Montag, 30. Januar 2012

S.M.S. Erzherzog Ferdinand Max (1866)

BATTLE OF LISSA by Alex Kirchner, c. 1890

Above, in a fine Impressionist painting by Alex Kircher, the Austrian flagship Ferdinand Max slices through the Italian line at Lissa after sinking the ironclad frigate Re d'Italia. Survivors of the sunken foe wave from floating wreckage while the Max thrusts through a hail of poorly directed shellfire.

The 7 Weeks' War

The Battle of Lissa



Background to the Seven Weeks' War

A conflict between the Habsburg Empire on the one side, and Prussia and Italy on the other, taking place over the summer of 1866.

Small picture of TegetthoffIn 1866 Rear Admiral Wilhelm von Tegetthoff was tasked with readying the Adriatic fleet for war with Italy. As usual in the Austrian navy, he had barely enough time, beginning the mobilization in April for a campaign that would commence in July, and not enough funding. As his nucleus, the admiral had a number of wooden steam frigates and corvettes ready for sea plus a number of mostly small or incomplete ironclads.

SMS Ferdinand Max was named for a younger brother of Kaiser Franz Josef, remembered today for his ill-fated reign as Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico (1863-1867), whose overthrow by indigenous forces on May 5, 1867 was the source of the Cinco de Mayo holiday. Maximilian was also well-known in Austria as the Commander-in-Chief of the navy in the decade 1854 - 1864. His namesake ship, commissioned while he was still riding high in Mexico City, was one of two identical armored wooden frigates under construction at Trieste. Brand-new in 1866, the 5,100-ton ships were designed to carry two 8" Krupp rifles each, but they did not have the main guns mounted when they went into battle at Lissa. The guns were on the loading dock in Essen, Prussia, their shipment embargoed while Prussia and Austria were at war. The ships' armor installation also was incomplete. Austrian practice was to plate sections of the hull to protect engines and magazines, but these discrete patches were not joined into a continuous belt as in most other navies. When there was not enough time to complete the armoring, Tegetthoff instructed the yard to install only the forward sections. Knowing he would be outgunned without the Krupp guns, the admiral had already decided on ramming as a desperation measure and thus reasoned the armor would be most useful facing forward.

Tegetthoff had been accustomed to command from his favorite ship, the tall-masted frigate Schwarzenberg. Realizing that his men might need reassurance that the unfinished ships being rushed off to war were safe, while his vulnerable wooden ships would have to be in the second line, the admiral shifted his flag to the new Ferdinand Max and prepared to put her sharp ram bow to good use. In the weeks leading to the campaign, Tegetthoff drilled his crews incessantly in maneuvers and -- above all -- in gunnery. He went over tactics with his commanders so they knew what to expect. Over and over he was heard to say, "When we get into battle, ram anything that's grey," referring to the standard grey paint for the Italian fleet (the Austrian ships were all painted regulation black).


The now-famous flagship as she appeared after being repaired at Malta and refurbished at Pola dockyard, 1866.

Dimensions: 230'4" x 42'0" x 20'8" (70.2m x 12.8m x 6.3m)   Displacement: 5,130 tons standard. Armament: (16) 48-pdr SB, (4) 8-pdr SB; (2) 3-pdr SB. Armor: 4.33" wrought iron belt over battery, engines & magazines (110 mm). Propulsion: Coal-fired boilers, horizontal direct-acting steam engine, single screw; 3-mast barquentine rig. Maximilian speed: 12.5 kts (23+ km/hr).

Ships in class: Erzherzog Ferdinand Max · Habsburg

The Battle of Lissa

With the news of Austria's defeat at Königgrätz (July 3), the armies that had already dealt Italy a sharp defeat were thinned to defend Vienna. Knowing their time to strike would be limited now that Franz Josef was suing for peace with Bismarck, the Italians prepared blows by land and sea. Carlo Persano, a Piedmontese who had fought for Victor Emmanuel in the earlier stages of Italian unification, was made commander-in-chief of the unified Italian forces mustering at Taranto. He had at his disposal an impressive fleet including a dozen modern ironclads (nine of them iron-hulled) plus a numerous fleet of wooden vessels. His recent ironclads had been commissioned abroad specifically to beat what the Austrians had; two of his biggest ironclads had just joined the fleet after building in the U.S., and looked much like American steam frigates of the Civil War era. On paper this fleet outclassed the Austrians' scratch flotilla. However, Persano and his commanders seem to have become overconfident. They did no practice cruises to perfect their tactics. They had no conferences with the C-in-C to go over tactics, although a French tract on line-abreast fighting had been accepted as doctrine. Worst of all, they conducted no target practice. Thus the fleet that sailed from Ancona on July 12 was less formidable than it might appear. Its mission: to seize fortified Adriatic islands, then use them as stepping-stones for the invasion of Istria and the Dalmatian coast. The contemplated conquest was cloaked in the cant of reviving the once-glorious Venetian Empire as a part of the new, unified Italy.

The armada's first stop was the island of Lissa (Vis in Croatian), where they bombarded the fortified town of Vis in preparation for landing troops and conquering the island. As soon as Persano's fleet appeared, the commandant telegraphed the news to Tegetthoff at Pola, with regular updates as his situation worsened. Luckily the Italians held off landing, thoroughly softening up the position first. In two days of heavy firing, the invaders destroyed about 65% of the island's fortifications. Meantime, Tegetthoff had led his motley assortment of warships to sea on the afternoon of the 19th. He disposed his forces into three divisions -- one of ironclads, one of unprotected wooden ships, one of smaller gunboats and auxiliaries. On the morning of July 20, 1866, he raised the masts of the Italian flotilla offshore near the north end of Vis and led the Austrian forces in to attack as shown below.

Map of Battle of Lissa

Persano's command was in the process of landing troops when Tegetthoff was sighted. The Italians were in an invidious position comparable to the Japanese carriers at Midway: They were frantically trying to switch from one mode to another, from landing soldiers to fighting a pitched naval battle. Persano drew his fleet up in a ragged line between the Austrians and the shore, with a second line of wooden ships positioned so far to the rear they were effectively out of range. Just before the clash, Persano himself impulsively switched his flag from the large, visible admiral-ship Re d'Italia to the smaller but more maneuverable ironclad Affondatore -- without informing his captains. This transfer caused uncertainty of command, and left a big gap in the Italian line. From that time on, confusion spread among the Italians.

Ram of the RE D'ITALIAThe Austrians were quick to capitalize on their foes' disarray. As the fleets converged around 10:50 a.m., Tegetthoff deployed his ships in a series of wedge formations and sailed them straight into the gap in the enemy line. On breaking through behind the Italian line each vessel turned port or starboard to begin a general mèlée à la Nelson. Individual ships could then fight broadside-to-broadside and look for opportunities to ram. In an action lasting 4 hours, the Austrians managed to overcome their paucity in numbers and deficiencies in matériel through good gunnery, skilled seamanship, and fierce fighting spirit. In the first phase of the battle it was by no means clear that the Austrians would prevail, however. One scholar has written that "the Austrians were hampered by inferior guns, while the Italians were hindered by incompetent gunners." However, on breaking through, Tegetthoff had already achieved a local predominance of force, with seven ironclads to the Italians' four at the center of the line. Meanwhile, following his orders, the weaker Austrian squadrons had lured segments of Italian strength off into side battles, preventing them from rallying and concentrating against the best Austrian vessels. Tegetthoff hunted ships to ram, smashing the ironclad Palestro in the stern and setting her ablaze with his shellfire. He also made contact with the Portogallo, but it was a glancing blow only and did her no serious harm. Meanwhile, leading the division of wooden ships, the two-decker Kaiser became the only wooden screw battleship ever to engage ironclads in a naval battle. With her towering sides, she made a large and vulnerable target and was surrounded by smaller Italian ironclads peppering away. One of these was the Affondatore -- whose name meant "Sinker" in Italian -- an ironclad ram in which Persano had hoisted his pennant, without telling his commanders of the switch (they continued to look to the Re d'Italia for signals -- in vain -- all through the action.)

Affondatore prepared to ram and finish the old ship-of-the-line, making two clumsy attempts without contact. When Kaiser loosed a well-aimed broadside of solid shot at point-blank range, Affondatore's bow turret was jammed and put out of action, although her armor protected the ship from worse damage. At this point Persano seems to have lost his nerve, ordering his captain to retreat. So the golden opportunity passed, and the initiative passed to the Austrians with it.

Detail of Battle Painting by Anton RomakoCarrying out Tegetthoff's tactics, Kaiser put on maximum steam and rammed the Re di Portogallo. Observing the plight of the Kaiser, Tegetthoff maneuvered nearby and finding the Re d'Italia stopped, her steering damaged, he headed for her, intent on ramming. The Italian skipper, Capt. Faá di Bruno, reversed his engine in order to avoid a collision, but this proved unwise. Tegetthoff ordered maximum speed from the engine room and charged straight at the crippled ironclad, penetrating her on the port side aft while going 11½ knots. Ferdinand Max's ram ripped an 18-foot gash in the Re's hide. Ferdinand Max's skipper, Capt. Max von Sternbeck, managed the ticklish task of backing his ship out of the mauled Italian ironclad, which quickly filled and sank in a whirlpool along with her captain and 383 of her crew. A detachment of marines stationed in the Re's fighting tops fired two deadly volleys at the personnel of their nemesis as their own ship sank under them. Ferdinand Max's decks were slippery with blood, but the admiral seemed to lead a charmed life as he alertly and athletically directed the battle from his bridge. Click on the image of Tegetthoff at right to see a spirited painting of the Ferdinand Max in action by Anton Romako, famed Biedermeier School artist and brother of the Kriegsmarine's chief naval architect/inspector.

As mentioned above, most of the Italians believed the Re d'Italia to be their flagship, so the sinking had a devastating effect on their morale. Shortly after the sinking, the ironclad corvette Palestro blew up and sank with her entire crew. The Italians seemed to lose their enthusiasm for fighting; Persano bustled about in Affondatore ordering ships back into combat, but no one seemed to pay him attention. The Italian fleet retired in disorder, leaving behind quite a few boats and some troops and supplies intended for the aborted landing. Italy lost 636 of her sons killed and two of her ironclads sunk that day, plus one heavily damaged; Austria suffered 38 killed and 138 wounded, but no vessels sunk, two seriously damaged. Though the battle was messy and somewhat inconclusive, it counted as an Austrian victory. Coming as it did the day before the peace treaty was signed, it somewhat assuaged the sting of the army's defeat. Tegetthoff was acclaimed a great national hero.

Battle Damage to the Flagship

Above, the Ferdinand Max at Pola directly after the battle. The ship's ram bow is obviously crumpled and patched after her adventures on the field of battle, and her mainmast is missing. The vessel was sent to the British Navy's dockyard at Malta for repair of her hull damage. The ship was showered with honors, as was Tegetthoff himself. The Kaiser decorated him and promoted him Vice Admiral; he would ascend to the height of command, vigorously championing reform of the navy, only to die suddenly of pneumonia in 1871. The admiral was 43. A period of national shock and grieving followed. The K.u.K. Kriegsmarine soon named its most powerful new battleship after him: the 1878 central battery ship. The tradition continued in the 20th century when the Kriegsmarine stepped up to a new level of naval power with the Tegetthoff class dreadnoughts in 1912.

Upon becoming a national idol, the plain-spoken admiral was embarrassed by the adulation and glad to get back to his beautiful sailing frigate, the Schwarzenberg. And in 1869, the Ferdinand Max and Habsburg finally received their 8" Krupp guns. They would serve another 17 years with the Adriatic fleet, and twice as long after that as fleet auxiliaries.

Meantime, naval analysts elevated Tegetthoff's expedient of ramming to undeserved tactical importance. Even though the improving range of naval guns and strength of armor all pointed to battles' being fought at greater and greater distances, even though the Whitehead torpedo had appeared as an alternate way of dealing death and destruction, no self-respecting warship would be built over the next 40 years without a mean-looking ram at the bow. Click here for a pictorial essay on rams and ramming tactics from the 1860s through World War I.

In the last analysis the battle was won by Tegethoff's inspired leadership, ability to improvise, and ability to inspire loyalty and, yes, love in his crews. Another important contributor to victory was the fact that about two-thirds of the crews sailing under the Habsburg flag were Croats from the Dalmatian coast. This was their homeland; they were fighting in defense of their homes, and as Slavs who did not want Italian domination. Irredentist parties were agitating for union with Italy in most of the big towns on the east side of the Adriatic. The native Slavs looked to tolerant Austrian rule to prevent their absorption into an Italian state where Slavs would be a tiny minority. Lastly, Italian incompetence must be considered a key factor in Tegetthoff's victory. After the sinking of the Re d'Italia, Persano rushed around in the Affondatore, ordering his ships back to attack the Austrians; but to no avail. He had not informed his captains that he would be sailing in Affondatore, so his signals carried no authority. Had his captains not seen the flagship surrender and sink with all hands? In the smoky confusion there was nothing Persano could do to salvage a deteriorating situation; confusion became near-panic. History might remember him more kindly if he had accepted his share of the blame, rather than trying to pretend he had won a victory (Italian newspapers actually claimed it was so until the embarrassing truth leaked out). But instead, Persano's folly furnished the Habsburgs with a touchstone of patriotic pride which they exploited shamelessly over their remaining 50 years in power.

Despite its symbolic glory, the battle was completely unnecessary for military and state purposes. The chief Italian war aim was to recover the Veneto -- the rich territory surrounding Venice. In the preliminaries to peace, the Habsburgs had already surrendered the Veneto (to France, as a face-saving gesture, with the understanding that France would turn it over to Italy). As for the projected invasion of Dalmatia, the Italians would have been lucky to consolidate their conquest of Vis in the remaining hours of hostilities, let alone launch an invasion of the mainland. So their sacrifices were in vain, as is so often the case in war.

A Battle of Lissa Portfolio

Overview of the Battle of Lissa

In a dramatically simplified lithograph by Kapp, Ferdinand Max watches close by as the Re d'Italia up-ends into the blue Adriatic. Neither ship looks the slightest bit knocked-about by the furious fighting, conveniently hidden by a wall of gunsmoke. Click here for a super enlarged view.


Another contemporary painting by Eduard Nezbeda shows the Kaiser ramming the Re di Portogallo. The venerable wooden ship lost her foremast and funnel to raking fire from the U.S.-built Italian ship, sister to the sunken Re d'Italia. Kaiser's damage required two months in the yard to repair. With the Austrian two-decker's figurehead still embedded in her hull, the Italian managed to escape in the smoke while the Kaiser backed off for another go. The Portogallo retreated to Ancona with the rest of the Italian fleet and resumed duty after repairs. Click here for an awesome enlarged view!

Overview of the Battle of Lissa

A contemporary chromolithograph of the battle by F. Kollarz combines a number of discrete incidents into one dramatic tableau. Front and center, the Re D'Italia sinks, crowded with desperate men, while behind her the Ferdinand Max rams again. In the actual battle she rammed three ships and sank two. Yet to ram and lose her bowsprit, the wooden battleship Kaiser approaches (bows on), while in the background, the Italian ironclad Palestro explodes colorfully across the page. While far from accurate, the print is certainly entertaining and conveys something of the confusion of the battle. Eyewitness accounts all stress the smokiness and poor visibility of the mèlée, minimized by the artist for obvious reasons.

The KAISER at the Battle of Lissa, by Kircher

The fog of gunsmoke and the confusion of battle are better rendered in this canvas by Alex Kircher. Kaiser takes center stage in this panorama of the battle, apparently just after breaking the Italian line, with the Portogallo behind her and Austrian ironclads at left including Tegetthoff's flagship. Enlarge

The KAISER at the Battle of Lissa, by Kircher

In this depiction by Constantine Volanakis, a variation of the grouping above shows the enemy ships locked in tight groups of one-on-one combat. The Kaiser again dominates the foreground while the Re d'Italia sinks to her left. Enlarge

Harpers illustration of the RE d'ITALIA

The lost Re d'Italia and her sister-ship Re di Portogallo were built in the U.S. for the Italians; seen here in an illustration from the American weekly Harpers: A Journal of Civilisation. Like the Affondatore they were new at the time of the battle, and had been built expressly to defeat the Austrian fleet; rushed to completion, they were fashioned from unseasoned timber. Each ship carried two 8" (203 mm) Parrott rifles as well as a broadside of heavy smoothbore weapons. In the battle Re d'Italia lost her steering and was unable to maneuver before the fatal encounter with Tegetthoff. Re d'Italia was to have been Persano's flagship, but at the last minute he switched to the new ironclad ram Affondatore. Not all the ships in his command were aware of the change, leading to muddled signaling and overall confusion. Rivalry between its Venetian and Genoese factions also contributed to an unclear chain of command on the Italian side. Photo

Specifications for the Re d'Italia class:
Dimensions: 276'7" x 54'5½" x 22' (84.3m × 16.6m × 6.7m)   Displacement: 5,791 tons. Armament: (2) 8" Parrott MLR (203 mm); (30) 6.3" (160 mm) SB; (2) 70-pdr SB. Armor: 4.5" wrought iron belt (114 mm). Propulsion: Coal-fired boilers, side lever steam engine, single screw. 3-mast barque rig. Top speed: 12 kts (22.2 km/hr).

Ships in class: Re d'Italia · Re di Portogallo. Schematic

Sinking of the RE d'ITALIA

Above, Die Seeschlacht bei Lissa by Carl Frederik Sörensen, 1868. The Re d'Italia's captain applied full astern power in an ill-advised attempt to avoid colliding with Ferdinand Max, just as the Austrian flagship sprinted forward to ram. Tegetthoff crashed his ram into her abaft the port beam, tearing an 18-foot gash in his opponent's wooden hull. Italia's captain, Faá di Bruno, hauled down his colours and (according to legend) took a revolver to his own temple as his ship rapidly settled, sinking 2-3 minutes after the collision. He was awarded a posthumous Gold Medal for Military Valor. Of his 550-man crew, only 167 were saved.

The RE d'ITALIA foundering at the Battle of Lissa
In a contemporary illustration, the Re d'Italia sinks by the stern. Enlarge


The Affondatore, built in Britain, was rushed out to Italy to be present at the battle; her paint was hardly dry when Admiral Persano named her his flagship. Unfortunately, the good admiral was hardly up to putting his advanced ship -- an ironclad ram with two Coles turrets -- to its best use. During the battle he was in a perfect position to ram the Kaiser at one point, but after maneuvering under fire for some 10 minutes trying to get a clear run at his target, ordered his captain to retire from the fray. When Persano arrived in Venice after the battle, he announced a smashing victory and the city went wild with celebrations. When the truth came out, Persano was court-martialed for cowardice and drummed out of the service. With several modernizations, Affondatore remained on the roster of the Regia Marina through 1907.

Daguerreotype of Italian vessels at Ancona

The Italian fleet licking its wounds at Ancona after the battle, July 22. Affondatore at top right. On left, top to bottom: ironclad corvette Varese, Re di Portogallo, ironclad corvette Ettore Fieramosca, paddle frigate Governolo. Source: P. Becchetti collection.

Daguerreotype of Austrian vessels at Pola

Austrian fleet units at Pola dockyard after the battle, 1866. L-R, back to front: the steam 2-decker Kaiser, the Ferdinand Max, and the wooden steam frigate Schwarzenberg, Tegetthoff's favorite ship.

Austrian armored corvette DRACHE Sketch by A. Cherini

The 3,075-ton armored corvettes Drache (shown) and Salamander were among the most recent ironclads in the Habsburg fleet, launched 1862. One guess what their main weapon was! Specifications: Dimensions: 62.8m × 13.9m × 6.3m (206' x 45'7" x 20'8") Displacement: 2,750 tons standard, 3,075 tons full load. Armament: (10) 48-pdr SB, (18) 24-pdr SB; (1) 8-pdr SB; (1) 4-pdr SB. Armor: 4.5" wrought iron belt (114 mm). Propulsion: Coal-fired boilers, single screw, 3-mast barque rig. Speed: 11 kts (20.37 km/hr). Click here for enlarged view.

Photo of the ERZ. FRIEDRICH of 1857

Another veteran of Lissa, the 1,724-ton wooden screw corvette Erzherzog Friedrich was launched in April 1857. With her light draft she was able to operate close in to shore or in shoal waters anywhere. This proved helpful in her later career as a scientific exploration ship of the Austrian Navy. This photo was taken in 1873, seven years after the battle. Specifications: Dimensions: 67.8m × 12m × 5m (222'5" x 39'5" x 16'5"). Displacement: 1,724 tons; Armament (1866): (17) 30-pdr SB, (2) 8-pdr SB; (1) 4-pdr SB. Propulsion: Coal-fired boilers, single screw, 3-mast ship rig. Speed: 11 kts (20.37 km/hr). Click here for enlarged view.

Patent medicine advertisement featuring Adm. Tegetthoff

After the battle Tegetthoff was acclaimed a great national hero. Much as Civil War and Spanish-American War heroes were celebrated in advertisements and patriotic prints, the bewhiskered admiral was eulogized in the finest chromolithography. Above, an endorsement by a patent-medicine firm seeks to boost sales through association with the victor of Vis.


The Ferdinand Max had a long and honored semi-retirement. Here she is in the 1880s, her sail rig removed and bridge and pilothouse added behind foremast, but otherwise looking much as in her salad days in the 1860s. Note torpedo net rolled up along hull. Ship remained in commission until 1886.

Ferdinand Max as gunnery tender, c. 1900

In the long twilight of her career, Ferdinand Max served as a tender to the gunnery training ship at Pola. In this humble but highly appropriate capacity she lingered for 29 years. She was hulked in 1889 but not broken up until 1917. 51 years was well above the average lifespan of a wooden ship in that era.

Relevant Web Resources

Keine Kommentare:

Kommentar veröffentlichen