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Adriatic Titanic

Tegetthoff class

Even if you only hear their names,  you must respect Tegetthoff class ships:

Viribus Unitis (United Force)

Prinz Eugen (named after Eugen Savoy, who is considered the greatest army leader of his time. After his victory, the Ottoman Empire ceased to continue conquering Europe.)

Tegetthoff (the best Austrian admiral)

Szent Istvan (Saint Stephen, the first Hungarian Christian King, declared holy in 1083)

Also, with a displacement of 20,000 tons, they were the largest battleships ever built in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. They belonged to dreadnought battleships which means “fearless”, and this name was only given to the largest ships of their time, which were equipped only with high-caliber cannons and powerful armor.

The construction of the Italian battleship Dante Alighieri was the direct cause of their construction. Just in case, the Austrians built four of them.

Ironically, Szent Istvan and Viribus Unitis were sunk by Italian saboteurs, and none of these four colossus fought in some serious battle because of the blockade of Otrant’s Gate.

SMS Szent Istvan

Istvan was the last one built and first sunk of all hers four brothers and was the only one built in Croatia. It was also the only battleship that belonged to Hungary.

The keel was laid in 1912 at the Rijeka Shipyard Danubius (today shipyard May the 3.), and construction itself was completed two years later in Pula.

It was designed to be monumental. In addition to the above-mentioned displacement of 20,000 tons, it was 153 meters long, 28 meters wide and 8,6 meters long. Despite its size, it achieved an impressive speed of 20 knots.

His main weapon was four towers with three 30.5 cm caliber cannons. In addition, he had another 12 cannons of 15 cm and 15 anti – aircraft cannons of 7 cm. With all this, he had four torpedo tubes. Such firepower was protected by 208 mm armor.

The bad side of the complete class Tegetthoff was a bad construction. Szent Istvan had problems with the boilers, which eventually became its doom, and there are indications that during shelling of Ancona, the rivets that held the steel plates started to burst.

Fall without a fight

The Adriatic Sea is not a haven for such a proud Austro-Hungarian Navy, but because of the allied blockade of Otrant’s doors, the dreadnoughts were practically locked inside, occasionally bombarding the Italian coast or carrying out an escort duties.

The Admiralty decided to end the blocade, so on June 8, Prinz Eugen and Viribus Unitis sailed from Pula harbor. When Tegetthoff and Szent Istvan, with Captain Heinrich Seitz on the bridge, tried to sail away, there was a problem opening the barricades at the entrance to the harbor so that they were already much behind of the rest of the fleet. They did not exit the harbour until 9. of June in the night. To compensate they decided to increase the speed to 16 knots. There was a problem with the boilers of Szent Istvan and because of that at that speed the engines started to overheat. They reduced speed and after some time tried to increase it again. The boilers continued to work badly, and Szent Istvan began to let out dense, black smoke that made it visible to enemies many miles around.

Two Italian torpedo boats MAS-15 and MAS-21 were in patrols and looking for a fleet because they knew they were sailing. They just wanted to come back and report that the fleet had disappeared when they spotted a black smoke from the Istvan chimney near the Premula island in the Zadar archipelago on June 10., just before dawn.

Each MAS was armed with two torpedoes, and being small and agile, they easily broke through the protection of the remaining fleet and approached the battleships at just 300 meters. Each boat selected the target and launched the torpedo. MAS – 21 missed Tegetthoff, but one of his torpedoes hit Istvan, while MAS – 15 with both torpedoes hit the dreadnought boiler room.

MAS torpedo boat

The fleet thought that they were attacked by submarines, and the ships scattered and started to zig – zag untill they can locate the enemy and destroy it. That has sealed the fate of Szent Istvan. Taking advantage of the confusion caused by their assault, the boats withdraw.

Szent Istvan immediately began to take a lot of water on the right side and pumps were deployed to take it out. The sailors who survived in one of the boiler rooms remained trapped in it, but they still maintained discipline and kept the fire going so that the ship would have enough power to sail and operate.

As the ship began to bend to the damaged right side, the captain first commanded to flood the chambers on the left to balance it. When it did not help, the crew turned all the cannons to the left to prevent overturning.

Tegetthoff came in to help, realizing that the danger had passed, but it was too late. The attempt to tow was lost because the ship was already overweight due to the heavy water it had accumulated, the attempt to ground it on the island of Molat also failed because all sailors in the boiler rooms were already dead and the ship did not have a propulsion.

The captain finally gave orders to abandon the ship, and Szent Istvan finally vanished under the surface about 6 o’clock in the morning, pulling back the bodies of 89 sailors who were killed in the engine rooms trying to save him.

Since this operation was supposed to be a great victory for the Austrian Navy, it included a cameraman crew who recorded and documented the sinking of Szent Istvan from Tegetthoff. It’s the first documentary film of this kind ever made.

Today Saint Stephen lies upside – down at the bottom of the Adriatic with cannons still facing left. Its wreck is the largest in the Adriatic and is protected and any diving without permission is forbidden.

The copper inscription with the name of the ship as well as some other items are kept and can be seen in the Maritime Museum in Pola.


Many thanks to our friends from www.lokalpatroti-rijeka.com portal who gave us these fantastic photo galleries.

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