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The history of the Croatian Navy can be traced from the Middle Ages until modern times.

Early history

According to Longobard writer Pavlo Đakon from the year 642, Croats have many ships under the city of Siponto (Manfredonia in Southern Italy). There are many records of the problems of the Venetian Republic with Croatian pirates in the Venetian records from the second half of the 7th century. At the time it was a considerable source of revenue for all countries. The same sources speak about Croats as successful ship builders. Already at the time of Prince Vladislav (821-835), the sources mention a strong navy. Thanks to the maritime power of Croatia, prince Mislav of Croatia (835-845) enabled Venice to establish control on the Eastern Adriatic. During the rule of Prince Trpimir (845-864), Croats broke through to Friuli and in front of the Venice itself. During the rule of Prince Domagoj (864-876) the strong Croatian Navy successfully defended its coast from Venice and in 866 the Venetian Doge Partezipazio was forced to conclude peace treaty. A great pest at that time in the Adriatic Sea was the Saracens. Therefore an alliance was made between the Byzantine Empire, Venetia and Croatia and later on between the Pope and the Franks. In 871 the Croatian Navy distinguished itself as ally of Frank Emperor Ludovik II in liberation of Bari from the Saracens.[1]

At the time of Prince Branimir (879-892) or at the time when Croatia becomes a completely independent state, the Croatian Navy continues its rise. That was the time of the famous battle in the Middle Dalmatian local waters and when the Venetians were completely defeated on 18 September 887. Venetian Doge Pietro I Candiano was killed. Between his death in 887 and 948, no new war was recorded between Venice and the Croats, which should mean the Venetians paid tribute to maintain the peace.[2]

In the work of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, De administrando imperio it is stated that Croatia, during reign of King Tomislav had 80 sagenas (larger ships with 40 sailors) and 100 konduras (smaller ships with 10 to 20 sailors, not counting oarsmen). Beside this powerful navy the King Tomislav (910-928) also had strong army with 60 000 horsemen and 100 000 infantrymen. The era of King Stjepan Držislav (969-996) was marked with successful maritime trade and safekeeping of maritime routes and domination of Croatia on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea.[1]

The King of Croatia and Dalmatia Petar Krešimir IV (1058–1074) expanded its kingdom "on land and on sea". In his deed of donation to the convent of Saint Krševan in Zadar in 1069, it is stated that he donates the island of Maun situated "in our Dalmatian sea" (in nostro dalmatico mari). The Duke of the Croatian Royal Navy Rusin is mentioned at the time and the fact that the very title of Duke could be borne only by governmental dignitaries is proof of the navy importance.[1]

In the first year of the rule of King Dmitar Zvonimir (1074–1089) Normans invaded the Adriatic Sea. As Normans ally, Dmitar Zvonimir joined in wars against Byzantium. When Robert Guiscard, Duke of Apulia, invaded the western Balkan provinces of the empire in 1084, Zvonimir sent his fleet to his aid.[1]

Normans conquered cities on the eastern coast. The only thing that is sure is that the island of Rab never fell. The alliance of Normans and Croats made under the influence of the Pope Gregory VII lasted from 1082 to 1084: they led together a series of naval battles against Byzant-Venetian navy.[1]

During the period of personal union with Kingdom of Hungary, the Croatian coast fell under Venice and its naval power deteriorated. But this is the time when the fleet of the Republic of Dubrovnik, which kept its independence, started to rise.

Modern history

Napoleonic wars

Naval base Pula

Battle of Lissa

The independence of Dubrovnik was also kept during Napoleonic wars which shows its strength and effective diplomacy. But the strength of the Republic of Ragusa was also manifested in its maritime power. The size of the Fleet of Dubrovnik in 1800, together with fishing ships, was 673 clippers. 255 of them were bigger ships that sailed outside the territorial waters of Dubrovnik. The total number of transatlantic clippers was 230 ships. The Republic had its consulates in over 80 cities. At that time Dubrovnik had about 7,000 seamen, shipbuilders, shipowners and members of other maritime professions.

The period from 1806 to 1813 was the era of the French rule of Marshall Marmont in Dalmatia and development of maritime trade. Napoleon's rule of Dalmatia was followed by Austro-Hungarian rule and on 2 November 1818 the first steam ship Carolina sailed the Adriatic Sea. In early 1838 the free steamship navigation in the Adriatic Sea with regular steamship route Triest-Mali Lošinj-Zadar-Šibenik-Split-Hvar-Korčula-Dubrovnik-Kotor was proclaimed. This year was also marked with cessation of the domination of the clippers and entrance of steamship in the war fleet.


Viribus Unitis

Admiral Janko Vuković

In June 1866 the Italian King Victor Emanuel II declared war to Austria. Like many times before the Adriatic Sea was a battlefield. Both fleets fought on 20 September opening fierce artillery fire. Wilhelm von Tegetthoff, a commander of the Austrian fleet sails into the harbour of Vis with all gunboats. With victory in Battle of Lissa (Vis) Austria secured dominance on the Adriatic Sea. In 1866 a Croatian officer in the Austro-Hungarian Navy, Ivan Lupis, together with Robert Whitehead, constructed the first self-propelled torpedo in Rijeka.

In 1869 the Austrian frigate SMS Donau undertook a trip around the world. Donau displaced 2000 tons and carried 350 crew members who were sailors from islands and coast of the Eastern Adriatic, mostly Croats. The ship left Pula in July and returned in March 1871 having sailed the whole Earth. There is a ship log written by a crewmember, Matija Politeo from Starigrad on the island of Hvar.

The period from 1911 to 1914 is especially important for development of the Austro-Hungarian Navy in which most of the crew consisted of Croats. The biggest ships of Austro-Hungarian Navy were launched at that time: SMS Viribus Unitis, SMS Tegetthoff, SMS Prinz Eugen and SMS Szent István. This is also the period in which we can find Croats as high-ranking officers, like admiral Maximilian Njegovan (Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, 1917–1918) or admiral Janko Vuković (commander of SMS Viribus Unitis).

Post WWI

After the end of World War I, in 1918 the Austro-Hungarian navy on the admiral ship SMS Viribus Unitis in Pula was forced, under order of the Emperor Charles I of Austria, to surrender to delegates of the National Council of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs from Zagreb - Ante Tresić Pavičić, Vilim Bukšeg and Ivan Čop and members of the Local National Council in Pula. The Croatian flag was flown then. On the very same day a specially constructed Italian boat called mignata, similar to a guided torpedo, broke through the harbour of Pula and sank the battleship Viribus Unitis together with 250 sailors and Commander Janko Vuković.


The navy and merchant navy led by Croatian maritime experts continued to develop at the time of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and later in socialist Yugoslavia. During this period, many Croats took over high duties in Yugoslav Navy whose main bases were on the territory of Croatia.

Modern Croatia

During the breakdown of Yugoslavia in 1991, by the decision of Croatian President from 12 September 1991, began formation on new Croatian Navy. The first Navy commander appointed was admiral Sveto Letica. The ship in naval fleet was landing craft nº 103, but soon Croatia gained possession over 34 ex-ships of Yugoslav navy. The main fleet was formed on 24 September, consisting of six ships.

  • List of Croatian warships (as of 24 September 1991)[3]
    • RTOP-402 - later RTOP-21 Šibenik
    • TČ-222 - later TB-51 Vukovar
    • RČ-301 - later OBM 41 Dubrovnik
    • PČ-171 - later OB-61 Novigrad
    • PČ-180 - later OB-63 Cavtat
    • PČ-181 - later OB-64 Hrvatska Kostajnica

Two other warships captured by Croatia, the Osa I class RČ-310 Velimir Škorpik and the Shershen class TČ-219 Streljko were not regarded as seaworthy and were eventually sunk by the missile boats Kralj Petar Krešimir IV and OBM-41 Dubrovnik in October 1994, during a live firing exercise known as operation Posejdon.[4][5] The main actions of the new Croatian navy during the war of independence were the lifting of the Yugoslav blockade of Dalmatia[6] and the relief of Dubrovnik.[7]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Navy history on Official pages of Croatian Armed Forces (Croatian)
  2. Brković, Milko (October 2001). "The Papal Letters of the second half of the IXth Century to addressees in Croatia" (in Croatian). Institute for Historical Sciences of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Zadar. pp. 31–32. Retrieved 2012-07-27. 
  3. World Navies Today: Croatia
  4. HRM "Vukovar" i "Dubrovnik" (Croatian)
  5. Vojna vjezba drill posjedon- Hrvatska Croatia, Jadran Adriatic 1994 Operation Posjedon video (Croatian)
  6. Admiral Letica je naredio: "Raspali!" Slobodna Dalmacija, 15 November 2004. (Croatian)
  7. Croatian international relations review (1997) Issues 6-13. Institute for Development and International Relations, Zagreb, p. 41

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