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Political implications as a result of H.M.S. Minerva’s Aqaba raid – November 1914


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All,

Working simultaneously on several Great War issues (unfortunately, I have these Covid-19 days lots of time…) and among the other things I decided to finally deal with something I came across in 2015 and left open (Too many centennial events I was involved with back then…). During the 2015 AGM of The Society for the Heritage of WWI in Israel I gave a talk about The Land of Israel / Palestine at beginning of the war – late 1914 and 1915. While preparing that talk, I came across a fascinating paragraph in Friedriech Frieherr Kress von Kressenstein’s (usually referred to as ‘Kress’) book - MIT DEN TÜRKEN ZUM SUEZKANAL (‘With the Turks to the Suez Canal’. I don’t think it was ever translated to English, but it has been translated to Hebrew).  

 

The paragraph starts with (my translation from Hebrew): “On the 2nd of November 1914, Turkey finally entered the war… …Immediately after Turkey entered the war, English battle ships shelled Aqaba – a small and exposed spot, that was manned by 20 Gendarmes…” (I’ll continue the quote in a minute).

 

Interesting – this event is not mentioned in the British H.O, and not even in Naval Operations. However, seems that this was the first Great War military event in the Middle East!! The event was dealt with in a few GWF threads (all archived by now, hence starting this new thread) pointing at H.M.S. Minerva as the ship that shelled Aqaba at early November 1914. But before we continue, I wish to remind that on October 29th 1914 the Ottoman Fleet (the German ships) opened fire on the Black Sea targets; on October 31st the Ottomans officially joined The Central Powers; on November 1st Russia declares war and by the November 2nd the Russian forces cross the border (the Ottomans claim the Russians invaded already on the 1st); on November 3rd the British ambassador left Constantinople and British battle ships shelled Ottoman targets at the Dardanelles; on November 5th Great Britain and France declared war with the Ottoman Empire.         

In view of these events, it is very strange that Minerva arrived at Aqaba and opened fire in the late afternoon hours of November 1st – 2 days before the British Ambassador left Constantinople and 4 days before the declaration of war!

From the ship’s log we find that Minerva arrived near Aqaba (spelled Akaba in the log, a spelling that is used sometimes till today) on November 1st at 17:00 and opened fire on Aqaba’s fort and barracks. Between November 2nd till the 7th Minerva shelled Aqaba several times and landing parties were active there on a daily basis. During November 7th H.M.S. Savage arrived as a replacement and Minerva left Aqaba that evening.  

 

Back to the quote from Kress’s book: “…This behavior of our enemies (i.e., the shelling of Aqaba – E.T.), contradicting the law of nations, gave birth to the rumor that the English are planning to shell other undefended towns on the shores of Syria and Land of Israel. The population developed an alarming tendency of panic. Zaki Pasha (Commander of the 4th Ottoman Army at the first days of the war – E.T.) agreed to my proposal to summon the consuls of the enemy states and to notify them that for every Turk that will be killed by shelling of an undefended town three foreign subjects will be shot, and Turkey will compensate itself from enemy properties for any damage to structures. The Turkish government also announced that it would not be held responsible for an outbreak of riots against Christians’, that will break as a result of shelling the undefended towns.

The behavior of the French General Consul after this announcement, indeed proofed that a bombardment of the exposed coastal towns was planned. Very excited, the Consul that any delay is dangerous, and requested to be allowed to immediately contact the Admiral that was in command of the fleet of the allies patrolling along the Syrian coast. Zaki Pasha and Djemal Bay refused to allow the French Consul to deliver the message in person and hurled this task upon me. In this conversation, which I conducted in French, I mistakably used the phrase ‘any Muslim subject that will be killed by shelling’ instead of ‘any Ottoman subject’, and already that evening there was major excitement in the Christian Quarter of Damascus. The honorable consuls spread the word that the German officers are interested in organizing massacres among the Christians, and that only Muslims, and not the Christians, enjoy the protection of the Turkish government…”

 

Never found any other source mentioning this event. Kress is usually considered very reliable, so I guess that such an event did happen. This brings up a few questions:

When did it happen? Of course, it had to happen after November 2nd, and I seriously doubt they had radio communication equipment at Aqaba or the area around, so it probably took a few days before the reports about the shelling of Aqaba reached Damascus.

So, why were the enemy consuls still in Damascus? When did they leave?   

 

In Naval Operations this can be found: “…According to our information this step, combined with the bold action of the Doris at Alexandretta, had produced a marked moral effect in Syria. Still there were difficulties about continuing the operations. The American Ambassador at Constantinople reported that the Doris's proceedings at Payas and Alexandretta had led to the imprisonment of all British subjects in the Damascus district, and they were threatened with death if Alexandretta or any undefended port were bombarded…”

 

Of course, this relates to the events a few weeks later, parallel or right after H.M.S. Doris actions along the Syrian coast and at Alexandretta. There are a few similarities in this and the next quote to the Damascus event Kress wrote about, but mostly – it seems like a separate event.  

 

Funny side anecdote. While searching for more details about the that threat following the actions of Doris, this interesting quote caught my eyes (from the 1933 book Smoke on the Horizon: Mediterranean Fighting 1914-1918, by Usborne Cecil Vivian):

 

“…On 15 December Doris was lying off the Syrian coast near Beersheba when she spotted suspicious activity on a bluff commanding the shore. Closing in, her crew discovered it was a Turkish defensive position in the course of construction, and Captain Larken gave orders to open fire with one of the ship's main guns. The emplacement was swiftly destroyed.

From BeershebaDoris proceeded to the Gulf of Alexandretta, where she landed shore parties to disrupt Turkish communication lines, destroying telegraph lines and railway tracks. Anchoring off the harbour of Alexandretta, Larken sent word to the Military Governor of the town demanding that "All munitions of war, mines and locomotives" be handed over to his crew to be destroyed, and that all British and Allied subjects be surrendered to him, along with their families and effects.[12] Failure to comply would result in the town being shelled.

The Governor communicated with Djemal Pasha, Military Commander of Greater Syria, who was not a man to be intimidated. Not only did Djemal Pasha refuse the demands, but he threatened that, if Larken opened fire on Alexandretta, one British captive would be shot for every Ottoman subject killed in the bombardment.

In the event, negotiations were carried out through the American Consul in Alexandretta, and the Turks took the opportunity to evacuate all military stores and equipment from the town, before two railway locomotives were destroyed in a token gesture.

Doris continued to patrol the Syrian coast until March 1915, carrying out thirteen landing operations and many coastal bombardments before being relieved by the French..."

 

Now, anyone who knows this land and/or general knowledge of this campaign knows that Beersheba is many kilometers inland, south-east of Gaza, which lies on the coast. Actually, Beersheba is 40 (!) kilometers from the coast. Made me laugh for a while – I guess the citizens of Beersheba will be delighted to know that they were transferred and promoted to the shoreline, which will defiantly help them pass the last days of this summer and those to come….  

 

Can anyone help with the issue of the consuls in Damascus and when they left the city?

 

Eran

Edited by Eran Tearosh
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On 16/10/2020 at 13:59, Eran Tearosh said:

“On the 2nd of November 1914, Turkey finally entered the war… …Immediately after Turkey entered the war, English battle ships shelled Aqaba – a small and exposed spot, that was manned by 20 Gendarmes…” 

On 16/10/2020 at 13:59, Eran Tearosh said:

“…This behavior of our enemies (i.e., the shelling of Aqaba – E.T.), contradicting the law of nations, gave birth to the rumor that the English are planning to shell other undefended towns on the shores of Syria and Land of Israel. The population developed an alarming tendency of panic. Zaki Pasha (Commander of the 4th Ottoman Army at the first days of the war – E.T.) agreed to my proposal to summon the consuls of the enemy states and to notify them that for every Turk that will be killed by shelling of an undefended town three foreign subjects will be shot, and Turkey will compensate itself from enemy properties for any damage to structures. The Turkish government also announced that it would not be held responsible for an outbreak of riots against Christians’, that will break as a result of shelling the undefended towns.

 

 

I can never understand (the other side's) faux outrage here, bearing in mind that the Ottomans/Germans had already bombarded the Russian Black Sea ports of Odessa, Sewastopol, Feodosija, Kertch and Novorossijsk several days earlier on 29th October; sinking ships, taking a prize, laying mines.

Well! What a surprise – we can shell who we like, but how dare anyone shell us!!!!

 

The German/Ottoman alliance had in fact been planning aggression all summer. As I posted elsewhere here recently, the Turks had signed a treaty with Germany as early as 2nd August 1914, however until their navy set sail on 27th October, they had not only managed to keep this fact very quiet indeed, but they had also avoided any overt moves to an active state of war. Whereas the Germans had expected the Ottomans to immediately take to the field:-

 e.g:

Extremely Confidential. August 3, 1914.

I learned very confidentially from the [German] War Ministry that the emperor [Kaiser Wilhelm II] will possibly authorize the battleship Goeben’s action alongside [our] Imperial Navy in the Black Sea.

[Archive of the Turkish General Staff, Ankara, Birinci Dünya Harbi, Klasör 243, Yeni Dosya 1009, Fihrist 7-2, August 3, 1914 (as quoted by Mustafa Aksakal in his Why did the Ottomans enter a European War in 1914? New sources, new views [THE JOURNAL OF OTTOMAN STUDIES, 2010])

 

To return to diplomacy -

On 4th November 1914 the Turkish Ambassador, Tewfik Pasha, requested his passport from Sir Edward Grey (at the British FO). HM's Ambassador had already left Constantinople.

 

On 16th November 1914, Ballobar records that the French and British consuls-general in Jerusalem left for the port of Jaffo and home. At this stage Ballobar does not mention Damascus.

 

Edited by michaeldr
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  • 2 months later...

Eran you may find the attached of interest.

 

I too have been wondering about why 1 November to bombard, of all places, Akaba? Perhaps it was 1) to show support for the Russians following the Turko-German bombadrment of Black Sea targets, 2) as a threat to Turkey to step back from the brink?

But Akaba was/is such an obscure out of the way place.

 

Ian

1916, The Bombardment of Akaba - November 1914.pdf

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Aqaba should be seen as being an important staging post for the Ottomans who were moving against Egypt and the Canal.

 

There was a Press Bureau statement from the Foreign Office at 11:15 pm on 31st October 1914.

[It can be found in 'Winston S. Churchill' by Martin Gilbert, 'Volume III, Companion Part I, Documents July 1914-April 1915'   see page 238>]

It outlines the steps taken to try and persuade Turkey not to enter the war, describes the action taken by Turkey and Germany against Russia, and details what were (correctly) seen as aggressive moves by Turkey against Egypt and the Suez Canal  

viz - “The (Turkish) Minister of War, with his German advisers, has lately prepared an armed force for an attack upon Egypt. The Mosul and Damascus Army Corps have, since their mobilization, been constantly sending troops South, preparatory to an invasion of Egypt and the Suez Canal from Akaba and Gaza. A large body of Bedouin Arabs has been called out and armed to assist in this venture and some of these have crossed the Sinai frontier. Transport has been collected and roads have been prepared up to the frontier of Egypt. Mines have been despatched to be laid in the Gulf of Akaba. The notorious Sheikh Aziz Shawish has published and disseminated through Syria, and probably India, an inflammatory document urging Mahommedans to fight against Great Britain. Dr. Prueffer, who was so long engaged in intrigues in CAIRO against the British occupation, and is now attached to the German Embassy in Constantinople, has been busily occupied in SYRIA trying to incite the people to take part in this conflict.”

[spelling & caps per the original]

 

The statement concludes by saying

“... the British Government must take whatever action is required to protect British interests, British territory, and also Egypt from attacks that have been made and are threatened.”

Edited by michaeldr
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Thank you. Informative as always.

 

I have an article on l'escadrille de Port-Said appearing in the Cross and Cockade International Journal this year, Issues 2 and 3 I believe.  It will include a full account of the flights by Nieuport floatplanes, carried on Minerva, over Akaba, Wadi Ithm, Wadi Gharandel and Wadi Araba in December 1914.

 

Your information will help me 'set the scene', so to speak.

 

The log books found at www.naval-history.net are always useful. I used to have to try to get copies from TNA, slow and expensive. The web site includes most of those I use in my research. A very useful research tool.

 

 

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13 hours ago, Ian Burns said:

help me 'set the scene', so to speak.

 

Ian

 

Here's another snippet which may contribute to the scene setting

A telegram was sent from the Admiralty at 12.35am on 31 October 1914 to:-

Vice Admiral 'Indefatigable' (via Malta)

Senior Naval Officer, Port Said

C-in-C East Indies

Senior Naval Officer, Persian Gulf

the telegram read

"Orders sent to Ambassador, Constantinople, 8.15pm 30th October to present ultimatum to Turkey expiring at end of 12 hours.

Do not yourself commence hostilities without further orders."

[the copy to VA had one more line - "You may therefore expect Embassy to be leaving very shortly"]

 

from Publications of the Naval Records Society, Vol. 115 - Policy & Operations in the Mediterranean 1912-1914, see p.456

 

regards

Michael

 

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Thank you.

 

That does indeed help paint the picture. I believe the Constaninople Consulate actually departed on 3 November?

 

It would be interesting to see when the "further orders" were sent. I cannot imagine the SNO Port Said or CinC East Indies authorising the Akaba raid without further orders.

 

Regards

Ian

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On 10/01/2021 at 16:56, Ian Burns said:

It would be interesting to see when the "further orders" were sent.

 

It's difficult to pin-point this. A quick look at the OH produces

from NAVAL OPERATIONS, Volume 1, to the Battle of the Falklands, December 1914 (Part 2 of 2) by Sir Julian S Corbett - see https://www.naval-history.net/WW1Book-RN1b.htm#27

 

“both the French and British Ambassadors had received instructions to follow the lead of their Russian colleague. Accordingly, on November 1 they left Constantinople, and in pursuance of the terms of the joint ultimatum delivered the previous evening, Admiral Carden was given orders to commence hostilities.

… … …

Captain Borrett, in the Warrior, was instructed to proceed off El Arish, stop any troops advancing on the coast road, and generally to act in place of the withdrawn outpost. The Minerva, which with the Northbrook had arrived on October 30 with a convoy containing the 1st Indian Cavalry Division, was ordered to Akaba on similar service.”

 

I'm not sure how much this helps

Michael

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So, Naval Operations, Vol 1, Part 2, Chapter XXVI. Cruiser Redistribution after Coronel and the Turkish Intervention.

 

 

Vice Admiral Sackville Hamilton Carden commanding the Royal Navy’s Eastern Mediterranean Squadron, based at the Dardanelles but also looking after Egyptian naval affairs. So, the instruction to "commence hostilities" can be seen in the light of the 31 October telegram as permission to "let slip the dogs of war!"

 

Vice Admiral Richard H Peirse, Commander-in-Chief, East Indies Station, was instructed to add Egypt to his command and to move his flag from Singapore to Port Said, where he arrived aboard Swiftsure on 17 November 1914. Leaving Carden with the Dardanelles mess.

 

I must admit that, for my purposes, that is sufficient for my scene setting.

 

My thanks Michael.

 

Best regards

Ian

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