Warship Wednesday (on a Thursday), Dec. 13, 2018: Franz Ferdinand’s Pacific platypus slayer

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday (on a Thursday), Dec. 13, 2018: Franz Ferdinand’s Pacific platypus slayer

Photographed by B. Circovich of Trieste, Via Capuano 17, Trieste, NH 88933, colorized by my friend Diego Mar at Postales Navales https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Community/Postales-Navales-100381150365520/

Here we see the Kaiser Franz Joseph I-class “torpedo ram cruiser,” SMS (Seiner Majestät Schiff =His Majesty’s Ship) Kaiserin Elisabeth, of the Austro-Hungarian k.u.k. Kriegsmarine, probably soon after her completion in November 1892 while in the Adriatic. She would have a history filled with oddities.

Laid down at Marinearsenal Pola in June 1888 for the dual monarchy’s navy, her only sister, SMS Kaiser Franz Joseph I, was named for the country’s tragic emperor. Old Franz Josef, had lost his brother, Maximillian, after the Mexicans stood him up against a wall in 1866. His only son, Rudolph, died in 1889 in the infamous Mayerling Incident. His wife, Elisabeth, a German princess, had been Empress of Austria for 44 years when she was stabbed to death by the Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni in Geneva in 1898.

A picture made available 04 September 2008 shows the triangular file with which Austria Empress Elisabeth (1837-1898) was murdered, in the Sisi Museum at the Vienna Hofburg, 03 September 2008, in Vienna, Austria. EPA/ROBERT JAEGER

It was for said consort that our cruiser was named, although she was very much alive at the time of the ship’s construction.

Just 4,500-tons, the 340-foot (overall) torpedo ram cruiser named for the ill-fated Empress earned her designation from the fact that she carried a ram bow (a weapon the Austrians had used to good effect at the Battle of Lissa just two decades earlier) and four 14-inch deck-mounted trainable torpedo launchers for early Whitehead-style fish. That is not to say that she did not carry a decent gun armament, as it should be noted that she carried a pair of 9.4-inch Krupp breechloaders as well as a number of short-barrel 5.9-inch guns.

Photographed early in her career, probably in about 1892 at Pola. The hulk in the right background is unidentified. The layout of the ship’s armament-two single 24cm (9.4 inch), one forward and one aft, and six 15cm (5.9 inch) guns, three to a side, can be seen clearly. NH 88908

However, being a steam warship for the 1880s, she was not very fast, capable of only 19-knots when all 8 of her boilers were aglow with Bohemia’s finest coal. Her bunkers could carry over 600-tons of the latter, which enabled her to steam some 3,500nm between station. This set up Kaiserin Elisabeth for overseas service.

Note that big 9.4-inch gun forward, looking right at home on a boat the size of today’s light frigates. Photographed while on trials. Note temporary rig NH 87329

How she looked when complete, notice different rig. KAISERIN ELISABETH Austrian Cruiser NH 87337

Commissioned 24 January 1892, by the next year she was headed to wave Austria’s flag in the Far East.

KAISERIN ELISABETH Photographed early in her career, possibly during her round-the-world cruise of December 15, 1892, to December 19, 1893. Notice her extensive awnings, common when the ship was in the Far East. NH 92041

Although the country had no colonies, Austria was allied to Germany who had several territories in both Africa and the Pacific, which allowed the cruiser ample opportunities for coaling.

Her first mission: take the Kaiser’s cousin and then second in line to the throne, a young Franz Ferdinand, on a world tour that included stops in India, Ceylon, and other points East. (Franz Ferdinand’s father, Karl Ludwig, was at the time first in line to the throne but died of typhoid fever in 1896, leaving Franz to become Archduke).

Franz Ferdinand and his hunting companions pose by a dead elephant in Ceylon, from the Austrian National Library / Ehzg Franz Ferdinand und vier Jagdbegleiter beim erlegten Elefanten

In May 1893, Kaiserin Elisabeth made port at Sydney, where aboard was Ferdinand, along with other such personages as the Archduke Leopold of Tuscany. As told The Monthly, an Australian magazine, in a 2011 issue, for the next several weeks Ferdinand and company, “accompanied only by his personal taxidermist, three counts, a major-general, the Austrian consul,” et.al. took over 300 animals on a series of great hunts across the Australian continent including kangaroos, koalas, wallabies and at least one likely very surprised platypus for which the Archduke had a “burning desire” to take.

Kaiserin Elisabeth went on become involved in Chinese politics and landed forces in 1900 along with the Austrian cruisers Zenta, Maria Theresia and Aspern to take part in the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion as part of the Eight-Nation Alliance.

Sailors from the SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth in the streets of Tsingtau. The four Austrian cruisers would land a 300-man force for duty ashore.

The two-year conflict netted Vienna a paltry 150-acre concession from the failing Manchu Dynasty in the city of Tianjin in 1902, which was duly protected by a platoon of Austrian marines. During the Boxer Rebellion, the commander of the Austrian force, RADM Count Rudolf Monecuccoli, used Kaiserin Elisabeth as his flagship. He would in 1904 go on to become Marinekommandant (Navy Commander) and Chef der Marinesektion (Chief of the Naval Section of the War Ministry), so it was evidently a good stepping stone for him.

Photographed at Pola on 1 October 1901 on her return from East Asia and the Boxer Rebellion, in a grey scheme. NH 87336

Returning to Europe, Kaiserin Elisabeth underwent a major two-year refit and modernization starting in 1905 after more than a decade of hard service including two extensive world cruises. This saw the replacement of her dated Krupp 9.4-inch guns with a pair of long-barreled 5.9-inch L/40 K.96s. This gave her a broadside of five 5.9-inch guns on each side, with three ahead and three astern. Her sister, which became a harbor defense ship at Cattaro, had a similar refit.

Photographed after reconstruction of 1906. NH 87341

Photographed at Kobe, Japan on 18 August 1909 with her decks almost completely covered in canvas. The ship had been rebuilt in 1906. NH 87339

Her 1914 entry in Janes

Caught in the German Chinese colony of Tsingtau when the Great War kicked off, Kaiserin Elisabeth originally didn’t have anything to fear from the growing Japanese fleet that was massing just offshore. This changed when Japan declared war on Austria-Hungary on August 25, 1914– two days after the Empire of the Rising Sun did so on Germany.

While the Germans managed to evacuate most of the ocean-going warships from the harbor during the Japanese ultimatum prior to the balloon going up, the elderly and, by 1914 obsolete, Austrian cruiser was left behind along with the small German coastal gunboats and torpedo craft Iltis, Jaguar, Luchs, Tiger, and S-90. The stripped and crewless old German Bussard-class unprotected cruiser SMS Cormoran (2,000-tons), was also in the harbor, but her crew had already beat feet with the condemned ship’s guns and vital equipment in a captured Russian steamer that assumed the latter’s name.

When the Japanese siege began, Kaiserin Elisabeth‘s 5.9-inch and 3-pounders were removed and mounted ashore in what became known as “Batterie Elisabeth.”

SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth’s guns as part of the defenses at Tsingtau, August-Nov 1914

During this period, as the largest ship in the defender’s hands, she suffered no less than three ineffective air raids including the first documented attack by a ship-based airplane when Japanese Navy Maurice Farman seaplanes from the seaplane carrier Wakamiya dropped small bombs around her. If the curiosity of French balsa-wood flying machines piloted by English-trained Japanese pilots bombing an Austrian warship crewed largely by Yugoslavs (and commanded by Hungarians) in a German-held port in China doesn’t make you shake your head, I don’t know what will.

An abortive sortie out of the harbor by the partially disarmed cruiser failed, although it did allow the crew of the German torpedo boat S-90 to escape to nearby Nanking– after she sank the Japanese mine cruiser Takachiho (3,700-tons).

One by one, as the Japanese grew closer, the bottled up Austro-German ships were scuttled and Kaiserin Elisabeth was no exception, being sent to the bottom by her own crew on 2 November 1914, just two days before the city fell.

In all, more than 300 members of Kaiserin Elisabeth‘s crew that survived the siege became Japanese prisoners, with most of them held at Camp Aonogahara, near Kobe, for the duration of the war. They only returned to Europe in 1920– to a country that no longer existed. As for Franz Josef, he died in 1916 while Elisabeth‘s crewmen were in Japanese EPW camps. As for Tianjin, it was indefensible and the Chinese took it over in 1917 after the formality of a bloodless declaration of war.

For our cruiser, she is remembered in maritime art:

S.M.S. Kaiserin Elisabeth in Tsingtau by https://fmarschner.myportfolio.com/sms-kaiserin-elisabeth-in-tsingtau Fritz Marschner, shown with the Austrian naval ensign on her stern and the German ensign aloft.


Photographed at Pola Courtesy of the International Naval Research Organization NH 87342

Displacement: 4,494-tons FL
Length: 340 ft 3 in
Beam: 48 ft 5 in
Draught: 18 ft 8 in
Propulsion: 2 triple expansion engines, 8 boilers, 8,450 ihp at forced draft, two shafts
Speed: 19 knots (near 20 on trials)
Range: 3,500 nm on 600 tons coal (max)
Complement: Listed as between 367 and 450, although only had 324 at Tsingtau.
Armor: Up to 4 inches at CT, 2.25-inches deck
(As designed)
2 × 9.4 in (24 cm)/35
6 × 5.9 in (15 cm)/35
2 × 66 mm (2.6 in)/18
5 × 47 mm SFK L/44 Hotchkiss guns (3 pdr)
4 × 4.7 cm L/33 Hotchkiss guns (3 pdr)
3 × 3.7 cm L/23 Hotchkiss guns
2 x 5.9 in (15 cm)/L/40 K.96
6 × 5.9 in (15 cm)/35
16x 47 mm SFK L/44 Hotchkiss guns (3 pdr)
1 MG
4 × 360mm (14 in) torpedo tubes

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.