THE AMERICAN NAVY AND THE TURKS BY COMMANDER ROBERT A. BACHMAN (M.C.), U. S. N.
WITH events in the Near East bursting suddenly from an apparently peaceful condition into a state of war, the United States Navy found itself once more so placed as to make it the center of the entire Nation’s eager interest.
In order to clear up the official status of our official representative in Turkish waters and to make plain just what part the Navy is playing to-day, when the situation between England and Turkey is so strained, it may be well to state exactly in what capacity Rear-Admiral Mark L. Bristol is acting, and how he is representing our Government.
When the Allied Governments concluded the armistice with Turkey, they established an Allied High Commission to deal with whatever problems might arise in connection with the Near Eastern situation. During the World War the United States had broken off diplomatic relations with Turkey, although war had never officially been declared.
On this Allied High Commission the United States had no representation, and, as our relations with Turkey still precluded the sending of an ambassador, it eventually fell to Admiral Bristol, as Senior United States Naval Officer in Turkey, to handle all diplomatic business.
This official designation, however, left him without adequate power and authority to deal with the many phases of our foreign relations which demanded his attention. In all common councils a greater voice than “his was exercised by the other Powers on account of being represented by diplomats with higher credentials. To correct this situation-and our interests at that time were of the greatest variety and importance-the President, upon recommendation of the State Department, on August 11, 1919, appointed Rear-Admiral Bristol High Commissioner of the United States, and the negotiating of all matters between the United States and
Near Eastern countries was carried on through him. Although since then diplomatic relations have been resumed, the office of High Commissioner proved to be so desirable that it has been continued to this day. By this change of rank the importance of Admiral Bristol’s position was properly emphasized, and consequently the usefulness of his office proportionately increased.
In brief, the duties of the High Commissioner include the following appointments: He is diplomatic representative of the United States, Senior United States Naval Officer in Turkish waters, representative of the United States Shipping Board in the Near East, Chairman of the Constantinople Chapter of the American Red Cross, General Assistant of the Near East Relief Committee, and General Director of all United States Consular Offices in Turkey.
With the despatch of twelve additional destroyers to Constantinople, the naval forces of the United States there will be augmented to twenty destroyers, the small station ship Scorpion, and some supply ships and tenders.
Vice-Admiral Long on the cruiser Pittsburg, his flagship, will be in command of the entire United States naval forces operating in European waters. Admiral Long will make an inspection trip to Turkey to look over the situation and determine the disposition of the forces under his command. The immediate handling of the vessels at Turkey will remain with Rear-Admiral Bristol. To set down in detail all the matters which must of necessity claim Admiral Bristol’s attention in such unsettled times as these would take too much space. But one fact should not be forgotten-that, first of all, relief work carried on and the protection given to Americans constitute the bulk of his affairs.
Destroyers have steamed from port to port, carrying stores, transporting members of the Near East Relief Committee, assisting in every way the efforts of the Red Cross and other relief organizations, evacuating Americans, non-combatants, and wounded from Black Sea ports, and helping American business keep on its feet.
When in 1920 communication lines in Turkey, Bulgaria, Russia, and Rumania were badly shattered, and at times even totally destroyed, Admiral Bristol was able, through stationing his destroyers advantageously, to keep up communications with London and from there to the United States by means of their radio equipment. But for the naval communication office which he established ashore it is difficult to imagine what our Near East Relief, Food Administration, Red Cross, and commercial men would have done. The last were especially handicapped by the military control of cable lines and the frequent total paralysis of mail facilities. All messages sent out via commercial cable were more or less open to the scrutiny of foreign competitors, and the saving of American trade became almost completely a question of communications. At one time the Navy handled as many as two thousand incoming and outgoing messages a day.
In the transacting of official duties a sharp line was drawn between state and naval matters. When Admiral Bristol took over the Embassy and established the headquarters of the High Commission there, two files were begun-one known as the Navy file, and the other as the State Department file. In this way it was arranged that whenever the time came for the Navy to withdraw the Embassy files would be left complete. Now, with the eyes of the entire world focused on Turkey, it may be apropos to quote a despatch recently sent to one of our metropolitan dailies by its staff correspondent:
“The humanitarian work done by Admiral Bristol and his small naval force,” he says, “cannot be overrated. He has demonstrated that the American Navy is not only a fighting machine in time of war, nor a mere ornament in time of peace. While other naval forces are chiefly concerned with evacuating their own nationals, American destroyers are practically the only forces devoting themselves wholly to the unfortunate Greeks as well as to the Americans.”
Source: The Outlook, 18 October 1922