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Austria-Hungary WWI Navy and The Sound of Music

With two degrees in history, I enjoy researching and writing about historical events that the history books tend to gloss over.


Austria-Hungary Naval Force

When one thinks of naval warfare during WWI, the first countries to come to mind are Germany and England. However, many people today are unaware that Austria-Hungary also had a navy. How can that be you may ask as it is a landlocked country. At the time of WWI, Austria-Hungary held control of coastal areas of Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia. As a result, Austria-Hungary needed a naval force. While the Austria-Hungary navy was established in the mid-1800’s by Emperor Franz Joseph I, by the early 1900’s new ships were incorporated. These ships were called the Dreadnoughts. Dreadnoughts formed the core of the navy during WWI and the Austria-Hungary fleet spent a majority of WWI in the Adriatic Sea holding down French and Italian battle fleets while they also held down some units of the Royal navy.


The Dreadnought

The Dreadnoughts brought forth a new era in warship design. It began in 1906 with the HMS Dreadnought in the British Royal Navy. All other battleships were promptly dubbed “pre-Dreadnoughts”. The Dreadnoughts were truly revolutionary. They were in a class of their own because they relied solely on turbine propulsion for speed. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the Dreadnoughts used big guns armaments along the main gun installations. Previous battleships rarely used long range guns. Further, the old ships had been in service since 1885 and were appallingly outdated. After the introduction of the HMS Dreadnought, ships underwent retrofitting and future shipbuilding was thus revolutionized. The new designs included more strength, power, and firepower. They were the largest and most powerful battleships of their time. However, by WWII, they were also mostly obsolete.


Submarine Fleet

During WWI, besides the powerful Dreadnoughts, the Austria-Hungary naval fleet also included a small submarine force. Like the large ships, they were stationed primarily in the Adriatic Sea. However, in early 1915, Germany began sending U-boats into the Mediterranean. At this time Italy had declared war on Austria-Hungary but not Germany. Therefore, the German U-boats used the Austrian insignia and were also commissioned to the Austrian navy. Although they were small in size, the Austrian submarine fleet inflicted heavy damage during the war. On December 21, 1914 U-12 torpedoed the French battleship Jean Bart, which caused her to retire to Malta for serious repairs. Meanwhile, on April 27, 1915 U-5 sank the French cruiser Léon Gambetta, resulting in a large loss of life.

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The Hills are Alive.......

Growing up I watched the movie The Sound of Music every year on television. Being set in the years surrounding WWII, it may be hard to imagine what the Austrian navy of WWI had to do with the Von Trapp family depicted in the movie. Georg Von Trapp, who was born in Croatia in 1880, was a Captain in the Austrian navy during WWI. He received the title of Baron as a reward for his accomplishments in the Austrian navy. Georg Von Trapp was in command of the U-Boat U-5 after WWI broke out. As previously mentioned the U-5 sank the French cruiser Léon Gambetta. Von Trapp did nine combat patrols in the Adriatic and Mediterranean Seas. As Commander of U-5, Von Trapp sank two ships and one submarine off the coast of Italy. This included the steamer Milazzo, one of the biggest cargo ships in the world. A few months later, he was given command of U-14. He was in command of U-14 for almost three years. In total, they sank eleven ships. Von Trapp had made nineteen war patrols, he sank eleven cargo vessels, captured one cargo ship, sank two war ships, and one submarine. In total, this added up to 46,000 tons. For this he was given many honors including the prestigious Order of Maria Theresa.


Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 30, 2021:

I didn't know about the Dreadnoughts, let alone that a landlocked country had a navy in WWII. This is a very informative and interesting article. I like 'The Sound of Music' also. Thanks for such interesting information, Bee.

Iqra from East County on April 30, 2021:

Great Bee, In the 1965 film The Sound of Music, Captain von Trapp ran a tight ship at home. He also ran a tight ship at sea, commanding two U-Boats for the Austro-Hungarian Empire during World War I. By the war's end, he was the most decorated naval officer in Austria-Hungary.

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