SUPERIOR FORCE : The Conspiracy Behind the Escape of Goeben and Breslau © Geoffrey Miller



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SUPERIOR FORCE : The Conspiracy Behind the Escape of Goeben and Breslau © Geoffrey Miller

















The possibility that, rather than condone a declaration of war, there might be numerous resignations from Asquith’s cabinet raised the spectre of a coalition government. That this eventuality was being seriously considered was enough to alarm Asquith and Grey and to send Churchill scurrying to sound out his parliamentary opponents. ‘Winston, I hear,’ Nicolson subsequently related, ‘in view of the differences in the Cabinet, which might lead to a disruption was away for a time in indirect negotiations with the leaders of the opposition for a coalition cabinet.’[1] Churchill saw F. E. Smith on the evening of Thursday 30 July and, the following night, in an attempt to sound him out, Smith informed Bonar Law, the Conservative leader, of the discussion with the First Lord. Bonar Law, who was distinctly cool towards Churchill and ‘disliked indirect communications of this nature’, would give no more than a general assurance that he would support the Government.[2]

                A new conspirator also came on to the scene on Friday night in the form of George Lloyd, a Conservative MP who had spent some time as an honorary attaché at Constantinople. Concerned at the turn of events, following a remark he overheard by Asquith in the House, Lloyd went to the French Embassy that night and saw an emotional Paul Cambon who told him:

‘I have just been to see Sir Edward Grey and he says that under no conditions will you fight.’ Cambon’s voice almost trembled as he went on to say: ‘That is what he said. He seems to forget that it was on your advice and under your guarantee that we moved all our ships to the south and our ammunition to Toulon. Si vous restez inertes, nos côtes sont livrés aux Allemands.

While this argument by itself was spurious Cambon then made a far more serious accusation: that Grey had said his hands were tied because the Conservatives would not support the Government. Despite the hour, Lloyd went to see General Sir Henry Wilson, no friend of the Liberal administration who confirmed the charge.[3]

                On Saturday, while Wilson remained in London exerting what influence he could, Lloyd was dispatched to Wargrave Manor to fetch Bonar Law back to London, while Leo Amery was sent on a similar errand, to retrieve Austen Chamberlain from Broadstairs; Chamberlain would be late arriving in London due to an engine failure. Late that night the ‘conspirators’ (Lansdowne, Balfour, Lloyd, Wilson, the Duke of Devonshire, Lord Edmund Talbot) gathered at Lansdowne House and decided that Asquith must be fronted; however an early morning telephone call to Downing Street was not put through to the Prime Minister, who was asleep and not to be disturbed. In the meantime Lloyd, who believed that Bonar Law did not understand the ‘gravity of the situation’, had gone to meet Chamberlain at Charing Cross and convinced him that definite action was required. Chamberlain went to Lansdowne House first thing Sunday morning, only hours after the meeting had broken up, and, while Lansdowne himself finished his breakfast, urged that an immediate statement of Conservative policy should be made to Asquith.[4] Finally convinced, Bonar Law penned the following:

Lord Lansdowne and I feel it our duty to inform you that in our opinion, as well as in that of all our colleagues with whom we have been able to consult, it would be fatal to the honour and security of the United Kingdom to hesitate in supporting France and Russia at the present juncture; and we offer our unhesitating support to the Government in any measures they may consider necessary for that object.[5]

As Blake points out, this letter did not mention Belgium. Asquith read the note to that morning’s cabinet[6] and, during the afternoon’s adjournment, penned a reply:

We are under no obligation, express or implied, either to France or Russia to render them military or naval help. Our duties seem to be determined by reference to the following considerations:

(1)            Our long standing and intimate friendship with France.

(2)            It is a British interest that France should not be crushed as a great Power.

(3)            Both the fact that France has concentrated practically their whole naval power in the Mediterranean, and our own interests, require that we should not allow Germany to use the North Sea or the Channel with her fleet for hostile operations against the Coast or shipping of France.

(4)            Our treaty obligations (whatever their proper construction) in regard to the neutrality and the independence of Belgium.

                In regard to (1) and (2) we do not think that these duties impose upon us the obligation at this moment of active intervention either by sea or land. We do not contemplate, for instance, and are satisfied that no good object would be served by, the immediate despatch of an expeditionary force.

                In regard to (3) Sir E. Grey this (Sunday) afternoon sent…[a] communication to the French Ambassador.

                In regard to (4) we regard Mr. Gladstone’s interpretation of the Treaty of 1839 in the House of Commons on 10 August 1870 (203 Hansard 1787) as correctly defining our obligations. It is right, therefore, before deciding whether any and what action on our part is necessary to know what are the circumstances and conditions of any German interference with Belgian territory.[7]

Argument has been divided over what effect the pledging of Conservative support had in the deliberations of that day. Asquith and Grey both denied that the message made any difference and this view had generally been accepted,[8] with only one strong dissenting opinion.[9] Blake perhaps best summed up the situation: ‘The truth would seem to be that although an Opposition can probably prevent the Government going to war, because in war a democracy must be united, it cannot force a Government into war.’[10]



Messina, 4-5 August 1914

In November 1914, just as the Admiralty was hoping that the furore created by the escape of Goeben and Breslau and the subsequent court martial would pass into memory and be quietly forgotten, a humble collier put into a port on the south coast of England and caused the following message to be sent:

                from Admiral, Devonport to Admiralty, no. 122, 28 November 1914

Collector of Customs, Brixham, reports arrival of steamer Wilster from Newcastle with coal for Port Said, owners Otto K and Albert F Trechmann, West Hartlepool. Captain is German by birth but naturalised English-man and states visit to Brixham due to ship having short shipped 87 tons coal at Newcastle further that ship was at Messina with coal at same time Goeben was there. Ship now detained at Brixham. Submit to be inform-ed whether she should be allowed to proceed on voyage. [Admiralty minute by Assistant Secretary, 6 December 1915: Wilster passed C[ape] Spartel July 30 for Messina but her arrival there is not reported by Lloyds.]

                Later the same day, a second wire was received in the Admiralty from Devonport containing the news that the owners of the Wilster were ‘of supposed German origin’ leaving the Admiralty with little option but to investigate the Trechmanns. The two were partners in the firm of Trechmann Steamship Co. Ltd of West Hartlepool, owning four tramp steamers, averaging 3,000 tons each. The firm’s capital was £101,260 of which only £6,660 was held in Germany, while the company itself was, the Admiralty discovered, ‘a well known one in England and has been established for a long time.’ As such, it was decided that ‘the particular question of the Wilster lies in who are the shippers and the consignees of the cargo, which information the Customs at Brixham could obtain from the ship’s Bill of Lading or Charter if the former is not on board, and if they are respectable firms there seems no reason to detain her.’

                There the matter might have ended – consigned to a footnote in the larger question of the escape – had not the following article, by one Otto von Gottberg, appeared in the Stettiner Abendpost on 6 May 1915:

Early in the morning of August 5th, the Admiral [Souchon] arrived at Messina where he was informed by the local authorities that coals could not be supplied to him. It was here that the news reached the Admiral that England had declared war. Admiral Souchon at once grasped the situation and knew that his only alternative was to make for the Dardanelles. The coal supply on board the German steamer General proved to be insufficient; no other good coals could be obtained except from an English collier in port. The British Consul of the port was well aware of the fact and with the assistance of the harbour police kept a strict watch on the Captain. To seize her cargo would mean a serious breach of Italy’s neutrality, so it only remained for him to buy the coals from the master. This appeared impossible, when a young lieutenant of great bodily capacity and equipped with a bottle whiskey proceeded on board and paid the English Captain a visit. The silly old skipper got as drunk as an owl and sold him the cargo. All hands now at once set eagerly to work and never was coaling and trimming done so quickly before, for the news had reached us that to the East of Straits of Messina the English Squadron, and to the West the French Squadron, had assembled.

A further Admiralty investigation was called for. The Historical Section already knew of von Gottberg, who was described as ‘a sort of official naval “eyewitness” [and] is generally correct as to facts though his interpretation…of them are highly coloured.’ It was soon discovered that, when the first telegram (above) had arrived from Devonport, the Trade Section ‘apparently investigated only the ownership of the Wilster and took no notice of her having possibly coaled the Goeben at Messina’ – which appeared, sniffed the Historical Section, a somewhat remarkable oversight that it might be worthwhile to clear up, perhaps by instigating inquiries with the consul in Messina.

                Finally, in December 1915, a further German report came to the notice of the Admiralty, in the form of a letter in the Hamburger Fremdenblatt written by a ‘landsman’ who had been on board Goeben at the time in question. The letter read, in part, that the German ships had ‘got safely through to Messina and immediately commenced coaling there from the SS General and the SS Andros while Breslau coaled from the SS Ambria’ and that men from all these ships were embarked upon the warships. An Admiralty investigation revealed that the Andros had arrived at Alexandria on 29 July 1914, had been detained there on the outbreak of war and so could not be the ship referred to; however, the Mudros was known to have been at Messina on the date in question and, therefore, was probably the vessel referred to as the Andros. The General and the Ambria were also known to have been at Messina. The conclusion arrived at, then, was that ‘Except as regards the one name, the account from which the above extract is taken appears to be reliable, and it is almost certain that if coal had been taken from a British vessel the writer would have mentioned the fact. It would therefore appear that the statements of Otto von Gottberg are not founded on fact.’ The episode of the Wilster was finally laid to rest.

See, PRO Adm 137/879 and BT 165/782.



ON 9 AUGUST 1914.

SUNDAY 9 AUGUST 1914             [All times GMT]

sent       recd       details

                0115       WAR ROOM, from NAVAL ATTACHE, ST PETERSBURG

Russian Admiralty informed from Athens Goeben and Breslau passed Matapan morning of the 7th August steering to North East.


                0115       BUCHANAN TO FO, no. 247, following from naval attaché

Russian Admiralty informed from Athens Goeben and Breslau passed Matapan morning of the 7th August steering to the North East. MINUTE. Repeated to Athens and Cple/Tel. sent to Athens to get information as to movements. GRC, 9 viii [also, EAC 9.viii]


                0520       BEAUMONT TO FO, no. 498, sent 8 August.

Turkish fleet returned to Halki, August 6th, and remains there under the command of Admiral Limpus in the Messudiyeh. Repeated to Malta.


1155                       GREY TO ERKSINE, no. 113, 9 August

Ask Greek Government to let you know whatever news may reach them as to movements of German ship Goeben and her consort. [note by Rendel: crossed with all our correspondence on this subject]



The following message has been intercepted by W O Censor: to Warplume from Metriticicas...informed Goeben anchored SYRA asked to coal - do not know if demand will be agreed to following decision of Govt to appropriate all available coal. [seen by DOD, COS, 1SL]


—                            DUMAS DIARY: Admiralty do not know if Goeben goes to Egypt or Dardanelles


1250                       ADMIRALTY TO C-IN-C, no. 239, 9 August

Not at war with Austria. Continue chase of Goeben which passed Cape Matapan early on 7th steering North East. [drafted by Leveson, urgent priority]


                1400       BUCHANAN TO FO, no. 253, urgent, following from Naval Attaché

Russian Admiralty just received telegram from Athens dated 8th stating that Goeben was then coaling at Syra. [init. LO, EAC 9.viii; GRC no date]


1600                       NICOLSON TO GREY

Count Benckendorff has communicated to me the following telegrams....It appears to the Russian Government that Goeben is proceeding to the Dardanelles.

[How disposed of: tel. 350 Cple, repeated tel. 479 St Petersburg]






sent       recd       details

1600                       FO TO BERTIE, 9 August, no 348

The Russian Admiralty are anxious lest the Austrian Government may induce the Ottoman Govt to allow the Austrian fleet through the Straits into the Black Sea. Should this fleet be joined by German and perhaps by Turkish ships, the Russian Black Sea fleet would be outnumbered....


                1650       WAR ROOM, from ADMIRALTY PARIS

Minister of Russian Navy warns that the Goeben coaled 8th August Syra (sent to CinC, Medt) also received wire from Naval Attaché St Petersburg “Russian Admiralty just received telegram from Athens dated 8th stating that Goeben was then coaling at Syra.”


                1700       BUCHANAN’S TELEGRAM 253 (above) RECEIVED IN ADMIRALTY WAR ROOM


1310       1710       RODD TO FO, no. 200, 9 August 1914

Press telegrams (published) on sixth instant reported Austrian fleet having left Pola but these are not to be relied on. Russian and French Naval Attachés had reason to believe that it has descended to lower Adriatic to facilitate escape of German cruisers from Messina and subsequently returned North. [init. LO 9 Aug., GRC, EAC 10 Aug.]


                1710       ADMIRALTY TO C-IN-C, no. 240, 9 August

                                Russian Embassy Paris report Goeben coaled Syra Eighth August


                ????         ERSKINE TO GREY, no. 140, 9 August, sent from Athens 11.45 a.m.

Petersburg tel no. 247. Information is correct. I am in constant communication with Intelligence Officer, Malta respecting movements of German ships...Goeben was believed to be near Syra evening of August 7. Greek Government think she may contemplate going into Black Sea...


1730                       GREY TO BEAUMONT, no. 350, 9 August 1914

You should urgently represent to the Porte that they should not let vessels of war pass through the Straits and that, if vessels of war enter the Straits, they should either be disarmed or sent back. You should join your French and Russian colleagues in making this representation.


                2100       BEAUMONT TO GREY, no. 499, 9 August

Grand Vizier tells me that additional mines had been laid in the Dardanelles at the request of the Russian Ambassador...In any case their is no question of Turkish connivance and if the Austrian fleet comes through the Dardanelles it will be at their own risk and peril...




0830                       Dumas arrives Admiralty and is told Goeben passed Syra on way to Constantinople


1030                       ADMIRALTY TO C-IN-C, no. 380, 10 August

                                Two more light cruisers to join in search of Goeben which is of paramount importance.





The first three British battle cruisers, Invincible, Inflexible and Indomitable, were laid down between 5 February and 2 April 1906. The first captain of Invincible was Mark Kerr who, in his 1927 memoirs, recounted the ‘interesting little history’ connected with the building of the ship:

The Admiralty, not wishing that any hint of her speed and gun power should get abroad correctly, had two sets of plans made. One set was drawn for the ship to be built by, but the other set was intended for the German agents to steal. These busy people did succeed in stealing the plans which were intended for them, and consequently the German Admiralty designed and built the Blücher to be rather faster and more heavily gunned that the Invincible. Their dismay must have been surprising when they first saw the completed Invincible with her eight 12-inch guns and 25-knots speed, which she could easily exceed, as against the Blücher’s 11-inch guns and lesser speed.[11]

The story of this great British coup had been first broadcast by Admiral Fisher. At the time, the First Lord’s statement of 14 February 1905 had declared that it was proposed to begin, during the financial year 1905-06, ‘1 battleship, 4 armoured cruisers…’ and that the battleship should be called Dreadnought and the first of the armoured cruisers Invincible.[12] No further details were given, and it was generally believed that these new ‘armoured cruisers’ would be a follow on from the Minotaur class, all of which carried the 9.2-inch gun. ‘Not until the following year,’ Oscar Parkes has noted, ‘did any hint of the real armament leak out, and it was generally believed that the Germans designed the Blücher as a reply, giving her twelve 8.2-in. in the belief that the Invincibles would carry eight 9.2-in. guns.’[13]

                According to Jon Tetsuro Sumida, the real culprit/hero was Fred T Jane: Sumida maintains that the decision to build Blücher was based ‘on the apparent presumption that the British armoured cruisers of the 1905-06 program would be armed with 9.2-inch guns as attributed to them in the 1906-07 edition of Fighting Ships.’[14] This seems too good to be true: that the Germans would base the design of a ship on information culled from Janes seems scarcely credible.

                The German view, as represented by Dr Bürkner, who was Chief of the Shipbuilding Division of the Marine-Amt, is comprehensively set out in Bywater’s and Ferraby’s Strange Intelligence, first published in 1931, and deserves quoting at length:

Dr. Bürkner is among those who deny the truth of the story, first told by Lord Fisher, that the German Secret Service was tricked by the British counter-espionage over the design of our first battle-cruisers. Lord Fisher’s story was that he had caused faked plans to be prepared, and carefully planted them, a section at a time, with known German agents in Britain, these plans considerably under-estimating the actual strength of the ships that we were building. And he claimed that, misled by the bogus drawings, the Germans built the Blücher, thinking she was an adequate reply to our ships. Dr. Bürkner, in his article in “Schiffbau,” said: “The ship was in no sense a reply to the Invincible, for England’s decision to build Dreadnought cruisers was known in Germany only when work had progressed so far that her armament and leading dimensions could not be modified. Blücher was simply a later development of the Scharnhorst class and, within the limits of the design, a very successful ship. Her armour was far more extensive and no less thick—on the belt it was actually thicker—than that of the Invincible, and her underwater protection was not limited to the magazine spaces, as in the British ship, but was continued in way of all vital parts. “Blücher has also a 5.9-inch secondary armament, which the Invincible lacked, and her maximum speed of 25.8 knots, practically the same as the Invincible’s, made her the fastest large reciprocating-engined vessel in the world. The real, though belated, reply to the Invincible was the Von der Tann, and the Battle of Jutland proved the ‘reply’ to be quite satisfactory.”[15]

This appears a more plausible explanation; the Germans apparently became aware in August 1906 that the British were preparing a radical departure from their previous heavy cruisers. By then design work on Blücher was too far advanced to be altered without further great expenditure.[16] This does not mean that the intelligence coup did not occur, but merely that, after the Germans had made a calculated but incorrect guess at the proposed British armament, it might have seemed natural to credit this to British ingenuity rather than German error.



[Source: PRO Adm 1 8514/45]


HMS Raglan:


Commander Viscount Broome (Henry Franklin Chevalier Kitchener) called and examined

16.          Where was your action station? — The first part of the commission my station was in the control top. Later, when my Gunnery Lieutenant left the ship and an Acting Lieutenant came, I then took my station in the Fore-Top.

18.          After you were knocked down, were you able to carry out any further duty? — After about a minute, I was able to carry out my duty but I had a very bad head.

19.          Did you hear the First Lieutenant give the order “Everybody overboard and swim for it”? — No, I was not aware of the order, and it would have been quite impossible because of the noise, for me to have heard any orders given at all.

20.          When the survivors abandoned HMS Raglan can you tell me the general state of the Raglan and the time? — The order “abandon ship” had been given a short time before I came down from the top. When I came down from the top, the ship, from abaft the fore mast was blazing and was so hot that going through it, it burnt off my eyelashes.

22.          Were you wounded? — I was hit in the back by a piece of shell, but I was wearing my great coat, and I was hit on the forehead – I think it must have struck my cap badge. The blow I felt chiefly was in the back, and the blow on my head I did not quite know had hit me so much as the blow in my back. My head I felt later…

23.          Did the blow in the back knock you down? — I was knocked down, but I do not know what did knock me down. I thought I was wounded and had a hole. It was my feeling that I had got a hole in me.


Lieutenant Melvill Willis Ward called and examined

39.          What was your general duty on board HMS Raglan on the morning of the 20th January 1918? — I was the Officer of the Watch relieving the deck.

40.          When did you first know hostile vessels were outside the Dardanelles or in the vicinity, and who informed you? — I saw her myself just before the signalman reported to the Captain.

41.          Did you take command of HMS Raglan at any time during the action? — When I came out of the turret when the turret was destroyed inside, I looked up aloft and saw the top was knocked about and I heard no signs of the Captain at all and I took it on myself that he must have been killed, and while the ship was a mass of flames from end to end and there was nobody at the 6” gun I thought the best order to give was to get out of it…

44.          What was your action station? — Officer in the turret.

45.          Will you give an account of what occurred in the turret? — The guns had both been loaded for the second time, and both guns were racing one another, and they were both elevated and tubes inserted. I had just reported to the director that both guns were ready through my telephone which was our custom. I waited a few seconds and nothing happened and I tried to get to the top by the other telephone, and almost immediately, just as I was getting the Top, a great crash came under the gun port and a voice called out “My God, the gun’s burst” which was the thing that everybody expected. They were long condemned and we were firing full charges. I opened the door and looked into the left gun house and a big flash of flame came up – a terrific flash which must have killed anybody in its way. So I shouted “everybody out” and jumped through the armoured door. Both number 1’s and one number 2 got out with me. That was all that happened in the turret.

46.          What did you do subsequently? — I stood where I was for a short time looking round and trying to think what to do, and there was a big explosion on the main deck, which we have since found out was the 12 pounder magazine blowing up, and there was nobody left on the upper deck at all except myself that I could see so I climbed over directly in the rear of the main turret and saw a good number of men sheltering in the lee of the turret. Everything was in flames forward and the whole position seemed hopeless and I gave the order “Everybody overboard and swim for it”.

48.          What happened to the men in the working chamber? — They were never seen again. None of them were ever seen again.

52.          How far away was Breslau when you first saw her? — About 10,000 yards. Turret’s range was 9,800 yards.

Temporary Engineer-Lieutenant Robert Moffitt, RN called and examined

61.          Can you tell us what took place in the engine room on this occasion? — We had an order given to raise steam and I immediately went to the engine room and ordered steam on main engines…I remained on deck to see the 6” gun’s supply party close up, but the first shot fell close to the ship before they arrived. I then went down below and tried to communicate with the dynamo room and I found the telephone out of action. Immediately afterwards we tried the main engines. Then a shot fell on board and put out the lights on the after end of the engine room, and immediately afterwards the second salvo put out all the lights. I gave orders in the engine room and stokehold to light secondary lighting, when a shell fell in the engine room and apparently struck the port engine. Steam began to escape. I went to the stokehold voice pipe to enquire, but got no answer. I then ordered the engine room party on deck. When I got on top, I found most, or a lot of the men in the water, so I shouted to my men who may have been round about to abandon ship.

Alfred Grant, Chief Yeoman of Signals, called and examined

76.          Describe what occurred subsequently to your going on the bridge then? — After receiving that signal [enemy in sight] as the signal was handed to me on the bridge ladder, I immediately rushed down to the Captain with it. I reported the signal to the Captain and whilst talking to him I heard the report of a gun. At the same time “Action” was sounded in our ship…I then left the Captain’s cabin and went up on the bridge, looked around, and could see a cruiser, just clear of Grafton Point. Within a few seconds…I received orders from the Captain “Inform C Squadron to send up all ‘planes”…a heavy salvo struck the ship and I heard crashes aloft and a voice sang out from the turret “the fore turret is on fire”…after another couple of minutes some more shots hit the ship and I heard a voice sing out “Everybody for himself”.

85.          Did you hear the Captain give any order to the 6” gun’s crew with regard to opening fire? — Yes, I heard the order passed to the 6” gun…to the effect that it was not to open fire before the 14” was ready.

Temporary Lieutenant Harold Long, RNR called and examined

107.        What were your duties on the morning of the 20th January 1918? — I was the officer of the 6” gun.

108.        Relate what occurred? — We closed up and trained red ‘80’ on the enemy and loaded. Received orders from the Captain not to fire until we received orders from him, I waited a few minutes when we observed a salvo “short” from Breslau and we opened fire, range 9,800 yards. I gave one spotting correction, “up 400”. After the second round I sent one of the loading numbers to find out where my supply party was. I enquired through the hand-up if they were there and I received a reply “Yes”. At the sixth round I went down to the magazine myself as no ammunition was coming up and found the supply party had been killed. I went back to the gun and ordered the gun to fire the last round and then take cover. When I went down into the magazine there was a lot of brown smoke coming up out of the hatch and I did not think it advisable to send any of the crew down there. We took cover behind the turret until the order by the 1st Lieutenant “to swim for it” was given when we got into the water.

113.        You say you received orders not to fire, from the Captain, until ordered by him. How long were you waiting before you actually did fire? — About 4 minutes.





Temporary Lieutenant David Dun called and examined

16.          What was the general state of M28 at that time, with regard to damage, when you went away [to pick up survivors from Raglan]? — When we went away, the only damage that I am aware of is that the aerials carried away and the signal and W/T yards.

29.          Was the whaler alongside when the ship blew up? — Yes, on the port quarter.

30.          Was the Captain alive then? — The Captain was dead. His head and shoulders were hanging over the rails. I went on board and had a look at him.


Viscount Broome called and examined

36.          Can you tell me anything about the action taken by M28 on receipt of your signal…? — During the action, I have heard, the Captain of M28 gave orders not to open fire until Raglan did, and I consider it was most important that this order was carried out so as to give us time for the 14” and a little extra for W/T. I did not really have time to make a signal not to fire.

37.          I understand M28 was acting in accordance with your wishes in withholding his fire till you commenced? — Yes, exactly.

Leading Signalman George Gerald Rogers called and examined

44.          Relate what occurred…? — The Captain came on the bridge first of all and then the W/T yard and topmast were shot away and the Captain went down below with Lieutenant Dun…I went down with the Captain, and the next order I heard the Captain give was to Lieutenant Dun to take the whaler for survivors of the Raglan which was then sinking. The Captain then stopped on the other side of the 9.2” gun and spotted the gun from there as the control was out of action through the paraffin store before the bridge being on fire. The next thing I heard was the Captain telling the 9.2” gun to open fire…Another round then hit the ship and after that the 9.2” magazine was on fire, and the ship was by this time burning. The Captain sent me aft, and then someone passed the order aft “Everyone for himself” — I don’t know who it was. I went over the starboard quarter. The only thing I remember after getting into the water was the ship blowing up about two-thirds of my way to the shore.

53.          Why did you think that the second shot hit Breslau? — Because the Captain said, “That’s a good shot, that hit her”. He was spotting with binoculars behind the 9.2” gun.

Petty Officer Robert John Hedditch [action station: 9.2” gun] called and examined

56.          Will you tell me exactly what occurred…? — When they piped action stations I was having my breakfast. I came out and went straight to the 9.2” gun and the crew had already mustered. We loaded common shell, full charge. Range passed to my knowledge was 11,500 yards. Nothing was done then until Raglan opened fire directly after. Reloaded, alteration in range, “down 300”, “5 left”. We fired and reloaded with shell only as the magazine was on fire. Captain was standing alongside the turret. Another salvo hit the turret and the Captain was killed and two of us blown out of the rear of the turret into the water, and I made for shore.

Albert Edward Haines called and examined

72.          Tell me…what happened? — …I opened the magazine and shell rooms, went to my own action station in the shell room and carried on there. Something happened close to the ship which put a lot of water down into the shell room…The next thing that happened was that the shell would not go up the hoist anymore…I came on the upper deck in company with men down below owing to the heat which appeared to be in the magazine. The order was then given for the whaler to be lowered. Lieutenant Dun told me to get into the whaler and volunteer to pick up Raglan’s crew. We pulled slightly off the starboard bow when a huge column of flame appeared from the fore magazine…Lieutenant Dun then pulled the whaler back to our own ship…After we got the boatload on shore, Lieutenant Dun asked for the crew to go back to the ship to take off the First Lieutenant…We pulled back to the ship…Lieutenant Dun went on board to look at the Captain, whom I saw with his head lying over the side of the ship, burning…I stretched out my arm to push off from the ship and there was a terrific explosion…I found myself swimming under water. I came up on top in the oil, and noticed falling debris, so dived again. Coming up the second time I grasped an oar and struck out for the shore…

George Shaw, Stoker P. O., called and examined

86.          Will you tell me…what happened…? — I just came out of the Engineer’s store and went forward. I heard the sound of gunfire and I immediately went aft again…Just at that time they called the ship’s company to action stations. I closed down the hatch…then I called the stokers. Three stokers were with me — fire brigade. We came up and did our best to start the rig hoses, and just then the Captain was coming forward and he was urging all available hands to assist in getting up shell…So I let my stokers carry on shell party…The next thing I saw was that 25 or 30 of the hands jumped overboard, I do not know where the order came from. I took it that they got the order from somewhere…I went with the remainder…


All acquitted. As events turned out it is perhaps regrettable that M28 held her fire until Raglan opened, but in so doing Lieutenant-Commander Donald P MacGregor, RN, was acting in accordance with the wishes of his superior officer and no doubt for the best according to his judgement.





“HYDRAULIC v. ELECTRIC POWER”           (Source: The Naval Annual, 1914, pp. 300-1)

“In the Naval Annual for 1908 some observations were made on the important question of hydraulic versus electric power as applied to the operations connected with heavy gun-mountings. After summarising the arguments for and against each form of prime mover, it was said that, despite the very obvious advantage of having only one form of power to deal with, it was nevertheless of the highest importance that the system of power for working the guns should be thoroughly sound and trustworthy, and these qualities are present in a marked degree in the hydraulic system, if well constructed, as compared with the electric form of power. It was in the same year that it was decided to make a trial of electrically-operated gun-mountings in the Invincible, and now, after about four years of unsatisfactory working and frequent adjustments, it has been decided to abandon the electric mountings for the more reliable hydraulic system. Electricity is most convenient in its application to passenger lifts, hoists, and many similar operations; but for gun-mounting work, especially in the heavy turrets now fitted to our modern battleships, it has proved to be too delicate and uncertain to cope with the heavy duties imposed upon it. The violent and shattering disturbance set up when the guns are fired appears to put too great a strain on the electrical gear, no matter how substantially constructed it may be, and it is certain that, in order to make the experiment as complete as possible, the Admiralty specification called for every detail which experience has shown can with advantage be used with hydraulic mounts. Something, however, is required more definite in its functions, more to be relied on, always to act with certainty even in the event of a breakdown, and with which, if any trouble does exist, the conditions will readily disclose themselves. Hydraulic power would seem to be eminently suitable to meet these requirements…It seems likely that, not only in this country but abroad, the change which is being made in the Invincible will be followed. There is some evidence that certain continental governments have recently altered their system of power as applied to heavy turrets, and it is further believed that others are contemplating a similar change, thus further demonstrating the superiority of the hydraulic over the electric system for this kind of work.”





War Orders No. 2 for the Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean.[17]

                An Agreement has been arrived at between their Lordships and the French Minister of Marine with a view to concerted action in the Mediterranean in the event of the two countries being engaged, as allies, in a war with the Triple Alliance…

2.—In order to facilitate communication between ships of the British and French Fleets a book of signals, etc., has been prepared and will be issued to all ships under seal ready for use in the event of these orders coming into force. It will be labelled “Secret Package A”.

3.—Should it be decided, during the period of strained relations, that in the event of war these arrangements are to become operative, a cypher telegram to that effect will be sent to you; the actual order to commence hostilities in conjunction with the French will also be communicated to you by cypher telegram.

4.—Vessels employed in the local defence of Malta or Alexandria should not be detached from their bases without Admiralty approval.

5.—Should the Italian and Austrian Fleets succeed in effecting a junction you must be prepared to re-inforce the French Main Fleet at short notice in order to co-operate in bringing the combined enemies’ forces to action; and if such a junction on the part of the enemy seems impossible to prevent, or take[s] place before the actual outbreak of war the initial dispositions of the British and French Squadrons may be required to be modified.

6.—Unless special orders to the contrary are issued no oversea operations in the Mediterranean will be taken in hand by British troops nor will any assistance be furnished to such as may be carried out by our ally.

7.—Though the Dardanelles are not open to vessels of war active support in the Mediterranean by the Russian Black Sea Fleet is not beyond the limits of possibility in the future, and if such is forthcoming the situation may require fresh consideration with a view to preventing the enemy getting between the Russian Squadron and our own.

8.—Though your principal object will be to assist the French to the utmost of your power, this duty is not to be carried to the extent of allowing British interests in the Mediterranean to suffer unduly thereby.

9.—The Admiral Superintendent at Malta is to be directed that particular care is to be exercised to ensure the safe entry of French vessels to that port, and that they are to be afforded every protection and assistance, including if necessary supplies and repairs upon application by telegraph to the Admiralty. These arrangements will be fully reciprocated by the French authorities.

10.—The local defence flotillas are to be given precise instructions to govern their conduct should they fall in with French ships.

11.—In the event of these orders becoming operative you are to take the necessary measures to ensure that all persons under your command are prepared to further the co-operation of the two navies by every means in their power.



Mediterranean War Orders No. 1[18]


1.—As laid down in Part 1 of the General Instructions in Admiralty War Plans for Home Fleets in case of war with Germany, the general idea is to us our geographical advantage of position to cut off all German shipping from oceanic trade, on the lines of the strategy employed in the Anglo-Dutch wars, and at the same time to secure the British coasts and outlying possessions from serious military enterprise and protect British commerce afloat. Thus, in a war between England and Germany alone, the destruction of any isolated German war vessels, the capture of German merchant shipping, and the protection of ours, would be the principal duty of the squadron under your orders, and sufficient force should be detailed to carry out these operations successfully. Under present conditions, this would leave the greater portion of your squadron available for other operations, and it should be concentrated at Gibraltar without delay. You should prevent the ingress or egress of any German shipping through the Straits, and extend your area for the protection of trade as far as the meridian of Cape St Vincent to the parallel of 35ºN., unless other instructions are given. These would depend on the developments in the North Sea and on the general political situation.

2.—Should the attitude of Austria be uncertain or hostile, you may expect, if necessary, to be sufficiently reinforced to enable you to accept battle with the Austrian Fleet and any German force which may be in the Mediterranean, and should concentrate at Malta, watching the exit from the Adriatic, with the object, as soon as you are strong enough, of bringing the enemy to battle and preventing their return to their home bases should they attempt to leave the Adriatic.

3.—You should prepare and submit schemes for this operation, and may offer suggestions as to the minimum strength of the reinforcements necessary for its achievement, and in this connection you should make proposals for securing an advanced temporary base in the Ionian Islands or on the Greek or Albanian coast, but not actually violating neutral territory without direct permission from the Admiralty, who are fully alive to the advantage of using such a base and will use every effort to facilitate your obtaining one, if such a course is not inconsistent with the general policy of the war.

4.—If war should be inevitable or break out between all the States forming the Triple Alliance and England alone, it is recognised that, until a successful decision has been brought about in home waters, it may not be possible to send sufficient reinforcements to secure the local command of the Mediterranean. It will be the intention of their Lordships to despatch such a force at the earliest moment which the main situation will permit. Should you therefore find yourself confronted by the Fleets of the Triple Alliance you should at once concentrate on Gibraltar and await reinforcements there, leaving only your flotilla at Malta and taking care not to be intercepted or brought to battle until a junction with the reinforcements from home has been effected. While Gibraltar is your base, your principal object should be as stated in paragraph 1 of these Orders, viz: the protection of trade and the barring of the passage of the Straits to enemy vessels until you receive further instructions from the Admiralty.

5.—The situation referred to in paragraph 4 is not considered reasonably probable, as the assistance of the French is almost a certainty, and your action in these circumstances has been detailed in War Orders No. 2.

6.—As previously stated, War Orders No. 2 contain your instructions in the event of war breaking out between the Triple Alliance and France and England combined. The same orders apply in the event of Italy not actively supporting the Alliance, but in this case the combined naval forces of France and England will be so superior to those of Austria that, acting in concert with the French, the observation of the Adriatic can be so complete as to effectually blockade that sea and prevent the exit of any hostile vessels, without the aid of any reinforcements.

7.—In any other cases not specially provided for, your actions will be guided by the War Standing Orders for the guidance of Commanders-in-Chief and Senior Officers of Foreign Stations…

8.—You are not to enter the Dardanelles in any contingency without Admiralty permission, and your action as regards the Suez Canal is to be governed by Admiralty Letter (M-01033) of the 16th September 1910 [not printed]. Till the defence of Alexandria is completed, it is to be left as an undefended port in war, but there is no objection to using it as a base for ships watching the entrance of the Canal.

9.—As the standard of the shore defences and garrison at Malta is partly regulated on the assumption that the torpedo boats and submarines of the local defence are always on the spot in time of war, these vessels should not be withdrawn to undertake other duties, except under very pressing emergency, which is to be reported to the Admiralty at the time.



In the 1907 War Plans, after summing up the action that should be taken in a war against Germany, Captain Slade admitted that ‘In attempting to go beyond this general outline we find ourselves unable to proceed for want of information.’ What was lacking was intelligence of the most basic type: the nature of the country; possible landing places; the kind of vessels required for operating in shoal waters; how the channels were marked; and, optimistically, could boats or lighters be obtained locally and, if so, where?

This information [Slade continued] can all be obtained in peace time by encouraging officers, when on leave, to keep their eyes open and to send in reports on their return home, and also by organising a system of Secret Service agents, whose business it would be to obtain it. It will be necessary to train both officers and agents to a certain extent, so that they should know what to look for and what to report. For this work we do not want plans of defence works and details of that nature, that would bring them into contact with the local authorities on a charge of espionage, but we want accurate details of the physical features of the ground, and of the resources of the country that may be useful to us. Where defence works exist, it will be for the present quite sufficient to indicate that the place is defended, and the details can be obtained later on, if necessary.

We require reports on definite subjects, such as the fishing industry, the lighterage arrangements at various ports (asking for specific details), the methods of conducting the up-river trade on the Rhine, Meuse, and other rivers. This would give us a great deal of the information we want, without appearing to ask for what might be thought to be Secret Service work.[19]

Slade would have the chance to put his theories to work when he succeeded Ottley as Director of Naval Intelligence in October 1907.

                During the Beresford inquiry of 1909 Slade, now a Rear-Admiral, wrote to Asquith that, upon becoming D.N.I., he had been disconcerted to find that the Naval Secret Service ‘was not organised in any way.’[20] Slade had already set about to remedy this situation during the winter of 1908-9 with the result that Commander (later Captain Sir) Mansfield George Smith-Cumming was appointed first head of the Secret Service Bureau. Cumming ran the department from his own flat at the top of 2 Whitehall Court and, although he also supplied intelligence to the War Office, the Admiralty remained his main customer.[21] Cumming eventually established a network of agents in Germany which began to provide intelligence of a technical nature, much of it garnered from published sources, however

Cumming failed to gain a complete monopoly of British espionage until after the First World War. Before the war both the Admiralty and the War Office continued on occasion the earlier traditions of the patriotic amateur, usually to the intense annoyance of the Secret Service Bureau. One of Cumming’s agents in Germany claimed that among the experiences they ‘most dreaded’ was ‘a visit from some enthusiastic British officer on leave, who had persuaded the authorities at home to put him in touch with the man on the spot’ before spending his leave engaged in espionage.[22]

The subsequent capture and trial of two officers, caught while attempting to survey German North Sea defences in 1910, proved a severe embarrassment to the Foreign Office. But the Admiralty continued to ruffle feathers. In the summer of 1913 the following instructions were sent to Naval Attachés:

It is requested that information concerning auxiliary cruisers and transports may be furnished so far as obtainable unofficially for the countries to which you are accredited.

Auxiliary Cruisers

(a.) Vessels destined for use as auxiliary cruisers in war time.

(b.) Details regarding the proposed armament.

(c.) Is this kept on board or on shore?

(d.) Ammunition available, what quantity, where stored.

(e.) To what extent have the hulls and decks been strengthened and places prepared for gun mountings?

(f.) Gun mountings available, where stored, what pattern?

(g.) Searchlights and torpedo tubes.

(h.) Agreements between the Government and shipping companies as to the terms upon which such vessels are built, lent to, or commandeered by the Government.


Numbers of men they can carry, and any details mentioned above which may apply to them.[23]

Presumably, most of the attachés set about gathering this information as best they could. In Rome, however, Captain Boyle had a problem. Although based in the Italian capital his patch as Attaché also covered Austria, Turkey and Greece. Given the impossibility of successfully obtaining the information required in such a wide area Captain Boyle wrote to the ambassador in Vienna, Fairfax Cartwright, on 11 July 1913, to solicit his ‘assistance in the matter by causing the Consular Officers at the various Ports to collect and furnish as much information as possible upon these points.’[24] Fairfax Cartwright was not at all happy about this: he did ‘not quite like the idea of instructing the Consuls to endeavour to obtain the more or less secret information’ requested by the Admiralty without first consulting the Foreign Office.[25]

                Predictably, when apprised of the Admiralty request through the agency of Cartwright, the Foreign Office saw red. Eyre Crowe minuted furiously that ‘The Admiralty has no conscience in these matters.’ Fortunately, he declared, by informing the Ambassador first instead of directly seeking the aid of the Consuls, Boyle had acted ‘correctly’, but the Admiralty themselves had not: ‘They ought to have sent the instructions to their Naval Attaché through the Foreign Office, in which case we should have been able to give precise directions to the Heads of Mission.’[26] Crowe’s objections, then, related more to the usurpation of Foreign Office authority than the ethics involved in following the instructions issued; nevertheless, he wrote to the Admiralty on 4 September 1913 that,

Sir E. Grey sees grave objections to the proposal to make use of His Majesty’s consular officers in endeavouring to collect the precise and technical information called for in the reference sheet, as it would be most difficult for them to obtain it without running the risk of incurring the suspicion of the local authorities, and without departing from the spirit of their standing instructions. He therefore proposes to reply to the Ambassador in this sense.

                Sir E. Grey would be glad to be informed whether the action of the Naval Attaché at Vienna was based on a circular instruction which may have also been issued to other posts and then led to similar demands on His Majesty’s consuls.[27]

                The Admiralty took over two months to reply only to then confirm Grey’s fears that ‘the reference sheet dated the 13th June last received by the Naval Attaché at Vienna was similarly addressed by the Intelligence Division of the Admiralty War Staff to all the Naval Attachés.’ Whether deliberately or not the Admiralty chose, in part, to interpret Grey’s anxiety as an attack on Captain Boyle’s propriety: the information required was to be obtained at the discretion of the individual attachés and, by openly laying the list of questions before the Ambassador, Captain Boyle, the Admiralty maintained, had been acting correctly (which Crowe had already acknowledged in his minute). Finally, ‘the information required, particularly that concerning the place of storage of the armament of auxiliary very important to the Admiralty, and appears to them to be of a non-technical character, and such as might possibly be obtained by consular officers at seaports without risk of incurring suspicion.’[28]

                A pained Crowe replied on Grey’s behalf that there had been no intention of questioning the correctness of Boyle’s action but, rather, a wish to satisfy themselves that other Ambassadors had been as discreet as Fairfax Cartwright. Grey understood the importance attached to obtaining the information but reiterated that, by making the inquiries required, consuls ‘would probably expose themselves to difficulties which they ought not be asked to incur.’ Grey had no choice therefore but to approve an instruction to consuls to report only that information which was ‘readily available without instituting special enquiries.’[29]

                The Admiralty continued to attack on two fronts: first, the information requested was a ‘principal point’ on which every attaché was expected to report and ‘It appears therefore clearly to be a matter on which direct communication between the Intelligence Division of the War Staff and the Attaché is permissible.’ Secondly, subject to the usual precautions, the inquiries sought should be regarded as proper matter for confidential Consular reports according to the Foreign Office’s own Circular to Consuls of 30 September 1909, and so any attempt to warn the consuls against making ‘special enquiries’ was to be deprecated. The Foreign Office had been hoist with its own petard and could do little but agree that the subject matter did indeed belong to the class specified in Section VI of the Schedule annexed to the 1909 circular. But Grey was not about to let the matter drop, and sought justification within the realms of the same circular, paragraph 3 of which enjoined consuls ‘to be careful to abstain from any steps which might expose them to hostile criticism’. Grey was simply warning consuls to avoid ‘incautious enquiries [which] might easily engender suspicion’ under the auspices of paragraph 3. The Foreign Secretary closed the correspondence on New Year’s Day, 1914 with another forlorn attempt to ensure that the Admiralty’s instructions to Attachés and the Attachés’ reports be sent ‘in the ordinary official way through this office.’ It was clear, from the letters of appointment of naval attachés, that direct correspondence should be contemplated only ‘in regard to purely technical matters.’[30]

                Half a year had elapsed since the offending instructions were issued; half a year during which the quest for gathering intelligence had been submerged by a squabble over the channels to be followed. While the Admiralty had scored a few points, the Foreign Office resisted to the end the onslaught against part of its functions by the enemy within. The success, or otherwise, of Captain Boyle’s endeavours against the real enemy went unrecorded. His problem, other than the obvious one of gathering intelligence over such a wide area at a time of feverish construction, was that the Austrians, in particular, were as secretive as the Germans. In Vienna, Naval Attachés

found themselves confronted by a wall of polite vagueness in their contacts with Austrian naval authorities. It was forbidden to move about Pola with a camera, and foreigners in Austrian ports, particularly the naval attachés, were subject to discreet but constant surveillance. Authorization to visit naval establishments had a way of getting tangled and interminably delayed in bureaucratic red tape, and requests for official but non-classified manuals were often returned with the polite reply that the ‘edition was exhausted.’[31]

Slade’s fears of 1909 had been fully justified. Please click to go to the top of this page






[1]     Nicolson to Hardinge, private, 5 September 1914, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/375.

[2]     Robert Blake, The Unknown Prime MInister, p. 221.

[3]     Charmley, Lord Lloyd, pp. 33-4.

[4]     Callwell, Wilson, vol. I, p. 154; Blake, Unknown Prime Minister, p. 222; Charmley, Lord Lloyd, p. 34.

[5]     Quoted in, Blake, Unknown Prime Minister, p. 222.

[6]     Hazlehurst, Politicians at War, p. 96.

[7]     Quoted in, Blake, Unknown Prime Minister, pp. 223-4.

[8]     Hazlehurst, Politicians at War, p. 41; Cassar, Asquith as War Leader, p. 21; Blake, The Unknown Prime Minister, p. 223.

[9]     Wilson, Policy of the Entente, chapter 8 passim.

[10]    Blake, The Unknown Prime Minister, p. 223.

[11]    Kerr, Land, Sea, and Air, p. 176. See also chapter 27, above.

[12]    The Naval Annual, 1905, p. 430.

[13]    Parkes, British Battleships, p. 492.

[14]    Sumida, In Defence of Naval Supremacy, p. 159.

[15]    H C Bywater and H C Ferraby, Strange Intelligence, Memoirs of Naval Secret Service, pp. 23-4.

[16]    Conways All the World’s Fighting Ships, 1906-1921, p. 150.

[17]    PRO Adm 137/819; Lumby, pp. 112-3. These orders were sent to Milne on 1 May 1913.

[18]    PRO Adm 137/819; Lumby, pp. 114-5 — sent to Milne on 20 August 1913 [my emphasis].

[19]    War Plans, in Lt-Cdr Kemp (ed.), The Fisher Papers, p. 353.

[20]    Christopher Andrew, Secret Service, (London, 1985), p. 50.

[21]    ibid., pp. 75-7.

[22]    ibid., p. 80.

[23]    Instructions to Naval Attachés, Admiralty, 13 June 1913, PRO FO 371/1870.

[24]    Naval Attaché Boyle to Fairfax Cartwright, 11 July 1913, PRO FO 371/1870/40378.

[25]    Fairfax Cartwright to Foreign Office, 20 August 1913, ibid.

[26]    Minute by Crowe, PRO FO 371/1870/51566.

[27]    Foreign Office to Admiralty, 4 September 1913, PRO FO 371/1870.

[28]    Admiralty to Foreign Office, 11 November 1913, ibid.

[29]    Foreign Office to Admiralty, 19 November 1913, ibid.

[30]    Foreign Office to Admiralty, 1 January 1914, PRO FO 371/1870/56191.

[31]    Halpern, Medt Naval Situation, p. 160.


First Class Battleship HMS London

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SUPERIOR FORCE : The Conspiracy Behind the Escape of Goeben and Breslau © Geoffrey Miller

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As the range of our activities is so diverse, we have a number of different websites. The site you are currently viewing is wholly devoted to the first of the three non-fiction books written by Geoffrey Miller, and deals specifically with the escape of the German ships Goeben and Breslau to the Dardanelles in August 1914. The main Flamborough Manor site focuses primarily on accommodation but has brief details of all our other activities. To allow for more information to be presented on these other activities, there are other self-contained web-sites. All our web-sites have a LINKS page in common, which allows for easy navigation between the various sites. To find out where you are, or to return to the main site, simply go to the LINKS page.


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