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The escape of the German battlecruiser, Goeben, and the light cruiser, Breslau, in 1914


Introduction
The escape of Goeben and Breslau in 1914 from the Royal Navy, who failed to bottle them up in the Mediterranean, allowing them to penetrate the Dardanelles, was a defining moment in both Naval and World History.

Turkey enters WW1
It brought Turkey into WW1 on the side of Germany, closed the only warm water sea outlet for Russia on the Black sea. This precluded the Allies from supplying Russia with materiels with which they could prosecute the war against Germany, and Russia was indeed in dire need of such succour.

Goeben and Breslau reached Constaninople, (of course now known as Istanbul) and in theory were sold to the Turkish Navy, but they maintained their German crews. This action became the catalyst for the Allies to try and force the Dardanelles, but failing to do so, then deciding to invade the Gallipoli Peninsula on the 25th of April 1915.

My readers may not be aware that troops from Britain, France, Newfoundland, Australia and New Zealand were all involved on the Allied side of this ill fated expedition, which caused thousands of deaths and casualities on both the Turkish and allied sides.

It is from that first Anzac Day (the word ANZAC was coined from the initials of Australian New Zealand Army Corps) that many in Australia would argue that the young nation, but 14 years old, only federating in 1901, found both its Nationalism and Nationhood. The then population was but 4.9 Million, but the Anzac expedition
caused 28,000 Australian casulaties, when added to the deaths on the Western Front 60,000 Australians perished in WW1. This decimation had incredible ramifications back in the many small country towns across Australia, in many cases, a whole generation was wiped out.

Only yesterday, April 25, 2002,  the 87th Anzac Day was celebrated across Australia, in Melbourne. 15,000 attended a Dawn Remembrance service at our Shrine of Remembrance, an all time record number.

14,000 ex service men and women marched through the streets of Melbourne for a service at the Shrine. As President of the HMAS Canberra/ HMAS Shropshire Association, I had the honour to lead our ex Officers and Sailors in the march, I managed to squeeze into my Lieutenant Commander's Naval uniform ( although my wife Denise was overheard telling some one after the march " He looked a bit like a stuffed Turkey." ) Now that number of 14,000 who marched  today, is but half of the Australian casualities from the disasterous Gallipoli campaign.

All my old crew from Shropshire, and their families gathered at the Shropshire Memorial Tree (a flourishing giant oak tree, planted in sweeping lawns, and marked by a Brass Memorial Plaque) to remember with bowed heads, and a minute's silence, the 84 of Canberra's crew who died that night of August 9 1942, at the Battle of Savo Island, plus the 110 wounded on that fateful night.

But I have digressed.  In the Gallipoli campaign the only glimmer of light in this dark tunnel of warfare was the withdrawal, it was a triumph of both planning and executation, not a man being lost.

On the 28th of June in 1914, the German Battlecruiser Goeben was off Haifa, her Admiral Souchon, and many of her officers were at a reception tendered them by the German colony. Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated, the German Admiral felt that war would soon follow, his ship's boilers were in bad shape, only delivering 12 knots from a design speed of 27 knots.

Off he went to Pola for repairs, and there he conferred with the Austrian and Italian Admirals in command of their respective Navies, he soon concluded that no help would emanate from either of them regarding joint actions, when war did come, he would be alone.

He now left, steaming westwards towards the French convoy routes, calling his light cruiser Breslau to join him. At that time, Sub Lieutenant Karl Donitz was serving in her. (Donitz was in charge of U-Boat Command in WW2, and at the last gasp of Germany, took over the country in 1944, after Hitler had killed himself.)

Britain had sent three Battlecruisers, Indomitable, Inflexible, and Indefatigable to the Mediterranean station to take care of Goeben when war did flare.

Berlin now ordered their two ships to make for the Dardanelles, on the 4th of August.  But 12 hours before war was actually declared, Goeben was met by Indomitaable and Indefatigable, who took up station one on each quarter of Goeben.  What a bizarre set up! Goeben being the fastest ship, gradually edged away, and, by the time war was declared, she was in fact, out of sight. She made for Massina where both German ships coaled, the British ships waited outside patiently, and the British are very good at being patient, all to no avail.  Both German ships managed to slip through the waiting net, avoiding the British Battlecruisers.

The British Naval C in C, Sir Berkely Milne was soon transferred from this command, all was not yet lost.  Rear Admiral Troubridge, with four armoured cruisers and eight destroyers, waited at the entrance to the Adriatic. All of this force outgunned and inferior in speed to the German ships.

When at last, the German ships approached, because of  his inferiority, Troubridge did not close  the enemy and bring them to action.

Oh! for a Nelson. Troubridge was eventually courtmartialled, acquitted, but earned a shore command, his Naval career virtually over.

Two British Admirals down to the German Admiral Souchon
Goeben and Breslau chased by HMS Gloucester  (about the equivalent of Breslau) moved towards the Dardanelles, with the heavy armament of Goeben keeping Gloucester at bay. During the night, the faster German ships simply drew away, and reached the Dardanelles.  These straits are very narrow, in 1998, Denise and I crossed them by car ferry on our way to Anzac Cove to attend the Anzac Day Commemoration Service.

On the Eastern side of the straits, Turkey sits on Asian soil, whilst the Turkish Gallipoli Peninsula to the west is located in Europe.

Souchon did not know if he would have to fight his way past the Turkish batteries that guard these straits. This turned out not to be necessary - the Turkish Army had a German Mission advising them, and the German ships made the passage of the straits without incident. Turkey at this time had two Battleships of the latest design built in Britain for their Navy.   With war inevitable, there was no way that Britain would release them, thus Goeben and Breslau became the only replacements. In 1918, these two ships slipped into the Mediterranean and sank two British Monitors, on their way back, Breslau picked up a mine and sank, Goeben ran aground in the Dardnalles, but was pulled clear by a Turkish Battleship, and she made it back to the Black Sea.

At war's end, Goeben did really become a ship of the Turkish Navy, and was renamed Yavuz.

Indeed, Goeben played a major role in the history of modern Turkey, whilst the Royal Navy should always hold its head in shame, whenever the name of the Imperial German Navy ship Goeben is mentioned.

 

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