"Any fool can make history, but it takes a genius to write it."
Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Goeben's Great Getaway: Part 1

 The Goeben was a huge battleship that the Germans had constructed to give them naval superiority in World War One. As I was searching for military stories, I read about this adventurous happening in the Guns of August, a fantastic book about the first month of World War One. It struck me as a fantastic story that really displayed some of the adventures of military life. The original paper that I wrote was too long for the post, so I decided to split it up to make it easier to read. I hope you will be caught up, as I was, in the terrific suspense of this true story. Hopefully my description of this enterprise will captivate my readers as well as the Guns of August did me.
In 1914, Germany had only two warships in the Mediterranean. Named the Goeben and the Breslau, they were commanded by Admiral Wilhelm Souchon. The Chase of the Goeben played a dramatic role during the First World War by coercing Turkey to choose sides. As the tensions in Europe heightened, Admiral Souchon found himself in a hot spot as Britain, a potential enemy in a war, controlled a massive fleet of twenty-seven war ships in the Mediterranean. When the heir to the Austrian throne was assassinated, starting World War I, Souchon repaired the Goeben and prepared for combat.
The Goeben, considered one of the most powerful ships of its time, carried thirty-four guns and a thousand crewmen. The strongest guns on this monster warship could accurately fire explosive shells at targets fifteen miles away and at maximum speed, the Goeben could reach 27 knots (approximately thirty miles per hour), a very high speed for the time. Unfortunately for the Germans, the Goeben needed repairs and suffered faulty boilers, which significantly lessened its speed. The other ship in this small squadron, christened the Breslau, was much smaller and less powerful but not in need of repairs. On August 3, 1914, Admiral Souchon received the news of Germany’s declaration of war on France. His orders commanded him to attack the Algerian coast, where many French colonies prospered, and then continue east to Turkey and persuade its neutral government to join the Central powers with a show of force. Souchon carried out the first part of his orders with perfect precision and bombarded several French colonies into submission. Immediately after his bombardment, Souchon headed for Istanbul. The British were now on the verge of a war with Germany, and when the Goeben and Breslau passed a squadron of two British warships, the British received commands to follow them. After obtaining this order, the British Indomitable and Indefatigable swung around and shadowed the two German warships. Britain had not declared war on Germany yet, so neither the British nor the German ships opened fire but steamed on in hostile silence. What would the result be? So began a chase through the serene waters of the Mediterranean that would play significant role in the outcome of the First World War.   
Seeing the British ships following him at a distance, Admiral Souchon at once ordered full speed, and rushed ahead, beginning an exciting, daring, and heart pounding chase. However, the Goeben continued having serious issues with its engine; the continuous high speed and heat resulting in the engine room caused several men to pass out while shoveling coal. This constant labor in the abject engine room led to exhaustion and four sailors even died after a pipe burst and spewed super-heated steam everywhere. Despite the defective engine, the Goeben managed to outrun the British ships, and it soon disappeared below the horizon. Ignoring international law, Souchon entered neutral Italian waters and anchored his ships at the port of Messina, where he took coal from German merchant ships.
Uncomfortable with the powerful Goeben in port and ruffled that it violated neutral waters, Italian authorities gave Souchon twenty-four hours to refuel and leave. Admiral Milne, meanwhile, not willing to violate international law, did not pursue the German ships into the neutral waters. Instead, he placed the Indomitable and Indefatigable just outside Italian waters and waited for Admiral Souchon to leave. Mistakenly thinking that Souchon’s plan included a break for the Atlantic, Milne failed to block the German's route toward Turkey. While Souchon took in fuel, he received a telegram from Germany ordering him not to sail to Istanbul, as the Turks still were neutral. However, Souchon obdurately chose to disobey orders and sail to Istanbul anyway with the intention of forcing the Turks, “even again their will, to spread the war to the Black Sea against their ancient enemy, Russia.”


  1. Jack, I think this is such a great story that it really doesn't' matter how long it is.