THE ROLE OF AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN NAVY IN THE REPRESSION
OF CHINESE BOXER REBELLION
Compiled and translated by Captain
formerly Chief Officer in the
Hungarian Merchant Marine.
Boxer Movement or Boxer Rebellion was a Chinese rebellion from November 1899 to
September 7, 1901,
against foreign influence in areas such as trade, politics, religion and
technology occurred in China
during the final years of the Manchu rule. The Rebellion began as an
anti-foreign, anti-imperialist peasant-based, and in the beginning anti-Chinese
Government movement, in Northern China. They
attacked foreigners, who were building railroads and violating traditional Chinese
doctrines, as well the Christians, who were held responsible for the foreign
domination of China.
The troops of Chinese Government in the beginning fought against the Boxers,
but the Imperial Court
skilfully has turned the rebellion entirely against the foreigners. The Chinese
Empress has issued an edict, in which she had provided support to the Boxers,
drawing heated complaints from foreign diplomats in January, 1900.
Boxer Rebellion became ever bloodier, so in springtime of 1900, United Kingdom,
USA, Germany, Italy, France, Russia and Austria-Hungary have organised a fleet
demonstration in the port of Taku (Takou), situated near to the city of
Tien-Tsin (Tianjan). Japan
also has joined to the mentioned Powers. On May 31, before the sieges of the
Embassies and Legations in Peking (Beijing)
could have started, the warships of the above mentioned eight Powers have
landed a Detachment of 438 men, and it was dispatched by train from Taku to the
capital city. The Detachment consisted of: 75 Russian, 75 British, 60 American,
50 German, 40 Italian, 33 Austro-Hungarian and 30 Japanese seamen.
this time only S.M.S. Zenta protected
cruiser of the Austro-Hungarian Navy was on the waters of Far-East, and she was
directed immediately by Vienna
to the Chinese coast. At home the Austro-Hungarian Government also made preparations
to send there other three warships. Rear-Admiral Count Rudolf Montecuccoli was
appointed to commander of the so established Squadron.
S.M.S. Zenta protected cruiser.
S.M.S. Zenta arrived at Taku
anchorage on 2nd of June, and on next day has dispatched 30 sailors
under one officer and two midshipmen to Peking to protect the Legations and
subjects of Austria-Hungary.
In short time another Detachment of 70 sailors were dispatched under Commander
Eduard Thomann von Montalmar, (Captain of Zenta)
and one officer, but they could get only to Tien-Tsin, because the Boxers have
severed the railway between Tien-Tsin and Peking.
June 1900 the Boxers, now joined by elements of the Imperial Army, attacked Tien-Tsin
and Peking, and killed 230 foreigners. The
endangered foreigners Legations were situated on the Legation Quarter close to
the Forbidden City, where all foreigner
subjects were colleted. The German legation on the other side of the city was
stormed before the staff could escape, and the Envoy for the German Empire, Klemens Freiherr von Ketteler, was murdered on June 20 in the
street. The Empress
declared war on June 21 against all Western Powers, but regional governors
refused to go along. The fortified legation compound remained under siege from
Boxer forces from June 20 to August 14.
the situation worsened, a second International force of 2,000 marines under the
command of the British Vice Admiral Edward Seymour, which included also seven field guns and their
gunners of S.M.S. Zenta, was
dispatched from Taku to Peking on
Military of the Powers during the Boxer
Rebellion, with their naval flags, from left to right: Italy, United States, France, Austria-Hungary, Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, Russia. Japanese print, 1900.
troops were transported by train from Takou to Tien-Tsin with the agreement of
the Chinese government, but the railway between Tien-Tsin and Peking
had been severed. As the distance between two cities was only 120 kilometres, Seymour however moved
forward on foot and in meantime they have worked on the repairs of railway.
They had their first encounter with the Boxers on 11th June.
Tien-Tsin however, the convoy was attacked from all parts by Chinese irregulars
and even Chinese governmental troops. News arrived on June 18 regarding attacks
on foreign legations. Seymour decided to
continue advancing, this time along the Peiho river, towards Tong-Tcheou, 25
kilometres from Peking. They had to abandon on
the 19th due to stiff resistance, and started to retreat southward along the
river. The wounded were so numerous that they had to be carried in junks along the
river, pulled along with ropes by healthy combatants on the banks. The retiring
allied forces managed to take-over the Fort of Hsi-Kou,
in which they were surrounded until June 25 when finally a regiment composed
essentially of Russian troops from Port-Arthur arrived
and relieved them. They completed their retreat back to Tien-Tsin on June 26, with the
loss of 350 men.
Admiral Seymour returning to Tien-Tsin with his
wounded men, on June 26.
With a difficult military situation in Tien-Tsin,
and a total breakdown of communications between Tien-Tsin and Peking,
the allied nations took steps to reinforce their military presence. The Boxers
on 17th June have opened gun fire from the fortresses of Taku on the
ships anchored in the bay. The warships have replied with their guns and the
Chinese batteries were silenced. Following the gunfire the Europeans have
stormed the Forts, and with a heavy close-combat captured Taku commanding the
approaches to Tien-Tsin. After that they have landed more troops.
Meanwhile the War Ministry of Vienna
on 23rd June has dispatched S.M.S. Kaiserin und Königin Maria Theresia armoured cruiser to the Chinese
waters. She arrived at Taku on 7th August, where she landed a
Detachment of 160 sailors with two landing guns. The Detachment joined the
S.M.S. Kaiserin und Königin Maria Theresia armoured
The international force reinforced
with infantry and artillery, with British Lt-General Alfred Gaselee acting as
commanding officer, called Eight-Nation Alliance, eventually numbered
54 000, finally took off to relieve the besieged European and Japanese
Legation Quarters. The composition of this force was as follows: Japanese (20,840), Russian (13,150),
British (12,020), French (3,520), American (3,420), German (900), Italian (80),
(at this time only the S.M.S. Zenta
was available) and anti-Boxer Chinese troops. This international force captured
Tien-Tsin on 14th June after one day fighting.
The capture of the southern gate of Tien-Tsin.
British troops were positioned on the left, Japanese troops at the centre,
French troops on the right.
The cruisers Kaiserin Elisabeth and the Aspern
have sailed from Pola to Far-East on 24th July 1900. The commander of the
Austro-Hungarian Squadron, Rear-Admiral Count Montecuccoli was on board Kaiserin Elisabeth. The ships arrived at
Taku on 7th September, where landed more Detachments of sailors.
These Detachments after a trip on land arrived at Peking
on 17th September and provided protection to the Austro-Hungarian
Legations, and took their parts from the protracted fights.
S.M.S. Kaiserin Elisabeth.
S.M.S. Aspern protected cruiser
The march from Tien-Tsin to Peking of about 120
km consisted of about 20,000 allied troops, while their adversaries on August 4 consisted
of approximately 70,000 Imperial troops with anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000
Boxers. They only encountered minor resistance and a smaller battle was engaged
about 30 km outside Tien-Tsin. However, the weather was a major obstacle,
extremely humid with temperatures sometimes reaching 43°Celsius.
The International Force reached and
occupied Peking on 14th august. In
the bitter fights there were great casualties on both sides. In the combat
around Peking a shell fragment hit the chest of Commander Eduard Thomann von
Montalmar, the Captain of Zenta, who
was buried temporarily in the garden
of French Legation. Later
on he was exhumed, and then his body was placed into the new crypt of
Austro-Hungarian Embassy to rest in peace. In a short time a street of Peking was named after him.
Parade of the foreign armies in Beijing.
From the Landing Party of Zenta were killed, Midshipmen Lajos Pap and
five sailors, and Midshipmen Baron Boyneburg and Mayer, Lieutenant György
Demeter, and 26 sailors got heavy wounds. In these were the Hungarian Kántor,
Szemenyey and Jánossy. Midshipman Mayer and five sailors have died later from
The fights have continued for a long
time after taking Peking, and altogether 500
seamen from the Austro-Hungarian cruisers took part in the land engagements.
Our seamen have fought their most bitter combats in the attacks against the
Fort of Peitang, at the mouth of river Peiho.
The S.M.S. Kaiserin Elisabeth and S.M.S. Zenta
on 22nd June of 1901 received orders to return home. The S.M.S. Kaiserin und Königin Maria Theresia and
S.M.S. Aspern have remained as
station ships in China.
The S.M.S. Zenta, arrived back at
Pola on 1st
October 1901, and got a silk Flag of Honour for her Chinese
Aichelburg: Register der k.(u)k. Kriegsschiffe, Von Abbondanza bis Zrínyi
Károly: Császári és királyi Hadihajók
Ferenc: A tengerészet lovagkora