German battle cruiser, which, along with the light cruiser Breslau, changed the course of World War I, and perhaps Russian history, by bringing the Ottoman Empire into the conflict on the side of the Central Powers. Laid down in 1909 and commissioned in 1912, Goeben was one of two Moltke-class battle cruisers in the German Navy. Displacing 22,640 tons, she mounted 10 × 11-inch guns in five turrets. She also had 12 × 5.9-inch and 12 × 3.4-inch guns, along with 4 × 19.7-inch submerged torpedo tubes. Unlike her British counterparts, she was well protected. She was also fast, up to 27 knots. The light cruiser Breslau, completed in 1911, displaced 3,830 tons, was armed with 10 × 4.1-inch guns, and was very lightly armored. She had a normal top speed of 28 knots.
On the outbreak of World War I these two ships, commanded by Rear Admiral Wilhelm Souchon, constituted the entire German Mediterranean Division. The Goeben, however, was the most formidable warship in that sea.
Souchon was determined to get his ships to the Dardanelles. Souchon capitalized on ineffective Allied leadership, poor coordination, overestimation of the Goeben’s abilities, and failure to anticipate that the Germans would steam east instead of toward the Atlantic. Her escape from her Allied pursuers remains one of the black marks in the history of the British Navy. Although the French Navy could have brought the two ships into action early on, Vice Admiral Augustin Boué de Lapeyrère disobeyed orders and insisted that his warships continue escorting convoys carrying the Army of Africa to France. The British, who had responsibility for the eastern Mediterranean, absorbed the blame. Rear Admiral Sir Ernest Troubridge was made the scapegoat (his superior, Admiral Sir A. Berkeley Milne, was let off because his own shortcomings were also those of the Admiralty). Troubridge was later court-martialed for failing to close with his cruiser squadron. He judged such an action suicidal against the longer-range guns and greater speed of the Goeben. The court agreed and acquitted him.
The arrival of the Goeben and Breslau in Constantinople helped bring the Ottoman Empire into the war on the German side. Without Berlin’s concurrence, Souchon arranged to “sell” both warships to the Turks (Goeben was known in Turkish service as the Sultan Yavuz Selim; the Breslau was known as Midilli) as replacements for two Turkish dreadnoughts sequestered by Britain, but the ships retained their German crews. On 15 August Souchon became commander in chief of the Turkish navy, while at the same time retaining his position in the German Navy.
Souchon then used his warships to bring about war between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. On 29 October 1914, he bombarded Russian Black Sea bases under the guise of training exercises in the Black Sea. The Turkish cabinet was not informed in advance, and Souchon even reported the Russians had attacked him first, an outright lie. The result was a new theater of war in the Middle East. Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire on 2 November 1914. This immensely complicated French and British supply lines to Russia and prevented export of Russian grain to the west. These problems contributed substantially to the 1917 Russian Revolutions.
During the rest of the war, the Goeben and Breslau made numerous forays into the Black Sea. On 17 November 1914, both warships were involved in an inconclusive battle with five Russian battleships, in which the Goeben was damaged. On 21 December 1914, she was badly holed when she struck two Russian mines at the approach to the Bosphorus. Some of her lighter guns were removed to help repel the Allied landings at Gallipoli.
On 9 May 1915, the Goeben came up against 17 Russian ships, including 5 battleships. She took two direct hits from 12-inch shells but damaged three of the Russian battleships and a submarine before escaping. In July 1915 the Breslau was holed by a mine while returning from patrol. In 1916 both warships had close brushes with two new Russian dreadnoughts, the Imperatritsa Maria and Ekaterina II.
The Goeben and Breslau made a final sally into the Mediterranean on 20 January 1918, when they fought the Battle of Imbros off the Dardanelles. The Goeben struck a mine and sustained minor damage, but the Breslau sank two British monitors, the Raglan and M28, before she hit two mines and sank. The Goeben struck another mine trying to come to the rescue of the Breslau. She survived, but grounded. Poor British command decisions prevented use of naval assets that might have destroyed her. British aircraft carried out 250 sorties against the Goeben, but most bombs missed and they were, in any case, too light. The Germans and Turks finally towed the Goeben free and back to Constantinople. She never again fired a shot in anger.
At the end of the war the Turkish government refused to hand over the battle cruiser, and she was allowed to rust until rebuilt during 1927–1930. Renamed the Yavuz, the Goeben was flagship of the Turkish Navy and was not retired until 1950. She was first a museum, but in 1971 the government decided to sell her for scrap. She struck her flag in 1973; breaking up was completed in 1976.
McLaughlin, Redmond. The Escape of the Goeben. London: Seeley Service, 1974.
Miller, Geoffrey. Superior Force: The Conspiracy behind the Escape of Goeben and Breslau. Hull, UK: University of Hull Press, 1996.
Milne, Admiral Sir A. Berkeley. Flight of the Goeben and Breslau. London: Eveleigh Nash, 1921.
van der Vat, Dan. The Ship That Changed the World. The Escape of the Goeben to the Dardanelles in 1914. New York: Adler & Adler, 1986.