Here at LSOZI, we are going to take out every Wednesday for a look at the old steampunk navies of the 1866-1938 time period and will profile a different ship each week.
– Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, Sept 5
Here we have the Italian Torpedo Boat MAS 15 racing away from the already dramatically listing Austrian battleship Szent István on 10 June, 1918. MAS 15 was the only Motor Torpedo boat of any navy in history to sink an enemy battleship and set the bar impossibly high for World War Two.
Italian MTBs of this period were known as Motoscafo Armato Silurante (MAS) which translates as “torpedo armed motorboats”. MTBs were designed for high speed, operating at night, low speed ambush (to keep noise low and to produce no wake)and maneuverability on the water; this was to enable them to get close enough to launch their torpedoes at enemy vessels. With next to no armor, the boats relied upon surprise and their agility at high speed
to avoid being hit by gunfire from bigger ships.
Length: 49 feet (15m)
Propulsion: twin gasoline motors (extremly flammable)- 21knots top speed with torpedoes, 30 without.
Construction: thin mild steel hull
Crew: 1 officer, 7 ratings
Armament: Two 14-inch torpedoes in collars that dropped over the side. Two Marlin machine-guns (1895/15)
The tiny wooden craft sent two torpedos into the hull of the 499-foot 21,689 ton Tegetthoff-class battleship Szent István. At about 3:15 am on 10 June, 1918 two Italian MAS boats, MAS 15 and MAS 21, spotted the smoke from the Austrian ships while returning from an uneventful patrol off the Dalmatian coast. The MAS platoon was commanded by Capitano di corvetta Luigi Rizzo, who had sunk the Austro-Hungarian coastal defense ship SMS Wien in Trieste six months before.The individual boats were commanded by Capo timoniere Armando Gori and Guardiamarina di complemento Giuseppe Aonzo respectively. Both boats successfully penetrated the escort screen and split to engage each of the dreadnoughts. MAS 21 attacked Tegetthoff, but her torpedoes failed to hit the ship. MAS 15 fired her two torpedoes successfully at 3:25 am at Szent István. Both boats evaded any pursuit although MAS 15 had to discourage the torpedo boat Tb 76 by dropping depth charges in her wake. Tegetthoff thought that the torpedoes were fired by submarines and pulled out of the formation and started to zigzag to throw off any further attacks. She repeatedly fired on suspected submarine periscopes until
she rejoined her half-sister at 4:45.
Szent István was hit by two 45-centimetre (18 in) torpedoes abreast her boiler rooms. The aft boiler room quickly flooded and gave the ship a 10° list to starboard. Counter-flooding of the port-side trim cells and magazines reduced the list to 7°, but efforts to use collision mats to plug the holes failed. While this was going on the dreadnought steered for the nearby Bay of Brgulje at low speed. However, water continued to leak into the forward boiler room and eventually doused all but the two boilers on the port side. This killed the power for the pumps and only left enough electricity to run the lights. The turrets were trained to port in a pointless effort to counter the list and their ready ammunition was thrown overboard. An attempt by Tegetthoff to take the crippled battleship into tow was also abandoned after it became clear that Szent István was doomed. Flooding continued, and Szent István capsized at 6:05 am off Premuda Island. Only 89 sailors died—41 from Hungary—the low death toll partly attributed to the fact that all sailors with the KuK Navy had to learn to swim before entering active service.
Film footage exists of Szent István‘s last half-hour, taken by Linienschiffsleutnant Meusburger of the Tegetthoff with his own camera as well as by an official film crew.
The wreck of the Szent István was located in the mid-1970s by the SFR Yugoslav Navy. She is upside down at a depth of 66 metres (217 ft).Her bow broke off when it hit the seabed while the stern was still afloat, but is immediately adjacent to the rest of the heavily encrusted hull. The two holes from the torpedo hits are visible in the side of the ship as is another deep hole which may be from a torpedo fired at Tegetthoff by MAS 21.
Nevertheless, nobody cares about MAS 21, its MAS15 that gets the credit.
Here she is preserved today some 94 years later:
Capitano di fregata Luigi Rizzo was awarded his second Gold Medal of Military Valor, his first was for sinking the pre-dreadnought battleship Wien in 1917, and appointed a knight in the Order of the Crown of Italy. After the war MAS 15 was installed in the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II as part of the Museo del Risorgimento in Rome. The anniversary of the sinking has been celebrated by the Regia Marina, and its successor, the Marina Militare, as
its Navy Day
Not bad for a boat the size of your typical cabin cruiser.