A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, May 28, 2015

May 1915: "Go and Run Amuck in the Marmara": The Adventures of Submarine E-11 at Constantinople

Cheering E-11 as it Returns from its Operations
As we continue to observe the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign, it is worth noting that a century ago during the closing weeks of May 1915, a British submarine made a daring raid through the Dardanelles and the Sea of Marmara to the very approaches to Constantinople.

Submarine warfare was one of  the new dimensions  added to warfare in the Great War. I previously  told the story of HMS B-11's sinking of the Turkish Mesudiye in December 1914; by May of 1915 submarine warfare was fully engaged around the Gallipoli landings; The German U-21 sank HMS Triumph on May 25 and HMS Majestic on May 27. But the British had submarines as well, and in May of 1915 HMS E-11's commander, Lieutenant Commander Martin Dunbar Nasmith, was reportedly given he order to "go and run amuck in the Marmara." On May 18 he entered the Dardanelles. He surfaced and captured a small sailing vessel which he strapped to his conning tower as camouflage, though he would later abandon this. On the 19th he encountered the Turkish battleships Turgut Reis and Heiruddin Barbarossa but was unable to engage with them.

E-11 proceeded into the Sea of Marmara. On May 23 Nasmith sank a gunboat and several small craft. On the 24th he sank two Turkish transports and ran a third aground. In one case he exchanged fire with a Turkish cavalry patrol onshore

On May 26 E-11 arrived off Constantinople and torpedoed an old Turkish transport, the Stamboul, by the Arsenal Quay at the entrance to the Golden Horn. Diving to avoid shore battery fire, E-11 bumped the bottom and made its way to calmer waters. But the appearance of an enemy submarine at the Ottoman capital created a sensation in the city.

E-11 continued to operate in the Marmara for several more days until running low on torpedoes. Withdrawing though the Dardanelles, she used her last torpedoes to sink another transport. She also snagged a mine and proceeded to drag it through the straits into open water before disentangling itself.

The Constantinople raid won Nasmith the Victoria Cross and was highly praised; she had sunk or run aground some 11 vessels. In July and August she made two more sorties, finally sinking the Barbarossa and raiding Constantinople again. By the end of the Dardanelles campaign, E-11 would be credited with more than 80 vessels.
E-11 officers and crew

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