Mark Kerr was untypical of flag officers in the Royal Navy prior to the Great War although his service record would not instantly reveal any deviation from the ordered and orthodox route followed by so many of his contemporaries. He joined the navy as a cadet in 1877, in the same term as Princes Edward and George, then, as a junior midshipman in the Flying Squadron, he toured the world in Inconstant whose gunnery lieutenant, Percy Scott, would later revolutionize the art of naval gunnery.
In July 1882 Kerr took part, albeit in a minor way, in the Egyptian War when he was directed to land a company of the Naval Brigade at Alexandria. On the last day of that month, at Ras-el-Tin, he was placed under the command of Prince Louis of Battenberg: their association would last for the rest of Prince Louis’ life, and Kerr would become his first biographer. A sub-lieutenant by 1885 and flag-lieutenant to Admiral Sir Antony Hoskins in the Mediterranean between 1889-92, Kerr was gazetted Captain on 1 January 1903 and became a member of the Fourth Class of the Royal Victorian Order on 9 October that year. He also did a stint as Naval Attaché, visiting Constantinople in 1904 and staying long enough to write a scathing report on the state of the Turkish Navy. By 1905 he was Flag-Captain of HMS Drake, flagship of Prince Louis; there then followed periods in command of the battle cruiser Invincible (March 1909-March 1911) and one of the latest super dreadnoughts, King George V.
Kerr should have been the epitome of the big gun, battleship admiral; yet he was not. An early proponent of the convoy system, his 1911 paper on the subject fell on deaf ears while his Plans for War Against Germany in the North Sea was radical to the point of foolhardiness: Battenberg, now First Sea Lord, had summoned Kerr from King George V at Portsmouth in November 1912 to inform him that the current war plan against Germany was ‘plain suicide’. Could Kerr return to his ship and formulate a new plan? Using a chart of the North Sea and models of ‘destroyers, light cruisers and also two other hitherto unknown vessels now called aeroplane-carriers’ Kerr worked out a scheme whereby the battleships and battle cruisers would be based, respectively, on the south-west coast of Ireland and north-west coast of Scotland while the North Sea would become a “British flotilla’s lake” patrolled by cruisers, destroyers, submarines and seaplane-carriers. On 30 November 1912 the First Lord, Winston Churchill, boarded the Admiralty yacht Enchantress at Portsmouth; the next day he inspected King George V. Noticing the chart and models set out on Kerr’s dining table, Churchill asked for an explanation and then observed, ‘I like that idea of no capital ships in the North Sea. Send it up to me.’ Kerr duly sent his plan to the Admiralty, ‘and when they had finished with it, it was like Shakespeare’s play of Hamlet with the Prince of Denmark left out.’ Indeed Kerr had previously been ‘heckled’ because of his belief in the power of the submarine as an offensive weapon: in the 1910 manoeuvres Kerr’s ship, Invincible, was the only one to be ‘sunk’ during the submarine attacks. On being quizzed, Kerr punctiliously informed the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet, ‘When the dummy torpedo strikes the Invincible, and I do not think that my gunners could have knocked away the periscope of the submarine before the torpedo has left her tube, I report myself sunk.’
One of Churchill’s first acts, upon his transfer from the Home Office to the Admiralty in October 1911, had been to seek the advice of Admiral Sir John Fisher, who was not slow to offer it: ‘Battenberg is ideal for First Sea Lord — he has to perfection the German faculty of organising a great Naval Staff and in debates at the Committee of Imperial Defence you will find him incomparable but again this is dependent on your having Captain Mark Kerr as your private Secretary…’ As Fisher explained to J. A. Spender, ‘Captain Mark Kerr should be Winston’s private Secretary as he is the ablest Captain on the Navy List and he’s a bosom friend of Battenberg so Winston will use him to “engineer” Battenberg in times of friction (such times must always be!)…’ Churchill, eager to oust the incumbent First Sea Lord, Admiral Wilson, who was vigorously opposed to the formation of a naval War Staff, had wanted to bring Fisher back. Asquith, on the other hand, agreed with Fisher that Battenberg was an excellent choice until, that is, he sounded out Lloyd George who ‘was horrified at the idea of a German holding the supreme place.’ Asquith thought Lloyd George an excellent “foolometer”, in tune with public opinion which would, therefore, also be against the appointment. Fisher, who had been privy to Churchill’s thoughts on the various appointments, now suggested that Kerr should become Fourth Sea Lord while Battenberg, if not acceptable as First Sea Lord, would as Controller (Churchill’s latest suggestion) still ‘dominate the Sea Lords and play your game. Battenberg will be faithful because he has no friends at all — probably only you & me & Mark Kerr!’ A compromise appointment as First Sea Lord, Sir Francis Bridgeman, was announced on 28 November 1911; Battenberg became the Second Sea Lord; there was no place for Kerr.
Indeed Kerr was becoming difficult to place anywhere when, perhaps to Churchill’s relief, a perfect opportunity presented itself in the form of the nascent Greek Navy. A minor naval arms’ race was in progress between Greece and Turkey, both of whom were attempting to acquire dreadnoughts from various sources. For some years a British Naval Mission had been assisting the Turks in the, at times, almost hopeless task of modernizing the Ottoman Navy while a smaller mission, headed by Rear-Admiral Lionel Tufnell, was similarly assisting the Greeks. However, the British officers in Athens – unlike their counterparts in Constantinople – were not on the active list of the Royal Navy. Objecting to the appointment of ‘naval pensioners’ the Greeks did not renew the contracts of Tufnell and his officers and requested, instead, officers from the active list. Churchill replied to the Greek Minister of Marine on 2 June 1913:
Although at the present time the rapid expansion of the British naval forces imposes a considerable strain upon our own resources in personnel, Prince Louis of Battenberg and I are anxious on grounds of general naval policy to do our best to meet your wishes. The actual numbers and rank of the officers who would be employed should not be settled until after consultation with the head of the mission. Without however going into that or any other detail in this letter, I can assure you that we are prepared to place some of the best officers on the active list of the British Navy at your disposal. There is, however, one indispensable condition. We cannot ask officers who have the brightest prospects for advancement in the British Service to leave the great fleets in home waters for service under the Greek Navy unless it is certain that their professional duties in the Greek Navy will be of a real and responsible character, and that they will have effective authority to discharge those responsibilities to the advantage of the Greek Navy and their own reputation. If you feel able to put me in a position to give the necessary assurances, I should propose to invite Rear-Admiral Mark Kerr to head the Naval Mission to Greece. This is one of the most gifted and brilliant officers in our service, of whom we fully expect in the future that he will rise at an early age to the most important commands. I am confident that there is no man who could more effectively aid the development of Greek naval power up to the point where it will be fully equal to the emergencies of the future…
There is no doubt that it was Battenberg who was responsible for promoting Kerr’s name for the position.
Earlier that year, on 18 March, King George I of Greece had been assassinated in Salonica (the day before he was due to visit Goeben) elevating Prince Constantine, who was married to the Kaiser’s sister, to the throne. While the Kaiser would have been pleased to see Greece move closer to the Triple Alliance, if not actually joining it, the natural reluctance of Italy and Austria and the problem of the clash of interests involved in a close German association with both Greece and Turkey meant that, for Greece at least, Germany would remain no more than a ‘good friend’. Nevertheless, conscious of the intimate association between the Greek and German royal families and of sections of the Greek establishment who would have preferred closer ties with Germany, Churchill sought to apprise Kerr of his responsibilities by instructing the First Sea Lord to warn him
against imparting to the Greek Government and to Greek naval officers, naval information of a specially secret character. It is not intended that the instruction and assistance we are giving to the Greek Navy should place them on the same level of naval science as the British. The refinements of our gunnery, torpedo, and submarine courses should not be disclosed but only that general information such as would be appropriate to foreign officers allowed for instructional purposes to attend certain courses. It must be continually borne in mind that information imparted to the Greek Government or the Greek Navy may be transmitted to Germany, and that we have no corresponding method of obtaining information of German developments. Admiral Mark Kerr will be held responsible that due caution and restraint is observed by him and by the officers of the Mission generally: and he should be told to ask for precise instructions on any point on which he is in doubt.
Kerr travelled to Athens in the late summer of 1913 to become Commander-in-Chief of the Greek Navy.
In the course of his duties Kerr would naturally have come into contact with King Constantine: George Mélas, the King’s secretary, was later to write, ‘I had told the Admiral that whenever he wished to see His Majesty, he had but to ring up and I would take him into the King, without formality and bother, without aide-de-camp or Court Chamberlain.’ Their ensuing friendship would have been strengthened by the fact that Battenberg’s eldest daughter, Princess Alice, had married Prince Andrew of Greece, while the King’s brother-in-law, the German Emperor, was godfather to Kerr’s daughter. Besides, Kerr had a weak-ness for kings, a fact pounced upon by Compton Mackenzie, the garrulous and opinionated Scots author who never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Mackenzie indulged in a spot of amateur spying in Greece during 1915 at which time he formed a low opinion of Constantine and, by association, of those who supported the King. ‘I do not fancy that Admiral Kerr’s devoted and unfaltering loyalty to King Constantine was inspired so much by the Hellenic Crown upon his high-domed head’, the acerbic Scot has written Mackenzie subsequently opined, ‘as by the Admiral’s association of his own personality with that of Lord Nelson. I would hazard a guess that his championship of the Glücksburgs in Greece was linked in his mind with Nelson’s championship of the Bourbons in Naples. Admiral Kerr was genuinely convinced the King Constantine was a much maligned and greatly wronged man. No consideration for his own career ever allowed him to abate in the slightest degree his advocacy of the King’s case.’ Mackenzie speculated that the ‘conspicuous neglect to recognize [Kerr’s] services’ (the 1913 CB was the last honour Kerr would ever receive) was due to ‘political indiscretion’.
Certainly Kerr never got off on the right foot with the Greek Prime Minister Eleutherios Venizelos: his advice, for example, regarding the types of vessel best suited to fight the Turks was tactically sound but not what Venizelos wanted to hear. Large battleships, Kerr argued, were ‘useless’ in the narrow waters of the Aegean and the battle cruiser then being built for Greece in Germany should therefore be sold: in their place should be substituted a fleet of cruisers, destroyers and submarines, plus an air service. It was hardly original, but it made sense; Venizelos, however, favoured the prestige value of battleships and, not surprisingly, suggested that Greek naval officers would hold similar views. Nevertheless Kerr flung himself into his work, a consequence of his passionate nature and, within months, sent the following extraordinary request to his patron, Battenberg:
…if war [between Greece and Turkey] is likely in the spring or summer  could we get from Gt Britain some submarines and destroyers just completed and if possible a light cruiser or two, in exchange for those of ours which will be partially built?…No one in England seems to realise the situation here and how easily war can come. However, war or no war we want help and encouragement. Another point – If war breaks out in the spring or summer when we are so weak, I feel I should change my nationality and fight for these people. I know it means ruin for me afterwards, but I have a strong feeling that I should do so. I would not feel so, except for the fact that they will be so weak, having no one who knows how to work a flotilla and I may make the difference of victory or defeat. I am quite serious about this and only ask you to be so good as to find out the legal point. I prefer not to be an outlaw, and I prefer to be able to come home some day…Please let me know the legal way of doing this thing and I think I may have to do it. Ever yours aff[ectionate]y.
In a cauldron of boiling emotions, a cooler head would have been wiser though, in this respect at least, Kerr was not too dissimilar to his fellow officers attempting to reorganize the Ottoman Navy. But in the tangled and turbulent Balkans in which Kerr was suddenly catapulted the Admiral risked going in above his head. The pressure on that unfortunate area had been building for years; although Kerr’s arrival coincided with the end of the Second Balkan War it was not the end of the tension. The strains developing in the Balkan peninsula, that unhappy mixture of ambitious states and would-be states, had been evident for some time and, to understand the complex position in which Kerr then found himself, it is necessary to examine the course of recent events.
With the collapse of Turkey-in-Europe ever more likely and Greek interests thereby vitally affected the Greeks had sought strength on land through a system of loose alliances with neighbouring states and strength at sea through a revivified navy. Earlier in the century, the navy had been in turmoil culminating, in October 1909, in what was described as ‘the most notable event in the history of the Greek Navy’: a mutiny at Salamis, ostensibly to demand the removal of aged or inefficient officers. After a brief exchange between the mutineers and a loyal squadron, resulting in six deaths, the revolt was quashed. Political reaction was immediate; the Minister of Finance demanded authorization for a large increase in naval expenditure, the bulk of which would go towards purchasing a new armoured cruiser then building at the Orlando yard, Leghorn. Over a quarter of the £950,750 purchase price of the heavy cruiser was bequeathed by Giorgio Averoff and the vessel, launched on 12 March 1910, was named in his honour.
In Constantinople the previous month the Turkish Chamber of Deputies had
sanctioned the Bill for the naval programme prepared by Rear-Admiral Sir Douglas
Gamble, the outgoing head of the British Naval Mission there; however, the long delay before any results would be forthcoming led to the Turkish purchase, in August, of two superannuated German battleships of the Brandenburg class – almost 20 years old – to counter Averoff.
It was up to Greece to make the next move and, as further expenditure on ships was impossible, the obvious step was an approach to London for a British Naval Mission of their own — other than the prestige value, this would demonstrate to the Turks that the Greeks also meant business. The Admiralty was happy to oblige (assuming, no doubt, that orders for British equipment would soon follow) and the first head of the Greek Mission, Admiral Tufnell – the ‘naval pensioner’ to whom the Greeks later objected – arrived in Athens in the spring of 1911. The next move was Turkey’s: the major part of the Turkish programme was implemented by placing contracts in May 1911 for the construction of two dreadnoughts in British yards. The predictable response by Greece was to request that tenders be submitted in 1912 for a battle cruiser which resulted in the representatives of the major armaments’ combines descending on Athens. The French complained that the British would receive preferential treatment due to the presence of the Naval Mission; the Greeks themselves were opposed to everything British (except the Mission); and Admiral Tufnell was ignored, which resulted in the somewhat unfair accusation by the British Minister at Athens that he was not sufficiently self-assertive. One-by-one the British firms dropped out, much to the chagrin of the Foreign Office who thought that, though by no means the cheapest tender, the contract should, nevertheless, go to Britain in appreciation for the loan of the naval mission. The way was apparently left open to the French but they too were to be disappointed when the order was eventually placed with the German yard, Vulkan.
There were dark mutterings of political pressure being applied – denied by Venizelos – that the tender was artificially low, with any loss incurred by Vulkan being underwritten by the German Government. Admiral Tufnell, in an invidious position, criticized the design proposals of the Greek Ministry of Marine, commenting that the British firms had lost out by being frank in their admission that a battle cruiser built to the Greek specifications could not have been seaworthy. Although this view was vindicated when the design was later altered, Tufnell’s standing was lowered further. In some British eyes he was a liability; however, his contract was with the Greek Government and the request for his removal would have to come from that source. As anticipated, Tufnell’s contract was not renewed, resulting in the invitation to London for a serving officer and the appointment of Kerr.
Adding a sense of urgency to Greek re-armament was the parlous state of the Ottoman Empire, which was beginning to crumble: a lumbering animal surrounded by snapping dogs. Internal revolt had been simmering for some time when, finally, long standing ambitions on the African littoral and the smokescreen of the 1911 Moroccan crisis resulted in Italy’s attempt to take a bite out of the Ottoman Empire; Italy declared war on Turkey on 29 September 1911. The first hole had been gouged out of the ramshackle edifice of the Empire. The marked disparity in the respective naval forces ensured Italy a free rein in the Eastern Mediterranean and spurred on the Turks in their desire for a modern navy. Few Turkish ships could venture outside the safe haven of the Dardanelles, which lead to a demonstration by the Italians designed to show the Turks the manifest superiority of the Italian fleet while also offering – if they desired – battle to the Turks, who wisely chose not to accept. At daybreak on 18 April 1912 the Second Division of the First Italian Squadron, under Rear-Admiral Presbitero, consisting of Pisa and Amalfi (sister ships of Greece’s Averoff) and San Marco appeared off the entrance to the Dardanelles. By 9 a.m., with no sign of the Turkish Navy leaving its Nagara Anchorage, the rest of the Italian fleet hove into view and poured fire into the Turkish forts. The demonstration had no military value and won the Italians few friends. It was quickly followed by the Italian occupation of the Dodecanese Islands, offering further proof that Turkey was helpless at sea.
Unfortunately for the Italians, these futile exercises also illustrated the limitations of sea power for, ‘despite her mastery afloat, Italy, in the presence of Turkey’s formidable army on the mainland, was unable to push home her victories to a decisive point.’ After protracted negotiations a treaty of peace, recognizing Italian sovereignty over Libya, was signed in Lausanne on 18 October 1912. Turkey had finished with one war only to be embroiled, before the ink was dry on the peace treaty, in a far more dangerous conflict against that unholy alliance, the Balkan League.
Fate (or, if you will, geological forces) had decreed, by a quirk of geography that separated two continents by the narrow width of the Bosphorus, that Turkey would have legitimate interests both in Europe and in Asia. Turkey-in-Europe, surrounded by vigorous, emerging states was most at risk: agitation had been rife in Macedonia since the turn of the century and this was compounded by the formation of organized op-position in Albania from 1910. Despite a promising start in 1908, the Young Turk revolution, and its guiding light, the Committee of Union and Progress (C.U.P.), had once more resorted to repression — the C.U.P. misread the Albanian situation. The Albanian revolt of 1911 had ‘secured concessions by force of arms and this example would hardly be lost upon other groups in Turkey-in-Europe who had both a stronger record of recent opposition to Constantinople and allies in the surrounding Balkan states.’ Fears that Austria or Italy would interfere in Albania, combined with Russian pressure, led to a Serbian approach to Bulgaria to attempt to reconcile the competing aims of the restless states: the Serbs desired an outlet to the sea; Bulgaria and Greece looked to carve up Macedonia; and Montenegro would not be left out of the anticipated division of the spoils as the frontier of Turkey-in-Europe was pushed back, by force of arms if necessary.
The Times’ correspondent in the Balkans, J. D. Bourchier, having long urged the formation of a Balkan League, was commissioned early in 1911 by the Bulgarian Prime Minister to discuss with Venizelos the possibility of an alliance with Greece; nothing came of this initial approach. As, indeed, the equally desultory Bulgaro-Serb talks seemed destined to accomplish little — until, that is, the Italians seized the initiative elsewhere. The shock provided by the outbreak of the Tripoli War was the fillip needed to encourage the Bulgarians and Serbs to sink their differences and, eventually, on 13 March (new style) 1912, a Treaty of Friendship and Alliance between Bulgaria and Serbia was concluded in Sofia. As the contracting states desired a free hand so Article 2 provided that a casus belli would be constituted as a result of ‘any Great Power attempting to annex, occupy, or even temporarily to invade with its armies any part of the Balkan territories which are today under Turkish rule.’ The inevitable secret annex left them free to decide at what stage internal troubles in Turkey would upset the status quo in the Balkan Peninsula and also provided a further sop to their consciences (if that were needed) by using the Russians as referees. A preliminary division of the expected spoils was also confidently agreed upon and, two months later, a military convention between the two kingdoms was signed.
The rapid progress made in the strength and training of the Greek Army made Greece a natural candidate, politically and militarily, to join the League if a way could be found to circumvent Greek concerns that autonomy for Macedonia would result in the province being eventually absorbed by Bulgaria. Negotiations were conducted in great haste, again under the aegis of Mr Bourchier, and a secret defensive alliance between Bulgaria and Greece was signed at Sofia on 29 May (new style) 1912. This time, however, there were no provisions to divide the spoils or to accommodate Greek expansionary desires: ‘an indication less of the treaty’s defensive nature that of the precipitate haste with which it had been concluded, and of the irreconcilable nature of Greek and Bulgarian claims.’ Both Venizelos and Gueshov preferred this arrangement, which would leave their hands free. The Bulgarians (unconvinced of the revitalization of the Greek Army) believed that in a war against Turkey the Greeks would be incapable of advancing beyond the borderlands of Thessaly and Northern Epirus so giving Serbia and Bulgaria carte blanche in Macedonia. As a result of this false assumption the main Bulgarian forces were concentrated in Thrace for a quick advance on Constantinople: it would be the Greeks who had a free hand in southern Macedonia.
Tension mounted throughout the summer of 1912, fanned by further Albanian unrest, until, finally, the Balkan League mobilized on 30 September. By arrangement, Montenegro made the first move, declaring war on Turkey on 8 October, although there was some speculation at the time that King Nicholas of Montenegro had jumped the gun to make a killing of a different sort by “bearing” the stock markets in Vienna and elsewhere. Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece followed suit on 17 October and Turkey reciprocated the following day. From the start the war went disastrously for the Turks as three of the four members of the League quickly marched to their respective primary objectives: before the end of the month, the Montenegrins had invested Scutari and the Serbs besieged Uskub, while Salonica surrendered to the Greeks on 8 November. The Bulgarians, involved in the heaviest fighting and directed against the main Turkish army rather than towards easy territorial conquest, had invested the key strategic city of Adrianople by 23 October when it appeared that the fall of the Turkish capital could not be long delayed. Finally, the last bastion of defence for Constantinople – the Tchatalja lines – was assaulted by a massive Bulgarian attack in mid-November, despite an earlier request by the Turks for an armistice.
To general surprise, the Turkish lines held. Following this unexpected check and a perhaps more predictable outbreak of cholera amongst their troops, the Bulgarians adopted a more conciliatory tone and (in conjunction with the Serbs) an armistice was arranged on 3 December; the Greeks, however, would not sign as they wished to continue their naval blockade. Despite this cynical Greek opportunism, all the warring states sent representatives to the St James’s Conference convened in London on 16 December. Grey and the German Foreign Minister, Kiderlen, had originally suggested a more informal meeting of ambassadors in an obvious attempt to distance the Great Powers from what would be inevitably – and particularly for Grey – a tiresome task. Indeed Grey had initially been keen to avoid London as the setting for the conference, hopefully suggesting Paris as a more likely venue. Even so, once under way, the future of an autonomous Albania was quickly decided, in time to allow Grey a Christmas break. Unfortunately, Kiderlen died suddenly of a stroke on 30 December, to be replaced as Foreign Minister by Jagow, the Ambassador in Rome. To complicate matters further, there surfaced the danger of a renewed outbreak of fighting as the Turks, taking advantage of the armistice, regrouped and gathered strength behind the Tchatalja lines while remaining in possession of Adrianople, Scutari and Janina. Past military disasters were soon forgotten, to be replaced by a new-found belligerency as the Turks refused to lie down and submit before their putative conquerors. By early January 1913 Grey reported the latest proposal to the Cabinet, put forward by Italy with the support of Germany and Austria, that ‘in consideration of the cessation of Adrianople, Turkey should be allowed to retain in the Aegean the four islands near the mouth of the Dardanelles together with Mitylene and Chios on the Adriatic coast.’ Grey, however, sensibly objected to this as ‘it would involve the Powers in the obligation to use force, either in putting the Turks back in the islands (whose populations are Greek in race and sympathies) or, subsequently, in putting down the agitation, which is certain to follow, for annexations to Greece…’ It was proposed instead that the islands should go to Greece, ‘subject to stringent conditions to prevent their being made use of for naval or military purpose, or being ceded to any other Power.’ In the meantime, with the Peace Conference temporarily suspended, a collective démarche was to be made by the Powers to the Sublime Porte ‘with the view especially of inducing the Turks to take a more reasonable attitude in regard to Adrianople. It was resolved (in concert with the other Powers) to send back two ships to Besika Bay.’
The naval war had been of little interest. Following the Italian example in the Dodecanese the Greeks had, by October 1912, seized the islands of Lemnos, Thasos, Samothrace, Imbros and Tenedos while Chios, the last of the more important islands of the archipelago, was occupied on 2 January 1913. The Greeks were in complete control of the Ionian Sea, the Turks of the Sea of Marmora — only the Aegean remained in dispute and, with the temporary lull on the land, the Turks prepared for a final naval effort against the Greeks with whom they were evenly matched. On 14 January an assortment of ships ventured forth from the Dardanelles as a feint to mask the dispatch of the cruiser Hamidieh on a raiding foray destined to last till August. There was some conjecture that Hamidieh was itself meant as a decoy to lure away part of the Greek fleet, in all probability Averoff which was the main qualitative difference between the fleets. The ruse, if indeed that was what it was, failed for, when the major part of the Turkish fleet emerged from the Straits on the morning of 18 January, Admiral Condouriotis and the Greek Squadron were waiting for them. The engagement began at 11.25 a.m. and lasted three hours by which time the Turkish fleet had retired once more inside the Straits, with the centre turret of Barbarossa destroyed and Turgut Reis damaged. Averoff was slightly damaged also but, by 5.10 p.m., Condouriotis was able to report with his customary bravado that he had defeated the enemy’s fleet.
On the day before this charade was enacted at the Dardanelles the démarche had been received in Constantinople: Turkey would be thrown to the wolves if she refused to follow the advice of the Powers to cede Adrianople and refer the fate of the Aegean Islands to the benevolent offices of the Powers. The Turkish Cabinet, meeting on 22/23 January, had (albeit with little option) agreed to the démarche and had drafted a reply. It was never delivered. The Young Turks – in the guise of Enver Bey and Talaat Bey, assisted by 40 armed men – stormed the Palace and forced the resignation of the Grand Vizier, Kiamil Pasha. The reply was redrafted, agreeing now only to the cession of part of Adrianople and pointing out the strategic value of the Islands for the defence of the Ottoman Empire. With the expiration of the armistice on 3 February the bombardment of Adrianople recommenced and, one by one, the Turkish garrisons capitulated: first Janina, then, on 26 March, Adrianople, and finally Scutari. Constantinople was once again threatened and, at the London Peace Conference, the possibility was discussed of sending an international fleet to maintain order and prevent military operations on the northern shores of the Sea of Marmora.
There was no need: each member of the Balkan League had achieved its objective. On 5 May a draft peace treaty was submitted by Grey who then waited till the end of the month before losing patience and delivering what amounted to an ultimatum to the unholy alliance. In the face of this unexpected annoyance from the Foreign Secretary – proof that even a rabbit will bite back – the Treaty of London was duly signed on 30 May. Under Article 2 Turkey lost all her European territory west of the Enos-Midia line; under article 4 she lost Crete. Articles 3 and 5 placed the fate of Albania and the Aegean Islands in the hands of the Powers. Yet, whatever the Treaty of London might have achieved, it could not prevent a falling out between the former allies. On the day following its signing the Serbs and Greeks signed a secret military convention directed against their erstwhile companion in arms, Bulgaria. Meanwhile, the Bulgarians believed that the share of the spoils should be directly proportional to the military and financial effort expended by each of the allies; needless to say, under such a scheme, Bulgaria stood to gain most. Relations between the so-called allies soon became increasingly acrimonious: what the Bulgarians could not have by negotiation they would take by force. After a regrouping of their forces the Bulgarian Army attacked Greek and Serbian positions on the night of 29/30 June 1913. According to a leading historian of these events,
The responsibility for this disastrous act has never been clearly established and may well have been the result of the confused state of politics in Bulgaria, where power lay in a variety of mutually suspicious and competing centres, such as the army, the cabinet, the King and his private secretary. Wherever responsibility lay it was soon clear that the decision was calamitous. The Bulgarians had believed that Austria and Russia would restrain Rumania and that Turkey would never be allowed to reconquer territory liberated by the allied armies, and given these two conditions it was assumed that the superior Bulgarian army would rapidly administer defeats severe enough to force the Greeks and Serbs to negotiate directly with Sofia and to persuade them towards conciliation.
Grey reported resignedly to Cabinet that ‘the state of things in the Near East to be that the Balkan allies still called themselves allies; that though not technically “at war” they were fighting battles with one another…’
The anticipated quick Bulgarian victory proved chimerical. Instead, after strong resistance from Greece and Serbia, the fatal blow was struck when the Roumanians, who had wisely remained aloof from the First Balkan War, mobilized on 3 July. Seizing the opportunity thus provided by their neighbour’s vaunting ambition, as the Bulgarians tangled with the fresh Roumanian troops, the Turks recaptured Adrianople on 21 July and the Bulgarians, routed on all fronts, had little choice but to agree to the Treaty of Bucharest (signed on 10 August 1913) by which most of their recent gains were forfeited. The new Greco-Bulgarian frontier now extended to the mouth of the Mesta on the Aegean but another point of contention now arose as both Greece and Bulgaria had coveted the port of Kavalla, claiming economic need above any strategic value, a claim undermined on the Greek side at least by that country’s possession of Salonica. And, whereas Austria supported Bulgaria as a counter to Serbian expansion while Russia also supported Bulgaria to prevent Greek encroachment towards Constantinople, France supported the Greeks, as did Britain (but only after a change of heart by Grey): Germany, it seemed, held the casting vote. Through the agency of the German Minister in Athens, the Kaiser’s sister had telegraphed an appeal by her husband, King Constantine, for Wilhelm to ‘put in a good word’ with King Carol of Rumania. This appeal came at a time when, following the death of Kiderlen, Wilhelm undertook to play a more forward rôle in the formulation of foreign policy. His hopes of a closer alignment with Greece would naturally occasion opposition in view of Germany’s interests in Turkey but there was good reason to believe that, despite this, Greece herself would not prove an unwilling partner. Constantine made the appropriate noises of gratitude in Athens while the Greek envoy, Theotokis, had earlier visited Berlin in an unofficial capacity and intimated Greek willingness to join the Triple Alliance.
Constantine himself travelled to Berlin in September where, on the 6th, he received from his brother-in-law the baton of a German field marshal, the Collar of the Black Eagle, and the Colonelcy of the 2nd Nassau Infantry Regiment. The King then proceeded to make a tactless speech in which he attributed the much improved performance of the Greek Army to the ‘principles of warfare that he and his officers had learned from the Prussian General Staff’ ignoring the efforts of the French Military Mission which had been in place in Athens since 1908. This diplomatic gaffe caused Venizelos to interrupt a rest cure and return to Athens to reassure the French Chargé that Constantine was not giving voice to Greek foreign policy. But Constantine’s motive was, in part at least, mercenary even if he was to find that in this case blood was not thicker than water: his approach to the Germans to participate in a new 500 million franc Greek loan was rebuffed by their Foreign Office leaving the way open, eventually, for Venizelos to negotiate the loan in Paris in the spring of 1914 — Wilhelm was playing a lone hand in his Greek policy.
The new state of Albania, whose existence was agreed to by the Ambassador’s Conference but whose precise boundaries would remain a subject of contention, contained a large Greek population (indeed, the Greeks referred to it as Northern Epirus) and, in the circumstances, a condition of almost perpetual anarchy reigned, fomented by Athens. The task of delimiting the boundaries fell to an international commission, organized by the Powers in the late summer of 1913. It did not take long for there to be a falling out: the interests of Austria-Hungary and Italy coincided over Albania and lead to a joint démarche being delivered at Athens aimed at trying to prevent insurrection among Greeks in Albania. Germany, however, still sought to draw Greece closer to the Triple Alliance with Wilhelm’s preferred option being a fanciful Greco-Turk alliance intrinsically bound to the Triple Alliance. Venizelos, instead, attempted to turn the Albanian issue to his advantage when in December 1913 he informed Elliot, the British Minister in Athens, that he would resign sooner than accept the Powers’ decision on the frontier of southern Albania but that, if he remained in office, he could perhaps put the case that Greek withdrawal from Epirus should be balanced by the annexation to Greece of those Aegean Islands formerly Turkish but which had been occupied by Greece during the Balkan wars. To assuage the Turks (at no cost to Greece, naturally) perhaps the Italians could withdraw from their gains in the Dodecanese, which might then become autonomous under Turkish suzerainty? Alarmed by both Venizelos’ threat to scupper the Albanian commission’s work and by Italian ambitions in the Eastern Mediterranean, Grey readily took the bait. This ‘linkage’ of the issues of Albania and the Aegean Islands raised more problems however — while rumours floated of Turkish preparations to regain some of the islands, France and Russia agreed to the terms of Grey’s note but Italy objected to Grey’s contention that the presence of a Great Power in the Aegean rendered the situation ‘abnormal’. However, the burning issue remained the question of enforcement, a job which no-one understandably wished to undertake. Although notes were presented and negotiations continued, without the visible threat of coercion, the islands’ question had reached a stalemate. The time had now come for Greece and Turkey to take matters into their own hands. This was the situation as Kerr found it upon his arrival in late 1913.
When, subsequently, Venizelos met Grey in London in January 1914 to broach the idea of an entente between Greece and England to preserve the status quo in the Mediterranean the Foreign Secretary thought the idea premature and was at pains to avoid offending the susceptibilities of the other Powers. As with all the crafty Cretan’s actions, altruism always took second place to calculated self-interest: Venizelos remained so concerned at the forthcoming acquisition by Turkey of the two battleships building in England that, privately, he spoke of a pre-emptive strike against Turkey. Although the Turks were characterized by the British Ambassador, Mallet, as financially embarrassed, powerless at sea, and in a bad military position in Thrace Venizelos was not above scheming to try to strengthen his own, admittedly weak, hand. The Greek Premier innocently inquired of Grey whether there was any objection to him (Venizelos) asking the Powers ‘to guarantee to Greece the peaceful possession of the Islands’. The Foreign Secretary had no objection as long as Venizelos raised the matter in Berlin before making a formal request to the Powers; as far as Grey could recall, no mention was made of a naval demonstration directed against Turkey.
By the end of January, however, the Turks understood, from sources in Paris, that Britain was pressing the other Powers to join a naval demonstration leaving the Grand Vizier, Said Halim, to complain bitterly to Mallet that German, Austrian and Italian objections to the proposal had ‘saved the situation’. Then Ambassador Goschen reported from Berlin that, while there, Venizelos had spoken ‘very freely’ to anyone who would listen on the subject of a naval demonstration, citing Grey’s referral as an excuse. Germany, in fact, had no desire to participate in a display of force against a country they were wooing assiduously and Jagow was quick to assure Goschen of his loyalty adding soothingly that ‘incorrect versions of M Venizelos’ conversations, here and elsewhere…were, without doubt, at the root of the misunderstanding.’ Incidents such as this only served to accentuate the continued estrangement between Kerr and Venizelos; but this would not be the end of the Greek premier’s mischief making.