Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The First Gun of August

I know you navalists are going nuts as of late with some of my non-navalist posts - so I have a compromise post that should keep the navalists happy, the historians happy, and the whodathunk gaggle noodl'n their puzzl'r.

So, what really was the first shot of WWI?
The first hostile act of the war also took place 100 years ago today when Austro-Hungarian troops seized two Serbian river boats carrying ammunition and mines. Then, on the night of 28/29 July, the Serbs blew up the railway bridge between the two countries – to prevent Austro-Hungarian troops using it to invade Serbia. The first actual shots of the war were fired just after 1am on 29 July when Austro-Hungarian naval vessels on the river Sava opened fire on the Serbian sappers who had blown up the bridge and on Belgrade itself.

Remarkably, the gunboat, the Bodrog, from which the first shots were were fired still survives today, largely forgotten, moored at the side of the river Danube in Belgrade.
Yes kiddies, she is still with us; and here she is today.

I wish I could find a better English narrative of her story - but here is an ESL version that gives you a taste;
With the break of dawn, on the 29th of July, armored ships with fixed cannons and machine guns sailed into Sava. Those were the dreadful hostile monitors from which the assault on Belgrade was meant to be launched. Among them was the monitor Bodrog, that had been waiting anchored in Zemun until the declaration of war was issued. It was from Bodrog that the first grenades flew towards Belgrade. The news of the monitors rumbled through Belgrade like a tornado and spread fear among the citizens, and for a good reason. Already, that same day, the first grenade from Bodrog flew towards Knez Mihailova Street and fell on the building across the hotel “the Greek Queen”. Up until the arrival of the two batteries with long gun barrels sent to Serbia by the allies, these monitors sowed death across Belgrade killing the citizens and demolishing the city.

She served four nations, the Austro-Hunganian Empire, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the Independent State of Croatia, and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia - none of which actually exist today - but she does. She sure packed a punch - a real littoral combat ship that drew only 9 feet.

2 × 120 mm (4.7 in) guns (1 × 2)
1 × 120 mm (4.7 in) howitzer
1 × 66 mm (2.6 in) gun
2 × machine guns

Her main battery - and I cannot find out exactly, were either Skoda 120/35 or 120/50s. That gives her a maximum range of 10,000-19,000 yards depending on which gun it was and the shell being used. On the Danube ... that rapid fire, for her time, 66mm would have been a handful.

I've been on the Danube and cannot imagine what it would have been like having this coming out of the fog at you, or worse, dropping anchor off your town's promenade. 

... and armored too. The ship had a 50mm belt, 19mm deck and 76mm around the bridge.

She really is in a sorry state, and for the sake of history, she needs a sponsor to help bring her back to her glory. She is rotting away as a gravel barge for goodness sake. I don't think saving her is silly sentimentalism - the physical relics of our past are critical in helping share the lessons of the past so that they are not forgotten, or worse - the bad lessons repeated. Few do this better than warships ... of any size.

A final note, some of you may think, "Oh cute, Austria once had a navy ... " Well, as we covered here in 2007 - it only died within the last decade.

Hat tip BrickMuppet.

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