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The Battle of Lissa
20. 07. 1866

The Battle of Lissa (1866) forever marked the history of warship – it was the greatest battle ever fought on the Adriatic Sea and the first battle where two armoured fleets clashed at open sea. It was also the last battle where naval ram was used to destroy other ships. The significance of the Battle is such that it has been studied on all military schools worldwide and the famous victory of the Austrian admiral Wilhelma von Tegetthoffa and Croatian officers and sailors is one of the most glorious victories in the maritime history. One entire museum hall in the History Museum of Vienna is dedicated to the famous Battle of Lissa which involved 61 warships and 19000 soldiers. The mighty Italian fleet which lost its two armoured ships – Re d'Itali and Palestro was overruled by exceptional tactics of a much weaker Austrian Fleet

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soldiers in the battle
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Croats on ships
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ships in battle
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soldiers died
Historical setting of the Battle of Lissa

Lissa (Vis) at the beginning of 19th century
After the battle between the British and the French near the isle of Lissa, which took place on March 13th 1811, the British have understood the advantages which this beautiful island offered. They decided to turn it into strongpoint and anchorage. Building of the temporary defensive structures, and later the military fortresses with powerful armament, meant a big strategic and logistic support to the fleets which sailed the Adriatic Sea. From 1814, this privilege was enjoyed by the Austrian navy.
Historical background of the Battle of Lissa
The origins of this battle, which was only one of the numerous battles which took place in the second half of the 19th century, resulting in rivers of blood, can be traced in the interlocked political upheavals which, as may well be argued, led to the Great War, some 60 years later. Somewhere around the middle of the 19th century, an idea about the unification of all German lands, which were divided between Austria and Prussia, was strengthening. The only open question was – under which dominion will they be united. Prussian visionary, and later the first prime minister of Prussia (and the first chancellor of the German Reich) Otto von Bismarck managed to solve this question more by his diplomatic skills than by waging wars. Namely, Bismarck gained most of the territory “on the green table”. However, Bismarck was not only a first-class negotiator, but also an extraordinary military strategist. Seven-week war with Austria and the defeat of Napoleon III at Sedan were unavoidable. On the other hand, Italy waged battles of its own. Divided into several kingdoms, some of which were occupied by Austria (Lombardy and Venice), Italy also dreamed of the unification. When the king of Sardinia and Piedmont, Albert Charles, abdicated because two heavy defeats inflicted by the Austrians (1848 and 1849), his son Victor Emanuel II (1861 – 1878) inherited the throne. He was the future maker of the unified Kingdom of Italy. To reach his goal – unification – he decided to act in the typical Italian manner: he made alliance with Prussia against Austrians, and also with Giuseppe Garibaldi, Italian revolutionary and a partisan of the unification. In the following 10 years, he achieved liberation and unification of almost whole Italy. In 1866, a very tense situation was developing in Europe, and the involved parties waited only for the right opportunity to start the war. The main actors were Prussia and Austrian – Hungarian Empire in the race for the supremacy in the Middle Europe, and Italy, whose ambition was to realize unification (so called “risorgimento”) of the national territory, thus reducing Austrian territory. In April 1866, Prussia and Italy made alliance which obliged them mutually to declare the war with Austria if the other country made that step. The expected reward for Italy was the territory of Veneto and the rest of Lombardy. Prussia declared war with Austria on June 6th. Not wishing to open the front on both sides of the empire, Austria offered Veneto to Italy, under the condition of breaking the alliance with Prussia. Italy counted on the superior numbers of its troops, and felt that the possible victory would provide an opportunity for occupation of Trieste, Istria and almost whole territory of Dalmatia. On June 20th 1866, Italy officially declared the war with Austria. As the Prussian ally, on June 24th Victor Emmanuel II has sent the army and his ally Garibaldi with his volunteers to Lombardy. Despite its military and numerical superiority, Italy suffered a crushing defeat at Custoza, in the very same area where Radetzky won the battle against the army of Piemont in 1848. Open wound of that defeat was bleeding, and the Italian leadership, as well as the public, searched for the remedy for their deeply injured military pride.

Situation in the navies

After the unification of Italy, the Italian navy consisted of the navies of the Kingdom of Sardinia and Kingdom of Both Sicilies. Count Cavour did not have had enough time to finish the work on unification of the independent navies of Sardiny, Sicily, Papal State and the rest of the sailors from the Venetian Republic of 1849. The newborn navy suffered from the heterogenic structure, internal conflicts, accusations and arguments over every unsolved question. After the fundamental reorganization in the late 1860-ties, its manpower numbered some 15.000 strong (10.000 sailors and junior officers, 3.000 marines, 300 officers, 48 senior officers and 16 admirals). There were many warships in the process of building, most importantly ironclads - ships powered by sails and steam machine, armored with the steel plates and armed with substantial number of guns. Two ironclads were ordered from the USA – Re D’Italia and Re Di Portogallo, and there were plains laid for building other ships. In the spring of 1862, admiral Persano took the position of the Minister of Navy, and he encouraged the building of the armored ships. After Persano, there were several ministers, but the budget of the fleet was constantly increasing. By the beginning of 1866, 12 ironclads were finished, and the newest of them, Affondatore, has just arrived from Great Britain, where she was built. The conflict with Austria over the province of Venice seemed unavoidable. Admiral Carlo conte Persano was named the Fleet Commander on May 16th 1866, and several days later, Italy declared war against Austria.
After the fall of the Napoleon’s France, Austrian – Hungarian navy mastered the eastern Adriatic Sea, from the Venice to Budva. Austrian navy was organized in 1814 from the remains of the so-called Italian navy, in fact a Venetian-French organization which Austria found in Venice, and they confiscated all French military and trade ships in the Adriatic Sea. Through the decades, the navy was stagnating, but there were some strategic investments. Numerous shipyards on the coast were the centre of the development, while investments in development of the islands and the building of the lighthouses have yield tangible results. The first steam ship sailed in 1818, while Ressel invented the screw in Trieste in 1829. In Rijeka, the engineers developed the torpedo, thus causing numerous and significant changes in the ship’s construction and the nature of future wars. Austrian – Hungarian Empire gave almost all commanding positions to its citizens of Italian nationality. Official language on the ships was Italian. In 1848, the year of the national awakening, 113 out of 162 ships have sided with the Venetian rebels. With the remaining 30 ships Austrians managed to block Venice and to win back the arsenal. Afterwards, the land forces have crushed the rebellion. These events caused the reorganization of the Austrian – Hungarian navy, which transferred its main naval base to Trieste, and afterwards to the safe harbour of Pula. New officers were educated on the Academy of Rijeka, and the commanding positions were given mostly to the Croat coast and island dwellers, to Slovenians, Serbs and Czechs. After the decades of stagnation, in 1854 the real development of the navy commenced under the Archduke Maximillian (later Mexican Emperor). It switched from the sailing ships of line to the steam-powered ships, and it started with building of the first ironclads to counter the strong Italian navy. Young Commodore Wilhelm Tegetthoff was one of the more enterprising commanders in the Austrian fleet, who was, because of his heroism in the battle of Helgoland in 1864, promoted into the rank of Rear Admiral. In 1866, Tegetthoff became the commander of the fleet in the time of peace. He continued to equip the fleet, and as an experienced commander, he enjoyed great popularity among the crews of the ships.



Re D'Italia was build from 1861. till 1863.

Careers of the main protagonists of the Battle of Lissa

Carlo Pellion conte di Persano (1806 – 1883)


Admiral Carlo Pellion count di Persano was a Piemontese aristocrat and, according to some rumors, the son the King Umberto I. In any case, his ties were strong at the court so he built his career on the political connections; however he was not admired by his colleagues. His naming for the position of the Minister of Navy in 1862 caused the weakening of the discipline throughout the naval fleet. The most important achievement of Persano’s career was the increase of the navy budget to 60 millions liras. With that money, young nation managed to build numerous and strong fleet of modern ironclads with heavy armament. Upon leaving the position of the Minister, Persano took the command over the operative fleet. This decision was opposed by many senior navy officers, including the Prime Minister, General Lamarmora.

Wilhelm Freiherr von Tegetthoff (1827 – 1871)


He was born in the family of an officer, a Major of the Austrian – Hungarian army. He completed the compulsory education in his native Maribor, and continued with advanced education on the Naval Academy in Venice in 1845. At the age of 18, he was already named the Lieutenant Commander of and the adjutant to the Commander of the Austrian – Hungarian Navy, Martini. Later, he took part in series of actions in which he was noted by his correct assessments and quick, daring decisions. After taking part in the Battle of Helgoland in 1864, he was promoted to the rank of Counter Admiral aged only 37. His participation in the Government’s Commission for the restoration and organization of the war fleet in Vienna was quickly concluded because of his too enthusiastic and volcanic reactions to the opinions and views of some older colleagues. He was transferred to Trieste, and in May 1866 put in the charge of the Operative fleet in Pula. Right man came to the right place. His efforts to increase battle readiness of the fleet earned the respect and admiration of all officers and sailors.

Assault on Lissa

Days before the battle

The Minister of the Italian Navy has in several occasions issued the orders for engagement even before the official declaration of the war, but the indecisive Persano replied that the fleet was not ready yet and kept the fleet in Taranto. First orders of the Ministry asked of the operative fleet to attack and destroy or block all of the Austrian – Hungarian ships in the Adriatic Sea. Later, they asked occupation of Cres and other strategic points for the control of the merchant ship lines, as well as the bombardment of the railway Trieste – Venice. Persano did not obey the orders, and it was not before June 25th he transferred his fleet to Ancona. On the other hand, Tegetthoff has used the Fažana Channel for secure anchorage of his fleet. He waited for the decisions of the Staff General. Aware that he does not have enough time to wait the newer, modern ships which would provide significant reinforcement to his vastly inferior fleet armed with old guns, Tegetthoff focused on the strengthening of the battle morale and the compactness of his officers and crews. Immediately after the victory at Custoza, he was given free hands for the naval actions, but not beyond Lissa, with especial emphasis on the delta of Po River and the Venetian coast. With his squadron of 7 iron frigates, 1 wooden frigate and 4 gunships, the Admiral went directly to Ancona and stopped only when he reached the distance of 2 miles from the port. The complete Italian fleet panicked and was preparing to leave the safe port and make combat. After two hours of scouting and challenging the Italians, Tegetthoff decided it is of no use to engage the 25 Italian ships supported by long – range coast batteries. When the first ships sailed from the port, he turned and returned to Fažana at full speed. Persano immediately stopped his faster, more modern ships without any attempt to follow and engage.


Italian fleet


Persano’s behavior caused strong criticism among the ship officers and crews, and soon this criticism spread throughout the whole Italian peninsula. He was sharply criticized by the Government and the Staff General, and some asked that he should be relieved from the position of Fleet Commander. However, the attention of the public and the Government was soon – on July 3rd - diverted to the beginning of the end of war, the land battle of Sadowa, which resulted in great victory for the Prussians and 50.000 dead. Austrian army was compelled to withdraw from Lombardy. During the retreat, they planned to give Venice to the French, and prevent the link between Italy and Prussia. Napoleon III did not want to enter into the conflict with Bismarck, so he offered to mediate in the negotiations. This did not prevent Bismarck from taking Paris three years later. Austria asked the truce through Napoleon’s mediation, and offered Veneto to Italy. The story about the national pride, honorable conquering of the national territory and so on was repeated, and the Italy refused the truce, ordering its land forces to conquer the territory across Soča, Trieste and Istra, with the support of the war fleet. Persano kept his fleet in Ancona, avoiding action and excusing himself with the need to equip the ships, to change the guns and to wait for the new ship, L’Affondatore. The military and state leaders were increasingly impatient, and the Minister himself came to Ancona to force the Admiral into the energetic action which was expected by all. The fleet sailed to the three – day cruise around Lissa, while several ships scouted the waters of Hvar, Šibenik and other coastal areas without any offensive action. On July 15th, the whole fleet gathered again in Ancona. The military leaders have forgot their earlier bolder, but unfulfilled orders and were satisfied with Persano’s suggestion to take the isle of Lissa. Throughout the history, Lissa, as the doorstep of Adriatic, has held a significant military and marine role, and it would make a strong trump in the process of negotiation.

Assault on Lissa

When the victory on the land battlefield was finally secure, complete Italian fleet, except three smaller ships, under the command of 68-year old Admiral Carlo Persano on the flagship Re d’Italia sailed from Ancona on July 16th. Although the fleet reached Lissa the same day, for the next two days it continued to circle the waters around the island. Such passive behavior influenced the morale of the ships’ crews. Lissa was defended by a weakened garrison of 1.833 soldiers entrenched in the thousands of meters of trenches, which ended in the forts with a total of 88 guns, and there were 4 independent batteries (Wellington and Bentainks on the left and right side of the town of Vis, Magnaremi at Komiža, and Nadpostranje at the Rukavac cove). Another great advantage for the defenders was the geography of the island, and very good communication (cable) infrastructure. Forts, observation posts and guns were placed on Hum, on great height of 585 m – out of the range of the Italian guns. Telegraph line was stretched from Lissa to Hvar and Split, through the underwater cable.
On July 19th, after the scout ship Messagero returned from the reconnaissance of the north-west area (Port of Lissa) under the English flag, Persano sent 3 ironclads to Hvar, with the goal of cutting the underwater telegraph cable, which was the only link between Lissa and the mainland. However, not waiting for their report, he ordered assault. He made his first mistake. The Austrian navy in Pula got the message of the attack. The Battle of Lissa commenced in the morning hours on July 19th 1866. Fire was opened from the batteries of Re d’Italia under the command of Admiral Persano. Ironclads Terribile, Varesa and another ship under the command of Counter Admiral Vacca opened fire toward the batteries positioned above Komiža, while Milna was bombarded by two wooden ships under Vice Admiral Albini. The isle of Lissa defended itself fiercely, firing from all available batteries.

My grandmother, Frana Marcelic, wife of Marko, told me about the battle of these largest marine forces. She told me the following in 1930-ties in Cara, Korčula.
... on that day, my granny Frane was seven years old, and she went with her father and a mule to gather firewood on the place called Dubovo, so the wood would dry through the hot summer and keep them warm during the long winter days. When they reached the top of Stražišće (somewhere around the noon), they heard strong gunfire coming from the ships and coastal defenses, and saw a big cloud of smoke from the Italian ship guns.

First Vacca, and afterwards also Albini, ceased their attack after just two hours, during which the Italians managed only to hit the arsenals, because of the great height of the Austrian artillery over Mirna and Komiža, and the whole fleet sailed to Lissa, toward Persano. Italian ironclad Formidable was the first to break into the Port of Lissa and there she dueled with the battery of Gospa. The bombardment lasted through the whole day, and although the Italian scout ship severely underestimated the military situation of the defenders, by the night of July 19th, the batteries of Lissa were silenced. At the end of the day, the Italians largely depleted their supplies of coal and ammunition. Despite the favorable situation, Persano postponed the landing for the following day, and withdrew his ships from the bay. In the morning hours of July 20th 1866, four ironclads occupied the port of Lissa. However, the Italians were reluctant to land their troops because of the strong gale and because of the fierce resistance put by the defenders of the isle. The landing finally commenced during the morning.

Here is the review of the most important Italian ships:

Name

Size

Weight

Speed

Weapons

Weapons

Affondatore 1865. g.

93,6 * 12 * 6,3

4.393 t

12 čv

2 / 254 mm

Messagero 1863. g.

72 * 9 * 3,6

1.240 t

14 čv

2 / 120 mm

Formidabile 1861. g.

65,8 * 13,6 * 5,4

2.796 t

10 čv

16 / 164 mm

4 / 204 mm

Terribile 1861. g.

65,8 * 13,6 * 5,4

2.796 t

10 čv

16 / 164 mm

4 / 204 mm

Re d'Italia 1863. g.

84,3 * 16,6 * 6,7

5.791 t

12 čv

30 / 160 mm

2 / 200 mm

Palestro

64,8 * 13 * 5,6

2.642 t

8 čv

1 / 165 mm

4 / 203 mm

Varese

64,8 * 13 * 5,6

2.642 t

8 čv

1 / 165 mm

4 / 203 mm

Esploratore

71,7 * 9 * 3,6

1.239 t

17 čv

2 / 120 mm



Tegetthoff got the message about the Italian attack on Lissa in the morning of July 19th. However, he took this information with the grain of salt, because he deemed it to be false communiqué with the goal of luring the Austrian fleet from Pula. He sailed toward Lissa on July 19th only at 13:00. After he rounded the lighthouse Porer, he directed the fleet of 27 ships (54.000 t) due southeast. The ships carried total of 523 guns and 7.492 crew members, most of whom were Dalmatians (somewhere around 5.000 of them). They sailed toward Persano’s 33 ships (87.000 t) with 695 guns and 11.425 crew members. On the day before the battle, the Austrians came into the vicinity of Lissa, where they were slowed by the rain, winds and waves. Only the following day, somewhere around 9:00, they saw the peaks of Lissa through the thick fog. Later they saw the Italian ships north of Lissa.

Here is the review of the most important Austrian ships:

Name

Size

Weight

Brzina u čvorovima

Weapons

Weapons

Ferdinand Max 1862. g.

70,2 * 12,8 * 6,3

3.645 t

11,5 čv

14 od 14 p

16 od 48 p

Kaiser 1862. g.

77,7 * 17,7 * 7,3

5.811 t

11,5 čv

10 od 228 mm

Erzherzog Friedrich 1857. g.

67,8 * 12 * 5

1.724 t

8,9 čv

17 od 30 p

Salamander

62,8 * 13,9 * 6,3

3.075 t

11,3 čv

14 od 150 mm

14 od 68 p

The clash of the “fishermen” and the “tyrants”

In the morning hours of July 20th 1866, the Austrians were sighted far away to the northwest by the Italian scout ship Esploratore. Austrian fleet approached Lissa very quickly. Esploratore returned to the port of Lissa with the signs “Suspicious ships in sight”. In the moment the Italians learned about the coming of the Austrians, the officers and mariners panicked. The squadron of Italian wooden ships quickly loaded back the soldiers and equipment from the harbor, and the stronger ships were dispersed after they left the port of Lissa. Persano had only ten ironclads, which he sent into the battle. Of the remaining ironclads, Formidabile was damaged and sailing toward Ancona (where she was allegedly sunk), and Terribile was at Komiža. Persano was the only one who seemed like he was expecting the Austrians. With a smile on his face, he exclaimed: “Ecco i pescatori” (“Here come the fishermen”). Despite that, he was not ready for the battle, and he made a second mistake. Probably because of the panic and cowardice, Persano decided to board Affondatore, without the admiral flag, during which he lost precious time. Many commanders did not know about Persano’s decision, so they did not pay attention to Affondatore, thinking that Re d’Italia is still the flagship. Sailing toward the enemy, due to the error in command chain, Italian fleet separated into three parts. The historical naval battle commenced somewhere around 10:30. Seizing his opportunity, from the distance of 6 nautical miles from Lissa, Tegetthoff boldly launched his ships into the attack in the triple wedge formation (formation practiced by the Uskoken, Croatian seamen with whom Venice had too many adverse encounters at seas). He ordered all ironclads to increase speed and to exploit the hole in the enemy formation. At the head of the first wedge, consisting of the armored frigates which protected wooden ships in the second wedge, was Tegetthoff’s flagship Erzherzog Ferdinand Max.

Here is the scheme of the ship’s formation:



Around 10:45, Tegetthoff has managed to cut the Italian formation in half. He made a right sweep (with the left flank) and attacked the enemy’s center. In this moment, when Italian ships were finally in a range of the older Austrian guns, Tegetthoff ordered all of his ships to commence fire. The squadron of the Austrian wooden ships from the second wedge, led by Kaiser, opened strong cannonade toward the rear of the Italian fleet, and after that it turned toward the north and reformed into line which cut the part of Italian fleet led by the Albini’s frigates. In such way, the Austrians opened several fronts, and the Albini’s frigate practically remained outside of the main battle. Kaiser managed to draw part of the Italian fleet toward the north, leaving Tegetthoff in the middle to attack Persano’s four ironclads with his seven.


Tegetthoff

Soon, the battle has transformed into close duels between ships from both sides and this tactically did not suit better armed Italian fleet. Tegetthoff ordered fire from all guns because of another reason. Knowing that the Italians were confused because they blindly followed Re d’Italia instead of Affondatore, Tegetthoff needed the smoke curtain. In the great cloud of gunsmoke, many ships tried to ram their opponents with the underwater prows. In the clash with the ironclad Re di Portogallo, Austrian line ship Kaiser has lost its bowsprit and forward mast, which fell on the funnel. Flagship Erzherzog Ferdinand Max rammed the ironclad Re d’Italia, which lost the tiller, and when the visibility was zero because of the gunpowder smoke, from a distance of some 50 meters she also rammed ironclad Palestro near the stern, damaging it. Palestro was steaming to help Re d’Italia at that moment. The clash was so strong that Italian flag fell to the deck of the Austrian ship, and the Croatian officer Nikola Karković proudly lifted it. This was the first battle trophy. The battle reached its apogee in these moments. Because of the severe damage, Re d’Italia withdrew from all battle activities, which was used by Tegetthoff.
At 11:30, he directed Ferdinand Max with a speed of 11,5 knots (maximum speed) into the left side of Re d’Italia, armored with the iron plates 12 cm thick. Armored ram of Ferdinand Max punched through the hull of Re d’Italia almost 2 meters, and the force of the clash leaned Re d’Italia on her starboard side. After that, Ferdinand Max disengaged Italian ironclad by sailing backward, and Re d’Italia immediately inclined to the port side. The stricken ship managed to fire another salvo from its guns, in her death throes. Re d’Italia sank in less than 3 minutes, taking with her 381 mariners.
At these moments all Persano’s attempts to reorganize and regroup his fleet were unsuccessful.
He signaled in vain from Affondatore:
“Follow the enemy, free maneuver, free sailing.”
“Follow the command ship in the line.”
“The ships not engaged in the battle have to get out of the formation.”
These are some of the orders to which no captain paid any attention. All of them watched in bewilderment as the admiral’s flag on the Re d’Italia sank into the depths.

Here is the report of granny Frana Marelić: The ships attacked each other and rammed and often they sank, which ended the whole episode of that historical battle. However, the battle continued, although with lesser intensity.

Somewhere around 12:00, Italian fleet finally managed to regroup and tried to organize an attack. They chose already damaged Kaiser, which was under heavy fire shortly after. She managed to avoid the ramming attempts of Persano’s Affondatore, which finally entered the battle in resolute manner, not just from time to time, as she has done at the beginning of the battle. After some time, although damaged, thanks to the skill of Croatian mariners, Kaiser managed to move side by side with Affondatore and fire a cannonade. It caused severe damage, but did not succeed to sink her. Affondatore responded to the attack and heavily damaged Kaiser, as well as the ironclad Don Juan d’Austria, which came to a help. Although in the ideal position for ramming, Persano avoided Kaiser in the last moment and lost the chance for only sinking in the Battle of Lissa. After this, a heavily damaged and burning Kaiser managed to reach the port of Lissa, again thanks to the Croatian mariners. Italians have tried several more ill-organized attacks on the Austrian ships, but without success. Around 13:00, the fleets sailed to the distance of 4 to 5 nautical miles from each other. Now they fired only sporadically. The last grenade was fired at 14:00. Austrian ships formed north from the port of Lissa, sailing in three lines, while Italians formed west from them in two lines. Between them was Italian ironclad Palestro, which was consumed by fire after the ramming by Ferdinand Max and numerous hits. It barely managed to come under the cover of her main force. After 10 minutes, fire enveloped almost the whole ship, and two Italian ships approached with the goal of evacuation of the crew. The crew refused the evacuation and, together with the captain, continued to fight the fire and to help the wounded. After some time it seemed that the fire on the ironclad was under control, however around 14:30, Palestro was shaken by several smaller explosions. Only two minutes later, the ironclad disintegrated in a big explosion. Only 23 surviving mariners were left on the surface out of 250 crew members.

Around 16:00, Italian fleet turns toward Biševo and passes near the location of the sinking of Re d’Italia, where 159 sailors and 9 officers were saved from the sea. Still numerically superior, but demoralized, lacking of ammunition and coal, in the evening the Italian fleet withdrew from the waters of Lissa and went toward Ancona. Tegetthoff decided not to pursue the Italians with his slower, obsolete fleet, so he sailed into the port of Lissa. Young Frana saw the Italian fleet sailing from Lissa, ship after ship, after it shamefully and surprisingly lost the great historical battle. In the Battle of Lissa, on the Austrian side was our man, Nikola Karković, born in Hvar, who got the highest decoration. Joyous news about the victory of the Austrian fleet was spreading quickly, and in all towns throughout Dalmatia the victory was celebrated. Affondatore sank several months later in Ancona, it is believed, due to the damage inflicted by the Austrian navy. Trying to mitigate the shameful defeat, Persano reported that he managed to sink Kaiser in front of the port of Lissa, while, in reality, she was towed to Trieste and the main celebration of the victory was staged upon her.


Re d'Italia

Consequences of the battle

Austrian brilliant sea victory, largest in the history of Austria, will be remembered as the Pyrrhic victory, because only several months later, on October 3rd 1866, the peace agreement was signed to the Austrian disadvantage. Regardless to that, the Battle of Lissa will remain inscribed in the history books with bold letters. The Battle of Lissa was the first battle of armored ships in the history. Tactics which they used are still taught on the military academies. However, too much attention is given to the ramming of the ships. Although several ships were built specifically with this purpose, this tactics was, in general, unsuccessful. (Of hundreds of attempts, only Ferdinand Max managed to sink another ship in this way.) Through this victory, in which it did not lose a single ship, Austria ensured half century of dominance over the Adriatic Sea. Although the battle was fought in the name of Austrian Monarchy, it was in fact a magnificent victory of the Croatian mariners, or, as Persano described them “fishermen”, over the powerful Italian fleet. The flag from Palestro, which the Croatian officer Nikola Karković seized in the battle, was cut into pieces and distributed. One of those pieces can be found today in the Maritime Museum in Pula, and the descendants of that Croatian sailor allegedly still keep another piece. Nikola Karković, the hero of the Battle of Lissa, was born in Hvar on August 3rd 1838, and died on September 7th in Trieste. Since the authority and the state territories changed often in this period, Trieste was then still the largest Austrian – Hungarian port. After the war, his remains were transported to Gorizia, and finally, on may 16th 1976, he was brought back to his native Hvar, followed by his 96 years old daughter Nikolina. History remembers another Croatian officer, captain of the ship Erzherzog Friedrich, Marko Floro. He was at the head of second Austrian squadron. Despite their newer, quicker, better armed fleet and the larger number of sailors, Italians were ill-organized, demoralized, without a plan and battle tactics, and this bare a great consequence. The greatest culprit, Admiral Persano, lost his rank and was forced to step down from his office. On July 21st Tegetthoff was promoted by the Emperor into the rank of Vice Admiral, as a sign of gratitude. After numerous academic travels, he returned to the navy in 1868 and started its reorganization. He emphasized the scientific aspect and established the first Hidrographic Institute (observatory) in Pula, for which the funds were granted personally by the Emperor Franz Joseph I on September 10th 1869. He died on April 10th 1871 in Vienna, and as a sign of gratitude, he was given a memorial on a pedestal. In the middle of the memorial, there was his bronze-cast figure, surrounded by Mars (god of war), Neptune (god of sea), Gloria (goddess of fame) and Fama (goddess of night). On the pedestal there was a plaque with the inscription: “To the Vice Admiral Wilhelm Tegetthoff, a brave fighter of Helgoland, and glorious victor of the Battle of Lissa, who gained immortal victory for himself and the Austrian fleet, by the Emperor Franz Joseph I in 1877.”




The memorial was removed on 14 April 1920, after the Italian occupation. It was stored in Venice, and today it stands in Graz, at the Tegetthoff Square (Tegetthoffplatz), above the Admiral’s tombstone.



A copy of this memorial was erected on Lissa several years ago. Another monument – to the fallen defenders' of Vis - after Italian occupation of Vis in 1918 was dismantled and brought to Italy. Its remake was sponsored by the Austrian and Croatian organization of World Wars' veterans and the Croatian Navy. The monument is showing a sleeping lion on a sarcophagus. It stands at the graveyard of Vis where all dead soldiers were buried together.


Wrecks Re d'Italia and Radetzky


Wreck Re d'Italia

The wreck of Re d’Italia was officially located in 2005 in the joint expedition of the Comex firm, which loaned its exploration ship Janus, and the Croatian Restoration Office. It lies under 120 meters of water and was given the status of cultural heritage.

Wreck Radetzky

Graf Radetzky and Schwartzenberg are two ships that fought under the admiral Tegetthoff in the Battle of Helgoland against the Danes in 1864 and then in the Battle of Lissa in 1866. Tech divers Dražen Gorički, Alex Kvarantan and Uroš Jelić made first photos of the Graf Radetzky. Supported by the Croatian Navy they dived on the wreck lying at -90m and all the material made during the dive only confirmed that it was indeed the Graf Radetzky sunk in 1869. The wreck was found in the Vis aquatorium in January by Robert Atanasov who reported the finding to the Ministry of Culture. Multibeam sidescan of the Croatian Navy discovered the remainings of the wreck and a team of experienced technical divers made a detailed research of the wreck. Graf Radetzky was a 58 m long warship with two cannon decks and a steam machine and chimney built in beside the masts.It was a flagship of the Austrian navy known for its role in the Battle of Lissa which brought victory to the Austrian Navy and Graf Radetzky managed to keep sailing in the next three years. In January 1869 a sudden explosion of unknown cause, terminated the mission of this mighty ship that sank to the abyss in few minutes killing thus 300 solders, mostly Dalmatians whereas only 20 of them survived.

Wreck Palestro

Members of the diving club Dragor Sub started the project Battle of Lissa three years ago which finally resulted in discovery of the wreck of Palestro almost 150 years after its sinking.
The wreck was found by Dražen Gorički and Alex Kvarantan at the site several miles from the wreck of Re d'Italia. It lies on the muddy bottom at -120m. Regardless of the winter weather conditions, the visibility was more than 50 m and we could see the shape of the wreck lying in sailor position. Our shot line fell a few miles from the wreck and we went down some 20 m from the bow. We continued to dive along the left flank towards the bow when a beautiful big naval ram appeared in front of us. Passing the bow, we went on to the right flank of the wreck to the stern only to find consequences of the fire and explosion at the wreck some 25 m further which caused the sinking of the ship. Cannons, beams and other parts were lying scattered on the ground. The wreck was documented by underwater cameras and the material was delivered with the report of the finding to the Ministry of Culture. On 1 December 2015 members of Dragor Sub will dive again on Palestro supported by the Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Defense. After the expedition, all photographies and video material will be launched publicly.
Dragor Sub is made of divers dedicated to exploration, preservation and documentation of underwater wrecks and caves in Croatia. The team is also actively involved in varied diving projects as explorers and partners in archeology, photography and filming.

Dragor Sub - Project „ Battle of Lissa“ team

 Dražen Gorički

Dražen Gorički

Instructor, Megalodon diver / Dragor Sub - Project „ Battle of Lissa“ member, explorer diver

 Damir Mlinarić

Damir Mlinarić

Instructor, Megalodon diver / Dragor Sub - Project „ Battle of Lissa“ member, explorer diver

 Uroš Jelić

Uroš Jelić

Instructor, Megalodon diver / Dragor Sub - Project „ Battle of Lissa“ member, explorer diver

 Alex Kvarantan

Alex Kvarantan

Instructor, Megalodon diver / Dragor Sub - Project „ Battle of Lissa“ member, explorer diver

 Leo Lušić

Leo Lušić

Instructor, Megalodon diver / Dragor Sub - Project „ Battle of Lissa“ member, explorer diver

 Vladan Strigo

Vladan Strigo

HGSS , Inspiration diver / Dragor Sub - Project „ Battle of Lissa“ member, support diver

Partners