The Coward? The Rise and Fall of the Silver King, Steve R. Dunn

The Coward? The Rise and Fall of the Silver King, Steve R. Dunn

Ernest Troubridge was a British admiral best known for his failure to intercept the German battlecruiser Goeben in the Mediterranean before it could reach safety in Turkish waters. The Goeben was then given to the Ottoman Empire, a move that helped to convince the Turks to join the Central Powers. Troubridge found himself in a position to attack, or at least chase, the Goeben with his own armoured cruisers, powerful ships in their own right, if not as powerful as the Goeben, but chose not only not to fight, but also not even to try and shadow the German ships. It was the decision to break off the action that would eventually make Troubridge so unpopular, although not immediately.

The author's aim here is to try and work out why Troubridge made that decision, looking at the Victorian and Edwardian navy in which he made his name, his own life and career and the situation in the Mediterranean in 1914. Troubridge was a produce of a Navy that hadn't fought in a major battle since the Crimean War, or a major fleet action since the Napoleonic Wars. Many of his contemporaries gained military experience serving on land alongside the army, but Troubridge didn't take that route. He had observed part of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5, so was aware of the damage that could be done by modern naval weapons, but had no personal experience of commanding in combat before the outbreak of war in 1914. He came from a family with a distinguished naval tradition, and was descended from one of Nelson's 'band of brothers', but served in a very different navy.

The author has previously examined the career of Kit Cradock, the admiral killed at the Battle of Coronel. He is often said to have been influenced in his decision to fight by Troubridge's perceived failures in the Mediterranean, which tells us how Troubridge's actions were seen by many of his colleagues. While the rights and wrongs of his actions can still be debated, there is little doubt that few of his contemporaries would have acted in quite the same way.

In the conclusion the author draws in some interesting supporting material, including Cradock's battle at Coronel, where an outgunned force was destroyed without achieving anything, Jutland, where two of Troubridge's ships were destroyed by heavy German shells, and the later Battle of the River Plate, where an equally out-gunned British squadron managed to force the Graf Spee into neutral waters. These all help place Troubridge's actions in context.

Although Troubridge didn't get another command at sea, he did end up performing valuable service in the Balkans, where he built up a good relationship with the Serbs, and later helped rebuild traffic on the Danube. This demonstrates that he was a competent man, but his performance under pressure comes across as less impressive.

This is an interesting biography, looking at one of the many senior officers on both sides who didn't live up to expectation after the outbreak of war in 1914, and coming to some clear conclusions for the reasons for his failings.


1 - Heroes and Beginnings
2 - Cadet and Midshipman, 1874-1882
3 - The Lieutenant, 1883-1895
4 - The Commander, 1895-1901
5 - George, 1886-1891
6 - Japan and Return to the Med, 1901-1908
7 - The Navy in the 1900s; Fisher, Beresford and the Royals; Admirals
8 - The Admiralty and Flag Rang, 1908-1914
9 - Opening Shots, 27 July to 6 August 1914
10 - The Opposing Forces
11 - HMS Defence, 5-7 August
12 - Outrage, August 1914
13 - On Trial, November 1914
14 - Disgrace, London, November 1914 to January 1915
15 - John, London 1915
16 - Serbia, 1915-191
17 - Back Home: Religion, Rejection and Salonika 1916-1918
18 - Wray, Separatiopn and Back to the Danube, 1917-1921
19 - Scandal, Court and Churchill, 1919-1924
20 - Endings, 1924-1926
21 - From Beyond the Grave
22 - Verdict
23 - Postscript

Author: Steve R. Dunn
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 256
Publisher: Book Guild
Year: 2014

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