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The Battle of the Otranto Straits

Controlling the Gateway to the Adriatic in World War I

Paul G. Halpern

Publication Year: 2004

Called by some a "Mediterranean Jutland," the Battle of the Otranto Straits involved warships from Austria, Germany, Italy, Britain, and France. Although fought by light units with no dreadnoughts involved, Otranto was a battle in three dimensions -- engaging surface vessels, aircraft, and subsurface weapons (both submarines and mines). An attempt to halt the movement of submarines into the Adriatic using British drifters armed with nets and mines led to a raid by Austrian light cruisers. The Austrians inflicted heavy damage on the drifters, but Allied naval forces based at Brindisi cut off their withdrawal. The daylight hours saw a running battle, with the Austrians at considerable risk. Heavier Austrian units put out from Cattaro in support, and at the climactic moment the Allied light forces had to turn away, permitting the Austrians to escape. In the end, the Austrians had inflicted more damage than they suffered themselves. The Otranto action shows the difficulties of waging coalition warfare in which diplomatic and national jealousies override military efficiency.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Twentieth-Century Battles


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pp. v

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

The battle in the Strait of Otranto on 15 May 1917 is hardly a household name, even among those with more than a passing interest in naval history. It was hardly a large action as far as naval battles go, but it has certain interesting characteristics. It was the largest encounter between warships at sea in the Adriatic and Mediterranean area during the First World War. It also involved...

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One: The Naval War in the Adriatic

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pp. 1-13

the naval war in the Adriatic was shaped by certain peculiar geographical features. The Adriatic Sea is really an arm of the Mediterranean in the rough shape of a long narrow rectangle. The Strait of Otranto forms the entrance to the Mediterranean and is roughly sixty miles wide. The distance between the eastern and western shores of the Adriatic is usually not much...

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Two: The Allies in the Southern Adriatic

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pp. 14-34

By the spring of 1917 the waters of the southern Adriatic and Ionian Sea were home to many diverse Italian, British, and French warships. The command arrangements were equally complex and, unfortunately, sometimes acrimonious, and Allied dispositions were sometimes made according to diplomatic or political considerations rather than strategic necessities. Many...

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Three: The Austrians Prepare an Attack

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pp. 35-48

In the middle of May 1917, the k.u.k. Kriegsmarine risked the most modern and effective of its small force of light cruisers and destroyers on a raid on the drifter line in the Otranto Straits. A glance at a map would easily show that this was indeed a risk, for a raiding force would have to pass south of the parallel of Brindisi, where there were considerable Allied light forces, and...

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Four: The Attack on the Drifters

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pp. 49-67

The Italian navy by the end of March 1917 appears to have had some indication that the Austrians might have been planning something, although exactly what and where was uncertain. The suspicion seems to have come through intelligence of the re

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Five: The Pursuit

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pp. 68-99

The first information to reach the Italian naval command at Brindisi that a raid was in progress came from the semaphore station on the island of Saseno off Valona bay. At 0348 (central European time), Saseno transmitted a wireless signal stating that artillery ¶ashes had been observed to the southsoutheast. This was obviously the destroyer attack on Borea’s convoy, and four...

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Six: The Forces Return

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pp. 100-122

The experiences of the Austrians and the Allies during their return from the battle¤eld were very different. The Austrians had far less distance to travel to the Bocche, and after the juncture of the Sankt Georg group with Horthy’s beleaguered cruisers, a general sense of relief at having survived mingled with a sense of triumph at having safely completed a successful raid. The Allies,...

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Seven: The Results of the Battle

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pp. 123-145

The most immediate result of the battle of 15 May was Admiral Kerr’s decision to withdraw the drifters at night. For the present, they would patrol only during daylight hours, a restriction which would only change when British reinforcements could be spared. In practical terms this meant that the drifters would now lay their nets between 5 and 10 a.m. and then commence...

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pp. 146-150

With the end of the war and the disintegration of the Habsburg Monarchy, the seagoing warships of the k.u.k. Kriegsmarine were divided among the victorious Allies, and many of the older ones were quickly scrapped. With the exception of Horthy’s Novara, all the cruisers and destroyers that had proved so hard to catch during the Battle of the Otranto Straits...

Appendix A: Glossary of Geographical Names

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pp. 151-152

Appendix B: Equivalent Ranks

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pp. 153


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pp. 155-174

Select Bibliography

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pp. 175-180

Index and About the Author

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pp. 181-187

E-ISBN-13: 9780253110190
E-ISBN-10: 025311019X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253343796

Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 20 b&w photos, 3 figures, 5 maps
Publication Year: 2004

Series Title: Twentieth-Century Battles