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 17




The Bogus Sale




 SMS Breslau : the latest addition to the Turkish Fleet

SMS Breslau : the latest addition to the Turkish Fleet


 At 4 o’clock on the afternoon of Sunday 9th August solid information as the whereabouts of the German ships was at last received in the Foreign Office and, once more, the Russians (via Admiral Kerr) were the apparent source. Arthur Nicolson informed Grey that the Russian Ambassador had just received a telegram stating ‘…It appears to Russian Government that the Goeben is proceeding to the Dardanelles.’[1] Simultaneously, it was reported urgently to Bertie in Paris:

The Russian Admiralty are anxious lest the Austrian Government may induce the Ottoman Government to allow the Austrian fleet through the Straits into the Black Sea. Should this fleet be joined by German and perhaps by Turkish ships, the Russian Black Sea fleet would be outnumbered. The Russian Government would like an immediate statement as to what extent they may rely on French and British co-operation to prevent this move on the part of Austria. The situation is complicated by the fact that any preventative measures which the Russians might wish to take at the Black Sea end of the Bosphorus might be construed by Turkey as an act of hostility which they are above all anxious to avoid. A Russian naval reverse in the Black Sea would moreover determine the attitude of Roumania and encourage Austrophil tendencies in Bulgaria. The co-operation of France and England would further secure the safe transport of cereals from Russia...[2]

This followed Buchanan’s report that Goeben had been coaling at Syra on the 8th which, although erroneous in detail, should have been sufficient, coupled with the additional information, to lead the Foreign Office to believe that the German ships at least, and possibly the Austrian fleet as well, were making for the Straits. Then, within seventy minutes, the intentions of the Austrian fleet were clarified when a dispatch from Rodd reached the Foreign Office from Rome at 5.10 p.m.:

Press telegrams (published) on sixth instant reported Austrian fleet having left Pola but these are not to be relied upon. Russian and French Naval Attachés had reason to believe that it has descended to lower Adriatic to facilitate escape of German cruisers from Messina and subsequently returned North...[3]

Only Lancelot Oliphant saw this telegram on Sunday evening; Clerk and Crowe would not read it until the following day. Combined with all the other intelligence received that Sunday – from Athens, St Petersburg, Paris and Rome – the clear conclusion to be drawn was that the Austrian fleet had feinted south to mask the flight of the German ships to the Straits. Yet, of all this information, it would appear that only the erroneous Russian telegram that Goeben had coaled at Syra was immediately forwarded to the Admiralty to be relayed to Milne — it was not until sometime later that Sunday evening or early the next morning that the Admiralty became aware of the specific references to the Dardanelles and Black Sea contained in Erskine’s telegram.

                As a direct result of Benckendorff’s meeting with Nicolson on Sunday afternoon, at which the Russian Government voiced its suspicion that Goeben was heading for the Dardanelles, the Foreign Office now accepted that the Straits might be a possible destination for the enemy ships and so, at 5.30 p.m., Beaumont in Constantinople was warned:

You should urgently represent to the Porte that they should not let vessels of war pass through the Straits, and that, if vessels of war enter the Straits, they should either be disarmed or sent back. You should join your French and Russian colleagues in making this representation.

This telegram was repeated to St Petersburg yet no-one, it would seem, bothered to walk the short distance from the Foreign Office to the Admiralty to relay the information so that it could be sent to Milne who, though still in a position to be able to corner Souchon or at least block the Straits before the Germans’ arrival, remained in the dark.[4]

                Before receiving his new instructions Beaumont had already spoken to the Grand Vizier who told him that ‘additional mines had been laid in the Dardanelles at the request of the Russian Ambassador…In any case there is no question of Turkish connivance and if Austrian fleet comes through Dardanelles it will be at their own risk and peril…’ Said Halim also did not miss the opportunity to point out that his Government was ‘absolutely without funds’ and he ‘again begged a sum on account might be paid for Sultan Osman seizure of which had produced a most painful impression throughout the country.’[5] Received in London late on Sunday evening, Clerk would minute this telegram the following day, ‘I gather that the Admiralty take the view that, as Turkey is practically certain to side against us shortly, we should not pay too quickly: the money might be used to buy another ship.’[6]

                When Beaumont made the representation regarding the Straits to the Grand Vizier, as instructed, on Monday 10 August he was not joined by his French or Russian colleagues, whose instructions had been less formal (and in any event the French Ambassador claimed to have made his communication on the subject ‘some days ago’). Indeed, the French Foreign Minister had impressed upon the Turkish Ambassador in Paris his opinion that the Entente was sure to win and that France and England (though, notably, the Minister did not include Russia) ‘have always desired and still desire the maintenance of the Ottoman Empire’ while Germany had always exploited Turkey for her own benefit.[7] It was apparent that this warning of the dangers Turkey would run by siding with Germany fell on deaf ears — a supposition that was reinforced when Beaumont reported that Said Halim’s reply to his representation ‘was vague and unsatisfactory, and leads me to believe he may have given some assurance in case Goeben takes refuge here.’[8]

                Early on the morning of Monday 10 August, having loaded sufficient coal to ensure a margin of safety, Goeben and Breslau weighed anchor and steamed out of Rusa Bay on the last leg of their epic journey. Having wasted 24 hours after the fiasco of the ‘premature’ war against Austria, Milne’s ships had only passed Cape Matapan five hours previously. His final chance to catch the German ships had been snatched from him though, as yet, the possibility that they might seek refuge in the Straits had not occurred to him, nor had any of the Foreign Office intelligence been passed on to him. With the fixation never far below the surface that Souchon would, somehow, try to break out of the trap he now found himself in (contained more or less effectively in the Aegean) Milne instead sought to plug the last remaining gap he thought existed for the Germans by telegraphing to Cairo that, ‘Should Goeben enter Suez Canal she must be blockaded and on no account allowed to pass south.’[9] As rigid as always, news of this instruction caused disquiet in the Foreign Office and a wire was sent from London to Cairo that, if she attempted to pass through, any attempt to stop Goeben would probably constitute a breach of the Canal Convention![10]

                The Admiralty’s sole contribution that day towards assisting Milne in his search was a signal dispatched at 10.30 a.m. instructing two more light cruisers to join in the search for Goeben which was ‘of paramount importance.’[11] The silence of the Admiralty was all the more incredible given that that morning’s edition of The Times carried a report from the Reuters’ correspondent in St Petersburg stating: ‘The German warships Goeben and Breslau, according to intelligence that has reached here, have passed Greece apparently directing their course to the Dardanelles.’ Churchill, who had spent the last days of peace happily drafting operational telegrams to Milne, was curiously absent from the final part of the saga. The vaunted War Staff, the instigation of which Churchill had been transferred to the Admiralty to oversee, had also signally failed to perform. There was no doubt that the First Lord ardently desired the destruction of the German battle cruiser; in Asquith’s celebrated description, ‘Winston’s mouth waters for the Goeben…[12] The First Lord’s young nephew would later recollect, when he called at the Admiralty, ‘Churchill’s keen enthusiasm as he showed his visitors the plans that had been made to track down the Goeben.’[13] Clearly, the fact should not be lost sight of that Churchill had many other worries and distractions in the first week of August for, as he himself admitted, ‘This was a period of great anxiety to us. All the most fateful possibilities were open…It was a period of extreme psychological tension.’[14] On Sunday 9 August, as Milne floundered in the eastern Mediterranean without any guidance from London, Churchill confided to his wife that he was ‘over head & ears in work & am much behindhand.’[15]

                However the supposition remains that, having seemingly set Milne to his task, the pursuit of Goeben and Breslau receded from the First Lord’s fertile brain in expectation of the signal announcing their destruction. His instruction of Saturday 8 August that there was no need to hurry about paying the Turks back their money as they ‘may join the Germans’ demonstrates that he was aware at least of this possibility yet, throughout the weekend of 8/9 August, the Admiralty was left to fend for itself without the benefit of his strategic oversight. Instead, Churchill spent the time composing a four page survey of possible action against Germany[16] and it is tempting to suggest that, in addition to other factors, Souchon also had on his side the British cult of the ‘weekend’. The performance by those on duty at the Admiralty was lamentable; by those at the Foreign Office lethargic and short-sighted.

                This malaise reached right to the top: on Sunday 9th Asquith admitted that he ‘felt really tired this morning & lay in bed like a log till quite late.’ He then had lunch with Grey and Haldane talking ‘about Japan & other incidental things’ before driving out in the afternoon ‘to get some fresh air & golf’ while Grey went to the zoo ‘to look at Beasts & birds.’[17] Would Souchon have been able, successfully, to complete his famous dash if he had not (with Milne’s assistance) shaken off his lone pursuer on a Friday afternoon? Would the premature war against Austria have been started, and then taken so long to rectify, in other than the holiday atmosphere of a Saturday? On Sunday, would the Foreign Office have failed to pass vital information to the Admiralty had Grey not spent the time lunching with Asquith and then going to the zoo? If either Battenberg or Churchill had been at the Admiralty that day would Milne have been directed to resume the chase with nothing better than a two day old course and position?

                Waiting at the Admiralty on the morning on Monday 10th was a cable from Paris that the French fleet would reach Malta the following day; this would at least solve the problem of guarding the Austrian fleet.[18] Churchill immediately informed Grey that the Admiralty would be ready for a declaration of war against Austria ‘any time tomorrow’.[19] Although it was, by now, too late a telegram was also intercepted in the Foreign Office on the 10th to the effect that the Turkish Government had decided to recall from London their Naval Attaché and ‘other naval officers [there].’ With Goeben still in Aegean waters this was enough, in Grey’s opinion, to render the situation serious.[20] Once more, however, the Admiralty was not informed or, if so, chose not to relay the information to Milne. In any case, Clerk’s minute of that same morning that the Admiralty considered Turkey was ‘practically certain to side against us shortly’ illustrates that the Admiralty had effectively written Turkey off; there was, though, no-one to make the connexion between the political and military affiliation of Turkey and the course of the German ships. That equation remain unsolved.

                At 4 o’clock that afternoon, as Souchon was almost in sight of his destination, the latest dispatch from Constantinople arrived at the Foreign Office. Its tone was confident. Beaumont had seen Said Halim the previous day at which time,

Grand Vizier gave me most emphatic assurances that so long as he remained in power nothing would induce Ottoman Government to throw in their lot with Germany and Austria. His position is sufficiently strong to give value to assurance. With regard to the tone of hostility towards Great Britain of official communiqué concerning requisition of Dreadnoughts, he said that Government were compelled to pretend to the public, who had subscribed to the purchase, that they were taking stronger line than was really the case, and that we should not attach too serious importance to such publications…[21]

After the initial outrage over the pre-emption of the Turkish ships had died down, the ruling clique at the Porte quickly decided to string the gullible Beaumont along, to gain time, in much the same way that Enver dangled carrots before the Russians. Anxious to do well, Beaumont suffered, as did his counterpart in Athens, from the absence on leave during this critical period of their respective Ministers, Mallet and Elliot. The 47-year-old Beaumont was an experienced hand, albeit at a less exalted level, but now found himself burdened with an onerous workload and responsibility and it was hardly surprising that Said Halim would try to take advantage of the Chargé — particularly before Mallet, who was on his way back, returned to Constantinople.

                The wool was lifted somewhat from Beaumont’s eyes on Monday when he received from Sir Adam Block[22] a report of a conversation Block had had the previous day with Halil Bey, the President of the Chamber. Halil was much more forthcoming than Said Halim and, for that matter, a good deal more prescient; nevertheless, as the conclusion was hardly flattering to the Entente, Block was forced to preface his report with the proviso that ‘although his views may not appear to us to be sound nor his prognostications justified, yet as they could be said to reflect public opinion of the majority of the governing class…they may be worthy of notice on your part.’ Block continued:

1. Halil Bey thinks that France and Russia will have to give way before the German army with its superior organisation and the perfection of its preparations, and that it is not impossible that the German army may advance rapidly on Paris. He does not think England will be able to get at the German fleet…

2. He thinks that, supposing even the Triple Entente to be victorious, the future of Turkey would be very much threatened, since Russia would redouble its Panslavist agitation…

3. Halil Bey thinks that if Germany and Austria were victorious, there would be a better chance of Turkey being supported and allowed to exist and develop itself.

4. Halil Bey does not conceal his intense disappointment at the action of England with regard to the battleships…

5. Halil Bey thinks that the mobilisation is necessary in spite of the economic loss to the country…

6. Halil Bey thinks that if the Germans penetrate well into France, the Turks would probably throw in their lot with the Triple Alliance. They will wait and see.

7. Most Important. Halil Bey thinks that the British Government should promptly give assurances that the money for the ships will be paid at once with an indemnity…

8. Most Important. The only way to overcome Turkish suspicions of the Triple Entente would be for England and France to make a declaration that in any arrangements subsequent to the war they will respect and take measures to maintain the integrity of Turkey…

‘My impression’, Block conceded, ‘is that the defeat of the Triple Entente would not be altogether distasteful to him, though he was careful not to say so.’[23] Even so, Halil’s conversation was an extraordinarily accurate précis of the prevailing opinion amongst leading circles at the Porte. Whether Block’s letter had any influence on Beaumont, the Chargé’s tone had changed by the time he saw the Grand Vizier again, later on Monday, to make the representation to him concerning the passage of warships through the Dardanelles. Said Halim’s reply, as already mentioned, was reported as being vague and unsatisfactory which led Beaumont to believe that the Turks had given some assurance to Germany in case Goeben sought refuge at Constantinople.[24] Would Beaumont have thought so had he not received Block’s letter? ‘At this time, knowing nothing of the secret treaty with Germany’, Beaumont later admitted, ‘it was very difficult to understand the ambiguous attitude of the Turkish Government.’[25] Yet there were tentative signs, during the second week of August, that Beaumont began to see through Said Halim’s game.

                Similarly, the suspense in London (at least as far as the fate of Goeben was concerned) would not be prolonged much longer. On the evening of the 10th Bertie reported French fears of a Turco-German convention for the purpose of allowing German and Austrian ships through the Dardanelles — the French Foreign Minister had expressed the wish that ‘Every endeavour must therefore be made to intercept Austrian fleet which he believes to be still at Pola and to catch German ships Goeben and Breslau.’ This was received in the Foreign Office at 9 p.m. and in the Admiralty War Room ninety minutes later by which time it was some hours too late.[26] Earlier, at 2 o’clock that afternoon, while Souchon was still some hours away from the Dardanelles, the Admiralty Staff of the German Navy had signalled that it was of the ‘utmost importance’ for him to go to Constantinople as quickly as possible ‘to compel Turkey to side with us on grounds of the Treaty that has been concluded…’ This message was repeated to Wangenheim, but would take two days to reach Souchon; it would have made no difference to his plans however, for Souchon had no other option left.[27] Two hours later, fearing that political difficulties would make it impossible for him to remain in Constantinople, the Admiralty Staff provided Souchon with two options: first, to break through into the Black Sea and attack Russia while the Turks either tacitly consented or else refrained from active opposition; or second – which would realize Milne’s worst fears – to attempt to break through into the Adriatic, in which case Souchon was to report as soon as he was ready to put to sea so that the Austrian fleet could push south to assist him.[28] That the second option was ever considered a serious possibility displays a degree of wishful thinking more appropriate to London than Berlin.

                At 6.50 that evening the British vice-consul at the Dardanelles telegraphed the Admiralty ‘German consul has gone to meet two large warships entering the Straits, thought to be Goeben and Breslau. I will confirm.’[29] By 8.30 p.m. the vice-consul knew the worst: ‘Goeben arrived. Breslau arrived’, he signalled, ‘Acknowledge this.’[30] Neither telegram was received in the Admiralty till the following morning, the second arriving at 9.47 followed by the first seventeen minutes later. It was perhaps typical of the whole Admiralty performance of that week that the official minute reads: ‘Consider no action should be taken. Information may be false.’ However, for the moment, they could not afford to take chances and, with Battenberg back on duty, a signal was sent to Milne informing him of the report and instructing him to establish a blockade of the Dardanelles.[31] This information was also telephoned to the Foreign Office, being an interesting example of the Admiralty keeping the F.O. fully informed in stark contrast to the almost non-existent flow of information from the F.O. – which had more knowledge at its disposal – to the Admiralty. Upon receipt of the telephone message Clerk minuted, obtusely, ‘This will force Turkey to shew her hand.’[32]

                An urgent telegram was sent off to Beaumont, reporting the arrival of the German ships at the Dardanelles the previous night, and requesting that the Chargé, ‘Urge Porte at once to take action entailed by duties of neutrality, that is: firstly, not to allow these ships to pass through the Straits, and secondly, to require them to leave within 24 hours or alternatively to disarm them and lay them up.’[33] Almost immediately, prompted by the Admiralty fears that it was all a colossal German trick, the Foreign Office began to have second thoughts. The Admiralty had been alerted by a previous report from the vice-consul at the Dardanelles that both his ‘cypher’ and ‘Peace Code’ had been compromised and that he was only allowed to telegraph en clair. Yet, of the two signals received that morning in London, one was in cypher and the other in code giving rise to suspicions that they may have been bogus telegrams sent by the Germans with the object of drawing the British forces to the Dardanelles and allowing the German ships to slip back to the west. A second ‘most urgent’ signal was therefore sent to Beaumont within half an hour requesting that he confirm the report of the arrival of the German ships and, if found to be inaccurate, there was no need to deliver the lecture to Said Halim on the duties of neutrality.[34]

                But Beaumont was not let off the hook regarding the lecture as this cable crossed with one from the Chargé to the Foreign Office repeating the report of the vice-consul which was accepted in Constantinople without demur; also, for good measure, a telegram arrived from Athens stating that the entrance of the German ships into the Straits was witnessed by a Greek destroyer and, ominously, that Greek and Russian merchant ships were being refused passage.[35] As a result, a signal was sent to Cairo to alert the British authorities that, if confirmed, the presence of the German ships in the Dardanelles meant ‘that Turkey has joined Germany and may attack Egypt.’[36] Having refused, in London, to believe the vice-consul’s report in the first instance, now it was Milne’s turn to query his orders: he wanted to know if Battenberg’s signal required him to establish a formal blockade of the Dardanelles, a dangerously provocative action which his heavy ships would be in a position to do from ten o’clock that night. This was one time when Milne’s natural hesitancy was justified as, aware he had gone too far, Battenberg replied that the original telegram had had a ‘mistake’ in its wording and that no blockade was intended, ‘only to carefully watch the entrance in case enemy’s cruisers come out.’[37]

                While all this excitement was going on, the deputation from Armstrong-Vickers (Caillard, Ottley and Barker) arrived at the Foreign Office on Tuesday 11th, intent on disproving Djemal’s charge that they had misled the Turks into believing that Britain had no right to seize the Turkish ships. Intriguingly, Ottley maintained that Djemal had, indeed, requested that a clause be inserted to provide against the possibility of pre-emption but that this only occurred during the negotiations for a new Turkish building programme, which had begun in March 1914, months after the Turks had bought Sultan Osman from the Brazilian Government and that, in any case, the company ‘absolutely declined to consent to the imposition of any penalty.’ Did Djemal anticipate a breakdown in relations? Armstrong’s had also obtained the opinion of a King’s Counsel that, in peace time, the British Government did not have the right to seize a ship being built in a British yard for a foreign Power.[38] Nevertheless, commented Clerk with a pronounced degree of understatement, as this was precisely what had then occurred there was ‘some foundation for the Turkish grievance.’ Caillard, Ottley and Barker had some additional advice for the Foreign Office:

what they wished most emphatically to urge [Clerk wrote in his record of the interview] was their conviction, based on knowledge and experience, that an offer to Turkey of, 1. the full price of the two dreadnoughts (which it would not be necessary to pay at once) 2. an assurance that the two ships, or similar ones, would be restored to Turkey immediately on the conclusion of the war, and 3. an assurance of respect for, or guarantee of, the present Turkish territorial possessions by the Allies, would suffice to keep Turkey absolutely neutral, even if it did not bring her on to our side. I did not say that while they were talking, Goeben and Breslau were probably off Stamboul and an alliance with Germany concluded, but it is clear that if anything in this sense is to be done, it must be done at once.

‘If Turkey is bent on war’, argued Crowe, ‘she will not be induced to desist by the mere renewal of the offer to pay for the seized Dreadnoughts. She must know perfectly well that such payment as is due will be made. But I see no objection to making a last effort…’[39] However Clerk, who had the final word, was prepared to hand the initiative back to the Turks: ‘I think we should wait to hear how the Goeben incident develops and if the Porte abide by their obligations as neutrals, we should at once undertake to pay the full cost to Turkey of both vessels and guarantee their immediate delivery after the war.’[40]

                The arrival of the German ships off the Dardanelles on the early evening of Monday 10 August had caused just as much confusion among the Turkish military authorities at Chanak who telegraphed Constantinople at once for instructions.[41] As always, Souchon had his own plan: if the Turks vacillated he would force the Straits. His Flag Lieutenant had served in Constantinople during the Turco-Italian war, knew where the Turkish minefields had been laid for that conflict, and guessed that the dispositions would remain unchanged, allowing a free passage along the European side.[42] The wire from Chanak eventually reached Colonel Kress von Kressenstein, a German staff officer attached to the Military Mission. Kress immediately interrupted Enver to request instructions to pass back to the Dardanelles; when Enver cried off, claiming he could not unilaterally grant permission to enter, Kress became more insistent, demanding an answer at once. Enver reflected for some minutes. Despite his overtures to the Russians the previous week, this should have been the culmination of all Enver’s efforts since the Young Turk revolution to align Turkey to Germany. ‘They are to be allowed to enter’, the Pasha replied, breaking the tension. This was still not enough for Kress who, though relieved, pushed his luck: ‘If the English warships follow them in are they to be fired on?’ Again Enver demurred. To allow the German ships to enter in the circumstances might represent a breach of neutrality; to fire on the British was an act of war. The Cabinet must be consulted. This was not good enough for Kress and he repeated his question. Taking even longer to answer, Enver finally agreed.[43] Off Cape Helles Souchon hoisted the flag for a pilot; a Turkish torpedo boat appeared flying the signal ‘Follow me’.

                Djavid Pasha

Djavid Pasha

Enver raced to the house of the Grand Vizier where the usual cabal of Talaat, Djavid, Halil and Djemal were also present. Smiling quietly, the Minister for War announced ‘Unto us a son is born!’ before informing them of the arrival of the German battle cruiser and how he had offered sanctuary as he ‘did not want to condemn the ships of an allied state to certain destruction.’ The ‘ticklish’ problem posed by the presence of the ships became the subject of some hours’ debating during which it was decided that the ships should be disarmed. Talaat and Halil were dispatched to the German Embassy to break the news to Wangenheim. They returned an hour later; the Ambassador was intransigent and refused to consent to this proposal.[44] Not unsurprisingly, Wangenheim believed that the presence of the armed German ships off Stamboul would signal the unequivocal alignment of Turkey with Germany, leaving the Turks with no room to manoeuvre. According to Djemal’s not always reliable evidence the Cabinet now split, with Enver in particular supporting Wangenheim’s assertion that the ships should remain ready for action, while Djemal, Djavid and Said Halim favoured a compromise ‘so that in view of our position at the moment we could delay our entry into the war as much as possible.’ In London the Admiralty was convinced that the ships, having taken refuge, would be dealt with according to international law: ‘With the dismantling and internment of these ships’, announced the official Admiralty statement, ‘the safety of trade will have been almost entirely secured.’[45] Such insouciance soon got the reward it deserved as, finally, the deadlock in Constantinople was broken when ‘one of us’[46] at the Grand Vizier’s residence suggested ‘Could not the Germans have previously sold us these units? Could not their arrival be regarded as delivery under the Contract?’[47] Wangenheim was summoned.

                The Grand Vizier, having had to fend off Beaumont’s representation on behalf of Grey earlier that day, was in an ill temper and, when the German Ambassador arrived, he was dressed down by Said Halim who objected strongly to Souchon’s ‘premature arrival’. Both Djemal and Djavid were also in high dudgeon, having earlier argued furiously that Germany was trying to force the pace in committing Turkey to the war.[48] A further round of discussion ensued between Said Halim, Talaat and Wangenheim after which it was finally agreed that the ships could remain — on three conditions. First, the German ships would have to be anchored in a ‘remote spot’ in the Sea of Marmora; second, they would have to be transferred to Turkish ownership by a fictitious sale; and last, they were not to enter the Black Sea until a firm commitment had been obtained from Bulgaria for common action against Russia. The discussion had lasted throughout the night.

                Wangenheim returned to the Embassy to spend a nervous and distracted few hours until, rushing to the portico, he saw a small launch leave the German liner Corcovado, which contained the Ambassador’sprivate wireless station’, and head towards the shore. Seeing his agitation Morgenthau, the American Ambassador, who happened to be visiting the Embassy, bade to leave. ‘No, No!’ Wangenheim almost shouted, ‘I want you to stay right where you are. This will be a great day for Germany! If you will only remain for a few minutes you will hear a great piece of news — something that has the utmost bearing upon Turkey’s relation to the war.’ Having grabbed the envelope from the sailor in the launch Wangenheim returned triumphantly: ‘We’ve got them…the Goeben and Breslau have passed through the Dardanelles.’ Conscious that he had allowed himself to be carried away, Wangenheim portentously declared: ‘Of course you understand that we have sold those ships to Turkey!…And Admiral Souchon will enter the Sultan’s service.’[49]

                The Turks were not going to give Wangenheim any time to develop second thoughts, nor Berlin a chance to impose its own conditions. That morning, Tuesday 11 August, Djemal released an official communiqué to the Press announcing the sale to Turkey of the two German ships for 80 million marks.[50] The officers and men from the ships would be allowed to return to Germany. The purchase of these ships was due, so Said Halim informed Beaumont, to the British detention of Sultan Osman as the Turks ‘must have ships to bargain with regard to question of the islands on equal terms with Greece and it was in no way directed against Russia’. In support of this contention, the Grand Vizier formally requested the retention of the British Naval Mission.[51] Beaumont’s telegram, reporting the sale, was dispatched in the early afternoon of the 11th.; Admiral Milne also reported separately to the Admiralty that his elusive quarry had ‘gone over to Constantinople sold to Turkey renamed Sultan of Osman and Midelih.’[52] Both these reports arrived in London on Wednesday 12th; however, before this, the first inkling that something was amiss was provided by Consul-General Barnham in Smyrna whose telegram to the Foreign Office, alerting them to the sale, arrived on the 11th and allowed the Foreign Office, in conjunction with the Admiralty, to do some quick thinking.[53] Bearing in mind that Egypt had been placed on war alert the previous day, Grey promptly informed Cheetham in Cairo that ‘Turkey will probably purchase Goeben and Breslau, and I do not consider that this means any immediate departure from neutrality; nor does it follow she will attack Egypt. You should therefore prepare quietly for contingencies; there is, in my opinion, no need for alarm at present respecting Egypt.’[54]

                Cheetham, nevertheless, was unhappy. It was one thing for the startling news of the purchase to be confined to the ruling clique, but, as he cabled by return: ‘News of purchase will reach Egyptian public by next ship from Syria if not otherwise. It will create excitement, as there are already rumours that England is at war with Turkey. Pro-Turkish gossip is rampant, and Ottoman Commissary intriguing. General Officer Commanding asks if I cannot make reassuring statement to Ministers as to naval situation in Mediterranean…I am convinced present tranquility here is largely due to belief in our power to protect Egypt from attack by sea…’[55] Grey promptly authorized such a statement.[56] The Foreign Secretary also sought Churchill’s opinion early on the afternoon of the 12th.

                The First Lord had, like Grey, just come from the Cabinet, where the affair had been discussed in derisory terms; indeed, the ‘sale’ of the German ships was, according to Asquith, ‘the only interesting thing’ mentioned.[57] Asquith, who admitted that the Turks were very angry, and with good cause, at ‘Winston’s seizure of their battleships’ added insultingly that, ‘As we shall insist that the Goeben should be manned by a Turkish instead of a German crew, it doesn’t much matter: as the Turkish sailors cannot navigate her — except on to rocks or mines.’[58] This was also the line taken by Churchill, who informed Grey,

In all the circumstances, the Admiralty agree that the sale or transfer of these two vessels to the Turkish flag should be allowed, provided that the transference is bona fide and permanent. The essential condition to insist on is that all the German officers and men of the crews of both ships must without exception be at once repatriated to Germany under parole not to serve again during the war. We cannot agree to any exceptions being made, whether of officers or skilled ratings, or of the ordinary crew. The British Embassy, assisted if necessary by the English Naval Mission, should assure themselves that all the Germans leave at once, and that the ships are definitely handed over to the Turkish Navy. In these circumstances the Admiralty would allow the Naval Mission to remain, as requested by Grand Vizier. Turks could also be informed that after the war is over, we should be quite ready in principle, and as far as we can now foresee to transfer one or both ships we have requisitioned, to their Flag, and that we are quite ready to negotiate with them at the present time in regard to payment of the sums due to Turkey.[59]

However, when Grey subsequently telegraphed Beaumont, he felt the need to compromise on Churchill’s condition that the repatriated crews should not serve in the war again; it was so important to separate the German crews from their ships that the Chargé was instructed not to press the question of parole.[60] This concession went unrewarded, for there was no intention of removing the German crews; instead, as Ambassador Morgenthau later made clear:

The German officers and crews greatly enjoyed this farcical pretence that the Goeben and Breslau were Turkish ships. They took particular delight in dressing themselves up in Turkish uniforms and Turkish fezzes…One day the Goeben sailed up the Bosphorus, halted in front of the Russian Embassy, and dropped anchor. Then the officers and men lined the deck in full view of the enemy Ambassador. All solemnly removed their Turkish fezzes and put on German caps. The band played “Deutschland uber Alles”, the “Watch on the Rhine”, and other German songs, the German sailors singing loudly to the accompaniment. When they had spent an hour or two serenading the Russian Ambassador, the officers and crew removed their German caps and again put on their Turkish fezzes. The Goeben then picked up anchor and started south to her station…[61]

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[1]    Nicolson to Grey, 9 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2163/37547.

[2]    Grey to Bertie, no. 348, 4 p.m., 9 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19 [my emphasis].

[3]    Rodd to Foreign Office, no. 200, 9 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2163/37522.

[4]    Grey to Beaumont, no. 350, 9 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2163/37547. In Nicolson’s note to Grey at 4 p.m. reporting that the Russians suspected Goeben of making for the Dardanelles, the section ‘How disposed of’ reads: ‘tel to C’ple no. 350 repeated to St P no. 479, tel to St P no. 480 Aug 9’

[5]    Beaumont to Grey, no. 499, 9 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2163/37561.

[6]    Minute by Clerk, 10 August 1914, ibid.

[7]    Bertie to Grey, no. 204, 11 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2164/38159.

[8]    Beaumont to Grey, no. 514, 11 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2164/38084.

[9]    Foreign Office to Mr Cheetham, no. 77, 10 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19. Milne later admitted ‘It was ever present in my mind to endeavour to keep them in the north; for, if they had broken south again, trade in the eastern basin of the Mediterranean would have been stopped and an attack on Alexandria was possible.’ Letter of Proceedings, 20 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/879.

[10]  Foreign Office to Cheetham, no. 81, 10 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[11]  Admiralty to C-in-C, Medt, no. 380, 10 August 1914, ibid.

[12]  Asquith to Venetia Stanley, 5 August 1914, Asquith Letters, p. 157.

[13]  Gilbert, Winston S Churchill, vol. III, p. 36.

[14]  Unpublished note, quoted, ibid., p. 37.

[15]  Churchill to his wife, 9 August 1914, WSC Comp. III, pt. i, p. 28.

[16]  Gilbert, Churchill, vol. III, p. 38; the memorandum is given in full in WSC Comp. III, pt. i, pp. 24-6.

[17]  Asquith to Venetia Stanley, 9 August 1914, Asquith Letters, p. 161.

[18]  Bertie to Grey, no. 187, 9 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2167/37596.

[19]  Churchill to Grey, 10 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2167/37762.

[20]  Grey to Erskine, no. 115, 10 August 1914, PRO FO 286/575. Grey instructed Erskine to consult the manager of the Eastern Telegraph Company to try to secure the assistance of the Greek Government in suppressing or delaying messages as requested by Milne.

[21]  Beaumont to Grey, no. 508, sent 11.35 a.m., 9 August 1914, rec’d 4 p.m. 10 August, PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[22]  Block was British delegate on the Ottoman Public Debt Administration, president of the British Chamber of Commerce in Constantinople, and had previously been Chief Dragoman at the Embassy.

[23]  Block to Beaumont, 10 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2138.

[24]  Beaumont to Grey, no. 514, very urgent, 11 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[25]  Sir Henry Beaumont, unpublished typescript autobiography, p. 416.

[26]  Bertie to Grey, no. 195, urgent, 10 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2164/37825.

[27]  Admiralty Staff of the Navy to Goeben, no. 72, 10 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/4065.

[28]  Ibid., no. 73.

[29]  Dardanelles to Admiralty, 10 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[30]  Dardanelles to Admiralty, 10 August 1914, ibid.

[31]  Admiralty to C-in-C, Medt., no. 243, 11 August 1914, ibid.

[32]  Minute by Clerk, 11 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2164/38133.

[33]  Grey to Beaumont, no. 353, most urgent, 11 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[34]  Grey to Beaumont, no. 354, most urgent, 11 August 1914, ibid.

[35]  Beaumont to Grey, no. 515, very urgent, 11 August 1914; Erskine to Grey, no. 146, urgent, 11 August 1914, ibid.

[36]  Grey to Cheetham, no. 84, 11 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2164/38143. This telegram was drafted by Clerk.

[37]  Milne to Admiralty, no. 414, no. 415; Admiralty to Milne, no. 245, 11 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[38]  Ottley to Crowe, 11 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2137/38132, enclosing letter from Armstrong’s to Mr Duke, KC MP and Duke’s opinion, dated 22 April 1914.

[39]  Minutes by Clerk and Crowe, 11 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2137/39189.

[40]  Minute by Clerk, 11 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2137/38132.

[41]  Trumpener, Germany and the Ottoman Empire, p. 30.

[42]  Souchon, p. 491.

[43]  Barbara Tuchman, August 1914, (London, p’back ed. 1980), p. 159.

[44]  Djemal Pasha, Memories of a Turkish Statesman, pp. 118-9. Note: Djemal dates this meeting as being 11 August but there is enough alternative evidence to suggest that he was mistaken and that the meeting took place on the evening of the 10th. According to F. A. K. Yasamee, “Ottoman Empire”, in Keith Wilson (ed.), Decisions for War, pp. 242-3, Wangenhiem was warned by Said Halim on 9 August that the ships would have to be disarmed to preserve Turkey’s neutrality.

[45]  Admiralty statement in The Times, 12 August 1914.

[46]  There was, later, a curious reluctance for the person responsible for the suggestion to take the credit. Of those present Kurat [p. 303] nominates Halil Bey as the most likely.

[47]  Djemal, Memories of a Turkish Statesman, p. 120.

[48]  F. A. K. Yasamee, “Ottoman Empire”, in Keith Wilson (ed.), Decisions for War, pp. 243

[49]  Morgenthau, Secrets of the Bosphorus, pp. 44-52.

[50]  Trumpener, Germany and the Ottoman Empire, pp. 30-1; Djemal Pasha, Memories of a Turkish Statesman, p. 120. The Greek Minister in Rome reported that Germany had sold the two ships to Turkey, ‘on condition that delivery should be made in Dardanelles for eight million francs.’ Rodd to Grey, no. 230, 13 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[51]  Beaumont to Grey, no. 519, 11 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19. Beaumont’s signal was intercepted aboard the destroyer HMS Grasshopper which had been involved in the chase of the German ships: ‘We’ve just intercepted a W.T. signal from the consul at Therapia,’ noted Lieutenant Parry, ‘which says that the Goeben and Breslau have been sold to the Turks and that their crews have gone home overland. Dirty dogs! If it’s true — I suppose it’s wise of them really as our Fleet and the Frogs must have been hunting them hard, and especially as Austria hasn’t declared war on us yet and the Italians don’t seem particularly inclined to back them up.’ Parry diary, entry for 12 August 1914, IWM 71/19/1.

[52]  Milne to Admiralty, no. 416, 12 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[53]  Consul-General Barnham to Grey, no. 14, 11 August 1914, ibid.

[54]  Grey to Cheetham, no. 88, 12 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2164/38151.

[55]  Cheetham to Grey, no. 81, 12 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2164/38428.

[56]  Grey to Cheetham, no. 97, ibid.

[57]  Asquith to Venetia Stanley, 12 August 1914, Asquith Letters, no. 122, pp. 167-9. Note: the footnote for this passage refers to Sultan Osman and Reshadieh as both having being built on the Tyne as a result of money raised by public subscription in Turkey: in fact, Reshadieh was building at Barrow-in-Furness while Sultan Osman had been paid for by money borrowed from a French bank: see, Beaumont to Grey, no. 510, 10 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2137/37843. This error as to the funding has recently been repeated by Mansel, Constantinople, p. 370.

[58]  Asquith to Venetia Stanley, 12 August 1914, Asquith Letters, no. 122, pp. 167-9. Goeben ‘bashing’ became a popular sport. Bertie, in Paris, heard the ship was ‘a failure and consequently was offered some time ago to the Turks; it is only on one side that her guns can be fired! If this is true she will not be of much use to the Turks...’, Lord Bertie of Thame, Diary, entry for 11 August 1914, vol. I, pp. 15-6. The Times  editorial for 13 August reported the ‘astonishing’ news of the sale, adding ‘No great Navy has ever undergone a worse humiliation than this retreat from battle without firing a shot.’

[59]  Churchill to Grey, 12 August 1914, First Lord’s Minutes, Naval Historical Library.

[60]  Grey to Beaumont, no. 360, 12 August 1914, [repeated to Cairo], PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[61]  Morgenthau, Secrets of the Bosphorus, p. 49.



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