Cruiser Warfare (Final Edition):
Austria’s East Asia Cruiser Squadron
One of the more unusual assets the Central Powers player
commands in our Cruiser
Warfare game is the Austrian protected cruiser Kaiserin
Elisabeth. She begins the game in the Yellow Sea, adjacent
to the German port of Tsingtao and highly vulnerable to Japanese
intervention or just about anything else.
Austrian warships had visited the Chinese coast many times
during the late 1800s; in 1884, an Austrian mission had even
attempted to annex what became British North Borneo and establish
an Imperial and Royal presence in eastern waters. This failed,
and the navy contented itself with periodic visits to help
support Austro-Hungarian business interests in Chinese ports.
Kaiserin Elisabeth as originally armed, in Chinese
When the so-called Boxer Rebellion broke out in 1900, the
Austrian navy had one warship in Chinese waters, the new small
cruiser Zenta. Three more warships soon joined her:
Rear Admiral Rudolf Montecuccoli led the armored cruiser K.u.K.
Maria Theresa, the protected cruiser Kaiserin Elisabeth and Zenta’s brand-new sister, Aspern. They brought with them 400 Austrian marines, who joined
the march on Peking but arrived too late to participate in
the relief of the European delegations besieged there. Only
a small detachment from Zenta took part in the fighting,
but Montecuccoli’s ships did participate in the bombardments
of Chinese coastal forts and established Austria-Hungary as
one of the Great Powers with a voice in Chinese affairs.
For several years the Austrians maintained two cruisers on
station, dropping at times to one but never abandoning their
presence. Though some of the less reality-bound politicians
at home demanded that Austria-Hungary seize her own Chinese
port, no one took these suggestions very seriously. The Imperial
and Royal Navy worked out an agreement to use the new German
facilities at Tsingtao, and stockpiled their own supplies
of coal, food and ammunition there.
Kaiserin Elisabeth did several tours on the China
Station. When laid down in 1888 she was designed as a torpedo
ram cruiser, intended to lead a flotilla of torpedo boats
into action. She had two 9.4-inch guns in fore and aft barbette
mounts, six 5.9-inch guns and a large number of small cannon
(for use in the close-in fighting among the torpedo craft).
The Austrian Navy abandoned the torpedo ram concept in 1897
with the retirement of Navy Minister Max von Sterneck, one
of the heroes of Lissa. The big guns proved too heavy for
the ship’s 4,500-ton displacement at full load, and
their Krupp-made hydraulic mounts could only elevate to 13.5
degrees, limiting their range to 10,000 yards.
In 1905-06, after her return from China, Kaiserin Elisabeth and her sister ship Kaiser Franz Josef I went
to Pola Navy Yard to have their big guns replaced by Skoda
5.9-inch guns in shields. The other six guns of the same caliber
(but different model) were retained, but placed in similar
mounts and moved to the main deck level, up from their lower-deck
In late 1913, Kaiserin Elisabeth returned to Chinese
waters, while Kaiser Franz Josef I rotated home.
The Navy considered leaving both cruisers at Tsingtao, as
the Lloyd shipping line’s Trieste-Shanghai route was
steadily growing, but decided one was sufficient to show the
When Serbian terrorists murdered Archduke Franz Ferdinand
in late June 1914, Kaiserin Elisabeth was at Tschifu
in north China, having just completed a long courtesy voyage
to Hong Kong and several Japanese ports. She remained there
awaiting orders, which came on 21 July. Her commander, Linienschiffskapitan
Richard Makoviz, wanted to join Maximilian
von Spee’s German cruiser squadron lurking somewhere
in the Pacific and take part in commerce raiding. She burned
coal at a rapid rate and was very slow, and so his superiors
vetoed that idea. Instead, the navy made arrangements with
the Chinese to intern the ship in Shanghai and return the
German Kaiser Wilhelm II, informed of this move, made a personal
appeal to the Austrian Kaiser Franz Josef. The cruiser, he
insisted, was desperately needed to bolster the defenses of
Tsingtao. After some harsh remarks to his aides about the
state of German readiness, the old emperor agreed and the
navy countermanded Makoviz’s orders. The ship would
stay at Tsingtao.
Kaiserin Elisabeth and the German gunboat Jaguar
shell Japanese positions in this rather fanciful
German magazine illustration (the Austrian ship is seen
with her pre-1906 armament and “Adriatic” paint
The two newest 5.9-inch guns went ashore as the Elisabeth
battery, and fought throughout the siege. Most of her 47mm
guns also went ashore, and her marines formed a small company
that fought in the front lines. The ship remained in Kiaochou
Bay performing shore bombardment in support of the German
troops and her own marines until 2 November 1914, when she
fired her last shells and the city stood on the brink of surrender.
Makoviz took her to the deepest part of the bay, fired her
boilers to full capacity and set off four torpedo warheads.
The ship blew apart spectacularly; despite a number of attempts
the wreckage has never been found.
Since the Central Powers player in Cruiser Warfare is
not limited by the needs of base defense (Tsingtao will fall
regardless of his or her actions), Kaiserin Elisabeth usually participates in commerce warfare, though rarely
with much success. We also included Kaiser Franz Josef I in Cruiser Warfare as a variant piece: she was present
in Chinese waters in 1913 and the Navy did consider leaving
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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 dog, Leopold.