There’s a such thing as bad luck and then there’s defying the odds. When looking at the SMS Wien, its luck was so considerably horrible, so tragically unthinkable, it seemingly defied the odds. The ship that was sunk not in one world war, but in both of them. Resurrected and put back into commission, only to sink to the bottom of the ocean once more.
Here’s how it all went down:
SMS Wien in WWI
The SMS Wien, His Majesty’s Ship Vienna, originated as an Austrian ship in the 1890s. (At the time, Austria was a large territory with ample coastline.) It served the Austro-Hungarian Navy as one of three Monarch-class coastal defense ships. The ship fought in the Greco-Turkish War in 1897, made multiple trips in the Mediterranean Sea, and was retired as newer style battleships were built and cycled into the local Navy. (There are historical discrepancies, some citing the ship being built on different dates.)
However, at the start of WWI, the SS Wien was recommissioned, along with its two sisters, to work within the 5th Division AKA the German Empire.
From 1914-1917, she was sent to modern-day Montenegro to fight French forces. Then, in August of 1917, Wien traveled to Northern Italy, where it was hit with two torpedoes in a sneak attack. She sunk in less than five minutes, after a 34-foot hole was blown into its boiler room. All of the ship’s 46 crew members were killed.
The boat is salvaged
An initial rescue mission was planned by the Austrians 1918, but stopped by court orders. The boat was ultimately salvated by Italians in 1921 — after the war had ended.
Raised and renamed to Vienna, it was refurbished; little is known about its stint in peaceful times.
But then in 1935, the ship was renamed once more to Po and converted to a hospital ship for WWI. (Some accounts say it was also a hospital ship as Wien, before converted for living quarters.) More than 200 passengers boarded the vessel at a time, being sent to various locations and offering a nursing staff at-the-ready.
Po was attacked once more, and was sunk on March 14, 1941 after being hit by a British torpedo. (It’s safe to say, torpedoes are not this ship’s friend). Hit at night, British pilots said they could not tell they were aiming for a hospital ship. Italian sources agree that, because lights were partially turned off, it would have not been recognized as a hospital ship.
On board, 21 inhabitants were killed, with survivors making their way to shore. Among them included Mussolini’s daughter, Edda Ciano, who was a nurse with the Red Cross. She was rescued by another ship and went on to continue with the Red Cross until the fall of her father’s rule and the fascist regime in 1943.
The fate of the ship
The second sinking proved to be the ship’s last. It still remains underwater near Albania, 35 meters deep.