Indefatigable, accompanied by the battlecruiser Indomitable and under the command of Admiral Sir Berkeley Milne, encountered the German battlecruiser Goeben and the light cruiser Breslau on the morning of 4 August 1914, which were headed east after a cursory bombardment of the French Algerian port of Philippeville. Britain and Germany were not yet at war, so Milne turned to shadow the Germans as they headed back to Messina to re-coal. All three battlecruisers had problems with their boilers, but Goeben and Breslau were able to break contact and reached Messina by the morning of the 5th. By this time Germany had invaded Belgium and war had been declared, but an Admiralty order to respect Italian neutrality and stay more than six miles (10 km) from the Italian coast precluded entering the Strait of Messina, from which they could have observed the port directly. Therefore Milne stationed Inflexible and Indefatigable at the northern exit of the strait, expecting the Germans to break out to the west where they could attack French troop transports. He stationed the light cruiser Gloucester at the southern exit, and sent Indomitable to coal at Bizerte, where she was ready for action in the Western Mediterranean.
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