Warship Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020: The Everlasting Albrecht Marsch

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, Feb. 26, 2020: The Albrecht Marsch

Here we see the unique early casemate battleship SMS Erzherzog Albrecht of the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Navy, the K.u.K Kriegsmarine, in Pola (Pula), sometime between 1874 and 1892. Designed as a “kasemattschiff” with a ram bow, she was built to fight at the Battle of Lissa, which predated her by a decade. Nonetheless, the obsolete Austrian would endure for 83 years in one form or another and live through both World Wars.

Lissa– as those who are fans of ram bows on steam warships are aware– was the iconic naval action in 1866 between Austria and Italy in which the tactic of busting below-waterline holes in one’s enemy’s ships proved decisive. Sadly, for a generation of battleships that immediately followed, ramming never really proved effective in combat again, save for its use in the 20th Century by fast warships against very close submarines caught operating on the surface.

Illustration of the Austro-Hungarian ironclad SMS Erzherzog Albrecht under sail published in “Europe in Arms: The Austro-Hungarian Navy”. The Illustrated Naval and Military Magazine. London: W. H. Allen & Co. IV: 384. 1886, via Wiki Commons

Beyond her reinforced ram bow, Erzherzog Albrecht was a decent brawler for her era. Based on the design of her preceding half-sister, SMS Custoza, Kaiser Franz Josef’s newest battleship went 5,980-tons, was 295-feet overall in length and carried a battery of eight 9.25″/20 cal cast iron Krupp guns in a two-tiered casemate protected by up to eight inches of wrought iron armor backed by another 10 of teak wood.

Cast iron 21cm cannon at Krupps Steel Foundry Works Essen, 1868. It was cast from single casing

The twin-funneled SMS Custoza. She differed from Erzherzog Albrecht in the respect that she was slightly larger and carried a battery of eight 10-inch guns. Erzherzog Albrecht was a “budget” follow-on.

Designed by Obersten-Schiffbau-Ingeniuer Josef Ritter von Romako, who also crafted Custoza, the two half-sisters were the country’s first iron ships. Capable of making 12.8-knots on her steam plant, Erzherzog Albrecht had a hybrid sail rig, common for her era, on three masts. Built at Trieste, she was commissioned in the summer of 1874, birthed out into the Adriatic.

She was named for Hapsburg general and war hero, Archduke Albrecht, Duke of Teschen, the bespectacled victor in the battle of Custoza in 1866 over the Italians.

This guy.

Unlike most European powers, Austria fought no outright wars from 1866 until 1914, except for a low-key counter-insurgency campaign in the Balkans, a fact that translated to a relatively peaceful half-century for the K.u.K Kriegsmarine. With that, Erzherzog Albrecht spent her front-line career in a series of short cruises around the Mediterranean and its associated seas, with long periods in ordinary, swaying at her moorings.

Pola (Pula), the Navy Yard, Istria, Austro-Hungary, Detroit Publishing Co postcard, the 1890s, via LOC

The only time she fired her guns in anger was to bombard Bokelj rebel bands near Cattaro (Kotor), Dalmatia, in March 1882, a factor of using a hammer to crush a grape. The year before she was used in gunboat diplomacy to protest French expansion in Tunisia, calling at La Goulette (Halq al-Wadi) on the North African coast for several weeks.

Austrian steam ironclad SMS Erzherzog Albrecht with her naval ram before 1892

Modernized on numerous occasions between 1880 and 1893, she received additional small-caliber anti-torpedo boat guns as well as a quartet of 14-inch torpedo tubes while engineering updates swapped out her plant. She picked up watertight bulkheads for safety and an electrical system for lighting and communication, two things that didn’t exist when she was designed in 1868.

SMS Erzherzog Albrecht by Leopold_Wölfling via Austrian Archives

By 1908, the ram-bowed ship, with her then-quaint wood-backed wrought iron armor and stubby 24 cm/20 black powder breechloaders, was as obsolete as can be in the era of Dreadnoughts and she was semi-retired.

Renamed from the regal Erzherzog Albrecht to the more pedestrian Feuerspeier (fire gargoyle), she was tasked with operating as a naval artillery school ship in Pola. For this work, she was demasted and largely disarmed other than for training pieces.

FEUERSPEIER (Austrian schoolship, 1872-1946) former battleship ERZHERZOG ALBRECHT photographed while serving either as a naval artillery school ship from 1908-1915 or as an accommodation ship for crews of German submarines operating from Adriatic ports during 1915-1918. An Erzherzog Karl-class battleship appears in the left background. The stern of the artillery school ship ADRIA (ex-frigate RADETZKY, 1872-1920) appears to the right. The photograph was taken at Pola. Courtesy of Mr. Arrigo Barilli, Bologna, Italy. NH 75917

Erzherzog Albrecht/Feuerspeier was such a non-threat in Western circles that she was not listed in the 1914 edition of Janes, which ranked Austria-Hungary as a 7th rate naval power.

When the lights went out all over Europe in 1914, Erzherzog Albrecht/Feuerspeier continued her use as a school ship until the next summer, when she came to the next chapter of her career.

In June 1915, the Germans established U-Flottille Pola to help their submarine-poor Austrian brothers-in-arms and use the base in the Adriatic to raid the Allies in the Med. Using a mix of U-boats sailing directly from German ports and breaking through the Allied blockade, and small coastal type UB- and UC-boats, which were dissected and moved by rail to Pola for reassembly, the Germans at one time or another ran 45 boats through the port.

It was during this time that Erzherzog Albrecht/Feuerspeier became one of the accommodation ship/submarine tenders (mutterschiff) for this force of visiting sailors.

Austrian submarine loading torpedo (Osterreichisches Staatsarchiv 5.17)

Among the “aces” sailing from Pola was the famed Lothar von Arnauld de la Perière, considered the king of Great War U-boat skippers, who bagged 77 ships totaling 160,000 GRT in four months in 1916 alone.

Of interest, the Austrian martial musical Erzherzog Albrecht Marsch, by Viennese composer Karl Komzak, was used by German submariners in both World Wars as a sailing song to celebrate departures and arrivals of U-boats, a holdover of the Happy Pola times when Feuerspeier’s band would play the tune on such occasions. So much so that the music was used in Das Boot when the fictional U-96 leaves her pens for the Atlantic, then when she returns.

Nonetheless, once the war was over and both the Imperial German and Austrian navies– along with their empires– were consigned to the dustbin of history, and Erzherzog Albrecht/Feuerspeier was captured by the victorious Allies along with several floating relics and more modern U-boats in Pola, then part of the newly-established Yugoslavia.

Ex-Austrian ships at Pola, circa 1919. Surrendered ships photographed by Zimmer. The surface ships are probably the ex-torpedo gun-vessel SEBENICO (1882-1920) and the ex-submarine tender PELIKAN (1891-1920) behind her. The two submarines in the foreground are probably of the U-27 class (German UB-II type) and most of the others are probably of the U-10 (UB-I) class. The conning tower on the right probably belongs to U-5. Catalog #: NH 42825

Pola Harbor, Yugoslavia in the foreground are three ex-Austrian hulks: front to back, LACROMA (ex-TIGER, 1887-1920), CUSTOZZA (1872-1920), and BELLONA (ex-KAISER, 1872-1920). To their right are two US SC boats. In the upper left are four French ALGERIEN class destroyers: bow letters I, H, Q, and R. In the center are three Italian destroyers including one of the ALESSANDRO POERIO class. The photo was taken late 1919-early 1920. Description: Courtesy of Paul H. Silverstone, 1983 NH 95006

In 1920, the old Austrian battleship was awarded to Italy as a war trophy under the terms of the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, aged 44, and was towed to Taranto where she was to be used as a tender under the name of Buttafuoco for the submarines of IV Gruppo.

She would continue in this task for another two decades, losing her name for the more generic designation of GM 64. (Her near-sister, SMS Custoza, was likewise awarded to the Italians but was quickly scrapped and never used.)

As in 1914, the 1945 edition of Janes neglected to list GM64/Buttafuoco under Italy’s entry, although such minor craft as 600-ton water tenders did make the cut.

GM 64 Buttafuoco (ex. Feuerspeier, ex. SMS Erzherzog Albrecht), Taranto, 1940

Italian submarines Giovanni da Procida and Ciro Menotti alongside GM 64, Taranto Mar 1941

An unidentified Italian submarine moored next to GM 64, Taranto 1941

In 1947, still in the Arsenale of Taranto, she was held as a floating hulk until it was decided to scrap the old girl in 1955.

GM 64 Buttafuoco (ex. Feuerspeier, ex. SMS Erzherzog Albrecht), Taranto, 1947 along with cluster of Italian subs

GM 64 Buttafuoco (ex. Feuerspeier, ex. SMS Erzherzog Albrecht), 1949

Her name has never been reissued.

In a hat tip to her Italian legacy, in 1996, a group of 11 winemakers joined to form the Buttafuoco Storico, with an ode to the former RN Buttafuoco of old.

Meanwhile, Chilean and Argentine U-boaters, err, submarinos, still reportedly sortie and arrive to the sound of the Erzherzog Albrecht Marsch.


1874, left, 1892-1908, right

Displacement: 5,980 long tons
288 ft 3 in waterline
294 ft 3 in o/a
Beam: 56 ft 3 in
Draft: 22 ft
8 boilers, one 2-cylinder Stabilimento Tecnico Triestino steam engine, one screw, 3,969 IHP
Ship rig as designed, schooner rig in practice
Speed: 12.84 knots
Endurance: 2300 @10kts on 500 tons of coal
Crew: 540
Belt- Composite 8 inches iron/10-inches teak
Casemate- Composite 7 inches iron/8-inches teak
8 x 9.4″/20cal C.24 Krupp breechloaders
6 x 3.5″/22 Krupp breechloaders
2 x 2.8-inch Krupp breechloaders
8 x 9.4″/20cal C.24 Krupp breechloaders
6 x 3.5″/22 Krupp breechloaders
2 x 2.8-inch Krupp breechloaders
2 x 2.59″/16 L18
9 x 47mm Hotchkiss RF
10 x 25mm Nordenfeldt RF
4 x 350mm torpedo tubes with Whitehead torpedoes

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