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A History of Sea Power by Stevens and Westcott

Operating under Admiral Souchon in Mediterranean waters


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 "Goeben" and the "Breslau"_

In distant waters Germany at the outbreak of the war had only ten cruisers--_Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Emden, Nuernberg_, and _Leipzig_ in the Pacific, _Koenigsberg_ on the east coast of Africa, _Karlsruhe_ and _Dresden_ in the West Indies, and _Goeben_ 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 _Goeben_ 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 coordination 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 AEgean; 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.


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