: The Conspiracy Behind the Escape of
Goeben and Breslau
© Geoffrey Miller
The Chase Begins
photographed chasing SMS Goeben, 4 August 1914
feinted north-west after the bombardment, Souchon now followed his orders of
some hours previously and put Goeben
about to shape course east, for the Dardanelles. The continued boiler problems,
allied to the inability to obtain sufficient coal at either Brindisi the
previous Saturday or Messina on Sunday, put paid to any idea of a non-stop run;
Souchon would have to obtain coal again and the obvious location to do so,
notwithstanding the difficulties that would inevitably be raised by the Italian
authorities, was Messina.
However, no sooner had
shortly after 10 a.m. on Tuesday 4th than the British battle cruisers were
sighted, heading west at speed. In Souchon’s words, ‘we ran straight into
the British lion’s jaws.’
The last official communication he had received regarding the attitude of
Britain had been sent as long ago as 6.12 the previous morning; and this had
only warned him superfluously to ‘Be prepared for hostile actions on the part
of English forces.’ Although Souchon ordered action stations he admitted that
he dare not open fire as he was not sure whether Britain was then an enemy; the
guns of his battle cruiser also remained in their securing positions, fore and
aft. Breslau, meanwhile, caught on the
opposite bow of the British ships was ordered to clear to the north-east at
and Indefatigable turned to begin their stern chase Souchon realized
that his only realistic chance of escape lay in concealing his boiler defects
from the British and, by some means, making Goeben
live up to her reputation as the fastest ship in the Mediterranean.
was making only 17 knots at the time of the sighting and the speed that Souchon
would later require could only be achieved by superhuman effort on the part of
his crew. By midday, she was making 22.5 knots and, in short bursts, 24 knots.
Goeben resembled nothing so much as a giant metal beehive where,
deep inside, the workers laboured furiously to satiate the appetite of their
Queen, in this case the 21 serviceable boilers (3 of the 24 were out of action)
feeding the steam to the turbines. Pressed into this enervating service, a W/T
operator, Georg Kopp, has left the following account:
whole ship’s company, in so far as they were not indispensable for the guns or
for duty on the bridge, were ordered to the bunkers and stokeholds to trim coal.
Stokers, seamen, under-officers, midshipmen, officers, the whole personnel
worked at trimming coal, stoking, and clearing the ash. The overheated air
affected lungs and heart. Shut off from the outer air by the armoured deck, we
worked in the compressed atmosphere forced down through the ventilators. The
coal in the neighbourhood of the boilers had to be left. That in the outlying
bunkers was trimmed first, and in view of the great length of the ship these
were often a long way from the boiler room.
There was an infernal din
going on in the interior of the ship. The artificial draught roared and hissed
from above the stokeholds, drove into the open furnace doors, fanning the
glowing coal, and swept roaring up the smoke-stacks. In the engine-room there
was the whir of the turbines, revolving at ever increasing speed; the whole ship
trembled and quaked. The Goeben was going all out…
already related, after failing to receive Indomitable’s first sighting signal, which correctly identified
the course as east, Milne then received the second which did not indicate
direction while the third, which was in his hands by 11.44 a.m., erroneously
gave Goeben’s course as north. This
faulty information was repeated in a further signal ten minutes later. It was
not until 12.10 p.m. that a signal was sent by Indomitable
and received by Milne giving Goeben’s
correct course — east.
By that time Breslau was out of sight
to the British though they inferred, by the strength of her W/T signals, that
she was still close. One difficulty, perhaps not fully appreciated by Milne
whose flagship, Inflexible, basked
under a cloudless sky in the Malta Channel,
was the lowering haze which proceeded to thicken as the chase progressed. The
British ships had originally begun the chase with Indefatigable
astern and port of Indomitable but, in
this position, she was being fouled by the billowing acrid black smoke pouring
from Indomitable’s funnels. Captain
Kennedy thereupon ordered Captain Sowerby to go through the smoke and form
single line abreast to port. If the haze continued to thicken he was prepared to
order each ship to close up on one of Goeben’s
quarters and, indeed, at one point the opposing ships were just 6,500 yards
apart, a fact which worried Kennedy as he believed it was well within the
German’s torpedo range. Even so, there were other matters for Kennedy to
consider: ‘At the suggestion of Captain Sowerby, his ship’s and
ship’s companies went to dinner at separate times, the one not at dinner being
of course at action stations.’
At 2.20 p.m.
was again sighted closing Goeben from
the north; when joined up, the two German ships began to zigzag. Kennedy’s
attention now turned to mines, which he suspected the Germans might drop astern:
he signalled Indefatigable to keep
clear of the wake of the German ships.
Shortly after Breslau rejoined
Kennedy was reinforced by the light cruiser Dublin
which had been at Bizerta delivering Milne’s letter to the French and had then
been ordered to join in the chase as soon as the first sighting had been made.
While on route, Dublin forwarded the
latest information held by the French which reiterated their belief that a
collier awaited the German ships at Palma.
Milne had, of course, received a similar report from Dublin
some hours earlier and, as shown, had communicated the information regarding the
putative collier to the Admiralty. By mid-afternoon, however, with
now confirmed on an easterly course for some hours, the second report from
caused Milne to ponder. Searching his charts, he discovered the Gulf of Palmas
on the southern tip of Sardinia, and just 70 to 80 nautical miles north of
current position. From that location, Goeben
could coal and be ready to launch a further attack on the French North African
coast or the transports; it was an original idea, even if borne out of
desperation, and Milne sought verification by questioning
Dublin’s Captain as to whether he meant ‘Palma’ or
‘Palmas’? Back came the dispiriting reply, ending any doubt, ‘Palma —
Writing in 1923, Admiral Alfred
Dewar was able to state, using the full benefit of hindsight, that
second report of the collier ‘was one of these vague messages which a
practised Intelligence Officer learns to view very sceptically.’ But this
ignores the fact that Milne had received next to no intelligence that day; had
no real idea what the French were doing; had acted on Admiralty orders in
dispatching the two battle cruisers westward; and had been instructed that his
first duty was to protect the French transports yet was unaware they had not
sailed. In the circumstances it is not surprising that Milne would snatch at any
intimation as to Souchon’s intentions.
Captain Kennedy, writing earlier than Dewar but also not afraid to avail himself
of hindsight, thought the collier story ‘a yarn’ which fitted in with the
feint north-west after the bombardment and was concocted for the benefit of the
French; he was more anxious that Breslau might send ‘a W/T to some collier to meet them on the High
Seas or Sardinia Coast.’
joined up with the battle cruisers Kennedy positioned himself astern of
Goeben in Indomitable,
kept Indefatigable to port and placed
to starboard. During this time the two German ships kept separating and
rejoining in an attempt to confuse their shadowers as to their intentions until,
at 4.45 p.m., Dublin at last saw her
chance — by this time the German ships had pulled away from the British battle
cruisers but not the faster light cruiser. Captain John Kelly on
Dublin observed that
had parted company again and immediately flashed a signal to the C-in-C and
Kennedy: ‘Shall I engage her?’ Milne responded with alacrity, with an
emphatic “No”, which was repeated by Kennedy also, who was concerned that
the Germans might be trying to get between the light cruiser and himself.
Ten minutes after his alarming signal, Kelly reported that
and Breslau had joined up once more, but by 5.20 they had separated
again, this time with Goeben
apparently going northward and Breslau
to the south-east.
In fact Souchon had detached Breslau
with orders to proceed to Messina ahead of him and make arrangements to take on
board 1,500 tons of coal. Souchon also telegraphed to his Embassy in Rome to
request that they support his application to take the authorized quantity of
coal on board as the permission granted by the Italian Minister of Marine on the
2nd had arrived so late in the day it had not been used.
the distance between the two German ships increased Dublin
signalled for instructions; Kennedy had no hesitation in ordering her to shadow
Goeben – ‘the most important item in our programme’ – on the
basis that, while many of the British ships in the Mediterranean could deal with
Breslau, only the three battle
cruisers could hope to scrap successfully with Goeben.
In case Breslau should be attempting
to escape around the south of Sicily, Milne dispatched two light cruisers (Chatham
and Weymouth) to guard the passage
between Graham’s Shoal and the African coast and shadow
Breslau if seen.
Meanwhile, as Dublin continued to
chase Goeben, it was obvious that
and Indefatigable had not been able to
keep up even to the German’s reduced speed: what had gone wrong?
originally capable of 26 knots, was certainly overdue for a refit and just as
important in Kennedy’s opinion was his belief that she was deficient by some
90 stokers. Even using fuel oil in addition to coal, Kennedy calculated that he
needed these additional men (divided into three watches of 30 each) to trim
coal, yet the only recourse he had was to denude the gun crews which would leave
him vulnerable if Goeben suddenly
turned to engage. At 4 p.m., as Goeben
disappeared from view, Kennedy ordered down to his engineers to go as fast as
they possibly could; it was not enough. Furious, he signalled Milne, ‘Germans
are running away from me, steering east; speed 26 knots to 27 knots. 90 coal
trimmers are urgently needed by these ships although we are using oil fuel.’
The average speed of Goeben that
afternoon had actually been only 22 knots, with up to 24 knots available in
short bursts; the British ships should have been capable of 22 knots at least,
in which case the difference on the day was not so much one of metal and
machinery as of toil and sweat. The contrast between the unrelenting labour on
and the watches proceeding to tea at intervals on Indomitable
and Indefatigable is vivid.
Unfortunately, Kennedy’s signal perpetuated the myth that
was a good 3 knots faster than any British ship capable of successfully engaging
her — how had this mistake occurred?
By late afternoon on 4 August the
mist had formed banks in places, some of which were extremely thick. In these
conditions Goeben could disappear from
sight very quickly, perhaps giving the impression that she was travelling faster
than she was; in addition, there remained the unstated assumption borne by every
man on board the British ships that Goeben
WAS faster, which would also tend to make them over-estimate her speed. On the
other hand it was only a scant two days earlier that, when Kennedy asked his
question at the officers’ meeting aboard Defence
– ‘How is it proposed that 22 to 24 knot ships shall shadow 27 to 28
knot ships that don’t want to be shadowed?’ – no-one else took this
seriously and Troubridge answered for all by declaring to the assembled company
that it was common knowledge ‘that Goeben
was drawing a foot and a half over her proper draught and so could not nearly
steam the speed she was supposed.’ Could it be that Kennedy was attempting to
show that he had been right all along?
was lost from view Kennedy’s thoughts turned to what he would do next: he had,
by now, correctly formed the impression that Goeben
was heading for Messina and, with this in mind, about 5 p.m. he approached his
navigator, Lieutenant-Commander Tindal. Kennedy intended that night to form his
three ships in line abreast, with Dublin
in the centre, and at the maximum distance apart, depending on visibility, and
to patrol between the southern tip of Sardinia and the north coast of Sicily.
Then, at daybreak, he would sweep east and position himself off the northern
entrance of the Straits of Messina presuming also that Milne, in
would take up a corresponding position off the southern entrance.
Kennedy had already started to carry out the first part of his plan – the
north/south patrol – when, at 6.40 p.m., Milne signalled, ‘Dublin
endeavour to keep in touch with Goeben.
slow speed, steer west.’
Soon after, Milne enlarged on this order: ‘Goeben may turn westward during the night, steering Majorca where
his collier is. Shape course accordingly. Dublin
may be able to keep you informed.’ However, this last proved a false hope with
the receipt of Dublin’s forlorn
signal at 7.20 p.m., ‘Goeben out of
sight now, can only see smoke; still daylight.’
Kennedy obediently turned the battle cruisers around, slowed to 7 knots and
plodded back westwards. He did not attempt to remonstrate with Milne: anyone who
knew the C-in-C, he wrote abjectly, was aware that ‘he will never alter an
order, and not only will he not alter an order but he gets angry at even being
asked to do so; besides, for all I knew he might have more information about the
Germans’ and also about the Italians’ intentions than I had.’
Milne telegraphed his new dispositions to the Admiralty where they were received
at 7.58 p.m. (GMT) with the simple comment, ‘no action proposed’.
During that evening Milne received
the official War Telegram instructing him that hostilities would commence –
against Germany only – at midnight, GMT, (the wrong hour due to the confusion
in London: the ultimatum actually expired at midnight Berlin time, or 11 p.m.
GMT; the mistake was Churchill’s and, fortunately, it made no difference).
Troubridge, patrolling the Adriatic, was naturally anxious regarding the
attitude of Austria but Milne had no further information to pass on to him
except that, for the time being, Britain was not at war against Austria; however,
the receipt of the War Telegram seems to have concentrated Milne’s mind. For
some hours, while Dublin continued to probe eastwards in the darkness following the
last known course of Goeben,
and Indefatigable had been patrolling between Sardinia and Sicily at 10
knots after Kennedy’s enforced change of course.
The C-in-C decided that now was the time to gather his forces together so, just
after midnight, his flagship Inflexible shaped course north-west at 10 knots with the objective
of picking up the two light cruisers, Chatham
and Weymouth, which had been
patrolling off the African coast and then ultimately effecting a rendezvous with
to the west of Sicily. Troubridge’s First Cruiser Squadron would continue to
watch the Adriatic, with the exception of the light cruiser
which was detailed to watch the southern entrance of the Straits of Messina.
At 1 a.m. (local time) on the night
of August 4/5, at which time Milne thought the war had just begun, the situation
was as follows: Goeben and
Breslau, on the
north coast of Sicily, were proceeding independently east to Messina;
had now given up the chase and had been recalled to join the two battle cruisers
west of Sicily, a position Milne was also heading for in his flagship,
accompanied by two light cruisers; Troubridge’s division patrolled the
Adriatic; and a lone light cruiser, Gloucester,
proceeded to watch the southern exit of the Straits of Messina. In so framing
his dispositions, Milne was clearly still looking west. ‘My first
consideration’, he wrote later that month,
the protection of the French transports from the German ships. I knew they had
at least 3 knots greater speed than our battle cruisers and a position had to be
taken up from which Goeben could be
cut off if she came westward. I considered it improbable that
would try to pass north of Corsica as she would believe the passage to be
watched by French Cruisers, nor would she pass through the Straits of Bonifacio
owing to the danger from French submarines and destroyers. She would, therefore,
if going westward, pass south of Sardinia and I knew that a German collier was at Palma, Majorca.
information received in London earlier in the night that the French transports
had been delayed does not appear to have been relayed to Milne. Additionally,
Battenberg’s unfortunate order regarding Italian neutrality effectively barred
Milne’s ships from Messina and, it has been argued, could have strengthened
his belief that Goeben and
break west once more.
By the dispositions so adopted Milne
would have been able to prevent Goeben
and Breslau escaping west, through Gibraltar, or doubling back on their
tracks to go south of Sicily while, if they did actually proceed to Messina and
then emerged south through the Straits, where could they go? Troubridge barred
the entrance to the Adriatic, Suez could easily be blocked (or so it was
and the Aegean was no more than a cul-de-sac from which it would be doubtful if
they could re-emerge. Indeed Milne’s last remaining worry that night concerned
Austria and was probably accentuated by Troubridge’s earlier signal to him.
Milne inquired of the Admiralty, ‘Is Austria Neutral Power?’ — a signal
not received in London till 7.55 on the morning of the 5th. It was not then
until after midday that the reply, drafted by Battenberg, was dispatched:
‘Austria has not declared war against France or England. Continue watching
Adriatic for double purpose of preventing Austrians from emerging unobserved and
preventing Germans entering.’
The clear implication in this signal, as far as Troubridge was concerned, was
that he was not to tackle the Austrians, merely to make sure they were observed
if attempting to leave the Adriatic, but there was no such prohibition regarding
the Germans who were to be prevented from entering. The long shadow of Churchill’s
“superior force” telegram of 30 July was cast over this message as Milne’s
general orders to all ships, issued the previous night, had instructed
Troubridge to watch the entrance to the Adriatic but ‘not to get seriously
engaged with superior force.’
Battenberg’s signal should have conveyed his intention that
and Breslau were to be attacked – at least if they attempted to effect
a junction with the Austrian fleet – but when read together with Milne’s
earlier signal Troubridge was apparently left with some discretion at to what
exactly constituted a superior force. Battenberg’s signal was interesting also
as being the first hint from the Admiralty, however slight, that the German
ships might continue to sail east.
Milne effected his own concentration
late on the morning of Wednesday 5th, just to the north of Pantellaria. The only
excitement in the group centred on Chatham
which, earlier that morning, had obtained a prize — the German steamer
of Hamburg. Once the rendezvous was made the steamer was turned over to a
destroyer and Chatham took her patrol
station, 8 miles from the flag, at 15 knots.
Captain Kennedy was unhappy with Milne’s choice for the rendezvous as they
were within sight of any German spy on Pantellaria and he thought ‘that the
would very soon hear by cable to Vittoria [Sicily] and thence by W/T of the
concentration of our three battle cruisers, Dublin,
Weymouth and Chatham, and that
they [the British ships] were off to the Westward.’ Despite this private
doubt, when Milne asked Kennedy to come on board Inflexible
to discuss the situation and try to pinpoint the exact location of the German
ships, Kennedy remained convinced they were somewhere off the north coast of
Sicily ‘where they could easily coal.’
Coal was also becoming a problem for
Milne — at the end of the chase the previous evening
had reported 2,130 tons remaining (approximately two-thirds of the maximum 3,083
tons); however, it was not evenly distributed throughout the ship’s four main
boiler rooms, and boiler room B in particular (housing 8 boilers) was short.
Because of this Kennedy could not guarantee full speed for more than 30 hours.
Milne therefore took the opportunity of sending Indomitable
to nearby Bizerta for the dual purpose of coaling and maintaining contact with
the French. The C-in-C also decided to accompany Indomitable in his flagship,
to give the French a morale boosting minor demonstration: as the imposing
squadron approached the French port Inflexible
fired a salute, hauled out and proceeded back north to the patrol line with the
remainder of the squadron (with the exception of Dublin which had been dispatched to Malta to coal that afternoon).
Meanwhile, Indomitable steamed into
the harbour amidst prolonged cheers from the French crews and inhabitants lining
entrance into Messina was an altogether more sombre affair, full of foreboding.
During the night’s run north of Sicily Goeben
encountered a flotilla of torpedo boats which set alarms ringing until they were
revealed in the bright moonlit conditions as belonging to Souchon’s erstwhile
ally, Italy; the battle cruiser held her fire and was warily escorted into
Messina harbour, arriving at 7.45 on the morning of Wednesday, 5th.
had arrived some 2½ hours earlier.
Coaling commenced at once, though it soon became apparent to Souchon that the
exhaustion of his men, coupled with the difficulties of coaling with inadequate
facilities from steamers better adapted to taking in coal rather than giving it
out, meant that he would not be able to fill his bunkers in the time allotted by
Half a dozen steamers in the harbour were raided for their coal,
the hot filthy work continuing throughout the day and being made more unbearable
by the shimmering heat of a still August day.
By virtue of her earlier start,
had quickly come to the attention of interested onlookers in her efforts to
obtain coal and by 11.30 a.m. Rennell Rodd, the British Ambassador in Rome, had
been privately informed that the German cruiser was attempting to procure coal
from a British collier.
This was the humble Wilster carrying a
load of Welsh coal for the German-owned firm, Hugo Stinnes. When she had arrived
at sunset the previous day, Britain was still at peace; at 8 o’clock on the
morning of Wednesday 5th her master, Captain Eggert,
was coming ashore in his boat when he saw Goeben anchoring nearby: he was now facing the enemy.
Rodd telegraphed at once to the consul in Messina to warn Eggert not to supply
coal to belligerents, and forwarded the information to London where it was
received at 6.30 p.m.
He also made a representation to the Italian Foreign Office and was informed
that, upon Breslau’s arrival, a
German collier was directed to the inner port by the Italian naval authorities
to allow Breslau to load sufficient
coal to take her to the nearest port. In reporting this to the Admiralty in the
early afternoon of the 5th, Rodd added his own suspicion that
also was at Messina, information which was then unknown to anyone on the British
Grey’s reply the following day instructed the Ambassador to represent to the
Italians that Goeben should leave
Messina within 24 hours and must not be permitted to receive coal in any other
Grey’s demand came too late.
However, the Italians had, on their own initiative, already presented Souchon
with an ultimatum without prodding from the British Foreign Secretary. The
German commander had received a deputation of four Italian officers on the
evening of the 5th who proceeded to deliver notification that his stay in port
be limited to 24 hours: other than pointing out that the limitation was a
‘British presumption’ Souchon reconciled himself to having to leave the
following day — in all probability before coaling was completed. The best he
could do was to have the 24 hour period commence when he had actually received
permission to coal, which had not been until 3 p.m. on the 5th, some seven hours
after he had arrived.
To make up the shortfall Souchon wired his agent in Athens and requested him to
dispatch a collier with 800 tons to rendezvous with Goeben
and Breslau at Cape Malea; a further collier would be dispatched from
Constantinople to Santorin, while a third would wait off Chanak, at the entrance
to the Dardanelles. Although the German ships would take in 1,580 tons as a
result of their labours in Messina it would either be insufficient to get them
to the Dardanelles if they had to steam at high speed or would leave them
perilously short of coal should, for some reason, their entrance to the
Dardanelles be delayed. ‘Everything’, Souchon later wrote, ‘depended on my
being able to obtain enough start on the pursuing British to enable us to coal
en route, and that we could find at least one of the colliers ordered to meet
The ships’ crews toiled throughout
the night: holes were cut in the steamers’ decks to allow easier access to
their precious cargo, in this case, foul, poor quality coal. Upon
and Breslau the ships were prepared
for action: wooden and inflammable gear was stripped and removed. Crowds
gathered to watch the excitement and participate vicariously in the drama.
hawkers of fruit, sweetmeats, picture postcards and curios of all kinds,
strolling musicians and singers with mandolines, pianos and castagnettes,
carabinieri, harlots, monks, soldiers, nuns, and even a few well-dressed people
continually tried to beg our semi-nude, coal-begrimed lads for a souvenir of
somewhat from the organized chaos Souchon had time to contemplate the latest
cables; the news was not good. Of the three cables sent to him on the 5th by the
Admiralty Staff, the second and third intimated what Souchon must have already
known — he could not count on the assistance of the Austro-Hungarian Navy.
It was the first cable, however, which did not reach Souchon till 11 a.m. on the
6th, that contained the bombshell: ‘It is impossible to put into
Constantinople at present for political reasons.’
For all his resolve, it is hard not to imagine that, if only for a split second,
the thought flashed through Souchon’s mind that he had now trapped himself:
cut off from escape to the west by Milne and the French, Italy neutral, the
Adriatic patrolled by Troubridge, and now it was not possible to put into
The first hint at the Foreign Office
in Berlin that all was not proceeding smoothly in Constantinople was received
just after midnight on 3/4 August. Enver Pasha, the Turkish Minister of War,
abetted by General Liman von Sanders, head of the German Military Mission, had
wanted to declare war on Russia immediately in order to seize three valuable
Russian steamers lying in the Bosphorus. The Grand Vizier, as was his wont, was
unhappy — particularly as Bulgaria’s attitude had not been determined (come
to that, the Grand Vizier was not exactly enamoured of a war with Russia at
all). Ambassador Wangenheim, who had been ordered to overcome his scruples
regarding Turkey’s value as a potential ally, succeeded in cooling Liman’s
ardour for the time being, while Wilhelm instructed that efforts should be
hastened to bring Bulgaria into the fold.
At 9.30 on the evening of the 4th a further cable was received in Berlin from
lets me know that the military authorities of the Dardanelles have been
instructed to let Austrian and German war-ships enter the Straits without
hindrance. Grand Vizier fears, however, that if use is made of this privilege
before the relations with Bulgaria have been settled, an acceleration of
developments not desired at the present time by Germany or Turkey might be the
apprehensions of the Grand Vizier were removed by 6 August when a limited
alliance was concluded with Bulgaria, but pressure on the cables prevented news
of his change of heart reaching Berlin in time to notify Souchon before he
sailed from Messina. Then, when the vital signal – ‘It is of the greatest
importance that you should enter the Dardanelles as soon as possible’ – was
at last dispatched from Berlin on the 7th, Souchon failed to receive it.
Souchon was getting scant direction
from his Admiralty Staff compared to Milne’s surfeit; yet this was not
entirely to his detriment. Milne’s problems were exacerbated by superfluous
telegrams from London, coupled with the failure to pass on information which
would have been of use to him, whereas Souchon was left, more or less, to make
his own decision. The official German history credits Souchon with having ‘a
firm grasp of the political situation’ which, added to his personal
acquaintance with prominent Turkish political figures, led him to believe that
the outlook was ‘favourable for drawing Turkey into the war on our side, if he
succeeded by entering the Dardanelles with the two German cruisers in placing
her in such a position of constraint as must lead to a breach of her
In fact, it seems that it was not this laudable, if faintly doubtful, prescience
but the failure of the Austrians to lend active support that was the vital
consideration: by entering the Adriatic, and thereby becoming dependent on the
support of the Austrians, Souchon realized he would be ‘condemned to
inactivity’ by the defensive posture his allies had adopted.
In late July both the Italian and Austrian navies had quietly prepared for
mobilization, with a slim possibility that the grandiose scheme of the 1913
Triple Alliance Naval Convention might actually achieve fruition. This hope was
dashed when, on the last day of July, Admiral Haus, the Austrian C-in-C who was
to assume overall command, learned that the Italian Foreign Minister considered
the war declared by Austria against Serbia three days previously to be one of
aggression, thereby relieving Italy of the necessity to adhere to the Triple
Alliance, which was principally a defensive treaty. On 1 August Haus was
informed that, should Italian neutrality be confirmed, the Austrian fleet would
be confined to the Adriatic.
Souchon’s pleas for help must have
been a bitter blow to the ailing Austrian Admiral. Early on the morning of the
5th, before arriving in Messina, Souchon had wired the German Naval Attaché in
Vienna to request Austrian assistance and, shortly after, Souchon himself made a
direct approach to Haus: ‘Urgently request you will come and fetch
and Breslau from Messina as soon as
possible. English cruisers are off Messina, French forces are not here. When may
I expect you to be near Messina, so as to sail?’
Haus was confronted with a set of insuperable problems. He knew, from his
intelligence, that the French fleet had sailed and assumed that they would be on
their way to support the British at Messina; with the start they had had, the
French would arrive before the Austrian fleet, especially as the Austrian
mobilization had not yet been completed. The combined Anglo-French force would
be superior to the Austrian, so that Haus risked the sacrifice of his fleet
without the certainty of aiding Souchon. Even when assured by the German Naval
Attaché that the French remained in the western Mediterranean Haus was left
with a further prohibition, this time of a political nature: Britain and Austria
were not as yet at war, a situation which (for the present) was amenable to both
sides, but particularly the Austrians. In an attempt to maintain this fragile
and illusory state of affairs the Austrian High Command ordered on 5 August that
hostile action against British ships was to be avoided, yet virtually any effort
to come to Souchon’s aid was likely to involve a clash against either
Troubridge’s or Milne’s forces.
By 6 August Souchon was resigned to
the fact that he was on his own; all he had to cling to was the fact that the
cable received that morning only prohibited his entry into Constantinople
the moment – the ‘political reasons’ that had made it impossible to
proceed there ‘at present’ could always change as indeed they were in the
process of doing. Souchon had already framed his sailing orders regarding the
passage east when the prohibition arrived; he did not alter them.
(1) Intelligence of the enemy indefinite. I assume that enemy forces are in
the Adriatic, and that both exits from the Straits of Messina are watched.
(2) Intention: to break-through to the eastward and try to reach the
Goeben leaves 5 p.m.
[6 August] speed 17 knots. Breslau
follows at a distance of 5 miles, closes up at dark. I shall at first try to
create the impression that we wish to proceed to the Adriatic, and if that seems
to be successful, attempt during the night, by a surprise alteration of course
to the right, to gain a lead towards Cape Matapan at full speed, and if possible
shake off the enemy.
(4) A collier requisitioned by me ought to be lying from 8th August onwards
at Cape Malea; further, from the 10th August, one 20 miles S. of Santorin and
one at Chanak.
(5) The steamer
General is to leave
at 7 p.m., close under the coast of Sicily and try to reach Santorin. If she is
stopped she is to report the fact by W/T if possible. If she receives no further
orders from me, she is to ask Loreley
for them (telegraphic address “Bowalor Constantinople”) on the second day of
her stay at Santorin.
on the German ships stopped shortly afterward; as his men were now near complete
exhaustion, Souchon allowed time to rest and bathe before they sailed.
Additional eager volunteers were also recruited amongst the merchant seamen in
the port to bring the ships up to their prescribed wartime complements. As the
ships sailed late that afternoon the crowds that had come to gaze now cheered.
 Georg Kopp, Two Lone Ships,
(London, 1931), p. 30. Note: Kopp is useful for ancillary colour but his
account is shot through with factual errors.
 Indomitable to C-in-C, (code time 1015
— note, this is always in GMT); Indomitable
to C-in-C, Dublin, (1034); C-in-C
to Indomitable, (1039) and reply
by Indomitable (1110); NSM,B.
Lumby, pp. 155-6.
 Ship’s log, HMS Inflexible,
4 August 1914, PRO Adm 53/44838.
 It will be recalled that when visited by a British officer at Durazzo, Breslau was seen to be carrying
 Admiral, Bizerta to C-in-C, via Dublin,
(1145), 4 August 1914, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 157.
 C-in-C to Dublin, reply by Dublin,
(1515), 4 August 1914, NSM,B.
 Alfred Dewar, Winston Churchill
at the Admiralty, Naval Review, 1923, vol. 11, p. 225.
 Dublin to C-in-C, Indomitable,
(1545) 4 August 1914, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 158.
 Ibid., (1555), (1620), NSM,B; Lumby, p.
 Goeben to Baron Grancy, Embassy Rome,
urgent, no. 5, 4 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/4065.
 C-in-C to Chatham, Weymouth,
(1735) 4 August 1914, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 161. Milne later claimed that he had
taken this action in case either Goeben
or Breslau had broken back
southward. See, Milne to Admiralty, 20 August 1914, Lumby, p. 216.
 Kennedy, p. 8. Indomitable
to C-in-C, rec’d 4.10 p.m., 4 August 1914, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 160.
 Deposition by Lieutenant-Commander Tindal, 17 November 1914, Kennedy
mss., Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives.
 C-in-C to Indomitable, Indefatigable, Dublin,
(1740) 4 August 1914, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 162.
 C-in-C to Indomitable,
(1754); Dublin to C-in-C, (1820),
4 August 1914, ibid.
 C-in-C to Admiralty, no. 398, 4 August 1914 and minute by Leveson,
initialed by Sturdee, PRO Adm 137/HS19.
 Ships’ Logs, HMS Indomitable,
HMS Indefatigable, 4 August 1914, PRO Adm 53/44830, 44809.
 C-in-C to General, (1941), 4 August, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 163. C-in-C to
Admiralty, no. 399, 4 August, PRO Adm 137/HS19; Lumby, p. 165; Ship’s Log, HMS Inflexible, 4/5 August 1914,
PRO Adm 53/44838.
 Milne to Admiralty, 20 August 1914, para. 20, Lumby, p. 216 [my
 Naval Staff Monograph, Vol. VIII (1923), The
Mediterranean 1914-1916, para. 21, PRO Adm 186/618.
 On 10 August Milne gave instructions that ‘Should Goeben
enter Suez Canal she must be blockaded and on no account allowed to pass
south.’ Milne to Mr Cheetham (Cairo), no. 77, 10 August 1914, PRO Adm
137/HS19. However the Foreign Office had a fit of scruples and Cheetham, the
Chargé d’Affaires in Kitchener’s absence, was informed later the same
day: ‘If Goeben enters the Canal
telegraph for instructions before allowing her to proceed through it, but I
doubt whether she can be stopped without a clear breach of the
Convention.’ Grey to Cheetham, no. 81, 10 August 1914, ibid.
The Convention of Constantinople of 29 October 1888, relative to the Suez
Canal, provided that belligerents could have free passage on condition that
they made no stay in the Canal, committed no warlike acts, and took in only
a minimum of coal. See, Bertie to Grey, no. 398, 12 October 1908, BD, V, no.
365, pp. 430-1.
 C-in-C, Medt to Admiralty, no. 401; Admiralty to C-in-C, Medt., no.
222, 5 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19; Lumby, p. 165.
 C-in-C to General, (1941), 4 August 1914, NSM,B; Lumby, pp. 163-4.
 Ship’s Log, HMS Chatham,
5 August 1914, PRO Adm 53/37560.
 Midshipman’s Journal, B. B. Schofield, Wednesday, 5 August 1914,
 Der Krieg Zur See, p. 41.
 Kopp, Two Lone Ships, p.
 In December 1915 the Admiralty’s intelligence department
established the identity of some of the steamers involved: in addition to General, the German warships had, in all probability, coaled from SS Mudros of the German Levant Line
and SS Ambria of the Hamburg-Amerika
Line. Both these ships had then been laid up at Syracuse and were eventually
sequestrated by Italy when that country entered the war. Memorandum by
Aubrey Smith, Intelligence Department, 11 December 1915, PRO Adm 137/879.
 For details of this incident and its aftermath, see appendix ii.
 There is some confusion over the spelling of the Master’s name:
Keble Chatterton, a reliable authority, gives it as P. A. Eggers, however
the Log of the S S Wilster gives
Paul Eggert — see, PRO B[oard of] T[rade] 165/782.
 See, Identity of alleged
British collier from which Goeben coaled, PRO Adm 137/879; E Keble
Chatterton, Dardanelles Dilemma,
 Rodd to Foreign Office, no. 175, 5 August 1914, Lumby, p. 167.
 Rodd to Admiralty, rec’d 5.50 p.m., 5 August 1914, PRO Adm
 Grey to Rodd, 6 August 1914, ibid.
 Der Krieg Zur See, p. 43.
 Admiralty Staff of the Navy to Goeben,
no. 61, no. 62, 5 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/4065.
 Constantinople to Foreign Office, no. 416, 3 August 1914, Kautsky, German Documents, no. 795, p. 562.
 Ibid., no. 426, 4 August 1914, Kautsky,
no. 852, p. 588.
 Admiralty Staff to Goeben,
no. 66, 7 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/4065; see also, Trumpener, Reassessment, p. 177, note 25.
 Der Krieg Zur See p. 46.
 Souchon, pp. 488-9; Trumpener, Reassessment,
 Halpern, Naval War in the Medt.,
 Souchon to Haus, 2.12 a.m., 5 August 1914, quoted in Der Krieg Zur See, p. 43.
 Halpern, Naval War in the Medt.,
pp. 17-18; Der Krieg Zur See, p.
 Der Krieg Zur See, pp. 45-6.
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
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A set of postcards
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anywhere in the world.
information please click on the drawing
The Links Page :
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