Once during a longish stay in Vienna, I noticed an exhibit downtown entitled "Austria on the High Seas." This seemed about as worthy of exhibit as "Adobe submarines of the Aztecs" "or "Wars won by France without any help" (Answer: the French civil wars).
The exhibit turned out to be very interesting because Austria formerly owned Slovenia, Bosnia and Croatia with a boatload of Adriatic seaports including Trieste. In its neck of the oceans, Austria was a naval power.
In the museum exhibit, I saw the actual text of the telegram of Oct. 29, 1918, written in longhand by the Kaiser telling his sailors in blockaded Austrian seaports (most now have different names) to abandon their ships and take the next train home –“daheim.”
On that same day in 1918, Earlene's father and my father-in-law, Chief Petty Officer J. Earl Smith, was detailed by the commanding officer of the USS Pittsburgh – on blockade duty in the Adriatic – to assemble a landing party and go into Spalato, Dalmatia (now Split in Croatia) and take command of the now-abandoned Austrian battle fleet. I can think of only one other instance when a family member stood on such a historic spot. My great-grandfather D.N. McLean was Robert E. Lee’s blacksmith pressed into the thin battle line in the surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox.
In family lore, that made CPO Smith the last commander of the Austrian High Seas Fleet – for all time. Having lost its Dalmation ports, the truncated and landlocked nation of Austria would never in any foreseeable future launch a navy.
Grandpa Smith's name was not noted in the Vienna exhibition, much to my dismay, nor did they have any pictures of him climbing aboard an Austrain dreadnaught to lower the double eagle and raise the Stars and Stripes.
Then what should I stumble upon at the Vienna exhibit but a picture of the USS Pittsburgh in 1918 on blockade duty off the Dalmatian coast.
Earlier, an Austrian submarine commanded by Admiral von Trapp of "Sound of Music" fame was prominently shown in several photos at the exhibit. Von Trapp‘s boat even sank a French cruiser in World War I. First time I ever knew Austria had submarines.