- Pursuit of Goeben and Breslau
Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Naval Pursuit of Goeben and Breslau
partof=the First World War
28 July- 10 August, 1914
Archibald Berkeley Milne, Ernest Troubridge, Augustin Boué de Lapeyrère
battlecruisers 4 armoured cruisers 4 light cruiser14 destroyers
battlecruiser1 Light Cruiser
casualties2= 4 Sailors|
The pursuit of "Goeben" and "Breslau" was a naval action that occurred in the
Mediterranean Seaat the outbreak of the First World Warwhen elements of the British Mediterranean Fleetattempted to intercept the German "Mittelmeerdivision" (Mediterranean Division) comprising the battlecruiserSMS "Goeben" and the light cruiserSMS "Breslau". The German ships evaded the British fleet and passed through the Dardanellesto reach Constantinoplewhere their arrival was a catalyst that contributed to the Ottoman Empirejoining the Central Powersby issuing a declaration of waragainst the Triple Entente.
Though a bloodless "battle", the failure of the British pursuit had enormous
politicaland military ramifications — in the words of Winston Churchill, they brought "more slaughter, more misery and more ruin than has ever before been borne within the compass of a ship."
Dispatched in 1912, the "Mittelmeerdivision" of the "
Kaiserliche Marine" (Imperial Navy), comprising only the "Goeben" and "Breslau", was under the command of Rear Admiral Wilhelm Souchon. In the event of war, the squadron's role was to intercept French transports bringing colonial troops from Algeriato France.
When war broke out between
Austria-Hungaryand Serbiaon 28 July 1914, Souchon was at Pola in the Adriaticwhere "Goeben" was undergoing repairs to her boilers. Not wishing to be trapped in the Adriatic, Souchon rushed to finish as much work as possible, but then took his ships out into the Mediterranean before all repairs were completed. He reached Brindision 1 August, but Italian authorities made excuses to avoid coaling the ship; Italy, despite being a signatory to the Triple Alliance, was still neutral. "Goeben" was joined by "Breslau" at Tarantoand the small squadron sailed for Messinawhere Souchon was able to obtain coal from German merchant ships.
30 July Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, had instructed the commander of the British Mediterranean Fleet, AdmiralSir Archibald Berkeley Milne, to cover the French transports taking the XIX Corps from North Africa across the Mediterranean to France. The Mediterranean Fleet, based at Malta, comprised three fast, modern battlecruisers, HMS "Inflexible", "Indefatigable" and "Indomitable", as well as four armoured cruisers, four light cruisers and a flotilla of 14 destroyers.
Milne's instructions were "to aid the French in transportation of their African army corps by covering and if possible bringing to action individual fast German ships, particularly "Goeben".... do not at this stage be brought to action against superior forces... you must husband your forces at the outset." ['Castles' p.31 quoting Churchill Vol.I p.222-224] Critically Churchill's orders did not explicitly state what he meant by "superior forces". He later explained he intended the Austrian fleet which counted eight
capital ships, including four Dreadnought battleships.
Milne assembled his force at Malta on
1 August. On 2 August he received instructions to shadow "Goeben" with two battlecruisers while maintaining a watch on the Adriatic, ready for a sortieby the Austrians. "Indomitable", "Indefatigable", five cruisers and eight destroyers commanded by Rear Admiral Ernest Troubridgewere sent to cover the Adriatic. "Goeben" had already departed but was sighted that same day at Taranto by the British Consul, who informed London. Fearing the German ships might be trying to escape to the Atlantic, the admiralty ordered that "Indomitable" and "Indefatigable" be sent West towards Gibraltar ['Castles' p.31 citing McLaughlin p.49] . Milne's other task of protecting French ships was complicated by the lack of any direct communications with the French navy, which had meanwhile postponed the sailing of the troop ships. The light cruiser, "Chatham", was sent to search the Straits of Messinafor the "Goeben". However, by this time, on the morning of 3 August, Souchon had departed Messina heading west.
Without specific orders, Souchon had decided to position his ships off the coast of
Africa, ready to engage when hostilities commenced. He planned to bombard the embarkation ports of Bôneand Philippeville in Algeria. "Goeben" was heading for Philippeville, while "Breslau" was detached to deal with Bône. At 6 p.m. on 3 August, while still sailing west, he received word that Germany had declared war on France. Then, early on 4 August, Souchon received orders from Admiral Alfred von Tirpitzreading: "Alliance with government of CUP concluded August 3. Proceed at once to Constantinople." So close to his targets, Souchon pushed on and his ships, flying the Russian flag as he approached, carried out their bombardment at dawn before breaking off and heading back to Messina for more coal. ['Castles' p.34]
Under a pre-war agreement with Britain, France was able to concentrate her entire fleet in the Mediterranean, leaving the
Royal Navyto ensure the security of France's Atlanticcoast. Three squadrons of the French fleet were covering the transports. However, assuming that "Goeben" would continue west, the French commander, Admiral Augustin de Lapeyrère, sent no ships to make contact and so Souchon was able to slip away to the east.
In Souchon's path were the two British battlecruisers, "Indomitable" and "Indefatigable", which made contact at 9.30 a.m. on 4 August, passing the German ships in the opposite direction. Unlike France, Britain was not yet at war with Germany (the declaration would not be made until later that day, following the start of the German invasion of neutral
Belgium), and so the British ships commenced shadowing "Goeben" and "Breslau". Milne reported the contact and position, but neglected to inform the Admiraltythat the German ships were heading east. Churchill therefore still expected them to threaten the French transports, and he authorized Milne to engage the German ships if they attacked. However, a meeting of the British Cabinet decided that hostilities could not start before a declaration of war, and at 2.00 p.m. Churchill was obliged to cancel his authorisation to attack. ['Castles' p.36]
The rated speed of "Goeben" was 27 knots, but her damaged boilers meant she could only manage 24 knots, and this was only achieved by working men and machinery to the limit; four stokers were killed by scalding
steam. Fortunately for Souchon, both British battlecruisers were also suffering from problems with their boilers and were unable to keep "Goeben"'s pace. The light cruiser HMS "Dublin" maintained contact, while "Indomitable" and "Indefatigable" fell behind. In fog and fading light, "Dublin" lost contact off Cape San Vitoon the north coast of Sicilyat 7.37 p.m.. "Goeben" and "Breslau" returned to Messina the following morning, by which time Britain and Germany were at war.
The Admiralty ordered Milne to respect Italian neutrality and stay outside a six-
milelimit from the Italian coast -- which precluded entrance into the passage of the Straits of Messina. Consequently, Milne posted guards on the exits from the Straits. Still expecting Souchon to head for the transports and the Atlantic, he placed two battlecruisers, "Inflexible" and "Indefatigable", to cover the northern exit (which gave access to the western Mediterranean), while the southern exit of the Straits was covered by a single light cruiser, HMS "Gloucester". Milne sent "Indomitable" west to coal at Bizerte, instead of south to Malta. ['Castles' p.39]
For Souchon, Messina was no haven. Italian authorities insisted he depart within 24 hours and delayed supplying coal. Provisioning his ships required ripping up the decks of German merchant steamers in harbour and manually shovelling their coal into his bunkers. By the evening of
6 August, and despite the help of 400 volunteers from the merchantmen, he had only taken on 1,500 tonswhich was insufficient to reach Istanbul. Further messages from Tirpitz made his predicament even more dire. He was informed that Austria would provide no naval aid in the Mediterranean and that Ottoman Empire was still neutral and therefore he should no longer make for Istanbul. Faced with the alternative of seeking refuge at Pola, and probably remaining trapped for the rest of the war, Souchon chose to head for Istanbul anyway, his purpose being "to force the Ottoman Empire, even against their will, to spread the war to the Black Seaagainst their ancient enemy, Russia." ['Castles' p. 39]
Milne was instructed on 5 August to continue watching the Adriatic for signs of the Austrian fleet and to prevent the German ships joining them. He chose to keep his battlecruisers in the west, dispatching "Dublin" to join Troubridge's cruiser squadron in the Adriatic, which he believed would be able to intercept "Goeben" and "Breslau". Troubridge was instructed 'not to get seriously engaged with superior forces', once again intended as a warning against engaging the Austrian fleet. When "Goeben" and "Breslau" emerged into the eastern Mediterranean on 6 August, they were met by "Gloucester" which, being out-gunned, began to shadow the German ships. ['Castles p.40-41]
Troubridge's squadron comprised the four armoured cruisers HMS "Defence", "Black Prince", "Warrior", "Duke of Edinburgh" and eight destroyers armed with torpedos. The cruisers had 9.2-inch (23,5 cm) guns versus the 11-inch (28cm) guns of "Goeben", so that Troubridge's squadron was out-ranged and he considered his only chance was to locate and engage "Goeben" in favourable light, at dawn, with "Goeben" east of his ships. At least five of the destroyers would also not have enough coal to keep up. By 4 a.m. on
7 AugustTroubridge realised he would not be able to catch the German ships before daylight. He signalled Milne with his intentions to break off the chase, but no reply was received until 10 a.m.. By that time, mindful of Churchill's ambiguous order to avoid engaging a "superior force", he had withdrawn to Zante to refuel. ['Castles of Steel' p.44 ]
Milne ordered "Gloucester" to disengage, still expecting Souchon to turn west, but it was apparent to "Gloucester"'s captain that "Goeben" was fleeing. "Breslau" attempted to harass "Gloucester" into breaking off — Souchon had a collier waiting off the coast of
Greeceand needed to shake his pursuer before he could rendezvous. "Gloucester" finally engaged "Breslau", hoping this would compel "Goeben" to drop back and protect the light cruiser. According to Souchon, the Breslau was hit, but no damage was done. The action then broke off without further hits being scored. Finally Milne ordered "Gloucester" to cease pursuit at Cape Matapan.
Shortly after midnight on
8 August, Milne took his three battlecruisers and the light cruiser HMS "Weymouth" east. At 2 p.m. he received an incorrect signal from the Admiralty stating that Britain was at war with Austria — war would not be declared until 12 Augustand the order was countermanded four hours later, but Milne chose to guard the Adriatic rather than seek "Goeben". Finally on 9 AugustMilne was given clear orders to "chase "Goeben" which had passed Cape Matapan on the 7th steering north-east." Milne still did not believe that Souchon was heading for the Dardanelles, and so he resolved to guard the exit from the Aegean, unaware that the "Goeben" did not intend to come out.
Souchon had replenished his coal off the island of
Donoussaon 9 August. At 5 p.m. on 10 Augusthe reached the Dardanelles and awaited permission to pass through. Germany had for some time been courting the Committee of Union and Progressof imperial government, and they now used their influence to pressure the Turkish Minister of War, Enver Pasha, into granting the ships passage, an act that would outrage Russia which relied on the Dardanelles as its main all-season shipping route. In addition, the Germans managed to persuade Enver to order any pursuing British ships to be fired on. By the time Souchon received permission to enter the straights, his lookouts could see smoke on the horizon from approaching British ships.
Turkey was still a neutral country bound by treaty to prevent German ships passing the straights. To get around this difficulty it was agreed that the ships should become part of the Turkish navy. On
16 August, having reached Constantinople, "Goeben" and "Breslau" were transferred to the Turkish Navy in a small ceremony, becoming respectively the "Yavuz Sultan Selim" and the "Midilli", though they retained their German crews with Souchon still in command. The Initial reaction in Britain was one of satisfaction, that a threat had been removed from the Mediterranean. On 23 September, Souchon was appointed commander in chief of the Ottoman Navy. ['Castles' p.48-49]
In August, Germany, still expecting a swift victory, was content for the Ottoman Empire to remain neutral. The mere presence of a powerful warship like "Goeben" in the
Sea of Marmarawould be enough to occupy a British naval squadron guarding the Dardanelles. However, following German reverses at the First Battle of the Marnein September, and with Russian successes against Austria-Hungary, Germany began to regard Ottoman Empire as a useful ally. Tensions began to escalate when Ottoman Empire closed the Dardanelles to all shipping on 27 September, blocking Russia's exit from the Black Sea— the Black Sea route accounted for over 90% of Russia's import and export traffic.
Germany's gift of the two modern warhips had an enormous positive impact with the Turkish population. At the outbreak of the war, Churchill had caused outrage when he "requisitioned" two almost completed Turkish
battleships in British shipyards, the "Sultan Osman I" and the "Reshadieh", that had been financed by public subscription at a cost of six million pounds. Turkey was offered compensation of £1000 per day for so long as the war might last, provided she remained neutral. (These ships were commissioned into the Royal Navyas HMS "Agincourt" and HMS "Erin" respectively.) The Turks had been neutral, though the navy had been pro-British (having purchased 40 warships from British shipyards) while the army was in favor of Germany, so the two incidents helped resolve the deadlock and the Ottoman Empire would join the Central Powers. ['Castles' p.22-23]
diplomacyfrom France and Russia attempted to keep Ottoman Empire out of the war, but Germany was agitating for a commitment. In the aftermath of Souchon's daring dash to Constantinople, Turkey on 15 August 1914 cancelled her maritime agreement with Britain and the Royal Navy mission under Admiral Limpus left by 15 September. Finally on 29 October, the point of no return was reached when Admiral Souchon took "Goeben", "Breslau" and a squadron of Turkish warships into the Black Sea and raided the Russian ports of Odessa, Sevastopoland Theodosia. Russia declared war on Ottoman Empire on 2 Novemberand France and Britain followed suit on 5 November.
The main aim of this raid was to find and neutralize the Russian Black Sea fleet. They were not able to locate the Russian ships and lost all the surprise element. This was a major failure and set back. Russian Black Sea fleet was left unscathed and continued to threaten and harass Bospourus and the Turkish Black Sea coast for the rest of the war.
With the Ottoman Empire at war a new theatre was opened,
Middle Eastern theatre of World War I, with main fronts of Gallipoli, the Sinai and Palestine, Mesopotamia, and in Caucasus. The course of the war in the Balkanswas also influenced by the entry of the Ottoman Empire on the side of the Central Powers.
While the consequences of the Royal Navy's failure to intercept "Goeben" and "Breslau" had not been immediately apparent, the humiliation of the "defeat" resulted in Admirals de Lapeyrère, Milne and Troubridge being censured. Milne was recalled from the Mediterranean and did not hold another command until retirement at his own request in 1919, his planned assumtion of the Nore command having being cancelled in 1916 due to "other exigencies." The Admiralty repeatedly stated that Milne had been exonerated of all blame. [Cite newspaper The Times |articlename=Admiral Sir A. B. Milne |section=Obituaries |day_of_week=Wednesday |date=6 July 1938 |page_number=18 |issue=48039 |column=D ] For his failure to engage the "Goeben" with his
cruisers, Troubridge was court-martialled in November on the charge that "he did forbear to chase HIGM's ship "Goeben", being an enemy then flying." On appeal he was acquitted, on the grounds that he was under orders not to engage a "superior force". He commanded the naval forces off the Dardanelles before being given command of a force on the Danubein 1915 against the Austro-Hungarians. [Cite newspaper The Times |articlename=Admiral Sir Ernest Troubridge |section=Obituaries |day_of_week=Saturday |date=30 january 1926 |page_number=12 |issue=44183 |column=A ]
Although not a widely known historical event now, the escape of the "Goeben" to Constantinople ultimately precipitated some of the most dramatic events of the 20th century.
Ludendorffstated in his memoirs that he believed the entry of the Turks into the war allowed the outnumbered Central powers to fight on for two years longer than they would have been able on their own. The war was extended to the Middle East with main fronts of Gallipoli, the Sinai and Palestine, Mesopotamia, and in Caucasus. The course of the war in the Balkanswas also influenced by the entry of the Ottoman Empire on the side of the Central Powers. Had the war ended in 1916, that would have meant that some of the bloodiest engagements, such as the Battle of the Somme, would have been avoided. The United States of Americamight not have been drawn from its policy of isolation to intervene in a foreign war.
In allying with the Central Powers, the Turks also shared their fate in ultimate defeat. This gave the victorious allies the opportunity to carve up the collapsed Ottoman Empire to suit their political whims. Many new nations were created including Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, and the idea of a Jewish state in Israel was considered for the first time.
Also, the closure of Russia's only ice-free trade route through the Dardanelles effectively strangled the Russian economy. Unable to export grain nor import munitions, the Russian army was isolated from her allies and slowly began to collapse. Combined with the German decision to release
Vladimir Leninin 1917, the sealing off of the Black Sea was one of the critical contributors to the "revolutionary situation" in Russia which would explode into the October Revolution.
*cite book|title=Gallipoli|author=Moorehead, Alan|year=1956|id=ISBN 1-85326-675-2|publisher=Wordsworth Editions
The Guns of August|author=Tuchman, Barbara|year=1962|id=ISBN 0-333-69880-0|publisher=Constable
*cite book|title=Intelligence in War|author=Keegan, John|year=2003|id=ISBN 0-09-180229-6|publisher=Hutchinson
*cite book|title=A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East 1914-1922|author=Fromkin, David|year=1989|id=ISBN 0-8050-0857-8|publisher=Owl Books
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* [http://www.superiorforce.co.uk/ Superior Force: The Conspiracy Behind the Escape of "Goeben" and "Breslau"]
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