Churchill And The Secret Service, David Stafford, 1998


The search for alternative strategies to break the ‘remarkable deadlock’ on the Western front had already begun[1] and, by early January, Churchill had started to badger the unfortunate Vice-Admiral Carden regarding the attempt to force the Straits. Understandably, in the circumstances, Hall wanted more information on Turkey and he turned to Eady; in particular, he wanted to know if Eady carried any weight with the leading Turks. Eady replied truthfully that, while he knew most of them, the best people to approach were Edwin Whittall, who had spent most of his life in Turkey, and (according to Hall’s biographer[2]) none other than the Turks’ old bête noire, the former dragoman Gerald Fitzmaurice, who had maintained his contacts with dissident Turks. Whether or not Fitzmaurice was mentioned in this context (Eady’s diary apparently does not refer to him) Grey would shortly have other work lined up for the irrepressible intriguer. ‘In view of the attack on the Dardanelles and probable developments’, Grey informed his Minister in Sofia, Bax-Ironside,

I want Fitzmaurice to be on the spot in the Near East. I am therefore sending him to Sofia as attached to the Legation with the rank of First Secretary. But the title is nominal as he should go wherever he can be of most use from time to time in getting information or utilizing his knowledge and experience of Balkan and especially Turkish affairs. When operations against the Dardanelles begin to be successful he may be able most usefully at Sofia to get in touch with the Turkish party at Constantinople who are anti-German and well-known to him. I have asked him to send me his views of the Balkan situation through you and through Minister of Legation wherever he may be, but have authorized him to communicate direct to the British Admiral at the Dardanelles any information or suggestions which his knowledge of Turkish affairs may enable him to give when it is likely to be helpful in the naval and military operations there.[3]

With Fitzmaurice thus engaged, the two emissaries, Eady and Whittall, arrived in Athens on 1 February 1915 where they were to try to make contact with a prominent Turkish minister, preferably Talaat; their intermediary would be the Grand Rabbi — a strong Anglophile, known to Whittall and who had employed his nephew. Preliminary negotiations were not promising and Hall’s agents were refused permission to travel to Constantinople for talks. The war against the Russians was going well for the Turks and they saw little point in listening to British propositions at that time — however the commencement of the bombardment against the outer forts of the Dardanelles on 19 February soon forced a change in their attitude. Faced with this new threat, the Turks relented and agreed to send an emissary to Dedeagatch. Eady carried with him to this meeting a blank cheque from Hall guaranteeing the Turks £3 million if they met the British demands; if absolutely necessary, Eady was authorized by Hall to go up to £4 million!

Eady wrote, after the war, that the Turks were sick of the almost continuous fighting of one sort or another which had occupied them since the 1908 revolution, and genuinely desired peace. ‘Moreover,’ he added, ‘their leaders, Talaat Pasha and Co., mostly self-made men, had acquired power and wealth which they wished to conserve.’ As others before him, Eady had misread Talaat’s motives: it was not money the Pasha was after. If Eady, Whittall or Fitzmaurice had been able to guarantee to Talaat that Constantinople would remain in Turkish possession, money would have been unnecessary. Realizing that the future of the city was bound to figure prominently in the talks, Eady had repeatedly telegraphed London for instructions which would allow him greater flexibility on this crucial issue; none were forthcoming. Eady was reduced to demanding the withdrawal of Turkey from the war, coupled with her strict neutrality thereafter and the immediate opening of the Dardanelles to allied shipping. He offered only money in return.

As preparations commenced for troops to be sent to support the Allied naval attack, the talks assumed greater urgency. Still on the wrong track, Hall informed his agents early in March that, to try to speed things along, the sum on offer would be decreased for every day that passed. By 5 March the offer was of £500,000 for the complete surrender of the Dardanelles, and a further £500,000 for Goeben, undamaged;[4] three days later the price for Goeben had dropped to £100,000. The critical meetings were scheduled to take place at Dedeagatch on 15/16 March at which, despite Hall’s bluster, Eady was apparently still authorized to go to £4 million if it would buy the Turks. He did not get the chance. On the evening of 13 March Hall’s “Room 40” at the Admiralty intercepted a message from Nauen to Constantinople — just as they had done in the first days of the war. The difference this time was that, by now, the German cipher had been broken and the message revealed its secret to the British:[5] ‘12.3.15. Most Secret. For Admiral Usedom. HM the Kaiser has received the report and telegram relating to the Dardanelles. Everything conceivable is being done to arrange the supply of ammunition. For political reasons it is necessary to maintain a confident tone in Turkey. The Kaiser requests you to use your influence in this direction. The sending of a German or Austrian submarine is being seriously considered.’ So, the Turks were thought to be short of ammunition. This startling, if over-optimistic, appraisal[6] was immediately passed to Fisher, who had become increasingly sceptical of the Dardanelles operation. It transformed him. There was no need for the Turks to be bribed when the same result now looked certain to be achieved by force of arms.

[1] Generally accepted to have commenced in earnest with Hankey’s ‘Boxing Day Memorandum’ of December 1914. return to main text
[2] James, Eyes of the Navy, p. 60. Note: There has been some previous confusion between Captain Maurice Fitzmaurice, RN who was also Deputy DID, and Gerald Fitzmaurice, the former dragoman. Of the three references supposedly to the former in WSC Comp. vol III, [pp. 489, 599, 802] only the first applies to Maurice; the next two are in fact references to Gerald. return to main text
[3] Grey to Bax-Ironside, 21 February 1915, Personal, Grey mss., PRO FO 800/43. return to main text
[4] The battle cruiser had struck a mine in the Black Sea late in December 1914. return to main text
[5] It should be noted that Room 40 was only set up in November 1914 after the Russians had handed over a copy of the German code book that had been recovered from the body of a sailor after the Magdeburg was wrecked on 26 August 1914. return to main text
[6] The Admiralty had read too much into the German signal. The ammunition situation was not as desperate as it implied, helped, for example, by a Turkish munitions factory near Constantinople which had been effectively transformed with German assistance. Marder, From the Dardanelles to Oran, pp. 15, 18; Robertson, Anzac & Empire, p. 57. return to main text

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