The Habsburg Fleet:
Austria's Naval Air Force
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
The world of the Second Great War at Sea (the setting for our two books, The Kaiser’s Navy and The Habsburg Fleet) is a world where, among other small historical differences, battleships really do rule the seas. And lighter-than-air craft play an important military role, and an even greater civilian one. Heavier-than-air craft – airplanes – are still very important, but have yet to prove their full worth to some in leadership positions.
Austria maintains a fairly large naval air arm, and it plays a vitally important role in the war at sea as the Austrians are badly outgunned by the Italian fleet even without the French and British. Here’s a look at what the Austrians have in the air in the 30 scenarios of The Habsburg Fleet:
Austria’s standard heavy bomber is the Junkers G.38, a plane that also serves the Japanese but not the German Luftwaffe. In its civilian version, passengers are seated in the wings; in the military model, bombs are carried there instead. It has a very long range and carries a respectable load, but is not all that fast.
Note: This is the plane seen in Hayao Miyazaki’s exceptional film The Wind Rises. The G.38 was never adopted by the Germans as a bomber but was modified by the Japanese as their Ki.21 heavy bomber.
Austria has a long history of helicopter development, starting with Jan Bahyl’s helicopter of 1901, apparently the first helicopter powered by an internal combustion engine to fly, and on through innovators like Oszkar Asboth and Stephan Petrochy. The helicopter plays a major role for both the Imperial and Royal Navy and the Common Army for transport, reconnaissance, spotting, medical evacuation, mine detection and antisubmarine warfare.
The Navy’s light scout helicopter is the German-designed Flettner Fl.282, manufactured under license. It’s a two-seat machine, very nimble, well-suited to locating enemy mines and submarines and able to take off and land in difficult weather. It flies from the fleet’s helicopter cruisers and sometimes from aircraft carriers and/or shore bases.
The Focke-Achgelis Fa.223, another German design, serves as the fleet’s heavy helicopter. It’s too large for the flight decks of the helicopter cruisers but sometimes operates from the fleet carriers for extra antisubmarine protection.
Austria-Hungary entered the First World War with a very small air arm, and expansion proved difficult. Oesterreichische Flugzeugfabrik AG (Oeffag) in Wiener Neustadt obtained a license to build the German Albatros D.III fighter, and turned out over 500 of them during the last two years of the war. The Oef210 fighter is a standard first-generation piston-engined fighter from the same firm.
Most Austrian aircraft engines during the Great War came from Austro-Daimler, a former subsidiary of the German firm, and Daimler-Benz had a strong Austrian flavor from early leaders like Ferdinand Porsch and Emil Jellinek. That strong connection gave the Austrian firm access to the company's excellent 600 series of inline engines that appeared in the 1930s, and gives Austrian and German aircraft better performance than their French or Italian rivals, though rumors of claim the British have supplied Italian firms with licenses for their fine Merlin series of engines.
Avia was a Czech firm founded in 1919 and absorbed by Skoda in 1928. The company built mostly licensed aircraft, but won the contract for the second-generation Austrian piston-engined fighter, the Av.550. The plane has a good range and the good performance of most planes carrying the DB.605 engine.
The Avia B.534 is a small and nimble biplane, well-suited to carrier operations and serves as the first-generation Austrian naval fighter. It's not as good a plane as those on American decks, but it's a match for the Royal Navy's Fulmars and Sea Gladiators.
For their strike component, the two Austrian aircraft carriers have planes built by Letov Kbely. Founded in 1919, the firm supplied the Imperial Air Force with tactical planes during the 1930s. The S.178 torpedo bomber is based on the S.328 light bomber, a plane that proved rugged enough to be produced in a floatplane version.
Letov built a whole series of bomber prototypes and won the competition to provide a dive bomber for the Imperial and Royal Navy's carriers. The S.228 is similar to most planes of the period, though not as capable as some of the better dive bombers like the Junkers Ju.87.
In the medium bomber role, the Austrians field the Av.320, a tough plane with good range and attack capability. The Polish State Aircraft Works produced the very capable PZL.37; the Austrian plane is based on the follow-on project, the PZL.49 Mis ("Teddy Bear"). The Kingdom of Poland is tightly aligned with the Empire, and readily granted a licence for this fine plane.
Over the Sea
Lohner built the Imperial and Royal Navy's flying boats during the Great War, in both fighter and reconnaissance versions. The L.200 is a typical seaplane of the period, a single-hulled flying boat with an overhead engine. It has an extremely long range and a nominal attack capability.
Austria's jet aircraft see no action during the scenarios from The Habsburg Fleet, which covers the Second Great War durng the period from August 1940 to August 1941. These planes are highly capable, but won't see action until a later volume in the setting. The Av.600 is the jet fighter, and the Av.620 the jet-powered attack bomber.
Note: The jet planes in the mix are a holdover from the old Imperial & Royal Navy; The Habsburg Fleet's story doesn't include jet aircraft, at least not yet.
Click here to sail with The Habsburg Fleet.
Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his noble dog, Leopold.