From the Monitor archives: Ottoman Empire attacks Odessa, entering WWI
The Ottoman Empire shelled the Russian port of Odessa 100 years ago today, entering into the Great War on the side of Germany and Austria-Hungary. The Christian Science Monitor reported as it happened.
Bundesarchiv, Bild 134-B3821 / CC-BY-SA
This article originally ran in The Christian Science Monitor on Oct. 30, 1914.
Before Oct. 29, 1914, the Ottoman Empire, also called Turkey, was officially on the sidelines of the war in Europe. But despite frequent protestations of neutrality (one of which is cited below by the Monitor), Turkey was clearly aligned with the German Empire. One of the more obvious examples was that of the warships Breslau and Goeben mentioned below. The two German ships were in the Adriatic Sea when the war broke out, and quickly became high priority targets for the British fleet. After some two weeks of pursuit, the German ships escaped into the Dardanelles to the Ottoman capital of Constantinople – where they were promptly "sold" to the Ottoman Empire.
In fact, Turkish hawks secretly signed a mutual defense pact with Germany just before the war began. The pact was not made public – indeed, even some high-ranking members of the Turkish government were unaware of it. But it set the stage for the Ottoman Empire to enter the war at a moment German and Turkish planners deemed most advantageous – a moment that came on Oct. 29 in Odessa, against Russia.
Please note that the article uses several outdated spellings and shorthands for names and cities. Modern names and spellings have been inserted in brackets where applicable. Also, the term "Porte" is a reference to "the Sublime Porte," a nickname for the Ottoman Empire's central government.
BLACK SEA PORT OF TSAR FIRED ON BY TURKISH SHIP
Notwithstanding the Reiterated Ottoman Embassy Statements in London, Hostile Action Toward Russia Is Taken
MOVE NOT A SURPRISE
Ever Since the Purchase of the Breslau and Goeben From the Germans There Has Been Expectation Porte Intervention
(By the United Press)
WASHINGTON – Odessa was bombarded last night and American property destroyed, according to a state department despatch from the Petrograd charge today. This information was based on a report from the American consul at Odessa. It was assumed in official circles here that the bombardment was done by the Turks.
Again and again, during the last month the Turkish embassy has assured the London representative of the Monitor that there was no prospect of Turkey intervening against her old protectors, France and the United Kingdom, in the present struggle. Yet yesterday, without a moment of warning, the Turkish fleet in the Black sea, imitating the example of the Japanese fleet at Port Arthur, commenced war against Russia by attacking the Tsar’s ports.
There is no doubt that this step has been long contemplated, and that it has been taken by the Porte after deliberate consideration. No one has ever believed, for one moment, that the purchase of the Breslau and the Goeben was a bona fide transaction.
Turkey Short of Funds
Turkey had no money with which to pay for the warships and the explanation given by the embassy in London to the representative of The Christian Science Monitor that the price was a sum already due by Berlin to Constantinople was ludicrous in the extreme. The fact is that ever since the advent of [German Foreign Minister] Marschal von Bieberstein, German influence has been as dominant at the Porte as ever British influence was in the days of the great Elehi [Stratford Canning, former British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire].
Germany has quite naturally and quite legitimately been anxious to secure the intervention of Turkey, with a view not only to occupying the attention of Russia on the shores of the Black sea and in the direction of Armenia and Persia, but also of raising difficulties for France and the United Kingdom throughout their vast Muhammadan [Muslim] possessions.
Ever since the purchase of the Breslau and the Goeben the Turkish ministers must have been aware that the end of the war would bring a day of reckoning with the triple entente.
Enver Pasha [one of the "Three Pashas" who ruled the Ottoman Empire], who is a Muhammadan of Muhammadans, has, however, apparently gained complete control at Constantinople over the more cautious Diavid and Talaat.
Conceived Great Coup
It was he who conceived and engineered the great coup of the occupation of Adrianople [Edirne, in modern Turkey] which enabled Turkey to laugh in the face of the great powers. Ever since then he has been intent on doing at Salonika [Thessaloniki, Greece] and Cairo what he achieved at the expense of Bulgaria. He has absolutely staked the Ottoman empire on the success of Austro-German aims, nor is it by any means certain that in the event of the success of those arms he will not find that he has merely exchanged King Stork for King Log.
At the moment the possession of the Goeben will give the Turks an enormous superiority in the Black sea. The great cruiser, when it took refuge in the Dardanelles, had been to some extent damaged by the British guns. This was admitted by the Turkish naval attache in London to a Monitor representative at the time.
Means must have been found to repair this damage, and the retention of the German crews on board a ship of such complex mechanism was rendered absolutely necessary. Here again Turkey is aware that she has infringed her neutrality. The German crews should have been interned in Turkey, as the English marines have been interned in Holland. In spite of this, they have been kept on board the ship, obviously with a view to the present crisis.
It is almost impossible that the action of Turkey, however, can have no further effect on the extension of the war. It is almost bound to bring about a renewal of the Balkan alliance plus the cooperation of Rumania. If this proves to be the case Turkey, pressed on her European side by the enormous united forces of Bulgaria, Rumania and Greece, and on her Asiatic side by the army which Russia has been carefully massing there, will probably find that she has fallen from the frying pan into the fire.
At present nothing Is known of her action beyond the fact that she is said to have threatened or bombarded the ports of Theodosia [Feodosia, in modern Crimea] and Novorossiysk in the Black sea. It is necessary to wait for exact confirmation of what has occurred here, as well as to see what effect her action will have at Athens, and in Bucharest and Sofia.