1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lissa (Dalmatia)

LISSA (Serbo-Croatian Vis; Lat. Issa), an island in the Adriatic sea, forming part of Dalmatia, Austria. Lissa lies 31 m. S. by W. of Spalato, and is the outermost island of the Dalmatian Archipelago. Its greatest length is 101/2 m.; its greatest breadth 41/2 m. In shape it is a long, roughly drawn parallelogram, surrounded by a wall of rock, which incloses the fertile central plain, and is broken, on the north, west and east by natural harbours. Its culminating point is Mount Hum (1942 ft.), on the south-west. The island, which belongs to the administrative district of Lesina, is divided between two communes, named after the chief towns, Lissa (Vis), on the north, and Comisa (Komiža), on the west. Lissa, the capital, has a strongly fortified harbour. It contains the palace of the old Venetian counts Gariboldi, the former residence of the English governor, the monastery of the Minorites and at a little distance to the west the ruins of the ancient city of Issa. The islanders gain their livelihood by viticulture, for which Issa was once famous, by sardine fishing and by the distillation of rosemary oil. Pop. (1900) 9918, of whom 5261 belonged to the town and commune of Lissa, and 4657 to Comisa.

Issa is said to have been settled by people from Lesbos, the Issa of the Aegean. The Parians, assisted by Dionysius the Elder of Syracuse, introduced a colony in the 4th century B.C. During the First Punic War (265–241 B.C.) the Issaeans with their beaked ships helped the Roman Duilius; and the great republic, having defended their island against the attacks of Agron of Illyria and his queen Teuta, again found them serviceable allies in the war with Philip of Macedon (c. 215–211). As early as 996 the Venetians ruled the island, and, though they retired for a time before the Ragusans, their power was effectually established in 1278. Velo Selo, then the chief settlement, was destroyed by Ferdinand of Naples in 1483 and by the Turks in 1571. The present city arose shortly afterwards. During the Napoleonic wars, the French held Lissa until 1811, and during this period the island prospered greatly, its population increasing from 4000 to 12,000 between 1808 and 1811. In the latter year the French squadron was defeated by the British (see below); though in the same year a French fleet, flying British colours, entered Lissa, and only retired after burning 64 merchantmen. Thenceforward the island gained a valuable trade in British goods, which, being excluded from every port under French control, were smuggled into Dalmatia. In 1812 the British established an administrative system, under native officials, in Lissa and the adjoining islands of Curzola and Lagosta. All three were ceded to Austria in 1815.

Battles of Lissa.—Two naval actions have been fought in modern times near this island. The first took place on the 13th of March 1811, and was fought between a Franco-Venetian squadron, under the command of an officer named Dubourdieu (of whom little or nothing else is known), and Captain (afterwards Sir) William Hoste with a small British force. The Franco-Venetian squadron (Venice was then part of the dominions of the emperor Napoleon) consisted of six frigates, of which four were of forty guns, and of five corvettes or small craft. The British squadron was composed of three frigates, the “Amphion,” 32 (Captain William Hoste), the “Cerberus” (Captain Henry Whitby) and the “Active,” 38 (Captain James A. Gordon). With them was the “Volage,” 22 (Captain Phipps Hornby). The action has a peculiar interest because the French captain imitated the method of attack employed by Nelson at Trafalgar. He came down from windward in two lines parallel to one another, and at an angle to the British squadron. Captain Hoste was not compelled to lie still as the allies did at Trafalgar. He stood on, and as the two French lines had to overtake him as he slipped away at an angle to their course, one of them got in the way of the other. Captain Hoste materially forwarded the success of his manœuvre by leading the foremost French ship, the “Favorite,” 40, on to a reef, which was known to himself, but not to the enemy. Both squadrons then turned, and the Franco-Venetians falling into great confusion were defeated in spite of the gallant fighting of the individual ships. Two prizes were taken and Dubourdieu was killed.

The second naval battle of Lissa was fought between the Austrian and Italian navies on the 20th of July 1866. The island, then in possession of the Austrians, was attacked by an Italian squadron from Ancona of 12 ironclads and 22 wooden vessels. One of the ironclads was damaged in a bombardment of the forts, and two were detached on other service, when an Austrian squadron of 7 ironclads, one unarmoured warship the “Kaiser” and a number of small craft which had left Fasano under the command of Admiral Tegethoff came to interrupt their operations. The Italian admiral Persano arranged his ships in a single long line ahead, which allowing for the necessary space between them meant that the Italian formation stretched for more than 2 m. Just before the action began Admiral Persano shifted his flag from the “Ré d’Italia,” the fourth ship in order from the van, to the ram “Affondatore,” the fifth. This made it necessary for the “Affondatore” and the ships astern to shorten speed, and, as the leading vessels stood on, a gap was created in the Italian line. Admiral Tegethoff, who was on the port bow of the Italians, attacked with his squadron in three divisions formed in obtuse angles. The Italians opened a very rapid and ill-directed fire at a distance of 1000 yds. The Austrians did not reply till they were at a distance of 300 yds. Under Tegethoff’s vigorous leadership, and aided by the disorder in the Italian line, the Austrians brought on a brief, but to the Italians destructive, mêlée. They broke through an interval between the third and fourth Italian ships. The unarmed Austrian ships headed to attack the unarmed Italians in the rear. At this point an incident occurred to which an exaggerated importance was given. The Italian ironclad “Ré di Portogallo” of 5600 tons, in the rear of the line, stood out to cover the unarmoured squadron by ramming the Austrians. She was herself rammed by the wooden “Kaiser” (5000 tons), but received little injury, while the Austrian was much injured. The “Kaiser” and the wooden vessels then made for the protection of fort San Giorgio on Lissa unpursued. In the centre, where the action was hottest, the Austrian flagship “Ferdinand Max” of 5200 tons rammed and sank the “Ré d’Italia.” The Italian “Palestro” of 2000 tons was fired by a shell and blew up. By midday the Italians were in retreat, and Tegethoff anchored at San Giorgio. His squadron had suffered very little from the wild fire of the Italians. The battle of the 20th July was the first fought at sea by modern ironclad steam fleets, and therefore attracted a great deal of attention. The sinking of the “Ré d’Italia” and the ramming of the “Portogallo” by the “Kaiser” gave an immense impulse to the then popular theory that the ram would be a leading, if not the principal, weapon in modern sea warfare. This calculation has not been borne out by more recent experience, and indeed was not justified by the battle itself, in which the attempts to ram were many and the successes very few. The “Ré d’Italia” was struck only because she was suddenly and most injudiciously backed, so that she had no way on when charged by the “Ferdinand Max.”

For the first battle of Lissa see James’s Naval History, vol. v. (1837). A clear account of the second battle will be found in Sir S. Eardley-Wilmot’s Development of Navies (London, 1892); see also H. W. Wilson’s Ironclads in Action (London, 1896).  (D. H.)