Imperial and Royal Navy Facilities
The Austrian Navy had major bases in Adriatic coastal cities such as Venice ("Venedig" in German or "Venezia" in Italian), Triest ("Trieste" in Italian), Pula ("Polei" in German or "Pola" in Italian), Fiume ("Sankt Veit am Pflaum" in German), Sebenico ("Sibenning"), Split ("Spalato" in Italian), and Cattaro.
On the Italian Peninsula there are few good harbors, until the Gulf of Taranto is reached. On the other side, there is not only the Peninsula of Istria, with the three naval ports of Trieste, Fiume, and Pola, but also a rugged coast along Illyria, Dalmatia, and Epirus, fringed with islands and provided with the ports of Cattaro, Sebenico, Durazzo, Ragusa, San Giovanni di Medusa, Prevesa, Valona, and others. To develop full sea power in the eastern Mediterranean, the masters of Italy must be masters also of the eastern coast of the Adriatic. All these ports were, from time immemorial, nests of pirates, and it was the first task of the Venetians to clear them out. The first condition of the profitable use of sea power is the establishment of law and right at sea.
The Austro-Hungarian coast was divided into four zones of about 460 kilometers, to each of which was assigned a flotilla, composed of depot ships, torpedo rams, and torpedo boats. The fine natural harbors of Cattaro and Sebenico were in a condition to serve as points of support to the defensive flotillas.
On sea, as ashore, "the lay of the land" gave Austria an advantage over the peninsular nation of Italy. Pola, Austria's chief naval base, was so near the northern Adriatic Italian shore as to constitute a pistol pointed at the heart of Italy in the same sense as Antwerp is a pistol pointed at the heart of England, to use Napoleon's classic phrase. Farther south, Sebenico and the Bocche di Cattaro were naval bases well placed for raids on the southern shores of Italy, and the Dalmatian Islands provided the sort of cover that destroyers and submarines delight in.
On the other hand, the Italian Adriatic shore was lacking in large, well-protected harbors, and the fortifications of Venice were said to be inadequate to ward off an attack by modern battle-ships. The best defense of Italian ports against Austrian ships was the Italian navy, and this, with perhaps some French reinforcements, would be powerful enough to hold the greater part of the Austrian navy in port, as the French and British ships have held it.
Looking at a map of the Adriatic, it would appear at first sight as though Italy and the Dual Monarchy held respectively an equal share of the littoral. But a brief study of the topographical configuration of these regions will at once reveal the inferiority of Italy's share. The Italian coast-line is, from one end of Italy to the other, a slow-sloping, sandy beach land, affording few harbours, none of which are of strategic value, whereas the opposite shore, held by Austria-Hungary, is a rocky coastland, dotted with over 600 islands, containing some of the finest natural harbors in the world, such as Cattaro and Sebenico, affording a preponderant strategic advantage to the country possessing them. With the Austrian navy able to protect itself behind these natural ramparts, leaving the Italian coast-line exposed and vulnerable, it can readily be understood that Italy felt herself threatened as long as Austria should remain, or any other power succeeding to the Austrian heritage should be permitted to become established along the Adriatic.
This geographical inferiority of Italy was further emphasised by the fact that by the Congress of Berlin in 1878, Austria was intrusted with the police duties of the Montenegrin waters, which indirectly gave her commercial fleet a great impetus, so that at the time of the Great War Austrian ships (17,230) in the Adriatic outnumbered the Italian ten to one, while their total tonnage (605,551) was nearly twenty times as great.
One prominent item on the program of the big fleet party was the conversion into a first-class naval station of Sebenico, a fair harbor on the Dalmatian littoral. It was announced in March 1910 that a new base for ships of the Austro-Hungarian Navy was being prepared at Sebenico, on the Dalmatian coast, 70 miles south-east of Trieste. The place was visited by Admiral Montecuccoli, who with his staff selected suitable sites for the fortifications, and a wireless telegraphic station was erected. As of 1910 The principal Government Dockyard of Austria-Hungary was situated at Pola. At Trieste there were two building slips at the yard of the Stabilimento Tecnico which had been made capable of receiving Dreadnoughts; and two more slips had been similarly lengthened at the establishment of the Danubius Shipbuilding Co., of Fiume.
In the 1911 Naval Estimate provision was made for the extension of the arsenal at Pola and the naval base at Sebenico, about half-way down the Dalmatian coast, which had a good natural harbor, was the headquarters of a rear-admiral with a command extending from Zara to Cattaro, and possessed a torpedo station, though, it is not, like Pola, a naval base in which the ordinary necessaries for a modern fleet are to be found, and it was proposed to make it such a base in order to provide for a partial decentralisation of the Fleet, the necessity for which was alleged to have been shown by the recent crisis in the Balkans.
When Austria signed "The Treaty of Saint-Germain", on 10 September 1919, her coastline from Trieste to Cattaro was ceded to both Italy and Yugoslavia. With Austria now a land locked country there was no need for a Navy.
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