Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, December 11, 2021

SMS Bodrog—the Ship That Fired the First Shots of the Great War—Has Been Restored

Officers and Sailors of SMS Bodrog, August 1914

On the night of 28 July 1914, the shells fired from the Austro-Hungarian SMS Bodrog’s cannons, at the Serbian defenses in Belgrade, would mark the beginning of the Great War, which would end up killing 20 million people. The gunboat that fired the first shots in WWI would also serve in World War II. Under a new name (Sava), it would be part of the former Yugoslavia’s navy, until 1962.

Despite its glorious past, SMS Bodrog/Sava had a downward trajectory. After being retired from military use in 1959, it was sold to a private company as a common gravel barge, and then simply abandoned near Belgrade. It would take years before Sava was finally declared a cultural monument, in 2006. That is when the restoration process, supervised by Serbia’s Ministry of Defense and the Military Museum, began.

Finally, the famous warship is starting a new life as a floating museum. Reuters reports that Sava has now been officially recalled to service, floating on the Danube, near the center of Belgrade. The restored warship will be admired as a museum from now on, as a “living” testimony of the previous wars.

SMS Bodrog/Sava En Route to Belgrade

The 189-foot (57.7 meters) vessel was built in Budapest, in 1903, as a Temes-class river monitor. Part of the Austro-Hungarian river flotilla, it would be the first to fire at Serbia, when WWI broke out. SMS Bodrog/Sava is one of the only two remaining Austro-Hungarian monitors that served during WWI. The other one, SMS Leitha, can be visited in Budapest, Hungary.

Learn more about the Danube River navies of WWI.

Thanks to our friend and traveling mate Renzo Rocconi for the photo of the monitor's crew. The fourth sailor from left in the first row of crewmen standing (you see only his face) is TOBIA GERCOVICH, born 1891 in Neresine, island of Lussino, the grandfather of a close friend of Renzo's. He was later transferred to infantry (Landwehr) and sent to the Russian front. But he survived war and died in 1949.



  1. I am certain that you meant the ship's CANNONS fired the first shot, not the ship's CANONS, which would be a listing of beliefs or regulations.

    1. Thanks Matt, A good example of Spell Check Failure.

  2. Its a handsome vessel. Something to be proud of and talk about its role in the Great War.