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 8




A Dangerous Season





Talaat Bey
Talaat Bey


 Following Montenegro’s lead, Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece all declared war on Turkey. As a final insult, using the pretext of this war, the Italians cynically refused to evacuate the Dodecanese. To understand the rationale behind this concerted action it is necessary to examine the policy of the Turks towards their European subjects, and to appreciate that, before the appearance of this external threat, the position of Turkey-in-Europe had long been liable to implode under the dual forces of Albanian nationalism and Macedonian agitation. The campaign to solve these problems by the expedient of Ottomanizing the populace was failing: the Albanian revolt, in particular, continued to simmer, occasionally boiling over. Nicolson had anticipated that the summer of 1912 would be a ‘dangerous season’ although he sanguinely expected that there would be no reason why the status quo should be disturbed as long as there were ‘no very serious incidents in Macedonia or Albania.’[1] It was like asking for the sun not to rise in the morning. Lowther’s belief that the way to defuse the situation was to include indigenous representatives in the Chamber was not shared by the leaders of the C.U.P. who viewed this as a sign of weakness.

In May, following the Big Stick election, Lowther had complained to Nicolson that ‘that fool Talaat is responsible for the Albanian recrudescences. His mania for sweeping the country in elections has carried him too far and he might just as well have allowed some twenty members to be elected for Albania and Macedonia without hurting the Committee. He is unfortunately the idol of that Jacobin party and has done them a lot of harm.’[2] To this charge, Talaat could justifiably have answered:

The Balkans are obsessed by various and divergent Great Ideas. Russia wants Constantinople; and Austria, Salonika. Leaving them aside, we have to reckon with Greater Servia, Greater Montenegro, Greater Bulgaria, Greater Greece. None of these Ideas can be accomplished without the disruption of my country, so our neighbours are all anxious to prove that Turkey is unfit to exist.[3]

                Indeed, the events in Albania and Macedonia, just across their border, could not be looked upon with equanimity by Serbia and Bulgaria; the fillip required by these reluctant bedfellows to convert thought into action was provided by the outbreak of the Turco-Italian war. One of the first actions of that war had been the one-sided Adriatic naval encounter which, nevertheless, threw enough of a scare into the Austrians for them to deliver a protest to their purported allies lest the Italians had any plans afoot for an Albanian adventure. The naval action also alerted the neighbouring states that the time to fulfil their aspirations was impending — before the Austrians had a chance to send troops to Albania to pre-empt the Italians or before the revolt, fanned by the Italians, got out of hand while Turkey was otherwise distracted.

                The prospect in Macedonia was no less encouraging. Under the auspices of the Russian Government, the Serbs and Bulgarians had commenced bilateral discussions in October 1911 soon after the Italians declared war. Although ostensibly secret the negotiations soon became known to Bax-Ironside, the British Minister in Sofia, who kept Nicolson informed via a series of private letters. In hotel rooms and trains, the discussions continued: the large expanse of Macedonia stretched invitingly on the map before the participants — territory that Bulgaria, in particular, had coveted for over thirty years. By accommodating Bulgarian desires, the Serbs hoped in return for Bulgarian support in the struggle against Austria, but were, of course, also not averse to a chunk of Macedonia in addition to that part of Albania they, themselves, coveted. Initially, perhaps anticipating the problems that might arise from a carve up, the Bulgarian Prime Minister, Gueshov, pushed for an autonomous Macedonia, the whole of which, presumably, would then be open to Bulgarian infiltration; but the Serbs would not nibble at that particular bait. Instead, the pencils came out, and lines were drawn on the map. Eventually, Serbia recognized the right of Bulgaria to purloin the territory east of the Rhodope Mountains and River Strouma, while Serbia could keep the territory north and west of the Shar Mountain. The area in between was to become simultaneously an autonomous province and a useful buffer. If, for some reason, the locals were unhappy over this largess and sought to cause trouble, the Tsar would act as referee and draw his own line on the map.

                The Treaty of Friendship and Alliance was signed in Sofia on 13 March 1912 by Gueshov for Bulgaria and Milovanovitch for Serbia. The precise details of this rapacious agreement were spelled out in the customary secret annex and later military convention. By article 1 of the annex any ‘troubles’ in Turkey which endangered the interests of Bulgaria or Serbia, or any ‘internal or external difficulties’ which threatened the maintenance of the Balkan status quo would be sufficient pretext for concerted military action to be taken.[4] The day after the treaty was signed, Gueshov asked Bax-Ironside to call on him at his private residence where he told the British Minister that it had only been ‘after long and serious consideration’ that the new policy of concluding a secret treaty with Serbia had been adopted, and that it had required considerable persuasion to win over the King and ministerial colleagues to his views. Gueshov was ‘most anxious’ that only Grey and Nicolson should be cognisant of the treaty until the Russian Government had made arrangements to disclose its contents; he hoped Grey would approve of the pact which was ‘in his opinion, the most likely one to secure peace in the Balkans. Any Power advancing into European Turkey would now be faced with solid hostility on the part of Bulgaria and Servia, backed up by Russia and, he hoped, by the Triple Entente if necessary.’[5] Suitably persuaded, Bax-Ironside’s initial reports that the Treaty was defensive in character were misleading. Indeed, the vision of an invading force meeting joint resistance would have appealed almost as much to Whitehall as to Petersburg where Sazonov was heard to enthuse, ‘Well, this is perfect! Five hundred thousand bayonets to guard the Balkans — this would bar the road forever to German penetration, Austrian invasion.’[6]

                The treaty, however, also bound each country to come to the other’s aid ‘with their entire forces’ should one of them be attacked by a third party. Given the state of unrest in the region this was an ominous condition, which Nicolson learned of from the Russian Ambassador on 6 April, though it was only the following week that he became aware, through French sources, of the designs the two states had on Macedonia.[7] The realization that the treaty was offensive, not defensive, worried Nicolson in particular as it was underwritten by Russia. At the end of April Lowther was admitted into the small circle of those aware of the existence of the treaty – this ‘most profound secret’. Lowther was informed that the treaty was ‘practically initiated and encouraged by Russia herself’, which was, to Nicolson’s mind, ‘perhaps the most serious element connected with the transactions, as it shows that Russia intends to take a very active part in Balkan policy.’[8] Even so the Balkan states were doing all right for themselves. Before long Greece was drawn into the orbit of the Balkan League when, on 29 May, a defensive alliance was concluded between Bulgaria and Greece. This time there was to be no proposed division of spoils, reflecting both the haste with which the agreement was made and the fact that there just was not enough of Macedonia to go around.[9] For this reason also, plus the fact that its newly self-appointed monarch, King Nikita, possessed even fewer scruples than usual, Montenegro was only admitted to the League later that summer.[10]

                If the Turks were momentarily blind to what was going on around them, the Albanians were most certainly not. The ominous outbreak of friendly relations between their voracious neighbours could only presage the inevitable moment when, again, the pencils and maps would come out. Not wishing to be swallowed whole by their encircling predators, yet aware that the Turks were now no longer in a position to protect them, the Albanian revolt flared again throughout the summer, when it became a factor in the fall of the Government in Constantinople in August.[11] At the same time the Macedonian problem had come to the fore again following the explosion of a terrorist bomb in the Muslim market place of Kochana; the outrage resulted in the usual reprisal against the Christian inhabitants which was perhaps made more savage on this occasion because of the confusion reigning in Constantinople. When it became clear that the reprisal had taken the form of a massacre the Bulgarians could barely restrain themselves.[12] Into the breach stepped the Austrian Foreign Minister, Count Berchtold, who first proposed, on 13 August, that the Powers ‘consider the advisability of recommending to the Porte the adoption of the principle of “decentralisation” in dealing with the question of the future of the European provinces.’[13] However well meant, the Count’s approach was to have unfortunate consequences. Despite a denial being issued at the end of the month that this was the prelude to intervention, the impression sustained by the Balkan allies was precisely the opposite. In addition, any pressure applied to Turkey to clean up its act in Macedonia, as it was in the process of doing in Albania, would remove the transparent excuse required by the Balkan allies to legitimize their actions. The time to act would have to be sooner rather than later: before the Italians, temporarily estranged from the Triple Alliance, could conclude their peace talks, and while a weak, vacillating Government held power in Constantinople, where the new War Minister, Nazim Pasha, was busy undoing his predecessor’s work by removing Shevket’s appointees from the higher echelons of the Army.

                Nazim first disbanded two large, seasoned armies that Shevket had formed at the Dardanelles and Smyrna to repel an Italian attack and then, in September, unwisely tried to bluff Bulgaria, whom he did not believe would attack, by sending out for training in Thrace and Macedonia nine newly formed divisions.[14] The bluff fooled no-one and instead backfired spectacularly: using these ‘mythical manoeuvres’ as a pretext, Bulgaria and Serbia mobilized on 30 September 1912. The next day Greece and the latest adherent to the cause, Montenegro, did likewise; the Turks were left with no option but to mobilize themselves. It was all going to plan for, on 6 September, Serbia and Montenegro had concluded an alliance whose political convention ruled that, as the present situation in Turkey and general conditions in Europe were ‘very favourable for action’, war should be declared on Turkey by 25 October at the latest, except if one party was not yet ready, in which case there could be one postponement;[15] this was not required. In consultation with her partners (though there was a rumour at the time that they had kicked off early so the King could make a killing as he had ‘sold a bear of Balkan securities on the Vienna Stock Exchange’[16]) the Montenegrins declared war on Turkey on 8 October. At long last it had happened: ‘the Balkan States are about to declare war’, noted Lord Stamfordham, the King’s Private Secretary, ‘and Heaven knows where it may end.’[17]

                Bulgaria and Greece rapidly concluded a military convention on 16 October by which the Greeks pledged to throw 120,000 men into the contest and the Bulgarians 300,000; the following day – in what must have been a bitter blow to the Turkish negotiators in Lausanne about to conclude the peace with Italy – Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia declared war on Turkey. The Turcophile Wilfred Blunt was at least consoled, for ‘though it may be the beginning of the end for Turkey in Europe it will be better for Islam that the Empire should die sword in hand than that it should be cheated out of existence by our diplomacy. War gives at least a chance. Not that I have much hope of a victorious ending…’[18] And yet, had not General von der Goltz built a chain of forts between Adrianople and Kirk Kilisse which he guaranteed to withstand a siege of three months? And behind this line of fortifications there stood an army of 150,000 ready to turn aside the invaders and ‘smash their way through to Nish, Sofia and Belgrade.’[19] Who could foretell the outcome of such a contest as more soldiers moved into position to commence battle than ever before in the squalid history of warfare. For those who thought as Wilfred Blunt there were others who, awed by the methods they supposed had been imbued by the German Military Mission, were ready to predict, and anxious at the consequences of, a Turkish victory. However, Nazim’s baleful influence was immediately felt by the hapless Turks. The standing Turkish war plan (to concentrate far back from the frontiers) was dismissed by Nazim whose political position was not strong enough to allow him to be seen to abandon large tracts of land. Instead, the unseasoned Turkish troops moved up to face the onslaught; 12,000 soldiers a day, resigned yet fearful, flooded into Adrianople.

                The Greek fleet took over from Italy, holding command of the Aegean, occupying a few islands for good measure, and, crucially, making it impossible for the Turks to shift reinforcements from the southern part of the empire through the Aegean to the threatened garrisons in the European rump. Meanwhile, the Bulgarian army could not take the chance of marching directly into Macedonia for fear of a flank attack by the Ottoman force marching out from Constantinople; rather, they would have to take the Turks head on. On 21 October Nazim ordered Abdulla Pasha to take the offensive against the Bulgarians: the Turkish troops moved up but, during the night of 23/24 October after a confused clash with the advancing Bulgarians, the troops panicked and retreated in disarray although it took the Bulgarians some time to realize this. A new battle line was formed and combat was renewed on Tuesday, 29 October in the now forgotten battle of Lule Burgas which lasted four days and resulted in an overwhelming Turkish defeat.

The Turkish regular troops fought with courage, in spite of their hunger, but the reservists, ill-led, ill-fed, ill-shod, undisciplined, shivering at the change from sunny Asia to the bleak plains of Thrace, were not inclined to face the bayonets of the Bulgarians. By Wednesday night the left of their position was in retreat. The right still held, and a terrific counter-attack developed, which might have altered the issue of the day and perhaps the whole course of the war had the Turks been in better heart, for the Bulgarians would have been in an awkward position in case of defeat, with the garrison of Adrianople in their rear. But heroism was not enough: the Bulgarians were also brave. They massed their artillery on their threatened left flank, and on October the 30th they subjected the Turks (now cartridge-less and living on raw maize picked from the fields) to a bombardment severer than any which human nerves had yet endured…The Turkish reservists again began to give way: their officers fired on them, but failed to hold them. At three o’clock in the morning a torrential downpour burst above the battle. When the sun rose on a flooded countryside on November the 2nd, the Turkish right flank yielded. The centre had already retreated and the cavalry on the left flank had been able to oppose only their small German carbines to the rifles of the opposing infantry and the shrapnel of the victorious guns…[20]

On 3 November the order was given for the broken remnants of the Turkish army to retire and reform behind the Tchatalja lines, the last line of defence for Constantinople. Nazim himself left the capital to command the army from the front.

                Although again disorderly, the Turkish retirement had not been unduly hampered by the Bulgarians, whose own army was beginning to show signs of tiring. The other allies had had an easier time of it: the Serbs quickly occupied most of northern Macedonia then linked up with the Montenegrins to move into Albania; the Greeks marched into southern Macedonia, taking the great prize of Salonica on 8 November just before the advancing Bulgarians could arrive, while other Greek forces pushed into southern Albania, investing Janina. Other than the similarly besieged Scutari (in northern Albania) and Adrianople, virtually the whole of Turkey in Europe had been overrun, with the Turks clinging by their fingertips to the narrow spit of land behind the Tchatalja lines.

                At sea the Greek fleet had taken over the strategic position occupied by the Italians, leading to renewed fears that the Turks would close the Straits. Grey, who had been furious at the provocative Italian action that had resulted in closure before, in any case, did not like the Greeks. When it was calculated that it would take at least two weeks to clear the huge quantities of grain which remained lying in readiness for shipment from the Black Sea ports through the Straits, Grey was prepared to make a ‘strong representation’ at Athens – if the Greeks carried out their threat to institute a blockade – to the effect that neutral merchant ships at least should be permitted egress. However, events moved too quickly to necessitate this action being carried out.[21] The defensive bastion of Tchatalja, only forty miles from Constantinople, was subjected to renewed Bulgarian pressure so that, by the first week of November, the fall of the capital was being predicted as inevitable. ‘I do not think’, Lowther confessed on 7 November,

that the Turks yet realise the hopelessness of their defeat and they listen to German and Austrian advice to hang on at Tchatalja which to my mind is a great mistake on their part for if the Bulgarians have a severe battle at the lines and win as they presumably must they will insist on coming in. Unfortunately the Committee people are also, as they did in the Italian war, urging that the fight should be continued to the end. This may only be to pose afterwards as patriots but it is a dangerous game...

Lowther also speculated on the reasons for the Turkish débâcle, which he put down to the absence of good officers as constitutional government had brought with it political intrigue with the result that both parties were guilty of eliminating ‘unsympathetic’ officers, however attuned to the art of warfare they may have been.[22]

                One early casualty of the war had been Ghazi Mukhtar who resigned (perhaps gratefully) on 29 October and was replaced, to no-one’s surprise, by Kiamil Pasha. Old Kiamil’s function was twofold: as a bitter opponent of the C.U.P. it was hoped he could stop them utilizing the situation to make a grab for power and, second, he could use his reputed influence with the Entente Powers (particularly Britain) to appeal to them to intervene. But Grey shunned this latest advance after the Cabinet had agreed that all they could do would be to approach the Bulgarians to ascertain whether they would accept mediation and, if so, upon what terms.[23] Kiamil had inadvertently highlighted the unpleasant fact that the British position was delicate: support Turkey and risk offending Russia, further straining an entente which was already in difficulty in Persia; or co-operate with Russia and her client states only to raise the old canard of upsetting Britain’s Muslim subjects. The constancy of the latter fear, though, was eased by a report from Hardinge which indicated that, come what may in Macedonia and Albania, he could control his subjects.[24] Nicolson explained the situation to Lowther:

I am sorry that Sir Edward was unable to send a more sympathetic telegram in reply to Kiamil’s appeal. Our position is an exceedingly difficult and embarrassing one. We are anxious naturally to maintain the concert of Europe and especially to work as far as it is possible, in conjunction with Russia, and were we to adopt Kiamil’s proposals we should practically separate ourselves from the other Powers and place ourselves almost in direct opposition to Russian policy. It is quite true that we are a great mussulman Power and cannot well leave out of account the feelings of our mussulmans in India and elsewhere. At the same time it is of paramount importance to us to preserve unimpaired our understanding with Russia and with France…Moreover, public opinion here, rightly or wrongly, is strongly in favour of the Balkan States, and no Government could possibly take up an attitude which was in any way contrary to the general feeling in this country...[25]

Nicolson need not have worried; indeed, Lowther felt obliged to apologize for forwarding ‘poor Kiamil’s appeals’ which, he knew, would be in vain; the Grand Vizier had been much encouraged in certain quarters (but not, Lowther hastened to add, by himself) to look for help from England.[26]

                The imminent fall of Constantinople also induced panic in Sazonov who wired his Ambassador in London on 31 October that Constantinople must remain under the actual sovereignty of the Sultan, upon which there could be no compromise. Then, a week later, he requested that Isvolsky warn the French Prime Minister that, should Constantinople be occupied – even temporarily – by Balkan troops, the entire Russian Black Sea fleet would appear simultaneously off the capital![27] In an attempt to exert a calming influence on his excitable colleague Grey suggested instead that Constantinople be ‘neutralized’ and made into a free port; he communicated this suggestion secretly (or so he thought) to Sazonov through Buchanan, his Ambassador in St Petersburg, but news leaked out the following day.[28] Nicolson was appalled – not at the leaking of information as such, for it was a subterfuge he had resorted to himself – but, he informed Hardinge, at the very idea,

which I am sorry to say was actually put before the Russian Government…that Constantinople should be internationalised. I deprecated this proposal very strongly and I do not think its authors were quite aware of the impracticability of such a scheme…I was very glad when Sazonow objected strongly to it. I trust that it has now been buried and that it will not be resuscitated. To my mind it is perfectly clear that either the Turk or the Russian must be in possession of Constantinople.[29]

Yet, to confound Nicolson, by the middle of November it seemed increasingly as if the Bulgarians would soon be in possession. Lowther reported on the 14th that the C.U.P. had lost much of its influence, and not incidentally, a few of its more prominent members who had ‘already bolted into Europe’. It was true some ‘desperadoes’ remained but Lowther thought the Cabinet had matters under control and that this situation would last until the Turkish troops were defeated at Tchatalja which was, in his opinion, a foregone conclusion.[30]

                Any hope entertained by Kiamil that his erstwhile friends would help was dashed when Asquith rose to his feet at the Guildhall to publicly withdraw the earlier pronouncement of the Powers that, whatever the result of the war might be, the territorial status quo would be maintained. The victors, now, would not be denied their spoils.[31] All that remained was for the Bulgarians to break through. The long awaited assault on the Turkish defensive positions began on 17 November. The line held. Although this occasioned surprise, it should not have done so. The Turks had narrowed their front, had had time to regroup and replenish behind a strong defensive line and, as a further incentive to morale, had the capital almost at their backs. When General Sir Henry Wilson inspected the fortifications a year later he declared that he had never seen a stronger position than Tchatalja.[32] It was evident by the 18th that the attack had failed; the Bulgarians’ discomfiture was completed by an outbreak of cholera amongst the ranks. Despite this setback, as, except for the three invested garrisons and the capital itself, the Balkan allies had obtained all they went to war for, they were agreeable to the Turkish offer of an armistice which Bulgaria and Serbia duly accepted on 3 December.[33] In a telling portent of what was to come, the Greeks and Bulgarians in Salonica had already fallen out with each other and were quarrelling over their rival claims to the city.[34]

                On 16 December the delegates of Turkey and the Balkan allies gathered in London at St James’s Palace to discuss peace terms. The following afternoon at half-past three a conference of Ambassadors was convened at the Foreign Office under the chairmanship of Sir Edward Grey. Minutes would be kept but the negotiations were to be regarded as confidential: only those resolutions actually passed would be committed to paper.[35] Although Grey would have preferred that these informal discussions were held in Paris, no-one was anxious to have the Russian Ambassador, Isvolsky, dipping his oar in. Additionally, the attitude of the Quai d’Orsay towards the Balkan States caused intense irritation in London.[36] The initial item on the agenda was the future of Albania, which was resolved at the first meeting in favour of autonomy, notwithstanding that arguments as to the precise location of the boundary would rumble on interminably.[37] Grey’s skilful diplomacy produced other tangible results: Serbia’s demand for an Adriatic port was successfully opposed after that obstreperous country succumbed to an appeal from Sazonov, acting under Anglo-French pressure. Instead, it was unanimously adopted that she have access to a free and neutral Albanian harbour served by an international railway under the protection of an international military force.

                All this on the first day, with only the question of the Aegean Islands which had been occupied by Greece remaining from Grey’s primary agenda! As the Foreign Secretary set off for his Christmas break after the conference adjourned on 20 December he could look back over the year at some positive achievements, perhaps foremost of which was the close working co-operation he had established during the Balkan crisis with his German counterpart, Kiderlen. During the summer months, in furtherance of the ideal of an Anglo-German rapprochement, the celebrated if infamous German Ambassador in Constantinople, wily old Marschall, had been transferred to London after fifteen years at the Porte. Marschall, who had suggested an Anglo-German alliance as early as 1890, did not live long enough to accomplish his aim, dying in September 1912, to be replaced by the amiable but lightweight Prince Lichnowsky while, more seriously, on 30 December, Kiderlen collapsed and died suddenly.[38]

                In this review of 1912 it had become clear that Grey was, consistently, more optimistic than his colleagues in placing faith in the Turks both to institute the reforms promised and to resist autocratic, despotic government. To him each new coup was a welcome sign of this and the incoming administration deserved at least a chance to succeed. Despite the baggage Nicolson brought to his office from his years in St Petersburg, he had at first also developed a more conciliatory line, in sharp contrast to the hectoring tone of Hardinge; however, not being a born optimist, as expectations went unfulfilled Nicolson moved into the Turcophobe camp. Lowther continued to be a great disappointment, bemoaning the fact one minute that he was required to send vain appeals from the Turks to the Entente for help, then complaining that, due to lack of a positive response, ‘we have successfully thrown Turkey into the arms of the Triple Alliance.’ The transfer of Marschall and his replacement by the German Minister at Athens, Baron von Wangenheim, was seen as but a temporary interruption to the unfailing growth of German influence. In addition, little headway had been made in the protracted Baghdad Railway negotiations: it was only in April that a Turkish reply had been given to the British proposal of July the previous year for five equal shares. This was rejected by the Porte who suggested instead four equal shares for Britain, France, Germany and Turkey, but excluding Russia. The British counter-proposals of July 1912 offered to rescind the five Power plan though only on the acceptance of certain conditions aimed at ensuring British primacy on the Baghdad-Basra sector and, especially, beyond Basra, past which no lines could be built without British consent.[39] With the upheavals in Constantinople from summer onwards there was little likelihood of further progress being made and the talks dragged on into 1913.

                The St James’s Conference was due to resume on 2 January 1913. Before it got under way Lichnowsky was visited by the Turkish delegate, Osman Nisami Pasha, who informed the German Ambassador that the Turks had come to an understanding on all points save one — Adrianople. Lichnowsky promptly reported that:

To give way on this point was for Turkey an absolute impossibility, not only on military grounds, which make it urgently necessary to keep this fortress which was less than two hundred miles from Constantinople, and not have the frontier pushed even closer. Adrianople was for the Turks much the same as Moscow was for the Russians, he said. It was the former residence of the monarch, a city with numerous sacred relics and mosques, and no Government could risk sacrificing it. His Majesty the Sultan, too, who did not otherwise meddle in the details of the negotiations, was inexorable on this point. Turkey wishes after peace has been signed to live on good terms with Bulgaria, but this would be impossible if Adrianople fell into Bulgarian hands, as the wish to reconquer it would lead to new wars.[40]

If pressure were not brought to bear on the Bulgarians Osman warned that the result would be the failure of the London negotiations and a definite resumption of hostilities. Lichnowsky could but counsel moderation.

                Yet, as early as 21 November 1912, Grey had believed that the two belligerents would sort out between themselves their conflicting claims over Adrianople and Constantinople, by which he meant, presumably, a straight trade: the Bulgarians could keep Adrianople with a promise not to take the capital. Lowther also believed the Turks and Bulgarians could have settled the question of Adrianople between them ‘but Russia would have none of it and has unfortunately upset the apple-cart.’[41] As the conference drew to a close on the afternoon of the 5 January Grey revealed that the Turkish delegates had offered further concessions in the vilayet of Adrianople but that the city itself must remain in Turkish hands. To break the deadlock it was agreed by the Ambassadors on the 6th that a collective note should be presented at the Porte regarding the cession of Adrianople and regulation by the Powers on the question of deciding the destiny of certain islands. The French suggestion that the note should be backed up by a naval demonstration was not widely welcomed — Germany, in particular, did not want to be seen forcibly to coerce the Turks while Nicolson also believed such a demonstration would serve no worthwhile purpose. Nevertheless it was agreed at the Conference on 9 January that, just in case, the Powers should dispatch warships to Besika Bay; with no option but to fall into line Britain proposed to send two battleships, but made sure that they were expendable.

                Lowther was scathing when the decision became known to him: a demonstration at Besika, he argued, would have no effect and would ‘hardly be known’ in Constantinople. Besides he did not ‘believe for a moment that all the Powers will agree to it.’[42] His prescience was confirmed when Lichnowsky entered the Conference Room on the 13th clutching a telegram from Berlin which baldly stated that ‘technical difficulties’ made it impossible for Germany to take part in any naval demonstration.[43] The Italian Govern-ment’s favoured way out of the impasse was to put forward the brazen suggestion that, in exchange for handing over Adrianople, Turkey should be allowed to keep the four islands off the Dardanelles which the Greeks had seized, together with Mitylene and Chios. Italian impudence apparently recognized no bounds! However Grey would not countenance the use of force to put the Turks back into possession of these islands — in any case, the inevitable result would be to give a hostage to fortune by virtue of the certain agitation that would follow as the populations were all Greek in sympathy and would rebel against their new Turkish masters. When discussing the Italian proposal the Cabinet agreed that the islands should go to Greece subject to ‘stringent conditions to prevent their being made use of for naval or military purpose, or being ceded to any other Power.’ The real reason behind Italy’s supposedly disinterested overture was not hard to discern, and it was further agreed, so Asquith informed the King, ‘that a friendly intimation should be conveyed to Italy that any proposal on her part to retain Rhodes would not only receive no support from us, but was to be strongly deprecated as opening the door for claims to compensation by other Powers.’[44]

                When, on 17 January, the collective note to the Turkish Government was eventually sent Lowther believed that, despite protestations in both Berlin and London that they were ‘playing the game’, the German representative at the Porte had secretly advised the Turks to ignore the note.[45] ‘I am sorry this question of Adrianople is giving so much trouble’, Lowther commiserated with Nicolson, adding,

Wonders never cease, but I cannot see how any Government can give up Adrianople now without some corresponding advantage, which is difficult to find, as the [Balkan] Allies ask for everything. The best hope is that Adrianople should fall…The feeling here against the Entente is growing stronger every day, and of course the advice of Germany and Austria re cession of Adrianople has been mild…The Turks cannot be in a worse posture than they are now and as far as I can see they could never find a Government to take the responsibility of ceding Adrianople if it has not fallen. They would probably lose their heads, which they don’t like…[46]

In fact, ceding Adrianople was just what the Grand Vizier had in mind.


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

[2]    Lowther to Nicolson, 15 May 1912, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/355.

[3]    Talaat’s conversation recorded by Francis Yeats-Brown, Golden Horn, p. 71.

[4]    ‘…that contracting party which first arrives at the conclusion that in consequence of all this military action has become indispensable must make a reasoned proposal to the other party, which is bound immediately to enter into an exchange of views and, in the event of disagreement, must give to the proposing party a reasoned reply. Should an agreement favourable to action be reached, it will be communicated to Russia, and if the latter Power is not opposed to it, military operations will begin as previously arranged, the parties being guided in everything by the sentiment of solidarity and community of their interests. In the opposite case, when no agreement has been reached, the parties will appeal to the opinion of Russia, which opinion, if and in so far as Russia pronounces herself, will be binding on both parties. If, Russia declining to state an opinion and the parties still failing to agree, the party in favour of action should on its own responsibility open war on Turkey, the other contracting party is bound to observe towards its ally a friendly neutrality, ordering at once a mobilisation in the limits fixed by the military convention, and coming to its assistance in the event of any third party taking the side of Turkey.’ Hurst (ed.), Key Treaties for the Great Powers, vol. II., pp. 820-1. The separate military convention detailed the number of troops each ally would have to supply and where they would have to be sent to meet certain contingencies.

[5]    Bax-Ironside to Nicolson, 28 March 1912, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/354.

[6]    Quoted in, Taylor, Struggle for Mastery, p. 484.

[7]    R J Crampton, “The Balkans, 1909-1914”, in Hinsley (ed.), British Foreign Policy Under Sir Edward Grey, pp. 593-4, note 24.

[8]    Nicolson to Lowther, 29 April 1912, Lowther mss., PRO FO 800/193.

[9]    Crampton, Hollow Detente, p. 49.

[10]  S. R. Williamson, Austria-Hungary and the Origins of the First World War, (London, 1991), p. 109.

[11]  The revolt was the first item on the agenda for Ghazi Mukhtar’s new Government. The Albanian leaders presented their list of demands to the incoming régime on 9 August when, judging the moment propitious, they sought, inter alia: an autonomous system of administration and justice; military service to be performed in Albania and not in the far flung reaches of the Empire, except of necessity in time of war; and a further schedule of reforms which would have the effect of de-Ottomanizing the province. By September Ghazi Mukhtar had agreed to all the conditions with the single exception of the request that those in Constantinople who had been responsible for suppressing the revolt in the first place should be tried. Shaw and Shaw, vol. II, p. 293.

[12]  Crampton, Hollow Detente, p. 52; Heller, British Policy, p. 67.

[13]  Turkey: Annual Report, 1912, PRO FO 371/1812; Crampton, pp. 55 ff.

[14]  Turkey: Annual Report, 1912, ibid.; Shaw and Shaw, vol. II, p. 292; Crampton, Hollow Detente, pp. 52-3, 55.

[15]  Hurst (ed.), Key Treaties for the Great Powers, vol. II, pp. 828 ff.

[16]  Wickham Steed, Through Thirty Years, vol. I, p. 362; F Yeats-Brown, Golden Horn, p. 78.

[17]  Stamfordham to Clarke, 13 October 1912, Sydenham mss., BL Add MSS 50839.

[18]  W. S. Blunt, My Diaries, entry for 10 October 1912, vol. II, p. 413.

[19]  F. Yeats-Brown, Golden Horn, p. 84.

[20]  Ibid., pp. 86-7.

[21]  Asquith to the King, 23 October 1912, PRO Cab 41/33/65.

[22]  Lowther to Nicolson, 7 November 1912, Lowther mss., PRO FO 800/193.

[23]  Asquith to the King, 7 November 1912, PRO Cab 41/33/67.

[24]  Heller, British Policy, pp. 70-2.

[25]  Nicolson to Lowther, 13 November 1912, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/359.

[26]  Lowther to Nicolson, 20 November 1912, Lowther mss., PRO FO 800/193.

[27]  Howard, The Partition of Turkey, pp. 24-5.

[28]  Although the apparent source of the leak was 10 Downing Street, Asquith appeared to blame either Churchill or Lloyd George. Crampton, Hollow Detente, pp. 70-1 and note 105. Asquith suspected Churchill again, in March 1914, after a serious Cabinet leak during the Ulster crisis. The Prime Minister then sent ‘a rather scorching document’ to his colleagues and made them, like errant schoolboys, sign notes to account for their actions. See, Jenkins, Asquith, pp. 303-5.

[29]  Nicolson to Hardinge, 21 November 1912, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/360.

[30]  Lowther to Nicolson, 14 November 1912, Lowther mss., PRO FO 800/193.

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

[32]  Diary entry, 13 October 1913, quoted in, Callwell, Wilson, vol. I, p. 128.

[33]  The Greeks held out longer to capitalize on their mastery at sea. Crampton, Hollow Detente, p. 66; Ahmad, The Young Turks, p. 115.

[34]  Lowther to Nicolson, 20 November 1912, Lowther mss., PRO FO 800/193.

[35]  Lichnowksy, Heading for the Abyss, p. 181.

[36]  It was felt that, by constant leakages to the press, the Centrale had provided the Balkan states with important advantages. Hayne, The French Foreign Office and the Origins of the First World War, p. 50, citing Grahame to Tyrrell, 15 December 1912, Grey mss.

[37]  See, Lichnowsky, Abyss, pp. 181-2. The German Ambassador reported that the following points were agreed unanimously:

1. Albania independent and able to support herself; guaranteed and supervised exclusively by the Powers; under the Suzerainty of the Sultan. It was my Russian colleague who suggested this, his proposal being accepted after the amendment ‘with a limited number of Ottoman troops, whose strength would remain to be fixed’ had been dropped, as it gave rise to misgivings. In the same way the words ‘a Governor appointed by the Powers and confirmed by the Sultan’ were omitted; instead of this my Austrian and Russian colleagues were asked to get their Governments to formulate ‘their views concerning the future organisation of this independence’ and then to lay these projects before us. 2. It was unanimously resolved that Albania should be neutralised. Count Benckendorff had only proposed the neutralisation of the ports and the sea-coast, but declared his acquiescence with the changed wording. 3. The following resolution was passed: “It is agreed that in any case the boundaries of independent Albania shall in the north touch those of Montenegro, in the south those of Greece.”

[38]  There was a whispering campaign at the Foreign Office that the real reason for Marschall’s transfer was as a result of a special favour addressed by the King of Italy to the German Emperor because of Marschall’s anti-Italian attitude during the recent war. Barclay to Tyrrell, 3 July 1912, Grey mss., PRO FO 800/43 contains the rumour of Marschall’s transfer on which Grey has minuted: ‘We had divined that this was the reason of Baron Marschall leaving Constantinople when he did.’ On the other hand, Lichnowsky maintains [Abyss, p. 2] that it was simply a question of ‘Buggin’s turn’ – Marschall got the job as the oldest Ambassador; while Kerner, The Mission of Liman von Sanders, p. 19, gives as the reason Marschall’s request to leave the Porte due to lack of German opposition to Tcharykov’s proposal. Kiderlen’s replacement as Foreign Minister was the former Ambassador to Rome, Jagow.

[39]  Heller, British Policy, pp. 60-2.

[40]  Lichnowsky to the Foreign Office, 2 January 1913, quoted in, Lichnowksy, Abyss, pp. 191-2.

[41]  Lowther to Nicolson, 9 January 1913, Lowther mss., PRO FO 800/193.

[42]  Asquith to the King, 9 January 1913, PRO Cab 41/34/1; Lowther to Nicolson, 9 and 16 January 1913, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/362.

[43]  Lichnowsky, Abyss, p. 206.

[44]  Asquith to the King, 9 January 1913, PRO Cab 41/34/1.

[45]  Lowe & Dockrill, Mirage of Power, vol. I, p. 113.

[46]  Lowther to Nicolson, 9 January 1913, Lowther mss., PRO FO 800/193.




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