Chase and Tragedy
It was the last peaceful summer in the Mediterranean as tensions mounted around the stifled European monarchies. Germany had a number of ships stationed around the world to protect its foreign interests. Primarily their task was to show Germanys determination to hold on to her colonies and in the event of war, destroy British merchant ships.
Two imperial ships of the German navy awaited orders under the command of Admiral Wilhelm Souchon. Both were expendable and expected to damage the enemy to the maximum, before they were sunk. The cruisers were in a vulnerable position as the Royal Navy vastly outnumbered and out gunned them.
Souchon, (left) a product of the time, daring, ruthless, clever and determined, planned to take his ships, the battle cruisers Goeben and Breslau out of harms way. It would have been unforgivable if the Goeben with its 34 guns and thousand crew to fall foul of the British. It was a relatively new ship, fast and forceful but not without problems. Its boiler’s tube leaks reducing its speed substantially. Souchon decided to take the ships to Pola in the Adriatic.
There, in a safe anchorage used by the Austro- Hungarian fleets the Goeben was being repaired by her engineers, while the Breslau anchored off the south Italians coast.
In the end of July 1914 they steamed to Brindisi for coaling On August the 1st Germany declared war on Russia and sent a wireless message to Souchon warning of the impending declaration by France. Sealed in the Goeben, Souchon had secret plans in case of war, to attack French Algerian installations. Then the two ships were ordered to join the main German force in the North Atlantic. The steam boilers repairs of the Goeben were incomplete when Souchon made way to join the Breslau.
Passing through the Messina Straits on the 3rd August Souchon received information of Germany’s proclamation of war with France. New orders had arrived for the ships to sail east, to assist in bringing Turkey into the war on Germany’s side.
Souchon carrying out the first part of the plan, on the morning of the 4th of August, flying Russian flags, bombarded the Algerian Ports of Bona and Philippeville. Britain’s Cabinet was divided on the point of declaring war while the German ships bombarded a British steamer.
Souchon had disobeyed orders to avoid any action directed against Britain. News of this incident did not arrive in London till after hostilities ensued and had therefore no effect on the outcome.
Then before setting off on a thousand mile journey, the German ships sailed to Italy for a consignment of coal. The British were at anchor in southern Sicily and were awaiting news of a declaration of war with Germany.
Admiral Sir Archibald Milne had been ordered to find and follow the German ships while Britain was still neutral. As hostilities were yet to be declared, Milne could pursue the German ships but an actual attack was disallowed under International Law.
Arky- Barky as Milne was known had no experience in war, an aristocrat and friend of the King George V. His last command had been on the opulent Royal Yacht and had been a stickler for the rules. He thought an admiral was not paid to think and had only to obey orders from above. This reliance on proper orders was probably due to his indolence and indecisiveness. Milne was born near Musselburgh, Midlothian and in his youth climbed the church steeple to straighten the weather cock. Which shows he had some daring and personal determination.
On the way to trail Souchon’s ships the Royal Navy’s Indomitable and Indefatigable encountered the Goeben and the Breslau. Both naval forces were heading for each other confusing the Captains. The cruisers passed each other, guns ready for action if attacked. The British ships turned to pursue as the German ship made its way back to Italy. Souchon ordered full speed ahead to try and out run his pursuers. In the boiler rooms the stokers shovelling coal into the large blazing furnaces began to collapse.
A defective valve in the Goeben blasted its pressurised steam into the engine room killing four stokers. Still, they began to pull away from the British and by the night of the 4th August were out of sight. Souchon entered neutral Italian waters anchoring at Messina where prearranged German coal barges awaited the cruisers. This was against International law and a time limit of twenty four hours was imposed by the Italians.
Milne sticking to orders and the Law did not follow into neutral waters.He hoped to seal off Souchon’s escape by sending the Indomitable and Indefatigable to the west of the port of Messina. This would stop the German run to the Atlantic or a return to Pola.
Milne had no idea of Souchon’s plan to go to Turkey and consequently did not block that route. The Germans appropriated enough fuel to reach the Aegean Sea and arranged for further coals to be there. The crews of the Goeben and Breslau did not expect to survive the onslaught of the British Navy and wrote out their wills and passed on letters to be given to their
Souchon was in a dilemma as the Italians were pressuring him to leave and the Turks had yet to agree on him anchoring at Constantinople. With the British on his tail, he had only one way to go and that was to Turkey and try to press the advantages of German force.
Souchon’s ships left the Harbour in the same night Britain was drawn into the war. Milne had put the light cruiser Gloucester at the entrance to the harbour, when its captain saw the German ships in the moonlight he sent a signal to Milne. With the Gloucester following, Souchon made full speed.
A firing exchange took place the next morning and aware of the possibility of the Goeben’s boiler problems reoccurring Souchon broke of the engagement. By now other British ships were involved. Admiral Troubridge’s squadron comprised of four armoured cruisers the Defence, Black Prince, Warrior and Duke of Edinburgh. Their guns were smaller than the 11inch Goebens, bringing doubts of their ability to win a face on confrontation. He kept a safe distance until he was ready to attack and ordered his squadron to turn south towards the enemy.
His Flag Captain, Fawcet Wray, not keen to engage asked if he was going to fight and adding it would be suicide. Fawcet declared admiralty orders did not give permission to attack. Troubridge called off the chase in tears. Captain Wray commended his action as “The bravest thing you have ever done in your life.”
By now Milne decided to let Troubridge’s ships go as he thought Souchon was now caught in the east of the Mediterranean. As Milne made plans to seal of the area, Souchon coaled his ships of the island of Denusa and slipped away through the Suez canal. Souchon told his second collier to proceed to Constantinople and go to any lengths to arrange for a passage through the straits, with or without approval. Milne had at that time no clear indication where the enemy ships were going and was wholly caught off guard.
At 5:00 pm on August 10, the Goeben and the Breslau reached the entrance to the port of Constantinople. Souchon received this message. “Demand surrender of the forts.” which allowed him authority to force his way into the port if necessary. Then to "Enter." and “Capture pilot."
Meanwhile in Constantinople, German, British diplomats and the Turkish Government held a meeting. Deftly, the Germans persuaded the Turkish minister to allow the Goeben and Breslau to enter the harbour. Von Kress in the Enver’s service demanded the forts open fire on any British ship attempting to follow the cruisers.
Admiral Souchon requested a pilot and was surprised when a small boat came out to guide his ships through the minefields that protected the harbour, by announcing “Follow me.” He had expected a fight, instead a Turkish destroyer met them amicably. The British Admiral Milne was less than a hundred miles away.
Great Britain had recently broken a contract to supply two new battleships to the Turkish government. The government was aware of the threat of a European war and decided to keep the new warships for their own defence. In a compensation ploy, the Germans offered to sell them the Goeben and the Breslau.
The Turks agreed to purchase the German battle cruisers provided the German crews remained. Both ships were renamed the Yavuz Sultan Selim and the Midili.
Souchon in honour of his abilities was made commander-in-chief of the Turkish navy. With a wink, Souchon entered the Sultan's service. He then ordered the Goeben's boilers to be repaired and later took the ships into the Black Sea. There, the cities of Odessa, Sebastopol and Novorossiysk were bombarded without permission of the Turkish government.
On October 30, 1914. Turkey joined the war on the German side obviously persuaded by Admiral Wilhelm Souchons, Goeben and the Breslau. Colonel Hans Kannergiesser later wrote. “We heard the clanking of the portcullis descending before the Dardanelles.” Soon the Germans were wearing fezzes insisting they were Turkish in perfect German accent.
As a result of their failure, Milne and Troubridge were placed on half-pay. Milne was sent into retirement and Troubridge was assigned to land-based duties. The only commendation was for the captain of the Gloucester who had opened fire on the Goeben and Breslau. Failure of Milne and Troubridge had catastrophic results.
Ludendorf believed it extended the war by two years. America would not have entered the conflict and the British Empire may have been saved. The debts that lay heavy after the war would have been dramatically less. It is possible the Russian Army collapsed in 1917and the Russian Revolution would never have taken place. Palestine and Israel came into being with the falling apart of the Ottoman Empire. Iraq and Iran and all the resultant burdens.
These are only some of the effects of the Goeben and Breslau entering Constantinople Harbour.
On to the World stage came the Dardanelles and Gallipoli.
So said the Dream, and left him where he lay.
By the end of November 1914 the Times called for a strategy of some imagination. Britain and France had already suffered over a million casualties all funnelled into the western front.
On the vulnerable edge of the failing Ottoman Empire there was hope of new allies. During the first two weeks of the war the Greek Premiere Venezelos proposed an Anglo Greek venture to occupy Gallipoli volunteering sixty thousand of his own men. The war office had been studying this idea for
some time regarding it ripe for plucking as only a skeletal garrison held the western shore of the strait Gallipoli.
Russia an ally was supplied by over 90% of its grain through the Bosporus and the Dardanelles. The latter was considered the key to Constantinople. Turkey was still neutral, but slowly coming under the influence of Germany. An active Turkey could threaten Egypt cut the Russian supplies and attract others on to the German side.
Churchill, the first lord of the Admiralty, had organised a meeting of two top army Generals and two Admirals in which he considered the price of taking Gallipoli would be high, but a good army of 50,000 and sea power would end the Turkish menace.
A British vessel at the end of September 1914 stopped a Turkish torpedo boat off the coast of Cape Helles finding Germans on board turned it back. The German in command of the straits mined the Dardanelles. Darkened all light houses and declared the channel closed, this was a violation of an International convention. Fisher Admiral of the Fleet found the prospect of shelling the sea forts attractive.
After the British Ambassador left Constantinople on November 4th London declared war on Turkey, a British squadron opened fire on the outer forts of Kuma Kale and Seddulbahir for twenty minutes. By luck, a shell hit the magazine in Seddulbahir Castle killing 86 Turks and knocking out 10 guns. The submarine B11 torpedoed the Turkish battleship Messudieh giving an impression of an easy victory ahead.
The Turks and their German friends were now well warned. German officials knew the importance of the Dardanelles and how vital the consequence of its loss would be. Delay, inertia, changing of minds, indecision, loose talk blundered planning dragged the hours. The Allies were not aware of the long military history and bravery of the Turkish soldier. Who would fight hard for their home land and the identity of their people.
The blue haze of the sea spills on to land giving a haunting timeless appearance on the Dardanelles. The Dardanelles are nearly two and a half miles wide at its mouth. Looking to the left, the imposing Castle structure of Seddulbahir and drifting to the right the low marshland advancing to Fort Kum Kale. The Fort is near the mouth of the river Mendere mentioned in Homer's Iliad.
Behind is the Trojan plain and the legendary Troy and its legendary siege. At Eren Keui Bay the Dardanelles widen to four miles and above on the Asian side is Achi Baba at 700 feet. Moving a further 10 miles are the yellow hills of Sair Bair rising to 1,000 feet. The land becomes rough and wild. On the Dardanelles side, the hills run towards the Maidos Plain where lies Gaba Tepe above the narrows. Sari Bair hills fall to the water edge to Anzac Cove in razor edged cuttings, steep and dangerous. At the narrows, the Castle Kilitbahir across from the forts of Canakkale, threaten the waters that head towards the Sea of Marma and Constantinople.
Frank, was a private in the 6th Bn Royal Scots Territorial Force who joined in the first volunteer rush. They were based in Edinburgh and as part of the Lothian Brigade they were responsible for Coastal defence. In mid 1915 the 6th Battalion send a large number of its men to reinforce the 4th Royal Scots. This unit had three other infantry battalions the 7th Royal Scots and the 7th and 8th Cameronians who were then being fitted out with tropical equipment. Short Embarkation leave was granted before the men filled out their Wills and next of kin forms.
The troops travelled by train to Liverpool, a few hours behind the 7th Battalion, that suffered
200 killed in the terrible Gretna crash. There was a delay at Liverpool while the H.M.T Empress of Britain was made ready. Late on a Sunday 23rd May, the Empress sailed for the East Mediterranean with the 4th Battalion at a strength of 30 Officers and 941 Other Ranks. The Empress stopped in Malta to coal before reaching Alexandria on the 3rd June. By the time they reached the camping area 15 miles away it was dark so the men slept on blankets on the sand. To their surprise the next morning they were near the sea and plunged in for a welcome bathe. In the town of Aboukir, the soldiers discovered the locals hyped the price of fruit. Selling an orange for four pence, the soldiers were not interested so the price quickly dropped to one penny. The area was one of historical importance where Admiral Nelson defeated the French at the Battle of the Nile, but it was remembered by the soldiers in a more realistic fashion. A place swarming with ants, beetles, scorpions and lizards. Where all that can be seen is sand so hot it was almost unbearable. Bathing naked in the sea alleviated the discomfort of the khaki serge tunics and long trousers wrapped with puttees up to the knees.
Back in Alexandria the Empress of Britain waited for them to board. The secret was out, they would soon land in Gallipoli after a stop at Murdos Bay Lemnos. The Village of Murdos was later to have several hospitals for the sick and wounded. Water was always in short supply as it had to be brought from Egypt. A German monoplane attacked the ships in the bay while the crowded decks of the Empress watched. The naval guns eventually chased away the intruder unscathed.
On the 11th June, the battalion split into three, began to embark for Gallipoli with five hundred men of the battalion headquarters including A and B companies. The ship HMS Reindeer collided with the hospital ship Immingham and for half an hour the Reindeer crew fought to disentangle the ships. Fortunately the hospital ship had only the crew on board and had time to scramble over to the Reindeer. There was no life belt nor life boats so the companies lined up in three ranks awaiting orders. With the efforts made, the damaged Reindeer could return to the safe waters of Mudros. Leaving behind the sinking Immingham.
After the dreadful train crash and the collision with a hospital ship, it did not look good for the Royal Scots.
During a transfer from a French ship to the Empress of Britain, the enemy swooped in to bomb close to the vulnerable ships. The battalion eventually arrived at W beach Gallipoli and marched inland for a mile to dig trenches under shell fire. An attack was planned despite the lack of artillery and shortage of ammunition. The Royal Scots battalions were employed digging communication trenches till they were ordered forward. About half way to their destination orders were changed and they returned to the new dug trenches. What they did not know was the men they were sent to relieve were overrun and had regained their positions at the point of a bayonet.
In the evening of the 19th June the battalion moved to the front line, losing 9 killed and 10 wounded by shell fire. For the next five days the Turks were quiet and the unit only lost 1 man and 7 wounded. Two sergeants, expert shots, put paid to several Turkish snipers and were recommended by Lt General Hunter Weston.
Early in the afternoon of the 27th June they were up front again to the east of Gully Ravine and would be joined by the 29th division for an attack on Achi Baba. The idea was for the Scots to push the Turks back up the ravine to threaten their hold on Achi Baba. From that high position the enemy could call fire on the Allies. The 4th Royal Scots were in the centre position of the attack along with the Scottish Rifles. The land and sea bombardment began at 0900 hour lasting three quarters of an hour.
It did not look as if the shells landed on the trenches the Royal Scots were about to attack. The battalions machine guns were the mens only help as they advanced under orders to use bayonets only. Moving to the ravine and a crisscross of trenches to the flank a redoubt stood menacingly near. This was quickly neutralised by the Border Regiment and men of the 29th Division. At 11.00 hrs with a roar the 4th Royal Scots advanced in three waves under a high sun. They were met by murderous fire so fierce men leaned forward into the blasts. Added to the sustained artillery fire rifle and machine gun bullets rocked the air. The company on the left sustained heavy loses including the units commander and most of the officers.
Where there was no officer, NCOs took command and where there was none, the men pressed on leaderless. Pipe Major Buchan, wounded twice, played his pipes until killed by a bullet from a parapet.
When the men reached the enemy trenches they seemed to hesitate and then rushed in fighting with bayonet, feet, bare fists and shovels. Then charged on to the second enemy trench. The Turks were amazed at the ferocity of the attack and many ran while others fearlessly held their ground until dispatched. Up the ravine the Royal Scots advance despite the heavy loses. 61 men of C Company took the last objective trench chasing the Turks backwards. Luck turned against the Turks as they fled from the 87th Brigade and ran into the Royal Scots field of fire.
The Turks seeing the danger to Achi Baba rained shell fire on to the Gully Ravine. In the dry heat the shell explosions set fire to the gorse and shrub soon to become hellish. Badly wounded men cried out for help and their comrades braved the flames to rescue them. Sadly many were burned to death before they could be saved.
The 4th Royal Scots had achieved their objectives with 204 killed and 140 wounded with only 3 officers unscathed.
On the right the 7th Royal Scots lost 6 officers, 116 men killed and 120 wounded. Unfortunately the 8th Cameronians were nearly wiped out to a man. With other units in support the positions were held against two determined counter attacks in the same day.
On the 28th June they advanced as far as possible without adequate artillery support which was claimed as a victory. But some of the commanders began to question the effect of frontal attacks with inadequate munitions and artillery. General Hunter Weston did not respond to the complaints. Major General Edgerton’s remark of blooding the pups as he called sending in the territorial on the 28th did not go down well. Sir Ian Hamilton sent a letter to Kitchener referring to Egerton as highly strung and apt to be excitable under stress. As a result of the complaint he was taken off the peninsula and followed later by Hunter Weston who suffered from exhaustion. To be fair Egerton criticized the callous use of the men.
In the end the Allies gains were small as the determined Turks progressively retook the positions at a very high cost. After weeks of fighting from the 28th June the British losses were 3,800 whilst the Turks a greater14,000. The 4th and the 7th Battalions had to amalgamate until fresh reserves reached them. In a memorial service at the end of July, the men stood in the dark under bright stars where they could barely see each other. As they sang the familiar hymns others joined in stirring the hearts of the men. They prayed that they would be worthy to cherish the memory of the heroic friends and comrades.
Frank was one of the fallen. His body was never recovered and so lies in an unmarked grave as many of his comrades were.
Acknowledgments to Warship International-Fall 1969.
Gallipoli by L.A. Carlyon. and The Last Lion by William Manchester.
Also the information we were freely given.