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 6




The Turks Attract No Bids




Tewfik Pasha
Tewfik Pasha


The descent to war had taken but a scant number of hours. A conspiracy of silence had been maintained in Rome, where Ambassador Rodd complained that it was difficult to keep in touch with responsible people as Ministers carefully avoided the capital at that season; nevertheless, as with the press leak of the expeditionary force, the Ambassador was able to gather information regarding military concentrations and the secret mobilization of the Fleet, all of which was duly passed to London. Then, on 26 September, an Italian ultimatum was presented to Turkey — the explanation for the suddenness of this action, as explained to Rodd, was that it was necessary so as not to give the Young Turks time to take retaliatory measures. With winter approaching and knowing they had to act sooner or later the Italians ‘accepted the risk of considerable criticism in bringing matters rapidly to a head.’[1]

                The same day, the Italian Ambassador in London, Imperiali, professed to Nicolson of being ‘entirely ignorant of the intentions of his Government’, though, he added, London had been constantly warned ‘that the feeling in Italy has been running very strong in favour of decided action.’ Although Nicolson foresaw further trouble ‘in Albania and elsewhere’ as a result, the British attitude would be one of neutrality, yet not without the unstated assumption of a distinct leaning towards the Italians. This bias did not last long.[2] When, on 27 September, Imperiali called on Nicolson to announce, sheepishly, the dispatch of the ultimatum[3] to the Porte he was told that this was an act of war to which England could not lend a statement of support.[4] The Turkish reply was, of course, considered unsatisfactory and, with the expiration of the time limit at 2.30 on the afternoon of Friday 29 September 1911, a state of war existed.[5]


                 In Constantinople the receipt of the Italian note and its uncompromising nature reduced the Cabinet to panic; the position of the Grand Vizier, Hakki Pasha, who prided himself on good relations with the Italians, was left untenable and he resigned. The 79-year-old Kiamil Pasha, who had been ousted in the aftermath of the suppression of the 1909 counter-revolution, was first approached but wisely refused to consider the invitation unless given an assurance of non-interference from the C.U.P. In the rapidly deteriorating situation even the Committee was not the force it once was; opposition to its policies had become increasingly vocal, while the crisis which had resulted from sections of the party splintering to form new groups such as the Progress Party and the New Party further weakened its power base. Ever the opportunist, Shevket turned on the C.U.P., blaming the débâcle in Tripoli on the party’s intervention in the army! This, at least, was a novel change from the usual complaint of army interference in the party. Also, the C.U.P. suffered as a result of its visible association with Germany – Italy’s ally – so that, in a repeat of 1908, pro-British sentiment rocketed. In desperation the 73-year-old Said Pasha, long associated with Abdul Hamid, and whose previous term of office in the wake of the Young Turk uprising of 1908 had lasted but a fortnight, was appointed Grand Vizier on 30 September to preside over a cobbled-together coalition.[6] One of Said’s first acts was to appeal again, unsuccessfully, for British intervention.[7]

                The opening shots of the war were fired on the day of Said’s accession; they were directed by the Italians towards two Turkish torpedo craft off the Albanian coast, and succeeded in driving one ashore and setting it ablaze and causing the other to retreat to the port of Preveza where she was later sunk. More of these small Turkish boats, principally anti-smuggling weapons,[8] were summarily dealt with as the Italian plan of attack revealed itself: one division of the fleet to clear the Adriatic; a second to sweep east through the Aegean to guard the flank against the main body of the Turkish fleet; while a third division blockaded the Tripolitaine coast.[9] A minor diplomatic problem emerged immediately with the first part of the plan after a furious Austrian protest — the Italians could have their little war, but they must keep it to themselves. The British found themselves in a similar position, unwilling to help the Turks but not wanting to alienate the Italians so that, when the British vice-consul in Tripoli requested a British warship be sent to that port as a precaution, the Foreign Office categorically refused.[10]

                On 1 October the Italian Admiral Faravelli approached the town of Tripoli with his squadron and demanded its surrender. The Governor refused to capitulate but requested that time be allowed to evacuate foreign nationals; Faravelli assented. Admiral Poë was notified the same day of an Italian blockade of all ports in Tripoli. On the morning of 3 October Faravelli’s ships prepared to bombard the forts and eventually commenced firing at 3.15 p.m., the honour of the opening shot going to the Admiral’s flagship, Benedetto Brin. Firing was broken off at sunset when all the forts, bar one, blazed against the darkening sky. The following morning, as an Italian torpedo boat warily nudged into harbour, it was fired upon from Fort Hamidieh, not yet completely out of action. This was the signal for the guns of the fleet to renew their attack and the lone defenders of Tripoli quickly succumbed. On 5 October the first landings of 500 marines were made; the previous day a similarly sized detachment had landed at Tobruk. The Ottoman Empire was beginning to crumble, the demolition job being started, against all odds, by the Italians. In Constantinople the only action available to the populace was to subscribe their names to a vow not to eat macaroni![11]

                The bulk of the Ottoman fleet retired to the safety of the Straits. ‘Turkey has not even an armed dinghy outside the Dardanelles’, declared Fisher.[12] In London the storm of press criticism over the Italian action continued unabated forcing Grey into a public posture of withdrawing his sympathy from the Italians, delivering a stiff protest to Imperiali, and following a more even-handed policy (if never actively resorting to a pro-Turkish line). If Grey’s private position did genuinely shift in disgust at Italy his principal Foreign Office officials nevertheless maintained their pro-Italian orientation. In Nicolson’s judgment, it was ‘exceed-ingly foolish that we should displease a country with whom we have always been on the most friendly terms and whose friendship to us is of very great value, in order to keep well with Turkey, who has been a source of great annoyance to us and whose Government is one of the worst that can well be imagined.’[13] Louis Mallet – a protégé of Hardinge’s – whose position as head of the Eastern Department commanded some weight, also adopted a strident anti-Turkish line, ironically in the circumstances, as Mallet would go out to Constantinople in 1913 as Lowther’s replacement, charged with the mission of attempting to improve relations! A more conciliatory tone was adopted by Hardinge himself, in India, and Kitchener in Egypt though here the motive was not hard to discern – the ever present fear of Muslim agitation – and could not be ascribed to a positive pro-Turkish bias. Even this argument did not impress the forthright Mallet, who professed ‘not [to] believe in the bugbear of Moslem resentment against us and [to] consider that Italy is doing us a service in her attack on the Turkish Empire.’[14] The most notable convert to the Turkish cause was Churchill, who had now altered his position of September, particularly so in late October when he took over from McKenna at the Admiralty and so came under the direct influence (albeit, at his own invitation) of Fisher.

                A proclamation of British neutrality was issued on 3 October; the following day Grey was visited by the nervous Greek minister who passed on information obtained by his Government that Turkey, thwarted and humiliated in Tripoli, was planning an attack on Greece and, further, that the British Government was well aware of this intention. Gennadius pleaded for protection in such an eventuality. Grey did all he could do in the circumstances: deny any knowledge of a planned Turkish attack, point to the declaration of neutrality, and underline the British position of awaiting events rather than anticipating them.[15] The fear that the war would spread, especially to Europe, was (Greek rumours to the contrary) the result of Italian actions and not Turkish intentions. With the relentless press campaign against the Italians continuing, it did not take much imagination to perceive, in the Italian naval actions off the Albanian coast, the necessary steps preparatory to landings there. Before long, precisely this was reported as fact forcing the Italian Embassy in London to issue a categorical public denial that any landings were planned in any parts of the Ottoman Empire other than Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, a denial prompted also by Austrian protests at the Italian action.[16]

                By 12 October four Turkish appeals for intervention, ‘one more vague than the other’, had been directed to the Foreign Office. The gist of these was that the Turks would, perhaps, be ready to recognize the Italian occupation as a fait accompli, although this applied only to the ‘more reasonable Turks, as the situation will probably be altered if the hotheads of the Committee were to obtain predominance.’ Nicolson reported privately to Hardinge that the only definite Turkish proposal, emanating ‘very privately and confidentially’ from the new Grand Vizier Said Pasha, and which Nicolson had not communicated to the other Powers, was for Tripolitania to become an autonomous province under the governor-generalship of the Khedive of Egypt, with the Italians being evacuated. Although the Turkish Ambassador, in forwarding the proposal, evidently thought ‘that the bait offered was an exceedingly tempting one’ for Britain, Nicolson was dismissive, if not contemptuous. The Italians, he insisted, would not consider such a proposal for a minute: ‘I think it shows the perplexity of the Turkish Government’, he informed Hardinge, ‘as it is difficult to conceive a more childish proposal.’[17] Hardinge wanted to know, ‘Were we squared by Italy? because I do not otherwise understand how Italy could dare to move in Mediterranean as her communications are entirely at the mercy of our Fleet.’[18] This aspect was also not lost on Mallet who argued that the possession of Tripoli would actually weaken Italy so long as Britain maintained naval supremacy. Yet proposals would soon be debated in the Admiralty to evacuate the Mediterranean and cede control to the French.

                Sir Arthur Nicolson positively exuded an air of studied resignation, as if life was a trial to be borne rather than an experience to be enjoyed; keeping thus in character, by the middle of October he was wearily reconciled to the war dragging on ‘for a considerable period’.[19] On this occasion however this pessimistic view was generally accepted throughout the foreign ministries in Europe as typified by Aehrenthal in Vienna who predicted, accurately, ‘a long continuance of the war, if not in a very acute form of it, at least in the form of a kind of passive resistance on the part of Turkey, a state of things which would increase the unrest in the Balkans, and cause much trouble and worry to the Powers.’[20] Meanwhile, the Turks, accepting the loss of the coastal towns, were busy conducting an effective guerrilla campaign in the barren interior of Tripoli, led by Enver and Kemal who were forced to co-operate for the common cause despite their personal antipathy and who had successfully enlisted the aid of the Senusi tribesmen. By December the Italians had been compelled to commit 76,000 troops to the campaign;[21] long before this, fears had been aroused that the lack of progress in compelling the Turks to the peace table would result in the Italians seeking to undertake more decisive action directed elsewhere, where it was felt it would do more harm — at the heart of the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish attempt to win friends, combined with Russian fears that an Italian attack on the Dardanelles would result in the closure of the Straits, focused attention on Constantinople during the last week of October 1911. Although it appeared that the first loser would be the German Ambassador, Marschall, who was tainted by Germany’s alliance with Italy, yet he himself did not see things this way. ‘Though our position here is difficult’, he reported to Berlin, ‘I can win the day, but only on one condition — that Italy does not fall upon us in the rear…We have been faithful allies to Italy and we might well expect her to observe the moderation towards the Turks which our position in Turkey urgently requires.’[22]

                This was precisely the moment when the Entente Powers could have benefited from a firm display of unity to capitalize on Marschall’s temporary discomfiture. Instead they played into the wily German’s hands. Lowther had indeed been in close touch with his French and Russian colleagues (Bompard and Tcharykov) to begin with but, by 18 October, chinks were beginning to show in the united front as Lowther became aware that the Russian Ambassador, variously described as a ‘vain and ambitious busybody’ and having ‘too much imagination’, had approached some Turkish ministers in an attempt to come to ‘an understanding with Turkey on all their questions.’[23] This approach coincided with a demand by Isvolsky in Paris that the French agree to support Russia in seeking to revise the Straits’ rule at a time when Sazonov, who was ill, was isolated while recuperating in Switzerland. Precisely what game Tcharykov was playing Nicolson could not entirely fathom, though some clues reached him secretly via Cambon, the French Ambassador to London. Tcharykov had had a private audience with Said Pasha and had left a letter with the Grand Vizier, a copy of which the Russian had impetuously shown to Bompard. The horrified Frenchman reported immediately to Paris from where his telegram was relayed to Cambon in London and, through him, to Nicolson. The Permanent Under-Secretary was similarly alarmed: Tcharykov, so Nicolson informed Hardinge,

appears to have written Said Pasha a private letter expressing, as he says, his own personal views, in which he offered to Turkey a guarantee by Russia of the Straits and the adjoining territories, and also an assurance that Russia would see that the Balkan States remain tranquil and would not in future be a cause of disquietude to the Turks. In return for this Russia requested that her vessels should have free passage through the Straits, and he also held out the hope of concessions in regard to increased customs dues and certain railway connections between the Anatolian and Caucasian railways. If he had limited himself to speaking solely in the name of Russia – though I am quite sure he went very far beyond any instructions which he might have received – we might have viewed the matter with equanimity, but he told his French colleague that he had also added that this arrangement had received the approval of the British and French Governments, and that it would be a great advantage to Turkey to be sure of the decisive support of the British navy and of the financial aid of France which is a most extraordinary statement to have made, as we were perfectly ignorant that he was taking any steps at all.[24]

Nicolson thought that to leave in the hands of the Grand Vizier ‘a document practically stating that he could count on the naval support of England and the financial aid of France without either country having been consulted on the subject, is about the strongest measure which I have ever heard of’ and he suspected that, when the position of Said’s fragile coalition had been hanging in the balance during the secret session of the Turkish Chamber, the Grand Vizier had utilized the document to secure a vote of confidence. Yet, despite being given a ‘strong hint’ by Nicolson to find out exactly what was going on, Lowther had been fobbed off easily by the Russian.[25] Instead Tcharykov was partly disowned by his own side — by Neratov, who was standing in as Foreign Minister for the convalescing Sazonov. Though the Russians were inclined to use the opportunity presented by the war to raise the question of the Straits, it was not until Sazonov left Switzerland early in December that he discovered just how far the Ambassador had gone — at which point, as will be seen, the axe was quickly lowered.[26]

                During this time Lowther had also remained in contact with the ex-Grand Vizier, Kiamil Pasha, to whom he indiscreetly reported his discussions with Said. Just as indiscreetly Kiamil kept a written record of these meetings with the British Ambassador which then came into the possession of Marschall. He, in turn, was able to report to Berlin on 31 October the ‘certain information’ that Said had suggested a British-French-Turkish entente on the Tripoli question which had been ruled out by London and Paris. Kiamil then accused Said, separately, of working towards a Balkan Confederation which would mean, of necessity, an entente with Germany and Austria whereas, Kiamil reasoned, the current Mediterranean crisis called for an entente with Britain and France.[27] Said, certainly, was deeply suspicious of the Russian proposal and on the same day that Marschall’s cable was dispatched to Berlin another, sent by the Turkish Government to its Ambassador in London, emanated from Constantinople. The Turks now desired to enter into an alliance with Britain alone (initially) but which would eventually come ‘within the orbit of the Triple Entente’. They also proposed, in an attempt to break the deadlock on the field of battle, to modify their previous offer regarding Tripoli by creating instead an autonomous vassal state under an Arab dynasty but, this time, with a nod to the Italians who would be able to participate in the administration in an advisory capacity.

                Nicolson was again convinced that Italy would never accept such a solution, while the more important question of the alliance was put to the Cabinet the following day, 1 November, when Grey casually reported on ‘a rather naif communication from the Ottoman Government’ received through the medium of Ambassador Tewfik. In the circumstances, it was agreed that the proposals could not be entertained while the war continued and Britain remained neutral but that, when peace was restored, ‘we shall be prepared to do all in our power to reciprocate the Turkish wish for a solid and friendly understanding.’[28] Privately, although the idea of an alliance or intervention on Turkey’s behalf was out of the question, it was not thought ‘wise to slam the door in their faces or to adopt too reserved an attitude.’ The one dissentient was Churchill. On the morning of the Cabinet the new First Lord of the Admiralty had been visited by the Russian Naval Attaché who mentioned, in passing, that the Russian Government was hoping to bring about ‘very much more friendly relations with Turkey’ culminating in a regrouping in which Turkey would be cordially associated with the Triple Entente. ‘Don’t you think’, Churchill inquired of Grey, ‘that this aspect should be considered before the rather summary reply is given to the precipitate Turkish proposal for an alliance?’[29]

                Churchill’s modest inquiry came only days after he had been holed up with Fisher at Reigate Priory in Surrey.[30] The ‘reluctant’ Admiral had been recalled from semi-retirement in Lucerne and was enjoying immensely his new-found status as Winston’s guiding light.[31] In the course of this intensive briefing of the new First Lord by the old First Sea Lord it would be difficult to imagine that Fisher did not make his views on Turkey known to Churchill; certainly, the Turco-Italian war was discussed.[32] The war had given Fisher a renewed opportunity to voice his preferred option, ‘from a sailor’s point of view for fighting purposes’, of a ‘quadruple alliance’: Russia, Britain, France and Turkey.[33] Fisher’s views were well known: that Lord Salisbury had been a ‘d—d fool’ for insulting the Muslim world when he declared that, in Turkey, Britain had backed the wrong horse; that Britain was the greatest Mohammedan Power on earth yet if Islam held up its little finger there was at once unrest in the Egypt, Persia and India; and so on. Marschall, ‘the greatest German the world has known’ in Fisher’s opinion, was the real ruler of Germany’s world policy: the Kaiser was his ‘facile dupe’, the Chancellor his ‘servile copyist’ and the Foreign Minister his ‘tool’! It all added up to the Admiral’s continuing lament: ‘The Mohammedans hold the key of the world and we send any d—d fool that passes by…to try to snatch it out of the iron hand of Marschall’.[34]

                Following the Cabinet on 1 November Churchill refused to let go of the Turkish proposal but put off any action — until he received a letter from Djavid Bey, which had been written personally to Churchill to coincide with the Turkish appeal for an alliance. Addressing Churchill as a sincere friend of Turkey and of the Young Turks, Djavid begged him to use his ‘important and influential position’ to advance the cause of Anglo-Turkish friendship. ‘Has the time arrived for a permanent alliance between the two countries?’ Djavid earnestly inquired.[35] The entreaty soon produced an effect as, after first complaining to Grey that their Cabinet colleagues ‘were rather inclined to treat a little too lightly the crude overture which the Turkish Government have made’, Churchill then delivered to the Foreign Secretary a lecture which could have been written by Fisher and which contained most of the Admiral’s maxims: ‘we must not forget that we are the greatest Mahometan power in the world’; ‘I wish you had a good man at Constantinople’; ‘Turkey is the greatest land weapon which the Germans could use against us’. Churchill was clearly moved by the news that had filtered through of the Italian massacres perpetrated against the local Arab population – ‘Italy has behaved atrociously’ – but, to complete the reversal, he now also believed there was ‘more to gain from Turkish friendship than from Italian policy’ and he therefore recommended a sympathetic and respectful consideration of the Turkish appeal.[36] Grey admitted that he had not meant the response to Turkey ‘to be brusque like my thumb nail sketch of it to the Cabinet’ and promised Churchill that a reply of ‘Sugar and spice and all that’s nice’ had now been drafted, adding ‘you will I am sure never have read anything more mellifluous.’[37] Indeed Churchill himself was guilty of over-reaction for, while not altogether enamoured of Tcharykov’s machinations, which in fact had caused intense irritation, Grey would certainly have welcomed a better Russo-Turkish understanding and, to facilitate this, was prepared to adopt a more conciliatory line in favour of the Turks than Nicolson.

                In furtherance of this aim, Grey informed the Russian Ambassador, Benckendorff, of Tewfik’s approach but apparently forgot to let his own man in Constantinople know as Lowther lamented a fortnight later: ‘I heard from Bompard who got it from Tcharykov who got it from Petersburgh that Sir E Grey had told Benckendorff of a proposal made by Tewfik’.[38] In any case, it is doubtful if public opinion in Britain would have allowed Grey to move towards an accommodation with Italy, more particularly after 6 November when Imperiali announced that Italy had annexed Tripoli — a decision that caught Grey by surprise and which condemned the war to be a drawn out affair with, always, the lingering possibility that it might spread elsewhere as the Italians continued to make little headway in the unforgiving arena of north Africa.[39] Indeed, the Foreign Office had become aware of German apprehensions that Italy contemplated some action at Salonica, where a boycott of Italian goods had been in force since 1 October, though Nicolson remained doubtful of this or any attempt to capture ‘an island or two’ as, despite the prior debates in the C.I.D., he failed to see what impression this would produce at Constantinople. Additionally, he could not imagine ‘that [Italy] contemplates for one moment an attempt to force the Dardanelles, as this would be a most dangerous and probably disastrous proceeding.’[40] The Admiralty also was not unduly concerned by the prospect of the war spreading; on 20 November Battenberg nonchalantly advocated the withdrawal of the six pre-dreadnought battleships comprising the British Mediterranean Fleet as they were serving no useful purpose.[41] On the other hand, illustrating the fragmented British approach, Marschall reported to Berlin that Lowther had informed the Porte on 13 November that Britain would oppose an Italian attack on Beirut, Smyrna, Salonica or the Dardanelles in deference to the importance of her maritime trade.[42]

                As the forgotten little war lingered on, the latest news from Constantinople concerned a hint dropped by the Grand Vizier to the French Ambassador that, if the Powers recognised the Italian annexation, the Turks would consider they had violated all treaties respecting the integrity of the Ottoman Empire and would press for a conference to be convened to decide on the compensation they should receive.[43] ‘I don’t know’, Lowther reported resignedly to Nicolson, ‘that there is very much use in my sending on the various fantastic and sometimes childish proposals towards an arrangement that Said emits.’[44] Lowther was not being very helpful: Nicolson’s fear that, in event of an Italian attack or blockade, the Turks would ‘take defensive measures, which would practically block the Straits’ was improbably laid to rest by Lowther. The Ambassador casually noted that, although the Admiralty would probably have definite views, ‘as far as I can make out, the possibility of blocking by sinking ships is quite out of the question. It would take about five, one on top of the other, and the Turks could never get them to fit. Moreover there would have to be a line of about six of these.’ Apparently, the art of mine warfare was felt to be beyond the capabilities of the Turks, British Naval Mission or not!

                Tcharykov, aware that time was running out to achieve his ambition of a revision of the Straits treaty, and anticipating that the bigger the fait accompli Sazonov was presented with the harder it would be to disown, flew his kite a little higher. The first intimation of this was received in London when Tewfik saw Grey on 1 December to tell him ‘that the Russian Ambassador in Constantinople had made certain proposals to the Turkish Government amounting to an alliance with Turkey.’ Disinclined to accept this report at face value, Grey believed that these new proposals amounted to no more than those put by Tcharykov to Said Pasha in October, but now placed on an official basis — as such, he requested from Tewfik an aide-memoire to confirm the proposition that, in return for the free passage of the Straits to the exclusion of the warships of all other Powers,

Russia would engage to defend the Straits in conjunction with Turkey in the event of their being attacked by…a foreign Power, to assure Turkey of her co-operation in the execution of railway projects in Asia Minor, and to act as an intermediary for the realisation of an entente with the Balkan States.[45]

The intended reply was to have been along the lines that Russia could make any proposal she cared to Turkey to aid in the direct defence of the Straits and there would be no British opposition, but that any alteration to the rules governing the passage of the Straits could only be made with the consent of all the parties to the international treaties. Britain would not oppose the question being raised, although Nicolson hinted that the position adopted would be the same as in 1908: free passage of the Straits for all.[46]

                Marschall, who soon became aware of the Tcharykov proposal, confided to Lowther that, although the Turks were ‘somewhat exercised over the war with Italy, it was nothing compared to their anxiety over the question of the Straits which the Russians had put forward.’ Indeed, if the Turks took up the proposal, Marschall maintained that it would be the beginning of the end for Constantinople so that, eventually, the Ambassadors would be replaced by vice-consuls, convinced as he was that Russia ‘had determined to abandon the Baltic and would establish a large arsenal in the Black Sea and thus already counted on the privilege of passage being secured.’[47] Marschall was equally adamant that Germany should in no way connive with Russia over the Straits and insisted, under threat of resignation, upon German support for Turkey.[48] In Berlin the most ardent Turcophile was the Emperor himself; on the other hand, the Foreign Minister, who officially sided with Italy, could nevertheless look on with a certain degree of equanimity as the Great Power interests most threatened by the actions of Italy were those of Britain and France. A clash with either or both would result in the Italians hurriedly seeking to strengthen the ties of the Triple Alliance.[49] Kiderlen was, therefore, not unduly perturbed by Marschall’s threat, believing that Turkey would get all the support she needed from Britain and France, though when he fished for an answer from the British Ambassador, Goschen ‘abstained from rising’ to the fly. Goschen instead reported that, according to his Serbian colleague, a compact between Turkey and Russia would be regarded in the Balkans as a sign of Turkish weakness and would further increase her difficulties in that region. Possibly aware of this themselves, the Turks had cried off claiming ‘the moment was not opportune for discussing such an important question.’[50] In any event Nicolson was now convinced that the Turks were not in the least inclined to fall in with the Russian proposals, which he thought emanated solely from the active brain of the ‘great busybody’ Tcharykov, who was ‘very anxious to make a name for himself.’

                By 6 December Sazonov had finally reached Paris, learned the full extent of the Isvolsky/Tcharykov intrigues, and immediately set about repudiating them. Within a week the storm had passed and Nicolson was able to inform Lowther on 11 December that it was now being denied in the papers that Russia had made any move at Constantinople; he presumed the matter would now be dropped.[51] Just in case, Grey saw Tewfik the following day to repeat the British position that opening the Straits to Russian warships could not be sanctioned if it resulted from unilateral action. When he became aware of this Lowther reported gleefully that Tcharykov had either made a fool of himself or had been made a fool of by his Government; however his satisfaction stopped just short of being total as he quickly realized that the general impression in Constantinople, promoted especially by the Germans, was that the Russians would never have forwarded the proposal without previously obtaining British consent![52] Sazonov complained that Tcharykov ‘had been making a mess of things for some time past and had persisted in disregarding what he knew to be the views of his own Government.’ Characterizing the views of Tcharykov as ‘ultra Turcophil’, Sazonov claimed he had no objection to his Ambassadors holding beliefs of their own but that they should never work directly against their own Government: in disregard of this cardinal precept, when Tcharykov had first approached Said ‘he had received the most categorical instructions to keep within certain clearly defined limits yet he had jumped over all the barriers.’[53] Sazonov’s remarks regarding Ambassadorial independence could equally well have been directed at Isvolsky: with Ambassadors such as these, there was a distinct danger of the Russian tail wagging the dog. Tcharykov at least had climbed too far out on a limb and Sazonov had wielded the saw — he was recalled in March 1912 and was not appointed to the Council of the Empire as was customary for returning Ambassadors. The failure of Tcharykov’s gamble, following Isvolsky’s abortive attempt to raise the question of the Straits, signalled the end of diplomatic attempts to resolve the issue and handed the initiative to the Russian Admiralty.[54]



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[1]    Rodd, Social and Diplomatic Memories, pp. 145-6.

[2]    For example, Nicolson admitted that ‘the general impression in the Press here, [is] that Italy is taking advantage of the Morocco question to establish her claims in Tripoli, and some of our papers have been exceedingly severe on her in consequence.’ Nicolson to Goschen, 26 September 1911, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/350.

[3]    The Italian Government, having decided to occupy Tripoli and Cyrenaica, had given Turkey ‘24 hours in which to announce her willingness to facilitate the occupation; failing which the occupation would be carried out without her.’

[4]    Nicolson to Grey, 27 September 1911, PRO Cab 37/107/112.

[5]    On the same day, Kitchener arrived in Egypt to take up his duties as consul-general.

[6]    Ahmad, The Young Turks, pp. 91-6; Shaw and Shaw, vol. II, p. 290.

[7]    Grey to Lowther, no. 264, 4 October 1911, PRO Cab 37/107/124.

[8]    Described by Fisher as ‘one-pounder Custom House boats.

[9]    The Naval Annual 1912, pp. 160-1; Fisher to Spender, 13 October 1911, F.G.D.N., vol. II, p. 392.

[10]  Summary of Events of Turco-Italian War, PRO Adm 116/1152.

[11]  F Yeats-Brown, Golden Horn, p. 75.

[12]  Fisher to Spender, 13 October 1911, F.G.D.N., vol. II, p. 392.

[13]  Quoted in both Heller, British Policy, p. 54 and C J Lowe, “Grey and the Tripoli War”, in Hinsley (ed.), British Foreign Policy Under Sir Edward Grey, p. 318.

[14]  Quoted in, Lowe, “Grey and the Tripoli War”, ibid.

[15]  Grey to Elliot, no. 46, 4 October 1911, PRO Cab 37/107/126.

[16]  The Naval Annual 1912, pp. 170-1.

[17]  Nicolson to Hardinge, 12 October 1911, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/351.

[18]  Hardinge to Nicolson, 15 October 1911, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/351. Hardinge maintained that he had ‘never heard of a worse case of brigandage than the seizure of Tripoli by Italy. When I come to think of it, we have far worse cause for complaint against Turkey in Baghdad and Mesopotamia than ever the Italians had in Tripoli. It is the pernicious example of Austria in Bosnia and Germany in Morocco that has given the cue to Italy…’ Hardinge, like Fisher, could visualize the coming of the great Armageddon (but unlike the Admiral prophesied that it would occur in 1913 rather than Trafalgar Day, 1914). This was Fisher’s most favoured date – see, for example, Fisher to Arnold White, November 1911, F.G.D.N., vol. II, p. 416 – though, the next month, writing to Pamela McKenna, he preferred September 1914: ibid., p. 419.

[19]  Nicolson to Bax-Ironside, 16 October 1911, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/351.

[20]  Fairfax Cartwright to Nicolson, 26 October 1911, Nicolson mss., ibid.

[21]  Report on the Embarkation Committee, 31 December 1911, The Naval Annual 1912, p. 170; Dyer, Nationalist Group of Officers, p. 128; Halpern, Medt Naval Situation, p. 193; Shaw and Shaw, vol. II, p. 290.

[22]  Marschall to Foreign Office, 17 October 1911, Dugdale, German Diplomatic Documents, vol. IV, pp. 60-1.

[23]  Lowther to Nicolson, 18 October 1911, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/351.

[24]  Nicolson to Hardinge, 2 November 1911, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/351.

[25]  Nicolson to Lowther, 30 October 1911; Nicolson to Hardinge, 2 November 1911, ibid.

[26]  O’Beirne to Nicolson, 2 November 1911, Nicolson mss., ibid.

[27]  Marschall to Foreign Office, 31 October 1911, German Diplomatic Documents, vol. IV, pp. 63-4.

[28]  Asquith to the King, 2 November 1911, quoted in Lowe & Dockrill, Mirage of Power, vol. III, p. 470.

[29]  Churchill to Grey, 1 November 1911, Grey mss., PRO FO 800/87.

[30]  The Cabinet which prompted Churchill’s letter was on Wednesday, 1 November; Churchill had spent the previous Saturday, Sunday and Monday (28-30 October) at Reigate in his assignation with Fisher.

[31]  ‘With much reluctance I obeyed an urgent summons and spent Saturday, Sunday and Monday in a country house at Reigate with Winston and other Cabinet Ministers.’ – Fisher to John Leyland, 7 November 1911, F.G.D.N., vol. II, p. 411. The other ministers were Lloyd George, Haldane and Rufus Isaacs.

[32]  Fisher to Churchill, 28, 29, 30 October 1911, WSC Comp. vol. II, pt. ii, pp. 1300-3. Fisher also used the example of the war to illustrate the difficulty of landing a large invasion force on enemy territory: see, Fisher to Spender, 13 October 1911, F.G.D.N., vol. II, p. 392.

[33]  This was a long held view of the Admiral’s: see, for example, Fisher to Isvolsky, 15 October 1908, F.G.D.N., vol. II, pp. 197-9.

[34]  Fisher to Arnold White, 1 October 1911, F.G.D.N., vol. II, pp. 387-9.

[35]  Djavid Bey to Churchill, 28 October 1911, WSC Comp. vol. II, pt. ii, pp. 1368-9.

[36]  Churchill to Grey, 4 November 1911, Grey mss., PRO FO 800/87. Nicolson did not think the Italians guilty of the ‘outrages and excesses’ which had been splashed in the press though he would admit that they had used ‘severe measures’ against the Arabs: Nicolson to Hardinge, 2 November 1911, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/351.

[37]  Grey to Churchill, 9 November 1911, WSC Comp. vol. II, pt ii, pp. 1370-1. Apparently mollified by Grey, Churchill replied politely, but non-commitally, to Djavid on 19 November.

[38]  Lowther to Nicolson, 15 November 1911, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/352.

[39]  Grey to Rodd, 6 November 1911, PRO Cab 37/108/144.

[40]  Nicolson to Fairfax Cartwright, 13 November 1911, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/351.

[41]  Mark Kerr, Prince Louis of Battenberg, p. 233.

[42]  Marschall to Foreign Office, 14 November 1911, German Diplomatic Documents, vol. IV, p. 65.

[43]  Bertie made the position plain to Nicolson on 8 November: ‘Besides the treaties of 1856 [Paris] and 1878 [Berlin] which guaranteed the integrity of the Ottoman Empire to which Turkey was party, there is the treaty between Great Britain, Austria and France of April 15th 1856 by which they guaranteed jointly and severally the independence and integrity of the Ottoman Empire as recorded in the Treaty of Paris. Any infraction was to be considered a casus belli and the Signatories were to come to an understanding with the Porte as to the measures to be taken. Turkey not being a party to the Treaty cannot call upon the 3 Powers to act on their engagements to each other but we are in an awkward position as regards our Paris and Berlin Treaty engagements towards the Porte.’ Bertie mss., PRO FO 800/180.

[44]  Lowther to Nicolson, 15 November 1911, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/352.To lance this particular boil Nicolson favoured, on the whole, the proposals emanating from Vienna, where Aehrenthal was endeavouring to resuscitate the concert of Europe, which perhaps explains his peevishness with the Turkish Ambassador on 13 November. Tewfik called on Nicolson to say that, when the Turkish Ambassador in Paris had approached the French Foreign Minister to put pressure on Italy to formulate peace proposals, de Selves had recommended that the Turks appeal to London instead. ‘I think it is rather hard’, Nicolson complained to Grey, ‘that M de Selves should turn the Turk over to us.’ Instead, as Aehrenthal was being so ‘sensible’, Nicolson’s preferred option was to suggest to the Austrians, who were supposedly on good terms with both Italy and Turkey, that they take the initiative and suggest that both belligerents declare an armistice. France and Russia had also been sounded out ‘very confidentially’ to join in a collective appeal but they would not play the game, seeing through Nicolson’s ‘bashful suitor’ approach: no-one, it seemed, would make the first move. Nicolson to Fairfax Cartwright, 13 November 1911, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/351; Nicolson to Grey, 13 November 1911, PRO Cab 37/108/147.

[45]  Aide-Memoire communicated by the Councillor of the Turkish Embassy, December 1911, PRO Cab 37/108/174; Grey to Lowther, no. 318, 1 December 1911, PRO Cab 37/108/172.

[46]  Nicolson to Goschen, 11 December 1911, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/352.

[47]  Lowther to Nicolson, 6 December 1911, ibid.

[48]  Taylor, Struggle for Mastery, p. 476.

[49]  Fischer, War of Illusions, p. 142.

[50]  Goschen to Nicolson, 8 December 1911, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/352.

[51]  Nicolson to Lowther, 11 December 1911, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/352.

[52]  Grey to Lowther, no. 331, 12 December 1911, PRO Cab 37/108/184; Lowther to Nicolson, 19 December 1911, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/352.

[53]  Buchanan to Nicolson, 21 March 1912, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/354.

[54]  Alan Bodger, “Russia and the End of the Ottoman Empire”, in Kent (ed.), The Great Powers and the End of the Ottoman Empire, p. 82.



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