Stories of The Two Battleships

( 18th MARCH 1915)
( PART–3 )

At the end of Balkan War, Djemal Pasha Minister of Marine invited a British advisory mission to Turkey. With Churchill’s support, Rear Admiral Sir Arthur H. Limpus was assigned as the head of the British naval mission. The British Advisory Mission to the Ottoman Navy was almost as large as the similar German mission to the Ottoman Army, led by the Prussian General of cavallary, Otto Liman von Sanders. The two missions to some extent counter- balanced each other.
İn 1913 The Turks were suffering from their defeat in Balkan Wars. The conflict with Greece for Aegean islands was still continuing. Turks were determined to equalise their naval position in the Aegean and bought a battleship from Brazil. Despite the protests of Djemal pasha to the U.S. Ambassador, Henry Morgenthau, a violent Phil Hellene who rejoiced in his discomfiture, U.S.A. immediately sold two modern ships, the Idaho and the Mississippi, to the Greeks. (1) With the advice and assistant of British Naval advisors Turks ordered two modern battle ships to England, Sultan Osman and Reshadieh. Both had been built in British shipyards and were immensely powerful; the Sultan Osman mounted more (including 13.5 inch) guns than any battleship ever built before. The Sultan Osman was completed in May and the Turks had paid half of her purchased price; the Reshadieh was ready in early July.
Their overall cost was 7.500.000. Pound. The money had been raised from the people voluntarily and every Anatolian peasant felt he had a share in these magnificent new ships, which at one move would wipe out of the Greeks’ sharp deal over the Idaho and Mississippi. It is well known that; women had sold their jewellery and school children had given up their pocket money to contribute to the popular subscription. Istanbul was ready to meet the arrival of the ships. Admiral Limpus had put out to sea from Istanbul on 27 July 1914, with ships of the Turkish Navy, waiting to greet the Sultan Osman I, and escort her back through the Straits of Dardanelle to the Ottoman capital, where a “Navy Week” had been scheduled with lavish ceremonies for the Minister of Marine, Ahmet Djemal, and for the cause of British- Ottoman friendships. In early July Turkish crew (about 500 soldiers under the command of Captain Rauf Bey) were ready to take over the ships.
Churchill was aware that these ships meant a great deal to the Ottoman Turks. They were intended to be the making of the modern Ottoman Navy and it was assumed that they would enable the empire to face Greece in the Aegean and Russia in the Black Sea. He was against of this view in principle and although there was a strong British Naval Advisory team in Turkey, he received a very hostile decision for these ships. During the development of world crisis, 0n 27 July 1914, Churchill raised the issue of whether the Turkish Battleships could be taken by the Royal Navy. The chain of events which apparently flowed from Churchill’s initiative in this matter eventually led to him being blamed for the tragic outbreak of war in the Middle East. The next day Churchill directed to the First Sea Lord, Sir Archibald Moore. “ In case it may became necessary to acquire the 2 Turkish battleships that are nearing completion in British yards.”(2)
The Turks suspected what Churchill had in mind, Rauf Bey and his sailors already on board a transport in the Tyne, attempted to hoist the Turkish flag and take his ships away. On 29 July the Foreign Office warned the Admiralty that the Sultan Osman I was taking on fuel and was under orders to depart for Istanbul immediately, even though unfinished. Churchill immediately ordered British security forces to guard the vessels and to prevent the Turkish crews from boarding them or from raising the Ottoman flag over them. (Which would have converted them, under prevailing international law, into Ottoman territory?) There had been a clash around the ships with a few causalities from both Turkish and British sides. On 31 July the cabinet accepted Churchill’s view that he ought to take both Turkish vessels for the Royal navy for possible use against the Germany in the event of war. Sultan Osman I became HMS Agincourt and Reshadieh became HMS Erin after this decision. (3) This events created a very big disappointments and hatred in Turkey and two days later an agreement was signed between Ottoman Empire and Germany.
In Berlin, the German Government decided to send Mediterranean Fleet, which was composed of Goeben and Breslau under the command of Rear Admiral Wilhelm Souchon to Istanbul, in the early morning of 4 August. French Navy was occupied in convoying their troops from North Africa to France, so the task of intercepting the Goeben and Breslau fell to the British. No one in the British Fleet ever dreamed that the German ships were heading for Istanbul; presumably Churchill’s fear of the Turks had evaporated once he had carried out his coup on the Tyne. Churchill warned the Admiral in the Mediterranean, Sir Archibald Berkeley Milne for these two ships.
Goeben, the one German ship at large in the Mediterranean, which outstripped in speed and power every vessel in the French Navy. British battle cruisers the Indomitable and the Indefatigable, which alone could compete with her speed were ordered to shadow and sink her. Prime Minister Asquit noted “Winston’s mouth watered for the Goeben.” Milne’s second-in-command, Rear Admiral Sir Ernest Troubridge was commanding an armoured cruiser squadron of four good ships and eight destroyers. (4) British Fleet couldn’t do anything to Goeben and Breslau and German Admiral Suchon found himself his ships untouched, on august 11th at the entrance to the Dardanelles, under the guns of the fortress of Cahanakkale.
Enver Pasha, on his own responsibility ordered the commander at Chanakkale to allow the Goeben and Breslau to steam up to Istanbul. It was announced that the Germans sold these two ships instead of the two ships blocked by Winston Churchill two weeks ago. The crews put aside their caps and donned the fez, the Star and Crescent was hoisted, the Goeben became the Yavuz Sultan Selim and the Breslau the Midilli.
Souchon replaced British Admiral Limpus in command of the Turkish fleet and on the 9th September the British Naval Mission was dismissed. Almost three months later on October 28 these two ships still German crewed, accompanied by some small Turkish vessels, entered the Black Sea and shelled the Russian Ports of Odessa, Sevastopol and Theodosia. Thus Ottoman Empire had been pushed into the war. (5) Winston Churchill remained as First Lord of the Admiralty, Admiral Milne had retired from the Navy on August 18th, but Rear Admiral Troubridge was court martialled in November and although acquitted, never held a sea command again.


(1) David Wilder: The Chanak Affair,p.24 ( Hutchinson of London-1969)
(2) David Fromkin: A Peace The End All Peace, p.56-57 (Avan Books, New York-1990)
(3)Philip J.Haythornthwhite: Gallipoli-1915, Frontal assault on Turkey,p.6 ( London-1991)
(4) Violet Benham Carter: Winston Churchill, As I Knew Him,p.320-321 (The Reprint Society, London- 1966)
(5)David Walder,p.27-28

Dr. M.Galip Baysan


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