The Escape of the Goeben and Breslau, August 1914

The presence of these two ships in the Mediterranean at the opening of the First World War gave the Germans a dangerous advantage. Their escape to the Dardanelles, writes David Woodward, had a manifold influence on Allied strategy.

More than forty-five years after the outbreak of the First World War, there still exists under the Turkish flag, the battle cruiser Yavuz, once known as Goeben.

This ship is the last survivor of the great rival dreadnought fleets, British and German, that confronted each other in 1914. She is also the last surviving warship to have taken part in the Dardanelles campaign; indeed, her escape to Turkish waters in the early days of August 1914, almost certainly caused that campaign to be fought when and as it was.

In view of the effect of the Dardanelles campaign upon the rest of the war—and notably upon the fighting on the Western Front and upon the affairs of Russia—it is not surprising that Sir Julian Corbett, British official naval historian of the First World War and author of standard works on the campaigns of Nelson and of Drake, described the despatch of the Goeben to Constantinople in the following terms:

“It is not too much to say that few naval decisions more bold and well-judged were ever taken.”

In fact, no single ship has ever had such a profound influence in modern warfare.

Pursued by a much superior British naval force, Goeben, and her small satellite, the light cruiser Breslau, had a series of narrow escapes in the first hours of the war; later on, under the Turkish flag, Goeben was mined twice, twice damaged by bombs from the air, stranded badly at the entrance to the Dardanelles, attacked by enemy battleships and submarines, and, as Jane's Fighting Ships comments: “probably had more narrow escapes from destruction than any other dreadnought or battle cruiser.”

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