//Ed. Note: One of ten Ottoman naval officers, a group that
included Sami Çölgeçen, ( HowICrossedTheGreatSaharaDesert
recently featured on TNT), wrote a letter about their journey to
America in ships of the American fleet, which had visited Turkey
as part of a world tour. The American ships were vessels of the
Great White Fleet, sent around the world in 1908 by President
Theodore Roosevelt to increase American prestige abroad.
As the American fleet returned to the U.S. in February 1909,
the ten Ottoman naval officers boarded the ships for training
The two postcards were sent from America by Sami Bey to his
family and friends in Istanbul and Yanya, Greece, where his
young son was at the time.//
From the American Fleet
16 February 1909
We’re on our way. Sixteen days from now we will arrive at
the port of “Hamptenrud” (Hampton Roads), at which time the ship I’m
on will have traveled 55,921 miles. Thusly, sixteen battleships will
have completed a 14-month circumvention of the world and the
Americans will be the first in maritime history to achieve such an honor.
As for expenses, just the coal cost five million dollars. They estimate
the total expenditure at twenty million dollars.
One wonders whether the officers and sailors are tired after
this long journey? No way! Do you know the reason for this? It’s because
just like when they’re at home, at sea, too, their lives run like a clock.
At 10 o’clock this morning, whatever training is conducted on these ships,
the officers and sailors on American ships all over the world are doing the
same training. Whether in port or at sea, the training is done based on the
same regulations, the same basis and with the same method. The only
exception to this are the ships that take on coal – and how rapidly coal is
taken on: “1,500 tons per hour!”
We have been together for nearly a month and they don’t miss a
day of drills . At no time does an officer have to tell the trumpeter to
sound the call to “Get Ready!” Everyone knows their duty. When the time
comes, the trumpeter knows what to do, just like in our schools where,
when the class bell rings, no one needs to ask what for. As for night
training, this is in the hands of the admirals. Whatever they want done
at a particular moment, they have it done.
Each ship has a captain, a second captain, a voyage captain
(navigator) and a first officer. Only the captain has the authority to
inspect and control the ship; the second captain looks after the ship’s
personnel and provisions; the voyage captain plots the ship’s route;
and the first officer looks after the weapons and ammunition. The
captains have the rank of colonel and the others are lieutenant
Watch officers: five lieutenants keep the watch, each with an
engineer. Depending on which one is on duty, he conducts affairs when
the ship enters or leaves port. In port, only the captains are on the bridge,
in order to supervise. Otherwise, though, the watch officers’ actions are
not interfered with unless a mistake is detected that might pose a danger.
Other than that circumstance, the watch officers ignore the captain.
The ships’ crews are divided into five sections on deck, while
the firemen and machinists are excepted.
First section officer: responsible for bow tower and bow side
Second section officer: responsible for side towers and side decks
Third section officer: responsible for broadside guns
Fourth section officer: responsible for ammunition and torpedoes
Fifth section officer: responsible for the stern tower
During training whichever watch officer is on the bridge, he gives
over his normal duty to the navigation officer, who takes command of his
section. Maneuvers are made based on the orders of the commander. Yet,
it is the watch officers who actually move the ship from place to place.
The training commands are given by the captain from the bridge.
During a battle, as events occur like “such and such officer has been hit!”,
“such and such mast has fallen!”, “such and such tower has collapsed!” ,
whichever officer is designated to replace a fallen comrade he rushes to
take up the duty and the same goes for sailors. Sometimes the captain is
hit and the second captain takes over. With this chain of command, it
sometimes happens that a lieutenant may assume command. If so, the
admiral is advised immediately with a signal, which may be by flag,
telegram, radio or semaphore. Sometimes all modes are used.
The sailors and the officers are quite familiar with each other,
essentially friends. We would consider this a fault but, on the contrary,
they say: sailors have more honor and personal dignity than officers. We
officers work to make a living and for a future, with monetary expectations,
whereas the sailors work only for the homeland! Among the officers there
is quite a bit of comradery and affection. None would think of infringing
on the rights and honor of another. They treat each other with sort of a
Crew Regimen, Meals and Pay
Before breakfast at 7 o’clock, everyone must shower and shave.
(Our naval officers and junior grades should take note of this! If I were to
say to the American officers that shaving is done once a week would they
believe me?) Following their baths and shaves, they come to the dining
room. At breakfast they have a strange custom: they first eat fruit on their
empty stomachs. I have seen the English and French and they eat fruit
during the meal, whereas the Americans first go for the oranges, apples
and grapes...then they eat soft-boiled eggs or slightly cooked eggs on bread
toasted in oil or eggs cooked in oil. Also, they drink coffee with milk and
have butter. Lunch is at noon. Each person has a printed list and while
they are seated the navigation officer brings a paper that explains the ship’s
position and how many miles the ship will cruise in 24 hours. This paper
is passed from person to person, along with another that tells the amount
of coal on the ship, how much will be burned in 24 hours and how much
coal each ship is burning.
The evening meal is at 6 o’clock European time and one sleeps
when he wants to. The sailors sleep at seven thirty and get up at five.
The orderlies and cooks’ meals are paid for by the government, whereas
the officers pay for their food. Likewise for liquor. But whoever wants
any kind of liquor or cigarettes they pay from their own pockets. They
tell the head orderly what they want and he brings it together with a
printed promissory note. The recipient writes down the amount purchased
and signs and dates the note for the head orderly. At the beginning of the
month the promissory notes are presented and debts are paid.
But they’re not big drinkers, actually they don’t drink much at all
and when they do it’s during meals. Only 4 of 10 officers drink.
Their salaries are astounding:
Second Lieutenant 125 dollars
First Lieutenant 175 dollars
Captain 200 dollars
How? No government other than the Americans can give these
salaries. Nevertheless, considering the lifestyle of their country
these salaries are not that big because there one dollar is like one
franc. Each officer get 30 dollars per month for restaurant expenses.
Liquor is extra. And only the captains eat separately. The engineers and
the NCOs are separated, with each group having separate dining rooms.
Training: from 9 to 11 in the morning and from 1 to 4 in the afternoon.
Noone is excused from training unless he is on the watch.
Once a week the clothing and linen of the sailors is checked. The number
of items that each person has, like sheets, uniforms, socks, boots, hats, etc.,
is written down on a form to make sure whether there is anything missing,
whether they are clean or ripped. This is the duty of the senior officers.
The ship is washed on Saturdays. On Sundays there is a roll-call of all of
the officers and sailors conducted by the captain. Uniforms are inspected.
On the first Sunday of each month the officers wear their formal uniforms.
When the officers go to training they take their revolvers with them.
The ship’s doctor gives the sailors health training and, in particular, shows
them what to do when they or a shipmate are injured. In any case, each
sailor has a first-aid kit. Similarly, they are taught how to prevent
drowning and how to to give artificial resperation. One should see their
hospitals. Let’s just say that none of our hospitals are as well-equipped.
Each ship has two doctors and a surgeon.
Cruising Toward America
It has been ten days since we passed Gibralter and still we are eating
fresh vegetables, fruit, meat and fish. Even if we are at sea for months
it will be the same because they have refrigerators to preserve the food.
Everything is done with electricity, which is like a toy in their hands.
In addition to lights, all power is electric, even for making coffee or tea
or ironing or clothes washing.
They prefer 12 ‘pus’ ((1 pus = 2.54 cm)) guns to the 14s.
More than torpedoes, they give greater importance to their big guns.
Four ships are under construction, each 26,000 tons and each with
twelve 12 ‘pus’ guns.
I wonder what we will do with our eighteen million? With a few million
we could build a beautiful naval academy, buy a few training ships, bring
in a few teachers. I think we should do all of these and send our young,
active engineers to schools in America and England for training.
Previously, the Japanese have been accepted at the American Naval
Academy. Perhaps they will accept us, too.
All our officers should be young and vigorous and take
command at a young age. They say that since the sailors are young,
the officers should be young, too. Probably the young can get more done.
Many retire at 60 years of age and they want to reduce this to 55, even
to 50. They say that a colonel should be 40 years-old. The sailors are
volunteers and there is such a demand that they have to draw lots to get
We are communicating with America because there is a yacht that
always leaves the fleet 5 days ahead. Sometimes it’s quite strange. At
night a letter will appear from afar. Right away, the name, where it came
from and where it’s going is given by telegram. And there are greetings
coming to the fleet. First of all, the commander at Philadelphia sent a
welcoming congratulatory telegram. Now, each day more congratulations
are coming in droves. Tomorrow a few warships will come to meet us and
we’ll make a five-day journey in one fell swoop. At times the sea is quite
rough and we’re rolling at a 35 degree angle. But at other times the sea is
so calm that it seems to be fast asleep.
Wednesday, 17 February
It has happened as they said it would. They said that today at 11 o’clock
the Third Fleet would come and find us and right at 11 we met. At a
quarter to 12 we exchanged greetings. There were four battleships and
two counter-torpedo ships with the latest systems (25 mph speed),
each of which was 13,000 tons and had 8 seven-‘pus’ guns. Their aft
masts are like the Eiffel Tower, built of iron and used for signaling and
reconaissance. At the top there is a place like a stork’s nest. From here,
distance is assessed and the accuracy of the shells can be evaluated.
These towers are preferred to masts and from now on they will all be
like this because if a shell were to hit the mast it would break but the
tower doesn’t collapse. It would require many shell hits to bring down
a tower. First they built towers like this, fired on them and saw that it
was not possible to bring them down easily, so they decided upon them.
The English are now approving them, too.
It is an awesome force: these 21 warships are deserving of their voyage.
Their orderliness, signalling and running speed! A government that
has such a force should be very proud indeed. The ships that have come
to meet us are all painted gray and ours will be so painted once we reach
America. Goodbye to the white color! Sunday: tomorrow we will be
on American soil. Last night two cruisers joined us and another one did
so this morning so now we are 25 warships. This is one incredible force!
Of the ten Ottoman officers, these five were identified:
Captain Sami Bey
Major Hakkı Bey
Lieutenant Colonel Arif Bey
Captain Nail Efendi
Major Rıza Bey