As the nations of Europe were facing the outbreak of World War One, the German battle cruiser Goeben and her companion, the light cruiser Breslau, were chased through the Mediterranean between August 3 and August 10, 1914. Both ships made it to Constantinople, and they became the only modern units of the Turkish Navy. The ships remained crewed by German sailors and Admiral Souchon, the commander of the German ships, became Commander-in-Chief of the Turkish Navy. During the war, the two German vessels engaged the Imperial Russian Navy on several occasions and they also supported Turkish ground troops.
A mission to bomb the Goeben, or Yavuz Sultan Selim, as she was known in Turkish service, was conceived late in 1916 by Squadron Commander Kenneth A. Savory of the Royal Navy. A Handley Page O/100 heavy bomber was to be used, and initially a torpedo attack was considered, but as the planning proceeded it was decided to use 112lb bombs instead.
It was 2,000 miles from Manston in Kent to Moudros on the Greek island of Lemnos. There the bomber was to be armed and fly to Constantinople and Stenia Bay where the Goeben was anchored. Extensive preparations were required before undertaking the mission, the first intercontinental bombing mission in history, and on May 23 the aircraft took off. The crew was composed of Commander Savory, co-pilot Lieutenant McClellan, flight engineer Lieutenant Rawlings and two mechanics. The O/100 was loaded with spare parts, essentially enough to build another engine, as well as personal equipment and two propellers that were strapped to the side of the bomber.
Commander Savory and Lieutenant his crew finally took off on the first leg of their journey. Despite the 700-mile range of the O/100, the trip was divided into 200 mile segments, and the bomber flew from Hendon to Paris and through France down the Rhone Valley to Marseilles and then on to Pisa and Rome, where the crew was received a “very hearty welcome” from the Italian Air Staff. The flight then proceeded to Naples, Otranto and over the Adriatic to cross the Albanian mountain ranges before arriving at Salonica. The crew reported that they had been chased by hostile horsemen while crossing Albania, who apparently were hoping that the aircraft would be forced to land.
O/100 3124 reached Moudros at the end of the first week of June. The attack was scheduled for July 3, but the aircraft engines overheated and the mission had to be postponed until July 5. However, this time a burst tire forced the mission to be postponed yet again. Bad weather three days later caused another delay, but on July 9 the O/100 finally took off at 8.47pm, and it reached Constantinople just five minutes before midnight. Constantinople was apparently brilliantly illuminated, and the Goeben was easily spotted since it had all lights on and men walking the deck.
After flying parallel to the Goeben, and circling twice to determine the necessary data for bomb release, four bombs were dropped from a height of 800 feet. The first salvo missed the battle cruiser, but one or two submarines were supposedly hit. However, after circling around the target, the second salvo of four bombs scored a direct hit on the Goeben.The lights were instantly turned off, and the bomber flew off in the direction of the Golden Horn, dropping two bombs on the “General”, a converted liner that served as a headquarters for the German Imperial Staff supporting the Turkish forces. Savory then steered his bomber to the Turkish War Office and dropped his remaining two bombs at the building. He claimed to have hit the War Office with the aid of the light from the fire that his first bombs had caused. By then, the Turkish anti-aircraft defenses were fully alert and guns were opening fire at the O/100, and it was later on found that 26 bullets had penetrated the aircraft, with one bullet disabling one of the engines. The bomber spent in all 35 minutes over the target before returning to Moudros, and the mission was deemed a success. Commander Savory could add a Bar to his Distinguished Service Order.
The O/100 remained at Moudros after the mission, since there was a lack of spare parts, but it was used both for anti-submarine patrols and to bomb targets in both Adrianopolis and Panderma. On September 30 the aircraft took off to attack the railway station at Haydarpasa near Constantinople, but the O/100 was forced to do an emergency landing at sea due to a broken oilpipe. The three crewmen, Lieutenants Wise, Aird and Alcock were all taken prisoner. Lieutenant John Alcock would later achieve fame by crossing the Atlantic in a Vickers Vimy together with Arthur Whitten Brown.
O/100 No 3124 arriving back at Mudros after one of its bombing sorties over the Eastern Mediterranean in the summer of 1917.
Left: Flight-Commander Savory, D.S.O. and Bar, who took part in this raid, with his greyhound mascot. Right: Squadron-Commander Smyth-Piggot, D.S.O., with his mascot
A rather fanciful rendering in a 1918 issue of Flight illustrating Commander Savory’s bombing of the Goeben.
British Airmen Bomb the Cruiser Goeben. New Zealand Herald, Volume LIV, Issue 16590, July 13, 1917
British Bombs hit Turks’ Ships and War Office. The Chicago Tribune, July 12, 1917
London to Constantinople by Air. Flight, December 20, 1917
Turkish Fleet Bombed. Bendigo Advertiser, July 13, 1917