Baron Ferdinand Julius Wedel-Jarlsberg,
a Norwegian naval officer in the service of Austria

Wilhelm M. Donko


It is well-known that the Scandinavians contributed a great share in the establishment of an independent Austrian Navy in the mid-19th century. This fact is primarily connected with the Danish naval officer Hans Birch Dahlerup (1790-1872), who was appointed vice admiral by the merely 18 years old Emperor Franz Joseph in Olmütz in 1849. Dahlerup not only summoned some of his Danish compatriots, but also other Scandinavians, to the Adriatic Sea. Only two of them, however, were appointed commanders of Austrian warships by him, the Swede Erik af Klint and the Norwegian Ferdinand Julius Wedel-Jarlsberg. The latter served in the Austrian Navy for only one and a half years (1850-51), but he wowed by editing a book about seamanship, as an instructor for new cadet aspirants, many of who later became known naval officers), and, among others, as the superior of the young petty officer Tegetthoff. He developed a close relationship to Dahlerup, which, however, broke up because of bitter controversy and led to an early valediction.

Dahlerup admittedly had always been considerate to foster the Scandinavians he had summoned to the Navy in the best possible way, but he himself implicitly wanted to avoid the impression of favouritism, which he thought to perceive in all places in Austria. Wedel-Jarlsberg, for instance, was appointed commander of a ship only because he considered him - as a young but absolutely experienced naval officer – to be the proper man for this task. Despite obviously personal sympathy, however, he was not willing to promote him out of turn again. The ambitious Norwegian could not face up to that, but he also recognized that in the long run Dahlerup could not help him any longer. Thus, his by all means successful service in the Austrian Navy lasted for only a short time, from January 1850 until June 1851, and he was not even awarded a decoration.

On the whole, the Scandinavian influence on the development of the Austrian Navy admittedly was short but sustained and must not be underestimated in its total significance. Naturally, Hans Birch Dahlerup is the most outshining celebrity, but other naval officers such as Ferdinand Wedel-Jarlsberg made their contributions, especially during the early and formative years directly after 1848. At that time the old Venetian Navy was wrecked, and another one without Italian embossing was only in the process of development. Many Scandinavians provided relevant inputs here, such as editing appropriate training documents and taking over training tasks for the junior officers. In 1864 already Wilhelm von Tegetthoff, who himself had served under Wedel-Jarlsberg, for the first time had the opportunity to demonstrate in the course of the naval battle of Helgoland how far advanced the Austrian Navy had become, compared with the fatal year 1848, and that against Denmark of all countries. And, if nothing else, thanks to Scandinavian experts like Ferdinand Wedel-Jarlsberg.