French Naval Operations, Engagements and Ship Losses in the Adriatic in World War One

by Erwin Sieche

On 6 August 1914 an Anglo-French naval agreement was signed, giving France the general leadership of naval operations in the Mediterranean. The remaining British Mediterranean forces, namely one or two armored cruisers, four light cruisers, sixteen destroyers and the mobile defenses of Gibraltar and Malta would be placed under the orders of the C­in­C of the French fleet and both Gibraltar and Malta would be open as bases to the French.

One day after the French Declaration of War against Austria-Hungary on 11 August 1914 the French fleet under Admiral Boué de Lapeyrère entered Malta. He had orders to sail as soon as possible with all available French and British ships, pass ostentatiously in view of the Italian coast while preserving amicable relations with the Italians, and undertake whatever operation he thought best against an Austrian port.

Lapeyrère decided immediately on a sweep into the Adriatic to surprise the Austrian vessels enforcing a blockade of Montenegro. The Allied forces comprised the French battleships COURBET (flagship), JEAN BART, the cruiser JULIEN DE LA GRAVIÈRE, the French 1st battle squadron comprising DIDEROT, DANTON, VERGNIAUD, VOLTAIRE, CONDORÇET, the 2nd battle squadron comprising VÉRITÉ, RÉPUBLIQUE, PATRIE, JUSTICE, DÉMOCRATIE, the 1st cruiser squadron with JULES MICHELET, ERNEST RENAN, EDGAR QUINTET, the 2nd cruiser squadron with LÉON GAMBETTA, VICTOR HUGO, JULES FERRY and 5 destroyer squadrons, the British element comprised the armored cruisers DEFENCE and WARRIOR and three destroyer divisions. This overwhelming force succeeded in cutting off and sinking the lonely Austro-Hungarian 3rd class cruiser ZENTA off Antivari [Bar], being on perimeter patrol, on 16 August. According to the great number of Anglo-British warships there was considerable confusion in fire-control leading in an excessive amount of firepower employed in sinking the small cruiser while her consort, the destroyer ULAN, managed to escape north.

On 29 November 1914 the submarine CUGNOT managed to intrude into the Bocche di Cattaro [Boka Kotorska] as deep as into Topla Bay but was chased out by the destroyer BLITZ, the torpedo boat Tb 57T and the seaplane E.34.

A fortnight later the submarine CURIE lay in wait off the harbor barrage of Pola [Pula] to wait for her chance to intrude. Two days later, on 20 December, during an attempt to sneak into the harbour she got entangled in the outer wire net barrage and could not free herself. Forced to surface to get fresh air, she was sunk by gunfire of the destroyer MAGNET and the Tb 63T, taking with her three while 23 men were rescued. In the inter-war period the French named a submarine after the drowned 2nd officer, Pierre Chailley. Another sub received the name [Gabriel?] O'Byrne after the commander of the CURIE, who had died in France after having being released from A.-H. POW in 1917. The Austrians raised the wreck step by step from 39 m depth between 21 December 1914 and 2 February 1915. It had suffered only little damages and because of the urgent need for ocean-going submarines she was repaired and commissioned as A.-H. U 14 on 1 June 1915.

On 21 December 1914 the A.-H. sub U 12 (Lerch) scores a torpedo hit on the French battleship JEAN BART off Saseno [Sazen Island]. The JEAN BART has to proceed to Malta for extensive repairs.

On 24 February 1915 the French destroyer DAGUE, while escorting the transport WHITEHEAD to Antivari [Bar] sinks after hitting a mine.

On 27 February 1915 the U 12 (Lerch) was unsuccessfully attacked off Cape Menders [Rat Mendra] by a French BRUMAIRE-type sub with two torpedoes.

On 4 April 1915 the U 5 (Schlosser) unsuccessfully chased a French armored cruiser of the VICTOR HUGO type off Paxos.

On 27 April 1915 the A.-H. sub U 5 (Trapp) torpedoed the French armored cruiser LÉON GAMBETTA after a two-day intense chase off Santa Maria di Leuca, causing 684 fatalities including the French C-in-C of the 2nd light division, Rear-Admiral Sénès. Only 137 French sailors survived. The cruiser sank on position 3945'N/1830'E.

On 5 June 1915 four different Allied task forces attacked the Austrian coast: GIUSEPPE GARIBALDI, VARESE, FRANCSCO FERRUCCIO, VETTOR PISANI escorted by the French destroyers COMMANDANT RIVIÈRE, BISSON, BOUCLIER, MAGON shelled Ragusa Vecchia [Cavtat]; the British cruiser DUBLIN escorted by the Italian destroyers IMPAVIDO, INDOMITO, INSIDIOSO, INTREPIDO, IMPETUOSO fired on Donzella; QUARTO escorted by ANIMOSO, ARDENTE, AUDACE, ARDITO bombarded Lagosta [Lastovo Island]; NINO BIXIO escorted by the Italian destroyers FRANCESCO NULLO, IRRIQUIETO, and the French COMMANDANT-BORY, PROTET shelled Lissa [Vi Island] and Sant' Andrea [Svetac Island].

On 5 December 1915 the French sub FRÉSNEL (Jouen) ran aground at the Bojana estuary [Usce Bojane] due to bad navigation, is detected by the A.-H. destroyer WARASDINER and destroyed by gunfire.

On 30 December 1915 the French sub MONGE (Morrillot) is rammed by the cruiser HELGOLAND, forced to surface because of damages and finally sunk by gunfire of the A.-H. destroyer BALATON. Commander Roland Morillot remained in the boat to ensure that it sinks and does not fall into enemy hands; in 1947 the ex-German type-21 sub U 2518 was named after him.

On September 15th, 1916 the two A.-H. seaplanes L.132 (Konjovics, Sewera) and L.135 (Zelezny, Klimburg) force by bombing the French sub FOUCAULT (Dévin) to surface. L.135 finally sinks the sub while the 27 survivors were clinging to the two planes now floating, to be finally saved by the alarmed Tb 100M. This was the first sinking of a submarine by airplanes in naval war history.

On 18 March 1916 the A.-H. sub U 6 (Falkhausen) sinks the French destroyer RENAUDIN off Cape Laghi [Sqepi i Selitis, Albania], 47 dead. The destroyer goes down on position 4117'N/1922'E.

The very same day the French sub AMPÉRE (Dévin) scores two torpedoes hits on the A.-H. HOSPITAL SHIP No I--the former Lloyd steamer ELEKTRA--off Cape Planka [Rat Ploca] causing two fatalities. The damaged hospital ship has to be beached in Borovica Bay for further repairs.

In the night of December 22./23., 1916 A.-H. destroyers SCHARFSCHUETZE, REKA, DINARA and VELEBIT attacked the drifters patrolling the Otranto barrage which applied for help to the French destroyers CASQUE, PROTET, COMMANDANT-RIVIÈRE, COMMANDANT-BORY, DEHORTER and BOUTEFEU which were escorting a convoy from Brindisi to Taranto. Because of communication problems only CASQUE and COMMANDANT-RIVIÈRE attacked, but CASQUE's boiler rooms were hit immediately and she had to slow down to 23 knots. For further assistance the Italians ABBA, NIEVO and PILO left Brindisi shortly followed by the British cruiser GLOUCESTER escorted by IMPAVIDO and IRRIQUIETO. The French and the Italian groups met during darkness, ABBA rammed CASQUE, some moments later BOUTEFEU rammed ABBA. While the damaged vessels had to be taken into tow the Austrians escaped in the darkness.

The return from the Otranto battle, May 15, 1917, brought the British cruiser DARTMOUTH within the range of the German sub UC 25 which had already laid mines off Brindisi.

At 13.30 UC 25 torpedoed DARTMOUTH approximately thirty-six miles off Brindisi, for some time the ship was considered to be lost, but was manned by a rescue crew later and finally towed into port. On receipt of the news that DARTMOUTH had been torpedoed, the French destroyer BOUTEFEU went to assist, only to hit one of UC 25's mines some minutes later.

On 19 May 1917 the French sub LE VÉRRIER runs an unsuccessful torpedo attack on the A.-H. destroyer BLITZ off Cape Planka [Rat Ploca].

On February 13, 1918 the submarine BERNOUILLI (Audry) is lost with all hands after hitting a mine off the Bocche di Cattaro.

On 22/23 April 1918 the A.-H. destroyers TRIGLAV, UZSOK, DUKLA, LIKA (II) and CSEPEL encountered the British destroyers JACKAL and HORNET, the Australian TORRENS and the French CIMETERRE. HORNET was badly damaged in the ensuing fight but the alarm went up and the Austrians turned for home, pursued by JACKAL who had lost her mainmast.

On 20 September 1918 the submarine CIRÇÉ (Viaud) is torpedoed 7 nm north west of Cape Rodoni [Sqepi i Skenderbeut, Albania], by the A.-H. sub U 47 (Seyffertitz) and lost with all hands.


The ordre de bataille

of the French Adriatic Division

on 1st June 1915

1st Destroyer squadron: Bouclier, Commandant-Rivière, Magon, Bisson, Protet, Commandant Bory

2nd Destroyer squadron: Carabinier, Spahi, Mameluck, Enseigne-Henry, Aspirant Herber, Lansquenet


Marceau, submarine depot ship

Cugnot, Messidor, Papin, Monge, Ampère, Fresnel

Torpedo boats and submarines from Toulon

Torpedo boats: Borée, Arverne, No. 281, No. 288, No. 349, No. 30, No. 368, No. 369

Submarines: Cigogne, Argonaute

Last Updated: 30 December, 2000.

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