Uncertainty reigns in warfare, and it is impossible to fully understand the intentions of a capable, thinking adversary in the midst of conflict. Yet, the best counter to this is to have equally adept and creative personnel able to recognize that warfare does not merely consist of armed clashes, but the combination of moral, psychological, economic and political forces.
In a landmark historical incident, the onset of World War I brought about one of the more remarkable chases of 20th century warfare. As Barbara Tuchman describes in her book, “The Guns of August,” with hostilities declared in early August 1914, Germany sought then-neutral Turkey as an ally to mitigate a Russian front to its East. The masterstroke to securing this alliance involved sending the entire German Mediterranean fleet—all of two ships—in a mad dash toward the entrance of the Dardanelles on a diplomatic, not military, mission.
Not expecting this unorthodox move, Britain deployed its numerous ships to protect a French convoy sailing from Africa while also maneuvering to prevent an escape by the Germans through the Straits of Gibraltar. Through the winding fates of war, multiple opportunities were missed to sink the armed German messengers. The once-bold Nelsonian Royal Navy had revealed its evolution toward a technologically superior, but far more untested, conservative one.
The ultimate arrival of the Germans persuaded the Turkish government to renounce neutrality, causing Winston Churchill to later admit this one action caused “more slaughter, more misery and more ruin than has ever before been borne within the compass of a ship.”