The Erzherzog Karl Class - 1902/1905

Exciting trials photo of the ERZHERZOG FERDINAND MAX, 1906 -- oodles of foam, smoke, drama!

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Above, SMS Erzherzog Ferdinand Max chewing up the waves of the Adriatic on her trials in 1907 - click for a spectacular enlarged view.

ERZ. KARL after launchThe main armament was four 9.4"/40-calibre guns -- domestically produced copies of the Krupp SK L/40 -- mounted in two twin turrets. Although each vessel carried nothing heavier than these 24-cm medium weapons, the class marked an advance to the European standard of armament distribution, if not to the the 12" standard adopted by first-rate navies of the time. In fact, these small battleships compared favorably with the second-class battleships fashionable in the 1890s British fleet, mounting 10" rather than 12" guns. Certainly the Erzherzogin were not at the forefront of naval development, coming into commission around the same time as HMS Dreadnought. In other aspects of performance, and certainly in their smart appearance, they compared favorably to their Mediterranean counterparts. Like their predecessors in the Habsburg class, these three ships were little more powerful than a French or British armored cruiser. However, the high-muzzle-velocity, quick-firing Krupp 9.4 (manufactured under license by Skoda Works in Plsen) was an outstanding performance weapon of its time, inviting comparison with the 10" guns of other navies (notably the Italians, the Austrians' chief rivals). Gun Data

It is fun to speculate about the outcome of a duel between the little Austrian ships and an Italian behemoth such as the Lepanto, with its 15-minute cycle between salvos and inadequate armor. But happily both fleets radiated "deterrance," and no such contest ever took place. In fact, even when the two nations went to war with fully developed fleets including dreadnoughts and pre-dreadnoughts, cruisers, destroyers, torpedo boats, subs, and aircraft, the tactic chosen was Sitzkrieg rather than all-out slaughter: a relaxed, Mediterranean approach to total war which was far kinder than the harsh measures forced by German occupation of the same countries during WWII.

About the title: like many Austrian and German (and for that matter, British) ships, these were named for members of the royal family. In the House of Habsburg, with its Catholic "multiply and be fruitful" philosophy, there were many Archdukes; and the German for Archduke is Erzherzog. Hence, Archduke Charles -- who became the last Kaiser --, Archduke Frederick, and Archduke Ferdinand Max, all names resonant with historic association over the long lineage of the Habsburg dynasty.

But back to the ships. All three ships were constructed at STT in Trieste, with the Karl going down the ways first in 1903 and commissioning in 1905, and each of the others succeeding. The last ship, the Ferdinand Max, was commissioned in 1907.


Plans and Specifications

Schematic Plan of the ERZHERZOG KARL

In the schematic above, A denotes 9.4" guns; C, 7.6"; F, 3" 12-pounders. The four small guns next to the masts are the Maxim MGs, produced by Krupp AG especially for the K.u.K. Kriegsmarine. The remaining guns were produced domestically at the Skoda Works in the present-day Czech Republic to designs licensed from Krupp.

Specifications for the Erzherzog Karl class:
Built by: STT, Trieste. First ship (Erzherzog Karl) launched October 4, 1903. Class commissioned: 1905-1907. Dimensions: 415' x 71'3" x 26'8" Displacement: 11,596 tons. Armament: (4) 9.4"/40 cal Skoda guns (2x2), (12) 7.5"/42 cal, (12) 3"/66 12-pdr, (4) 2"/44, (2) 2"/33, and (10) 2.8"/45 1-pdr guns; (4) 1.5" Maxim MG; (4) 21" torpedo tubes. Armor: Krupp Cemented type throughout. Belt: 8¼"/6" . Turrets, turret bases, barbettes: 9½". Conning tower: 8½". Secondary turrets and casemates: 6". Bulkheads: 9". Upper belt: 6¾"/5". Deck: 2". Fuel capacity: 559 tons of coal std; 1315 tons maximum. Propulsion: 12 coal-fired Yarrow boilers; (2) sets 4-cyl vertical inverted triple expansion engines developing 14,000 HP, shafted to twin screw. Maximum speed: 20 knots. Crew: 703 men, 37 officers. Initial cost: £912,500 at 1905 valuation.

Ships in class:  Erzherzog Karl Erzherzog Friedrich Erzherzog Ferdinand Max

Metric specs:
Dimensions: 126.4m x 21.7m x 8.13m Displacement: 11,596 tons. Armament: (4) 24 cm/40 cal Skoda guns (2x2), (12) 19 cm/42, (12) 7 cm/66 12-pdrs, (4) 47 mm/44, (2) 47 mm/33, and (10) 70 mm/45 1-pdr guns; (4) 37 mm Maxim MG; (4) 53 cm torpedo tubes. Armor: Krupp Cemented type throughout. Belt: 210/152 mm. Turrets, turret bases, barbettes: 241 mm. Conning tower: 210 mm. Small turrets and casemates: 152 mm. Bulkheads: 229 mm. Upper belt: 171/127 mm. Deck: 51 mm. Fuel capacity: 559 tons of coal std; 1315 tons maximum. Propulsion: 12 coal-fired Yarrow boilers; (2) sets 4-cyl vertical inverted triple expansion engines developing 10,440 kW, shafted to twin screw. Maximum speed: 37 km/hr. Crew: 703 men, 37 officers. Initial cost: £912,500 at 1905 valuation.


An Erzherzogklasse Picture Gallery

Austrian predreadnought fleet in battle line -- color postcard art

A nice period illustration shows the class on maneuvers in line ahead with bright Austrian ensigns and signal flags fluttering. This one exudes the scent of salt air and coal smoke more than most pre-dreadnought era artwork.

Panoramic painting by Kircher glorifying the Austrian Navy

The three Erzherzog class battleships form the center of this period illustration by Alex Kircher, executed to glorify the K.u.K. Kriegsmarine. An admiral's barge bearing a royal standard rows in review of the columns of saluting ships -- who could it be but Thronfolger Franz Ferdinand? To view the entire triptych with its historical side panels, click here.

Color artwork of Austrian battleship at night

Another imaginative night treatment in a series of lithographic cards of the K.u.K. Kriegsmarine's warships. This is an excuse to show off virtuosity in depicting searchlights, clouds and moonlight, and night reflections on the waves.

ERZ. KARL dressed over all for inspection
The Erzherzog Ferdinand Max shown with a U-boat in an early-1900s canvas.

ERZ. KARL dressed over all for inspection
The Erzherzog Karl dressed over all for inspection.

Pre-dreadnought battleship ERZ. KARL at her mooring, bow view
The Erzherzog Karl moored at Pola, bow view.

Pre-dreadnought battleship ERZ. KARL at her mooring, bow view
Tegetthoff class dreadnoughts steam through columns of stationary Erzherzog Karl class battleships; maneuvers in the Fasana Canal.

Pre-dreadnought battleship ERZ. KARL at her mooring, bow view
The Erzherzog Friederich in 1906.

Pre-dreadnought battleship ERZ. KARL backlit side view

The name ship emerges from the mists of time -- or at least of halated, backlit images from the days before coated lenses. Another triumph for the restorative genius of our own Radar Radetzky!

9.4-in turret and bridgeworks on SMS ERZHERZOG FERDINAND MAX

Forward 9.4" turret and bridge on the Ferdinand Max. Clearly this is the same mounting as that used on the earlier Habsburg class ships, but the 1897 model ordnance used in the Habsburgs and Erzherzogin was an improvement on the 1894 design used in the monitors.

Battleship ERZ. FERDINAND MAX at sea
A fine photo of the Erzherzog Ferdinand Max steaming into a relentless chop.

Model of the ERZ. KARL
Competition-grade 1:100 model of the Erzherzog Karl by Günther Prasky.


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