Recently I’ve come across a book that is rather rare here – because of it’s nature. It is called Slovenci v vojnah 593 – 1918, the author is Roger Gogala. It’s describing the millitary history of the Slovenes from the year 593 (first mentioned battle of our ancestors) up until 1918 (end of World War 1). It is certainly an interesting work, a clear contra to the false opinion that Slovenes were no millitary nation. True, we had no own army for a long time, but our ancestors were known as loyal and courageous soldiers in many different fights across the world – from Mexico to China, performing in all millitary branches.
Anyhow, I was very surprised by the part of the book that is describing the quite important and numerous role of Slovenes in the old Imerial Austrian and later Austo-Hungarian Navy.
Acording to dr. Miroslav Pahor’s researches first evidence of Slovene ship owners and sailors comes from the 14th and 15th century thought this period remains badly researched and we have to wait until the 19th century to find more information about Slovenes at sea. So we have the number of 122 Slovene ships in the Adriatic sea between the years 1841 and 1913, which is quite a lot considering the size of our nation in that time and the strong general continental orientation. The Slovenes to own the ships were mostly from the Littoral, Carniola and Carinthia. Between the owners of those 122 ships were also 14 women.
picture showing international troops of countries who helped fight the Boxer rebelion – Austro-Hungarians between the Germans and Italians
A merchant naval school was opened in Trst in 1754 and between the years 1804 to 1914 (earlier notes are rare because the archives are incomplete) 556 Slovene students and later merchant ship commanders are recorded. Of course that is not the total number as there were also schools in Mali Lošinj, Kotor, Dubrovnik and Split. Sadly the book gives us no info about those schools.
Also interesting is that in the years 1812 – 1918 there were 160 admirals of the Austrian Navy. About 40 were titled admirals only as members of the imerial court as children and had no role in the Navy. From the remaining 120, 44 were from the Slovene lands (oposed to that, there were only 2 Slovene marshals in the Austro-Hungarian Army). There is also data for 45.000 Slovene sailors total for the period, of which 10.000 were officers. That leaves us with 5 Slovene sailors on every Slovene officer – an average that was beaten only by the Czech, who were considered great engineers in that time. Other services that were also important and were taking an important part in the naval affairs aren’t counted in, so the actual number, again is higher than mentioned. From the 27 ship commanders in the famous Battle at Vis 6 were Slovenes.
In 1848 the Danish admiral von Dahlerup was named commander of the Austrian Navy. He came incognito to Trst and watched Slovene fishermen how they handled their ships and performed their work. After that he decided to conscript sailors from the area of Trst, Benečija, Kras, Vipava valley, Istria and other Slovene and Croatian lands. He raised 16.000 men in 10 days. Those sailors became the force with which von Dahlerup then organised the successful blockade of Venice. During this blockade also the first bombardemend (from baloons) in history took place. Slovene sailors were the most decorated in this action. After the successful blockade action even more Slovenes joined the Navy.
Archduke Ferdinand Max (later shot Mexican emperor) continued with the raising of Slovenes and Croats for the Navy. He wanted to change the proportion of the Italians in the Navy as they have proven distrusful in the revolutionary year 1848.
Fighting the Italians at Vis
A “big player” in the Navy was also viceadmiral Willhelm von Tegetthoff, born in Maribor (his mother was Leopoldina Čermak, a Slovene). He is the winner of the battles at Helgoland and at Vis, where he defeated the Italian fleet. In the battle the Italians proved once again they were simply cowards, unable of proper military fighting. The Battle at Vis took place on a Friday and a short conversation in Slovene was recorded between Tegetthoff and an older Slovenian skipper, whom he asked about his opinion about the outcome of the battle. The skipper answered “it’s friday, herr Admiral, friday” but Tegetthoff responded “true, but it’s friday for the Italians aswell!” – Friday or not, the battle was won.
Tegetthoff at Vis
Perhaps the marburgian Rupert Pivec is worth mentioning since he was first class superintendant during ww1. That means he was responsible for the purchases of all arsenal stock of the Navy, under which was food, ammunition, spare parts etc. At the end of the war he was a representative of the State of SCS, responsible for the licvidation of the Austrian war ministry’s naval section.
From 1913 to 1917 fleet commander of the Austro-Hungarian Navy was Grand Admiral Anton Haus from Tolmin. He took part in the suppresion of the Boxer uprising and favoured unrestricted submarine fwarfare during ww1. He died in Pulj in 1917 but his remains were transfered to Vienna in 1925 due to the Italians taking Pulj after the war.
At the end of ww1 Emperor Karl gave the Austrian ships and coastal forts to the new State of SCS as a gift. The Pulj harbor was opened for everyone which the Italians abused for a cowardly attack at night on the ship Viribus Unitis (renamed to Jugoslavija) though the hostilities were already over. Later the said they didn’t knew about it, but that is clearly a lie as the Italian historic sources confirm that they had reccieved a message about the ending of hostilities from Pulj already one day before the attack. Between 250 and 350 men were killed on board of the sunken ship. During the whole war the Italians didn’t dare any naval attacks on Austrian harbors. This actual says enough of their ways of fighting …
Here I end the article, although Slovne naval history continues into both Yugoslavias with notable heroes as Sergej Mašera and numerous admirals and other sailors. The spirit of our ancestors lives on, among others also in the battleship Triglav which is currently helping the Italian Navy around Lampedusa.