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The German Mediterranean Squadron
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
October 2015

The German commitment to the Mediterranean Sea in the years before the First World War started out as one of those minor political maneuvers that took on a life of its own. The flight of the battle cruiser Goeben and her consort Breslau to Constantinople embarrassed the Royal Navy and would help propel Ottoman Turkey into the war and onto the path to destruction.


Goeben pre-war.

Germany had stationed a pair of old cruisers at Constantinople for many years, and periodically other cruisers and training ships entered the Mediterranean for commitments of various lengths. All this changed in November 1912, when many foreign nations sent warships to the Turkish capital in a demonstration designed to force a negotiated end to the First Balkan War.

Seeking to make an impression on the assembled navies, the Germans sent Goeben, their newest warship. This practice had begun earlier in the year, when her sister Moltke made a courtesy visit to the United States. Much of the operations could be funded from diplomatic rather than military accounts, and this allowed the navy to test their new ship and its crew on a long-range shakedown cruise at minimal expense.

Both battlecruisers had been built by Blohm und Voss’ private yard in Hamburg, and the navy seems to have had concerns about the quality of their engines. A long-range deployment, the bureaucrats hoped, would reveal defects more quickly than service at home.

Moltke crossed the Atlantic each way flawlessly, and made an excellent impression in her tour of East Coast ports. The admirals considered the voyage a great success. Goeben, meanwhile, had problems. She entered drydock at the Austrian naval base at Pola in August 1913 for a turbine inspection, just before her one-year warranty expired. German officials found that her boiler tubes leaked, and recommended their replacement.

 

Goeben and Moltke each carried ten 11-inch guns and had, on paper at least, a top speed of 26 knots. Moltke made this speed, but Goeben always had trouble doing so even after another overhaul at Pola in the summer of 1914. They displaced 22,000 tons and had good armor protection, making them the most powerful combination of firepower, speed and armor in the Mediterranean.

Britain stationed the battle cruiser Inflexible in the Mediterranean in November 1912 as part of the same international deployment that brought Goeben to Constantinople. Two sisters joined her in August 1913; the fourth authorized ship, New Zealand, was on a world cruise and had not returned by the time war erupted in the summer of 1914. Six late-model pre-dreadnoughts of the King Edward VII class also cruised the Mediterranean in the first half of 1913. These were individually no match for Goeben, but as much less capable Russian pre-dreadnoughts showed in 1915, they could probably have defeated her as a squadron. Inflexible was smaller than Goeben and had eight 12-inch guns, and much weaker armor.

 

France did not commission her first dreadnought-type battleship until the summer of 1914 and had nothing to match the German ship, greatly embarrassing her admirals. Austria-Hungary and Italy each had dreadnought battleships of much greater fighting power than Goeben, but these were not nearly as fast.

Two additional light cruisers joined the squadron in April 1913, Strassburg and Dresden, rounding out the German commitment of four cruisers to the Mediterranean under the Triple Alliance naval convention. They helped show the flag in Turkish waters before their withdrawal in September. The navy planned to bring Goeben home at the same time, but given the agreement with Austria and Italy the diplomats did not want to return her home just yet and prevailed on the admirals to extend the deployment. The navy agreed and sent out a new squadron commander, Rear Admiral Wilhelm Souchon, and also made the Mittelmeerdivision a permanent command. Goeben would remain in the Mediterranean another year, they decided, and be replaced by Moltke in October 1914, when the new Derfflinger was scheduled to join the High Seas Fleet.

Goeben spent most of her deployment at Constantinople, but after his arrival Souchon kept the squadron in the Central Mediterranean most of the time. The big cruiser visited Italian ports in early 1914, and Souchon received new orders: In the eventuality of war, Goeben and Breslau were to interrupt French military convoy traffic between Algeria and southern France. Italian officials agrred to supply coal for the operation and to attach cruisers and destroyers to the squadron, but not to place them under German command.


HMS Invincible. She wasn’t.

When Serbian terrorists assassinated the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Souchon immediately saw the possibility of war and brought his flagship back to Pola. After serious effort, he managed to secure dockyard time for Blohm & Voss technicians to replace Goeben’s boiler tubes. Austrian captains, also seeking repairs for their ships before war exploded, fumed and telegraphed Vienna in vain anger. The 22,000-ton German lemon received top priority.

Souchon’s squadron is the centerpiece of our Great War at Sea: Mediterranean game. Goeben’s famous voyage is covered in the “SMS Goeben” scenario (one of 70 presented); at one time this scenario was the entire game (which is why it carries the game’s original title). Moltke and Magdeburg can join them under the optional rules at a cost in victory points. Strassburg and Dresden could also have been left in the Mediterranean. As a fourth Central Powers option, these two ships may deploy at start at Messina, at a cost of 12 victory points.

Click here to order Great War at Sea: Mediterranean today!

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.