THE AEGEAN AND BLACK SEA 1918

Units of the expanded Turkish fleet sortie: from the left the light cruiser Midilli (ex-Breslau), the destroyer Basra and the battleships Turgut Reis and Barbaros Hayreddin.

Goeben/Yavuz in dock at Sevastopol in June 1918, with boards rigged for painting ship.

During 1916, Turgut Reis was re-gunned with weapons removed from her German sisters, the aft turret receiving 35-calibre weapons, as fitted in the midships turret, leaving forward one as the odd one out with 40-calibre guns; she was then laid up at the Haliç. In September 1917 it had been formally agreed between Germany and Turkey that at the end of the war, Germany would not only formally sell the ex-Goeben and ex-Breslau to Turkey, but also add a dozen destroyers and submarines. On 15 December 1917, the end of hostilities seemed to get closer as the armistice between Russia and the Central Powers brought fighting in the Black Sea to an end. It thus released the Ottoman Navy to carry out operations to the west for the first time.

Thus, on the morning of 20 January 1918, Goeben/Yavuz and Breslau/Midilli sailed out of the Dardanelles to carry out a raid on the British blockading force at their bases off the island of Imbros, and at Mudros, on the island of Lemnos. However, not long after their departure, Goeben/Yavuz struck a mine, in spite of the force’s possession of a captured British sketch-map of the minefields in the area. However, damage was minor, and the ships pushed on, finding the Aliki anchorage empty, but bombarding the radio station at Kephalo en route to the anchorage at Kusu Bay.

There, they first sighted the patrolling destroyer Lizard and then the 14in [356mm]-gunned monitor Raglan,9 the only big-gun ship present, the battleship Agamemnon being at Mudros and her sister Lord Nelson having gone to Salonika four days earlier. Lizard’s attempts at launching a torpedo attack were repulsed, while Raglan failed to hit with her initial salvoes; likewise the 9.2in [234mm] monitor M28 was unsuccessful. A shell from Breslau/Midilli wrecked Raglan’s fire control, while further hits from the cruiser penetrated the engine room. A 28cm shell from Goeben/Yavuz then hit the monitor’s barbette, causing an propellant fire; Raglan then took more hits, being eventually sunk by the explosion of her 12pdr [76mm] magazine. M28 was stricken with an ammunition and oil fire after a hit amidships from Breslau/Midilli, blowing up and sinking at 07.27, twelve minutes after Raglan.

The Turco-German ships then sailed to attack Mudros, under ineffectual attack by British aircraft. However, they soon found themselves in a minefield, Breslau/Midilli exploding a mine with her starboard screw at 07.45, leaving her immobile. While attempting to pass a tow, Goeben/Yavuz struck a mine on the port side amidships, the latter causing sufficient flooding to cause a list. Breslau/Midilli subsequently struck four more mines from 08.00, and sank at 08.07. Goeben/Yavuz managed to extract herself from this minefield, but struck yet another – on the starboard side – at 08.48 close to the location where she had been mined on the outward voyage. Still under air attack, but escorted by four Turkish destroyers, she managed to reach the Dardanelles Narrows where, however, she ran aground off Nagara Point at 10.30, following the mistaken identification of a marker-buoy. Goeben/Yavuz’s forward third was aground, and an attempt by Turgut Reis, withdrawn from reserve for the specific purpose of acting as a tug, to tow her off was unsuccessful.

With the ship immobilised, air attacks began at dawn on the 21st, but ongoing fog contributed to a lack of hits. However, on the next day a DH4 aircraft struck Goeben/Yavuz with a bomb on the after funnel, making a 3m hole, while a hit on a tug alongside caused damage to the bridge. By this time the destroyers Samsun and Mauvent-i Milliye were standing by the stricken ship, with the destroyers Nümune-i Hamiyet and Tasoz and the torpedo boat Akhisar providing a screen. On the 23rd, nine air attacks were made, but only one hit was scored, on the port side aft. The British launched an attack by the 9.2in-gunned monitor M17 on the evening of the 24th, firing indirectly from the other side of the Gallipoli peninsular. This did not, however, score any hits, and fire from Turkish batteries forced the monitor’s withdrawal. Poor weather frustrated further air attacks, including a planned torpedo attack by an aircraft from the seaplane carrier Manxman.

The following day, Turgut Reis and the tugs İntibah and Alemdar arrived to make a new attempt at towing Goeben/Yavuz off her sand-bank, with other ships’ washes being used to erode the bank and a dredge employed to remove material from each side of the vessel. An attempt on the morning of the 26th failed to move her, but that afternoon Turgut Reis was lashed to Goeben/Yavuz’s starboard side, with the battleship’s engines run at full power to loosen the sand. Goeben/Yavuz came free at 16.47 and proceeded to Constantinople. The British were not aware of her departure for two days, launching an air attack on her former location on the 27th and on the 28th by the submarine E14, which was lost on her way back. Turgut Reis then returned to lay-up.

Although significantly damaged by the mines, with a number of wing compartments flooded, her main compartments and machinery remained dry, and thus Goeben/Yavuz could still be regarded as operational. Nevertheless, docking remained highly desirable, the opportunity arising as a result of the German advance across Ukraine that followed the withdrawal of Russia from the war, which did not cease even with the signature of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

German troops occupied Odessa on 13 March, followed by Nikolayev on the 18th, crossing into the Crimea and entering Sevastopol on 1 May. In anticipation of this, Goeben/Yavuz had sailed towards the port on 30 April, where her crew initially undertook work in connection with the occupation. Preparations were also made for docking the ship for the first time in four years, this being achieved on 7 June. No attempt was made to repair the mine damage in the time available, work being restricted to cleaning and repainting the ship’s bottom, plus some minor repairs.

At its occupation by the Germans, Sevastopol contained much of the Black Sea Fleet, in particular the battleships Borets za svobodu (ex-Panteleimon), Ioann Zlatoust, Evstsafii, Rostislav and Tri Sveatitelia, which were all seized. In addition, the brand-new battleship Volia (ex-Imperator Aleksandr III) returned to Sevastopol late in June. She had spent the previous few weeks at Novorossiysk whence she had been evacuated on 1 May with her sister Svobodnaia Rossiia (ex-Imperatritsa Ekaterina Velikaia), which had been scuttled there on 19 June.

Following considerable debate, it was been decided that Germany should establish a Black Sea squadron, comprising Volia, five destroyer10 and three or four submarines, to aid the Turks in defending the Dardanelles, and perhaps eventually acting in an offensive role. There was also a thought to use Ioann Zlatoust and Evstsafii as floating batteries in the Dardanelles, supported by six ex-Russian destroyers. Volia was formally taken over on 1 October and made some brief trial voyages after the 15th, but was handed over to the British on 24 November, having never been formally commissioned or renamed by the Germans.

Goeben/Yavuz was undocked on 14 June, sailed on the 26th in the company of the ex-Russian German destroyer R10 (ex-Zharkiy, seized on 1 May), and proceeded to Novorossiysk, where they were joined by Hamidieh and Berk-i Satvet. Goeben/Yavuz returned to Sevastopol on 1 July, sailing to Odessa on the 7th, and back again to Sevastopol on the 9th. The following day, Hamidieh towed the recovered cruiser Mecidiye (which had been mined off Odessa on 21 March 1915, salved on the 25th and commissioned into the Russian Navy as Prut on 12 February 1916) out of Sevastopol en route back to Constantinople, Goeben/Yavuz following them on the 11th. Between July and October, work on repairing the mine damage was carried on using cofferdams, but this was brought to an end by the Turkish armistice on 1 November. As a consequence, the German crew left the ship the following day, which was then laid up off İzmit on 9 November to await her fate.

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