THE WORLD WAR: THE FIRST YEAR (1914-1915)

Battle of Jutland, by B. F. Gribble RBC SMA was a prolific British marine artist and illustrator.
Chrono date: 
1914 Jul 28 to 1918 Nov 11

The Russo-Japanese war greatly weakened Russia's position in Europe, and left the Dual Alliance of France and Russia overweighted by the military strength of the Teutonic Empires, Germany and Austria, whether or not Italy should adhere to the Triple Alliance with these nations. To Great Britain, such a disturbance of the European balance was ever a matter of grave concern, and an abandonment of her policy of isolation was in this instance virtually forced upon her by Germany's rivalry in her own special sphere of commerce and sea power.

The disturbing effect of Germany's naval growth during the two decades prior to 1914 affords in fact an excellent illustration of the influence of naval strength in peace as well as in war. Under Bismarck Germany had pushed vigorously though tardily into the colonial field, securing vast areas of rather doubtful value in East and West Africa, and the Bismarck Archipelago, Marshall Islands, and part of New Guinea in the Pacific. With the accession of William II in 1888 and the dropping of the pilot, Bismarck, two years later, she embarked definitely upon her quest for world power. The young Kaiser read eagerly Mahan's Influence of Sea Power Upon History (1890), distributed it among the ships of his still embryonic navy, and fed his ambition on the doctrines of this epoch-making work.

Naval development found further stimulus and justification in the rapid economic growth of Germany. In 1912 her industrial production attained a value of three billion dollars, as compared with slightly over four billion for England and seven billion for the United States. Since 1893 her merchant marine had tripled in size and taken second place to that of England with a total of over five million tons. During the same  period she surpassed France and the United States in volume of foreign commerce, and in this respect also reached a position second to Great Britain, with a more rapid rate of increase. An emigration of 220,000 a year in the early eighties was cut down to 22,000 in 1900.[1] To assure markets for her manufactures, and continued growth in population and industry, Germany felt that she must strive to extend her political power.

[Footnote 1: Figures from Priest, Germany Since 1840.]

Though Germany's commercial expansion met slight opposition even in areas under British control, it undoubtedly justified measures of political and naval protection; and it was this motive that was advanced in the preface to the German Naval Bill of 1900, which declared that, "To protect her sea trade and colonies ... Germany must have a fleet so strong that a war, even with the greatest naval power, would involve such risks as to jeopardize the position of that power."[2] Furthermore, Germany's quest for colonies and points of vantage such as Kiao-chau, her scheme for a Berlin-Bagdad railroad with domination of the territories on the route, had parallel in the activities of other nations. Unfortunately, however, Germany's ambitions grew even more rapidly than her commerce, until her true aim appeared to be destruction of rivals and domination of the world.

[Footnote 2: Hurd and Castle, German Sea Power, Appendix II.]

The seizure of Kiao-chau in 1897-98 coincided with the appointment of Admiral von Tirpitz as Imperial Minister of Marine. Under his administration, the Naval Bill of 1900, passed in a heat of anglophobia aroused by the Boer War, doubled the program of 1898, and contained ingenious provisions by which the Reichstag was bound to steady increases covering a long period of years, and by which the Navy Department was empowered to replace worthless old craft, after 20 or 25 years' service, with new ships of the largest size. As the armament race grew keener, this act was amended in the direction of further increases, but its program was never cut down.

International crises and realignments marked the growing tension of these years. In 1905 England extended for ten years her understanding with Japan. By the Entente Cordiale with France in 1904 and a later settlement of outstanding difficulties with Russia, she also practically changed the Dual Alliance into a Triple Entente, though without positively binding herself to assistance in war. To the agreement of 1904 by which England and France assured each other a free hand in Egypt and Morocco, respectively, the Kaiser raised strenuous objections, and forced the resignation of the anglophile French Foreign Minister, Delcassé; but at the Algeciras Convention of 1906, assembled to settle the Morocco question, Germany and Austria stood virtually alone. Even the American delegates, sent by President Roosevelt at the Kaiser's invitation, voted generally with the Western Powers. When Austria annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1909, the Kaiser shook the mailed fist to better effect than at Algeciras, with the result that Russia had to accept this extension of Austro-German influence in the Balkan sphere. Still again two years later, when the German cruiser Panther made moves to establish a base at Agadir on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, Europe approached the verge of war; but Germany found the financial situation against her, backed down, and eventually took a strip of land on the Congo in liquidation of her Morocco claims.

For all her resolute saber-rattling in these years, Germany found herself checkmated in almost every move. The Monroe Doctrine, for which the United States showed willingness to fight in the Venezuela affair of 1902, balked her schemes in the New World. In the Far East she faced Japan; in Africa, British sea power. A "Drang nach Osten," through the Balkans and Turkey toward Asia Minor, offered on the whole the best promise; and it was in this quarter that Austria's violent demands upon Serbia aroused Russia and precipitated the World War.

Great Britain's foreign agreements, already noted, had as a primary aim the concentration of her fleet in home waters. Naval predominance in the Far East she turned over to Japan; in the western Atlantic, to the United States (at least by acceptance of the Monroe Doctrine and surrender of treaty rights to share in the construction of the Panama Canal); and in the Mediterranean, to France, though England still kept a strong cruiser force in this field. The old policy of showing the flag all over the world was abandoned, 160 old ships were sent to the scrap heap as unable "either to fight or to run away," and 88% of the fleet was concentrated at home, so quietly that it "was found out only by accident by Admiral Mahan."[1]

[Footnote 1: Admiral Fisher, Memories.]

These and other changes were carried out under the energetic régime of Admiral Fisher, First Sea Lord from 1904 to 1910. The British Dreadnought of 1906, completed in 10 months, and the battle cruisers of 1908—Indefatigable, Invincible and Indomitable—came as an unpleasant surprise to Germany, necessitating construction of similar types and enlargement of the Kiel Canal. Reforms in naval gunnery urged by Admiral Sir Percy Scott were taken up, and plans were made for new bases in the Humber, in the Forth at Rosyth, and in the Orkneys, necessitated by the shift of front from the Channel to the North Sea. But against the technical skill, painstaking organization, and definitely aggressive purpose of Germany, even more radical measures were needed to put the tradition-ridden British navy in readiness for war.

Naval preparedness was vital, for the conflict was fundamentally, like the Napoleonic Wars, a struggle between land power predominant on the Continent and naval power supreme on the seas. As compared with France in the earlier struggle, Germany was more dependent on foreign commerce, and in a long war would feel more keenly the pressure of blockade. On the other hand, while the naval preponderance of England and her allies was probably greater than 100 years before, England had to throw larger armies into the field and more of her shipping into naval service, and found her commerce not augmented but cut down.

Indeed, Germany was not without advantage in the naval war. As she fully expected, her direct sea trade was soon shut off, and her shipping was driven to cover or destroyed. But Germany was perhaps 80% self-supporting, was well supplied with minerals and munitions, and could count on trade through neutral states on her frontiers. Her shallow, well-protected North Sea coast-line gave her immunity from naval attack and opportunity to choose the moment in which to throw her utmost strength into a sortie. So long as her fleet remained intact, it controlled the Baltic by virtue of an interior line through the Kiel Canal, thus providing a strangle hold on Russia and free access to northern neutrals. Only by dangerous division of forces, or by leaving the road to England and the Atlantic open, could the British fleet enter the Baltic Sea. England it is true had a superior navy (perhaps less superior than was commonly thought), and a position of singular advantage between Germany and the overseas world. But for her the maintenance of naval superiority was absolutely essential. An effective interference with her sea communications would quickly put her out of the war.

The importance (for Germany as well as for England) of preserving their main fighting fleets, may explain the wariness with which they were employed. Instead of risking them desperately, both sides turned to commerce warfare—the Western Powers resorting to blockade and the Germans to submarines. Each of these forms of warfare played a highly important part in the war, and the submarine campaign in particular, calling for new methods and new instruments, seems almost to have monopolized the naval genius and energies of the two groups of belligerents. It may be noted, however, that but for the cover given by the High Seas Fleet, the submarine campaign could hardly have been undertaken; and but for the Grand Fleet, it would have been unnecessary.

The naval strength of the various belligerents in July, 1914, appears in the table.[1]

[Footnote 1: From table prepared by U. S. Office of Naval Intelligence, July 1, 1916.]

 

Great Britain

Germany

U.S. (1916)

France

Japan

Russia

Italy

Austria

Dreadnoughts

20

13

12

4

2

..

3

3

Pre-dreadn'ts

40

20

21

18

13

7

8

6

Battle Cruisers

9

4

..

..

2

..

..

..

Armored Cr's

34

9

10

20

13

6

9

2

Cruisers

74

41

14

9

13

9

6

5

Destroyers

167

130

54

84

50

91

36

18

Submarines

78

30

44

64

13

30

19

6

Owing to new construction, these figures underwent rapid change. Thus England added 4 dreadnoughts (2 built for Turkey) in August, 1914; the battle cruiser Tiger in November; the dreadnought Canada and 5 Queen Elizabeths in 1915; and 5 Royal Sovereigns in 1915-1916. In comparisons, full account is not always taken of the naval support of England's allies; it is true, however, that the necessity of protecting coasts, troop convoys, and commerce prevented her from throwing her full strength into the North Sea. Her capital ships were in two main divisions—the 1st or Grand Fleet in the Orkneys, and the 2d fleet, consisting at first of 16 pre-dreadnoughts, in the Channel. Admiral Jellico[1] gives the strength of the Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet, on August 4, 1914, as follows:

[Footnote 1: The Grand Fleet, p. 31.]

 

Dread- noughts

Pre- Dread- noughts

Battle cruisers

Light cruisers

Destroyers

Airships

Cruisers

British

20

8

4

12

42

..

0

German

13

16

3

15

88

1

2

Of submarines, according to the same authority, England had 17 of the D and E classes fit for distant operations, and 37 fit only for coast defense, while Germany had 28 U boats, all but two or three of which were able to cruise overseas. The British admiral's account of the inferiority of the British navy in submarines, aircraft, mines, destroyers, director firing (installed in only 8 ships in 1914), armor-piercing shells, and protection of bases, seems to justify the caution of British operations, but is a severe indictment of the manner in which money appropriated for the navy was used.

To open a war with England by surprise naval attack was no doubt an element in German plans; but in 1914 this was negatived by the forewarning of events on the Continent, by Germany's persistent delusion that England would stay neutral, and by the timely mobilization of the British fleet. This had been announced the winter before as a practical exercise, was carried out according to schedule from July 16 to July 23 (the date of Austria's ultimatum to Serbia), and was then extended until July 29, at which date the Grand Fleet sailed for Scapa Flow.

At midnight of August 4 the British ultimatum to Germany expired and hostilities began. During the same night the Grand Fleet swept the northern exit of the North Sea to prevent the escape of enemy raiders, only one of which, the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, actually reached the Atlantic in this first stage of the war. On a similar sweep further south, the Harwich light cruiser and destroyer force under Commodore Tyrwhitt sank by gunfire the mine layer Königin Luise, which a trawler had reported "throwing things overboard"; but the next morning, August 6, the cruiser Amphion, returning near the same position, was destroyed by two mines laid by her victim of the day before. On the same date five cables were cut leading from Germany overseas. From August 10 to 23 all British forces were busy covering the transit of the first troops sent to the Continent. Such, in brief summary, and omitting more distant activities for the present, were the opening naval events of the war.

The Heligoland Bight Action

On the morning of August 28 occurred a lively action in Heligoland Bight, which cost Germany 3 light cruisers and a destroyer, and seemed to promise further aggressive action off the German shores. The British plan called for a destroyer and light cruiser sweep southward to a point about 12 miles west of Heligoland, and thence westward, with submarines disposed off Heligoland as decoys, the object being to cut off German destroyers and patrols. Commodore Tyrwhitt's force which was to execute the raid consisted of the 1st and 3rd flotillas of 16 destroyers each, led by the new light cruiser Arethusa, flagship (28.5 knots, two 6", six 4" guns), and the Fearless (25-4 knots, ten 4" guns). These were to be supported about 50 miles to westward by two battle cruisers from the Humber. This supporting force was at the last moment joined by three battle cruisers under Admiral Beatty and 6 cruisers under Commodore Goodenough from the Grand Fleet; but news of the accession never reached Commodore Keyes of the British submarines, who was hence puzzled later by the appearance of Goodenough's cruisers on the scene.

MAP OF HELIGOLAND BIGHT ACTION, AUG. 28, 1914, World War One.

HELIGOLAND BIGHT ACTION, AUG. 28, 1914

The Germans, it appears, had got wind of the enemy plan, and arranged a somewhat similar counter-stroke. As Commodore Tyrwhitt's flotillas swept southward, they engaged and chased 10 German destroyers straight down upon Heligoland. Here the Arethusa and the Fearless were sharply engaged with two German light cruisers, the Stettin, and the Frauenlob (ten 4.1" guns each), until actually in sight of the island. Both sides suffered, the Frauenlob withdrawing to Wilhelmshaven with 50 casualties, and the Arethusa having her speed cut down and nearly every gun put temporarily out of commission.

Whipping around to westward, the flotillas caught the German destroyer V 187, which at 9.10, after an obstinate resistance, was reduced to a complete wreck enveloped in smoke and steam. As British destroyers picked up survivors, they were driven off by the Stettin; but two boats with British crews and German prisoners were rescued later by the British submarine E 4, which had been lurking nearby.

Extraordinary confusion now developed from the fact that Commodore Keyes in his submarine flotilla leader Lurcher sighted through the mist two of Goodenough's cruisers (which had chased a destroyer eastward), and reported them as enemies. The call was picked up by Goodenough himself, who brought his remaining four ships to Keyes' assistance; but when these appeared, Keyes thought that he had to deal with four enemies more! Tyrwhitt was also drawn backward by the alarm. Luckily the situation was cleared up without serious consequences.

German cruisers, darting out of the Ems and the Jade, were now entering the fray. At 10.55 the Fearless and the Arethusa with their flotillas were attacked by the Stralsund, which under a heavy fire made off toward Heligoland. Then at 11.15 the Stettin engaged once more, and five minutes later the Mainz. Just as this last ship was being finished up by destroyer attack, and the Stettin and two fresh cruisers, Köln and Ariadne, were rushing to her assistance, Beatty's five battle cruisers appeared to westward and rose swiftly out of the haze.

Admiral Beatty's opportune dash into action at this time, from his position 40 miles away, was in response to an urgent call from Tyrwhitt at 11.15, coupled with the fact that, as the Admiral states in his report, "The flotillas had advanced only 2 miles since 8 a.m., and were only about 25 miles from two enemy bases." "Our high speed," the report continues, "made submarine attack difficult, and the smoothness of the sea made their detection fairly easy. I considered that we were powerful enough to deal with any sortie except by a battle squadron, which was unlikely to come out in time, provided our stroke was sufficiently rapid."

The Stettin broke backward just in the nick of time. The Köln flagship of the German commodore, was soon staggering off in a blaze, and was later sunk with her total complement of 380 officers and men. The Ariadne, steaming at high speed across the bows of the British flagship Lion, was put out of action by two well-placed salvos. At 1.10 the Lion gave the general signal "Retire."

MAP OF HELIGOLAND BIGHT ACTION, FINAL PHASE, 12:30-1:40

HELIGOLAND BIGHT ACTION, FINAL PHASE, 12:30-1:40

From 20 to 40 miles slightly S. of W. from Heligoland.

Though the German cruisers had fought hard and with remarkable accuracy of fire, their movements had been tardy and not well concerted. The British losses amounted altogether to only 33 killed and 40 wounded; while the enemy lost in killed, wounded, and prisoners over 1000 men. Very satisfactory, from the British standpoint, was the effect of the victory upon their own and upon enemy morale.

Encouragement of this kind was desirable, for German submarines and mines were already beginning to take their toll. Off the Forth on September 5, a single torpedo sank the light cruiser Pathfinder with nearly all hands. This loss was avenged when a week later the E 9, under Lieut. Commander Max Harton, struck down the German cruiser Hela within 6 miles of Heligoland. But on September 22, at 6.30 a.m., a single old-type German craft, the U 9, dealt a staggering blow. With a total of 6 torpedoes Commander Weddigen sank first the Aboukir, and then in quick succession the Hogue and the Cressy, both dead in the water at the work of rescue. The loss of these rather antiquated vessels was less serious than that of over 1400 trained officers and men. A shock to British traditions came with the new order that ships must abandon injured consorts and make all speed away.

In the bases at Rosyth and Scapa Flow, which at the outbreak of war were totally unprotected against submarines and thought to be beyond their reach, the Grand Fleet felt less secure than when cruising on the open sea. Safer refuges were sought temporarily on the west coast of Scotland and at Lough Swilly in the north of Ireland, but even off this latter base on October 27, the big dreadnought Audacious was sunk by mines laid by the German auxiliary cruiser Berlin. In view of the impending Turkish crisis, the loss was not admitted by the Admiralty, though since pictures of the sinking ship had actually been taken by passengers on the White Star liner Olympic, it could not long remain concealed. Mines and submarines had seemingly put the British navy on the defensive, even if consolation could be drawn from the fact that troops and supplies were crossing safely to France, the enemy had been held up at the Marne, the German surface fleet was passive, and the blockade was closing down.

Escape of the "Göben" and the "Breslau"

In distant waters Germany at the outbreak of the war had only ten cruisers—Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Emden, Nürnberg, and Leipzig in the Pacific, Königsberg on the east coast of Africa, Karlsruhe and Dresden in the West Indies, and Göben and Breslau in the Mediterranean. Within six months' time, these, together with a few auxiliary cruisers fitted out abroad, were either destroyed or forced to intern in neutral ports. Modern wireless communication, difficulties of coaling and supply, and the overwhelming naval strength of the Allies made the task of surface raiders far more difficult than in previous wars. They were nevertheless skillfully handled, and, operating in the wide ocean areas, created a troublesome problem for the Western Powers.

The battle cruiser Göben and the light cruiser Breslau alone, operating under Admiral Souchon in Mediterranean waters, accomplished ultimate results which would have easily justified the sacrifice of ten times the number of ships lost by Germany in distant seas. To hunt down these two vessels, and at the same time contain the Austrian Navy, the Entente had in the Mediterranean not only the bulk of the French fleet but also 3 battle cruisers, 4 armored cruisers, and 4 light cruisers of Great Britain. Early on August 4, as he was about to bombard the French bases of Bona and Philippeville in Algiers, Admiral Souchon received wireless orders to make for the Dardanelles. Germany and England were then on the very verge of war. Knowing the British ships to be concentrated near Malta, and actually passing the Indomitable and the Invincible in sullen silence as he turned eastward, the German commander decided to put in at Messina, Sicily.

At the end of the 24 hours granted in this port, the prospects for the German ships appeared so desperate that the officers, it is said, made their final testaments before again putting to sea. Slipping eastward through the Straits of Messina at twilight of the 6th, they were sighted by the British scout Gloucester, which stuck close at their heels all that night and until 4.40 p.m. the next day. Then, under orders to turn back, and after boldly engaging the Breslau to check the flight, Captain Kelly of the Gloucester gave up the pursuit as the enemy rounded the Morea and entered the Greek Archipelago.

The escape thus apparently so easy was the outcome of lack of coördination between French and British, slow and poor information from the British Admiralty, and questionable disposition of the British forces on the basis of information actually at hand. Prior to hostilities, it was perhaps unavoidable that the British commander, Admiral Milne, should be ignorant of French plans; but even on August 5 and 6 he still kept all his battle cruisers west and north of Sicily to protect the French troop transports, though by this time he might have felt assured that the French fleet was at sea. At the time of the escape Admiral Troubridge with 4 armored cruisers and a destroyer force barred the Adriatic; though he caught the Gloucester's calls, he was justified in not moving far from his station without orders, in view of his inferior strength and speed. Not until August 10 did British forces enter the Ægean; and at 5 p.m. that day the two German ships steamed uninvited up the Dardanelles. Since the Turkish situation was still somewhat dubious, Admiral Souchon had been ordered to delay his entrance; but on the 10th, hearing British wireless signals steadily approaching his position in the Greek islands, he took the decision into his own hands. Germany had "captured Turkey," as an Allied diplomat remarked upon seeing the ships in the Golden Horn.

In this affair the British, it is true, had many preoccupations—the hostile Austrian fleet, the doubtful neutrality of Italy, the French troop movement; the safety of Egypt and Suez. Yet the Admiralty were well aware that the German Ambassador von Wangenheim was dominant in Turkish councils and that the Turkish army was mobilized under German officers. It seems strange, therefore, that an escape into Constantinople was, in the words of the British Official History, "the only one that had not entered into our calculations." The whole affair illustrates the immense value political information may have in guiding naval strategy. The German ships, though ostensibly "sold" to the Turks, retained their German personnel. Admiral Souchon assumed command of the Turkish Navy, and by an attack on Russian ships in the Black Sea later succeeded in precipitating Turkey's entrance into the war, with its long train of evil consequences for the Western Powers.

Coronel and the Falkland Islands

In the Pacific the German cruisers were at first widely scattered, the Emden at Kiao-chau, the Leipzig on the west coast of Mexico, the Nürnberg at San Francisco, and the armored cruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst under Admiral von Spee in the Caroline Islands. The two ships at the latter point, after being joined by the Nürnberg, set out on a leisurely cruise for South America, where, in view of Japan's entry into the war, the German Admiral may have felt that he would secure a clearer field of operations and, with the aid of German-Americans, better facilities for supplies. After wrecking on their way the British wireless and cable station at Fanning Island, and looking into Samoa for stray British cruisers, the trio of ships were joined at Easter Island on October 14 by the Leipzig and also by the Dresden, which had fled thither from the West Indies.

The concentration thus resulting seems of doubtful wisdom, for, scattered over the trade routes, the cruisers would have brought about greater enemy dispersion and greater injury to commerce; and, as the later course of the war was to show, the loss of merchant tonnage was even more serious for the Entente than loss of fighting ships. It seems evident, however, that Admiral van Spee was not attracted by the tame task of commerce destroying, but wished to try his gunnery, highly developed in the calm waters of the Far East, against enemy men-of-war.

In its present strength and position, the German "fleet in being" constituted a serious menace, for to assemble an adequate force against it on either side of Cape Horn would mean to leave the other side dangerously exposed. It was with a keen realization of this dilemma that Admiral Cradock in the British armored cruiser Good Hope left the Falklands on October 22 to join the Monmouth, Glasgow, and auxiliary cruiser Otranto in a sweep along the west coast. The old battleship Canopus, with 12-inch guns, but only 12 knots cruising speed, was properly judged too slow to keep with the squadron. It is difficult to say whether the failure to send Cradock reënforcements at this time from either the Atlantic or the Pacific was justified by the preoccupations in those fields. Needless to say, there was no hesitation, after Coronel, in hurrying ships to the scene. On November 1, when the Admiralty Board was reorganized with Admiral Fisher in his old place as First Sea Lord, orders at once went out sending the Defense to Cradock and enjoining him not to fight without the Canopus. But these orders he never received.

The composition of the two squadrons now approaching each other off the Chilean coast was as follows:

Name

Type

Displace-
ment

Belt armor

Guns

Speed

Scharnhorst

Armored cruiser

11,600

6-inch

8-8.2″, 6-6″

23.5

Gneisenau

Armored cruiser

11,600

6-inch

8-8.2″, 6-6″

23.5

Leipzig

Protected cruiser

3,250

none

10-4″

23

Nürnberg

Light cruiser

3,450

none

10-4″

24

Dresden

Light cruiser

3,600

none

10-4″

24

Good Hope

Armored cruiser

14,000

6-inch

2-9.2″, 16-6″, 14-3″

24

Monmouth

Armored cruiser

9,800

4-inch

14-6″, 8-3″

24

Glasgow

Light cruiser

4,800

none

2-6″, 10-4″

26.5

Canopus (not engaged)

Coast defense

12,950

6-inch

4-35 cal. 12″, 12-6″

16.5

Without the Canopus, the British had perhaps a slight advantage in squadron speed, but only the two 9.2-inch guns of the Good Hope could match the sixteen 8.2-inch guns of the Germans. Each side had information of the other's strength; but on the afternoon of November 1, the date of the Battle of Coronel, each supposed that only one enemy cruiser was in the immediate vicinity. Hence there was mutual surprise when the two squadrons, spread widely on opposite courses, came in contact at 4.40 p. m.

While concentrating and forming his squadron, Admiral Cradock must have pondered whether he should fight or retreat. The Canopus he knew was laboring northward 250 miles away. It was highly doubtful whether he could bring the enemy into action later with his slow battleship in line. His orders were to "search and protect trade." "Safety," we are told, "was a word he hardly knew." But his best justification lay in the enemy's menace to commerce and in the comment of Nelson upon a similar situation, "By the time the enemy has beat our fleet soundly, they will do us no more harm that year." It was perhaps with this thought that Admiral Cradock signaled to the Canopus, "I am going to fight the enemy now."

At about 6 p.m. the two columns were 18,000 yards distant on southerly converging courses. The British, to westward and slightly ahead, tried to force the action before sunset, when they would be silhouetted against the afterglow. Their speed at this time, however, seems to have been held up by the auxiliary cruiser Otranto, which later retreated southwestward, and their efforts to close were thwarted by the enemy's turning slightly away. Admiral von Spee in fact secured every advantage of position, between the British and the neutral coast, on the side away from the sun, and on such a course that the heavy seas from east of south struck the British ships on their engaged bows, showering the batteries with spray and rendering useless the lower deck guns.

At 7 o'clock the German ships opened fire at 11,260 yards. The third salvo from the Scharnhorst disabled the Good Hope's forward 9.2-inch gun. The Monmouth's forecastle was soon on fire. It seems probable indeed that most of the injury to the British was inflicted by accurate shooting in this first stage of the action. On account of the gathering darkness, Admiral von Spee allowed the range to be closed to about 5500 yards, guiding his aim at first by the blaze on the Monmouth, and then for a time ceasing fire. Shortly before 8 o'clock a huge column of flame shooting up between the stacks of the Good Hope marked her end. The Monmouth sheered away to westward and then northward with a heavy list that prevented the use of her port guns. An hour later, at 9.25, with her flag still flying defiantly, she was sunk by the Nürnberg at point blank range. The Glasgow, which had fought throughout the action, but had suffered little from the fire of the German light cruisers, escaped in the darkness.

MAP OF BATTLE OF CORONEL, NOV. 1, 1914

From Official British Naval History, Vol. I.

BATTLE OF CORONEL, NOV. 1, 1914

"It is difficult," writes an American officer, "to find fault with the tactics of Admiral van Spee; he appears to have maneuvered so as to secure the advantage of light, wind, and sea, and to have suited himself as regards the range."[1] The Scharnhorst was hit twice, the Gneisenau four times, and the German casualties were only two men wounded.

[Footnote 1: Commander C. C. Gill, Naval Power in the War.]

MAP OF ADMIRAL VON SPEE'S MOVEMENTS

ADMIRAL VON SPEE'S MOVEMENTS

This stinging blow and the resultant danger aroused the new Board of Admiralty to energetic moves. Entering the Atlantic, the German squadron might scatter upon the trade routes or support the rebellion in South Africa. Again, it might double westward or northward in the Pacific, or pass in groups of three, as permitted by American rules, through the Panama Canal into the West Indies. Concerted measures were taken against these possibilities. Despite the weakening of the Grand Fleet, the battle cruisers Invincible and Inflexible under Admiral Sturdee, former Chief of Admiralty Staff, sailed on November 11 for the Falkland Islands. Their destination was kept a close secret, for had the slightest inkling of their mission reached German ears it would at once have been communicated to von Spee.

After the battle, the German admiral moved slowly southward, coaling from chartered vessels and prizes; and it was not until December 1 that he rounded the Horn. Even now, had he moved directly upon the Falklands, he would have encountered only the Canopus, but he again delayed several days to take coal from a prize. On December 7 the British battle cruisers and other ships picked up in passage arrived at the island base and at once began to coal.

Their coming was not a moment too soon. At 7.30 the next morning, while coaling was still in progress and fires were drawn in the Bristol, the signal station on the neck of land south of the harbor reported two strange vessels, which proved to be the Gneisenau and the Nürnberg, approaching from the southward. As they eased down to demolish the wireless station, the Canopus opened on them at about 11,000 yards by indirect fire. The two ships swerved off, and at 9.40, perceiving the dense clouds of smoke over the harbor and what appeared to be tripod masts, they fell back on their main force.

Hull down, and with about 15 miles' start, the Germans, had they scattered at this time might, most of them at least, have escaped, as they certainly would have if their approach had been made more cautiously and at a later period in the day. The British ships were now out, with the fast Glasgow well in the lead. In the chase that followed, Admiral van Spee checked speed somewhat to keep his squadron together. Though Admiral Sturdee for a time did the same, he was able at 12.50 to open on the rear ship Leipzig at 16,000 yards. At 1.20 the German light cruisers scattered to southwestward, followed by the Cornwall, Kent, and Glasgow. The 26-knot Bristol, had she been able to work up steam in time, would have been invaluable in this pursuit; she was sent instead to destroy three enemy colliers or transports reported off the islands.

Between the larger ships the action continued at long range, for the superior speed of the battle cruisers enabled Admiral Sturdee to choose his distance, and his proper concern was to demolish the enemy with his own ships unscathed. At 2.05 he turned 8 points to starboard to clear the smoke blown down from the northwest and reduce the range, which had increased to 16,000 yards. Admiral von Spee also turned southward, and the stern chase was renewed without firing until 2.45. At this point both sides turned to port, the Germans now slightly in the rear and working in to 12,500 yards to use their 5.9-inch guns.

At 3.15 the British came completely about to avoid the smoke, and the Germans also turned, a little later, as if to cross their bows. (See diagram.) The Gneisenau and Scharnhorst, though fighting gamely, were now beaten ships, the latter with upper works a "shambles of torn and twisted iron," and holes in her sides through which could be seen the red glow of flames. She turned on her beam-ends at 4.17 and sank with every man an board. At 6 o'clock, after a fight of extraordinary persistence, the Gneisenau opened her sea-cocks and went down. All her 8-inch ammunition had been expended, and 600 of her 850 men were disabled or killed. Some 200 were saved.

Against ships with 12-inch guns and four times their weight of broadside the Gneisenau and Scharnhorst made a creditable record of over 20 hits. The British, however, suffered no casualties or material injury. While Admiral Sturdee's tactics are thus justified, the prolongation of the battle left him no time to join in the light cruiser chase, and even opened the possibility, in the rain squalls of the late afternoon, that one of the armored cruisers might get away. In spite of a calm sea and excellent visibility during most of the action, the gunnery of the battle cruisers appears to have been less accurate at long range than in the later engagement off the Dogger Bank.

MAP OF BATTLE OF THE FALKLAND ISLANDS, DEC. 8, 1914

From Official British Naval History, Vol. I.

BATTLE OF THE FALKLAND ISLANDS, DEC. 8, 1914

British Squadron

Name

Type

Guns

Speed

Invincible

Battle Cruiser

8–12″, 16–4″

26.5

Inflexible

Battle Cruiser

8–12″, 16–4″

26.5

Carnarvon

Armored Cruiser

4–7.5″, 6–6″

23.0

Cornwall

Armored Cruiser

14–6″

23.5

Kent

Armored Cruiser

14–6″

23.0

Bristol

Scout Cruiser

2–6″, 10–4″

26.5

Glasgow

Scout Cruiser

2–6″, 10–4″

26.5

Canopus

Coast Defense

4–12″, 12–6″

16.5

 

German Squadron

Scharnhorst

Armored Cruiser

8–8.2″, 6–6″

23.5

Gneisenau

Armored Cruiser

8–8.2″, 6–6″

23.5

Leipzig

Protected Cruiser

10–4″

23.0

Nürnberg

Scout Cruiser

10–4″

24.0

Dresden

Scout Cruiser

10–4″

24.0

Following similar tactics, the Glasgow and Cornwall overtook and finally silenced the Leipzig at 7 p.m., four hours after the Glasgow had first opened fire. Defiant to the last, like the Monmouth at Coronel, and with her ammunition gone, she sank at 9.25, carrying down all but 18 of her officers and crew. The Kent, stoking all her woodwork to increase steam, attained at 5 o'clock a position 12,000 yards from the Nürnberg, when the latter opened fire. At this late hour a long range action was out of the question. As the Nürnberg slowed down with two of her boilers burst, the Kent closed to 3000 yards and at 7.30 finished off her smaller opponent. The Dresden, making well above her schedule speed of 24 knots, had disappeared to southwestward early in the afternoon. Her escape entailed a long search, until, on March 14, 1915, she was destroyed by the Kent and Glasgow off Juan Fernandez, where she had taken refuge for repairs.

Cruise of the "Emden"

Among the German cruisers other than those of Admiral van Spee's squadron, the exploits of the Emden are best known, and reminiscent of the Alabama's famous cruise in the American Civil War. It may be noted, however, as indicative of changed conditions, that the Emden's depredations covered only two months instead of two years. A 3600 ton ship with a speed of 25 knots, the Emden left Kiao-chau on August 6, met von Spee's cruisers in the Ladrones on the 12th, and on September 10 appeared most unexpectedly on the west side of the Bay of Bengal. Here she sank five British merchantmen, all following the customary route with lights aglow. On the 18th she was off the Rangoon River, and 6 days later across the bay at Madras, where she set ablaze two tanks of the Burma Oil Company with half a million gallons of kerosene. From September 26 to 29 she was at the junction of trade routes west of Ceylon, and again, after an overhaul in the Chagos Archipelago to southward, spent October 16-19 in the same profitable field. Like most raiders, she planned to operate in one locality not more than three or four days, and then, avoiding all vessels on her course, strike suddenly elsewhere. During this period, British, Japanese, French, and Russian cruisers—the Germans assert there were 19 at one time—followed her trail.

The most daring adventure of Captain von Müller, the Emden's skipper, was now carried out in the harbor of Penang, on the west side of the Malay Peninsula. With an additional false funnel to imitate British county-class cruisers, the Emden at daybreak of October 28 passed the picket-boat off the harbor unchallenged, destroyed the Russian cruiser Jemtchug by gunfire and two torpedoes, and, after sinking the French destroyer Mousquet outside, got safely away. The Russian commander was afterward condemned for letting his ship lie at anchor with open lights, with only an anchor watch, and with strangers at liberty to visit her.

Steaming southward, the raider made her next and last appearance on the morning of November 9 off the British cable and wireless station on the Cocos Islands. As she approached, word was promptly cabled to London, Adelaide, and Singapore, and—more profitably—was wirelessed to an Australian troop convoy then only 45 miles away. The Emden caught the message, but nevertheless sent a party ashore, and was standing outside when the armored cruiser Sydney came charging up. Against the Emden's ten 4.1-inch guns, the Sydney had eight 6-inch guns, and she was at least 4 knots faster. Outranged and outdone in speed, the German ship was soon driven ashore in a sinking condition, with a funnel down and steering gear disabled. During her two months' activity thus ended, the Emden had made 21 captures, destroying ships and cargoes to the value of over $10,000,000.

The other German cruisers were also short-lived. The Karlsrühe, after arming the liner Kronprinz Wilhelm off the Bahamas (August 6) and narrowly escaping the Suffolk and the Bristol by superior speed, operated with great success on the South American trade routes. Her disappearance—long a mystery to the Allies—was due to an internal explosion, just as she was about to crown her exploits by a raid on the island of Barbados. The Königsberg, on the east coast of Africa, surprised and sank the British light cruiser Pegasus while the latter lay at Mombasa, Zanzibar, making repairs. She was later bottled up in the Rufigi River (October 30) and finally destroyed there (July 11, 1915) by indirect fire from monitors, "spotted" by airplanes.

MAP OF THE CRUISE OF THE EMDEN, SEPT. 1-NOV. 9, 1914

THE CRUISE OF THE EMDEN, SEPT. 1-NOV. 9, 1914

Of the auxiliary cruisers, the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse was sunk by the Highflyer (August 26), and the Cap Trafalgar went down after a hard fight with the Carmania (September 14). The Prinz Eitel Friedrich, which had entered the Atlantic with von Spee, interned at Newport News, Virginia, in March, 1915, and was followed thither a month later by the Kronprinz Wilhelm.

The results of this surface warfare upon commerce amounted to 69 merchant vessels, totaling 280,000 tons. With more strict concentration upon commerce destruction, and further preparations for using German liners as auxiliaries, the campaign might have been prolonged and made somewhat more effective. But for the same purpose the superiority of the submarine was soon demonstrated. To take the later surface raiders: the Wolf sank or captured 20 ships in 15 months at sea; the Seeadler, 23 in 7 months; the Möwe 15 in 2 months. But many a submarine in one month made a better record than these. The opening of Germany's submarine campaign, to be treated later, was formally announced by her blockade proclamation of February 4, 1915.

The Dogger Bank Action

The strategic value of the battle cruiser, as a means of throwing strength quickly into distant fields, was brought out in the campaign against von Spee. As an outcome of German raids on the east coast of England, its tactical qualities, against units of equal strength, were soon put to a sharper trial. Aside from mere Schrecklichkeit—a desire to carry the terrors of war to English soil—these raids had the legitimate military objects of helping distant cruisers by holding British ships in home waters, of delaying troop movements to France, and of creating a popular clamor that might force a dislocation or division of the Grand Fleet. The first incursion, on November 3, inflicted trifling damage; the second, on December 16, was marked by the bombardment of Scarborough, Hartlepool, and Whitby, in which 99 civilians were killed and 500 wounded. The third, on January 24 following, brought on the Dogger Bank action, the first encounter between battle cruisers, and one of the two capital ship actions of the war.

At dawn on this date, the Derfflinger, Seydlitz (flagship of Admiral von Hipper), Moltke, and armored cruiser Blücher, with 4 light cruisers and two destroyer flotillas, were moving westward about midway in the North Sea on a line between Heligoland and the scene of their former raids. Five battle cruisers under Admiral Beatty were at the same time approaching a rendezvous with the Harwich Force for one of their periodical sweeps in the southern area. The Harwich Force first came in contact with the enemy about 7 a.m. Fortunately for the Germans, they had already been warned of Beatty's approach by one of their light cruisers, and had just turned back at high speed when the British battle cruisers made them out to southeastward 14 miles away. The forces opposed were as follows:

British

Displace-
ment

Armor

Guns

Best recent speed[*]

German

Displace-
ment

Armor

Guns

Best recent speed

Lion

26,350

9″

8 13.5″

31.7

Derfflinger

26,180

13″

8 12″

30

Tiger

28,500

9″

8 13.5″

32

Seydlitz

24,610

11″

10 11″

29

Princess Royal

28,500

9″

8 13.5″

31.7

Moltke

22,640

11″

10 11″

28.4

New Zealand

18,800

8″

8 12″

29

Blücher

15,550

6″

12 8.2″

25.4

Indomitable

17,250

7″

8 12″

28.7

 

 

 

 

 

[Footnote *: Jane's Fighting Ships, 1914.]

MAP OF THEATER OF OPERATIONS IN THE NORTH SEA

THEATER OF OPERATIONS IN THE NORTH SEA

Settling at once to a stern chase, the British ships increased speed to 28.5 knots; while the Germans, handicapped by the slower Blücher, were held down to 25. At 8.52 the Lion was within 20,000 yards of the Blücher, and, after deliberate ranging shots, scored her first hit at 9.09. As the range further decreased, the Tiger opened on the rear ship, and the Lion shifted to the third in line at 18,000 yards. The enemy returned the fire at 9.14. Thus the action continued, both squadrons in lines of bearing, and Beatty's ships engaged as a rule with their opposites in the enemy order.

MAP OF DOGGER BANK ACTION, JAN. 24, 1915

DOGGER BANK ACTION, JAN. 24, 1915

At 9.45 the German armored cruiser had suffered severely, and ships ahead also showed the effects of the heavier enemy fire. Under cover of a thick smoke screen from destroyers on their starboard bow, and a subsequent destroyer attack, the Germans now shifted course away from the enemy and the rear ships hauled out on the port quarter of their leader to increase the range. The British cruisers, according to Admiral Beatty's report, "were ordered to form a line of bearing N.N.W., and proceed at their utmost speed." An hour later the Blücher staggered away to northward. Badly crippled, she was assigned by Beatty to the Indomitable, and was sunk at 12.37. At 10.54 submarines were reported on the British starboard bows.

Just after 11 the flagship Lion, having received two hits under water which burst a feed tank and thus put the port engine out of commission, turned northward out of the line. Though the injury was spoken of as the result of a "chance shot," the Lion had been hit 15 times. About an hour later Admiral Beatty hoisted his flag in the Princess Royal, but during the remainder of the battle Rear Admiral Moore in the Tiger had command. Judging from the fact that the Tiger was hit only 8 times in the entire action and the Princess Royal and the New Zealand not at all, there seems to have been little effort at this time to press the attack. The British lost touch at 11.50, and turned back at noon.

In the lively discussion aroused by the battle, the question was raised why the Blücher was included in the German line. Any encounter that developed on such an excursion was almost certain to be with superior forces, against which the armored cruiser would be of slight value. In a retreat, the "lame duck" would slow down the whole squadron, or else must be left behind.

During the first hour of the battle, the British gained about three knots, and brought the range to 17,500 yards. The range after 9.45 is not given, but was certainly not lowered in a corresponding degree. This may have been due to increased speed on the part of the German leaders, or to the interference of German destroyers, which now figured for the first time as important factors in day action. Two of these attacks were delivered, one at 9.40 and another about an hour later, and though repulsed by British flotillas, they both caused interference with the British course and fire.

The injury to the Lion, in the words of Admiral Beatty, "undoubtedly deprived us of a greater victory." The British wireless caught calls from Hipper to the High Seas Fleet, which (though this seems strange at the time of a battle cruiser sortie) is declared by the Germans to have been beyond reach at Kiel.[1] Worried by the danger to the Lion in case of retreat before superior forces, and in the belief that he was being led into submarine traps and mine fields, Admiral Moore gave up the chase. The distance to Heligoland was still at least 70 miles; the German ships were badly injured; the course since 9.45 had been more to the northward; the Grand Fleet was rapidly approaching the scene. The element of caution, seen again in the Jutland battle 15 months later, seems to have prevented pressing the engagement to more decisive results.

[Footnote 1: Capt. Persius, Naval and Military Record, Dec. 10, 1919.]

The conditions of flight and pursuit obtaining at the Dogger Bank emphasized the importance of speed and long range fire. Owing to the fact that they had twice the angle of elevation (30 degrees), the German 11-inch and 12-inch guns were not outranged by the British 13.5-inch guns; and at 17,000 yards their projectiles had no greater angle of fall. The chief superiority of the larger ordnance therefore lay in their heavier bursting charges and greater striking energy, 12,800 foot-tons to 8,900 foot-tons. According to a German report, the first salvo that hit the Seydlitz knocked out both after-turrets and annihilated their crews; and the ship was saved only by flooding the magazines.[1]

[Footnote 1: Admiral van Scheer, quoted in Naval and Military Record, London, March 24, 1920.]

The Dardanelles Campaign

Throughout the war a difference of opinion existed in Allied councils as to whether it was better to concentrate all efforts in the western sphere of operations, or to assail the Central Powers in the Near East as well, where the accession of Turkey (and later of Bulgaria) threatened to put the resources of all southeastern Europe under Teutonic control, and even opened a gateway into Asia. Such a division of effort was suggested not only by the necessity of protecting the Suez Canal, Egypt, and Mesopotamia, but by the difficulty of breaking the stalemate on the western front, and by the opportunity that would be offered of utilizing Allied control of sea communications. Furthermore, the Allies had a margin of predreadnoughts and cruisers ready for action and of no obvious value elsewhere.

On November 3, 1914, three days after Turkey entered the war, an Allied naval force that had been watching off the Dardanelles engaged the outer forts in a 10-minute bombardment, of no significance save perhaps as a warning to the Turks of trouble later on. In the same month the First Lord of the British Admiralty, Mr. Winston Churchill, proposed an attack on the Straits as "an ideal method of defending Egypt"; but it was not seriously considered until, on January 2, Russia sent an urgent appeal for a diversion to relieve her forces in the Caucasus. Lord Kitchener, the British Minister of War, answered favorably, but, feeling that he had no troops to spare, turned the solution over to the Navy.

From the first the decision was influenced by political considerations. Russia needed assurance of Allied solidarity—and it is significant that in February Lord Grey announced that England no longer opposed Russia's ambition to control Constantinople. Nine-tenths of Russia's exports were blocked by the closing of the Straits; their reopening would afford not only access to her vast stores of foodstuffs, but an entry—infinitely more convenient than Vladivostok or Archangel—for munitions and essential supplies. The Balkan States were wavering. In Turkey there was a strong neutral or pro-Ally sentiment. Victory would give an enormous material advantage, help Russia in the impending German drive on her southwestern frontier, and bolster Allied prestige throughout the eastern world.

Faced with the problem, the Admiralty sent an inquiry to Admiral Carden, in command on the scene, as to the practicability of forcing the Dardanelles by the use of ships alone, assuming that old ships would be employed, and "that the importance of the results would justify severe loss." He replied on January 5: "I do not think the Dardanelles can be rushed, but they might be forced by extended operations with a large number of ships." In answer to further inquiries, accompanied by not altogether warranted assurance from the First Lord that "High authorities here concur in your opinion," Admiral Carden outlined four successive operations:

(a) The destruction of defenses at the entrance to the Dardanelles.

(b) Action inside the Straits, so as to clear the defenses up to and including Cephez Point battery N8.

MAP OF THE APPROACHES TO CONSTANTINOPLE

THE APPROACHES TO CONSTANTINOPLE

 (c) Destruction of defenses of the Narrows.

(d) Sweeping of a dear channel through the mine-field and advance through the Narrows; followed by a reduction of the forts further up, and advance into the Sea of Marmora.

This plan was presented at a meeting of the British War Council on January 13. It may be noted at this point that the War Council, though composed of 7 members of the Cabinet, was at this time dominated by a triumvirate—the Premier (Mr. Asquith), the Minister of War (General Kitchener), and the First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Churchill); and in this triumvirate, despite the fact that England's strength was primarily naval, the head of the War Office played a leading rôle. The First Sea Lord (Admiral Fisher) and one or two other military experts attended the Council meetings, but they were not members, and their function, at least as they saw it, was "to open their mouths when told to." Staff organizations existed also at both the War Office and the Admiralty, at the latter consisting of the First Lord, First Sea Lord and three other officers not on the Admiralty Board. The working of this improvised and not altogether ideal machinery for the supreme task of conducting the war is interestingly revealed in the report[1] of the commission subsequently, appointed to investigate the Dardanelles Campaign.

[Footnote 1: British Annual Register, 1918, Appendix, from which quotations here are taken.]

"Mr. Churchill," according to this report, "appears to have advocated the attack by ships alone before the War Council on a certain amount of half-hearted and hesitating expert opinion." Encouraged by his sanguine and aggressive spirit, the Council decided that "the Admiralty should prepare for a naval expedition in February to bombard and take the Gallipoli Peninsula with Constantinople as its objective." In view of the fact that the operation as then conceived was to be purely naval, the word "take" suggests an initial misconception of what the navy could do. The support for the decision, especially from the naval experts, was chiefly on the assumption that if Admiral Carden's first operation were unpromising, the whole plan might be dropped.

Admiral Fisher's misgivings as to the wisdom of the enterprise soon increased, owing primarily to his desire to employ the full naval strength in the home field. He did not believe that "cutting off the enemy's big toe in the East was better than stabbing him to the heart." He had begun the construction of 612 new vessels ranging from "hush-hush" ships of 33 knots and 20-inch guns to 200 motor-boats, and he wished to strike for access to the Baltic, with a threat of invasion on Germany's Baltic coast. The validity of his objections to the Dardanelles plan appears to depend on the practicability of this alternative, which was not attempted later in the war. The First Lord and the First Sea Lord presented their difference of opinion to the Premier, but it appears that there was no ill feeling; Admiral Fisher later writes that "Churchill had courage and imagination—he was a war man."

At a Council meeting on January 28, when the decision was made definite, Admiral Fisher was not asked for an opinion and expressed none. (The Investigation Commission declare that the naval experts should have been asked, and should have expressed their views whether asked or not.) But there was a dramatic moment when, after rising as if to leave the Council, he was quickly followed by Lord Kitchener, who pointed out that all the others were in favor of the plan, and induced him once more to take his seat. After the decision, Mr. Churchill testifies, "I never looked back. We had left the region of discussion and consultation, of balancings and misgivings. The matter had now passed into the domain of action."

To turn to the scene of operations, there were now assembled at the Dardanelles 10 British and 4 French predreadnoughts, together with the new battleship Queen Elizabeth, the battle cruiser Inflexible, and many cruisers and torpedo craft. On February 19, 1915, again on February 25-26, and on March 1-7, this force bombarded the outer forts at Kum Kale and Sedd-el-Bahr and the batteries 10 miles further up at Cephez Point. These were in part silenced and demolished by landing parties. Bad weather, however, interfered with operations, and there was also some shortage of ammunition. The batteries, and especially the mobile artillery of the Turks, still greatly hampered the work of mine sweeping, which at terrible hazards was carried on at night within the Straits.

In the meantime the Government, to quote General Callwell, the Director of Military Operations, had "drifted into a big military attack." But the despatch from England of the 29th Division, which was to join the forces available in Egypt, was delayed; owing to Lord Kitchener's concern about the western situation, from Feb. 22 to March 16—an unfortunate loss of time. By March 17, however, the troops from Egypt and most of the French contingent were assembled at the island of Lemnos, and General Sir Ian Hamilton had arrived to take command. His instructions included the statement that "employment of military forces on any large scale at this juncture is only contemplated in the event of the fleet failing to get through after every effort has been exhausted. Having entered on the project of forcing the Straits, there can be no idea of abandoning the scheme."

On March 11 the First Lord sent to Admiral Carden a despatch asking whether the time had not arrived when "you will have to press hard for a decision," and adding: "Every well-conceived action for forcing a decision, even should regrettable losses be entailed, will receive our support." The Admiral replied concurring, but expressing the opinion that "in order to insure my communication line immediately fleet enters Sea of Marmora, military operations should be opened at once." On March 16 he resigned owing to ill health, and his second in command, Admiral de Robeck, succeeded, with the feeling that he had orders to force the Straits.

The attack of March 18 was the crucial and, as it proved, the final action of the purely naval campaign. At this time the mines had been swept as far up as Cephez Point, and a clear channel opened for some distance beyond. During the morning the Queen Elizabeth and 5 other ships bombarded the Narrows forts at 14,000 yards. Then at 12.22 the French predreadnoughts Suffren, Gaulois, Charlemagne, and Bouvet approached to about 9000 yards and by 1.25 had for the time being silenced the batteries of the Narrows. Six British battleships now advanced (2.36) to relieve the French. In the maneuvering and withdrawal, the Biouvet was sunk by a drifting mine[1] with a loss of over 600 men, and the Gaulois was hit twice under water and had to be beached on an island outside the Straits. About 4 o'clock the Irresistible also ran foul of a mine and was run ashore on the Asiatic side, where most of her men were taken off under fire. The Ocean, after going to her assistance, struck a mine and went down about 6 o'clock. Not more than 40 per cent. of the injuries sustained in the action were attributable to gunfire, the rest to mines sent adrift from the Narrows. Of the 16 capital ships engaged, three were sunk, one had to be beached, and some of the others were hardly ready for continuing the action next day.

[Footnote 1: It is stated that an ingenious device caused these mines to sink after a certain time and come back on an under-current that flows up the Dardanelles, and then rise at the Narrows for recovery. This may have enabled the Turks to keep up their presumably limited supply of mines; but how well the automatic control worked is not known.]

MAP OF DARDANELLES DEFENSES

DARDANELLES DEFENSES

There is some military support for the opinion that if, on the 18th or at some more suitable time, the fleet had acted in the spirit of Farragut's "Damn the torpedoes! Full steam ahead!" and, protected by dummy ships, bumpers, or whatever other devices naval ingenuity could devise, had steamed up to and through the Narrows in column, it would not have suffered much more severely than during the complicated maneuvering below. Of such an attack General von der Goltz, in command of the Turkish army, said that, "Although he thought it was almost impossible to force the Dardanelles, if the English thought it an important move in the general war, they could by sacrificing ten ships force the entrance, and do it very fast, and be up in Marmora within 10 hours from the time they forced it."[l] Admiral Fisher estimated that the loss would be 12 ships.

[Footnote 1: Repeated by Baron van Wangenheim to Ambassador Morgenthau, prior to the attack of March 18, Ambassador Morgenthau's Story, World's Work, September, 1918. See also Col. F. N. Maude, Royal Engineers, Contemporary Review, June, 1915.]

After such deductions, there would be no great surplus to deal with the Göben, which would fight desperately, and with the defenses of Constantinople. Indeed, such losses would seem absolutely prohibitive, if viewed only from the narrow standpoint of the force engaged, and without taking into fullest account the limited value of the older ships and the fact that the Government was fully committed to a prosecution of the campaign. It is of course easy to see that victory purchased by the loss of 10 predreadnoughts and 10,000 men would be cheap, as compared with the sacrifice of over 100,000 men killed and wounded and 10,000 invalided in the later campaign on land.

General Callwell has pointed out that the naval commanders were properly worried about what would happen after they got through the Straits, if the Sublime Porte should not promptly "throw up the sponge." "The communications would have remained closed to colliers and small craft by movable armament, if not also by mines. Forcing the pass would in fact have resembled bursting through a swing door. Sailors and soldiers alike have an instinctive horror of a trap, and they are in the habit of looking behind them as well as before them."[1] But according to Ambassador Morgenthau, who was probably in a better position than any one else to form an opinion, "The whole Ottoman State on the 18th day of March, 1915, was on the brink of dissolution." The Turkish Government was divided into factions and restive under German domination, and there was thus an excellent prospect that it would have capitulated under the guns of the Allied fleet. If not, then there might have been nothing left for the latter but to try to get back the way it came.

[Footnote 1: Nineteenth Century and After, March, 1919.]

Feeling in Constantinople during the month from February 19th to March 19th has already been suggested; it was nervous in the extreme. Neither Turks nor Germans felt assured that the Dardanelles could withstand British naval power. Plans were made for a general exit to Asia Minor, and there was a conviction that in a few days Allied ships would be in the Golden Horn. At the forts, if we may believe evidence not as yet definitely disproved, affairs were still more desperate. The guns, though manned largely by Germans, were not of the latest type, and for a month had been engaged in almost daily bombardment. Ammunition was running short. "Fort Hamadié, the most powerful defense on the Asiatic side, had just 17 armor-piercing projectiles left, while at Killid-ul-Bahr, the main defense on the European side, there were precisely 10."[2] To this evidence may be added the statement of Enver Pasha: "If the English had only had the courage to rush more ships through the Dardanelles they could have got to Constantinople, but their delay enabled us to fortify the peninsula, and in 6 weeks' time we had taken down there over 200 Austrian Skoda guns."

[Footnote 2: Ambassador Morgenthau's Story, World's Work, September, 1918, corroborating the statement of the correspondent G. A. Schreiner, in From Berlin to Bagdad.]

If Mr. Churchill was chiefly responsible for undertaking the campaign, he was not responsible for the delay after March 18. "It never occurred to me," he states, "that we should not go on." Admiral de Robeck in his first despatches appeared to share this view. On March 26, however, he telegraphed: "The check on March 18 is not, in my opinion, decisive, but on March 22 I met General Hamilton and heard his views, and I now think that, to obtain important results and to achieve the object of the campaign, a combined operation will be essential." This despatch, Mr. Churchill says, "involved a complete change of plan and was a vital decision. I regretted it very much. I believed then, as I believe now, that we were separated by very little from complete success." He proposed that the Admiral should be directed to renew the attack; but the First Sea Lord did not agree, nor did Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson, nor Admiral Sir Henry Jackson. So it was decided to wait for the army, and some satire has been directed at Mr. Churchill and those other "acknowledged experts in the technicalities of amphibious warfare," Mr. Balfour and Mr. Asquith, who were inclined to share his views. The verdict of the Dardanelles Commission was that, "Had the attack been renewed within a day or two there is no reason to suppose that the proportion of casualties would have been less; and, if so, even had the second attack succeeded, a very weak force would have been left for subsequent naval operations."

Once decided upon, it was highly essential that the combined operation should begin without further delay. But it was now found that the army transports had been loaded, so to speak, up-side-down, with guns and munitions buried under tents and supplies. Sending them back to Alexandria for reloading involved a six weeks' delay, though Lord Kitchener wired, "I think you had better know at once that I regard such postponement as far too long." The landing on the tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula, which was nearest the forts in the Straits and said to be the only feasible place, actually began on April 25, and was achieved under the guns of the fleet, and by almost unexampled feats of heroism by boats' crews and the first parties on shore.

Henceforth the navy played a subordinate though not insignificant part in the campaign. "By our navy we went there and were kept there," writes Mr. John Masefield in Gallipoli, "and by our navy we came away. During the nine months of our hold on the peninsula over 300,000 men were brought by the navy from places three, four, or even six thousand miles away. During the operations some half of these were removed by our navy, as sick and wounded, to ports from 800 to 3000 miles away. Every day, for 11 months, ships of our navy moved up and down the Gallipoli coast bombarding the Turk positions. Every day during the operations our navy kept our armies in food, drink and supplies. Every day, in all that time, if weather permitted, ships of our navy cruised in the Narrows and off Constantinople, and the seaplanes of our navy raided and scouted within the Turk lines."

On May 12 the predreadnought Goliath was torpedoed by a Turkish destroyer; and on May 25-26 the German submarine U 23, which had made the long voyage by way of Gibraltar, sank the Triumph and the Majestic. It was upon a forewarning of this attack that Admiral Fisher, according to his own statement, resigned as a protest against the retention of the Queen Elizabeth and other capital units in this unpromising field. British and French submarines, on the other hand, worked their way into the Sea of Marmora, entered the harbor of Constantinople, and inflicted heavy losses, including two Turkish battleships, 8 transports, and 197 supply vessels.

So almost unprecedented were the problems of a naval attack on the Dardanelles that it appears rash to condemn either the initiation or the conduct of an operation that ended in failure when seemingly on the verge of success. Clearly, the campaign was handicapped by lack of unanimous support and whole-hearted faith on the part of authorities at home. It was not thoroughly thought out at the start, and was subjected to trying delays. No advantage was ever taken of the invaluable factor of surprise. Even so, it was not wholly barren of results. It undoubtedly relieved Russia, kept Bulgaria neutral for at least five months, and immobilized 300,000 Turks, according to Lord Kitchener's estimate, for nine months' time. Nevertheless, the final failure was a tremendous blow to Allied prestige. Upon the withdrawal, in January of 1916, some of the troops were transferred to Salonika; and it is noteworthy that in Macedonia, as at Gallipoli, the army was dependent on the navy for the transport of troops, munitions, and in fact virtually everything needed in the campaign.

Aside from the Dardanelles failure, the naval situation at the end of 1915 was such as to give assurance to the Western Powers. They had converted potential control of the sea into actual control, save in limited areas on the enemies' sea frontiers. Germany had lost her cruisers and her colonies, and her shipping had been destroyed or driven from the seas. Though losses from submarines averaged 150,000 tons a month in 1915, they had not yet caused genuine alarm. The German fleet was still a menace, but, in spite of attrition warfare, the Grand Fleet was decidedly stronger than in 1914.

This work is from the chapter, World War 1: The First Year 1914 -1915 :-

A History of Sea Power, by William Oliver Stevens and Allan Westcot

REFERENCES

British Official Naval History, Sir Julian Corbett, London, 1920.

The Grand Fleet, Admiral Jellicoe, London, 1918.

The British Navy in Battle, Arthur H. Pollen, London, 1919.

My Memoirs, Admiral van Tirpitz, 1919.

The German High Seas Fleet in the World War, Vice Admiral van Scheer, 1920.

U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings, War Notes, 1914-1918.

Les Enseignements Maritimes de la Guerre Anti-Germanique, Admiral Daveluy, Paris, 1919.

Il Potere Marittimo Nella Grande Guerra, Captain Romeo Bernotti, Leghorn, 1920.

Naval Power in the War, Commander C. C. Gill, New York, 1918.

 

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