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Remembered Today:

Troubridge and the Goeben


MikB
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Having attended a talk at a local library by the author, I've just read Steve R Dunn's "The Coward? - The Rise and Fall of the Silver King". It's an interesting piece of biography digging into the life of a man hitherto largely ignored by historians. The escape of Goeben is clearly his best-known event, for which he was Court-Martialled and grudgingly acquitted, but he was later involved in complex developments in the Balkan theatre of WW1 where the local people at least seem to've thought he did well.

I'd not much studied the events of the Goeben escape before, but this sparked a bit of interest.

One of the comparisons made in WW2 was with the River Plate action, where cruisers did take on a heavily armed opponent and succeeded in critically damaging it, not avoid engagement as Troubridge did with his 4 armoured cruisers. WW2 Sea Lord Sir Dudley Pound said that Harwood's action had proved the Troubridge acquittal wrong.

What do folk think of Troubridge's chances had he engaged? What would have been the likely outcome?

I think there were many material differences from the River Plate action that make Pound's comparison severe.

Firstly, there was the difference in vulnerability between Goeben and Graf Spee. Goeben was at least 9000 tons bigger, and very much better armoured. It's quite doubtful that Troubridge's 9.2s could've got a round into her machinery or turret spaces at any range. Troubridge and his gunnery-trained flag captain Wray could only have known the theoretical facts of this, but German battle cruisers proved extremely resistant to damage at Jutland - the loss of Lutzow there resulted from about 24 12-inch and 13.5-inch calibre hits. Graf Spee, on the other hand, was down to local fire control and without fuel-processing capability after 2 8-inch hits from Exeter.

Secondly, there were established weaknesses in British armoured cruisers' 9.2-inch guns. Theoretically these should've been quite powerful weapons for these ships with their 380 lb. shell and high velocity, but - presumably because of their mountings - range was limited to about 16,000 yards and general opinion of their accuracy was not high. German designers putting together plans for Blucher, at a time when her British opposite numbers of the Invincible class were expected to be fitted with 9.2s, considered their own 21 cm. (8.3-inch) gun to be at least the equal of the 9.2, despite its 140 lb. lighter projectile.

Thirdly, Harwood's cruisers in 1939 had a 4 knot speed advantage over Graf Spee, which Troubridge didn't - or at least didn't think - he had. That allowed them to move in and out of range and outmanoeuvre Graf Spee to split her fire. It would have been at least difficult for Troubridge to have behaved similarly, even if it had occurred to him to want to.

Finally, of course, there's the question of tactics, initiative and experience. Troubridge's originally declared intention was to cross Goeben's T, in line of battle. He'd seen Togo do this successfully at Tsushima, and of course all his previous exposure to RN doctrine would probably never have allowed him to consider splitting his squadron to divide enemy fire (and even if he had, Goeben's ten big guns in five turrets would probably have coped better than Langsdorff's six in two turrets).

My guess is that, if Troubridge had engaged, he would've lost at least two cruisers and his own life, and Goeben would've got to Constantinople with little damage other than the expenditure of most of her ammunition.

Regards,

MikB

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I haven't studied the case in detail but my layman's impression is that the instructions Troubridge had received from the Admiralty were not as clear as they might have been, and the interpretation he put on them led him towards caution rather than a calcuated risk. The stance of Turkey at the time was uncertain but without the benefit of hindsight it is difficult to fault his decision in terms of the court-martial charge.

At least the Goeben and Breslau were not left free to roam the Eastern Mediterranean unchallenged.

Ron

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From memory, I think that the main role of his squadron was to prevent German interference with French mobilisation convoys to mainland France from North Africa, further west. He couldn't risk the Goeben getting to the west of the Royal Navy screen and this may have impacted on his speed of reaction when the Goeben headed east.

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You may find this interesting -

http://www.seekrieg.com/AnEnemyThenFlying.pdf

Thank you! Interesting play-out, but I think Souchon showed every sign of being a wilier fox than his representative in the game - I think he'd've maintained a favourable range if he'd been able. Unlike Langsdorff, who charged like the destroyer commander he'd previously been.

Regards,

MikB

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He'd seen Togo do this successfully at Tsushima, and of course all his previous exposure to RN doctrine would probably never have allowed him to consider splitting his squadron to divide enemy fire

Was Troubridge at Tsushima? I know his contemporaries Pakenham and Jackson were. And it's one hell of a statement to make that he'd probably never consider splitting his squadron.

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Was Troubridge at Tsushima? I know his contemporaries Pakenham and Jackson were. And it's one hell of a statement to make that he'd probably never consider splitting his squadron.

Oops! You're right to question that - it was at the earlier battle at Chemulpo Bay that Troubridge saw the destructive effects of shellfire on ships and men. When Old Packs - who did get to witness Tsushima - came out to Japan, Troubridge apparently thought he'd been ordered home.

Do you then think he'd've tried to split Goeben's fire? Perhaps he could've crossed the T with 2 ships and sent 1 on either beam to engage on opposite courses? It still seems unlikely he could've inflicted more than superficial damage.

And if it was already in Souchon's mind to deliver his ships to Turkey, and if Troubridge was right that the meeting would've been inside Goeben's range and outside his, it seems to me that Souchon might well have simply declined the engagement anyway, as it would appear he had the speed to do.

Regards,

MikB

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I really don't know, MikB. I'll get to it one day in my massive study of the Flag List. I do know that of all the contemporary mentions I've seen referring to Troubridge's conduct by fellow naval officers (letters to each other, diaries) the vast majority think that he was by and large in the right, and and should have been acquitted, which is telling. By coincidence I went through Troubridge's personal correspondence last week so it'll be interesting to see if any sent comments directly to him on his actions.

Simon

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What do folk think of Troubridge's chances had he engaged? What would have been the likely outcome?

I think he would have been blown out the water - may be two cruisers, may be more, but huge loss of life unnecessarily and thats before we got in range to use our guns. As simple as that.

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I really don't know, MikB. I'll get to it one day in my massive study of the Flag List. I do know that of all the contemporary mentions I've seen referring to Troubridge's conduct by fellow naval officers (letters to each other, diaries) the vast majority think that he was by and large in the right, and and should have been acquitted, which is telling. By coincidence I went through Troubridge's personal correspondence last week so it'll be interesting to see if any sent comments directly to him on his actions.

Simon

I also think he was right, but if your impression's correct the minority at the Admiralty who didn't think so must've been pretty influential - because he was given no further command afloat and sent off to fight a lonely and remote war in the Balkans, without much effective support.

Regards,

MikB

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To be fair I think he was lucky to get anything at all. He was already a fairly senior Rear-Admiral when he was acquitted. In late 1913 he had been considered by Churchill for command of the Third Battle Squadron, along with Richard Peirse, if vacated by Lewis Bayly in December, 1914. His name was scratched out, possibly by Battenberg. In the end the appointment of Doveton Sturdee as Chief of the Staff, who had been earmarked for the First Battle Squadron, made it necessary for Bayly to leave the Third Battle Squadron early, which was given to Edward Bradford. Troubridge's prospects, even before the war began, were already fairly bleak.

Simon

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I think he would have been blown out the water - may be two cruisers, may be more, but huge loss of life unnecessarily and thats before we got in range to use our guns. As simple as that.

With hindsight, look what happened to Cradock at Coronel, and indeed to von Spee at the Falklands.

Ron

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With hindsight, look what happened to Cradock at Coronel, and indeed to von Spee at the Falklands.

Ron

Yes, and look what happened to three of those same four cruisers when they were engaged by German capital ships at Jutland.

Cradock knew before he went into action at Coronel that Troubridge was under critical examination, and had decided that attack was what was expected of him irrespective of the relative capabilities of the ships involved. Von Spee didn't have a choice, whereas Troubridge and Cradock did.

Regards,

MikB

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Troubridge's misfortune was that Indefatigable and Indomitable encountered Goeben and Breslau some hours before the British declaration of war and not some hours after.

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In looking through "The World Crisis" by WSC It has besides the 4 armored cruisers the RN having 8 destroyers and the light cruiser Gloucester nearby with the Light Cruiser Dublin and 2 destroyers on the way. One torpedo hit could have slowed down the Goeben enough so that the RN battle cruisers could have come up and sank her.

It also took the 2 RN battle cruisers at the Falklands 3/4s of their main gun ammo to sink the 2 german armored cruisers

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In looking through "The World Crisis" by WSC It has besides the 4 armored cruisers the RN having 8 destroyers and the light cruiser Gloucester nearby with the Light Cruiser Dublin and 2 destroyers on the way. One torpedo hit could have slowed down the Goeben enough so that the RN battle cruisers could have come up and sank her.

It also took the 2 RN battle cruisers at the Falklands 3/4s of their main gun ammo to sink the 2 german armored cruisers

Only 3 of the destroyers had enough coal to remain active - some have commented on Troubridge's management skills to have allowed this to develop, but apart from it happening on his watch I can imagine that might not've been his direct responsibility.

Gloucester maintained contact after Troubridge had turned away, but no light cruiser could risk a one-to-one engagement with a battlecruiser.

The whole pursuit was more than a bit of a mess, but everyone at this time was very short indeed on experience (Troubridge especially so, never having been directly in battle as many of his contemporaries had been), as was also the case with Sturdee's gun crews at the Falklands.

It's true the RN battlecruiser shooting was poor at the Falklands and in many cases remained so. However, it's also worth remembering that when Invincible came into action at Jutland, she scored 8 hits with 48 rounds fired - an extremely good hit rate - before one of the frequent random weather variations left her fatally exposed.

Regards,

MikB

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Hi,

I read up on this a lot a couple of years ago for a book I was writing about the Eastern Med campaigns, and I think Troubridge, with a very heavy heart, made the right choice. The whole search for the Breslau and the Goeben had been mishandled by Milne, putting Troubridge into a bad position that was then compounded by his own error of judgement on the night of 6-7 August. By the time Troubridge closed on the German ships, the tactical position was pretty grim. He was quite simply outgunned, and would have had to have endured a heavy pounding before he could close to engagement range himself, even assuming that the Goeben (who admittedly was slowed by boiler problems) allowed them to close that far.

On the other hand, Captain Howard Kelly of HMS Gloucester deserves to be far better known that he is. He acted not only in the finest traditions of the service, but also with great skill.

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Hi,

I read up on this a lot a couple of years ago for a book I was writing about the Eastern Med campaigns, and I think Troubridge, with a very heavy heart, made the right choice. The whole search for the Breslau and the Goeben had been mishandled by Milne,putting Troubridge into a bad position that was then compounded by his own error of judgement on the night of 6-7 August.

By the time Troubridge closed on the German ships, the tactical position was pretty grim. He was quite simply outgunned, and would have had to have endured a heavy pounding before he could close to engagement range himself, even assuming that the Goeben (who admittedly was slowed by boiler problems) allowed them to close that far.

On the other hand, Captain Howard Kelly of HMS Gloucester deserves to be far better known that he is. He acted not only in the finest traditions of the service, but also with great skill.

Not sure what you meant there. I thought it was Arky-Barky who put both available battlecruisers at what turned out to be the wrong end of the Strait of Messina.

Regards,

MikB

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MikB

When Troubridge received word at 11.08pm on the 6th that Goeben was turning south, he decided that this was a feint, and it was not until over an hour later that he realised his error and turned in pursuit. It was perhaps an understandable error given what he thought Goeben's coal situation was, but that lost hour would prove crucial come dawn.

Cheers

Stuart

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MikB

When Troubridge received word at 11.08pm on the 6th that Goeben was turning south, he decided that this was a feint, and it was not until over an hour later that he realised his error and turned in pursuit. It was perhaps an understandable error given what he thought Goeben's coal situation was, but that lost hour would prove crucial come dawn.

Cheers

Stuart

Ah, thanks - see what you mean now.

I doubt anybody could reasonably have guessed the Souchon was headed for Constantinople - it looks as if it was entirely his own idea, and against orders. I still think that if that was in his mind he'd've sought to evade rather than engage Troubridge, and would have escaped after a mimimal expenditure of ammunition - though that might of course have put one or more of 1CS ships in a pretty grim state.

Regards,

MikB

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I agree. Troubridge's assessment was wholly reasonable and I don't think he can be criticised for coming to the conclusions that he did. It's just a shame that it was the wrong call.

As I understand it, Souchon had received instructions from Berlin to sail for Constantinople on the night of 2-3 August, before his attack on the Algerian coast. He decided to press his attack home anyway, and then was left to his own devices to actually get to the Dardanelles. Von Tirpitz says in his memoirs such orders were given as soon as it was known that a treaty had been signed between Germany and the Ottoman Empire.

But, yes, I think Souchon (and Germany) had much more to gain by avoiding action than by standing and fighting, and would have acted accordingly. After all, they did not pause to swat away HMS Gloucester, which would surely have been a very tempting target.

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....As I understand it, Souchon had received instructions from Berlin to sail for Constantinople on the night of 2-3 August ...

Yes, but on the 6th he got a message telling him this was not possible - Massie says because Turkey was still trying to maintain neutrality. Looks like he thought it was too risky to mess about stalling in the Med for much longer, and that he'd better bring matters to a conclusion. In fact, he did briefly turn on Gloucester the following morning, after she'd exchanged fire with Breslau, but didn't pursue when Gloucester prudently backed off. He might have suspected - incorrectly - that the RN battlecruisers weren't far behind, and he was tight on coal, too.

Regards,

MikB

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Souchon's account can be read here http://www.naval-review.com/issues/1920s/1922-3.pdf#Page=151&View=Fit see p.480>

Thanks very much for that.

That's one of the best things about this forum - you can think you've got into the minds of the main protagonists in an incident, and someone comes in with a bit of extra light! Souchon was obviously an able writer as well as a clever tactician; but his "Take action, get at the enemy, lose no opportunities, fight to-day even if it means death with honour, we may not get the chance of doing so to-morrow ! " doesn't really match his later actions - otherwise he'd've clobbered Gloucester when he got the chance, irrespective of the risks from possible battlecruisers and coal shortage. It appears he already knew the RN's heavy ships had been off the northern exit of the Strait of Messina whilst he was coaling there, but he may have suspected they'd follow Gloucester at best speed.

Regards,

MikB

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Good points MiKB

I would like to point out the Captains of the British light cruisers were brothers Gloucester Howard Kelly and Dublin John Kelly.

Based on what happened later on in WW I in the Black Sea the Goeben would probably have run from the British armored cruisers just as soon as she sighted them. I don't think at this time the Germans realized where the rest of the RN was so they would of gone to full speed and outrun the Armored cruisers.

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