Wreck of SMS Kaiser Franz Joseph

Wreck of SMS Kaiser Franz Joseph

Kaiser Franz Joseph is an Austro-Hungarian cruiser, whose wreck sits at the sandy floor at depth of 40 meters within Boka Kotorska, between Croatian Prevlaka and Montenegrin shore. This is an issue because the border between Croatia and Montenegro is still not defined and so is even today in the process of being solved, a process that will last for years. While Kaiser is well within the Croatian territorial waters by any logical demarcation, agreement also says that Croatian and Montenegrin subjects have the right of unlimited sailing through the area. Diving is also unrestricted. On the peninsula of Oštra there is an Austro-Hungarian fort, which will become a naval museum.

History and Conditions of Sinking

Full name of the ship was SMS (Seiner Majestat Schiff) Kaiser Franz Josef I. Kaiser was an armored cruiser of the Austro-Hungarian Navy, built in the Trieste shipyard Stabilimento Tecnico Triestino from 1888. to 1890., with launch being in 1889. She was also the lead ship of her class, which had only one other ship – SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth. Kaiser was a very large ship, some 104 meters long, with a beam of nearly 15 meters and almost six meter draft.

She was equipped with two triple expansion steam engines with 5000 hp each, which allowed her the speed of 19 knots, which was very good speed for that time. Bunkers contained 660 tons of coal, which allowed her the economical range of 3200 nautical miles.

Crew numbered some 400 sailors and officers. Armament consisted of eight 15 cm cannons, two of which had longer barrels, and 16 cannons of 4,7 cm caliber. She also had three torpedo tubes. Thickness of armor was 56 mm on the deck, and 90 mm around the main turrets.

SMS Kaiser Franz Joseph underway

Before the First World War, Kaiser had spent time sailing all around the world on show the flag and other missions, sailing through Atlantic and to Southeastern Asia. At the beginning of the century her armament was changed slightly, and she spent almost the entire First World War in Boka Kotorska as a guard ship, a part of the Second Coastal Ironclad Squadron. There are also unconfirmed reports of Kaiser shelling Montenegrin positions on Lovćen. During the attack by Austro-Hungarian forces on Montenegro on 8th, 9th and 10th January 1916., Kaiser Joseph shelled enemy positions at Valište.

For this reason, two cannons were removed from the sunk ship and taken to Cetinje where they are today. At first they had been placed near the Blue Castle on Cetinje, where they were during the Socialist Republic of Montenegro. With the arrival of so-called “democracy and multi-party system” and declaration of an eco-state, cannons unexplicably became problematic and so were moved to meadow near the Military Home. No plaque or designation had ever been placed there, and over time vandals had carried off whatever they could have.

Franz Joseph’s story ends at the end of the war. Austro-Hungarian government had ordered the fleet to be transferred to the newly-formed State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs. However, the Paris peace conference decided that former Austro-Hungarian navy will be split between the victorious imperial powers – France, Italy and Great Britain, while the newly formed Kingdom SHS (Yugoslavia) had only received a minor portion of warships. All ships of the Imperial Navy that had been in Boka were disarmed, with all the munitions being transferred to Kaiser Franz Joseph, which had been assigned to France. Due to suddenly highly explosive natureof the ship, decision was made to anchor her outside Boka so as not to endanger the populace.

Massively overloaded ship was tied to an anchor buoy, but a hurricane-strength southern wind in October 1919. causes the ship to flood and sink. In the decades afterward, cargo (mostly munitions) had been gradually raised from the wreck, as were both bronze propellers and both bow cannons.

Unfortunately, ship had suffered from theft, and also detonations from the explosive-based fishing. Among stolen things are letters that had spelled ship’s name on the stern. Wreck lies on the left side, with deck thus being nearly vertical. Bow is turned towards Oštra and stern towards Boka. Maximum depth of the seabed is 42 meters, but ship had sunk deeply into the sludge and so deepest part of the ship is likely 47 meters. The shallowest parts of the wreck, in the middle of the right side, are at 30-odd meters of depth.

Large gun casemates can be seen in the middle of the ship, but these are empty. Right bow anchor is still in its place, but bow itself is deformed due to impact of the sinking. Main deck, fully armored, is still there but has only the traces of its gun turrets. The ship is colonized by sponges, especially its aft mast. At the stern itself should be bronze letters, but today only ANZ J can be read. Hull has several holes, made by “Brodospas” divers for the purpose of removing important artefacts from within the ship.

Tactical-Technical Characteristics

Type: cruiser

Sister Ship: Empress Elizabeth (Kaiserine Elizabeth)

Shipyard: Stabilimento Technico Triestino, San Roco, Trieste

Serial Number: 233

Keel Laid Down: 3. 1. 1888.

Launch: 18. 5. 1890.

Trials: 20. 5. 1890.

Entrance Into Fleet: 2. 6. 1890.

Displacement: 4030 tons

Length: 98 meters

Width: 14,8 meters

Draft: 5,5 meters

Speed: 19 knots

Propulsion: produced in San Andrea 1888/89, four boilers with 24 fireboxes; work pressure of 9 atmospheres, two horizontal triple-expansion engines, two three-bladed propellers of 4420 mm diameter

Propulsion output: 2 x 4900 horse power

Coal bunker capacity: 614 tons of stone coal, 632 cubic meters of pressed coal (briquettes)

Range: 3200 nautical miles at cruise speed


  • Bow plating: 38 mm
  • Deck and bridge armor: 56 mm, 90 mm around main turrets

Crew: 420 officers and sailors


  • 2 x 15 cm L/40 cannons
  • 6 x 15 cm L/35 cannons
  • 16 x 4,7 cm cannons
  • 3 x 45 cm torpedo tubes

Building cost: 5 146 884 kronen (crowns)


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