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Battle of Imbros
Part of Mediterranian Theater of World War I
A black and white image of a warship that has become beached. It is listing to starboard. A caption is written in white ink in German over the top of the image.
Yavuz beached in the Dardanelles after the Battle of Imbros
Date 20 January 1918
Location off Imbros and the Dardanelles, Aegean Sea
Result British Victory
Belligerents
United Kingdom United Kingdom Ottoman Empire Ottoman Empire
Commanders
Lord Henry Franklin Kitchener, Viscount Broome [1] Vice Admiral Hubert von Rebeur-Paschwitz
Strength
2 Monitors
2 Destroyers
12 aircraft
1 Battlecruiser
1 Cruiser
1 Light Cruiser
4 Destroyers
shore batteries
Casualties and losses
2 Monitors sunk
1 aircraft destroyed
139 dead
1 Light Cruiser sunk
1 Battlecruiser damaged
330 dead
172 captured

The Battle of Imbros was a naval action that took place during the First World War. The battle occurred on 20 January 1918 when a Turkish squadron engaged a flotilla of the British Royal Navy off the island of Imbros in the Aegean Sea. A lack of heavy Allied warships in the area allowed the Turkish battlecruiser Yavuz Sultan Selim and light cruiser Midilli to sortie into the Mediterranian and attack the British monitors and destroyers at Imbros before assaulting the naval base at Mudros.

Although the Turkish forces managed to complete their objective of destroying the British monitors at Imbros, the battle turned sour for them as they sailed through a minefield while withdrawing. Midilli was sunk and Yavuz Sultan Selim heavily damaged. Although Yavuz Sultan Selim managed to beach herself within the Dardanelles, she was subjected to days of air attacks until she was towed to safety. With one of Turkey's most modern cruisers sunk and her only battlecruiser out of action, the battle effectively curtailed the Ottoman Navy's offensive capability until the end of the war.

Contents

Prelude

By January 1918, the situation for the Turks in Palestine had begun to falter. The new German commander of Turkey's Black Sea fleet, Rebeur Paschwitz, decided to try to relieve Allied naval pressure on Palestine by making a sortie out of the Dardanelles.[2] Several British naval elements of the Aegean Squadron had been taking refuge in Kusu Bay off the islands of Imbros, and they were a prime target for a Turkish raid. After raiding what shipping could be found at Imbros, Rebeur-Paschwitz would then turn to Mudros and attack the British naval base there.[3] The Allied force guarding the Dardanelles consisted of a few heavy British and French units as well as several monitors tasked with coastal bombardment. Escorting the monitors were several British destroyers. The battleships HMS Agamemnon and HMS Lord Nelson were also tasked with guarding the area, but the Lord Nelson had been tasked with ferrying the squadron's admiral to a conference at Salonika. Taking advantage of the absence of the British battleship, the Germans and Turks decided to dispatch the battlecruiser Yavuz Sultan Selim (ex-SMS Goeben) and the light cruiser Midilli (ex-SMS Breslau) to attack the area.[3] The Allied forces at Imbros on 20 January consisted of the monitors HMS Raglan and HMS M28 as well as the Acheron class destroyers HMS Tigress and HMS Lizard.[4] Agamemnon was nearby at Mudros, but she was much too slow to chase down the Turkish ships if they wanted to avoid engaging her.[3]

Without the Agamemnon and Lord Nelson the British were severely undergunned in comparison to the Turkish ships. The Tigress and Lizard both were armed with two 4 inch guns, two 12 pounders, and two 21 inch torpedo tubes. They were swift ships capable of making 27 knots at best speed. The two monitors present at Imbros were better suited for coastal bombardment than naval combat, though their heavy guns gave them an element of firepower the destroyers lacked. Raglan, an Abercrombie class monitor, was armed with two 14 inch guns, two 6 inch guns, and two 3 inch guns.[5] M28 was a smaller vessel than Raglan and as such carried a lighter armament sporting a single 9.2 inch cannon, one 12 pounder, as well as a six pound anti-aircraft gun. The biggest weak point of both Raglan and M28 were their low top speeds of 7 and 11 knots respectively, giving them little capability to escape a Turkish raid. In contrast to the British force, the Turkish vessels were both fast and heavily armed. Midilli sported twelve 150 mm cannons, 120 mines, two torpedo tubes, and a top speed of 25 knots.[6] Yavuz Sultan Selim was the most powerful ship in the Ottoman fleet with a top speed of 25.5 knots, ten 11 inch guns, twelve 15 centimetre guns, a dozen 8.8 centimetre guns, and four torpedo tubes.[7] Thus, with no heavy units available to repel them, there was little in the means of effective Allied opposition when the Turks set out on their mission.

Battle

A small British monitor with an oversized gun forward cruising off the coast in the Mediterranian.
HMS M28 cruisng at sea, one of the two monitors sunk at Imbros

Setting out towards Imbros, the Yavuz Sultan Selim struck a mine on transit to the island, but the damage was insignificant and the two Turkish vessels were able to continue their mission. As the Yavuz Sultan Selim and Midilli approached Kusu Bay, they were sighted by the destroyer HMS Lizard at 5:30 am.[8] The Lizard attempted to engage the Turkish ships, but could not close to torpedo range due to heavy fire from her opponents. The Yavuz Sultan Selim soon sighted the two British monitors taking refuge in the bay, and broke off from Lizard to engage them. As Yavuz Sultan Selim attacked the monitors, Midilli continued to duel with Lizard who was then joined by the destroyer HMS Tigress.[8] Lizard and Tigress attempted to shield the monitors from Yavuz Sultan Selim by laying a smoke screen, but this was ineffective. The monitors were both much too slow to evade Yavuz Sultan Selim and she was able to score numerous hits on the Raglan, sinking her. After Raglan was sunk, the Ottoman battlecruiser began turned her attention to HMS M28, striking her amidships and setting her alight before she was sunk at 6:00 am. With the two monitors sunk, the Turks decided to break off the engagement and head south and attempt to raid Mudros.[8]

Upon withdrawing from Kusu Bay, the Turkish force accidentally sailed into a minefield and were shadowed by the two British destroyers they had previously engaged. Midilli struck a mine near her aft funnel, and shortly afterwards Yavuz Sultan Selim hit one as well. Within half an hour the Midilli had struck four more mines and began to sink. The Yavuz Sultan Selim attempted to rescue the Midilli but also struck a mine and was forced to withdraw. Fleeing towards the safety of the Dardanelles, Yavuz Sultan Selim was pursued by Lizard and Tigress. In order to cover the Yavuz Sultan Selim four Turkish destroyers and an old cruiser rushed out to engage the British destroyers.[4] After taking some damage the Turkish squadron was forced to retreat back to the Dardnelles. As the British destroyers approached Cape Helles, they were fired upon by Ottoman shore batteries and withdrew.[8]

In addition to the Lizard and Tigress, a dozen British seaplanes were launched to finish off the Yavuz Sultan Selim. Although they managed to score two hits gainst the battlecruiser, the Turkish ship was by this time near the coast. Thus heavy anti-aircraft fire was able to drive off the air attacks, downing one Sopwith Baby and damaging another aircraft.[8] The four Turkish destroyers returned and guarded the Yavuz Sultan Selim as she sailed up the Dardnelles.[9] Severely damaged, the Turkish battlecruiser ran aground on a sandbar off Nagara Point and became stranded. The next six days saw further air attacks by Allied seaplanes against the Ottoman battlecruiser, with six hits being scored against her.[10] Ottoman seaplanes and heavy shore batteries responded to the raids and were able to guard the Yavuz Sultan Selim and beat back the air attacks. Despite the air raids, the Yavuz Sultan Selim suffered only superficial damage from them as the 65 pound bombs used by the British were to small to be effective.[2] Allied commanders proposed plans for a submarine raid against the battlecruiser, but the only submarine attached to the Aegean squadron, HMS E12, had mechanical problems and was inoperative. A raid into the Dardanelles was therefore postponed until a working submarine could be dispatched to the area.[3]

Aftermath

With no way to free herself, the Yavuz Sultan Selim remained stranded on the sandbar until 26 January when the Turget Reiss finally arrived and towed her back into the Black Sea. In one last effort to destroy the battlecruiser, the British sent the submarine HMS E14 into the Dardnelles on 27 January. The Yavuz Sultan Selim had already left the area, and so E 14 began sailing back to Allied waters after discovering the battlecruiser's absence. Sighting a Turkish freighter, the British submarine attempted to engage her with torpedoes. The second torpedo fired exploded prematurely.[11] In the resulting explosion the submarine was damaged and was forced to try to flee the straits. She came under heavy fire from the nearby Turkish shore batteries and was eventually beached with her commander, Geoffrey Saxton White, and another sailor killed and seven captured.[4] White was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his efforts to beach the submarine and save its crew.[12]

Although the Turkish force was able to destroy the British monitors they set out to engage, their losses traversing the minefield after the engagement in Kusu Bay negated any impact the British losses had in their favour. With the Midilli sunk and Goeben severely damaged, the threat of the Ottoman Navy to the Allies was greatly reduced for the remainder of the war. Despite the removal of these two vessels from the Turkish battle line, the commanders of the British Aegean Squadron were still criticized for having dispatched both of their heavy units far from the Dardanelles to engage the Ottomans. If the Agamemnon or Lord Nelson had been at their posts during the Turkish raid, the Yavuz Sultan Selim might have been destroyed, eliminating her threat once and for all rather than having her escape.[4]

Notes

  1. ^ Woodhouse, 160
  2. ^ a b Halpern, 255
  3. ^ a b c d Jameson, 89
  4. ^ a b c d Chisholm, 1082
  5. ^ Gardiner, 44
  6. ^ Groner, 107
  7. ^ Groner, 54
  8. ^ a b c d e Littlefield, 414
  9. ^ Buchan, 241
  10. ^ 220 LOST ON THE RAGLAN. New York Times. January 25, 1918. pp. 4. http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9A07E7DE103FE433A25756C2A9679C946996D6CF. Retrieved 30 November 2009.  
  11. ^ Jameson, 95–96
  12. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 31354, p. 6445, 23 May 1919. Retrieved on 16 November 2009.

References

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