‘A Test of Support’: British Policy Towards the Ottoman Empire, 1913–1914

  • Justin Quinn OlmsteadEmail author
Part of the Britain and the World book series (BAW)


When considering British foreign policy at the beginning of the First World War, it is only on rare occasions that the Ottoman Empire comes to mind. Even more uncommon, is the idea that the events that led to the Ottoman’s joining the Central Powers resulted from policies developed under British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey’s Russia policy (began in 1905) and the machinations of First Sea Lord Winston Churchill. Grey’s belief that the Anglo-Russian Entente served as the cornerstone of his foreign relations pushed him to place peace with Russia above allegiances to Ottoman integrity, changing the decade’s old position of maintaining the Ottoman Empire as ‘an independent and vigorous’ power. Significantly, Churchill’s seemingly unrelated decision to withhold delivery of the dreadnoughts Reshadieh and Sultan Osman I in the early days of the First World War must be included among the insults that drove the Ottomans into the arms of the Triple Alliance. Internal issues such as the financial concerns, or capitulations, certainly played a role in stirring the masses toward anti-British, French, and Russian feelings. It is also certain that the age-old rivalry between Russia and the Ottomans for control of the Bosporus Straits was a major factor in Ottoman decision making. The effects of both are not in question here. What this paper argues is that the final decision to join the Central Powers resulted from the British Foreign Office’s Russia policy, and the neglect that came from it. It will also argue that Churchill’s decision to withhold the dreadnoughts sufficiently outraged Turkish leaders to leave neutrality behind.



I want to thank the Office of Research & Sponsored Programs at the University of Central Oklahoma for the grant that helped fund this research. I also need to thank my two Research Assistants Peter Sheetz and Olivia Hewitt for their hard work and time.


Primary Sources

  1. The National Archives of the UK (TNA).Google Scholar
  2. ADM 137/800.Google Scholar
  3. ADM 137/880.Google Scholar
  4. FO 371/1847.Google Scholar
  5. FO 371/2137.Google Scholar
  6. FO 371/2138, Turkey (War) 1914.Google Scholar
  7. FO 27117/13/44.Google Scholar

Secondary Sources

  1. Charmley, John. Splendid Isolation? Britain and the Balance of Power, 1874–1914. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1999.Google Scholar
  2. Cunningham, Allan. ‘The Wrong Horse: A Study of Anglo-Turkish Relations Before the First World War.’ Middle Eastern Affairs, St. Antony’s Papers. Oxford, 1965.Google Scholar
  3. Epkenhans, Michael. ‘The Global War at Sea, 1914–1918.’ In World War I Companion, edited by Matthias Strohn. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2013.Google Scholar
  4. Fromkin, David. A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1989.Google Scholar
  5. Gilbert, Martin. Winston S. Churchill: Companion Volume III, Part 1, July 1914–April 1915. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1973.Google Scholar
  6. Gooch, G.P., and Temperley, Harold, eds. British Documents on the Origins of the War of 1914. Vol. 10. London: HMSO, 1926–1938.Google Scholar
  7. ———. Documents on the Origins of the War, 1898–1914. Vol. X: The Near and Middle East on the Eve of War. London: HMSO, 1931.Google Scholar
  8. Jackh, Ernest. The Rising Crescent: Turkey Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. New York: Farrar & Rinehart, Inc., 1944.Google Scholar
  9. Joseph Heller, Joseph. British Policy Toward the Ottoman Empire, 1908–1914. London: Frank Cass and Company, 1983.Google Scholar
  10. Lambert, Nicholas A. Planning Armageddon: British Economic Warfare and the First World War. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012.Google Scholar
  11. Lowe, C.J., and Dockrill, M.L. The Mirage of Power: British Foreign Policy, 1902–14. Vol. I. London: Routledge, 1972.Google Scholar
  12. McMeekin, Sean. The Russian Origins of the First World War. Cambridge: The Belknap Press, 2011.Google Scholar
  13. ———. The Ottoman Endgame: War, Revolution, and the Making of the Modern Middle East, 1908–1923. New York: Penguin Press, 2015.Google Scholar
  14. Ozmen, Taner. British Policy Towards the Ottoman Empire on the Eve of the First World War (1910–1914). Taner Ozmen, Amazon Digital Services, 2014.Google Scholar
  15. Pasha, Ahmed Djemal. Memories of a Turkish Statesman: 1913–1919. New York: George H. Doran, 1922.Google Scholar
  16. Seligmann, Matthew S. ‘Keeping the Germans Out of the Straits: The Five Ottoman Dreadnought Thesis Reconsidered.’ War In History, 23, no. I (2016): 20–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Siegel, Jennifer. Endgame: Britain, Russia and the Final Struggle for Central Asia. London: I.B. Tauris, 2002.Google Scholar
  18. Wilson, Keith. Sir Edward Grey and the Outbreak of the First World War. Conference Organized by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the London School of Economics, 7 November 2014.
  19. Wilson, Keith M. The Policy of the Entente: Essays on the Determinants of British Foreign Policy, 1904–1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.Google Scholar
  20. Zeman, Z.A.B. The Gentlemen Negotiators: A Diplomatic History of World War I. New York: Macmillan, 1971.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of History and Geography, College of Liberal ArtsUniversity of Central OklahomaEdmondUSA

Personalised recommendations