Novara-class Cruisers - A Minor Navies Candidate
With the introduction of the Blyskawica as a Tier VII premium we have our first representative of what has been termed the "Minor Navies" since World of Warships Alpha Test.
Furthermore, with the awarding of the SMS Emden as a Tier II prize ship that tier is becoming an interesting place for WW-I period battles.
KuK Novara-class was also known as the Helgoland-class but due to confusion with the German battleship class of the same name I'll use the alternate, picture courtesy of shipbucket.com
I propose a candidate for the Minor Navies Cruiser Tech Tree or as a Tier II premium ship the Novara-class aka Helgoland-class cruisers. As the image indicates, there were three of these Rapidkreuzers, literally "fast cruisers" built on the eve of World War One. All three saw service in several battles in the Adriatic against the British Royal Navy, the Italian Regia Marina and the French Navy. All three survived the war and were awarded to members of the Allied Powers as prize ships, Novara to the French and her sisters to the Italians.
Novara-class aka Helgoland-class Cruisers
Type: Light cruiser
3,500 tonnes (3,400 long tons) (designed)
4,417 tonnes (4,347 long tons) (full load)
Length: 130.6 m (428 ft 6 in) o/a
Beam: 12.77 m (41 ft 11 in)
Draught: 4.95–5.3 m (16.2–17.4 ft)
16 x Yarrow boilers, 6 x Parsons steam turbines
30,178 shp (22,504 kW)
Speed: 27 knots (50 km/h; 31 mph)
Range: 1,600 nautical miles (3,000 km; 1,800 mi) at 24 kn (44 km/h; 28 mph)
9 x 10 cm (3.9 in) guns
2 x 53.3 cm (21 in) torpedo tubes
4 x 45 cm (18 in)
Belt: 60 mm (2.4 in)
Deck: 20 mm (0.79 in)
Gun shields: 40–8 mm (1.57–0.31 in)
Conning tower: 50 mm (2.0 in)
There were several interesting features about this class of ships. As noted they were fast cruisers, two knots faster than the British Town-class cruisers and faster than any cruiser in the German Navy until the Magdeburg-class came along which beat the Novara-class by only .5 knots. Second is their torpedo tubes were mounted on the stern in a swivel mount. This meant the cruisers could only fire their two 21' torpedoes as a Parthian shot after they have turned away.
World War One began with the Austrian-Hungarian Empire declaring war on its neighbor, the Kingdom of Serbia, in the Balkans. Imperial Russia in turn declared war on Austria-Hungary, German followed suit by declaring war on Russia, then Great Britain and France followed suit on the Central Powers as Austria-Hungary and Germany came to be known. Through skillful diplomacy the Italians were brought onto the Allies' side and the Austro-Hungarian Navy, known as the kaiserliche und konigliche Kriegsmarine (kuk KM) for Imperial and Royal War Navy, found itself bottled up in the Adriatic Sea. The Adriatic Sea has a dangerous choke point at the Otranto Straits at the heel of the Italian boot where it meets the Mediterranean. The Otranto Straits lies between the Italian province of Brindisi and the Greek island of Corfu and is only 39 nautical miles wide (72 km). The Allies were quick to set up blockade to keep the Austro-Hungarian Navy in their ports and away from Allied convoys. It worked for their capital ships but not against the latest weapon to enter the war, the submarine. However, we are going to examine how the Novara-class cruisers dealt with the blockade.
The Otranto Strait where the Allied blockade, known as the Otranto Barrage, was located
SMS Helgoland, class lead ship, photo courtesty of WikiaCommons
SMS Helgoland, the lead cruiser of the class, was also the flagship for the I Torpedoflotilla based in the port of Cattaro (Kotor), Montenegro which consisted of the five Tatra-class destroyers: Tatra, Balaton, Csepel, Orjen, Lika, Triglav. Typically the flotilla would set sail at evening on nights with full moons and calm seas and make their way along the coast till they reached their objective. If they met with enemy patrols or the barrage ships they hit fast and hard before retiring to their home base back at Cattaro by noon the next day.
On the night of February 18/19, 1915 the Helgoland's flotilla bolstered by several torpedo boats ran down the coast looking for Allied warships but only sighted the then, neutral, Greek Royal Navy cruiser Elli and retired to their port. (Greece later entered the war on the side of the Allies.) Similar raids in April and November, 1915 netted the same results, no contact in the darkness with enemy forces.
Armed British trawlers, nicknamed "drifters" set out for the Otranto barrage, photo courtesy of WikiaCommons
However, after the blockade (termed a "barrage") of armed British trawlers was set in the Autumn of 1915 the Austro-Hungarian Navy's fortunes changed. The British decided to set up the barrage to stop not just the surface raiders the Austro-Hungarian Navy might send out but also the U-boats they had. Each trawler was armed with a 6-lbr. (57 mm) gun to deal with surfaced U-boats and depth charges to sink submerged ones. Since they lacked hydrophones the fishing boats were equipped with metal "indicator" nets they suspended between the surface and the sea bed. Any indication of a submarine caught in the net and the "drifters" as the trawlers were nicknamed, would fire up their motors and depth charge the sub till it sank or surfaced. Due to the great distance they had to cover and that each of the 20 or so trawlers on duty at a time could only handle .5 mile of net there were gaps which both Austro-Hungarian and German U-boats exploited. In fact the nets only ever captured one unlucky U-boat. Even when bolstered by US trawlers in 1918 the barrage was ineffective at stopping subs. It did work for surface units, if only to serve as an early warning to the the larger patrols of Allied warships.
The raid on the night of December 28/29, 1915 turned into a real brew-up. The Helgoland and her escorts were this time sent to bombard the Albanian port of Durres, then under Italian occupation and called Durazzo. One of the destroyers, SMS Balaton, spotted the surfaced French submarine Monge lurking south of Cattaro and immediately opened fire and then rammed the sub before it could submerge, sinking it with all hands. Seeing that as a stroke of good fortune they proceeded on with their mission.
Just after midnight the flotilla sailed into Durazzo and opened fire on the assembled merchant ships there. Helgoland sank a Greek steamer and two schooners before turning their guns on the town itself. All was going well until the destroyer Lika sailed into a minefield and was sunk, causing the rest of the flotilla to turn back before they too met the same fate. Too late as next the destroyer Triglav stuck a mine. Crippled it was taken in tow by the Tátra. Now luck had turned against the Austro-Hungarians and it wasn't done yet.
Naturally the word of the attack was broadcast to the Allies at Brindisi who sallied forth. Out of the hornets next came the HMS Dartmouth, Town-class cruiser accompanied by two Italian light cruisers, Quatro and Nino Bixio, then later HMS Weymouth, Dartmouth's sister-ship leading five French destroyers to join in the hunt for the raiders.
With a crippled ship in tow the raiders could not make it back to port in time. The Austro-Hungarians sent out additional ships, the armored cruiser SMS Kaiser Karl VI and the Novara but they did not make it to help escort the flotilla to safety. Early in the afternoon the Allies found the flotilla still far from home. The Dartmouth opened fire on the Helgoland, her 6" guns easily outranging the 3.9" guns of the Helgoland. Skillfully avoiding most of the shots the Helgoland was driven away from her consorts. The French destroyers raced in to attack the wounded Triglav. One of the French destroyers, the Casque, hit the helpless Triglav. The crew wasted no time and scuttled the ship rather than let it fall into enemy hands. They escaped aboard the rest of the flotilla as they fled north to safety.
Fast forward as years of cat and mouse games are played between the Austro-Hungarians and the Allies. A few of the barrage "drifters" are sunk, but too few as having lost two destroyers has the KuK Kriegsmarine very wary. But on May 14/15, 1917 the Austro-Hungarians went all out to destroy the barrage. This time they sent all three Novara-class cruisers, Novara captained by Commodore Miklós Horthy leading the three cruisers along with two destroyers and three U-boats. Ironically they passed a patrol of French destroyers north of the barrage and thought they were friendlies so neither side opened fire.
At the barrage the three cruisers split up, each taking a third of the line of 47 trawlers making up the barrage. The Austro-Hungarians were typically chivalrous to the drifters, often they gave the poorly armed crews a chance to abandon ship before they opened fire and sank them. Saida, however, gave no warning and sank 3 of the drifters and then picked up 19 survivors.
One of the trawlers, the HM Drifter Gowanlea, captained by Royal Navy Skipper Joseph Watt refused to surrender and bravely opened fire with their single 6 pounder. The Helgoland responded with four rapid hits which heavily damaged the trawler. Seeing the example of the Gowanlea many of the other nearby drifters joined in the fight but it was very one sided. In all fourteen of the drifters were sunk by the task force, three more were heavily damaged including the Gowanlea. Skipper Watt organized a rescue of the survivors and for his actions was awarded the Victoria Cross.
Again this stirred a hornets nest as the Allies rushed to the scene. Two destroyers encountered the task force during the raid and were quickly sunk. British cruisers HMS Bristol and HMS Dartmouth leading Italian destroyers both sallied forth from Brindisi. Commodore Horthy signaled for assistance and the armored cruiser SMS Sankt Georg sortied with two destroyers and four torpedo boats. With long range gunnery Dartmouth managed to hit Novara in a critical spot, severing a steam pipe leaving her dead in the water. Horthy signaled to lay a smoke screen which cut the British range advantage forcing them to close on the task force. Saida took up the tow of Novara and with Sankt Georg covering the rear they escaped with minor damage to both sides. While the task force escaped the Allies' wrath and made it back to port HMS Dartmouth wasn't so lucky as she ran across one of the U-boats (German UC-25 under Austrian command) and was torpedoed, barely limping back to port herself.
Novara, power out due to a cut steam pipe following the Battle of Otranto Straits, photo courtesy of WikiaCommons
The raids continued, but without the three Novara-class cruisers, until the final major sortie by the KuK Kriegsmarine on June 9/10, 1918 led by newly promoted Admiral Horthy. In this raid they planned on hitting the barrage luring the Allies out into a major fleet action where they would be destroyed by the combined might of the four Tegetthoff-class dreadnoughts. The plan went awry when an Italian MAS torpedo boat spotted the raiding party and managed to break through the escorts to hit the last dreadnought in the line, Szent Istvan, with two torpedoes below the waterline. The raid was called off as they tried to save the Szent Istvan. However, while being towed back to port the pumps failed to control the flooding and she capsized taking 89 of her crew to the bottom of the Adriatic. The sinking was filmed from one of her sisterships and went viral, as we now say, around the world on news reels.
That was the last action the Novara-class cruisers saw. As I mentioned they were all handed over to the Allies as war prizes. The Novara lasted the longest, surviving in the French Navy as the Thionville until she was scrapped during World War II, likely on orders of the Germans. The Helgtoland became the Brindisi and the Saida became the Venizia but saw little actual service beyond training, stores and barracks ships. They were both scrapped in 1937.
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