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Battle of Imbros 1918

20th January 1918 Battle of Imbros 1918  The Battle of Imbros was a naval action that took place during the First World War. The battle occurred on 20 January 1918 when an Ottoman 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 Ottoman battlecruiser Yavūz Sultān Selīm and light cruiser Midilli to sortie into the Mediterranean and attack the British monitors and destroyers at Imbros before assaulting the naval base at Mudros. Although the Ottoman 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 Yavūz Sultān Selīm heavily damaged. Although Yavūz Sultān Selīm managed to beach herself within the Dardanelles, she was subjected to days of air attacks until she was towed to safety. With the most modern cruiser of the Ottoman Navy sunk and her only battlecruiser out of action, the battle effectively curtailed the Ottoman Navy's offensive capability until the end of the war.


By January 1918, the situation for the Ottoman Army in Palestine had begun to falter. The new German commander of the Ottoman Black Sea fleet, Rebeur Paschwitz, decided to try to relieve Allied naval pressure on Palestine by making a sortie out of the Dardanelles. 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 an Ottoman raid. After raiding what shipping could be found at Imbros, Rebeur-Paschwitz would then turn to Mudros and attack the British naval base there. 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 pre-dreadnought 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 Ottomans decided to dispatch the battlecruiser Yavūz Sultān Selīm (ex-SMS Goeben) and the light cruiser Midilli (ex-SMS Breslau) to attack the area. 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. Agamemnon was nearby at Mudros, but she was much too slow to chase down the Ottoman ships if they wanted to avoid engaging her. Without the Agamemnon and Lord Nelson the British were severely undergunned in comparison to the Ottoman 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. 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 pounder 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 an Ottoman raid. In contrast to the British force, the Ottoman vessels were both fast and heavily armed. Midilli sported eight 150 mm cannons, 120 mines, two torpedo tubes, and a top speed of 25 knots. Yavūz Sultān Selīm was the most powerful ship in the Ottoman fleet with a top speed of 25.5 knots, ten 283 mm guns, twelve 150 mm guns, a dozen 8.8-centimetre guns and four torpedo tubes. Thus, with no heavy units available to repel them, there was little in the means of effective Allied opposition when the Ottomans set out on their mission.


Setting out towards Imbros, the Yavūz Sultān Selīm struck a mine on transit to the island, but the damage was insignificant and the two Ottoman vessels were able to continue their mission. Yavūz Sultān Selīm then proceeded to bombard the British signal station at Kephalo Point while the Midilli was sent ahead to guard the entrance of Kusu Bay. As the Yavūz Sultān Selīm and Midilli approached Kusu Bay, they were sighted by the destroyer HMS Lizard at 0530. The Lizard attempted to engage the Ottoman ships, but could not close to torpedo range due to heavy fire from her opponents. The Yavūz Sultān Selīm soon sighted the two British monitors taking refuge in the bay and broke off from Lizard to engage them. As Yavūz Sultān Selīm attacked the monitors, Midilli continued to duel with Lizard who was then joined by the destroyer HMS Tigress. Lizard and Tigress attempted to shield the monitors from Yavūz Sultān Selīm by laying a smoke screen, but this was ineffective. The monitors were both much too slow to evade Yavūz Sultān Selīm and she was able to score numerous hits on the Raglan, hitting her foretop and killing her gunnery and direction officers. The Raglan attempted to return fire with its 6 and 14 inch guns, but scored no hits on the German vessels before her main armament was knocked out when a shell pierced its casemate and ignited the ammunition within it. Shortly after she was disarmed, the Raglan was hit in her magazine by one of Goeben's 11 inch shells causing the monitor to sink. 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 when her magazine exploded at 0600. With the two monitors sunk, the Ottomans decided to break off the engagement and head south in an attempt to raid the allied naval base at Mudros. Upon withdrawing from Kusu Bay, the Ottoman force accidentally sailed into a minefield and were shadowed by the two British destroyers they had previously engaged. In addition to the destroyers, several British and Greek aircraft were launched from Mudros to engage the Germans. In the meantime, Greek ace Aristeidis Moraitinis, managed to shoot down three enemy seaplanes with his Sopwith Camel. With the approach of enemy aircraft the Midilli, which had been following the Yavūz Sultān Selīm, took the lead so as to take advantage of her heavier anti-aircraft armament. Midilli then struck a mine near her aft funnel and shortly afterwards Yavūz Sultān Selīm hit one as well. Within half an hour the Midilli had struck four more mines and began to sink. The Yavūz Sultān Selīm attempted to rescue the Midilli but also struck a mine and was forced to withdraw. Fleeing towards the safety of the Dardanelles, Yavūz Sultān Selīm was pursued by Lizard and Tigress. In order to cover the Yavūz Sultān Selīm four Ottoman destroyers and an old cruiser rushed out to engage the British destroyers. After the lead Ottoman destroyer began to take hits, the Ottoman squadron was forced to withdraw back up the Dardanelles. As the British destroyers approached Cape Helles, they were fired upon by Ottoman shore batteries and withdrew. In addition to the Lizard and Tigress, a dozen British seaplanes from Ark Royal were launched to finish off the Yavūz Sultān Selīm. Although they managed to score two hits against the battlecruiser, the Ottoman ship was by this time near the coast. The combined efforts from ten Ottoman seaplanes as well as heavy anti-aircraft fire were able to drive off the air attacks, downing one Sopwith Baby and damaging another aircraft. The four Ottoman destroyers returned and guarded the Yavūz Sultān Selīm as she sailed up the Dardnelles. Severely damaged, the Ottoman 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. Ottoman seaplanes and heavy shore batteries responded to the raids and were able to guard the Yavūz Sultān Selīm and beat back the air attacks. Despite the air raids, the Yavūz Sultān Selīm suffered only superficial damage from them as the 65-pound bombs used by the British were too small to be effective. 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.


With no way to free herself, the Yavūz Sultān Selīm remained stranded on the sandbar until 26 January when the Turgut Reis 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 Yavūz Sultān Selīm had already left the area and so E14 began sailing back to Allied waters after discovering the battlecruiser's absence. Sighting an Ottoman freighter, the British submarine attempted to engage her with torpedoes. The second torpedo fired exploded prematurely. 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 Ottoman shore batteries and was eventually beached with her commander, Geoffrey Saxton White, and another sailor killed and seven captured. White was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his efforts to beach the submarine and save its crew. Although the Ottoman 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 Yavūz Sultān Selīm 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 Ottoman battle line, the commanders of the British Aegean Squadron were still criticized for having dispatched both of their heavy units too far from the Dardanelles to engage the Ottomans. If the Agamemnon or Lord Nelson had been at their posts during the Ottoman raid, the Yavūz Sultān Selīm might have been destroyed, eliminating her threat once and for all rather than having her escape.

John Doran

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