BELGRADE – The river monitor Bodrog, the Austro-Hungarian navy ship that fired the first shots of World War I and a witness to the European conflicts of the 20th century under four different flags, now serves as a gravel barge in Serbia.
The Bodrog, a heavily armored vessel launched in 1904 and equipped with the most advanced naval technology of the time, shelled the Serbian capital just before midnight on July 28, 1914.
The ship’s 120 mm guns fired the first shots of a conflict that would last four years, leave millions of people dead and devastate Europe.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire’s powerful navy played a vital role in the campaign against Serbia, the country Vienna blamed for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the imperial crown, a month earlier in Sarajevo.
The Bodrog, which was built at a shipyard in Budapest, spent the first two years of the Great War patrolling Serbia’s rivers and later operated in Romania.
The ship was sent to the Danube River’s mouth at the end of the war to protect withdrawing troops.
“The Bodrog was the last monitor to withdraw toward Budapest and the only one that didn’t reach its destination. On Oct. 31 (of 1918), it hit a sand bank in the fog near the town of Vinca,” historian Milan Gulic told Efe.
The navy was unable to recover the ship and it was seized by Serbia as war loot.
The Bodrog was renamed the Sava in 1921 and joined the navy of the recently created Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
The ship was scuttled twice during World War II and later raised and refurbished, serving in the Yugoslav navy from 1952 to 1962.
The aging Bodrog was transferred to a state-owned company that was eventually privatized and currently uses the vessel as a gravel barge.
Calls for the ship’s preservation as a floating museum led to the government granting the vessel limited heritage protection in 2005, a move that has kept the Bodrog from ending up on the scrap heap.
Little else, however, has been done to save the historic warship.
“This monitor is part of a broader heritage, Serbian and Austrian history, and a unique item that still exists. It should be preserved, reconstructed,” Danilo Sarenac, a member of the Institute of Contemporary History in Belgrade, told Efe.
“This is living history and has the potential for tourism,” Sarenac said.
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