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 7




A Harmless Sort of War




The German gunboat Panther
The German gunboat Panther

The British response to the outbreak of war, the Russian intrigues and the Turkish offer of alliance had been confused and contradictory. The formulation of any consistent policy was hampered by the disparity of views both within the Cabinet and Foreign Office, and by the necessity of maintaining good relations with Russia. The Turkish approach could be dismissed as borne out of desperation; Tcharykov’s intrigues could be characterized as the actions of a renegade Ambassador; the Turco-Italian war was a relatively harmless diversion. The only action was to take no action. The one imperative was to support France as, without British support, Grey declared at the height of the Agadir crisis, France would fall ‘under the virtual control of Germany’ which would mean the break-up of the Triple Entente. With Russia free to do as she pleased, Grey could then foresee ‘the old troubles about the frontier of India.’[1]


 As Russia continued to gather strength her need of foreign entanglements would diminish; conversely, the prospect of her increased military and naval might made her a more attractive partner and one it would be awkward to estrange. During the remaining years before the outbreak of the First World War, Anglo-Russian relations would be increasingly strained.

                The Turks were as relieved as anyone at the failure of Tcharykov’s self-appointed mission;[2] the atmosphere in Constantinople had changed distinctly from the initial panic engendered by the Italian declaration of war. The first manifestation of this change came when discouragement at not being able to strike back in an effective way soon gave way to anger directed against those perceived to be responsible for the turn of events. The return of Abdul Hamid’s henchman as Grand Vizier had resulted (so Nicolson was informed) in ‘the sudden and rather crude attempt to obtain allies. They put themselves up to auction, and were disappointed to find no bidders.’[3] Then the resistance campaigns of Enver and Kemal began to take effect, the Italians came to realize the seriousness of their undertaking, and the Turks discovered that they could live with the war. The British Director of the National Bank of Turkey, Sir Henry Babington-Smith, found that ‘the war is doing them singularly little injury. It costs them very little, and it hardly weakens their strength for dealing with any trouble in European Turkey; although the difficulty of sea-transport in face of a hostile fleet would hamper their mobilisation. They are not much with the threat of trouble in the Balkans, when it is put forward as a reason for making peace. Indeed, some of them would, I think, rather welcome a war in which they could put out their fighting strength, as a relief from a war in which they cannot get at their enemy.’[4] Nicolson agreed: the chances of a ‘speedy termination’ of the war seemed to him very remote and he feared that, at the end of the winter, no progress would have been made towards the cessation of hostilities. ‘We then’, he confessed to Lowther, ‘enter upon a dangerous season.’[5]

                Politically, the opposition used the war as a weapon with which to attack the C.U.P. The old, demoralized Liberal Union Party was reformed as the Party of Freedom and Accord, and gained support quickly, culminating (on 11 December 1911) in a famous by-election victory in Constantinople. Emboldened by this, the attacks on the C.U.P. increased with the result that some members of the Committee deserted to the Liberal Union; it became apparent that drastic action would be required by the C.U.P. to preserve their position. The obvious method was to force an election and rely on the widespread party apparatus to guarantee the result; the newly formed Liberal Union could not hope to compete on equal terms.[6] The trigger for the election was the attempt to modify the constitution so as to restore the power of the Sultan to dissolve the Chamber — a power that had been abrogated in 1909. Said introduced the bill a mere five days after the by-election, though the debate continued until 13 January. The Grand Vizier was not slow to point out that the opposition, themselves, had been clamouring for a limited return of some of the Sultan’s powers.

                Not averse to making a good thing doubly sure, new laws were soon enforced to restrict both the press and the holding of public meetings: the ‘Big Stick’ election was under way. The dirty tricks continued unabated, with opposition leaders arrested on flimsy charges, opposition candidates suddenly called up for military service, gerrymandering and even altering the date of the elections, which were scheduled for 18 April. ‘On the whole’, Babington-Smith tamely predicted, ‘I shall be rather surprised if they [the C.U.P.] do not return with a strengthened majority. Whether this will be an advantage for the country, or the reverse, depends mainly on whether they have learned the lessons of the last two years.’[7] While the precise effect of the underhand measures is difficult to quantify, the inevitable result was an overwhelming C.U.P. victory, with the party further reinforced when Parliament reconvened in May by the inclusion of such leading lights as Djavid as Minister of Finance and Talaat as Minister of Post and Telegraph.[8] ‘One’s interest in the Young Turk movement begins to stir’, admitted the genial wife of Admiral Limpus, who thoroughly enjoyed the diversions of Constantinople, ‘but what a pity to modernise everything.’[9]

The long felt fear that Italy, acting out of frustration, would lash out somewhere else, was soon realized: the Italian Government notified the Powers early in January 1912 that, from the 22nd, a blockade would be established off Yemen on the Ottoman Red Sea coast. Worse was to follow in the Carthage and Manouba incidents. These two French mail steamers, en route from Marseilles to Tunis, were intercepted by Italian warships on 16 and 18 January respectively and were escorted to Cagliari. Carthage was stopped on the dubious grounds that an aeroplane in her cargo, destined for a French citizen, was in reality intended for the use of the Turks. The ship was released only after the French Government assured the Italians that the offending airman had given an undertaking that neither he, nor his machine, would be employed by the Turks. In the case of the Manouba, the ship was carrying a Red Crescent Mission of 29 Turks whom the Italians suspected of being soldiers in disguise — the Turks were recklessly marched off in detention and the ship resumed her voyage. The incidents caused outrage in France and soured Franco-Italian relations, despite the prompt Italian admission that the Turks were indeed bona fide members of the Red Crescent (they were released shortly afterwards) followed by an agreement to submit the matter to the Hague Arbitration Court.

                Then, on 24 February, two Italian armoured cruisers sank two small Turkish warships sheltering in Beirut harbour before lobbing a few shells into the town for good measure.[10] ‘[W]hen they find that efforts at mediation will lead to no result’, Nicolson believed that the Italians would

endeavour to make some impression by some further excursions on [Turkey’s] Asiatic coast. There is nothing that Italy can do there which can exercise any influence on the Turkish Government, and if they attempt any measures against Smyrna, from what we hear, they are likely to meet with a very different reception from that which was accorded to them at Beyrout when the place was taken completely by surprise. Of course, any efforts to force the Dardanelles will be an extremely risky and dangerous proceeding…[11]

Finally, on the morning of 18 April, the attack that was most feared eventuated, but not precisely in the form envisaged. During the previous few days the Italian forces[12] effected a secret rendezvous in the Southern Sporades, after having sailed from, amongst other ports, Taranto and Tobruk. Soon after, when in position off the Dardanelles, the cable ship accompanying the fleet cut the telegraph cables connecting the islands at the entrance of the Straits to Salonica and the mainland. All was in preparation for the attack.

                The Italian fleet timorously approached their objective just after sunrise, making sure they stayed well out of range of the Turkish forts. Nothing happened. Admiral Viale then directed Rear-Admiral Presbitero to take the new cruisers Pisa and Amalfi further in and flaunt themselves in the hope of attracting some Turkish attention. Still nothing happened. Reasoning it was now safe to bring up the rest of his force Admiral Viale advanced so that, shortly after 9 a.m., the whole of his fleet was in view. This at last provoked a response; a Turkish destroyer appeared out of the Straits. When Viale ordered three of his cruisers to give chase Fort Orkanieh opened fire in support of their comrades. Being so challenged at last Viale manoeuvred his larger vessels into a wide circle and at 10.30 a.m., masked by the hills of Sedul Bahr on the European side, began to pound the forts of Orkanieh and Kum Kale on the Asiatic shore, his ships coming out from behind Sedul Bahr, firing and then retiring; this charade continued for three hours. The Turks returned fire but the best guns they possessed, a pair of 24 cm. Krupps at Orkanieh, could hardly make the range of 10,000 yards to strike back effectively at the Italians. Acclaiming a great victory, the pusillanimous fleet sailed away.

                According to the Italian reports every one of the 180 shells fired that day struck one or other of the forts; it was also thought a magazine at Kum Kale had blown up and that, altogether, the Turkish casualties amounted to 500 killed and wounded. On the other side, the Turks declared that no fort had been hit but that a nearby barracks had been damaged in which a man had been injured and a mule killed. Whatever the military outcome of the demonstration, it further turned opinion against the Italians and resulted in the Turks closing the Dardanelles with catastrophic effect upon Russian trade.[13]

                Once again, the Austrians were also seriously annoyed: called to give an explanation, the Italian Ambassador in Vienna argued that the action was merely a demonstration of Italian force and freedom of action with, perhaps, the ancillary benefit of flushing out the Turkish fleet. This did not satisfy the Austrians who protested more strongly still. The Italian Foreign Minister then excused the action by maintaining that his Government had learned that the Turks had made a raid outside the Dardanelles. This contrasted with the statement of the Italian Prime Minister who claimed that the objective was for Italian torpedo boats, protected by the larger vessels, to sneak up the Straits and sink the Turkish fleet at anchor — however this raid was forestalled when the element of surprise was lost owing to Turkish vigilance and poor weather conditions! Despite the real or imaginary confusion in Rome, there was always the possibility that the raid might have been intended, of course, to draw attention away from the area in which Italy planned her next move.[14] If so, it was a highly calculated risk. On the day following the Italian bombardment the Turkish Ambassador in Berlin – using the pretext of offering condolences over the sinking of the Titanic earlier in the week – called on his British colleague to find out what he knew about the goings on between Russia and Italy. When asked to be more specific, Nizamy Pasha muttered ‘Quelque chose aux Dardanelles’ and changed the subject to the projected dreadnoughts Russia was planning to build for the Black Sea Fleet. For what purpose were these being built and against whom were they to be used, inquired Nizamy, adding, for good measure, ‘You may not always be friends with Russia and won’t it rather dislocate your naval arrangements in the North Sea if a hostile Russia is able to send a number of Dreadnoughts into the Mediterranean?’[15]

                Nizamy’s question was ill-directed: not only was there little support in London for the recurring Russia aim of opening the Straits to her warships but, despite what might have been intimated to the French, the primary objective of the Russian building programme was the maintenance of the command of the Black Sea; Mediterranean adventures remained a carrot to dangle before Russia’s entente partners. Nizamy’s visit did, however, highlight a shift in Russian thinking, following the Turkish rebuff of Tcharykov’s advances. The Russian gaze settled once more on the Balkans while Russian thoughts turned towards adopting a more conciliatory tone towards Italy, reasoning that the diplomatic quid pro quo could be returned by Italian support of Russia against Austria. To try to achieve this end a proposal was forwarded to Grey in February 1912 that the Entente should consult with the intention of attempting to avert the danger in the Balkans arising from the Turco-Italian war. This Grey flatly refused to do:

It would be a great mistake [he argued] for Russia and England to take separate actions in Sophia and Constantinople without consulting Germany and Austria. To do so would set German and Austrian diplomacy in motion against us, and the result would be confusion and perhaps dangerous developments…It would be very inconvenient if the Powers were divided into two opposing groups with regard to the Balkan question. If Russia fell out with Austria, we, and I supposed France also, would have to consider the lengths to which we would be prepared to go in support of Russia…[16]

Five days later Grey confirmed that, with regard to mediation to end the war, the powers must act together.[17]

                In Nicolson’s opinion there was no question of applying pressure to Turkey, due to the overriding concern of not arousing discontent ‘among our mussulman subjects’ who already harboured strong feelings against Britain for failing to take steps to prevent the war in the first place, and then for showing a tendency – ‘which is quite unfounded’ – to favour Italy.[18] In apparent confirmation of this concern Hardinge continued to report patronizingly from India of the intense irritation the war was causing the Muslim population who were ‘simply seething with excitement, and, not being very clever people, they cannot understand why we maintain the Anglo-Russian Entente.’ This lack of political sophistication meant that it was left to Hardinge to explain to his ‘most extraordinarily short-sighted’ subjects that the great advantage of the Entente was the moral force it enabled Britain to exert upon the Russian Government which, the Viceroy conceded privately, was all Britain could do for, if it came to a show of strength in his area, ‘we are practically impotent.’[19]

                By April 1912 the Foreign Office had become aware of the secret alliance that had been concluded by Bulgaria and Serbia, with Russia acting as godparent, and which made Italy’s action at the Dardanelles all the more worrying; particularly so as Tcharykov’s replacement at the Porte, Michael de Giers, looked set to adopt a ‘vexatious’ policy towards the Turks. He would not fall into his predecessor’s trap of being ‘too much on his knees to the Young Turks’ which Lowther surmised would place Britain and France in a very difficult position, with the likely result being that their commercial and industrial interests would suffer. ‘I would not be surprised’, he speculated, ‘to see a succession of pinpricks with the eventual intention of bringing about the collapse of Turkey.’ True to form, Giers immediately got off on the wrong foot by making a ‘friendly’ communication to the Turks about the Straits which was anything but friendly, and which was badly received. Lowther considered it unnecessary: ‘If the Turks had wantonly closed the Straits, I could understand the indignation of everyone, but surely the danger was “real and immediate”…’[20]

                However, by 29 April, eleven days after the Italian bombardment and with no sign of a renewal, the Straits remained closed. The Italian Ambassador complained to Grey that a majority of the Turkish Council of Ministers now favoured reopening but that the Foreign Minister, Assim, hoped to extract a concession from Britain by continuing the inconvenience; besides, the Italians moaned, there was no Italian warship north of Nicaria and, even if the fleet did re-engage the forts, there was ample time for the Turks to sow the Straits with mines. Although no attempt to force the Dardanelles was contemplated, the Ambassador implored Grey not to ask for a pledge to this effect as ‘the fear of such an attack was the only pressure which the Turks felt.’[21] Typically Grey compromised, reporting to the Cabinet shortly after that he had telegraphed Rome to request the Italian Government to abstain from any further attacks on the Dardanelles ‘for a time reasonably sufficient to allow of egress for the ships now detained.’[22] But the Italians had turned their sights south, their intentions perhaps betrayed by the Ambassador’s revelation to Grey of the position of the Italian fleet together with his admission that the Straits were not the object. After the charade at the Dardanelles, the Italian ships had returned to their rendezvous point at the island of Stampalia, whose harbour they had selected as being ideal for a naval base, and prepared for the second part of their plan: the occupation of the Turkish islands of the Dodecanese. At the same time as Imperiali was pleading with Grey that international pressure should be applied to Turkey, the Italian invasion fleet was assembling at Tobruk, from where it sailed on 1 May. Four days later Rhodes was occupied, followed, in quick succession, by the neighbouring islands in the group.

                At the same time as Grey was dealing with the Italian Ambassador Sir Eyre Crowe from the Foreign Office met the Chief of the Naval War Staff, Rear-Admiral Troubridge, the Director of Military Operations, General Henry Wilson, and the Secretary of the C.I.D., Captain Maurice Hankey, to discuss informally the scope of the Admiralty’s proposed scheme – which was to be the subject of a planned meeting of the C.I.D. at Malta in the summer – to denude the Mediterranean of British capital ships in favour of the North Sea. Both the Admiralty and the War Office were preparing papers to be presented at the conference, but were finding it difficult to formulate ‘any views of value unless the Foreign Office would offer some guidance as to what is the strongest combination of Powers which might reasonably be hostile to us, in making calculations regarding the defence of the British interests in the Mediterranean.’[23]

                Nicolson was, perhaps, relieved to delegate this task to Crowe. The Permanent Under-Secretary had seen the writing on the wall for some time concerning the Admiralty redistribution: at the start of the month he confessed that circumstances had necessitated the large planned reduction in the Mediterranean and that he believed ‘that it was absolutely necessary to do so’, but, he continued, ‘I cannot say that I was at all in favour of it, and I do not think that the steps we have taken have been particularly pleasing to the French.’[24] At the time, Nicolson was unaware of the scope and extent of the Anglo-French naval discussions and when, on 4 May, he learned of these through the French Ambassador his reaction was furious, based in part – other than annoyance at the obvious moral commitment engendered – on the belief that the Admiralty had been encroaching upon Foreign Office territory without Grey’s knowledge. In the face of Nicolson’s justified anger, Grey was forced to admit, the following day, that the conversations had begun, and had been continued, with his tacit approval.

                Crowe’s long memorandum was, as always, cool and detached (which tended to strengthen the argument contained therein) so that Nicolson was able to forward it to Grey without feeling the need to add to the matters discussed, but simply to outline the only courses he could see remained open for Britain. These were: an increase in the naval budget to create a new, permanent Mediterranean Squadron; an alliance with Germany; or an ‘understanding’ with France. The first two remained out of the question while the third would be, undeniably, ‘very much of the character of a defensive alliance’ which, Nicolson believed, certain members of the Cabinet favoured, though not enough to carry their colleagues with them.[25] Nicolson lobbied hard for support, writing that week to the more influential British Ambassadors to rally them against the Admiralty proposal which would leave only a cruiser squadron in the Mediterranean. ‘Just at this juncture’, he wrote Goschen in Berlin on 7 May, ‘when every international question, I may say, is in a state of chaos, and when the whole condition of the affairs in the Mediterranean is undergoing very important changes, and when no-one knows what will be the developments of this Turco-Italian war, it seems to me hardly the moment for us to take an entirely new departure, and practically evacuate the Mediterranean.’ A fortnight later he returned to the same theme: the French occupation of Morocco and the Italian seizures had radically altered the situation in the Mediterranean, which would further deteriorate due to the French belief ‘that Italy’s partners in the Alliance will require her to come to some definite understanding with them as to the future in the Mediterranean. If, therefore, the Triple Alliance is to be extended to that Sea, France feels that she will be confronted with a very powerful naval and military combination, whose influence will not only be felt in time of war but also immediately in time of peace, and that Turkey and other States may feel disposed to gravitate to what they consider to be the dominant combination in the Mediterranean.’[26] Churchill countered by arguing that ‘The War-plans for the last 5 years have provided for the evacuation of the Mediterranean as the first step consequent on a war with Germany, & all we are doing is to make peace dispositions which approximate to war necessities. It would be very foolish to lose England in safeguarding Egypt…’[27]

                To assist in his crusade, what Nicolson needed in particular, and what he got, was a strongly argued statement in support of his position from a reasonably disinterested onlooker. Up to this time Crowe’s main concern had been Western Europe and the threat posed by Germany; until 1913 he would have relatively little to do with Eastern affairs. His important paper, then, is in the nature of a snapshot of the way the Foreign Office viewed the Mediterranean in the complex conditions prevailing early in May 1912. After discussing the balance of power in the region and the likely effects of the Turco-Italian war on the attitude of Italy – who feared an attack by Austria while her own forces were committed overseas, yet had given a hostage to fortune with regard to the pressure that could now be applied by British sea power (so long as it remained in strength on the station) – Crowe turned to the eastern basin:

…19. It would be difficult to overrate the importance of the part which the sea power outwardly and visibly exercised by Great Britain in those waters had played in creating the position which she holds at Constan-tinople. The policy of Turkey, like that of all weak oriental countries, is to prevent combination amongst the Powers against herself, by playing them off against each other, and there is in consequence a constant shifting of the relative positions occupied by them. Yet certain stable elements make themselves felt, such as Russia’s pressure on the eastern Asiatic frontier, and her proximity to the sea approaches of the Turkish capital, and the influence exercised geographically and historically by Austria-Hungary on the minor Balkan States. Among these stable elements has also hitherto counted the prestige attaching to the Power whose flag has floated on all the seas, and in particular has dominated the Mediterranean. This attribute of sea power is held symbolic of the potential strength which the State wielding it can put forward. The respect which English sea power commands, more especially in oriental minds, is the measure of the attention with which her voice is listened to.

20. The influence of Great Britain at Constantinople has varied from time to time, but such as it was at any given moment, it has always rested mainly on her position as the mistress of the Mediterranean Sea, and it would be contrary both to reason and to experience to expect that this position would remain unaffected by a permanent withdrawal of the British fleet.

21. Such a retreat, as it must present itself to the Turkish mind, would shift the weights in the diplomatic scales at Constantinople markedly in favour of Germany, and would materially increase the chances of Turkey being persuaded definitely to throw in her lot with the Triple Alliance. This course would secure for her the most effective assistance she could hope for in resisting Russia, and would also hold out a fair prospect of a possible reconquest of Egypt.

22. At the commencement of a war between the Triple Alliance and either England or France alone, unless there were a naval agreement between those two Powers under which France would remain in force in the Mediterranean, whilst England undertook to look after the German fleet, the French naval forces would necessarily…be concentrated in the Channel. This would give the Turks their opportunity for attempting a descent upon Egypt. The mere possibility of such an event would be bound to exercise a powerful influence on the Egyptian population, and the question what, if any, reliance could in such circumstances be placed on the native army, would require anxious consideration. Here, again, the part played by the mere prestige deriving from the fluidity and ubiquity of British sea power cannot wisely be neglected. We hold Egypt and control her administration at present not by the actual number of British bayonets assembled in the Nile valley, but in virtue of the political authority attaching to our position as commanding the sea. A good deal of makeweight would be required to counterbalance the apparent loss of the command of the Mediterranean. In fact, the British occupation of Egypt is so intimately wound up with the control of the maritime communications, that it seems superfluous to set out an elaborate argument to prove that the evacuation of the Mediterranean by the British naval forces must materially affect the situation.[28]

Armed with this document, which he believed the Admiralty could not refute, Nicolson was now in a position to threaten to boycott the C.I.D. meeting at which the evacuation proposal was to be debated if his attendance meant that he would have to toe the Admiralty line. Ultimately, Nicolson would attend, but would keep silent as there was no need to speak: opposition from Kitchener, the General Staff, Esher and, especially, the former First Lord, McKenna – in addition to the Foreign Office – obliged Churchill to redraft his proposals and provide for a strong force of battle cruisers to meet the new requirement that Britain maintained a one-Power Mediterranean standard, excluding France. The battle cruisers, though not as powerful as the latest battleships, were nevertheless imposing vessels; however the maximum strength of the planned Mediterranean Squadron (four battle cruisers) would not be available until July 1913. Even this proved beyond the capabilities of the Admiralty. The flagship, Inflexible, was on station in November 1912 but would not be joined by Indomitable and Indefatigable until August 1913 while the fourth ship, Invincible, spent just five months in the Mediterranean before being withdrawn at the end of 1913 for a major refit.


With the Dodecanese Islands occupied by 20 May there was little more the Italians could do to hurt the Turks. Indeed, although the Italians hoped the islands would prove a useful bargaining point ‘the Turkish government showed no great pain at the loss of such ethnically Greek and economically valueless property.’ By the end of June, the Italian Chief of the General Staff, Alberto Pollio, had determined that drastic measures were required. It was time, he urged, ‘for Italy to engage in total war against Turkey and simply to dismantle the Ottoman Empire. An Italian force, landed at Smyrna, would provide the military muscle, but Italy should also excite the Christian people of the Balkans to rise and expel Turkey from Europe.’[29] Not that such incentive was required: there was no likelihood of such a scheme eventuating under Italian tutelage and, after the Straits had been re-opened in May, the Italians succumbed, for the time being, to international pressure by not renewing their attacks. Until, that is, on the night of 18/19 July, a rather pointless and abortive raid was made by five Italian torpedo boats to try to sink the Turkish fleet inside the Straits. The Italian boats retreated hastily upon being discovered (and after the leading boat had snagged its propeller on a wire hawser) and did no damage whatsoever. The Italians incredulously claimed that they had not intended to attack the Turkish fleet, but merely discover its location; this, the British Naval Attaché at Rome declared, with more than a faint hint of sarcasm, was scarcely believable as everyone already knew precisely where the Turkish fleet was![30]

                By that time, however, peace negotiations were already under way. The Italian Prime Minister had sent his emissary, Guiseppe Volpi, to Constantinople in June 1912. Volpi employed an agent who had remained in the Turkish capital throughout the war providing valuable information and who now acted as a go-between, allowing the emissary to meet Turkish financiers and politicians.[31] His visit coincided with yet a further upheaval in the fortunes of the C.U.P. The ‘Big Stick’ election earlier in the year had packed the Chamber with civilian deputies whose allegiance lay more to the maintenance of their own well-being than to the greater good originally promised by the party. With the lack of a credible opposition the party soon became increasingly autocratic, alienating not only its civilian support but, crucially, that of the army. Disgusted by what they saw a group of like-minded officers formed themselves into the ‘Group of Saviour Officers’ and allied themselves to the Liberal Union to try to bring down the C.U.P. The agitation continued throughout June when the rebellious officers presented a list of demands including, foremost, the implementation of the reform Kemal had failed to carry in 1909: the imposition of an oath by army officers to refrain from meddling in politics.

                Shevket, the Minister of War, did in fact draft such a bill, but whether it was to assuage the officers or, alternatively, to use it against them, is unclear; either way, it was too late. The C.U.P. was already trying to placate the Saviour Officers by offering Shevket’s office to General Nazim Pasha. Realizing the course the rebellion was taking, and the fact that his own position was now untenable, Shevket prudently resigned on 9 July. The belief at the British Embassy, however, was that Shevket was a scapegoat, selected and sacrificed by the Grand Vizier to preserve the Cabinet.[32] If so the ploy was unsuccessful as Said was now also impossibly placed and, despite an overwhelming vote of confidence six days later[33] (which was guaranteed, in any case, by the huge C.U.P. majority), Said Pasha resigned on 17 July. The following night, the Italians made their futile torpedo boat attack at the Dardanelles. At first, news of the attack was greeted with a good deal of scepticism in the capital, it being felt that the whole thing was a diversionary tactic by the C.U.P. who were ‘quite capable of arranging a scenic display on the Dardanelles and attempting, by the expenditure of a little gunpowder, to draw off public attention from the very tight corner in which it found itself.’ Not even the exhibition of Italian sailors’ caps or lifebuoys in the capital would convince the disbelievers either that the raid had taken place at all or that any Italian ships had been sunk until notification finally came through – from an Italian news agency – after an initial official denial, that the raid had been carried out.[34] The next rumour to sweep Constantinople was that Italian ‘aerial ships’ had been sent with bombs to drop on the Turkish fleet. Although Admiral Limpus, the head of the British Naval Mission, thought it better to keep clear of Stamboul – just in case – his wife gaily recorded that ‘In spite of all we dance and sing and picnic’.[35]

                The search for a new Grand Vizier was on: after approaching the Ambassador in London, Tewfik Pasha, who made his acceptance too conditional, the Sultan appointed the elderly Ghazi Ahmed Mukhtar Pasha, whose position as President of the Senate supposedly placed him above politics. Kiamil Pasha had been most people’s choice to form a strong Liberal Government but he could not obtain the support of the weak Sultan who feared that Kiamil wished to depose him. The most that Murad would do was to agree to Kiamil’s inclusion in the Cabinet; like Tewfik, Kiamil also had his own conditions which he then laid down. First and foremost, he refused the Foreign Affairs portfolio, having no wish to be associated with the humiliating peace terms when, as expected, he eventually stepped into Ghazi Mukhtar’s slippers. To strengthen a weak hand, Ghazi Mukhtar brought into his Cabinet, in addition to Kiamil, another previous Grand Vizier, Hussein Hilmi Pasha. General Nazim Pasha, whose ‘guiding principle was the reversal of everything done by his predecessor’, became War Minister. These continual reshuffles accomplished little as the same tired old faces always predominated. ‘Cabinets of compromise’, Francis Yeats-Brown noted, ‘succeeded each other in Constantinople, led by old Kiamil, old Said, Ferid, Tewfiq, Hilmi, Hakki. Some did too little, others too much. As usual, the Committee dared not trust its own members with the Grand Vizierate, yet was unable to find men outside its ranks who were at once capable and pliable.’[36] Nevertheless, the C.U.P. still controlled the Chamber.

                This was rectified when, on 5 August, the Sultan dissolved Parliament on the spurious grounds that the existing Chamber had been elected earlier that year only to complete the four year term of the 1908 Chamber! A new election was called in which the C.U.P. was now on the receiving end of the sort of political dirty tricks it had resorted to in the Big Stick election.[37] At last, the C.U.P. was to be voted from office. ‘This is really the counter-revolution’, declared Marling in Constantinople, ‘not the tragi-comedy of April 1909.’[38] But it was always unwise to underestimate the Committee. While this was occurring, the Italian agent Volpi, with his team of negotiators, had initiated talks in Switzerland with Turkish officials aimed at concluding the Turco-Italian war. By late August, with the talks deadlocked but with ominous signs of unrest in the Balkans appearing almost daily, the Powers put pressure on the Turks to produce a result. The Turkish intransigence was understandable, stemming in part from the eternal hope that, given time, some external event would intervene to forestall the dreaded moment when the signature would be required upon the treaty. As the British Embassy’s Annual Report succinctly put the predicament, the Turkish Government ‘could not pluck up sufficient courage to put its signature to a treaty which entailed the loss of the African provinces, while fully realizing that there was not the faintest hope of preserving them…’[39]

                Agreement was finally reached at Ouchy on 15 October and the formal peace treaty was signed at Lausanne three days later. Grey had been made aware of the Ouchy agreement and was able to inform the Cabinet immediately that Britain would agree to recognize Italian sovereignty in Libya.[40] In return for the withdrawal of Ottoman forces from Libya the Italians agreed to evacuate the Dodecanese; also, the spiritual primacy of the Sultan in the new provinces was to be recognized while, for their part, the Turks would end their boycott of Italian goods. On the other hand the Italian capitulations would be restored, a blow only marginally softened by Italy agreeing to take on her new province’s share of the Ottoman public debt. For the hapless Turks, the peace of Lausanne brought little comfort; already, on 8 October, before the Treaty had been signed, innocuous little Montenegro had declared war on Turkey as the first stage of a concerted plan by the Balkan League to evict the Turks from Europe.


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[1]    Conversation between Sir Edward Grey and C. P. Scott, 25 July 1911, in Wilson (ed.), The Political Diaries of C. P. Scott, p. 51.

[2]    Given the complexities of deciding just who ruled in St Petersburg, there is always the possibility that Sazonov knew of the Isvolsky/Tcharykov intrigue and gave it his tacit approval until such time as it became obvious that the Turks would never acquiesce, when the plotters could be disavowed.

[3]    Babington-Smith to Nicolson, 20 November 1911, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/352.

[4]    Babington-Smith to Nicolson, 24 January 1912, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/353.

[5]    Nicolson to Lowther, 11 December 1911, Lowther mss., PRO FO 800/193.

[6]    Babington-Smith to Nicolson, 24 January 1912, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/353: The C.U.P. ‘is undoubtedly the best organised; indeed they are the only party which have anything like an organisation throughout the country.’

[7]    Ibid.

[8]    Turkey: Annual Report, 1912, PRO FO 371/1812; Ahmad, The Young Turks, pp. 99-104; Shaw and Shaw, vol. II, pp. 290-1.

[9]    Diary of Mrs Florence Limpus, NMM LIM MS75/139.

[10]  The Naval Annual 1912, p. 172; Halpern, Medt Naval Situation, p. 194.

[11]  Nicolson to Buchanan, 26 March 1912, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/354.

[12]  Comprising two divisions of the First Squadron, the Cruiser Division of the Second Squadron, the Torpedo Division and auxiliary vessels.

[13]  Vice-consul Palmer, Dardanelles, to Lowther, no. 10, 19 April 1912, PRO Adm 116/1154; The Naval Annual 1913, pp. 191-2. The effect was not only felt by the Russians but also by British trade, with shipowners losing £9,000 per day while the Straits remained closed.

[14]  Albertini, vol. I, pp. 359-60.

[15]  Goschen to Nicolson, 19 April 1912, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/355.

[16]  Grey to Bertie, no. 53, 3 February 1912, PRO Cab 37/109/14.

[17]  Grey to Buchanan, no. 42, 8 February 1912, PRO Cab 37/109/20. Nicolson also was extremely uneasy about the falling out between Russia and Turkey. ‘As far as I can gather’, he wrote privately to Lowther in March, ‘Russia may shortly be disposed to take a more active part in Balkan affairs than she has done hitherto, and she is also at the same time perturbed at the situation in the Turco-Persian frontier and at the occupation by Turkey of certain strategic points…When one bears in mind the great activity which Russia has recently been displaying in a desire to further the wishes of Italy in respect to mediation, it looks almost as if Russia wished to bring some form of pressure to bear upon Turkey which would render the latter more amenable to accept Italian conditions’. Nicolson to Lowther, 18 March 1912, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/354.

[18]  Nicolson to Buchanan, 26 March 1912, ibid.

[19]  Hardinge to Nicolson, 11 January 1912, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/353. The Foreign Office, having thrown the ball back into Sazonov’s court, waited for him to take the initiative: not only was there thought no hope of resolving the conflict but Britain, for a variety of reasons, had ‘no desire ourselves to appear at all in the foreground.’ Nicolson to Buchanan, 26 March 1912, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/354. Compare the British attitude with that of the Austrians, as reported by Fairfax Cartwright: ‘It is stated of a Bourbon King of Naples that when his War Minister tried to discuss with him one day the question whether the army should wear red or white uniforms, he replied that it was a matter of indifference, for whatever the colour of their uniform, his soldiers always ran away. It may likewise be said of the mediation proposals of the Powers that it is a matter of indifference whether one turns first to Rome and then to Constantinople, or the reverse, for the result will always be the same - that is, as regards the conclusion of peace, “nil”. Such is the opinion held here by Count Berchtold who, however, seems to see one good point about these attempts at mediation, namely that they keep the Powers in line and accustom the public of Europe to see them working together in a question of general international interest.’ Cartwright to Nicolson, 14 March 1912, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/354.

[20]  Lowther to Nicolson, 24 April 1912, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/355.

[21]  Grey to Rodd, no. 83, 29 April 1912, PRO Cab 37/110/67.

[22]  Asquith to the King, 1 May 1912, PRO 41/33/48.

[23]  Hankey to Grey, 30 April 1912, quoted in Lumby, p. 8.

[24]  Nicolson to Cartwright, 1 April 1912, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/354.

[25]  Nicolson to Grey, 6 May 1912, Grey mss., PRO FO 800/94; Nicolson to Bertie, 6 May 1912, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/356.

[26]  Nicolson to Goschen, 7 and 21 May 1912, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/355.

[27]  Churchill to Haldane, 3 May, 6 May 1912. WSC Comp. vol. II, pt. iii, pp. 1548-9; Wilson, diary entry for 7 May 1912, quoted in Callwell, Wilson, vol. I, p. 113.

[28]  Sir Eyre Crowe, Effect of a British Evacuation of the Mediterranean on the Questions of Foreign Policy, 8 May 1912, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/357.

[29]  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. 62. As Bosworth notes: “Pollio’s statement thus provides the most serious military ‘plan’ for a general attack on Turkey made by any of the Great Powers before the First World War. Yet, once again, Italian policy must be seen in context. There is absolutely no evidence that either Giolitti or San Giuliano, the two men who made Italian foreign policy, took Pollio’s ideas seriously…It is notorious, but also indicative, that Pollio was never told the terms of the Triple Alliance. In September 1911, San Giuliano and Giolitti planned the Libyan War with only the most desultory contact with the military who would wage it.”

[30]  Marling (chargé) to Grey, no. 624, 23 July 1912, enclosing report from naval attaché, Rome to Rodd, 23 July, PRO Adm 116/1154.

[31]  Bosworth, Italy and the Approach of the First World War, p. 104.

[32]  Turkey: Annual Report, 1912, PRO FO 371/1812.

[33]  By 194 votes to 4: see, Diary of Mrs Florence Limpus, NMM LIM MS 75/139.

[34]  With regard to the outcome, the sceptics were justified in maintaining their belief in the latter assertion as, although damaged, none of the Italian boats had gone down. Marling to Grey, no. 624, 23 July 1912, PRO Adm 116/1154.

[35]  Diary of Florence Limpus, NMM LIM MS75/139.

[36]  Francis Yeats-Brown, Golden Horn, p. 76.

[37]  Turkey: Annual Report, 1912, PRO FO 371/1812; Ahmad, The Young Turks, pp. 106-9; Shaw and Shaw, vol. II, pp. 291-2; Dyer, Nationalist Officers, p. 128; Heller, British Policy, pp. 65-6.

[38]  Marling to Grey, 20 September 1912, quoted by, Heller, British Policy, p. 66.

[39]  Turkey: Annual Report, 1912, PRO FO 371/1812. According to the report’s authors: ‘…the reason put forward being the danger to be apprehended from the Arabs of the Yemen and Syria.’

[40]  Asquith to the King, 17 October 1912, PRO Cab 41/33/64.



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