Goeben Breslau - Encyclopedia




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"GOEBEN & BRESLAU Aug 6t h 6.10 p.m. cs Malta essin Inflexible f Aug 6th o Indomitable Indefatigable Cape St. Vito 4 & 8.10 p.m. - - p.m.

stroyer Flotilla of 16 destroyers. The French forces under ViceAdml. Boue de Lapeyrere numbered one Dreadnought (the " Courbet," twelve 12-in.), six " Dantons " (Lord Nelson type), nine older battleships, six armoured cruisers and 24 destroyers. The German forces under Vice-Adml. Souchon consisted of the battle-cruiser " Goeben " (ten II-in., 26 knots) and the light cruiser " Breslau." The original British war orders for the Mediterranean were to concentrate at Malta and watch the entrance of the Adriatic; these would have met the circumstances of the case, but they were modified by a series of Admiralty telegrams. The British fleet was at Malta on July 29. On the 30th the Admiral received instructions that his first task was to aid the French in their transport and bring the " Goeben " to action if it attempted to interfere. These instructions were apparently sent without the concurrence or knowledge of the French commander-inchief, who had not asked for British assistance. On Aug. I news came of the " Goeben " and " Breslau " at Brindisi and they proceeded to Messina unknown to the British commanderin-chief. On Aug. 2 about 2 :45 P.M. he received orders to shadow the " Goeben," watch the approach to the Adriatic and remain near Malta himself. He accordingly took up his station off Malta and sent Troubridge with the " Indomitable," " Indefatigable," the ist Cruiser Squadron and four destroyers to watch the entrance to the Adriatic. About 8 P.M. he was told he could get in touch with the French commander-in-chief for combined action, but was unable to establish communication and remained ignorant of the French plans. Early in the morning of Aug. 3 the commander-in-chief, in answer to a question on the subject, was told that he was to maintain his watch on the Adriatic but the " Goeben " was his objective and was to be followed and shadowed wherever she went.

The " Chatham " had looked into Messina on Aug. 3 at 7 A.M. but there was no sign of the " Goeben " there (she had left to bombard the Tunisian coast), and the commander-in-chief accordingly recalled the " Indomitable " and " Indefatigable " on their way to the Adriatic and sent them to the W. to look for the " Goeben." He was very much handicapped by his ignorance of the French dispositions and the Admiralty supplied no information on this point. The Admiralty now became anxious about the Atlantic trade routes and at 8:30 P.M. an order arrived for the " Indomitable " and " Indefatigable " to proceed to Gibraltar at high speed and they went off at 21 knots. The " Goeben " and " Breslau " had been bombarding Philippeville and Bona, and, by a stroke of good luck, the " Indomitable " and " Indefatigable " on their way to Gibraltar ran right into them returning to Messina 40 m. N. of Bona on Aug. 4 at 10:32 A.M. The British battle-cruisers turned to the E. and followed at 11,000 yards. The day was misty, the " Goeben " 3 knots faster, and by 4:35 P.M. she was out of sight. Meanwhile the commander-in-chief had received news of Italian neutrality during the afternoon and an order not to approach within 6 m. of the Italian coast. This was a very exceptional restriction, far in excess of the requirements of international law, and was cancelled on Aug. 6 at 7:46 P.M. after the " Goeben " had escaped. It seems to have arisen from some confusion of ideas regarding the committal of acts of hostility within neutral waters, but its effect was to debar Adml. Milne from the use of Messina Straits and hinder the immediate concentration of any forces stationed at the two entrances.

Meanwhile the " Indomitable " and " Indefatigable " were following E. on the track of the " Goeben " and were. between Sardinia and Sicily when at 6:50 P.M. (Aug. 4) they received orders from the commander-in-chief to steer W. and go slow, which meant turning round and abandoning the pursuit. In giving this order the commander-in-chief seems to have been influenced partly by the idea of covering the French transport route, strengthened by the report of a German collier at Majorca, and partly by the Admiralty injunction against approaching the Italian coast. He now decided on the same grounds to establish a patrol to the W. of Sicily, and when hostilities commenced at midnight on Aug. 4 the " Inflexible " was in Malta Channel steering W. to join the " Indomitable " and " Indefatigable "' in order to do so. The " Goeben " was just returning to Messina. Troubridge with the 1st Cruiser Squadron was about 60 m. W. of Zante. The " Gloucester " was watching the S. entrance to Messina. The " Goeben " had arrived at Messina early in the morning of the 5th and started coaling, but there were difficulties in her way and the work was slow. News of her arrival only reached London at 6 P.M. and did not reach the British commander-in-chief till 4 A.M. on Aug. 6, though the " Gloucester," on the strength of wireless indications, had reported she must be there. A still more important piece of news never reached the commander-in-chief, namely that the Italian authorities had given her 24 hours to leave the port. During the night of the 5th the commander-in-chief continued to patrol with the " Inflexible " and " Indefatigable " in what is now seen to be an absurd position between Bizerta and Sardinia, while the " Indomitable " was coaling at Bizerta. At 6:10 P.M. on Aug. 6 he was 15 m. off Cape S. Vito (the N.W. point of Sicily; see map) when the " Gloucester's " wireless began to sound. The "Goeben " and " Breslau " were leaving Messina to the south.

The commander-in-chief did not display any great haste in following her to the East Mediterranean. He seems to have known very little of the ticklish state of affairs in Turkey, and had merely been told that the Turks were mining the Dardanelles. He proceeded at a moderate speed (15 knots) to Malta, arriving there with the battle-cruisers at noon on Aug. 7 just as the " Goeben " was approaching Cape Matapan. Adml. Souchon had been left at liberty to act as he might see fit and on leaving Messina it was his intention to proceed to the Dardanelles. He made a feint of steering N. till about II P.M. but the " Gloucester " followed and signalled his every move. Rear-Adml. Troubridge was off Cephalonia at 6 P.M. on the 6th (see map) and, thinking he was making for the Adriatic, steered with the ist Cruiser Squadron for Fano I., but, concluding at midnight that the first course was a feint, altered course and proceeded S. at full speed. He had already informed the commander-in-chief that he would not risk his squadron in a daylight action with the " Goeben," and had been told by the commander-in-chief that the circumstances would not arise. From the position signalled by the " Gloucester " he found he could not intercept them before daylight, and accordingly abandoned the pursuit and altered course for Zante at 3:50 A.M. Like the commander-in-chief, he saw no immediate danger in the " Goeben's " eastward course. Its vast consequences were beyond their ken. At 4 P.M. Aug. 7 the " Goeben " was off Cape Matapan with the gallant little " Gloucester (Capt. William A. H. Kelly) still clinging doggedly behind. She had engaged the " Breslau " at 1:35 P.M., but had received orders not to follow beyond Cape Matapan and turned back at 4 P.M. The battle-cruisers were still at Malta, 400 1n. behind. There the " Inflexible " and " Indefatigable " coaled and at 12:30 A.M. on the 8th, 12 hours after their arrival, left for the Aegean in chase. There was still time to do something, for difficulties had arisen as to entering Constantinople and the " Goeben " was cruising and coaling in the Aegean all the 8th and 9th. But again an unlucky mischance occurred. The Admiralty sent out a false alarm of war with Austria at noon on the 8th. The commander-in-chief received it at I:30 P.M., when he was half-way between Malta and Greece, and decided to concentrate with Troubridge off the Adriatic. The telegram was cancelled a couple of hours later, but on being informed that the situation was critical he continued to close Troubridge. At noon on the 9th the " Inflexible " was 40 m. W. of Zante and it was not till 2:50 P.M. that the Admiralty ordered him to resume the chase.

He had lost 24 hours and did not enter the Aegean till 3 A.M. on Aug. io. At 5:18 A.M. he passed Belo Pulo Light just as the " Goeben," 120 m. to the E., was finishing coaling off Denusa, a small island near Naxos. She had received orders by wireless to proceed to Constantinople and shaped course at 5:45 A.M. for the Dardanelles. It was too late to cut her off, nor had the commander-in-chief information of her whereabouts. All that day he was searching for her in the Aegean. At 5 P.M. the " Goeben " was off Cape Helles, and at 16 minutes past 5 entered the Dardanelles, starting a train of events which exercised a momentous influence on the war. Adml. Milne received the news at noon on Aug. 11 and was ordered to watch the exit. At the beginning of the chapter of accidents lay the unhappy telegram ordering him to protect French transports which did not need protection. (A. C. D.)

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