The Genesis of the Austrian Navy.

Austrian Frigate Novara circumnavigated the world over 1857/1859
Austrian Frigate Novara circumnavigated the world over 1857/1859
The ancient city of Venice with its fascinating political and historical past is very much linked to that of Austria and its capital of Vienna. Its seems fruitful to briefly review the time line that relates to Venice.


Venice was founded on the 25th. of April 421 AD on St Marks day. In 726, Orso Ipato the first Doge there began his rule.

814: Found the first coins minted, and work started on the first Doge's Palace.

828: The body of San Marco is stolen from Alexandria by Venetian merchants.

1171: The first 6 districts of Venice are established.

1173: The first Rialto bridge is built.

1204: Venice takes part in the conquest and sacking of Constantinople, and the 4 bronze horses on display in front of S.Marco are plundered from Turkey.

1380: Venice defeats Genoa to gain supremacy at sea in the Adriatic and the Mediterranean.

In the 14th. 15th. and even into the 16th. century Venice held sway over much of Europe, her conquests on the mainland at their peak by 1454.

1576: The plague struck, killing 50,000, and in 1630, a second wave of this disease accounted for yet another 46,000 Venetians.

1683: The Turks had advanced into the heart of Europe, and were threatening Vienna, and by

1718 the Peace of Passarowitz between Austria and Turkey, put an end to the fighting between Turkey and Venice, and it marked the end of the political domination of Venice in European affairs.

Venice was now on the slippery slope of decline.

1748: The Peace of Aix-le-Chapelle now placed Austria in a dominant position of all the territories surrounding Venice.

Over 1796/1797 Napoleon is on the march against Italy, and with the Treaty of Campoformido in October 1797, Venice is given to Austria by Napoleon.

The Hapsburgs rule this city only until 1805 when it again changes hands and is returned once again to Napoleon, and the French rule for 10 years.

But by 1815, Austria takes charge of Venice until 1848, when the people rebel, and proclaim a new Republic under Daniele Manin.

But it is freedom for Venetians for but a short time, by August of 1849, Austria is again in control.

1866: The fate of Venice is finally decided by the outcome of the Third War of Independence, Venice goes to Napoleon 111 of France, and he in turn gives it to Italy, confirmed by a plebiscite of the populace of Venice themselves.

Sinking of Italian Red'Italia after being rammed by Austrian flagship Ferdinand Max, at the Battle of Lissa in the Adriatic Sea, 20th. July 1866.

Sinking of Italian Red'Italia after being rammed
by Austrian flagship Ferdinand Max,
at the Battle of Lissa in the Adriatic Sea, 20th. July 1866.

The place of the Danube in the defence of Austria.
The Danube River with a length of 2,840 kilometers was an important link in Austria's defence chain. Not only trade plied its waters, but it became a supply line during wartime. The Turks to the east were always a threat, and the Hapsburgs reacted by producing sail- frigates for service in the middle and lower reaches of the Danube. These ships of the 16th Century may be marked as the genesis of an Austrian navy.

The age of steam burst onto the world in 1830, and two British engineers,   John Andrews and Joseph Pritchard started a shipyard in the Vienna suburb of Floridsdorf, launching the first Danube steamship, Franz 1.

Frigate Novara world voyage over 1857/1859.
This ship, built as Minerva at Venice in 1843 had been renamed Novara, in memory of the victory at Navora by Field Marshal Raditzky. This ship was but 50 metres long with a 14 metre beam, and was crammed with 30 officers and 315 crew. Over the years of 1857/1859 she circumnavigated the world, on a voyage of scientific discovery, sent on her way by the C -in -C of the Navy, Ferninand Maximilian.

In addition to the Danube defence ships, Austria built up a blue water navy, based in Venice or at Pola, dependent upon who held sway over the city of Venice sitting at the top of the Adriatic.

Italy had instituted a navy in 1861, and it came in conflict with the Austrians at the Battle of Lissa ( an island between land locked Austria and Italy, located in the Adriatic ) on the 20th. of July 1866, the Italians lost, their battleships Re d'Italia and Palestro, both being sunk.

This painting by Eduard Nezbeden in 1911 depicts the Austrian triple decked wooden battleship Kaiser, ramming the Italian ironclad Re di Portogallo. Kaiser was severely damaged in this encounter

This painting by Eduard Nezbeden in 1911 depicts the
Austrian triple decked wooden battleship
Kaiser, ramming the Italian ironclad Re di Portogallo
Kaiser was severely damaged in this encounter


Austria's first two screw Danube Monitors.
In 1870/1871, the Austrian Navy's first two screw Danube Monitors, Maros and Leithe were completed, both guns placed in a revolving turret, a first for this navy. At Budapest, two more monitors were built in 1891/1892, they were Szamos and Koros.

The Whitehead - Luppis 14 inch torpedo.
The Austrian Navy were amongst the first nations to recognize the lethal potential of the newly invented torpedo by Robert Whitehead and their own retired Naval Officer Luppis, and to order them for their ships in 1868.

Captain George von Trapp. Married Agathe Whitehead great grand daughter of Robert Whitehead co inventor of the torpedo
Captain George von Trapp. Married Agathe Whitehead great grand daughter of Robert Whitehead co inventor of the torpedo
Captain von Trapp of Sound of Music fame.
von Trapp was a handsome Naval officer, who had commanded a submarine in the Austrian Navy, and it so happened that Robert Whitehead's great grand daughter Agathe Whitehead had been invited to launch a new submarine for the Navy. The pair met at the ceremony, fell in love, married, had 7 children. In 1922 Agathe died from scarlet fever. von Trapp married the children's governess Maria, and the musical "Sound of Music" came to be born. Today, one cannot visit Salzburg without being inundated with the romantic story of Maria, and her marriage to Georg von Trapp, let us not forget, he was a very intrepid and successful Submarine commander for the Austrian Navy in WW1.

The politics of Central Europe prior to WW1.
The Emperor of Austria, Franz Joseph, had also been crowned King of Hungary in 1867, bringing together some 51 million people who lived in 675,000 square kilometers of the combined empire of Austria and Hungary. The Triple Alliance had been formed by Austria/Hungary, Germany and Italy, all of them in fear of the huge bear, Russia.

To counter act this alliance, the Triple Entente came into being, Britain, France and Russia.

Planting the seeds of WW1 .
On the 28th. of June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria/Hungary, and his Countess were assassinated at Sarajevo by a Serb nationalist. On the 6th. of July with Germany urging them on, Austria/Hungary declared war on Serbia. Thus were the seeds of WW1 sown.

France and Russia mobilized, Germany declared war on Russia and France, and when Germany marched into Belgium, then Britain joined the fray declaring war. At this early stage, Italy sat on the side lines remaining neutral, but Turkey, in October came in on the side of Germany, thinking they had picked the final winner. Finally, six months after the outbreak of WW1, Italy declared war on Austria/Hungary.

Austro-Hungary Navy Flag 1915-1918

Austro-Hungary Navy Flag 1915-1918

Significant Austro-Hungarian Navy at start of WW1.
The Navy of Austria/Hungary at the start of WW1 was quite significant: 3 Dreadnoughts, 3 Semi Dreadnoughts, 6 Pre Dreadnoughts, 4 Coastal Defence Ships, 3 Armoured Cruisers, 2 Protected Cruisers, 4 Light Cruisers, 25 Destroyers, a number of Torpedo Boats, and 6 Submarines ( one of which was only used for training purposes ) War time additions were another 30 ships, 21 of them being submarines.

In all, over the 1914/1918 war, some 17 of the above ships were sunk. The submarines of this fleet had a good deal of success, damaging the French Dreadnought Jean Bart, they sank a French and Italian Armoured cruiser, a British Destroyer, and 2 French and 2 Italian Destroyers, plus a French and Italian Submarine.

At War end, the Austro/Hungarian ships were divided up between the victorious Allies.

When the 1914/1918 war came to an end, the remaining ships of the Austro-Hungary Navy were divided up between the Allied Nations,to  the old tried and true adage "To the victors the spoils!"

The time of Austria-Hungary being a Maritime nation, had at last, come to an end.

More information: Post War Distribution of Austro-Hungarian Warships


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