Monostory’s heart sank a little, just a little. The old memory returned: his first ship, the Implacabile, was also a warship… and if she still existed… if she could have taken up her station in Fiume to guard the port… if… and again, if…
(András Dékány: The Black Prince)
I wanted to start this post with the adrenaline-rush of a heroic fight of the Hungarian frigate Implacabile against overwhelming odds during the 1848-49 War of Independence on the Adriatic – as told by András Dékány in his novel The Black Prince…
Unfortunately, Dékány didn’t go into sufficient detail.
The legend of the Implacabile lives in the consciousness of the sea-loving minority of the Hungarian public because of András Dékány’s novel. He seduced generations of Hungarian children with it; it forms the background of the protagonist Balázs Monostory. Yet Dékány never fully developed the story of the Implacabile. He contented himself with a handful of suggestive and emotive fragments, like the moment when the Taitsing crosses with Chinese pirates:
The Taitsing surged ahead, running before the wind. She was a wonderful ship, with a wonderful crew.
“The Implacabile!” the joyful memory bubbled up in Monostory.
Yes; the lost, sunk Hungarian frigate sped like this as she charged into battle against the Austrian emperor’s corvette.
In a novel that runs to more than 400 pages, Dékány only mentioned the ship’s name 13 times. This, however, didn’t prevent him to play expertly with his readers’ imagination and emotions. From the emotive half-sentences he scattered throughout the novel we created an entirely fictitious, glorious fight between the first Hungarian frigate and untold scores of Austrian warships on the bluest of all seas, the Adriatic. And so the legend of the Implacabile was born, thanks to a children’s book.
On the north wall of the cabin, there was, however, one thing to arrest a visitor’s attention: you could see a ship’s flag here, spread out. The flag was rather faded with time but it was a ship’s flag – a rare object. The flag of the Implacabile, the first Hungarian Navy frigate, sunk ten years earlier and commanded by Balázs Monostory, was the only decoration in the cabin of the captain of the Taitsing.
The flag, saved when the frigate sank, had accompanied Balázs Monostory for ten years. But so far he failed to realise his plan of handing it over to his leader, Lajos Kossuth, a man in exile just like the owner of the cabin himself.
Gabriela Malatesta’s eyes clouded over as she looked at the flag. Red-white-green. Those same colours formed the flag of the Italian patriots.
The fragments of information actually shared by Dékány in The Black Prince add up to this:
- The Implacabile was a Hungarian frigate, intended to defend the harbour of Fiume but has never taken up her station to do so
- Her captain was Balázs Monostory
- She fought the Austrian corvette Condor – incidentally also commanded by a Hungarian officer – off the coast of Istria on the Adriatic during the 1848-49 War of Independence
- During the battle, the sailors of the Implacabile used hand bombs fabricated on board in the manner of the Italian carbonaris
- She sunk after the battle and her shipwrecked sailors were rescued by a passing Turkish warship
But what’s the truth – if any – behind the legend? Did the Implacabile even exist? And if she did, did she ever fight a warship of the Emperor of Austria on the Adriatic?