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Turkey Enters the War

Orient's Erwachen — The East Awakens. The sun rises on a red fez, and the army of Turkey streams out, weapons at the ready. A beautiful design by Heinz Keune.
Orient's Erwachen — The East Awakens
Künstler-Kriegs-Postkarte No. 1 von J.C. König & Ebhardt / Hannover (Artist war postcard No. 1 from J.C. König & Ebhardt / Hannover

Orient's Erwachen — The East Awakens. The sun rises on a red fez, and the army of Turkey streams out, weapons at the ready. A beautiful design by Heinz Keune.

Image text

Orient's Erwachen — The East Awakens

signed: Heinz Keune

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August 2 to November 11, 1914

A New Central Power

Although Britain had been a traditional ally of the Ottoman Empire, the relationship had frayed by 1914, particularly with the 1908 ascendency of the Young Turks who developed closer ties to Germany. These bonds had been enhanced when General Liman von Sanders led a German mission to Turkey to improve its military organization and armaments.

As part of its military build-up, Turkey ordered two battleships from Britain, both of which were under construction in Great Britain in 1914. Britain seized these two ships for its own war effort on August 3, angering Turkey, which had already paid for the ships.

The day before the seizure, on August 2, Turkey had signed a secret pact with Germany primarily directed against Russia, which had taken territory in eastern Turkey in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78. Russia coveted control of Constantinople and the straits that gave it access from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. Much of Russian shipping passed from the Black Sea, including most of its grain exports, but its ports were limited: Those on the Baltic had been shelled by German warships since the beginning of the war; Archangel on the Arctic Sea was frozen through the winter; and Vladivostok in the far east had limited rail service to European Russia.

On August 3, Turkey issued a declaration of neutrality. But Enver Pasha and other leaders favored an alliance with Germany, and had been pursuing one since July.

S.M.S. Goeben and Breslau

On August 4, the two German battleships of the German Mediterranean Squadron, Goeben and Breslau, which had been in the Mediterranean since the First Balkan War in 1912, fired on the French-Algerian ports of Bone and Phillipville. They then attacked coaling ships further east off Messina, Italy, continued across the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas evading Allied warships, and, on August 8, entered Turkish waters in the Dardanelles Strait, one of the bodies of water separating Europe from Asia and leading to the Black Sea. The ships passed the forts that defended the strait along the northern and southern shores (and that von Sanders had been improving), crossed the Sea of Marmora, and, at the mouth of the Bosphorus leading to the Black Sea, laid anchor in Constantinople, capital of Turkey.

As a neutral nation, Turkey was obligated to impound the vessel, otherwise risking its claim to neutrality. Instead, Germany transferred the ships and their crews to Turkey, ostensibly as recompense for Britain's appropriation of the two ships no longer being built for Turkey. The Goeben became the Yavuz Sultan Selim, the Breslau, the Midilli, and Rear Admiral Wilhelm Souchon, commander of the squadron, was given command of the Ottoman fleet.

Although both ships were superior to any Russian ship in the Black Sea, the battle cruiser Goeben, displacing five times the tonnage of the light cruiser Breslau, and with a crew three times as large, could also threaten British and French ships in the Mediterranean. With the two ships able to control the Black Sea, Russian exports of food and imports of war materiel was threatened. If Turkey were to side with the Central Powers, a critical sea lane would be closed, and traffic between the western Allies and Russia would be more heavily dependent on a land route through the neutral Balkan nations of Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania, all of them bound by the laws of neutrality.

British and French ships patrolled the entrance to the Dardanelles to prevent the escape of the German vessels. On September 26, a Turkish torpedo boat was prevented from leaving the Dardanelles by the Royal Navy. In response, the German officer commanding the Dardanelles forts closed the strait to all traffic.

Although War Minister Ismail Enver Pasha favored joining Germany in war against Russia, he did not have the support of his government. On September 14, he authorized Souchon to open fire on Russian ships in the Black Sea, but was forced to retract the order. With the German victories over Russia in the Battles of Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes, Enver became concerned that Russia would be defeated before Turkey entered the war.

Germany had offered Turkey loans if it went to war, and Enver pushed to have the money advanced before again dispatching Souchon. On October 12, a train left Berlin with one million Turkish Pounds in gold coins. Traveling through Austria-Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, it reached Istanbul on October 16. A second train left Berlin on the 17th, reaching Istanbul on October 21.

On October 24, Enver reissued his order to Souchon should an opportunity present itself, presumably some encounter at sea that could deflect condemnation of Turkey. Souchon followed through more transparently than Enver Pasha may have hoped. Turkey entered the war with no formal declaration, but with Goeben and Breslau shelling the Russian Black Sea ports of Odessa, Sevastopol, and Novorossik, sinking six merchant ships, and two Russian naval ships on October 29. Russia responded by declaring war on Turkey on November 2. Great Britain and France did the same on November 5. Turkey counter-declared war on all three on November 11, invoking jihad.



Events contemporaneous with Turkey Enters the War

Start Date End Date View
1914-08-03 1914-08-03 Germany invades Luxemburg
1914-08-03 1914-08-03 Germany declares war on France
1914-08-03 1914-08-04 German forces enter neutral Belgium
1914-08-04 1914-08-04 Great Britain declares war on Germany
1914-08-04 1914-11-24 Germany Conquers Belgium
1914-08-07 1914-08-23 Battle of the Frontiers
1914-08-11 1914-12-09 Austria-Hungary Invasion of Serbia, 1914
1914-08-20 1914-08-20 Battle of Gumbinnen
1914-08-20 1914-09-26 Galician Battles of 1914
1914-08-23 1914-09-05 Allied Retreat of 1914