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River Danube : Austria

Above : Express steamer Helios of 1922, the final paddle steamer built for the DDSG and the ultimate design before diesel-electric paddlers Stadt Wien and Stadt Passau of 1939/40.
Source : From a Bulgarian post card of the 1920s now in the public domain.


Paddle Steamer services on the Danube in Austria are synonymous with the DDSG, which since its founding in 1830, dominated passenger and cargo traffic passing through the vast territory of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The increasing independence of Hungary within the Empire lead to the formation of the MFTR , the forerunner of today's MAHART, in 1896, providing effective competition to the DDSG. Up until this time, DDSG had dominated the river trade and in 1862 and 1874, absorbed the fleets of vanquished German and Hungarian competitors.

After the end of the First World War, with it's political power base, the Habsburg Empire, replaced by a number of independent states, much of the fleet was lost to shipping companies established in the new states. The Second World War was equally destructive, both in terms of tonnage lost as a result of enemy action, and the subsequent loss of all operations in other countries. The remaining assets of the DDSG were placed under Soviet control, with the Soviet Union being the Allied occupation force in eastern Austria, and nationalised in 1946. No new vessels were built until 1949, and passenger ships based at Vienna were restricted to the Soviet occupation zone until the first post war service to Linz took place in 1954, one year before the final political settlement reuniting an independent Austrian republic.

The company was formed by two Englishmen, John Andrews and Joseph Pritchard and an English vessel, Franz I was reassembled near Vienna to make the first trip to Budapest in 1830. The first 12 vessels in the fleet were passenger steamers, but in 1838, Eros appeared from the company's own Altofen yard at today's Budapest, the first of a long line of barges and tugs owned by the DDSG. Paddle ships were particularly suited to the shallow waters along the enormous length of the river and continued to be built new up until the 1940s, even after steam power had been superceded by diesel motors. The DDSG also ran two ships of extremely shallow draught with two sets of paddles on either side - an arrangement which was not repeated despite the ships working quite successfully in operation in the lower reaches of the river.

One unusual propulsion method used by a limited number of vessels in the fleet was chain haulage. Chains were laid along certian stretches of the riverbed and fitted to ships by being lifted and placed to run along the length of the deck and through the motor cylinder. As the motor turned, the chain was pulled through the cylinder and the barge moved along the chain. The first such vessels were built in 1870. By 1900 all had either been scrapped or converted to conventional propulsion methods.

Schonbrunn was the last steamer to be withdrawn by DDSG - in 1988, three years after the closure of the last remaining "long distance" service from Vienna to Passau. This left the two diesel paddlers, Stadt Wien and Stadt Passau, relegated to more local trips, but the through service was restored in 1991 with Stadt Passau and in 1992 with Stadt Wien also rostered. Further confidence in the route was signalled when the former holiday cruise vessel Theodor Koerner joined the two paddlers in 1993, but the service finally closed after the 1995 season.

By this time, DDSG's passenger and cargo operations had been split and the more lucrative cargo operations had been taken over by a German company. The day-trip operation continues, but only as a shadow of its former self. In the 2000 season, five motor vessels served the DDSG-Blue Danube Schiffahrt GmbH, including the Wachau and Prinz Eugen on Wachau Valley cruises. Paddlers Stadt Wien, Stadt Passau (as Grof Szechenyi) and Schonbrunn have been preserved and now operate under independent ownership on their home river, based at Tulln, Budapest and Linz respectively

Passenger Paddle Steamers

As listed in "Vom Raddampfer zum Schubverband", the "official" history of the DDSG by Hans Scherer

Franz I
later Belgrad
Ferdinand I
later Neptun
Maria Anna
later Minerva
later Albrecht, then Diana
Stadt Wien
Stadt Pest
later Szegedin
later Melk
later Pozsony, then Esseg
Franz Carl
Maria Dorothea
 (1846-1939) , later Rudolph (1859), then Aggstein (1938)
later Gisela
Ferdinand I
Franz Joseph,
later Boreas
later Balkan
Franz Josef I,
later Neptun, then Melk
Stefan Szechenyi
Ferdinand Max

Carl Ludwig
  (1853-1950 :  later Grein and then the hull used in Johann Strauss in 1950, withdrawn in 1972 and scrapped in 2018)


Josef Carl  (1854-1944 : 
 later Tulln)

Konig Maximilian
Konigin Marie
Konigin Therese
Konig Ludwig
Prinz Otto
Stauf, later Lokalboot VII
Zrinyi Miklos
Matyas Kiraly,
later Struden
Szent Istvan
Marie Valerie

Built in 1870 by Wm. Denny at Dumbarton UK and assembled at Budapest
Length : 76.2 m.  Engines : Compound oscillating (Austro-Hungarian origin)
Speed reported to be 22 knots - one of the world's fastest ever paddle steamers
Originally named Orient for the Austrian DDSG company
Regularly used for by Austro-Hungarian royalty and the Romanian Governement
Purchased by the Romanian Government in 1898 and renamed Orientul
Rebuilt as a Royal Yacht for the Romanian monarchy in 1902 at Turnu Severin and renamed Stefan cel Mare
Rebuilt in 1937
Further details and fate unknown 

Zrinyi, later Ossijek,
then Minerva
Lokalboot I
Lokalboot II
Lokalboot III
Lokalboot IV
Lokalboot V
Lokalboot VI
later Babenberg
later Habsburg, then Pochlarn
later Aschach, then Gyor and (again) Aschach
(1889-1939. Sold to MFTR Hungary)

(1897-1941. sold)
(1897-1941, sold to MTFR Hungary)

        (1899-1920, Renamed Aggstein in 1904 : sold to Czech interests in 1920 : 58 m)
    (1899-1944, Renamed Durnstein in 1904 : sunk near Odessa 6/1/44 : 56.5 m. The wreck was found in 1977 but not identified until 2010)
   (1900-1920, Renamed Wachau in 1904 : sold to Czech interests in 1920 : 58 m)

(1905-1970, scrapped in 1986 : 59.5 m : The last DDSG paddle steamer with oscillating engine)

Taussig    (1908-1928, sold to Jugoslavia : 65 m)

           (1912-1936, sank in 1936)
Budapest        (1912-1968)
Schonbrunn    (1912 -1995, sold for further operation and still in service in 2023)

Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand
    (1913-1945, Renamed Johann Strauss in 1919, sunk in 1945. Engine recovered and fitted into the hull of ps Grein (ex-Carl Ludwig), which was then renamed Johann Strauss )
Herzogin von Hohenburg
      (1913-1970, Renamed Franz Schubert in 1919 : scrapped in Greece : 64 m)

Franz Josef I
            (1916-1944, Renamed Jupiter in 1919, Sunk in 1944)
Kaiser Wilhelm II
    (1916-1945, Renamed Uranus in 1919. Served as a hotel until 1957)

        (1918-1960 : Renamed Linz in 1937 : 62 m : lengthened to 64 m in 1937)
 (1918 : transferred immediately to Jugoslav interests : 62 m)

Saturnus    (1920-1945, Served as a hotel until 1957)
(1922-1945, Sunk in 1945 but raised and transferred to the Soviet Union)

Above : The last survivor of a long line of DDSG paddle steamers, Schonbrunn, was retired from service in 1988, but has now been reactivated by a preservation society and is seen at Linz in 2003. Although an express steamer, overnight accommodation was limited and she is used for day excursions. Photo by Gordon Stewart

Apart from Schonbrunn, Johann Strauss (above) which was the result of much rebuilding on a hull originally dating from 1853, found use as a bar and night club in central Vienna for many years before being scrapped. Photo by Gordon Stewart

Diesel-Electric Passenger Paddle Vessels
Stadt Wien
Stadt Passau

Diesel Paddle Vessels Stadt Wien and Grof Szechenyi (ex-Stadt Passau) together again at Budapest on April 7th, 2009.  Photo kindly supplied by Zsolt Szabo

DDSG also had large a fleet of non-passenger paddle vessels :
Cargo Paddle Steamers
Steam Paddle Tugs
Motor Paddle Tugs

Vienna to Passau
In the final years of operating the Vienna-Passau route, two days were required for each leg of the 297 km trip. An early morning departure from Vienna is required before Linz is reached almost 15 hours later. Another early start from Linz was made for a mid afternoon arrival at Passau - 6 hours and 15 minutes being allowed for the run. The return trip was scheduled for 16 hours sailing time, considerably aided in this direction by the rapid flow of downstream currents. Arrival at Linz was made just over 5 hours after a mid afternoon departure from Passau, and Vienna 11 hours after a 09:15 hrs departure from Linz.

Sailing times had become considerably longer than prior to 1930, due to the proliferation since then of hydro-electic power schemes, necessitating the negotiation of numerous locks. It had previously been possible to sail from Passau to Vienna in one day. The barrages and locks did, however, help to tame what had been a fast-flowing and, at times, dangerous river, with clear benefits for general shipping safety. The most spectacular stretch of the river, the 38-kilometres through the Wachau Valley between Krems and Melk, remains unspoilt in this respect and with riverside villages, steep hillsides, castles and convents, the scenery resembles the middle Rhein between Koblenz and Rudesheim in Germany.

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