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








Rear-Admiral Mark Kerr and
the Escape of Goeben and Breslau.






The days immediately following the outbreak of World War I were dominated, in the Mediterranean, by the chase and escape of the German Mittelmeerdivision, comprising the battle cruiser Goeben and her faithful consort, the light cruiser Breslau, under the command of Admiral Wilhelm Souchon.[i] The escape is one of the best known episodes of the Great War and has been the subject of numerous books and articles, the majority of which have sought to apportion blame for the lamentable events between the Admiralty in London, the British Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean, Admiral Sir Archibald Berkeley Milne, and the Commander of the First Cruiser Squadron, patrolling the Adriatic, Rear-Admiral Troubridge.[ii] Only two previous account have even hinted that there may have been something amiss in Athens, involving factions within the Greek Government and ruling circles;[iii] what has not been revealed before is that the conspiracy, for conspiracy it was, to see the German ships safely on their way, involved not only the Greek Premier and King Constantine, but also Rear-Admiral Mark Kerr, the head of the Greek navy and a serving British officer.

                For the moment, Admiral Souchon had other things on his mind. Having bombarded the North African ports of Philippeville and Bona early on the morning of Tuesday, 4 August in an attempt to disrupt the transportation of the Algerian Corps to France, Souchon first feinted west, to throw any would-be pursuers off the scent, and then doubled back with the intention of returning to Messina, there to coal, before resuming his dash to Constantinople. Two days previously, the Turco-German alliance had been signed[iv] which was sufficient reason to countermand the original order, that Goeben could not be dispensed with,[v] and override the wishes of the German Admiralty staff, who believed that the battle cruiser had no business to be in Turkish waters. Although there would be a further political difficulty, as the Turkish Grand Vizier attempted to extract more concessions from his new found Allies, as far as Souchon was concerned, from the time of the receipt of the signal that had been flashed to his ship during the night of 3/4 August directing him towards the Dardanelles,[vi] he had but one purpose: to reach Constantinople.

                As the German ships raced back to Messina on 4 August, they were fortuitously intercepted by the British battle cruisers Indefatigable and Indomitable which had been detached from their temporary assignment to Rear-Admiral Troubridge’s First Cruiser Squadron and directed west by the First Sea Lord, Prince Louis of Battenberg, to close the exit through the Straits of Gibraltar. As war between Britain and Germany had not yet been declared[vii] the British ships could do no more than silently and sullenly follow their prey, waiting for the signal that hostilities could commence. It would not come in time. During the afternoon, by dint of superhuman effort below decks, Goeben, although way below her trial speed, was able to edge away from her pursuers until, eventually, she was swallowed by the haze that had descended. Once back in Messina, Souchon coaled as best he could from the limited stocks available from half a dozen steamers in the harbour and considered his options. They were not promising. His erstwhile Italian allies had already declared their neutrality, while the Austrian fleet seemed disinclined to come to his rescue. Souchon determined, therefore, to coal as quickly as he could and break out of the Straits of Messina south and then east, but only after first feinting as if to go to the Adriatic.

                For Admiral Milne, the British Commander-in-Chief, it should have been a relatively simple task, once Souchon had re-entered Messina, to blockade him there. With three battle cruisers at his disposal, together with the four heavy cruisers of Troubridge’s squadron and a further four light cruisers, Milne could have ordered Indomitable and Indefatigable to close the northern exit of the Straits, while he, in his flagship Inflexible, together with three of the four light cruisers,[viii] could have closed the southern exit. Troubridge’s squadron could have been left on station guarding the entrance to the Adriatic. Instead, convinced that Souchon intended to break west to interfere in the transportation once more, Milne placed his heaviest forces to the west of Sicily in a position to block this move. The northern exit of the Straits of Messina was left unguarded while, to the south, the humble light cruiser Gloucester patrolled alone.

                Souchon made his break late on the afternoon of Thursday, 6 August and, as planned, first feinted north-east, as if to enter the Adriatic to join the Austrians. He continued on this course until shortly before 11 p.m., when he put the helm over and headed towards Cape Matapan. It was still possible for Goeben to have been intercepted by Troubridge’s squadron, but, in a fatal error of judgment based on a notorious signal from the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, Troubridge decided that the German battle cruiser constituted a superior force to the First Cruiser Squadron and declined to intercept.[ix] Throughout most of Friday, 7 August, as Souchon continued towards Cape Matapan, the British were able to keep in touch through the admirable efforts of Captain Howard Kelly, who continued to shadow in Gloucester. Finally, however, aware that Kelly was short of coal and fearing that his ship might be ambushed, Milne ordered Kelly to go no further than the Cape.[x] When Kelly reluctantly gave up the chase that afternoon it was the last the British would see of the German ships until they reached the Dardanelles three days later. Even so, had they been but aware, one last chance remained to catch Souchon’s squadron. An ideal opportunity presented itself as, himself short of fuel once more, Souchon planned to coal from a collier he had arranged to meet at the rocky island of Denusa, on the eastern fringe of the Cyclades. The collier, which had set out from Athens on Friday morning, would not arrive until the afternoon of Sunday, 9 August and coaling would continue throughout that night. After the faulty dispositions previously adopted, Milne was being presented with an undeserved second chance to destroy the Mittelmeerdivision.

                All Milne’s actions that week appeared to be characterized by a lack of urgency and so it was now. On Friday 7 August, as Souchon raced for Cape Matapan and the Aegean, Milne calmly gathered his main forces at Malta and proceeded to coal. Indomitable had only just arrived from coaling at Bizerta and had a job to stow the small additional amount taken on board. Finally, after midnight, he set out with the battle cruisers; 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.’[xi] The Greek Navy had apparently picked up Souchon’s signals[xii] 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, the Third Secretary at the British Legation in Athens, who sent, or so he subsequently claimed, a “most immediate” telegram to Malta that ‘Goeben was known to be off the island of Syra and sailing north-eastwards.’[xiii] Whether Rendel originally mentioned the direction in his signal to Malta cannot be ascertained; however, it is clear that the signal that eventually reached Milne mentioned only that Goeben was thought to be near the island of Syra — there was no indication of direction.

                Nevertheless, at last it appeared as if Milne had been given a clear idea of Souchon’s position. 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? The three most probable choices were Salonica, Constantinople or Smyrna. Milne eliminated Constantinople at once — that is if he ever considered it in the first place:

Although [Milne was later to inform the Admiralty] 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.

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’.[xiv]

                Would Milne have reacted differently if he had been convinced that Souchon was headed in a north-easterly direction? For, whatever may have happened between Athens, Malta and Milne, it is clear that Admiral Kerr also passed on the information regarding Souchon to the Russian Minister in Athens, Prince Demidoff, who in turn cabled the Admiralty in St Petersburg. The crucial difference, however, was that Demidoff, informed of the direction, correctly passed this information on. From first light on Saturday the Russians, but not the British, were aware that Souchon was steaming north-east.[xv] What was Kerr up to? To begin to answer this question, it is necessary to examine the situation in which the Admiral found himself, following his transfer to Athens.


After the Young Turk revolution of 1908, the Ottoman Government successfully applied for a British Naval Mission to reorganize their decaying fleet. Not to be outdone, the Greeks, always wary of their former masters, subsequently requested their own mission. There was a difference, however, in that the Mission to Constantinople  comprised officers on the active list, while that sent to Athens comprised retired personnel. Objecting to the continued employment of ‘naval pensioners’ the Greeks refused to renew the contracts of the existing Mission when these expired and requested, instead, officers from the active list. The First Lord, Winston 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…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…[xvi]

There is no doubt that it was Battenberg, a close friend of the Rear-Admiral, who was responsible for promoting Kerr’s name for the position.[xvii]

                Kerr travelled out to Athens in the late summer of 1913, where he found that, despite the successful conclusion of the First and Second Balkan Wars, tension continued to simmer. In particular, Greece and Turkey were at loggerheads over certain Aegean Islands which the Greeks had occupied in the course of the Balkan Wars. Indeed, so serious had the situation become that, egged on by their respective purchases of capital ships,[xviii] war appeared almost a formality between these quarrelsome neighbours during the course of 1914. So concerned was Kerr that in December 1913 he wrote to Battenberg with the following remarkable request:

If war breaks out in the spring or summer [1914] 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.[xix]

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.’[xx] 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. On the other hand Kerr was never able to establish close relations with the Greek Premier, the wily Cretan, Eleutherios Venizelos.

                Although the Islands’ dispute continued to cause concern in the summer of 1914, it was all but forgotten as the wider conflict intervened. Kaiser Wilhelm, playing a lone hand in his Balkan policy, attempted to carry off the neat trick of aligning both Turkey and Greece to his cause. Certainly, as has been shown, he was successful with regard to Turkey. Overriding the reservations of his Ambassador, who doubted Turkey’s worth as an ally,[xxi] Wilhelm had secured, by the afternoon of 2 August, a signature on the Turco-German Alliance. On the same day, King Constantine was faced with the task of replying to a similar demand from his impulsive, blustering brother-in-law. ‘It seems to me’, Constantine informed the Emperor, ‘that the interests of Greece demand her absolute neutrality and the preservation of the status quo in the Balkans’.[xxii] This was too much for Wilhelm: ‘Rubbish’, he declared with the certainty of a man who has the scent of victory in his nostrils, ‘the Balkans are marching!’ To make certain that he put a stop to this unconsidered wavering, the Emperor collared Theotokis, the Greek Minister in Berlin, told him of the alliance that Germany had just concluded with Turkey and warned him that Greece would now be treated as an enemy if she did not join the alliance at once.[xxiii]

                On 4 August, as the British battle cruisers chased Goeben and Breslau back to Messina after the German ships had bombarded the North African ports, Theotokis telegraphed the text of the Kaiser’s appeal-cum-threat to Athens:

The Emperor [Wilhelm] begs to inform Your Majesty that an alliance has to-day been completed between Germany and Turkey. Bulgaria and Rumania are also siding with Germany. The German ships at present in the Mediterranean are about to unite themselves with the Turkish fleet in order that they may act together. From the above Your Majesty will understand that all the Balkan States have allied themselves with Germany in the struggle against Slavism…If Greece does not range herself on the side of Germany, every link between Greece and the Empire will be broken…[xxiv]

Still trying to hang on to his tenuous grip on neutrality, Constantine warned the German Minister on 6 August not to present a German ultimatum which would only have the effect of forcing Greece to draw closer to the Entente. He did, however, inform Quadt that he would be ‘willing to offer binding assurances to both Turkey and Bulgaria that Greece would under no circumstances act against them in the event they decided to join Germany.’[xxv] This was enough to convince Quadt who cabled Berlin that ‘In general the King wants to help us fully and with all means and to stand on our side, and he thinks that he would be able to do this best if he could remain neutral.’[xxvi] The Foreign Office in Berlin, who preferred this state of affairs, agreed with Quadt. And there the matter might have ended were it not for the fact that, when the dramatic appeal arrived from the Kaiser on the 4th, containing as it did the vital clue as to the destination of Souchon’s squadron, King Constantine took the telegram to Admiral Kerr, head of the Greek Navy and a serving British officer. What evidence is there to support this contention? This is Kerr’s own testimony:

King Constantine had received a telegram from the Emperor practically dictating the course Greece was to pursue in the war. King Constantine brought the telegram to my house and read it to me.[xxvii] He was indignant at the interference in his country’s affairs. However, to stop such telegrams coming in daily he determined to send on this occasion a sympathetic answer. I may add that at the same time King Constantine was supplying me with information from the secret service for our use in the war and he continued to do so until struck down by illness in the following summer.

Letter To ‘The Times’ By Admiral Mark Kerr, 9 December 1920.

King Constantine showed me telegrams that passed between him and the German Emperor from time to time, and he was certainly in a very difficult position…[D]uring the first year…Greece’s entry would have been a disaster for the Allies. The enemy were overwhelmingly powerful in this part of the world.

The Case For Constantine By Vice-Admiral Mark Kerr, ‘The Morning Post’, 11 December 1920

When I went to see King Constantine at Lucerne on November 19, 1920…I asked him if there was anything secret or otherwise that could be brought up against him by the Allies, as I should have to act as counsel on his behalf in the case of any disputes as to his past policy…The only other point was the opening sentence of the telegram…which contained King Constantine’s reply to the Emperor’s telegram of August 4, 1914, sent through the Greek Minister at Berlin…His Majesty commenced to explain that he was sugaring the pill which is contained in the rest of the telegram, and I told him that it was needless to explain it to me, as I had been with him when he received the telegram [from the Emperor], and he intimated to me then what his reply would be.

Mark Kerr, ‘Land, Sea And Air’, (1927), Pp. 188-9.

I was in constant touch with King Constantine…The King showed me all the telegrams which passed between him and the German Emperor and others, and the replies that he received.

Admiral Mark Kerr, Letter To ‘The Sunday Times’, 10 November 1940.

In 1925 Kerr wrote the preface for the published edition of some of the King’s letters and, therefore, was presumably aware of the contents of the book, including the footnote which appeared after mention of the infamous telegram of 4 August: ‘King Constantine read this telegram to Admiral Mark Kerr, expressing to him his indignation at the interference on the part of the Emperor in the internal affairs of Greece.’[xxviii] Kerr did not refute this statement.


                There would seem to be little doubt then that Kerr was aware of the telegram and most of its contents; but was he perhaps presented with an edited version? Here the evidence is of a more negative character. In his continued defence of Constantine over the next quarter of a century Kerr took pains to mention that the King had passed him ALL the information that was variously available. With the flood of diplomatic documents being published in the 1920s Kerr should have been aware of the full contents of all the telegrams including that of 4 August from Wilhelm to Constantine. Indeed, as early as 1919 (that is, before the date of any of the above quotations by Kerr in the King’s defence), the complete text of the telegram was published in England.[xxix] It is inconceivable that Kerr was not aware of this. Would he have defended the King quite so vehemently if he thought that Constantine had deceived him?

                If, on the 4th, Kerr might have assumed that Wilhelm was bluffing, by first light on the 7th, when he knew that Souchon had rounded Cape Matapan and continued to steam east,[xxx] no reasonable explanation remained other than that the Emperor’s message was genuine — that Goeben and Breslau were heading for Constantinople. Yet what was he to do with this information? It seems that, first and foremost, Kerr was at pains to disguise the fact that Constantine was the source. Although he first alerted the Russian Minister, Demidoff, to the fact that Souchon was headed for the Aegean, Kerr apparently waited until units of the Greek Navy could obtain a wireless fix on Goeben before sending off the warning to Milne just after midnight on 7/8 August. Kerr had been convinced by the King that, in the interests of self-preservation, neutrality was the only course Greece could sensibly adopt; but could this be squared with a calculated decision to let two enemy ships escape? Was there another way? For the moment, Kerr could do nothing. The Kaiser’s impetuous telegram provided Kerr with the knowledge of Souchon’s eventual destination, yet, if he simply informed Milne that Goeben was near Syra was known to be heading for Constantinople, he stood the risk of compromising the King, with, perhaps, dire consequences for Greece. Admiral Kerr waited three days, until the evening of 7 August, when fortunately, or so it must have seemed at the time, the Greek navy obtained a W/T fix on Goeben. This, at last, provided Kerr with the opportunity to disguise the source. The signal Milne received after sailing from Malta stated that ‘from strength of signals Goeben thought to be near Syra’ so, apparently, Kerr was trying to lead Milne in the right direction. What he might not have counted on was the fact that Milne would ignore this new source of intelligence.

                Just in case, Kerr had another avenue open to him: the Russians. By assuming that St Petersburg would pass the information on to London, Kerr was once more hoping to ensure that his message got through, without revealing the true source. However, when the information from St Petersburg, that Goeben was steering north-east (which the Russians had obtained from Kerr), eventually arrived in London early on the morning of Sunday 9 August it was quietly filed away in the Admiralty while the Foreign Office, unaware of the source, ironically passed the message on, without comment, to Mr Erskine, the Chargé d’Affaires in Athens. By late Sunday morning Erskine had drafted his reply:

Petersburg Tel. No. 247. Your tel No. 112. I am in constant communication with Intelligence Officer Malta respecting movements of German ships referred to & am being helped by Admiral Kerr with wireless telegraphy of Greek Ministry of Marine. Latest news of Goeben was off Syra night of Aug 7. Greek Govt think she is going into Black Sea. They have warned Greek fleet not to expose themselves to possible danger.

Then, presumably at the behest of Kerr himself, Erskine re-drafted the telegram and put it in its final form:

Petersburg Tel. No. 247. Information is correct. I am in constant communication with Intelligence Officer Malta respecting movements of German ships referred to & am being secretly helped by wireless telegraphy of Greek Admiralty. Goeben was believed to be near Syra evening of Aug 7. Greek Govt think she may contemplate going into Black Sea & have warned Greek fleet not to expose themselves to possible danger.[xxxi]

Not only did the telegram as sent hide Kerr’s involvement it was also far less definite with regard to its intelligence regarding the whereabouts of  Souchon and his destination. In the first draft, Goeben is stated to be ‘off Syra’ while the ‘Greek Govt think she is going into Black Sea’. This was watered down in the amended final form so that Goeben ‘was believed to be near Syra’ and ‘Greek Govt think she may contemplate going into Black Sea’; this was a far more equivocal evaluation. What happened on the morning of Sunday 9 August to make Erskine change his mind? There can be little doubt that, as the matter was of the greatest concern to the Greek navy as well, he must have seen Kerr that morning. In that case, why was Kerr so keen to disguise his involvement? Surely, if Erskine had cabled London that morning ‘Admiral Kerr believes, from wireless telegraphy and other intelligence, that Goeben is going to Dardanelles’ someone in the Foreign Office or Admiralty might have paid more attention? And if Erskine really was ‘in constant communication with Intelligence Officer Malta’ why was this information not relayed to him as a matter of urgency? The Foreign Office was at last apprised at 4 o’clock that afternoon that the Russians, acting on Kerr’s information, now believed Goeben was proceeding to the Dardanelles.[xxxii] This information, apparently remained within the confines of the Foreign Office. Kerr’s ploy of alerting the Russians had worked but, again, the result was not the one he hoped for. Finally, when Erskine’s telegram was received in London it was – at last – sufficient to alert the Admiralty as to the possibility that Souchon was making for Constantinople. Certainly, by first thing Monday morning (10 August), it was believed in the Admiralty that this was, indeed, Souchon’s destination; characteristically, Milne was not informed.[xxxiii]

                As far as Third Secretary Rendel was concerned, however, the Legation had done its job: after relaying the information to Milne that Goeben was near Syra on the night of 7/8 August, he later recorded that, ‘we spent the next two days anxiously expecting news of her destruction. Instead the news suddenly broke on us that both ships had passed through the Dardanelles’.[xxxiv] Just possibly Kerr was as dumbstruck as Rendel; he was certainly remarkably reticent in his post-war writings concerning the escape of Goeben and Breslau. His 1927 memoirs – running to 400 pages – contain not a single reference to the German ships. Six years later, in The Navy in My Time, his only comment on the escape is a swipe at Milne for not bottling up Souchon at Messina: ‘it is a primary maxim in strategy to go to the place where the enemy is, if you know it, and await his exit, and not to take a chance by going where you think his destination is.’[xxxv] Was Kerr trying to absolve himself of blame for not divulging his knowledge of the destination?


What complicates an already complicated scenario is the fact that there was not one, but two conspiracies afoot in Athens to see Souchon safely on his way. Deeply implicated in this second conspiracy was Kerr’s bête noire Eleutherios Venizelos, the Greek Premier. Venizelos was also aware, by virtue of the cable from the Greek Minister in Berlin, of the Turco-German alliance and Souchon’s destination. Indeed, Venizelos saw the British Chargé d’Affaires, William Erskine, on Wednesday 5th and, as Erskine stated in a report of the meeting to Sir Edward Grey: ‘M. Venizelos told me this morning that Greek Minister at Berlin had just learnt from Government circles that military convention has now been concluded with Turkey.’ So far, Erskine added, no bait had been offered and Venizelos assured Grey that ‘in no circumstances, and no matter how great an inducement might be offered, would Greece range herself against a combination of Powers including Great Britain.’ Indeed, the Premier continued, he could not see ‘what inducements could be offered to Turkey unless at expense of Greece, but thinks that possibly Greek Minister may have been deliberately misled by German Government as to convention [with Turkey] in order to frighten Greece into compliance with their wishes.’[xxxvi] Venizelos withheld two vital pieces of information: the Turco-German alliance was referred to as a less alarming ‘military convention’ and, more seriously, he made no mention of the destination of Goeben and Breslau; he then tried to undermine the report as a whole by hypothesizing that Theotokis had been deliberately misled. Venizelos was well aware of the political leanings in Constantinople yet he consciously played down this information. Like Kerr, but for different reasons, he had decided to keep quiet about Souchon’s orders to proceed to Constantinople.

                At the same time as Venizelos was thus intriguing, Souchon, having arrived at Messina, soon became aware that, due to the time limit placed upon him by the Italian authorities, he would be unable to fill his bunkers with sufficient coal to allow for a margin of error should he reach the Dardanelles and find his way blocked. He had to have another source of coal en-route. On the afternoon of 5 August Souchon duly cabled the German Legation in Athens with instructions to purchase 800 tons of coal and have it dispatched in a German collier to rendezvous with him off Cape Malea. The cable was handed to the German Minister, Quadt, late than night. Aware of the restrictions placed upon the exportation of coal by the Greek Government, and also of the urgency of the request, Quadt asked for, and was granted, an immediate audience with Venizelos despite the lateness of the hour — now approaching 2 o’clock on the morning of 6 August. Roused from his slumber Venizelos agreed ‘at once’ to the release and exportation of 800 tons from the sequestrated stock of a German coal company.[xxxvii] Quadt left clutching Venizelos’ calling card, on which the Prime Minster had scrawled ‘Eleutherios Venizelos begs the Master of the Port of Piraeus to allow the coal merchant Plok to dispose out of the coal in his possession eight hundred tons in favour of the German steamers actually in the Port of Piraeus.’[xxxviii] This was despite the prohibition that had been placed on the sale of coal by private individuals.[xxxix] Plok was located and dragged from his bed at 4 a.m. and the coal was duly loaded on to the German collier Bogados;[xl] however, such activity could not escape the notice of the British consul at Piraeus who informed both the Admiral Superintendent, Malta (at 7.30 a.m., 7 August) and Mr Erskine at the Legation (1 p.m., 7 August) that the Bogados, after loading ‘about 700 tons of German coal’, had left at daybreak, destination unknown.[xli] Once under way the collier was camouflaged so as to resemble a Greek ship and would sail for her rendezvous with Souchon as the Polymitis.[xlii]

                If Venizelos did not know the precise destination of the Bogados he nevertheless knew where her coal was destined for: the bunkers of Goeben and Breslau. The urgency of Quadt’s appeal, coupled with his knowledge from Theotokis of the route the German ships would be taking, must have left him in no doubt whatsoever that he was supplying vital fuel to the fleeing warships. Indeed the Prime Minister later made this admission to his colleagues but excused it on the specious pretext that, having agreed to supply coal for British men-of-war, Greece would be failing in her duty as a neutral not to do the same for the Germans[xliii] — a sentiment which sits uneasily alongside his earlier effusion to Erskine. For Souchon the equation was simple: ‘Everything’, he later recorded, ‘depended on my being able to obtain enough start on the pursuing British to enable us to coal en route, and that we would find at least one of the colliers ordered to meet us.’[xliv] Souchon had three colliers in readiness — first, Bogados; then a second to rendezvous 20 miles south of Santorin (from 10 August); and a third at Chanak at the entrance to the Straits.[xlv] Of the three Bogados now disguised as the Greek Polymitis down to the cap ribbons of her crew[xlvi] – was by far the most important. What precious thoughts whirled through the mind of Venizelos as he returned to his bed in the small hours of 6 August?

                Having committed the crime, Venizelos, like Kerr, now had to disguise his involvement. This introduces the curious subject of the phantom coaling. The truncated signal Kerr had caused to be sent to Milne on Friday night merely indicated that Goeben was thought to be near Syra. As before, Kerr also passed this information on to the Russians and, also as before, they generously, if tardily, passed it on to both London and Paris. However, there was one crucial difference in the cables that reached the Admiralty War Room late on the afternoon of Sunday 9 August. The original signal had stated that Goeben was ‘near Syra’; by the time the Athens-Petersburg-Paris-London circuit had been completed the information had somehow been altered and now read, as recorded in the War Room Log Book: ‘Admiralty Paris to Admiralty London 9 August 1914. Received in War Room 4.50 p.m. Minister of Russian Navy warns that Goeben coaled 8th August Syra (sent to C-in-C Medt) also received wire from Naval Attaché St Petersburg “Russian Admiralty just received telegram from Athens dated 8th stating the Goeben was then coaling at Syra.” ’[xlvii] This information, through official channels, was preceded by some hours by an intelligence report (telephoned to the Admiralty by the Chief Censor of the War Office) of a message that had just been intercepted. A certain ‘Metriticicas’ in Athens had cabled to ‘Warplume’ in London the following: ‘…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.’[xlviii]

                How, or why, was this information adulterated so that Goeben, at first correctly reported as being ‘near Syra’ on the night of 7/8 August, was then reported to be coaling, or attempting to coal, at Syra during the 8th? (It was not until 5.32 a.m. on the 9th, and at Denusa not Syra, that Goeben anchored to await the collier which would then not arrive till that afternoon.) For Milne, however late, the chase was supposedly on. Nevertheless when, at 6.55 p.m. on the 9th, he received the adulterated message concerning Syra, Milne chose to ignore it for the simple reason that neither the British consul at Syra nor the head of the Eastern Telegraph Company there, Mr Hastings, could hardly have overlooked such an event as the coaling of a German battle cruiser.[xlix] Hastings later stated that it was an ‘absolute fable’ that Goeben and Breslau went into Syra at all as he was bound to have heard of it and would have reported it at once although there was a rumour that two warships had passed between the adjacent islands of Tinos and Mykonos early Saturday morning, 8 August.[l]

                There was no dispute as to the strong pro-Entente sympathies of Venizelos yet, within the space of 48 hours, he had neglected to pass on vital information regarding the destination of Goeben and Breslau; had deliberately played down the reports being picked up by the entente representatives in Athens of a Turco-German compact; and had supplied coal to the fleeing ships. It would seem that – at least in relation to the last action – Venizelos realized he had gone too far and there suddenly occurred, following the mystery of Goeben ‘coaling at Syra’, a further false trail emanating from Athens. Having already been correctly apprised early on the morning of Friday 7th that Bogados was a German collier carrying German coal to an unknown destination Athens telegraphed Milne that night (via Malta) ‘Bogados is Austrian proceeding Salonica...’[li] Who supplied the Athens legation with this false information, and why? Add to this the transformation of Admiral Kerr’s accurate message that night that Goeben was near Syra to the message which reached Milne a day and a half later that Goeben was coaling at Syra (presumably appropriating at gunpoint the stocks of British coal Milne knew to be there) and it becomes apparent that someone was anxious to disguise the source of Souchon’s coal.


                Who, then, would have the most pressing need to divert attention away from the humble Bogados and her precious cargo? None other than Eleutherios Venizelos, an accusation strengthened by the disingenuousness of his approach to Erskine on 10 August (as reported to Grey that evening):

Monsieur Venizelos asked me to-day whether H.M.G. would prefer that Greek Government should adopt principle of giving belligerent ships enough coal to take them to nearest home port or refuse all facilities. I said that as British and French ships in Mediterranean largely outnumbered German and Austrian I thought H.M.G. would prefer former alternative but that I would ask your instructions. At the request of Commander-in-Chief have just arranged for purchase of further 2,000 tons at Syra.[lii]

This was, of course, some days after Venizelos had already determined on precisely what action he would take: he was now seeking retrospective approval of his actions from the British, and in this he was to be successful. When the matter was subsequently raised in the House of Commons in 1923 the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, McNeil, declared that,

There is no reason to doubt that coal was supplied to the Goeben and Breslau by the order of M. Venizelos, but I ought to state that at the beginning of hostilities with Germany and, therefore, before giving this order, M. Venizelos went out of his way to consult His Majesty’s Government as to the course which he should adopt in such circumstances. After full consideration His Majesty’s Government suggested to him that he should follow the principle of International Law and afford belligerent ships enough coal to take them to their nearest home port. British ships were similarly treated and supplied with coal by the Greeks, who were at that time neutral.[liii]

McNeil was incorrect. He had confused an inquiry from Venizelos on 3 August 1914 concerning the sequestration of coal stocks – the only inquiry from that quarter before Venizelos authorized the delivery of coal to Quadt – with the later inquiry, of 10 August, concerning the position to be adopted with regard to belligerent vessels. The advice of His Majesty’s Government on this subject was tendered only after Goeben and Breslau were safely tucked away in the haven of the Dardanelles.

                The corruption of Kerr’s message concerning Syra, together with the retrospective attempt by Venizelos to seek British authorization to coal belligerent ships, and the curious transformation of the nationality of the collier Bogados from German (in the signal from Piraeus to Athens) to Austrian (in the signal from Athens to Malta), would, the Prime Minister must have hoped, tend to exculpate him with regard to his own responsibility for making possible Souchon’s escape. Indeed, it is tantalizing to suggest that ‘Metriticicas’ was an agent of the Prime Minister and that the message to ‘Warplume’ in London was meant to be intercepted by the British to show that the Greeks had, apparently, refused to coal the German ships. Venizelos, above all – if he wished to carry to fruition his plan to align Greece with the Entente – had the most pressing reason to conceal the fact that he, personally, had provided the lifeline Souchon needed if the German ships were to reach the Straits safely. Venizelos’ clever approach to the artless Mr Erskine on the 10th had, apparently, worked; but his reputation was not safe yet.

                The Prime Minister later accused King Constantine, in league with Admiral Kerr and the General Staff, of acting treacherously with the inevitable consequence, he argued, that distrust of Greek intentions was fomented in London. The clear repercussion, according to Venizelos, was the refusal in 1915 of the Allies to seek Greek assistance ‘for the obvious reason that they did not trust our General Staff not to give the enemy notice of the attack.’[liv] However, it was Venizelos himself who had three imperative motives for wanting Goeben and Breslau to reach Constantinople. Believing – following Quadt’s nocturnal visit – that Souchon was short of coal, the prospect of the German ships putting in to neutral Athens to coal, only to have them interned there should the British establish a blockade, must have been alarming to Venizelos to say the least. It is clear, for example, that Milne presumed that, once Souchon had entered the Aegean, one of the few options available to the German Admiral was to seek refuge in a Greek port.[lv] Whenever it suited him, Venizelos played on the King’s alleged German proclivities to win support for his own cause. Thoughts of a palace inspired coup against him, supported by the guns of the Mittelmeerdivision, would have been all the prompting Venizelos required to send Quadt on his way with a simple message on the back of a calling card and the expression of the Premier’s ‘friendliest intentions’ towards Germany.

                Second, if the Turks were wavering at the prospect of their new allegiance, the presence of Goeben and Breslau in the Golden Horn would have signalled the unequivocal alliance of Turkey with Germany, would have jolted Greek public opinion (which was tired of war and remained neutralist in the current crisis) and, if Venizelos played his cards right and could win support from the Entente, would have given him a chance at last to put an end to the Ottoman Empire, keep the Aegean Islands and perhaps, just perhaps, march on Constantinople. As evidence of this, once the German ships had arrived in the Golden Horn, the Venizelist newspaper Patris began the process of forming public opinion: by arming the enemies of Greece it declared, Germany had departed from the benevolent neutrality Greece had shown to Germany. Later, citing the fictitious sale of the German ships to Turkey as a move directed against Greece, the paper advocated Greek entry into the War.[lvi] In gambling so, Venizelos was applying the same logic as Ponceau in the Quai d’Orsay who, on 10 August, declared to Isvolsky, the Russian Ambassador, that ‘it might be advantageous for us to draw Turkey to the number of our enemies in order to make an end of her.’[lvii]

                Third, a revivified Turkish navy, manned by German officers, and with the addition of a first rate battle cruiser and cruiser, would have been overwhelmingly powerful in the Black Sea and therefore able to forestall a Russian descent on Constantinople, leaving the way clear for the Greeks to achieve their ambition, while the Aegean would have been out of bounds to the German ships due to the presence of the British and French navies in addition to the Greek. By ensuring that Goeben and Breslau made it safely through the Dardanelles Venizelos was also ensuring that their future radius of action would be limited to the Black Sea. From that moment on, Souchon’s only opponents would be the Russians. The Russian Black Sea fleet could not hope to launch an assault against the Ottoman capital once the Turkish fleet had been augmented by Goeben and Breslau and, with the Turkish army and navy fully committed in the east against the Russians, the way was left open for a Greek move on the Turkish rear, with the ultimate objective being the capture of Constantinople.


And Kerr’s motives? It seems clear that, having finally decided upon a course of action, Kerr would not deviate; easily influenced initially he also possessed, in greater measure than average, a capacity for self-deception — Kerr could convince himself of anything. As a corollary to this was a predisposition, evident throughout his career, to an exaggerated appraisal of his own opinions. Is it not plausible therefore that, for a few crucial days early in August 1914, an impressionable, egotistical officer who suddenly found himself in possession of vital information which could affect the course of the war, might not have taken it upon himself to decide how that information was to be used? What other explanation is there for Kerr to have kept his silence when, if not by 4 August certainly by the 7th, he must have known that Souchon was heading for the Dardanelles? Having been convinced by the King that neutrality was the only course open to Greece, Kerr could have reasoned that, with the German ships safely through the Straits, the possibility of Greece now attacking Turkey was out of the question. Unable to attack Turkey, worried always about Bulgaria, the only option available then was neutrality.

                The irony is that, for a number of different reasons, Venizelos also desired that the German ships should escape. Again, no other interpretation of his action in allowing the Bogados to sail with her precious cargo is tenable. Kerr and Venizelos were applying the same means to achieve different ends. Venizelos also knew Souchon’s destination and kept quiet about it. Once at their destination, the German ships, he could have reasoned, would have precipitated a quick breach between Turkey and her neighbours under the influence of Turkey’s German allies. With Turkey in the war it would have made sense for the Entente, as they planned, to seek active Greek participation. Venizelos could then name his terms, not least of which would be the fulfilment of long-standing Greek aspirations to large slices of the Ottoman Empire. What Venizelos did not count on, what robbed him of his glorious goal, was the reluctance of the Turks to enter the lists. By the time the Turks were eventually forced into the war by Souchon and Enver Pasha Venizelos had lost his chance to march, hand-in-hand, with the Entente Powers.




While it is unlikely in the extreme that there existed an organized conspiracy to allow the German ships to escape involving any or all of the Foreign Office, Admiralty, Milne or Troubridge, there is a strong case, however, for believing that factions in Athens, knowing of the Turco-German alliance and the destination of the ships, actively conspired to ensure their escape. The alliance became common knowledge in Athens after the telegram from Theotokis, the Greek Minister in Berlin, was received on 4 August. Any doubts entertained by King Constantine and Admiral Kerr as to its authenticity should have been dispelled by 7 August when it became apparent that the German ships had passed into the Aegean and were heading north-east, confirming the Dardanelles as the most likely destination. For Venizelos the realization came even earlier, to precisely the moment when, at 2 o’clock on the morning of 6 August, he was roused from his sleep by the German Minister who was anxious to secure coal for Souchon, to which request Venizelos readily agreed. By the end of that week, the King, Admiral Kerr and the Prime Minister could have been in no doubt as to where Souchon was heading.

                In the light of this evidence W. Gottlieb, writing in 1957, could come to just one conclusion: ‘William II informed the King of Greece that the two ships would join the Turkish Navy for combined action, and the communication was transmitted to the Chief of the British Naval Mission in Greece [Kerr], who must obviously have sent it on to London.’[lviii] Except that Kerr did not. Yet any of the strictures that applied to Venizelos’ motives for not wishing to inform the Entente did not apply to Rear-Admiral Mark Kerr. At any time from the 4th to the 9th of August Kerr could have caused a message to be sent to the Admiral Superintendent, Malta to be relayed to both London and Milne, that the Turco-German alliance had been concluded and that Goeben and Breslau were making for Constantinople. He chose not to; in fact, until the evening of 7 August, Kerr appears to have done nothing at all. Then, only after Greek warships had apparently obtained a W/T ‘fix’ on Goeben which placed her near Syra, did he act. On duty at the British Legation in Athens that night was the Third Secretary, George Rendel, who later recounted that he ‘received a confidential message from a senior officer of the British Naval Mission [Kerr] that Goeben was known to be off the island of Syra and sailing North-Eastwards.[lix] We were able to send a most immediate telegram to the Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean, and we spent the next two days anxiously expecting news of her destruction. Instead the news suddenly broke on us that both ships had passed through the Dardanelles.’[lx] If Kerr felt that the information he had, at last, passed on was still not clear enough, why not mention at least the possibility that the ships might be heading for Constantinople? No blame would then attach to Kerr if the authorities chose not to act on his information. Instead he seemed more intent on keeping the Russians abreast of the latest intelligence.

                Mr Erskine, the Counsellor and Chargé at the Legation in the absence of the Minister, admitted on the morning of 9 August that he was ‘in constant communication with Intelligence Officer Malta respecting movements of German ships’ and that he was secretly being aided by Kerr; but not once had the Admiral deigned to tell the Chargé of the alliance or of Souchon’s destination. Kerr was presumably aware that Venizelos had raised the possibility of a Turco-German ‘military convention’ with Erskine, which Kerr knew to be of more serious import than the Prime Minister made out; he was thus ideally placed to alert Erskine to the real danger. A malevolent hand was also at work in Erskine’s telegram to London that morning: as originally drafted Erskine referred to the fact that the Greek Government thought Goeben was ‘going into Black Sea’. For some reason this was watered down, and appeared in the final version as ‘Greek Govt think she may contemplate[lxi] going into Black Sea’ — a much less definite proposition. Also, the specific mention of Kerr was deleted which, one must assume, could only have been at the Admiral’s own request.

                Kerr’s motives for remaining silent, or at best divulging the least amount of information consistent with his position, are harder to ascertain. They range from the speculative – the Admiral was keen to see Turkey enter the war allowing him to assume his place in battle as C-in-C of the Hellenic Navy – to the implausible — Kerr as a secret agent feeding misinformation to the Kaiser only for the whole scheme to go disastrously awry when the Admiral fell under the spell of King Constantine.[lxii] Kerr had certainly allowed himself to become firmly entangled in the affairs of the King, though this aspect of his make up was entirely characteristic. The Admiral had a deeply emotional side which was no more in evidence than when he pleaded with Battenberg for help and encouragement in December 1913, in anticipation of war with Turkey over the fate of the Aegean islands, and declared his readiness to change his nationality and fight for the Greeks. Although the anticipated Greco-Turkish war did not break out, the letter is still extraordinary for the extent of the emotional attachment Kerr had developed towards Greece in only a matter of months since his arrival there as the summer of 1913 was drawing to a close.

                Similarly, Kerr was quickly accepted into Court circles, and reciprocated to the full. In the Admiral’s opinion King Constantine, although no diplomat, was

an absolutely straight and honest soldier, with a great strategical and tactical brain for war. He was truthful to the last degree and loathed intrigue. He thought as much about the good of the rank and file, perhaps even more, than he did about the upper classes. He despised injustice, and was easily touched by sorrow or misfortune. His only ambition was for his country and the prosperity of its people…[lxiii]

Unquestionably, in the fevered atmosphere of August 1914 in Athens, Venizelos sought to align Greece, conditionally, with the Entente, while the King advocated neutrality. Nevertheless, in view of the requirements that had to be fulfilled for Venizelos’ offer to take effect, particularly the guarantee of Bulgarian intentions, the Prime Minister’s stance was also tantamount to neutrality; but it was a stance in which he could adopt a certain amount of sanctimonious posturing. This route was not open to the King. When Constantine became aware, on 4 August, of the Turco-German alliance and the destination of Goeben and Breslau what was he to do with this information? If he passed it on to the British or French, the likely outcome, he might have reasoned, would be the destruction of the Mittelmeerdivision, greater pressure upon Turkey to act, and the creation for Greece of an enemy – Germany – of immense power. This last consequence would have been even more fraught if, in addition to Turkey, Germany was also able to enlist the services of Bulgaria: in that event, the prospects for Greece were bleak.

                Constantine realized that the Kaiser’s boast was meant as a threat: join with me or suffer the consequences. Equally he realized there was nothing he could do openly with this information, of which Kerr was also now aware, except to disguise the source so that, if a disaster befell Souchon, it would not be possible with any certainty to ascribe the blame to the King. This is, I would suggest, where Mark Kerr came in. From the 4th to the 7th of August Kerr, I believe, was acting under a vow of secrecy imposed upon him by the King, until the time at which the information could be relayed to the British fleet as if coming from the wireless intercepts of the Greek navy. It is also significant that Constantine waited until the 7th before replying to Wilhelm’s appeal. Whatever Kerr’s particular motives or displaced loyalties, opinion in the Foreign Office in London later came to accept that Kerr was responsible for the fact that Greece did not join the Entente.[lxiv] As the King’s brother later admitted in a fulsome tribute, Kerr ‘stood by King Constantine through thick and thin, and at a moment when it was difficult to do so. He risked his own career for his friend.’[lxv]

                Venizelos, Constantine and Kerr all, therefore, had their reasons for not divulging their knowledge of the Turco-German alliance to the Entente ministers in Athens. One intriguing aspect remains: Kaiser Wilhelm, who knew Kerr personally, was surely aware both of Kerr’s position as C-in-C of the Greek Navy and of his close relationship with the King which extended to his being a confidant of Constantine. Did he not expect Constantine to pass the information on to Kerr or did he simply, in the heat of the moment when making his threat on 4 August, forget all about Kerr?


The escape of Goeben and Breslau can be traced backwards from their arrival off the Dardanelles on 10 August through a chain of events stretching back to the turn of the century. Each link in this chain was forged by the hand of man: that the overall result was one of such complexity is manifest evidence of the bewildering nature of human motivation. Fisher’s nascent ideas regarding the desirability of speed and firepower led to the development of the battle cruiser. The Committee of Imperial Defence, from Balfour’s grand ideals, withered under Asquith’s premiership into a technical co-ordinating body. The much heralded Naval War Staff became a department in name only, its higher functions usurped by Churchill and Battenberg. The culture of late Victorian England bred an officer such as Sir Archibald Berkeley Milne: not quite as bad as sometimes made out, but clearly unsuited to the requirements of the fast moving situation that developed in the Mediterranean in August 1914. Troubridge, a slightly later product, did not benefit from the revolution in early twentieth century naval warfare; in fact, just the reverse. His witnessing of the naval actions off Japan left a firm and lasting impression of the devastating effect of modern, long range, large calibre weaponry while his time as the first Chief of the War Staff was not only not crowned with success but had its own deleterious effect in the assumptions it produced, and which would be acted upon, during the first week of August 1914.

                The combination of motives, assumptions and intrigues was all in place by 4 August. Events followed from this combination. It was not fate that caused the contents of a telegram to be altered; it was not fate that Souchon disobeyed his orders and then found the coal he needed; it was not fate that Churchill and Battenberg drafted telegrams whose subsequent interpretations were to prove so disastrous. All these, and more, were the products of human egos and frailties; of errors of commission and omission; of the sheer frightfulness of what was happening around the various participants. More than one observer spoke of the period as if it were a dream. Yet the two dark, foreboding shapes pushing through the ancient sea towards the Straits were no spectres. Goeben, which, if the German Admiralty Staff had had their way, would not have been in the Mediterranean at all, was 23,000 tons of metal built but with one purpose: to deliver an 11-inch high explosive shell on a target. On Monday, 10 August 1914 she carried more than her shells, her crew, her Admiral; in the words of Winston Churchill she also carried, ‘for the peoples of the East and Middle East more slaughter, more misery and more ruin than has ever before been borne within the compass of a ship…’[lxvi]   Please click to go to the top of this page






[i]      The Admiralty Intelligence file on Souchon described him thus: “born 2 June 1864; entered navy 12 April 1881; 5' 8", clean shaven, inclined to stoutness. Born in Leipzig, the son of a portrait painter. Is an authority on W/T, and has written much on the subject. Also went in for ballooning. Is accounted an exceptionally capable flag officer, distinguished by wide knowledge, perspicacity and imperturbability. Pleasant in manner. Gives the impression of strength of character.” See, Admiralty notes on foreign naval officers, Public Record Office [hereinafter PRO] Adm 137/4166.

[ii]     The latest full-length treatment by Dan van der Vat, The Ship That Changed The World (London, 1985) tenuously includes the French in the list of those in some way responsible but ignores altogether the events in Athens.

[iii]    W. Gottlieb, Studies in Secret Diplomacy during the First World War, (London, 1957); Ulrich Trumpener, The Escape of the Goeben and Breslau: a Reassessment, The Canadian Journal of History, VI, (1971).

[iv]    At 4 o’clock on the afternoon of Sunday, 2 August. Constantinople to Foreign Office, no. 408, 2 August 1914, in Max Montgelas and Walter Schücking (eds.), Outbreak of the World War. German Documents collected by Karl Kautsky, (London, 1924), no. 726, p. 526.

[v]     On the evening of Sunday, 2 August, and as yet unaware of the signing of the alliance, the Kaiser, fully supported by Admiral von Pohl, the Chief of the Admiralty Staff, had informed the German Ambassador to the Porte that his request for Goeben to be sent to Constantinople, to reinforce the Turkish fleet against the Russians, could not be entertained. For the present, Goeben could not be spared for such an adventure. Aide-de-Camp (on duty) to Foreign Office, Berlin, 9.15 pm, 2 August 1914; Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to Constantinople, no. 304, Berlin, 6.45 am, 3 August 1914, in Max Montgelas and Walter Schücking (eds.), Outbreak of the World War. German Documents collected by Karl Kautsky, (London, 1924), nos. 683, 712, pp. 505, 520; Ulrich Trumpener, The Escape of the Goeben and Breslau: a Reassessment, The Canadian Journal of History, VI, (1971), p. 173.

[vi]    From Berlin to Cruiser Goeben, no. 15, 1.35 am, 4 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/4065. The signal was intercepted by receiving stations in England and telegraphed to London at 2.4 a.m. on the 4th, but it would not be until November that the German codes could be read.

[vii]    No previous account of the bombardment of Philippeville and Bona has mentioned the fact that, the following day, a report was received in London from the consul at Algiers stating that, during the shelling, the British ship Isle of Hastings had been seriously damaged. It would be interesting to speculate what effect this news might have had on the deliberations in London on 4 August if it had arrived immediately by acting as a casus belli to justify forthwith the instigation of hostilities in the Mediterranean. There seems little doubt that Churchill would have put this information to good use if available in time but, with the delay in reporting and the pressure on the wires, it was not received at the Foreign Office until just after midday on the 5th. See, Acting Consul-General, London to Sir Edward Grey, 5 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[viii]   That is, Chatham, Gloucester and Weymouth. The fourth light cruiser, Dublin, had been assisting Indomitable and Indefatigable in the shadowing of Goeben.

[ix]    For this action he was subsequently court-martialled and acquitted. See my forthcoming Superior Force (University of Hull Press) for a detailed account of this episode and its aftermath.

[x]     C-in-C to Gloucester, (1251)[code time, GMT], 7 August 1914, Naval Staff Monographs, vol. VIII, the Mediterranean, 1914-15, appendix B. Operations Signals extracted from the logs of various ships. PRO Adm 186/618; E. W. R. Lumby (ed.), Policy and Operations in the Mediterranean 1912-14, (Navy Records Society, 1970), p. 186.

[xi]    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., National Maritime Museum [hereinafter NMM] MLN 210/7.

[xii]    It is clear that the Greek fix had been accurate and that Goeben had, in fact, passed Syra on the night of 7/8 August. See, Trumpener, Reassessment, p. 182, note 45; E. Keble Chatterton, Dardanelles Dilemma, p. 31.

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

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

[xv]    Buchanan to Foreign Office, no. 247, dispatched 3.05 a.m., 8 August, rec’d 1.15 a.m., 9 August 1914. PRO Adm 137/HS19. See also, PRO Adm 137/4083, Admiralty number 9/6.

[xvi]   Churchill to the Greek Minister of Marine, 2 June 1913, in Martin Gilbert (ed.), W. S. Churchill, Companion volume II, pt. iii, p. 1751.

[xvii]  Battenberg to Hamilton, 19 March 1916, Hamilton mss., NMM HTN 125.

[xviii]  Greece had ordered the battle cruiser Salamis from Germany, while the Turks had the dreadnought Reschad V (subsequently Reshadieh) building at Vickers’ yard in Barrow and, in December 1913, would augment this by purchasing the Rio de Janeiro (subsequently Sultan Osman), which was nearing completion in the Armstrong yard on the Tyne.

[xix]   Mark Kerr to Battenberg, 9 December 1913, Battenberg mss., Imperial War Museum [hereinafter IWM] DS/MISC20, reel IV, item 257 [my emphasis]. Kerr signed off this letter ‘Ever yours aff[ectionate]y’.

[xx]    George Mélas, Ex-King Constantine and the War, (London, 1920), p. 216.

[xxi]   Wangenheim to Foreign Office, no. 349, 18 July 1914, in Max Montgelas and Walter Schücking (eds.), Outbreak of the World War. German Documents collected by Karl Kautsky, (London, 1924), no. 71, pp. 130-1.

[xxii]  In this, the King was merely echoing the decisions reached at a Council of Ministers held that day which urged neutrality for Greece and argued for an appeal to be delivered to the Central Powers (the new term for the Triple Alliance following the defection of Italy) to restrain the Bulgarians, whom the Greeks feared. George Leon, Greece and the Entente, (Institute for Balkan Studies nº 143, Thessaloniki), p. 21.

[xxiii]  King Constantine to Wilhelm II, no. 231, 2 August 1914 and note by Wilhelm, 3 August, in Max Montgelas and Walter Schücking (eds.), Outbreak of the World War. German Documents collected by Karl Kautsky, (London, 1924), no. 702, p. 515.

[xxiv]  J. S. Willmore, The Story of King Constantine as revealed in the Greek White Book, (London, 1919), p. 13 quoting White Book, no. 19 [my emphasis].

[xxv]  To assuage further the excitable Quadt, Constantine held out the hope that the Greek merchant marine might secretly supply Germany with American coal.

[xxvi]  Quadt to Foreign Office, 6 August 1914, quoted in George Leon, Greece and the Great Powers, (Institute for Balkan Studies nº 143, Thessaloniki), p. 31.

[xxvii] Note: this, and following italicized passages, are all my emphasis.

[xxviii]          Constantine, A King’s Private Letters, (London, 1925), p. 151.

[xxix]  By J. S. Willmore in his The Story of King Constantine as revealed in the Greek White Book, published by Longman Green & Co. The telegram is on page 13.

[xxx]  C-in-C to AS, Malta (0513), C-in-C to SNO, Malta (0553), 7 August 1914, C-in-C’s Signal Log, Milne mss, NMM MLN 210/7.

[xxxi]  Erskine to Grey, no. 140, Secret, sent 11.45 a.m., 9 August 1914, PRO FO 286/572/35656 [my emphasis].

[xxxii] Nicolson to Grey, 9 August 1914, PRO FO 371/2163/37547.

[xxxiii]          Dumas, diary entry for 10 August 1914, IWM PP/MCR/96. The conclusion that Souchon was heading for Constantinople must have been formed in the Admiralty sometime after 5.10 p.m. on Sunday 9th (when Milne was informed only that the German ships were thought to have coaled at Syra the previous day) and before 8.30 the following morning, when Dumas arrived and was told that the ships had passed Syra and were on their way to the Turkish capital.

[xxxiv]          Rendel, Sir George W., The Sword and the Olive: Recollections of Diplomacy in the Foreign Service, 1913-1954, (London, 1957), p. 19.

[xxxv] Kerr, Admiral Mark, The Navy in My Time, (London, 1933), p. 187 [emphasis in original].

[xxxvi]          Erskine to Grey, no. 137, sent 5 p.m., 5 August 1914, rec’d 6 August, PRO FO 371/2162/36270. Note: in the Greek Legation Archives (PRO FO 286/572) the draft telegram is dated 4 August.

[xxxvii]         Frangulis, La Grèce et la Crise Mondiale, (Paris, 1926), p. 121; Trumpener, Reassessment, p. 174. Quadt, according to Cosmetatos, apparently sought authorization to coal two German merchant vessels, though, as Cosmetatos acknowledges, ‘M. Venizelos said that he had granted the request although he knew that the coal was intended for the Goeben and the Breslau…’ Cosmetatos, The Tragedy of Greece, (London, 1928), pp. 6-7.

[xxxviii]         Frangulis, La Grèce et la Crise Mondiale, p. 122. A photograph of the actual card appears in Sir Basil Thomson, The Allied Secret Service in Greece, (London, 1931); see also pp. 39-41.

[xxxix]          See, The Times, 4 August 1914.

[xl]    This is the generally accepted version of the ship’s name [as reported by the British consul in Piraeus who watched her being loaded with Plok’s coal] but other variations have included Bogabos, Bogadir and Bogador. Similarly, the German coal merchant appears variously as Plock or Plok. See also Trumpener, Reassessment, p. 175 and note 17

[xli]    British Consul, Piraeus to Mr Erskine, 1 p.m., 7 August 1914, PRO FO 286/581/203.

[xlii]   There was a report that the ship had been supplied with false papers showing her destination as Cape Town, the significance of this being that, as she was allegedly headed for a British port, she was more likely to pass unmolested through either Suez or Gibraltar. Frangulis, La Grèce et la Crise Mondiale, p. 122; Trumpener, Reassessment, p. 175; Admiral Wilhelm Souchon, The Breakthrough of the Goeben and Breslau from Messina to the Dardanelles, The Naval Review, vol. 10, 1922, pp. 480-91. Naval Historical Library P (NS) 341p. 490; Der Krieg Zur See, 1914-18, The War in Turkish Waters, vol. I, The Mediterranean Division, in Monthly Intelligence Report, Confidential, Admiralty, No. 107, 15 April 1928, p. 48.

[xliii]  Thomson, Allied Secret Service in Greece, p. 39.

[xliv]  Admiral Wilhelm Souchon, The Breakthrough of the Goeben and Breslau from Messina to the Dardanelles, The Naval Review, vol. 10, 1922, pp. 489.

[xlv]   According to the Turkish Minister of Marine, the German Naval Attaché to the Porte approached the Ministry on 8 August with a request for coal from Turkish stocks. Djemal Pasha, in consultation with other Ministers, promptly agreed to the release of five or six thousand tons. See, Djemal Pasha, Memories of a Turkish Statesman, (London, 1922), p. 118.

[xlvi]  Admiral Wilhelm Souchon, The Breakthrough of the Goeben and Breslau from Messina to the Dardanelles, The Naval Review, vol. 10, 1922, pp. 490.

[xlvii]  Admiralty, Paris to Admiralty, 9 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/4083.

[xlviii] Telephone Messages Received by Chief Censor R.T. from Chief Censor War Office, 12.25 p.m., 9 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[xlix]  Milne to Admiralty, 20 August 1914, para. 35, PRO Adm 137/879; Diary of Admiral Phillimore, 9 August 1914, IWM 75/48/3; Henry Horniman, unpublished typescript autobiography, Smiling Through, p. 99, IWM PP/MCR/46.

[l]      H. G. Barwell, Superintendent, Eastern Telegraph Co. Ltd, Malta Station to Milne, 14 August 1914, Milne mss., NMM MLN 207/1.

[li]     Ad. Supt., Malta to C-in-C, Rear Adl., (0100) 8 August 1914, C-in-C’s Signal Log, Milne mss., NMM MLN 210/7.

[lii]    Erskine to Grey, no. 143, 10 August 1914, PRO Adm 137/HS19.

[liii]    Parliamentary Debates, Fifth Series, Vol. CLXIV (1923) 1743, House of Commons (Oral Answers) GREECE - Goeben and Breslau, (Coal Supplies), 4 June 1923.

[liv]    Eleutherios Venizelos, The Vindication of Greek National Policy, (London, 1918), p. 87.

[lv]    Milne, The Flight of the Goeben and Breslau, (London, 1921).

[lvi]    Theodoulou, Greece and the Entente, p. 26, note 34.

[lvii]   Quoted in, Harry N. Howard, The Partition of Turkey, 1913-23, (Norman, 1931), p. 98.

[lviii]  Gottlieb, Studies in Secret Diplomacy during the First World War, (London, 1957), p. 44.

[lix]    The crucial information in this message was not Goeben’s approximate position, but the fact that she was headed in a north-easterly direction. This was vital as Kerr was aware that Milne believed the German ships had gone ‘eastward’ which thereby discounted Constantinople as a possible destination

[lx]    Sir George Rendel, The Sword and the Olive, p. 19 [my emphasis]. Towards the end of his life, when recalling this period, Rendel remembered that ‘Our own naval authorities very pleased – had the impression they would be sterilized there [Constantinople] – out of action.’ [I am most grateful to Miss Rosemary Rendel for providing a transcript of these taped conversations with her father.]

[lxi]    My emphasis.

[lxii]   For an interesting hypothesis regarding Kerr’s pre-war rôle in this field, see K. M. Wilson and A. Goodearl, ‘Most Obedient and Devoted Servants’: Some Correspondence of Certain British Naval Persons with Kaiser Wilhelm II, in The Mariners’ Mirror, vol. 72,  No. 1, February 1986, pp. 63-7.

[lxiii]  Kerr, Land, Sea, and Air, p. 194. By contrast, Kerr considered Venizelos ‘a born intriguer’ who was not to be bribed by money, ‘but his weakness lay in his overweening vanity’.

[lxiv]  Battenberg to Hamilton, 19 March 1916, Hamilton mss., NMM HTN 125. Kerr’s responsibility did not cover this period only, but extended to September and his negative reply to Churchill’s inquiry regarding Greek assistance in a possible Allied operation at the Dardanelles which effectively put paid to the promotion of such schemes.

[lxv]   HRH Prince Nicholas of Greece, My Fifty Years, (London, 1926), p. 317 [my emphasis].

[lxvi]  Churchill, The World Crisis, (One volume, revised and abridged, London, 1931), p. 152.


First Class Battleship HMS London

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