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Kriegsmarine had attained immense political importance. The Austro-Hungarian Navy, and by extension the naval industrial complex, was one of the few institutions which drew the Empire closer together at a time when irredentism, nationalism, and a precarious financial situation threatened to break it apart. This stabilizing effect was manifest in the widespread parliamentary support for naval construction immediately preceding the outbreak of war in 1914 and the remarkable performance of the K.u.K. Kriegsmarine despite its heterogeneous composition. The image of the navy as a palliative, however, would have been laughable prior to 1909, before which support for naval expansion was virtually non-existent. Austro-Hungarian navalism first gained prominence when Marinekommandant Admiral Rudolf Montecuccoli requested four dreadnoughts in his April 1909 budget.1 The fleet had been mobilized a year earlier during the Bosnian Crisis2 and political relations in the Adriatic were still tense. Moreover, the Italian government announced that its first dreadnought, the Dante Alighieri, had been laid down in June.3 Montecuccoli’s problem was threefold. Time was the first problem: While Montecuccoli’s plans had only been announced in April, the Italians had already begun construction in June. The second issue compounded the first; due to a political crisis in Budapest, the 1909 budget was not voted on. Hungarian minister-president Alexander Wekerle had fallen from power, and until a new parliament could be seated, no Delegation could be organized, no common budget could be passed,4 and thus the navy’s dreadnoughts could not leave the drawing board. Lastly, Montecuccoli would have to convince the Hungarians and the Czechs, traditional enemies of naval construction, to approve funding for his program. The Admiral needed to maneuver carefully if he wanted to attempt even parity with the Italians in the Adriatic.
2 Fortunately for Montecuccoli, there were slips open at the Stabilimento Tecnico Triestino since one of the most recent class of Austro-Hungarian battleships, the semi-dreadnought Radetzky, had just been completed.5 In order to avoid the losses and layoffs of skilled workers that would result without another naval contract, the industrialists at the Stabilimento Tecnico Triestino, the Witkowitz foundry, and the Skoda works offered to build three dreadnoughts at their own risk to be purchased at a later date.6 Money now presented a problem. This project had to be financed somehow, and it would have been explicitly unconstitutional for Montecuccoli to spend government money without the permission of the Delegations. The plan was saved by the navy’s greatest and most important patron: Archduke Franz Ferdinand.7 The Archduke personally visited Baron Albert Rothschild, whom he convinced to secure credit for the project.8 Rothschild, however, most likely did not need much convincing. His family owned a controlling interest in the Witkowitz foundry and through his bank, Creditanstalt, had large stakes in Skoda and Stabilimento Tecnico Triestino as well.9 With credit secured, the first dreadnought, Viribus Unitis, was laid down in July 1910 and the second, Tegetthoff, in September.10 Montecuccoli planned to secure funds to purchase the dreadnoughts, plus a fourth, in his 1910 budget.11 Yet when the Delegations met in October, he had serious obstacles to overcome. Many members of the Delegations, regardless of nationality, were angered at the perceived breach of their constitutional budgetary discretion.12 The socialist press organ Arbeiter Zeitung had broken the story of the dreadnought deal in April.13 Unfortunately for Montecuccoli, this was not his biggest problem. The Hungarians and Czechs had entrenched themselves further and remained bitterly opposed to the new, massive construction; the scandal accentuated their traditional opposition. The Hungarians in particular had managed to keep the naval budget from seeing any significant increase from 1868 through 1897 and had refused to vote on former
3 Marinekommandant Admiral Spaun’s 1898 Navy Bill.14 The Hungarian’s main concern in 1910, however, was that all four dreadnoughts were to be built in Austrian yards.15 The Czechs had similar selfish motives and were worried that the navy might seek foreign contracts for armor plate and heavy weaponry as it had done in the past. The Marinekommandant risked seeing his dreadnoughts sold to another navy if he failed to convince his opponents. Admiral Montecuccoli had a distinguished career at sea, but arguably his greatest achievement was obtaining unprecedented funding for the navy during his time as Marinekommandant.16 His genius was in placating his opponents in the Delegations with naval patronage, ultimately making many provinces dependent on naval expenditures. In securing the Hungarian vote, Montecuccoli’s most important ally was the recently converted István Tisza;17 Tisza was persuaded by Montecuccoli’s arguments for the constitutionality of ordering the dreadnoughts and thus put his substantial influence behind him.18 Their proposal to the Hungarian Delegation was simple: 113 million kronen would be spent in Hungary.19 This sum was 36.4% of the naval budget,20 in other words equivalent to the quota of the common budget provided by Hungary. With this, Montecuccoli promised to purchase half of the navy’s shells in Hungary21. Moreover, two light cruisers, six destroyers, six submarines, and the fourth dreadnought would be built in the Hungarian Danubius Shipyard.22 Lastly, Montecuccoli proposed that the final dreadnought be named Szent István after the patron saint of Hungary.23 The Czechs proved no less stubborn in their negations. In order to secure Czech support, Montecuccoli had to promise that all heavy weapons would manufactured by Skoda and all armor plate would be cast at Witkowitz despite lower prices at extra-national firms.24 At the end of negotiations, Czech leader Karel Kramář declared that he had “a certain weakness for the Navy.”25 Kramář’s comment, however, had less to do with sentiment and more to do with the
4 fact that Skoda and Witkowitz were so large and powerful that they not only controled their markets, but the provinces of Moravia and Pilsen as well.26 Montecuccoli was so successful in dealing with the Czechs that only Tomás Masaryk cast an opposing ballot.27 Compared to the previously divisive nature of the naval budget, the degree of consensus the different nationalities of the Empire reached while debating the 1910 budget is truly remarkable. All sections of the monarchy now had a stake in the continued expansion of the navy. Definitive proof of vested parliamentary naval interests cannot be based on one budget under one Marinekommandant. The last peace-time Delegation, however, passed a budget proposed by Montecuccoli’s successor, Admiral Anton Haus, which exceeded in cost and scope the entire budget of 1910.28 The 1914 naval budget was the largest in the history of the navy: it provided for another four dreadnoughts, three cruisers, six destroyers, and two monitors.29 All but two of the dreadnoughts and the cruisers were to be built in Hungary.30 The once out right anti-naval stance of the Hungarian Delegation had disappeared; they passed the budget in only fifteen minutes and without debate.31 Even the Czechs, who now had to share the contracts for heavy weaponry with the Hungarian firm Györ,32 did not offer opposition. Karel Kramář conceded that the Czechs were “happy when Skoda has business.”33 Unfortunately for all involved, the outbreak of war in July prevented any of these plans from coming to fruition. The coming of war, however, posed a more serious problem for the unity of the navy than a simple lack of dreadnought construction. Division of naval appropriations was no longer enough to preserve the unanimity which had been achieved at such a high price during the budget debates of 1910 and 1914. Since the different factions within the Empire could no longer be bought, it fell to the navy itself to bind them together and it did so remarkably. Every ship in the fleet, as opposed to Army regiments, was as diverse as the Hapsburg Empire itself.34 Each
5 nationality worked in areas to which their skills were suited thus preventing any serious tensions between crewmembers:35 the better educated Germans and Czechs were stationed on the bridge or in the engine rooms; Hungarians became gunners, and the majority of the common seamen came from the Dalmatian littoral, an area with a strong seafaring tradition.36 A French naval attaché went so far as to claim that the Austro-Hungarian crews worked better than their German contemporaries.37 It was the officer corps, however, that allowed the crews to be used to their full potential. The officers of the Austro-Hungarian Navy were held in high regard by their foreign colleagues; even the British admired their training and competence.38 While important, their reputation was not the officers’ best attribute. While at the Naval Academy, all cadets were required to learn multiple languages, including German, Serbo-Croatian, Italian, and English.39 Magyar was mandatory for all cadets from the Hungarian part of the Empire.40 Moreover, even though just over 50% of the officer corps was German-speaking, there was still a significant amount of other nationalities in the higher ranks. Marinekommandant Admiral Montecuccoli was of Italian background41 and two of his successors, Admiral Maximilian Njegovan and Admiral Miklós Horthy, were Croatian42 and Hungarian43 respectively. Yet none of the unity achieved by the officers and men of the navy would have mattered if they were defeated and sunk. History, however, shows us that the K.u.K. Kriegsmarine fought valiantly and effectively until the closing days of the war. Nationalism among the minorities never affected the navy to the degree it did Austria-Hungary as a whole. The war in the Adriatic was fought mostly by destroyers and submarines; there was only one true large scale exchange, the Battle of the Otranto Straits.44 This action, which took place over the course of May 14 and 15, 1917, originated as a cruiser raid on the Otranto barrage, a line of small ships called drifters which dragged lines of nets designed to catch U-boats45 and was a smashing success for the
6 K.u.K. fleet. The raiders sustained no losses and sank two destroyers, fourteen drifters, and an ammunition ship; a British cruiser was put out of action for several months as well. 46 This type of success, albeit on a smaller scale, was typical throughout the war. Even in March 1918, a month after the navy’s most dire morale problem, an American navy memorandum deemed the Adriatic “an Austrian lake in which no Allied Naval operations of importance are undertaken.”47 This degree of success was unparalleled on any other Austro-Hungarian front. Unfortunately for the navy, no manner of martial success could isolate them completely from the disintegration of the Empire. In February of 1918, a serious mutiny occurred at the Cattaro naval base.48 If this mutiny is not explained, it is very easy to succumb to the idea that the nationality issue had finally cracked; in truth, this is not so. The mutiny at Cattaro was inherently class based. Questions of nationality only arose obliquely.49 It is not surprising, however, that the sailors took issue with their situation. The senior officer at Cattaro, Rear Admiral Hansa, allowed the gap between officers and common seamen to grow unreasonably large.50 His family lived on his flagship, his officers were treated to the best food available, and officers of all ranks enjoyed better clothing and accommodation than was available to the average seaman.51 For the sailors, the monotonous routine of work for work’s sake compounded the lack of food and proper clothing.52 When the mutiny did break out, it started onboard Hansa’s ship, the armored cruiser Sankt Georg, and spread easily through intimidation as the mutineers were in control of the most powerful ship in the harbor. As the mutiny widened, the sailors made the decision to run up the red flag of the proletariat on their ship’s masts.53 A flag is a symbol of unification, and the choice of the red flag clearly indicates the class conscious nature of the mutiny. Had the uprising been sparked by nationality, no flag would ever have appeared given the mixed composition of the crews. The
7 theory of class based mutiny is further supported by the sailor’s demands: an end to arbitrary work assignments, more leave, better food, and a common mess for officers and men.54 While some did press for political goals such as peace or national self-determination, these ideas were clearly secondary to the former, more practical demands.55 In the end, support for the mutiny turned out to be quite limited in the overall scope of the navy. Even at Cattaro, there were ships which remained under the control of their officers throughout the unrest.56 Meanwhile, the main naval base at Pola remained unaffected and three battleships were dispatched to quell the mutiny, which they succeed in doing upon arrival.57 The most lasting impact of the Cattaro mutiny was the replacement of Marinekommandant Admiral Njegovan with Admiral Horthy, a man handpicked by the new Emperor Charles; Horthy, however, would be the last man to hold the position.58 Indeed, it was Horthy who on October 31, 1918, turned over the K.u.K. Kriegsmarine to the nascent Yugoslavian government without bloodshed59 and thus ended over a century of naval tradition. With the cession of the K.u.K. fleet, the redemptive qualities of the navy ceased to be relevant. A navy is nothing without its ships. The Austro-Hungarian Empire, however, was in its death throes by October 1918 and even the best Hapsburg institutions could not save it. Yet the hopeless situation at the end of that year can detract neither from the years the K.u.K. Kriegsmarine helped bind the Empire together in industrial and naval construction, nor the valiant effort it exerted, in concert with all nationalities, defending the Hapsburg crown.
Paul G. Halpern, The Mediterranean Naval Situation 1908-1914, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971), 160. Ibid. 3 Lawrence Sondhaus, The Naval Policy of Austria-Hungary, 1867-1918: Navalism, Industrial Development, and the Politics of Dualism, (West Lafayette, Purdue University Press, 1994), 191. 4 Ibid. 5 Ibid. 6 Ibid. 7 Halpern, Mediterranean Naval Situation, 155. 8 Sondhaus, Naval Policy of Austria-Hungary, 193. 9 Ibid. 10 Ibid, 194. 11 Ibid, 195. 12 Ibid, 192 13 Halpern, Mediterranean Naval Situation, 160. 14 Ibid, 154. 15 Ibid, 162 16 Ibid, 158. 17 Sondhaus, Naval Policy of Austria-Hungary, 195. 18 Ibid. 19 Ibid, 196. 20 Ibid. 21 Ibid. 22 Ibid. 23 Ibid. 24 Ibid. 25 As cited in Sondhaus, Naval Policy of Austria-Hungary, 195. 26 Sondhaus, Naval Policy of Austria-Hungary, 190. 27 Ibid, 196. 28 Ibid, 230. 29 Ibid 229. 30 Ibid. 31 Ibid, 230. 32 Ibid. 33 As cited in, ibid, 229. 34 Halpern, Mediterranean Naval Situation, 152. 35 Charles W. Koburger Jr., The Central Powers in the Adriatic, 1914-18: War in a Narrow Sea, (Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2001), 21. 36 Ibid. 37 Halpern, Mediterranean Naval Situation, 153. 38 Milan N. Vego, Austro-Hungarian Naval Policy 1904-14, (London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd., 1996), 84. 39 Sondhaus, Naval Policy of Austria-Hungary, 60. 40 Ibid. 41 Ibid, 203. 42 Ibid, 302. 43 Ibid, 60. 44 Ibid, 308. 45 Ibid, 305. 46 Koburger, Central Powers in the Adriatic, 76. 47 As cited in, Sondhaus, Naval Policy of Austria-Hungary, 329. 48 Sondhaus, Naval Policy of Austria-Hungary, 320. 49 Koburger, Central Powers in the Adriatic, 96. 50 Sondhaus, Naval Policy of Austria-Hungary, 319. 51 Ibid. 52 Ibid. 53 Ibid, 320 54 Ibid. 55 Ibid. 56 Koburger, Central Powers in the Adriatic, 95. 57 Sondhaus, Naval Policy of Austria-Hungary, 323. 58 Ibid, 327. 59 Ibid, 353.
Halpern, Paul G. The Mediterranean Naval Situation 1908-1914. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971. Koburger Jr., Charles W. The Central Powers in the Adriatic, 1914-18: War in a Narrow Sea. Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2001. Sondhaus, Lawrence. The Naval Policy of Austria-Hungary, 1867-1918: Navalism, Industrial Development, and the Politics of Dualism. West Lafayette, Purdue University Press, 1994. Vego, Milan N. Austro-Hungarian Naval Policy 1904-14. London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd., 1996.
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