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Turkey’s Navy
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
May 2007

The modern Turkish state arose from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire almost solely due to the iron will of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. In the years that followed the empire’s collapse in late 1918, the Turkish Army defeated a Greek invasion, and also drove out Italian and French interventionists. The Treaty of Lausanne ended the war in July, 1923, and on 23 October the Turkish Republic officially came into existence.

The Turkish Navy played little part in these struggles, which saved the fleet from the destruction originally intended by the victorious Allies. A handful of Turkish ships helped smuggle arms across the Black Sea, and a number of sailors and junior officers fought in Kemal’s land campaigns. Most Turkish warships had been interned under Allied control, and after the treaty came back under the Turkish flag. Most senior officers had also remained in Constantinople/Istanbul, and their return to service was marked by considerable political tension.


The famous Hamidiye.

The Navy’s best-known officer, Husein Rauf Orbay, had served as Minister of Marine during the First World War after becoming famous throughout Turkey for his daring exploits in the cruiser Hamidiye during the Balkan wars. Rauf served as Kemal’s prime minister during the four-year War of Independence, but the two Turkish heroes fell out over the role of religion in the new republic. Rauf’s visit to the Caliph soured his standing with hardline Kemalists. A symbolic cruise aboard the newly-reactivated Hamidiye in the Black Sea convinced Kemal that the navy’s new generation of officers would remain loyal to republican ideals, and so he moved to limit Rauf’s influence. Serving military officers could no longer sit in parliament, and a new civilian-led Ministry of National Defense would oversee military affairs.

Kemal, soon re-naming himself Ataturk, also instituted a purge of officers who had not served the republican cause during the War of Independence; though applied to all service branches, it hit the Navy’s top ranks much harder than those of the Army. A new civilian Ministry of Marine, headed by an ardent Kemalist, oversaw the Navy’s rebuilding.

The rebuilding began slowly. Turkey needed a solid, native-born professional officer corps, something the Sultan’s fleet had always lacked. In 1924 the ancient pre-dreadnought battleship Torgud Reis was reconditioned for service as a more-or-less stationary training ship, though she undertook some brief sorties, while Hamidiye served for more advanced lessons. A number of retired German officers helped staff the new naval academy, including ace submariner Lothar von Arnauld de la Perière from 1932 to 1938.

Parliament proved willing to spend what limited funds it had on the Navy, and more serious reconstruction commenced in 1926. Turkish planners saw two potential threats: an Italian attempt to re-assert claims to the province of Antalya adjacent to the Dodecanese Islands, and renewed war with Greece. The Turkish Navy could not hope to match Italian sea power, and would assume a coast-defense role in such a war. Two submarines were ordered from the Dutch Fijenoord shipyard, designed by German naval engineers. The two old torpedo gunboats Berk and Peyk, Hamidiye and her near-sister Medjidieh were all fitted for minelaying, while the famed minelayer Nusret received a refit.

Greece boasted an armored cruiser, two pre-dreadnought battleships, an old light cruiser and a flotilla of large destroyers. To match them, the Turkish Navy began a serious overhaul of the battle cruiser Yavuz, the former German Goeben. Goeben had never been a well-built ship, suffering engine problems throughout her brief career under German colors. “Sold” to Turkey in 1914, she continued to operate under German command and with a German crew throughout the war, taking serious damage from mines on several occasions and undergoing more engine problems. Briefly drydocked at the former Russian naval base at Sevastopol, she never completed repairs there and lay in poor condition at Constantinople when her crew abandoned her in early November, 1918.


Pride of the Turkish Navy.

Though not a serious military asset, she was a powerful symbol of Turkish power, well-known to every Anatolian peasant. She began a refit at Izmit, the new Turkish naval base on the south shore of the Sea of Marmora, and the work soon bogged down in cost overruns and technical problems. Fraud charges were leveled at a number of dockyard officials stretching all the way up to the Minister of Marine, leading to his impeachment in 1927 and abolition of the Ministry.

The Turkish parliament balked at spending more money on the project, with some experts doubting the battle cruiser could ever be brought back into serviceable shape. But September, 1928, the Greek navy held firing exercises right off the Dardanelles, enraging both Ataturk and the Turkish public. The president personally sailed with the fleet on its own training exercise in the area. Money flowed again, and this time French experts oversaw work on the shattered battle cruiser.

The ship that emerged in late 1930 could make 27 knots, falling just shy of her trial speed but exceeding her operational best. She could now perform at her top speed much more reliably than she had in 1914. But despite a new French-made fire control system, she remained very much a warship of 1914. Anti-aircraft defense remained minimal. She was more than a match for the Greek Averoff, and could probably have handled all three Greek capital ships together. But the pride of the Turkish Navy was not the equivalent of a major power’s modernized battleship.


The Italian-built Kocatepe.

To support the battle cruiser, the Turks also ordered a division of four Italian-built destroyers. Italian government guarantees made the price attractive, and the Turks chose a design based on the Freccia class. Adatepe and Kocatepe had two funnels instead of one in their Italian near-sisters, with the main armament of four 120mm guns mounted in four single mounts rather than the pair of dual mounts favored by the Italian Navy. A year later the Turks ordered two more destroyers from a different yard. Tinaztepe and Zafer were very similar except for reverting to Italian practice for their main armament. The Greeks responded by ordering a quartet of their own based on the Turkish single-mount variant.

Soon after the destroyer orders, the Turks also bought two Italian-built submarines to take advantage of the payment guarantee. But cash shortages ended the Turkish shopping spree there. On a tip from Arnauld, the Turks picked up a Spanish-built submarine in 1934, constructed in Cadiz to a German design and heavily tested by the Germans but never accepted by the Spanish navy.

Steadily, Turkey followed Ataturk’s vision of joining Europe, entering the League of Nations in 1931 and a defensive alliance with Greece and Romania in 1934. The Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 enraged Turkish public opinion, and a number of Turkish officers volunteered for Haile Selassie’s army. Ataturk and his government saw that the League of Nations would not protect neutral states, and began an arms buildup to counter the Italian threat. The Turks went so far as to make a joint proposal with Greece to Britain, that the British government match the Italian financial guarantee to allow Greece and Turkey to build destroyers and submarines in British shipyards.


Best-named ship of World War II. Submarine Dumlupynar, built in Italy.

The British refused, but within a year began to relent. The Turkish fleet visited Malta in November, 1936, and the next spring Turkey proposed an ambitious building program of modern warships built in British yards. At its center were two modern cruisers to replace the aged Hamidiye and Medjidieh, and the Turks wanted either the two Edinburgh-class light cruisers just laid down by private yards in Britain, or two similar ships. The Royal Navy balked at selling them, as the government had just committed itself to a new, smaller type of cruiser (8,500 tons) in the 1936 Second London Treaty, and these would be the last cruisers allowed under the old 10,000-ton displacement.

Though the treaty did not limit the number of warships a signatory could build, it did limit their size and armament. The Foreign Office also hoped to curb weapons proliferation, and discouraged the Turkish desires for new cruisers. However, they put no restrictions on selling the Turks a battleship, and the Royal Navy suggested the new King George V design.

The experience of 1914, when the Royal Navy had seized two nearly-complete Turkish battleships at their British builders’ yards, still haunted the Turks, but they had nowhere else to go. Tensions ran high with France over French occupation of Iskenderun on the Syrian border, Italy could no longer be trusted, American neutrality laws made orders difficult to place, and Germany had only just re-entered the international arms market. But word of design and construction problems with the new British battleships filtered to Ankara, and the Turks ended up ordering four destroyers and four submarines in Britain (all of which would be seized by the Royal Navy) plus four more submarines from Germany (two of them built at Istanbul, with a mostly Turkish workforce). Turkey would do without a replacement for Yavuz, keeping her in service until 1960 and finally scrapping her in 1973.

In Third Reich, we gave Turkey a small navy, just two surface factors. That’s about right for Yavuz and four destroyers. Turkey does not have a shipyard capability, as we did not want to write special rules for the eventuality of a small shipyard like that at Izmit falling into major power hands. In game terms, the Izmit yard doesn’t qualify, as the Turks still required foreign technical assistance for major projects like building submarines or refitting Yavuz.

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