A Sailor of Austria

In the spring of 1915 a young Austro-Czech naval lieutenant Ottokar Prohaska, just returned from foreign parts, finds himself posted to the miniscule Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Submarine Service in the Adriatic port of Pola. In some trepidation at first because he has no experience whatever of submarines, his fears are soon set at rest when he discovers that nobody else has either: least of all his superiors.

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There follow three and a half years of desperate adventures fighting for the House of Habsburg aboard primitive, ill-equipped vessels, contending not just with exploding lavatories and the transport of Libyan racing camels but with a crew drawn from a dozen different nationalities — and a decaying imperial bureaucracy which often seems to be even more of an enemy than the British, the French, the Italians and the sea itself. After surmounting all this to become — accidentally — the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s leading submarine commander and a holder of its highest military decoration, the closing months of 1918 see him and his crew returning aboard a damaged boat from the shores of Palestine, only to find that the homeland they have fought for so doggedly over the previous four years is now in the final stages of collapse, and that they themselves are effectively stateless persons; sailors without a navy returning to a country which no longer has a coastline.

“Fresh, vivid, and without peer in the current market.” — Booklist

“Stark realism and finely crafted humour… Biggins’s use of narration, his thorough knowledge of the Adriatic, and good technical detail make this… compelling reading.” — Library Journal

“A retro techno-adventure story… top notch military fiction with a literary flair.” — Publishers Weekly

First published in 1991 by Secker & Warburg, London. Paperback edition published by Mandarin, London in 1992. First published in the U.S. by St. Martin’s Press, New York in 1993. Published again in 2005 by McBooks Press, Ithaca NY.

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