The Habsburg Fleet:
The Imperial Ottoman Navy

By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
October 2014

In the world of Wilson’s Peace, as shown in our alternative-history titles The Kaiser’s Navy and The Habsburg Fleet, most of the Allied Powers are revanchist: Russia, France and Italy all want to overturn the results of the final peace settlements of 1917. On the Central Powers side, Imperial Germany and Austria-Hungary are status quo powers: they have achieved high economic growth and access to resources and markets, and would have rather not risked these things in war.

Though firmly tied to the Central Powers both economically and diplomatically, the Ottoman Empire is definitely looking to re-make the political landscape. The British seizure of Basra vilayet rankles deeply in the Arab half of the empire, while the Turkish half resents independent Armenia, a Tsarist satellite. Turks and Arabs have many differences, but they are totally united in their bitterness toward the Russians and British. When war comes to Turkey in January 1941, it is greeted with joy in many cities.

As seen in The Habsburg Fleet, the Turkish fleet is hungry for action, and begins the Mediterranean war with a series of aggressive move that startle first the Italians and French and later the British as well when they join the war. Turkey has only a limited shipbuilding capacity, but has invested in a floating drydock at Izmit that can accommodate its largest warships and, if necessary, the huge fast battleships of the other Central Powers.

The Turkish fleet flagship is the modern, British-built Fatikh, a sister ship of the Royal Navy’s King George V (Fatikh is found in Black Sea Fleets). The navy also has two modernized older battleships, Reshadieh and Osman V, built in Britain just before the First Great War and seized by the Royal Navy, helping to propel Turkey into the conflict. Britain grudgingly returned them after the war as part of the peace settlement, and both went to German shipyards in the 1930’s for rebuilding.

Reshadieh, which served during the First Great War as the British Erin, emerged as a typical modernized battleship of the time. She now burns oil and makes slightly better speed than when new, with her secondary battery removed from its casemates and replaced by turrets on the main deck level and a strong anti-aircraft battery. Osman V, the former British Agincourt (and former Brazilian Rio de Janeiro), underwent a much more extensive rebuilding. An odd ship even when new, the original design featured fourteen 12-inch guns in seven turrets to satisfy the ego of her Brazilian owners. By the time Turkey finally took delivery of the ship in 1918, she was thoroughly obsolete and efforts to obtain a more modern dreadnought in her place went nowhere.

The German naval architects who oversaw her reconstruction settled on a design similar to that employed to modernize their own Kaiser class battleships. The two central turrets were removed and replaced by a large hangar and handling deck for seaplanes, along with a pair of catapults. New oil-fired machinery replaced her old power plant, and she received new secondary and anti-aircraft armament similar to that of Reshadieh. Osman V is one of the less-capable dreadnoughts still in service, and was retained as much for political reasons (to keep the Turkish public’s anger over her 1914 seizure still burning) as for her military utility. For the same money spent rebuilding her, the Turks could have purchased and modernized two more capable German ships.

Note: Given the public fury over the British seizure of these two ships in 1914, the Turks certainly would have demanded their return during peace negotiations. Likewise, political considerations would have kept them in service long past the end of their usefulness.

The Wicked Sisters
Though the Turks purchased the battle cruiser Yavuz (“The Grim”) from the Germans in 1914, they did not take full possession of the former Goeben until the conclusion of Wilson’s Peace, when the German crew finally departed for home. Pleased with their ship, the Turks purchased her sister, Moltke, as well, christening her Yildirim (“Thunderbolt,” like “The Grim” a sobriquet of a famous warrior Sultan) and also acquired their near-sister Seydlitz.

Known as the “Wicked Sisters” to British sailors, the two battle cruisers were modernized in the mid-1930’s with new oil-fired machinery and a powerful antiaircraft suite. The third ship was still under re-construction at Izmit when a Russian winter offensive brought Turkey into the war in January 1941. They are not quite fast enough to run down enemy heavy cruisers, but are the most active of the Turkish heavy units and capable of absorbing enormous punishment. They’re also considered extraordinarily lucky ships by both friend and foe.

Because of the varied nature of Turkish purchases, the fleet’s three battleships require three different sizes of ammunition with the three battle cruisers firing a fourth. That complicates the supply situation, and usually the battle cruisers operate independently from the battleships.

Note: Yavuz appears in Black Sea Fleets. In our alternate history she would have avoided the crippling damage suffered during early 1918 from mines and grounding. Though rebuilt later, she was never fully capable again.

Along with the two additional battle cruisers, the Turks bought two sister ships of their light cruiser Midilli (the former Breslau) in 1919 and christened them Niheng and Arslan. Despite efforts at modernization, the three cruisers are no longer front-line units by 1941. Fortunately, the fleet has two modern light cruisers purchased from British yards during the 1930’s (and found in Black Sea Fleets).

In the late 1930’s the Turkish fleet took delivery of six big, modern German-built destroyers, sister ships of the Imperial Navy’s Iltis class. They carry a heavy gun and torpedo armament, sacrificing their antiaircraft capability to do so. Along with the other modern destroyers built in British yards (and, again, found in Black Sea Fleets), the fleet has an adequate contingent of light ships but little means to replace any losses.

Though the Empire’s entry into the Second Great War proved popular with the Turkish public, even including the Arab lands, the Navy found itself caught up in furious action in the Mediterranean as seen in The Habsburg Fleet. Aggressively led, the Turkish fleet sought out action against the Italians, French and British, and spearheaded the fateful operations around Crete known to history as the Night of the Battleships. And as we’ll see in future volumes of the Second Great War, Turkish ships would be active in the Red and Black Seas as well.

Click here to sail with The Habsburg Fleet.

Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold enjoys barking.