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



Cover of "Superior Force": to order, please click here


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




Chapter 12




The Case Against Kerr




 King Constantine

King Constantine

 In the fevered atmosphere prevailing in Greece in the first year of the war, remaining personally neutral became difficult, if not impossible, as the nebulous pre-war dichotomy between the Court and the Prime Ministerial factions soon crystallized. The ‘Venizelists’ included the diplomats Erskine (who thought the King ‘ridiculous’[1]) and Rendel,[2] while the pro-Constantine faction included Admiral Kerr and the British Military Attaché, Colonel Sir Thomas Montgomery-Cunninghame. Newcomers to the situation were all but forced to embrace one camp or the other; when Compton Mackenzie arrived in August 1915 the passage of a year had not dampened passions — if anything, the reverse. Kerr arranged to meet Mackenzie in the Hotel d’Angleterre and spent ‘the better part of a morning’ providing an exposition of the folly of Entente diplomacy and the wrongs done to the King, until Mackenzie was almost as indignant as Kerr himself. It did not take long, however, for his new-found ardour to cool at which point Mackenzie quickly changed camps to become a staunch Venizelist.


                And, as a convert and later a proselytizer, it was no surprise that Mackenzie subsequently repeated the story that Goeben and Breslau coaled at Syra, adding that a telegram was sent to Hastings, the British consul there, to keep a look-out for them. ‘So,’ Mackenzie tendentiously recounted,

as dear old Hastings himself told me, he used to start away every morning in the heat and sit on the arid cliffs of Syra gazing out to sea for the German warships through a small telescope, “though,” as he added, “what I was expected to do if I saw them I don’t know.” Presently he had the melancholy pleasure of telegraphing to the British Legation in Athens that they were being coaled in the harbour of Syra itself.[3]

So it was then that, by this time, the campaign of disinformation had become entrenched. A year earlier this very same Mr Hastings had maintained – correctly of course – that it was an ‘absolute fable’ that Goeben had coaled at Syra and, certainly, no record exists in the Consular Archives of the telegram Hastings was alleged by Mackenzie to have sent. In any case Hastings was not consul at the time in question: this was the duty of Mr J. Saliba, who sent at least two cables to Erskine in Athens on Saturday 8 August 1914 – the day of the purported coaling – yet neither referred to Goeben, a strange omission if the battle cruiser was actually in the harbour.[4]

                As has been shown, Kerr passed the information that Goeben was ‘near Syra’ to Third Secretary Rendel on the night of 7 August and Rendel relayed this to Milne via Malta. Subsequently, the Russian Admiralty received a cable from Athens that Goeben was coaling at Syra while, in London, the intercepted signal from the mysterious Metriticicas on the 9th went further, to explain the Goeben had asked to coal at Syra but that the demand might not be met due to the Greek Government’s appropriation of all coal stocks. This information, together with the retrospective attempt by Venizelos to seek British authorization to coal belligerent ships, and the curious transformation of the nationality of the collier Bogados from German (in the signal from Piraeus to Athens) to Austrian (in the signal from Athens to Malta), would, the Prime Minister must have hoped, tend to exculpate him with regard to his own responsibility for making possible Souchon’s escape. Indeed, it is tantalizing to suggest that ‘Metriticicas’ was an agent of the Prime Minister and that the message to ‘Warplume’ in London was meant to be intercepted by the British to show that the Greeks had, apparently, refused to coal the German ships. Venizelos, above all – if he wished to carry to fruition his plan to align Greece with the Entente – had the most pressing reason to conceal the fact that he, personally, had provided the lifeline Souchon needed if the German ships were to reach the Straits safely. Naturally, as a committed Venizelist, Mackenzie had a vested interest in pushing the fable of the phantom coaling at Syra; not to do so would have inevitably led to questions being asked as to how Souchon actually did obtain coal if he had not appropriated the stocks at Syra and this, in turn, would have led to the real culprit — Eleutherios Venizelos.

                Mackenzie also made a further charge against King Constantine which is less easy to dismiss than the phantom coaling. ‘So far as I am aware’, he claimed, ‘none of the information contained in [Wilhelm’s telegram of 4 August concerning the Turco-German alliance and the destination of Goeben and Breslau] was communicated, and I should certainly have heard from Admiral Mark Kerr…if he had been authorized to warn the Admiralty about those orders given to the two German warships.’[5] This begs the question that the King did tell Kerr and it was Kerr who, for reasons of his own, did not pass the information on; in that case Kerr would hardly admit to having acted in a manner that could almost be regarded as treasonous. All that Kerr had to do to refute this charge – as far as he was concerned personally – was to claim that the King had not divulged the entire contents of the telegram to him; yet he never used this defence. On the other hand, what proof is there that the Admiral was aware of all the contents of the cable? This is Kerr’s own testimony:

…King Constantine had received a telegram from the Emperor practically dictating the course Greece was to pursue in the war. King Constantine brought the telegram to my house and read it to me.[6] He was indignant at the interference in his country’s affairs. However, to stop such telegrams coming in daily he determined to send on this occasion a sympathetic answer. I may add that at the same time King Constantine was supplying me with information from the secret service for our use in the war and he continued to do so until struck down by illness in the following summer.

letter to ‘the times’ by admiral mark kerr, 9 december 1920.

King Constantine showed me telegrams that passed between him and the German Emperor from time to time, and he was certainly in a very difficult position…during the first year…Greece’s entry would have been a disaster for the Allies. The enemy were overwhelmingly powerful in this part of the world.

the case for constantine by vice-admiral mark kerr, ‘the morning post’, 11 december 1920

When I went to see King Constantine at Lucerne on November 19, 1920…I asked him if there was anything secret or otherwise that could be brought up against him by the Allies, as I should have to act as counsel on his behalf in the case of any disputes as to his past policy. He replied to me that his wife’s telegrams to the Emperor were sent when he was ill, without his knowledge, but that, after all, they were only a natural outburst of anger to her brother on the way that the Allies had behaved towards her husband, after he had done all he could to assist them short of plunging his country into war without support in sufficient quantity from those self-same Allies. The only other point was the opening sentence of the telegram above referred to [Constantine’s reply of 7 August to Wilhelm], which contained King Constantine’s reply to the Emperor’s telegram of August 4, 1914, sent through the Greek Minister at Berlin. This opening sentence stated that ‘the Emperor knows that my personal sympathy and my political opinion lead me to his side. I shall never forget that to him we owe Kavalla.’

                His Majesty commenced to explain that he was sugaring the pill which is contained in the rest of the telegram, and I told him that it was needless to explain it to me, as I had been with him when he received the telegram, and he intimated to me then what his reply would be.

mark kerr, ‘land, sea and air’, (1927), pp. 188-9.

I was in constant touch with King Constantine. He was NOT pro-German in any way whatever, and altogether was VERY pro-Ally. He permitted me to send the Greek plan for the taking of the Dardanelles to our Admiralty, and also all the secret service information which came weekly from the Dardanelles to Athens he ordered to be sent to me for transmission to London…The King showed me all the telegrams which passed between him and the German Emperor and others, and the replies that he received.

admiral mark kerr, letter to ‘the sunday times’, 10 november 1940.

What was even more remarkable was the Admiral’s reticence with regard to Goeben and Breslau. Although keen to draw attention to Constantine’s telegram of the 7th, emphasizing the threats and incentives of the German Emperor’s telegram three days previously, Kerr consistently ignored all mention of the Turco-German alliance and the order to Souchon to proceed to Constantinople. Kerr was obviously still more intent on protecting the King’s reputation than saving his own but clearly must have hoped that, by not mentioning the contents of the 4 August telegram, no-one would make the connexion. As the King’s brother later admitted in a fulsome tribute, Kerr ‘stood by King Constantine through thick and thin, and at a moment when it was difficult to do so. He risked his own career for his friend.’[7] In 1925 Kerr wrote the preface for the published edition of some of the King’s letters and, therefore, was presumably aware of the contents of the book, including the footnote which appeared after mention of the infamous telegram of 4 August: ‘King Constantine read this telegram to Admiral Mark Kerr, expressing to him his indignation at the interference on the part of the Emperor in the internal affairs of Greece.’[8] Kerr did not refute this statement.

                There would seem to be little doubt then that Kerr was aware of the telegram and most of its contents; but was he perhaps presented with an edited version in the same sense that Venizelos gave Erskine a doctored version of the report from Theotokis? Here the evidence is of a more negative character. In his continued defence of Constantine over the next quarter of a century Kerr took pains to mention that the King had passed him ALL the information that was variously available. With the flood of diplomatic documents being published in the 1920s Kerr should have been aware of the full contents of all the telegrams including that of 4 August from Wilhelm to Constantine. Indeed, as early as 1919 (that is, before the date of any of the above quotations by Kerr in the King’s defence), the complete text of the telegram was published in England by J. S. Willmore in his The Story of King Constantine as revealed in the Greek White Book.[9] It is inconceivable that Kerr was not aware of this. Would he have defended the King quite so vehemently if he thought the King had deceived him? In fact Kerr was not averse to judicious editing to save the King embarrassment when Constantine was on the verge of returning to Greece in 1920. In the Morning Post article Kerr quoted Constantine’s reply to Wilhelm of 7 August but deliberately withheld the opening sentence, ‘The Emperor knows that my personal sympathy as well as my political opinions draw me to his side.’ The Admiral waited seven years before explaining why he had censored this sentence: his explanation is given above in the quotation from his autobiography Land, Sea and Air.

                The King died in 1923 yet his memory remained sacred to Kerr. The Admiral risked disgrace once the text of the Kaiser’s telegram was published; if Constantine had deceived Kerr over the contents of the telegram, the Admiral’s defence was simple: the King had deliberately kept him in the dark. Yet he never used this defence. There remains the other alternative that the King divulged the contents of the telegram but swore Kerr to secrecy to prevent incurring the wrath of the Kaiser. It has already been seen that Constantine was afraid of being ‘rude’ to his brother-in-law and that this might result in calamity for Greece; what would Wilhelm have thought if his impulsive cable to Constantine had resulted in the destruction of Souchon’s squadron?


One theory has recently been advanced that Kerr might have been used – ‘controlled’ – by British Intelligence to feed disinformation to the Kaiser.[10] Kerr had been in close personal touch with the German Emperor since a long meeting with him at Corfu in April 1908 (though he had first met Wilhelm as long ago as 1889 at Phalerum Bay in Greece for the wedding of the then Crown Prince Constantine to Sophie, Wilhelm’s sister[11]). Following the meeting at Corfu Wilhelm sent Kerr a copy of the German Navy handbook Nauticus which Kerr used as a pretext to write a long, apparently indiscreet, letter to the Emperor in which he mentioned that he was going to be the first captain of Invincible, the revolutionary new British battle cruiser, and that he had just been on board her sister ship Indomitable where he discovered:

                They found no difficulty in getting the speed, but of course it was very hard to get the coal to the fires after the first two days – Her bunkers stretching so far forward and aft every soul was down below trimming coal at the end. [As Captain Kennedy was to discover in August 1914.] Still it was a fine performance. One advantage of the turbine is – that the strain on the Engineer officers is reduced to a minimum. [The underlining belonged to Wilhelm who found this statement of particular interest.] There are not hot bearings to be looked for! Yet the steam and the ship will gallop! I have talked to two Cabinet Ministers and several Members of Parliament about keeping the names of foreign Powers out of their mouths when discussing naval and military programmes and I am glad to say that the two ministers have both spoken in public since and deprecated the naming of Germany as an enemy or rival. I have also talked to some newspaper men about the same thing.

                I find that in the last few years a great change has come over the feelings of the upper classes in this country. I have had several conversations with men and women in society and whereas a few years ago I found most people very prejudiced against the German Empire and the German people, now the feeling has changed and the admiration and appreciation of your Majesty is almost general, in fact I have only met one man who did not share in it. He was of no account by the time I had finished with him he was sorry he had spoken. Certainly he had no supporters. Then as regards the feeling towards the German people I find a general tendency to admire their patriotism and hard work. Indeed I hope that better understandings are arising.

                I had a long discussion with two Cabinet Ministers about the Two Power Standard and they came to agree that it was a pity that it had ever been started but thought that it was impossible to abandon the expression now. They said ‘If it was dropped we should get no more money, to begin with, and we should probably be turned out of power to end with.’ However, they promised to cultivate a better way of talking of these things in the future. Words mean so much in these days of irresponsible newspapers. In any case I shall do my small work of trying to produce the better feeling and I have got some others to help, and each night I pray that God’s help may be in the good cause – of friendship between the two great countries – that I know your Majesty has at heart.

                                                                Wishing your Majesty every possible good wish.

                                                I have the honour to be Your Majesty’s most obedient and devoted servant.[12]

Yet, a quarter of a century later, the chapter on the Kaiser in Kerr’s autobiography is an anodyne affair that quotes next to none of the correspondence, which continued until the outbreak of the war. Kerr does relate, however, one of the, allegedly, most successful British secret service operations of the pre-war period:

There is an interesting little history attached to the building of the Invincible, the first type of battle-cruiser that was ever designed. 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 Kerr had told Wilhelm] as against the Blücher’s 11-inch guns and lesser speed. I happened to be the first captain of the Invincible, and I sent a picture-postcard of her to the German Emperor, to which he replied by sending me one of the Blücher, on which he had written, ‘This is Wellington’s old ally.’[13]

Was it no more than a coincidence that Kerr, on intimate terms with the Kaiser, was made first captain of Invincible after the Germans had been supposedly misled as to the firepower and speed of this new type of ship — the development of which Fisher, in particular, viewed with such great importance; or was he rewarded for services rendered? Fisher used to like to boast that, when necessary, he could have information ‘whispered in the German Emperor’s ear’ presumably through a network of informal contacts.[14]

                Kerr was not the sole user of this extra-diplomatic channel: Rear-Admiral the Hon. Victor Montagu also conducted a fawning correspondence with the Kaiser from 1908 till the outbreak of war.[15] According to the authors of the study referred to above,

It is clear that the letters of Montagu and Kerr…circulated in the policy-making circles of the German Empire, and that the information they contained on the views of substantial sections of British opinion and on British domestic politics and the problems of the British Government, were of interest to the All-Highest. The latter…recognised that the correspondence presented an alternative view of both the actual state and the potentialities of Anglo-German relations to that derived from more conventional sources. There might, however, have been rather more to it than this. The coincidence of several of the letters… with times of tension provokes the speculation that these two correspondents might not have been so entirely under the spell of the Kaiser as their modes of address suggest…[16]

Was Kerr, then, a “sleeper” whose supposed influence with the Kaiser made him a perfect conduit for disseminating misinformation and who, at the crucial moment, was positioned in Greece to try to ensure that country’s adherence to the Entente? If so, did he then, under the influence of Constantine, disobey his instructions in an attempt to keep Greece neutral, having been convinced by the King that this was the only safe course? This was certainly the view taken by the Foreign Office in London.[17] In that case, one comes back to Compton Mackenzie’s view of Kerr as a naïve, impressionable officer, besotted by Royalty, who ‘genuinely believed a King was by the quality of his kingship endowed with superior discernment.’[18] Unquestionably, Kerr’s remarkable letter to Battenberg of December 1913 (quoted earlier) in which the Admiral expressed a desire to change his nationality to fight with the Greeks provides evidence of a certain instability in Kerr’s make-up.

                In the First Lord’s letter to Battenberg immediately prior to Kerr’s appointment in Greece, Churchill had warned against Kerr imparting any ‘naval information of a specially secret character’ as it ‘may be transmitted to Germany, and…we have no corresponding method of obtaining information of German developments.’[19] If Kerr were a secret agent it would not seem, therefore, to have been under the official aegis of the Admiralty: as Churchill makes clear, the original naval mission to Greece had been promised by the Foreign Office without consulting the Admiralty who then, out of pique, decreed that only retired officers (the first of whom would be Admiral Tufnell) could be sent. When the Greeks complained at this treatment – as the Turks had been sent serving officers for their mission – a serving officer was sought by Churchill to go to Athens but, it would seem, his primary concern was ‘to give them really good men who will do us credit.’[20] Kerr’s immediate patron at the Admiralty was Battenberg, who was Director of Naval Intelligence from 1903 to 1905, while Fisher, who also had a keen interest in Kerr’s career, was a born intriguer and remained a powerful influence behind the scenes from the period after the end of his first tenure as First Sea Lord until his re-employment in the same position following Battenberg’s enforced resignation late in 1914. Given the amateurish, at times chaotic, state of the pre-war intelligence services[21] is it possible that Kerr was a member of an informal ‘network’ operating in and connected by the myriad strands of European royalty?


There is, it should be pointed out, some doubt as to whether the Kaiser was completely taken in by his garrulous English informants; certainly he attempted, in turn, to feed disinformation back through the same channels. The laying down of Dreadnought in 1905 had caught the German Admiralty off-guard and a perturbed Wilhelm made an ‘amateurish’ attempt that year to sway British policy by sending the same Admiral Montagu details of ‘elderly German battleships’ in the hope Montagu would pass these on.[22] By 1907 Tirpitz was desperately engineering an amendment to the 1900 Navy Law which would reduce the life of a capital ship from 25 to 20 years. To replace existing older ships therefore, the building tempo would have to be increased to four ships a year from 1908-9 to 1911-12, dropping to two thereafter until the programme expired in 1917-18. Although the amendment was eventually passed by the Reichstag in March 1908, to disarm the British, Wilhelm took the extraordinary step in February of that year of writing direct to the First Lord, Tweedmouth,[23] in an attempt to refute the implication that the increased rate of building was meant as a challenge to British naval supremacy. Tweedmouth was delighted – not at the putative refutation – but to have received, personally, a nine page hand-written letter from the All-Highest.[24] The flattered, dying Tweedmouth was indiscreet and Repington, military correspondent of The Times, heard of the letter. The British Estimates for 1908-9 would shortly be debated: capital ship construction had decreased from four ships in 1905 to three in 1906 and 1907 and now only two were proposed. Meanwhile, under Tirpitz, German building had increased conversely from two in 1905 to three and now four. To Repington the Kaiser’s letter was ‘an insidious attempt to influence, in German interests, a British First Lord, and at a most critical moment, namely, just before the Estimates were coming on in Parliament.’[25] When The Times went public on 6 March; however, rather than initiating a scare, it focused attention on the unfortunate First Lord, who was soon after removed. What would Repington’s reaction had been if he had known that Tweedmouth – with Grey’s approval – had sent a copy of the new estimates to Wilhelm before they were submitted to Parliament? Having thus, indirectly, contributed to the downfall of Tweedmouth, the Kaiser decamped to Corfu where the Captain of one of the British battleships sent to greet him (Formidable and Implacable) was none other than Mark Kerr.

                Kerr admitted that there ‘had lately been a little trouble over one of the Emperor’s impulsive telegrams [sic] which the British public had resented, though why they made such a fuss about it in the Press I have never yet been able to understand.’[26] At a luncheon on Implacable Wilhelm came complete with a ‘sketch plan of what the German Fleet would be in 1920, if nothing happened between this and then.’[27] The Kaiser’s diagram done, according to Kerr, ‘with his usual clearness and neatness’ showed an active fleet of 17 ships of the line and 16 cruisers, and a reserve fleet comprising the same numbers though with a proportion of the ships not actually commissioned and others with nucleus crews. Kerr was so taken with the diagram that it was reproduced, in colour, in his memoirs. Here was the proposed German fleet strength: ‘I am going to have that exactly, neither more nor less’, the Kaiser had told Kerr, helpfully adding afterwards, ‘By the way, Kerr, you can send that paper…to Sir John Fisher.’

                Kerr states that, without this licence from Wilhelm, he would not have forwarded the paper to Fisher (!) ‘considering it to be a private matter told me in confidence’. Was this a crude attempt to feed information back through Kerr to bolster Wilhelm’s contention that not only was the German fleet NOT directed against Britain but, in any event, its size – even by 1920 – would not be threatening? In fact, following the 1908 Supplementary Bill Tirpitz was aiming for a fleet in 1920 of 58 capital ships and 38 light cruisers, far in excess of the comforting figures so generously given to Kerr.[28] Within a year British apprehensions regarding the acceleration of the German building programme and faulty intelligence combined to produce the great 1909 Naval Scare, based on the assumption that Germany would have at least 17 capital ships in commission by 1912 and possibly 21.[29] As all of Wilhelm’s previous direct approaches to influence British policy had come disastrously unstuck did he believe that his attempt to play down the threat posed by Germany would carry more weight by being received confidentially in London through the medium of Mark Kerr?

                If it is accepted that Kerr knew, some time between the 4th and 7th of August 1914, of Souchon’s destination but that the German Admiral still made good his escape it would seem that there are only three possibilities: Kerr deliberately withheld the information; or he relayed it in doctored form; or else he passed it on verbatim and it was ignored. Kerr’s most obvious motive for failing to disclose the destination of Souchon’s squadron was a desire to protect his source, King Constantine, just as, in 1908, he would allegedly not have divulged the privileged information given him by the Kaiser without a licence to do so.[30] He had been convinced by the King that, in the interests of self-preservation, neutrality was the only course Greece could sensibly adopt; but could this be squared with a calculated decision to let two enemy ships escape? Was there another way? The Kaiser’s impetuous telegram provided Kerr with the knowledge of Souchon’s eventual destination, yet, if he simply stated to Milne that Goeben was near Syra, was steering a north-easterly course, and was known to be heading for Constantinople, he stood the risk of compromising the King, with, perhaps, dire consequences for Greece. Fortunately, or so it must have seemed at the time, Kerr had other means at his disposal for ascertaining the whereabouts of Souchon, principally the (admittedly) nascent field of wireless telegraphy, of which Kerr himself was a great proponent. The intelligence Milne received after sailing from Malta, which originated with Kerr, stated that ‘from strength of signals Goeben thought to be near Syra’ so, apparently, Kerr WAS trying to lead Milne in the right direction, while at the same time disguising the source. What he might not have counted on was the fact that Milne would ignore this new source of intelligence.

                As already related, the first information from St Petersburg — which the Russians had obtained from Kerr and which did state that the German ships were steering north-east — arrived in London soon after midnight on the night of 8/9 August. Unaware as to the identity of the Russians’ informant, this information was passed on, without comment, to Mr Erskine in Athens, from whence the information had originated. Erskine received the telegram at 9 o’clock that Sunday morning and, by 11.45 a.m., he had drafted his reply, shown below exactly as it appears in the archives:

Dft Mr Erskine to Sir E Grey              Tel. No. 140 Secret              sent 11.45 a.m.

Petersburg Tel. No. 247

Your tel No. 112

Information is correct.

I am in constant communication with Intelligence Officer Malta respecting movements of German ships of war referred to & am being helped by secretly helped by Admiral Kerrby wireless telegraphy of Greek Ministry of Marine Admiralty. Latest news of Goeben believed to be off near Syra nig evening of Aug 7. Greek Govt think she is may contemplate going into Black Sea. & They have warned Greek fleet to not to expose themselves to possible danger.[31]










Petersburg Tel. No. 247


Petersburg Tel. No. 247


Your tel No. 112


Information is correct


I am in constant communication with Intelligence Officer Malta respecting movements of German ships referred to & am being helped by Admiral Kerr with wireless telegraphy of Greek Ministry of Marine. Latest news of Goeben was off Syra night of Aug 7. Greek Govt think she is going into Black Sea. They have warned Greek fleet not to expose themselves to possible danger.


I am in constant communication with Intelligence Officer Malta respecting movements of German ships referred to & am being secretly helped by wireless telegraphy of Greek Admiralty. Goeben was believed to be near Syra evening of Aug 7. Greek Govt think she may contemplate going into Black Sea & have warned Greek fleet not to expose themselves to possible danger.[32]


Not only did the telegram as sent hide Kerr’s involvement it was also far less definite with regard to its intelligence regarding the whereabouts of  Souchon and his destination. In the draft, Goeben is stated to be ‘off Syra’ while the ‘Greek Govt think she is going into Black Sea’. This was watered down in the amended final form so that Goeben ‘was believed to be near Syra’ and ‘Greek Govt think she may contemplate going into Black Sea’; this was a far more equivocal evaluation. What happened on the morning of Sunday 9 August to make Erskine change his mind? There can be little doubt that, as the matter was of the greatest concern to the Greek navy as well, he must have seen Kerr that morning. In that case, why was Kerr so keen to disguise his involvement? Surely, if Erskine had cabled London that morning ‘Admiral Kerr believes, from wireless telegraphy and other intelligence, that Goeben is going to Dardanelles’ someone in the Foreign Office or Admiralty might have paid more attention? And if Erskine really was ‘in constant communication with Intelligence Officer Malta’ why was this information not relayed to him as a matter of urgency? When Erskine’s telegram was received in London it was – at last – sufficient to alert the Admiralty as to the possibility that Souchon was making for Constantinople. Certainly, by first thing Monday morning (10 August), it was believed in the Admiralty that this was, indeed, Souchon’s destination; characteristically, Milne was not informed.[33]

                As far as Third Secretary Rendel was concerned, however, the Legation had done its job: after relaying the information to Milne that Goeben was near Syra on the night of 7/8 August, he later recorded that, ‘we spent the next two days anxiously expecting news of her destruction. Instead the news suddenly broke on us that both ships had passed through the Dardanelles’.[34] Just possibly Kerr was as dumbstruck as Rendel; he was certainly remarkably reticent in his post-war writings concerning the escape of Goeben and Breslau. His 1927 memoirs – running to 400 pages – contain not a single reference to the German ships. Six years later, in The Navy in My Time, his only comment on the escape is a swipe at Milne for not bottling up Souchon at Messina: ‘it is a primary maxim in strategy to go to the place where the enemy is, if you know it, and await his exit, and not to take a chance by going where you think his destination is.’[35] Was Kerr trying to absolve himself of blame for not divulging his knowledge of the destination?

                He also refuted any suggestion that he might have been ‘placed’ deliberately in Athens: Battenberg had cabled Kerr on August 7, via Grey and Erskine, ordering the naval mission to remain in Greece ‘ready for action afloat or ashore’ until it was decided whether Greece would join the Entente,[36] yet a year later Kerr was still in Athens, chaffing at his ‘detention’. When malaria resulted from the bite of a ‘kindly’ mosquito while Kerr was undergoing a rheumatism cure his chance came to return to England where he found that ‘the Admiralty said the Foreign Office was responsible for our detention out there, and when I accused the Foreign Office they retorted that it was nothing to do with them, as it was entirely a naval affair.’[37] The Foreign Office might not have been as innocent as they made out, for certainly, as has been shown, Battenberg was of the opinion that they were responsible for starting the ‘stupid myth’ that Kerr prevented Greece from joining the Entente. Kerr’s most detailed mention of Goeben and Breslau is contained in his defence of King Constantine in his Morning Post article of 11 December 1920 where he placed particular emphasis on the fact that the King had no knowledge of the Germans’ coaling. The defence was straightforward: international law provided for a belligerent ship to obtain coal at a neutral port but, in any event, it was Venizelos, and not the King, who gave the permission. And, Kerr added speciously, the German ships ‘did not coal at any Greek Port.’ It was a defence that would not have withstood much cross-examination.






[1]    Compton Mackenzie, First Athenian Memories, p. 58.

[2]    Rendel, The Sword and the Olive, p. 16.

[3]    Mackenzie, First Athenian Memories, p. 31. For a Royalist account of Mackenzie’s activities, see Nichols, Twenty-five, pp. 128-32.

[4]    It should be noted that, in a later volume of memoirs (Greek Memories, London, 2nd edition, 1939), Mackenzie took the “opportunity to correct a misstatement.” Buried away in a footnote on page 418 Mackenzie acknowledged that Goeben and Breslau had not coaled at Syra “but at the island of Dinusa (sic), about sixty miles to the eastward, with which there was no telegraphic communication.” Mackenzie does not comment on how the original blunder came to be made and offers no excuse as to why his credibility should not be impugned in relation to other ‘episodes’.

[5]    Mackenzie, First Athenian Memories, p. 30.

[6]    Note: this, and following italicized passages, are all my emphasis.

[7]    HRH Prince Nicholas of Greece, My Fifty Years, (London, 1926), p. 317 [my emphasis].

[8]    Constantine, A King’s Private Letters, p. 151.

[9]    Published by Longman Green & Co. The telegram is on page 13.

[10]  K M Wilson and A Goodearl, ‘Most Obedient and Devoted Servants’: Some Correspondence of Certain British Naval Persons with Kaiser Wilhelm II, in The Mariners’ Mirror, vol. 72,  No. 1, February 1986, pp. 63-7.

[11]  Kerr, Land, Sea, and Air, p. 61.

[12]  Kerr to Kaiser Wilhelm, 7 August 1908, quoted in Wilson and Goodearl, op. cit., p. 64.

[13]  Kerr, Land, Sea, and Air, p. 176. A question mark must hang over this interesting story, however: see appendix iv.

[14]  See, for example, Fisher to Corbett, 28 July 1905, F.G.D.N., vol. II, p. 63.

[15]  Wilson and Goodearl, passim; Holger Herwig, Luxury Fleet, p. 55.

[16]  Wilson and Goodearl, pp. 65-6.

[17]  Battenberg to Admiral Hamilton, 19 March 1916, Hamilton mss., NMM HTN 125. Battenberg wrote: ‘…I trust the stupid myth, started by F. O., that Kerr prevented Greece from joining is [sic, should be ‘us’] is exploded.’

[18]  Compton Mackenzie, First Athenian Memories, p. 59.

[19]  WSC Comp. vol. II, pt. iii, p. 1635. Given as Churchill to Bridgeman, 19 August 1912, but see Chapter 24, note 13.

[20]  Churchill to Battenberg, 20 May 1913, Battenberg mss., IWM DS/MISC/20 Reel 3 Item 217.

[21]  See appendix viii.

[22]  Herwig, Luxury Fleet, p. 55. Herwig adds a final ‘e’ to Montagu’s name.

[23]  The pretext for the Kaiser’s letter was Esher’s letter to The Times of 6 February. See, Marder, Dreadnought, vol. I, p. 140; Padfield, The Great Naval Race, pp. 181-2.

[24]  Fisher met Esher a few days later and told him ‘You have had the greatest compliment paid you that was ever paid a man. The German Emperor has written to Tweedmouth nine pages in his own hand, full of abuse of you!’ Esher Journal, 19 February 1908, quoted in Padfield, p. 182.

[25]  Quoted in, Marder, Dreadnought, vol. I, p. 141.

[26]  Kerr, Land, Sea, and Air, p. 161.

[27]  Ibid., p. 167.

[28]  Herwig, Luxury Fleet, p. 63. This would be only two short of Tirpitz’s ‘magic number’ of 60 capital ships — see, Berghahn, Germany and the Approach of the First World War, p. 66.

[29]  Marder, Dreadnought, vol. I, p. 152.

[30]  He might, presumably, have been aware also that any information purporting to have come from the Kaiser via King Constantine would either have been disbelieved or undermined by Venizelos.

[31]  Erskine to Grey, no. 140, Secret, sent 11.45 a.m., 9 August 1914, PRO FO 286/572/35656.

[32]  Erskine to Grey, no. 140, sent 11.45 a.m., 9 August 1914 — see chapter 12, above.

[33]  Dumas, diary entry for 10 August 1914, IWM PP/MCR/96. The conclusion that Souchon was heading for Constantinople must have been formed in the Admiralty sometime after 5.10 p.m. on Sunday 9th (when Milne was informed only that the German ships were thought to have coaled at Syra the previous day) and before 8.30 the following morning, when Dumas arrived and was told that the ships had passed Syra and were on their way to the Turkish capital.

[34]  Rendel, The Sword and the Olive, p. 19.

[35]  Kerr, The Navy in My Time, p. 187 [emphasis in original].

[36]  Grey to Erskine, 7 August 1914, PRO FO 286/575.

[37]  Kerr, Land, Sea, and Air, p. 204.


First Class Battleship HMS Albemarle

Ships of the Victorian & Edwardian Navy :


I have been drawing the ships of the Victorian and Edwardian Navy for twenty years for my personal pleasure and I am including some of these drawings on this site in the hope that others may find them of interest. The original drawings are all in pencil. Reducing the file size and therefore the download time has resulted in some loss of detail.

A set of postcards featuring eight of my drawings is now available for £2.50, which includes postage anywhere in the world.

For more information please click on the drawing below:


Please click here to see more ship drawings




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

The Links Page :

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.


Please click to go to the top of this page



HMS Berwick : Original artwork © 2004 Geoffrey Miller
HMS Berwick
[Original artwork © 2004 Geoffrey Miller]

  Geoffrey Miller can be contacted by:
01262 850943  [International: +44 1262 850943]
Postal address

The Manor House,
East Riding of Yorkshire, YO15 1PD
United Kingdom.




Secondary Navigation Copyright © 1995-2014
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be further reproduced by any means without the prior permission of the author, Geoffrey Miller, who has asserted his right in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Click to go to top of page
Home ContentsSearch FeedbackEssay Introduction TimeLine Reviews Chapter 1
Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10
Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19
Appendices Bibliography Index Straits The Millstone Ordering Order Form Biographies Links

Web-site design & content Copyright © 1995-2006 Geoffrey Miller