---- Noon, wardroom of HMS Chatham, 25 knots, course 285
Admiral De Robeck sat silently, staring at the papers laid out before him on the tiny table. He ignored the vibrations that resonated from every surface. The words were familiar, as they were to all officers in the Royal Navy: "you are requested and required." In this case, to turn over his command immediately and report to the Offices of the Admiralty at his soonest convenience. He was directed to detach HMS Chatham, or another suitable vessel, and to proceed with utmost dispatch, to catch a French train, etc.
The Dardanelles campaign had been bitterly opposed by Admiral Fisher from the start. In hindsight, De Robeck was almost ready to admit the First Sea Lord had been right all along. No, not quite, he corrected himself once again. The opportunity had, really, been there. He remained convinced of it, even now. But the recall of Queen Elizabeth and the battlecruisers had hurt badly, as much in the implication that the Admiralty had lost interest, as in lost firepower. Then, swept waters had suddenly been full of mines. Turkish soldiers - nearly rabble! - suddenly were resolved to die simply to delay any advance. It was like the expedition had had to fight both the Admiralty and Nature, in addition to the Turks.
Then Carden's breakdown in March, and De Robeck had found himself in charge. This was true opportunity and the attack had gone well, until the mines. Yet, Constantinople should be in his hands at this very moment, THIS VERY MOMENT! The landing force had failed to attack when planned. The force's guns and ammunition had not been shipped in the same hulls as the soldiers who would have to use them! Whoever had been responsible would burn in hell! That single delay had cost tens of thousands of British their lives and had saved the Ottoman Empire. That his own career had apparently been destroyed was a minor, inconsequential detail. De Robeck looked again at his orders. They were oddly phrased, but a court martial seemed to await him. It would not be Ian Hamilton that the mob would blame. No, General Hamilton was quite correct to stop in Egypt, offload, and reload properly. But why, he wondered again, had Hamilton not made sure all was correct before the force had ever been allowed to leave England?
It did not matter. No, not now. De Robeck had never been one to shirk responsibility and he was not about to start it now. He had, after all, been in command when the force finally, after that one month delay, had landed only to find that 50 or even 100,000 Turkish soldiers now opposed them. They had almost won anyway. If he was going to a court martial and ruin, well, sobeit.
General Hamilton had been readying for another try at the Ottomans. The general had expressed confidence that there would be no repeat of the earlier reverses. De Robeck, however, had found that he no longer shared the other's optimism. At this point, in the face of the naval force reductions, and after so many British dead with so little to show for it, the Admiralty was probably quite right to call the whole thing off. Lord Fisher, as he had so often in his long career, had been proven right again. The opportunity, though, it HAD been there. De Robeck remained sure of it. Not that it mattered now. Maybe nothing in this entire theatre mattered now.
The rumors that the Grand Fleet had suffered another sharp rebuff in the North Sea were quite unsettling. The Greeks had grown quite cool this last week, promising to make problems even worse in the months ahead. The Greeks had proven remarkably accurate weather vanes, De Robeck had observed. They sure seemed to feel that the winds of war had changed their course. So, perhaps the rumors that the defeat had been worse than let on might well be true. Far worse. Certainly, the Dogger Bank debacle had robbed his expeditionary force of key warships at the critical moment. This last affair could be even worse in its effects. Damn, he thought, this all smacks of retrenchment. He did not think "defeat"; he had never admitted defeat, nor even considered it.
But why, he wondered for the thousandth time, if their lordships truly wanted his head, why were they in such a bloody hurry for it?