Aug 21, 2016

Paddle steamer "Mészáros"

After the Spring Revolution of 1848, an independent Hungarian national assembly was elected, based on an equal and expanded (although far from universal) right to vote, and a new government, responsible to this parliament, was appointed.
The Serbian and Croatian leaders, in pursuit of their own national(ist) interests, remained loyal to Vienna. Open hostilities soon broke out, and the infant government had to prevent Serbian and Croatian raids up on the Danube. Stationary batteries along the banks seemed insufficient, so the decision was made to purchase multiple ships and convert them to military purposes. They turned to the DDSG company, which had available shipyards near Budapest. The deal was struck incredibly fast, and the first (and, as it turned out, only) ship, previously a transport steamer under the name Franz I, was sold on June 7 1848, and her refit began on June 13 in DDSG's Óbuda yard. She was re-christened Mészáros (after the current Minister of War). After arming her and filling her stores, the maiden voyage took place on June 30.

The ship's measurements were:
  • Length (full): 48,00m
  • Beam: 6,20m
  • Total width (paddles included): 12,32m
  • Total height of the hull: 2,89m
  • Draft: 1,10m
  • Displacement: 318t

The paddles were powered by a 60hp steam engine, of which little is known besides being built in London. She's also had two masts with one gaff sail on each. Her top speed was 15kph down- and 3kph upriver.
She was armed with six 6-pounder, two 12-pounder cannon and a pair of 7-pounder howitzers. 
Besides converting the internal space to include a magazine, officer's quarters, a chapel and a surgeon's room, the ship's deck was also strengthened by supporting beams to bear the guns' weight.

Her full complement was 61 crewmen and 44 infantry, 113 men with officers included. Most of them served in the regular army and were temporarily assigned on board. Some of them had experience in naval or riverine service as well. Forty men of the crew served the guns, the rest the engines.  Besides the commander and a midshipman, the officers' list included a priest, two clerks and two surgeons.

Two possible commanders are known of: either Captain (a line infantry Hauptmann) László Pálóczy or (Austrian naval) Lt. Commander Albert Kenessey was appointed ship's master. Whichever the case, the ship has received the first orders to halt & search any vessels bound north. All stores on shore were obliged by the Minister of War's decree to provide the ship with firewood: the commander received an allowance to pay for this.

After the preliminary cruises to determine the ship's usefulness (and train the crew), she sailed south towards the hostile Serbian section of the Danube. On 19 August, Cpt Pálóczy wrote his first report to the Minister, detailing an incident involving the local (Baranya) militia. The ship was believed to be Serbian, and shots were exchanged; fortunately, nobody had been injured.
On the same day, in the first military involvement of the Mészáros, the commander determined to seize a ferry on the hostile (right) shore of the Danube between (then) Nestyén and Palánka (google map). Serbian insurgents fired a pair of cannon on the ship: both shots missed. The Mészáros replied in kind, and the enemy battery retreated. Howitzer shells set Nestyén on fire, burning the abandoned village down. Meanwhile, a small detachment in one of the ship's boats took the ferry without resistance, and steered it to the left bank.
No more correspondence is documented until October 10. In the meantime, the ship most likely transported military ware and inspected civilian ships. Rebellion broke out in Vienna on October 6, and the loyalist armies under Prince Windisch-Grätz were in retreat, so the ship was ordered north to support the advance on the Austrian capitol. The commander's next report is dated from Heimburg (Hainburg, map location) on October 13. The ship was operating between Bratislava and the fortress of Komárom in support of the main army's advance. On October 18, while cruising back towards Esztergom, the commander met Lajos Kossuth, president of the provisional executive authority (he was a fan of the US presidential system). Around this time, Cpt Pálóczy was promoted Major.

On October 30, the Hungarian army was defeated only a few miles outside Vienna, near Schwechat (google map). With the loyalist army in pursuit, the ship was ordered back to Budapest. The city was given up without a fight and evacuated, and the ship was abandoned, falling into enemy hands. It was a very cold autumn and the Danube froze to a point where she could not break out. The ship's cannon were dismounted and carried away before the crew left, later presumably used as field artillery.
After her capture, the ship has seen limited use in Austrian military service on the southern Danube, re-christened (again) General, then Graf Schlik. DDSG has bought her back in 1866, after which she continued to serve in a civilian role. As her usefulness had worn out, she was converted to a transport barge, and was broken down at an unknown date around the turn of the century.

The model is roughly 1/500 scale. From previous attempts at 6mm gaming (hint at my future armies for 1848/49) I found that ship models included in a scenario should be much smaller scale than the 1/300 troopers, simply because a frontage of 20-30 figures usually covers that of a battalion of multiple hundred men IRL, and compared to that, a ship true to scale is too huge.
I have used 1mm plasticard and 5mm thick balsa wood to build the hull. The funnel is made from a tooth pick, the superstructure is 2mm pine wood. I glued a length of thin sewing thread along the hull to have a raised surface for the white lining.

Although she's had a very short career, it is an interesting piece of Hungarian military history.
For an even more colorful side story, the 1918 article (link at the end of the post) mentions that ironclad warships(!) had also been ordered in 1848 for Danube cruising, with hulls made in London and engines in Hungary, and that construction had started on one of these before Budapest fell and the government came short of money to have it seen completed.
To protect the Adriatic port of Fiume (Rijeka), in the interest of a Hungarian-held passage to the Mediterranean, a merchant brig (Implacabile) was also purchased and sent to London to be armed, however, British authorities seized the ship and its price was never repaid.

Sources on this blog post (mostly in Hungarian):
On the technical parameters
Blog post on the broader military history
Pelz Béla: Az első magyar hadihajó. "Királyi magyar hadigőzös Mészáros". 1848. In: Hadtörténeti közlemények 1918. p98-109. Available from here
I will try and update the current Wikipedia article as well, because it's a copy-paste of the blog article above.