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Notes for a Meeting of the Allied Naval Council


No. 20  Consideration of the possibility of the acquisition by Germany of the Russian Black Sea Fleet and of the ships being manned by Germany for operations in the Mediterranean.1

          (Memorandum by France on No.8 of general Agenda).

Opposing Forces in the Aegean.

     The preceding list shows that, if the Germans were able to mann the Russian Sea Fleet and to avail themselves of the Turkish Fleet, they would have at their disposal:

     Two battleships of 23,700 tons}    {40 guns of 305 mm.

     One      do.    of 25,000  "  }with{16  "    " 280  "

     Six      do.                  }    { 4  "    " 254  "

     5 Cruisers                    }    {12  "    " 204  "


25 cruisers Destroyers

     22 Submarines

The Allied Forces presently opposed to these naval Forces are:

     Four Battleships: 16 guns of 305 mm – 20 guns of 234 mm.

     4 Cruisers

     6 Light Cruisers

    33 Destroyers

     8 Submarines

NECESSARY REINFORCEMENT.  The Allied Forces opposed to German Forces, in case of the Central Powers may avail themselves of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, seem therefore quite inadequate. It is thence necessary to increase the number of battleships at their disposal. The Division “JUSTICE2 might be sent to Moudros,3 but it would not be sufficient to make up for the opposing Division composed of VOLYA; GOEBEN: SVOBODNAYA: ROSSIYA4

To which it would be necessary to oppose a division of 3 battleships of the “CONQUEROR” Class.5

     The balance of guns in the Aegean would then be:-

          German                             Allied.

     40 guns of 305                       30 guns of 340

     16   "  "  280                       28  "   "  305

      4   "  "  254                       20  "   "  234

    _12_  "  "  203                      ____

    _72 guns                             _88 guns

Note: It would be advantageous ti [i.e., to] use, instead of these three Battleships, a division of large Battle-Cruisers to chase the GOEBEN, but it is not actually possible for Great Britain to do so.

MEANS FOR CLOSING THE DARDANELLES. The Allies have no longer on the spot the forces necessary to attack the enemy forces in the Straits or the Sea of Marmora, but they are able to mine the exit of the Dardanelles, and to keep a watch by means of submarines against the closing coming out of the enemy fleet.

[portion missing?] of the straits, the enemy can easily sweep a channel at the exit of the Dardanelles and put to sea; it is thus necessary to bear in mind that they are always able to enter in to the Aegean.

PROBABLE EVENTS . It is not very probable that the enemy Battleships Squardon will enter the Aegean if they know that our Forces are sufficient to meet them: but if they are not adequate, it is not impossible that they might endeavor to bombard at their moorings in Moudros the present Allied Battleships squadron. They would find at these moorings, only the Nelson, Agamemnon and Republique, which would not be able to put to sea in order to fight successfully.

     Perhaps they would notafterwards venture to enter the Gulf of Salonika, but if they were to do so, the only available means to prohibit the seizure of the anchorage of Salonika are the submarines.6 The results nevertheless would be sufficient value as to justify the risks, because the enemy would then be the Masters at least for a time, of the revictualling of the Salonika Army.

     The Suez Canal is also very valueable as a commericail thoroughfare. At present nothing exists to prevent a Naval Force endeavoring to raid its entrance and trying, by a bottling up of the Canal, to stop for a time the revictualling of the Allies. The Suez Canal, therefore, might be the object of an enemy raid. It is possible to object that this endeavor of closing the Canal could have been done by the Turkish Forces, but certainly the Germans think that it is necessary to keep the GOEBEN in Constantinople and they are not willing to part with her as long as she is alone.

     Apart from the exit of the enemy battleships, whose only aims can probably be Salonika or Port Said, it is necessary to consider the raids which could be made by the Light enemy forces, if they were reinforced by the Russian 25 destroyers and 22 submarines.

     Destroyer Flotillas carefully collected, with the assistance of Cruisers, would be able to play havoc in the Aegean by destroying the Allied trawlers. The submarines based in the Dardanelles would also intensify the submarine warfare in those areas.

     Summing up, taking into account the actual supply of coal of the “Promiere [i.e., Premiere] Armee Navale”, and taking nito [i.e., into] account that, to increase this supply, it would be necessary to find more escorting destroyers, and since this is only possible by disorganizing the Route System in the Mediterranean – the existing “Premiere Armee Navale” is not able to stop the exit from the Dardanelles of the enemy forces: it is thence necessary for this purpose to have a special force based near the Dardanelles. Accordingly if our foes were able to avail themselves of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, it would be necessary to augment the Allies Forces in the Aegean by increasing the number of battleships and of submarines.

     A sufficient force being thus constituted, it would not be probable that the whole of the enemy battleships could escape together, but the GOEBEN, BRESLAU and large Russian destroyers would still be able to raid the Aegean.

     Two large battle-cruisers and a destroyer flotilla are necessary to stop these raids, or to inflict a heavy punishment to the enemy.

     To oppose such attacks as much as possible, but with forces, less important, it would be advantageous to base submarines on Moudros, Salonika and Alexandria, at least four at each base.7

Source Note: DT, DNA, RG 45, Entry 520, Box 413. The date is handwritten at the top of the page. Identifying numbers at the top of the first page in columnar fashion: “3/C/J” and beside it “5/6.”

Footnote 1: On 20 January, this was a theoretical exercise as Russia was still in the war.

Footnote 2: A French pre-dreadnought battleship; with the pre-dreadnought Démocratie it constituted the Second Squadron of the French First Division in the Mediterranean theater of operations.

Footnote 3: Moudros/Mudros is a town on the island of Lemnos in the north Aegean Sea.

Footnote 4: The Russian battleships Volya (formerly Imperator Aleksandr III) and Svobodnaya Rossiya (formerly Imperatritsa Ekaterina Vilikaya) were the two battleships of 22,700 tons (23,413 long tons) listed in the chart. They had been built specifically for the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Goeben was a German battlecruiser. It was significantly larger and better armored than the comparable British Royal Navy class. After eluding capture in the first days of the war, it and the smaller Breslau, reached Constantinople; there it was transferred to the Ottoman Empire and became the flagship of the empire’s navy, though it remained under the command of a German admiral and manned by a German crew.

Footnote 5: H.M.S. Conqueror was actually an Orion class dreadnaught. The ships in this class were 22,000 tons and armed with two 343mm guns, 16 102mm guns, and 3 torpedo tubes. R.A. Burt, 1986). British Battleships of World War One (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1986), 136.

Footnote 6: Salonica was the staging area for an Allied offensive in the Balkans.

Footnote 7: On the same day this report was created, the German ships at Constantinople sallied into the Aegean Sea and sank two British monitors. However, during that raid the German cruiser Breslau was sunk by a mine and Goeben was damaged by another mine. Also, in returning to Constantinople, Goeben ran aground, sustaining further damage and diminishing the threat for the short term. According to historian Paul G. Halpern “Allied naval leaders in the Mediterranean probably spent more energy worrying over the fate of the Russian Black Sea Fleet than any other subject in 1918.” But Halpern concludes the threat was “far less than the Allies supposed” as ownership and control of the Black Sea fleet remained in doubt for some months and when the issue was finally resolved and Germany gained control of some of this fleet, the war was nearly over. Halpern, Naval War in the Mediterranean, 542-55.