A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Goeben Part IV: The Germans Don the Fez

I'm on vacation. As I have done each year, I have prepared a number of posts on historical and cultural subjects unlikely to be overtaken by events, with at least one appearing daily. This is the second of four posts on the escape across the Mediterranean of the German warships Goeben and Breslau to Constantinople in August, 1914, a century ago. Part I appeared last week and introduced the main players and the ships. Part II Tuesday with the chase itself and the rapid negotiations between Germany and Turkey during the course of their flight. Part III yesterday dealt with the idea of transferring the ships to Turkey and their entry into the Straits, and his final part deals with their reception in the Turkish capital. 
Goeben Docked in İstinye Bay, on the Bosphorus, Istanbul
When Goeben and Breslau arrived in Constantinople (Istanbul), there was much celebration on the Turkish side, where the claimed "sale" of the ships to Turkey was seen as a suitable riposte to Britain for its seizure of the Turkish dreadnoughts two weeks earlier.

Meanwhile, Britain and France first protested that the ships must be disarmed, and once he "sale" was announced demanded that the German crews be replaced/. Hast was not done and over the next two months, Turkey's neutrality would be further eroded until its formal entry into the war in late October, a story we will follow in the coming months. We'll tell those tales at the appropriate time.

Yavuz Raises Her New Flag
Meanwhile, the two ships were officially becoming Turkish warships with German officers and crews. On August 16, SMS Goeben ceased to be officially German, becoming instead the battle cruiser Yavuz Sultan Selim. Usually shortened to Yavuz, she raised the Turkish flag. Ironically, she would serve longer than any oher ship in the Imperial German Fleet and longer than any other Dreadnought-era battleship or battle cruiser in any fleet. We'll deal with her later career another time.

On the same day SMS Breslau was recommissioned as Medilli; she would serve the Ottoman fleet until January 20, 1918, when she was sunk in battle off the island of Imbros.

German Adm. Souchon
The ships might have a new flag and new names, but they preserved their German officers and crews. To maintain the fig leaf of Ottoman neutrality, however,
Turkish Adm. Souchon 
Souchon and his crews made a sartorial change: they donned the Turkish fez. Souchon was also, under the deal with Germany, to assume command of the Turkish Fleet, as commander of its most modern ships.

The Goeben crew
The new uniforms of the German officers and crew seem to have both charmed the Turks and become a source of curiosity and amusement back in Germany, where photo postcards and news photos of the new headgear became extremely popular.

Souchon and his staff in Fezzes
The whole affair seems to have fascinated the Turkish and German publics, though the German government was still frustrated by Turkey's official neutrality (though she would close the Straits in September, thus blocking Russian exit from the Black Sea. As Britain and France in coming weeks would labor mightily with a mix of carrots and sticks to keep Turkey neutral, the Turkish government soon realized that "their" new ships were a mixed blessing,since Constantinople was now literally under the guns of a ship whose Admiral, fez or not, was taking orders from Berlin as well as themselves. Finally, in October,Goeben and Breslau would unilaterally shell the Russian Black Sea ports, finally forcing the issue. But those details can wait till September and October.

German postcard of crewmen in Fezzes
There were, still, some issues for the Turks to resolve internally. They had promised Germany that Souchon was to command the fleet. But there was another commander in place, and he happened to be British.

Just as the Young Turks had entrusted the training and modernization of the Army to a German Military Mission under Liman von Sanders, they had turned for their Navy to the premier naval power, Britain. Since 1912, the British Naval Mission had been under Admiral Sir Arthur Limpus. He took command just as Turkey lost the Dodecanese to Italy, and had headed to England to receive the two dreadnoughts just as Churchill seized them for Britain. Djemal Pasha's previously-cited memoirs explain what happened next:

The most delicate part of the business, however, was to get the Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet, Admiral Limpus, and all the English officers out of the fleet without causing excitement The very next day I had a report from the Admiral in question. . He congratulated the Ottoman Government on having secured possession of two such vessels, and assured me that as the two ships came under his direct command, he would have the selected officers and men ready within a month to manoeuvre with these most modem units. I asked the Admiral to call on me, and began to discuss the matter with him. I asked him that, in view of the fact that the German Admiral and ships' companies were very exhausted, so that the date on which they would leave the ship was still uncertain, he would occupy himself in making out the list of officers and men who were to be employed on them.
By a stroke of luck it happened that four or five days later I received a short letter from the Admiral in which he told me that he was enclosing a copy of a report in English which he had submitted direct to the Grand Vizier. I had the report translated. In view of the condition of our fleet and army, he recommended the Government to preserve the strictest neutrality, and expressed his opinion that the Turkish officers and men needed at least four or five years' training instruction before they would be efficient enough to handle the recently-acquired units. I immediately replied to the Admiral that he was there solely to reorganise the fleet, that he was directly responsible to the Ministry, and must therefore present his reports to that Ministry alone. As those reports were to concern themselves with the reorganisation of the fleet and nothing else, he had no authority to recommend any political course to the Ottoman Government when dealing with the situation in the navy.
The next day I received a very short reply from the Admiral. "Your letter shows me the true position. For the future I will be extremely careful not to exceed the limits you have imposed for my activities. In any case, I am feeling very tired, and I should be very grateful to you if you would allow me to spend some time with my daughter, who is living in Therapia."
I told him that his wish was granted, but also. pointed out that during his absence there might be many misunderstandings in the fleet between the English officers, mechanics, &c., and the Turkish crews, and asked him to prevent such occurrences by sending the officers to the Ministry, so that they could be distributed among the different sections of the arsenal. The day after this order was carried not a single English officer remained on service with our fleet. Thereupon an Imperial irade was issued, wherein Admiral Souchon was appointed to the service of the Ottoman Government with the title of Commander- in-Chief of the Imperial Fleet. The next day the Goeben and Breslau, which were now called Jawus and Midilli, hoisted the Turkish ensign, entered Stambul harbour, and anchored in the roads of Moda.
A few days later His Majesty the Sultan, who had gone on board the yacht Erthogrul, reviewed the Turkish Fleet, which now definitely included the Jawus and Midilli, during the regatta which was in progress at the Princes Islands. It is utterly impossible to describe the enthusiasm and pleasure which seized on the people of Constantinople in those days.
In September, Limpus was transferred to Malta.

British cartoon in Punch
The British had achieved their goal of neutralizing the Goeben and Breslau in allied waters in the Med. But Souchon was well on the way to achieving his goal, and Germany's of course, of de-neutralizing Turkey. Kut and Gallipoli, the Palestine Campaign and the Armenian massacres all lay ahead. It is worth repeating the Churchill quote cited at the beginning of Part II: By 6 o’clock therefore on the morning of August 7 the Goeben, already the fastest capital unit in the Mediterranean, was steaming on an unobstructed course for the Dardanelles, carrying with her for the peoples of the East and Middle East more slaughter, more misery and more ruin than has ever before been borne within the compass of a ship.


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