Heroic Austrian naval officer Baron Von Trapp and his family inspire musical Sound of Music
Austrian Baron Georg Johannes von Trapp
commanded Austrian Uboats in World War One
(photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
The Austrian Navy? How is that possible? Isn’t Austria is landlocked? Yes, but it wasn’t when the Austro-Hungarian Empire existed. That multi-ethnic state collapsed after World War One. Territories ruled by the Austrian Emperor included Slovenia and Croatia which bordered the Adriatic thus giving access to the sea.
Above is the longest reigning Austrian Emperor, Franz Joseph I, who reigned from 2 December 1848 – 21 November 1916. He was also King of King of Hungary and Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Galicia, Lodomeria and Illyria; and retained the heriditay title of King of Jerusalem one of the kingdoms established by the crusaders in the Middle Ages.
In 1806, the Holy Roman Empire in central Europe, a very loose federation of Germanic states and principalities, finally collapsed. Since the Habsburgs had usually supplied the Holy Roman Empire with its Emperor, the Austrian Empire, ruled by the Habsburgs, became the successor state. There is an old saying in history that the Holy Roman Empire was neither “Holy” nor “Roman” nor an “Empire,” all of which is substantially true.
Whenever you come across a historical figure whose title was “Elector” then that person was one of the seven princes and kings who elected the Emperor.
Austro-Hungarian main naval base at Pula shown by red arrow on map above
The Austrian Empire or Austro-Hungarian Empire had a substantial navy with almost 36,000 officers and men and a large number of ships, including dreadnoughts and submarines. They did well considering that there wasn’t a common language in the Habsburg Empire. Educated people spoke German like the Austrians do today of course but others refused out of sense of nationalistic identity, the Magyars in Hungary being some of the most uncooperative.
singing von Trapps in Vermont in 1946. While pictured as a sweet and loving person in the Sound of Music, Mrs von Trapp was something of a dragon and ordered everyone around.
The most famous officer of the long defunct Austro-Hungarian Navy is Baron von Trapp. He and the singing Von Trapp family were made famous in the movie “The Sound of Music” which is loosely based on their story. Baron von Trapp was an outstanding Austrian submarine commander in World War One. He made 19 war patrols and sank 11 cargo ships, a French cruiser and an Italian submarine.
After the proclamation of the Dual Monarchy in 1867 with the Emperor of Austria becoming the King of Hungary as well as Austrian Emperor, the fleet was known became known as the “Imperial and Royal War Navy.”
That phrase in German is “kaiserliche und königliche Kriegsmarine,” abbreviated as k.u.k. which how the fleet was known. The k.u.k. operated mainly in the Adriatic Sea but during World War One also positioned itself as a “fleet in being” which could enter the Mediterranean if so chose and dispute French, British and Italian control.
Austro-Hungarian Dreadnoughts At Pula before World War One.
Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum
Austrian battleship Viribus Unitis
The fleet was based at the port of Pola, now Pula, in Croatia, then part of Austro-Hungarian Empire. After its defeat in World War One and the collapse of the empire, Hungary was deprived of all of its territory along the Adriatic and hence no longer had ports for Imperial and Royal fleet which was dispersed.
Austro-Hungarian fleet on maneuvers circa 1912
(photo courtesy Wikipedia)
A former commander of the k.u.k. was Admiral Horthy who proclaimed himself Regent of Hungary after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This is how a land locked country of Hungary came to be ruled by an admiral for decades.
If you have an interest in learning more, substantial detail on the k.u.k. can be found here: