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 29




A Hostage to Fortune






By 10 March 1914 Churchill was able to report that the negotiations with the APOC had reached the point where the necessary documents could be drawn up ‘to give legal validity to the proposals.’ Although some of the Treasury objections had been smoothed over the First Lord was concerned that they ‘have proposed that the agreement shall be entered into subject to the provision by Parliament of the necessary funds.’ This, Churchill feared, would foster Parliamentary obstruction to the passage of the Bill, backed by great private interests outside Parliament such as Shell and Standard Oil. He suggested therefore that, if the Treasury concurred, the agreement should be subject to the simple, if sweeping, formula: ‘HMG agree to recommend to Parliament the provision of the money necessary to carry the Agreement into effect.’ This, he considered, would rebut the implication that Parliamentary sanction to the Agreement itself was necessary.[1] Then, on 17 March, during the debate on the 1914-15 Navy Estimates in the House, Churchill (not yet able, publicly, to divulge his proposals despite the inevitable rumours) began the softening up procedure: ‘There is no difficulty in obtaining oil, none whatever,’ he declared, ‘the difficulty is to get it at a good price, and we must look to sources which are independent of existing combinations…’[2]

                With the Mesopotamian business apparently all but settled and the negotiations concerning the Admiralty’s purchase of the APOC holding within sight of success it appeared as if the solution was almost in hand for the Admiralty’s oil problems; but not quite — one hurdle remained. The D’Arcy group, with its 50% holding in the TPC, was to all intents and purposes identical to the APOC, and Anglo-Persian now intended ‘to find the capital amounting to £100,000 for the holding company proposed to be registered to hold the D’Arcy group’s shares in the Turkish Petroleum Company.’ If successful, the APOC – more than half-owned by the British Government – could exercise indirect British influence in the Mesopotamian oilfields where a direct Government interest was out of the question. Welcome though this news was to the Admiralty, it raised political and diplomatic implications beyond the confines of that Department; yet the prospect of another long skirmish with the Foreign Office, Board of Trade and Treasury was anathema and it was to quash any possible objection that the Admiralty pre-emptively wrote to the Foreign Office on 6 May.

                The Admiralty took the view that D’Arcy’s claim to a share of the Mesopotamiam oil concession deserved support not only because his group was a pioneer in the field, but also for the fact that ‘whether large supplies of oil from Mesopotamia may or may not eventually be required for naval purposes, the maintenance of British control in the Mesopotamian field would be beneficial to the operations of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, or conversely that foreign control in Mesopotamia might prove adverse to the interest of the Persian field.’ By taking a direct share in the Persian field the British Government therefore had an ‘indirect interest in the manner in which oil produced in Mesopotamia may ultimately be marketed.’ This indirect interest would be strengthened if the proposal put forward by the Deutsche Bank was accepted: ‘that over any exportable surplus of fuel oil which may be ultimately available from Mesopotamian fields, the German Government shall have an option of purchase up to one-third, and the British Government an option of the same nature and extent.’[3] The reason for this Admiralty reticence with regard to the Mesopotamiam field was soon made apparent: if the Government be directly concerned in the exploitation of this field, such direct intervention would make it ‘impossible to resist any claim to similar direct participation by the German Government.’[4]

                For the Admiralty the proposals had the merit not only of allowing the APOC to participate in what was generally agreed to be a profitable exercise but which would also allow a degree of control over the TPC.[5] The Foreign Office disagreed. [6] Grey had understood that, if the Government acquired a controlling interest in the APOC, an essential condition

would be that the company should be kept as far as possible distinct from any connection with the Mesopotamian concession, and…that there would be grave objections of foreign policy to His Majesty’s Government becoming interested, through a company which they are to control, in the Mesopotamian oil concessions. Such a consummation would almost inevitably entail a demand for a corresponding Russian Government control of oil concessions in Armenia, and of French Government control of oil concessions in Syria, and it is impossible to view with indifference the possibility of such political interests being created in different portions of the Ottoman Empire, or to disregard their possible consequences upon the maintenance of the integrity of that Empire.

                In all communications with the Ottoman and German representatives in recent negotiations about the Mesopotamian concession, Sir E Grey has caused emphasis to be laid upon the distinction that it is the D’Arcy group and not the Anglo-Persian Oil Company which is interested, and I am to draw your attention to the wording of the agreement of the 19th March, 1914, and to the signatures attached thereto “on behalf of the D’Arcy group.”

The Foreign Secretary’s insistence that the D’Arcy group was distinct from the APOC would not have stood close examination; the APOC was clearly ‘the D’Arcy group’s parent company’.[7] Why then did Grey persist, however tenuously, in trying to draw a line between the two? Aware of the Admiralty’s intention to safeguard its source of oil, yet desperately trying to prevent the scramble by the other Powers for oil concessions (for no other reason than the maintenance of Ottoman territorial integrity) Grey could do little else but attempt to disguise the extent of British involvement.

                Grey was further alarmed when the French, having since learned of the signing of the 19 March agreement, inquired whether the British Government had a pecuniary interest in the Mesopotamian concession only to be disingenuously informed that no such financial interest existed and that the agreement had been signed on behalf of the Government ‘merely in order to indicate their concurrence in the terms of the agreement’. Sir Edward was particularly caustic about the Admiralty contention that British control of the Mesopotamiam fields ‘would be beneficial to the operations of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company’: he had been repeatedly given to understand that if the APOC and the Admiralty reached a satisfactory agreement ‘any danger which might otherwise be apprehended, owing to unfair competition from the Mesopotamian oilfields being in other hands, could be virtually disregarded: in other words, that the danger was principally due to the relatively weak financial position of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company and its consequent inability to face competition.’ But now, Grey declared, this did not appear to be the case — at least as far as the Admiralty were concerned. Nevertheless, he trusted that it would be possible to devise some other method to ensure the Turkish Petroleum Company should remain at least 50% British. To this effect the Board of Trade had put forward a tentative proposal that the necessary capital should be furnished by the Burmah Oil Company.[8] At first Burmah Oil would only proceed on the basis of an indemnity against possible loss; as a consequence, a new scheme was proposed in July 1914 for the APOC to make a straightforward loan to D’Arcy. By November – when the Indian Expeditionary Force had already landed to guard the oilfields – the Burmah deal was resurrected to prevent the APOC gaining a stranglehold on D’Arcy.[9]


By comparison, the conclusion of the Admiralty purchase of the APOC shareholding was finalized swiftly though, also, not without further controversy. The agreement outlined by Churchill on 11 May 1914 was sanctioned by the Cabinet two days later and signed on 20 May. The agreement had written into it the oft-quoted Admiralty policy to spread its contracts ‘as much as possible’ over widely separated fields so that, in times of emergency, one dependable source would be able to make up the deficiencies for failure of delivery elsewhere. This now assumed greater import as ‘foreign navies are on the road to becoming large consumers of oil, and…in the course of time they will be entering the market for increased quantities, and competing still more keenly with HMG for prompt supplies. This will probably have the effect of inflating prices or reducing available supplies, and for this reason alone it is necessary to make provision now to safeguard the position.’[10] Churchill did not, of course, neglect other sources of supply: whatever he thought personally of Marcus Samuel (and he was scathing), he did at least share Fisher’s admiration for Deterding. Churchill made clear to Sir Frederick Black in March that he wished to see Deterding to propose that the Admiralty take delivery during 1914-15 ‘of as much oil of his 1915-16 contract as he can send us within the limits of our freight engagements, and that we have an option to pay for this excess oil either in 1914-15 or in 1915-16.’[11] The Admiralty still depended on Shell as a major supplier, at least until the Anglo-Persian’s wells came on-stream, another eventuality foreshadowed in the APOC agreement.

                The tendency for the oilfields of the world to fall more and more under the control of a comparatively few large concerns was, it was conceded, probably unavoidable:

…A large consumer like the Admiralty, with the national interest of naval defence in its keeping, cannot, however, place itself in a position of dependence for vital supplies upon a few large Companies whose interests are necessarily cosmopolitan and financial, admittedly efficient, and possessing great resources. It is important and essential in naval interests to secure that at least one large British Oil Company shall be maintained, having independent control of considerable supplies of natural petroleum, and bound to the Government by financial and contractual obligations. Such an arrangement can hardly fail to have its effect not merely on the supplies directly so obtained, but on the terms and conditions on which the whole of the Admiralty requirements will be met, owing to the greater independence and bargaining power thus obtained…

Churchill gave five principal conditions which he considered would have to be fulfilled before a satisfactory settlement of the fuel question could be achieved: first, oil would have to be obtained of a suitable quality for use in British ships; second, it would be necessary to reduce Admiralty exposure to great price fluctuations and thereby attain an economical average cost; third, security of supply would have to be assured; fourth, economic transport would have to be arranged and in such a way that the tankers were kept in regular employment; and, last, concomitantly with the latter, economic storage was required. To assuage Foreign Office fears Churchill laid particular emphasis on his new rationale: ‘The grounds on which HMG arrived at their decision to enter into the Agreement with the APOC are purely naval, viz., the imperative need of direct control of a reasonable proportion of the supply of oil fuel required for naval purposes.’[12]

                While, for the Foreign Office, the deal remained a useful counter to Russian penetration in southern Persia (once reservations over the financing were reluctantly discarded) the Admiralty rationale depended only in part on forestalling other navies but in very large measure on the basis of striking an excellent bargain. When the deal finally became public knowledge on 23 May the Government must have expected criticism from certain quarters, though it is less certain they anticipated the storm which now broke around their heads. The India Office and Indian Government – excluded from the negotiations following their luke-warm response in the summer of 1913 – were both shocked to discover the extent of the defence commitment that now devolved upon them as a result (in their view) of the Admiralty’s highly irregular financing arrangements. Marcus Samuel was, naturally, outraged, while the clear threat to the indigenous coal industry was cited by others. There was also the wider political implication involved in the likely offence to be caused to Russia who would consider the move ‘an example of flagrant British peaceful penetration in Persia.’[13] ‘Is it not the case’, Grey had inquired of Churchill on 28 May, ‘that some of the oil wells of importance are in the British sphere in Persia? And as to the rest in the Neutral Sphere what distance are they from the coast…The real point is that S. Persia near the coast is more controllable by us than other centres of oil production in the world, which are entirely out of our reach.’[14] To try to overcome Russian apprehensions, Grey was, by July, ‘urging the Admiralty to see if they cannot agree that the development of oil-wells further north than the one already working should be leased to a Russian, or Anglo-Russian, subsidiary Company.’[15]

                Churchill, in turn, had to fend off Shell. Marcus Samuel wrote to Sir Francis Hopwood on 29 May that ‘It does appear to me to be an extraordinary course to take that just at the moment when others are successfully developing supplies of liquid fuel in territories under British jurisdiction – in Trinidad, in Egypt, and in Sarawak – the Government choose that moment to support a company which is solely dependent upon producing oil in a territory which, if I am rightly informed, is largely situated outside the British sphere of influence in the “neutral zone” in Persia, and, according to Lord Kitchener and Admiral Slade’s opinion, involving grave difficulties in protecting it should trouble with Russia arise.’ Samuel saw grave objection to the Government being involved with a company which would have to compete with commercial organizations; he could not reconcile the stated Admiralty position of diversification of supply against the association with one company and one group. He also forecast disingenuously that the Admiralty move would be counter-productive as it would ‘so discourage the commercial production of fuel oil in other parts of the world that the tendency will be to throw the Admiralty back purely upon Persia as its source of supply.’

                At Hopwood’s ‘invitation’ Samuel laid a few suggestions before the Admiralty. The first amounted to no more than a crude bribe — the APOC had an agreement with Shell with regard to kerosene and benzine: if Anglo-Persian remained ‘a purely commercial concern’ Shell would extend this agreement for at least twenty years. Samuel also feared that in seeking to obtain large supplies of oil from Persia the Government would ‘be compelled to force the manufacture of such large quantities of other petroleum products as may swamp the market and ruin our business.’ He proposed to mitigate this by suggesting that:

…before increasing the quantities of liquid fuel deliverable by the Persian Company to the Government beyond an agreed minimum figure, the Government should give the option to all producers in the British Empire…to supply fuel to the Admiralty, provided they can do so at the same price delivered in the United Kingdom, and that only if these sources fail should the Admiralty have recourse to Persia for increased quantities…[16]

Churchill circulated Samuel’s letters to his colleagues on 9 June, describing them as showing ‘with much ingenuousness the objections which as a great oil monopolist he entertains towards the Government policy in acquiring an independent source of oil supply.’ To stop Shell in its tracks, Churchill added the stern admonition: ‘The suggestion that we should enter into an agreement with the Shell to keep prices up to the present blackmailing levels deserves notice.’[17] Churchill was unfair in his criticisms of Shell; the company was, after all, driven by commercial interest just as much as the APOC. Furthermore, Shell’s wartime activities would belie the charge often previously levelled that the company would not operate in Britain’s best interests. As early as 31 July 1914 Fisher wrote to Churchill that he had just received ‘a most patriotic letter from Deterding to say he means you shan’t want for oil or tankers in case of war — Good old Deterding! How these Dutchmen do hate the Germans!’[18]

                The outbreak of war was to wipe away all criticisms of the Admiralty deal and confirm Churchill’s strategic vision;[19] yet it was not quite that simple. A good deal had been obtained for the Admiralty (and price had been the overwhelming factor throughout) but at a heavy cost of another kind — the possibility of having to defend the installations at some future point. In addition, the whole arrangement rested upon a non sequitur: that because a field was under British control the oil supply was dependable while, somehow, foreign fields could not be relied upon. Royal Navy command of the sea was a more important factor than geographical location: when this command was disputed during the war by unrestricted submarine warfare the Admiralty turned to the nearest convenient source, the United States, which, by 1917, was supplying 80% of Britain’s oil needs.[20] Hardinge had already complained in 1915 that the military occupation of the Persian oilfields by Indian forces was an uncalled-for diversion as the Admiralty could surely count on America for all the oil required. This was typical of Indian antipathy towards the Admiralty’s preoccupation with oil.[21] Nor could the APOC alleviate the critical fuel shortage of 1917 when supply was reduced to three weeks as a whole and less at some bases.[22]

                ‘The oil supplies of the world were in the hands of vast oil trusts under foreign control’, Churchill later wrote in The World Crisis, echoing the arguments used by Greenway to convince the First Lord at the time, but which would not hold up under close scrutiny. In his dealings with Anglo-Persian Churchill desired to prevent giving a hostage to fortune in the form of a supposed Shell world monopoly; instead the Admiralty created another hostage to fortune by virtue of the probable defence of the Persian installations from Ottoman attack, a fact glossed over by Churchill:

…To commit the Navy irrevocably to oil was indeed ‘to take arms against a sea of troubles.’ Wave after wave, dark with storm, crested with foam, surged towards the harbour in which we still sheltered. Should we drive out into the teeth of the gale, or should we bide contented where we were? Yet beyond the breakers was a great hope. If we overcame the difficulties and surmounted the risks, we should be able to raise the whole power and efficiency of the Navy to a definitely higher level; better ships, better crews, higher economies, more intense forms of war-power — in a word, mastery itself was the prize of the venture. A year gained over a rival might make the difference. Forward, then![23]

The oil fields had one further use not envisaged by Churchill. When, in September 1914, war with Turkey appeared imminent, the Military Secretary of the India Office advocated an immediate landing by Empire troops ‘at Muhamerrah or at Abadan Island, ostensibly to protect the oil installation, but in reality to notify the Turks that we meant business and to the Arabs that we were ready to support them.’[24]


On 15 June 1914 the Anglo-German Agreement concerning the Baghdad Railway and Mesopotamia was signed. ‘Along with the agreements on railway and shipping questions’, the Kaiser was informed, ‘a thorough understanding has been achieved on action with regard to the production of petroleum in Asia Minor…It will probably be possible to obtain an agreement whereby a third of the total production will be earmarked each for the German and British navies, and only a third will be on sale in the open market…’[25] Furthermore, once it had been agreed that the railway line would not be extended beyond Basra (which would have taken it therefore into the British sphere) Grey did not especially care that the Germans would build the railway — an attitude which contrasts sharply with the Foreign Office reaction to the proposed Russian Trans-Persian railway, which Grey viewed with great apprehension.[26] As has been shown, with the outbreak of war against Turkey in November 1914, Grey soon became alarmed at Russian incursions into Persia; in an attempt to accommodate them elsewhere he was forced to concede that ‘a general assurance that a settlement of the question of the Straits in the Russia interest was necessary.’[27]

                The maintenance of the British position at the head of the Persian Gulf had become the sine qua non of British policy, to the extent of allowing the Russian claims on Constantinople and the Straits in an effort to divert the Russians from encroaching on that vital area and ensuring that they remained committed to the war against Germany. The momentum which began with Grey’s assurances to the Russians late in 1914 had its logical conclusion in the Straits Agreement of March 1915. By January 1915, Britain had a complete division in the Basra region, a garrison of one and a quarter battalions at Muscat, a few weak detachments on the Persian coast, three battalions at Aden and the equivalent of three Field Divisions on the Indian Frontier. Behind this however was only an exiguous force of Territorials and Indian regiments ‘providing the bare minimum required for the internal defence of India and quite incapable of furnishing even small reinforcements for Aden or the Persian Gulf…We have vast interests at stake all over the East’, lamented Sir Edmund Barrow, ‘and we have absolutely no reserves left to meet possible or even probable developments.’ Worse, the Turks had invaded north-west Persia and seemed about to move in south-west Persia where they could threaten the APOC oilfields and pipeline. If ‘Turkish intrigue, German gold and fanatical influences’ caused the defection of some of the Arab chiefs to the Turkish side, Barrow warned, ‘our position at Basra may become somewhat difficult, not to use a stronger word.’ To secure the control of south-west Persia and to reinforce the Expeditionary Force would require the dispatch of ‘at least another Division.’[28] The time had come to honour the intrinsic pledge inherent in the considerations of the Foreign Office – to maintain Persia as a buffer state against Russia – and to face up to the unspoken assumptions created by the ad hoc arrangements of the Admiralty to secure an ostensibly dependable supply of oil.

                Hardinge visited the oil works at Abadan on 3 February 1915 and noted that they were ‘being extended largely to meet Admiralty demands.’ He confessed privately to Nicolson that,

In the first instance I was strongly opposed to the acquisition by the Admiralty of so large a share in this undertaking since I realised that the responsibility for its defence would fall upon India. Now I am delighted that we have so large a stake in Abadan, since it makes it absolutely certain that we can never give up Busrah which I regard as the key of the Gulf. When once we are firmly established at Busrah the importance of Bushire and of Gulf politics in general will be very much diminished. It is therefore absolutely essential from every point of view that we should remain at Busrah when we shall have complete control over the trade of Mesopotamia, and we ought to be able to make the Busrah vilayet into a second Egypt…[29]

Hardinge’s volte-face brought him more into line with Nicolson’s feelings. As the preparations mounted off the Dardanelles early in February 1915, presaging the commencement of the naval attempt to force the Straits, the Russophile Nicolson wished that Russia herself was in a position to strike a blow at Constantinople; indeed, he believed that only the Bosphorus minefield held her back from the attempt.[30]

                At the time however the Russians were not generally aware of the Anglo-French operation at the Dardanelles: Grey was certainly not keen to broadcast news of the forthcoming attack which led, ineluctably, to a confrontation with the Russian Ambassador. Benckendorff, who had learned of the planned assault from the French, pressed Grey for more information as he was naturally ‘anxious’ that Sazonov be informed. Grey then telegraphed Buchanan in Petrograd on 11 February to sanction an exchange of information which was, however, to be kept to a minimum: ‘You should tell MFA very confidentially that a serious attempt will be made to force the Straits’, Buchanan was instructed. ‘…You may add that attack will begin in about a week. If you have already told MFA it is unnecessary to say more.’ To justify this less than forthright approach, Grey mentioned that the Russian Commander-in-Chief, the Grand Duke Nicholas, had been informed ‘some time ago, and Russian military and naval co-operation invited.’[31]

                Sazonov had, in the meantime, redefined Russian territorial ambitions with regard to Turkey; these now included everything on the European side (with the exception of Constantinople), and sufficient territory on the Asiatic side to enable the Russians to guard the entrance to the Black Sea.[32] Constantinople, itself, was not mentioned. Even so it was enough to make Ambassador Bertie, in Paris, see red: he was ‘horrified at the pretensions of Sazonow’ and entreated Grey not to ‘admit any such interpretation of your promises to the Russian Government.’ His fears were twofold: the Russian claims would destroy any chance of Roumania and Bulgaria siding with the Entente and second, ‘how about our interests in the future in the event of our having difficulties with Russia.’[33] Grey was quite prepared however to push the Russians in the direction of Constantinople to divert them from seeking territorial gains at the expense of either Germany or Austria-Hungary.[34] Despite Bertie’s admonition to Grey, Sazonov believed (if he did not divine the exact reasons) that he could make progress with his demands in London; the French were another matter. Grey had, for example, sought retrospective approval from the French for his November 1914 assurance to the Russians; when finally given the opportunity to comment, the French Foreign Minister, Delcassé, had pointedly referred to the problems that would be created, then and in the future, by the Russian possession of Constantinople.[35] Now, in February 1915, the parallel Franco-Russian negotiations were proceeding slowly: ‘While I received news from London that our demands were accepted’, Sazonov later wrote, ‘in Paris they still insisted on making the Straits neutral and internationalizing Constantinople.’[36]

                Delcassé was in London early in February where, on the 8th, he lunched with Grey, Asquith, Kitchener and Churchill to discuss the question of joint action in the Near East, with the specific intention of suggesting that an attempt be made to relieve the pressure on Serbia by an Anglo-French move against Salonica; Delcassé reported that the French Cabinet approved in principle. The British were lukewarm, in particular General Sir John French who delivered the usual protest that he could not spare regular troops as he had promised General Joffre that he would relieve the French Army Corps in front of Ypres by 15 March. French was only persuaded to give his reluctant consent when it was pointed out to him that ‘troops could not be sent to Salonica except on the assumption that Greece entered the war; that the arrival of Greek troops on the Servian frontier would inevitably draw Austro-German troops there, who must de diverted from elsewhere; and that, if Roumania also joined in, as was to be hoped, the diversion would be more than justified.’[37]

                Notwithstanding this close consultation misunderstandings could still arise, as they did with regard to the Dardanelles when, on 20 February (the day after the naval bombardment commenced), Grey was forced to explain to Cambon that

…the decision to send a division from England, which was communicated to the French Govt some days ago, has been suspended till it was seen how the naval operations, which were to begin at once progressed. Subsequently I heard at the Admiralty that the naval brigade would go from here but that is entirely under Admiralty control. As the Admiral in charge of the operations may require early military assistance to make good his operations against the forts, 30,000 men of the Australian and New Zealand contingents now in Egypt have been placed at his disposal and will proceed as he requires them. If the French Govt wish to send troops their presence and co-operation will be very welcome. I have been given the impression that you think the operation against the Dardanelles should be delayed till military arrangements have been concerted with the French Govt; but it would be disastrous to postpone or delay these operations. So much that is important to the common cause depends upon their success and it is truly in the common cause that they are undertaken.[38]

This was more typical of the chaotic manner of running the war than any attempt at deviousness. Nowhere was this chaotic aspect more in evidence than at the episodic meetings of Asquith’s War Council, where, according to Hankey, the discussion tended to be ‘rather rambling.’[39]

                In a further, unintentional, condemnation Hankey described to Balfour the ad hoc meeting of 16 February at which ‘decisions of the very first importance were arrived at. There was no formal meeting of the War Council. In the first instance Sir Edward Grey called on the Prime Minister; Lord Kitchener happened to call; financial business was discussed and Mr Lloyd George was summoned; and later on Mr Churchill & Lord Fisher were sent for. I was not present, but I have received a full account of what happened from Mr Lloyd George, Lord Fisher, and the Prime Minister…’[40] Asquith’s supine leadership had left the ship of state rudderless; increasingly the figure who could be made out at the helm was Churchill, who was clearly in his element; and all the while, looking over Churchill’s shoulder, was Lloyd George.

                While the central policy making body operated in such a haphazard fashion, Ministers and others formulated their own plans for alternative action. Each pushed the competing claims for his own scheme, to the detriment of others; few were willing to stand back and look objectively. Arthur Balfour was one of those few; he was particularly keen to remove the confusion he believed surrounded the two military operations under discussion at the time, which he labelled the ‘Bosphorus’ operation and the ‘Balkan’ operation. By the former he meant control of the Sea of Marmora, the Bosphorus and Constantinople which would, he argued, paralyse Turkey, guarantee free communications with Russia, secure the neutrality of Bulgaria and defeat German ambitions in the Near East which was, to some, just as important a consideration as limiting Russian encroachment in Central Asia.[41] It was difficult, however, to see how the Bosphorus and Constantinople could be controlled by purely naval operations, yet already, five days before Balfour’s memorandum, the opening bombardment at the Dardanelles, by ships alone, had commenced. Buchanan reported privately from Petrograd that the news of the bombardment had not excited any great enthusiasm ‘as I think people are rather nervous lest, should we succeed in forcing the passage and should a successful counter revolution break out in Constantinople, we might be tempted to make peace with Turkey on terms incompatible with Russian aspirations.’[42] What Buchanan did not know was that tentative peace negotiations with Turkey, designed to buy her out of the war, were already under way.


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[1]    The memorandum was discussed in Cabinet the following day, and resulted in a Cabinet Committee being set up to oversee the operation. Churchill, Memorandum on Procedure as to obtaining Parliamentary Sanction to Agreement, 10 March 1914, PRO Cab 37/119/39.

[2]    Statement by Churchill in debate in Committee of the House of Commons, 17 March 1914, PRO Cab 37/119/61.

[3]    The Board of Trade informed the Admiralty on 20 May that with reference to this proposal Herr Emil Strauss, a representative of the Deutsche Bank and prospective Vice-Chairman of the TPC, had called to inquire ‘as to the willingness of HMG to agree to an arrangement whereby the British and German Navies should be given certain limited options on the fuel oil exported by the TPC.’ Strauss was informed that this was solely a matter for the Admiralty. The German had come prepared with the following draft formula he wished to submit to Greenway in the latter’s capacity as a representative of British interests:

The TPC undertake on their own behalf, and on behalf of any subsidiary company to be formed, to give both to the British and German navies the first refusal for one-third each of the quantity of Liquid Fuel which the TPC or subsidiary companies will have available for export outside Turkey. The offer shall be made at the end of each quarter and the option shall be declared by the respective navies within 48 hours after they shall have received the offer from the TPC or its subsidiaries. This undertaking to hold good for thirty years.

      The Board of Trade suggested deleting the words underlined but otherwise could see no objection in principle and did not think, from informal communications, that the Admiralty would. Board of Trade to Admiralty, 20 May 1914, PRO FO 195/2456.

[4]    Admiralty to Foreign Office, 6 May 1914, PRO FO 195/2456/60 [my emphasis]. The Admiralty maintained that ‘As three out of four, or possibly all four, of the directors who will represent the D’Arcy group in the Turkish Petroleum Company will be chosen from directors of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, and one of those directors is also proposed as the chairman of the Turkish Petroleum Company with a casting vote, the direct interest of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company in the Turkish Petroleum Company will be a matter of public knowledge. My Lords are disposed to think, however, that a loan of very limited extent from the funds of the Anglo-Persian Company, in which nearly a half interest will remain in private hands, to the British holding company in the Turkish Petroleum Company cannot be regarded as a direct participation in management by His Majesty’s Government…’ On this last basis the Admiralty did ‘not propose to interfere with the discretion of the directors to make the loan if they are satisfied that it is necessary and desirable to do so.’

[5]    Kent, Oil and Empire, p. 98.

[6]    However, before they could voice their opposition, Churchill presumptuously informed his colleagues on 11 May that ‘The Foreign Office, Treasury, and Board of Trade have also been communicated with in regard to the extent of the connection which will exist between the Anglo-Persian Oil Company and the Turkish Petroleum Company, formed to control the exploitation of the adjacent Mesopotamian oilfields.’ Churchill, Proposed Agreement with APOC, 11 May 1914, para. 11, PRO Cab 37/119/61.

[7]    Kent, Moguls and Mandarins, p. 86.

[8]    Foreign Office to Admiralty, 13 May 1914, PRO FO 195/2456/60.

[9]    Kent, Oil and Empire, pp. 99-103.

[10]  Churchill, Agreement with APOC, 11 May 1914, PRO Cab 37/119/61.

[11]  Churchill to Black, 3 March 1914, WSC Comp. vol. II, pt. iii, p. 1961.

[12]  Churchill, Proposed Agreement with APOC, paras. 13-14, PRO Cab 37/119/61 [my emphasis].

[13]  Kent, Oil and Empire, pp. 163-4 and note 77.

[14]  Grey to Churchill, 28 May 1914, WSC Comp. vol. II, pt. iii, p. 1964.

[15]  Grey to Buchanan, 14 July 1914, Grey mss, PRO FO 800/74.

[16]  Samuel to Hopwood, 29 May 1914 (two letters), PRO Cab 37/120/68.

[17]  Minute by Churchill, 9 June 1914, ibid.

[18]  Fisher to Churchill, 31 July 1914, WSC Comp. vol. II, pt. iii, p. 1965 [emphasis in original].

[19]  Jack, The Purchase of the British Government’s Shares in the British Petroleum Company 1912-14, p. 164.

[20]  Jones, Admirals and Oilmen, p. 119; Jack, The Purchase of the British Government’s Shares in the British Petroleum Company 1912-14, p. 167 and note 85.

[21]  V. H. Rothwell, “Mesopotamia in British War Aims”, (Hist. Jnl., XIII, 2, 1970) pp. 288-9. As will be seen however, Hardinge was more than pleased by the necessity to occupy Basra.

[22]  Marder, Dreadnought, vol. I, p. 271.

[23]  Churchill, The World Crisis, pp. 91-2.

[24]  Sir Edmund Barrow to Lord Crewe, 26 September 1914, quoted in, C Jay Smith, “Great Britain and the 1914-15 Straits Agreement with Russia,” p. 1024 [my emphasis].

[25]  Zimmerman to Count von Wedel in the Emperor’s Suite, 19 June 1914, Dugdale, German Diplomatic Documents, vol. IV, pp. 253-5.

[26]  McLean, Britain and her Buffer State, p. 123.

[27]  Minutes of the War Council, 10 March 1915, PRO Cab 42/2/5.

[28]  Sir Edmund Barrow, Military Secretary, India Office, Military Situation in the Middle East, 25 January 1915, PRO Cab 37/123/50.

[29]  Hardinge to Nicolson, 4 February 1915, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/377.

[30]  Nicolson to Hardinge, 3 February 1915, ibid.

[31]  Grey to Buchanan, 11 February 1915, Grey mss., PRO FO 800/75. Note: Churchill had written to Grey on 16 January, ‘It will be necessary quite soon to apprise French and Russia of our Dardanelles intentions. I am preparing you a paper on this subject.’ [Churchill to Grey, Grey mss., PRO FO 800/88] Two days later Churchill sent Grey a draft of the proposed memorandum he intended to send to the Grand Duke. See, Churchill to Grey, 18 January 1915, Grey mss., PRO FO 800/75.

[32]  Sazonov, Fateful Years, p. 252.

[33]  Bertie to Grey, 14 February 1915, Grey mss., PRO FO 800/57.

[34]  Michael Ekstein, “Russia and the Straits, 1914-1915”, in Hinsley (ed.), British Foreign Policy Under Sir Edward Grey, pp. 431-2.

[35]  Bertie to Grey, 22 November 1914, Grey mss., PRO FO 800/56A.

[36]  Sazonov, Fateful Years, p. 253; see also, Bertie, diary entry for 26 February 1915.

[37]  Hankey to Balfour, 10 February 1915, Balfour mss., BL Add MSS 49703 f.162; Asquith to Venetia Stanley, 8 February 1915, Asquith Letters, pp. 418-9. Asquith recorded that, that night, they all dined at the French Ambassador’s residence: it was, he confessed, ‘the very nadir of dullness…’

[38]  Grey to Cambon, 20 February 1915, Grey mss., PRO FO 800/57.

[39]  On 9 February, for example, Asquith mentioned that a War Council was to be held at Downing Street at 5 p.m. for which ‘Sir J French has come over to attend.’ This contrasts markedly with Hankey who referred instead to the advantage that was taken ‘of a sudden visit by Sir John French to England to discuss the question with him…’ Asquith to Venetia Stanley, 9 February 1915, Asquith Letters, p. 421; Hankey to Balfour, 10 February 1915, Balfour mss., BL Add MSS 49703 f.162.

[40]  Hankey to Balfour, 17 February 1915, Balfour mss., BL Add MSS 49703 f.167. On the basis of what was reported to him, Hankey wrote up the conclusions of the meeting the following day.

[41]  Memorandum by Balfour, 24 February 1915, PRO Cab 19/28.

[42]  Buchanan to Nicolson, 24 February 1914, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/377.



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