The Turkish Navy in the interwar and up to 1945:
In this new page we place a light on one of the rare neutral navies in such contested and strategic sector: Turkey. A corridor between three continents and cradle of cultures and civilization, once the head of the immense Ottoman Empire, Turkey was not spared by the first world war, having chosen the side of the central powers.
After treaties disarmed the country, the old regime was toppled over by Kemal Atatürk, which nationalist regime seeked influence and support towards Germany and Italy (proving destroyers and submarines during the interwar), before relations cooled again in the latter part of the 1930s (after all, Italy was at war with Turkey before and during WW1). The country turned towards the British and veered from 1942 more ostentaciously towards the allies, courted since 1941 even from USA which proposed to extend the lend-lease program. Eventually Turkey declared war on Germany in February 1945.
A mixed, small, but capable and relatively modern fleet.
The Turkish fleet was an interesting mix of old local-built cruisers used as schoolships, the last German battlecruiser, modernized in the 1930s (Yavuz, ex-Goeben), About ten modern German and Ialian submarines and four modern Italian destroyers to contitute a task force with Yavuz, plus dozens of mineleayers, ranging from al converted vessels of the 1880s to famous tugs like the deadly Nusret and simple launches.
The rapprochement towards the West, became an evidence due to the srategic position or Turkey, courted by Germany to ensure netrality when launching Operation Barbarossa, and a way for UK to prevent Germany to divert panzerdivisions in the middle east where BP’s precious petrol fields were located. This traduced by a large array of British acquisitions, which was after all the usual provider for Turkey before WW1: Four destroyers, and in total until 1945 25+ patrol launches and MBTs and four submarines. Just like in WW1, requisition killed off this plan and only part of the ships ordered made it to Turkey and served with the Turkish flag witg deliveries starting in 1942 and 1944-45.
And now the what ifs.
Turkey on the axis side
-What if Turkey joined the axis during ww2 ? Before Operation Barbarossa, such a fleet could have launched an operation on Cyprus, settling an old account with Greece and depriving UK of a precious base, from where it could operate against British and French interests in the region, which were many. However it would have not hampered convoys, which came from the west by the southern route of Sicily, and the eventuality of an amphibious assault was unlikely for Turkey which was ill-prepared for the task, unless helped by the Italians (…).
After Barbarossa in 1941, however, the Turkish fleet could have seriously hurt Soviet interests in Crimea, deploying minefields, probing the area and disrupting convoys with submarines, and prey on installations and convoys with its “task force” around the Yavuz.
Operations could also include a precious help to the Romanian Navy in landings or evacuations. However this is an agressive stance and it’s possible also th Turkish fleet would have been just stationary at Istambul to prevent any passage through the Dardanelles.
Turkey on the allied side
-What if Turkey joined the allies early in the war ? Perhaps on one part, RN ships ordered could have joined sooner the fleet, and the addition of Lend-Lease in 1941-42 would have provided more ships, notably destroyers, perhaps even a cruiser or two. The RN did no lacked second-rate modernized ww1 era cruisers by that stage to distribute to her allies.
Reinforced that way, the Turkish fleet would have either patrolled along the Mediterranean sector approaching the Dardanelles, could have helped in some ways British and Greek troops in the Balkans although it’s unlikely due to old rivalry, and more likely would have been precious in disrupting the axis moves in the Black sea, which became an “axis lake” during the war, crippling the Soviet black sea fleet. The Romanian fleet was not a match for the Turks even not reinforced by the allies, and the Germans could not provide much support in the region but the luftwaffe. Turkish ships of the interwar generation however lacked AA, which balanced this superiority.
But an allied mastered black sea would have meant a possible diversionary grand scale landing on the weak flank of the German group south by the sea, seriously hurting the axis advance in this sector. Perhaps even the battle of Stalingrad would have never happened. But it’s worth noting the Soviet Navy was inexperienced and not equipped for amphibious assaults, and did not have the mastery of the skies.
But if a combined allied attack in that sector was more difficult because of the distance from the only bases available, Malta and Alexandria, it could have been unlocked if Istanbul could be used. It could have cut out the open southern rear flank of the Wehrmacht, starting with the weaker Italian and Romanian divisions, and combined with the Red Army, operating a large turning movement to the axis rear, encircling units and eventually racing towards the baltic. This would have left the Wehrmacht time to retreat in good order in Prussia, abandoning most of its Russian acquisitions. This could have deep-reaching effect on the morale of the army and a disaster of a magnitude difficult to hide to the population. The war could have ended much sooner, in 1943.