By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
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
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
The famous Hamidiye.
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
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.
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.
Pride of the Turkish Navy.
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.
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.
The Italian-built Kocatepe.
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.
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.
Best-named ship of World War II. Submarine
Dumlupynar, built in Italy.
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
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.
here to buy Third Reich now!