Erzherzog Ferdinand Max class (1863)

Austrian Navy Austrian Navy, 1862-1883: SMS Erzherzog Ferdinand Max, Habsburg

The Erzherzog Ferdinand Max and Habsburg were built for the Austrian Navy in the 1860s as its last broadside armored frigates for the Austrian Empire, last completed to see action at the Battle of Lissa in 1866. Their intended breech-loading Krupp guns were not delivered in time before the outbreak of the War so they had sixteen older 48-pounder muzzle-loading guns. Seeing action on 20 July, Erzherzog Ferdinand Max was flagship of Rear Admiral Wilhelm von Tegetthoff and in the melee, struck the decisive blow which almost ended the battle single-handedly by ramming, sinking the ironclad Re d’Italia, completely turning the tables despite the odds. Postwar they were laid up, seeing little activity due to lack of naval funding in the new Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1886 one became a tender, the other a harbour guard ship, sold for BU in 1898 but the first was still active until 1916.

The Austro-Italian ironclad arms race

⚙ The Austro-Italian naval Arms Race prior to Lissa (1864)

Italian navy Regia MarinaKuK Kriesgmarine KuK Kriegsmarine
Formidabile class 1860
Principe di Carignano class 1861
Re d'Italia class 1861
Regina Maria Pia class (1862)
Roma class (1863)
Affondatore (1863)
Principe Amedeo class (ordered 1865)
Drache class (1860)
Kaiser Max class (1861)
Erzherzog Ferdinand Max class (1863)


The launch of the French Gloire, first sea going ironclad warship and British answer with the first all-iron built ironclads, the Warrior class, promted all nations to consider their own wooden fleet obsolete. Adopting the new trend was a matter of survival. Thus Austrian feared Italy would take this path, and started its own major ironclad construction program. It was under the direction of Archduke Ferdinand Max which was the Navy’s Marinekommandant, brother of the Emperor, Franz Josef I. In 1861, On these five ships, the serie started with the small two Drache class and three Kaiser Max-class being laid down, all designed by the Director of Naval Construction Josef von Romako.

French engraving by Noel for the Universal Expo in Paris 1867

They were “classic”, but he already prepared a better design following the latest trends for larger guns. What became the Erzherzog Ferdinand Max class, taken the name of their Marinekommandant would be significantly larger than the Kaiser Max-class to carry thirty-two 48-pounder muzzle-loading guns until it was decided to adopt a battery of breech-loading guns by Krupp. The new breech loading guns were indeed much faster to reload and aim, and tehy were also larger and reputed more accurate. However the War of 1866 meant the ship would likely miss the war as delivery of these guns were delayed. It was decided to hastily complete these with sixteen earlier 48-pounders, less than half than their initial provision, and their sailing rig was not ready so they were completed with a reduced rig, relying on steam first. In the end, this dit not mattered much because their ram became a decisive asset, combined with the freedom of move offered by steam power.

Design of the class

A model of the ship

Unlike many ships that were built in foreign yards for the Italians, Austria had its own, large and experienced naval yard, Stabilimento Tecnico Triestino in Trieste, in addition to Venice. The previous five ironclads were built there. Laid down on 6 May and June 1863 they were launched in May-June 1865 and completed by July 1866 just as the war had started. The Italians also had ongoing orders that were about to arrive in july, Admiral Di Persano’s ironclad turret ram Affondatore, his “secret weapon”.
The Austrian Ironclads were however not as innovative, but they were larger than the previous ironclads however:

Hull and general design

These ships measured indeed 79.97 meters (262 ft 4 in) long between perpendiculars, 83.75 m (274 ft 9 in) overall not including the bowsprit. Their beam was 15.96 m (52 ft 4 in) and average draft was 7.14 m (23 ft 5 in) for 5,130 long tons (5,210 t) of displacement. Hulls were of wooden construction, sheathed with wrought iron armor 123 mm (5 in) in thickness on the battery. It was reduced to 87 mm (3.4 in) at the bow and stern. The crew comprised 511 officers and ratings. They had five service boats, three in the same large whaler and two under davits.


It was limited to the belt, starting at the waterline and expanding in height up to the top of the main battery deck, 123 mm (5 inches) in thickness. On both ends it was tapered down to 87 mm (3.4 in). There was no armoured deck nor conning tower.


Propulsion system relied on a single single-expansion, 2-cylinder horizontal steam engine. Manufactured at Stabilimento Tecnico shipyard, Fiume it was classic, driving a single non lifting screw propeller. They also carried either two or four coal-fired boilers, trunked into a single funnel amidships as customary at the time. There was a sufficient gap between it and the main and foremast to avoid blackening the sails. As declared the powerplant produced 2,925 indicated horsepower (2,181 kW), enough for a top speed noted on trials at 12.54 knots (23.22 km/h; 14.43 mph). Coal storage was 330 long tons (340 t), sufficient for prolonged Adriatic operations. They had a three-masted rig in supplement for cruising, but completion was so rushed that they were limited to two stages being installed, and only three stud sails. The full rigging was installed postwar in 1867.


Ferdinand Max in 1880
As broadside ironclads their final main battery was sixteen 48-pounder muzzle-loading guns. 48 pounder corresponds roughly to 194 mm (7.63 inches) in modern terms. The remainder half (sixteen more) were still awaiting delivery. So they departed with half broadside arrangement with just a single gun for two portholes. On deck were also added several smaller guns: Four 8-pounder guns and two swivel 3-pounders notably at the stern and forecastle for close range and possible boarding actions. They went at war and in battle with this lot.

F. Max in 1890

Postwar, their armament was revised.
-In 1969, their muzzle-loaders replaced fourteen 8 in (203 mm) Krupp guns, all breech loading as first intended. this was less in caliber, but the rate of fire was tripled as well as range.
-In 1874 they this was changed again for a battery of fourteen 7 in (178 mm) muzzle-loading Armstrong guns plus four new light guns on deck.
-In 1882, four 9 cm (3.5 in) breech-loader guns were added to the main battery, plus two 7 cm (2.8 in) breech-loaders, and two 47 mm (1.9 in) quick-firing revolver guns on deck was well a three 25 mm (0.98 in) auto-cannons. At the same time, their rigging was still there, but it was cut-out for Herzherzog in 1886-87.
-In 1886 Max received eight 10 cm (3.9 in) guns and in 1886, removed, with a single 26 cm (10 in) gun and 24 cm (9.4 in) installed in place as tender.
-In 1878 Habsburg received a battery of fourteen 7 in (178 mm) muzzle-loading Armstrong guns and four light guns.
-In 1882, she had four 9 cm (3.5 in) breech-loading guns, two 7 cm (2.8 in) breech-loaders, two 47 mm (1.9 in) quick-firing revolver guns, three 25 mm (0.98 in) auto-cannon.
-In 1886 she received the same downgrade as her sister.

⚙ Ferdy Max specifications

Displacement 5,130 long tons (5,210 t)
Dimensions 83.75 x 15.96 x 7.14m (274 ft 9 in x 52 ft 4 in x 23 ft 5 in)
Propulsion 1 shaft MTE 2,925 indicated horsepower (2,181 kW)
Speed 12.54 knots (23.22 km/h; 14.43 mph)
Range Unlimited with sail
Armament 16 × 48-pdr, 4 × 8-pdr, 2 × 3-pdr
Protection Battery: 123 mm (5 in), Ends: 87 mm (3.4 in)
Crew 511

Austro-Hun Navy SMS Erzherzog Ferdinand Max

Erzherzog Ferdinand Max had a rushed fitting-out work due to tensions with Prussia and Italy. Austria was soon faced to both the Austro-Prussian and Third Italian War of Independence by June 1866. Delivery of the Krupp gun was cancelled due to the war with Prussia and older stock smooth-bore guns were installed. Rear Admiral Wilhelm von Tegetthoff mobilized the fleet until they were fully crewed, received coal supplies and ammunitions, and he rushed training exercises and gunnery drills in Fasana. Her made Erzherzog Ferdinand Max, the largest and vest ship in his fleet, his flagship. Tegetthoff sailed to Ancona on 26 June to try to draw the Italians out for a battle but his peer Admiral Carlo Pellion di Persano refused, fearing he was not still ready. Same story on 6 July, until prolitical pressure urged Persano to sail out on 16 July with twelve ironclads off Ancona for Lissa. Her arrived on the 18th with troop transports in order to capture the island.

However the two days of shelling of Austrian defenses gave little results. All this time, his fleet was grouped but he would spread them into three local forces surrounding the island whereas Tegetthoff received telegrams on the 17-19th about the attack which he believed to be a fein, freeing the Italians to attack instead Pola and Venice. But the attack was confirmed on the 19th, and he requested permission to attack, whjch was granted. Her arrived off Lissa on the morning of 20 July, catching Persano setup for another landing attempt, divided into three groups. Tegetthoff seized the oppotunity to group his force into a wedge-shaped formation, stating at ist spear tip aboard his flagship Erzherzog Ferdinand Max. More fragile “backup” wooden warships followed behind ands inside the formation.

Persano made a fatal error, asking to be transferred from the flasghip Re d’Italia, to the just arrived Affondatore. This completely desorganized the Italian line that Tegetthoff exploited by breaking the forming line with the second group about to arrive and the third at full speed trying to catch up from the other side of the island. The first ramming run failed however, but the ensuing melee after he turn around set him out for a second attempt. His accurate gunfire managed to break Re d’Italia’s rudder. This was a fatal bow, as Ferdinand Max was closing up fast, ordered to maximum speed. There were two collisions at angles too oblique for serious damage but the flagship made another turn and this time struck her hull directly, her ram tearing a gaping hole on her port side. Tegetthoff then reversed course not to be stuck, and this only aggravated the flooding. Having no compartimentation at the time, the Italian ironclad started to lurch back to port and sink. The close melee action was seen by all.

Tegetthoff still ordered to lower boats and rescue the Italians until someone saw the incoming ironclad San Martino. Tegetthoff then ordered the aviso Kaiserin Elizabeth to pick up survivors whereas he sped up to engaged San Martino. Kaiserin Elizabeth was fired upon by the Italian ships and had to abandon her attempt. Only a fraction of the poor sailors were able to reach the Island. Meanwhile, the heavily burning Palestro was soon vaporized by an absolutely massive magazine explosion. Persano seemed completely unable to remobilized his demoralized fleet and tried to break the engagement to regroup, and confered rapidly with the rest if the fleet, informed it was already low on coal and ammunition. The Italians withdraw followed by the Austrians, but they were slower and coul not keep up for a possible second engagement. Indeed, the battle was not decisive given the number of ships remaining on both sides. Night fall saw a full disengagement. During the battle, Erzherzog Ferdinand Max fired 156 shells and kept boarding parties on deck but they never had the opportunity to engage due to the nature of the fight. She received no significant damage apart a few armor plates dislodged and paint scrapes, and minor leak after the ramming.

Back to Pola, Tegetthoff prepared his fleet for another operation, and sailed in the northern Adriatic for a possible Italian sortie that never came. On 12 August the Armistice of Cormons put an end to hostilities and later the Treaty of Vienna was signed. Austria won the land Battle of Custoza but lost against Prussia at Königgrätz. Erzherzog Ferdinand Max was sent to a British yard in Malta to have her bow repaired and soon the crew learned about their country now part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire with the Ausgleich of 1867. Hungarian disinterest crippled naval budgets but the two last ironclads stayed active nevertheless. Both her and her sister received full rigging and proceeded to some gunnery drills.

In 1869, Kaiser Franz Joseph sailed-toured the Mediterranean aboard his imperial yacht Greif escorted by Ferdinand Max, Habsburg, and paddle steamers. They arrived at Port Said where remained the two ironclads due to their high draft while the others sailed to the red Sea, with Empress Eugenie of France in her own yacht. The ironclads were back to Trieste by December and nothing much happened. In 1874 both were rearmed with Armstrong guns, again in 1882. She was used by default as tender. Her hull changed in appareance and her rigging was cut back. She was was stricken on 19 May 1886 but still listed as tender from 1889 to 1908, to the gunnery training school. She was sold for BU in 1916 as the Empire needed urgently more iron.

Austro-Hun Navy SMS Habsburg

Habsburg after 1877
Habsburg after 1877
Habsburg was completed very fast due to escalating tensions and like her sister never received her intended guns but instead sixteen older muzzle-loading 48 Pdr. She also had a reduced rig. She as mobilized and started training as is in Fasana. On 26 June, Tegetthoff sailed to Ancona and also on 6 July and by 20 July, she arrived off Lissa, on the right flank of the wedge. He followed her flag sister in the first pass through the gap, but failed to ram any Italian ships before turning around but not attempting to ram any Italian vessels. Instead her captain concentrated on firing at the Italian ships without much success. At some point she was engaged by Principe di Carignano and Castelfidardo but also at Kaiser Max and Salamander with little results either.

The battle ended after her sister rammed Re d’Italia and Palestro blown up. Albeit she was part of the chase of Persano night fell and tTegetthoff folded back. In all SMS Habsburg had fired 170 shells and was 38 times but not damaged and without casualties. She joined the fleet at Lissa, anchored in Saint George Bay. Habsburg sailed out with Prinz Eugen to patrolled outside the harbor in case the Italians would return, but nothing happened.

She later was back to Pola for some repairs and be ready for another sortie in the northern Adriatic. On 12 August, the the Armistice of Cormons put an end to the war, confirmed by the Treaty of Vienna. There was the Ausgleich of 1867 seeing the creation of a Dual Monarchy but Hungarian disinterest for the navy crippled it. Howeber being the most modern and powerful ship with her sister, she did saw more activity than older ships.
In 1869, she followed her sister in Kaiser Franz Joseph’s Mediterranean and Red sea tour. In 1870 Habsburg remained the only Austro-Hungarian ironclad in service. After the Franco-Prussian War seeing the withdrawal of the French garrison from Rome, the city was about to be annexed which Franz Joseph decided to attempt to deter dispatching SMS Habsburg for a show of force in August along the Italian coast until September. The fall of the Second French Empire (an ally of the Empire) deterred an attack on Italy to defend Rome. The Papal states were annexed in the end.
In 1874 and in the 1880s, SMS Habsburg was rearmed twice. She was decommissioned in 1886, becoming a guard ship/barracks ship in Pola. She ended with a single 26 cm (10.2 in) gun and a 24 cm (9.4 in) gun like her sister. She was stricken on 22 October 1898, BU 1899–1900.

Read More/Src


Pawlik, Georg (2003). The Kaiser’s Floating Fortresses: The Casemate Ships of Austria-Hungary. Neuer Wissenschaftlicher Verlag
Scheltema de Heere, R. F. (1973). Fisher, Edward C. (ed.). “Austro-Hungarian Battleships”. Warship International. X
Sieche, Erwin & Bilzer, Ferdinand (1979). Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1860–1905.
Sondhaus, Lawrence (1994). The Naval Policy of Austria-Hungary, 1867–1918. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press.
Wilson, Herbert Wrigley (1896). Ironclads in Action: A Sketch of Naval Warfare from 1855 to 1895. London: S. Low, Marston and Company.


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