Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Goeben and Breslau: Fateful Warships

SMS Goeben (left below) was the second of two Moltke-class battlecruisers of the Imperial German Navy, launched in 1911 and named after the German Franco-Prussian War veteran General August Karl von Goeben. Several months after her commissioning in 1912, Goeben, with the light cruiser Breslau (right ship in photo), formed the German Mediterranean Division and patrolled there during the Balkan Wars.

After the outbreak of World War I on 28 July 1914, Goeben and Breslau under the command of Admiral Wilhelm Souchon evaded British naval forces in the Mediterranean and reached Constantinople. When the German embassy was informed of the arrival of the Goeben and the Breslau, Ambassador Baron Hans von Wangenheim persuaded the Turks to allow the ships to enter the harbor. Once Souchon's ships were safely in the harbor, the German diplomat reminded the Turks that Great Britain had recently broken a contract to supply two new battleships to the Turkish government. The British Admiralty, nervous about the threat of a European war, had decided to keep the new warships for its own use instead of transferring them to Turkey. The Germans now offered to provide the Turks with the ships they needed by selling them Goeben and Breslau. After several hours of negotiation, the Turks agreed to purchase the German ships.

The two ships were transferred to the Ottoman Empire on 16 August 1914, and Goeben became the flagship of the Ottoman navy as Yavuz Sultan Selim. On 30 October 1914, Turkey officially joined the war on the German side, substantially won over by the acquisition of the powerful German warships. The decision by the Young Turks to join the hostilities radically shifted the dynamics of the war and had an earthshaking impact on Middle East, which is still being felt in the 21st century. Yavuz Sultan Selim remained the flagship of the Turkish navy until she was decommissioned in 1950.

Adapted from Trenches on the Web and Wikipedia articles.


  1. The Turkish Naval Attache sent me a letter opener made from the deck of the Goeben. I had it framed , and still have it, with pictures of the ship c. 1912 and c. 1966.

  2. Barbara Tuchman describes much of this in "Guns of August" and was an eye-witness to part of it as a girl going to see her grandfather, ambassador to Ottoman Empire at the time.

  3. Breslau (renamed Mirili) was sunk by mines in January 1918, and Yavuz was damaged. Together, they had just sunk the British monitors Raglan and M28.
    Yavuz/Goeben gradually deteriorated after her 1950 retirement, and sadly no-one could be found to sponsor her preservation. She was scrapped in 1971