Tag Archives: railways

Allied Submarines in the Dardanelles

Allied submarines operated in the Dardanelles even before the attack on its defences by surface ships in February 1915 and the amphibious landing on 25 April. HMS B11 sank the old Ottoman battleship Mesudiye in December 1914. The French boat Saphir was lost on 15 January 1915 after either running aground or hitting a mine.[1]

Once the armies were ashore the submarines had to enter the Sea of Marmara in order to prevent Ottoman supplies from reaching the Gallipoli. Getting through the Straits in order to attack enemy shipping in the Sea of Marmara was  very difficult. The boats had to pass through minefields and steel-wire anti-submarine nets without any metal blades to cut through the nets or the mine cables. They also had to avoid shore batteries and patrol boats and get through a 10 fathom deep stratum of fresh water that often made it very hard to control a submarine.[2]

Most of the British submarines operating in the Dardanelles were of  E class boats. In April the first British submarine to try to get into the Sea of Marmara, HMS E15, ran aground and had to be destryored by a British boat expedition in order to prevent her being captured. The Australian HMAS AE2 was more successful in getting through the Straits, but was sunk by an Ottoman torpedo boat: all her crew survived to be taken prisoner. The patrols of HMS E14 in April and May 1915 and E11 in May and June were, however, highly successful.

The Ottomans were able to send some supplies to their troops by land as well as the larger quantities carried by water. Submarines, however, managed to attack the land as well as the sea routes. On 17 July HMS E7 blocked the railway from Istanbul near Kava Burnu at the entrance to the Gulf of Izmid by bombarding a cutting and then shelled a troop train that had been forced to turn back from the obstruction. E7 subsequently attacked another train and a bridge without doing much damage, but she had done enough to show that the railway was vulnerable there.[3]

E7’s captain, Lieutenant-Commander Archibald Cochrane, was awarded the Distinguished service Order. The citation, from naval-history.net [the other citations below are from the same source], stated that it was awarded for:

For services in a submarine in the Sea of Marmora, where he did great damage to enemy shipping, and after blocking the railway line near Kava Burnu by bombarding it from the sea, shelled a troop train and blew up three ammunition cars attached to it.

E11 also attacked the railways during her second patrol, as well as sinking several merchant ships and the old battleship Barbaros Hayreddin. her captain, Commander Martin Nasmith VC, was not satisfied with the results of bombardments of the railways, so on the night on 20-21 August her First Lieutenant, Guy D’Oyly Hughes, went ashore to sabotage the track. The citation for his DSO stated that it was awarded:

For his services on the 21st August, 1915, when he voluntarily swam to the shore alone from a submarine and blew up a low brickwork support to the Ismid railway line, in spite of the presence of an armed guard within 150 yards of him. After a running fight of about a mile, he dived into the sea, and was finally pulled on board the submarine utterly exhausted, having had to swim nearly a mile in his clothes.

The Allied policy was to have two submarines in the Sea of Marmara at all times. According to the British Official History, they were able to make the enemy’s supply ‘so restricted and precarious that the maintenance of the Turkish army in Gallipoli was a matter of grave concern.’[4] However, E11’s second patrol ended on 8 September and E7, her replacement, was lost after being caught in submarine nets on 4 September. After battling 12 hours to free her Cochrane was forced to scuttle her after she was badly damaged by a depth charge. He and all his crew were captured, leaving only E2 in the Sea of Marmara. She put Lieutenant H. V. Lyon ashore on 8 September with the intention that he should repeat D’Oyly Hughes’s feat, but nothing more was heard from him.[5]

E2’s cruise ended in the middle of September. She was replaced by E12, which had a 4 inch deck gun rather than the 12 pounders fitted to her sisters. She was later joined by H1, the first of a new class of boats about half the size of the E class. The H class were built in the USA but fitted with their armament in Canada in an attempt to evade neutrality regulations.[6]

These two boats were joined on 22 September by the Turquoise, the first French submarine to reach the Sea of Marmara, and by E20 the next day. Three days later E12 headed back to base after a 40 day patrol, the longest yet carried out in the Dardanelles: she was damaged after being caught in the nets and then attacked by six enemy patrol ships as well as shore batteries, but made it back. H1 completed her 29 day patrol on 31 October.[7]

The captains of E12 and H1 were awarded the DSO. The citations read that:

Lieutenant-Commander Kenneth Mervyn Bruce, R.N. For his services in command of a Submarine in the Sea of Marmora, where he made a prolonged cruise, during the course of which he inflicted much damage on enemy shipping, and engaged and put to flight by gun fire a Turkish gunboat and a destroyer, and subsequently displayed much coolness, and resource in extricating his boat from a difficult position.

Lieutenant Wilfrid Bayley Pirie, R.N. For his services in command of a Submarine in the Sea of Marmora, where he inflicted much damage on enemy shipping, and co-operated with Lieutenant-Commander-Bruce in the chase of a Turkish gunboat.

The French submarines operating in the Dardanelles, which were older and smaller than the British E class boats, had found it hard to get through the Straits. The Joule struck a mine on 1 May, while the Mariotte was forced to surface near the Chanak batteries on 27 July after being trapped by the net defences. She came under artillery and was lost, with her crew being captured.[8]

Nothing was heard from the Turquoise from 26 October until a German telegram claiming that she had been sunk on 30 October by gunfire and her crew captured. In fact, she had been stranded and captured intact. Her confidential papers, including the details of a planned rendezvous with E20 were not destroyed.[9] When E20 arrived at the rendezvous on 5 November the submerged German U-boat UB14 was waiting for her. UB14 fired a torpedo from a range of 550 yards, sinking the British boat. Only nine of her crew survived.[10]

E11, which had returned to the Sea of Marmara on 6 November, was now the only Allied submarine there. Her third patrol lasted until 23 December, during which time she sank more steamers and the destroyer Yarhissar and bombarded the railways. Her three patrols totalled 97 days, and she was credited with sinking or rendering useless a battleship, a destroyer, five large and six small steamers and five large and 30 small sailing vessels. Nasmith was promoted to Captain after only a year as a Commander. E2 joined E11 on 10 December, but the Gallipoli Campaign was coming to an end.[11]

The British claimed that a battleship, an old coastal defence ship, a destroyer, five gunboats, 11 transports, 44 steamers and 148 smaller vessels were sunk by submarines in the Dardanelles for the loss of four British and four French submarines. The German official history says 25 steamers of 26,000 tons and 3,000 tons of small craft were destroyed plus 10 steamers of 27,000 tons damaged and put out of action for the duration of the campaign. Paul Halpern suggests that the difference may be partly explained by some ships being beached and later repaired and refloated.[12]



[1] J. S. Corbett, H. Newbolt, Naval Operations, 5 vols. (London: HMSO, 1938). vol. ii, p. 140; R. Gray, Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships, 1906-1921 (London: Conway Maritime Press, 1985), p. 208.

[2] A. J. Marder, From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow; the Royal Navy in the Fisher Era, 1904-1919, 5 vols. (London: Oxford University Press, 1961-70). vol. ii, p. 312.

[3] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. iii, p. 77.

[4] Ibid. vol. iii, p. 119.

[5] Ibid. vol. iii, pp. 118-19.

[6] Ibid. vol. iii, p. 161; Gray, Conway’s 1906-1921, pp. 88, 92.

[7] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. iii, pp. 177-79.

[8] Ibid. vol. iii, p. 78; Gray, Conway’s 1906-1921, pp. 209-10.

[9] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. iii, p. 179.

[10] Ibid. vol. iii, pp. 205-6.

[11] Ibid. vol. iii, pp. 206, 217-18, footnote 2 on p. 218

[12] P. G. Halpern, A Naval History of World War I (London: UCL Press, 1994), p. 119.


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The Berlin-Baghdad Express: The Ottoman Empire and Germany’s Bid for World Power, 1898-1918 by Sean McMeekin

The Berlin-Baghdad Express: The Ottoman Empire and Germany’s Bid for World Power, 1898-1918 by Sean McMeekin is the story of German attempts to raise a Jihad against the Allies in the Middle East during World War I. Reviews have mostly been positive; negative ones on Amazon are mostly from readers who assumed from the first part of the title that was about the construction of the railway. That is part of the story, but a long way from being the whole of it. The second part of the title, The Ottoman Empire and Germany’s Bid for World Power, more accurately describes the book.

The story is of the strategy of the Central Powers, so concentrates on them, but the Allied response is not neglected. Russian, British, US and French archives have been used as well as Turkish, German, Austrian ones. An Epilogue discusses the impact of German wartime actions on the modern Middle East.

McMeekin manages to combine the telling of an exciting story with archival research. The number of characters can be hard to follow, but they are well drawn. He points out that German and Ottoman relations were often poor, and that their aims sometimes conflicted, especially in the Caucasus in 1918.
The Germans thought that that could use the power of Islam to bring down the British Empire. In fact, many Muslim leaders took German gold but did little in return, and often tried to play off Germany against Britain.

Logistics were a major problem for the Germans, who could not supply enough arms to their potential Muslim allies. The two main Ottoman victories over the British Empire, Gallipoli and Kut-al-Amara, resulted from German discipline and Turkish tenacity, not Islam. There isn’t a great deal on the main military campaigns.

The number of quotes from John Buchan’s novel Greenmantle are a bit strange in a non-fiction work. The author comments on the historiography of the Armenian massacres, but does not take a clear stance; he teaches at Bilkent University in Ankara, so may be constrained in what he can say. These are minor criticisms. The book is now out in paperback as well as hardback, and it is also available as an e-book.

This review is a slightly re-worded version of one that I originally posted on the Great War Forum, an excellent website for anybody interested in World War I. This link is to the thread that includes my review, and this one is to Forum’s home page.

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16 March 2012 · 5:57 pm

Bullets, Bombs and Bandages: How to Really Win at War: BBC4 TV

BBC4 has recently broadcast a very interesting three part series titled Bullets, Bombs and Bandages: How to Really Win at War. It was introduced by Saul David, Professor of War Studies at the University of Buckingham and explained the importance of planning, supply and logistics in war. Wars are won by the side with more supplies and better equipment, It has now finished, but is available, for UK viewers only, on the BBC I-Player until 28 February.

The first episode, ‘Staying Alive’, discussed the difficulties of keeping an army supplied with food. Archaeological evidence shows that the Romans shipped some foodstuffs from Spain to Hadrian’s Wall. Wellington’s army in Portugal and Spain during the Napoleonic Wars had to take a herd of cattle with it. An army of 80,000 men had to slaughter 300 animals per day. The invention of canned food eased supply problems, but early tin cans had to be opened with bayonets because the tin can was invented several years before the tin opener.

The second episode, ‘Stealing a March’, covered the difficulties of moving armies. In 1066, King Harold of England faced two threats. He quickly moved his army north to defeat Harald Hadrada’s Vikings at Stamford Bridge, but then had to return south to face William the Conqueror’s well prepared Normans. Harold’s army was depleted and exhausted, and he should have followed his mother’s advice and delayed giving battle. Instead he fought and lost.

Marlborough’s victory at Blenheim was one of logistics. His army used two-wheeled spring carts to transport its supplies. They were twice as fast as the farm carts used by his French and Bavarian opponents. In 1812, Napoleon expected to defeat Russia before winter. His army was equipped for summer, including the wrong type of horse shoes. A farrier explained that horses have to have different shoes in winter; Napoleon’s had summer shoes so could not grip the ice going up and down hills.

Railways enabled armies to be deployed more quickly and in greater numbers than previously. Helmuth von Moltke was one of the first to realise this, and his meticulous planning allowed the Prussians to mobilise more quickly than the French and to defeat them in the Franco-Prussian War. Railways allowed huge armies to be mobilised in World War I, but horses remained crucial in World War II because they were the fastest way of crossing rough ground until the invention of the jeep. The use of tanks and other motor vehicles made petrol supply vital; modern petrol cans are called jerry cans in the English-speaking world because they are based on a German design, which was more robust and practical than the British version.

Modern armies require huge amounts of supplies. The Allies required a port to keep their troops supplied after D-Day. Rather than capture one, they brought an artificial one, code-named Mulberry, with them. It was designed to last for nine weeks, but remained in use for nine months. Camp Bastion, Britain’s main supply base in Afghanistan, is a busier airport than Stansted. Despite all the modern equipment, losses of helicopters meant that British soldiers had to march to fight in the Falklands War.

See the BBC website for more on episode 2:


The final episode, ‘Raising Arms’, dealt with the importance of having the best equipment and being able to afford enough of it. The Bank of England was founded in the 1690s after England ran out of money following wars with France and Spain. Sound finances enabled wars to be fought as equipment became more sophisticated and thus expensive. The increasing importance of artillery meant greater casualties, requiring more attention to medical facilities. Armies became more professional and technical, requiring better training.

In the late 19th century the increasing range of rifles meant that armies had to abandon colourful clothing, such as the British red coat, which was replaced by khaki. By 1908, British soldiers wore equipment that was designed from scratch for efficiency rather than adapting what had been used before. The British Lee-Enfield rifle had a shorter range than the German Mauser but was otherwise superior. Its magazine held 10 rather than 5 bullets and it had a bent bolt that enable the British soldier to keep his eye on the target whilst operating it, unlike the Mauser’s straight bolt.

In 1915 British machine guns and artillery were firing ammunition more quickly than it could be manufactured. A Ministry of Munitions was established and new factories built. Shortage of acetone, imported before the war, created problems with the manufacture of cordite. Chaim Weizmann, a chemistry lecturer at Manchester University, discovered a method of fermenting grain to produce acetone. In 1917 the British Empire produced over 50 million shells and a billion bullets and the Allies were out-producing the Germans. In 1917-18 the war cost £20 million per day in 2012 money.

Since World War I military power has been measured by the means of destruction rather than by numbers of men and horses. The Allies dropped 3.4 million tons of bombs in World War II. The USA dropped 7 million tons in the Vietnam War. Equipment is now stockpiled in peace, but this leads to risks of its own. An accident at an RAF munitions depot at Fauld in Staffordshire on 27 November 1944 caused one of  the largest ever non-nuclear explosions and killed more than 70 people.

The cost of military equipment continues to rise. The USA fired 800 Tomahawk cruise missiles in 48 hours during its Shock and Awe attack on Baghdad in 2003. Each costs $0.5 million. A Typhoon Eurofighter costs £50 million and the Joint Strike Fighter is likely to be twice as expensive. NATO’s opponents in Afghanistan are armed with little more than AK47s and home-made bombs, but this conflict has cost the UK £18bn. The question is knowing who the next enemy will be. The problem is that tipping points in military technology are not apparent until after the event.

See the BBC website for more on episode 3:



Filed under Current affairs, Reviews, War History