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 6

 

 

 

Admiral Troubridge Changes his Mind

 

 

 

 Troubridge, photograph subsequently, following his disgrace

Troubridge, photographed subsequently, following his disgrace

Troubridge was faced with a number of problems on the evening of Thursday, 6 August. He had spent the day confidently expecting that he would be reinforced by two battle cruisers; he was not. He believed that, by signal intelligence and other means, the Germans knew his position and plans. Following his abortive attempt the previous night to attack Goeben (believing that she had steamed right through the Straits of Messina without stopping) he claimed also to be under the impression that Milne had instructed him to make night attacks by destroyers only, yet his destroyers were perilously short of coal.[1] Additionally, as he himself considered Goeben a superior force to his four armoured cruisers during daylight, the opportunities presented for his slower ships to attack were, of necessity, limited.

 

                As authentic news came through at 6.13 p.m. on the 6th that Goeben had broken out of Messina the First Cruiser Squadron was off Cephalonia going south in an attempt to capture the German collier Waltraute, which had been reported as being en route from Alexandria to Brindisi, while the eight destroyers of the 1st and 2nd Divisions were concealed in Vasilico Bay, Santa Maura awaiting their own collier. Upon receipt of the signal from Gloucester Troubridge signalled the flotilla leader Wolverine to be ready at midnight with steam for full speed; instead back came the forlorn reply: ‘Coal remaining 66, 92, 75, 40, 63, 58, 79, 69 tons, on which I cannot do much.’[2] As a result of the coal shortage Troubridge now had his first line of night attack blunted, for which he was later criticised, though on this occasion the fault lay at Malta. On 3 August Milne had retained the 3rd Division of destroyers at Malta, as this was the only place he could ensure a reliable coal supply; the 1st and 2nd Divisions were, however, ordered to continue watching the Adriatic.[3]  Despite the decree on 4 August by the Governor requisitioning all coal on the island for Government use coal remained in short supply; no Admiralty colliers were due at Malta and there was a lack of suitable vessels available.[4] As the situation developed Milne apparently thought there was enough time on hand for the boats watching the Adriatic to return to Malta, and the order was duly given early on the afternoon of the 4th. The destroyers were to steam ‘as fast as coal will permit’ which incidentally resulted in even more of the precious commodity being used.[5]

                When Milne received the notification that war would commence at midnight that night he had a change of heart and ordered the destroyers back to Santa Maura, there to await a collier.[6] The problem of supplying the destroyers now fell on the shoulders of the Admiral Superintendent at Malta who assured Milne that the collier Vesuvio, loaded with 1,400 tons, would sail late on the afternoon of Wednesday 5th. However, by early afternoon on Wednesday it was apparent she would not be loaded in time and the sailing was put back till 8 p.m. Even this proved too optimistic and Troubridge was notified that evening that the collier could not sail till the following day. Finally – at 3 p.m. on Thursday 6th – Vesuvio set sail at 8 knots; she was not scheduled to arrive until Saturday 8th. But that was not all — to achieve even the delayed sailing time her loading had had to be curtailed, and she sailed with only 940 tons on board.[7] In the circumstances, as the destroyers had also used additional coal on the previous night (5 August) in Troubridge’s futile attempt to intercept Goeben, it is not too difficult to read Troubridge’s signal to Milne at the time, ‘I am proceeding endeavouring to intercept Goeben and instructing destroyers to do same if they have sufficient coal’, as being a deliberate reproach to the C-in-C.[8]

                Troubridge was also clearly concerned that both his position and intentions were known to the enemy. On 5 August he had detained an Austrian Lloyd steamer while he checked with Milne to ascertain if war had been declared against Austria; it had not been and the steamer was sent on its way. Other Austrian Lloyd steamers passed subsequently at various times and, as Troubridge later recounted, ‘all, no doubt, reported me.’[9] The Austrians, who, he believed, were trying to get their ships home before war was declared, were aided and abetted in Troubridge’s opinion by ‘an Austrian consul at Cephalonia, where we made our headquarters, and he was always supposed, so I was informed, to be in constant communication with the Austrian naval authorities who, I knew, were in wireless touch with the Goeben. So I think it was a fair assumption that we were reported...’[10] Troubridge had indeed signalled Milne at midday on the 5th ‘My position will be known to Austrians very shortly.’ This may have been intended for information only, or as a gentle hint for the return of what Troubridge considered to be ‘his’ two battle cruisers; in either event Milne’s reply was not overly helpful: ‘Keep altering position’ advised the C-in-C.[11]

                Now, as Goeben and Breslau made their way towards the Adriatic, Troubridge also believed his codes, and therefore his plans, had been compromised. Upon Gloucester’s sighting of Goeben Troubridge had, as mentioned, ordered the destroyers to be ready,[12] concealed in Vasilico Bay, with steam up. This signal was relayed to the flotilla leader, Wolverine, by Black Prince; however, in doing so, the latter inadvertently used the “transposed alphabet” – which it was thought had been compromised – instead of the secure “emergency vocabulary”. Troubridge caustically signalled Black Prince at 10.50 p.m. that, as a result of this error, ‘my plans have been most likely read by the enemy.’[13] The proof, if proof were needed, that his fears were justified was provided by Gloucester’s signal that Breslau had parted company with Goeben, ‘destination unknown’: but Troubridge thought he knew exactly where the German cruiser was heading for and Wolverine was promptly warned ‘As your base is probably known it is likely that she [Breslau] will be in your vicinity at daylight. My original intention was to combine with you at daylight but I am going north instead…’[14]

                Any hopes Troubridge might have entertained of a night attack using his destroyers had been dashed. The First Cruiser Squadron, which since 6.15 p.m. had been steaming ‘direct for the North of Corfu’, at 10.7 p.m. altered course slightly to north-west by north and proceeded at 13 knots towards Fano Island at the entrance to the Adriatic. Shortly before this, Troubridge had been approached by his Flag Captain, Fawcet Wray, who

did not agree with the Rear-Admiral’s proposed method of leaving the decision of fighting with the Goeben and running into shoal waters as a means of stopping her from entering the Adriatic. I proposed instead that the Squadron should take up a position in the Straits of Otranto, with a view when the Goeben was sighted, to driving her towards either shore so that we might try and force her within range of our guns.[15]

Fawcet Wray recognised that there was a ‘considerable risk in taking up a position in the middle of the Straits’ but thought that such a position offered the best chance of meeting Goeben on terms that were not too disadvantageous to the First Cruiser Squadron. Troubridge did not agree and signalled to his squadron at 10.53 p.m. ‘Unless further information is received I propose to arrive off Fano Island at Daylight. I do not propose to engage him in the middle of the Straits my instructions being against it. If Goeben wishes to fight I shall endeavour to make use of shoal waters off Fano Island to choose my own range.’[16]

                Troubridge had already decided that, in open waters and with good visibility, Goeben represented a superior force to the four heavy cruisers under his command. His view, which he assumed Milne was aware of, was reinforced by Battenberg’s order of 2 August that Goeben had to be shadowed by two battle cruisers and by the subsequent detachment of the battle cruisers from his (Troubridge’s) command on 3 August, again on Battenberg’s orders, to prevent Goeben leaving the Mediterranean through the Straits of Gibraltar. With this – to his mind – clear indication by the Admiralty that only the battle cruisers were capable of engaging Goeben, in daylight at least, Troubridge also had his sailing orders from Milne of 2 August (before Indomitable and Indefatigable were detached from his flag) and Milne’s general order immediately prior to the expiration of the British ultimatum on the 4th (and therefore after the departure of the battle cruisers) that the First Cruiser Squadron should remain watching the entrance to the Adriatic ‘and are not to get seriously engaged with superior force.’

                The problem remained, however, that, holding the views he did, it was not possible for Troubridge to reconcile these orders with the latest instructions he had received – again drafted by Battenberg – which had been sent from the Admiralty at 12.30 p.m. on 5 August, and which ordered that the watch on the Adriatic was to be continued ‘for double purpose of preventing Austrians from emerging unobserved and preventing Germans entering.’[17] As it was Battenberg who had originally given the order detaching the two battle cruisers from Troubridge, and as Battenberg was aware that Milne had concentrated his three battle cruisers west of Sicily,[18] the First Sea Lord was presumably referring in this signal to the First Cruiser Squadron alone; however, in the absence from his flag of the two battle cruisers it meant that Troubridge, with his views on superior force, could not engage Goeben to prevent her entering the Adriatic at any time during daylight, roughly 4 a.m. to 8 p.m., which was an absurd proposition. Yet he knew on the 5th that Indomitable and Indefatigable were then engaged with Milne on his slow sweep eastwards towards the north coast of Sicily and were unlikely to follow through the Straits of Messina due to the prohibition regarding Italian neutrality.

                It was, therefore, open to Troubridge at any time to inform Milne of his doubts in the eventuality that Goeben should approach the Adriatic while he still lacked the battle cruisers. This looked, to Troubridge, a possibility at least on the 5th when he thought the Germans might steam through the Straits without stopping and it will be recalled that he signalled Milne that afternoon, ‘In case Goeben is in these waters I am keeping within 30 miles of Santa Maura. If we encounter her I will attempt draw her into narrow waters when I can engage her at our range.’[19] According to Troubridge’s later report, ‘In this signal I desired to convey to the Commander-in-Chief that complete success could only be assured were I re-inforced by the Battle Cruisers’[20] which seems – to say the least – a forced interpretation. If it were as simple as that why did not Troubridge signal that he could only guarantee a successful outcome with the battle cruisers, which would have at least alerted Milne to the danger when Goeben did make her move the following day? And surely there should be no place in a signal for an impression to be conveyed: Troubridge of all people, with his experience as C.O.S., should have realized that the less open to ambiguous interpretation a signal was the better? As for Milne, he remained adamant that, in respect of Troubridge’s signal, ‘the signification [sic] given to it by the Rear-Admiral respecting the battle cruisers was certainly not understood by me.’[21] Instead, this signal merely confirmed what Milne had remembered of the conversation with Troubridge the previous Sunday — that engaging Goeben with the First Cruiser Squadron would be difficult but that Troubridge would attempt to draw her into the neighbourhood of the Islands ‘where he could fight a better action’. Milne merely responded to Troubridge’s signal that he should ‘use destroyer flotilla night work’ which, as has been shown, Troubridge claimed to mean he was not to use his cruisers at night. Again, this interpretation almost beggars belief: it meant, according to Troubridge, that he could neither use his cruisers in daylight, as he considered Goeben was a superior force, nor at night as a result of Milne’s orders.

 

Shortly after 10 p.m. on Thursday 6 August Troubridge’s cruisers worked up to their best speed (hampered, as ever, by Warrior which had always been a poor steamer) and shaped course to cut off Goeben’s escape to the Adriatic. Incredibly, Troubridge appeared to be unaware that Goeben had coaled at Messina and convinced himself, as a result of this erroneous belief, that her radius of action must now be severely limited and that she would be heading for either Brindisi or the comparative safety of the one of the Austrian ports, there to coal and join the Austrian fleet.[22] The latter assumption might have been strengthened by a report received that Austrian battleships had been observed the previous day, cruising outside Pola,[23] and besides, Troubridge admitted that he ‘could not conceive of any mission she could have in the Eastern Mediterranean.’[24] With this weight of opinion and evidence bearing down on him, when Gloucester first signalled that Goeben was altering course ‘to southward’ (received aboard Defence at 11.8 p.m.) the Rear-Admiral was thrown into a certain amount of confusion.[25] Was this a feint or an attempt to shake off Gloucester? In the circumstances, Troubridge held his north-westerly course. The distance between the First Cruiser Squadron and Goeben was now opening instead of closing and would continue to do so despite further signals from Gloucester – received by Troubridge at 11.36 p.m. and 11.58 p.m. – that Goeben was maintaining her new course to the south-east. It was not until after midnight that Troubridge arrived at the conclusion that it was the run to the Adriatic that was the feint and at 12.10 a.m. he altered course; 15 minutes later he signalled to Milne that he had put his ships about and was now steaming south on a course to intercept, at 15 knots.[26]

                Aboard his flagship Milne had the positions of the various ships plotted on a chart and ‘from the plot, it appeared that the First Cruiser Squadron would…cross the track of the Goeben about 6 a.m.’[27] As the new course took Troubridge close past his destroyers at Vasilico Bay he called them out at 1.57 a.m. to meet him but the lack of coal meant that it was difficult to get what remained to the furnaces which resulted in a consequent reduction of the speed of the boats to 21 knots. Despite this handicap Captain “D” still hoped to meet Troubridge ‘a little before four.’[28] Although the First Cruiser Squadron had now worked up to 20 knots it soon became apparent that, at this speed, not all the ships could keep station and Troubridge was forced to order a reduction to an average 18 knots.[29] Nevertheless, at 3.10 a.m., he signalled visually to the ships in company: ‘I am endevouring [sic] to cross bows of Goeben by 6.0 a.m. (5 a.m. GMT) and intend to engage her if possible. Be prepared to form on a line of bearing turning into line ahead as required. If we have not cut him off I may retire behind Zante to avoid a long range action. (0205) [code time, GMT].’[30] As the time indicated for the action – 6 a.m. – was two hours after daylight, this was the clearest indication that Troubridge meant to engage Goeben, superior force or not. Yet, within half an hour of this signal, he had decided to abandon the attempt: why?

                There is no doubt that, if she had continued on her north-easterly course, Troubridge initially intended to intercept Goeben at 4 a.m. when, in the prevailing conditions of half light, he felt it possible to fight an action. The first signal from Gloucester that Goeben was altering course away from the Adriatic simply stated she was going ‘southward’ — this was because Howard Kelly himself could not divine the intentions of the Germans and merely wanted to convey a general idea. The next signal, logged by Defence at 11.36 p.m., gave a definite course of S.73E. which, if maintained, would have meant that Goeben was heading ‘directly between Santa Maura and Cephalonia’, in other words, straight for Troubridge’s destroyers and a further indication to him that his intentions were known to the enemy. It also meant, however, that when Troubridge, who continued to steam north-west, eventually altered course he would still be able to intercept Goeben in half light and he ‘determined to engage her at 4 o’clock.’[31] Word of this spread around the ships and, aboard the heavy cruisers, the general feeling was the same: ‘everybody in a great state of excitement and completely confident that, although the Goeben had heavier armaments and could engage us outside our gun range, we should see her off.’[32] The Captain of Warrior reported that the whole squadron was on ‘tiptoe’ with gratified expectation of an immediate engagement.[33]

                When a further signal arrived from Gloucester at 11.58 p.m. that Goeben’s course was now a more southerly S.54E., or direct for Cape Matapan, Troubridge was not overly concerned; Goeben had steered for 4 hours for the Adriatic but had not gone there, and now she was steaming south-east but, he reasoned, ‘it equally did not follow that she meant to go to Matapan. There was no reason to suppose at that moment that any course led her anywhere.’ Unfortunately for Troubridge, this time Goeben maintained her latest course and a further examination of the charts aboard Defence revealed that it was now impossible to meet her before 6 a.m., due to her more southerly course and the time the First Cruiser Squadron had spent steaming towards the Adriatic before reversing course.[34] In addition, despite Troubridge’s signal to Milne at 1.55 a.m. that Goeben was ‘going towards Matapan by last report’,[35] there continued to be doubt as to her destination — a signal had apparently been received on the 6th that Breslau was coaling at Jaffa[36] and Goeben’s current course could equally well take her to that locale where she could supposedly join her consort and play havoc on the trade routes in the eastern basin. Then, by altering course slightly to the south, Goeben could also make for Port Said, giving Troubridge no chance to cut Souchon off, and also luring Troubridge away from the Adriatic at the same time as the Austrians were presumably steaming south.[37] ‘[I]t was extremely likely,’ Troubridge later claimed in justification, ‘not being able to conceive any mission for the Goeben in the east unless it was Egypt, that she was deliberately drawing my force down south with a view of having got me down to the Cervi channel and turning round and effecting a junction with the Austrians. That was what I was precisely ordered to prevent.’[38]

                Later that year, Troubridge would admit that, ‘although now the Austrian fleet seems nothing, then [early August] it was very important.’[39] Indeed the exact whereabouts of the Austrian fleet would bedevil Troubridge and one of the more intriguing incidents of this eventful night concerned further information regarding the elusive fleet. An Italian press report of Wednesday 5 August had stated that the Austrian fleet had left, or would shortly leave, Pola for an unknown destination; there was, naturally, speculation that they were probably going south to meet Goeben. This report was picked up in Malta and, at 11.20 p.m. on the 6th, the details were signalled by the Senior Naval Officer, Malta to Milne and Troubridge. The message appears to have been received, or intercepted, by most ships between midnight and 12.24 a.m. (when it was finally picked up on Milne’s flagship, Inflexible); the singular exception was Defence where the message was logged by Defence’s W/T operator at 4.42 a.m. — after the signal to abandon the chase had been given. Curiously, however, Troubridge later gave conflicting accounts of when he became aware of the message. At first he maintained he had received it at 1 a.m. and that ‘it appeared to throw light on the Goeben’s movements’;[40] then the time of receipt later became 3 a.m. when it ‘was a very disturbing factor as far as the destroyers were concerned, and I was not prepared that they should take any part in the engagement with the Goeben at daylight…’[41]

 

The mental struggle inside Troubridge’s mind now intensified: still smarting over the continued absence of what he considered to be “his” battle cruisers, he had determined precisely in what circumstances he considered Goeben constituted a superior force and believed he had conveyed this to Milne, but now the only time he could hope to engage the German ship would be in the open, in daylight, with visibility 25 to 30 miles. The result, he postulated, would be the destruction of his squadron by Goeben as she steamed outside the gun range of his cruisers, calmly picking them off, and clearing the way for the Austrian fleet to steam out of the trap to which they had been consigned before the French fleet could arrive. But, alternatively, he did not wish Goeben, ‘if it was her intention, to draw me away from that position which the Austrians knew we occupied, draw me south and get the Austrian fleet out, and then turn back on me, and go back and join them.’ He was, he claimed (not without justification), ‘in the air’.[42]

                The consequences of following what he called his ‘mature and measured judgment’ – that is, refusing to fight, in accordance with his orders, what he considered to be a superior force – were initially so abhorrent that, when approached by his Flag Captain, Fawcet Wray, at 2.45 a.m. with the question, ‘Are you going to fight, Sir? because, if so, the squadron ought to know’,[43] Troubridge relented and, at 3 a.m., sent the signal to Milne that he intended, in any case, to engage at 6 a.m. ‘I know it is wrong’, he sighed, ‘but I cannot let the name of the whole Mediterranean Squadron stink.’[44] By this time he had just received a signal from Gloucester that Dublin, which Troubridge evidently hoped would do some damage to Goeben, seemed to be chasing Breslau and not Goeben[45] and he concluded, therefore, that Dublin’s attack had failed.[46] And, to add to his misery, his destroyers were in trouble. Having reluctantly decided to ignore what he thought were a variety of legitimate reasons for not attacking, the Rear-Admiral would not take much persuading that his first conception of his duty had been correct.

                Captain Fawcet Wray had returned to his cabin (which was actually Defence’s wheel house) where he spent half an hour deep in thought over the consequences of the signal that had just been sent. At 3.30 a.m. he entered the adjoining chart house, which Troubridge used as his cabin; the lights were out but the Rear-Admiral was very much awake. The two would later give conflicting accounts as to the degree of Wray’s advice, but the tenor was still the same: Wray stated that, having first asked if he could speak to the Admiral, he then said, ‘I do not like it, Sir.’ Troubridge replied, ‘Neither do I; but why?’ Wray then proceeded to point out several things:

One, the Dublin had obviously failed in her attack and the Goeben had not been winged. Secondly, the Commander-in-Chief, by his last signal, had informed him that he was returning to Malta at slow speed, and also giving him no inkling, beyond that he was returning to Malta to coal, as to what was going to happen and what his intentions were. Thirdly, I called his attention to the visibility, and then said to him, “I do not see what you can do, Sir. There are two courses open to the Goeben; one was directly on sight of you to circle round you at a radius of the visibility of the time, and another course was for her to circle round you at some range outside 16,000 yards which her guns would carry and which your guns will not. It seems to me it is likely to be the suicide of the squadron.”[47]

In the way that, at periods of great tension, events sometimes appear to move in slow motion so it was now: although the conversation had lasted but 2 or 3 minutes, it had seemed longer. Troubridge enquired if it were possible to close into the range of the guns of the First Cruiser Squadron? Wray replied, ‘No, Sir, but we will send for the navigator.’ Wray himself fetched the navigator, explained the problem to him, and left him with Troubridge. Wray continued:

In a few minutes the navigator came up and said, “The Admiral wishes us to alter course to south 30 east.” I realised what his decision was. I should like to correct something. Before I went up to the navigator the Admiral said, “I cannot turn away now, think of my pride.” I said to him, “Has your pride got anything to do with this, Sir; it is your country’s welfare which is at stake.” After he had decided to turn away I went down to him, and I said to him, “Admiral, that is the bravest thing you have ever done in your life.”[48]

At 3.47 a.m. Defence turned slightly towards the land and slowed. The First Cruiser Squadron had turned away from the enemy.

 

                Troubridge later maintained that, in addition to the arguments above, Wray had gone into far more detail on technical matters – ‘penetration of armour, and so on’ – and had tendered advice on the excellence of German gunnery, while the shooting of the First Cruiser Squadron left much to be desired. Fawcet Wray would categorically deny making these additional statements, years later claiming that Troubridge’s assertion ‘was an absolute lie’.[49] But the controversy did not end there. Wray believed that the change of course was to allow Troubridge time to reconsider the situation and ask Milne for instructions; when, however, Troubridge announced his intention of abandoning the chase altogether, Wray confessed to being ‘astounded’ and argued that his advice had been directed towards abandoning the idea of lying across Goeben’s bows in the open sea but not against completely abandoning the chase. At 4.15 a.m. he approached Troubridge once more and suggested they should follow Gloucester to give Kelly ‘something to fall back on.’ But Troubridge had passed the buck: he had ‘handed the matter over to the Commander-in-Chief and he [Milne] must decide.’[50]

                Between 3 and 3.47 a.m. Troubridge had worked out in his mind precisely how the situation would develop when, as then anticipated, his squadron met the enemy at some time about 6 a.m.:

The Goeben would sight the Squadron on her port bow distant 20 to 25 miles. She would then pursue one of two alternatives. If desirous of proceeding to her destination at all costs she would pass round the Squadron in one hour and twenty minutes at a distance of 12 miles, and then resume her original course…On the other hand, she could in less time pass the Squadron at a distance of from 15000 to 16000 yards and resume her course. At that range the Squadron could not, unless by some extraordinary chance, expect to hit her. Contrariwise, she could with her guns and speed maintain her range and without any doubt inflict much damage, or even destruction, on the Squadron.[51]

Accordingly, at 4.05 a.m., Troubridge had the following signal to Milne coded: ‘Being only able to meet Goeben outside the range of our guns and inside his I have abandoned the chase with my squadron request instructions for light cruisers. Goeben evidently going to Eastern Mediterranean. I had hoped to have met her before daylight.’[52]

                Aboard Inflexible the Fleet Paymaster, Henry Horniman, was in charge of the ciphering and coding staff. Early that Friday morning, when ‘there was only one signal expected’, he turned out of his bunk and went to the lobby outside the Admiral’s cabin. A crowd of curious ratings had gathered for the same purpose as Horniman and he promptly dispersed them. Shortly thereafter Milne, who had been on the upper deck, appeared and chatted to Horniman: ‘We had known each other for about 20 years and had plenty to talk about, but all the time with references to the explicit orders that Troubridge had been given and which the C-in-C had no doubts of being carried out.’ The expected signal from Defence arrived at last and was brought down and handed to Horniman to decipher, which he did at once and, with his heart ‘fairly in [his] boots’, gave it to Milne. ‘My already great admiration for the C-in-C’, he later recalled, ‘was enhanced by the “noble” manner in which he read the deciphered signal. The blow must have been a shattering one, but he nodded to me and went to his cabin without a sign of discomposure [sic].’[53] The time was 5.15 a.m.; the signal had taken one hour and ten minutes to come through since Troubridge had dictated it on the bridge of Defence at 4.05 a.m.

                Part of this delay was caused by the fact that it took 44 minutes for the message to be coded and sent from Defence, a delay which Troubridge could not reasonably explain; in the meantime, a mere ten minutes after dictating it Troubridge had, on his own initiative and without waiting for a reply, altered course east, towards Zante Island. When asked why he had done this, without first informing Milne of his intention to abandon the chase in time for Milne to countermand it if he saw fit, Troubridge provided an evasive response which did not answer the question.[54] The Rear-Admiral claimed that, despite this delay in receiving the message, had Milne responded with a simple command – ‘continue the chase’ – which might have been ‘one code word, perhaps’ and ‘might have come in a very few minutes’ he could still have intercepted Goeben. Troubridge went even further in his efforts to exculpate himself: ‘As a matter of fact’, he ludicrously asserted when challenged on this point, ‘up to at least 7 o’clock [that morning] I could have intercepted the Goeben had I been so ordered.’[55] On the other hand Milne was equally adamant that if Troubridge ‘had put the urgency call on that signal, I should have got it almost at once, and should have told him to continue the chase.’[56] As it was, Milne also could not explain why the signal had taken so long to get through and, when it did, he could not understand it ‘because the Rear-Admiral had evidently made up his mind to attack, and he changed it. It was too late then for me to order him to go on, owing to the delay of the signal…’[57] By that time, Milne admitted, it was no longer possible to take effective steps to bring Goeben to action.[58]

                Instead, Milne remained silent for two hours before then instructing Troubridge to make certain that Goeben had really gone east and was not doubling back; just in case, Milne had earlier detached Chatham to proceed, once again, to the northern exit from Messina, to plug that troublesome gap.[59] Even now, when it was too late, there was confusion: Milne’s signal to Troubridge would appear to be meant as an order – ‘Endeavour to make sure Goeben has gone Eastward and not broken back north or west’ – that Troubridge should continue, at least, to shadow Goeben or back up Gloucester. Instead, Troubridge read the signal as being interrogative, merely requiring an opinion which he would shortly give: ‘I do not think there is any doubt whatever about it. Her movement up north was a feint.’ Later, he seems to have completely forgotten about this telegram and could recall only the subsequent signal from a now desperate Milne, which was not received on Defence until 8.30 a.m.:

Why did you not continue to cut off Goeben. She only going 17 knots, and so important to bring her to action.[60]Please click to go to the top of this page

 

 

FOOTNOTES

 

 

[1]Though, as has been pointed out, this did not deter Troubridge from attempting to use his cruisers the previous night.

[2]Rear-Adl. to Wolverine, (1740), 6 August 1914, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 173. Wolverine to Rear-Adl., (2005), 6 August 1914, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 175.

[3]C-in-C to Admiralty, no. 392, 3 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19; Lumby, p. 153.

[4]Milne to Admiralty, 20 August 1914, para. 10., Lumby, p. 214.

[5]C-in-C to Defence, (1250), 4 August 1914, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 158.

[6]C-in-C to Rear-Adl., and Wolverine, (1859), 4 August 1914, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 163.

[7]Ad. Supt., Malta to C-in-C, (2130), 4 August; Ad. Supt. to C-in-C, Rear-Adl., (1312), 5 August; S.N.O., Malta to C-in-C, Rear-Adl., (1845), 5 August; S.N.O., Malta to C-in-C, Rear-Adl., (no code time), 6 August. All NSM,B; Lumby, pp. 164-72. The farce did not end there: when the collier failed to arrive on time, Troubridge sent Black Prince to search for her. Unable to locate Vesuvio, Black Prince signalled ‘have not sighted collier’ but this was decoded aboard Defence as ‘have sighted collier’. It was some time before the mistake was discovered and rectified. See, Court Martial, qu. 911-914, Lumby, pp. 389-91.

[8]Rear-Adl. to C-in-C, (1740), 5 August 1914, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 168.

[9]Troubridge to Milne, 16 August 1914, para. 6, PRO Adm 137/879; Lumby, p. 206.

[10]Court Martial, qu. 928, Lumby, p. 393.

[11]Rear-Adl. to C-in-C, (1125), 5 August 1914, and reply by C-in-C, (1251), NSM,B; Lumby, p. 166.

[12]Rear-Adl. to Wolverine, (1740), 6 August 1914, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 173.

[13]W/T Signal Log, HMS Defence, (2145), 6 August 1914, IWM MISC 64 ITEM 1009.

[14]Ibid., (2120) 6 August 1914.

[15]Declaration of Captain Fawcet Wray, 3 August 1917, para. 33, Hamilton mss., NMM HTN/118.

[16]Rear-Adl. to General, (2153), 6 August 1914, W/T Signal Log, HMS Defence, IWM MISC 64 ITEM 1009. Despite this signal, Troubridge claimed later at the Court of Inquiry that he intended ‘to have been in the mid channel nearly, that is 20 miles west of Fano Island, at 3.30 a.m.’ See, Statement by the Defence, Court of Inquiry, Lumby, p. 257.

[17]Admiralty to C-in-C, Medt., no. 222, 5 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19 [my emphasis].

[18]C-in-C to Admiralty, no. 399, (2146), 4 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19; Lumby, p. 165.

[19]Rear-Adl. to C-in-C, (1230), 5 August 1914, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 167.

[20]Troubridge to Admiralty, 26 August 1914, para. 7, Lumby, p. 228.

[21]Court of Inquiry, qu. 5, Lumby, pp. 247-8.

[22]Court Martial, Statement by the Defence, Lumby, p. 371.

[23]Admiralty to C-in-C, no. 221, 5 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19; Lumby, p. 166.

[24]Troubridge to Milne, 16 August 1914, para. 8, PRO Adm 137/879; Lumby, p. 208.

[25]Gloucester to C-in-C, Rear-Adl., (2146), 6 August 1914, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 177.

[26]Rear-Adl. to C-in-C, (2325), 6 August 1914, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 178. Compare this with Troubridge’s letter to the Admiralty (26 August 1914), explaining his actions, where he maintained (para. 9) that ‘At 10.58 p.m. [GMT] her [Goeben’s] course was decided at S.54E. and when I realised she was bound for Matapan and eastward I turned and steamed full speed to cut her off…’ Lumby, p. 228. This made it appear there was no delay whatsoever.

[27]Summary of Evidence to be presented at Court of Inquiry, Milne mss., NMM MLN 207/2.

[28]Rear-Adl to Captain “D”, (0055), (0140), 7 August 1914, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 179. Court Martial, qu. 910, Lumby, p. 389.

[29]Court Martial, qu. 432, Lumby, p.322. The speed of his squadron between midnight and 1 a.m. averaged 15 knots; between 1 and 2 a.m., 19.6 knots; between 2 and 3 a.m., 20.7 knots; and between 3 and 4 a.m., 17.1 knots.

[30]W/T Signal Log, HMS Defence, IWM MISC 64 ITEM 1009.

[31]Court of Inquiry, Statement for the Defence, Lumby, p. 258.

[32]Warner, Recollections of a Junior Officer on HMS Defence, IWM P389.

[33]Horniman, Smiling Through, IWM PP/MCR/46, p. 98.

[34]Court of Inquiry, Statement for the Defence, Lumby, p. 258.

[35]Rear-Adl. to C-in-C, (0045), 7 August 1914, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 179.

[36]Midshipman’s Journal of A de Salis, HMS Defence, Thursday, 6 August 1914, IWM 76/117/1.

[37]Declaration of Captain Fawcet Wray, 3 August 1914, para. 43, Hamilton mss., NMM HTN/118. But note that Fawcet Wray is incorrect to say that Goeben’s course which did not, after midnight, deviate from S. 54/55.E, would take her ‘well south of Matapan’.

[38]Court Martial, qu. 919, Lumby, pp. 391-2.

[39]Court Martial, qu. 910, Lumby, p. 389.

[40]Troubridge to Milne, 16 August 1914, para. 8, PRO Adm 137/879; Lumby, p. 208.

[41]Court Martial, qu. 910, Lumby, p. 389.

[42]Ibid., qu. 915.

[43]Ibid., qu. 457, Lumby, p. 324.

[44]Ibid.

[45]Gloucester to C-in-C, Rear-Adl., (0155), 7 August 1914, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 180.

[46]Court Martial, Statement for the Defence, Lumby, p. 371.

[47]Court Martial, qu. 457, Lumby, p. 324. In fairness to Wray, this result was also anticipated in the Admiralty when it became known that Troubridge was attempting to intercept Goeben without the aid of the battle cruisers. Captain Dumas, then on duty at the Admiralty, noted in his diary: ‘Very unhappy evening & night fearing an unequal battle in the Mediterranean between the Goeben & our four cruisers of the Warrior class Milne meanwhile having withdrawn (!) our battle cruisers to Malta. It is incredible and must end in a court martial.’ Dumas, diary entry, 8 August 1914, IWM PP/MCR/96.

[48]Court Martial, qu. 457, Lumby, p. 324.

[49]Horniman, Smiling Through, IWM PP/MCR/46, p. 98. Horniman, then in Inflexible, had a particular interest in the Goeben affair and quizzed Fawcet Wray about it when they later met by accident in the Hyde Park Hotel.

[50]Declaration by Fawcet Wray, 3 August 1914, para. 50, Hamilton mss., NMM HTN/118.

[51]Troubridge to Admiralty, 26 August 1914, para. 10, Lumby, p. 229.

[52]Rear-Adl. to C-in-C, (0305), 7 August 1914, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 181.

[53]Horniman, Smiling Through, IWM PP/MCR/46, pp. 97-8.

[54]Court Martial, qu. 871, Lumby, p. 383.

[55]Ibid., qu. 873-889, pp. 383-6.

[56]Court of Inquiry, qu. 6, Lumby, p. 249.

[57]Ibid., qu. 5.

[58]Summary of Evidence before the Court of Enquiry, Milne mss., NMM MLN 207/2.

[59]C-in-C to Rear-Adl., Chatham, (2351) 6 August; C-in-C to Rear-Adl., (0616), 7 August 1914, NSM,B; Lumby, pp. 178, 182.

[60]C-in-C to Rear-Adl., (0721), 7 August 1914, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 183.

 

First Class Battleship HMS Albemarle

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

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HMS Berwick : Original artwork  2004 Geoffrey Miller
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