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 13




Russian Machinations






With the resolution of the Liman crisis, the Turkish purchase of Rio de Janeiro focused attention firmly on the other regional flashpoint: the occupied Aegean Islands. Djemal had admitted to Mallet in December that, without Adrianople and the islands, Turkey ‘was like a room with doors open to robbers and malefactors.’ Upon Mallet referring to the financial difficulties of attempting to acquire a fleet to force the issue, Djemal ‘pleaded strongly and earnestly’ whether it would not be possible for the British Government ‘to take rather a less negative line with Turkey than they had done in the past two years.’[1] Indeed Mallet had been keen for the Foreign Office to take a tolerant line on the islands’ question in an effort to build on the residual goodwill following his arrival in the autumn of 1913; instead, despite Grey’s personal inclinations, London followed a pro-Greek policy.[2] To strengthen his case Mallet continued to send in alarming reports pointing ‘to the possibility of a disturbance of the peace in the coming spring’ and of rumours of a Turco-Bulgarian rapprochement; as a precaution, the British Military Attaché was dispatched to Thrace to report on any preparations for war but had found that the Turks were, as yet, incapable of mounting an offensive.[3] Nevertheless it would seem, in Mallet’s opinion, ‘that despite the pacific assurances of the Constantinople and Sophia Governments, there exist in both countries elements who would not be sorry to find a pretext for attacking Greece by land.’ What Mallet referred to as the ‘convergence of desires’ of both countries in the matter of Salonica and its hinterland meant that it was ‘more than probable that Bulgaria, while protesting officially against any Turkish advance through Western Thrace, would be ready to retrocede to Turkey the greater part of that province in return for Turkish services in securing the autonomy of Macedonia.’[4]

                Mallet’s information regarding a secret treaty proved correct: a Turco-Bulgarian military convention was signed on 25 January. Despite this persuasive evidence, Limpus believed, following repeated conversations with the always plausible Minister of Marine, that the Turks wished to negotiate with Greece rather than go to war, particularly over the fate of the islands. Yet, when Limpus ventured an opinion that a settlement could be achieved by exchanging some of the Dodecanese islands, which Italy had still to evacuate, for Chios, Mitylene and Lemnos, which the Turks regarded as strategically essential, it was only to be told by the Minister that this suggestion had already been tried (which Limpus assumed to mean that the Greeks had been approached). However, when this information was remitted to London and inquiries were instigated, categorical denials were soon forthcoming from both Athens and Constantinople that any negotiations were in progress. In any event, the Greek Prime Minister, Venizelos, had declared a year previously that only Mitylene and Chios were worth having as the other islands were ‘mere pebbles’.[5] As optimistically as ever, Mallet nonetheless reported that the ‘idea of negotiation is in the air and this is perhaps natural, as the Turks, as far as one can tell, are, apart from financial embarrassments, powerless by sea at present and in a bad military position in Thrace for an advance on Salonica.’[6] Reports such as this strengthened the hand of the pro-Greek lobby within the Foreign Office.

                Venizelos had embarked on a tour of northern capitals to drum up support for his campaign to keep the islands in Greek hands and, failing this, to spread a little intrigue. For Grey the problem of the islands was a further unnecessary headache; as between Greece and Turkey he did not particularly mind who held the islands, so long as it was not a Great Power. When Venizelos saw him on the morning of 21 January 1914 to broach the idea of an Anglo-Greek entente to preserve the status quo in the Mediterranean Grey was distinctly cool on the idea. As reported to his Minister in Athens, Grey told Venizelos that he ‘thought it premature to consider a separate arrangement of that kind between two Powers. We had better first see whether a guarantee of all the Powers could be secured for the Aegean Islands in Greek possession. It would be undesirable to enter into a separate arrangement about the Mediterranean which must offend the susceptibilities of the Powers interested in it.’ Venizelos then inquired whether, if Greece were prohibited from fortifying the islands, he might ask the Powers to guarantee to Greece peaceful possession of them. Grey had no personal objection but advised the Prime Minister to sound out Berlin before addressing a formal request to the Powers. What Grey wanted to avoid was a split between the Powers into pro-Turkish and pro-Greek factions with some guaranteeing the islands to Greece and others not; Grey would only join in a guarantee if all the Powers did so. As far as the Foreign Secretary could recall after his meeting with Venizelos the question of a naval demonstration against the Porte was not discussed.[7]

                The Greek Premier also requested that, as he had not even mentioned the idea of an entente in Paris (where he had just been), the subject should be regarded as most confidential: Grey replied that he would mention it only to Asquith and his colleagues and, in any case, he had given Venizelos ‘my personal opinion, and I should like to reflect upon it, but I had not desire that it should be brought under the reflection of others.’ Venizelos then moved on to Berlin to make mischief. On 30 January Wangenheim reported that Talaat had heard from a source in Paris that Britain was pressing the Powers to join in a naval demonstration! Three days later, the Grand Vizier confided to Mallet that he was greatly upset that Britain should have made such a proposal and that it was only the rejection of it by the Triple Alliance that had saved the day for the Turks. One can imagine how Grey received this news. Jagow was quick to assert ‘that it was not on information from Germany that the Grand Vizier had based his observations to Sir L Mallet’ and equally quick to lay the blame squarely at the feet of Venizelos who, while in Berlin, had spoken very freely to Jagow and anyone else who would listen on the subject of a naval demonstration. To make the idea more appealing Venizelos had, apparently, implied that the idea for the demonstration had originated in Italy and clearly gave the impression in Berlin that he had spoken to Grey on the subject and that the Foreign Secretary was not averse — as long as Venizelos was able to deliver the assent of the Germans.

                Certain sections within the Foreign Office immediately saw the hand of Germany pulling the strings with the intention of scoring a diplomatic coup at the Porte. While not himself impervious to this disposition, Grey at least wanted to give the Germans a chance to explain, at which Jagow unreservedly attested to his perfect loyalty to Britain in the matter and maintained that ‘incorrect versions of M Venizelos’ conversations, here and elsewhere, which had probably been discussed at Constantinople between diplomats and Turkish statesmen, were, without doubt, at the root of the misunderstanding.’ Grey accepted this explanation, with the proviso that, in view of the categorical statement of the Grand Vizier that the Triple Alliance had saved the situation for Turkey, the German Government should take some steps at the Porte to make the truth known. The British Government was ‘naturally much concerned at the revival at Constantinople of those influences which encourage Turkey to resort to the old policy of playing off one group of the Powers against the other, and they cannot remain indifferent when these manifestations take the form of hostility to Great Britain in particular on the strength of false information alleged to be derived from Triple Alliance sources.’[8] The islands’ question would rumble on throughout the spring and early summer of 1914 with neither Power, for reasons of self-interest, wanting to force the issue. For Grey, any consideration of applying pressure to the Porte in favour of Greece resulted in an anguished cry from that one obdurate quarter (with Hardinge usually to the fore) that the outcome would be increased disaffection from Britain’s Muslim subjects. Nevertheless, Mallet’s mission to conciliate the Turks had suffered its first blow.

                Liman von Sanders lost little time both in exceeding his remit and making himself unpopular. Despite the unequivocal nature of the Grand Vizier’s assurance in December that Liman would have no authority over either the Straits of the Bosphorus or Dardanelles, the German General immediately set to work to strengthen the fortifications of the former with modern artillery and German specialists. When he returned to Berlin on 16 February to deliver his report it was to an Emperor who fondly imagined the German flag soon fluttering above the Bosphorus’ forts.[9] Upon his return to Constantinople one of Liman’s first duties was to attend the inaugural diplomatic dinner given by the new American Ambassador, Henry Morgenthau, at which Liman, sitting next to the Ambassador’s daughter, was apparently in high dudgeon and refused to speak to the unfortunate girl all night. Puzzled, the Ambassador was finally provided with the solution to this taciturn behaviour by the German Chargé who informed Morgenthau that Liman had been offended by being placed as if lower in rank than the foreign ministers when he was, in fact, the personal representative of the Kaiser and so was entitled to equal rank with the Ambassadors! Morgenthau explained that the seating arrangement had been drawn up by the doyen at the Porte, Pallavicini, who had represented Austrian interests since 1906. Pallavicini, in turn, explained that it was not customary for the Emperor to have two representatives at the same court; but this answer did not mollify the General and Wangenheim referred the matter to the Grand Vizier who promptly passed the ball to the Council of Ministers. Their decision – that Liman should rank ahead of ministers but below the Turkish Cabinet – elicited the protest from the ministers that, if Liman were ever given precedence at a function, they would leave in a body. The result was that Liman was never again invited to a diplomatic dinner.[10]

                The prickly general also created friction within his own Embassy. When Wangenheim had first transmitted the request for a German general to reorganize the Turkish Army he had made clear that, above all, a strong character was required: familiarity with the language or country was not essential as the German Military Attaché, Major von Strempel, was ‘thoroughly experienced in local conditions’ and could be placed at the General’s side.[11] Although this should have proved a workable arrangement, the problem was that Strempel was too close to the Turks and, therefore, was too independent of Liman’s influence for the General’s liking. In February Liman peremptorily demanded the recall not only of Strempel but of all the old Turkish hands who had served under von der Goltz! Strempel, who had also had the temerity to criticize both Liman’s forays into Turkish politics and his cavalier treatment of Embassy personnel, departed in March.[12] Ironically, by then, Liman was also on the point of returning to Germany as Enver was making life impossible by countermanding his orders and neglecting the welfare of the troops, to which was added further arguments over the mass retirement of officers. Almost the last straw occurred when two of the General’s daughters were molested by Turkish soldiers. Sensing a scoop, a French journalist spread the rumour that they had been raped — an untrue allegation which the hapless reporter was forced to retract at the point of Liman’s revolver. Throughout, no support was forthcoming from his own Embassy; just the reverse, in fact, as the General’s departure would cause no tears to be shed.[13]

                Liman still had his work however. The mission had been enlarged after his meeting with Wilhelm and this increase in the number of staff led, in April, to a plan for mining the Straits in addition to re-equipping the coastal artillery. Liman took pains to keep much of the actual nature of the mission’s activity secret from his Turkish hosts, leading them, almost inevitably, to imagine the worst — which they did. By the end of March Enver had had enough. He convinced the Supreme War Council to place limits on the scope of the mission’s work.[14] Liman’s work also did not go unnoticed by the British. The Naval Attaché, Captain Boyle, whose duties took in Rome and Athens as well, returned to Constantinople in April and was surprised by the number of German officers ‘who appeared very numerous and were to be seen everywhere.’ Knowing that any attempt to investigate the defences of the Straits from the land would be futile, Boyle (accompanied by the Military Attaché) boarded the humble stationnaire Imogene and steamed down to the entrance of the Straits before reversing course. On the return journey ‘the Imogene’s speed was so low that she with difficulty stemmed the fast current which always ran out of the Straits, and thus we had ample time to inspect the banks while passing.’[15]

                To the British Embassy as well the signs were obvious: the Annual Report for 1913, written about the time Boyle was in Constantinople, stated the position bluntly:

It is impossible for a newcomer in Constantinople not to be struck by the importance of German commercial enterprise. The imposing railway terminus…German shops, German electric light companies, tramways and power stations all of recent growth, show the readiness with which German capital seeks an outlet in this country…The present policy of Germany is to maintain the integrity of the Ottoman Empire…Germany wants a free field for trade which can be better assured without partition...[16]

While the last assumption might have been applicable to 1913, there now appeared clear indications that Germany would welcome the break-up of the Ottoman Empire and, also, that the Porte was aware of this shift in German policy. Berlin had been disillusioned by the performance of the Ottoman Army during the Balkan Wars and was wary of the proposed Turco-Bulgarian rapprochement, preferring that agreement be reached instead with Greece.[17] Although Wangenheim had argued in 1913 that Germany was not then in a position to profit from the collapse and partition of the Empire he had, nevertheless, sent a map to Berlin showing what he considered should be Germany’s sphere of interest.[18] Jagow, disliking the connotations involved in the description ‘sphere of interest’, had his own maps prepared showing instead the German ‘Zone of Work’.[19] The German Foreign Minister initially declined to admit his Austrian colleague into his confidence, even though Berchtold had himself earlier proposed that an agreement should be arrived at regarding a mutually satisfactory division of Ottoman territory between the allies. However Jagow was caught out when the Austrians discovered that an accord had been reached between Berlin and Rome as to spheres of influence in Asia Minor; distinctly put out, Berchtold demanded a share also. By November 1913, after further direct pressure had been applied, the Germans relented and threw their partners a gobbet: Austria could now have Alanya.[20]

                As further evidence that Turkish dependence on Germany was waning, it was the French who had provided the Turks with the huge loan they required (500 million francs) and which the Germans had been unable to raise.[21] This, combined with the internal friction in Constantinople resulting from the presence of the German mission, was enough for the Kaiser to announce in May 1914 that Germany’s influence at the Porte, compared with the past, was now non-existent. Although, it was true, he blew hot and cold on the subject, he now declared that he could no longer count on Turkey’s loyalty. When it appeared that the German investment in the country might not pay the expected dividend Wilhelm fumed that the Turks had ‘turned to the Russian-French camp where the money is and we are fobbed off with words’; at the same time, the Chancellor seriously questioned the future of the military mission as, in case Turkey did not side with Germany, the army that Germany had trained might be used against them.[22]

                It was the perceptive Austrian Ambassador, Pallavicini, who first noted in March the growing awareness amongst the Turks that Germany, Austria, Italy, France and Britain were all busily engaged in dividing up their country and that it was only Russia who had nothing to gain by partition. Wangenheim duly confirmed that partition was no longer on the Russian agenda as the most likely result would be, first, complications at the Straits and, second, Germany as an Asiatic neighbour — both anathema to St Petersburg. By early April Pallavicini was also of no doubt that Russian policy had taken a new direction and was now working towards a Russo-Turkish rapprochement.[23] The situation in Turkey at this time was both complicated and exacerbated by the fact that the Porte had too much room for manoeuvre: Turkey was dependent upon Britain for the reform of her navy, Germany for her army, France for her finances, and now, it seemed, Russia to protect her from the other three.

                The surprise Russian decision had only been reached following the second high-level conference, which met on 21 February, to discuss plans to occupy Constantinople and the Straits if there appeared to be a danger of another power seizing this vital lifeline. The Russian Naval General Staff had long considered that diplomatic measures at the Porte were bound to fail; a solution could only be found through naval and military action. Yet what form should this action take? A plan of December 1912 was dismissed by the Chief of the Naval General Staff as, in his opinion, any attempt to hold the Straits would entail not only the occupation of the land on the European and Asiatic shores but also the Aegean Islands, including (implausibly) Crete. By the beginning of 1914 the situation for Russia had deteriorated markedly: Turkey had not only come through the Balkan Wars in better shape than could have been predicted, but she was now augmenting her fleet with dreadnoughts and retraining her army. In the light of this the Naval Staff could only propose that, somehow, Turkey must be prevented from buying the ships while Russia should buy two extra dreadnoughts and, at the same time, hasten her own Black Sea building programme; moreover, plans should be drawn up for the Baltic Fleet to co-operate in the Mediterranean.[24]

                When he convened the second meeting in February Sazonov had already received, five days earlier, a report from his Chargé in Constantinople which maintained that ‘in order to win back the position [in Turkey] which belongs to us historically and by rights, the shortest way would perhaps be to restrict ourselves to tête-à-tête discussions with the Turks, candid and friendly discussions, which must be supported by an economic and commercial position which would bind Turkey to us more closely.’[25] This dispatch offered a way out for Sazonov in light of the gloomy prognosis of the military. Russia would not, on present indications, have command of the Black Sea until 1917;[26] in any event, the Chief of the General Staff argued that Constantinople could not be taken without a general European war, in which case the bulk of the Russian Army would have to take position on the western front against Germany and Austria — there would be insufficient troops to spare for an assault against the Ottoman Empire. Only victory over the Triple Alliance would give Russia the Straits. The point was also made by the navy’s spokesman that even an Entente victory might not be sufficient: ‘others might seize [the Straits] while we are fighting on our western front’.[27] As a special expeditionary force was, at that time, out of the question, it was agreed that steps should be taken to have one ready for future operations. In the meantime, the Black Sea Fleet should be augmented as soon as possible with another squadron of dreadnoughts.[28] Until this could be achieved the status quo would have to be maintained in the Ottoman Empire. For what they were worth the Russian war plans of 1914 (marked ‘Secret. Known to four people only!’) specified that Russian bases should be protected while the approaches to the Bosphorus should be mined — both defensive tasks.[29] Russian and Turkish short term interests had begun to converge even if there was still the occasional alarm. Further incentive to reach a rapprochement was provided when an intelligence report from a secret source in Vienna indicated ‘that Germany was aiming at acquiring such a position at Constantinople as would enable her to shut in Russia altogether in the Black Sea.’ If so, the Tsar warned, ‘he would have to resist it with all his power, even should war be the only alternative.’[30]

                In May 1914 the Russian court decamped to Livadia in the Crimea where the privileged could enjoy the diversions while the Tsesarevich underwent a treatment of mudbaths. It had been the ancient custom of the Sultans of Turkey to dispatch a special mission of respect and courtesy to the Tsar upon these occasions and, grasping the opportunity so provided, Talaat, General Izzet Pasha and Colonel Shukri Bey travelled thence for a short audience, arriving on 11 May. At the farewell dinner the following evening on the Turkish yacht Ertugrul, Talaat, who had had a chance to gauge the prevailing mood and now chose his moment well, suggested an alliance to Sazonov. The Russian Foreign Minister was surprised and suspicious — but not enough to reject the approach out of hand. Rather, he replied that the ‘question naturally needed to be examined but that we were ready from now on to work for a mutual rapprochement.’ News of the meeting quickly reached Berlin while, in Constantinople, the press openly referred to the prospective alliance. Sazonov appeared to have been converted when, later in the month, he declared to the Duma that the resolution of the Balkan crisis had removed a source of Russo-Turkish friction, and that Russia would now be disposed to assist Turkey in the problem of her internal organization and had already demonstrated her peaceful intentions as witnessed by her help on the question of the Armenian reforms. The freedom of maritime commerce in the Straits was in the interests of both countries and, overall, the Livadia meeting had given the impression ‘of serious desire of Turkey to establish with Russia relations answering to the interests of the two countries and conforming to the new political conditions.’[31]

                Nevertheless, just to be on the safe side, the Russians at the same time made their fears of Turkish naval advances known in London and hinted that British influence to slow down the Turkish building programme, or prevent a recurrence of the Rio episode, might be expected.[32] This coincided with the other plank of Sazonov’s policy — a consolidation of the Triple Entente in which he urged that the conclusion of an Anglo-Russian naval convention should be its most visible manifestation. Nicolson confided to Mallet on 25 May:

that the Russians have approached us quite privately and unofficially in respect of the increase of Turkish naval armaments and the somewhat rapid progress which they are making in the reorganisation of their fleet and personnel under British officers. I rather fancy that what the Russians have at the back of their minds is that they may be compelled to open the question of the Straits before long. Their argument seems to be that under present conditions they are only enabled to reinforce their Black Sea fleet by construction in their Black Sea dockyards and that the output from these arsenals is necessarily limited and also slow in delivery. While on the other hand the Turks are able to obtain from abroad any number of battleships and other craft. They consider therefore that the time may arrive, and perhaps before very long, when the Turkish naval forces will have reached if not a superiority over in any case perhaps an equality to the Russian naval forces in the Black Sea; while Russia is precluded from moving her Baltic ships into the Black Sea to strengthen her squadrons there. There is of course a good deal of truth in all this, and I think it indicates an intention to approach us in regard to abolishing the limitations in the Straits. You know that we practically promised Isvolsky some years ago that we should not raise any serious objections to such a step, but I can imagine several reasons why the question would be an awkward one to raise at this moment. Undoubtedly there is much force in the Russian argument. They hint also that they would like us to slow down our tempo in respect to Turkish naval organisation. This of course we cannot very well do.[33]

Caught up in the midst of Sazonov’s grand design, in which he had to play for time with the Turks, the Foreign Office attempted to placate the Russians by pointing to the signs of a better Russo-Turkish understanding – on the evidence of the meeting at Livadia – and by the using the old chestnut that, if Britain did not reorganize the Turkish navy, someone else would.[34]

                Asquith, although agreeing with Churchill that any future Russian Black Sea fleet would act as a valuable counterpoise to the fleets of Italy and Austria, pointed out that this ‘must depend on the way in which the question of the Straits developed; at present Russia and Germany are in acute rivalry for ascendancy in the councils of the Porte. It is also a material fact that both Turkey and Greece are developing their navies — Great Britain in each case supplying both the ships and training officers.’[35] If Asquith was incorrect on details – Britain was not supplying any ships to the Greeks – it was nevertheless the case that the running sore of the islands’ question, exacerbated by the mini Aegean naval race, had brought Greece and Turkey to the brink of war. The Turks had the decided edge as both their dreadnoughts (the original order from 1911, Reshadieh, being built at Barrow-in-Furness, and the ex-Rio de Janeiro, now Sultan Osman I, being built on the Tyne) were scheduled to be ready by summer; the portentous news then broke that the Armstrong’s representatives, who had arrived in Constantinople in late April to finalize the dockyard scheme, had talked the Turks into ordering a third dreadnought (which, obviously, would not be ready for some time). Mallet immediately advised Djemal Pasha, the Minister of Marine, that the Turkish Government was making a mistake with this order, which it could hardly afford; Djemal replied that the cost would be defrayed by voluntary contributions. This made little difference in Mallet’s opinion ‘for it came from the pockets of people already heavily overtaxed and it was in reality taxation in another form.’[36]

                The news of the planned order, however welcome in Turkey, added to a further overheating of Aegean tension: when Captain Boyle returned to Constantinople from Athens in mid-May it was to paint a ‘rather alarming’ picture of the feeling in the Greek Navy towards the Turks. He reported ‘that everyone talks of [a Greco-Turkish] war as inevitable in the near future and that even if the Greek Government did not officially approve it might be difficult to prevent the Navy taking the matter into their own hands and sinking the Sultan Osman and Rechadieh on their way out.’ Infected by his Naval Attaché’s concern, Mallet relayed the fears of the Russian Ambassador that just such an eventuality might occur; Mallet also forwarded Giers’ suggestion that, to forestall this, the ships should come out from England under the British flag.[37] Soon afterwards Mallet had a further long meeting with Djemal (during which the Minister of Marine let no opportunity pass to display his ostensible entente credentials) and which:

Djemal Pasha [Mallet related in a private letter to Grey] said that the Government did not intend to make war upon Greece, of which I said I was already convinced, adding that I feared nevertheless that in the present state of feeling between the two countries a spark might set a light to the flame, and that I therefore deplored the policy of pin-pricks which the Government were pursuing. Making every allowance for the natural irritation caused to Turkey by the Greek occupation of the islands and by the expulsion of Mussulmans from Macedonia, it was so greatly in the Turkish interest not to provoke a war at the present moment that I was surprised at the lack of policy shown in the expulsion from Thrace, at the encouragement of boycotting which was reported from Smyrna and other parts of the country and generally at the treatment of the Greeks, whom it would seem a matter of common prudence to conciliate, at any rate until the arrival of the new units should put the Turkish Government in a better position to negotiate.

                Djemal Pasha said that he entirely agreed with me and had himself maintained this view in the Cabinet and meant to carry it. At the same time, should the Greeks declare war now, the Fleet was ready to meet them without the new ships, and he was confident of victory. If they were defeated they lost nothing but what was already gone, namely the islands…

Djemal threatened, if the Greeks failed to see reason, to expel all Greeks from the Ottoman Empire. Mallet remarked that this would be counter-productive as Turkey would then lose the ‘economic initiative’ supplied by the Greeks who were ‘engaged in pursuits uncongenial to the Turks themselves and the source of a large proportion of Turkish wealth.’

Djemal Pasha thanked me, [Mallet continued] and assured me, with sincerity, I believe, that he still entirely agreed with me, and that I might rely on him to insist in the Cabinet upon the cessation of the present policy towards the Greeks. At the same time he let me understand that the Turkish Government meant to recover the islands of Chios and Mitylene, relying on the moral effect, which their naval strength, increased as it would shortly by the presence of the new Dreadnoughts, would have in persuading the Greek Government, who had more to lose than they had, of the prudence of arriving at a friendly solution…I have heard it argued that it would be better in the long run to let the Greeks attack and destroy the Turkish fleet before the new units arrived. Such is not my view. I believe that if hostilities broke out now…the result would not be decisive, and that, if the war be postponed, it may be altogether averted.[38]

Despite this fluent performance, Djemal became convinced that, for whatever reason, the building of the two dreadnoughts was being deliberately delayed; he ordered Raouf Bey and Wassif Bey, who were overseeing construction, to return to Constantinople to report. The Turkish officials on the Tyne had, by all accounts, followed a leisurely routine since arriving at the beginning of the year. From their pleasant lodgings at the Manor House Hotel in nearby Whitley Bay they would deign to reach the shipyard office at ten in the morning, then have an agreeable lunch in Newcastle, before departing for the hotel at 3 p.m. They restricted themselves to ensuring that Sultan Osman I suited their personal requirements in every respect: ‘the delegation could give their mind to the choice of wood to complete the panelling, the style of the three piece electric lamp fittings, armchairs, desks and tables for the wardroom, and the furnishings for the admiral’s quarters.’[39] So comprehensive was this aesthetic remit that Djemal was eventually forced to request that Raouf and Wassif desist ‘from demanding further changes in these ships every day.’[40]

                The nucleus crews for the two ships, some 500 ratings, had already been cheered off from the Golden Horn in the transport Neshid Pasha and all appeared set for a handover date for Sultan Osman – which was in a slightly more advanced state – of early July. Meanwhile, enormous numbers of men were working day and night on the leviathan and, if it were not for the curious question of the guns, Raouf (and, therefore, Djemal) could have no justifiable complaint that the building was being intentionally held up. Although two of the fourteen 12-inch guns still remained to be fitted there appeared to be no urgency to do so as the last minute work continued of changing all the brass instruction and direction plates around the ship from the original Portuguese (from her days as Rio de Janeiro) to Turkish. Even here, there was an element of mystery as, apparently, there was an English translation on the back of every new plate! In addition, as the ship had been in the water for some considerable time, she would have to be dry docked before being handed over; the place chosen for this was Devonport — about as far from Newcastle as it was possible to go.[41] The Greeks also were not unaware of what was going on: the Greek Minister in London saw Grey on 26 June to express his fears that the Turks were pressing for immediate delivery, even if the ships were not finished. The Greek information, which, whatever its source, was extremely accurate, was that the two ships were not quite complete but were ‘in fighting condition though still short of a gun or two and will be handed over to the Turks at the beginning of August.’[42]

                At the same time Admiral Milne, the British C-in-C, who was visiting Constantinople in the battle cruiser Inflexible mentioned to Djemal that the Greeks were frightened of the arrival of Sultan Osman in Turkish waters and that they were doing everything possible to prevent this. According to Milne’s information ‘if their agents failed to destroy the ship before its last trials in England they are determined to send a submarine to sink it on its way through the Straits of Gibraltar, and if this last method fails they will attack it with their whole fleet immediately it reaches Greek waters.’[43] The Greeks were, at the time, scouring the world for off-the-peg battleships and were pressing the Americans hard for two obsolete vessels. To avoid trouble, and in conjunction with Limpus, it was decided to have the entire Turkish fleet sortie into the Aegean at the beginning of August to meet Sultan Osman on the latitude of Crete. There was, in fact, little likelihood of the Greeks attacking the powerful Turkish ships despite the widespread fears; the dawning realization of this perhaps gave rise to another common belief: that, as soon as the vessels were ready, Venizelos would declare war on Turkey thus apparently giving Britain no option but to embargo the sale.[44] If, on the other hand, the ships successfully reached the Dardanelles popular opinion had it that they would immediately be dispatched to Salonica while, simultaneously, a large Turkish army advanced on Greece overland with the connivance of the Bulgarians, who were to be bought off for allowing this violation of their neutrality by the promise of the port of Cavalla.

Please click to go to the top of this page






[1]    Mallet to Grey, no. 1048, 29 December 1913, B.D., X, i, no. 185, pp. 168-71.

[2]    Heller, British Policy, pp. 115-9.

[3]    Crampton, Hollow Detente, p. 141.

[4]    Mallet to Grey, no. 20, 13 January 1914, PRO FO 371/2126/2463.

[5]    Crampton, Hollow Detente, p. 140.

[6]    Mallet to Grey, private, 21 January 1914, B.D., X, i, no. 208, p. 195.

[7]    Grey to Elliot, private and secret, 21 January 1914, B.D., X, i, no. 207, p. 194; Grey to Goschen, no. 45, 9 February 1914, B.D., X, i, no. 235, pp. 221-2.

[8]    Goschen to Grey, no. 16, 5 February 1914, B.D., X, i, no. 232, pp. 218-9; Grey to Goschen, no. 45, 9 February 1914, B.D., X, i, no. 235, pp. 221-2.

[9]    Fischer, War of Illusions, pp. 335-6.

[10]  Morgenthau, Secrets of the Bosphorus, pp. 27 ff.

[11]  Kerner, Mission of Liman von Sanders, p. 17.

[12]  Fischer, War of Illusions, pp. 336-7.

[13]  Weber, Eagles on the Crescent, pp. 48-9.

[14]  Fischer, War of Illusions, p. 336.

[15]  Boyle, My Naval Life, 1886-1941, pp. 82-3.

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

[17]  F. A. K. Yasamee, ‘Ottoman Empire” in Wilson (ed.), Decisions for War, p. 235.

[18]  Kerner, Mission of Liman von Sanders, pp. 15-6.

[19]  H. S. W. Corrigan, “German-Turkish Relations and the Outbreak of War in 1914: A Re-assessment”, Past and Present, vol. 36, (1967), p. 146. Wangenheim divided the German sphere into two: one, including Alexandretta and the area around the middle section of the Baghdad railway where oil and ore was known to exist, was to be acquired at all costs; the second, to be used for German colonization, was less important. See, Fischer, War of Illusions, p. 301.

[20]  Williamson, Austria-Hungary and the Origins of the First World War, pp. 177-8.

[21]  By this time France controlled 60.08% of the total Ottoman debt, followed by Germany with 24.52% and Britain with 14.46%: Howard, The Partition of Turkey, p. 49. Later, on 12 July 1914, in an effort to buy her neutrality, a German-Austrian consortium was able to find 450 million Reichsmarks to loan to Bulgaria. Williamson, Austria-Hungary and the Origins of the First World War, p. 169.

[22]  Fischer, War of Illusions, p. 307.

[23]  Howard, The Partition of Turkey, pp. 55, 72.

[24]  Unlike the first special conference in January, the second was more in the nature of a technical discussion. Kerner, Mission of Liman von Sanders, pp. 90-104.

[25]  Quoted in, Corrigan, German-Turkish Relations, p. 149.

[26]  By the outbreak of war the dreadnought in the most advanced state, Empress Maria, was only two-thirds ready; two other dreadnoughts were one-half and one-third finished.

[27]  Alan Bodger, “Russia and the End of the Ottoman Empire”, in Kent (ed.), The Great Powers and the End of the Ottoman Empire, p. 95.

[28]  The conference ultimately decided: 1. That for the formation of the first section of the Constantinople Expeditionary Force, certain parts of the 13th and 16th Division and of the 4th Artillery Brigade should be extended…; 2. That the artillery assignment of the Odessa district be reinforced with cassions bearing six guns and twelve munition waggons; 3. That the Ministries of Finance, Industry, and Commerce should take the most necessary and effective measures to increase the means of transport in the Black Sea; 4. That the Naval Ministry should find means for the transport of the first part of the landing force – of the size of an army corps – within four or five days from the delivery of the order; 5. That the Black Sea Fleet be increased in the shortest possible time by a second squadron of the most modern and strongest Dreadnoughts; 6. That the railroads mentioned above be built in the shortest possible time. Kerner, Mission of Liman von Sanders, pp. 105-6; see also, Howard, Partition of Turkey, p. 46.

[29]  Alan Bodger, “Russia and the End of the Ottoman Empire”, in Kent (ed.), The Great Powers and the End of the Ottoman Empire, p. 89.

[30]  Record of an interview between Sir George Buchanan and the Tsar, 3 April 1914, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/373. Tsar Nicholas also complained to Buchanan in April that the Straits had been closed twice in the previous two years, with consequent severe loss for the Russian grain industry.

[31]  Howard, The Partition of Turkey, p. 72; Fischer, War of Illusions, p. 354; Sazonov, Fateful Years, pp. 133-7. Note: the ‘ancient custom’ Sazonov refers to, regarding the visit of Turkish plenipotentiaries to Livadia, in fact only began in the reign of Abdul Hamid: the first visit occurred in 1879. See Kurat, How Turkey drifted into World War I, p. 294.

[32]  Heller, British Policy, p. 122.

[33]  Nicolson to Mallet, 25 May 1914, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/374.

[34]  Heller, British Policy, p. 123.

[35]  Asquith to the King, 14 May 1914, PRO Cab 41/35/13.

[36]  Mallet to Grey, no. 295, 2 May 1914, PRO Adm 1 8365/8.

[37]  Mallet to Grey, personal, 17 May 1914, Grey mss., PRO FO 800/80.

[38]  Mallet to Grey, no. 365, 21 May 1914, B.D., X, i, no. 273, pp. 252-3.

[39]  Hough, The Big Battleship, p. 90.

[40]  Djemal, Memories of a Turkish Statesman, pp. 90-1.

[41]  Hough, pp. 94-6, 108.

[42]  Minute by Grey, 26 June 1914, on Erskine to Grey, no. 111, 24 June 1914, B.D., X, i, no. 290, pp. 265-6.

[43]  Djemal, Memories of a Turkish Statesman, p. 96. note: Djemal’s Memories should always be treated with a certain amount of caution. For example, he mistakenly identifies de Roebeck as the C-in-C in the passage above (de Roebeck, in fact, was C-in-C in 1915), however his account is useful when an allowance is made for his bias or when it tallies with other accounts.

[44]  Pears, Forty Years in Constantinople, p. 350. This was not strictly correct: The Foreign Enlistment Act of 1870 would not apply ‘unless the ship is being handed over with the intent of its being employed by a foreign state at war with a friendly state or with reasonable cause to believe this.’ Attorney General’s Office to the First Lord, 30 July 1914, PRO Adm 137/800.



The Links Page :

As the range of our activities is so diverse, we have a number of different websites. The site you are currently viewing is wholly devoted to the second of the three non-fiction books written by Geoffrey Miller, and deals specifically with British policy towards the Ottoman Empire and the origins of the Dardanelles Campaign. The main Flamborough Manor site focuses primarily on accommodation but has brief details of all our other activities. To allow for more information to be presented on these other activities, there are other self-contained web-sites. All our web-sites have a LINKS page in common, which allows for easy navigation between the various sites. To find out where you are, or to return to the main site, simply go to the LINKS page.

Please click to go to the top of this page



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

  Geoffrey Miller can be contacted by:
01262 850943  [International: +44 1262 850943]
Postal address

The Manor House,
East Riding of Yorkshire, YO15 1PD
United Kingdom.




Secondary Navigation Copyright © 1995-2014
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be further reproduced by any means without the prior permission of the author, Geoffrey Miller, who has asserted his right in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Click to go to top of page
Home Introduction Preface Search Contents Feedback Links Ordering Order Form
Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9
Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18
Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27
Chapter 28 Chapter 29 Chapter 30 Chapter 31 Bibliography Appendices Index Other books Order Form PDF

Web-site design & content Copyright © 1995-2013 Geoffrey Miller