The Warship That Fired The First Shots Of WWI Was Captured, Twice Scuttled, Raised, Served 4 Different Nations & Is Still In Service

SMS Bodrog on the Danube river in 1914.

Stuck into a muddy river bank, somewhere in Serbia, lies an old, derelict gravel barge. Rusted, useless, and over 100 years old it has limited heritage protection from the Serbian government due to the history it represents and helped make.

For much of the last century, this ship has been called the Sava, named after the river which joins the long Danube at Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. But once, it was a mighty beast which patrolled the Danube for the Austro-Hungarian Empire, fitted with elite armament and fired the first shots that began World War I—it was the river monitor SMS Bodrog.

Austro-Hungarian fleet manoeuvres in February 1913.
Austro-Hungarian fleet manoeuvres in February 1913.

Between the time it was launched into service for the Austro-Hungarian Imperial and Royal Navy in 1904 and present day, the Bodrog (named after the river Bodrog) has sailed under the flags of four different nation-states. Its name was changed to Sava on April 15th, 1920, when it became a vessel of the KSCS (Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, later to be called the Kingdom of Yugoslavia) Navy. Charged with helping defend the Danube in both World Wars, this war machine has a long history of service before it was eventually refitted for industrial use in the 1960s.

According to Wikipedia, these were the specs for the Bodrog: “Like her sister ship SMS Temes, she had an overall length of 57.7 m (189 ft 4 in), a beam of 9.5 m (31 ft 2 in), and a normal draught of 1.2 m (3 ft 11 in). Her standard displacement was 440 tonnes (430 long tons), and her crew consisted of 86 officers and enlisted men. Bodrog had two triple-expansion steam engines, each driving a single propeller shaft. Steam was provided by two Yarrow water-tube boilers, and her engines were rated at 1,400 indicated horsepower (1,000 kW). As designed, she had a maximum speed of 13 knots (24 km/h; 15 mph), and carried 62 tonnes (61 long tons) of coal.”

Bodrog was equipped with two Škoda 120mm guns, with a 10km range, a 120mm Howitzer mounted on a central pivot which could fire 20kg shells up to 6.3km, and two 37mm guns. Her armor ranged from 25mm on the deck up to 75mm on the conning tower.

SMS Temes.
SMS Temes.

This top-of-the-line river monitor was part of the Danube Flotilla prior to and during WWI, in a division with three other monitors and three patrol boats.

The Danube stretches from the Southwest corner of Germany all the way to the shores of the Black Sea. This Flotilla was a highly valued force of ships and essential to the Austro-Hungarians as much of the war that they fought to their East was with and against nations on the Danube. Also, they and the Germans strove to keep the Danube open for shipping supplies to their allies, the Ottomans via the Black Sea.

When Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia July 28th, 1914, that night the Bodrog and two other monitors stationed at Zenum, near Belgrade, bombarded the Serbian capital. Using their large guns, they rained shells on Serb fortifications and a railway bridge crossing the river Sava. The Serbs had no answer to these vicious river raiders and they would need naval guns from Russia and artillery support from France through the war just to hope to deter them.

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