World One War: Seizing Turkey's Dreadnoughts

Photograph of British battleship HMS Erin (formerly the Reshadieh), photographed circa. 1912-1922
Photograph of British battleship HMS Erin (formerly the Reshadieh), photographed circa. 1912-1922
Drawing showing the transformation from the Ottoman 'Reshadieh' to HMS Erin
Drawing showing the transformation from the Ottoman 'Reshadieh' to HMS Erin
HMS Agincourt, photograph showing the design of the ship which was to be delivered to the Ottoman Empire
HMS Agincourt, photograph showing the design of the ship which was to be delivered to the Ottoman Empire
HMS Agincourt, formerly the 'Sultan Osman I'
HMS Agincourt, formerly the 'Sultan Osman I'

At the outbreak of war in 1914, Ottoman Turkey received a vital blow when two Dreadnoughts destined for Turkey, were seized by the Royal Navy.

The first ship, ‘Rio de Janeiro’, as HMS Agincourt was first known, was laid down on the 14th of September 1911 by Armstrong’s in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and launched in 1913.  The ship was ordered due to an arms race in South America between Brazil, Argentina and Chile.  Brazil wished to purchase a capital ship which would outclass any vessel which either Chile or Argentina could build or purchase.

Despite this, the rubber trade in Brazil, on which Brazil was reliant, collapsed.  Thus the vessel was placed on the market on October 1913.  The Ottoman Navy bought the vessel for £2,750,000 on the 28th December 1913.  Subsequently re-named the Sultan Osman I, the vessel underwent sea trials and was completed upon the outbreak of war in August 1914.

In regard to the second Dreadnought, HMS Erin was ordered by the Ottoman Navy under the name Reshhad, but was renamed Reshadieh during its completion.  Originally laid down by the Vickers Company in 1911, the Reshadieh was launched on the 3rd of September 1913 and completed, like the Agincourt, at the outbreak of war in August 1914.  The Ottoman Navy’s intention was to acquire a surface ship which was equal to any Western Navy ship afloat at that time.  The initial design was based on the King George V, but featured aspects of HMS Iron Duke.

When war broke out in August 1914, although the Ottoman crew had arrived to collect the ‘Sultan Osman I’, the British Government seized the vessel.  During the same period the ‘Reshadieh’ was seized and renamed Erin.

The British Governments actions were stipulated within the signed contracts as the then First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, did not want the ships to be used against Great Britain.  Despite Churchill’s intentions, there were severe consequences.

Since the armistice of 1918, it has been argued that the seizing of the ‘Erin’ and ‘Agincourt’ were pivotal in bringing the Ottoman Empire into war on the side of Germany and Austro-Hungary.  The take-over itself caused considerable ill-feeling within the Ottoman Empire where public donations partially funded the ships.  When the Ottoman government had been financially unable to fund the ships, the people’s donations were taken.  In order to encourage the donation campaign, a medal was presented to high donations tilted “The Navy Donation Medal”.  The fundraising and subsequent loss of both ships proved to0 be a crucial factor in turning Turkey against the allies.

In terms of Royal Naval Service and modifications made, the ‘Agincourt’ was a bit of a problem for the Royal Navy.  The Admiralty was unprepared to man a ship of Agincourt’s size on such short notice, thus the crew came from the highest and lowest ‘ranks’ of the admiralty.

‘Agincourt’ was formally accepted into the Royal Navy on the 7th of September 1914 and saw very little action throughout the war.  Despite this, ‘Agincourt’ was present at the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet on the 21st of November 1918.

In looking at the ‘Erin’, she joined the Fleet on September 5th 1914 and was stationed at Scapa Flow.  The ship was present at the Battle of Jutland and remained with the Fleet for the remainder of the war.  Following the armistice, in October 1919 she was placed in reserve at the Nore, and from December of that year served as a turret drill ship at Chatham Dockyard.

For complete, detailed and factual ship lists of the Navies of the First World War, check out DUGOUT WW1 and sign up to get your FREE EDITION BELOW

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Comments 2 comments

A.A. Zavala profile image

A.A. Zavala 5 years ago from Texas

Fascinating, thank you for sharing.


miroso 2 years ago

The assumed role the seizing played is wrong:

Turkey signed on August 2nd a secret Turkey-Germany alliance just one day after Germany declared war on Russia (August 1). The treaty included the obligation of entering the war on the side of the German and Austro-Hungarian empires, when and if Germany decided to enter the war against Russia.

Great Britain seized the two ships first on August 3, the day on which Turkey started to mine the Dardanelles. In other words Britain reacted to Turkey taking sides with Germany and Austro-Hungary.

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Two major factors led to Ottoman involvement on the side of the Central Powers: German pressure and the opportunism of Turkish minister of war Enver Pasha. Other motives for joining the Central Powers were the German victories early in the War and Turkey's friction with the Triple Entente. Germany's aim was clear: to keep Turkey from joining the enemy (and by gaining Ottoman support, encourage Romania and Bulgaria to enter the Alliance). The German military mission of 1913 to Turkey under Liman von Sanders organized the Turkish army and navy under German leadership and brought forth the Turco-German Alliance. The secret treaty (only five people in Turkey were aware of it, one being Enver) was worked out before the WWI started in July 1914, and was signed in the very early hours of August 2, 1914.

Alliance with the Central Powers appealed more to Turkey than alliance with the Allied Powers for additional reasons. Friction with the Entente came on two levels: firstly, Turkey and the Allies clashed over Turkey's harboring of German warships and, secondly, over Russia's interest in the Turkish Straits. On top of a long-standing objective to possess that territory, the Balkan Wars caused Russia to fear loss of access to the straits in 1912. Then in 1913, Russia threatened to occupy Ottoman territory if German military under Liman von Sanders was not removed. Russia was an archenemy and relations with the other Allied Powers were weak.

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The Ottoman government has purchased forty ships to Britain since its military restoration period; two dreadnoughts were among them. For the dreadnoughts, the Ottoman government has paid 4 million pounds for the start. One of the dreadnoughts was Sultan Osman I (originally to be built for Brazil) and the other one was Reshadieh.

However, knowing of the secret German-Ottoman alliance talks, the British government could not risk such powerful vessels leaving British waters while Turkey was flirting with Germany.

On 27 July 1914, on behalf of the Ottoman Government, Mr. Rauf went to Newcastle for transportation of Sultan Osman. First Lord of Admiralty Churchill was aware that an embargo would mean a diplomatic crisis, and postponed any decision until the last possible moment, although he already knew that leaving those two enormous war machines to the hands of a potential enemy would mortally endanger the British naval armada. No one could guarantee that one day in the next few months these battleships would not try destroy the British armada.

At last, on 3 August 1914, one day after he learned of the German-Turkey secret treaty, Churchill declared that the British government had embargoed the two battleships. Mr. Rauf in his memories says:

"... We paid the last installment (700.000 Turkish liras). The manufacturer and we agreed on that the ships would be hand over on 3 August 1914. Nevertheless, after we made our payment and half an hour before the ceremony, the British declared that they have requisitioned the ships... Although we have protested, nobody paid attention.".

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Document:

Treaty of Alliance Between Germany and Turkey 2 August, 1914

Constantinople, August 2, 1914

1. The two contracting parties agree to observe strict neutrality in regard to the present conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia.

2. In case Russia should intervene with active military measures, and should thus bring about a casus foederis for Germany with relation to Austria-Hungary, this casus foederis would also come into existence for Turkey. (Nota Bene: on Aug. 1 Germany declerared war on Russia, therefore the "casus foederis" already happened hours prior to signing the treaty. In other words Turkey entered the war the second it signed this treaty!!!)

3. In case of war, Germany will leave her military mission at the disposal of Turkey. The latter, for her part, assures the said military mission an effective influence on the general conduct of the army, in accordance with the understanding arrived at directly between His Excellency the Minister of War and His Excellency the Chief of the Military Mission.

4. Germany obligates herself, if necessary by force of arms ... [ cipher group lacking] Ottoman territory in case it should be threatened.

5. This agreement which has been concluded for the purpose of protecting both Empires from international complications which may result from the present conflict goes into force as soon as it is signed by the above-mentioned plenipotentiaries, and shall remain valid, together with any similar mutual agreements, until December 31, 1918.

6. In case it shall not be denounced by one of the high contracting parties six months before the expiration of the term named above, this treaty shall remain in force for a further period of five years.

7. This present document shall be ratified by His Majesty the German Emperor, King of Prussia, and by His Majesty the Emperor of the Ottomans, and the ratifications shall be exchanged within a period of one month from the date of its signing.

8. The present treaty shall remain secret and can only be made public as a result of an agreement arrived at between the two high contracting parties. In testimony whereof, etc.

BARON v. WANGENHEIM

SAID HALIM

(With regard to 3: The Turks wished to use this phraseology in view of the fact that His Majesty the Sultan is the Commander-in-Chief of the Turkish army. General Liman, however, had officially informed me in advance that he had arranged a detailed agreement with the Minister of War Enver which provided the Military Mission with the actual chief command -- as required by your telegram 275....)

WANGENHEIM

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