Austro-Hungarian Navy

Austro-Hungarian Navy

Infobox Military Unit
unit_name=Austro-Hungarian Navy
(K.u.K Kriegsmarine)

caption=Austro-Hungarian Naval Ensign (1914)
country= Austria-Hungary
allegiance= House of Habsburg
role=Defense of the Adriatic Sea
size=4 Dreadnoughts
9 Pre-dreadnoughts
4 Coastal defence ships
3 Armoured cruisers
6 Light cruisers
30 Destroyers
36 Torpedo boats
6 Submarines
battles=World War I
notable_commanders=Anton Haus
Miklós Horthy
Georg Ritter von Trapp

The Austro-Hungarian Navy was the naval force of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The official name in German was the "Kaiserliche und Königliche Kriegsmarine" (Imperial and Royal Navy, abbreviated and better known as the "K.u.K. Kriegsmarine"). This navy existed prior to the establishment of the Dual Monarchy in 1867 and continued in service until the end of World War I. Prior to 1867, Austria's naval forces were those of the Austrian Empire. By 1915 a total of 33,735 naval personnel were in the K.u.K. Kriegsmarine.


The Austrian Portsmouth was their "seearsenal" (naval base) at Pola, which contained one of the largest floating dry-docks in the Mediterranean. Supplementary bases included the excellent harbour of Cattaro, the most southerly point of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Trieste, which voluntarily accepted Habsburg sovereignty in 1382. Both Trieste and Pola had major shipbuilding facilities. Hubmann, Franz, & Wheatcroft, Andrew (editor), "The Habsburg Empire, 1840-1916", London, 1972, ISBN 0-7100-7230-9]

Trieste was also the headquarters of the merchant line Austrian Lloyd (founded in 1836 and, later, Lloyd Triestino), whose headquarters stood at the corner of the Piazza Grande and Sanita. By 1913 Austrian Lloyd had a fleet of 62 ships comprising a total of 236,000 tons.

Austrian warships had their first military encounters in 1840 as a part of a British led fleet which ousted the Viceroy of Egypt, Muhammad Ali, from Ottoman Syria.

Venice too had an Austrian naval shipyard, from which the screw-driven gunboat "Kerka" (crew, 100) was launched in 1860 (not taken out of service until 1908). The Venice 'lagoon flotilla' of Austrian warships was, in 1864, moored in front of the church of San Giorgio and included the screw-driven gunboat "Ausluger", the paddle-steamer "Alnoch", and five paddle-gunboats of the Types 1 to IV.

In 1863 the Royal Navy's battleship warship|HMS|Marlborough, the flagship of Admiral Fremantle, made a courtesey visit to Pola.

During the invasion by Prussia and Austria of Schleswig-Holstein, Duchies then in Denmark, Rear-Admiral Wilhelm von Tegetthoff commanded an Austrian flotilla from his flagship, the screw-driven warship|SMS|Schwarzenberg in the naval action off Heligoland on May 9, 1864. SMS stood for Seiner Majestät Schiff.

The Austrian fleet made its name in the modern era at the Battle of Lissa on July 20, 1866, near the island of Vis in the Adriatic. It was a decisive victory for an outnumbered Austrian naval force, under the command of Rear-Admiral von Tegetthoff, over a superior Italian force, and was the first major European sea battle involving ships using iron and steam, and one of the last to involve deliberate ramming.

In 1873 the new sail and steam frigate warship|SMS|Laudon (crew 480) was added to the fleet, which took part in the International Naval Review off Gravosa in 1880.


During peace-time Austrian ships visited the Asia, North America, South America, and the Pacific Ocean.

When Franz Joseph's brother accepted the ill-fated throne of Mexico in April 1864 from Louis Napoleon, becoming Maximilian I of Mexico, the Austro-Hungarian warship warship|SMS|Novara conveyed him from the Adriatic to Vera Cruz, escorted by the frigates, warship|SMS|Bellona (Austrian) and "Themis" (French). Maximilian had served in the Austrian Navy and was an Admiral of the Fleet, and the Imperial yacht "Phantasie" led the warship procession from his Schloß Miramar out to sea. [ Haslip, Joan, "Imperial Adventurer - Emperor Maximilian of Mexico", London, 1971, ISBN 0-297-00363-1]

In 1869 the Emperor Franz Joseph travelled on board the screw-driven corvette warship|SMS|Viribus Unitis to the opening of the Suez Canal. The ship had been named after his personal motto.

Polar Expedition

Austro-Hungarian ships were also involved in Arctic exploration, discovering Franz Josef Land.

The naval schooner "Tegetthoff" left Tromsø in July 1872. At the end of August she got locked in pack-ice north of Novaya Zemlya and drifted to hitherto unknown polar regions. It was on this drift when the explorers discovered an archipelago which they named after Emperor Franz Joseph I.

In May 1874 Captain Payer decided to abandon the ice-locked ship and try to return by sledges and boats. On 14 August 1874 the expedition reached the open sea and on 3 September finally set foot on Russian mainland.

Crete Rebellion

In late 1896 a rebellion broke out on Crete, and on January 21, 1897 a Greek army landed in Crete to liberate the island from the Ottoman Empire and unite it with Greece. The European powers, including Austria-Hungary, intervened, and proclaimed Crete an international protectorate. Warships of the K.u.K patrolled the waters off Crete in blockade of Ottoman naval forces. Crete remained in an anomalous position until finally ceded to Greece in 1913.

The Boxer Rebellion

Austria-Hungary was part of the Eight-Nation Alliance during the Boxer Rebellion in China (1899 - 1901). As a member of the Allied nations, Austria sent two training ships and the cruisers warship|SMS|Kaiserin und Koenigin Maria Theresia, warship|SMS|Kaiserin Elisabeth, warship|SMS|Aspern, and warship|SMS|Zenta and a company of marines to the North China coast in April 1900, based at the Russia concession of Port Arthur.

In June they helped hold the Tianjin railway against Boxer forces, and also fired upon several armed junks on the Hai River near Tong-Tcheou. They also took part in the seizure of the Taku Forts commanding the approaches to Tianjin, and the boarding and capture of four Chinese destroyers by Capt. Roger Keyes of warship|HMS|Fame|1896. In all K.u.K forces suffered only several casualties during the rebellion.

After the uprising a cruiser was maintained permanently on the China station and a detachment of marines was deployed at the embassy in Peking.

Lieutenant Georg Ritter von Trapp, made famous in the musical "The Sound of Music", was decorated for bravery aboard the warship|SMS|Kaiserin und Koenigin Maria Theresia during the Rebellion.


During the First Balkan War Austria-Hungary joined Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Italy in blockading the seaport town of Bar in the Kingdom of Montenegro.

European naval arms race

Among the many factors giving rise to World War I was the naval arms race between Great Britain and Imperial Germany. However, that was not the only European naval arms race. The Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Kingdom of Italy were in a race of their own for domination of the Adriatic Sea.Fact|date=December 2007 The Austro-Hungarians built four Dreadnoughts in the form of the Tegetthoff class battleships; these were opposed by six Dreadnoughts of the Italian Regia Marina.

World War I

The Austro-Hungarian navy saw some action during the First World War, but prior to the Italian entry spent most of its time in its major naval base at Pula, Croatia. Following the Italian declaration of war the mere fact of its existence tied up the Italian Navy and the French Navy in the Mediterranean for the duration of the war.

On 15 May 1915, when Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary, the Austro-Hungarian navy left their harbors in Pola, Sebenico and Cattaro to bombard the eastern Italian coast between Venice and Barletta. Main targets were the cities of Ancona, Rimini, Vieste, Manfredonia, Barletta and bridges and railway tracks along the coast. By 1917 the Austro-Hungarian fleet was as yet largely undamaged.

The presence of three Allied navies in the Mediterranean made any measures of co-ordination and common doctrine extraordinarily difficult. The Adriatic was divided into eleven zones, of which the British naval authorities were responsible for four, the French for four, and the Italians for three. Differing command structures, national pride and the language barrier all contributed to a lack of cohesion in the application of Allied sea power, producing a situation in which German and Austro-Hungarian U-Boat attacks on shipping flourished. An example of the lack of co-ordination was the sinking of the Italian troop transport "Minas" bound from Italy to Salonika, which was torpedoed in one of the British zones in February 1917 with the loss of 870 lives, a British escort not understanding a message and failing to relieve the Italian destroyer which turned around at the zone barrier.

Battle at Durazzo

In December 1915 a K.u.K. Kriegsmarine cruiser squadron attempted to make a raid on the Serbian troops evacuating Albania. After sinking a French submarine and bombarding the town of Durazzo the squadron ran into a minefield, sinking one destroyer and damaging another. The next day the group ran into a squadron of British, French, and Italian cruisers and destroyers. The resulting battle left two Austrian destroyers sunk and light damage to another, while dealing only minor damage to the Allied warships.

A three-power conference on April 28, 1917, at Corfu, discussed a more offensive strategy in the Adriatic, but the Italians were not prepared to consider any big ship operations, considering the size of the Austro-Hungarian fleet. The British and French seemed reluctant to move alone against the Austro-Hungarians, especially if it meant a full scale-battle. But the Austrians were not inactive either and even as the Allied conference was in session they were planning an offensive operation against the Otranto Barrage.

Battle of the Otranto Straits

Throughout 1917 the Adriatic remained the key to the U-boat war on shipping in the Mediterranean. Cattaro, some 140 miles above the narrow Straits of Otranto, was the main U-Boat base from which almost the entire threat to Mediterranean shipping came.

The Otranto barrage, constructed by the Allies with up to 120 vessels used as net drifters and 30 motor launches, all equipped with depth-charges, was designed to stop the passage of U-Boats from Cattaro. However, this it failed to do and from its inception in 1916 the barrage had caught only two U-Boats, the Austrian U-VI and the German UB-44 out of hundreds of possible passages.

However, the barrage effectively meant that the Austro-Hungarian surface fleet could not leave the Adriatic sea unless it was willing to give battle to the blocking forces. This, and as the war drew on bringing supply difficulties especially coal, plus a fear of mines, limited the Austro-Hungarian navy to shelling the Italian and Serbian coastlines.

There had already been four small-scale Austro-Hungarian attacks on the barrage, on March 11, April 21, and 25, and May 5, 1917, but none of them amounted to anything. Now greater preparations were made, with two U-Boats despatched to lay mines off Brindisi with a third patrolling the exits in case Anglo-Italian forces were drawn out during the attack. The whole operation was timed for the night of May 14/15, which led to the biggest battle of the Austro-Hungarian navy in World War I, the "Battle of the Otranto Straits".

The first Austro-Hungarian warships to strike were the two destroyers, the warship|SMS|Czepel and warship|SMS|Balaton. An Italian convoy of three ships, escorted by the destroyer "Borea", was approaching Valona, when, out of the darkness, the Austrians fell upon them. The "Borea" was left sinking. Of the three merchant ships, one loaded with ammunition was hit and blown up, a second set on fire, and the third hit. The two Austrian destroyers then steamed off northward.

Meanwhile, three Austro-Hungarian cruisers under the overall command of Captain Miklos Horthy, the warship|SMS|Novara, warship|SMS|Saida, and warship|SMS|Helgoland, had actually passed a patrol of four French destroyers north of the barrage, and thought to be friendly ships passed unchallenged. They then sailed through the barrage before turning back to attack it. Each Austrian cruiser took one-third of the line and began slowly and systematically to destroy the barrage with their 4 inch guns, urging all Allies on board to abandon their ships first.

During this battle the Allies lost two destroyers, 14 steamships and one glider while the Austro-Hungarian navy suffered only minor damage (the "Novara"'s steam supply pipes were damaged by a shell) and few losses. The Austro-Hungarian navy returned to its bases up north in order to repair and re-supply, and the allies had to rebuild the blockade.

The Mutiny of 1918

In February 1918 a mutiny started in the 5th Fleet stationed at the Gulf of Kotor naval base. Sailors on, it is said, up to 40 ships, had joined the mutiny over demands for better treatment and a call to end the war.

The mutiny failed to spread beyond Kotor and within three days a loyal naval squadron had arrived. Together with coastal artillery the squadron fired several shells into a few of the rebel's ships, and then assaulted them with Royal Austrian Marines in a short and successful skirmish. About 800 sailors were imprisoned, dozens were court-martialed and four seamen were executed, including the leader of the uprising, František Raš, a Bohemian. Given the huge crews required in naval vessels of that time (a destroyer would normally have a crew of up to 500 men) this is an indication that the mutiny was limited to a minority.

Late World War I

A second attempt to force the blockade took place in June 1918 under the command of Rear-Admiral Horthy. A surprise attack was planned but an Italian torpedo boat by chance spotted the flotilla, and launched two torpedoes hitting one of the four Austrian Dreadnoughts, the warship|SMS|Szent István. The lost element of surprise made Horthy break off his attack. Huge efforts were made by the crew to save the "Szent Istvan" which had been hit below the water-line, and the "Tegetthoff" took her in tow. However just after 6 a.m., the pumps being unequal to the task, the ship, now listing badly, had to be abandoned and it sank soon afterwards.

In 1918, in order to avoid giving the fleet to the victors, the Austrian Emperor gave the entire Austro-Hungarian Navy and merchant fleet, with all harbours, arsenals and shore fortifications to the People's Council of the new State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs. They in turn sent diplomatic notes to the governments of France, the United Kingdom, Italy, the United States and Russia, to notify them that the State of SCS was not at war with any of them and that the Council had taken over the entire Austro-Hungarian fleet.

However, the navy was soon attacked at its moorings by the Italian Regia Marina, and the French navy commandeered the new dreadnought "Prinz Eugen" which they took to France and later used it for target practice in the Atlantic, where it was destroyed.

Ships Lost

Ships lost in World War I: [Dario Petković: Ratna mornarica austro-ugarske monarhije, Pula 2004, Page 86, ISBN 953-6250-80-2]

* 1914: warship|SMS|Kaiserin Elizabeth, warship|SMS|Zenta
* 1915: U12, U3, warship|SMS|Lika, warship|SMS|Triglav
* 1916: U6, U16
* 1917: U30, warship|SMS|Wildfang, warship|SMS|Wien
* 1918: U23, warship|SMS|Streiter, U20, U10, warship|SMS|Szent Istvan

Naval problems

Except for the period before the Battle of Lissa the army-controlled Austrian War Ministry oversaw naval expenditures. Not surprisingly, the Austro-Hungarian Navy was a bit of an afterthought.Fact|date=September 2007 The navy's problems were further exacerbated by the eleven different ethnic groups comprising the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Officers had to speak at least four of the languages found in the Empire. Germans and Czechs generally were in signals and engine room duties, Hungarians became gunners while Croats and Italians were seamen or stokers. The Dual Monarchy of the Empire, in which the Emperor of Austria was also the King of Hungary, was reflected in the navy's title, the Imperial and Royal Austrian Navy - K. u K. Kriegsmarine (kaiserlich und königliche Kriegsmarine). Besides problems stemming from the difficulty of communicating efficiently within such a multilingual military, the Empire's warship designs were generally smaller and somewhat less capable than those of other European powers.Fact|date=September 2007

The Dreadnought Era

Great Britain had already taken the lead. The battleship "HMS Dreadnought" had been completed in 1906, and was so advanced that some argued that all previous battleships were rendered obsolete, although Britain and other countries kept pre-dreadnoughts in service.

Austria-Hungary's naval designers, aware of the inevitable dominance of all big gun dreadnought type designs, then presented their case to the "Marinesektion des Reichskriegsministeriums" in Vienna, who, on October 5, 1908, ordered the construction of their own dreadnought, the first contract being awarded to 'Werft das Stabilimento Tecnico Triestino (STT)', the naval weaponry to be provided by the Škoda Works in Pilsen. The Marine budget for 1910 was substantially enlarged to permit major refits of the existing fleet and more dreadnoughts. The battleships warship|SMS|Tegetthoff and warship|SMS|Viribus Unitis were both launched by the Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Trieste, amongst great rejoicing, on June 24 1911, and March 21, 1912. They were followed by the warship|SMS|Prinz Eugen, and the warship|SMS|Szent Istvan. These battleships, constructed later than many of the earlier British and German dreadnoughts, were considerably ahead in some aspects of design, especially of both the French and Italian navies, and were constructed with Marconi Wireless rooms as well as anti-aircraft armaments. It is said they were the first battleships in the world equipped with torpedo launchers built into their bows. Wagner, Walter, & Gabriel, Erich, "Die 'Tegetthoff' Klasse", Vienna, January 1979 ]

Between the 22nd and 28th May 1914 the "Tegetthoff", accompanied by the "Viribus Unitis", made a courtesy visit to the British Mediterranean fleet in Malta.

Among the European States, Imperial Germany enhanced her naval infrastructure, building new dry docks, and enlarging the Kiel Canal to enable larger vessels to navigate it. Imperial Russia too had commenced building a new modern navy [ Greger, René, "The Russian Fleet, 1914-1917", London, 1972, ISBN 7-110-0255-X ] following their naval defeat in the Russo-Japanese War.

The British Royal Navy, with its great political clout, is nevertheless said to have suffered from a lack of foresight, with their warship designers labouring under width, length and tonnage constraints imposed by size limitations of existing facilities.

Austrian Naval Air Arm

In August 1916, the Royal Naval Air Corps or "K.u.K. Seeflugwesen" was established. This was later renamed "K.u.K. Seefliegerkorps" in 1917. The K.u.K. Seefliegerkorps served at the following airfields in Albania and southern Dalmatia: Berat, Kavaja, Tirana, Scutari and Igalo. They also had airfields at Podgorica in Montenegro.
*Flik 1 - Igalo from June - November 1918
*Flik 6 - Igalo from November 1915 - January 1916
**- Scutari from January 1916 - June 1917
**- Tirana from July 1917 - June 1918
**- Banja from June - July 1918
**- Tirana from July - September 1918
**- Podgorica from September - November 1918
*Flik 13 - Berat from August - September 1918
**- Kavaja from September - October 1918The following K.u.K squadrons served at Feltre also:
*Flik 11 - from February 1918
*Flik 14 - from June 1918 to November 1918
*Flik 16 - from November 1917 - October 1918
*Flik 31 - from June - July 1918
*Flik 36 - from June - July 1918
*Flik 39 - from January - May 1918
*Flik 45 - during April 1918
*Flik 56 - during December 1917
*Flik 60J - from March - September 1918
*Flik 66 - from January 1918 - November 1918
*Flik 101 - during May 1918 Feltre was captured by Austrian forces on 12 November 1917. There were two other K.u.K airfields nearby, at Arsie and Fonzaso. It was the main naval airstaion for the K.u.K. The K.u.K. Seeflugwesen used mostly modified German planes, but produced several variations of its own. Notable planes for the service were the following:
*Fokker A.III
*Fokker E.III
*Hansa-Brandenburg B.I
*Hansa-Brandenburg D.I
*Aviatik D.I
*Albatros D.III
*Phönix D.I
*Fokker D.VII

Famous personnel

*Wilhelm von Tegetthoff - Austrian admiral of the mid-19th century
*Miklós Horthy - Hungarian World War I admiral; Regent of Hungary thereafter until 1944.
*Georg Ritter von Trapp - Austrian submarine officer; head of the Von Trapp Family Singers made famous in the musical "The Sound of Music"

Commanders-in-Chief of the Navy ("Oberkommandant der Marine"; from March 1868 styled "Marinekommandant")

*Hans Birch Dahlerup, VAdm.(February 1849-August 1851)
*Franz Graf Wimpffen, VAdm,(August 1851-September 1854)
*Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria, Adm.(September 1854-April 1864)
*Archduke Leopold Ludwig of Austria, Adm. (April 1864-March 1868)
*Wilhelm von Tegetthoff, VAdm.(March 1868-April 1871)
*Friedrich von Pöck, Adm.(April 1871-November 1883)
*Maximilian Daublebsky von Sterneck, Adm.(November 1883-December 1897)
*Hermann von Spaun, Adm.(December 1897-October 1904)
* Graf Rudolf Montecuccoli, Adm.(October 1904-February 1913)
*Anton Haus, Adm./GAdm.(February 1913-February 1917)
*Maximilian Njegovan, Adm.(April 1917-February 1918)

Commanders-in-Chief of the Fleet (1914-1918) ("Flottenkommandant")

*Anton Haus, Adm./GAdm(July 1914-February 1917)
*Maximilian Njegovan, Adm.(February 1917-February 1918)
*Miklós Horthy, KAdm./VAdm.(February 1918-November 1918)

Chiefs of the Naval Section ("Chef der Marienesektion")

*Wilhelm von Tegetthoff, VAdm.(March 1868-April 1871)
*Friedrich von Pöck, Adm.(October 1872-November 1883)
*Maximilian Daublebsky von Sterneck, Adm.(November 1883-December 1897)
*Hermann von Spaun, Adm.(December 1897-October 1904)
* Graf Rudolf Montecuccoli, Adm.(October 1904-February 1913)
*Anton Haus, Adm./GAdm.(February 1913-February 1917)
*Karl Kailer von Kagenfels, VAdm.(February 1917-April 1917)
*Maximilian Njegovan, Adm.(April 1917-February 1918)
*Franz von Hulob, VAdm.(February 1918-November 1918)

ee also

* S.M.S. Novara had left such a legacy behind that it was selected the main motive for a very recent commemorative coin: the 20 euro S.M.S. Novara coin minted in June 16 2004. The obverse shows the frigate S.M.S. Novara under sail during her circumnavigation of the globe in 1857-1859. The Novara was the first Austrian ship in the Austro-Hungarian Navy to circumnavigate the world. In the background, there is a representation of the Chinese coast. Seagulls, showing the nearness to land, circle the ship.
* List of ships of the Austro-Hungarian Navy
* List of Austro-Hungarian U-boats
* The Adriatic Campaign of World War I
* Mediterranean naval engagements during World War I
* Gulf of Kotor Mutiny


* Kemp, Peter, "The Otranto Barrage", in "History of the First World War", vol.6, no.1, BPC Publishing Ltd., Bristol, England, 1971, pps: 2265 -2272.

External links

* [ The Genesis of the Austrian Navy] - A Chronology
* [ K.u.K. Kriegsmarine] - Austro-Hungarian Navy officer rank insignia
* [ Austro-Hungarian Navy in World War 1, 1914-18 including ship losses]
* [ Austro-Hungarian Navy Deployment, 1914]
* [ Austro-Hungarian Danube Flotilla 1914]
* [ The Austro-Hungarian Submarine Force]
* [ Viribus Unitis]

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