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One of the Few Times the KUK was Planning an Attack (A what if)

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So some time back I asked in this forum as to why the Austro-Hungarian Navy or KuK didn't do much for during the war, and the general consensus was that.

  1. They would have lost a Jutland style engagement against the Italians. 
  2. The Adriatic wasn't to battleship friendly.
  3. They didn't have much coal to sustain prolonged operations anyways.

This was apparently so understood at the time that with the exception of the bombardment of Ancona and other time the main battlefleet didn't go out of port very much. The other time they went to sea in full force was in June 1918, when new leadership decided action was needed to take out the Otranto Barrage. The plan they came up with and the forces involved according to Wikipedia goes as follows: 

"On 8 June 1918 Horthy took his flagship, Viribus Unitis, and Prinz Eugen south with the lead elements of his fleet.[64] On the evening of 9 June, Szent István and Tegetthoff followed along with their own escort ships. Horthy's plan called for Novara and Helgoland to engage the Barrage with the support of the (4) Tátra-class destroyers. Meanwhile, Admiral Spaun and Saida would be escorted by the fleet's four torpedo boats to Otranto to bombard Italian air and naval stations. The German and Austro-Hungarian submarines would be sent to Valona and Brindisi to ambush Italian, French, British, and American warships that sailed out to engage the Austro-Hungarian fleet, while seaplanes from Cattaro would provide air support and screen the ships' advance. The battleships, and in particular Szent István and the other Tegetthoffs, would use their firepower to destroy the Barrage and engage any Allied warships they ran across. Horthy hoped that the inclusion of these ships would prove to be critical in securing a decisive victory"

So why didn't this result in an engagement? 


Because this is a thing. 

But anyway, in case they had made it as far as to open fire against the ships on the barrage, how would the Italians and French react? 

Both had a lot of ships to intercept the Austrians. The Italians had 5 dreadnoughts ( Andrea Doria, Duilio, Conte di Cavour, Giulio Cesare, Dante Alighieri), the four pre-dreadnoughts of the Regina Elena class, the armored cruisers Pisa, San Giorgio, and San Marco, 5 protected/light cruisers of the Quarto,Nino Bixino, and Campania classes, 3 protected cruisers of very marginal fighting value, and 22 destroyer that were either with the fleet or on patrol on the barrage. 

The French had the 3 Bretagne and the 4 Courbets in the area alongside 4 armored or protected cruisers (Tracking them has been rather difficult since I lack proper sources) and God knows how many destroyers, with the exception of the destroyers all were in a very low readiness level due to lack of coal and crew. Finally, there were at least two British light cruisers of the Town class (HMS Liverpool and HMS Weymouth) and at least a division of destroyers on patrol in the barrage. 

While I wouldn't complain if we went into a possible battleship engagement of the either the Austrians with either the French or Italians battleships (I think they would be separate since from what I have seen coordination was poor and they were at the two different corners of the Otranto Strait, with the French on Corfu and the Italians in Taranto) or Brendisi) In more general terms what do you think would have happen here ?

Any answerers are welcome :fish_cute_2:    


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Privateers, In AlfaTesters
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Before we start, I figured I'd throw up a map, so we've got a rough idea of what we're looking at;




The Austrian plan in this scenario was fairly complex, but simple in concept - lure out the Entente forces, and hit them hard with superior force.


The 'bait' was the scout cruiser forces. Cruisers Admiral Spaun and Saida escorted by four torpedo boats would attack the aviation station at Otranto (smaller red circle) while the Other two cruisers (Hegoland and Novara) with four destroyers would hit the barrage itself (big green blob).


Ideally, this would provoke and Allied response - the usually destroyers, scout cruisers/light cruisers, and armored cruisers. Those leaving Valona (big red circle) would steam right into the waiting Central Powers submarines, which would hopefully claim some torpedo hits. Whatever else happened to make it to the barrage would then stumble into the waiting battleships.


The Austrian (actually Hungarian) admiral, Horthy, did not envision having to face anything larger than an Italian armored cruiser.


What he didn't know was, even as his own available forces has been leaned out - so had the Allied force. The Italians had put most of their pre-dreadnoughts into reserve by this point, leaving only the five dreadnought battleships and the three most modern armored cruisers (San Giorgio, San Marco, and Pisa) ready for action, plus scout cruisers and destroyers. The French squadron, meanwhile, had been severely reduced - only the dreadnoughts were left at Corfu, with two few destroyers to effectively screen them. To directly quote an article by Vincent O'Hara & Enrico Cernuschi on the Adriatic Campaign from Warship 2016;




Since the Austrians are on the offensive, they have the initiative - the Entente has to react the them. Thus, this action goes one of two ways. 

  1. The Austrian fleet goes undetected until too late - when they open fire. In this case, there's not much other than scout cruisers and destroyers that will respond, so the local superiority of Austrian forces will likely grant them some victories, but not any large ships as planned. By the time Entente battleships can arrive, it will be too late, and the Austrians will have fled. The bigger issue will be them getting home safely, as knowledge that the Austrian fleet is at sea would mean every available aircraft and MAS would be out there scouring the Adriatic for Austrian ships. With so many large ships (7 battleships, 4 scout cruisers) and so few escort vessels (4 destroyers, 4 torpedo boats) - even assuming they retreat intact, they are highly vulnerable to small attack craft. It may be the case that the retreat is more costly than the failed attempt was in reality.
  2. More likely, the Austrians are detected well before they arrive. MAS 15 and MAS 21 finding the Austrian dreadnoughts was no coincidence - and yet nor was it the result of specific intelligence. It was simply the result of the inevitability of the Regia Marina's strategy. Aircraft and small surface vessels were constantly on patrol - so it was virtually impossible for an Austrian hull to venture out of port without running into something Italian. By June 1918, the SARM (Air arm of the Italian navy) had an extensive network of bases along the Italian coast, and carried out thousands of reconnaissance missions over the course of the war. Some 5,772 reconnaissance missions were flown in 1918 alone. More likely than not, the Austrian ships were be spotted by something (if not an aircraft, than a surface ship). In this event, it is likely that the Italian battlefleet at Taranto would raise steam to intercept them. Whether the French battleships at Corfu would be able to join them is not clear.

Italian airbases in WWI;


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I suspect Phoenix's 'Option 2' is by far the most likely, and I generally tend to 'nothing that exciting happens' in these scenarios.

There are a few examples of similar historic pass-through's/raids/draw outs, some worked, some didn't. As vague examples -

  1. Battle of Imbros - Battlecruiser Goeben and cruiser Breslau sortie out of the Dardanelles and fall upon some unsuspecting British monitors sinking two of them. The raid has to traverse a relatively short distance but does achieve surprise. Despite initially going well the German (sorry 'Turkish'!) attackers then ran into minefields as they retired resulting in the loss of Breslau and serious damage to Goeben
  2. The Channel Dash - moving through constricted waters, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau meet little resistance but both are repeatedly mined, ironically in the wider waters off Holland
  3. The Battle of Heligoland Bight - A British raid to achieve local superiority off a coast. Goes pretty well for them though coordination remains a problem and they are able to take advantage of weather and tide conditions which would not be reflected off Otranto
  4. Submarine 'drag nets' - Plenty of examples of these being pretty ineffectual, especially in WWI. Submarines were not particularly effective at sinking maneuvering warships, and although a 'trap' could work it never really seemed to in the North Sea, a few lighter ships were picked off here and there but nothing much in the grand scheme of things. Parking submarines off ports did get results in WWII, but not that bankable.

So, even had the MAS attack not happened I can easily see some other mission-cancelling calamity befalling Horthy et al. If they do make it there, maybe it will work out, though few other 'lure into submarine ambush' ploys seemed to generate great results.

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