YOUNG NAVAL OFFICERS WHO PENETRATED THE DARDANELLES IN A SUBMARINE
 THE Victoria Cross, as we have already pointed out, is awarded to sailors as well as to soldiers; the reason why
there are few recipients in the former class is not far to seek. Our sailors have fewer opportunities to
distinguish themselves; when chances offer they are every bit as brave and skilful as their comrades in the
Among the V.C.s gained by the Navy in the great war some have been awarded to the brave sailors who fought at
the Dardanelles; two of these were conferred on dashing young officers for submarine exploits.
The proud distinction of being the first naval V.C. of the war is held by Lieutenant-Commander Norman Douglas
Holbrook, who gained this honour for a conspicuous act of bravery on December 13, 1914. When in command of
submarine B II he entered the Dardanelles,
 dived his vessel under five rows of mines, and torpedoed the Turkish battleship Messudiyeh. His exploit
has been hailed as unmatched in naval warfare for cool courage and fearless daring. This young officer proved
to all the world that our Navy still produces men with the Drake and Nelson touch.
Lieutenant Holbrook had not previously become known to the public. In the Senior Service he was regarded as a
promising and able young officer, but this was his first opportunity to show that he possessed superb naval
qualities. Doubtless he is one of many able young men of whom the Navy will have just cause to be proud, and
of whom great things will yet be chronicled.
Lieutenant Holbrook is thirty years of age, and one of five officer sons of Colonel A. R. Holbrook, a
Portsmouth newspaper proprietor, and, at the time of which we write, field officer in charge of the transports
and supplies on Salisbury Plain. He comes of a martial family. One brother, Lieutenant-Commander L. S.
Holbrook, M.V.O., is gunnery officer of H.M.S. Devonshire; the others are in the Army.
Lieutenant-  Commander R. N. Nicholson, who is on the staff of Sir John Jellicoe, is his brother-in-law.
Lieutenant Holbrook became a midshipman in 1905, was gazetted sub-lieutenant in rgo8, and lieutenant in 1909.
The latter rank he reached by taking four first-class certificates in his examinations. Three months after
becoming lieutenant he was appointed to the Mercury at Portsmouth to qualify as a submarine officer, and after
serving in various boats at Portsmouth and Harwich, was given the command of A 13, stationed at Portsmouth in
March 1913. He was transferred to B II—the submarine he has for ever made famous—at Malta in
Writing to his sister in November 1914, a month before his great exploit, he refers to the arduous work of the
Fleet during the cold and wet days of winter. "I've just had a shocking week of it," he said. "The weather has
been awful. For eight days we have been at it hammer-and-tongs. . . . I've been soaked through to the skin the
whole time." These words give some idea of the discomforts undergone by our naval heroes.
 Then, continuing, he asks for "wool helmets, scarves, mittens, jerseys, warm underclothing, and sea-boot socks
for my crew. The poor souls have no warm gear, and are freezing." The hero of B II is thinking of others. He
finishes the letter in breezy style: "Hurrah for the life of a sailor!"
It is not necessary to describe here the Dardanelles operations beyond stating that those in charge of the
Allied naval and military strategy of the Great War decided that the forcing of these Straits was an essential
part of the general plan of campaign. The Turkish fleet, if somewhat negligible, was at an advantage. It rode
the narrow seas protected by mines.
On December 13, 1914, it was decided that a Turkish battleship, the Messudiyeh, would be better at the
bottom of the Dardanelles than riding upon its waters. The mine-field and the forts prevented access to her
upon the surface. The only other way was under the sea, and Lieutenant Holbrook was entrusted with the
perilous task of attempting to destroy her.
 It is no reflection on the other great deeds of the war to say that his performance was superbly daring. For
to appreciate better the young naval officer's enterprise, it must be borne in mind that in all probability
his mission involved certain death.
The underwater navigation of the Dardanelles is made most perilous and difficult by the swift currents which
sweep through the Straits, and, striking various projecting points, are turned into eddies and whirlpools. In
such conditions, to take a submarine, blind as she is, and feel a way along the bottom of the sea, evading the
moorings of the mines, is a task which few would care to attempt.
But Lieutenant Holbrook laughs at danger. He possesses in an unusual degree caution and daring. He has nerves
of steel, and when the moment came for setting forth on his sensational deed of heroism he welcomed the call.
Submarine B II was not a modern craft fitted with the latest appliances. She dates from 1905, and her
submerged displacement is but 313 tons, as compared with 800 tons in
 the E class. Her length is 135 feet, with a submerged speed of nine knots, and her armament is two
After proceeding some distance through the Dardanelles, the submarine entered the danger zone. In front were
five rows of mines under which the submarine must dive. This feat required skilful handling. Holbrook knew
that contact with an anchor-chain of the mines would entangle his vessel's screw and draw one or more mines
into contact with her hull.
However, the mine-field was safely passed and the submarine came to the surface for its deadly work. The
Messudiyeh was seen near at hand. She was an old Turkish warship constructed in the Thames as far
back as 1874, and reconstructed at Genoa in 1901; her displacement was 9,120 tons. As submarine B II crept
near, the vessel was all unconscious of her impending fate. In another minute the torpedoes had done their
work, and the Messudiyeh began to sink by the stern.
Now came the supremely difficult part of the submarine's operation. Lieutenant Holbrook had the choice of
dashing back the way
 he came at all possible speed, or carefully waiting and watching for an opportunity to get away with the least
risk to his vessel and its gallant crew. He chose the latter course.
Quietly the B II started back. She was eagerly watched for by enemy torpedo craft and by the batteries on
either bank. The least sign of movement in the water and the gallant commander and his men were doomed. The
way he handled his boat speaks well for the wisdom of those who chose Lieutenant Holbrook for the task. He was
daring yet cool, able yet cautious. While he could use the periscope he knew where he was going. But for the
most part he had to remain submerged.
On one occasion the submarine was submerged for nine hours. One can hardly realize what this must have meant
to those inside.
Mile by mile the intrepid commander guided his vessel back, under the same five rows of mines, until at last
all danger was past.
Lieutenant Holbrook's feat was not simply a daring piece of useful naval work. It fulfilled its primary
object—the sinking of the Turkish battleship; but it had another result. The
 effect of striking this blow upon the Ottoman Navy not only impressed the mind of the Turk; it showed to all
the world what our underwater craft, handled by adventurous and undaunted commanders, might achieve if German
ships of war would only provide the targets.
The gallant young lieutenant was uproariously greeted by his sailor comrades upon his return. On board H.M.S.
Indefatigable, Lieutenant Holbrook was presented with a huge imitation Iron Cross by his brother
officers, the ceremony being the occasion of much mirth as well as congratulations. It was the Navy's jocular
little way of recognizing a brave comrade. A few days later the lieutenant was awarded the V.C.
* * * * *
The other submarine officer to win the V.C. in the Dardanelles was Lieutenant-Commander Martin Eric Nasmith,
whose famous exploit was performed at the end of May 1915, and resulted in the sinking of nine ships engaged
on Turkish war service. His vessel, the E II, penetrated the Straits to the very gates of Constantinople, and
threw the city into a panic.
 There is but little this young naval officer does not know about submarines. He has studied them, experimented
with them, and performed with them wonderful feats such as Jules Verne himself never imagined in his thrilling
romances. He has brought lasting credit to the new and powerful naval arm of which he is so brilliant a
member. He is thirty-two years of age, and the son of a well-known City stockbroker, Mr. Martin A. Nasmith,
who lives at Weybridge. From boyhood Lieutenant Nasmith, V.C., was set upon going to sea. On the other hand,
his three brothers are in the Army—all captains at the time of which we write.
Our naval lieutenant was educated at Eastman's College, from which he went straight to Dartmouth. His father
avers that his distinguished son "was not much good as a scholar, but he has always had a strong inventive
faculty, of which he has made good use."
During the sixteen years he has been in the Navy, the 'Constantinople V.C.' has seen many adventures, and to
his lot has fallen a
 larger share of thrilling exploits than is usual for one so young in the Senior Service. One of his first
cruises was with Admiral Lord Fisher, aboard the Renown, to which he was attached for four years.
The first occasion when Lieutenant Nasmith came before the public notice was before the War. He was the hero
of the A 4, which, it will be remembered, was sunk while a new scheme of signaling was being tested. His pluck
and devotion to duty at this time were highly commended by the Admiralty. When the submarine went down, the
crew was saved because all kept their heads in the best Navy style, inspired by Nasmith. Two men were
insensible at their posts, but the young lieutenant succeeded in reaching them and brought them to safety. For
this cool 'underseamanship' the Admiral sent a signal to the Fleet congratulating the young commander on his
The next time Lieutenant-Commander Nasmith came into prominence was during the naval review at Weymouth. He
then had the honour of taking King George and
 Prince Albert for a trip in submarine D 4—a striking tribute to his reputation for skill and careful
handling of undersea craft.
Early in the war Lieutenant Nasmith was to the fore in the raid on Cuxhaven. This daring feat by British
seaplanes took place on Christmas Day, 1914, and our submarines accompanied the flying men. Nasmith did
service on this occasion by gallantly rescuing with his submarine five men from three of the seaplanes which
had flown over Cuxhaven Harbour. During the rescue operations a German airship was dropping bombs.
It should be mentioned that when war broke out Lieutenant Nasmith was appointed to the depot ship
Maidstone, for command of submarine E II. Later he was ordered with other units of our Fleet to the
Dardanelles, but it was not until the end of May 1915 that he got his big chance.
It had become essential to the plans of our naval leaders in these operations that some conspicuous attack on
the Turkish vessels should be attempted. Our battleships could engage the enemy's ships whenever they
 presented targets. But beyond the mine-strewn waterway they could not proceed. The plan decided upon was a
daring submarine attack in the Sea of Marmora, right up to Constantinople itself, a distance of 170 miles from
the Dardanelles entrance. The attack, if successful, was intended to have important consequences. In addition
to destroying hostile warships, it was hoped the submarine would prevent reinforcements coming to the
Gallipoli Peninsula by sea, and, further, have the effect of dealing a smashing and decisive blow at Turkey's
naval and maritime prestige.
Lieutenant Nasmith was chosen to carry out this plan of dashing up the mine-strewn Straits. He set out in the
E II, and performed his appointed task in thorough British style. There was the Drake touch about
it—this penetrating to the sacred precincts and singeing the Sultan's beard in Constantinople itself.
Despite the lurking dangers he got his submarine safely into the Sea of Marmora. First he attacked a large
gunboat. Then two
 transports fell victim to his attentions. There were thousands of troops on board these vessels, and the
unfortunate soldiers became panic-stricken when their ships were torpedoed. So great was the terror inspired
that afterward Turkish soldiers refused to embark. It was directly due to Lieutenant Nasmith's visit to
Constantinople that subsequently all the Sultan's reinforcements for the front were dispatched by rail, via
Nasmith from his place of observation had detected further prey. An ammunition ship rode at anchor within
reach, and he decided to send it to the bottom. A torpedo was launched and a terrific explosion followed,
which told that the intrepid sailor had again scored. The loss of this ship and its contents was irreparable
to the Turks. Three store ships were next destroyed by the submarine, while in addition a fourth was driven on
But the tale of Nasmith's exploits was not finished. He had decided to run the gauntlet of fort and mine and
make for home, and had passed the most difficult part of the journey when it was observed that another Turkish
 transport, hitherto unseen, had come within range. Most men would have regarded the morning's work as quite
sufficient without wanting to run further risk. But it was not like Nasmith to surrender so good a prize for
his adventurous craft. He at once steered an unerring course for the transport, and neatly torpedoed her. This
brought his morning's bag' up to nine.
It is well established that consternation reigned in Constantinople on this May morning. When the noise of the
successive explosions resounded through the city the shops were closed and men and women rushed about the
streets in terror. The survivors who had been got ashore from the sinking transports added to the confusion by
running amok. People went mad; they hurried along shouting and cursing, exclaiming: "The Russians are coming!"
All vessels retired to the inner harbour of the Golden Horn. The bridge connecting Galata (on the north side
of Golden Horn) and Stamboul was protected by extra pontoons. To this day the name of Nasmith has dread import
in Constantinople, for the
 people now know who it was who gave them the greatest fright of their lives.
The swiftness and unerring accuracy of the raid were amazing. No sooner had an ammunition ship blown up than a
transport was seen to be sinking. Guns were fired at the supposed place where the submarine lurked. They were
trained at random from Seraglio Point, Tophianeh, and Harem Iskelessi, but very few shells hit the submarine.
One managed to make a hole in her periscope, but the damage was trifling.
The hand and brain of Lieutenant Nasmith guided the E II with such skill that the Turks failed to do the craft
any serious damage. The sense of lurking danger was very real in Constantinople; those who were there at that
time testify to the almost uncanny feeling caused by the rapidity of the E II's destructive tactics. This one
little craft made so much noise and damage that many thought that the British Fleet must have arrived. The
most serious loss to the Turks was the ammunition ship, for they were none too well supplied with this
vessel's precious cargo.
 Submarine E II, when returning to its base, had a perilously narrow escape. Retreat lay through a Turkish
mine-field. Commander Nasmith had risen just above the surface, when he made the ominous discovery that he had
run the bow of E II into the chain that moored a mine. It was a critical moment for Nasmith and his crew. A
sudden jar and there would have been a terrible and fatal explosion. He kept his head, and, reversing his
engines, managed to elude the threatened danger. After this adventure the little craft crept safely back to
the Fleet. Our men on board the warships cheered themselves hoarse, waved caps, and shouted: "Bravo, E II!"
Judged by results, the thrilling exploit of Lieutenant-Commander Martin Nasmith may well be regarded as one of
the outstanding feats of the war.
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