Since 1939, Navy Day in Italy has been celebrated on June 10, the anniversary of the sinking of the Austrian battleship Szent István during the First World War. This event, which forced the command of the Austrian fleet cancel the planned large-scale operation and return to the base, this article is devoted.
After commissioning in November – December 1915, the battleship Szent István repeatedly went to sea for firing training and sea trials. During the latter, going at maximum speed (less than twenty knots) after a sharp shift of the steering wheel at 35 degrees from the neutral position, the dreadnought heeled more than 19 degrees. Under the same conditions, the roll of three ships of the same type reached maximum values from 8 degrees and 20 minutes to 11 degrees and 20 minutes. Since the shields of medium-caliber guns in the casemates had not yet been installed, water gushed freely into the ship. The first commander of the ship, Captain 1st Rank E. Grassberger, believed that such a significant roll was caused by the unsuccessful shape of the platform for the spotlights, but after the size of this platform was reduced, it was found that the metacentric height of the battleship increased by only 18 millimeters. Obviously, in this case, the influence of the unsuccessful shape of the propeller shaft brackets also affected, therefore, henceforth it was forbidden to shift the steering wheel at an angle greater than 10 degrees at high speed. During firing practice, a lack of tightness of riveted joints was discovered, which was a result of both the rush to build and the lack of experience in building large warships at the Ganz-Danubius company, at the shipyard of which Szent István was built at Fiume. All four battleships of the Viribus Unitis type were also found to have insufficient stability caused by deviations of the ship’s design from the original design, and with full displacement the Austrian dreadnoughts had a bow trim of 24 centimeters. On December 23, the ship was officially introduced into the 1st squadron (1. Geschwader).
March 15, 1916 "Szent István" first went beyond the boundaries of the water area of Paula and, accompanied by three destroyers, headed towards the middle Adriatic, where it was supposed to conduct training firing near the island of Pago. Ships went at a speed of 12 knots, periodically increasing speed to 16 knots. Due to bad weather, training firing was not carried out, and only the next day the main caliber artillery and anti-aircraft artillery could fire.
At the end of August 1916, the Szent István entered the Pheasant Canal for carrying out torpedo fires, and a month later the ship’s motor boat, armed with a landing cannon, took part in taking the Italian submarine Gialito Pullino aground. On November 23, 1916, the crew of the battleship attended the coronation of the new Emperor Charles I. In 1917, the Szent István, along with the ships of the same type, accompanied a series of airborne alarms by taking several short-term exits to the Pheasant Canal for exercises. The most powerful air raid, lasting almost a day, took place on December 12, 1917, when the German emperor Wilhelm II visited the base of German submarines in the Field.
In January and February 1918, in the arsenals of Paula and Cattaro there were uprisings and riots of sailors, the suppression of which was accompanied by relatively small victims. To suppress the protests, a battleship division of the Erzherzog Karl type was sent to Cattaro, since the dreadnoughts were not used to suppress the protests.
Of the 937 days in service, Szent István spent 54 days at sea, and only once did the ship take part in a cruising operation that lasted two days. With other exits to the sea, the dreadnought did not move too far from Paula. Szent István has never been docked since its entry into service, and due to the previously mentioned drawbacks of the propeller brackets, it never made a full run.
After the riots in Cattaro, the red fleet of the Gäa floating base and the armored cruisers Sankt Georg and Kaiser Karl VI replaced the entire fleet management, and ships of no more value were withdrawn from the fleet. Moreover, almost all of the old admirals, including the fleet commander Admiral Maximilian Nyegovan, were retired. In place of the commander on February 27, 1918, bypassing many high-ranking officers of the fleet, a young dynamic rear admiral Miklos Horthy was appointed, which provoked optimism of Admiral Reinhard Scheer, commander of the German fleet of the High Seas. To increase the morale of the crews, the new fleet management decided to start the start of a large naval operation in the southern Adriatic Sea, where the ships of the Entente countries established the Otran barrier line, which made it difficult for the submarines of Austria-Hungary and Germany to enter the Mediterranean Sea. A year earlier, in May 1917, three Austrian light cruisers Novara, Saida and Helgoland, disguised as large English destroyers, under the command of Horthy, attacked enemy drifters, sinking or seriously injuring fourteen out of forty-seven.
Now the new commander-in-chief wanted to repeat his action, but this time with the support of the dreadnoughts, who were supposed to fall upon the allied forces to cover the Otransky barrage. Sea mines and nets were the main target of the two strike groups, since they seriously hindered the entry of Austrian and German submarines into the Mediterranean Sea, although their losses at this obstacle were relatively small.
The idea of a combined attack of the Otransky boundary line did not belong to Admiral Horthy, but to the commander of the 1rd heavy division (armadillos of the Erzherzog Karl type) captain 11st rank E. Heisler. The latter suggested attacking the Otransky barrier line using his division. At the same time, high-speed cruisers (Rapidkreuzer) had to strike at the fence itself. The old battleships were powerful enough to repel possible counterattacks by the Entente cruisers based in Brindisi. Admiral Horthy ignored this suggestion because he wanted to remove the inexperienced dreadnought crews from the “lethargic dream”. This operation was to be accompanied by the advance of the Austro-Hungarian ground forces on the Italian front, which was planned to begin on June 1918, 15. Due to poor supply and tiredness of the army units, the beginning of the offensive had to be postponed until June XNUMX. However, the date on which the naval operation was scheduled to remain unchanged. In case the enemy ships attacked by the Austrians would be supported by the British battlecruisers, the admiral was about to oppose his dreadnoughts to them. In its final form, the plan provided for the simultaneous achievement of several goals, therefore, the forces involved for the operation were divided into separate groups, which included the following ships.
Attacking groups (Angriffsgruppe “a” - “b”):
"A". Light cruisers Novara and Helgoland, fighters Tátra, Csepel and Triglav.
"B". Light cruisers Admiral Spaun and Saida, destroyers 84, 92, 98 and 99.
The cover forces, consisting of the following tactical support groups (Rückhaltgruppe “a” - “g”):
"A". The battleship "Viribus Unitis", fighters "Balaton" and "Orjen", destroyers 86, 90, 96 and 97;
"B". The battleship “Prinz Eugen”, fighters “Dukla” and “Uzsok”, destroyers 82, 89, 91 and 95;
"C". The battleship Erzherzog Ferdinand Max, the Turul fighter, destroyers 61, 66, 52, 56 and 50;
"D". The battleship Erzherzog Karl, the Huszár and Pandúr fighters, destroyers 75, 94 and 57;
"E". The battleship Erzherzog Friedrich, the Csikós and Uskoke fighters, the destroyers 53, 58 and one Kaiman type destroyer:
"F". The battleship Tegetthoff, the Velebit fighter, the destroyer 81 and three destroyers of the Kaiman type.
"G". The battleship Szent István, destroyers 76, 77, 78 and 80.
It was decided to send battleships of the Tegetthoff type to the sea from Paula as part of two groups, which, leaving the base, were to head south. The first group with dreadnoughts Viribus Unitis (the flag of Fleet Commander Admiral Horthy) and Prinz Eugen, escorted by seven ships, went to sea on June 2, heading for Slano, located north of Dubrovnik.
Another group with the dreadnoughts Tegetthoff and Szent István, whose commander, 1st-rank captain H. von Treffen, was also the commander of the entire group of ships, was to leave Paula on the evening of June 9 and go towards 15 knots Thayer Bay. They were accompanied by the Velebit fighter, as well as the destroyers Tb 76, 77, 78, 79, 81 and 87. According to the plan, after this group of ships reached Thayer Bay in the evening of June 10, they should head for Slano with so that on June 11, together with other ship groups, take part in the action.
The operation began under an unlucky star: when both battleships with flags lowered to half the masts were warming up steam boilers, a shell exploded on the Velebit fighter, resulting in the death of several crew members, in addition, a fatal organizational mistake was made earlier. For reasons of secrecy, the boom personnel were not notified in advance of the withdrawal of the connection, as a result of which the ships, which were awaiting the divorce of booms after giving an oral order, instead of 21:00 went to sea only at 22:15. The Velebit fighter went first, followed by the Szent István and Tegetthoff in the wake.
Destroyers guarded the compound on either side: Tb 79, 87 and 78 were on the left, Tb 77, 76 and 81 on the right.
They decided to make up for the time lost upon leaving Pula by increasing the connection speed to 17,5 knots. Shortly after midnight, the connection speed due to overheating of the flagship starboard turbine bearing was reduced to 12 knots for a while, but by 03:30, about nine miles southwest of Premuda, they were already at 14 knots. With increasing speed, due to the poor quality of coal and lack of experience among stokers, many of whom first went to sea, thick smoke poured from the chimneys of both dreadnoughts and sparks flew.
Campaign warrant (illustration from the report of the commander of the battleship Tegetthoff)
At the same time, a pair of Italian torpedo boats were at sea under the general command of Captain 3rd Rank L. Rizzo, who commanded the Ancon IV-based flotilla of MAS torpedo boats and had on board a battleship Wien, sunk by a torpedo boat MAS 9 in Trieste. Both boats, MAS 15 and MAS 21, were towed the day before by Italian destroyers 18 OS and 15 OS in tow to the Dalmatian islands.
The tasks of the boats included the search for Austrian steamers going south, as well as anti-submarine minefields, exhibited by the Austro-Hungarian fleet. Although no enemy mines were found and no enemy vessels were encountered, the squad leader decided to return to the designated meeting place with his destroyers at 02:05, but before that he decided to wait another half hour and then leave the patrol area. At 03:15, the Italians on the starboard side noticed a thick cloud of smoke approaching from the north. Torpedo boats at minimum speed headed towards the enemy’s formation, missed both lead ships (Velebit fighter and Tb 77 destroyer), after which they passed between Tb 77 and Tb 76 destroyers, and then, increasing speed from nine to twelve knots, fired torpedoes (probably A115 / 450, the weight of the warhead is 115 kg or A145).
The torpedoes of the MAS 21, launched at Tegetthoff from a distance of 450-500 meters, failed. The trace of one of them (apparently drowned) was spotted on the dreadnought five hundred meters and disappeared, according to the assessment of the ship's commander, about one hundred and fifty meters from the ship. On the dreadnought and escort ships, it was considered that they were attacked by an Italian submarine, after which fire was fired on a suspicious item taken by observers as a periscope.
In the Szent István, both torpedoes with the MAS 15 were fired from a distance of about 600 meters (in the report, Rizzo indicated that they were fired from a distance of about 300 meters). The launch was seen from the destroyer Tb 76, after which the latter began to pursue a torpedo boat, firing from a distance of 100-150 meters. For a short time, the destroyer Tb 81 joined the pursuit of the boats, but then, having lost sight of the Italians, it returned to its warrant. To break away from the chase, the MAS 15 boat dropped two depth charges into the wake, the second of which exploded, then the Italians made several sharp turns of 90 degrees, after which the Austrian destroyer disappeared from sight.
The flagship of the Szent István compound received a double torpedo hit at the lower edge of the main armor belt.
According to Austrian reports, the set time for almost simultaneous torpedo strikes is 03:30 or so. According to Italian data, torpedoes (speed 20 meters per second) were released MAS 15 at 03:25, the course is 220 degrees.
The first explosion occurred in the midship region, in the immediate vicinity of the transverse waterproof bulkhead between boiler rooms No. 1 and No. 2, seriously damaging it. The epicenter of the second explosion defended closer to the stern, in the area of the front of the engine room.
A large amount of water began to flow through the formed holes, the rear boiler room was soon flooded, and in a short period of time the roll to the starboard side reached 10 degrees.
The dreadnought managed to turn to the left side in order to avoid possible further torpedo hits on the affected starboard side. The Stop Machine command was received from the wheelhouse so that the generated steam could be directed to the needs of drainage facilities. Counterflooding of the compartments on the port side and the cellars of 152-mm guns reduced the roll to 7 degrees, pumps were launched, steam to which was supplied from six more boilers in the front boiler compartment.
Soon, the turbines were started, and a dreadnought course of 100 degrees at a speed of four and a half knots went to the nearby Gulf of Brgulie on the island of Molat, hoping to jump aground on a flat stretch of coast.
There was hope that Szent István could still be saved, but the bulkhead between the front and rear boiler rooms, being damaged by the explosion, began to turn in. The rivet heads popped out one after another, and more and more water came into the front boiler compartment from the rear through the slots and numerous holes designed to allow pipelines, ducts and electrical cables to pass through. Water penetrated the stern cellars of the main-caliber guns through the shaft seals of the right propeller, and many rivets passed water into neighboring compartments inside the hull. In a desperate struggle for the survivability of the ship, emergency teams tried to close the gaps with tarred wire harnesses and strengthen the explosion-deformed bulkhead with beams and beams.
The turbines had to be stopped again, since the steam generated by the four still functioning boilers was necessary for the pumps that pumped the water.
At 04:15 it began to grow light, an attempt to get tarpaulin plasters (four by four meters) was greatly hindered by both the significant roll of the ship and the stuck cables of plasters.
At 04:45, the Tegetthoff approached the distressed flagship anti-submarine zigzag. The signal “Get ready for towing” was given to him by Szent István ten minutes after the torpedoes hit, later it was added “Urgent”, but due to the long distance the signals were not understood. The request to help was sorted out only at 04:20, 55 minutes after the Italians torpedo attack, it took another 25 minutes for the dreadnought to come up for assistance.
Around 05:00 in the front boiler room the lights went out, and work continued under the dim lighting of the hand lamps. Meanwhile, the main-caliber towers (weight with armament and armor 652,9 tons) were turned barrels to the left side (work took 20 minutes) to use gun barrels as a counterweight, and their ammunition was thrown into the sea.
The Tegetthoff tried several times to take the sinking Szent István into tow, but only at 05:45, when the roll reached approximately 18 degrees, the Tegetthoff managed to deliver the tow rope, however, due to the danger of tipping over, the end of the bollard soon had to be turned away .
Meanwhile, the pressure in the last two operating steam boilers decreased, as a result of which the pumps and electric generators stopped. Water began to flow into the compartments with the turbines, and crew members who were there were ordered to climb to the upper deck. When the right side of the deck began to go under water, the ship's commander, through Lieutenant Reich, gave the order to leave the ship. As soon as the bulk of the crew left the ship, as at 6:05, having a roll of about 36 degrees, the battleship began to roll slowly to the starboard side and capsized when the roll reached 53,5 degrees. The ship’s commander and staff officers (1st rank captain Masyon, Lieutenant Niemann), several helmsmen and searchlights were thrown on the bridge. At 06:12, the Szent István hid under the water.
The escort and Tegetthoff ships that started the rescue operations picked up 1 people. The loss of the crew of the dead ship was 005 officers (one dead and three missing) and 4 lower ranks (85 dead, 13 missing), 72 people were injured.
After the loss of one of the four dreadnought, the fleet commander, considering the suddenness factor lost, gave the order to curtail the operation.
Luigi Rizzo, being presented for the sinking of the battleship “Szent István” to the gold medal “Medaglia d'oro al valor militare” and already having such a gold medal for the sinking of the battleship “Wien”, as well as three silver medals “Medaglia d'argento al valor militare ”, received the Knight's Cross of the Military Order (Croce di Cavaliere Ordine militare di Savoia), because, according to Law No. 753 of May 25, 1915, it was forbidden to award more than three gold and / or silver medals to the same person. Luigi received his second gold medal only on May 27, 1923, after the repeal of the above law on June 15, 1922.
By order of the Szent István battleship commander, given shortly after the ship was blown up, the destroyer Tb 78 took aboard dreadnought crew members who succumbed to panic and jumped overboard immediately after the torpedo explosion. Later they will be put on trial.
Commander of the battleship “Tegetthoff” 1st-Class Captain H. von Perglas was removed from his post.
During the First World War, 97 Italian torpedoes were lost along with the ships they entered into ammunition, forty-five were lost in training firing, seven were lost for various reasons, fifty-six were used in unsuccessful combat attacks, the exact results of the firing of twelve are unknown, forty-four were hit on target.
In 2003, the first (of three) official Italian expedition took place, which included twelve IANTD instructors and divers who spent a total of 98 hours underwater at a depth of 67 meters. Among other things, it was found that, contrary to the widespread belief that “the three-gun towers, which kept gravity on their shoulder straps, immediately fell out of the ship and went to the bottom” (S. Vinogradov Linkori type “Viribus Unitis” type) towers of the main caliber the dreadnought remained in their places.
The results of a study of the remains of Szent István gave reason to put forward a well-founded assumption that this dreadnought was also attacked by the MAS 21 boat.
Special issue No. 8 of the journal Marine-Arsenal (translation from German by the colleague NF68).
Report of the commander of the battleship "Szent István" captain 1st rank H. von Treffen.
Report of the commander of the battleship "Szent István" captain 1st rank H. von Perglas.
The report of the captain of the 3rd rank L. Rizzo.
A number of online resources.