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Tales of the Sea: Goeben, Part VII

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Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

TCG Yavuz resumed her duty as the flagship of the Turkish Navy in 1930. Much had changed since she was last operational, however. The German Empire had vanished, and the High Seas Fleet lay at the bottom in the British naval base of Scapa Flow. Yavuz was the last remaining German-built capital ship. Technology had also moved forward, as the newest battleships operated by Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom displaced nearly twice the tonnage of Yavuz and carried 16″ guns. The disastrous British experience at Jutland had brought the entire concept of the battlecruiser into question, leaving Yavuz a bit of an anachronism.

In order to forestall a new naval race, the great powers had signed the Washington Naval Treaty in 1922. This treaty limited the fleets of the world, and mandated the destruction of many older battleships. The Royal Navy alone scrapped over twenty older battleships. No new construction battleship construction (with a couple of exceptions) was to be allowed for 10 years, and replacement of old capital ships was allowed after 20 years of service. The great fleets envisioned by Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom remained on the drawing board, and the taxpayers of the world breathed a sigh of relief. The impact of the Treaty has been much debated, with naval enthusiasts and arms control opponents sneering at its failure to prevent the Second World War. On the other hand, the Treaty surely limited the size of the major navies, saving a lot of money that would have been spent on soon-to-be obsolete battleships. A second Treaty in 1930 further reduced the size of the great navies, leaving the USN and RN with 15 battleships, and the IJN with 9.

None of this particularly affected the status of Yavuz. The Greek Navy operated Kilkis and Lemnos, two old American pre-dreadnoughts, that were no match for the Turkish battlecruiser either alone or in tandem. Yavuz could not claim similar superiority over the Russian Navy in the Black Sea, as the battleship Parizhya Kommuna had arrived in early 1930. Nevertheless, Yavuz gave the Turks rough equality with the Russians. In 1936 Yavuz led a Turkish naval squadron to Malta, an event that helped re-inagurate Anglo-Turkish friendship. This meant that the Turks had little to fear from the far larger Italian Navy.

Yavuz’ obsolencence was confirmed in May 1937 with the commissioning of the French battleship Dunkerque. Dunkerque was the first fast battleship, a new type which closed the space between battleship and battlecruiser. Advances in propulsion and hull technology had allowed naval architects to largely solve the speed vs. armor dilemma. Dunkerque could make 31 knots, faster than any battlecruiser in the world, but had as much armor as a World War I super-dreadnought and a respectable armament. Dunkerque and her kin, under construction in Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union, were fast enough to catch Yavuz and powerful enough to kill her.

At 9:05am on November 10, 1938, Ataturk died of cirrhosis of the liver. General stress and a lifetime of heavy drinking had taken their toll. TCG Yavuz bore Ataturk’s body to its final resting place. One of Ataturk’s legacies was a preference for a modest foreign policy, and suspicion of the fascist movements in Italy and Germany. Nevertheless, Turkey remained neutral during World War II until February 1945. Even then, the declaration of war against Germany and Japan had no effect other than to secure Turkey’s position in the United Nations. Bulgaria and Rumania had already left the war, securing the Black Sea, and the rump fascist Italian state no longer possessed a navy in the Mediterranean. TCG Yavuz thus engaged in no combat missions during World War II.

At the end of World War II, most of the navies of the world decommissioned their old battleships. The oldest Royal Navy ships were sent to the scrapyard by 1949. The United States either sank or scrapped its most elderly ships. Yavuz became part of an odd sorority of ancient battleships possessed by second rate navies. Yavuz’ new “sisters” included the Soviet Novorossiysk, the Argentine Rivadavia, the Brazilian Sao Paulo, and the Chilean Almirante Latorre. Even among these Yavuz was an anachronism, as she was the only one to have coal propulsion rather than oil. Nevertheless, Yavuz would remain the flagship of the Turkish Navy as Turkey joined the NATO alliance in 1952.

To be continued…

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