Minelayer Nusret
Deadliest Warship in the Ottoman Fleet (1913)

NUSRET at sea, c. 1916

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Having a purpose-built minelayer was something of a luxury in 1913, especially for a relatively impoverished navy like Turkey's. For the Ottomans, 1914 was the threadbare end of a prolonged period of decline; the end of nearly half a century of naval decay relieved by few moments of hope. More often minelayers were conversions of ships originally built for other purposes, as were the six auxiliary minelayers made from old TBs, tugs, and what-not in the Ottoman fleet during the War. But a capacious, purpose-made ship like Nusret helped to sell the Young Turks' government on mines as a defensive weapon. Mines of the sort most commonly used -- contact mines moored to float just below the surface -- were inexpensive to produce, relatively easy to deploy -- and deadly. This made them a classic underdog weapon. The Ottoman navy used many thousands of them to keep the Allies out of the Dardanelles and away from Istanbul. At this they proved very successful, with the exception of submarines. Raiding the Bosporus and Marmara at will, British and Australian submarines were a constant source of worry for the German-dominated Ottoman military; but Allied cruisers and battleships never once penetrated the Narrows in the four years of war.


Plans & Specifications

Plan of the minelayer NUSRET

Specifications for the Nusret:
Dimensions: 136'10" (PP) x 22' x 8'6"   Displacement: 365 tons. Armament: 1913 - (2) 47 mm QF and 40 mines; 1927 - (2) 57 mm QF and 60 mines. Fuel capacity: 200 tons of coal. Propulsion: 4 coal-fired Germania water-tube boilers; (2) Germania vertical inverted triple-expansion engines developing 1,200 ihp, shafted to twin screw. Speed: 15 kts trials, 12 kts 1914. Crew: 37 (1914).

Metric specifications:
Dimensions: 40.2m (PP) x 7.5m x 3.4m   Displacement: 365 tons. Armament: 1913 - (2) 47 mm QF and 40 mines; 1927 - (2) 57 mm QF and 60 mines. Fuel capacity: 200 tons of coal. Propulsion: 4 Germania water-tube boilers; (2) Germania vertical inverted triple-expansion engines developing 895 kW, shafted to twin screw. Speed: 27.8 km/hr trials, 22.2 km/hr 1914. Crew: 37 (1914).

*The ship was rebuilt post-1957 as a diesel-powered coastal freighter under the name Nushat Kaptan.

Ship's History

Also known as Nusrat, Nusret is a 360-ton Turkish minelayer, a hero of WWI, still extant as a museum ship in the port of Tarsus. She first joined the Ottoman navy in 1913 and served until 1957, and worked as a coastal freighter for another 25 years. The ship was launched December 4, 1911 from the ways of Schiff & Maschinenbau AG at Kiel, Germany. This yard was a division of the Krupp arms conglomerate, whose Germaniawerft had built a goodly percentage of the Turkish fleet over the preceding 30 years (and a fair portion of the much bigger German fleet, from torpedo boats to battleships, as well). After traveling out under her own power, Nusret was commissioned in the Ottoman navy in 1913 and remained active ctontinuously through the 1950s, with periodic refits. In the course of her long career, she was used as a survey ship, a training ship and a tug, as well as purveying the dark art for which she was designed.

Soon after Turkey threw in her lot with the Central Powers, her German military advisors started improving the defenses of the Dardanelles, under the gimlet eye of Marshal Liman von Sanders. On the land, modern guns were mounted in the casemates of the ancient forts; mobile batteries of modern howitzers were brought in; and crack German gunners manned the fortifications. To make these forts unapproachable, elaborate minefields were laid up to the Narrows: work for the Nusret. Booms and obstructions were also rigged to inhibit navigation. Swept channels allowed friendly commerce and Turkish naval craft to ply the Straits.

It was not long before the enemy approached to force those Straits and sail into Istanbul in force. An initial bombardment toook place on Feb. 26, 1915, and was returned by hot fire from the inner forts at the Narrows. Shooting at extreme range, the pre-dreadnought battleships of Adm. Carden's fleet did little vital damage. Repeated efforts to sweep the mines were aborted when searchlights illuminated the trawlermen so engaged and hot fire from German gunners in the forts followed the stabbing beams of light. The British commander retired to face a tongue-lashing from Churchill and to endure a nervous breakdown. With full support from the Admiralty Carden's successor, Adm. John de Robeck, gathered an overwhelming armada of 18 battleships, four of them among the best modern gunships in the British fleet. Those four were to lead fourteen obsolete pre-dreadnoughts. The "show" was calendared for March 18, 1915. At the end of that day, although severe punishment was meted out to the Turkish forts -- which had little ammunition left --, the Allies turned away in dismay, and did not promptly renew the attack.

                     

Chart of 3-18-1915 assault on Narrows forts
Chart by David Lindroth, from Robert K. Massie, Castles of Steel (Presidio, 2003), 459.

What made this overwhelming force retreat? It was the horror of mine warfare. The night before the attack, with searchlights from the enemy fleet probing for their boat, Lt. Tophaneli Hakki brought Nusret out to lay a fresh field of 26 mines along the Asiatic shore of Erin Keul Bay. This deposit remained undetected by the Allies. De Robeck seems to have been negligent in the removal of mines. A rather slapdash minesweeping operation was conducted the morning of the March 18 bombardment, as before using North Sea fishermen working under contract. Not surprisingly, these civilians scurried for safety when bullets started whizzing over their heads; their job only half done. A path 900 yards wide had been swept for the ships to go in, but the sides had not been evaluated. In light of later events, it was folly to go in without a careful check of the waters to be navigated; but, as on the Western Front, schedules had to be maintained. So the show went on. At 0930 the flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth advanced majestically up the Dardanelles, flanked by the dreadnought battlecruiser Inflexible and the heavy semi-dreadnought battleships Agamemnon and Lord Nelson. The guns roared and the sun beamed down. All seemed to be going like clockwork -- at first.

As the mighty cannonade continued, the first to fall afoul of the Nusret's bitter seed was the French battleship Bouvet (above). While on the firing line she took a hammering from the forts, putting her forward turret out of commission. Then when she went about to return to the rear of the formation after her turn was up, a tremendous explosion rocked the ship and smoke poured from her midsection. The Bouvet immediately capsized and sank into the sparkling waters of the bay, taking down her captain and 639 crewmen. Heeding their officers' calls of "Save yourselves," 66 crewmen scrambled over the hull and the turn of the bilges as their ship sank from under them. They were the only ones saved. Aboard a nearby ship, a photographer recording the tragedy barely had time to change his film between shots, and his subject was gone, leaving a heavy pall of smoke and a restlessly heaving surface where she had disappeared, still driving through the water at some 12 knots.

Then the British pre-dreadnoughts Irresistible (left) and Ocean hit mines and gradually sank, drifting under the guns or going aground. These taking some hours to fill, were abandoned by their crews with light casualties. Meanwhile, the British dreadnought battlecruiser Inflexible was badly damaged by mines laid by Nusret, sinking by the head. The French battleship Suffren also suffered mine contact and flooding; her squadron-mate the Gaulois, although unaffected by mines, was disabled by accurate fire from the forts, receving a large-calibre direct hit in the bows under water. Although all three of these ships remained afloat, their damage demanded an urgent trip to the dockyard. The Allies seem to have been taken by surprise, not realizing the explosions were mines, attributing the losses to torpedoes combined with shell hits. To mariners steeped in the cult of the battleship, the morning's proceedings were unnerving. The horror of seing the Bouvet sink with all hands spooked them; the continuing toll of the mines, putting nearly one-third of their force out of action, was cause for concern -- to some, perhaps, cause for panic. Did the Turks have some secret weapon? Had they but known, resistance in the Narrows forts hung by a thread that night. After prolonged deliberation and consultation with London, it was decided to hold off further bombardment and launch a land invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula. Collecting the men and resources for such a huge undertaking took several months, and the element of surprise was completely lost. The interval also gave the Germans and Turks time to repair the Dardanelles forts and make them impregnable once more.

But this webpage is not the place to re-fight the Gallipoli campaign. The word Gallipoli is rightly synonymous with fiasco; the casualty figures are given on our Ottoman Navy front page; those interested will find there are more blogs and webpages on the subject than the BP oil spill. We can answer one question raised by the March 18 disaster, though: why were the Allied warships so vulnerable to mines? Did we not read of their underwater protection in all the statistics and specifications?

German mine floatingThe answer lies in one of the main mechanisms of waterproof compartmentation used in the Victorian and Edwardian navies: the longitudinal bulkhead. Most ships of this vintage in the British and French navies relied on a watertight divider that ran down the ship's keel. The side-to-side, or lateral, bulkheads were insufficiently close together. This made for a ship that was easier to work -- less climbing over bulkheads to get from compartment to compartment. However, the compartments were too large to contain flooding effectively. Stopped from sloshing across the ship's bottom by the longitudinal bulkhead, water admitted by mines pooled on the low side of the ship, increasing the list and making the ship prone to capsize. It should be noted that only the Bouvet succumbed to what was undoubtedly catastrophic damage, most likely the detonation of one of her 10.8" magazines; the other vessels affected gradually flooded and settled. Had it not been for the tricky shallows and harrassing fire from the Turks, it is possible the Ocean and Irresistable could have been got out of harm's way and salvaged. However, these were older and low-value ships, as was acknowledged at the outset of the mission. The same pattern of flooding-and-capsize took three more British pre-dreadnoughts torpedoed in the Gallipoli campaign: Goliath, Majestic, and Triumph. Moreover, the same phenomenon could be observed in the sinking of the passenger liner Lusitania, whose watertight subdivision followed naval practice, though the big Cunarder was arguably the highest-value vessel on the high seas at the time of her loss.

Then-First Lord Winston Churchill is on record as being quite upset that de Robeck did not press his attack, even at the cost of a few more pre-dreadnoughts. Knowing what we now know of conditions in the Narrows forts after the March 18 bombardment, we can see that Churchill was right. Whether the fleet alone could have stood off the Yavuz and held down Istanbul is problematic; but since it didn't happen that way, we will leave that problem to the war-gamers. Certain it is that the great bombardment at Çanakkale provided a loud wake-up call to the Osmanli government and armed forces that foreign invasion was imminent. Forces were available to be rushed to the scene when the Allied invasion force stormed the beaches of Gallipoli, and the British Empire troops soon found their advance bitterly contested by a skillful and determined army.

Nusret lived on to mine the Black Sea and Bosporus, causing ever more casualties, and no doubt some unintended damage to friendly shipping. At the 1923 foundation of the Turkish Republic, she was still in active service. Your Armchair Admiral has not come across any information about her activities during he Greek invasion of 1919 and the subsequent War of Turkish Independence; given her previous record, one would suppose she was in the thick of the fighting. Nusret served as a minelayer, training ship, survey vessel, and tug at need over the following 3½ decades. She was renamed Yardim briefly in 1936-37. She was decommissioned for he last time on the June 16, 1957 and became a diesel-powered commercial cargo boat. Worn out from long years of hard use, she sank in port at Mersin, Turkey in 1989.

Stern quarter view of the MIDILLI, filled with minesHer great success at the Dardanelles being much celebrated in Turkey, the ship has an iconic presence there comparable to that of the Constitution in the U.S. or HMS Victory in Britain. Her contribution was hailed by everyone from Atatürk, who first achieved prominence as the Turkish commander at Gallipoli, to Winston Churchill, architect of the Gallipoli disaster. Money was raised to restore the rusted relic. In the last decade she has been reconstructed in her original form and is now a museum ship at Tarsus. A replica, also named Nusret, is displayed in the Çanakkale Naval Museum, right on the shore of the Narrows of the Dardanelles. Alongside the ship are replicas of the types of mines that she laid in World War I. Why two ships? The replica at the Dardanelles was built many years ago, when the original ship was not available, being a rusted-out and sometimes sunken wreck at Mersin. Having been created as an exhibt of the Çanakkale Naval Museum, adjacent to the Gallipoli battlegrounds, the replica makes a perfect adjunct to the exhibits at the museum and is squarely in the path of Gallipoli buffs and tourists. And the restored original now brings patriots and tourists alike to Tarsus, the next town over from Mersin, which was long her home port in her civilian career.


Seeds of Death

                     

Profile of BENEDETTO BRIN
An Italian minelayer, stocked with two rails of mines, ready to roll off the taffrail.
Hertz horns are visible on the nearest mine on left.

Profile of BENEDETTO BRIN
Stern view of of the Nusret during installation at Tarsus, showing parallel mine-launching tracks on the ramp at stern.


The Failed Attack on the Narrows - March 18, 1915
A Gallery of Nusret's Victims

Profile of BENEDETTO BRIN
Part of the Allied armada steaming in to the attack. Click here for enlarged panorama.

Bombardment of the Dardanelles, 3/18/1915
Eyewitness illustration of the bombardment, reproduced in a German magazine.

Profile of BENEDETTO BRIN

The French battleship Bouvet (commissioned 1898) was considered a crack ship in her day. She carried two 12" in single turrets and two 10.8" in beam turrets. The starboard 10.8" is trained forward here, a detail better seen in our enlarged view. Ship's history

French battleships bombard the Dardanelles forts, 3/18/1915
French battleships Bouvet (left) and Suffren in action with the forts.

BOUVET smoking, sinking
First victim: the Bouvet rolls over, smoke pouring from her wounds. She sank with 640 hands in less than a minute.

Quarter view of HMS INFLEXIBLE

HMS Inflexible was the second most valuable ship in the Allied fleet, after the flagship Queen Elizabeth. One of the prototype class of battlecruisers, she mounted eight 12" guns in four turrets and could make 28 knots under ideal conditions. Before her participation in the Narrows attack, she had been in the failed chase of the Goeben and Breslau and fought at the Battle of the Falklands.

Stern quarter view of the REGINA MARGHERITA

HMS Inflexible bombarding the batteries before hitting a mine that caused dangerous flooding forward, seen in a canvas by Montague Dawson that captures the scope of the action. When Inflexible succeeded in leaving the scene, she was so far down by the head that waves were nearly lapping over the forecastle. The ship had to crawl to Malta under tow, with double-shored bulkheads below decks, after tussling with Nusret's deadly cargo. The damaged French battleship Suffren and a flotilla of destroyers kept her company on the hazardous trip.

HMS IRRESISTIBLE sinking, 3/18/1915
HMS Irresistible settling in the water after her crew had been taken off. Shot from HMS Lord Nelson.

Quarter view of HMS IRRESISTIBLE
HMS Irresistible was a Formidable class battleship; seen here at Genoa in 1905.

Bow view of HMS OCEAN

HMS Ocean in happier days. She was sent in to retrieve the Irresistible but ran agound and then hit a mine herself. Ship was evacuated without significant casualties. She was a Canopus class battleship with many sisters in the operation.

Bow view of HMS OCEAN

The French battleship Suffren was twice holed by mines and had to be withdrawn from combat for urgent repairs. She traveled in company with the Inflexible to receive the tender ministrations of the Royal Dockyard at Malta. After a stint on the Aegean/Macedonian beat, she was returning unaccompanied for a refit at Nantes when a German U-boat torpedoed her on November 26, 1916 off Lisbon. The torpedo touched off a magazine explosion on the battleship, which disintegrated in an instant. All hands were lost.

Bow view of HMS OCEAN

The French battleship Gaulois was not hurt by mines but retreated to Rabbit Island in sinking condition after Turkish artillery scored a direct hit on her forward hull below the waterline. She too was withdrawn from combat for urgent repairs. A Charlemagne class battleship, commissioned in 1899, she later returned to the fight, only to be torpedoed by the UB-47 in the Aegean on December 27, 1916. Only four crewmen were killed, and no one was killed on the attacking sub, which escaped unscathed despite a determined attack from Gaulois' escort.


Nusret Today: Homage to a Mighty Effective Warship

NUSRET in poor repari after sinking at Mersin, Turkey

Nusret as she appeared for many years, stationary at Mersin. Rebuilt with diesel engines and bridge aft, she had a second career as a coastal freighter. Renamed Nushat Kaptan, she sank at Mersin in 1989 while setting out for Cyprus. After a decade on the harbor bottom, she was raised preparatory to scrapping. But she was saved at the eleventh hour, purchased by the Municipality of Tarsus to be restored as a war memorial. Her hull was cut into three pieces, trucked 16.8 miles (27 km) to Tarsus, restored to near-original condition, and reassembled in her permanent berth at Çanakkale Park. As the mayor said at her dedication ceremony in 2003, she was a "prod to his conscience" every time he passed by and noted her shabby condition. Now that fault has been remedied with a handsome display and historical exhibit honoring the ship's fascinating past.

                     

NUSRET at Tarsus - Bow view
The lone survivor of Gallipoli: Nusret today at Tarsus.

Profile of NUSRET Replica at Chanakkale

The Nusret replica has great placement, right on the Dardanelles. Çanakkale fort in background.

NUSRET Replica at Chanakkale
The Nusret replica at Çanakkale Naval Museum.

                     


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