The protected cruiser SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth in defence of
Compiled and translated by Captain András VEPERDI,
formerly Chief Officer in the Hungarian Merchant Marine.
The Navy of Austro-Hungarian Monarchy because of the almost continuous lack of money has decided in the late 1880s to build instead of bigger armoured vessels rather two ships which will have not armour protection, except of the light armoured deck above the engine-room, boilers' room and the magazines. In turn they must have a strong artillery, anti-torpedo boats arms and relative high speed. Officially this two "mixed type" ships, the Kaiser Franz Joseph I and the Kaiserin Elisabeth were called as "protected cruisers" or "mission cruisers". In this article we will study the late career of SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth, although both of them had made more "flag showing" journeys in the Far-East, she was that Austro-Hungarian warship which has trapped into the ring of the enemy Powers, so she had joined to the essentially hopeless defence of the German port, Tsingtao, in the mainland of China.
The protected cruiser SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth
17th 02 1913 the SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth had
sailed from Pola in company of armoured cruiser SMS Kaiserin und Königin Maria Theresia toward Levante. 21-23rd
continue the story of ship and her complement, we must review the political and
military situation which has characterized the era immediately before the break
out of I. World War, to understand better the defence German port of Tsingtao
and the role of SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth
and her crew played in defence of that port. Notwithstanding it is worth-while
to understand, what reason made
The Army had not come out of the Russo-Japanese war well. It had won
some great victories, particularly at Mukden and
World War I broke out in Europe, the British at first assumed that
In August 1914, the Navy had 2 dreadnought battleships, 2 fast battle cruisers, 14 pre-dreadnought battleships (2 new, 6 quite old), 13 cruisers (4 modern), 13 light cruisers, 7 old cruisers (down-rated to gunboats), 9 gunboats, 50 destroyers, 31 torpedo boats and 13 submarines, a total of 460,000 tons. This force dominated the Pacific, threatening to crush the German East Asia Squadron of 2 armoured and 3 light cruisers and some 8 gunboats.
British feared German cruiser raids on their merchant shipping, and planned to
run the Germans down by destroying their bases and communications. The Allies
allocated German bases north of the Equator to
Japanese forces bloodlessly occupied the
attention focused on
The siege of
the murder of some missionaries as a pretext, German sailors landed at
colony thus started out under naval administration, to support the cruiser squadron
and its base. Massive German investment built a first-class port, modern
communication facilities, a railway, coal mines, a prosperous town. By 1913,
Tsingtao's commerce exceeded that of all other ports in
the protectorate lay
Boxer Rising led
Meyer-Waldeck, a naval officer, understood his duty as support of the East Asia
Cruiser Squadron. When war broke out, he summoned all German forces in
Austro-Hungarian protected cruiser, Kaiserin
23rd August arrived a new signal from
Several guns were taken off from the Kaiserin Elisabeth and the only ones were left on board which could be used as anti-aircraft guns. Her two 15 cm guns formed the XV shore battery, while her four quick firing guns were built into the VI and VII coastal batteries. Furthermore they have formed a "marine detachment" (38 men), and more 18 men were detached to the six landed machine-guns. From the decreased personnel of the cruiser altogether 122 men were landed to duty on shore. The cruiser beside of the anti-aircraft defence of city often duelled with the Japanese batteries with her artillery.
the first weeks of war, Meyer-Waldeck decided that no more ships would make it
through the tightening Allied net. He prepared the town for siege, hoping that
The Germans had plenty of supplies, but would have to be careful with ammunition (the annual ammunition re-supply was to have arrived in September). Nonetheless, the reserves of the Cruiser Squadron lay open to them, so they only ran short at the very end. Engineers used small calibre naval shells to make hundreds of land mines and explosive charges.
German officers favoured a raid on Weiheiwei, but Meyer-Waldeck decided to
husband his men. No large force could make it over the poor Chinese roads; a
small one could not win. Any landing near
the planning stage, the Japanese Army Staff pulled out all the stops. They
would show the precision and care of the army. Logistics and firepower flowed
abundantly, so as to keep bloodshed low. The nation would admire the perfection
of Japanese military technique, expunging memories of bloodbaths versus
The Staff chose Lieutenant-General Mitsuomi Kamio, an officer distinguished rather by caution than brilliance, charging him to risk no reverse. He had to win a showpiece victory. He could ask for anything he needed.
considered landing near
campaign opened, naturally enough, with a naval skirmish. To cover Lauting's mine laying off of
27th August, Vice-Admiral Sadakichi Kato's Second Squadron began
30th August, the weather broke. Tsingtao, "
September 2nd the Japanese started landing at Lungkou, on the
peninsula's North coast. Four naval infantry companies, supported by an Army
machine-gun company itself reinforced by sailors, rowed ashore. They fanned out
over the beach, finding no Germans. An engineering battalion came next,
building a floating pier and 2 stone quays in 24 hours. A cavalry regiment
followed, and then an infantry regiment, which reclaimed its detached
machine-gun company. By now, the freak weather had flooded the beach. A
nightmarish scene unfolded in a chaos of mud, surf, rain, wind and noise.
Animals floundered as they pulled at mired carts, unloaded crates floated out
to sea and sank, hysterical beach masters cursed weary soldiers. Kamio stopped
further unloading, and ordered the troops already ashore to advance inland at
all costs. One incredulous Japanese engineer watched a small brook rise 2
meters in an hour, as it swept away his pontoon bridge. By the next day, it had
risen 9 meters, becoming unbridgeable. The Japanese stuck fast. Ahead of them,
flash floods flushed entire villages away. Thousands of peasants died in
A brief break in the downpour allowed the landed force to straighten itself out, and the bedraggled cavalry began advancing on 7th September, laboriously followed by infantry. No rations could come up, so the troops lived off the country. Terraced farms survived the weather pretty well, so the Japanese found food in towns' market stranded by washed-out roads. Nonetheless, the troops went on half-rations as they marched ahead.
Navy seaplane flew over
British residents began to form volunteer self-defence forces, releasing Army troops. The British Army gathered a small contribution to Kamio's command. One Regular British infantry battalion would land with the Japanese siege artillery, followed by two Indian infantry companies.
13th September, Japanese cavalry bumped into a German outpost at
Tsimo, on the edge of the protectorate. The astonished Germans fled after a
short skirmish. The Japanese took Kiautschou the next day, cutting the
German roads connected
Kamio decided to abort his Northern landing as the weather thickened again. It
might take many weeks to haul his whole division over the muddy peninsula. He
reasoned that the Germans could not risk being cut off from
infantry arrived at Tsimo on 18th September, exhausted and
half-starved. It began closing up to the German mountain outposts. At dawn,
Japanese cruisers bombarded the (empty) beaches at Lau Schan, and 23rd infantry
brigade started landing. Secure in his possession of Tsimo, Kamio ordered the
troops to race into the mountains and contact his isolated force. That evening,
an infantry company seized the Hotung pass, driving back a German outpost in a
long skirmish. Another company made contact with cavalry from Tsimo.
As the Japanese took control of the passes one by one, they redeployed. Engineers and support troops came ashore, building piers at Lau Schan and an airfield at Tsimo. On 21st September, three Japanese Army airplanes began to fly from Tsimo. Kamio told them to destroy the German airplane. They never actually shot it down, but ceaseless buzzing, shooting (pistols, rifles and 1 mounted machine-gun) and bombing reduced the Germans to short forays over the lines. Japanese Navy seaplanes systematically surveyed the German positions.
Germans realized that Kamio was manoeuvring past the mountain line without a
major battle. Determined not to let him have it all his own way, Meyer-Waldeck
ordered a counter-attack. Reasoning that the Mecklenburg House breakthrough
would focus Japanese attention there, the German staff planned a raid on the
On 26th September, with his division firmly ashore, properly deployed and a secure base, Kamio ordered a general advance. Skirmishes along the whole line gradually alerted the German staff. At short notice, S90 and Jaguar came up on the harbour side, bombarding the Japanese right. At night, the Germans fell back to their second line, convinced that the enemy had lost dearly. In fact, the mountain outposts had fallen, one by one, almost bloodlessly. The Allies closed up to the German line over the next two days, as Kaiserin Elisabeth, Jaguar and S90 again shelled the harbour flank. Kamio had assigned a field battery to engage them. The ships destroyed an observation post and silenced the battery. Impressed by the power of naval guns, Kamio asked Kato to bombard the enemy land batteries to distract them from his advance. Kato decided instead to bombard the sea batteries: typically poor cooperation between the Japanese Army and Navy.
Meyer-Waldeck knew that he would soon have to abandon the second line too, but he had an ace up his sleeve. Prinz Heinrich Hill towered over the neighbouring hills, offering an extremely difficult climb and excellent observation for kilometres in all directions. German engineers prepared a small outpost on its crest. Connected by telephone and heliograph to the heavy land batteries, it would hold even if the Japanese took the rest of the line. It would then direct fire onto the enemy from the rear. Sixty men with machine-guns held the outpost, provisioned for a two-month siege.
weather intensified on the night of 27/28 September. Kamio's staff chose a
company from the 46th infantry regiment, reinforced by an engineering platoon,
to attempt the heroic task of climbing up in the dark during a typhoon. The
engineers cut steps, slung ropes, all in relative silence, without light. They
followed a fissure up the cliff. Baffled when it forked, they detached an
infantry platoon to try what seemed the less likely route. Dawn broke to better
weather. Exhausted and half-drowned, the main force arrived at the crest. The
surprised Germans reacted quickly, pinning the attackers down on the actual
lip. Hanging off vertically, the Japanese shot erratically for hours at the
Germans. The desperate Japanese commander led a charge. The Germans mowed him
down. His lieutenant organized a second assault, dying in the withering German
fire. Covered by this fight, the detached platoon quietly hauled itself up onto
the summit. Lost, it had actually wound up on the German (Southwest) face of
the hill, 3 hours late. The platoon caught the Germans in crossfire. The German
CO decided to negotiate; he would surrender the peak if allowed to take his men
Shaken by the unexpected loss of their outpost and by a surprise mass Allied naval bombardment, the Germans fell back from their second line. Kaiserin Elisabeth, Jaguar and S90 supported, but suffered repeated hits from field guns. The ships retreated.
closed his troops up to the German inner line and ordered a base at
Meyer-Waldeck decided to disrupt Allied preparations. His heavy land batteries began shelling the Japanese rear. The Taube indicated general targets, but enemy airplanes harassed too effectively to allow it to correct gunfire. Anti-aircraft fire on a hoisted observation balloon so rattled its observer that he refused to go up again. The next day, a meteorological balloon went up as a decoy; AA fire destroyed it. The batteries therefore fired blindly, sending over some 1500 shells daily. The Germans wrongly convinced themselves that their fire seriously injured the Allies. Wishing to compound the blow, German staff planned a night raid on the enemy right flank. Late on 2nd October, three German companies attacked. One found only empty trenches, and withdrew. The others triggered furious fire, and fled for their lives. The Japanese captured 6 prisoners and found 29 bodies. Wishful German thinking transformed this skirmish into a major success. With their Chinese spy network in Japanese hands, German intelligence officers could no longer distinguish reality from fantasy. They believed that the arrival of 29th infantry brigade, actually entirely routine, confirmed that they had inflicted grievous losses.
Allies dug an initial trench 1 to 2 kilometres in front of the fortified line.
Kamio insisted on a textbook siege, complete with wavy S-shaped trenches, saps
and parallels. The British, who had finally caught up with the advancing front
line, found their Japanese allies irritating. The German artillery always
sought the British out, as soldiers who might later fight against
naval bombardments could swamp
another typhoon struck on 15th October. Violent weather washed out
the railway and undermined gun platforms, setting preparations back by days.
Flash floods drowned 25 Japanese soldiers. The Germans scuttled all
non-essential ships in harbour, landing the crews as infantry. The Allies
permitted them to evacuate non-combatants. Meyer-Waldeck wondered whether the
naval attacks and recent lull in the action might have distracted the Allied
fleet. He ordered a night sortie by S90.
Late on 17th October, the ancient German destroyer slipped slowly
out of harbour. After some hours, she detected a dark shadow. S90 fired a small torpedo. It hit old
light cruiser Takachiho, detonating
the magazine with a tremendous explosion. Searchlights flashed on, Allied ships
started firing, German coastal batteries joined in the confusion. S90, cut off, fled into the night.
Evading frantic Allied searches, she interned herself in a Chinese port down
the coast. In
ordered another land sortie. Late on
On 25th October, all the Japanese siege artillery reported itself ready in position. Planning the great bombardment, Kamio ordered that not one gun open fire until every gun had its full supply of 1,200 shells. No gun would reveal its position to the enemy until all did. He wanted each gun to fire 80 shells daily. Staff planned a 7-day bombardment, but he insisted on a 15-day ammunition supply. For the final attack, Japanese engineers formed assault platoons equipped with rifle grenades and bamboo tubes filled with explosives (like Bangalore torpedoes to clear barbed wire).
the weather gradually cleared, Second Squadron began a slow, systematic naval
31st October, the Taisho Emperor's birthday, the siege artillery of
over 100 guns opened fire. Each battery had a primary and secondary target.
Kato's fleet swamped the eroding sea defences. The landed Austrian-Hungarian
detachment in this time has suffered his first casualties. One heavy shell hit
the XV battery and killed five men and wounded other three. The Hungarian
József ÁCS was killed, and Béla DOMOKOS was wounded. Prinz Heinrich Hill
observation post corrected shooting. The first day, the heavy artillery
bombardment continued the next day as some siege guns shifted to the oil tanks
and docks while most made sure of the heavy land batteries. The fleet again
overwhelmed the collapsing sea batteries. The besiegers dug their first forward
assault line parallel that night, in textbook fashion. A Japanese patrol
cutting barbed wire outside a redoubt exchanged fire with its garrison. The
Germans believed they had repelled a major assault. Meyer-Waldeck, thinking the
end near, ordered Kaiserin Elisabeth and
Jaguar scuttled. The captain of Kaiserin
Elisabeth on 2nd November has steamed with his cruiser to the
deepest point of the bay. The crew had disembarked, only her commander, chief
engineer and 15 sailors remained on board. They have destroyed the secret and
confidential materials, threw overboard the breech blocks of guns, opened the
5th November, the fleet closed in to point-blank range, annihilating
Hui tschuen huk, the last sea battery. Meanwhile, the siege guns crushed more
wire and pulverized the abandoned redoubts.
saw the end near. On 6th November, he ordered the Taube to fly to
Meanwhile, Kamio instructed his units to probe the German line for weak points. One Japanese infantry company advanced up to Redoubt 4 before the dazed garrison detected them. The Germans opened fire and then launched a bayonet charge to push the enemy back. The Japanese withdrew. So purple a report reached Meyer-Waldeck that he thought the redoubt had repulsed the main assault. He ordered the reserve up to Redoubt 4. Another Japanese infantry company probed Redoubt 3. The Germans fell back into the cracked concrete bunker. A second company arrived, surrounding the bunker and firing through loopholes and cracks. The garrison surrendered. A local German reserve counter-attacked, overwhelming a Japanese flank outpost before the main force crushed them. Japanese platoons spread out along the trench line. Redoubt 2, struck without warning from flank and rear, fell quickly. The attackers hit Redoubt 4 in the flank, but met the German reserve just coming up. An intense fire fight erupted. The probing forces requested reinforcements. More infantry companies arrived. After 3 hours, a bayonet charge cleared the Germans out of Redoubt 4. On the flanks, Redoubts 1 and 5 held out desperately. Elaborate Japanese communications arrangements now paid off. Hearing that his probes had actually captured a redoubt, Kamio ordered an immediate general assault.
through the hole in the German centre, Japanese forces fanned out. One infantry
company charged up Iltis Hill. A searchlight lit up a German lieutenant
rallying his men with drawn sword as a Japanese captain ran up, leading his men
with sword out. Blinking, the 2 men stared at each other. Then, in an
incredible parody of feudal combat, the two officers fought a fencing duel
between their deployed troops. Samurai sword proved much superior to ceremonial
dress sword; the Japanese commander cut his opponent down. The Germans
surrendered. Another company climbing up Bismarck Hill received the surrender
of Germans disheartened by Japanese cheering on Iltis Hill. In this night fight
there was a close combat between the Austro-Hungarian seamen and Japanese, and
two men were killed and three were wounded. Meyer-Waldeck surrendered, and his
men marched out of Redoubts 1 and 5. The morning of 7th November,
ironically a fine clear day, Japanese and British troops entered
Germans lost 493 casualties (199 dead), plus about 3,600 prisoners. In this
total are included also the 10 dead heroes and 10 wounded of Kaiserin Elisabeth. The survivors, among
them two Hungarian naval officer and 56 Hungarian sailors, went into a Japanese
prison camp, from where they could return to Europe in the year of 1920,
exception sailor János VITA, who has died in 1916 in the prison camp. German
intelligence reports estimated Allied losses as "at least 12,000
casualties", an absurd exaggeration still repeated in German documents.
The Japanese Army suffered 1,900 casualties (415 dead). The Navy lost light
cruiser Takachiho, destroyer Shirotaye, a torpedo boat and 2 small
minesweepers, with some 400 casualties (about 300 dead). Kamio deserves credit;
Order of Battle of the siege of
Armoured cruisers: Scharnhorst (flag) and Gneisenau
Light cruisers: Nürnberg,
Gunboats: Jaguar, Luchs, Tiger, Iltis, Cormoran
war broke out, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Nürnberg were cruising in the
During the siege, the Germans used the Lauting (a mine layer converted from pleasure steamer), Kaiserin Elisabeth, Jaguar and S90 extensively.
Hui tschuen Huk battery: two 24 cm., three 15 cm. guns, searchlights in armoured cupolas Bismarck Hill battery: four 28 cm. guns
Old Hsiauniwa battery: four old 21 cm. guns, searchlight, well dug in along the harbour: seven 8.8 cm. guns
And: about 300 naval mines
5 redoubts: searchlights, wall, ditch, barbed wire
Iltis Hill battery: two 10.5 cm., six old (Chinese) 12 cm. guns, searchlights
Moltke Hill battery: two 10.5 cm. guns, searchlights
12 open gun pits: sheltered twenty-two 3.7 cm., twenty-two 9 cm. and six old (Chinese) 12 cm. guns
2 Rumpler Taube airplanes, 1 kite-balloon, 1 meteorological balloon
750 naval gunners manned the various batteries of the base. Another 180 men held
signalling, staff and logistical positions. About 100 Chinese policemen kept
internal order. The Third Sea Battalion of about 1,300 men formed the actual
garrison, consisting of 4 infantry companies (210 men each), 1 cavalry company
(140 men), 1 field artillery battery (133 men, six 7.7 cm. Krupp field guns), 1
engineering company (108 men) and 2 horse-drawn machine-gun companies (38 men
and 6 machine-guns each). In Tientsin and
Reservists added about 1,500 men to the garrison, swelling auxiliary forces as well as adding 2 more infantry companies to the Third Sea Battalion. Counting sailors, guns and machine-guns landed from ships, the garrison disposed of about 4,000 men, 120 machine-guns and 90 guns.
Japanese Second Squadron:
5 old pre-dreadnought battleships, ex-Russian prizes from the Russo-Japanese War: Suwo, Iwami, Tango, Okinoshima, Mishima, armoured cruisers Iwate, Tokiwa, Yakumo, light cruisers Chitose, Tone, Mogami, Yodo, Akashi, Akitsushima, Chiyoda, Takachiho, 24 destroyers, 4 old gunboats and 13 torpedo boats as minesweepers, seaplane carrier Wakamiya (with 4 early Henry and Maurice Farman seaplanes operational + 1 in reserve), several logistics, support and repair ships, 26 transports. Dreadnoughts Settsu and Kawachi, battle cruiser Kongo, new pre-dreadnought battleships Aki and Satsuma initially joined the force, but soon left.
British attached the old pre-dreadnought battleship Triumph, mobilized in
18th infantry division consisted of 23rd infantry brigade (46th + 55th infantry regiments) + 24th infantry brigade(48th + 56th infantry regiments), 22d cavalry regiment, 24th field artillery regiment (six 6-gun batteries), an engineering battalion, a logistics battalion, attached sanitary and signals sections, and possibly a mountain artillery battalion (two 4-gun batteries). The 29th infantry brigade (67th infantry regiment + 1 battalion of 34th infantry regiment) followed up the division.
Siege artillery consisted of a naval artillery detachment (of 10 cm. and 15 cm. naval guns), Miyama and Yokosuka heavy artillery regiments, Shimonoseki and Tadanoumi heavy artillery battalions, a total of about 100 guns from 12 cm. to 28 cm. calibre.
The 6th and 12th infantry divisions detached 2 logistics battalions and 2 engineering battalions. A group of 3 Army airplanes (Farmans) and 2 railway battalions joined.
Later, 8th infantry regiment arrived to occupy the Shantung Railway.
The British deployed the 2d battalion of South Wales Borderers, later reinforced by 2 infantry companies of the 36th Sikhs Regiment.
Jork Artelt: Tsingtau: Deutsche Stadt und Festung in China 1897-1914
Charles B. Burdick: The Japanese Siege of
Dr. Csonkaréti Károly: Az Osztrák-Magyar Monarchia haditengerészete
Dr. Csonkaréti Károly: Császári és Királyi hadihajók
Dan van der Vat: The Last Corsair, The story of
A Haditengerészeti Hősi Emlékmű kézzel írt Emlékkönyvének fotókópiájának másolata
A Magyar Tüzér
Paul G. Halpern: A Naval History of World War I
PHOTOS OF SMS KAISERIN ELISABETH