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Vice-Admiral William Baron von Tegetthoff

Vice-Admiral William Baron von Tegetthoff [also rendered Tegethoff, Tegetoff, Teggetoff, Teghetoflj], the son of Lieutenant-Colonel Karl von Tegetthoff, was born at Marburg in Styria on the 23rd of December, 1827. He spent some of his childhood in the Gymnasium at Marburg ; but at the age of thirteen he was sent to the College for Naval Cadets at Venice. There he stayed for five years : he was nearly eighteen when he made his first experience of sea-service. Tegetthoff not only gained credit by the way in which he performed it, but was brought to the favorable notice of the Archduke Maximilian.

In 1857, in the interests of navigation and the development of Austrian commerce, Tegetthoff was despatched, in company with the distinguished ornithologist, Dr. Heuglin, on a semiofficial journey in Egypt and Arabia : the object being to collect local information which might throw new light on the project of cutting a canal through the Isthmus of Suez, with a possible view to take an early advantage of the Canal, if it should be completed, and, amongst other things, to select a point suitable for a coaling station. The two travelled up the Nile to Thebes, and from there, by caravan, to Kosseir, on the Red Sea, and thence southwards, examining both coasts as they went. Near Bender Gam, in Somali Land, they were attacked by the natives, taken prisoners, and detained until their ransom was duly paid. Dr. Henglin, who had been severely wounded, crossed over to Aden and returned to Cairo, whilst Tegetthoff pursued his investigations by himself. In an open boat, and against the north-easterly monsoon of the Gulf of Aden, he crossed over to Makallah, coasted along to Ras Fartak, and crossed again to Socotra. After exploring this island, he went back to Aden, and so to Egypt and to Europe.

France took advantage of the estrangement between Austria and Russia to set up a military confrontation between Austrian and Italian nationalist forces. This opened the door to French military intervention in support of the Italians in 1859. Because Franz Joseph was unwilling to make the concessions that were Prussia's price for assistance from the German Confederation and because he feared the French might stir up trouble in Hungary, Franz Joseph surrendered Lombardy in July 1859. After the peace Tegetthoff was appointed aide-de-camp to the Archduke, and in this capacity accompanied him to Brazil on board the steamer Kaiserine Elisabeth.

In 1864 the naval power of Denmark threatened to baulk some of the military plans of the Germanic spoilers. The Danes were blockading the mouths of the Elbe and the Weser. On the 9th of May, 1864, within sight of Heligoland, Tegetthoff met the Danish squadron under Commodore Snenson. The action which followed was the first, and with the exception of that, a few months later, between the Kearsage and Alabama, remains the only one fought between wooden ships under steam and armed with heavy shell guns ; but on neither side did any exceptional use seem to have been made of the steam-power; and the damage and loss inflicted by the shells were no greater than were in many cases, during the old French war, inflicted by much smaller cold shot. The blockade was raised : the Austrians had met the Danes with a weaker force, and had not been crushed.

Though vanquished in the action with the Danes, he had brought his crippled and wounded frigate out of the battle with flying colors. The Austrian emperor acknowledged Tegetthoff's telegraphic message by one promoting him to the rank of rear-admiral, and conferring on him the Order of the Iron Crown, with a war decoration. Undoubtedly Tegetthoff deserved well of the allied sovereigns. He had fought a superior enemy, superior both in force and in prestige. He had fought boldly, and though beaten, was still so far successful that the Danish Navy had no further influence on the war.

Admiral Tegetthoff afterwards commanded at Lissa, in the first engagement of iron-clad versus wooden ships, and covered himself with glory, in marked contrast to the conduct of the Italian Admiral Persano. The flag-ship "Kaiser" took a most prominent part in the battle of Lissa, but was so much damaged that she had to be run ashore to save her from sinking.

It was to Tegetthoff that the Mexicans gave the dead body of their Emperor Maximilian, whom they had invited by an influential majority to rule over them, and then, in the day of adversity, most shamefully led out to be shot ; and it was he who bore it over the sea to Vienna, where they laid the hero to rest, passing by the dead man's lovely villa of Miramar in the Adriatic, which it had been better for him and his beautiful consort (still reigning in harmless imagination) had they never left.

Tegetthoff died, deeply lamented, in 1871. Admiral Tegetthoff worked hard until the close of his life in the reorganisation of the fleet, alike in its personnel and materiel, but his untimely death shattered the ambitious plans which he had cherished. His program had been carried out in part, but it had not been modified nor enlarged to suit the altered conditions of naval warfare, and the maritime growth of neighbouring States.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:51:20 ZULU