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  • Writer's pictureShaun Lewis

The naval officer who tried to bribe the Turks to stay out of WW1

In October 1914, Captain William Reginald Hall took up his post as the Director of Naval Intelligence (DNI). His father, William Henry Hall, had been the first DNI on the formation of the Admiralty's Intelligence Division in 1887. Known by everyone as 'Blinker' thanks to a dry eye problem that necessitated regular blinking to keep his eyes moist, Captain Reginald Hall ended the First World War as an admiral and later became the MP for West Derby in Liverpool. I introduce Hall in my novel Now the Darkness Gathers and he will feature more prominently in future novels on the Royal Navy's intelligence gathering activities.

Hall was a very innovative intelligence officer. It was he that built up the Naval Intelligence Division's codebreaking and signal intelligence functions to the extent that it became Britain's pre-eminent intelligence agency of WW1. Through his intelligence agents and intelligence gained by cracking Germany's signal codes, he deduced that the newly established alliance between Turkey and Germany was fragile. In January 1915, he instigated discussions with the Turkish Minister of the Interior to break off the alliance, hand over the German cruisers given to them as a gift the previous August and to clear all mines and open up the Dardanelles to allied shipping in support of the Russians in the Black Sea. A team of two British businessmen and a former diplomat were instructed to offer the bribe of £3M and given authority to increase the figure to £4M, if necessary. Hall took this action without any consultation with the Cabinet, but did keep Churchill informed, although not the price he was prepared to offer.

The negotiations took place over two months, using at one point the Turkish Chief Rabbi as an intermediary. When the First Sea Lord, Lord Fisher, learned of the plan, he ordered Hall, with Churchill's agreement, to break off the discussions as he felt confident the Allied Fleet would force a passage through the Strait. When this failed, Hall was instructed to resume negotiations, but they proved fruitless. The Turks had insisted that they could retain Constantinople after the war, but unbeknown to Hall and the Admiralty, the Foreign Office had made a secret deal with the Russians that they would take possession of the city after the war. Hall was later carpeted by the Cabinet for his unauthorised offer, but had his plan come to fruition, it would have saved far more than £4M in treasure and several thousand lives.

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