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 4




A Chance is Lost




The new Sultan: Mehmet Reshad Effendi
The new Sultan: Mehmet Reshad Effendi


The analogy struck the Young Turks that, in the situation they found themselves in with regard to their relations with the other Powers, and in the mould of public perception of the Ottoman Empire, built up over the centuries, but which they desperately wanted to break, their predicament placed them in the position of being the Japan of the Near East! As such, it was perhaps no surprise that an approach was made in London regarding the possibility of an Anglo-Turkish alliance using the model of the Anglo-Japanese compact, while the practicability was also examined of employing Japanese experts to assist in the process of modernizing the country.[1] In the first of many rebuffs to be received over the coming years, the Foreign Office was unenthusiastic; Hardinge noted that ‘A friendly Turkey is a much more convenient situation for us than an allied Turkey.’[2] But for how long would the Turks remain friendly while Lowther remained antagonistic to the regime and every approach to London was rebuffed? The best the Turks could achieve was that, while the task of reorganizing the army was given to the German General von der Goltz,[3] a British Admiral was successfully requested for the navy[4] ‘to put the decaying fleet into order and to utilize the 7,000 officers who have had no practical experience of their career’.[5]

                It was to be a huge task for Rear-Admiral Sir Douglas Gamble, who took up his appointment in December 1908 when he found vegetable gardens growing on the decks of the ageing warships.[6] Four years earlier, the British Naval Attaché, Captain Mark Kerr, had recorded that ‘it is no longer possible to talk about the Turkish Navy, as it is practically non-existent.’[7] Nevertheless some good early progress was made: obsolete vessels, ‘which had been lying at the Dardanelles and elsewhere’, were collected at the Golden Horn and offered for sale; more modern ships, which still possessed some fighting value, had their crews completed and underwent some training, including a ‘certain amount of target practice’; and the King’s Regulations and Admiralty Instructions were being translated into Turkish (‘the portions dealing with religious subjects being altered as necessary’).[8] By June 1909 Gamble was able to report from the Messudieh:

We have had a wonderful 10 days experience! None of my brother admirals in England would believe that with vessels commissioned only a couple of days, with new officers and captains, none of whom have ever been in a squadron, and very few ever at sea in their lives, one would be doing tactical manoeuvres, weighing and anchoring together, etc., etc. — but it is so. The Sultan passed us without warning, and I had just time for making the necessary signals for dressing and “manning” ship, and firing a Royal Salute. By some extraordinary luck the whole lot – 9 ships and 5 destroyers – appeared for the moment to be in almost perfect station and everything went capitally and would have done credit to the Channel Fleet.

                We nearly piled up on Peoti yesterday by our signalman hoisting a signal to turn the squadron 8 points to starboard without my having given any orders. It was a close shave – a matter of about ½ a cable – but I am getting used to such happenings. It is fearful hard work but wonderfully interesting.[9]

After such an encouraging start, a mere eight months later, now discouraged and in ill-health, Gamble resigned. The Admiral’s appointment was not the portent it might have seemed. It coincided with Lowther beginning to see the first signs that Germany was recovering her position at the Porte. Lowther had become both suspicious and contemptuous of the C.U.P., a view which did not take long to filter back to the Foreign Office where Hardinge entirely shared his assessment that it was ‘desirable that this Young Turk Committee should disappear in the near future, otherwise they will in course of time deteriorate, and assume precisely the same position as that held previously by the Palace camarilla.’[10]

                The fears of a resurgence of German influence once more increased the anxiety regarding the Baghdad Railway, which was made more urgent by the discovery of a major oil strike in 1908 that, Hardinge was not slow to observe, was ‘excellent news for our interests in south-west Persia.’ It was already the accepted wisdom at the Foreign Office that whoever was first to ‘build and control the railways that abut on the Persian Gulf…will hold the key to the whole position.’[11] A sub-committee of the C.I.D. (of which Grey and Hardinge were members) was convened ‘to consider the effect that the completion of the Baghdad Railway may have on the situation – strategical, political, and commercial – in Southern Persia and the Persian Gulf and the measures that it may be necessary to take in advance for the maintenance of British interests in those regions, either immediately or after the railway has reached Baghdad.’ The conclusions of the sub-committee were available in 26 January 1909 with the consensus being that ‘the competition to which British trade in the Persian Gulf is exposed is not merely commercial, but has a distinctly political object. British claims to political predominance in the Gulf are based mainly on the fact of our commercial interests having hitherto been predominant, and should our trade, as a result of a German forward policy, be impaired, our political influence would proportionately diminish.’ It therefore followed that ‘purely political action on our part, not having as its objective the development of material British interests, might have a prejudicial effect, both politically and commercially, by reason of the suspicions it would be likely to rouse’.[12] The only tangible political action available was the veto on the Turkish request for a 4% increase in the customs dues which Grey felt obliged to apply otherwise, it was feared, the extra revenue generated would be used as collateral for the kilometric guarantee under which the railway was being constructed.[13]

                While Adam Block, the Administrator of the Ottoman Public Debt, argued (in agreement with Lowther) that consent to the increase should be conditional on economic and financial reforms being undertaken, Grey took the line that the increase should be tied to the question of the railway: either Britain should be allowed to participate in the Baghdad-Gulf section or a separate concession should be granted for an alternate route along the Tigris Valley to Basra.[14] Meanwhile, as the various political contingencies were being debated, the first stirrings were noticed in Constantinople of what would erupt, within two months, into a full blown counter-revolution. Seeking to strengthen his own position, and probably with the backing of the Sultan, on 10 February 1909 the Grand Vizier, Kiamil, sacked the Ministers of War and Marine, replacing them with his own supporters. Resignations in protest at this action followed immediately among the Council of Ministers. Kiamil, unprepared for this unexpected reaction, vainly sought to gain time, ostensibly to allow him to explain the dismissals; instead the Chamber delivered a resounding vote of no confidence in him. The clever, though opportunistic, Hilmi Pasha was appointed in his place.[15] It was noted that the new Cabinet was practically constructed by the Committee while, in an attempt to conciliate Britain, the Turkish Ambassador in London was mooted as the new Minister for Foreign Affairs.[16]

                ‘Whether or not his final efforts to remain in office’, Block wrote privately to Hardinge, ‘and whether or not the action of the Chamber, influenced or threatened by the Committee, were justified or constitutional are questions which need not concern us now, but the result in the opinion of many Turks is that we now have a cabinet which is not independent but which is subservient to the Committee and bound to obey its orders.’[17] Block’s concern with constitutional matters also reflected the concern of the Young Turks who were only too well aware that, however they might be viewed from within the confines of the Embassy at Pera, at least Kiamil was seen to be staunchly pro-British; his demise therefore had to be justified on the basis of his unconstitutional actions and not on the surmise that the power base of the C.U.P. was being consolidated. Lowther, who by now had been thoroughly turned against the Committee by Fitzmaurice (not, it must be said, without some propensity to turn on the former’s behalf), was at once sarcastic and sceptical. Adopting a patronizing tone, based on an overestimation of his influence, Lowther informed the like-minded Hardinge on 2 March: ‘I have been a little cold with the Committee which I think has done them good for they are quite aware that our support is essential — on the slightest sign of their doing good work I shall be more cordial.’[18]

                What Lowther did not realize in playing this game of bluff was that the C.U.P. position in Constantinople itself depended on a good deal of bluff. The party’s main support came from its power base in Macedonia and it was not particularly strong, despite appearances to the contrary, in Constantinople. Popular support had been forthcoming in 1908 as the party sought to have the constitution reinstated but waned once this objective had been achieved. Inevitably, the party attracted sundry office-seekers and hangers-on who were to be disappointed when the Committee decided not to assume office,[19] while there was, in addition, a religious backlash against the secular policies of the Young Turks; all of which was compounded by the absence from the capital of key members of the party. Enver Bey had recently departed to act as Military Attaché in Berlin; Ali Fuad (who, with Kemal, had been previously exiled for his revolutionary activity) went to Rome as Military Attaché; Kemal himself was not so fortunate. Too vocal in his criticism of Enver’s ‘hijacking’ of the 1908 revolution, he was dispatched to Libya on secret assignment and, when this was completed, he returned to the comparative calm of Salonica where he became Chief of Staff of the 11th Reserve Division.[20] Lowther at least perceived the problem posed by the guiding lights of the revolution being shaded, in their absence, by less than revolutionary opportunists; he warned Hardinge on 2 March that the new government of Hilmi Pasha would be in trouble if it could not act to restore discipline in the army and that, further, a ‘political split in the army would produce frightful results. Unfortunately what was best of the Committee has withdrawn to make way for the more violent element and these are gentleman who are not above money-making…I am not yet discouraged. Only we must have patience.’[21] But time was running out for the interim regime.

                The negotiations with Russia had been left in temporary abeyance while Hilmi assumed office. By 19 February Lowther was inclined to think that the new Grand Vizier would seek to accommodate the Russians ‘even at a sacrifice in order to be able to justify his position and to show that his Government can accomplish something.’[22] However, when the Russian Ambassador presented the original proposal once more, with a rejoinder to take it or leave it, Hilmi declared that it would be impossible for the Turkish Cabinet to accept the Russian proposal as it stood, though they agreed to it in principle.[23] At this show of contumaciousness the Russians extended the period for the abandonment of the War Indemnity to 40 years, an offer too good to refuse, with the result that the Russo-Turkish Protocol was initialled in St Petersburg on 16 March.[24] The Conference proposal was quietly shelved.[25]

                Throughout the crisis, Grey had walked a tightrope trying to support the new regime in Constantinople without alienating St Petersburg. In a series of dispatches Nicolson forthrightly referred to serious Russian doubts as to the value of the Entente. ‘[T]here is a feeling’, he informed Grey on 17 March, ‘that neither the entente nor the French alliance has been of much benefit to Russia during present crisis, while aid which Germany has given Austria-Hungary has been cited in contrast.’[26] Nicolson’s solution to this problem was to advocate an Anglo-Russian alliance[27] — a suggestion Grey would not countenance. ‘I do not think’, he informed Nicolson, ‘that it is practicable to change our agreements into alliances: the feeling here about definite commitment to a Continental war on unforeseeable conditions would be too dubious to permit us to make an alliance. Russia too must make her internal Government less reactionary — till she does, liberal sentiment here will remain very cool and even those who are not sentimental will not believe that Russia can purge her administration sufficiently to become a strong and reliable Power.’ Indeed, Grey seemed quite pleased with the result of his diplomacy:

Russia has drawn closer to Bulgaria, who is worth many Servias — a result which twenty years ago would have been regarded unfavourably here, but which we now welcome as strengthening Russia’s position. She has Bulgaria on her side, she has our goodwill, the Slav feeling is deeply apprehensive of Teuton advance and affronted by Teuton pressure, and it is at Russia’s disposal; all these are improvements in her position if only she is cool enough to see them, wise enough to use them, and will reform her internal Government. Germany will not make war upon her if not provoked, but Russia may have to withstand some provocation and bluff now and then: which however will cease if she makes her internal administration efficient and strong.[28]

While Grey was content to limit the entente to ‘keeping in touch so that our diplomatic action may be in accord’, his Permanent Under-Secretary adopted a line far closer to Nicolson’s. In a remarkably candid private letter to Nicolson, which bordered on the disloyal, Hardinge castigated the policy of the Liberal Government:

I agree [he replied to Nicolson’s suggestion] that it is very desirable that we should draw nearer to Russia, but there is no prospect of this while the present Govt. is in office in this country. I am almost absolutely certain that certain members of the Cabinet assiduously spread the report that, in the event of a general conflagration, England would stand on one side. This was naturally reported to Metternich and the Germans were thereby emboldened. Please regard this as private but I know it is a fact. I mention this to show you how impossible it is to hope for any step forward by this Govt. towards a closer ‘entente’ or even an alliance with Russia. When Balfour comes into office it may be different, but we must hope that it may not be too late. This is not said in any party spirit as I have none and I would sooner have Grey as my Chief than anybody.[29]

Meanwhile, as Hardinge longed for the general election that would return the Conservatives to power, the Foreign Office strongly refuted any suggestion that Russia had been abandoned in the face of an Austro-German threat: ‘It is not the right deduction’, declared Louis Mallet, ‘to say that the Triple Entente was too weak to resist the Central Powers in this matter. It was not worth their while to do so. If it had been, we could have prevented war.’ To which he sanguinely added that ‘Russian public opinion will take a calmer view on reflection.’[30] Grey should at least have been able to garner some kudos for his support of the new regime in Turkey, but even here there were no lasting benefits, a result brought about first by the recalcitrant attitude of his Ambassador, and more importantly, by the counter-revolution that erupted in April.


Sir Gerard Lowther was highly regarded at the Foreign Office and would have been a sound choice to deal with Abdul Hamid when power resided in the Sultan’s hands. His misfortune was to arrive in Constantinople just after the Young Turk uprising and then to fall under the spell of Fitzmaurice. As Grey later complained, ‘The leaders of the Revolution had ability, and they were not more hampered by pity or scruples than Abdul Hamid had been; but they were several persons, and not one with supreme authority. Their force was dispersed among many, and soon became dissipated in personal rivalries and intrigues.’[31] The second dragoman at the Embassy, Andrew (later Sir Andrew) Ryan, who was more even-handed in his dealings with the Young Turks, has left the following description of Lowther, which, perhaps, strives too hard to be fair:

[Lowther] was a good chief, but I never became really intimate with him. It used to be said that he had fallen short of the great opportunity afforded by his first arrival in the glow of enthusiasm over the restoration of liberty in 1908. I think that was unjust. The Young Turks were…chauvinistic, and no British diplomat was likely to make much headway against them. It must be admitted, however, that he lacked elasticity. A rich man and very much of a grand seigneur, he was apt to look down on upstarts playing at statesmanship.

In a telling comparison to his attitude to the unscrupulous ‘money-makers’ taking control of the party, when Ryan pointed out that the Young Turk leaders were not out for money but something greater, Lowther ‘asked, apparently quite sincerely, what was greater than money?’[32]

                The Salonica Christians, Jews and Freemasons that Lowther (briefed by Fitzmaurice) believed were at the centre of the Young Turk revolution found that time was running out for them as well: the general tendency was to assume that the disorganization, neglect and corruption of the Hamidian regime could be put right overnight whereas, in fact, the C.U.P. lacked the strength necessary to give effect to the orders it issued. This, in turn, was exacerbated by the party being riven by factions. One such, the ‘nationalists’, set out to ‘Ottomanize’ a diverse geographical area, where four languages (Turkish, Greek, Armenian and French) were in everyday use, by insisting on Turkish only. The point was not lost on the Armenians that success in this policy concomitantly spelled doom for any prospect of an independent Armenia; to be able to enlist support in Europe and America for their cause, the Armenians needed ‘the old maladministration even if attended by the old massacres. The same thoughts were in the minds of the Ottoman Greeks and the Albanians; to them, Union and Progress meant oblivion and blight.’[33] If this was not bad enough, trouble was brewing in the First Army Corps in Constantinople where word was being spread among the disaffected troops that the C.U.P. was irreligious. The formation of the Society of Mohammed on 5 April 1909 added to the pressure building up in the capital. The Society – against the Ottomanization policy and strongly clerical – demanded rule by the Sacred Law of the Sheriet. The message spread outwards and upwards from the humblest troops until the pressure could no longer be contained and exploded on the night of 12/13 April when the troops mutinied, overpowered their officers (killing those they believed to have been tainted by lasciviousness), and marched on parliament, demanding the reinstatement of Kiamil as Grand Vizier and Nazim Pasha as Minister of War.

                The situation remained confused throughout the 13th. At dawn that morning armed men had made their way to the Square before the giant dome of Aya Sophia; slowly the rabble began to grow in numbers. By noon thousands of armed and agitated soldiers had gathered in the Square. It would still have been possible to have sealed off the area and contain the mutiny, but no order came. Few, at the time, failed to perceive the hand of the Sultan behind the uprising; for Abdul Hamid the counter-revolution seemed to present a chance to revert to the old order. ‘It was pointed out’, Lowther reported, ‘that the soldiers were well provided with money — each man of the 4th Avji battalion, which began the movement, was said to have received £T.5 — and that the hafiés — Palace spies — were again at work, and the fact that the Sultan had issued a complete pardon to the mutineers was adduced as a proof of his Majesty’s complicity.’[34] Whether the Sultan was involved or not, Lowther was quick to realize that ‘the malcontents and reactionaries, who are numerous, should have taken advantage of the opportunity to increase the confusion and panic in the hope of discrediting the new order of things, and also that the friends of the Committee of Union and Progress should try to rally public opinion to their aid by raising the cry that the Constitution was in danger.’[35]

                Fortunately for the C.U.P. the Salonica Army remained loyal and ready to restore order; to grant, in effect, the Committee a second chance to exert their authority and the excuse to do so harshly. Whoever was behind the turmoil of 13 April, the result was that the Grand Vizier, Hilmi, quickly resigned, wisely followed by his Cabinet. In the evening volleys of rifle fire could be heard drifting across the Golden Horn from Stamboul to Pera where the worst was feared; however, other than a few members of the C.U.P. who forfeited their lives, most of the firing was in a spirit of rejoicing at the troops’ success. All was quiet the following morning, though no-one appeared quite sure who the new Grand Vizier was going to be. The Liberal Union filled the spaces in parliament vacated by the C.U.P.; Tewfik Pasha was named Grand Vizier;[36] and all that was left to accomplish, it seemed, was to placate the Third Army in Salonica by spreading the message that the uprising was a spontaneous gesture and was not directed at the party.[37] At first it looked as if this approach might succeed as the conflicting accounts reaching Salonica made the commander of the Third Army, Mahmud Shevket Pasha, reluctant to commit his troops. Eventually a compromise proposed by Kemal was accepted with alacrity: a volunteer force of regulars and reserves should march on Constantinople. This ‘Action Army’ (so named at Kemal’s suggestion) would, it was hoped, be seen as not being politically tainted, but, if things went wrong, the axe would fall on Kemal and the other junior officers, leaving Shevket’s hands clean.

                Although ‘great uneasiness’ prevailed in Constantinople, leading members of the new Government and the Commander of the 1st Army Corps initially ‘professed the greatest optimism’. This mood soon turned to near panic as the ‘Committee’s partisans feared assassination before help from Salonica could arrive, while the liberals and others — even neutrals — were terrified at the news from Salonica, and both were apprehensive of a move on the part of the Sultan.’[38] The Action Army marched on 16 April and had reached the walls of Constantinople six days later. The delay before the column arrived enabled the various Young Turks dispatched as attachés throughout the Continent to return hastily to take up their positions in the Action Army[39] and Shevket, realizing that the counter-revolution was not spreading but remained localized within the walls of the city, now assumed his place at the head of the column.[40] With the game now up the Sultan, it was rumoured, was prepared to foment a massacre within the city, which would have forced the intervention of the Great Powers to restore order but, if this was his intention, he had left it too late. Instead, Abdul Hamid now desired to switch sides and welcome the Action Army, while the Cabinet tried to reason with Shevket by sending deputations out to him proclaiming that the new Government was constitutionally based. In desperation, Rifaat Pasha, the new Foreign Minister, was instructed to approach Lowther with a request to allow Fitzmaurice to accompany a delegation of Deputies to Tchatalja. According to Rifaat, ‘it was the unanimous belief of the Cabinet that the Committee’s forces would more readily credit the statement that there was no attack on the Constitution if made by a foreigner, and that an Englishman would carry special weight.’ In the face of this entreaty Lowther felt that he ‘could not decline to take any step which might contribute to avert a collision with all its unknown consequences’, although his consent was only given with some reluctance, as he felt ‘very strongly how undesirable it is that the Embassy should be drawn into any kind of interference’. Lowther’s misgivings were allayed however for, ‘when Fitzmaurice reached Stamboul he found that other counsels prevailed and that it had been decided that the Deputies should go alone. The Deputation fared no better than its predecessors, and indeed failed even to obtain a hearing.’[41] Shevket moved on the night of 23/24 April. Aware finally of the city’s fate, and confident of his own personal survival (for had he not always been in favour of the Constitution?) the Sultan,

sent for his Chamberlain to read aloud to him: a new Conan Doyle story had appeared in the Strand Magazine, and as usual it had been immediately translated by the Press Bureau in Yildiz Kiosk. So Abdul Hamid passed the long hours, with a shawl over his knees, lying on a divan, smoking, listening to the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, while the Army of Liberation closed in round the Palace.[42]

On the following morning Ryan, walking along the Grand Rue de Pera and barely half a mile from the Embassy, found himself ‘on the edge of a minor battle front.’ By the evening of the 24th Pera, Stamboul and Galata had been secured by the Salonica forces and the counter-revolution was crushed.[43]

                Although he might have been personally sympathetic to the Young Turks, Tewfik’s appointment as Grand Vizier, coming as it did as a result of the uprising against the C.U.P., could not be sustained. Hilmi Pasha resumed his duties as Grand Vizier while Tewfik went to London as Ambassador. And, finally, the end had come for Abdul Hamid who was deposed in favour of his brother, Mehmet V Reshad, ‘a bibulous but kindly dotard’.[44] Lowther described the events of the 24th as ‘most nauseating’ though in his private letter to Hardinge he admitted he was ‘writing as I do while my blood is still hot if it ever is.’ As always his proclaimed attitude was ‘strictly impartial’ but he thought also ‘the Committee are by no means blind to the situation of the Germans who have so readily thrown over their old friend the Sultan for the Committee and the latter will use the Germans as long as it pleases them.’[45] Hardinge had hoped that the shock of the counter-revolution might have knocked some sense into the C.U.P. and made them less intransigent in their dealings with the British. His principle aim – of a rapprochement with Russia – was being bedevilled by the difficulty of dealing with the Young Turks who seemed unable to appreciate the British desire to maintain a peace of sorts in the Balkans. Hardinge was fast losing his patience. Grey, on the other hand, being somewhat boxed in by his ardent support of the Young Turks in 1908, was willing to give them another chance. ‘I see you are becoming pessimistic’, he wrote Lowther on 30 April, adding,

I was becoming so, on hearing that corruption was creeping into the Committee and the Young Turks. But I cannot help being impressed by the decision, purpose, discipline and strength which have characterised the leaders of the Army which is now in power. It is clear that we have greatly under-estimated the force at the disposal of the Committee. Who the Committee are, I do not know, and I do not like the idea of an anonymous and irresponsible directing body any more than you do. No doubt they have made plenty of mistakes. But it seems clear to me that the best elements in Turkey are on their side, and we must back up those elements and be sympathetic to them. Whether the chance of really permanent reform is great or small, we must back the chance as long as it exists, and I should like you to do everything in your power to keep in touch with the best men and to retain their confidence. I liked Kiamil, because he seemed to me a man of character and honesty, and a fine old fellow, though by all accounts his son appears to be a scoundrel. But there must be amongst the men now in power several of ability and character and good intentions, or they could not have done what they have in the way in which they have done…

However, in a thinly veiled attack on Lowther, Grey also thought ‘that during the last three or four months we have let ourselves slide too much into a critical attitude towards the Committee and the Young Turks…and we must be less critical and more sympathetic.’[46]

                Hardinge, temporarily adopting Grey’s line, and seeing in Fitzmaurice the éminence grise, wrote the following day to Lowther to caution him that the dragoman should be made to adopt a more considerate attitude towards the Young Turks, which was ‘the only practical line of policy to follow’ and was the prevailing feeling in London. Whatever hope for reform remained now obviously rested with the Young Turks ‘and if they do not meet with sympathy and cannot lean on us they will soon learn to lean on some other Power, and the splendid position which we had at Constantinople a few months ago will be lost.’[47] To Aubrey Herbert, who had returned to Constantinople following news of the counter-revolution, the position was already lost. When he had last been there four months previously ‘there was nothing in the world the Turks would not do for an Englishman. All that is changed now. Our Embassy have snubbed them whenever it was possible, have supported the people they most disliked.’[48] Not one to accept criticism meekly Lowther rallied support in what appeared to be an orchestrated campaign: he wrote ‘at great length’ to Grey that his aim throughout had been ‘that the Embassy should be in complete harmony with the Govt in power and with moderate and I believe best members of the Committee.’[49] In addition, Adam Block wrote privately to Hardinge:

There is a tendency among certain Young Turks, whose identity I cannot discover, to attribute to England, – to our Embassy, to our Press, and to England generally, – a share of the responsibility for the late attack on the Committee of Union and Progress (of April 13th and onwards), and arguing from that premiss [sic] they would wish to show that England is hostile to the work the Committee has taken in hand of regenerating the country and reorganizing the administration on liberal lines. This is quite unjust. Our Embassy has never shown any but the most sympathetic and encouraging attitude to the reform movement, and although the Embassy did identify itself to a certain extent with Kiamil, there is no ground whatsoever for stating that is [sic] has been or is hostile to the Committee. Criticism there no doubt was, but it was fair criticism and it was made with the intention of rendering a service…Sir Edward Grey’s speech and The Times leader on it were good, and I have had them translated and put in the local press, and I ventured to make some observations myself at the annual meeting of the Chamber of Commerce…[W]e must continue to instil into the public mind that the attacks made upon us are not justified…But the fact remains that there is a feeling being worked up against us. I attribute it to three causes. We put too much money on one horse in backing Kiamil through thick and thin, although it was evident that through his son he was mixed up with all kinds of undesirable people. Secondly the Levant Herald and Mizzi have done us incalculable harm. I think we must buy that paper out and run it ourselves. I believe Mizzi would sell…Lastly I attribute the reaction against England to the German subventions to the press in Europe, and in Constantinople, and to the telegraphic agencies here…All these agencies live by subvention and every speech of our public men, and every report and leader in our press reaches Constantinople in distorted form, and are duly reproduced and commented on in the local press. The Germans have their paper and are about to found another…The Germans are making most strenuous efforts to regain their influence, and their chance lies in the army. Many young officers are dazzled by Germany’s military pre-eminence and prestige, and I suspect Mahmoud Mouktar Pasha as one of the chief supporters of Germany. The army is to-day the Government and we may expect an increase of German influence. As I put it, we have got back to “Marshall” Law.[50] But I don’t believe that pro-German and Anti-British feeling is very deep or wide spread, and it is not spontaneous I am sure. We must go on working, maintaining the same sympathetic and encouraging attitude as long as the Turks are on the right track, and if we advertise our feeling a little more it will do no harm. The mass of people are ignorant and very inclined to judge by words rather than by facts: it is only natural as the facts to them are often unknown…[51]

Hardinge replied that, although the Turks would probably side with whatever they considered to be the strongest combination of Powers at any given time, yet ‘if peace and quiet continue in the Balkans for the next two years, and if in the meantime the Turks lean on Austria and Germany, they will, in my opinion, find that they have put their money on the wrong horse, and that it would have been much better for them to have made friends with the Bulgarians and to have leaned on the Powers of the Triple Entente.’[52]

                In this, Hardinge continued in his belief that some form of Balkan bloc with Turkey and Bulgaria as its main supporters was the surest way to deflate Austrian ambitions in the area; but the Turks would not play the game and it was still too soon to gauge the prospects of the new regime which now seemed dependent for its support not on popular acclaim but fear from the constant threat of military intervention. Isvolsky, lunching with Grey on the Admiralty yacht during Cowes’ Week that year, was worried: the outlook, particularly in Turkey, was most uncertain. While he hoped the new regime would succeed and believed it should be supported, nevertheless he thought the likely outcome to be failure which, he feared, would encourage the Austrians to come to an arrangement with Bulgaria by which Austria advanced to Salonica ‘while Bulgaria entered Macedonia with the promise of an immediate acquisition of new territory, and the prospect of Constantinople in the background…’ Grey could do no more than to promise to support the new regime ‘as long as there was any prospect of its success.’[53]

                For the moment however, the real problem was Isvolsky himself, as Fairfax Cartwright discovered while enjoying a few days break in Venice. His relaxation was interrupted when he chanced upon Isvolsky, who was also there, resting. The Russian harangued Cartwright for some considerable time, asserting that ‘Aehrenthal was vigorously intriguing among the little Balkan States, preventing a good understanding between Bulgaria and Servia — pushing Bulgaria upon Macedonia — Roumania upon Bulgaria, &c.’ Cartwright was forced to point out, judiciously, that ‘it did not require any intrigues on the part of Aehrenthal to keep up friction between Bulgaria and Servia, as those two countries disliked each other so cordially that if they were only left to themselves their relations to each other would always be indifferent.’ The hatred felt by Isvolsky towards Aehrenthal was so bitter, that any Austro-Russian rapprochement was, for the moment, out of the question.[54] Isvolsky, Hardinge had earlier maintained, ‘should realise the great advantage of war in the Balkans having been postponed to a later date when Russia may be in a better state of preparation, and I only hope that Russian statesmen will take the recent lesson to heart’.[55]

                The humiliation felt in Russia as a result of the Bosnian crisis would linger like a cancerous cell, eating away at that most fragile of entities, a nation’s prestige. For the present, there was a short breathing space to be savoured. By late 1910 Isvolsky had been replaced as Foreign Minister and it had become clear that Austrian ambitions in the region had been satiated. Grey was informed from Vienna in September that Aehrenthal had

no intention of allowing Austria-Hungary to be pushed by Germany further towards the South East of Europe and made to absorb still more Slav populations into her Empire. To do this would make her relations with Russia still more strained that they are at present, and Aehrenthal wishes to avoid this and would, I think, be satisfied if Austria-Hungary enjoyed a reasonable amount of influence in the Balkans instead of having to go there herself…I think it is quite clear that Aehrenthal dreads anything occurring which is likely to lead to a change in the “status quo” in the Near East. Aehrenthal does not love the new Turkish régime for itself — in a moment of expansion he once exclaimed to me “do you suppose I can sympathise with revolutionary committees and tribunals?”, —but he will do nothing to damage the prestige of the present Turkish Government and he hopes that for the peace of the Balkans the new régime at Constantinople will hold its own for some time to come. Should it go overboard, he is convinced that anarchy will follow, and this would endanger the peace of Europe; for him the new Turkish régime, bad as it may be, is the lid on the pot which keeps the stuff inside from boiling over, and he will do his utmost diplomatically to keep the lid from being blown away.[56]

For Grey, the strengthening of the military’s grip on the Government perhaps eased his fears of widespread constitutional reform and therefore made it more imperative to try to work with the Porte in an attempt to subvert the resurgence of German influence. As Hardinge had earlier remarked, ‘We may have to pass through a disagreeable period of one or two years, during which everybody’s influence in Constantinople will be struggling for supremacy, while ours will occupy a back seat.’[57] Lowther’s continuing antagonism would not make the task any easier.


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[1]    Ahmad, The Young Turks, p. 23 and note. ‘Our policy is Ottomanisation,’ declared Talaat Bey. ‘We must make ourselves one nation. It can be done. Look at Japan! She has changed the face of the Far East. We can do the same in the Levant.’ — F Yeats-Brown, Golden Horn, p. 72.

[2]    Hardinge to Goschen, 26 January 1909, quoted in, Heller, British Policy, p. 25.

[3]    Lowther subsequently reported that: ‘A section of the public were also very desirous of obtaining the services of General von der Goltz to reorganize the army, and so careful were they, in the early stages of the revolution, not to do anything that might give offence to Great Britain that I was approached as to whether His Majesty’s Government would feel any resentment at the employment of that officer.’ Annual Report for Turkey for the Year 1908, BD, V, p. 256.

[4]    As early as January 1907, the Foreign Office had received a report from Constantinople of rumours that a number of young Turkish naval officers might be sent to Germany for training, coupled with a recommendation that, to forestall this, an offer might be made to train the officers in the Royal Navy or, failing that, the United States Navy. Report by Commander Taylor, HMS Imogene, Annual Report for Turkey for the year 1906, BD, V, pp. 40-2.

[5]    Annual Report for Turkey for the Year 1908, BD, V, p. 256.

[6]    F Yeats-Brown, Golden Horn, p. 43.

[7]    Mark Kerr, Land, Sea, and Air, p. 122.

[8]    Annual Report for Turkey for the Year 1908, BD, V, p. 282.

[9]    Gamble to Lowther, forwarded to Hardinge, 23 June 1909, Hardinge mss., PRO FO 800/192.

[10]  Quoted in, Heller, British Policy, p. 24.

[11]  MacLean, Britain and her Buffer State, pp. 115, 126.

[12]  Sub-Committee of the C.I.D. on the Baghdad Railway: Southern Persia and the Persian Gulf, 26 January 1909, PRO Cab 38/15/2. In addition to Grey and Hardinge, the sub-committee consisted of Morley (chairman), Lloyd George (who retired from the committee on his appointment as Chancellor and was replaced by Churchill), Esher, Sir Richmond Ritchie, Captain Slade, Sir William Nicholson and Major-General Ewart. Ottley was the secretary.

[13]  As previously mentioned, Lowther had already referred to the fact that any monies obtained by the Turks as a result of the annexation crisis would be used ‘to furnish guarantees for the Bagdad Railway’. Lowther to Grey, tel. no. 327, 15 October 1908, BD, V, no. 382, p. 447.

[14]  Block to Hardinge, 17 February 1909, Hardinge mss., PRO FO 800/192; Lowther to Grey, no. 50, and minute by Mallet, 25 January 1909, PRO FO 371/749; Kent, Constantinople and Asiatic Turkey, p. 152.

[15]  Ahmad, The Young Turks, pp. 33-6; Ryan, Last of the Dragomans, p. 59; Shaw and Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire, vol. II, p. 279.

[16]  Lowther to Grey, tel. no. 52, 14 February 1909, BD, V, no. 569, p. 598.

[17]  Block to Hardinge, 17 February 1909, Hardinge mss., PRO FO 800/192.

[18]  Lowther to Hardinge, 2 March 1909, Hardinge mss., ibid. Block adopted a similar, if less strident, tone to Hardinge: ‘…it is only by foreign expert assistance that this country can be reorganized. But they seem not to understand it.’

[19]  Block to Hardinge, 17 February 1909, Hardinge mss., PRO FO 800/192; Ahmad, The Young Turks, p. 42.

[20]  Dyer, Nationalist Group of Officers, pp. 124-5 and note 2.

[21]  Lowther to Hardinge, 2 March 1909, Hardinge mss., PRO FO 800/192.

[22]  Lowther to Grey, tel. no. 56, 19 February 1909, BD, V, no. 589, p. 612.

[23]  Lowther to Grey, tel. no. 57, 19 February 1909, BD, V, no. 590, pp. 612-3.

[24]  Nicolson to Grey, tel. no. 147, 16 March 1909, BD, V, no. 696, p. 689. This left the Serbian question still to be resolved, which it eventually was after a series of further machinations and another humiliation for Isvolsky. For further details, see D W Sweet, “The Bosnian Crisis”, in Hinsley (ed.), op. cit., pp. 186-92. Isvolsky’s capitulation to a German demand to recognize the annexation was the final straw for Hardinge: ‘To prevent…another and more serious rebuff to Russia it will, in my opinion, be absolutely necessary to find a new Minister for Foreign Affairs, who shall be endowed with such character and qualities as Monsieur Stolypin possesses. This is, however, not an easy thing to find in Russia…’ Hardinge to Nicolson, private, 30 March 1909, BD, V, Editorial Addition to no. 807, pp. 763-4.

[25]  Also on 16 March, in acknowledging the separate Austro-Turkish Protocol, Grey revived the proposal for a Conference, ‘to deal with this question and others also’, as they involved an alteration to the Treaty of Berlin. However, on the following day, Grey learnt that the Austrians were now advocating a German suggestion that: ‘each point in programme of proposed Conference should be independent and formally settled by exchange of notes between the Signatory Powers as soon as it is ripe for such a purpose. Baron von Aehrenthal said that three points were practically ready for final approval by the Powers, namely, the Austro-Turkish Protocol, the Turco-Bulgarian Agreement, and proposed alteration of Article 29 of Berlin Treaty [relating to Montenegro]. His Excellency prefers Prince Bülow’s suggestion for settling these questions to idea of summoning Conference to do so.’ While there was an inclination not to raise any objection to the ratification of the Austro-Turkish Protocol, Hardinge recognized that the difficulty in so doing was their ignorance of Isvolsky’s views as to whether the ‘three questions of Bulgaria, Bosnia and Montenegro’ should be settled by an exchange of notes, which was, in his opinion, ‘greatly preferable at the present moment and by far the simplest method’, or by a Conference. However, when Hardinge learned, some time later, that Isvolsky was still ‘very keen on a Conference’ he was at pains to assure Nicolson that it was not at all Whitehall’s way of thinking: ‘We fully realize that it may be necessary to have a meeting of Ambassadors somewhere or other to regularize the situation; but we are very anxious that it should not be a Conference, where all sorts of tiresome questions — such as the Cretan question and that of the Capitulations — would inevitably be raised.’ Grey to Bertie, tel. no. 192, 16 March 1909, BD, V, no. 692, p. 687; D W Sweet, “The Bosnian Crisis”, in Hinsley (ed.), op. cit., p. 190. Prince Bülow’s ‘excellent’ suggestion would, according to the Foreign Office, ‘get us out of the difficulties of discussing Capitulations and Customs increase at present.’ Cartwright to Grey, tel. no. 76, 17 March 1909, BD, V, no. 700, p. 694; minute by Hardinge on Cartwright to Grey, tel. no. 86, 22 March 1909, BD, V, no. 735, p. 717; Hardinge to Nicolson, private, 10 May 1909, BD, V, no. 860, pp. 798-9.

[26]  Nicolson to Grey, tel. no. 150, 17 March 1909, BD, V, no. 701, p. 695. See also, Nicolson to Grey, no. 188, 23 March 1909; no. 189, 23 March 1909; no. 194, 24 March 1909; private letter, 24 March 1909, BD, V, nos. 752, 753, 761, 764 respectively.

[27]  Nicolson to Grey, private, 24 March 1909, BD, V, no. 764, pp. 736-7.

[28]  Grey to Nicolson, private, 2 April 1909, BD, V, no. 823, pp. 771-2.

[29]  Hardinge to Nicolson, private, 12 April 1909, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/342; an extract is also given in, Lowe and Dockrill, Mirage of Power, vol. III, pp. 465-6.

[30]  Minute by Mallet on Nicolson to Grey, no. 202, 29 March 1909, BD, V, no. 801, pp. 757-8.

[31]  Grey, Twenty-five Years, vol. I, p. 250.

[32]  Ryan, Last of the Dragomans, p. 70.

[33]  F Yeats-Brown, Golden Horn, p. 50.

[34]  Lowther did, however, add: ‘The fact that money was found on the troops does not necessarily mean that the money came from the Palace. The troops have recently been regularly paid and it is their habit to save for the day of their return to their homes, and they necessarily carry it with them…’

[35]  Lowther to Grey, no. 287, 20 April 1909, BD, V, no. 218, pp. 313-9.

[36]  Other appointments included Marshal Edhem Pasha as Minister of War and the former Ambassador in London, Rifaat Pasha, as Minister of Foreign Affairs. Tewfik’s appointment also had a calming effect on the Bulgarians, who had been on the verge of ordering General Mobilization. Buchanan to Grey, no. 32, 28 April 1909, BD, V, no. 857, pp. 795-6.

[37]  Ahmad, The Young Turks, pp. 40-3; Shaw and Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire, vol. II, pp. 280-1; Ryan, Last of the Dragomans, p. 59; Pears, Forty Years in Constantinople, pp. 260-71.

[38]  Lowther to Grey, no. 287, 20 April 1909, BD, V, no. 218, pp. 313-9.

[39]  While returning via Vienna, Enver Bey allegedly received a formal assurance from the Austrians that they would intervene to prevent Bulgaria and Serbia profiting from the current situation. Goschen to Grey, tel. no. 51, 20 April 1909, BD, V, no. 844, p. 788. When news of this alleged promise reached the Serbs, it was hotly denied; rather, they believed that the ‘rumour’ was being spread by the Young Turks ‘for reasons of internal policy’. Whitehead to Grey, no. 48 confidential, 28 April 1909, BD, V, no. 858, pp. 797-8.

[40]  Dyer, Nationalist Group of Officers, pp. 124-5.

[41]  Lowther to Grey, no. 287, 20 April 1909, BD, V, no. 218, pp. 313-9.

[42]  F Yeats-Brown, Golden Horn, p. 56. The story in question was The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans — see, R L Green (ed.), The Uncollected Sherlock Holmes, p. 112.

[43]  Ryan, Last of the Dragomans, p. 61.

[44]  Abdul Hamid was dispatched to Salonica until 1912 when he returned to Constantinople to prevent his capture during the Balkan Wars; his remaining years were spent in the Beylerbeyi Palace until his death on 10 February 1918. Shaw and Shaw, vol. II., p. 282; F Yeats-Brown, Golden Horn, pp. 64-7.

[45]  Lowther to Hardinge, 25 April 1909, Hardinge mss., PRO FO 800/192.

[46]  Grey to Lowther, private, 30 April 1909, BD, V, no. 219, pp. 319-20. See also, Kent, “Constantinople and Asiatic Turkey”, in Hinsley (ed.), op. cit., p. 150 and Heller, British Policy, p. 30. Grey added as a postscript: ‘If my assumption is correct and the best men are to be found in the Turkish Army, the weakness will be in civil administration: finance, taxation, customs, and so forth. The men who have control will be apt for military purposes and administration, they will not understand how to reform the Government: Success will depend on their trusting their own strength and realizing their own deficiencies. Having the power and the force firmly in their hands they should be bold in using foreign advisers in all civil departments, being confident that under a new and strong régime foreign assistance sought and employed by themselves voluntarily cannot lead to foreign control. I put these views before you, because it seems to me most important that we should be on the side on which there is hope for Turkey, and should concentrate our influence on the advice which is really important.’

[47]  Hardinge to Lowther, 1 May 1909, quoted in Heller, British Policy, pp. 30-1.

[48]  Fitzherbert, Greenmantle, pp. 86-7.

[49]  See, Lowther to Hardinge, 12 May 1909, Hardinge mss., PRO FO 800/192.

[50]  This was a pun on the German Ambassador to the Porte, Marschall von Bieberstein.

[51]  Block to Hardinge, 12 May 1909, Hardinge mss., PRO FO 800/192.

[52]  Hardinge to Lowther, 18 May 1909, Lowther mss., PRO FO 800/193A.

[53]  Memorandum prepared for the use of the Cabinet by Sir Edward Grey, 10 August 1909, PRO Cab 37/100/109.

[54]  Cartwright to Hardinge, private, 20 September 1909, BD, V, no. 870, pp. 807-9. Conversely, Cartwright believed that Aehrenthal ‘would welcome any drawing nearer to Russia.’ See also, Cartwright to Grey, no. 142, 5 September 1909, BD, V, no. 868, pp. 804-5. Aehrenthal thought ‘it was all the more necessary for the Great Powers to be very careful to avoid doing anything which might shake the prestige of the new régime in Turkey’.

[55]  Hardinge to Nicolson, private, 12 April 1909, BD, V, no. 823, pp. 771-2.

[56]  Cartwright to Grey, private, 28 September 1910, BD, V, no. 876, pp. 814-5. Cartwright added: ‘As regards the talk which was current this summer that Turkey was about to join the Triple Alliance, I think it is pretty clear that there is but little foundation for such rumours. Aehrenthal is no doubt pleased that Austro-Hungarian relations with Turkey should be on the best possible footing, but an alliance with Turkey would only bring with it worries and scarcely any corresponding advantages. It is also quite natural that the new Turkish régime should show sympathy for Austria-Hungary, a Power which, now that the Bosnian annexation crisis is over, covets no further Turkish territory, and always acts diplomatically in as considerate a manner as possible towards it…’

[57]  Hardinge to Lowther, private, 6 April 1909, Hardinge mss., PRO FO 800/192; see also, Heller, British Policy, p. 28.



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