On 27 July
the Admiralty telegraphed to Milne that war was be no means impossible and he
should be prepared to shadow hostile men of war. It was emphasized that this was
NOT the Warning Telegram and Milne was directed to return to Malta, at ordinary
speed, and remain there while completing with coal and stores.
Troubridge, at the
time still at Durazzo in Defence, was to be
warned to be ready to rejoin the force with dispatch.
In accordance with the programme of his cruise, Milne was then at Alexandria in
Inflexible, together with
armoured cruisers Warrior and
Black Prince, the light cruisers
Weymouth, Dublin and Gloucester, and 13
destroyers. With Defence at Durazzo, Milne’s
fourth heavy cruiser, Duke of Edinburgh, was at
Malta having just completed an annual refit
while his third battle cruiser, Indomitable,
which was four months overdue for a refit, had parted company from the Squadron
off Beirut on 21 July to return to Malta ahead of the squadron for the refit to
begin. Her Captain, Francis Kennedy, had been complaining to Milne since March
1913 regarding the state of the electrical wiring in particular and the ship was
placed in dockyard hands immediately upon her arrival on 23 July. By the time
Milne received the preparatory telegram Indomitable had already had a great deal of machinery removed, but
the refit was quickly forgotten and work commenced at once to prepare the ship,
replenish the magazines and fill the empty bunkers with 1,800 tons of coal.
With the attitude of Italy still
uncertain, with Goeben known to be
then at Pola, and aware also that Milne was under strength by one battle cruiser
(Invincible), Churchill asked
Battenberg on 28 July to consider whether or not the battle cruiser
Zealand should be sent out to join the squadron;
however, it was decided at an Admiralty conference that afternoon
to reinforce Milne.
As the Admiralty pondered thus, Milne’s squadron left Alexandria, having
insouciantly, if punctiliously, waited there for over 12 hours so as to be able
to depart at the time published in the programme. Even then there seemed no
particular urgency and this relaxed attitude was reinforced by an erroneous W/T
message received via Dublin at Port
Said to the effect that Serbia had accepted the Austrian demands and there would
be no war. The larger ships calmly practised range-keeping in the forenoon and
only after that were they ordered to raise steam for extra speed.
Such repose was no longer evident in London. On 29 July the Cabinet considered
its position in case Belgian neutrality should be violated and decided that, in
this eventuality, the British response would be determined by policy rather than
legal obligations. Grey was authorized to inform the French and German
Ambassadors ‘that at this stage we were unable to pledge ourselves in advance,
either under all conditions to stand aside, or in any condition to join in.’
Churchill then described the naval precautions that had been taken and it was
resolved that the ‘preliminary stage’ had arrived and the ‘warning
telegram’ should be sent. This was done shortly before 2 p.m., immediately
after the Cabinet rose;
meanwhile Milne’s squadron had arrived at Malta during the day. That evening
the official warning telegram was in the C-in-C’s hands at a minute after 10
o’clock — in the event of war, Milne’s
War Orders No. 2 would come into force.
The following afternoon, in his room
at the Admiralty, Churchill sat down to draft a telegram to Milne which would
set in motion the train of events leading to Troubridge’s fateful course of
action and which would gain notoriety as the “superior force” telegram. As
such, it is essential to study Churchill’s original draft to discover the
changes he made and to try to ascertain the reasons for those changes. In the
following, the words struck through were deleted in the final version, and the
words in square brackets were added. Churchill wrote, initially:
war break out and England and France engage in it, it now seems probable that
Italy will remain neutral and that Greece can be made an ally. Spain also will
be friendly & possibly an ally. The attitude of Italy is however uncertain
and it is especially important that your squadron shd not be seriously engaged
with Austrian ships before we know what Italy will do. Your first task shd be to
aid the French in the transportation of their African army by covering and if
possible bringing to action fast German or Austrian ships [particularly Goeben] wh may interfere with that transportation. You will be
notified by telegraph when you may consult with the French Admiral. Do not [at
this stage] be brought to action against superior forces in any w except
[in combination with the French] as part of a general battle. The speed of your
squadrons is sufficient to enable you to choose your moment. We shall hope to
reinforce the Mediterranean and you must husband your forces at the outset.
the first draft, Churchill’s intentions become somewhat clearer than a reading
of the final telegram as sent would indicate, and it is a pity he did not take
the time to compose a fresh draft instead of tinkering with the first. This
might possibly have avoided the awkward construction of the central sentence: as
Churchill removed the reference to Austrian ships, to avoid contradicting the
preceding sentence (which warned Milne not to become “seriously engaged”
with Austrian ships until the attitude of Italy was clarified), the following
sentence now referred only to Goeben and
should have said as much. All of Churchill’s subsequent alterations occur in
the sixth sentence. As originally drafted it read: ‘Do not be brought to
action against superior forces in any w[ay?] except as part of a general
battle.’ As it stood, this was hopelessly ambiguous, failing to define what
constituted either “superior forces” or “a general battle”. The addition
of the qualifying clause “in combination with the French” after “except”
tends to indicate what Churchill later admitted he had clearly meant: do not
engage the Austrians single-handed.
However, the weight of the additional clause fell on the first half of the
sentence, leading to the possible interpretation that “superior forces”,
whatever they might be, could be engaged with French assistance. The sentence,
as Churchill meant it, was, in any case, superfluous: Milne had already been
warned off the Austrians. Had Churchill simply deleted the sentence, instead of
altering it in three instances, Troubridge’s torment on the night of 6/7
August could have been avoided. The outcome might not have changed – as
Souchon could still have declined battle if he chose – but Troubridge’s
reputation would have remained intact.
The perils of letting loose a
headstrong politician in the Admiralty were also illustrated by the confusing
advice regarding Italy: first, it ‘now seems probable’ that she would remain
neutral but then, in the following sentence, the attitude of Italy was
‘uncertain’. Similarly, why did Churchill assure Milne that ‘we shall hope
to reinforce the Mediterranean’ when he knew that Battenberg had already
decided against such a move? There remains also the possibility that Churchill
was influenced in drafting the telegram by the presence of Admiral Fisher at the
Admiralty that day: whether Fisher had a hand in its composition or whether
Churchill sought to impress his mentor is problematical. What is certain is that
Fisher admitted to having had ‘a very exciting time’ with Churchill on the
30th and that, unusually for him, he ‘did not get back till late & did not
sleep a wink last night in consequence! I can’t leave here while war is
likely’, he blissfully declared, ‘as apparently I am wanted…’
replied to the Admiralty that, in order to carry out his primary duty of
assisting the French to protect their transports, and in view of the greater
strength of the Austrian and Italian fleets, he would keep his force
concentrated at Malta until he received permission to consult the French
Admiral. This meant that he could not afford to spare cruisers to protect trade
in the Eastern Mediterranean basin but he would detach a single cruiser to watch
the southern entrance of the Straits of Messina. The contingency that Italy
would side with the Triple Alliance had to be allowed for but already, by the
last day of July, the rumour had spread throughout the ships gathered in Malta
that Italy would not participate. ‘This came as a surprise to nobody’, wrote
one of the Defence’s midshipmen,
‘and it is assumed she will chip in on the winning side a little later on.’
His only other worry concerned the whereabouts of the German cruiser
– last reported in the Azores – and possibly heading for the Mediterranean.
The Director of the Operations Division, Rear-Admiral Leveson, minuted that
Milne appeared ‘to be carrying out the spirit of his orders and no reply seems
required other than informing him that Strasbourg is in the English Channel.’ Battenberg approved.
Milne lost the services of one of
his cruisers, temporarily, when Black Prince departed at 7 a.m. on Saturday, 1 August to collect
Kitchener and his staff from Marseilles with instructions to convey them to
Alexandria; however, the order was cancelled the following day when it was
decided that Kitchener should remain in London as a member of the Cabinet.
Late that Saturday night the first tenuous clues as to the movements of the
German ships were received in London when it was reported (erroneously) from
Rome that Breslau was coaling in
Brindisi, but that it was thought she would be returning to Albania. This
information was updated some hours later when the Admiral Superintendent at
Malta, reported (again incorrectly) that both Goeben and
coaling in Brindisi.
Meanwhile, Troubridge’s ship buzzed with activity in preparation for war:
loose gear was bundled out of the ship into empty coal lighters. Officers and
all hoisting the stuff out. It was quite heavy work lumping the sea chests about
the place. There was not time to stow the lighters at all carefully so
everything was just jumbled on pell mell…
The feverish activity in Malta was
mirrored in London on Sunday 2 August. The attitude of Italy had now become
clearer and it seemed increasingly likely that she would adopt a course of
neutrality: in this eventuality Churchill instructed that Battenberg and the new
C.O.S., Vice-Admiral Sir Frederick Doveton Sturdee, should consider whether the
four ships of Troubridge’s First Cruiser Squadron and one battle cruiser or,
alternatively, two heavy cruisers and two battle cruisers, should not return
home. ‘The French should be consulted about this, and as to their plans’,
the First Lord added, continuing: ‘You may do this as a piece of staff work
— making it clear that we cannot decide questions of policy.’
So much for Churchill’s earlier promise to Milne that the Mediterranean would
Battenberg, clear in his own mind at
least as to the direction that Admiralty policy had taken during his tenure,
first stated the position simply: ‘England massed in the North,
safeguarding French interest against Germany. France massed in Meditn.,
safeguarding British interests against Austria.’ The First Sea Lord
immediately had second thoughts with regard to the French task and replaced
“British interests” with the more politic “joint interests”;
interestingly, the corresponding change was not made to the unselfish British
task, which seemed to be solely concerned with protecting the French. Battenberg
concluded that France was overwhelmingly superior to Austria in battleships,
armoured cruisers and torpedo craft, but quite deficient in light cruisers. And
as, in any case, Goeben and
had to be covered by the British, Battenberg proposed that
(the newest of the three British battle cruisers) and Dublin should remain on station to tackle
that the light cruisers should remain to assist the French but that the
remainder – two battle cruisers and the First Cruiser Squadron – should
return to the North Sea.
Sturdee, as his name almost seemed to imply, was far more cautious — and
realistic. ‘I rather hold that an open mind be kept on making any
reduction’, he informed the First Sea Lord, adding,
situation will have to be very clear before doing so. Even against Austria and
the Goeben. If French and English squadrons do not work well in
combination the reduction could not be made. In any case I should prefer leaving
for a time First Cruiser Squadron with the Inflexibles on the station. First
Cruiser Squadron might prove a valuable asset for our trade either in
Mediterranean or from Gibraltar.
Battenberg seriously of the opinion that a single battle cruiser and light
cruiser could guarantee the destruction of Goeben and
Breslau, or was
it simply a case of his writing what he thought the First Lord wanted to hear?
In any event, Sturdee’s wiser counsel prevailed and at 1.30 on the afternoon
of Sunday, 2 August, Battenberg drafted a signal to Milne (no. 196) ordering
that: ‘Goeben must be shadowed by
two battle-cruisers. Approaches to Adriatic must be watched by cruisers and
destroyers. Remain near Malta yourself.’ To this, Churchill added: ‘It is
believed that Italy will remain neutral. You cannot yet count absolutely on
In Malta, one of Milne’s first
duties that morning had been to interview Captain Kennedy of
who had been off duty, ill, for a week. Kennedy assured Milne he was fit to put
to sea, then returned to Indomitable
to address the ship’s company on the subject of being prepared for action both
morally and physically.
At 11.50 a.m. leave was granted throughout the squadron (until 10 p.m. for men
and midnight for officers); however, this proved short-lived in the case of
Indomitable, Defence, Warrior and the 1st and 2nd Division destroyers as,
just after 2 p.m., a recall signal was made and the order given to raise steam
immediately for full speed.
Meanwhile, Troubridge had been shown a copy of Churchill’s “superior
force” telegram by Milne at 9 a.m. after breakfasting with the C-in-C
following which Milne left Troubridge for half an hour so that he [Troubridge]
could study the situation while Milne was engaged with his secretary on other
Although both officers later agreed
that a conversation then ensued as to the definition of superior force there was
to be also a further crucial misunderstanding as to whether the two battle
cruisers were to be attached permanently to Troubridge’s flag or only
temporarily, for the purpose of shadowing Goeben. Troubridge also subsequently maintained that his views as to
the relative merits of the armoured cruiser type (none of which had been laid
down since the Minotaur class early in
1905, which included Defence,
own flagship) were well known, as was his opinion that a single battle cruiser
was a superior force to a wholecruiser
squadron ‘on a day of perfect visibility.’ There is some evidence that
Churchill himself shared Troubridge’s misgivings on this subject — at least
in so far as the smaller cruisers were concerned. In March 1913 Fisher, in his
customary language, referred to Churchill’s argument ‘about the small
cruisers who will all be gobbled up by “Goebens” like the Armadillo gobbles
up ants and the bigger the ant the more placid the digestive smile’;
naturally, in the face of prospective battle in 1914, this sentiment was soon
Troubridge had been asked by Milne
in October 1913 to lecture the officers of the fleet, aboard
on the relative merits of these types of ships; he had also been involved in the
1913 manoeuvres where he first saw battle cruisers in action. In these
manoeuvres, Troubridge’s heavy cruisers chanced upon the new battle cruiser
from the opposing fleet. As Lion
appeared to be ‘almost out of sight’ Troubridge never dreamt of opening fire
yet, he later complained, ‘in a moment half of my squadron were adjudged by
the Chief Umpire to be out of action to her fire.’
The Admiralty’s own report on the principal cruiser work carried out in 1913
tended to support Troubridge with one possible, yet crucial, exception. Although
the report’s author, Vice-Admiral Sturdee, maintained that the exercises had
clearly shown that armoured cruisers ‘have been disclassed [sic]
by the introduction of the fast and powerful battle cruisers’, he did enter
one important caveat: ‘Still, the armoured cruisers possess a good armament,
but insufficient speed…In combination, the later classes might hold their own
against one battle cruiser, but when spread beyond concentrating distance they
will fall an easy prey to an enemy’s battle cruiser. From the experience
gained during these exercises armoured cruisers should not be unduly separated,
but they should work in squadrons when they may execute most valuable work as
The report might almost have been written with Troubridge’s later predicament
in mind; however, although it had been completed by July 1914 and 16 copies had
been dispatched to Malta, they did not arrive till 8 August, two days too late
to have any effect on Troubridge’s actions.
On the question of what constituted
superior force, Troubridge later recalled his conversation with Milne that humid
Sunday afternoon after the receipt of Battenberg’s telegram: ‘I hope, Sir,
that this is left to my judgement’, adding, ‘You know, Sir, that I consider
a battle-cruiser a superior force to a cruiser squadron, unless they can get
within range of her.’ In this version Milne allegedly replied that the
situation would not arise, as Troubridge would have the two battle cruisers with
For his part, Milne remembered that Troubridge did speak of the difficulty his
cruisers might encounter in engaging
but that they agreed that it would be possible to fight a successful action if
could be caught unawares, or in a situation where manoeuvring would be difficult
for the German ship. Milne, however, was adamant that Troubridge ‘did not leave
me with the impression that he would not engage, although he said it would be
while, with regard to the question of superior force, Milne was equally
convinced that this part of his orders applied only to the Austrian fleet alone
and not to the German squadron.
When Battenberg’s telegram no. 196
arrived that afternoon, Milne thereupon framed his Sailing Orders to Troubridge.
According to these, Chatham was to depart as soon as possible to watch the Straits of
Messina (she would leave at 5.12 p.m.), while Defence, Indomitable, Indefatigable, Warrior, Duke of Edinburgh,
Gloucester and the 1st and 2nd Division of Destroyers would carry out the
orders contained in Battenberg’s signal: during the night the destroyers would
push forward to watch the entrance to the Adriatic, during the day they would
retire to the Greek coast to save coal and rest the crews while the four
cruisers took over; the two battle cruisers were to remain in the rear to lend
support though, if Goeben were
sighted, she was to be shadowed by the two battle cruisers and a light cruiser.
Milne also passed on the latest – dubious – information, that
and Breslau had apparently coaled at Brindisi on the 1st, and that it
had been reported that Breslau had
left to return to Albania.
Although not in the sailing orders, Milne had received two further pieces of
information that afternoon: the consul at Brindisi wired that
had now been sighted off Taranto
and the Greek Government had reported that the Austrian Ambassador at
Constantinople had been inquiring as to the quantity of coal at Salonica which,
it was believed, might be required for an Austrian Squadron trying to intercept
Serbian stores at that port.
Troubridge’s sailing orders also
contained the following admonition from Milne: ‘The Admiralty have informed me
that, should we become engaged in war, it will be important at first to husband
the naval force in the Mediterranean and, in the earlier stages, I [Milne] am to
avoid being brought to action against superior force. You are to be guided by
this should war be declared.’ This was Troubridge’s last opportunity to
clear up any lingering doubt about the question of superior force; he did not
attaching the two battle cruisers to Troubridge, Milne was acting in accordance
with Admiralty telegram no. 196 – which instructed that
should be shadowed by two battle cruisers – and this was stated in his sailing
orders to Troubridge. As far as Milne was concerned, the detachment was a
temporary measure to shadow, and possibly deal with, Goeben,
however, his primary duty still remained the protection of the French transports
and the watch on the Adriatic. As ordered, Milne would remain near Malta in
co-ordinating his forces but, he maintained, it should have been obvious to
Troubridge that the Admiralty did not intend him (Milne) ‘to remain alone with
my flagship during the War.’
Troubridge later implied that he had not been shown Admiralty telegram no. 196,
but only his sailing orders — the tenuous importance of this alleged omission
supposedly being that, whereas Battenberg’s telegram suggested that the
reason for the dispatch of the two battle cruisers was to shadow
Milne’s sailing orders to Troubridge appeared to downgrade this to an
ancillary function by merely instructing Troubridge that ‘Should the
Goeben be sighted you are to cause her to be shadowed by the two
battle cruisers.’ This was a distinction fine enough to be invisible.
Recalling his time at the Admiralty
as C.O.S., when he had been involved in the Anglo-French naval talks, Troubridge
knew that the French C-in-C would assume supreme command in the Mediterranean,
placing Milne who – as a result of Fisher’s legacy – was senior to Lapeyrère,
in an impossible position. Therefore, Troubridge assumed, the Admiralty would
have no option but to order Milne, in Inflexible,
to return to England while placing the remainder of the Squadron under
Troubridge’s permanent operational control, subject to the overall supervision
of the French C-in-C. Troubridge further maintained that, reinforcing this
impression, was his mistaken belief that the sailing orders Milne had shown him
originated from the Admiralty, rather than being Milne’s interpretation of
Was Troubridge aware of Admiralty
telegram no. 196 or not? At first, he testified that Milne had shown him ‘what
I thought was an Admiralty telegram [referring to the sailing orders], but I now
find it was not’. He repeated this shortly afterwards: ‘he [Milne] pulled
out of his drawer what I though was a telegram from the Admiralty, but I see now
it was not’.
But later still, at his Court Martial, Troubridge declared that, ‘My sailing
orders are before the Court. I was to take under my command a certain
force…and I was to carry out the orders contained in an Admiralty telegram
This last admission was forced out of Troubridge as the sailing orders he was
given by Milne clearly refer to the instructions received in Admiralty telegram
no. 196, ‘of which a copy is attached’.
There can be no doubt then that, despite the earlier orders to the C-in-C,
Troubridge was aware that for the time being Milne had not been ordered back to
England and, from this, it follows he should have realized that, as Milne was to
remain in the Mediterranean, the detachment of the battle cruisers to his flag
Troubridge took his misconception
with him and returned to his ship. As Defence would soon be ready to depart, he flashed a signal to Milne
at 4.52 p.m. to inquire whether he should wait for the battle cruisers. Milne
agreed that Defence should delay her
departure but that the destroyers should be dispatched immediately at 10 or 11
knots to save coal, with the remainder of the squadron catching them up later.
At 5.45 p.m. Troubridge signalled the other captains of the ships assigned to
him and beckoned them to a meeting where he outlined the orders he had just been
given and ended by emphasizing that if Goeben and
sighted, even though war had not been declared, they were to be shadowed very
carefully. When he asked if there were any questions, Captain Kennedy of
sardonically inquired, ‘How is it proposed that 22 to 24 knot ships shall
shadow 27 to 28 knot ships that don’t want to be shadowed?’ Kennedy
subsequently recounted that his brother captains scoffed at such a question,
while Troubridge answered for them by saying it was common knowledge ‘that
was drawing a foot and a half over her proper draught and so could not nearly
steam the speed she was supposed.’
At least on this point Troubridge and Milne agreed: Milne had been informed by
the Harbour Master at Alexandria that when Goeben had visited the port in 1913 she had only one foot to spare
under her bottom. ‘It was generally known or rumoured’, Milne later
recalled, ‘that she drew more than she was intended to draw.’
Kennedy remained unconvinced.
At 6.07 p.m. Troubridge informed the
ships under his command that he would organize them in two divisions, the first
comprising Defence, Warrior
of Edinburgh, the second Indomitable
and Indefatigable, with the two light
cruisers Chatham and
Finally, at 9.15 p.m. on 2 August, the ships slipped and proceeded from harbour
on course N.58º E. at 15 knots until they had caught up with the destroyers
which had left an hour earlier; then the fleet slowed to the cruising speed of
the destroyers, 10 knots.
That first night the squadron went to ‘night defence stations’, the guns
being loaded with common shell.
Milne informed the Admiralty of his
dispositions but – in the first intimation the Admiralty would receive of the
confusion caused by Churchill’s ‘superior force’ telegram – Milne wanted
to know whether, if Goeben and
emerged from the Adriatic, he should concentrate all Troubridge’s forces
against them, or just the battle cruisers, leaving the remainder of the squadron
to continue watching the entrance to the Adriatic. This confusion was echoed in
London and was a direct result of both Churchill and Battenberg drafting
ambiguous orders. Battenberg’s annotation on Milne’s telegram stated
‘Watch on mouth of Adriatic should be maintained as well as shadowing
giving equal preference to both objectives, however Churchill’s telegram to
Milne later that night read: ‘Watch on mouth of Adriatic should be maintained,
but Goeben is your objective. Follow
her and shadow her wherever she goes and be ready to act on declaration of war
which appears probable and imminent.’
Churchill had thus altered the emphasis.
Milne was also authorized that
evening to enter into communication with Admiral Lapeyrère. Four days earlier,
on the afternoon of 30 July, the French Naval Attaché, the Comte de
Saint-Seine, had seen Churchill and Battenberg at the Admiralty to suggest that
it was time for the joint signal books, held in readiness in sealed packets by
the French and British Cs-in-C, to be distributed amongst the individual ships
of the fleets. In view of his past exertions to maintain ‘freedom of choice’
Churchill remained hesitant and was able to stall the Attaché by arguing that
it was a matter for the two Cabinets and not the two Admiralties: ‘such action
was premature’, Churchill declared to Sir Edward Grey when notifying him of
Saint Seine’s approach, as ‘our strength and preparedness enable us to
strength and preparedness were on Britain’s side, morality was not — at
least as far as the French were concerned. All the glorious talk of ‘freedom
of action’ would shortly be replaced by accusations as the French Ambassador,
Paul Cambon, was made aware that he could not automatically count on British
support: in the coming struggle his main weapon would be a humble piece of paper
— the November 1912 letter from Grey.
But it was not the only weapon in his armoury. On the afternoon of Friday 31
July Grey had had a ‘rather painful’ interview with Cambon at which, in
Asquith’s words, he ‘had of course to tell Cambon (for we are under no
obligation) that we could give no pledges, and that our action must depend upon
the course of events’.
That evening, Cambon informed George Lloyd, a Conservative M.P. who had spent
some time as an honorary attaché at Constantinople, that:
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.
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 incumbent Liberal administration, who
apparently confirmed the charge.
Cambon’s allegation set in motion a series of events, orchestrated by Lloyd
and Wilson, which culminated in the delivery of an Opposition pledge of support
for the Government on Sunday, 2 August.
The morning of Saturday, 1 August
began early for Sir Arthur Nicolson, the Permanent Under-Secretary at the
Foreign Office. Just before midnight the previous night an erroneous report had
been received from the French Embassy that the French frontier had been
violated; Nicolson summoned Sir Henry Wilson at 7 a.m. on Saturday to show him a
dispatch ‘indicating that the Germans were about to assume the offensive on
both frontiers’ and, together, they went to see Grey, who was staying at
Haldane’s house in Queen Anne’s Gate. The Foreign Secretary was still asleep
and Nicolson, loathe to wake him (for Grey had been dealing with dispatches till
3.30 a.m.) returned to his own home for breakfast before walking to the Foreign
Office where the news was uniformly bad.
The Cabinet met that morning from 11
a.m. to 1.30 p.m. and it was ‘no exaggeration’ recorded Asquith, ‘to say
that Winston occupied at least half of the time.’ The First Lord was ‘very
bellicose & demanding immediate mobilisation’ which the Cabinet refused
– for the moment – to sanction. Indeed, no sooner had the session commenced
when Grey telephoned the German Ambassador to seek an assurance that, if France
remained neutral in a Russo-German conflict, Germany would not attack the
French. On his own responsibility Lichnowsky gave the assurance sought.
Asquith also wrote to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff at 11.30 a.m. to
put on record the fact that Britain had never promised to send an expeditionary
force to France.
Notwithstanding this faintheartedness, Grey declared (and, given his personal
responsibility in the matter, he had but little option) ‘that if an out &
out & uncompromising policy of non-intervention at all costs is adopted, he
Despite making this stand, Grey’s refusal to countenance non-intervention was
not, of course, the same thing as holding out the hope of immediate
Grey saw Cambon again after the
Cabinet and told him that, in the event of a localized Russo-German conflict,
Germany had agreed not to attack France if she remained neutral. If France, he
added, ‘could not take advantage of this position, it was because she was
bound by an alliance to which we were not parties, and of which we did not know
the terms. This did not mean that under no circumstances would we assist France,
but it did mean that France must take her own decision at this moment without
reckoning on an assistance that we were not now in a position to promise.’ The
Ambassador, with justifiable truculence, replied that he ‘could not and would
not’ transmit such a message.
‘After all that has passed between our two countries’, Cambon exclaimed,
the withdrawal of our forces ten kilometres within our frontier so that German
patrols can actually move on our soil without hindrance, so anxious are we to
avoid any appearance of provocation; after the agreement between your naval
authorities and ours by which all our naval strength has been concentrated in
the Mediterranean so as to release your Fleet for concentration in the North
Sea, with the result that if the German Fleet now sweep down the Channel and
destroys Calais, Boulogne and Cherbourg, we can offer no resistance, you tell me
that your Government cannot decide upon intervention? How am I to send such a
message? It would fill France with rage and indignation. My people would say you
have betrayed us. It is not possible. I cannot send such a message. It is true
that agreements between your military and naval authorities and ours have not
been ratified by our Governments, but you are under a moral obligation not to
leave us unprotected.
thereupon suggested that he should reply to his Government that the Cabinet had
not yet taken any decision, at which Grey replied ‘that we had come to a
decision: that we could not propose to Parliament at this moment to send an
expeditionary military force to the Continent. Such a step has always been
regarded here as very dangerous and doubtful. It was one that we could not
propose, and Parliament would not authorize unless our interests and obligations
were deeply and desperately involved.’ Nevertheless, Grey at least held out
the hope that a German attack upon the French coast or the violation of Belgian
neutrality ‘might alter public feeling here’ and he promised that he would
‘ask the Cabinet to consider the point about the French coasts.’
Cambon, ‘white and speechless’,
staggered into Nicolson’s room muttering, ‘Ils vont nous lâcher, ils vont
nous lâcher.’ After being seated by the Permanent Under-Secretary, Nicolson
went to see Grey, whom he found ‘pacing his room, biting at his lower lip.’
When informed of the Cabinet decision, Nicolson similarly was left to exclaim,
‘But that is impossible, you have over and over again promised M Cambon that
if Germany was the aggressor you would stand by France.’ Grey replied, ‘Yes,
but he has nothing in writing!’
When Nicolson returned to his own room, Cambon had recovered his composure and
suggested that the time had come to produce ‘mon petit papier’ — the 1912
letter. Nicolson urged the Ambassador not to send an official Note and, instead,
wrote himself to Grey that ‘M Cambon pointed out to me this afternoon that it
was at our request that France had moved her fleets to the Mediterranean, on the
understanding that we undertook the protection of her Northern and Western
coasts. As I understand you told him that you would submit to the Cabinet the
question of a possible German naval attack on French Northern and Western Ports
it would be well to remind the Cabinet of the above fact.’ To this Grey
minuted that he had spoken to Asquith and attached ‘great importance’ to the
point being settled the next day, Sunday 2 August.
Churchill dined alone at the
Admiralty on Saturday night devouring, in addition to his meal, for his appetite
was whetted by the prospect of war, the foreign telegrams as they came in. The
lamps were still not completely extinguished, but flickered dimly; peace hung by
a thread until another box of dispatches arrived containing the news that sent a
gust down Whitehall: Germany had declared war on Russia. Churchill walked across
Horse Guards and entered 10, Downing Street by the garden gate, going up to the
drawing room where a knot of ministers was gathered. After discussing the latest
news, Churchill and Grey left together when, according to Churchill, Grey said
‘You should know I have just done a very important thing. I have told Cambon
that we shall not allow the German fleet to come into the Channel.’ Upon
hearing this, Churchill ‘went back to the Admiralty and gave forthwith the
order to mobilize.’
If true, Grey’s action would have pre-empted the Cabinet discussion the
following day; however, the Foreign Secretary’s account of the conversation
differs crucially from the First Lord’s. According to Grey, he told Churchill
French might be sure that the German fleet would not pass through the Channel,
for fear that we should take the opportunity of intervening, when the German
fleet would be at our mercy. I promised however to
see if we could give any assurance that, in such circumstances, we would
was a different thing altogether.
Sunday’s Cabinet lasted from 11
a.m. to almost 2 p.m. during which the position was, to some extent, clarified.
‘We agreed at last, (with much difficulty),’ wrote Asquith, ‘that Grey
should be authorised to tell Cambon that our fleet would not allow the German
fleet to make the Channel the base of hostile operations.’
It was Grey’s recollection that this pledge had originated from an
‘anti-war’ member of the Cabinet along the lines of, ‘Of course we can’t
have the German fleet come knocking down the Channel, we must stop that.’
On the other hand, Crewe – who could hardly be described as anti-war –
claimed the honour of first raising the point.
Naturally, Grey would not have been a disinterested spectator during these
discussions; it was he, after all, who would have to face Cambon again, and he
thereupon made his position perfectly clear. Perhaps the fairest account is that
of Walter Runciman, who had ‘no record of the guarantee to France of the
English Channel being a suggestion due to the anti-war party. Everyone who
thought about it felt that we could not tolerate the German army at the ports of
the North of France, or the German fleet in the Channel. I never felt that the
Belgian Security Treaty was the big fact. My thoughts were always centred on the
importance to us of the free passage of the English Channel, both for the
purpose of our supplies to London and for the purpose of our easy communication
with the Continent.’ Runciman did not believe that there was either a binding
or a moral obligation to France, but that, simply, ‘a victory for Germany
would be disastrous for us.’
Runciman recalled that the Cabinet
was split three ways, between those determined to resign rather than go to war
(Beauchamp, Morley, Burns and Simon), those who followed what he called the
‘Grey-Asquith view’ which, other than the Prime Minister and Foreign
Secretary, included Churchill, Crewe, Pease and himself, and a middle section
that was still, by Sunday morning, not entirely committed. Typical of the latter
group was Herbert Samuel who now chose to express his own conviction ‘that we
should be justified in joining in the war either for the protection of the
northern coasts of France, which we could not afford to see bombarded by the
German fleet and occupied by the German army, or for the maintenance of the
independence of Belgium’.
The conversion of this middle section, at least to the extent of sanctioning
Grey’s pledge to Cambon, was a crucial determinant in the Cabinet’s later
decision to intervene.
An ancillary, though not unimportant factor (as indicated by McKenna), was that
by Sunday public opinion had turned and was no longer opposed to Britain’s
entry into the War.
Asquith, who was ‘quite clear in my own mind as to what is right &
wrong’, set out his thoughts for his paramour, Venetia Stanley:
(1) We have no obligation of any kind either to France or Russia to give them
military or naval help.
(2) The despatch of the Expeditionary force to France at this moment is out
of the question & wd serve no object.
(3) We mustn’t forget the ties created by the long-standing & intimate
friendship with France.
(4) It as against British interests that France shd be wiped out as a Great
(5) We cannot allow Germany to use the Channel as a hostile base.
(6) We have obligations to Belgium to prevent her being utilised &
absorbed by Germany.
there ever a more muddle headed piece of thinking? Asquith penned a similar list
for the benefit of the Opposition leaders, which differed only in admitting that
‘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.’
As Asquith calmly attempted to reconcile the irreconcilable, the irony was that
Cambon’s ‘petit papier’, which the Ambassador had threatened to use to
devastating effect, contained the following sentence: ‘The disposition, for
instance, of the French and British fleets respectively at the moment is
based upon an engagement to co-operate in war.’ Clearly, either Grey
shamelessly used Cambon’s threat to railroad the rest of the Cabinet, or the
1912 Agreement was not worth the paper it was written on. Even Churchill, who
had warned so forthrightly in 1912 of the dangers of voluntarily surrendering
‘freedom of choice’, now became swept up, exhilarated, by the events
unfolding around him; and as for his senior naval adviser – Battenberg – it
is evident from the note he submitted to Churchill on Sunday morning that the
notion of ‘freedom of action’ was chimerical.
saw Cambon at 2.30 p.m., after the Cabinet had adjourned, to impart the good
and, at the Admiralty shortly thereafter, Churchill (in the presence of
Battenberg and Sturdee) informed Saint-Seine of the Cabinet’s decision. This
was by no means the end of Cambon’s worries though, as Churchill apparently
informed the French Naval Attaché that Grey had also spoken to the German
Ambassador concerning the pledge to France. The Foreign Secretary had to rush to
reassure Cambon that this was quite wrong and nothing would be said to any other
foreign representative until he had had a chance to make a public statement.
Saint-Seine was told that the general direction of the naval war would rest with
the British Admiralty, however, ‘In the event of the neutrality of Italy being
assured, France would undertake to deal with Austria assisted only by such
British ships as would be required to cover German ships in that sea, and secure
a satisfactory composition of the allied fleet. The direction of the allied
fleets in the Mediterranean to rest with the French, the British Admiral
[Troubridge] being junior.’
As vague as this was, it was formalized four days later when a convention was
signed in London by Battenberg and the Assistant Chief of the French Naval
Staff. Section (ii) of this convention stipulated that the French would have
general direction of operations in the Mediterranean, though it was intended
that eventually Troubridge would have some latitude to conduct independent
The immediate problem, according to
Battenberg, remained the two rogue German ships: ‘So long as the
and Breslau are not destroyed or
captured, the British naval forces at present in the Mediterranean will
co-operate with the French fleet in their destruction or capture. When this
operation has been completed the 3 English Battle-Cruisers and 2 or 3 of the
Armoured Cruisers will be released for general service’, while the remainder
of the British forces would be placed directly under the command of the French
Clearly, Troubridge was correct in his assumption that Milne, being senior to
Lapeyrère, would eventually have to be recalled; however, until this happened
(after the German ships had been disposed of), Milne was still in charge and
Troubridge – not privy to the Admiralty decision – had no valid
justification for his opinion of 2 August that the battle cruisers had been
attached to him permanently.
At the meeting with Saint-Seine on the afternoon of Sunday 2nd, Churchill had
also stated that the package containing the secret signal books could be
distributed and opened — but not yet used. Although this was an advance over
his position the previous Thursday, it was hardly conducive to the fostering of
The Cabinet reconvened at 6.30 p.m.
that evening, at which time it was learned Germany had invaded Luxembourg.
A last minute appeal by the Counsellor from the German Embassy could not
alleviate the effect of the latest war news: Kühlmann had gone to see Haldane
after the morning Cabinet adjourned to advise ‘England to stand out at first,
and then, after the first shock of arms, to dictate peace by a threat of
intervention.’ Haldane seemed interested by this suggestion but then Grey
appeared and replied, in effect, ‘that he had an honourable obligation to
The mood at the evening Cabinet had changed: Asquith now ordered the
mobilization of the Army and, with Cabinet approval, Churchill returned to the
Admiralty where, at 7.06 p.m., he sent a signal to Malta authorizing
communication between Milne and Lapeyrère ‘in case Great Britain should
decide to become ally of France against Germany.’
Milne’s War Orders No. 2 – which
had been sent to him in May 1913 – stipulated that a book of signals, labelled
“Secret Package A”, had been prepared for the purpose of joint communication
and that, during a period of strained relations, a cypher telegram would be sent
‘that in the event of war these arrangements are to become operative.’
Manifestly, according to these orders, Milne could only open Secret Package A in
the event of war actually breaking out, which had not occurred when he received
the Admiralty telegram on Sunday evening. In view of this, as he had no other
way of communicating safely with the French, he sought permission to use the
contents of the Secret Package as a cypher immediately, before the formal
declaration of war; in so doing, he was exercising the same caution that
Churchill had shown to Saint-Seine earlier that afternoon.
A signal was duly sent from London at 9.40 the following morning (3 August)
authorizing the use of the cypher; despite this Milne remained unable to contact
Lapeyrère by wireless.
Wireless telegraphy was still in its
infancy and Milne’s abortive attempts to raise the French C-in-C were not
untypical: in Defence, for example,
the W/T room was ‘a funny little iron caboose by the funnels…in the charge
of a Lieutenant of the Royal Marines.’ In this tense period, senior officers
milled around outside wanting to know if the operator could hear anything.
‘Obviously’, a junior officer recorded, ‘they were hoping to get something
direct from the Admiralty which had never been achieved before.’ At this
stage, most of the information came in ‘by land wire and via various
and, indeed, there was so much to decode that three watches had to be formed to
handle the task.
Milne continued to send his message to Lapeyrère, detailing the forces
available at his (Milne’s) disposal and wanting to know how best he could
assist the French C-in-C. Having failed to get an answer by the afternoon of
Monday 3 August, Milne dispatched the light cruiser Dublin to Bizerta with a letter for the Senior Naval Officer there,
to be forwarded to the elusive French Admiral; Dublin
would not arrive till 9.43 on the morning of Tuesday the 4th.
Having delivered the letter and departed, Dublin picked up the reply from Bizerta at 3.30 p.m., while at sea,
and relayed it to Milne. The French fleet, it said, consisting of all their
forces, had just left for the Algerian coast.
It was the first hard news Milne had had of the French and it was incorrect as
regards the time: the French fleet had actually departed from Toulon at 4 a.m.
on Monday, 3 August.
uncertainly above the heads of the principal French participants was the
tiresome question of the transportation of the XIXth Army Corps, a subject of
controversy between the opposing ministries for over 40 years
until, finally, in May 1913, the Supreme Council of National Defence decreed
that, the arrival of the troops being of paramount importance, the transports
should sail independently, each steaming at its highest speed. A special
division, comprising an obsolete pre-dreadnought and seven old cruisers would be
stationed just to the east of the line Algiers-Toulon, approximately half-way
along the route to be used by the transports, to provide a limited form of close
cover. The main protection for the transports though would be provided by
immediate offensive operations against the enemy by the bulk of the French
fleet: ‘if the enemy were so engaged’, wrote Vice-Admiral Bienaimé, who
would later emerge as one of Lapeyrère’s severest critics, ‘he would not be
free to detach ships to attack the transports; and, in any case, by these
vessels passing singly and at high speed they would be safe, for the target they
presented was small, and the risk to the enemy incommensurate with the gain.’
This would hold true in the case of offensive operations against the Italian or
Austrian fleets, but did not address the problem caused by the presence of
and Breslau — fast and powerful
raiders with, apparently, one specific function: disrupting the transportation
of the Algerian Corps.
The most onerous task would devolve
upon Rear-Admiral Darrieus, in command of the special division, patrolling the
midway point of the transports’ route. Darrieus was hardly over-enamoured of
his task, realizing that if Goeben did
break through the offensive cordon his obsolete ships would be the last line of
defence; he therefore requested first that his division be strengthened and
then, in contravention of the long standing arrangement, that the transports be
arranged into convoys to embark from two (not the planned three) ports, Oran and
Algiers. Lapeyrère forwarded these proposals to Paris where they must have
landed like a bombshell upon the desk of the unstable Minister of Marine, Armand
Gauthier, a doctor of medicine knowing next to nothing of naval affairs and who
had achieved his post after a political scandal had caused the removal of his
Gauthier’s increasingly erratic behaviour, which included at one point a
demand that Goeben be attacked before
war had been declared, led to his replacement within days; however, his reaction
to Lapeyrère’s wire was predictable enough. The Admiral had been involved in
all the recent discussions, at which he had made plain he could not spare ships
to escort convoys, and now he wanted to alter a carefully thought out plan on
the very eve of war. Lapeyrère was therefore ordered on 30 July to institute
the plan as originally conceived.
The following day continuing anxiety
about the German ships resulted in the C-in-C seeking permission to send three
old ships of the Division de Complément (Suffren,
Gaulois, Charlemagne), which he had earlier proposed should reinforce
Darrieus’ division, to Bizerta instead to guard against a surprise attack by
the Germans. Not receiving a reply quickly enough to satisfy him, Lapeyrère
telegraphed again that day to the effect that he would dispatch the division on
his own authority unless he received orders to the contrary. Gauthier refused
the request and reiterated his opposition to the formation of convoys.
Although he had agreed to the 1913 plan, Lapeyrère was not an enthusiastic
proponent of it, especially where, in his opinion, the insistence on a timetable
of sailings for the transports hindered his freedom of action and detracted from
the all-out offensive at the outset.
The flaw in the plan had always been
that the troops were to be sent before French command of the seas had been
guaranteed. Lapeyrère now had to weigh in his own mind the consequences of a
disaster befalling the XIXth Army Corps – upon whose presence at the front the
army apparently set so much store – against the possible lost opportunity of
an early victory at sea. The final version of the French Army’s infamous Plan
XVII, effective from 15 April 1914, stipulated that the 37 steamers to be used
to transport the troops were to leave between the third and seventh days of
mobilization; convoys could be formed if adjudged essential but only if no
significant delay resulted.
It was this let-out clause that Lapeyrère now wanted to utilize. His position
was undoubtedly complicated in late July by the ambiguity of the attitudes of
Italy and Britain: although he could, in all probability, count on the former
declaring neutrality and the latter coming in as an ally of France, he could not
be absolutely sure. And, by the first days of August, the clarification of this
situation had been offset by the confusion reigning in Paris which in turn was
exacerbated by the command structure, by friction between the C-in-C and the
Naval Staff, and, above all, by the forlorn figure of Dr Gauthier. The hapless
Minister, having ‘forgotten’ to order torpedo boats into the Channel, now
wanted, on 2 August, to attack the Germans immediately, then proceeded to
challenge the War Minister to a duel and finally broke down in tears, leading
the President to conclude, somewhat euphemistically, that Gauthier’s nerves
were on edge.
In the crisis the situation in the
Mediterranean was overlooked until the Cabinet, having regained some of its
composure later in the afternoon, drafted a telegram to Lapeyrère on the basis
of the latest information of the German ships, which placed them at Brindisi on
the night of 31 July/1 August. These orders, received by Lapeyrère at 8.50 p.m.
on Sunday evening, 2 August, instructed him to set sail to try to intercept
and Breslau and reiterated the
necessity to have the transports proceed independently. So important was this
deemed that the Minister of War, Messimy, accepted responsibility for all risks.
Despite this generous offer, Lapeyrère remained unhappy; uncertainty surrounded
him. As early as 30 July the Cabinet had voluntarily withdrawn all French troops
ten kilometres from the frontier: this order had been reaffirmed by Messimy on 1
August while German mobilization continued apace. Only on the 2nd, that perilous
Sunday, did the arguments of General Joffre prevail: the territory abandoned
would, if captured by the Germans, have to be retaken later with great loss of
life. Even so, French desperation to portray Germany as the aggressor led Joffre
to declare on 3 August that no French troops must cross the frontier; any
‘incidents’ must arise as a result of German provocation.
Lapeyrère’s position was more
difficult: the enemy he had planned to oppose, Italy, showed no signs of joining
the fray, while he could not afford to let the German ships make the first move
as, in all probability, this move would be not some minor incident but the
sinking of a troop transport. In the circumstances, despite his earlier
willingness to allow independent sailing, he had now convinced himself that only
by convoy could the XIXth Army Corps be transported safely. Late on the night of
Sunday 2nd he telegraphed Paris again, setting out a virtual list of demands:
his fleet would sail so as to be off the African coast on the afternoon of the
4th; he had ordered the transports to stay in harbour; and convoys were
essential. As Sunday became Monday Lapeyrère received accurate information that
had been in Messina on the
previous day; finally, some hours later, at 4 a.m. on 3 August, the main body of
the French fleet weighed anchor and proceeded majestically, if hardly noticed,
out of Toulon harbour.
 Admiralty to C-in-C, Medt., no. 176, 27 July 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19.
 Milne to Admiralty, 20 August 1914, para. 2, PRO Adm 137-879; Lumby,
 Statement by Captain Francis W Kennedy, HMS
Indomitable, 20 October 1914, King’s College Centre for Military
Archives, Kennedy 3 [this important source was written by Kennedy when he
feared he might be made a scapegoat for the Goeben
affair after hearing certain rumours to that effect; hereinafter referred to
as “Kennedy”]. See also, Journal of Midshipman (later Vice-Admiral) B B
Schofield, HMS Indomitable, 27
July 1914, IWM BBS 2.
 It was only in December 1913 that Churchill had announced that,
during 1914, four battle cruisers would be ‘kept based on Malta’, but
that ‘If the Germans continue to keep their battle-cruiser Goeben
in the Mediterranean, the British force there will be re-inforced by the New
Zealand as soon as the Tiger
joins the 1st. Battle-Cruiser Squadron at the end of 1914.’ Navy
Estimates, 1914-15, Memorandum by Churchill, 5 December 1913, PRO Cab
37/117/86; Lumby, p. 116.
 Churchill to Battenberg, 28 July 1914, First Lord’s Minutes, Naval
Historical Library; World Crisis,
 Journal of Lieutenant Parry, HMS
Grasshopper, Wed., 29 July 1914, IWM 71/19/1.
 Asquith to the King, 30 July 1914, PRO Cab 41/35/22.
 Admiralty to C-in-C, Mediterranean, Senior Naval Officer, Gibraltar,
Admiral Superintendent, Malta, 29 July 1914; Admiralty to C-in-C, no. 179,
29 July 1914. PRO Adm 137/HS19; Lumby, p. 145.
 Admiralty to C-in-C, Medt., no. 183, 30 July 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19;
Lumby, p. 146 gives the final version. Note: Dan van der Vat, The
Ship that Changed the World, (London, 1985) pp. 65-7, makes too much of
the slightly altered version appearing in The
World Crisis and, in particular, the change from “Goeben which” – clearly what Churchill intended – to “Goeben
who” which appeared in the telegram Milne received. Churchill was in the
habit of always abbreviating “which” to “wh” — either the
Admiralty code clerk did not understand this, misread what Churchill had
written, or decided to improve on the grammar. As first drafted, the
offending piece read: “...fast German or Austrian ships wh may
interfere...”. This called for “which”. Churchill then altered it to
read: “...fast German ships particularly Goeben
wh may interfere...”. This again called for “which” though it is easy
to imagine the code clerk substituting “who” in the belief that it
referred to Goeben alone; but,
whatever else Churchill may be held responsible for, this particular error
was not his.
 ‘These directions on which the First Sea Lord and I were completely
in accord,’ Churchill wrote in The
World Crisis [p. 131], ‘gave the Commander-in-Chief guidance in the
general conduct of the naval campaign; they warned him against fighting a
premature single-handed battle with the Austrian Fleet in which our
battle-cruisers and cruisers would be confronted with Austrian Dreadnought
battleships; they told him to aid the French in transporting their African
forces, and they told him how to do it, viz. “by covering and, if
possible, bringing to action individual fast German ships, particularly Goeben.”
So far as the English language may serve as a vehicle of thought, the words
employed appear to express the intentions we had formed.’
 Fisher to his daughter, Dorothy Sybil Fullerton, 31 July 1914,
Fullerton mss., NMM FTN 7/2.
 Journal of Midshipman A de Salis, HMS
Defence, 31 July 1914, IWM 76/117/1.
 C-in-C, Medt. to Admiralty, no. 375, 31 July 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19;
Lumby, p. 146.
 Admiralty minute sheet, 31 July 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19.
 Milne to Admiralty, 20 August 1914, para. 8, PRO Adm 137/879; Lumby,
p. 214; Sir Julian Corbett, Naval
Operations, vol. I, p. 35.
 Rome to Admiralty, no. 43, 1 August 1914, rec’d 9.41 p.m.; Ad.
Supt., Malta, via S.N.O. Gibraltar to Admiralty, no. 47, 1 August 1914,
rec’d 1.20 a.m., 2 August. PRO Adm 137/HS19; Lumby, p. 147. Breslau
had stopped at Brindisi to disembark Dönitz on his mission to organize
colliers; Goeben’s attempt to
coal later the same day was forestalled by the Italians.
 Captain’s clerk Lawder quoted in, Liddle, The
Sailor’s War 1914-1918, p. 29.
 Churchill to Battenberg and Sturdee, 2 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/879.
 E. C. T. Troubridge, Rough
Account of “Goeben” and “Breslau”, Lumby, p. 417.
 Fisher himself disagreed with this contention. See, Fisher to
Churchill, 31 March 1913, WSC Comp.
vol II, pt iii, p. 1937. Large armoured cruisers had become obsolete
with the introduction of the battle cruiser, but this left a gap for
scouting and patrol work which was duly filled with the laying down, in
1909, of the Bristol class of light cruiser. Subsequent classes followed
and, despite his misgivings, Churchill sanctioned the construction of a
further eight in the 1913 Estimates. Soon after, the First Lord developed
his own theory as to how these light cruisers should be deployed: ‘It is
suggested’, he informed Admiral Sir Henry Jackson, ‘that the light
cruiser squadrons … should work with the battle cruiser squadron, and that
in observation or scouting the battle cruiser should be in the front line
with the light cruisers of his group perhaps 5 or 6 miles in rear of it. At
any rate the battle cruiser would be an essential part of the very front
line in the closest contact with the enemy; the armoured cruiser squadrons
lying distinctly further back in support.’ Churchill to Jackson, 3 April
1913, WSC Comp. vol II, pt iii,
 Minutes of the Proceedings of a Court of Inquiry, 22 September 1914,
Lumby, p. 253.
 Vice-Admiral Sir F. C. D. Sturdee, Report
on the Principal Cruiser Work Carried Out by the Home Fleets During 1913,
Admiralty War Staff, Operations Division, July 1914, PRO Adm 1 8388/227.
 Troubridge recorded in a statement, presented to the Court of Inquiry
in September, that: ‘Admiral Sturdee in his book which is issued that I
received about a fortnight ago, says that the day of the armoured cruiser is
gone. From the result of the experiments in the North Sea he deduces that
they must never separate, and all he will permit himself to say is that they
will do some useful cruiser work under the aegis of a Fleet and they might
do something against a battle-cruiser, showing the great risk in his
opinion, which is considered very authoritative.’
 Minutes of Proceedings at a Court Martial, held on board HMS Bulwark at Portland, 5-9 November 1914. Statement for the
Defence; Lumby, p. 367.
 Midshipman’s Journal, B. B. Schofield, 2 August, IWM BBS 2.
 C-in-C to Admiralty, no. 386, 2 August 1914, rec’d 7 p.m.; pencil
annotation by Battenberg, 2 August, PRO Adm 137/HS19.
 Admiralty to C-in-C, Medt., no. 204, sent 12.50 a.m., 3 August 1914,
PRO Adm 137/HS19, Lumby. p. 150.
 Churchill later argued, in The
World Crisis, that ‘it happened in a large number of cases that,
seeing what ought to be done and confident of the agreement of the First Sea
Lord, I myself drafted the telegrams and decisions in accordance with our
policy and the Chief of the War Staff took them personally to the First Sea
Lord before despatch.’
 Martin Gilbert, Winston S
Churchill, vol. III, pp. 18-9.
 Nicolson subsequently informed Hardinge: ‘On Saturday Cambon
pointed out that at the request some time ago of our Admiralty the French
had sent all their fleet to the Mediterranean on the understanding that we
would protect their northern and western coasts. This was a happy
inspiration on the part of Cambon and to this appeal there could be but one
answer…’ Nicolson to Hardinge, private, 5 September 1914, Nicolson mss.,
PRO FO 800/375. Only one answer there may have been, but it had nothing to
do with the 1912 letter which specifically denied the pledge Cambon was now
trying to redeem.
 Asquith to Venetia Stanley, 31 July 1914, Asquith
Letters, no. 111, p. 138.
 For the part played by the Conservatives, see appendix i.
 Callwell, Wilson, vol. I,
p. 153; Nicolson, Lord Carnock, pp.
418-9; Cameron Hazlehurst, Politicians
at War, (London, 1971), p. 91.
 Lichnowsky to Jagow, tel. no. 205, 1 August 1914, given in, Geiss
(ed.), July 1914, no. 170, p. 343.
Note, however, that Lichnowsky himself later referred to a
‘misunderstanding’ in this telegram as ‘Sir Edward Grey had meant that
Germany should then remain altogether neutral, even in a war between Austria
and Russia.’ Lichnowsky, Heading for
the Abyss, p. 414, n. 1.
 Sir Henry Wilson, diary entry for 1 August 1914, quoted in Callwell, Wilson,
vol. I, p. 154. See also Hazlehurst, Politicians
at War, p. 90 which tries to make some sense of Asquith’s
 Asquith to Venetia Stanley, 1 August 1914, Asquith
Letters, no. 112, pp. 139-40; Narrative by Professor Temperley, Spender
mss., BM Add MSS 46386.
 Grey to Bertie, tel. no. 299, 1 August 1914, BD, XI, no. 426.
 Conversation between Grey and Cambon quoted in, Henry Wickham Steed, Through Thirty Years, vol. II, pp. 14-5.
 Grey to Bertie, tel. no. 299, 1 August 1914, BD, XI, no. 426.
 Narrative by Professor Temperley, Spender mss., BM Add MSS 46386 [my
 Asquith to Venetia Stanley, 2 August 1914, Asquith
Letters, no. 113, pp. 145-7. ‘Was ever anything heard like this?’
recorded Sir Henry Wilson. ‘What is the difference between the French
coast and the French frontier?’ Diary entry for 2 August, Callwell, Wilson, vol. I, p. 155.
 Notes of an Interview between Grey and Temperley, Spender mss., BM
Add MSS 46386.
 Crewe to Temperley, 8 May 1929, Spender mss., ibid.
 Runciman to Temperley, 4 November 1929, ibid.
 Samuel to his wife, 2 August 1914, in Lowe & Dockrill, Mirage of Power, vol. III, pp. 489-91.
 For an examination of the various factors, including the part played
by the Opposition, see Wilson, The
Policy of the Entente, chapter 8.
 McKenna to Spender, 8 May 1929, ibid.
Sir Henry Wilson recounts that, by 10 o’clock that evening, cheering
crowds had gathered outside Buckingham Palace: diary entry, 2 August 1914,
Callwell, Wilson, vol. I, p. 155.
 Asquith to Stanley, 2 August 1914, Asquith
Letters, no. 113, pp. 145-7. See also, Hazlehurst, Politicians at War, pp. 96-7 and, in particular, his comment that,
‘The bland disingenuousness of the first and third points, and the
breathtaking strategic ignorance of the second, reveal the extent to which
the cabinet’s deliberations had resulted in a convergence of views.’
 Memorandum by Asquith, 2 August 1914, quoted in, Blake, The Unknown Prime Minister, pp. 223-4. The following day, the German
Foreign Minister pledged that the northern coasts of France would not be
threatened so long as Britain remained neutral. By then, it was too late.
Jagow to Lichnowsky, tel. no. 216, 3 August 1914, German
Diplomatic Documents, no. 714, p. 520.
 This was when Battenberg declared that British forces were massed in
the North safeguarding French interests, while French forces in the
Mediterranean helped to safeguard British interests. Battenberg to
Churchill, 2 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/879.
 Cambon was informed: ‘In case the German fleet came into the
Channel or entered the North Sea in order to go round the British Isles with
the object of attacking the French coasts of the French navy and of
harassing French merchant shipping, the British fleet would intervene in
order to give to French shipping its complete protection, in such a way that
from that moment Great Britain and Germany would be in a state of war.’
Cambon to Viviani, 3 August 1914, given in, Geiss (ed.), July
1914, no. 183, p. 356.
 Grey to Cambon, 2 August 1914, Grey mss., PRO FO 800/55.
 Précis of conversation, Admiralty, 2 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/988; WSC
Comp. vol. III, pt. i, pp. 11-12.
 Anglo-French Convention, London, 6 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/988;
Lumby, pp. 431-2; Halpern, Naval War
in the Medt., pp. 26-7.
 Milne was subsequently recalled on 12 August.
 After the morning Cabinet, Samuel, Lloyd George, Simon, Morley,
Harcourt, Pease and others lunched at Lord Beauchamp’s and discussed the
situation where, according to Samuel’s letter that day to his wife, they
all agreed with his formula that British intervention would be dependent
upon a substantial violation of Belgium neutrality. See, Samuel to his wife,
2 August 1914, Lowe & Dockrill, Mirage
of Power, vol. III, pp. 489-91. However, some years later, Samuel
maintained that, in the informal afternoon discussions, ‘no definite
conclusions were reached. It had become fairly clear that the Belgian issue
would arise in the most acute form.’ See, Samuel to Temperley, 24 June
1929, Spender mss., BM Add MSS 46386. In either event it had become obvious
that Asquith would stand or fall with Grey.
 Interview with Kühlmann, 22 February 1929, in G P Gooch, Studies in Diplomacy and Statecraft, (London, 1942), pp. 82-3.
 Admiralty to C-in-C, Malta, C-in-C, Hong Kong, no. 200, sent 7.6
p.m., 2 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19; Lumby, p. 148.
 C-in-C to Admiralty, no. 387, 2 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19; Lumby,
p. 149. Note: van der Vat, The Ship
that Changed the World, pp. 68-9, accuses Milne of being at fault for
sending this telegram when it ‘should have been obvious from his general
orders’ [i.e. War Orders No. 2]. However these specifically prohibited
Milne from using Secret Package A until war had been declared.
 G. H. Warner, Recollections of
a Junior Officer on HMS Defence, IWM P389.
 Captain’s clerk Lawder in, Liddle, The
Sailor’s War 1914-1918, p. 33.
 C-in-C to Admiralty, no. 392, 3 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19; Lumby,
p. 153. Log of HMS Dublin, PRO Adm
 Admiral, Bizerta to C-in-C, via Dublin,
sent 1.50 p.m., rec’d 3.30 p.m., 4 August 1914. Naval Staff Monographs,
vol. VIII, the Mediterranean, 1914-15, appendix B. Operations
Signals extracted from the logs of various ships. PRO Adm 186/618
[hereinafter referred to as NSM,B].
 This dispute is summarized in Halpern, Medt
Naval Situation, pp. 135 ff.
 Vice-Admiral Bienaimé, quoted in The
French Fleet in the Mediterranean, August 1-7, 1914, The Naval Review,
1919, vol. 7, p. 494.
 Barbara Tuchman, August 1914,
(London, p’back, 1980), p. 91.
 Captain Voitoux, writing in Revue
Politique et Parlementaire, quoted in Naval Review, 1919, vol. 7.
 Brigadier-General E L Spears, Liaison,
(London, 1930), pp. 10-11.
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
The original drawings are all in pencil.
Reducing the file size and therefore the
download time has resulted in some loss of
A set of postcards
featuring eight of my drawings is now
available for £2.50, which includes postage
anywhere in the world.
information please click on the drawing
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
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
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page in common, which allows for easy navigation
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Signed copies of SUPERIOR
FORCE are still available, priced at £25.00 each
plus postage. For more information, please go to
The "Straits Trilogy"
Superior Force : the conspiracy behind the escape of
Goeben and Breslau
Volume II: Straits : British Policy towards the
Ottoman Empire and the Origins of the Dardanelles
Volume III: The Millstone : British Naval Policy in
the Mediterranean, 1900-1914, the Commitment to
France and British Intervention in the War
These books provide a comprehensive account of
British naval and diplomatic policy in the two
decades prior to the Great War, focusing in
particular on the escape of the German ships Goeben
and Breslau [Superior Force], the origins of the
Dardanelles Campaign [Straits], and the political
and diplomatic imperatives behind the British
decision to enter the war in August 1914 [The
Each volume of the "Straits" trilogy is designed to
stand on its own; together, however, they represent
the fullest account yet published of the escape of
Goeben and Breslau, the Royal Navy in the
Mediterranean and British policy towards the Ottoman
Empire in the period 1900-15.
THE [AMERICAN] JOURNAL OF MILITARY HISTORY
One may not always follow the author to the
full extent of his interpretation, but at
the very least he has demonstrated that
[Admiral] Kerr would have had some difficult
questions to answer … Miller is so skilful
in analyzing the numerous errors on the
British and French side that facilitated the
escape of the Germans … this first volume on
the Goeben episode will be indispensable for
future naval historians.
Geoffrey Miller, whose research for his
trilogy has been monumental, reveals a tale
even more fascinating than previously
imagined. Nowhere more so than his
revelations concerning the role played by
Rear-Admiral Mark Kerr, Head of the British
Naval Mission to Greece … This is a work of
fine scholarship …
Can anything new be said about the German
battle cruiser Goeben , the ship which
brought Turkey into the Great War and
changed the world? Yes it can — and this
book says it. Geoffrey Miller draws together
and evaluates previously published accounts
in the light of more recently available
evidence, which itself provides a great deal
of new information. Particular emphasis is
given to the part played by Greece and that
country’s British naval C-in-C (Rear-Admiral
Mark Kerr) … Author and publisher are to be
congratulated on producing a worthy
contribution, not just to naval history, but
to world history … a large, readable and
UNITED STATES NAVAL INSTITUTE PROCEEDINGS
Besides the new information on the
conspiracy, this is a comprehensive account
of the whole affair, encompassing the
political, diplomatic, and naval
implications and providing a great deal of
insight into the world-shattering events of
World War I.
JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN GREAT WAR SOCIETY
Fine as Miller’s account is of the events at
sea, the book’s meat lies in the allegation
in the subtitle, which advances a contention
so novel that revisionistic is too mild a
term for it. This is that three
highly-placed individuals in Athens
connived, directly or indirectly, to abet
the escape … Miller’s version of events
seems confirmed by his highly impressive
research in primary sources … a valuable
contribution to Great War naval literature.
CANADIAN MILITARY HISTORY JOURNAL
…an impressive book, and Miller is to be
commended for his diligence in piecing
together occasionally fragmentary evidence
into a convincing argument. Furthermore, he
has provided much new grist for people
interested in debating the "what might have
beens" of the Dardanelles expedition.
THE NAVAL REVIEW
The story of the ‘escape’ of Goeben and
Breslau in August 1914 from the pursuing
Mediterranean Fleet and their arrival in
Constantinople has been told many times. It
exerts a fascination because, without these
powerful reinforcements, Turkey might have
remained neutral in the First World War.
Russian trade through the Dardanelles might
have continued and the fate of the Russian
Empire and of the whole of the Middle East
might have been different. Geoffrey Miller
not only knows how to make the familiar
story exciting, he also reminds his readers
of aspects of the escape which other
accounts sometimes overlook … Superior Force
is a valuable and readable contribution to
naval and diplomatic history.
MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW
Superior Force is an important, informative,
authoritative work of scholarship and an
asset to any military history collection on
the First World War.