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 7




The War That Was Cancelled





No-one denied that, with her superior speed over the First Cruiser Squadron, Goeben could, if Souchon had wanted, merely have steamed around the British cruisers without offering battle; this was a point repeatedly stressed by Troubridge. Even Milne had no choice but to answer in the affirmative the simple question: ‘If the Goeben did not want to be engaged, she would not be engaged?’[1] However, as Milne added in a poignant aside, had Troubridge at least continued to chase rather than altering course away then ‘If the Goeben had run away the Admiral had done his best, and he could not help it.’[2] And here is the greatest mystery of this long night: if Troubridge believed, as he obviously did, that Goeben could avoid battle (as she had done consistently all night with respect to the dogged but puny Gloucester) or even if he thought the Germans might give battle and, therefore, according to his long held belief, constituted a ‘superior force’ why did he not simply shadow Goeben and Breslau, in support of Gloucester? In that case, as Milne accepted, if the Germans outpaced him there could have been no disapprobation; the Rear-Admiral would have done his best.

                The pressures crowding in on Troubridge after midnight have already been outlined: the exact whereabouts of the Austrian fleet (or Milne’s battle cruisers for that matter) remained unknown; his destroyers were virtually useless; his idée fixe of Goeben going north to the Adriatic (as strong as Milne’s that she would go west) led him to maintain his northerly course for too long after Souchon had changed course; and when he did change course he took an hour to work up to full speed and then misread Souchon’s intentions. There are three further clues as to Troubridge’s state of mind. First, he was one of few officers in the Royal Navy to have seen shots fired in anger (as an observer during the Russo-Japanese War) and, thereby, witnessed the devastating effect of modern gunfire upon flesh and steel. Second, his time at the Admiralty as Chief of the War Staff seems to have given him an inflated idea of his own strategical awareness. He was at pains later to point out, in connexion with Milne’s detachment of the battle cruisers, that he had helped to conduct the naval talks with the French and that, as a result, he knew Milne would have to return to England as the Admiral was senior to Lapeyrère. Only two years previously, Troubridge had been preparing memoranda at Churchill’s request including one on Mediterranean requirements after the planned withdrawal of the British battleships:

Where an enemy can dispose of heavy ships of the line [he had written on 16 July 1912] you must meet him with a strong squadron of observation. It must have the advantage in speed over the enemy’s battle fleet, else under certain circumstances it will be liable to be forced to battle. If judiciously composed of swift, powerful vessels, well commanded, it should not be fearful of a general action in which its mobility and power will give it every chance of victory; it should be able, by reason of its mobility, to hang upon an enemy’s fleet, prevent their division into separate squadrons for intercepting trade; be ever at hand to profit from their accidental or purposeful separation or dispersion from any cause whatever; be always ready to intercept supplies, to prevent junctions, and generally to be so menacing a force that the enemy find they have no choice but to remain in their harbours or keep the sea in a serried mass.[3]

To fulfil completely these conditions, Troubridge had proposed a Mediterranean fleet of four battle cruisers, four armoured cruisers and two fast light cruisers (though it should be noted that, at the time this was written, the German ships had not been dispatched to the Mediterranean and what Troubridge had in mind was the whole of the Italian and Austrian fleets, including dreadnoughts). Now, in a nice irony he, himself, was in command of the squadron of armoured cruisers that formed part of his ideal fleet and was being given the chance to put his theory to work and ‘profit from [the enemy’s] accidental or purposeful separation’ except that, of course, he lacked the battle cruisers and their extra speed.

                And here is the third clue to Troubridge’s state of mind: did he resent Milne’s usurping of what he considered his rightful command? Milne, who should have returned to England and handed over to Troubridge; Milne, who had kept the two battle cruisers with him after they had intercepted and lost Goeben; Milne, who (supposedly knowing Troubridge’s opinion of an armoured cruiser squadron engaging a battle cruiser) had placed Troubridge in the position of having to launch an apparently suicidal attack in violation of what Troubridge believed were his orders? All in all, it was enough for Troubridge later ‘to break the habits of a life-time and criticise the actions of a superior officer…I must allude to the Commander-in-Chief’s disposition of the fleet and the effect it had later in influencing my mental attitude and my decisions.’ In particular, Troubridge – unlike the Admiralty – found fault with the C-in-C’s use of the battle cruisers, especially after Souchon returned to Messina early on the morning of Wednesday 5th. As a result of the errors made then, Troubridge maintained, at 3.05 on the morning of Friday 7th he had unwillingly been placed in the position of having to signal that he intended to attack Goeben, if possible, in broad daylight and very much against his better judgment: clearly, he thought it was a decision he should not have been forced to make.

                ‘I could not say so’, he claimed, ‘but my own deep conviction was that the Goeben had no right to be escaping at all and that if she had been sealed up in the Straits of Messina by the battle-cruisers, as I thought she ought to have been, she never would have escaped.’[4] Forty minutes after making his reluctant decision to intercept he had changed his mind, given up the chase, informed Milne of this only after altering course away, and tamely asked for instructions in a simple signal that mysteriously took almost three-quarters of an hour to code and transmit. Was Troubridge trying to teach Milne a lesson? Certainly Troubridge acted in response to a multiplicity of motives, whose effect was cumulative throughout the night. Misunderstanding (on the question of superior force) piled on top of misunderstanding (cruisers were or were not to operate at night); his intentions were, he believed, an open secret to the enemy; due to Milne’s bungling his destroyers were now a liability; and he was without his battle cruisers. The war with Germany was only into its third day and it is difficult to see how, even with the battle cruisers, Troubridge could have done much if the Austrians had sailed south in force, though it must be remembered that the latest orders he was acting under instructed him only to prevent the Austrians emerging unobserved.[5] Even so, despite the difficulties, it was a ham-fisted performance. Having abandoned the idea of lying across Goeben’s bows, and by then breaking off the chase unilaterally, Troubridge had rather left the humble but gallant Gloucester in the lurch, a fact of which Milne was only too well aware: seventeen minutes after receiving Troubridge’s signal that the attempt to intercept had been abandoned Milne ordered Captain Kelly to drop astern gradually and ‘Do not be captured.’[6]

                Howard Kelly – still clinging doggedly to the German battle cruiser – was certain that Breslau was ahead of Goeben so that, therefore, there was little chance of being caught between the two and, he argued, ‘as it was essential to know if the enemy were making for Egypt or for the Aegean Sea, it was considered permissible to continue shadowing.’[7] Kelly’s performance shone like a beacon that Thursday night and throughout Friday: at 10.30 a.m. Breslau finally rejoined Goeben and spent the next few hours either dropping back or so manoeuvring as to try to make Kelly abandon the chase or lose sight of Goeben. About midday, unable to shake off the annoying shadow, Commander Kettner on Breslau sought permission to open fire. However, Souchon had other plans and signalled ‘Await orders to attack’ — the Admiral had a trap in mind, should Gloucester persist.[8] By 1.35 p.m. Breslau had fallen back so far she was only 11,000 yards ahead of Gloucester, while Goeben had all but disappeared. Alive to the situation, Kelly promptly:

gave the order to open fire with our foremost 6” gun, the only gun which could carry that distance, so as to make her close up with Goeben, thinking of course that her 4” guns couldn’t reach us at that range. I very soon found out this was a mistake as the Breslau then having her starboard guns bearing replied at once with two ranging guns, and then went into salvo firing which dropped quite close to us. We altered away at once to avoid damage and to bring all our guns to bear, firing all the time, while his salvoes got closer and closer. She dropped two beautiful salvoes of 5 shots, one 30 yards short, and one 50 yards over, the salvoes falling in perfect line and all together. Their calibration was wonderful, and according to our standards their guns had no business to carry all that way…[9]

Kelly altered course to port to bring his starboard battery to bear while, further ahead, Goeben reversed course to come to the aid of her consort. Kelly thought the battle cruiser had opened fire; in fact she had not. A torpedo was also reported to have been fired though, with reflection, Kelly conceded this was probably no more than the bubbles from one of Breslau’s shots falling short, into the sea. Nevertheless, his objective was obtained as the German ships closed up again but his effort would be in vain as, at 1.47 p.m., he received a further signal from Milne that he could not ignore: he was not to go past Cape Matapan.[10]

                One ‘lucky’ shot from Gloucester had hit Breslau, causing little damage, while all that the British cruiser suffered in the engagement was the loss of two boats blown away by the blast from the high elevation of their own guns. According to Kelly, this ‘pleased the ship’s company to think it was done by enemy gun fire’, an impression he did not want to dispel; the short gunnery duel was also witnessed by the bemused passengers of a passing Italian steamer.[11] Amongst the passengers on the Sicilia was the daughter of the American Ambassador to the Sublime Porte, who was travelling with her husband and three children. Mrs Wertheim, who was politely, if thoroughly, interviewed by the German and Austrian Ambassadors when she arrived in Constantinople, recounted that the family was lunching on deck when,

I saw two strange-looking vessels just above the horizon…We watched and saw another ship coming up behind them and going very fast. She came nearer and nearer, and then we heard guns booming…It took me some time to realise what it was all about…The ships continually shifted their position, but went on and on, the two big ones turned and rushed furiously for the little one, and then apparently they changed their minds and turned back. Then the little one turned around and calmly steamed in our direction…She circled around us with her tars excited and grinning, and somewhat grimy. They signalled to our captain many questions, and then turned and finally disappeared.[12]

                Gloucester continued to shadow for the rest of the afternoon though Kelly was wary that, having passed Cape Matapan, Goeben might lie in ambush behind some point of land — which was precisely Souchon’s intention. His plan was to haul Goeben off to starboard round Cape Spathi, on the north side of the island of Kithera, while Breslau steamed on, luring Gloucester towards Cape Malea, after which Goeben would pounce.[13] In addition to this suspicion, Kelly had Milne’s order and the consideration of his crew, who had been at action stations for almost 24 hours, while his ship was now getting low on coal and what remained was difficult to get at. And so, having seen the German ships safely into the Cervi Channel – ‘an almost certain indication they were bound for the Levant and not Port Said as I had at one time feared’[14] – Gloucester turned round shortly before 5 p.m. and set course to rejoin the First Cruiser Squadron. ‘In spite of admirable pertinacity’, the German Official History remarks, ‘the English cruiser had not had the good fortune to bring up superior English forces.’[15]


During the hours of Troubridge’s torment Milne’s force of battle cruisers had been slowly steaming towards Malta. At 6 a.m. on the 7th – the time at which Troubridge had originally indicated that he would engage Goeben – Milne detached the faster of the battle cruisers, Indefatigable, to proceed on ahead to Malta as she required the most coal. Indomitable, which had spent the previous day coaling in Bizerta and had sailed only after some delay as Captain Kennedy tried in vain to offer the French extra ships they did not require, had failed to rendezvous with the other ships during the night and had proceeded independently to Malta — Indefatigable arrived first, at 11 a.m., followed by Inflexible, at 12.10 p.m. and, finally, Indomitable at 1.44 p.m.[16] Coaling would proceed throughout the rest of that Friday afternoon and evening, primarily to give Indefatigable a full load (she required 1,450 tons of coal to achieve this). Captain Kennedy chaffed: having seen the three big ships ‘dawdle’ to Malta he now had to wait for Indefatigable to complete with coal[17] — Kennedy’s ship had taken in so much coal the previous day that the crew had difficulty stowing the additional amount now being loaded. In the meantime Milne showed no inclination to set off in hot pursuit; for a start, he had to try to divine the intentions of Souchon.

                Despite Captain Kelly’s opinion that Goeben’s passage through the Cervi Channel ruled out Port Said, aboard Inflexible at least this destination remained the favourite.[18] Milne, however, was taking no chances — as early as 6.13 a.m. on the 7th he sent a message to the British Ministers in Constantinople, Athens and Egypt that ‘German cruisers have gone to Eastward. Warn British ships.’[19] Yet, the fact that he still harboured doubts as to Souchon’s eventual destination is shown by the signal Milne sent to the Admiralty shortly afterwards in which he opined that the German ships were ‘evidently going to Eastern Mediterranean’ and that, after coaling, his squadron would commence a search of that area. This message, received in London at 6.52 a.m., was the first report the Admiralty received that Souchon had escaped.[20]

                At 1.05 that afternoon – shortly before Gloucester opened fire – Dublin intercepted a signal being sent from the German battle cruiser to the W/T station at Athens passing a coded message for transmission to Constantinople. Souchon had failed to establish direct communication with Constantinople in his attempt to discover the prevailing situation there and had hoped to do so via Athens instead; however, the W/T station there was in French hands and refused to forward his message. Souchon would eventually have to rely on General, the ship he had requisitioned and coaled from in Messina. The steamer had left the Italian port on the evening of the 6th disguised as a Dutch Mail ship and had followed a circuitous route to the scheduled rendezvous at Santorin; Souchon now directed her to the Gulf of Smyrna so as to be able to pass on his demand to the Turkish authorities to be allowed through the Dardanelles.[21] Dublin’s signal – ‘Goeben has passed to W/T station at Athens a coded message to Bowalar, Constantinople and signed Goeben’ – was sent to the C-in-C, but was not picked up aboard his flagship, Inflexible, despite being intercepted and logged by Defence.[22] Milne continued to remain in the dark.

                At 2.30 p.m. on the 7th Milne signalled the Admiralty that Goeben and Breslau had avoided action the previous night (which he inferred was solely due to their superior speed — ‘careful plotting shews speed of Goeben 27 knots’) and that, after coaling, his three battle cruisers and one light cruiser would resume the search for the Germans, who were proceeding ‘towards Crete’; in addition, the watch on the Adriatic was being maintained. His previous signal to the Admiralty early that morning had stated that Gloucester was following Goeben but had been ordered to drop astern to avoid capture; his afternoon signal – sent after he had ordered the recall of the light cruiser – did not refer to Gloucester at all. This second signal was received in London at 5.40 p.m. but it cannot be ascertained whether it was realized that Gloucester was, then or shortly thereafter, to give up the chase as the bottom half of the telegram, used for minutes, is missing.[23] Milne’s following signal, received precisely one hour later in London, stated that ‘Gloucester followed Goeben Breslau until they passed Cervi Channel eastwards then withdrew being short of coal.’[24] Although there was no immediate reply from London, the circumstances surrounding the recall of Gloucester would subsequently be the subject of an Admiralty inquiry which centred on one puzzle: if, given the state of her coal bunkers, the recall was imperative, why was not Dublin, which had coaled the day before in Malta, sent to take Gloucester’s place and maintain contact?


                Seemingly able to extricate himself with ease when such awkward questions were posed, Milne was able to argue that, in addition to the difficulty of Gloucester going full speed if chased by Goeben, the watch on the Adriatic still had to be maintained, especially given the continued ignorance of the plans of the Austrian fleet, and Dublin was the only fast ship Troubridge had for ‘this important duty’. This time, however, even Battenberg was not entirely convinced; although Milne’s reasons were, in themselves, sound they were ‘not, singly or collectively, sufficiently strong to make the recall imperative. The Gloucester could well have continued and trusted to finding coal at Syra or elsewhere.’ Also, the risk of capture was slight, as Souchon evidently believed Gloucester had heavier ships in support. Nevertheless, argued Battenberg who continued to play the part of Milne’s friend at court, ‘Once the Germans had been seen rounding the south point of Greece – the gate to the Aegean – they entered waters where their presence was of less consequence to us, while the need for light cruisers off Adriatic was still great. This recall of Gloucester can therefore be passed over.’[25]

                On the night of 7/8 August the Admiralty offered no guidance to Milne whatsoever. Nearing midnight Milne signalled to Troubridge that the battle cruisers and Weymouth would shortly leave Malta at 14 knots on a course for Sapienza Light. Milne also passed on the report of an opinion he had received that war had broken out between Italy and Austria;[26] the significance of this erroneous message would become apparent during the afternoon of the coming day, Saturday, 8 August. At 35 minutes past midnight, the battle cruisers slipped and proceeded to sea. Captain Kennedy was somewhat confused by Milne’s choice of course as Sapienza was to the north of Cape Matapan and the Cervi Channel; all he could think was that the C-in-C was still concerned that Goeben and Breslau ‘might turn back and try to dodge into Adriatic.’[27] The Inflexible’s gunnery officer was equally convinced that Goeben was somewhere off San Gorgio: ‘at least I think that is where she ought to be since it governs the Black Sea-Gibraltar and Athens-Egypt lines.’[28] At 1 a.m. the battle cruisers formed into single line ahead while Weymouth was sent on a further seven miles to scout. Precisely 45 minutes later a message was handed to Milne from the Admiral Superintendent, Malta — ‘Following from Athens begins: from strength of signals Goeben thought to be near Syra.’[29] The Greek Navy had picked up Souchon’s signals and passed the information to Admiral Mark Kerr, the British Admiral on loan to the Greek Government for the purposes of reorganizing their fleet. Kerr in turn roused George Rendel at the British Legation in Athens who sent a “most immediate” telegram to Malta that ‘Goeben was known to be off the island of Syra and sailing north-eastwards.’[30]

                At last it appeared as if Milne had been given a clear indication of where Souchon was and in which direction he was headed. If true, that Souchon was heading into the Aegean, rather than attempting to steam to the Levant to attack the trade routes, what could be his ultimate destination? By continuing on a north-easterly course, past Syra, and thereby proceeding ever further into the Aegean, the three most probable destinations were (with the appropriate course changes) Salonica, Constantinople or Smyrna. Milne eliminated Constantinople at once — that is if he ever considered it in the first place:

Although I anticipated the possibility of the German ships going to Salonika to interfere with Servian supplies through that port, the idea that belligerent ships would proceed into a neutral port…did not enter into my calculations and, I submit, could not reasonably have been guarded against.

Besides, although Rendel was later adamant that the telegram he sent mentioned direction, the signal received by Milne stated only that Goeben was thought to be near Syra: if there was another signal that night which gave the direction it does not appear in Milne’s own signal log. In the circumstances, Milne made his dispositions ‘to ensure that [the German ships] did not return West or break through towards Egypt and the trade routes’.[31]

                One hour later a further signal was received, also emanating from Athens, to the effect that two men of war had passed Cape Spathi in the direction of Malida at 5 p.m. (on the 7th). As this information was demonstrably correct Milne might have inferred that the previous signal from Athens was also correct; in the event he ignored this new source of information and simply maintained his present course and speed. The second telegram from Athens also reported that an Austrian collier, Bogados, had left Piraeus and was proceeding to Salonica.[32] Although Milne had no way of knowing, this, however, was wrong on both counts: the British consul at Piraeus had correctly informed the Legation at 7.30 on the morning of the 7th that Bogados was a German steamer carrying 700 tons of German coal to an unknown destination.[33] She was, in fact, none other than the collier that Souchon, when at Messina, had arranged to be off Cape Malea waiting for him. Breslau was given the task of locating the collier and escorting her to a secluded island to coal from. How or why the consul’s correct information was altered remains a mystery (the Greek connexion will be examined in greater detail later) as does the fact that Milne made no attempt either to capitalize on this new source of intelligence or to try to contact Athens for verification. Instead, at 7.08 on the morning of Saturday 8th, Milne ordered each of the battle cruisers to take station 5 miles abeam of his flagship, while Weymouth continued to scout, now 15 miles ahead, as his squadron continued its slow and deliberate sweep.[34] Milne’s suspicion that Goeben would try to double back to the Adriatic appeared to have been confirmed when her W/T signals were picked up on Inflexible at strength 12 (the maximum); expecting to sight the Germans at any moment the crew began chalking “Here’s one for you”, “Welcome”, and the like on the 12” shells, but once again, the intercept was the result of atmospheric conditions. Goeben remained where she had been since the previous evening – in the Aegean.[35] In their new formation, the British ships had, by midday, covered just half the distance between Malta and the entrance to the Aegean when a further, almost inexplicable, event occurred: a humble Admiralty clerk decided, single-handedly, to declare war on Austria.


The position of Britain in relation to Austria had remained anomalous after the declaration of war against Germany alone on the 4th. When, the following day, the Chief Censor complained to Sir Edward Grey that having to treat Austrian messages in the same way as other neutral powers was causing ‘great inconvenience and must of necessity endanger the success of the whole scheme of censorship and thereby of the operations’[36] neither Crowe nor Nicolson at the Foreign Office could suggest any alternative other than directing that the Austrian Embassy only be allowed to send telegrams en clair. Grey rather thought this might lead to a declaration of war from Austria and he would not take such a step without first informing the Admiralty and asking ‘whether they have anything to say as to this step. It may be desirable to wait till the arrangements with France for sealing up the Adriatic are completed, if such are in contemplation.’[37] Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson, who had been recalled to the Admiralty to act in an advisory capacity, thought that to prevent ‘certain important actions being reported’ it would be a better course simply to delay the Embassy’s telegrams rather than risk an open breach: it was ‘scarcely desirable to hasten Austria into the position of an enemy.’[38] But Churchill would have none of it: ‘The Admiralty must ask with the utmost insistency’, the First Lord demanded vehemently, ‘that the continuance of ciphered correspondence by a Power allied to Germany shd forthwith be stopped. The success of our operations may well be prejudiced by it, and loss of ships and life be incurred. What claim have these people to whose folly and wilfulness the whole war was due to this extraordinary treatment.’[39]

                Two days later the Austrian Ambassador, Count Mensdorff, saw Grey and pressed upon him, on his own initiative, the desirability of avoiding war between Britain and Austria. Grey pointed out that, although he also did not want war with Austria, it was hardly possible that, at the same time as British and French ships were fighting the Germans in the North Sea, British ships in the Mediterranean ‘should look on and take no part if an Austrian warship and a French warship were firing at each other.’ Grey attempted to palliate Mensdorff by informing him, disingenuously, that the prohibition on cipher telegrams had been applied to all except a few Embassies in London; despite this attempt to stall, it was clear that the breach between the two countries could only be days away. The Foreign Secretary noted as “very confidential” on his aide-memoire of the talk with Mensdorff that ‘The Admiralty do not want war with Austria till the French fleet is ready.’[40] In the meantime Nicolson had sounded out Cambon, who did not think the danger posed by the Austrian fleet to the French was a sufficient excuse against declaring war for the simple reason that, once war was declared, the French fleet would close the Adriatic which would also prevent the Austrian fleet going to the Dardanelles (a much more likely eventuality in Nicolson’s opinion). But the French fleet, Grey observed on Saturday 8 August, was not yet in a position to close the Adriatic which was – and on this point the Foreign Secretary was most emphatic – something the British ships could not do alone; there was therefore no object in declaring war on Austria before an Anglo-French junction could be effected.[41] On the following Monday Grey had, waiting for him on his desk, a cable from Bertie in Paris that the First French Battle Squadron and First Division of Cruisers had left Toulon at 9 a.m. the previous day, steaming towards Malta, while the Second Battle Squadron and Cruiser Division would leave Bizerta so as to rendezvous that morning, whence the entire fleet would steam to Malta, arriving the following day, Tuesday 11 August.[42] This was enough for Churchill who informed Grey that the Admiralty would be ready for a declaration of war against Austria ‘any time tomorrow’ — that is, when the French fleet had arrived in Malta. Crowe duly drafted a reply to Bertie asking to be informed ‘with least possible delay’ when the French had declared war on Austria; they did so on that Monday.[43] The official British declaration would come two days later, on 12 August.

                The unofficial declaration of war was, however, issued by the aforementioned Admiralty clerk at noon, four days earlier, Saturday 8 August. In the Foreign Office the warning telegrams for dispatch to every British consul ‘had already been printed in advance and had reposed for years in what was known as the “war-press” in the Western Department. All that was required was to affix with the rubber stamp provided, the one word [for example] “Germany” in the blank space left between the word “War” and the ensuing phrase “Act upon instructions”.’[44] Displaying similar foresight when, following various intimations, war with Austria appeared imminent, the coding officer on duty at the Admiralty had the message made out ready for dispatch as required. Unfortunately, this was the extent of his foresight as this officer then made the critical mistake that ‘When he went out to get his tea he left the message [below] on his desk, and his relief seeing the message there, thought it was meant to be sent off, and he sent it. The feelings of the originator of the message when he came back from his tea can well be imagined.’[45]

                                                Admiralty to All Ships

                12 noon.

                371.         Commence hostilities at once against Austria.





Troubridge apparently received the message shortly after 2 p.m.[46] and signalled visually to the ships in company to fire on any Austrian destroyers, one of which was reported as steaming north-west from Santa Maura. Within a minute he received a reply from Captain ‘D’ in Wolverine that he was chasing a two-funnelled destroyer; Troubridge thereupon ordered Dublin to attempt to cut the Austrian boat off.[47]

                Admiralty signal number 371 was received on Inflexible at 1.58 p.m. and was handed to Milne six minutes later. As mentioned, the C-in-C had been in receipt of an erroneous opinion the previous night that war had broken out between Austria and Italy, so the signal, presumably, came as no surprise, and his gunnery officer imagined that ‘this has arisen as a result of conversations between Rome and London.’[48] The signal imposed upon Milne a greater duty than the pursuit of Goeben and Breslau. As he later reported: ‘In order to give support to the cruisers and destroyers watching the mouth of the Adriatic and to avoid the possibility of the Battle Cruiser Squadron being cut off from Malta, I altered course at once to N by E ½ E, took up a position where I could give support if the necessity arose and ordered the First Cruiser Squadron, Gloucester and destroyers to join me, Dublin and Weymouth watching the mouth of the Adriatic.’[49] At 2.30 p.m. the three battle cruisers turned away from the course to the Aegean and later slowed right down to allow Indomitable and Indefatigable to close Inflexible in the centre and form single line ahead.[50]

                Troubridge fortuitously abandoned the pursuit of the Austrian destroyer with his cruisers upon receiving Milne’s signal to join him; however, he could not raise Wolverine on W/T and she continued the chase, fruitlessly as luck would have it.[51] In ordering the concentration of the Second Battle Cruiser Squadron and the First Cruiser Squadron Milne was acting in accordance with paragraph 2 of his Mediterranean War Orders No. 1, though the implication of the order was not lost on those aboard the flagship: ‘This, I fear,’ recorded Lieutenant-Commander Verner, ‘will leave Goeben very much too free a hand in the Levant, but till the French get their Squadron East we cannot do aught but keep together.’[52] The mistake at the Admiralty remained unnoticed for 1¾ hours and it was not until 3.50 p.m. (local time) that Milne received the following: ‘Negative my telegram hostilities against Austria. Acknowledge. Urgent.’[53] In the words of a midshipman on the flagship, ‘The war was cancelled shortly afterwards.’[54] Unfortunately, either in the rush to correct the mistake or else to add additional emphasis, not all the telegram was in cipher; all this did was to make Milne suspicious. The confusion caused by this telegram ‘cancelling the war’ was even greater on Indomitable, where it was found that the original telegram erroneously declaring war had never been received.[55] Milne telegraphed the Admiralty for confirmation that the later, cancellation, signal was correct. In the meantime the Admiralty had on its own initiative (at 4.10 p.m. GMT) sent a further warning to all ships: ‘With reference to the cancellation of telegram notifying war on Austria, situation is critical.’[56] Although the information was accurate the effect on Milne, despite the reassurance given that the original signal was incorrect, was to lead him to believe that war was imminent; he therefore continued on his northerly course at 6 to 10 knots and took the precaution of warning Troubridge that in the event of war with Austria those destroyers short of coal would have to be taken in tow.[57] There was some undeniable disappointment that the war had not started immediately: aboard Defence, the cancellation of the ‘enlivening signal’ opening hostilities had, in the rueful opinion of Midshipman de Salis, ‘thus removed so far as ever our chances of taking an active part in the war.’[58]

                Confusion over the timing of signals makes it difficult to reconstruct the exact sequence of telegrams that afternoon. After a signal had been dictated it would be coded and given a code time in GMT. It might then take time to transmit, with the transmission time being recorded in GMT if sent from London or SMT if sent from the Mediterranean. Any of these times could be incorrectly recorded leaving the impression on occasion that a message had been received before it was sent.[59] The original signal opening hostilities – no. 371 – was sent from London at noon GMT and received by Milne 58 minutes later. The Admiral had, of course, no reason to query this signal. The cancellation signal – no. 372 – which made Milne suspicious, was dispatched at 1.45 p.m. GMT and received by Milne and hour and five minutes later (3.50 p.m. SMT/2.50 p.m. GMT). Milne telegraphed back, ‘407. Am I to understand Admiralty telegram 372 cancels orders to commence hostilities against Austria?’ At 5.35 p.m. GMT the Admiralty replied, ‘236. Re your telegram 407. Yes.’[60]

                According to Milne this reply was received at 7 p.m. SMT (6 p.m. GMT)[61] that is, it took 25 minutes to come through. Before this, however, the Admiralty had sent a further telegram in an attempt to clarify the situation. At 4.10 p.m. GMT telegram no. 373 warned that the situation with Austria was critical. This telegram was not received by Milne till shortly before 7 p.m. SMT yet, before receiving either the one word confirmation telegram (no. 236) or the ‘situation critical’ telegram (no. 373), Milne prematurely signalled his intentions to the Admiralty at 6.20 SMT: ‘409. In view of Admiralty telegram 371 I am not following Goeben into Aegean Sea.’ This was received in London at 6.15 p.m. GMT.[62] Having thus already made up his mind to abandon the pursuit, forty minutes later Milne received the confirmation telegram that war had not broken out between Britain and Austria. Whether the receipt of this alone would have caused him to alter course away from the Adriatic and resume the chase of Goeben and Breslau once more is problematical as, at more or less the same time,[63] he received Admiralty telegram no. 373 informing him that the situation was critical, which confirmed his belief that if the Austrian fleet had left Pola it constituted the greater threat and would be able, easily, to overwhelm the First Cruiser Squadron.







[note: all times in GMT]






Commence hostilities at once against Austria.






Negative my telegram hostilities against Austria. Acknowledge. Urgent.





Am I to understand Adty tel 372 cancels orders to commence hostilities against Austria?






With reference to the cancellation of telegram notifying war on Austria, situation is critical.






Re your telegram 407. Yes.






In view of Adty tel 371, I am not following Goeben into Aegean Sea. [It was on this telegram that the War Room duty officer has written, at 2 a.m. on 9 August, “Apparently after 371 was sent out from Admiralty, another one cancelling it was sent soon after, so no doubt a further reply from C-in-C will soon arrive.”]





Your 373 received. In the event of war between Great Britain and Austria submit I may be informed attitude of Italy.


                Milne’s telegram – that he had effectively given up the chase of Goeben – went to the War Room in the Admiralty where it lay throughout the rest of Saturday night. It was not until 2 a.m. on Sunday morning that an officer on duty minuted: ‘Apparently after 371 was sent out from Admiralty, another one cancelling it was sent soon after, so no doubt a further reply from C-in-C will soon arrive.’[64] The sequence of events had been confused by the flurry of telegrams and it appears that the fatal assumption was made by the duty officer that Milne sent this telegram AFTER receiving telegram 371 but BEFORE either the cancellation telegram 372 or the confirmation of this (236). In fact, Milne HAD received the cancellation, though not yet the confirmation of this. The expectation in London was that, as soon as the mistake in telegram 371 was pointed out and confirmed, Milne would resume the chase. Instead the reply that the War Room Duty Officer thought ‘no doubt’ would soon arrive from Milne turned out to be a simple confirmation that telegram 373 (with regards to Austria, ‘situation is critical’) had been received coupled with a request that ‘In the event of war between Great Britain and Austria submit I may be informed attitude of Italy.’[65]

                The Admiralty had blundered in the first place by sending the ‘hostilities’ telegram at noon which gave Milne, in accordance with his standing War Plan, little option but to close the Adriatic. Milne was also not at fault in querying the cancellation telegram, which was, in the circumstances in which it was sent, a legitimate precaution. The next blunder also belongs to the Admiralty: after supplying Milne with next to no information during the previous few days, they then chose the worst possible moment gratuitously to tell Milne that the situation with Austria was critical. Surely someone should have realized the possible effect this might have had on Milne’s dispositions, particularly when (as shown above) there was little inclination at the Admiralty to precipitate the breach with Austria until the French fleet was in a position to dominate the Adriatic. Milne, though, was next at fault when, in acknowledging telegram 373, he did not repeat his intention of NOT following Goeben into the Aegean.[66] The final blunder again belonged to the Admiralty in assuming that Milne’s signal 409 (that he would not follow Goeben) was sent BEFORE he had received the cancellation telegram and that, as soon as he had received the cancellation – notwithstanding the fact that he was warned the situation was critical – he would automatically reverse his course and steam once more towards the Aegean.

                And where was Churchill during all this? The First Lord spent a part of that Saturday in conversation with Captain Henderson who had been the Naval Attaché in Berlin until the outbreak of war.[67] He also wrote to Grey entreating him to work towards bringing the Greeks into the Entente for, in that eventuality, the Admiralty view was that, as Greece possessed ‘the key of the Adriatic’, the Mediterranean situation would be ‘absolutely satisfactory.’[68] In addition, Churchill wrote a minute that day for general circulation within the Admiralty in which he postulated that the war would last for a year and that,

Although the transition from peace to war conditions must be attended with a certain amount of emergency action, that period is passing, and the adoption of regular & careful methods is enjoined on all departments. In particular thrift & scrupulous attention to details are the mark of efficient administration in war. After all these years the Admiralty is now on its trial as an organisation, & the First Lord is vy anxious that vigorous action shd be combined with strict economy — so that the work of the department may subsequently become a model. The work done by all in the last ten days is admirable.[69]

                The Admiralty did have one chance to rectify their earlier blunders, but it was not taken. A mere 20 minutes before the receipt of Milne’s signal, at 6.15 p.m., that he was not following Goeben the French Admiralty informed London of the current dispositions of the French fleet and inquired ‘Will you let me know where are the Squadron Milne and Division Troubridge.’[70] Although this inquiry should have instigated some sort of investigation to ascertain Milne’s position nothing was apparently done and the mistake was not rectified till 12.50 on the afternoon of Sunday 9th (24 hours after the dispatch of the original mistaken telegram) after Milne had signalled a position placing him off Zante Island, covering the entrance to the Adriatic. A shocked Rear-Admiral Leveson, the Director of the Operations Department, immediately dispatched an “urgent priority” instruction: ‘Not at war with Austria. Continue chase of Goeben which passed Cape Matapan early on 7th steering north-east.’[71] This information, repeating that contained in a telegram received in the War Room at 1.15 that morning from St Petersburg,[72] had originated from Admiral Kerr in Athens; however, Milne paid as little attention to this as he had done to the information that had come direct from Admiral Kerr 36 hours previously that Goeben was thought to be near Syra.

                The Admiralty had received just three signals from Milne regarding Goeben’s course and direction, all sent on Friday 7th and all indicative of the general belief that Souchon would make for Egypt or the Levant: the first signal stated that the German ships were ‘evidently going to eastern Mediterranean’, the second that they were proceeding ‘towards Crete’, and the third that they had ‘passed Cervi Channel eastwards’.[73] As none of these signals hinted that Souchon might steer for the Aegean it is clear, therefore, that, unlike Milne, the Admiralty accepted at face value the new information emanating from Athens; it is equally clear that, by so doing, they were clutching at straws. Indeed Captain Dumas, the Assistant Director of Torpedoes, noted in his diary that day that the German ships had escaped eastwards, but ‘whether for Egypt or the Dardanelles no one knows.’[74] Nevertheless, Milne was not to know this — as far as he was concerned the Admiralty might have been privy to information denied him and, as he now steamed towards Matapan, he also had to help him a report the previous day from a passing French steamer which had sighted Goeben in the Aegean steering a northerly course. ‘It is strangely un-German not to have sunk her’, recorded Lieutenant-Commander Verner; Souchon, however, did not want to waste time nor violate Greek neutrality as the steamer was in territorial waters.[75] Milne chose to ignore this report as well.


                At the Admiralty on Sunday afternoon, clues began to flood in regarding the location of Goeben: all originated from Athens and all concerned Syra, yet there was a crucial and significant difference to the message Milne had first received when just outside Malta which merely placed Goeben near Syra. At 12.25 p.m. on Sunday 9th the Admiralty received notice by telephone that the Chief Censor at the War Office had intercepted a message from “Metriticicas” Athens to “Warplume” London: ‘…informed Goeben anchored Syra asked to coal — do not know if demand will be agreed to following decision of Government to appropriate all available coal.’ This message was passed to the Admiralty and seen by the D.O.D., C.O.S., and First Sea Lord.[76] Someone was anxious to let it be known that the German ships were – supposedly – having difficulty in obtaining coal from the Greeks. A false trail was being laid from Athens, the reasons for which will be examined later.

                At 2 p.m. the Foreign Office received a telegram from Ambassador Buchanan in St Petersburg reporting that the Russian Admiralty had received information from Athens on the 8th that Goeben was then coaling at Syra. The Russians had also alerted the French and the Admiralty in Paris cabled London, the signal being received at 2.33 p.m.[77] This message was eventually passed to the War Room, where it was logged at 4.50 p.m.; precisely ten minutes later Buchanan’s message to the Foreign Office was also logged. Following this convergence, the War Staff wasted no time and, ten minutes later, a signal was flashed to Milne: ‘Russian Embassy, Paris, report Goeben coaled Syra Eighth August.’[78] At 7.35 p.m. (SMT) Milne signalled to the ships in company that they would search for Goeben who ‘was coaling at Syra yesterday’. And there the matter might have ended: a clear signal from the Admiralty and a rough, day-old position in which to commence searching. The problem was that Milne did not believe it.

                The C-in-C had signalled Syra on the morning of the 8th to inquire whether the German ship Kythnos was still in port and, if so, was it a collier? The current British consul, Mr Saliba, did not have a copy of the code as his predecessor had taken it with him, and so had to have Milne’s message relayed to Athens for deciphering. Eventually it was ascertained that the Kythnos had arrived to take in a part cargo of Naxos emery. Milne was also aware that the station of the Eastern Telegraph Company on Syra was manned by a British superintendent, Mr Hastings, and made the reasonable assumption that, between them, either Saliba or Hastings was bound to have noticed a German battle cruiser coaling and to have reported it.[79] For this reason, when he received the Admiralty telegram, Milne decided that,

This could not, however, be relied on and, as a matter of fact was incorrect, as I have since been informed by the Superintendent of the Eastern Telegraph Company at Syra and by the British Consul that Goeben and Breslau never called there. They might have gone to Alexandretta, to Egypt or to Salonika (news had reached me that the Austrians had threatened an attack on that port on account of Servian supplies passing through it); or they might have turned back to join the Austro-Hungarian fleet in the Adriatic. Under these conditions it was necessary for the battle cruisers to remain in the south-west portion of the Aegean Sea until reliable information could be obtained of the position of the German ships. It was ever present in my mind to endeavour to keep them to the north; for, if they had broken south again, trade in the eastern basin of the Mediterranean would have been stopped and an attack on Alexandria was possible.[80]

However, before the Admiralty signal reporting the spurious coaling was sent, reliable information was available in London regarding the destination of the German ships. That afternoon Benckendorff, the Russian Ambassador, informed Sir Arthur Nicolson that ‘It appears to the Russian Government that the Goeben is proceeding to the Dardanelles’, a warning Nicolson duly passed on to Grey at 4 p.m.[81] The warning was taken seriously enough in the Foreign Office for an immediate telegram to be sent to Bertie in Paris, alerting him to the Russian fears so that these could be passed on to the French.[82] Grey was well aware, however, that the Russians were ‘anxious’ that the Austrian fleet should be prevented from going through the Straits to the Black Sea, where they would outnumber the Russian Black Sea Fleet and, perhaps, in the circumstances, attributed Benckendorff’s warning to paranoia. Despite this, to placate the Russians, he sent a message to the British Chargé d’Affaires in Constantinople[83] that a representation should be made to the Porte not to let warships pass through the Straits and that any vessel attempting to enter should be disarmed or turned back.[84] Then, at precisely the same time that the Admiralty signalled Milne regarding the spurious coaling, the Foreign Office received another report, this time from Rome, which indicated that the Austrian fleet had merely feinted south ‘to facilitate escape of German cruisers’ and had subsequently returned north.[85] This should have relieved some apprehension concerning the position in the Adriatic, and the threat from the Austrian fleet and should therefore have made Grey more inclined to accept that the Russian warning was genuine, but – apparently – none of this information was passed to the Admiralty.

                Other than the incorrect message that Goeben had coaled at Syra, Milne would receive no further assistance from the Admiralty that Sunday. At midnight on 9/10 August his battle cruisers sighted Cape Matapan. It had been 56 hours since, late on Friday afternoon, Gloucester had been in the same position, in sight of Goeben and Breslau and had turned back on Milne’s orders while he remained in Malta filling every available space on his ships with coal. Then, since midday on Saturday, the Admiralty had curtailed the chase with the premature notice of hostilities against Austria, had taken 24 hours to re-direct Milne to resume the pursuit, and had passed on, without comment, dubious intelligence about Goeben coaling at Syra while remaining ignorant of the reliable information at the Foreign Office, just down the road. It had been a thoroughly incompetent performance.






[1]Court Martial, qu. 282, Lumby, p. 305.

[2]Ibid., qu. 270, p. 304.

[3]E. C. Troubridge, Mediterranean Requirements, 16 July 1912, Masterton-Smith mss., PRO Cab 1/33 [my emphasis].

[4]Court Martial, Statement for the Defence, Lumby, pp. 368, 371.

[5]Battenberg’s order that the German ships were to be prevented from entering the Adriatic while the Austrians were not to be permitted to emerge unobserved would have placed the British commanders in an impossible position if the Austrian fleet, which was not then at war with Britain, had sailed south to come to Souchon’s assistance.

[6]C-in-C to Gloucester, (0433), 7 August 1914, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 182.

[7]Captain W A H Kelly, “Report of Detached Service”, 28 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/3105; Lumby, pp. 232 ff.; see also, Kelly, Journal as Naval Attaché, Kelly mss., NMM Kel 3.

[8]Der Krieg Zur See, p. 48.

[9]Kelly, Journal, p. 74.

[10]C-in-C to Gloucester, (1251), 7 August 1914, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 186.

[11]Kelly, Journal, p. 75; message intercepted by War Office Censor, 11 August 1914 from Italian Press Agency, PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[12]Morgenthau, Secrets of the Bosphorus, pp. 44-5.

[13]Note: van der Vat, p. 107, places Cape Spathi on Crete, which would have made it a distinctly long-range ambush.

[14]Kelly, Journal, p. 76.

[15]Der Krieg Zur See, p. 48.

[16]Ships’ Logs, HMS Inflexible, Indomitable, Indefatigable, PRO Adm 53/44838, 44830, 44809.

[17]Kennedy, p. 16. Milne later maintained that Indomitable had developed boiler defects during the previous chase and these required twelve hours to fix [Milne, The Flight of the Goeben and Breslau]. If these defects did exist they appear to have been unknown to the ship’s captain.

[18]Cdr R Verner, A memoir by Harold Hodge, Verner to his father, 7 August 1914, pp. 43-4.

[19]C-in-C to Ad. Supt., Malta, (0513), 7 August 1914, C-in-C’s Signal Log, Milne mss., NMM MLN 210/7.

[20]C-in-C to Admiralty, no. 404 (0548), 7 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19; Lumby, p. 182 [my emphasis].

[21]Der Krieg Zur See, p. 49.

[22]Dublin to C-in-C, (1205), 7 August 1914, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 185. See also, W/T Signal Log, HMS Defence, IWM MISC 64 ITEM 1009. The message was received at 12.20 p.m. GMT.

[23]C-in-C to Admiralty, no. 404, 7 August 1914 (rec’d 6.52 a.m.); C-in-C to Admiralty, no. 405, 7 August 1914, (rec’d 5.40 p.m.), PRO Adm 137/HS19; Trumpener, Reassessment, p. 180.

[24]C-in-C to Admiralty, no. 406, 7 August 1914, (rec’d 6.50 p.m.), PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[25]Minute by Battenberg, 27 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/879; Lumby, p. 231 [my emphasis].

[26]C-in-C to Rear-Admiral, (2224) 7/8 August 1914, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 187.

[27]Kennedy, p. 16.

[28]Verner, Journal, 8 August.

[29]A.S., Malta to C-in-C, (2351), 7/8 August (rec’d 1.45 a.m., 8 August), C-in-C’s Signal Log, Milne mss., NMM MLN 210/7.

[30]Sir George W Rendel, The Sword and the Olive, (London, 1957), p. 19.

[31]Milne to Admiralty, 26 August 1914, para. 3, PRO Adm 137/879; Lumby, pp. 223-6.

[32]A.S., Malta to C-in-C and Rear-Adl., (0100, 8th), 8 August 1914, C-in-C’s Signal Log, Milne mss., NMM MLN 210/7.

[33]Consul, Piraeus to Erskine (chargé at the British Legation), Athens, 7 August 1914, Athens Consular Archives, PRO FO 286/581/203.

[34]Ship’s Log, HMS Inflexible, 8 August 1914, PRO Adm 53/44838.

[35]Diary of Parry, HMS Grasshopper, 16 August 1914, IWM 71/19/1. The information came from Inflexible’s crew, whom Parry met in Malta after the chase.

[36]Chief Censor to Grey, 5 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2167/36211.

[37]Minute by Grey, ibid.

[38]Minute by Wilson, 5 August 1914, ibid.

[39]Minute by Churchill, ibid.

[40]Aide-memoire, 7 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2167/37172.

[41]Nicolson to Grey, minute by Grey, 8 August 1914, Nicolson mss., PRO FO 800/375.

[42]Bertie to F.O., no. 187, 10 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2167/37596.

[43]Churchill to Grey, minute by Crowe, 10 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2167/37762.

[44]Nicolson, Lord Carnock, p. 424.

[45]Kelly, Journal, pp. 77-8.

[46]Admiralty to All Ships, no. 371, 8 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19; Lumby, p. 189. I say ‘apparently’ as Defence’s W/T log occasionally confused GMT with Ship’s Mean Time.

[47]Rear-Adl. to General, sent 1.25 p.m. GMT; Capt. ‘D’ to Rear-Adl., rec’d 1.26 p.m. GMT; Rear-Adl. to Dublin, sent 1.47 p.m. GMT, 8 August 1914. W/T Signal Log, HMS Defence.

[48]Verner, Journal, 8 August 1914.

[49]Milne to Admiralty, 20 August 1914, para. 29, PRO Adm 137/879; Lumby, p.218.

[50]Ship’s Log, HMS Inflexible, 8 August 1914, PRO Adm 53/44838.

[51]Rear-Adl. to C-in-C, (1710), 8 August 1914, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 193.

[52]Verner, Journal, 8 August 1914. Despite the signal from Athens the previous night that Goeben was near Syra, opinion aboard the British battle cruisers still favoured the eastern basin of the Mediterranean as the German ships’ most likely destination.

[53]Admiralty to C-in-C, no. 372, 8 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19; Lumby, p. 190.

[54]Midshipman’s Journal, J. H. Macnair, HMS Inflexible, 8 August 1914, IWM P209.

[55]Midshipman’s Journal, B. B. Schofield, HMS Indomitable, 8 August 1914, IWM BBS 2.

[56]Admiralty to All Ships, no. 373, 8 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19; Lumby, p. 192. Note: Lumby gives a dispatch time for this signal of 6.10 p.m. (GMT) - this should be 16.10, i.e., 4.10 p.m.

[57]C-in-C to Rear-Adl., (1626), 8 August 1914, NSM,B; Lumby, p. 191.

[58]Midshipman’s Journal of A de Salis, HMS Defence, 8 August 1914, IWM 76/117/1. His opinion was tragically proved incorrect when Defence blundered into a line of German capital ships at the Battle of Jutland and was destroyed in seconds; there were no survivors.

[59]Milne was forced to issue a general edict on 7 August that all position signals had to state a time and that this was always to be GMT, while Troubridge, equally in desperation, signalled Milne the following morning ‘If all ships kept GMT, [rather than SMT] signals would be much more accurate. There has been much confusion of times.’ Milne replied that there would be no change in procedure. C-in-C to Medt Fleet, (1620), 7 August; Rear-Adl. to C-in-C (0859), 8 August and reply by C-in-C, (0939); NSM,B; Lumby, pp. 186, 188.

[60]C-in-C to Admiralty, no. 407, and reply, no. 236, 8 August 1914. PRO Adm 137/HS19; Lumby, p. 191. Note: Lumby has queried the transmission time of Milne’s signal 407 (4.35 p.m.) which cannot be correct.

[61]Milne to Admiralty, 20 August 1914, para. 30, PRO Adm 137/879; Lumby, p. 218.

[62]C-in-C to Admiralty, no. 409, 8 August 1914. PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[63]Lumby, p. 192, queries the time of receipt of this signal (no. 373) which is shown as 6.19 p.m. The copy in the relevant Admiralty archive, Adm 137/HS19 (fo. 345), gives 7.07 p.m. local as the time of receipt. While Lumby is perhaps slightly too early, the latter is certainly too late for, at 6.55 p.m., Milne repeated the warning to Troubridge that the situation was critical [C-in-C to Rear-Adl, (1747), 8 August]. As this message was coded at 6.47 p.m. Admiralty telegram 373 must have been received between 6.19 and 6.47 p.m.  By 7 p.m. Milne was already acknowledging receipt of no. 373: C-in-C to Admiralty, no. 410.

[64]This minute does not appear in Lumby.

[65]C-in-C to Admiralty, no. 410, 8 August 1914; the Admiralty did not reply until the following day that ‘Italy should be treated as a neutral who is friendly disposed.’ PRO Adm 137/HS19; Lumby, p. 193.

[66]There exists a remote possibility that Milne’s signal 409, ‘In view of Admiralty telegram 371, I am not following Goeben into Aegean Sea’, was meant to refer to Admiralty telegram 373. This would have made more sense: why should Milne act upon a telegram which the Admiralty had cancelled, even if Milne’s own suspicions as to the veracity of the cancellation signal had yet to be verified? If Milne’s 409 had referred to the later Admiralty signal it should have been realized at once in London that he would keep to his northerly course unless ordered otherwise, while, on the other hand, by so wording telegram 409 it was perhaps understandable that the Admiralty would assume Milne had not received the cancellation telegram. This theory cannot be proved or disproved; one difficulty concerns the tightness of the timing. Milne received telegram 373 between 6.19 and 6.47 p.m. [see above]. His signal 409 was sent at 6.20 p.m. and obviously, for the theory to work, Milne would have had to have received 373 at 6.19 p.m. and to have replied immediately.

[67]Notes of a Conversation between Winston S Churchill and Captain Henderson, Admiralty, 8 August 1914, WSC Comp. vol. III, pt. i, pp. 22-4.

[68]Churchill to Grey, 8 August 1914, Grey mss., PRO FO 800/88. Battenberg also initialled this letter.

[69]Churchill to Rear-Admiral Hood (his Naval Secretary), 8 August 1914, PRO Adm 1 8388/235. By 11 May 1915 Churchill had reluctantly had to revise his opinion: ‘for the present it is to be assumed that the war will not end before 31st December 1916.’ Ibid.

[70]Marine, Paris to Admiralty, London, rec’d 5.55 p.m., 8 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[71]Admiralty to C-in-C, no. 239, 9 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19; Lumby, p. 197 [my emphasis]. Leveson was not a success at the Admiralty and would have preferred sea duty. Goldrick, The King’s Ships were at Sea, p. 20.

[72]Naval Attaché, St Petersburg to Admiralty, dispatched 3.5 a.m., 8 August, rec’d 1.15 a.m., 9 August, Adty no. 9/6, PRO Adm 137/4083.

[73]C-in-C to Admiralty, nos. 404, 405, 406, all 7 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[74]Dumas, diary entry for 9 August 1914, IWM PP/MCR/96.

[75]Verner, Journal, 8 August 1914; Midshipman’s Journal, J. H. Macnair, 8 August 1914; Der Krieg Zur See, p. 48.

[76]Telephone Messages Received by Chief Censor R. T. from Chief Censor War Office, PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[77]Buchanan to Foreign Office, no. 253 urgent, 9 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2163/37459; Adty Paris to Admiralty, 9 August 1914, Adty no. 9/9, PRO Adm 137/4083.

[78]Admiralty to C-in-C, no. 240, 9 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[79][to] consul Syra, 8 August 1914, Athens Consular Archives, PRO FO 286/581/206; [from] consul at Syra, 8 August, PRO FO 286/581/211; Consul Saliba to Mr Erskine, Athens, 8 August, PRO FO 286/581/212; Diary of Admiral Sir Richard Phillimore, 9 August 1914, IWM 75/48/3 (note: Phillimore erroneously maintains that the consul was also ‘head of the E.T.C.’); The Eastern Telegraph Company Limited to Milne, 14 August 1914, Milne mss., NMM MLN 207/1. All that Hastings was aware of was a rumour that two warships passed between the islands of Tinos and Mykonos ‘on Saturday morning early’.

[80]Milne to Admiralty, 20 August 1914, para. 35, PRO Adm 137/879; Lumby, p. 219.

[81]Nicolson to Grey, (letter), 9 August 1914, 4 p.m., PRO FO 371/2163/37547.

[82]Grey to Bertie, no. 348 urgent, 9 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[83]The Ambassador, Louis Mallet, was in England on leave at the time.

[84]Grey to Beaumont, no. 350, 9 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2163/37547.

[85]Rodd to Foreign Office, no. 200, 9 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2163/37522.



First Class Battleship HMS London

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

The Links Page :

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


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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