Book: The World Crisis, Vol. 2: 1915

Previous: X. The New Resolve
Next: XII. Admiral de Robeck’s Change of Plan

CHAPTER XI
THE 18th OF MARCH

The Official Account—The Plan of Attack—The Fatal Omission—The Action begins—The Forts Dominated—The Bouvet Mined and Sunk—The Bombardment Continued—Inflexible and Irresistible Mined—The Attack Suspended—Ocean Mined—Losses in Ships and Men—How I spent March 18—News of the Action received at the Admiralty—General Resolve to Fight it out—Reinforcements; Telegrams—Admiral de Robeck’s Intentions on the 19th and 20th—His Telegram of the 23rd—Proposed Admiralty Orders to renew the Battle—The First Sea Lord’s Refusal—Impossibility of Procuring an Offensive Decision—My further Efforts.

On the morning of March 18 the whole Allied fleet advanced to the attack of the Narrows.

The Official Naval History devotes twelve closely printed pages to the general action which followed. Almost all the essential facts known at the present time are stated in this account. But they are presented with so little order, with such confusion in chronology, and with such slight or erroneous discrimination between the relative importance of facts and events that no clear picture is afforded to the lay reader. The fortunes of individual ships described in great detail and profusion, the many acts of bravery and skill, the salvage of injured vessels, the rescue of their crews, overlay the story. These are interspersed with reflections and surmises as to the possibilities of success and the effect of the fire upon the Turkish forts, which are sometimes based upon the knowledge possessed at the moment, and sometimes upon the later and fuller information collected after the Armistice. The vital questions connected with the Turkish ammunition supply and with the cause of the mining of the Bouvet, Irresistible, Ocean and Inflexible are relegated to footnotes, apparently added after the main account had been completed. Torn between a benevolent desire to avoid throwing blame upon the Admiralty for ordering the attack, or upon the Admiral for not succeeding in it, between a wish to do justice to the power and achievements of the fleet, and a fear of unduly depreciating the remaining resources of the Turkish resistance, the author almost seems to have sought refuge in obscure and inconclusive narration. The story is, however, fairly simple and may be briefly told.

Admiral de Robeck’s plan was to silence simultaneously the forts which guarded the Narrows and the batteries protecting the minefields. Ten battleships were assigned to the attack and six to their relief at four-hour intervals. The attack was to be opened at long range by the four modern ships. When the forts were partially subdued the four ships of the French squadron were to pass through the intervals of first line and engage the forts at 8,000 yards. As soon as the forts were dominated the mine-sweepers were to clear a 900-yards channel through the five lines of mines constituting the Kephez minefield. The sweeping was to be continued throughout the night, covered by two battleships, while the rest of the fleet withdrew. The next morning, if the channel had been cleared, the fleet would advance through it into Sari Siglar Bay, and batter the forts at the Narrows at short and decisive range. The sweeping of the minefields at the Narrows would follow the destruction or effective disablement of these forts.

The actual distribution of duties was as follows:—

Line A. Queen Elizabeth
Agamemnon
Lord Nelson
Inflexible

   To fire at the forts at Narrows at 14,000 yards.
Triumph
Prince George

   To fire at the intermediate defences.
Line B. Suffren
Bouvet
Charlemagne
Gaulois

   To fire later at the forts at the Narrows at 8,000 yards.
Cornwallis
Canopus
   To cover the mine-sweeping during the night.
Vengeance
Irresistible
Albion
Ocean
Swiftsure
Majestic


   Relief.

The foundation of the whole plan was that the battleships would only fight and manœuvre in waters which had been thoroughly swept and were known to be clear of mines. On March 7 the bombarding area had been found free and was, in fact, free from mines. Sweeping operations had been carried out almost every night up to 8,000 yards from the Narrows and a few sweeps had been made along the Asiatic shore. Eren Keui Bay had not, however, been swept to any large extent. An experiment carried out by the Ark Royal had led to the belief that a seaplane or aeroplane flying above a minefield could discern mines at 18-feet depth in the clear water below. The seaplanes frequently reported the presence of mines in the regular minefields, and their reports had come to be relied upon not only in the positive sense that mines were in a certain place, but in the much wider and more questionable negative sense that there were no mines where none were reported. We now know that the experiment of the Ark Royal was misleading. The seaplanes could not, in fact, locate the regular Turkish minefields, and what they saw and reported were only mines exceptionally near the surface or submerged net buoys. Every allowance must be made for the difficulty of the task and for the limited means available for discharging it. But the operation of sweeping the areas from which the ships were to bombard, which were fully under our control and not at all to be confused with the strongly guarded regular minefields, was the indispensable preliminary to any naval attack upon the forts. This, as we now know, was not achieved because the sweepers were inadequate both in numbers and efficiency, and this fact led directly to the losses in the attack of March 18, and indirectly to the abandonment of the whole naval enterprise.

For in the early and squally dawn of March 8, while the British night patrol of destroyers was withdrawing from the Straits, the little Turkish steamer Nousret had laid a new line of twenty mines in Eren Keui Bay parallel to the shore and moored about 100 to 150 yards apart. These mines were intended to catch ships attempting to renew the bombardment from the positions in which they had worked on March 6 and 7. In fact, however, they played a recognizable part in the history of the Great War. Three of them were found and destroyed by the sweepers on March 16, but as no more were encountered, it was not realized that they were part of a line of mines. There the rest lay during the ten days before the attack undetected and unsuspected. There they were now lying when in the brilliant sunshine of March 18 the tremendous armada assembled under Admiral de Robeck’s command advanced majestically to the execution of a momentous plan.

At about half-past eleven the Queen Elizabeth, Agamemnon, Lord Nelson and Inflexible opened fire in succession on the forts at the Narrows at 14,400 yards range and a few minutes later the whole of Line A was in action. The ships were immediately subjected to a heavy fire from the movable howitzers and field guns of the Intermediate Defences. All ships were struck several times, but their armour effectually protected them from damage. The forts also began to fire, but the range was too great for them. At 11.50 a big explosion took place in Fort 20 on which the Queen Elizabeth was firing and both the Agamemnon and Lord Nelson were seen to be hitting Forts 13 and 17 repeatedly. A few minutes after midday the French squadron advanced through the bombarding line and, gallantly led by Admiral Guépratte, began to engage the forts at closer range. All the forts replied vigorously and the firing on both sides became tremendous, the whole of Lines A and B firing simultaneously both at the forts and at the lighter batteries. The spectacle at this period is described as one of terrible magnificence. The mighty ships wheeling, manœuvring and firing their guns, great and small, amid fountains of water, the forts in clouds of dust and smoke pierced by enormous flashes, the roar of the cannonade reverberating back from the hills on each side of the Straits, both shores alive with the discharges of field guns; the attendant destroyers, the picket-boats darting hither and thither on their perilous service—all displayed under shining skies and upon calm blue water, combined to make an impression of inconceivable majesty and crisis. This period lasted for about an hour. A little before 1 o’clock a great explosion occurred in Fort 13. A quarter of an hour later Fort 8 ceased firing. The Gaulois and the Charlemagne were now hitting Forts 13 and 16 with regularity. At half-past one the fire of the forts slackened appreciably. By a quarter to two their fire had almost ceased. Their men had been driven, or withdrawn, from the guns, and the whole interior of the works was obstructed with debris.

The mine-sweepers were now ordered to advance. The French squadron which had borne the brunt was recalled and the battleships of the relief moved forward to take their places. Scarcely any damage had been done to the British ships, though the Inflexible had her fore-bridge wrecked and on fire; and several of the French ships had been a good deal knocked about. In the whole fleet, however, not one vessel had been injured in its fighting or motive power. The crews, protected by the strong steel armour, had suffered scarcely any loss. Not forty men in all had been killed or wounded. So far the plan seemed to be working well. The general impression was that the forts were dominated and that, had there been no minefield, the ships could have steamed through the Straits, keeping the forts pinned down by their fire with little loss. It is certain, at any rate, that we had the measure of the forts. But now the first of the disasters occurred.

At 1.54, as the Bouvet was coming out of the Straits, following her flagship, the Suffren, she struck one of the mines in Eren Keui Bay. The explosion fired her magazine and in two minutes she vanished beneath the surface in a cloud of smoke and steam, only 66 men being saved. The cause of her destruction was attributed on the Queen Elizabeth to a heavy shell, and the operations continued without a pause.

At 2 o’clock the forts were completely silent and only the Queen Elizabeth and the Lord Nelson continued to fire at them. The mine-sweepers were now ordered to enter the Straits; and the relieving line of ‘B’ battleships at the same time advanced to engage the forts at closer range. All the forts resumed a rapid but ineffective fire, and the Queen Elizabeth replied with salvos. This second phase also continued for over an hour, the forts firing spasmodically and without injuring the fleet. There is no doubt that at this time the Turkish fire control and communications were deranged. Meanwhile, the mine-sweepers were advancing slowly against the current towards the Kephez minefield. On their way they exploded three and fished up three more of the newly laid mines in Eren Keui Bay. It was of this moment in the action that Admiral de Robeck subsequently reported, ‘At 4 p.m. the forts of the Narrows were practically silenced; the batteries guarding the minefields were put to flight, and the situation appeared to be most favourable for clearing the minefields.’

At 4.11 the Inflexible, which all day had been lying in or close to the unknown minefield, reported she had struck a mine. She took a serious list and her condition was evidently one of danger. Three minutes later it was seen that the Irresistible had also listed and was apparently unable to move. At 4.50 Admiral de Robeck learned for certain that this ship also had struck a mine. The appearance of these mines in water which it had been confidently believed was entirely free from them, and in which the fleet had been manœuvring all day was profoundly disconcerting. It was not thought possible at this time that a line of moored mines could have been laid in our own waters, nor was this known till the end of the war. What then was the mysterious and terrific agency which had struck these deadly blows? Was it torpedoes fired from some concealed or submerged station on the shore? Was it a great shoal of floating mines thrown overboard by the Turks above the Narrows and only now carried by the current among the fleet? Several such mines were seen drifting down during the afternoon, and had been grappled with by the hardy picket-boats. Moreover, just before the beginning of the action four Turkish steamers had been seen waiting in the Narrows, presumably to discharge cargoes of mines at the proper moment. This was therefore the more probable explanation. But anyhow, it was obvious that the area in which the ships were working was not free from mines, or that some other even more alarming cause was active.

On this, Admiral de Robeck determined to break off the action. No one can accuse this decision. It was impossible to continue the attack on the forts in the face of such losses and uncertainty. The two battleships which were to have covered the sweeping operations during the night could not be left in the Straits. Moreover, the Intermediate Forts (7 and 8) were not yet controlled. The sweeping operations could not therefore proceed and the whole operation must be interrupted. About 5 o’clock orders were given for a general retirement and all attention was concentrated on the wounded ships and the saving of their crews. While going to the aid of the Irresistible the Ocean ran into the same minefield and was also stricken. The rest of the story is soon told. The Inflexible reached Tenedos Island safely and was anchored in shallow water. The crews of the Irresistible and Ocean were taken off in destroyers which were most skilfully and courageously handled, and both these derelict battleships foundered during the night in the depths of the Straits.

This ended the action of March 18. For all the tremendous firing and prodigious aspect of the battle, the bloodshed on both sides was incredibly small. The Turkish lost less than 150 men in their batteries and forts, and in the whole British Fleet only 61 men were killed and wounded. The French, however, had to mourn the crew of the Bouvet, of whom nearly 600 perished. Of the ships, the Inflexible was put out of action for six weeks, the Gaulois had been severely injured by gunfire; and three of the old battleships had been sunk. We shall see later on what was the condition of the enemy and his defences.

I passed the day of the 18th in the French trenches among the sand-dunes of the Belgian coast. Here the snarling lines which stretched from Switzerland touched the sea, and the barbed wire ran down the beach into salt water. Corpses entangled in the wire were covered with seaweed and washed by the tides as they mouldered. Others in groups of ten or twelve lay at the foot of the sandhills blasted in their charge, but with the sense and aspect of attack still eloquent in their attitude and order. These dead had lain there for months, and the sand gradually gained upon them, softening their outlines. It was as if Nature was gathering them to herself. The lines were very close together, and in places only a few yards apart. A vigilant silence reigned, broken by occasional guns. The defences in the sand were complicated and novel. They presented features I had not seen on any other part of the front. It was fine weather, and I was thankful to keep my mind from dwelling on the events that I knew were taking place on the other sea flank of the hostile line. I returned to England during the night of the 18th in order to receive the account of the action.

It reached me in the morning, and at the first glance one could see that no good result had been achieved.

Vice-Admiral de Robeck to Admiralty.

March 18, 1915. (Received 8.35 a.m.)

233. Attack on defences at Narrows commenced 10.45 a.m. Queen Elizabeth, Inflexible, Agamemnon, Lord Nelson first bombarded Forts 13, 16, 17, 19, 20. Triumph, Prince George fired at Batteries 7, 8, and 8a. Heavy fire was opened on ships from howitzers and field guns. 12.22 p.m. Suffren, Gaulois, Charlemagne, Bouvet advanced up Dardanelles, engaged forts at closer range. Forts 13, 19, 7, 8 opened heavy fire. This was silenced by the ten battleships inside the Straits; during this period all ships were hit several times. By 1.25 p.m. forts had ceased firing. Vengeance, Irresistible, Albion, Ocean, Swiftsure and Majestic were ordered to relieve the six old battleships inside Straits. As the French squadron were passing out Bouvet, 1.54 p.m., was seen to be in distress; large volume black smoke suddenly appeared on starboard quarter, and before any assistance could be rendered she heeled over and sank in 36 fathoms north of Eren Keui village in under three minutes. Explosion on Bouvet appeared to be an internal one. 2.25 p.m., relief battleships were passing up, and 2.36 p.m. they were engaging forts, who again opened fire. Attack on forts continued, and mine-sweepers were ordered in. 4.9 p.m., Irresistible was seen to have a list to starboard. 4.14 p.m., Inflexible quitted the line and reported having struck a mine on the starboard side; she proceeded out of Dardanelles and is now at Tenedos. At 4.30 p.m. Irresistible was listing heavily. Wear went alongside to take off her crew, who were transferred to Queen Elizabeth. At 5.30 ship was abandoned, being under hot fire and sinking. She probably struck a mine manœuvring astern whilst engaging Fort 8, both engine rooms being immediately flooded. At 6.5 Ocean, who had been covering rescue of Irresistible, also struck a mine. She took a heavy list and was abandoned when it was obvious she could not remain afloat; both vessels sunk in deep water. Rear-Admiral Guépratte, at 5.15, reported Gaulois leaking badly, her condition serious. She has had to be beached on Drepano Island, bows badly damaged by gunfire…. All ships were manœuvred in area well below reported minefield. Mine-sweepers had swept area on several occasions and reported it clear, and seaplanes had not located any mines in it.

A later message added:—

With the exception of ships lost and damaged, squadron is ready for immediate action, but the plan of attack must be reconsidered and means found to deal with floating mines.

I regarded this news only as the results of the first day’s fighting. It never occurred to me for a moment that we should not go on within the limits of what we had decided to risk, until we reached a decision one way or the other. I found Lord Fisher and Sir Arthur Wilson in the same mood. Both met me together that morning with expressions of firm determination to fight it out. The First Sea Lord immediately ordered two battleships, the London and Prince of Wales, to reinforce Admiral de Robeck’s fleet and to replace casualties, in addition to the Queen and Implacable which were already on their way. The French Minister of Marine telegraphed that he was sending the Henri IV to replace the Bouvet. We all repaired to the War Council which met at 11 o’clock. The War Council was also quite steady and determined, and after hearing our news authorized ‘The First Lord of the Admiralty to inform Vice-Admiral de Robeck that he could continue the naval operations against the Dardanelles if he thought fit.’

On this we telegraphed.

Admiralty to Vice-Admiral de Robeck.

March 20, 1915.

We regret the losses you have suffered in your resolute attack. Convey to all ranks and ratings their Lordships’ approbation of their conduct in action and seamanlike skill and prudence with which His Majesty’s ships were handled. Convey to the French squadron the Admiralty’s appreciation of their loyal and effective support, and our sorrow for the losses they have sustained.

Queen and Implacable should join you very soon; and London and Prince of Wales sail to-night.

Please telegraph any information as to damage done to forts, and also full casualties and ammunition expended.

It appears important not to let the forts be repaired, or to encourage enemy by an apparent suspension of the operations. Ample supplies of 15-inch ammunition are available for indirect fire of Queen Elizabeth across the peninsula.

On the 20th Admiral de Robeck telegraphed to the Admiralty:—

Plan for re-organizing mine-sweeping progressing.

Eight Beagle class being fitted as mine-sweepers. Six River class and four torpedo boats as mine-seekers with light sweeps, and a flotilla of picket boats with explosive creeps.

Fifty British mine-sweepers, manned entirely by volunteers, and twelve French sweepers will be available.

The whole area in which ships will manœuvre, in order to dominate forts at the Narrows and the batteries protecting the Kephez minefields, will be thoroughly swept again; no more night sweeping will be carried out.

Tunny nets and indicator nets will be laid across Straits night before the attack is renewed.

It is hoped to be in a position to commence operations in three or four days, but delay is inevitable, as new crews and destroyers will need some preliminary practice.

No ship will enter Dardanelles unless everything is ready for a sustained attack.

In the meantime, feints at landing in various places will be made in order to draw off some of the enemy’s field guns.

And later in the day:—

The fighting efficiency of other ships is unimpaired, their damage being confined to funnels, superstructure, decks, etc.

All these mines (the floating mines) were sighted after 4 p.m., which points to their having been released from Chanak after the ships entered the Straits.

4 p.m. the forts of the Narrows were practically silenced. Batteries guarding minefields were put to flight, and situation appeared to be most favourable for clearing the minefields.

Thus everything was so far steady and resolved. The First Sea Lord and the Admiralty War Group, the Prime Minister and the War Council, the French Ministry of Marine, Admiral de Robeck and the French Admiral on the spot—all had no other idea but to persevere in accordance with the solemn decisions which had been taken.

But now suddenly on the 23rd came a telegram of a totally different character.

Vice-Admiral de Robeck to Admiralty.

March 23, 1915. (Received 6.30 a.m.)

818. At meeting to-day with Generals Hamilton and Birdwood the former told me Army will not be in a position to undertake any military operations before 14th April. In order to maintain our communications when the fleet penetrates into the Sea of Marmora it is necessary to destroy all guns of position guarding the Straits. These are numerous, and only small percentage can be rendered useless by gunfire. The landing of demolishing party on the 26th February evidently surprised enemy. From our experience on the 4th March it seems in future destruction of guns will have to be carried out in face of strenuous and well-prepared opposition. I do not think it a practicable operation to land a force adequate to undertake this service inside Dardanelles. General Hamilton concurs in this opinion. If the guns are not destroyed, any success of fleet may be nullified by the Straits closing up after the ships have passed through, and as loss of matériel will possibly be heavy, ships may not be available to keep Dardanelles open. The mine menace will continue until the Sea of Marmora is reached, being much greater than was anticipated. It must be carefully and thoroughly dealt with, both as regards mines and floating mines. This will take time to accomplish, but our arrangements will be ready by the time Army can act. It appears better to prepare a decisive effort about the middle of April rather than risk a great deal for what may possibly be only a partial solution.

I read this telegram with consternation. I feared the perils of the long delay; I feared still more the immense and incalculable extension of the enterprise involved in making a military attack on a large scale. The mere process of landing an army after giving the enemy at least three weeks’ additional notice seemed to me to be a most terrible and formidable hazard. It appeared to me at the time a far graver matter in every way than the naval attack. Moreover, what justification was there for abandoning the naval plan on which hitherto all our reasoning and conclusions had been based? The loss of life in the naval operations had been very small. In the whole operation only one ship of any importance (the Inflexible) had been damaged, and a month or six weeks in the dockyard at Malta would repair her thoroughly. As for the old battleships, they were doomed in any case to the scrap-heap. Every ship lost was being replaced. Only on the 20th the Admiral had telegraphed: ‘From experience gained on 18th I consider forts at the Narrows and the batteries guarding minefields can be dominated after a few days’ engagement sufficient to enable mine-sweepers to clear Kephez minefields.’ But, if so, why not do this? It was what we had always meant to do. It was what we had decided to do. Why turn and change at this fateful hour and impose upon the Army an ordeal of incalculable severity? An attack by the Army if it failed would commit us irrevocably in a way no naval attack could have done. The risk was greater; the stakes were far higher. I had no doubt whatever what orders should be sent to Admiral de Robeck. I convened an immediate meeting of the Admiralty War Group, and placed the following telegram before them:—

Admiralty to Vice-Admiral de Robeck.

Your 818. In view of the dangers of delay through submarine attack and of heavy cost of army operation, and possibility that it will fail or be only partly effective in opening the Straits, and that the danger of mines will not be relieved by it, we consider that you ought to persevere methodically but resolutely with the plan contained in your instructions and in Admiralty telegram 109, and that you should make all preparations to renew the attack begun on 18th at the first favourable opportunity. You should dominate the forts at the Narrows and sweep the minefield and then batter the forts at close range, taking your time, using your aeroplanes, and all your improved methods of guarding against mines. The destruction of the forts at the Narrows may open the way for a further advance. The entry into the Marmora of a fleet strong enough to beat Turkish Fleet would produce decisive results on the whole situation, and you need not be anxious about your subsequent line of communications. We know the forts are short of ammunition and supply of mines is limited. We do not think the time has yet come to give up the plan of forcing Dardanelles by a purely naval operation.

Commodore de Bartolomé, who starts to-day, will give you our views on points of detail. Meanwhile all your preparations for renewing attack should go forward.

But now immediately I encountered insuperable resistance. The Chief of the Staff was quite ready to order the renewal of the attack; but the First Sea Lord would not agree to the proposed telegram, nor did Sir Arthur Wilson nor Sir Henry Jackson who was present. Lord Fisher took the line that hitherto he had been willing to carry the enterprise forward because it was supported and recommended by the Commander on the spot. But now that Admiral de Robeck and Sir Ian Hamilton had decided on a joint operation, we were bound to accept their views. In fact, he was immensely relieved that the operation was at last assuming the form which in the earliest days he and all of us would have preferred. ‘What more could we want? The Army were going to do it. They ought to have done it all along.’ But I, seeing how woefully and fearfully the situation was changed to our disadvantage by the delay and exposure, could not stand this. I saw a vista of terrible consequences behind this infirm relaxation of purpose. For the first time since the war began, high words were used around the octagonal table. I pressed to the very utmost the duty and the need of renewing the naval attack. In this I was stoutly supported by Commodore de Bartolomé; but he was the youngest there, and I could make no headway. I closed the meeting without a decision. I took the draft of my telegram to the Prime Minister. I found him in hearty agreement with it, as was also Mr. Balfour, with whom I discussed it during the day.

Looking back, one can see now that this was the moment for the Prime Minister to intervene and make his view effective. As for me, what could I do? If by resigning I could have procured the decision, I would have done so without a moment’s hesitation. It was clear, however, that this would only have made matters worse. Nothing that I could do could overcome the Admirals now they had definitely stuck their toes in. They had only to point to the losses of ships which had been incurred, and every one would have sided with them. I was therefore compelled under extreme duress to abandon the intention of sending direct orders to Admiral de Robeck to renew the attack. I had to content myself with sending a reasoned telegram which, while giving him the strongest possible lead, left the decision still in the Admiral’s hands. The case set out in this telegram will be discussed in a later chapter.

First Lord to Vice-Admiral de Robeck.

March 24, 1915, 7.35 p.m.

It is clear that the Army should at once prepare to attack the Kilid Bahr plateau at the earliest opportunity, and Lord Kitchener hopes that the 14th April can be antedated. This is a matter for the War Office. But the question now to be decided by Admiralty is whether the time has come to abandon the naval plan of forcing the Dardanelles without the aid of a large army. It may be necessary to accept the check of the 18th as decisive, and to admit that the task is beyond our powers, and if you think this you should not fail to say so. But, before deciding, certain facts must be weighed: first, the delay and the consequent danger of submarines coming and ruining all; second, the heavy losses, at least 5,000, which the Army would suffer; third, the possibilities of a check in the land operations far more serious than the loss of a few old surplus ships; fourth, the fact that even when the Kilid Bahr plateau has been taken by the Army and the Kilid Bahr group of forts rendered untenable, the Asiatic forts will be still effective, and most of the mine danger which is now your principal difficulty will menace you in the long reaches above the Narrows.

These must be balanced against the risks and hopes of a purely naval undertaking. You must not underrate the supreme moral effect of a British fleet with sufficient fuel and ammunition entering the Sea of Marmora, provided it is strong enough to destroy the Turco-German vessels. The Gallipoli Peninsula would be completely cut off if our ships were on both sides of the Bulair Isthmus. It seems very probable that as soon as it is apparent that the fortresses at the Narrows are not going to stop the fleet, a general evacuation of the peninsula will take place; but anyhow, all troops remaining upon it would be doomed to starvation or surrender. Besides this there is the political effect of the arrival of the fleet before Constantinople, which is incalculable, and may well be absolutely decisive.

Assuming that only the minimum good results follow the successful passage of the fleet into the Marmora, namely, that the Turkish Army on Gallipoli continues to hold out, and with forts and field guns closes up the Straits, and that no revolution occurs at Constantinople, then perhaps in the last resort the Army would have to storm Kilid Bahr plateau, and secure a permanent reopening of the Straits. It would be possible with the ships left behind at the entrance, and with those in Egypt, to give the necessary support to the military operations, so that at the worst the Army would only have to do, after you had got through, what they will have to do anyhow if your telegram is accepted; while, on the other hand, the probability is that your getting through would decide everything in our favour. Further, once through the Dardanelles the current would be with you in any return attack on the forts, and the mining danger would be practically over. Therefore, danger to your line of communications is not serious or incurable.

What has happened since the 21st to make you alter your intention of renewing the attack as soon as the weather is favourable? We have never contemplated a reckless rush over minefields and past undamaged primary guns. But the original Admiralty instructions and telegram No. 109 prescribed a careful and deliberate method of advance, and I should like to know what are the reasons which, in your opinion, render this no longer possible, in spite of your new aircraft and improved methods of mine-sweeping. We know the forts are short of ammunition. It is probable they have not got many mines. You should be able to feel your way while at the same time pressing hard.

I cannot understand why, as a preliminary step, forts like 7 and 8 should not be demolished by heavy gunfire, first at long range and afterwards at short range, now that you have good aeroplane observation.

I wish to hear further from you before any official reply is sent. You may discuss [this] telegram with General Hamilton if he is with you, and then telegraph fully. Admiralty will then give their decision.

You must of course understand that this telegram is not an executive order, but is sent because it is most important that there should be no misunderstandings at this juncture.

This telegram the First Sea Lord was induced, with some difficulty, to agree to. He himself endeavoured to console me.

‘It is the right thing,’ he wrote on the 24th, ‘without any doubt whatever to send Bartolomé, and the sooner the better. Don’t delay for Phaeton. The French will have a fast vessel at Marseilles or Toulon…. You are very wrong to worry and excite yourself. Do try and remember that we are the lost ten tribes of Israel. We are sure to win!!! I know I am an optimist! Always have been!! Thank God…. Hustle Bartolomé! Send no more telegrams! Let it alone!

Was I, in the light of all that followed, ‘wrong to worry and excite myself’? Await the sequel. It is right to feel the things that matter: and to feel them while time remains.

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Next: XII. Admiral de Robeck’s Change of Plan