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



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




Chapter 3




The First Shot




 HMS Indefatigable photographed later during the War

HMS Indefatigable photographed later during the War

Following the junction of Goeben and Breslau at Messina on 2 August, Souchon’s immediate thoughts turned to coaling. Not only was this filthy job hated by all on board but, with Goeben’s high consumption, it was a time-consuming operation made worse by the absence of dependable sources of supply. Souchon was credited by his enemies with having colliers scattered along the route of his most likely destination – the western basin of the Mediterranean – and, indeed, one of these “phantom” ships would add to the confusion of both the British and French.


The reality was far more prosaic and depended, for the most part, on hasty improvisation. Souchon had remembered that the German East African Line steamer General, bound for an exhibition at Dar-es-Salaam, was in the vicinity: he recalled it from Crete, ordered it to Messina, and requisitioned it as a supply ship. His foresight was justified as choppy seas at Brindisi had provided the Italians with enough of an excuse to deny Souchon coaling facilities; he must have realized that his reception at Messina was unlikely to prove any more welcoming.[1]

                Pressure had been growing meanwhile for the two ships to be sent to Constantinople. Secret negotiations being conducted there with a view to concluding a Turco-German alliance were well advanced by 1 August when the Austrian Ambassador reported to the tremulous Grand Vizier that the latest reliable information received from Vienna pointed to an attack on the Bosphorus by the Russian Black Sea Fleet. As unlikely as this was, the German Ambassador, Baron von Wangenheim, saw his chance and cabled to his Foreign Office that if Goeben could be spared she could, by reinforcing the Turkish fleet, hold off the Russians. This would have the effect both of assuring the cable connection with Roumania and preventing a Russian landing on the Bulgarian coast — and, Wangenheim need hardly have added, would have done no harm to the alliance negotiations. The Ambassador was to be disappointed however: at 9.15 p.m. on the evening of Sunday 2 August the Kaiser replied, through his aide-de-camp, that Goeben could not be dispensed with at the present time. Admiral von Pohl, the Chief of the German Admiralty Staff, not only agreed but maintained that Goeben could provide the greatest service in the Atlantic or North Sea and had no business in Turkish waters. Unknown to either Wilhelm or von Pohl – as knowledge of this would not be received in Berlin until the following morning – the Turco-German treaty of alliance had already been signed that Sunday at 4 p.m.[2]

                The situation then late on the afternoon of Sunday 2nd was that, although the Cabinet in London was still agonizing, intervention in the war now seemed the most likely course; in Paris uproar and confusion reigned following the breakdown of the Minister of Marine; the German Ambassador in Constantinople had the text of the Turco-German alliance in his pocket; at Malta, Milne had briefed Troubridge who had in turn briefed his captains and would shortly sail; at Toulon, Lapeyrère prevaricated; and Souchon coaled as best he could in Messina from steamers in the harbour. The news Souchon received from Berlin was not good: hostilities had commenced against Russia, war with France was certain and would probably begin on the 3rd, Great Britain would ‘very probably’ be hostile and Italy neutral.[3] No mention was made of the attitude of Austria-Hungary and no specific orders were given to Souchon; he therefore took matters into his own hands and drew up a plan to bombard the ports of Philippeville and Bona on the Algerian coast in an attempt to disrupt the passage of the French XIXth Army Corps.

                After taking in a small amount of coal of varying quality Souchon was able to slip quietly out of port under cover of darkness at 1 a.m. on the night of 2/3 August, his two ships heading west at 17 knots. As the ships cleaved their way through the shimmering water during the following day (Monday 3rd) Souchon framed his intentions: to harass and delay the transportation so that the French would have ‘to make great efforts to protect them.’ To accomplish this, at daybreak the next morning, Tuesday, Goeben would be off Philippeville and Breslau off Bona where they would hoist Russian colours, so as to be able to approach the shore without raising an alarm, and ascertain what ships were lying in the harbours. Then German colours would be broken out and the ports and ships bombarded by gunfire (or torpedoes if necessary); ammunition was to be used sparingly, while a gun duel between the ships and the shore batteries was to be avoided. Afterwards the two ships would continue to steer to the west until out of sight of land before turning to rendezvous near Cape Spartivento on the southern edge of Sardinia.[4] Although Souchon’s intentions thereafter were not stated his options were limited, and a breakout into the Atlantic does not appear to have figured amongst them; perhaps he just wanted to play for time, to see what Admiral Haus and the Austrian fleet would do. Ultimately, the continued necessity to obtain coal would impose its own limitations upon Souchon’s movements, but not without some belated direction from Berlin.


                Having become aware, late on the morning of Monday 3rd, of the signing of the alliance in Constantinople Admiral von Pohl in Berlin began to relent in his earlier opposition to Goeben going east, his reluctance finally being overcome by the enthusiasm of Tirpitz.[5] Within hours – and upon their own authority – Pohl and Tirpitz issued orders for Goeben and Breslau to proceed to Constantinople. Wilhelm, having subsequently been informed, agreed and the Foreign Office duly sent a cable to Ambassador Wangenheim at 7.30 that evening to notify him of the change in plans and suggest that Souchon should be placed at the disposal of the Turks to command their fleet.[6] Souchon had already learned on the evening of the 3rd, just before his two ships parted company on their respective missions, that war had broken out with France. This message, transmitted via the W/T station at Vittoria on Sicily, was delayed as both Duke of Edinburgh and Defence attempted to jam the signal; the German signal was also intercepted aboard Indomitable at 5.7 p.m. but all they could make out was what they assumed to be the end of the message, which was, confusingly, in French: ‘I will give you more later keep a good watch.’[7]

                A few hours afterwards the message was flashed from the W/T station at Nauen that an alliance had been concluded with Turkey and that the two ships were to proceed immediately to Constantinople. The signal was intercepted by receiving stations in England and telegraphed to London at 2.4 a.m. but it would not be until November that the German codes could be read.[8] Souchon received the unexpected message some two hours before his ships were due to open fire on the French North African ports. ‘To turn round immediately,’ he later wrote, ‘on the verge of the eagerly anticipated action, was more than I could bring my-self to do.’[9] Instead he held to his course and to his intention. Arriving off Philippeville at dawn, Goeben had to slow as two suspicious steamers passed out of the harbour and it was only at 6.8 a.m. that her guns un-leashed a short, violent bombardment. Ten minutes later she was in flight on a westerly course, pursued in-effectively by a few shells lobbed by a French howitzer battery. Breslau had an even easier time of it, making her run past Bona with guns blazing and no reply. The opening shots in the Mediterranean had been fired.[10]

                No previous account of this bombardment has mentioned the fact that, the following day, a report was received in London from the consul at Algiers stating that, during the shelling, the British ship Isle of Hastings had been seriously damaged. It would be interesting to speculate what effect this news might have had on the deliberations in London on 4 August if it had arrived immediately by acting as a casus belli to justify forthwith the instigation of hostilities in the Mediterranean. There seems little doubt that Churchill would have put this information to good use if available in time but, with the delay in reporting and the pressure on the wires, it was not received at the Foreign Office until just after midday on the 5th.[11] The Germans had been just as anxious as the British and French to avoid committing the first act of aggression — at 8.50 on Monday evening (3 August) the German Admiralty Staff had telephoned the Fleet Commander to warn him ‘to avoid all movements or actions that might be construed by England as directed against herself. Auxiliary cruisers not to be allowed to run out, therefore.’[12] Souchon, as unaware of this directive as the Admiralty Staff were of his own intentions, had violated and undermined the carefully preserved position adopted by Berlin.


The news that Goeben and Breslau had arrived at Messina shortly after midday on Sunday 2nd became known to Milne later that night: at 2.59 a.m. he relayed the message to Troubridge’s squadron and also to Chatham, which had been detailed in any event to search Messina. In an instant display of the confusion attendant upon his dual objectives Troubridge wanted to know whether he should continue to watch the Adriatic. Milne’s reply, passing on Churchill’s order, was not particularly helpful: ‘Yes, but Goeben is primary consideration…’ Milne also ordered Chatham to go right through the Straits of Messina so that she might be able to report if Souchon had gone north.[13] Having digested Milne’s orders but with no accurate knowledge as to the present whereabouts of the German ships, which may or may not have been still in Messina, Troubridge signalled back at 5.6 a.m. asking if he should send the two battle cruisers to the west by way of the southern route round Sicily. Milne considered this action premature until authentic news had been received.[14] Therefore, until Chatham could report, Troubridge took up a position south-east of the Straits of Messina where he could reasonably hope to intercept any ships coming south; if, on the other hand, Goeben and Breslau proceeded north out of the Straits, he intended to act, as already indicated, by sending Indomitable and Indefatigable round the south of Sicily as he would not risk sending the battle cruisers through the narrow Straits in view of the uncertain attitude of Italy.[15]

                Chatham, however, was expendable and the light cruiser passed through the Straits at 7.30 that morning (3 August); she had missed Goeben and Breslau by a little over six hours.[16] Milne directed the cruiser to head west once out of the Straits, round the northern coast of Sicily, and endeavour to find Goeben, if necessary by asking passing merchant ships for information.[17] He also informed the Admiralty that Troubridge’s force would now reverse course and search to the west, ‘towards French transport line from Algiers’, with the exception of the light cruiser Gloucester and eight destroyers which were detached to maintain a tenuous watch on the Adriatic. The decision to order Troubridge to search to the west apparently resulted after Milne had received intelligence that Goeben and Breslau had been sighted off the coast of Calabria the previous day steering south-west.[18] As they were no longer in Messina Milne could not be certain that the German ships had slipped through the Malta Channel to the south of Sicily, in which case they would run into Troubridge who was now blocking this passage. Milne’s message detailing these dispositions was received in London at 9.05 a.m. on the 3rd, to the apparent satisfaction of Sturdee, the C.O.S., who pencilled a note for the benefit of the French Naval Attaché, ‘C-in-C is evidently doing all he can.’[19] The problem of the French troop transports would continue to cause anxiety until the afternoon of the following day when news was first received in London that the sailings had been postponed on Lapeyrère’s orders due to the uncertainty as to the whereabouts of Goeben and Breslau. Souchon’s calculated decision to ignore his new orders from Berlin – at least until he had completed his planned bombardments – thus brought an immediate bonus.

                Out at sea, Troubridge and most of his squadron were now steaming back in the direction of Malta. Captain Kennedy aboard Indomitable could see no obvious reason for the about face unless it could be that the Italians had entered the war and, as he had not been as convinced as some that they would remain neutral, he semaphored quizzically to Defence, ‘Where is “Taranto Fleet”? Between us and Malta?’ Troubridge did not know to what fleet Kennedy was referring and asked for more information, which Kennedy could not supply. Nevertheless, the Captain of Indomitable did not want to be caught napping and, as he was senior to Captain Sowerby in the other battle cruiser, Indefatigable, he signalled the latter at 10.10 a.m., ‘If we are detached and coming into action with enemy I hope you will haul out of “line ahead” if we are in that formation, sufficiently to use your guns without signal from me (stop) and to save coal keep just out of our wake as a rule only getting into it when we are turning…’[20]


                As Kennedy prepared for the possibility of action with the Italians Milne was already having second thoughts. Worried that he had not left the entrance to the Adriatic sufficiently covered by Gloucester and the destroyers, Milne now ordered Troubridge to alter course again and send the First Cruiser Squadron back to assist in watching the Adriatic while the two battle cruisers alone were to be detached to continue their westward passage.[21] Defence duly logged this signal and, at 3.15 on the afternoon of Monday, 3 August, Troubridge detached Indomitable and Indefatigable from his flag[22] as he himself turned his heavy cruisers about and returned to the patrol line at the entrance of the Adriatic. Two hours later, when 20 miles off Valletta, Captain Kennedy was ordered to proceed at 14 knots to search for Goeben and Breslau between Cape Bon and Cape Spartivento; the two British battle cruisers were instructed not to separate too far and to be on their guard against surprise attack; fires were to be lighted in all boilers.[23] At this time Chatham (having passed through the Straits of Messina) was off the north-west tip of Sicily, proceeding on her circumnavigation of the island, after having discovered no further information about the Germans who, at the time, were further still to the west on their way to Philippeville and Bona.

                In London on the 3rd Battenberg too had little information to go on: every sighting of Souchon had placed him further west. France and Germany were then not yet at war, though it would only be a matter of hours, however Prince Louis did not even know if the French fleet had sailed or not. With no clear idea as to the intentions of the French, Battenberg must have reasoned that Souchon was apparently either trying to interfere with the French transports or else escape into the Atlantic, or possibly both. That afternoon the Senior Naval Officer, Gibraltar was therefore warned that, as Goeben and Breslau had ‘got away from the British battle cruisers’, a patrol should be formed to watch the Straits of Gibraltar. Having thus planted the suspicion in his own mind the seed germinated and took root and, at 6.30 p.m., Battenberg drafted new orders to Milne: ‘The two battle-cruisers must proceed to Straits of Gibraltar at high speed ready to prevent Goeben leaving Mediterranean.’[24] Milne received the signal at 8.30 p.m. and it was flashed immediately to Captain Kennedy, who was handed it on his bridge 17 minutes later — steam was raised for 22 knots, close to the maximum speed of the battle cruisers in their current state, forcing Kennedy to use oil in addition to coal, as required. As the battle cruisers increased speed, the Foreign Office received a report from the Naval Attaché in Paris that the French fleet had sailed that morning ‘to watch German cruiser Goeben and protect transport of French African troops, which will commence tomorrow.’ Although Sturdee initialled the Admiralty copy, the information was not relayed to Milne who had finally left Malta at 6.30 that evening in Inflexible and now lay stopped in the Malta Channel ‘so as to be ready for immediate action if necessary.’[25] This new information from Paris had, to a certain extent, made redundant Battenberg’s order less than two hours previously regarding the battle cruisers yet no further action was taken, leaving Indomitable and Indefatigable to continue that night on their new westward course.

                The situation in the still, moonlit sea as Monday 3 August passed quietly into Tuesday 4th was thus: Goeben and Breslau, aware now of the outbreak of war between Germany and France, had separated and were racing to the Algerian coast to pursue their respective missions of destruction; Milne, having been unsuccessful in his attempts to establish contact with the French, had first detached two of his three battle cruisers to search westward while he remained near Malta in the third, then, following Admiralty orders, he had dispatched them with all haste to Gibraltar; the French fleet, having left Toulon early in the morning of the 3rd, continued their unhurried, stately progress towards Africa. The warships of three nations were con-verging in the rectangle of sea bounded by Majorca, Sardinia and the African coast from Algiers to Bizerta.

                In London, at 9.45 p.m. on the 3rd (following the outbreak of war between France and Germany), Saint-Seine met Battenberg at the Admiralty where it was decided that the Anglo-French agreement should be implemented as soon as possible and that it was ‘to be clearly understood that this implies no offensive action on the part of the British forces, who will not carry out any warlike action unless attacked by German forces.’[26] This meeting had occurred as a result of an approach by Churchill to Asquith and Grey earlier that day: ‘I must request authorisation immediately’, Churchill demanded in a tone that left the august recipients in little doubt as to the answer required, ‘to put into force the combined Anglo-French dispositions for the defence of the channel. The French have already taken station & this partial disposition does not ensure security.’ To be absolutely sure, the First Lord added that ‘My naval colleagues & advisers desire me to press for this; & unless I am forbidden I shall act accordingly.’ Churchill did, however, add that this ‘implies no offensive action unless we are attacked.’ The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary gave their approval at 5 p.m.[27]

Vice-Admiral Augustin Boué de Lapeyrère had divided his fleet at Toulon into three groups and, early on the morning of 3 August, having already sent the old ships of the Reserve Squadron on ahead, the main body departed to rendezvous with them near the Balearics where the combined force would again separate: the first group, to the east, under Vice-Admiral Chocheprat, comprised the First Battle Squadron of six semi-dreadnoughts of the Danton class, the first division of the Armoured Cruiser Squadron and a flotilla of destroyers; its destination was Philippeville. The second group, in the centre, under Lapeyrère in the new dreadnought Courbet, comprised in addition the pre-dreadnoughts of the Second Battle Squadron, the second division of the Armoured Cruiser Squadron and 12 destroyers; its destination was Algiers. The third group, the Reserve Squadron, to the west, would go to Oran.[28] The long delayed message from Paris informing the C-in-C of the outbreak of war was not received on the flagship till just after one o’clock on the morning of the 4th; this message reiterated, in no uncertain terms, the express wish that the transports should proceed individually, each at its best speed.[29] Lapeyrère’s three groups steamed slowly on at an economical cruising speed on their diverging courses until the startling news of the bombardments was received: that first Bona, then Philippeville, had been shelled by ships which raced off in a north-westerly direction, apparently towards the Balearics. Souchon’s feint had succeeded, helped by the fact that the French believed that the Germans had a collier stationed in the Balearics from which Souchon could then base himself to launch further attacks; there was also the immediate possibility that Souchon would resume a westerly course and bombard Algiers. To guard against the latter at least Lapeyrère ordered Cocheprat’s first group to alter course to the south-west, away from Philippeville, and head for Algiers also. Neither surmise was correct: as soon as he thought he had steamed out of sight of the coast, Souchon doubled back eastwards, towards Messina.


                The first opportunity to intercept Souchon – which fell to the French – had been lost, but how great had it been? Although Cocheprat’s destination had originally been Philippeville he was still well short when the order was given to change course away. Although the Germans reported that, by their wireless traffic, parts of the French fleet were ‘in the immediate vicinity’[30] this was not the first time, nor would it be the last, that wireless operators reported enemy ships just over the horizon when, in fact, they were scores of miles away. One mystery concerns Troubridge’s report of a conversation he subsequently had with Lapeyrère at Malta on 16 August. Troubridge at first recounted that Lapeyrère ‘had actually sighted Goeben with his flagship with the First Division of the French Fleet. He was only an hour and a half behind her himself and actually saw her smoke on the horizon.’[31] Troubridge later expanded on this: Lapeyrère ‘in the Courbet with some battleships in company, had sighted the Goeben’s masts and smoke at a distance of 25 to 30 miles from him on the morning of the 4th August.’[32] Both statements are palpable nonsense: Courbet was not with the First Division of the Fleet that morning, but in the second, central, division heading for Algiers. It was absolutely impossible for Lapeyrère to have sighted Goeben. He might have seen smoke on the horizon but in all probability it was from the ships of his own first division which were now steaming on a converging course and, at the time, would have been about 30 miles distant. As Lapeyrère spoke no English Troubridge was possibly misinformed, but as Troubridge also apparently recalled that the French Admiral ‘at once decided it was futile to endeavour to close [Goeben]’[33] perhaps the most charitable explanation is that Lapeyrère, knowing that Troubridge had aborted his own attempt to intercept the Germans, was simply consoling the Englishman along the lines of “in your place, I would have done the same”.[34]

                Having left Toulon as late as they did the French had undeniably robbed themselves of the chance of being off the African coast at first light on the morning of the 4th; if Lapeyrère had sailed on the 2nd, which he could have done, could he have brought Souchon to action? The answer must be a highly qualified “yes”. The division that Goeben might have encountered at Philippeville – the first group – comprised as its main striking force six semi-dreadnoughts, not one capable of exceeding 20 knots; the battle cruiser as a class did not exist in the French navy. Although Goeben’s trial speed had been reduced due to her boiler problems she was still capable of 22 knots and, if pushed, up to 24 knots. If Souchon had emerged from the shadows off Philippeville and blundered into Cocheprat’s group there is little doubt that he could have escaped east at high speed, a belief supported by the conclusion of the French Commission appointed to investigate the débâcle:

By reason of the difference in speed and artillery existing between the ships making up the French Fleet and the Goeben and Breslau it is impossible to affirm that if offensive measures had been taken from the first day of operations the enemy cruisers would have been captured or destroyed.[35]

This highlighted one crucial fact: if Souchon were to be caught, it would not be upon the open sea but as a result of (1) being cut off by a stronger force (without defining, at this stage, what that might be), or, (2) by being surprised when immobilized either while coaling or as the result of battle damage inflicted after (1). Milne’s battle cruisers had all exceeded 26 knots on their trials but were now capable of no better than 22 knots. Souchon, though he might not have realized it given the state of his boilers, possessed the priceless advantage of speed.


News of the German bombardment reached Milne unofficially, via the Eastern Telegraph Company, at 8.50 on the morning of the 4th, though this initial report stated that only Bona had been shelled and that this had been done ‘by three of four German ships’.[36] In the confusion however, Milne appeared to think the message referred to Bona or Oran being bombarded; by the time he passed the information on to Troubridge at 10.15 a.m. he mentioned only that Oran had been bombed, and by three German ships.[37] It is impossible to ascertain how this error was made but the significance of the mistake was that, as Oran is closer to Gibraltar than Bona, it tended to heighten the impression that Goeben and Breslau would continue to escape westwards and thereby pointed to the Atlantic as the most probable destination. Aboard the British battle cruisers, Captains Kennedy and Sowerby passed the time from 8.30 a.m., as they edged ever closer to Gibraltar, by swapping signals. Indefatigable had just semaphored, ‘What do you imagine the situation is at present?’ to which Indomitable replied that it was thought England and Italy were still neutral. Kennedy also pointed out that his ship had been using oil since 9 o’clock the previous night to be able to maintain 22 knots and that the stokers were to be put into three watches instead of two but, to accomplish this, 90 ratings would have to be put to work trimming the bunkers; Kennedy then speculated as to how far west Goeben might have been able to steam. As if a teasing spirit now sought to provide an answer, within minutes the intercepted message from the Eastern Telegraph Company office at Bona was handed to Kennedy on the bridge. The Captain was dumbfounded: due to an error in coding, the message received by him stated that the Germans were shelling Dover. Regaining his composure, he signalled Sowerby at 10.12 a.m., ‘…I do not believe that yarn about Germans firing on Dover do you?’

                Unlike his own, the staff on Indefatigable had been doing their homework and had already calculated that, if Goeben left Messina about midnight on 2/3 August at 14 knots, she could have been off Bona by 5 a.m. that morning; it was just possible, they conceded, that Goeben could make for home round the north of Scotland at 14 knots, without coaling, though the more logical assumption was for her to put into a neutral port to obtain further supplies of coal. Kennedy agreed that, especially if she had taken in a deck cargo of coal, Goeben could ‘get right round North About Home’ without recoaling, but the idea of shelling Dover on the journey ‘would be a risky and expensive way to declare war. I think BONA was meant not DOVER.’ Twenty minutes later, all doubt was removed when the battle cruisers intercepted a W/T sent to Milne from Dublin which was then moored in Bizerta harbour on her mission to establish contact with the French; the message stated that Goeben and Breslau had fired shots into Philippeville and Bona and left ‘Full Speed Westward’.[38] It was Dublin which then proceeded to cloud the issue by reporting news received from Paris that a German collier was anchored at Palma, ‘Supposed idea coal 2 German cruisers.’[39]


                Milne was snatching snippets of information out of the ether – that the German ships had bombarded Bona or possibly Oran and headed off in a westerly direction, and that there was a German collier in the Balearics – all of which directed his attention to the western basin of the Mediterranean. At 9.46 that morning the Senior Naval Officer, Gibraltar reported to London that a message had been received from Marseilles that German men-of-war had passed along the Algerian coast during the night, shelling Bona, and were ‘now on the way to Gibraltar.’[40] It is possible that this message was also intercepted and passed to Milne. However, with the attendant irony which is never far removed from such occasions, the most dramatic message that morning – which might have diverted his gaze away from the west – was not initially received by Milne. At 10.32 a.m. the lookouts aboard Indomitable spotted Breslau two points off the starboard bow, proceeding north-east by east at high speed and throwing up a huge bow wave.[41] Almost before Captain Kennedy could order ‘Look out for Goeben’ the German battle cruiser appeared out of the haze off Indomitable’s port bow. As action stations sounded it seemed that, to rejoin her consort, Goeben was attempting to cut across the bows of Indomitable; Kennedy thereupon altered course to starboard to block the manoeuvre forcing Goeben to resume her original course so that the two battle cruisers, whose countries still remained at peace, passed each other on opposite courses, travelling at a combined speed of close to 40 knots.

                Kennedy ordered his ship’s guns kept trained to their securing positions while Goeben was scanned carefully to see if she flew an admiral’s flag which would require a salute. In the circumstances, with war perhaps hours away, Kennedy was loathe to risk an ‘incident’ resulting from the firing of his saluting cannon but no admiral’s flag was discernible and the German’s guns were also trained fore and aft. ‘I had well considered the question’, Kennedy admitted afterwards, ‘and I believed that the salute was very likely to be the cause of the German replying by shot and shell.’[42] The ships passed in silence. Kennedy semaphored to Indefatigable, ‘Raise steam for Full Speed and then I am going to shadow her’, and then sent a signal to Milne at 10.40 a.m.: ‘Enemy in sight. Lat 37°44’ N., 7°56’ E. steering E. consisting of Goeben and Breslau.’[43] Milne did not receive this message. When Indomitable signalled six minutes later, repeating that the enemy was in sight and was being shadowed, Kennedy this time gave the position but not the direction in which the Germans were steering; Milne, who did receive this message, assumed they were still heading west. At 11.08 a.m. Milne instructed Captain John Kelly in Dublin, still at Bizerta, to inform the French Admiral that Goeben and Breslau had been found and ordered Kelly to proceed immediately to reinforce Indomitable. Meanwhile Chatham would proceed to Bizerta to maintain communications with the French.[44] Ten minutes later, Milne informed the Admiralty, ‘Indomitable, Indefatigable sighted Goeben, Breslau off Bona 10 a.m. They are shadowed. Dublin ordered to assist.’[45]

                This welcome news was received in London shortly before 11 a.m. (GMT). Then, within minutes, a further signal was received in which Milne passed on the report of a German collier waiting at Palma for Goeben.[46] Battenberg, as Milne had done, continued to look to the west, obviously unaware that, within minutes, Milne would receive a further two signals from Captain Kennedy both of which erroneously stated that Goeben was heading north. Clearly in a quandary over this new information, Milne at once sought clarification from Kennedy, which eventually arrived after midday and, at last, correctly gave Goeben’s course as east. Even so, to make absolutely sure that this was indeed the correct course, Milne waited another couple of hours before notifying the Admiralty.[47] In the meantime, on the telegram reporting that the German ships were being shadowed Battenberg minuted, ‘Very good. Hold her. War Imminent. Goeben is to be prevented by force from interfering with French transports.’ This went too far for Churchill to authorize contravening, as it did, the undertaking given to Asquith and Grey the previous night; Churchill therefore circled the first three, two-word, sentences and noted ‘This to go now’, but the final sentence would have to await confirmation.[48] The truncated signal was sent at 11.20 a.m. (GMT) and was received aboard Indomitable with some disgust if only because they thought the message – apart from ‘War Imminent’ – a waste of W/T: ‘the less one puts it to use the better.’[49] Churchill immediately sought approval to send the second part of the order, but this raised two questions: under what circumstances would the British be justified in opening fire and, given that the Navy’s responsibilities were global and not confined solely to the Mediterranean, when was the best time at which Anglo-German hostilities should commence? The First Lord tackled the second question after that morning’s Cabinet (at which it had been decided to send an ultimatum to Germany to respect Belgian neutrality) by informing Battenberg and Sturdee that an ultimatum would be sent and, as a consequence, the German Ambassador ‘will ask for his passports’. Churchill wanted to know at what time the rupture should take place: ‘At what hour of daylight or darkness would it be most convenient for us to begin hostilities. Immediate reply is necessary in order to put hour into the ultimatum.’[50] Concerned that enough time should be allowed to make certain that the fleet was at its war station, Battenberg minuted ‘Anytime after midnight tonight.’[51]

                Seeking a judgment on the first question Churchill approached Asquith and Grey at midday to inform them that Goeben and Breslau had been found ‘west of Sicily’ and were being shadowed but it would be a great misfortune to lose these vessels, as would be possible, in the dark hours: Goeben was ‘evidently going to interfere with the French transports’, the First Lord asserted erroneously, ‘which are crossing today.’ Churchill informed them of the order that had already been sent to hold Goeben and demanded an immediate decision as to whether he could add the final sentence, ‘If Goeben attacks French transports you should at once engage her.’[52] It would be another five hours before further news was received from Paris that the transports would not sail, due to the presence of Goeben, and that the French Fleet had been given orders to bring Goeben to action ‘if possible’.[53] Unaware of this French pusillanimity Churchill got his decision, with one proviso: at Downing Street at 12.10 p.m. he ordered that Milne should be sent the additional signal, ‘If Goeben attacks French transports you should at once engage. You should give her fair warning of this beforehand.’ This was immediately transmitted to Milne who received it shortly after 5 p.m.[54] The First Lord then returned to the Cabinet room to explain the situation to his colleagues, presumably trusting that they would acquiesce in his fait accompli; however, as Grey had yet to telegraph the ultimatum to Berlin (which would not go till 2 p.m.) the Cabinet refused to sanction any overt act of war. Whether, if Churchill had had available the consul’s report from Algeria concerning the damage caused by the German warships to the British steamer Isle of Hastings, the Cabinet may have decided differently is a moot point, but the First Lord was not overly perturbed. In Asquith’s famous description: ‘Winston, who has got on all his war-paint, is longing for a sea-fight in the early hours of to-morrow morning, resulting in the sinking of the Goeben.’[55]


                Churchill had no option but to return to the Admiralty and telegraph new orders to Milne, just five minutes after Grey at last delivered the ultimatum to Berlin:

from Admiralty to All Ships at 2 p.m. (216 out)

                The British ultimatum to Germany will expire at midnight G.M.T. August 4th. No Act of War should be committed before that hour at which time the telegram to commence hostilities against Germany will be dispatched from the Admiralty.

Special addition to Mediterranean, Indomitable, Indefatigable sent at 2.5 p.m.

This cancels the authorisation to Indomitable and Indefatigable to engage Goeben if she attacks French transports.[56]

Milne received one further important signal from the Admiralty which had been dispatched from London during the fraught period between the confirmation of the first sighting of the German ships and the Cabinet’s insistence that the time period set by the ultimatum should first expire before any act of war could be committed. This signal, superfluous but well-meant, would contribute to the débâcle almost as much as Churchill’s ‘superior force’ telegram; this time Battenberg was the chief culprit. The First Sea Lord had noted to Churchill on the morning of the 4th that ‘In view of the Italian Declaration of Neutrality (F.O. Rome, no. 156, 3.8.14) propose to telegraph C-in-C, Medn acquainting him and enjoining him to respect this rigidly & not to allow a ship to come within 6 miles of Italian Coast.’ Churchill took up the First Lord’s red pencil and annotated ‘So proceed. FO shd intimate this to Italian Govt.’[57] The order was sent to Milne from the Admiralty at 12.55 p.m. and Grey was informed shortly afterwards.[58] ‘If this fact is notified to the Italian Government it should be made clear’, Grey was pedantically enjoined, ‘that this order is inspired by a desire to meet their views to the utmost, and is not to be taken as implying an admission of their claim to territorial waters beyond the three-mile limit.’[59]

                The crucial implication contained in the order to Milne was that his ships were now effectively debarred from passing through the Straits of Messina which were only two miles wide at their narrowest point. This voluntary act of supererogation was unnecessary as Italy had already declared her neutrality; neither the Italian Government nor the Foreign Office in London had requested it; it conformed to no clause of the 1907 Hague Convention; and it went further than required by international law, which merely debarred belligerents from hostile actions within three miles of the coast.[60] In the opinion of the British Naval Attaché in Rome not only was the order unnecessary, it did nothing at all to increase the Italians’ opinion of the British.[61] To complicate matters further, less than two hours after Battenberg caused the signal to be sent, Sturdee telegraphed to the Senior Naval Officer, Gibraltar that the Straits patrol there was to include territorial waters.[62] On the one hand it is easy to imagine the confused and strained atmosphere of the first days of August, yet the war itself was not unexpected: at the Admiralty, in particular, preparations should have reached an advanced stage during the July crisis, however the work of the Naval Staff – while it was perhaps too much to expect it to be faultless – was instead a shambles. Churchill’s vaunted mission of 1911, the instigation of a smoothly functioning staff, had failed.

                On 1 August the scene in the War Room was ‘wild, thousands of telegrams littered about & no-one keeping a proper record of them.’[63] A re-organization envisaged in April 1914 after two years’ experience was hastily swept aside in August. At that time the War Staff proper numbered 33 officers which was not enough to deal with the emergency and which necessitated a large and sudden intake once war appeared inevitable: six officers arrived from the War College; another three who had previously been on half-pay; five were seconded from other Admiralty Departments; but the largest number, fourteen, were from the retired and emergency list. These additional officers crowded into the War Room, operating in three watches around the clock. There, with a moment to spare, an officer could stand at the window and gaze out to the west, over Horseguards’ Parade, for the War Room was actually the First Lord’s State Bedroom, situated on the first floor of Admiralty House. The organizational structure in 1914 comprised the following sections:

A.                British ships of war at Home and Abroad.

B.                Patrol flotillas, trawlers, minesweepers.

C.                (no longer existed)[64]

D.                Colliers, oilers, fleet auxiliaries.

E1.                Foreign war vessels (information from the Intelligence Division).

E2.                Foreign merchant ships.

This differed from the original 1912 organization in one important area: previously the movements of British and foreign ships had been dealt with by one section, depending on location.[65] Now, the movements of Goeben and Breslau would be handled by one section while the movements of Milne’s ships would be handled by another. These sections would, independently, mark up the positions on large charts adorning the state bedroom as the information was received. The relevant Naval Staff Monograph comments, without a trace of irony:

The system of 5 sections working in a single room broke down after a few days and was abandoned, apparently for reasons of space. The system was not a good one. Each section required a staff and apparatus of its own and the sections seemed to have got in one another’s way. The Intelligence Sections, who followed enemy movements, went off to another room and, though they came in and marked up the War Charts, their exodus made immediate reference more difficult.[66]



Nevertheless, by 4 August, an improvement had been made although it was still a strange way to run a war, as Captain Dumas found out: ‘At last’, he recorded in his diary, ‘someone has taken in hand the organization of the war room and high time too but it was an incongruity to go to Sturdee’s room and find him – the COS – and Leveson – the DOD – having a tea party with their wives. Also which is amazing there is a notice in Prince Louis’ office that no telephone message must be sent to his house he has German servants.’[67]

                One obvious problem concerned the flood of telegrams pouring into the War Registry and overwhelming the staff of 3 resident clerks and 30 assistants (again divided into 3 watches). Some messages were routine, many – in all probability – a waste of W/T, others of the utmost importance; delay was inevitable but who could say that the message waiting in the pile to be decoded was not vital and urgent?[68] In addition, the Foreign Office was suborned to disseminate naval information. As an example of the circuitous route a signal could take, at 9.10 on the evening of 3 August the British Ambassador in Rome, Rodd, telegraphed the Foreign Office that Goeben and Breslau had arrived at Messina on 2 August and were reported to have taken on board 1,000 tons of coal. This information reached the Foreign Office at 9.15 the following morning, at which time George Clerk, the Senior Clerk at the Eastern Department, minuted that the Admiralty should be asked by telephone whether it would be of any use to repeat this, and similar telegrams, to Paris so that they could be communicated to the French Ministry of Marine. Clerk’s motivation, other than saving the Admiralty’s time, was that he was aware the ‘Toulon Fleet is reported to be on the lookout for Goeben.’ The telephone call was duly made and resulted in a further minute: the Admiralty asked the Foreign Office to send a paraphrase of such telegrams to the French Embassy in London. This was done, and Cambon was handed a paraphrase later the same day, presumably to pass on to Paris himself.[69] Why allow clerks at the Foreign Office, with little or no experience of naval affairs, to paraphrase information affecting naval strategy, with all the contingent dangers that that entailed? And why then route the information through the French Embassy?

                Above all this chaos there strode the figure of Churchill: jealous of his position; unwilling to delegate to the Staff the functions which rightly belonged to them; unchecked by Battenberg and Sturdee; drafting operational telegrams in his own hand and justifying this by claiming the retrospective approval of the First Sea Lord and Chief of Staff and, in doing so, applying the language of the politician to the orders to his C-in-C. Battenberg did attempt to argue with Churchill on the afternoon of the 4th that immediate action should be taken against the German ships as, with darkness approaching, they could escape in any direction but, bound by the Cabinet, Churchill had gone as far as he could; besides, Battenberg’s own telegram concerning the over-zealous deference to Italian neutrality would prove a greater contributory factor to the escape than the decision to withhold Milne’s authority to open fire.[70] As Churchill and Battenberg remonstrated the German ships were, in any event, drawing away from their shadowers, swallowed by the mist that had persisted throughout the day.

                The full extent of the degree of centralization at the Admiralty in the early stages of the war was not revealed until 1916: ‘…there grew at once on the outbreak of war a War Staff Group’, Churchill then stated. ‘It consisted of the First Sea Lord, the C.O.S., the Second Sea Lord and the Secretary, under the Presidency of the First Lord. This group met daily, occasionally with additional members, usually for an hour and a half or 2 hours, and examined the whole situation.’ Churchill claimed the other Sea Lords were aware of what was going on, but this did not tally with their recollection. Lambert, the Fourth Sea Lord, claimed that ‘in the War Room where a lot of useful information could be got without bothering people to look at telegrams, a list was put up on the door in Mr Churchill’s own handwriting of people who were allowed to go in there and the Junior Lords’ names were crossed out and the names of the civil members of the Board were crossed out.’[71] Churchill also admitted that ‘though in my time a large proportion of the operative minutes and drafts of telegrams emanated personally from me, these were the result not of my own knowledge alone, but they summed up and embodied the results of daily consultations…’[72]

                When asked by Admiral Sir William May, at the Dardanelles Inquiry, whether the First Lord could give an executive order to the Fleet without the Board knowing about it at all and, if so, whether the order would be carried out, Churchill replied that it had never been done. Pressed by May, he admitted that, theoretically, it may be done: ‘I suppose if the First Lord said to the Secretary, Do so and so, the Secretary would send the orders out and it would go to the Fleet, and the Fleet would of course obey it; but I cannot conceive such a thing being done.’[73] In effect, however, the Board of Admiralty had fallen into abeyance, to be replaced by Churchill’s inner circle. When queried on this point, Fisher at least was in complete agreement: the Board of Admiralty as a corporate body was less consulted than before the war ‘because there was not the time to get all these fellows together and to consult them. Besides, a junta is a bad thing for a war.’[74] The situation had become so bad that by 12 October 1914 the Junior Sea Lords addressed a memorandum to Battenberg complaining that:

At the beginning of the war, we were informed that it was not intended that we should take part in councils of war. We preferred a verbal request to the Secretary that reports on operations which may be rendered from time to time to the Admiralty should be circulated to us confidentially for information. This request has so far not been complied with. We do not want to raise difficulties at this time, but we feel that it is wrong, that as naval members of the Board, we should be kept in complete ignorance both of general policy adopted and also of the decisions taken on proposals which are important but which in most cases cannot be said to be either secret of confidential…

The Sea Lords then requested that periodical meetings of naval members of the Board be held at which they could be put in possession of important proposals[75] however, by the end of that month, Battenberg himself had been relieved of duty and Fisher – the arch centralizer – had returned.Please click to go to the top of this page





[1]    Souchon, p. 484; Der Krieg Zur See, p. 39. According to Kopp, Two Lone Ships, p. 17, the Italians were concerned that the colliers might be battered against Goeben’s hull.

[2]    Constantinople to Foreign Office, no. 396, 1 August 1914; von Mutius to Foreign Office, 2 August 1914; Constantinople to Foreign Office, no. 408, 2 August 1914, in Max Montgelas and Walter Schücking (eds.), Outbreak of the World War. German Documents collected by Karl Kautsky, (London, 1924), nos. 652, 683, 726, pp. 488, 505, 526 [hereinafter referred to as Kautsky, German Documents]. Ulrich Trumpener, The Escape of the Goeben and Breslau: a Reassessment, The Canadian Journal of History, VI, (1971), p. 173.

[3]    Berlin to cruisers abroad, no. 11, 2 August 1914, Decode of Messages sent in German VB cipher, PRO Adm 137/4065.

[4]    Der Krieg Zur See, p. 40.

[5]    Tirpitz, My Memoirs, vol. II, p. 349.

[6]    Secretary of State of the Imperial Naval Office to Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 3 August 1914, Kautsky, German Documents, no. 775, p. 552. Trumpener, Reassessment, p. 173.

[7]    Admiralty Staff of the Navy to Goeben, via Vittoria, no. 5, 3 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/4065; Kennedy, p. 5. The section in French does not appear in the message as sent; presumably this was a French signal intercepted and transposed with the German signal.

[8]    The decodes can be found in PRO Adm 137/4065.

[9]    Souchon, p. 484.

[10]  Der Krieg Zur See, p. 39.

[11]  Acting Consul-General, London to Sir Edward Grey, 5 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[12]  Admiralty Staff of the Navy to Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 3 August 1914, Kautsky, German Documents, no. 808, p. 569.

[13]  C-in-C to R-Adl and Chatham, 2.59 a.m., 3 August 1914; R-Adl to C-in-C, 3.37 a.m.; C-in-C to R-Adl, rec’d 4.23 a.m., NSM,B; Lumby, p. 150.

[14]  R-Adl to C-in-C, 5.6 a.m., 3 August, NSM,B; W/T Signal Log, HMS Defence, IWM MISC 64 ITEM 1009.

[15]  R-Adl to C-in-C, 6.50 a.m., 3 August, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 151; W/T Signal Log, HMS Defence, IWM MISC 64 ITEM 1009.

[16]  Log of HMS Chatham, PRO Adm 53/37560.

[17]  C-in-C to Chatham and First Cruiser Squadron, rec’d 8.27 a.m., 3 August, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 151.

[18]  Court of Inquiry, qu. 5, Lumby, p. 248.

[19]  C-in-C, Medt to Admiralty, no. 391, 3 August 1914, and minute by Sturdee, PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[20]  Kennedy, p. 4.

[21]  See, Court Martial, qu. 120, Lumby, p. 288: Milne testified: ‘…looking over my war orders again, I saw that the cruisers had to watch the mouth of the Adriatic. So I directed the Rear-Admiral to return to watch the Adriatic.’

[22]  C-in-C to R-Adl, 1st C.S., rec’d 2.33 p.m., 3 August 1914, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 152; W/T Signal Log, HMS Defence.

[23]  Kennedy, p. 4.

[24]  Admiralty to S.N.O., Gibraltar, 2.45 p.m., 3 August; Admiralty to C-in-C, 6.30 p.m., 3 August, PRO Adm 137/HS19; Lumby, pp. 152-3.

[25]  Bertie to Grey, no. 127, rec’d 8.18 p.m., 3 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19; Milne to Admiralty, 20 August 1914, para. 13, Lumby, p. 215.

[26]  Note by Battenberg, Battenberg mss., IWM DS/MISC/20, reel 5, item 363b.

[27]  Churchill to Asquith and Grey, for immediate action, 3 August 1914; note by Sir William Tyrrell, WSC Comp. vol. III, pt. i, p. 15.

[28]  Corbett, Naval Operations, vol. I, p. 59.

[29]  Halpern, Naval War in the Medt., p. 24.

[30]  Der Krieg Zur See, pp. 39-40.

[31]  Court of Inquiry, Statement for the Defence, Lumby, p. 256. Note: the allegation by Troubridge that Lapeyrère had sighted the smoke of Goeben first surfaced in a letter from Troubridge to Milne on 21 August. Troubridge maintained therein that, with the French fleet blocking the way west, it was “certain” Goeben was coming east. This would appear to be a clear case of hindsight. See, Troubridge to Milne, 21 August 1914, Milne mss., NMM MLN 209/7.

[32]  Court Martial, Statement for the Defence, Lumby, p. 369.

[33]  Ibid.

[34]  On the basis of Troubridge’s dubious recollection alone, van der Vat, p. 60, maintains that Goeben and Breslau must have passed close to the second group and so, therefore, were trapped between the second group in the west and the first group in the east. As a result, Lapeyrère ‘could have encircled them’ but ‘deliberately threw away the chance’. It is beyond doubt that, whatever Lapeyrère saw that morning, it was not Goeben. At the cruising speed of the second group, which van der Vat acknowledges was only 11 to 12 knots, it was over 150 miles away from the closest position on the Algerian coast as Souchon completed his bombardment.

[35]  Commission de la Marine de Guerre, quoted in Halpern, The Naval War in the Medt., p. 26.

[36]  Senior Naval Officer, Malta to C-in-C, (code time 0724 GMT), 4 August 1914, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 154.

[37]  Milne to Admiralty, 20 August 1914, para. 17, Lumby, p. 215; C-in-C to R-Adl, 1st C.S., (code time 0915), 4 August 1914, NSM,B, Lumby, p. 154.

[38]  Kennedy, pp. 5-6.

[39]  Dublin to C-in-C, (code time 0930), 4 August 1914, NSM,B, Lumby, p. 155.

[40]  S.N.O., Gibraltar to Admiralty, no. 636, 4 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[41]  Kennedy, p. 6, reports the sighting at 9.35 GMT (10.35 SMT), however the ship’s log has 10.32 a.m. Log of HMS Indomitable, PRO Adm 53/44830.

[42]  Quoted in, E. Keble Chatterton, Dardanelles Dilemma, p. 20.

[43]  Kennedy, pp. 6-7; Indomitable to C-in-C, 10.46 a.m., 4 August 1914, NSM,B, Lumby, p. 155; see also, Lumby, p. 138.

[44]  Indomitable to C-in-C, (0946); C-in-C to Indomitable and Dublin, (1008), 4 August 1914, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 155.

[45]  C-in-C to Admiralty, no. 394, 4 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19; Lumby, p. 155.

[46]  C-in-C to Admiralty, no. 395, ibid.; Lumby, p. 156.

[47]  Indomitable to C-in-C, (1015) and (1034); C-in-C to Indomitable, (1039) and reply by Indomitable (1110), NSM,B; C-in-C to Admiralty, no. 396, (1329), PRO Adm 137/HS19; Lumby, pp. 155-6, 159.

[48]  Admiralty to C-in-C, Indomitable, Indefatigable, no. 213, minute by Churchill, 4 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[49]  Narrative from the Indomitable: the escape of the Goeben, Naval Review, 1919, vol. 12, p. 110.

[50]  The ultimatum sent by Grey to Berlin at 2 p.m. was a bland document requesting an assurance regarding Belgian neutrality by 11 p.m. G.M.T., otherwise the British Government would ‘take all steps in their power to uphold the neutrality of Belgium…’ A reply was not expected and none was forthcoming, so a second document was prepared for delivery to the German Ambassador explaining that a state of war would exist by 11 p.m. An incorrect version of this was delivered after it was mistakenly believed that evening that Germany had already declared war on England and, when the error was discovered, a correct version was substituted late that night by Harold Nicolson, the son the Permanent Under-Secretary. See, Nicolson, Lord Carnock, pp. 423-6.

[51]  Churchill to First Sea Lord, C.O.S., minute by Battenberg, 4 August 1914, Nicolson mss., PRO FO800/375.

[52]  Churchill to the Prime Minister, Sir Edward Grey, 4 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[53]  Bertie to Foreign Office, no. 132, 1.15 p.m., 4 August 1914 (rec’d 5 p.m.): ‘Following from Military Attaché:— It is hoped to bring from Algeria a force of about 20,000; at present it is not deemed advisable to commence transportation across Mediterranean owing to presence of German warships; probable time for transportation 12 days; probable destination neighbourhood of Belfort.’ Fifteen minutes later Bertie sent a dispatch (no. 134) from the Naval Attaché which was also received in London at 5 p.m.: ‘French fleet have been given orders to bring Goeben to action if possible. Goeben is at present off Algerian coast.’ PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[54]  Note by Churchill, 10 Downing Street, no. 214, 12.10 p.m., 4 August 1914, marked “for immediate action”, PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[55]  Asquith to Venetia Stanley, Asquith Letters, 4 August 1914, no. 115, pp. 149-51.

[56]  Admiralty to All Ships, no. 216, 4 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19. Note: Churchill was in error concerning the time of the expiration of the ultimatum: it was timed to expire at midnight, Central European Time, which was 11 p.m. G.M.T. This confusion over time zones is a common feature of the saga of the escape, as will be shown.

[57]  Battenberg to Churchill, minute by Churchill, 4 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/879. Cf. Churchill, World Crisis, p. 133: ‘Bearing in mind how disastrous it would be if any petty incident occurred which could cause trouble at this fateful moment with Italy...’

[58]  Admiralty to C-in-C and Ad. Supt., Malta, no. 215, 4 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19, Lumby, p. 157.

[59]  Admiralty to Foreign Office, 4 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2161/35790.

[60]  Naval Staff Monographs (Historical) Fleet Issue, 1923, vol. VIII, The Mediterranean, 1914-1915, para. 21, PRO Adm 186/618; Alfred Dewar, Winston Churchill at the Admiralty, Naval Review, 1923, vol. 11, p. 226.

[61]  W. H. D. Boyle, My Naval Life, 1886-1941, (London, 1942), p. 84.

[62]  Admiralty to S.N.O., Gibraltar, no. 397, 4 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19. Either there was a lack of communication in the Admiralty or, as the Spaniards were not viewed as a problem, their territoriality could be violated.

[63]  Diary of Admiral Philip Dumas, entry for 1 August 1914, IWM PP/MCR/96.

[64]  Originally, in 1912, section C handled intercepted W/T messages. A new section was created for deciphering German signals — the famous “Room 40”.

[65]  In 1912 Section A dealt with HM ships and enemy ships in Home Waters and section E with HM ships and enemy ships abroad.

[66]  Naval Staff Monograph, The Naval Staff of the Admiralty, Its work and development, (1929) Naval Historical Library, pp. 56, 59-61.

[67]  Diary of Admiral [then Captain] Dumas, entry for 4 August 1914, IWM PP/MCR/96.

[68]  Vice-Admiral Dewar, The Navy from Within, (London, 1939), p. 163, gives the example of a cruiser patrolling the Atlantic which wired, on 14 August, asking for Admiralty permission to issue an extra ration of lime juice.

[69]  Rodd to Foreign Office, no. 161, urgent, 3 August 1914; minute by Clerk, 4 August, PRO FO 371/2161/35670.

[70]  Martin Gilbert, Winston S Churchill, 1914-1916, p. 30. Milne’s authority to open fire, if granted, would have operated only in the case where the German ships were physically interfering in the transportation of the French troops which, as Souchon was steering east, they were patently not doing. If Battenberg’s arguments that afternoon had prevailed it would, in all probability, have been too late as, by the time the authorization had been relayed to the battle cruisers, the German ships were almost out of sight.

[71]  Evidence of Lambert before the Dardanelles Commission, qu. 4112, PRO Cab 19/33.

[72]  Dardanelles Commission, Statement by Churchill, War Staff Group, PRO Cab 19/28.

[73]  Proceedings of the Dardanelles Commission, qu. 1078-9, PRO Cab 19/33.

[74]  Ibid., qu. 3074.

[75]  Ibid., qu. 2956. Note: Sir Graham Greene disagreed that there had been major changes after the outbreak of war and maintained that the Junior Sea Lords could have found out what was going on if they had wanted but, although they could read all the telegrams, they were generally not consulted beforehand about policy decisions. He also confirmed that the First Lord clearly had the right under Order in Council to initiate orders: ibid., qu. 3032-3050.



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

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


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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.
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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