The Radetzky Class - 1908/1910

SMS RADETZKY on trials: copious smoke and foam

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SMS Radetzky under way in the Adriatic during her trials. The Radetzky class of three ships was designed as an ideal battleship by the Austrian K.u.K.'s chief constructor, ing. Siegfried Popper, and became one of the best-known classes of semi-dreadnought battleship, probably, with the Aki, being the best-looking ships of the type. While the dreadnought battleship deprecated different sizes of secondary gun in favor of an all-big-gun armament, the semi-dreadnought stuck to the tried-and-true formula of four 12" (305 mm) guns for main armament but supplemented it with a very heavy secondary armament, usually mounted in turrets. This made for a somewhat more economical ship, but in ways it was a false economy. The Radetzkys' fighting power was reduced when all batteries were firing since it was impossible for spotters to differentiate between shell splashes from different sizes of gun. This made it impossible to correct train and elevation accurately; but fortunately the ships never had to fight a fleet action. Powerfully armed in a hex configuration, the Radetzkys mounted eight 9.4" guns (239 mm) in four twin wing turrets plus the bow and stern 12" turrets. For the next tier of armament she carried twenty 3.9" quick-firing guns in casemates (99 mm). Six 11-pounders and three 18" torpedo tubes rounded out the ship's armament. An interesting feature is the sponsoned gunhouses on the beams, a development of the structures seen in Popper's armored cruisers - a balcony over the hissing brine, giving a wide arc all round for the guns mounted in it.

When the Radetzky class entered service in 1908-11, they were already obsolescent. The presumed enemy, Italy (actually allied to Austria-Hungary and Germany through the Triple Alliance, but distrusted nonetheless), was feverishly building its first dreadnought, the Dante Alighieri, and Austria was already constructing its four Teggetthoff class dreadnoughts in reply. Yet even as the monarchy appealed to the common people's patriotism to help fund its most ambitious constuction program ever, the Dual Monarchy was already disintegrating -- a fact reflected in the lax supervision and shoddy workmanship on the four dreadnoughts. The Radetzkys, all built at Stabilimento Tecnico di Trieste (STT), were well-crafted ships, although they would get little chance to prove their qualities in the great Adriatic Sitzkrieg of 1915-17: As it happened, a major coal shortage restricted most capital ships of Italy and Austria-Hungary to port. Justifying Vienna's suspicions, Italy failed to honor its obligations under the Triple Alliance and instead came into the War on the Allied side in May 1915. Having anticipated this treachery, the K.u.K. Kriegsmarine launched widespread attacks at Porto Corsini and other points along Italy's Adriatic coast the very night that Rome declared war.

3 Radetzkys at sea
Seen at left on prewar maneuvers in a tidily drawn chromolithographic card, the class saw limited action during World War I. In October 1914, Radetzky destroyed French army artillery batteries supporting the Army of Montenegro against the Austrian army at Cattaro. On May 24, 1915 all three ships bombarded the Italian coast. Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand, with the main fleet, bombarded Ancona. Zrinyi shelled port facilities at Senigalia, and Radetzky bombarded a railway bridge at Potenza. They then returned to Pola, where they remained with only brief interruptions for the rest of the war.

After WWI the three Radetzkys remained in limbo for almost two years. As Austria-Hungary imploded, imperial officials had negotiated to turn the ships over to the successor states of the new Yugoslavia purely to keep them out of Italian hands. U.S. and British enforcers swiftly seized the Radetzkys until the peace conference could determine their fate. In the end they were all turned over to Italy and sent straight to the breakers.

Guns for the Radetzkys

Battleship turrets mfg at Skoda Works, 1909
305 mm main turrets for the class being manufactured at the Skoda Works, Plzen.   Gun Feature

Plans and Specifications

Plan of SMS RADETZKY in full color

Plan of the Radetzky shows her fine lines and handsome, balanced design. The ship's superstructure is compact and symmetrical, based around a diamond-shaped citadel amidships, with a modest bridgeworks and two pole masts.   Enlarge

Specifications for the Radetzky class:
Dimensions: 456' x 82' x 26'6"   Displacement: 14,500 tons. Armament: (4) 12"/45 (2x2); (8) 9.4"/45 (4x2); (20) 4.1" QF; and (6) 11-pdr guns; (3) 18" torpedo tubes.   Armor: Krupp Cemented type. Belt 9"; main turrets 10"; secondary turrets 7.9"; casemates 4.72"; deck 1.9"; conning tower 10"; bulkheads 2.13". Fuel capacity: 1,350 tons of coal. Propulsion: 12 coal-fired Yarrow boilers; (2) inverted vertical triple-expansion engines developing 20,000 hp, shafted to twin screw. Maximum speed: 20 kts. Tactical radius: 4,000 nm @ 10 kts. Crew: 890.

Ships in class:  Radetzky Zrinyi Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand

Metric specifications:
Dimensions: 139m x 25m x 8.1m   Displacement: 14,500 tons. Armament: (4) 305 mm/45 (2x2), (8) 24 cm (4x2), (20) 104 mm QF, and (6) 11-pdr. guns; (3) 45 cm torpedo tubes.   Armor: Krupp Cemented type. Belt 230 mm; main turrets 250 mm; secondary turrets 200 mm; casemates 120 mm; deck 48 mm; conning tower 250 mm; bulkheads 54 mm. Fuel capacity: 1,350 tons of coal. Propulsion: 12 coal-fired Yarrow boilers; (2) inverted vertical triple-expansion engines developing 14,914 kW, shafted to twin screw. Maximum speed: 37 km/hr. Tactical radius: 7,408 km @ 18.5 km/hr. Crew: 890.

Schematic of SMS RADETZKY

A Radetzky Class Gun Rack

Pre-dreadnought battleship ERZ. FRANZ FERDINAND at her mooring, bow view
Aft 12"/45 Skoda main turret on the Radetzky, with 7 cm/50 (2.75" 11-pdr) riding shotgun.  Enlarge  NMM

Pre-dreadnought battleship ERZ. franz ferdinand at her mooring, bow view
The Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand's after left 12" thunders out a salute to Kaiser Wilhelm II, Kiel, July 1911.

Austrian Battleship RADETZKY secondary turret
One of the Radetzky's 9.4" secondary turrets lets loose at target practice.

Austrian Battleship RADETZKY secondary turret
One of the Radetzky's 9.4" secondary turrets after bombarding Ancona, May 24, 1915.

Gun turrets of the RADETZKY, pencil sketch by A. Cherini

The wide-angle view that never was, hypothesized as part of his great catalog of KuK Kriegsmarine ships by artist Aldo Cherini.   Enlarge drawing

A Radetzky Class Gallery

Launch of Battleship RADETZKY, 1909
The flawless launch of the name ship was depicted in a flawless watercolor by Alex Kircher.  Glorious, 1600-px Enlargement

Battleship RADETZKY at sea
A near-profile shot of the name ship underway.

ZRINYI leaving port, big smoke

Zrinyi leaving harbor at Pola, her bow 12" turret rotated all the way to port. The ship was named after a prominent Hungarian family. The Habsburgs had extended their hold over their territories since 1869 by cementing their ties with the Hungarian ruling class. Together they governed the sprawling, unruly Habsburg Empire without sharing much power with the many other minorities presentin their domains. The steady growth of the Austro-Hungarian Reich in these last years before WWI reflected Turkish weakness rather than Austrian strength, but lavish public displays of pomp and luxury successfully masked the rot within. It would only take the strains of prolonged war -- total war -- for the entire edifice to collapse of its own weight.   Enlarge

Austrian Battleship FRANZ FERDINAND at sea
A near-silhouette of the Franz Ferdinand underway, dated 1910. The paint job is so fresh, she looks like a model.

ZRINYI in port at Spoleto
Zrinyi in port at Spoleto.

ZRINYI in port at Spoleto
Radetzky at Spithead for the Coronation, 1911.

ZRINYI leaving port, big smoke
Zrinyi raising steam for exercises with the rest of the Second Battleship Division.

ZRINYI steaming through sunlit seas
In an shot evocative of bygone times, Zrinyi swims among sparkling wavelets in the Med.

A-H battleship RADETZKY in harbour
Another shot of Radetzky during the coronation festivities for George V.  Enlarge

FRANZ FERDINAND at anchor with airplane landing

Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand was the first of the class to be commissioned, in 1908, in deference to the unfortunate Archduke and heir to the Throne (not incidentally, a great patron of the K.u.K. Kriegsmarine). The vessel is seen at her Pola mooring on wash day. Note biplane landing on the water at left -- apparently a Lohner L flying boat. With plenty of points of reference, this photo emphasizes the sheer scale of these semi-dreadnoughts. Perhaps it is sad the senile Austro-Hungarian Empire lacked the imagination to use them to their full potential. Then again, perhaps not.

ERZHERZOG FRAND FERDIAND at target practice - color painting by Alex Kircher, circa 1908

Another masterful effort by Alex Kircher showing Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand at target practice, her main turrets trained to starboard. Evidently the big guns have just fired a broadside and the smoke is beginning to blow away on the wind. Kircher's love of his subject is evident here in the spirited way he has depicted the spray, billowing gunsmoke, and the shifting colors of sea and sky. This was another in the artist's series of cards celebrating the Austro-Hungarian fleet.

ERZHERZOG FRAND FERDIAND at target practice - color painting by Alex Kircher, circa 1908
Pola was headquarters for the Second Battleship Division -- the three Radetzkys.

FRANZ FERDINAND under way, quarter view

Rarely seen quarter view of Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand emphasizes the long and spacious quarterdeck. Internally this was taken up by the engine rooms and barbettes, but there was no superstructure erected over the skylight, placed immediately abaft the mainmast. The aft 12" turret bookended the engine room casing from the other end. This ship is quite an eyeful with her lordly demeanor, smartly stowed net booms, bristling guns, and acrid smoke, but it is the graceful sweep of the hull that holds the eye in this shot. For all their great size and power, these were remarkably handsome ships.  Enlarge

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