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H - 18 : Sinking a Warship with Oranges

Sailing from Alanya to Göcek in our second week will be a pleasurable and peaceful experience. Many people call this part of Anatolia the Turkish Côte d’Azur. The waters are turquoise, the breezes light and the forested coast lines beautiful. You would not believe that this part of Türkiye saw military action during the First World War and that two French and one English ship rest in 30 meters depth below the surface.

The Wreck of French Trawler Paris II rests 21 - 31m below Water on a sloping Sand Bank

At the outbreak of the war, Anatolia’s southern shores were quiet. The Ottoman Empire joined Germany and Austria in November 1914. For the rest of Europe, war had started three months earlier on 28 July 1914. The French and the English Fleet immediately blockaded the big Ottoman ports of Izmir, Alexandretta, Tripoli and Beirut but left the rest of the enemy coast unguarded. Soon, their focus shifted to Gallipoli where they tried to open the Straits, get to Istanbul and re-establish the link with allied Russia. By end of 1915 all attempts had failed. After heavy losses, the British and ANZAC troops were pulled back.

The Railway from Istanbul to Baghdad and Damascus was not completed in November 1914. The Taurus and Adana Mountains still needed to be crossed. Eventually, the Work was completed a Month before the End of the War - too late for the War Effort

The fighting shifted to Iraq and Palestine, where British troops rolled back the Ottoman armies. It was precisely this shift which brought the southern Anatolian coast into the cross hair of the French and the Royal Navy. With the Baghdad Railways not yet completed – the crossing of the Taurus mountains required the building of many bridges and tunnels – the the Ottoman troops in Iraq and in Palestine had to be supplied by sea. The ideal means of transport was the small Goulet, the slow and bulky freighter that could hug the coast thanks to its flat bottom. Today, Goulets are used for leisure. The large body provides ample space for big cabins with on-suite bathrooms. Back then, there was no luxury. A Goulet could sail at night and avoid interception. With a capacity of 200 – 300 tons, they were a formidable force in the Turkish logistics. Built locally there were literally hundreds.

Naval Patrol Sectors in the First World War. Anatolia & the Levant are in the French Sector

To cut this supply line, allied ships had to get closer to the shore. France assumed responsibility for the sector. The island of Kastellorizo was militarized; the port of Kas on the Turkish mainland occupied. Now, smaller French ships could operate closer to the shore and intercept the Turkish Goulets.

The French Patrol ship Paris II was a Trawler, 66 meter long and 14 m wide - about twice the Size of the Goulet Dragonfly on which we sail this summer

Where there is action, there is a re-action. The Ottoman army did – of course – not just watch how its vital supplies to the Middle East were stopped. It initiated counter measures. A battery of four 15.5 cm and twelve 7.7 cm guns was deployed behind the hills of Kas. On the 11th of January 1917, the guns opened fire. Within less than 20 min, the HMS Ben-My-Chree, was hit and set on fire. One of the Royal Navy’s few early carriers with six sea planes on board, had to be abandoned. Within less than five hours, the carrier listed and settled on the bottom of the port.

The Sea Plane Carrier HMS Ben-My-Chree burning in the Port of Kas before it capsized

The visible wreck stayed in Port Kas until 1920 when it was sold for scrap to Venice. Kastellorizo was now an Italian island . No lives were lost in the attack. The Royal Navy officers were nicely treated as Turkish prisoners of war. But the message was clear. Do not come too close to the shores otherwise land-based artillery will sink your ships.

Sketch made for Scuba Divers of the Wreck of Paris in 21 to 31 meter Depth

Almost a year later, on the 13th of December 1917, the French Patrol ship Paris II suffered a similar fate. It was patrolling close to the shore near Kemer and about 3 km out in the sea. Young Lieutenant Mustafa Ertugrul Aker who so successfully had sank HMS Ben-My-Cheer, had moved his guns on small mountain tracks to Kemer. Covering the 48 km of distance must have been back breaking for the Turkish troops.

The young and enterprising Turkish Lieutenant Aker sent with

his small Battery three Allied Warships to the Bottom of the Med

In the morning of 13 December 1917, when the Paris II showed up again, they were ready. It took not long for them to sink Paris II as well. The French Trawler was not the fastest ship. It had no chance to escape. Today, it rests in between 21- and 31-meters depth and is one of the attractive scuba diving sites in the region.

The Ship's Name Paris II is still clearly visible on the Wreck

It sister ship Alexandria did not much better. It stayed further away from the shore fearing Lieutenant Aker’s guns. But the entrepreneurial officer had an idea for a ruse. “Aker sent a small boat with two of his soldiers dressed like farmers on 8th of March 1918. They filled the boat with oranges, eggs and chicken, just as if they were going to the market. The Turks placed explosives under the oranges and booby trapped them  so as to detonate when the boxes were moved.”

The Sinking of the Alexandra, Sketch made by Lt Aker in 1934, 16 Years after the Event

When Alexandra, the French Patrol Boat, approached, the two soldiers abandoned ship and rowed in their small dingy back to the shore. The Turkish freighter with its oranges though was too tempting for the French. After staying at a safe distance for a few hours they came back in the afternoon, towed the Goulet to a safe distance from shore and started to unload the goods. That is when it blew up. Within seconds the Alexandra disappeared beneath the waves. A few sailors survived and swam to the shore where they were taken prisoners. Could not find out whether Alexandra's wreck was found as well. But given that it was the only ship ever being sunk by oranges, its place in history remains assured.

Kaş on the right and the Port of Kemer where Paris II and Alexandra were sank in the Middle

Despite the losses of these three ships, the French blockade was rather effective. The Ottoman supplies for their armies fighting in Iraq and Palestine slowed down to a trickle. But that was also true for the supply of food for the civilian population in the Levant who had experienced two failed harvests. The famous famine in Lebanon was also the result of the French blockade. 200'000 died. Civilians always pay the highest price unless protected. 




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