Warship Wednesday January 11, 2017: Yugoslavia’s second brief battleship
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday January 11, 2017: Yugoslavia’s second brief battleship
Here we see the one-of-a-kind barbette ironclad Austrian battleship SMS Kronprinz Erzherzog Rudolf of the k.u.k. Kriegsmarine, likely in the mid-1890s. A beautiful vessel when commissioned, she was rapidly outclassed but held an important role both in the twilight of the Austrian Empire and in the birth of the Yugoslav Navy.
Designed by naval engineers Viktor Lollok and Josef Kuchinka of the Marinetechnischen Komitees der k.u.k. (MTK), the team who would build the first Austrian armored cruiser and other really well done projects, Austrian Adm. Maximilian Daublebsky von Sterneck first ordered a pair of coastal defense battleships that would, in the end, suck out more than two whole years’ worth of the Navy’s budget (not just the shipbuilding budget, but the whole thing).
First laid down was Kronprinz Erzherzog Rudolf, named after the apple of Emperor Franz Joseph I’s eye, his only son.
The 6,829-ton battleship was stubby, at 320-feet long and tubby at 63-feet across the beam, giving it a length to beam ratio about 1:5, but at least she could float in 24-feet of seawater. When designed in 1881, the top speed for the new ship, 15.5-knots, seemed adequate, especially when it was kept in mind that she had a double-hull, up to 12-inches of steel armor, and extensive watertight compartmentalization.
She was fitted with three Krupp 12-inch (30.5 cm/35 cal) guns in open forward (port and starboard) and rear centerline mounts much like the French ships of the time. This particular size gun was in use with the British (Majestic-class), American (USS Texas and Iowa) and Russian (Chesma-class, Georgy Pobedonosets-class, Navarin) fleets, leaving the Austrians in good company.
Over a dozen smaller caliber QF guns kept torpedo boats at bay.
She was completed September 1889 and was commissioned some nine months after her namesake sensationally died in a suicide pact with his mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera, at the Mayerling hunting lodge, breaking old Franz Josef’s heart and leaving the Archduke Franz Ferdinand as heir to the throne– a man whose own death would spark World War I.
The smaller SMS Kronprinzessin Erzherzogin Stephanie (4995-tons, 280-feet, 2x305mm guns, 2 masts) would be built in Trieste to a much modified (cheaper) design and commissioned in 1889 as the last Austrian barbette ironclad.
Together, the cost of these two ships would force the Austrian Navy to put battleship orders on hold until the 5,785-ton Monarch-class coastal defense battleship SMS Budapest was ordered in May 1892 and funded so frugally that the yard took over six years to complete.
This left Rudolf as the most heavily armed and armored ship in the Austrian fleet for a decade, and she was used extensively to show the flag.
Rudolf, along with Stephanie and two other smaller vessels, spent part of 1890 in the Baltic and North Sea operating with the German Navy as a squadron. They later visited Italy and Spain to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the New World in 1892, and made calls in ports across Europe.
When Budapest and the rest of her respective class were commissioned in the late 1890s, Rudolf and little sister Stephanie were largely withdrawn to second-rate service.
By 1908, the Austrians were looking to sell the then 20-year-old vessels which were badly in need of a refit to South American interests, with no takers.
Relegated to coastal defense with a reduced crew, World War I found Rudolf as a station ship in Cattaro Bay, where she remained throughout the war tending submarines.
In February 1918, after months of inaction and inspired by what was going on at the time in Bolshevik Russia, the fleet at Cattaro– Rudolf included– mutinied. Idle hands in a frozen port with little food will do that to you.
The mutiny lasted three days until it fell apart after modern battleships showed up from Pola and German U-boats threatened to send any ship flying a red flag to the bottom. During the incident, Rudolf was on the receiving end of a few rounds from a shore battery (perhaps the one shown above) still loyal to the Emperor. At the end of the affair, four ringleaders were executed and 392 mutineers court-martialled from across the naval division in port.
Interrupting the legal matters, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire imploded a few months later, the Emperor handed over the entire Navy to the newly formed Kingdom of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs (KSCS, later Kingdom of Yugoslavia) on 29 October 1918. Nobody told the Italians what happened and on 1 November, Italian frogmen sank the mighty (now-Slovenian) battleship
The problem was that nobody told the Italians what happened and on 1 November, Italian frogmen sank the mighty (now-Slovenian) battleship Viribus Unitis at anchor in 1918, in effect, the largest loss ever suffered by the Yugoslav Navy.
When the Allies arrived to occupy the ports a few days later, they promptly took over the former Austrian ships and held them through 1920, in the end sinking or taking away as prizes the best of the lot– including Stephanie who was transferred to Italy as a war prize and was eventually broken up for scrap in 1926.
As allowed by the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, the Allies tossed Yugoslavia the scraps nobody wanted to include a dozen small torpedo boats, some slowpoke river monitors, a couple of auxiliaries and the ex-SMS Kronprinz Erzherzog Rudolf, which still had a couple of holes in her from the mutiny and hadn’t moved in years.
The Yugoslavs took over the old lady in March 1921 and, after renaming her Kumbor, she became the default flagship of the new force, for the record being the largest ship they ever operated post-Armistice Day.
The honeymoon was short-lived.
She was sold for scrap sometime in 1922, with the Yugos not having another seagoing warship until they bought the old 2,953-ton German protected cruiser Niobe in 1925.
Today little remains of Rudolph/Kumbor other than maritime art, of her on a much better day when she carried the withering ensign of her dying empire to a far off land.
Displacement: 6,829 metric tons (6,721 long tons)
Length: 320 ft. 3 in o/a
Beam: 63 ft. 3 in
Draft: 24 ft. 3 in
10 × fire-tube boilers
6,000 ihp (4,500 kW)
Propulsion: 2 × triple-expansion steam engines, 580-tons coal
Endurance: 2600nm at 10 knots
Speed: 15.5 kn (28.7 km/h; 17.8 mph)
Armor: (Harvey steel)
Belt: 305 mm
Deck: 95 mm (3.7 in)
Barbettes: 254 mm (10.0 in)
3 × 30.5-centimeter (12.0 in) guns
6 × 12 cm (4.7 in) guns
7 × 47 mm (1.9 in) QF guns
2 × 37 mm (1.5 in) QF guns
4 × 40 cm (16 in) torpedo tubes
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