Vice-Admiral Sackville-Carden

Once Souchon and his warships were assimilated into the Turkish navy, Rear-Admiral Sir Arthur Limpus, who had been the naval advisor to the Turkish government for two years, was withdrawn from his mission by Churchill on 9 September 1914. Limpus knew the precise details of all the Dardanelles defences and had a prodigious knowledge of every aspect of Turkish naval planning. [1] Logically, he was the prime candidate in every sense for the post of Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean fleet but he was relegated to the desk-bound job of superintendent of the Malta dockyards while Vice- Admiral Sackville Carden, who had spent the past two years in this relative backwater, assumed command of the fleet. It was a strange decision by any standard. Sackville-Carden was considered slow and ineffective, [2] but the arrangement was apparently based on the need to reassure the Turks that Britain, as their natural friend, would not take advantages of Limpus’s invaluable knowledge. It was not quite cricket. [3] While that argument held some credibility in September 1914, it became a nonsense when Britain declared war on Turkey in late October. Incredibly, Limpus’s unique local knowledge was ignored by the Admiralty in their subsequent foray into the Dardanelles.

On August 15 Churchill sent a personal telegram to Enver Pasha warning him that Turkey must remain neutral. [4] Churchill sent several communications of a private and personal nature directly to Enver Pasha, which raises justifiable questions about their relationship; questions that have never been suitably answered. He reminded Enver that the Allies held overwhelming naval power and could transport troops in almost unlimited numbers to Constantinople. However, if Turkey maintained strict neutrality, he promised that her territorial integrity would be respected at the end of the war. [5] It was part of a calculated tactical manoeuvre to buy time. The Secret Elite had no wish to see the Ottoman Empire remain neutral, nor the slightest intention of genuinely guaranteeing its integrity. In truth, Britain made no really significant concession to the Turks. [6] It was all about buying time.

Russia too was playing for time. Foreign Secretary Sazov instructed his ambassador at Constantinople to be firm but cautious regarding Goeben and Breslau, but not to press too hard or ‘drive affairs to a rupture.’ [7] His goal was to delay Turkish entry into the war against the Entente for as long as possible so that they would not be engaged on two fronts. An unexpected opportunity presented itself on 5 August when Enver Pasha made a surprising proposal. Just 3 days after the secret treaty with Germany had been signed, and before the Goeben arrived, Enver Pasha suggested an alliance with Russia for a period between 5 or 10 years. He insisted that Turkey was not bound to Germany, had no aggressive intentions against Russia, and had mobilised her forces for her own safety. Enver proposed that Turkey would provide Russia with military assistance in the war if Russia supported Turkish interests to regain the Aegean islands lost to Greece and territory in western Thrace lost to Bulgaria in the Balkan wars. [8]

Was this a game of bluff with all sides playing for time to get their armies into position or was Enver prepared to double-cross the Germans and make a genuine attempt to realign his country with Russia and the Entente? Sazonov wanted the Turks to demobilise their armies as a sign of good faith but such action would have left Turkey defenceless and they could not possibly comply. [9] Enver’s proposal was rejected on 9 August. [10] The Young Turks later admitted that they too had remained neutral with the sole object of gaining time to complete their mobilization. [11] It was all smoke and mirrors. Russia was attempting to trick the Turks who were in turn trying to deceive the Russians. Neither realised that Britain was hoodwinking them both.

A Turkish gun defending the Dardanelles

By September, the stakes in this ever more dangerous charade rose higher and higher. Louis Mallet was given authority by the Foreign Office to decide when the Embassy staff, British officials working in the service of the Ottoman government, British residents in Turkey and shipping agents should be instructed to leave. [12] Though his mission was far from over, he had been able to send invaluable information to the Foreign Office; information that was to be scurrilously ignored in the months ahead. He advised his bosses that the defence systems along the Dardanelles had been ‘rapidly fortified’ and were manned by Germans. [13] His spies reported that over 2,000 cases of shells for both the Goeben and the Dardanelle forts had been delivered from Germany. Fresh shipments of mines had also been delivered down the Danube waterways. ‘Neutral’ Turkey was being armed by Germany, and the Foreign Office had all the facts and figures. [14] That in itself was sufficient reason for Britain to declare war, but Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey refused to take that step in order to make it appear that ‘we had done everything to avoid war and that Turkey had forced it.’ [15]

London continued to goad the Turks. On the morning that Admiral Limpus departed from Constantinople, each and every member of the Ottoman Cabinet was warned that Turkish ships would be treated as enemy vessels if they stepped outside the protective waters of the Dardanelles. [16] Britain effectively blockaded a neutral country. The Grand Vizier asked the Royal Navy to pull their ships back but Churchill refused. Although mines had been laid across the Narrows, Allied merchantmen had been allowed to use a safe channel through the Dardanelles. This consideration was brought to an end on 26 September. A Turkish torpedo boat attempted to exit the Straits but was heaved to, boarded and sent back. There was no justification whatsoever for this high handed action [17] other than to raise the stakes. In response, the Turks extinguished the lighthouses and closed the strategic waterway to all vessels. If they weren’t allowed out, then no-one would be allowed through. In responding this way, the Ottoman authorities violated their obligation to keep the Straits open under international law, but ‘once again they appeared to have been provoked to do so by the actions of Winston Churchill’. [18] Indeed, it was as tactless as the confiscation of the two Turkish battleships. [19] The closure of the Dardanelles on 27 September cut Russia off from almost all of her international trade. Sazonov was apoplectic. The time was fast approaching for the Russia to ‘settle accounts’ with her ancient enemy and resolve the question of the Straits for good. [20]

Black Sea PortsOn 11 October Enver Pasha informed the Germans that he would authorise Goeben and Breslau to attack Russia as soon as Germany deposited two million Turkish pounds in gold in Constantinople to support the Ottoman military forces. Time for neutrality had run its course. On 29 October, eight days after the last shipment of gold arrived by rail, the Turkish fleet under Admiral Souchon fired the first salvo in Turkey’s unannounced declaration of war. At 3.30 am the Black Sea ports of Odessa and Sebastopol were bombarded though the Black Sea fleet remained virtually unscathed. Enver Pasha had authorised the provocative attack without regard to his Cabinet colleagues. They in turn, immediately insisted on offering an apology to the Russians. Isolated but unrepentant, Enver Pasha reaped what had been sown. [21]

Responding before the apology was even drafted, Sir Edward Grey ordered the British Ambassador to deliver an ultimatum which demanded the dismissal of the German military and naval missions, and the removal of all German personnel from Goeben and Breslau within twelve hours. If the Turks failed to comply, the Ambassador and Embassy staff were instructed to ask for their passports and leave. [22] From the outset, it was a patently impossible request, [23] but by late October, Britain was ready for war…. in the Middle East. While the focus of attention lay on the Western Front, the Foreign Office and the War Office had been preparing for war in a completely different theatre. Kitchener ’s experience in Egypt allied to Mallet’s years at the Eastern Division of the Foreign Office had been used to good effect. Plans had been hatched, warships were in place in the Arabian gulf, propaganda about the safety of Holy Places was already in circulation and the Pan-Arab movement was being quietly encouraged. Mallet had been instrumental in buying three valuable months for Grey and Kitchener, [24] and the Turks were shocked when, within a week of war being declared, the British army was encamped in Kuwait, and an expeditionary force from India was headed to Baghdad. [25]

Britain broke off diplomatic relations with Turkey on 30 October and the following day a ‘cock-a-hoop’ Churchill ordered the British warships to bombard the Dardanelles. [26] He gave the order to ‘commence hostilities with Turkey’ without informing the Cabinet or formally declaring war. [27] But we should forget about Churchill for a moment and concentrate on Enver Pasha. Enver had agreed the secret pact with Germany on 2 August. Enver had asked them to send the Goeben and Breslau to Constantinople. Enver instructed Souchon to attack the Russian Black Sea ports. Enver had made the first move. Enver had delivered the condition for war. Enver, Churchill’s personal and confidential friend had given the Secret Elite exactly the excuse they needed. Inside Asquith’s Cabinet, Churchill declared, ‘it was the best thing since the outbreak of war’. [28] You might be forgiven for thinking that Enver was a servant of the Secret Elite.

On 2 November, Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire, and Britain and France followed suit. Russia could now focus attention on her most treasured war aim; to take control of the Straits and Constantinople. After centuries of yearning, her great dream stood on the verge of realisation. [29] Every member of the Council of Ministers in Petrograd was agreed; Turkey must be dismembered. The only point of dispute was over which precise parts of the Ottoman Empire would be incorporated into Russia. [30] In his official declaration of war against the Turks, Czar Nicholas stated, ‘It is with complete serenity… that Russia takes on the appearance of this new enemy….the present conflict will only accelerate her submission to fate and open up Russia’s path towards the realization of the historic task of her ancestors along the shores of the Black Sea.’ [31] Russia’s date with destiny had arrived, but the Secret Elite had a very different agenda.

[1] Michael Hickey, Gallipoli. p. 27.
[2] Tim Travers, Gallipoli, pp 20–21.
[3] Michael Hickey, Gallipoli. p. 27.
[4] Joseph Heller, Sir Louis Mallet and the Ottoman Empire, The Road to War, Middle Eastern Studies, Vol.12, No. 1 (Jan., 1976), p. 36.
[5] Martin Gilbert, Winston S Churchill, vol III, p. 194.
[6] Hew Strachan, The First World War vol. 1; To Arms, p. 675.
[7] Sazonov to Girs, 8 August, 1914, telegram, 1746, MO 6.1 no.33.
[8] Ronald P. Bobroff, Roads to Glory, Late Imperial Russia and the Straits, p 101.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Sean McMeekin, The Russian Origins of the First World War, p.107.
[11] W.W. Gottlieb, Studies in Secret Diplomacy, p. 60.
[12] Joseph Heller, Sir Louis Mallet and the Ottoman Empire, The Road to War, Middle Eastern Studies, Vol.12, No. 1 (Jan., 1976), p. 12.
[13] Ibid., p. 14.
[14] Daily Telegraph, 3 October 1914.
[15] A.L. Macfie, The Straits Question in the First World War, Middle Eastern Studies, July 1983, p. 49.
[16] Joseph Heller, Sir Louis Mallet and the Ottoman Empire, The Road to War, Middle Eastern Studies, Vol.12, No. 1 (Jan., 1976), p. 20.
[17] Robert Rhodes James, Gallipoli, p. 112.
[18] Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August, p. 67.
[19] L.A. Carlyon, Gallipoli, p. 45.
[20] McMeekin, The Russian Origins, pp. 110-11.
[21] David Fromkin, A Peace to End all Peace, p. 72.
[22] Gilbert, Churchill, vol III, p. 215.
[23] Gottlieb, Studies, p. 62.
[24] Heller, Sir Louis Mallet, p.21.
[25] Pat Walsh, The Great Fraud of 1914-1918, p. 31.
[26] Strachan, The First World War,Vol 1, p. 680.
[27] Pat Walsh, Remembering Gallipoli, p. 25.
[28] Edward David, Inside Asquith’s Cabinet, p. 205.
[29] Bobroff, Roads to Glory, pp. 115-116.
[30] McMeekin, The Russian Origins, p. 113.
[31] Ibid., p. 114.