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The saga of the British dreadnoughts contracted to Turkey—even while a British Naval Mission was modernizing the Ottoman navy and British firms were upgrading the naval port facilities of Constantinople— illustrates, as nothing else could, just how precarious were the strands of the strategic “alliance” between London and Petersburg. It was almost as if, during the Cold War, a close American ally (say, Britain) had decided to sell nuclear weapons to the Soviet ­Union, and to send a team of advisers to show Soviet engineers how best to deploy and target them.

The first is that, at the last planning conference of Imperial Russia’s leading civilian and military of­fi­cials before the July crisis, there was no mention of Serbia and only passing reference to the mobilization timetable against Germany and Austria-­Hungary. The strategic issue of the day was clear and unambiguous: Constantinople and the Straits. The second point is that, despite all the hue and cry about Russia’s Army Great Program of October 1913, and the (soon to be announced) Naval Program of March 1914—neither of which would be completed before 1917 at the earliest—Russia’s leaders were under no illusion that they would be able to wait that long before going to war.

Krivoshein was a notorious Germanophobe: the French loved him. 53 In view of Russia’s increasing export-­economy vulnerability and burgeoning Germanophobia in the Council of Ministers, it is not hard to see why rumors about the imminent appointment of Liman von Sanders (and forty-­odd other German of­fi­cers) to command the Ottoman Straits defenses in November 1913 struck Petersburg like a thunderclap. Already on high alert lest the ungrateful Bulgarians usurp Turkish authority in Constantinople, Russia was now faced with the frightening prospect that her most powerful enemy would soon possess a chokehold at the Straits over her export economy, on which depended ev­ery­thing else.

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D-1 152mm Howitzer

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