7. Long Island

Port Iero and its narrow, winding entrance  

“Grant is running a capital ‘strafe’ at Smyrna and it seems quite clear the Turk is afraid of an attack & sending more troops there.”
Vice Admiral de Robeck to Vice Admiral Limpus 16 February, 1916

“A blow hurled at Smyrna would be felt on the Bosphorus, and The Turks could not allow to let this vilayet suffer. That is always the danger of an empire, or territory situated at a distance: the invitation to attack, and the need in turn for succour, combine to create an inevitable anxiety.”
E.Keble Chatterton, The Dardanelles Dilemma

Before the fairway was obstructed by minefields, a ship bound for Smyrna first traversed the Gulf, entering between mountainous capes and then steering South by East, leaving on the starboard hand the rugged terrain of the Kara Burnu peninsula and, on the port side, a landscape which changed slowly from rocky hills to low lying marshes. Halfway down the Gulf lay Long Island (also known as Chustan), 6 miles in length and 2 ½ miles across at the broadest point, which could be passed on either side before course was altered to the eastward to follow a narrowing dogleg channel, bounded on the southern shore by fertile, wooded and vine covered slopes and on the northern flank by flat, wheat growing lands which often flooded in winter. Standing well to the south of the channel to avoid Pelican Point, the ship rounded Yeni Kale to bring the domes and minarets of Smyrna into view, although there was still 6 miles of 40 mile long passage to be completed before the harbour of this populous and prosperous city was reached.

It was from a position close to Pelican Point that Admiral Peirse had conducted his unsuccessful bombardment of the defences gathered around Yeni Kale in March, 1915, and here too that Gazelle had laid a line of mines (see Chapter Six). In June the French ship Casabianca blew up attempting to lay a minefield to northward, her work being taken up by Gazelle who put down mines abreast of Long Island on either side, fields which were strengthened and extended by Latona in September. With the blockade enforced, the ship assigned to Captain Grant to C Patrol covered the 125 mile wide entrance to the Gulf of Smyrna and the stretch of water southward as far as the Long Island minefields barrier. These underwater defences, however, did not deter Commander Morton Smart and his little flotilla of shallow draft craft, and in early September, 1915, he was sent to Chustan to establish a base at the village of Nikola on the sourthern shore, using abandoned houses as stores and barracks. The gunboats and motor yachts – California, Mary Rose, Anzac, Penelope – were very active, capturing blockade running caiques by day, or driving them back to shore, and ranging far afield at night, running down to Pelican Point or the Gulf of Gul-Baghche, in search of those elusive submarines and the Thorneycroft built Turkish gunboat, identical to those under Morton Smart's command, which skulked in Smyrna harbour but was reputed to make occasional forays into open water. With a British presence established on shore, Long Island became a magnet attracting refugees of many nationalities, and the motor boat flotilla was kept extremely busy collecting these unfortunates (perhaps 5,000 in all) and conveying them to Nikola from where, after interrogation, they were taken to Port Iero. Long Island, like Aivali, became a centre for intelligence gathering and Vice Consul Heathcote-Smith, and his assistants, were often in these waters (on one occasion being transported from Port Iero by M30) despatching and receiving the agents who roamed Asia Minor.

The overthrow of the Allies at Gallipoli not only diminished their prestige throughout the Middle East but, more importantly, released the Turkish Vth.Army for destructive service elsewhere. The Commander in Chief of the Eastern Mediterranean Squadron has been criticised for his cautious handling of the naval forces in the Dardanelles,but he was of a combative nature – “I always try to impress on my fellows that they must be at the Turk every day “ he wrote to Vice Admiral Limpus (1) – and when, after weeks of vacillation, the decision was taken in London on 8 December to evacuate the Gallipoli peninsula, an alternative naval strategy was developed:

“to contain as many of the enemy’s military forces in the vicinity of Smyrna as possible, while the main operations of the campaign were in progress in Salonica and Egypt.” (2)

The new plan envisaged that heavy bombardments of the Smyrna defences would be carried out by ships stationed in the Gulf which would, by their severity, convince the enemy that they heralded a military landing, so compelling the Turks to maintain substantial shore based forces in the region: Long Island was to be at the heart of the scheme and the Smyrna Patrol the means by which it was carried out.

There were to be no half measures taken in relation to the onslaught which was to be unleashed, and Captain Grant, egged on by his Commander in Chief and the staff at Mudros, made meticulous plans for the conduct of the bombardments, which were scheduled to begin on 8 February, 1916. As 1915 turned into 1916, and the date set for the opening bombardment approached, the various elements of the overall plan began to come together.

At the time the deception scheme was conceived, the only specialised coastal bombardment vessels serving with the Smyrna Patrol were M30 and M22, but it was obvious that, if the Turks were to be persuaded that a real threat was being presented to their highly valued and mystical city, then additional fire power was required. With the evacuation of the Gallipoli peninsula completed it was possible to release monitors from their fire support role in that theatre to strengthen Captain Grant’s force and so, on 15 January, the monstrous Raglan arrived in Port Iero, to be joined 5 days later by her sister ship Roberts, each of these vessels displacing 6,150 tons and carrying 2 14” guns. When M32 and M16 joined the Patrol on 22 January, Captain Grant had under his command a monitor force mounting a total of 4 14”, 2 9.2” and 4 6” guns with which to hammer the enemy, although, disappointingly, Roberts was ordered away before the planned operation began.

The minefields around Long Island had been laid to prevent enemy submarines using Smyrna as a base, but, with naval operations about to take place in the Gulf, they would also serve to protect the bombarding force from underwater attack from seaward. However, if British ships were to roam freely south of Chustan, then a passage had to be made through the mines and, accordingly, on 11 January, the trawler T326 was sent from Port Iero to sweep a narrow path to the east of Long Island, a task which she completed in 5 days, assisted, according to Keble Chatterton, by Morton Smart’s motor boats which, having located a mine, “then drop a gun cotton over the top and light the attached fuse” (3) a hazardous procedure hardly in accordance with textbook methods of mine disposal.

A study by the Royal Geographical Society, using satellite technology, has shown in detail how the efforts of the fighting troops in Gallipoli were inhabited by the inadequacy of the maps with which they were issued. Indeed, one of the researchers commented that “most of the crucial failures can be blamed on soldiers having no idea of the terrain they were fighting in.” (4) What was also of some importance was the extent to which naval operations were hindered by the out of date charts on which the ships depended – a factor which has been mentioned in relation to the difficulties which were encountered in landing a force within Suvla Bay and upon which Lt.Commander Lockyer commented in a report upon the firing of his ship. (5) The chart of the Gulf of Smyrna used by the Patrol was based on work carried out by the survey ships Beacon and Mastiff between the years 1835 and 1837, with some additions up to 1892, but the reconnaissance flights carried out by the pilots of Ben-My-Chree had shown that the shoreline of the approaches to Smyrna harbour had shifted since the last amendment to the official chart had been made. Determined to avoid the mistakes made at Gallipoli, Captain Grant sent the navigating officers of Canopus, Raglan and Roberts to re-survey the area, their fresh findings being added to the details provided by the seaplanes of the Smyrna defences and sent off to Mudros where copies of a squared, up to date charte were printed on large scale by the “sun print”method (?) and issued to all the participating ships.

The value of aircraft in their reconnaissance and artillery spotting role having been established, Captain Grant looked to support from the air for his operation and, knowing that Ben-My-Chree and her seaplanes were likely to be whisked away at any time, his thoughts turned to the 4 French landplanes which had recently arrived on Mityleni. Could the local commander be persuaded to allow them to be used in the united Allied cause? British relationships with the French in the Mediterranean region generally were not good (each nation suspected the other of being more concerned with matters of prestige and of political advantage rather than in prosecuting the war) but Captain Grant’s friendly nature had ensured that amicable relationships existed between the allies on Mityleni and General Simonier, the French commander, readily agreed that his aircraft should assist the Patrol and be sent down to Long Island when required. Meanwhile there was preparatory work to be done if this inter-Allied task was to be completed successfully and, at a convivial initial meeting between British monitor captains and French aviators held aboard Canopus on 27 January, W/T codes and spotting methods were agreed and a joint exercise arranged to take place 5 days later in Mityleni harbour. The first trial did not go well – the fliers had difficulty in receiving Morse messages on their primordial wireless sets – but a subsequent experiment held in Port Iero, in which ships’ searchlights supplemented W/T signals, was much more successful: Captain Grant was now assured of air support for his venture if a search for a satisfactory airbase on Long Island, pursued concurrently with the wooing of the French, could be brought to a successful conclusion.

Before the pilots of Ben-My-Chree’s seaplanes made their important overflights of the Smyrna defences, they were taken to Long Island to see if they could identify an area of flattish land on the lumpy terrain (the hightest point of Chustan rose to 627 ft.) which could be used as an airfield. The aviators selected a tiny patch of ground to the north, next to an anonymous village, which they thought could be turned into a rudimentary airstrip and 200 Greek refugees on Mityleni, desperate for work, were recruited and taken to Long Island in the destroyer Ribble to carry out the levelling process, a task they completed to Captain Grant’s satisfaction by 29 January when he reported, after an inspection, that the strip “was found to be well finished and a good surface, with the exception of one or two wet places which will be filled in later.” (6) Fortunately, WWI aircraft did not need elaborate or lengthy runways!

The Approaches to Smyrna

The CinC's visit to Port Iero in Jan., 1916. His yacht Triad is in the front row (L) with M22. Roberts (L) and Canopus (R) are in the next row; behind Canopus is Ragla…

Long Island, so deep in the Gulf, was but 3 miles distant from the Kara Burnu peninsula to the west and 5 miles from the Turkish mainland to the east so that it was extremely vulnerable to enemy attack; in fact, as subsequent events were to prove, it was indefensible against a determine assault. Nevertheless, some defence had to be provided against a commando type thrust against the motor boat base and the emergent airfield with its associated W/T station, and to meet this threat likely lads amongst the Greek construction workers were enlisted, uniformed and armed, a stiffening for this untrained little army being provided by a small contingent of the Royal Marine Light Infantry sent from Port Iero. Responsibility for organising the exiguous defences of the island (the only land based defensive weapon provided initially, apart from infantry rifles, was a single Maxim mounted to cover the airfield) was given to Lt.Commander (G) Philip Hordern, RN, the Gunnery Officer of Canopus. Of course, the Commander in Chief of the Eastern Mediterranean Squadron was kept in touch as the bombardment plan developed and, on 21 January, he arrived in Port Iero in his yacht Triad (a fact duly entered in M30’s log) to assess progress for himself. The visit of a senior officer on a tour of inspection of a busy base is not usually greeted with enthusiasm but, welcome or not, the Vice Admiral and Captain Grant, together with their respective staffs, were crammed aboard Ribble and taken to Long Island to have a look at the airstrip then under construction. Both the CinC’s Chief of Staff and Commander Morton Smart were enthusiastic supporters of field sports and, to entertain Commodore Keyes during his brief visit, the former doctor organised a shoot, engaging Greek workmen to act as beaters and drive the birds (partridge, woodcock, red legs) from south to north of the island. The puzzled Turks on the mainland (whaterever were these mad Englishmen up to ? ) fired 3 shells which dispersed the beaters and rather naturally:

“ - - - it was a long time before they could be collected for the third drive. The total bag was only 12 brace of partridges, it should have been three or four times as many.” (7)

When the great men left Chustan and Port Iero, operational planning resumed and the monitor captains were set en masse to familiarise themselves with conditions in the Gulf and to inspect the unmarked passage through the minefields together with the anchorage, later known as East Bay which, Long Island having no natural harbour was selected by Commander Morton Smart as a temporary haven.

As the whole point of the British plan was to mislead the Turk about Allied intentions, no attempt was made to conceal the preparations being made on and around Long Island from the enemy. And there was evidence that the overall strategy was beginning to work, even before a shot had been fired in the main operation, for, on 29 January, the fleet minesweeper Reindeer reported that soldiers had been seen on the mainland abreast of Chustan dragging a gun to the northward. Ribble, sent to investigate, observed no soldiers or guns, just a mule train making its deliberate way along the shoreline, but it is possible that Reindeer’s lookouts had not been mistaken for a report received on the following day from an agent in Smyrna suggested that the Turks, suspecting that a landing was to be made at Port Ali Agagh or Foures, were sending artillery north to Menemen. It was clear that, once the enemy was convinced of the threat presented by the operations centred on Long Island, then every endeavour would be made, despite the difficult country to east and west, to bring the ships and installations under heavy fire. Captain Grant feared that the intelligence report foreshadowed such a development and he ordered M32 to sail from Port Iero to East Bay from where she could provide counter battery fire if required. Unfortunately, M32 encountered heavy seas in the Mityleni channel and she was late arriving on station, causing an impatient SNO, Smyrna Patrol, to comment “she appears very unmanageable in any high wind or sea.” (8)

By the beginning of February the comprehensive plan required only the finishing touches and, as an additional defence against underwater attack, a line of indicator nets, watched by an armed drifter, was laid off East Bay; also orders were given that the vulnerable passage through the minefields, used by the ships sailing to and from Port Iero, should be constantly patrolled by a gunboat. In addition, Commander Morton Smart’s busy little flotilla was given the duty of quartering the Gulf at night to prevent the enemy laying mines in the firing area.

On 6 February, Raglan, attended by M16, made her ponderous way to East Bay to join M32 and be boarded by SNO, Smyrna Patrol, anxious to view the opening scenes of the drama for which he had written the script. On the following day the 4 French aircraft flew down from Thermi, on Mityleni, to land safely, but briefly, on Long Island’s miniscule airstrip, for they were soon in the air again scouting to east and west.

Captain Grant had determined that the Smyrna defences, stretching eastwards along the southern shore of the Gulf from the Gul-Baghche peninsula to Yeni Kale Point, should be destroyed systematically and, there being no particular reason for haste, had decided that each day’s targets should be reconnoitred from the air in the morning, the aircraft returning in the afternoon to spot for the monitors who would open fire at about 2.30 p.m. when, so it was calculated the light would best suit the gunlayers. And so it was, that at mid-day on 8 February, Raglan, M16 and M32 left East Bay escorted by the destroyer Ribble, a nimble sheepdog circling her slow moving charges. M32, whose role was to act as guardship and to intervene only if fire was received from the enemy, anchored off Kilsali island but the other monitors steamed on, their guns firing the opening rounds of the action at 2.37 p.m. During the ensuing bombardment, which lasted 40 minutes, Raglan fired 9 14” shells, each weighing 1400lbs., from her twin gunned turret (manned by 67 men) at an enemy battery mounted near St.George’s village while M16 turned her single 9.2” weapon on an anti-aircraft emplacement at Kirizman, from where quite accurate fire had been aimed at the reconnaissance aircraft during their morning fight.

Although this initial sortie alarmed the Turks, as it was intended to do, the physical results were not momentous: the aviators agreed that M16 had destroyed her target but reported, tactfully perhaps (Raglan was not a noted gunnery ship), that the 14” shells “fell in vicinity of target, actual damage unobserved.” (9) To add to the Turkish command’s mounting unease, M22, from Port Iero, on the day of the opening bombardment, carried out a leisurely and thorough reconnaissance of Sandarli Bay wherein lay Port Ali Agagh, one of the points where, if the intelligence reports were correct, the enemy suspected that a landing would be made. And then, during the night of 8/9 February, M30 made her contribution to the deception plan when her landing party cut the Smyrna – Constantinople telegraph link as has been described in the preceding chapter.

Captain Grants Canapus moored in Port Iero. 

M30 returned to Port Iero in the early morning of 9 February, but, although the ship’s company had been on duty all night, they were to have no rest for, as Raglan and M16 resumed the bombardment, concentrating on the batteries mounted around Yeni Kale, they were hard at work loading stores and ammunition for the vessels at Long Island and for the garrison. Loaded down to the gunwales, M30 set out for Chustan at 1.45 a.m. on 10 February to relieve M32 and, after a 6 hour passage, was soon disgorging her stores to Raglan, Ribble, Mary Rose and California. Captain Raikes, RN, of Raglan, now the senior officer of the bombardment group and the associated vessels, considered that the weather was too bad for the aviators to take to the air or his ship to put to sea, but the men of M30 had no “make and mend” as their ship was ordered out early in the afternoon, with the motor boat California in attendance, to shell military establishments on the tiny islet of Clazomenae. Anchoring south of Kilsali, M30 fired 23 rounds of 6” lyddite at a range of 10,550 yds, during which bombardment, so it was reported, buildings occupied by troops and a signal station were “practically destroyed” (10). On the following day, with rain and a strong wind from the south east still persisting, M30 was again the only monitor in action, being despatched to complete the destruction of the buildings on Clazomenae and then to shell a large establishment near the town of Vourlah which was being used as a barracks for 500 men: the aim was good, the building was reduced to rubble, the terrified survivors fleeing for the hills. On this occasion a buoy was laid at a carefully plotted position to which the ship returned before each round was fired if driven away in the meantime by the high wind, the current or the blast and recoil of the guns. By adopting this tactic, and others, to counter the capricious motion of the ship, with experience and with practice and by using to advantage the newly issued, large scale, accurate squared chart, M30’s gunnery had reached a far higher standard of accuracy than was apparent when, an apprentice to her trade, her main armament was first fired in anger in the Gulf of Saros.

By 12 February the weather had cleared, allowing Raglan and M22 (M16’s relief) to resume the bombardment of the batteries and military establishments grouped around Yeni Kale and Sanjac Fort. These ships, with their larger calibre guns, had first claim on the services of the French aircraft, so that M30 was left to spot the fall of shot from her low bridge, tackling a barracks near Kirizman with some success, setting the building and the associated houses on fire. On the following day M30 faced a fresh challenge for she was sent, with Morton Smart’s California, to seek out a newly mounted, concealed battery which, an agent in Smyrna had reported, was sited near the village of Kolitza on the Gul-Baghche peninsula. When the unwary Turks opened fire on California, the stalking horse, M30 replied with 13 6” shells (11 Lyddite and 2 shrapnel) and thus “by good shooting silenced the guns”, as Captain Grant reported to his CinC (11). For good measure, it was reported that the enemy artillerymen, when faced with “the precision fire of M30” (12), deserted their guns and took shelter in the neighbouring village of Mantissa, busying themselves, as Commander Morton Smart observed later, constructing an earthwork to house a heavy battery which, eventually, was to bring Long Island under fire.

After his success against the Kolitza guns, Lt.Commander Lockyer took his ship into the Gulf of Gul – Baghche to deal with a base which, an informant suggested, had been built on the western shore of the peninsula. This establishment, if it existed, was too well camouflaged in the green and dun background to be found, but 15 6” shells were fired at different targets with unreported results. Over the next 2 days 40 shells were fired at targets at Kolitza, Vorulah Scala and Kirizman and then, on 16 February, M30 joined Raglan, M22 and M32 (a force carrying 2 14”, 1 9.2” and 4 6”guns) to mount a slashing, combined attack on the main Smyrna defences at the eastern end of the southern shore of the Gulf. For the first time since arriving at Long Island, M30 had assistance from the air in carrying out her bombardment and the gunners made good practice for the aviators signalled 21 “Oks” (12) in response to 30 shots at battery 107, and considerable damage was caused by a further 30 6” shells aimed at barracks and storehouses in and around St.George’s village.

By the time the combined assault was halted, M30’s 6” guns had fired 250 rounds since her decks were strengthened after service in the Gallipoli campaign, and the resultant stresses and strains were weakening the light hull once again. Consequently, the ship was ordered back to Port Iero and then following an inspection by the Chief Carpenter of Canopus, to Mudros for repair. If the ship’s company were disappointed by this premature withdrawal from the firing line they had the consolation that the names of 2 of their number, Chief Petty Officer Collins and Colour Sergeant Ashworth, RMLI, were forwarded by Captain Raikes, of Raglan, to SNO, Smyrna Patrol for “favourable consideration in connexion with gunnery duties.” (13) Furthermore their skipper, Lt.Commander Lockyer, was one of 4 officers “whose cooperation”, so it was said, “had added greatly to such success as has been achieved” (14). As it happened M30’s early retirement made little difference to the outcome of the operation for, after one last strike at the enemy batteries, other monitors of the Patrol were soon following in her wake back to Mityleni: Captain Grant had decided that the deception scheme had been successful.

The information flowing to the naval staff from refugees, and Heathcote-Smith’s network of agents, had suggested that the Smyrna garrison consisted of 6,000 men initially – 3 battalions of raw recruits led by German officers. However, as the level of activity on and around Long Island rose, the puzzled and alarmed Turkish command summoned reinforcements, so that when shells began to fall on the Smyrna defences on 8 February, they were manned by at least 24,000 troops. During the bombardments, which were sustained for 9 days, the Turks concluded, as the British hoped they would, that a major landing was to be made and, by the time the ships’ guns fell silent, the advance elements of the 4th. And 5th. Army corps, led by Pertev Pasha, were arriving in the locality. All in all, as Vice Admiral de Robeck calculated (15), 80,000 enemy troops were finally committed to the defence of Smyrna, constituting a powerful force which could have been used offensively and dangerously elsewhere. With a lavish outlay of 14”, 9.2” and 6” ammunition, the Smyrna Patrol had won an important, uncelebrated and largely bloodless victory.

The British naval officers were surprised at the feeble response of the Turkish artillery to the bombardments for it had consisted, apart from well directed anti-aircraft fire, of a few 5” rounds fired at the gunboat Penelope (the artillerymen were severely punished for giving away their position, so it was rumoured) and a salvo aimed at California by the Kolitza battery which M30 had routed subsequently. Captain Grant considered that the enemy had held their fire to entice the bombardment vessels closer inshore, but he overlooked the fact that, once the Turks were convinced that a landing would be made, it made good sense to conserve ammunition to use at close range against the troop carriers and landing craft which were expected to arrive offshore at any moment.

Experience acquired over the centuries demonstrated that in a ship-fort battle the seaborne force could rarely prevail, for it needed a direct hit to destroy a shore based weapon whereas a strike anywhere on a ship’s hull could disable her and all her guns. This was the argument advanced by those experts who held that, despite the power of modern naval guns and explosives, a squadron, unsupported by land forces, could not force the Dardanelles. Captain Grant found that the age old theory still held good, at least in part, for he warned that, despite the efforts of his monitors, assisted by the aviators, the batteries guarding the approaches to Smyrna harbour had not been destroyed entirely so that a vessel coming within “6,000 or 7,000 yards of the shore could expect to be brought fire.” (16) Clearly, if a landing had been made, as the Turks believed would be case, it would have received a warm welcome.

Photo taken in 2000 from Cape Aspro where the Asprokarvo battery was sited, demonstrates the funerability of Long Island and NW Bay (to the left)

In reporting “mission accomplished” to his CinC, Captain Grant suggested that the ships under his command should be employed over the whole Patrol area destroying “lines of communication between the various Turkish towns and bases near the coast”, (18) but this change of objective did not lead to the abandonment of offensive operations based on Long Island and they continued, albeit on a reduced scale, always keeping the Turkish command in doubt about the Allies’ real intentions. Eventually, in the spring of 1916, the Turks decided that the prolonged British occupation of Chustan was an affront to national pride and that this wasp’s nest, from which the stinging attacks were launched which kept the whole region in arms, should be destroyed.


1. Limpus Mss, quoted in “The British Navy in the Mediterranean, 1915-18”, Navy Records Society (Ed.P.Halpern.)
2. ADM 37/363 1173 383. (If, in the following notes, this extensive case file is mentioned, then the page number only will be given.)
3. E.Keble Chatterton. “Seas of Adventure.”
4. Sunday Times, 21 March, 1999.
5. ADM 116/1451 XC 11891.
6. 242.
7. Keyes. “Naval Memoirs.”
8. 242.
9. 388.
10. 388.
11. 386.
12. 391.
13. The use of this American term in the Smyrna operation appears to be an early example of its adoption in service language on this side of the Atlantic, certainly in the Mediterranean. Perhaps it was chosen for Franco – British communication because of its simple and rhythmic form in Morse Code (dash-dash-dash, dash-dot-dash.)
14. 395.
15. 395.
16. De Robeck MSS, quoted in “The British Navy in the Mediterranean, 1915-18”, Navy Records Society (Ed.P.Halpern.)
17. 386.
18. 387.

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