatch of the officers to Turkey and that, in any case, it was improbable that a few officers could influence the course of foreign policy in Constantinople. Throughout, the conversation had been conducted in a friendly tone and Lichnowsky was left with the clear impression that Grey found the whole affair ‘very unpleasant and exceedingly embarrassing.’[45]

                Although signs began to appear that the German resolve was weakening, in the days leading up to Christmas Sazonov continued to play a dangerous game. Sir George Buchanan, the British Ambassador at St Petersburg, had now returned from leave and Sazonov lost no time in warning him that irresoluteness – the appearance of being afraid of war – would just as surely lead to war; however, when questioned directly as to whether Russia would risk a war over the Liman affair, Sazonov replied, ‘Certainly not.’[46] Similarly, when Goschen saw Jagow on Christmas Day the German Foreign Minister was also keen to play down the whole affair. Jagow had just received a lengthy communication from Wangenheim in which the Ambassador argued that the Russians would have reacted badly whether or not Liman had been named to command the First Army Corps, and, moreover, it was his opinion that the dual responsibilities of training the Turkish Army and the command duties were too onerous. Wangenheim suggested instead that Liman should be promoted to Inspector, with his place in the First Army Corps being taken by a Turk, while the German General Bronsart could command the army corps in Adrianople. He envisaged however that the Turks would be loathe to agree to a higher command for Liman as they were also in no mood to yield and that Liman himself, being a ‘passionate man’, would not take kindly to playing the part of a pawn.[47] Jagow was able to tell Goschen that, in addition to everything else, ‘the Ottoman Government seemed rather inclined to make difficulties’ and, besides, it had been the Turks themselves who had insisted Liman be given a slightly superior position than von der Goltz as ‘the latter had, comparatively speaking, failed owing to his not being in a position to enforce the necessary discipline.’[48]

                With conciliation now in the air, it was to general chagrin that Sazonov now proposed a joint démarche at Berlin! When the Russian Chargé put this to Eyre Crowe (Grey being away on holiday) the Assistant Under-Secretary decided it was time to get some firm answers: what, exactly, did Russia want — the cancellation of Liman’s appointment or else suitable compensation? If Turkey refused to accede, what coercive measures were proposed? If Germany supported Turkish resistance to Russia, would the Russians contemplate, as a last resort, war with the Triple Alliance?[49] It is not difficult to imagine the relief felt by Grey at being able to set Crowe on the Russians and it was no surprise that Grey fully approved his language. Goschen was informed on 2 January 1914 that, as far as Sazonov’s proposed Berlin démarche was concerned, Grey did not want the Germans to know that the request had been made and that Britain had rejected it. It would be, he argued, ‘neither moral nor expedient to make capital at Berlin out of having refused a Russian request. But I must tell Lichnowsky when I next see him that the Russians are more concerned than ever and must be satisfied somehow…I don’t believe the thing is worth all the fuss Sazonow makes about it; but as long as he does make a fuss it will be important and very embarrassing to us: for we can’t turn our back upon Russia.’[50]

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[1]    For example, see Nicolson to Hardinge, 21 May 1913: ‘…after two and a half years watching Mallet’s work, I feel sure that Crowe would be far better as head of this office when I leave. It would be awkward to pass over Mallet & perhaps an Embassy might tempt him.’ Quoted in, Zara Steiner, The Foreign Office and Foreign Policy, 1898-1914, p. 106. Even so, to describe Mallet as ‘a nonentity, appointed by the Liberal government to sustain the historic Gladstonian posture of hostility to the Ottoman Empire’ as Michael Hickey has done [Gallipoli, p. 26], is a gross misreading of the historical record.

[2]    Wilson, diary entry for 14 October 1913, quoted in, Callwell, Wilson, vol. I, p. 129.

[3]    Ryan, Last of the Dragomans, p. 84.

[4]    Morgenthau, Secrets of the Bosphorus, p. 2.

[5]    Mallet to Grey, 4 November 1913, quoted in, Heller, British Policy, p. 103.

[6]    As Francis Yeats-Brown noted: ‘That the Crusaders did not reach the Golden Horn was due partly to the strong knees of the Turks and partly to the resisting power of machine-guns against shrinking flesh. The first Balkan War taught Europe several lessons, of which this was one. Another was that the French artillery was probably better than the German.’ Golden Horn, p. 91.

[7]    Robert Kerner, The Mission of Liman von Sanders, Slavonic Review, (1927/8), vols. VI & VII, pp. 13-5; Fischer, War of Illusions, pp. 332-3.

[8]    Wangenheim to Foreign Office, 20 May 1913, German Diplomatic Documents, vol. IV, p. 203.

[9]    Kerner, Mission of Liman von Sanders, p. 18.

[10]  Fischer, War of Illusions, p. 333.

[11]  General Baron von Lyncker to Bethmann-Hollweg, 30 June 1913, German Diplomatic Documents, vol. IV, p. 210

[12]  Fischer, War of Illusions, p. 334.

[13]  Lt-Col. Russel to Goschen, 31 October 1913, B.D., X, i, no. 377, pp. 338-9. ‘Lieutenant-General Liman von Sanders has the reputation of being a man of energy, ability and strong character. He is 58 years of age and has had a distinguished military career. He joined the army in 1874 as Otto Liman and was posted to the 115th Infantry Regiment. He was subsequently transferred to the cavalry and has held a number of appointments on the General Staff. He has also commanded the 15th Cavalry Brigade and was Inspector of the 4th Cavalry Inspection [sic] before holding his present appointment of commander of the 22nd Division. He was ennobled by the Emperor this year on the occasion of His Imperial Majesty’s Jubilee, when he adopted the name of his deceased wife, von Sanders, to his own patronymic…’

[14]  Fischer, War of Illusions, pp. 334, 338.

[15]  Kerner, Mission of Liman von Sanders, p. 25.

[16]  Alan Bodger, “Russia and the End of the Ottoman Empire”, in Kent (ed.), The Great Powers and the End of the Ottoman Empire, pp. 84-9. 300 to 400 million roubles’ worth of exports passed the Straits annually between 1908 and 1913.

[17]  Goschen to Grey, no. 219, 25 December 1913, PRO FO 195 2454/4582.

[18]  In fact, as the final treaty was not signed until 27 November, the Germans were somewhat premature!

[19]  The French Ambassador to the Porte had been instructed to raise the necessary objections. Kerner, The Mission of Liman von Sanders, pp. 349-56; Fischer, War of Illusions, pp. 338-40.

[20]  Which comment O’Beirne did not think worth reporting — though of course he did!

[21]  O’Beirne to Nicolson, 27 November 1913, B.D., X, i, no. 382, pp. 342-3.

[22]  Grey to O’Beirne, no. 765, 27 November 1913, B.D., X, i, no. 381, p. 341; Heller, British Policy, p. 112.

[23]  Grey to O’Beirne, no. 780, 2 December 1913, B.D., X, i, no. 388, p. 347.

[24]  Nicolson to O’Beirne, 2 December 1913, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/371.

[25]  Mallet to Grey, no. 603, 5 December 1913, B.D., X, i, no. 403, pp. 358-9.

[26]  Minute by Nicolson, 7 December 1913, ibid.

[27]  Nicolson to Mallet, 8 December 1913, PRO FO 800/371.

[28]  Minute by Grey, 7 December 1913, B.D., X, i, p. 359.

[29]  O’Beirne to Grey, no. 377, 9 December 1913, B.D., X, i, no. 413, p. 367.

[30]  O’Beirne to Nicolson, 11 December 1913, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/371.

[31]  Mallet to Grey, no. 994, 8 December 1913, minute by Crowe, 16 December, PRO Adm 1 8365/4. In any event, having originally been sent retired officers, the Greeks had stipulated that the renewal of their naval mission was contingent upon being sent officers from the active list and so, therefore, the Turks would hardly be likely to consent to a retired officer continuing in command of their fleet. Limpus maintained a few days later (see, Mallet to Grey, no. 617, 12 December 1913, B.D., X, i, no. 419, pp. 372-3) that the Turks were ‘perhaps’ thinking of having retired British officers command ships in time of war, but there is little likelihood either that this was a serious proposition or that the Admiralty in London would condone such a practice. Similarly, at more or less the same time, Rear-Admiral Kerr, heading the naval mission in Athens and believing that war between Turkey and Greece was imminent, proposed to get around the problem of command in war time by renouncing his British nationality!

[32]  Mallet to Grey, no. 609, 10 December 1913, B.D., X, i, no. 414, pp. 367-8.

[33]  Kent, “Constantinople and Asiatic Turkey, 1905-1914”, in Hinsley (ed.), op. cit., p. 160.

[34]  Mallet to Grey, no. 609, 10 December 1913, B.D., X, i, no. 414, pp. 367-8.

[35]  Mallet to Grey, no. 617, 12 December 1913, B.D., X, i, no. 419, pp. 372-3.

[36]  Grey to Mallet, no. 577, 12 December 1913, B.D., X, i, no. 420, p. 373.

[37]  Mallet to Grey, no. 623, 14 December 1913, B.D., X, i, no. 428, pp. 380-1.

[38]  Limpus to Mallet, 11 December 1913, PRO Adm 1 8365/4.

[39]  Mallet to Grey, no. 620, 13 December 1913, PRO Adm 1 8365/8.

[40]  Minute by Grey on Mallet to Grey, no. 623, 14 December 1913, B.D., X, i, no. 428, pp. 380-1.

[41]  Kühlmann to Bethmann-Hollweg, 12 December 1913, marginalia by the Emperor; Wangenheim to the Foreign Office, 19 December 1913, German Diplomatic Documents, vol. IV, pp. 212-4.

[42]  Benckendorff to Sazonov, 15 December 1913, quoted in, Kerner, The Mission of Liman von Sanders, p. 550.

[43]  O’Beirne to Grey, no. 413, 14 December 1913, B.D., X, i, no. 429, pp. 381-2.

[44]  Fischer, War of Illusions, p. 335.

[45]  Lichnowsky to the Foreign Office, 15 December 1913, Lichnowsky, Abyss, pp. 325-7. Grey was not alone: his representative in Berlin, Goschen, was also ‘looking forward with horror to the German Military Mission question’ even though the press had been fairly quiet about Britain’s share in the matter. Goschen followed the standard line that the political influence of Limpus in command of the Navy could never equal, ‘or even nearly equal’, that of Liman in command of the Army Corps in Constantinople. Following the Lichnowsky interview Grey had wired both Berlin and St Petersburg that, if the informal representations at the Porte were now followed by a formal protest delivered by any of the Entente Powers, the matter would have wider than purely Turkish implications and the result would have to be discussions in Berlin. ‘My great hope as regards representations that may have to be made here’, Goschen conceded privately to Grey, ‘lies in the fact that the Foreign Office here have never been so very keen about the Military Mission, as it was rather arranged over their heads. But that hope is rather discounted by the fact that there are two Governments in Germany, one military and one civil — and that the former is the strongest of the two! The Foreign Office will be certainly afraid of coming to any decision which would have the appearance of going against the Emperor’s Military Cabinet.’ Goschen to Grey, 19 December 1913, Grey mss., PRO FO 800/62.

[46]  Fischer, War of Illusions, p. 342.

[47]  Kerner, The Mission of Liman von Sanders,  pp. 555-6.

[48]  Paradoxically, it was also Jagow’s personal opinion that, as the command of the First Army had previously been entrusted to a Turkish colonel, ‘the position was not sufficiently important for an officer of General Liman’s rank.’ Goschen to Grey, no. 219, 25 December 1913, PRO FO 195 2454/4582. Jagow’s argument was somewhat contradictory in that Liman’s “slightly superior position” (to von der Goltz) was also not sufficiently important for him. As has been seen, the German Ambassador in St Petersburg maintained that Liman’s position was less important than von der Goltz’s.

[49]  Minute by Crowe, 29 December 1913, Kerner, The Mission of Liman von Sanders, p. 558; Fischer, War of Illusions, p. 343.

[50]  Grey to Goschen, 2 January 1914, Grey mss., PRO FO 800/62.



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