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 5




Railways and Navies




Enver Pasha
Enver Pasha


Despite the reinstatement of Hilmi as Grand Vizier, real power resided in the hands of the commander of the victorious Third Army, Mahmud Shevket. Martial law was declared and would remain in force until 1911, while, in an attempt to prevent further trouble in the First Army, Shevket had created for himself the unprecedented position of Inspector-General of the first three army corps, which he assumed on 18 May 1909. In this position, being ostensibly military in purpose, he answered to no-one.[1] Kemal, who had marched at the head of the Action Army until Shevket stepped in, saw the uprising as being a direct result of the army mixing in politics; in this opinion he was joined by a number of like-minded officers. Together, joined by Dr Nâzim (a leading influence in the C.U.P.), they presented Shevket with a petition urging the separation of the army from politics. Shevket accepted the petition with a good grace and promptly ignored it. Undeterred, Kemal tried again at the annual congress of the C.U.P. at Salonica in late 1909 by proposing a resolution, which was passed by a large majority, that officers must choose between the Army or the C.U.P. This good intention was quickly undermined by the refusal of influential young officers to make the choice – with Enver at their head – combined with the realization that the C.U.P., which had signally failed to win over the masses, depended more than ever on the military.[2]

                Abdul Hamid had fostered the ideal of Pan-Islamism, if only for cynical reasons to enhance his own position as Sultan and Caliph; the movement excited little interest within the bounds of the Ottoman Empire outside of a small, interested coterie though it became a rallying cry for Asiatic Muslims in the provinces under British and Russian rule. The secular Young Turks called for a return of the constitution and the establishment of a Turkish state whose inhabitants should be, first and foremost, Ottoman citizens, subordinating to that ideal any prior allegiance to race or religion. The failure of this Ottomanizing policy to win popular support, as manifested by the counter-revolution, led to the adoption of a new policy of Turkification influenced by a movement among a small group of Turkish intellectuals at Salonica who advocated a state based on the unification of the Turanian people. The Young Turks took up the Pan-Turanian ideal, stripped it and remodelled it to suit their needs, and looked to the political union of all Turanians including the Turkish speaking enclaves of Caucasia, Azerbaijan and Northern Persia. The Turkification process began in earnest with the promulgation of the Law of Association on 23 August 1909: Albanians, Macedonians, Greeks, Armenians, Arabs and Syrians would be subject to Turkish law and administration; their children would have to attend Turkish schools where only Turkish was taught. To consolidate the changes, the headquarters of the C.U.P. was moved from Salonica to Constantinople.[3] However, the C.U.P. itself underwent an important transformation following the usurpation of power by Shevket; while authority continued to reside in the hands of the military, the Committee reverted to a civilian party intent on promoting a mass appeal.[4] In effect, the C.U.P. had become the opposition to Shevket with all the attendant strains this engendered and which led directly to the inevitable result created by this lack of headway: the party splintered. Such goings-on hardly endeared the party to the British Ambassador — relations continued to deteriorate and Lowther’s pessimism now infected the Foreign Office; Lowther had sneezed and Grey had caught cold.

                Meanwhile, the relentless task of modernization continued; with Shevket now in control, first priority was given to the military. In pursuit of this Shevket travelled to Würzburg, there to witness the German Army manoeuvres and where, amongst a crowd of notables, he was joined by Enver Bey (who had resumed his duties as Military Attaché at the Berlin Embassy). Also present in the crowd of curious onlookers was, as one might perhaps expect, General Sir Ian Hamilton; however, next to Hamilton stood a politician whose position as President of the Board of Trade would seem to have little in common with the manoeuvres. The politician was Winston Churchill and he had an ulterior motive for being in Würzburg which had nothing to do with his love of martial display — to raise, yet again, the now perennial problem of the Baghdad Railway. Churchill and Hamilton approached Shevket with the information that a British syndicate would shortly seek a concession to build a railway from Koweit to Baghdad via Basra. The news, when it reached Constantinople, threw Grand Vizier Hilmi into a state of great excitement: he poured out his anxiety to Marschall, the German Ambassador, admitting that they would rather ‘pay a million or two pounds a year than open the way into the interior of our country to…British influence.’ However, he did not see how he could refuse to offend Britain on ‘whose help we depend on various questions.’ If demands for a concession were made Hilmi wished to reply that, although the concession had already been granted to the Germans, ‘the Porte would consider allowing British capitalists to participate in the Persian Gulf–Baghdad section in equal shares with the Germans and eventually the French.’ Marschall believed that the Grand Vizier was at last beginning to realize that the policy of the British was one of self-interest, whose aim was expansion northwards from the Persian Gulf.[5]

                Confirmation of this came when Hardinge made it quite clear that British assent to the Turkish request for a 4% increase in customs dues would be withheld ‘until we get all we want, and that is the full control and construction of the Baghdad end of the Baghdad Railway, and possibly a promise of a concession for a railway from Baghdad to the Mediterranean.’[6] Further proof of British designs in Mesopotamia was offered to Hilmi in December 1909 over what became known as the ‘Lynch affair’. The issue itself was a simple one: a ‘fusion scheme’ to amalgamate an Ottoman navigation company, operating on the Euphrates, with one owned by the Englishman H. F. B. Lynch. Although Hilmi tended to favour the scheme, if (again) only to avoid offending British susceptibilities, he perhaps did not count on the storm of press opposition to the project, orchestrated, or so it was believed, by Shevket in league with General von der Goltz. Despite gaining support in Parliament Hilmi’s position was becoming impossible; he was caught between the hammer of Shevket and the anvil of avoiding offence to Britain while at the same time fearing the effects of British policy. The only way out was resignation, and Hilmi took it. The Ambassador in Rome, Hakki Pasha, was recalled and commenced his duties as Grand Vizier on 12 January 1910. Lowther’s opinion was that, until the new Grand Vizier ‘has got into the saddle’, the Lynch business would be best left alone, while Hakki, quickly sensing the lie of the land, refused to sanction the scheme and, having thus mollified Shevket, hoped to control him by bringing him into the Cabinet as Minister for War.[7]

                Yet another British rebuff was delivered to the Porte soon after Hakki’s accession. The news that the Greeks would shortly launch a new armoured cruiser which, it was thought, would be completed by the autumn, threw the Government into a panic. When the vision therefore presented itself of the Turks not only losing Crete to the marauding warship but all the other islands as well they embarked on a desperate search for a vessel of their own to counter the Greek ship. Their first call, upon the British, proved fruitless: the Admiralty refused to sell the Turks a ship. It was the opinion of the head of the British Naval Mission, Rear-Admiral Gamble, that the Turks would be, for some years, ‘quite incapable of managing any modern vessels and that with what they have and without the help of the English officers it would be dangerous to attempt to go as far as the Dardanelles.’[8] A new naval programme was endorsed by the Turkish Cabinet which, Gamble informed Lowther, would envisage expenditure being spread over ten years for ‘not Dreadnoughts but good cheaper fighting ships.’[9] While Lowther believed that all Gamble’s ideas would be adopted, the Admiral himself remained pessimistic: ‘They are talking very big about a programme of construction and the engagement of the officers I want’, he informed the Admiralty on 27 January, ‘but nothing practical has been done and until the actual steps have been taken I cannot believe in any of their promises or assurances.’[10]

                In any event it was now too late for Gamble: he saw Lowther on the last day of January and ‘sprung his resignation’ on the Ambassador which, though not entirely unexpected, Lowther still found ‘very tiresome’. Gamble had, Lowther confided privately to Hardinge,

always adopted the attitude that he was in the Turkish service and need not keep me informed of what was going on – I am bound to say he has worked very hard – too hard and has taken the whole business so much to heart that it has caused him sleepless nights and the climate here never suited him. So broken is he in health that he declared that he would be quite unfit to take out the fleet…Halil told me that in the event of Gamble going he would certainly ask for another British Admiral — I hope he will but the Turks will be rather sick at our not being able to sell them ships and then losing our Admiral…[11]

All that Lowther could advise was for the Turks to get on the best of terms with Bulgaria which would then allow Turkey to threaten Greece without themselves being subject to a flanking attack by the Bulgarians.

                In April 1910 Rear-Admiral H. P. Williams took over Gamble’s unwelcome job; by then Lowther was already bemoaning that, thanks to the British refusal to build ships for Turkey, ‘they have got 4 destroyers in Germany and American and German builders are like swarms of locusts round the Admiralty now.’[12] Predictably, thoughts in Turkish naval circles turned to dreadnoughts despite Gamble’s opinion and much to the disgust of Williams, who recommended torpedo boats instead. In the prevailing emergency created by the new Greek acquisition Williams pushed the Turks to bid for two small British pre-dreadnoughts, Triumph and Swiftsure, which had originally been ordered by Chile but had been acquired by the Admiralty during the Russo-Japanese War; ignoring this sensible advice, the Admiralty in London offered instead two ancient Royal Sovereign class. Not surprisingly, the Turks turned to Germany though ironically only to purchase, in August 1910, two equally ancient German battleships.[13]

                This latest snub by Britain compounded the continuing problems raised by the situation in Mesopotamia; by the running sore of the customs increase; by the British attitude to Egypt and Crete; and by the increasingly vocal public criticism of the Young Turks, and signalled the end of any hope of a return to the optimism felt by both sides in the late summer of 1908. The situation was not improved when, on 31 October 1910, Sir Arthur Nicolson, the Ambassador at St Petersburg and a confirmed Russophile, took up his duties, albeit reluctantly, as Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office in place of Hardinge who went to India as Viceroy. By this time Lowther was openly under the spell of Fitzmaurice; whenever the dragoman was absent the Ambassador complained to Nicolson of feeling ‘very lost without Fitzmaurice…[and his] amazing insight into the tangle of Turkish intrigue.’[14] The situation had become so bad that long-time British Turcophile Wilfred Blunt advocated Turkey joining the Triple Alliance to guarantee her against the threat posed by Russia or France![15] A further alarming report was received from Lord Kitchener who, having lost the prize he most coveted – India – to Hardinge, wanted Egypt as a consolation or, failing all else, the Ambassadorship at the Porte where he believed he could do no worse than Lowther, and probably a good deal better. Travelling to Cairo via the Turkish capital he noted of the melancholy situation at Constantinople that ‘We are out of it altogether, as the present Ambassador does nothing, and the German is allowed to do as he likes…’[16] So pessimistic were Lowther’s reports that Grey was forced to reassure Asquith that it was still ‘premature to assume that the new regime in Turkey will definitely adopt and pursue an oppressive and aggressive policy…’[17]

                Indeed, one of the few optimistic reports came from Churchill, who had spent September 1910 cruising in the eastern Mediterranean. At Smyrna he had taken a special train – with cow catcher and escort against brigands – and travelled the entire length (260 miles) of the British Aidin railway. The governor-general of the province, he reported to Grey, was a ‘thoroughly able and Europeanised Turk.’ At Constantinople he found the Sultan uninteresting, ‘indeed gaga’, however he was impressed with certain of the Young Turks, particularly Djavid and Talaat, and was all for them being encouraged and supported. Repudiating Blunt’s opinion that the best course would be an agreement with the Triple Alliance, Churchill would ‘advise them to remain in the position of the courted party rather than the one actually engaged’ and to keep out of all wars for five years! Blunt gathered that Churchill ‘was well aware of the mistakes made by our diplomacy at Constantinople, but he excused these by saying that we were hampered by our position in Egypt.’ To Grey, Churchill admitted that the ‘only view I have formed about this part of the world of ruined civilizations and systems, and harshly jumbled races is this — why can’t England & Germany come together in strong action and for general advantage?’[18] Such naïve musings were soon to be fatally undermined by events in Constantinople which went hardly noticed in London. As Wilfred Blunt made clear on 16 November, ‘Two things of immense importance have happened, though they excite little attention here. At a banquet given to [General] von der Goltz, [Ambassador Marschall von] Bieberstein has publicly declared the Kaiser Wilhelm’s warm interest in Young Turkey and the strengthening of the Ottoman Empire as a military power. Also in Persia, the native Press has declared for an alliance with Turkey and Germany.’[19]

                Some things however could not be ignored: any possibility of Churchill’s opinion carrying weight at the Foreign Office was destroyed as reports came in of the Annual C.U.P. Congress which indicated not only that the policy of Turkification would continue but which raised once more the spectre of pan-Islamism. This particular phantom provided Lowther with the opportunity to justify his hard-line stance, but at the risk of setting alarm bells ringing in Whitehall where the mere mention of Islam was enough to induce jitters. In addition, this came hard on the heels of two further blows: first, Isvolsky had himself appointed to the more congenial position of Ambassador at Paris, bequeathing his place to Sergei Sazonov who shared none of the former’s passion for the Straits. One of the incoming Foreign Minister’s first acts was to accompany the Tsar on his visit to Potsdam where the Russians promised Germany a free hand with the Baghdad Railway in return for German acceptance of a Russian railway monopoly in northern Persia. The German draft of this agreement went too far in attempting to isolate the Russians from their entente partners and Sazonov refused to sign — for the time being. Word leaked out, nevertheless, that something was up.[20]

                The second blow came as a result of the negotiations that Djavid had been engaged in since the summer to arrange a foreign loan in Paris; when these fell through, after restrictions to which Djavid could not agree were placed upon the granting of the loan, Sir Ernest Cassel’s group in London was approached with similarly unsuccessful results. Instead, within a week, German financiers had stepped in and organized a loan of 11 million lira.[21] Nicolson had all this in mind when he wrote to Lowther on 23 January 1911:

We are still puzzled as to what actually took place at Potsdam…I am quite at a loss to understand [Sazonov’s] policy, as he seems to me to be giving everything away and receiving nothing in return…Personally I am not particularly keen on seeing the present Turkish regime too well provided with funds. They would only assist towards the creation of a power which, I think, in the not far distant future – should it become thoroughly consolidated and established – would be a very serious menace to us and also to Russia…and there is the additional danger that it would be able to utilise the enormous Mussulman populations under the rule of Christian countries. I think that this Pan-Islamic one of out greatest dangers in the future, and is, indeed, far more of a menace than the “Yellow Peril” which apparently produces such misgivings in the mind of the German Emperor. Germany is fortunate in being able to view with comparative indifference the growth of the great Mussulman military, she having no Mussulman subjects herself, and a union between her and Turkey would be one of the gravest dangers to the equilibrium of Europe and Asia.[22]

Nicolson’s fears regarding the Pan-Islamic movement were in the process of being allayed as a result of the Albanian revolt in support of the provision of an autonomous Albania within the Empire. Given the early support of many Albanians for the Young Turks it was a revolt which could not be ignored but which brought home the final recognition that the policy of Ottomanization, which aimed at a unified Empire, was now out of the question. In Constantinople this provided the impetus for a split between the traditionalists, who continued to embrace a return to Islam, and the secularists, who favoured a policy of Turkish nationalism. Riven by factions, the C.U.P. continued in its decline as Shevket, now a member of the Cabinet, increased his power.[23]

As the first tangible signs of the new Turkish naval programme, contracts were placed in May 1911 with Armstrong’s and Vickers for the construction of two 23,000 ton super-dreadnoughts, tentatively named Reshad-i-Hamiss and Reshad V, mounting ten 13.5 inch guns.[24] Admiral Williams was not pleased; he, like Gamble, favoured smaller vessels and his continual run-ins with the Ottoman Minister of Marine worried Grey who thought the Admiral was harming British interests with the result that the Turks would turn elsewhere when his contract run out.[25] Just this eventuality seemed to have occurred when reports from a reliable source in Berlin reached the Foreign Office in July 1911 ‘of certain intrigues going on to displace the English Naval Officers for German ones.’[26] Confirmation that something was amiss came in September when it was believed that not only had German officers been engaged, but they were to have better contracts than the British mission and would be superior in rank to everyone on the station except Williams! The blame quickly fell upon the Admiral who was reported to take his duties somewhat lightly, to the extent that most of the actual work was done by his second-in-command. Goschen, the British Ambassador in Berlin – and ‘an old Constantinople man’ – was horrified at the prospect of such an important asset of influence being lost. ‘It is a thousand pities’, he complained to Nicolson, ‘that Gamble was not succeeded by a more active man.’[27]

                Lowther had to act quickly. He ascertained that the Minister of Marine had been pressing the Naval Attaché in Berlin to approach the German Government ‘with a view to obtaining the services of an Executive officer for the command of the Flotilla and for Torpedo instructional purposes and of an Engineer officer for duty in the Flotilla as instructor in turbine machinery.’ In one respect, as a good deal of the equipment for the navy was of German origin, the request was not unusual, but Lowther clearly saw it as the thin end of the wedge, especially as he doubted that the Germans could work side by side with the British.[28] When the German Government agreed in principle but found it could not spare the officers for the time being Lowther immediately approached the Grand Vizier who, though he denied any knowledge of the plan to employ German officers, was persuaded to wire the Attaché in Berlin to do nothing. ‘So’, Lowther reported triumphantly, ‘I may have nipped the thing in the bud. If it comes up again in a definite shape I think I ought to be told that all the Turkish officers [being trained] in the English Navy will at once be bounced.’ Although Lowther thought the whole thing an act of stupidity on the part of the Naval Attaché and a clique at the Turkish Admiralty the plan had been ‘materially assisted by Williams’ who was also guilty of ‘Extraordinary behaviour in being always absent…’[29]

                During the crisis Williams had, in fact, been in England on the pretext of trying to find further men to be employed in the Naval Mission while, in reality, hoping to be appointed by the Turks to the much more congenial position of overseer of the dreadnought being built by Vickers. It was no surprise that, when Williams’ contract expired early in 1912, he was not invited to renew it, though Lowther’s fear that a German Admiral would be appointed was unfounded, as the Turks again requested a British Admiral and even stated a preference for the return of Gamble. Understandably, Gamble had had enough. The appointment went instead to Rear-Admiral Arthur Limpus.[30] Despite the scare concerning the German naval officers, it suited the Turks to have the Germans reform their army and the British their navy; apart from gaining, in this way, what they believed to be the best advice for each service, it also provided the Turks with ammunition to fight the charge, to which they were always sensitive, that one Power was predominating at the Porte.

                At the Foreign Office it did not take Nicolson long to realize the danger inherent in continuing with Hardinge’s hard line policy towards the Turks and, as a result, he was forced to ignore his incipient dislike of the Turkish regime in an attempt to prevent them being thrown into the waiting arms of Germany. In so overcoming his inclination, Nicolson was not entirely unlike his German counterparts: at the Foreign Office in Berlin Kiderlen, while openly lending a sympathetic ear, privately was ‘always brutally cynical about his Young Turk friends and never takes the trouble to hide his contempt for them.’[31] One obvious opportunity for a conciliatory approach was presented by the Baghdad Railway negotiations, particularly as, in Nicolson’s view, the possibility of Britain ever obtaining complete control over the Gulf section was now lost. Emboldened by the German loan, the Turks however were not in the mood to accommodate the British and presented instead, on 1 March 1911, their own proposals for the Gulf section by which 40% of the shares would remain in Turkish hands with only 20% going each to Germany, Britain and France. While the Foreign Office was merely disappointed at these terms, Hardinge (now in India) was scandalized and pursued a vigorous anti-Ottoman line which was given additional significance by his fear of Turkish penetration in the Gulf. The problem was compounded when, at the C.I.D. meeting on 4 May 1911, military opinion was decidedly against intervention should the situation deteriorate in the Gulf.[32]

                Following this, in an endeavour to appease the Viceroy, Grey wrote to Hardinge that the two objectives now current in the negotiations were, first ‘to secure agreement as to the limits of Turkish territory in the region of the Persian Gulf, which is consistent with our strategic interests and prestige’ — this would involve recognition of Turkish suzerainty over Koweit, as long as the Sheikh remained autonomous; and, second, to have such a stake in the railway as to enable fair treatment for British trade and a say in the routes to be followed. Grey, at least, was being realistic:

Till we get these two points [he concluded] we cannot give way about the Turkish customs. The weak point is that, even without increase of Turkish customs, the Turks and Germans can at a pinch complete the railway to Basrah, and as we cannot prevent that, it will be a mistake for us to push them so hard that negotiations fail and that it is completed without our having any say.[33]

A new scheme was mooted, whereby Britain, Russia, France, Germany and Turkey would each hold an equal share. ‘By admitting France, Russia and Turkey to a share in the southern section’, Nicolson argued, ‘we have the advantage of bringing our two friends in and together with us acquire the major part of control. While, on the other hand, it is we, and not Turkey, who are making concessions, as we always held that we ought to have at least 55% of the control. When coming to discuss what I consider to be the far more important questions of the Gulf, we shall be in a better position to insist on Turkey conceding to our requests, as we can point to the conciliatory disposition which we have shown in the treatment of the railway question.’

                Grey put the new proposals to both the Germans and Turks on 29 July 1911; Nicolson wearily anticipated ‘that the discussions with Turkey will be both lengthy and difficult’.[34] Indeed, the negotiations would continue to drag on for another two years, although the important concession, as far as the British were concerned, was the tacit, if temporary, acceptance of Baghdad as the terminus of the line;[35] in the meantime, both Germany and Turkey had their attention diverted from the prolonged saga of the railway by more immediate crises — in the case of Germany the Agadir affair, which rumbled on throughout the late summer of 1911, and with regard to Turkey, the Tripolitanian War.[36]


The Italians, who had long had territorial ambitions on the North African littoral, put their plan into action while the other Powers were distracted. The Turks had, in part, added to the tension when they dispatched, in October 1910, a new vali (Ibrahim Pasha) to Tripoli who promptly started a campaign against the Italian presence.[37] Relations quickly became strained during the summer of 1911 after Italian protests of alleged mistreatment of its subjects by the Ottoman authorities to which the Turks replied by threatening to expel Italian subjects and boycott Italian goods. As early as 26 July Grey was approached by the Italian Ambassador complaining that Italians were excluded from tendering for port works in Tripoli and that, if an Italian tried to buy land he was unsuccessful, ‘whereas a German could acquire whole tracts quite easily.’ All in all, the Italian Foreign Minister was ‘in great difficulty as to Tripoli’ and wanted Grey to be aware of that fact ‘as he might be obliged to take some step.’ This attempt to ascertain the British position in advance was not wholly successful. Grey declared his sympathy with Italy ‘in view of the very good relations between us’ but pledged only to express his opinion to the Turks ‘if need be’ that, if Italy’s hand were forced by demonstrably unfair economic treatment, ‘the Turkish Government could not expect anything else.’[38]

                The situation had deteriorated so much by the middle of September that the prospect of the war sought so actively by the Italians loomed frighteningly on the horizon. Relaxing at his Northumbrian retreat, Grey suggested to Nicolson on 19 September that it would be ‘tiresome if Italy embarks on an aggressive policy and the Turks appeal to us.’ In that case Grey intended to refer the hapless Turks to Italy’s alliance partners, maintaining that it was most important that neither France not Britain should side against Italy. Grey had in fact gone a good deal further, by promising the Italian Ambassador that if they could provide proof of Turkish mistreatment of Italian subjects, he would absolve them by treating their actions as self defence while accusing the Turks of bringing the crisis upon themselves. ‘We must hope’, he concluded, ‘that before Italy does anything the Turks will have done something to enable us to give this answer, if an appeal is made to us.’[39] Grey, however, was neither the first nor the last politician to be caught out by the precipitate action of a minor Power hungry for status. Four days later, on 23 September, Italian merchant vessels in Turkish harbours were warned to leave by their consuls, while a Turkish transport, en route to Tripoli, was shepherded by Italian cruisers; the Italians called up the reservists as news leaked out in the Press in both America and Europe that an expeditionary force would shortly sail with the intention of occupying Tripoli.[40]

                The same day, Grey (still fishing at Fallodon) could not believe that Italy would occupy Tripoli by force; he thought the most likely eventuality would be a naval demonstration to frighten the Turks and assuage Italian public opinion. Above all – as, in the equations of the Mediterranean naval balance and despite the fact of the Triple Alliance, the Italian fleet was, conveniently if illogically, used to cancel out the Austrian – Grey cautioned that Italy must not be thrown wholly into the arms of Germany and Austria. The British attitude ‘must be one of expectancy and neutrality.’[41] It was with precisely this object in mind that when, on the previous day, the councillor at the Turkish Embassy had called on Nicolson to ask Britain to ‘say a friendly word at Rome in favour of moderation’ the Under-Secretary ruled out any form of intervention, despite the Turkish protests that the consequences might be felt world-wide.[42]

                Sympathy for the Italian position was, at first, widespread based on a combination of self-interest and dislike for the regime at Constantinople. Admiral Fisher though, for one, was appalled: ‘Every schoolboy knows’, he wrote Esher in disgust, ‘that we have a Mohammedan existence and the Turks love us, but all we do is to kick their arses!’[43] Yet even a previously ardent admirer of the Young Turks like Churchill had come round to preferring Italy to Turkey ‘on all grounds — moral and unmoral.’ And this judgment was reached despite the fact that Churchill predicted that the war would throw Turkey into the arms of Germany more than ever[44] thus completing the causeway, Germany-Austria-Roumania-Turkey. If there were to be any advantage gained it would come from the possibility that Italy might be detached from the Triple Alliance and would consequently seek the support of Britain and France. This would result in a concomitant increase in German irritation at being left out of the North African carve up after France, following the confrontation at Agadir, had now secured Morocco, while Italy – the ‘poor spinster ally’ of Germany – obtained the ‘noble possession of Tripoli.’ ‘The reactions of this Italian adventure’, Churchill warned, ‘threaten to be very deep.’ Grey would not have been unduly alarmed at Churchill’s prognosis as the Foreign Secretary was of the opinion that the Turks were already in close relations with the Germans.[45] Besides, once having launched the war, the Italians still had to win it! Churchill was staying at Balmoral at the time, before moving on, a few days later, to join the Prime Minister (Asquith) at Archerfield House where he would stake his claim for the Admiralty. Within that short period the Italians had thrown away, as they would again in the future, the incalculable asset of goodwill by their heavy-handed actions; even Churchill had to admit by then that ‘the action of Italy looks now quite indefensible.’[46]

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[1]    Ahmad, The Young Turks, pp. 48-9.

[2]    Dyer, Nationalist Group of Officers, pp. 124-6.

[3]    Influence of Pan-Turkish Political Aims on Turkish Military Policy, 1914-1918, prepared by the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence, PRO Cab 1/30; see also, Shaw and Shaw, vol. II, pp. 259-63.

[4]    For this reason the Second Congress (1909) was held in public.

[5]    Marschall to Foreign Office, 25 and 26 October 1909, Dugdale, German Diplomatic Documents, vol. III, pp. 367-8, 385.

[6]    Hardinge to Marling, 16 November 1909, Lowther mss., PRO FO 800/193A. Marling was the Chargé in Lowther’s absence.

[7]    Lowther to Hardinge, 5 January 1910, Hardinge mss., PRO FO 800/192. Ahmad; The Young Turks, pp. 56-68.

[8]    Lowther to Hardinge, 18 January 1910, Hardinge mss., PRO FO 800/192.

[9]    Lowther to Hardinge, 8 February 1910, ibid.

[10]  Quoted in, Halpern, Medt Naval Situation, p. 315.

[11]  Lowther to Hardinge, 1 February 1910, Hardinge mss., PRO FO 800/192.

[12]  Lowther to Hardinge, 23 February 1910, ibid.

[13]  Halpern, Medt Naval Situation p. 316.

[14]  Lowther to Nicolson, 27 June 1911, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/349.

[15]  Blunt, My Diaries, 3 October 1910, vol. II, p. 333.

[16]  Kitchener to Lady Salisbury, 8 December 1910, quoted in, Magnus, Kitchener, p. 254. Kitchener added, ‘I was rather afraid my presence might attract attention and [be] thought to mean something, though I refused to see any of the Young Turks; so after 3 days I thought it wiser to go on to Alexandria.’

[17]  Grey to Asquith, 22 December 1910, quoted in, Robbins, Sir Edward Grey, p. 226.

[18]  Churchill to Grey, 9 September 1910, WSC Comp. vol. II, pt. ii, pp. 1022-3; Blunt, My Diaries, 14 October 1910, vol. II, pp. 335-6.

[19]  W S Blunt, My Diaries, entry for 16 November 1910, vol. II, p. 344. Blunt added, ‘ Frank Lascelles looked in on me. He admits that Grey has made a terrible hash of his policy abroad, especially at Constantinople. He disapproves of the partitioning of Persia, where he was once British Minister, and says that the Russians will never leave it. The agreement about the railways will leave everything in the hands of Germany...’

[20]  Taylor, Struggle for Mastery, pp. 463-4; Nicolson, Lord Carnock, p. 336.

[21]  Ahmad, The Young Turks, pp. 75-80.

[22]  Realizing that he had, perhaps, gone too far, Lowther then attempted to play down the threat of pan-Islamism. Nicolson to Lowther, 23 January 1911, Lowther mss., PRO FO 800/193A.

[23]  Shaw and Shaw, vol. II, pp. 287-92.

[24]  The Naval Annual 1912, pp. 67, 156. Only Reshad V, subsequently called Reshadieh, was completed. The Armstrong’s ship was laid down in December 1911 but work was suspended the following year when the company demanded a better guarantee of payment and the contract was cancelled. Work on Reshadieh, which was more advanced, was suspended temporarily but later resumed.

[25]  Halpern, Medt Naval Situation, p. 317.

[26]  Goschen to Nicolson, 20 July 1911, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/349.

[27]  Goschen to Nicolson, 8 September 1911, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/350.

[28]  Lowther to Nicolson, 10 September 1911, ibid.

[29]  Lowther to Nicolson, 20 September 1911, ibid.

[30]  Halpern, Medt Naval Situation, p. 321.

[31]  Goschen to Nicolson, 20 July 1911, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/349. The Young Turks, according to Kiderlen, were ‘too busy assassinating journalists to have time for statesmanship!’

[32]  Minutes of the 110th meeting of the C.I.D., 4 May 1911, PRO Cab 38/18/29.

[33]  Grey to Hardinge, 16 May 1911, quoted in Lowe & Dockrill, Mirage of Power, vol. III, pp. 468-9. Nevertheless, Hardinge continued to hold out for a 50% British share in the railway, in which stance he was supported by the Board of Trade. A Standing Sub-Committee of the C.I.D. was appointed by Asquith (now Prime Minister) after the May meeting to investigate the railway scheme and eventually delivered its report on 14 July. Its recommendation was that, in view of the concession regarding Turkish suzerainty over Koweit, it would be preferable to site the terminus at Basra. This gave Nicolson the chance to tackle the Board of Trade. Now that the terminus was to be at Basra, ‘an entirely new set of conditions is presented.’ Nicolson, with ‘some little difficulty’, finally induced the Board to drop the 50% scheme in favour of a new proposal of 20% each for Britain, Russia, Germany, France and Turkey. Having thus obtained their assent on 26 July he wrote the following day to Hardinge, the last bastion of opposition, of how desirable it was to include Britain’s entente partners. In any case, France was ‘not particularly pleased’ at the prospect of being left out while the Russians had ‘suggested’ that they be invited to take a share. Persian Gulf: Report of the Standing Sub-Committee, 14 July 1911, PRO Cab 38/18/45.

[34]  Nicolson to Hardinge, 27 July 1911, Nicolson mss, PRO 800/349

[35]  As Ulrich Trumpener has noted: ‘By August 1914 the whole line was still in a badly truncated state. Through train service operated from the vastly expanded terminus on the Asiatic side of the Bosporus, Haydar Pasha, via Konya to an obscure village at the foot of the Taurus Mountains. On the other side of that range the track continued through Cilicia to the foot of the Amanus Mountains. Beyond that second gap, which was almost 100 kilometres wide, trains ran to Aleppo and on to the almost finished Euphrates bridge at Jarabulus, with improvised service possible as far as Tall Abyad. There was also a stretch from Baghdad northwards to Samarra in service. Despite its truncated condition, the Baghdad Railway on the eve of the war carried close to 600,000 passengers and 116,000 tons of freight annually, though most of the freight, especially between Konya and the Bosporus, moved in one direction only, from the interior to the sea.’ Trumpener, “Germany and the End of the Ottoman Empire”, in Kent (ed.), The Great Powers and the End of the Ottoman Empire, p. 117.

[36]  The two events were connected: when the Italians were informed of the Panthersprung, which precipitated the Agadir crisis, by their German allies on 1 July 1911, San Giuliano, the Foreign Minister, decided that the time was ripe for the question of Tripoli to enter ‘an active phase’. Rodd, Social and Diplomatic Memories, p. 141.

[37]  R. J. B. Bosworth, “Italy and the End of the Ottoman Empire”, in Kent (ed.), The Great Powers and the End of the Ottoman Empire, p. 58.

[38]  Grey to Rodd, 28 July 1911, no. 119, PRO Cab 37/107/112.

[39]  Grey to Nicolson, 19 September 1911, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/350.

[40]  The Naval Annual 1912, pp. 146-7. The press leakage resulted in strict news censorship being imposed.

[41]  Grey to Nicolson, 23 September 1911, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/350.

[42]  Grey to Lowther, 22 September 1911, PRO Cab 37/107/112.

[43]  Fisher to Esher, 20 September 1911, F.G.D.N., vol. II, pp. 383-6. ‘Our strength,’ Fisher added, ‘is Mohammedan but we are too d—d Christian to see it! and fool about Armenian atrocities and Bulgarian horrors!’

[44]  This was also the opinion of Crowe at the Foreign Office — see Heller, British Policy, p. 53.

[45]  See Grey’s comments: Minutes of the 114th meeting of the C.I.D., 23 August 1911, PRO Cab 38/19/49.

[46]  Churchill to Nicolson, Balmoral, 26 September 1911, and Churchill to Nicolson, Archerfield, 29 September 1911, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/350. Churchill agreed with Nicolson ‘that we have nothing to do but to stay quiet & await developments.’



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