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 15




The Embargo





Armstrong’s, who were building Sultan Osman, and Vickers, building Reshadieh, had both (according to Djemal) received gentle hints from the Admiralty as early as June 1914 that a delay in completion of the dreadnoughts would be judicious.[1] Sultan Osman, whose construction was in a more advanced state, had actually steamed out of the Tyne on 7 July for the long journey to the dry-dock at Devonport; she did not return till 22 July and even then was still missing two of her 12-inch guns. Five days later the humble Turkish transport carrying the Ottoman sailors tied up on the Tyne at the same time as Admiral Limpus put to sea in execution of the plan to meet the battleship in the Aegean and escort her safely through the Straits.[2] Although fractious at the delay Djemal at least believed he had got round the problem of the missing guns: when in Paris on his abortive trip earlier in July he had requested that Raouf Bey and Wassif Bey meet him. When they arrived Raouf observed ‘that the English were in a very peculiar frame of mind. They seemed to be always searching for some new excuse for delaying the completion and delivery of our warship.’ Then, when informed by Armstrong’s that two of the fourteen guns could not be mounted by the time previously agreed upon, Djemal ordered Raouf to declare to Armstrong’s that the trials should proceed without the two guns, which could be fitted later in Constantinople.[3]

                The Austrian declaration of war against Serbia, and the arrival of the 500 Turkish sailors at Newcastle, forced Churchill’s hand. On 28 July the First Lord directed that ‘In case it may become necessary to acquire the two Turkish battleships that are nearing completion…please formulate plans in detail showing exactly the administrative action involved in their acquisition and the prospective financial transactions. Also let me know the earliest dates on which by concentrating work upon them they could be made available.’ The Third Sea Lord, Admiral Moore, replied the following day that Sultan Osman, which had been due to leave for Constantinople on 16 August, could be obtained immediately while Reshadieh would be in a fighting condition by the end of August. Churchill promptly instructed that ‘The builders should by every means prevent and delay the departure of these ships while the situation is strained and in no case should they be allowed to leave without express permission. If necessary authority will be given to restrain them. If war comes they can be taken over…’[4]

                With so many countries commissioning ships from British yards, it was not the first time this subject had arisen. In May 1912 Lord Rothschild – in his capacity as financial agent to the Chilean Government – had written to Churchill when the Chileans placed a second order for a dreadnought that, ‘Quite apart from the advantage this large order is to the English Labour Market, it must be self-evident to all that should unfortunately war break out while ships of this calibre are being built or are near completion in English shipyards, the English Government would in such untoward circumstances be able to purchase these ships and thus replenish their Navy; that is, I believe, one of the chief reasons why both the American and German Governments are anxious to secure these contracts.’[5] Whether this argument had previously occurred to him or not, two months later Churchill attempted to float this idea in the C.I.D. during the great debate on Mediterranean requirements. In trying to reach an agreed basis for the new Mediterranean standard the Admiralty had postulated, among other proposals, a 10 per cent. margin of strength over the Austrian fleet. On the basis of figures supplied by Rear-Admiral Troubridge, the Chief of the Naval Staff, Churchill ventured that such a standard was impossible ‘unless our shipyards were to build for us exclusively or we were to acquire the vessels now building for foreign Powers.’ There were four such battleships at the time and, although the First Lord admitted that it would be impossible to find the 6,000 men required to crew the ships, further discussion along this line was only brought to a halt when Lord Haldane argued, pedantically, ‘that it would be very undesirable to interfere in any way with them.’[6]

                Nevertheless, as the crisis developed in late July 1914, Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson (the former First Sea Lord now recalled to the Admiralty in an unofficial capacity) consulted the Foreign Office’s senior legal adviser for an opinion which, inconveniently, was that the ships were unquestionably the property of the Turkish Government even if not yet in commission and flying the national flag. Further, there was no peacetime precedent for seizing a foreign man of war. However, applying the flexibility that is the hallmark of the legal mind, these considerations were set aside: ‘In time of war it is a question of might and not of law and it becomes a question of policy whether to exercise the arbitrary rights of belligerency.’ Wilson reported:

It would seem that at the present time if action is desired it should take the form of getting the builders to prevent by some means or other the ships being commissioned. If it is desired to obtain them at once it should be by negotiation with the Turkish Government. If hostilities are imminent then it would become a question of taking forcible possession of the ships, paying compensation and risking the result of such action.[7]

The time factor was pushing Churchill in the direction of the last, drastic, option. At the same time as Wilson was obtaining his legal opinion on Wednesday 29th the Foreign Office informed the Admiralty that Grey had learned ‘from a reliable source’ that Sultan Osman ‘is being equipped with coal today and is under orders to proceed to Constantinople as soon as possible, though still unfinished.’ To this unwelcome intelligence Churchill minuted, ‘Tell FO. Measures have been adopted to prevent her leaving or hoisting her Flag, the Law Officers being consulted.’[8] As if Grey’s information were not bad enough, Admiral Moore had independently ascertained that the Turkish authorities were pressing Armstrong’s hard to hoist the National flag on Saturday, 1 August — the Armstrong’s agent in Constantinople had cabled that the Turks would find the final £800,000 of the purchase price ‘today or tomorrow’ (30/31 July) and deposit it in a British bank. At that point the game would be up as Armstrong’s would be ‘unable to advance reasons for not hoisting the flag’ and, once that was done, ‘the action of detaining the vessel may involve questions of very serious import.’[9] Unless some action was taken by Saturday 1 August the ship would depart with its Turkish crew on the following Monday.

                A further legal opinion had been obtained from the Attorney General’s office on July 30 which included a draft letter addressed to Armstrong’s prohibiting the transfer of the ship;[10] later that day, Churchill held a small conference in the Admiralty to discuss the Attorney General’s memorandum. In the circumstances the decision was almost a foregone conclusion — the ship should not be allowed to leave nor be commissioned by the Turks. The Admiralty Secretary was sent to the Foreign Office to see Nicolson, apprise him of the decision, ascertain whether Grey approved and, if so, whether he would then inform the Turkish Ambassador. Nicolson’s secretary returned to the Admiralty later with Grey’s answer: he approved of the action, ‘but he considered that representations to the Turkish Ambassador should not come first. The firm should, when they had no other means of delaying action, inform the Turkish representatives of the decision of H. M. Govt.’[11] Crowe’s advice was consistent with this approach: ‘I think we must let the Admiralty deal with this question as they consider necessary’, he minuted, ‘and afterwards make such defence of our action to Turkey as we can.’[12] Whether Churchill viewed war with Turkey as inevitable, or whether he simply viewed the ships as a necessary guarantee of superiority in the North Sea, at no time does there appear to have been any discussion as to the effect which the act of embargoing the ships would have on the Porte.

                Churchill then called in the London representatives of Armstrong’s – Sir Percy Girouard and Mr Saxton Noble – and informed them that Sultan Osman could not be commissioned or allowed to leave the Tyne. ‘This fact should be kept secret until the last moment’, warned Churchill, ‘and there was no reason why the money due should not be accepted. If Great Britain should be at war the ship would be taken over by H. M. Govt.’[13] It had been an exhilarating day for the First Lord. Earlier, at 3.10 that afternoon, he had personally drafted a dispatch to the C-in-C, Mediterranean, urging him to bring to action, if possible, Goeben, but to avoid being brought to action himself against superior forces. Now, after midnight, in the quiet of the Admiralty, he wrote to the King:

…I have taken the responsibility of forbidding the departure of the Turkish battleship Osman (late Rio) with the Prime Minister’s approval. If war comes she will be called – and shd Your Majesty approve – the Agincourt & will convey Sir Henry Jackson to reinforce, & at the regular date assume command of, the Mediterranean…[14]

The fact that Churchill seriously proposed to send the Turkish battleship out to the Mediterranean when Mallet had lately been trying so assiduously to court the Turks and where it might conceivably be engaged against the Ottoman navy, displays an amazing lack of political acumen on the part of the First Lord; still, Churchill could at least reflect that he had obtained two legal opinions and had kept the Foreign Office fully informed. Whether the Turks would be impressed by his moral punctiliousness was another matter.

                Even here Churchill was taking no chances: Captain Power (the Captain Superintendent of Contract Built ships on the Tyne) was notified on Friday, 31 July of the Admiralty decision, told to keep the Admiralty advised of any action and take any steps necessary to prevent the ship leaving. ‘In connection with this, you are authorised if requisite, to communicate with the police or with the officer commanding the troops in the district should it be necessary in any eventuality that force should be employed to give effect to these instructions.’[15] Captain Power, who was further ordered to exercise great discretion and absolute secrecy, replied by return that the Turkish crew aboard their transport, Neshid Pasha, were said to be armed and, that early each morning, 400 of them went on board Sultan Osman – ‘of course without arms’ – and remained until sunset.[16]

                Saturday, 1 August loomed as the critical day: one of the remaining pair of 12-inch guns was being hoisted aboard that morning[17] when, at midday, Captain Power received a call from Armstrong’s. Against the advice of Finance Minister Djavid, ‘who foresaw what might happen’,[18] the final instalment was about to be paid and the Turks proposed to hoist the National flag that afternoon. Power had two letters with him that he had composed and addressed to Armstrong’s: both instructed the company not to hand over the ship, while the second letter, in addition, threatened the use of force against the Turks if necessary. Power gave both the letters to the company’s representatives, and they all waited. At 2.30 p.m. word came through confirming that the money had been deposited; there was now no time to lose. One of the Armstrong’s directors immediately went aboard the ship, located Captain Raouf, and invited him to the director’s private residence. ‘It was considered a wiser, as well as more graceful act, to make this communication in private rather than on board ship’, recorded Power. Raouf Bey was informed of the situation by the directors and shown the first letter; lest there be any doubt, Captain Power confirmed the Admiralty’s decision. ‘Raouf Bey took the matter in the way we hoped’, reported Power, ‘though evidently he was deeply moved, and he at once telephoned the Turkish Ambassador in London.’ Although the fate of the ship had been the subject of local gossip for some days, Power had great hopes that the news could be kept out of that evening’s newspaper, though it must become known shortly. In conjunction with the local Officer Commanding Troops, he had arranged for 100 Sherwood Foresters to be sent to the yard under pretext of guarding the British super-dreadnought Malaya, but in reality to prevent any trouble from the ‘thousand men armed with rifles’ allegedly on the Turkish transport.[19]

                Following the telephone call from Raouf, Tewfik Pasha went immediately to the Foreign Office where he saw Nicolson who had little option but to follow Crowe’s advice from two days previously. In Nicolson’s report of meeting to Grey, the Ambassador was informed that,

in view of the serious situation abroad it was not possible to allow a battleship to leave these waters and pass into the hands of a foreign buyer. Of course had she been here on a visit it would have been different, but it was considered that in the present tension it was not right to hand over to the buyer a newly built battleship. The Admiralty had, I believed, taken possession temporarily of her — as it would have been discourteous to have taken any steps once the Turkish flag had been hoisted and a Turkish crew placed on board. The Ambassador seemed puzzled — and said 3 million pounds had been paid for the ship. I told him he would not lose the money. He asked for how long the ship would be detained. I told him we were before the unknown & it was impossible to say.[20]

Tewfik was not the only distraught Ambassador who Nicolson had had to deal with that afternoon: Paul Cambon had to be helped to a chair in Nicolson’s room after Grey reported to him the Cabinet decision of that day that the B.E.F. would remain where it was and the British fleet would not, for the moment, be mobilized. How Nicolson must have wished he could have gone to Paris as Ambassador, a posting he had been urging on Grey for some time! With the outbreak of war Nicolson agreed to remain in his place; but that place had become increasingly insular within the Foreign Office as Nicolson’s pessimism and overt Russophilia had alienated him from both Grey and his senior officials. In the coming weeks it would be the likes of Sir Eyre Crowe and Sir George Clerk, together with Grey’s private secretary, Sir William Tyrrell, who would shoulder the immediate burden of the transition from peace to war.[21] For Nicolson, the cares and concerns of that day did not end with Tewfik’s departure for, later that Saturday night, the news came through of the German declaration of war against Russia.

                As has been mentioned, Tewfik’s telegram to Constantinople reporting the events on Tyneside would be used by Enver to quash any dissension amongst the small group at Yeniköy in the early hours of Sunday, 2 August though, for the time being, the news of the embargo would remain a closely guarded secret, to be shared only by those present at the Grand Vizier’s villa. Having by this means forced the issue – overruling in the process the protests of Djavid – Enver was not about to sell his country to Germany at a knock-down price. With the fact of the alignment conceded, the bargain remained to be struck. Discussion at Yeniköy then turned to consideration of the price to be extracted from Berlin for Turkey’s adherence to the Central Powers (as they now were following the defection of Italy). The Turks would eventually put six proposals to Wangenheim. First, to prevent Bulgaria and Roumania capitalizing on the situation while the Turkish army was engaged against the Russians, Turkey would only act after an agreement had been reached with her Balkan neighbours. Second, Turkey counted on German support to abolish the despised Capitulations. Third, Germany would not negotiate a separate peace while enemy forces still occupied Ottoman territory. Fourth, if Greece sided with the Entente and was defeated, Germany would guarantee the return of the Aegean Islands formerly in the possession of Turkey. Fifth, Germany would undertake the responsibility of redrawing the eastern boundary of the Ottoman Empire ‘in a manner suitable for the establishment of a link with the Muslim peoples of Russia’. And last, Germany would guarantee that, at the end of hostilities, Turkey would be compensated fairly.[22] For Enver it had been a long, though productive, night. Yet, although the deal with Germany was as good as done, Said Halim felt able mendaciously to reassure the French Ambassador, whom he saw first thing on the morning of 2 August, that Turkey intended to proclaim her neutrality.[23]

                In London the new day – Sunday 2 August – began for Asquith with an emotional appeal from Lichnowsky at breakfast. Not one for scenes, Asquith wrote that afternoon of the German Ambassador ‘He was very agitated poor man & wept. I told him that we had no desire to intervene, and that it rested largely with Germany to make intervention impossible, if she would (1) not invade Belgium, and (2) not send her fleet into the Channel to attack the unprotected North Coast of France.’ Then, at the first of the two Cabinets that day, it was decided, only after vigorous argument and the threat of resignation, that Grey be allowed to give a limited assurance to Cambon.[24] After Grey had done this when the Cabinet adjourned, Churchill saw the French Naval Attaché in a preliminary meeting aimed at effectively co-ordinating Anglo-French naval co-operation. Crowds began to gather in Downing Street despite the intermittent heavy showers of rain one of which, to the unconcealed delight of a spectator in the Admiralty building, ‘broke up the bloody Socialists in Trafalgar Square.’ The anti-war meeting was a damp squib.[25] The Cabinet was due to reconvene at 6.30 p.m.; when it did it was agreed that a substantial violation of Belgian neutrality would compel British intervention.[26]

                In the period during the adjournment of the two sittings of the Cabinet that Sunday in London, Wangenheim in Constantinople obtained the signature of the Grand Vizier on the treaty of alliance.[27] As soon as news of this reached Berlin the Admiralty staff were persuaded to change their opinion regarding Goeben and Breslau — the ships were directed to proceed to Constantinople immediately.[28] It was now time for the Grand Vizier to begin playing his double game. Early on the morning of Monday 3 August the Grand Vizier and Talaat saw Beaumont, the British Chargé, and spoke to him ‘with some vexation’ on the subject of the detention of the Turkish ship, ‘which’, Beaumont reported in a mild understatement, ‘they seemed to consider an unfriendly act as Turkey is not at war.’ Beaumont did his best to explain that the Admiralty was only exercising the right of pre-emption which applied to all foreign ships building in England, at which Talaat then referred to the usurious rate of interest (amounting to 20%) on the money borrowed to pay for the ship. ‘For the sake of our friendly relations with this country’, the Chargé commented in his dispatch to Grey, ‘I hope due consideration will be given to this circumstance.’[29] Having thus made his feelings known about the British action, Said Halim then complained to Wangenheim (who remained unaware of the embargo) that, although Enver and Liman wanted to declare war on Russia immediately – which was the hope in Berlin – he was against it as he feared that once Turkey had done so Sultan Osman might be seized by the British! Citing further reasons against precipitate Turkish action Said Halim also pointed out that Turkish mobilization was not yet complete and that the attitude of Bulgaria remained unclear.[30] It would perhaps not be too cynical to suggest that, aware of the pressure being applied on the Ambassador by his masters, Enver and Said Halim conspired in a double act for Wangenheim’s benefit: for, while the eager Enver apparently pushed for immediate Turkish action, which would make for an encouraging report to Berlin, the circumspect Said Halim held out for ever greater concessions.

                As with the Greek promises of aid to the Entente, the direction that the Bulgarians might take assumed paramount importance during this first week in August. As early as 30 July the German Chargé in Athens reported that Bulgaria had declared neutrality[31] yet both Venizelos in Athens and Said Halim in Constantinople, by ignoring this, could use the fear of Bulgarian intervention either to limit the extent of their own commitment or extract the maximum concessions from their respective suitors. The first indication of the way Turkey might lean reached London on the morning of Monday 3rd after the British Military Attaché at the Embassy reported ‘on good authority’ that orders had been issued by the Turkish authorities for an immediate general mobilization. Cunliffe-Owen also reported details of a meeting of the German Military Mission at which it was decided that the members of the Mission would remain in Turkey, with some officers taking up active posts in the field army ‘forthwith’. ‘I believe’, he concluded, ‘that efforts are being made to bring Turkey to the side of the Triple Alliance, and Minister of War and majority of officers incline to this view.’[32]

                Commenting on this Beaumont, who had already reported the Grand Vizier’s reassuring message to the French Ambassador regarding the supposedly impending proclamation of Turkish neutrality, believed that the retention of the German Mission and the mobilization ‘would seem to be both unwise and unnecessary.’ This was particularly so as the Russians had declared every intention of remaining on friendly terms with Turkey and would not raise the question of the Straits.[33] As those in London struggled to make some sense of the often conflicting intelligence being received, George Clerk, in the Eastern Department at the Foreign Office, surmised that it now looked like Turkey and Bulgaria against Serbia and Greece, while Roumania (as she had done in the First Balkan War) again waited in the wings to see how she could profit by the internecine squabbles of her neighbours. Eyre Crowe, upon whose counsels Grey had begun to lean more heavily, appeared to accept that the Germans had already done their job at the Porte; that there was little hope of attaching Turkey to the Entente; and that the best that could be made of the situation was to try to lessen the help Turkey could provide to Germany. To this end he minuted, ‘I think an effort should at least be made to secure Turkish neutrality.’[34] Crowe thereupon prepared a draft telegram to Beaumont which was approved by Grey and dispatched on 4 August:

You should earnestly impress upon Grand Vizier that Turkish interest would best be served by maintaining a strict neutrality. If Turkey were to be drawn into the war as an ally of Germany and Austria the gravest consequences would follow. You must, however, be careful to avoid anything to give rise to impression that we are threatening.[35]

Before it was dispatched, Crowe’s draft was also sent to the Admiralty on Monday 3 August, and was seen and initialled by Rear-Admiral Oliver, the Director of Naval Intelligence.[36]

                Confirmation of Crowe’s fears regarding Turkey also arrived on Monday from the astute Sir Henry Bax-Ironside in Sophia: a Greek colleague, resident in Constantinople for 25 years, had informed him ‘from sure source that German Government are using all their influence to persuade Ottoman Government to join force with Triple Alliance and attack Russia on Asiatic frontier.’ As a result, Clerk now believed that the three Entente Ambassadors should be instructed to use all their efforts to counter-act German pressure, warning the Porte again of the danger of abandoning neutrality.[37] Lending added urgency to what appeared to be a rapidly deteriorating situation, Rodd reported from Rome – where the Italians had declared neutrality – that the Italian Foreign Minister, having heard of the Turkish mobilization on the 2nd, ‘saw the hand of Germany, who hoped for an attack on the Eastern provinces of Russia.’[38] Indeed, the only faint glimmer of hope came from St Petersburg where it was thought the Austrians might try to restrain Turkey and Bulgaria from attacking Serbia for fear of bringing in the Roumanians against themselves.[39]

                No such restraint was forthcoming from Germany. Jagow urgently telegraphed Wangenheim on the evening of the 4th that Britain was likely to declare war on Germany ‘as early as today or tomorrow’. Fearing that the Porte may, influenced by this British action, try ‘escaping from us at the last moment’ Jagow warned that Turkey’s declaration of war against Russia ‘today, if possible, would appear to be of the greatest importance.’[40] This was, however, the furthest thing from the mind of the Grand Vizier. Jagow’s insistent telegram crossed with two from Wangenheim: the first, continuing to highlight Said Halim’s fears concerning Bulgaria, now sought to link those fears to the attitude of Roumania. If this were not bad enough the second telegram must have caused something of a panic in Berlin. It was the old story — Enver, apparently straining at the bit, was trying to initiate action despite the pragmatism of Said Halim. ‘Enver lets me know’, Wangenheim wired at 6 p.m. on Tuesday 4 August, ‘that the military authorities at the Dardanelles have been instructed to let Austrian and German war-ships enter the Straits without hindrance. Grand Vizier fears, however, that if use is made of this privilege before the relations with Bulgaria have been settled, an acceleration of developments not desired at the present time by Germany or Turkey might be the result.’[41] This was particularly unsettling news for the German Admiralty who had not wanted to spare Goeben at first, and had only relented after the news of the alliance was received; nevertheless, the melancholy advice was flashed to Admiral Souchon aboard his flagship that, for political reasons, it was not possible to put into Constantinople for the present.

                It was now time for Said Halim to strike his bargain. With the Straits apparently barred, the Grand Vizier notified Wangenheim that, although the Cabinet had now decided to allow in the German ships, would Wangenheim care to consider the six points that had been formulated at the Yeniköy meeting? The Ambassador was trapped, and he knew it. A refusal to admit the six points might see the Straits barred again and Souchon’s squadron thereby thrown to the British. This he could not afford to do — the arrival of Goeben and Breslau would, he bargained, be a clear indication that the Turks had pitched their tent in the same camp as the Germans and would thereby leave the Turks little option but to enter the war directly.[42] Wangenheim agreed to accept the conditions, justifying his action to Berlin on the grounds that Turkey could only call in the promises if the Central Powers won the war decisively.[43] In other words, Germany had nothing to lose: the spoils of victory would be more than enough to satiate her satellites, while defeat, if not quite unthinkable, would see the allies go down together. What Wangenheim did not know as Said Halim played his game was that Souchon, short on alternatives after it had become apparent that the Austrian navy was not going to assist him, had ignored the warning from Berlin and intended to steam for Constantinople in any circumstances.


In the first of two reports which reached London on Tuesday 4th from Constantinople, Beaumont informed Grey that the Russian Ambassador was attempting to calm the nerves of the Grand Vizier regarding fears – ‘evidently inspired by the Triple Alliance Ambassadors’ – that Russia might launch a coup de main against the Straits. ‘In view…of the evident wish of Germany and Austria-Hungary to have Turkey on their side’, Beaumont suggested, ‘it would be well to point out to Turkish Ambassador risk which Turkey will run by throwing in her lot with the Triple Alliance.’[44] However this advice was, to some extent, undermined by the second dispatch – written after Beaumont had seen Said Halim once more – when the Grand Vizier again renewed his assurance that Turkey would observe strict neutrality. Swallowing the line he was fed, Beaumont now reported ‘Mobilisation had been decided upon only because it would take months to complete and because Government wished not to be taken by surprise in case of aggression by Bulgaria, though they had also been alarmed by rumours of action by Russia — attributable, I think, to German Ambassador.’[45] Although he could give no guarantee regarding Bulgarian action, Grey quickly reassured the Turkish Government that the Russians did not contemplate forcing the Straits which must, at all costs, remain open to merchant vessels. Russia, the Foreign Secretary confided somewhat elastically, had ‘not in the last five years said anything to us about passage of warships through Straits.’[46]

                The situation, then, remained thoroughly confused in London on the evening of the 4th as the minutes before the deadline set for a German response to the British ultimatum ticked away. Every indication that Turkey would participate actively in the war, either attacking through Thrace or on the Russian frontier, was countered by the soothing noises emanating from the Grand Vizier. Similarly, although the information received in the Admiralty was less detailed than that pouring into the Foreign Office, the intelligence it was obtaining was sending conflicting signals. On Sunday 2nd, the Admiralty had learned from the Greek Government that the Austrian Ambassador at Constantinople had been inquiring as to the quantity of coal at Salonica, thereby raising the spectre of the Austrian fleet conducting a sortie from the Adriatic, to attempt to disrupt the Serbian war effort and, possibly, with the ultimate intention of making for the Black Sea to engage the Russian fleet.[47] Then, late that afternoon, a report was received from the Dardanelles that a Turkish minelayer had left the Bosphorus carrying 50 mines; confirmation that at least 22 of these mines had been used to close the Dardanelles was received early on the morning of the 5th.[48] As mines do not differentiate between the nationality of ships[49] it was reasonable to assume that this act was defensive rather than offensive, which tended to confirm the belief that, at least for the time being, Turkey would remain neutral. Admiral Milne was warned on the 5th that mines were being laid in the Bosphorus and Dardanelles, and the light extinguished, though, when a more detailed report was received from the Lloyds’ agent at the Dardanelles the following day, the Admiralty did not think it necessary to pass this on to Milne ‘at present’.[50]

                After the time limit for the ultimatum to Germany had expired hopes were raised on 5 August that Britain’s entry into the war might deter Turkey from taking action. By the following day, this fragile aspiration should have been dashed by a series of reports that left little or no doubt as to the situation prevailing at the Porte. For a start, Eyre Crowe was visited on the morning of the 6th by Sir Charles Ottley who, having left the secretariat of the C.I.D., was now a director of Armstrong’s with contacts in Constantinople, foremost of whom was Captain Harry Vere who was there supervising the reconstruction of the docks. In case Ottley had not made his point during the conversation, he sent Crowe a letter later that day to underline precisely what was being reported back to him from Constantinople:

Enver Bey and a considerable section of the Turkish public are in favour of joining the Austro-German alliance, and are using the fact that we have seized the two Turkish Dreadnoughts as an appeal to popular animosity against England. If – as is rumoured – Italy now joins England, our Turkish friends tell us that this will be represented as a plain indication that there is an anti-Mussulman crusade on foot. Should this idea gain headway at Constantinople the effect might be to turn the scale and bring Turkey into belligerency against us. Merely to inform the Turkish Government by diplomatic channels of the friendliness of our intentions is therefore (say our friends) not enough…What is wanted [is] to get into the Turkish press a statement that England is friendly to Turkey. This may be an impossible procedure, and again it may be quite needless. But of course it is clear that if the bellicose party is in the ascendant in the Turkish Cabinet, our friendly diplomatic messages may be suppressed by the Porte, and may never reach the Turkish people…[51]

After the meeting there then followed a further two telegrams from Beaumont, received between 10.15 and 10.55 a.m. In the first, having informed the Grand Vizier of Grey’s message that the Government had but little choice other than to pre-empt both Turkish battleships, Beaumont, who now found that Said Halim was more irritated than two days before, hoped that the promise of financial compensation offered by Grey would be quickly forthcoming. Somewhat unkindly, the Chargé reported that the Grand Vizier displayed ‘almost childish disappointment’ at losing both ships and, in a breathtaking understatement, Beaumont commented that ‘Payment of a certain sum down would relieve the slight tension caused by the incident.’[52] This was certainly not the general impression felt at the Embassy where Ryan, the dragoman, wrote of the pre-emption as having ‘most unfortunate repercussions at our end’ resulting in many private protests streaming into the Embassy ‘including one from a poor man who attached a Turkish halfpenny to his letter in case Britain should be so impoverished that they could do nothing better than steal ships bought with hard-earned Turkish money.’[53]


                The second of Beaumont’s telegrams contained a report from the Military Attaché, Cunliffe-Owen, for the attention of the Director of Military Operations which went far towards clearing up any doubts that Turkey’s alleged ‘neutrality’ was in fact to be armed and not disinterested. ‘Mobilisation is proceeding vigorously’, noted Cunliffe-Owen, ‘but with opposition in certain localities, and with much hardship to the population in regard to requisitioning. There are signs of a concentration of troops eventually in Thrace, but it is not clear yet what action Turkey might take. German Officers are to become Ottoman subjects, and Marshal Liman von Sanders is to take up the executive command at Adrianople of an army assembled there.’[54]

                The fourth warning that day came from a third separate source and was the most conclusive of all. William Erskine, the Chargé d’Affaires in Athens, reported that ‘Indications have recently reached Greek Government from several sources that Germany is pressing Turkey to make common cause with her, and M Venizelos told me this morning [5 August] that Greek Minister in Berlin had just learnt from Government circles that military convention has now been concluded with Turkey.’ Venizelos was, in fact, fully aware of the Turco-German alliance but, for reasons of his own, chose not to reveal to Erskine the full extent of his knowledge; just the reverse, for complex motives (discussed separately) the Greek Premier intentionally tried to destroy the credibility of the report from Berlin by confiding in Erskine that he did not see what inducements Germany could offer to Turkey to enter the war, except at the expense of Greece and that it was his opinion that the Greek Minister in Berlin ‘may have been deliberately misled by German Government as to convention in order to frighten Greece into compliance with their wishes.’[55] Although Venizelos had attempted to muddy the waters, this was another indication that Turkey was adopting a forward policy; the cable was seen by Crowe, Clerk, Nicolson and Grey. Further, when Crowe saw the Greek Minister in London that day Gennadius had warned him ‘that the military party at Constantinople was talking a good deal about reconquering Egypt for Turkey.’[56] While all this information was of a certain academic interest to the Foreign Office, it would have been of immense practical value to the Admiralty as the drama of Goeben and Breslau was unfolding.

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[1]    Djemal Pasha, Memories of a Turkish Statesman, p. 116.

[2]    Hough, The Big Battleship, pp. 96, 116, 118-9; Gilbert, Winston S Churchill, vol. III, p. 191. Note: there is some dispute as to when, exactly, the Turkish sailors arrived. Hough, usually reliable, gives 27 July, however Admiral Moore, the Third Sea Lord, reports in a minute to Churchill that they arrived on the 29th while the D.I.D., Oliver, gives the date of their arrival as the 28th: see, Moore to Churchill, 29 July 1914; minute by Oliver on Foreign Office to Admiralty, 29 July 1914, PRO Adm 137/800 section II.

[3]    Djemal Pasha, Memories of a Turkish Statesman, p. 104.

[4]    Memorandum by Churchill, 28 July 1914; minute by Admiral Moore, 29 July; minute by Churchill, 29 July, PRO Adm 137/800 section II.

[5]    Lord Rothschild to Churchill, 8 May 1912, WSC Comp. II, pt iii, pp. 1549-50.

[6]    Minutes of the 117th meeting of the C. I. D., 4 July 1912, PRO Cab 38/21/26. On 21 June 1912 Troubridge had composed an Admiralty War Staff Memorandum on the Mediterranean Situation (PRO Adm 116/3109) which generally followed the line Churchill was advocating and whose particular novelty lay in the suggestion that, to help in meeting the demand for ten additional battleships required by 1915 to maintain superiority, the six battleships projected or building in British yards for foreign powers could be purchased. Churchill referred only to battleships actually being built, whereas Troubridge included those projected as well.

[7]    Admiral Wilson to Churchill, 29 July 1914, PRO Adm 137/800 section II [my emphasis].

[8]    Foreign Office to Admiralty, Urgent and confidential, 29 July 1914; minute by Churchill, ibid.

[9]    Moore to Churchill, 30 July 1914, ibid.

[10]  Attorney General’s Office to First Lord, 30 July 1914, ibid. The advice from the Attorney-General was as follows: ‘The Foreign Enlistment Act 1870 does 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. But “salus reipublicae suprema lex” and I think the notice might run thus: “In view of the present circumstances Messrs Armstrong must understand that the Government cannot permit the ship to be handed over to a foreign buyer or to be commissioned as a public ship of a foreign navy, or to leave the jurisdiction.” ’

[11]  Memorandum by Sir Arthur Wilson, 30 July 1914, ibid.

[12]  Minute by Crowe, 30 July 1914, PRO FO 371/2137/39072.

[13]  Memorandum by Sir Arthur Wilson, 30 July 1914, PRO Adm 137/800 section II.

[14]  Churchill to the King, 12.30 a.m., 31 July 1914, WSC Comp. vol. II, pt iii, p. 1992.

[15]  Admiralty to Captain Supt., Contract Built Ships, 31 July 1914, PRO Adm 137/800 section II.

[16]  Captain Power to Admiralty, 31 July 1914, ibid. Note: According to Hough (The Big Battleship, p. 120) the Turkish crew were kept in their transport. It is possible that Power reported a rumour which had little or no substance although, of course, the Admiralty would have accepted his report as accurate.

[17]  Hough, The Big Battleship, p. 120.

[18]  Mallet to Grey, no. 576, 20 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/800 section II.

[19]  Power to Admiralty, 1 August 1914, ibid. The letter that Power had addressed to Armstrong’s and which was handed to Raouf read as follows: ‘In view of the present state of affairs in Europe, I am instructed that the battleship Osman now completing at your Naval Yard, must not be handed over to any foreign purchaser. As I understand the time may shortly arrive when the representatives of the Turkish Government will demand the hoisting of their National Flag, I have to inform you that this must not on any account be permitted, neither must the vessel leave the Tyne for trials or any other purpose. I beg you to take such steps as you may consider necessary to carry out these instructions and I am prepared to support you in any way that may be desirable.’ The second letter, which was not shown to Raouf, read: ‘With reference to your report that the time has arrived for the handing over of the battleship Osman to the Turkish authorities, I have to inform you that this cannot be permitted to take place, and on no account is the Turkish flag to be hoisted or the vessel allowed to leave the Tyne for trials or any other purpose. I am prepared to assist you in this matter, acting on behalf of the Admiralty, and am empowered to use force if necessary, but you will realize the great necessity for secrecy and I beg that you yourselves communicate this decision to the Turkish officials with a view to minimising any awkward incidents, and avoid unnecessary publicity.’

[20]  Nicolson to Grey, 1 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2137/36825.

[21]  Nicolson, Lord Carnock, p. 401; Zara Steiner, “The Foreign Office Under Sir Edward Grey” and “The Foreign Office in the War”, in Hinsley (ed.), op. cit., pp. 51-6, 517. Nicolson’s fall from grace was also common knowledge outside the Foreign Office: Lichnowsky reported to Berlin on 29 July 1914 of having a ‘brief conversation with Sir W Tyrrell, who, after Sir E Grey, and in consideration of the small importance of Sir A Nicolson, is today the most influential as well as the best instructed person there…’, Kautsky, German Documents, no. 355, p. 312.

[22]  Kurat, How Turkey Drifted in World War I, p. 300.

[23]  Beaumont to Grey, no. 469, 2 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[24]  Asquith to Venetia Stanley, 2 August 1914, Asquith Letters, p. 146.

[25]  Domvile, diary entry 2 August 1914, Domvile mss., NMM Dom 24.

[26]  See, Crewe to the King, 2 August 1914, quoted in Hazlehurst, Politicians at War, p. 98.

[27]  Wangenheim to Foreign Office, no. 408, 2 August 1914, Kautsky, German Documents, no. 726, p. 526. For the text of the treaty see Appendix.

[28]  Secretary of State of the Imperial Naval Office to Jagow, 3 August 1914, ibid., no. 775, p. 552.

[29]  Beaumont to Grey, no. 476, 3 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[30]  Wangenheim to Foreign Office, no. 416, 3 August 1914, Kautsky, German Documents, no. 795, p. 562. Enver’s and Liman’s feeble excuse for wanting to declare war on Russia immediately was to then be able to seize ‘three valuable Russian steamers with wireless equipment that are lying here.’

[31]  Chargé d’Affaires, Athens to Foreign Office, no. 223, 30 July 1914, ibid., no. 436, p. 370.

[32]  Beaumont to Grey, no. 468, 3 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2160/35517.

[33]  Beaumont to Grey, no. 469, 2 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[34]  Minutes by Clerk and Crowe, 3 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2160/35517. Note: Clerk had been the First Secretary at Constantinople from 1910 to 1912.

[35]  Grey to Beaumont, no. 334, 4 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2160/35517.

[36]  PRO Adm 137/HS19, p. 121.

[37]  Bax-Ironside to Grey, no. 38, 3 August 1914; minute by Clerk, 4 August, PRO FO 371/2161/35641.

[38]  Rodd to Grey, no. 160, 4 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2161/35721.

[39]  Barclay to Grey, no. 29, 4 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2161/35669.

[40]  Jagow to Wangenheim, no. 313, 4 August 1914, Kautsky, German Documents, no. 836, p. 581.

[41]  Wangenheim to Foreign Office, nos. 423 and 426, 4 August 1914, ibid., nos. 854, 852, pp. 588-9.

[42]  F. A. K. Yasamee, “Ottoman Empire”, in Keith Wilson (ed.), Decisions for War (London, 1995), p. 241

[43]  Trumpener, Germany and the Ottoman Empire, pp. 26-9. Note: there is some confusion as to when, exactly, the six demands were put to Wangenheim: Kurat (p. 301) gives 3 August; Trumpener, 5/6 August; and Yasamee (p. 241) 4 August.

[44]  Beaumont to Grey, no. 473, 3 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2161/35745.

[45]  Beaumont to Grey, no. 478, 4 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2161/35857.

[46]  Grey to Constantinople, no. 338, 5 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2162/36092.

[47]  Admiralty to C-in-C, Medt., no. 198, 2 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[48]  Dardanelles to Admiralty, 2 August 1914; Admiralty to C-in-C, Medt, no. 223, 5 August 1914, ibid.

[49]  For example, the British ship Craigforth was mined, accidentally, on the morning of the 5th while entering the Bosphorus: the ship was beached and there was no loss of life.

[50]  Lloyds, Royal Exchange to Admiralty, 6 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[51]  Ottley to Crowe, 6 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2137/38809.

[52]  Grey to Beaumont, no. 337, 4 August 1914; Beaumont to Grey, no. 485, 5 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[53]  Ryan, The Last of the Dragomans, p. 95.

[54]  Beaumont to Grey, no. 488, 5 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2162/36380.

[55]  Erskine to Grey, no. 137, 5 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2162/36270. Note: in the Athens’ Legation Archives the original draft of this signal is dated 4 August: see, PRO FO 286/572 [my emphasis].

[56]  Minute by Crowe, 6 August 1914, ibid.



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