The Shipwreck Baron Gautsch

by Herwig Strauss
Adventurers Dive Log:The Shipwreck Baron Gautsch, by Herwig Strauss

Ûf the Dalmatine express line, where she started her brief carrer on June 16th, 1908.

Delays in delivery as well as unsufficient performance of the engines caused heavy remedies by wharf craftsmen at the ship's home harbour, Trieste, which on the long run was one of the reasons of Gourlays & Sons Ltd.' bankruptcy on Oct. 23, 1910.

When World War I broke out, the ship was leased on July 27th, 1914 by the k.u.k. Kriegsmarine to transport reinforcements to Cattaro (Kotor). During 4 journeys under the leasing contract she did 1810 nautical miles and transported 2855 persons. On her way back to the northern Adriatic she evacuated civilians.

With the reinforcement completed, the "Baron Gautsch" was returned to the Lloyd in Cattaro (Kotor). Before the ship cleared for Cattaro (Kotor), a conference was held at Trieste military sea authorities with the 2nd offcer, Tenze, taking part in lieu of his captain, Paul Winter, in which the ship's leaders were to be informed about the situation of mine fields to be laid by Austro-Hungarian forces in the northern Adriatic. Tenze reported to his captain, upon which the 1st Offiver, Luppis, set the course for the ship. Later on during her voyage, the "Baron Gautsch" received further orders by the military authorities of Zara (Zadar), which coinceded with those issued earlier by the Trieste military sea authorities.

On her way back to the Northern Adriatic the "Baron Gautsch" took civilians on board on the Dalmatine islands of Lussin (Losinj) and Arbe on their way back to Trieste.

On August 13th, 1914, the "Baron Gautsch" set sails off Lussin Grande (Veli Losinj) at 1100 hrs. Arrival at Trieste was planned at about 1800 hrs. From Lussin up to Pola the 1st Officer, Luppis, was in charge of the ship. However, he left the bridge without the captain's permission for dinner with the 1st class passengers and put the 2nd Officer, Tenze, in charge. When he returned to the bridge, there were only a few minutes left until the takeover of Tenze at 1400 hrs, so that he left the bridge to relax.

The "Baron Gautsch" went on sailing to the north, much closer to the coastline than the military authorities had ordered. She passed her sister ship, the "Prinz Hohenlohe", which sailed south to the Dalmatian islands more than 3 nautical miles more off the coast than the "Baron Gautsch". Even urges by several passengers did not cause Tenze to change the direction of the ship.

7 nautical miles north of the Brioni islands at 1450 hrs the steamer ran full speed ahead into the friendly mine-field, which had just been laid by k.u.k. mine-layers. The mine-layer "Basilisk" sent danger signals, of which the "Baron Gautsch" did not take any notice.

The accident caused immense bloodshed: 159 persons were saved by the destroyers "Csepel", "Triglav" and "Balaton" who hurried to the rescue and picked up 68 dead; 177 people, among them women and children who were to be transported from the islands to Trieste drowned or were killed in the spilled, burning petroleum. The 2nd officer drowned with the ship, Captain Winter and the 1st officer were among the survivors. Both were put under arrest in Pola (Pula).

Due to the further course of the circumstances it is not evident what happened to them during the proceeding at law following the accident, especially because of the fact that the press had already been put under censorship and had not been informed about the accident, in order not to inflict the war spirit on the public.

At first demands for compensation were rejected, later on the ministry of commerce made available 200.000 Kronen (the Austrian currency of that time) for the persons harmed.

The dependants sued the Lloyd for compensation on Vienna courts. The proceedings at law took their time, the records documenting the accident were lent to the court of civil law by the war archive. In July 1925 riots broke out in Vienna which culminated in the burning of the Justizpalast, the Law Court, in which the records were destroyed.

The attorney of the dependants, Dr. Schapiro, was Jewish, which in turn caused that his office was destroyed during Nazi pogroms in 1939, so that there are not any records of the sinking of the "Baron Gautsch" in existence today, except from the translation of the accusation by the Austro-Hungarian persecutor at Rovigno (Rovinj).

3. Further fate of the "Baron Gautsch" and present state of the wreck

After World War I the wreck of the "Baron Gautsch" was used as a target by Yugoslav navy divers during the 20s and destroyed even more.

The wreck lies on even keel in 40 meters depth on the sand- and pebble ground. After almost 80 years it is completely grown with algae, mollusks and other submarine creatures. It is used as a hide-place by countless fish, being the sole "hill" on the plain ground. Capital tuna fish as well as other big fish have been reported as inhabitants of the wreck.

The state of the wreck is not really "almost complete": The captain's bridge and the fore funnel are missing completely, the aft funnel has been toppled over and rises down into the hull. The wooden floors between the three decks are in a state of decay, so that isnt is possible to dive horizontally as well as vertically between them. There are no more glass in the window frames, and the davits of the port side lifeboats are turned outboard, from which one could conclude that they were able to be brought outboard at the ship's sinking. Contemporary reports relate that the ship's crew was not very eager to save women and children but cared more for their own lives during the wreckage.

The ship's hull is preserved completely, but the propellers are missing, although the stern is not damaged; perhaps a sign of aquisition of non-ferrous metals in the time between the wars or during World War II. Generally, the wreck shows damages that are by no means typically caused by a mine, especially at the superstructure, which might prove the fact that the wreck had been used as a target by Yugoslav navy divers.

The fore mast is cracked and lies across the superstructure, the aft mast is missing. Perhaps it will at one time be found near the wreck, as well as the missing aft funnel.

The fore funnel can be seen clearly lying diagonally inside the hull throuhg the leak, which is situated near the waterline at the middle of the ship on the port side. The leak measures about 2 x 2 meters.

An explanation for the missing of the fore funnel and for the cracked aft funnel lying inside the hull could be found in the theory that the mine caused the boiler to explode, which blew away the funnels.

The wreck's position is not very easy to find by means of terrestric navigation, but with modern methods of satellite navigation, sonar and GPS this is not a problem any more, not even when the waves are high. But the waves cause problems for small vessels with steady keel to hold position, launch divers and take them on board again after the dive.

Anyway, the position of the wreck must have been known by Croatian fishermen for some years. It is known that divers have been shown to the wreck for good money in the past. That is why for at least three years souvenirs from the "Baron Gautsch" have been on sale at the Vienna flea market and in antique shops, from toilet seats to silver cutlery and liquor glasses.

The Nautical Society "ALDEBARAN" at Trieste reports that the wreck must have been dived at as early as 1981; in that year the plans of the sister ship of the "Baron Gautsch", the "Baron Bruck", were required and copied at the "ALDEBARAN".

As just few of dead had been taken on board of the vessels coming to the rescue, Croatian authorities are trying to declare the wreck a war grave, which might probably put an end to diving to the "Baron Gautsch", in spite of the fact that in recent divings there has not been found any trace of a human corpse.

Photography by Herwig Strauss

Sources: Aichelburg, Wladimir: Die Handelsschiffe Österreich-Ungarns im Weltkrieg 1914-1918, H. Weishaupt Verlag, Graz S.G.E.Lythe, M.A.: Gourlays of Dundee, The Rise and Fall of a Scottish Shipbuilding Firm, Dundee 1964 John Leng & Co. (Hrsg.): The Dundee Year Book, Facts and Figures for 1908, Dundee 1909 k.u.k. Staatsanwaltschaft in Rovigno: Anklageschrift gegen Kpt. Paul Winter und I.Offz. Josef Luppis, Übersetzung, Wien o.J. (Quelle: Allg. Verwaltungsarchiv, Abt. Verkehrsarchiv)

Marine-Verband, Vienna Verkehrsarchiv, Vienna Kriegsarchiv, Vienna Heeresgeschichtliches Museum, Vienna Nautical Society "ALDEBARAN", Trieste Dundee District Archive and Record Centre, Dundee, Scotland

Appendix: Technical data of the sister ship "Baron Bruck" (Plans available):

1. Technical data: Steamer, Owner Österreichischer Lloyd; Length 83 m Width 12 m Depth 6,7 m BRT 2100 NRT 860 iPS 4000 Built at Trieste Launching 1913 Propulsion 2 propellers

Date: 1/2/1994

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