When, somewhat to his surprise, Gloucester dropped out of sight Souchon saw his chance to proceed with the collier to the rocky island of Denusa, in the Cyclades, which he had selected as an ideal spot at which to coal, leaving Milne to search dozens of alternatives to the west. As Commander Kettner on Breslau complained that his men desperately needed a rest – an appeal Souchon could not take lightly in view of the sterling efforts of the light cruiser – the ships therefore parted company, with Goeben proceeding to the east of the Cyclades that night and spending the following day (Saturday) cruising slowly in the area between Chios and Andros, while Breslau proceeded to the north of Crete, affording the crews some rest. As the Bogados did not have wireless apparatus, Breslau had to return to Cape Malea on the afternoon of Saturday 8th to relocate the collier, which had remained faithfully on station. Kettner eventually found her about 8 p.m. and put one of his officers, Reserve Lieutenant Hildebrandt, on board to guide the slow moving collier to Denusa while Breslau steamed off at good speed. Goeben, which had spent the day much closer to Denusa, glided into Rusa Bay on the island’s east coast and dropped anchor at 5.32 a.m., Sunday 9 August, followed, just over three hours later, by Breslau. Bogados could make no better than eight knots and, in what must have proved an agonizing wait for Souchon and his men, would spend the best part of the day covering the distance, arriving only at 3.45 p.m.
In the meantime Souchon had sent signalmen ashore to climb the summit of the rocky island and scan the horizon, while a steam pinnace patrolled the southern portion of the island; steam was also raised in the ships’ boilers to enable them to get under way at half an hour’s notice, but the British could neither be seen nor heard on W/T. Had Milne not been thrown off the chase on the previous afternoon by the notorious Admiralty telegram 371 his ships would, at 16 knots, have entered the Aegean at first light on Sunday morning, just before Goeben dropped anchor at Denusa. If, subsequently, the Admiralty had realized on Saturday evening that Milne was then seeking a rendezvous with Troubridge at the entrance to the Adriatic and had promptly re-directed him Milne could have been in the Aegean by noon Sunday, still almost four hours before Souchon’s lifeline, the Bogados, arrived at Denusa. It transpired instead that it was not until midnight of that Sunday night before the British battle cruisers rounded Cape Matapan, by which time coaling had been under way at Denusa for eight hours.
Souchon had also spent a frustrating Sunday attempting, unsuccessfully, to contact Constantinople. He had directed the German steamer General to Smyrna to act as a relay to establish contact with the authorities. General arrived in Smyrna harbour early Sunday afternoon and was able to pass a message to Constantinople through the Consul-General: ‘Absolute military necessity to attack enemy in Black Sea. Do your utmost to ensure that I can pass Straits without delay with permission Turkish Government, in certain circumstances without formal agreement…’ Coaling continued on the two German ships throughout the night, during which Goeben apparently had her net defence rigged against torpedo attack, then at 1 a.m. on the 10th Souchon received from the Naval Attaché in Constantinople, via General, the signal he had been waiting for: enter the Dardanelles, demand the ‘capitulation of the Fortress’ and take on a pilot to guide the ships through the mine barrage. Though the message was not entirely clear Souchon determined to break off the coaling operation soon after first light and set sail for the Dardanelles just before 6 a.m. on the 10th at 18 knots. Goeben had managed to take in 415 tons and Breslau 150 — a pittance in view of the long hours of physical labour but sufficient to provide a margin of safety. Finally, at midday, after sending out further signals, the long delayed message from Berlin directing Souchon to enter the Dardanelles as soon as possible arrived; the Admiral was then only five hours away from his destination.
Milne’s force had finally passed Cape Malea at 4 a.m. on the 10th, an hour before Souchon broke off coaling; the battle cruisers then slowed to 14 knots, 12 miles apart, on a north-easterly course. Milne issued instructions to his battle cruisers and Weymouth at 9.28 a.m., still without any clear idea of where Goeben and Breslau were, or what might be their intentions:
Battlecruisers 10 knots. Inflexible steer for Cape Dimitri and stop when 5 miles distant. Indomitable steer for Cape Tamelos Lea and stop when 5 miles distant. Indefatigable steer for Cyclops Head Sirpho stop when 5 miles distant. Vessels can then command each side. Weymouth 17 knots look in at Milo see if anything there then pass through Siphano Channel go to Syra communicate with English consul get information.
‘And off we went’, recorded Captain Kennedy, ‘…a rare hunt after a couple of faster ships than ourselves in a sea chock full of islands, mostly without telegraphic or rather cable communications. To the lee of many of them the Germans could easily coal…and have got away South to Port Said or Alexandria, sunk all English ships in the latter, before going through the Suez Canal — or got away to the West again, had they desired’. Kennedy’s apprehension was shared by those on the flagship. It should be remembered, in Milne’s defence, that no information as to the political situation in Constantinople had been passed to him, yet he had received a signal that mines had been laid in the Dardanelles leading him to believe that the passage was blocked for all warships. When, therefore, about 10.30 on the morning of the 10th Inflexible picked up W/T signals from Goeben varying from strength 7 to the maximum 12 it was assumed that Souchon was attempting to rejoin the Austrians in the Adriatic by steering south around the British ships causing Milne to alter course to the south-west in an attempt to cut the Germans off. In the event that they tried to run through the Suez Canal Milne telegraphed to the Chargé d’Affaires in Cairo, Mr Cheetham, that Goeben should be blockaded and on no account allowed to pass south. Exactly how poor Cheetham was to accomplish this was not specified and the Chargé, perhaps in desperation, passed on Milne’s admonition to Grey. The Foreign Secretary pedantically replied that, if Goeben entered the Canal, Cheetham was to telegraph for instructions, though Grey did not see how she could be stopped without breaching the Suez Convention.
Incredibly, it appears that, by early on Monday morning at the latest, the Admiralty had now reached a conclusion regarding Souchon’s destination: Captain Dumas arrived at his office at 8.30 that morning and was immediately informed ‘that Goeben and Breslau have passed Syra on their way to Constantinople.’ As there is no record of Nicolson relaying Benckendorff’s warning to the Admiralty on the afternoon of Sunday 9th, the new information which forced the Admiralty to consider Turkey as the eventual destination was almost certainly obtained from a telegram sent that day by the British Chargé in Athens to Grey. Milne was not made aware of this latest appreciation. Instead, the Admiralty signalled at 10.30 on Monday morning that a further two light cruisers should join the search for Goeben ‘which is of paramount importance’. If Dumas was correctly informed, why did the Admiralty not include in this signal the news that Dumas had been made aware of that morning? The only faintly plausible excuse is provided by two consecutive telegrams from the Chargé in Constantinople, both received on Sunday. The first indicated that the Turkish fleet had returned to its base and remained there under the command of the British Admiral on loan to the Turks to re-organize their navy; the second noted that the Turks had supposedly laid additional mines in the Dardanelles at the request of the Russian Ambassador and that, at least as far as the Austrian fleet was concerned, there was no question of Turkish connivance in allowing that fleet through the Dardanelles. Was the effect of this information enough to undermine the intelligence from Greece? Or was it simply the case that the possibility of Goeben going to the Dardanelles was discussed but, as the Second Sea Lord later maintained, this ‘was considered the least likely, and the least harmful thing she could do’? The latter was certainly the view at the British Legation in Athens where it was thought that the Admiralty would have been very pleased as, if the German ships made it to Constantinople, ‘they would be sterilized there — out of action.’ This sentiment even extended to those aboard Milne’s ships. Inconveniently for those holding this view, there were clear indications that, by Monday, the Admiralty were of the opinion that ‘Turkey is practically certain to side against us shortly’ in which case there was the distinct possibility that the German ships might not be interned but be used to augment the fleet of a prospective enemy of the Triple Entente. Unhappily, with regard to Milne and his blind pursuit, no-one put two and two together, and the C-in-C continued to remain in the dark.
Indeed, as Milne continued on his new – southerly – course, steaming in almost the opposite direction to Souchon, Goeben’s signals were picked up even more loudly, justifying his belief that she was somewhere to the south, trying to slip back through the Cervi Channel. The instruction to Weymouth to put in at Syra was therefore cancelled at 11.50 a.m. and the cruiser was also ordered to search the area bounded by Serpho, Thermia and Lea and then rejoin the Squadron. By 1 p.m. Milne thought he had Goeben again: he signalled to Weymouth, ‘Goeben is near you if you see Goeben shadow her.’ But it was another trick of atmospherics and, throughout the early afternoon, the signals weakened forcing Milne at 3.10 p.m. to reduce speed, turn his ships around, and resume a north-easterly course. Even now, Constantinople barely figured in Milne’s calculations. Milne was later to argue that, after entering the Aegean, Goeben had but four options: (1) to take refuge in a Greek port, (2) to try to interrupt the flow of Serbian supplies by attacking Salonica, (3) to turn south and attempt to attack British shipping off Alexandria and Port Said, or, (4) to return westward and try to escape through Gibraltar. At 5.34 p.m. the order for Weymouth to investigate Syra was re-activated; it was too late. Half an hour earlier Goeben, off Cape Helles, had hoisted the flag to request a pilot, whereupon a Turkish torpedo boat emerged from the Straits and guided the Germans through.
The British Vice-Consul at the Dardanelles immediately telegraphed the Admiralty, ‘10th August 8.30 p.m. Goeben arrived, Breslau arrived. Acknowledge this.’ Although the signal was handed in that night at 10.45 p.m., it was not received in the War Room till 9.47 the following morning, and was shortly joined by a second signal from the Dardanelles, in a different code, reporting that the German consul had gone to meet two large warships. But the Admiralty would have none of it and the telegrams were minuted ‘Consider no action be taken. Information may be false.’ These suspicions were based on the fact that the same Vice-Consul had reported, some days previously, that he was only allowed to telegraph en clair and that he believed both the codes he possessed had been compromised; the Admiralty suspected therefore that both telegrams were bogus, and had been sent by the Germans. During the night Weymouth had searched the harbour at Syra and found only three steamers; then on the morning of 11 August Gloucester, which had been detached by Troubridge on Admiralty instructions, joined the search. Milne signalled her, in desperation, ‘Call at Syra – see Consul – Get all information about German cruisers – Did they come there. No information coming from Syra or elsewhere…’ The C-in-C’s misery was finally ended at 11.30 a.m. when he received a telegram from Malta that Goeben and Breslau had arrived at the Dardanelles the previous night. Weymouth was immediately instructed to proceed to the Dardanelles with all dispatch and, if nothing could be seen, ‘to pass up to Chanak, hugging the European shore to avoid the minefield.’
As she proceeded, confirming signals were received in London, including one from the Chargé in Athens that Goeben and Breslau had been detected in the Dardanelles by a Greek destroyer and by the Greek W/T station on Tenedos. At 12.47 p.m. a signal, drafted by Battenberg, was sent to Milne passing on the report from the Vice-Consul and instructing the C-in-C to ‘establish a blockade of the Dardanelles for the present, but be on the lookout for mines.’  Weymouth arrived off the entrance at 4.45 p.m. when she was met by two Turkish torpedo boats who instructed Captain Church to heave to while they ‘steamed round my stern read the ship’s name saluted most politely and dashed off to the mouth of the Dardanelles, paying no attention to my signals applying for a Pilot or my signs to them to stop so that I might communicate with them.’ Captain Church then moved to within two miles of the shore, which resulted in two blank shots being fired, while the shore signal station, in response to repeated requests for a pilot, replied that it was ‘not practicable’. In the meantime Milne queried Battenberg’s signal: was the blockade to be formal and did it apply to all vessels or just German ships? Realizing that he had gone too far, the First Sea Lord replied at 11.35 p.m.: ‘…no blockade intended only to carefully watch the entrance in case cruisers come out.’ Captain Church spent the night anxiously awaiting for Goeben and Breslau to reappear; but, instead of the German cruisers, Weymouth was approached at 8 o’clock the following morning, Tuesday 12 August, by a Turkish torpedo boat wishing to communicate. In halting English from a Turkish military officer Captain Church was given the stunning news that Goeben and Breslau were at Constantinople and had been bought by the Turks.
The arrival of the German ships off the Dardanelles had caused just as much confusion among the Turkish military authorities at Chanak, who promptly telegraphed Constantinople at once for instructions. As always, Souchon had his own plan: if the Turks vacillated he would force the Straits. His Flag Lieutenant had served in Constantinople during the Turco-Italian war, knew where the Turkish minefields had been laid for that conflict, and guessed that the dispositions would remain unchanged, allowing a free passage along the European side. After some initial hesitation, Souchon was eventually given permission to enter the Dardanelles. Enver Pasha, the Turkish Minister for War, was to declare to his colleagues that he had offered sanctuary as he ‘did not want to condemn the ships of an allied state to certain destruction.’ Nevertheless, it was evident that there would be diplomatic repercussions and, as a concession, it was decided that the ships should be disarmed. The German Ambassador, Wangenheim, however, flatly refused to consent to this proposal. Faced with this intransigence, the Turkish Cabinet now split, with Enver in particular supporting Wangenheim’s assertion that the ships should remain ready for action, while the Grand Vizier, Said Halim, and others favoured a compromise ‘so that in view of our position at the moment we could delay our entry into the war as much as possible.’ The impasse was broken when a novel suggestion was made: ‘Could not the Germans have previously sold us these units? Could not their arrival be regarded as delivery under the Contract?’ Wangenheim was summoned. The Grand Vizier was already in an ill temper and, when the German Ambassador arrived, he was dressed down by Said Halim who objected strongly to Souchon’s ‘premature arrival’. A further round of talks ensued between Said Halim, Talaat and Wangenheim after which it was finally agreed that the ships could remain — on three conditions. First, the German ships would have to be anchored in a ‘remote spot’ in the Sea of Marmora; second, they would have to be transferred to Turkish ownership by a fictitious sale; and last, they were not to enter the Black Sea until a firm commitment had been obtained from Bulgaria for common action against Russia. On 11 August an official communiqué was released to the Press announcing the sale to Turkey of the two German ships for 80 million marks.
In London, the Cabinet was not unduly concerned: ‘As we shall insist that the Goeben should be manned by a Turkish instead of a German crew,’ the Prime Minister noted, ‘it doesn’t much matter: as the Turkish sailors cannot navigate her — except on to rocks or mines.’