World War I: Austria-Hungary


Figure 1.--This photograph is undated, but it looks go us like Austro-Hungarian troops during World war I. They look to be in a barn. We suspect they may be Austrian becaise we found the image in Germany.

Austria had for centuries been a major European power, dominating the Holy Roman Empire. Prussia in the Austro-Prussian War (1866) essentially ejected Austria from Germany. The Hapsburgs then recreated Austrial as the Dual Monarchy--the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Austria-Hungary became a large multi-ethnic empire dominated by a Grman and Hungarian rukling class. The Empire dominated much of central Europe. Ousted from Germany, it expelled into the Balkans where it came into conflict with Russia which had ethnic ties and expansionary goals. These conflicts escalated as Ottoman power wained. Its dealings with the various nationalities were a major political problem. The Hungarians were give dual royal status with Austria. Other nationalities felt oppressed, none more than the Slavs. Serbia secretly supported terrorist forces in Bosnia withits substantial Slavic population. This led to the assasination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand and Austria's decession to punish Serbia. The Austrians had no desire to launch a world war which was reflected in their war planning. There were two Austrian war plans, Plans B and R. The difference in the two plans reflected the unknown of the Russian reaction. Plan B provided only for hostilities in the Balkans against Serbia. Three Austro-Hungarian armies would invade Serbia. Three other armies would be heldin reserve along the Russan border. Plan R was a more expansive plan, a modification of Plan B in case the Russians invaded. In this case only two armies would invade Serbia and four armies would defend against the Rusians. It assumed that the Germans would enter the War if the Russians declared war. Ecalating nationalist tensions came to a head when Serbian nationalists assasinated Archduke Ranz Derdinand, heir to Emperor Franz Josef. Germany's decession to support Austria's desire to punish Serbia turned a Balkans crisis into a mjor European war.

Austria

Austria under the Hapsburgs had for centuries been a major European power, dominating the Holy Roman Empire.

Austro-Prussian War (1866)

After the Napoleonic Wars, the two most important German srtates, Austria and Prussia vied for cintrol of Germany. Germany at the time ws divided into a multiplicity of states. The Napoleonic Wars, howecever, had fueled the sence of German nationalismm and pressure fir unificatiin steadily increased after the Wars. Russian intervention and tghe defeat of the liberals in the Revolutions of 1848 meant that one of the new conservative monarchies, Austria or Prussia would unify Germany. Bismarck's careful diplomacy meant that the war would a domestiv German conflict without French intervention. Some German states sided with Austria and the War is sometimes called the German Civil War. The central conflict, however, was between Austria and Prussia over the future of Germany. Prussia in the Austro-Prussian War (1866) essentially ejected Austria from Germany. Bismarck's diplomacy, however, meant that Austria was not permanently estraigned from Prussia.

Austro-Hungarian Empire (1868)

The Hapsburgs then recreated Austrial as the Dual Monarchy--the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Austria-Hungary became a large multi-ethnic empire dominated by a Grman and Hungarian rukling class. The Empire dominated much of central Europe. Ousted from Germany, it expelled into the Balkans where it came into conflict with Russia which had ethnic ties and expansionary goals. These conflicts escalated as Ottoman power wained. Its dealings with the various nationalities were a major political problem. The Hungarians were give dual royal status with Austria. Other nationalities felt oppressed, none more than the Slavs. Serbia secretly supported terrorist forces in Bosnia withits substantial Slavic population.

Dual Alliance (1879)

The cornerstone of Bismarck's diplomacy for the German Empire was the Dual Alliance with Austria-Hungary. It was designed to ensure Austria-Hungary from Russian attack, but was not aimed at establidhing an offensive alliance against Russia. Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy signed the Tripple Alliance (1882), but the Dual-Alliance was the core of Austro-Hungarian defense planning. Bismarck was still able to negotiate the Three Empror's Alliance which include Russia (1883). Bismarck wa able to hold this Alliance in tact, even in the face of escalating rensions in the Balkans. Wilhelm II impatient with Bimarck's cautious diplomacy dismissed him and allowed the Three Emperor's Treaty to lapse. This the Dual alliance became just wht Bismarck desired to avoid, an offensive alliance. France quickly capitalized on the situation and negitiated a military alliance with Russia (1894).

Austro-Hungarian Military

The rather complicated organizational structure of the Austro-Hungariamn Empire was reflected in its military. Austria-Hungary had national (imperial) formarions. There were also a variety of rthnically based forces which were commonly natiojal guard (militia) forces.

Imperial


Croatia

A Croatian Home Guard was organized during the Revolution of 1848. Since ten the name "pucko ustasa" or "ustaski" for the soldiers of Croatian Home Guard units. The term "domobran" and "domobranstvo" was used too. After Prussia's vicory in the Austro-Prussian War (1866), the old Austrian Empire was reorganized as the Austro-Hungarian Empire, based on a dual monarchy. The Imperial Croatian Home Guard was the Domobranstvo (HD) was the Croatian army section of the Hungarian Army (Honvéd). It was established when the Empire was created (1868). The Domobran was created by decree of the Croatian Parliament (1868). The official term Domobran (HD) was established in accordance with the settlement between Hungarian and Croatian governments of 1868. The agreement was with Hungary because Croatia was a dependency of the Hungarian Kingdom. The Agreement placed four conditions on Hungary. The Croas in the Domobranstvo would fullfill their within Croatia. The training would also be in Croatia. It had also stipulated that the commanding language shall be Croatian and Croatian armed forces shall get their officers and warrant officers from the new founded Domobran Academy and other cadet's training centers. Croatian military units would be allowed to have Croatian names The Domobranstvo was used when the Austro-Hungarian Empire annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina (1908). It also saw actiion in World War I. One officer, Svetozar Boroević, became a Astro-Hungarian field-marshal. The Domobranstvo was stood down following the disolution of the Empire (1918). It was disbanded by the new Serb dominated government of the SHS Kingdom (Serbs-Croats-Slovenians) which of course became Yugoslavia. Sevceral incidents occured as the HD was disbanded and disarmed. After the German World War II invasion of Yugoslavia, the NDH puppet government of Croatia under Ante Pavelic organized a military force to fight on the side of the Germans. It named its new army the Domobranstvo. Pavelic organized a virulently nationalistic Croatian Fascist Party militia--the Ustasha.

Austrian-Russian Conflict in the Balkans


War Planning

There were two Austrian war plans, Plans B and R. The difference in the two plans reflected the unknown of the Russian reaction. Plan B provided only for hostilities in the Balkans against Serbia. Three Austro-Hungarian armies would invade Serbia. Three other armies would be heldin reserve along the Russan border. Plan R was a more expansive plan, a modification of Plan B in case the Russians invaded. In this case only two armies would invade Serbia and four armies would defend against the Rusians.

Balkans Crisis

Ecalating nationalist tensions came to a head when a Serbian terrorist shot Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Bosnia (June 28). Austria-Hungary was shocked. Offiacials debated on how to respond. The decession was made to settle accounts permanently with Serbia in the Bakkans. The Austrians delayed ammouncing their plans for 3 weeks, in part because a substantial portion of the Army as was traditional was on leave. Soldiers were given permission to return home to help with the harvest. (The lack of farm labor was to cause major food shortages in both Austria-Hungary and Germany during the War.) Austrian officials hesitated to act because of Russian commitments to Serbia. The Austrians had no desire to launch a world war which was reflected in their war planning, but tey wanted to punish Serbia. It assumed that the Germans would enter the War if the Russians declared war. The Austrians, however, obtained German reasurances. The Germans assured Austria-Hungary of support in case the Russians declared war. This was a critical decession by Gwrmany, because Austria-Hungary would not by itself gone to war against Russia. In addition, Russia had treaty eith France. Suddenly the Germans turned a regional crisis into a major European crisis involving France. Austria-Hungary delivered its Ultimatum to Serbia consisting of a long list of onerous demands (July 23). The Austrians saw the Serbian Government has responsibe for the assasination. They demanded to be allowed to participate in the investigation and judicial process in Sebia. The Serbians were willing to accept the demands, except Austrian participation in an investigation. Serbian officials claimed that this violated their Constitution. The Austrians assured of German support rejected the Serbian reply (July 26). Austria-Hungary severed diplomatic relations and declared war (July 28). Austrian artillery began to shell Belgrade (July 29).

Outbreak of War (August 1-4, 1914)

Both Austria-Hungary and Russia ordered general mobilization (July 30). Germany believed that Russian mobilization was a serious threat. Russia had a larger army than Germany, but Germany could mobilize faster. The German Government delivered an ultimatum to Russia, demanding that the Russians stop mobilisation within 12 hours (July 31). Telegrams exchanged between Tsar Nicholas and Kaiser Wilhelm failed to defuse the crisis. When the ultimatum expired, Germany declared war on Russia (August 1). German forces occupied neutral Luxembourg (August 2). This was the first step in executing the Schlieffen Plan, the planned attack on France through Belgium. The Germans delivered another ultimatum, this time to neutral Belgium. The Germans demanded free passage for the German army across Belgium. The Belgians rejected the German demands. Kaiser Wilhelm II at this stage had second thoughts. He discussed canceling the invasion of Belgium with German Chief of General Staff Moltke. The Kaiser not only had family ties to the Tsar, but also to the British royal family. Moltle who was was focused on execiting the Schlieffen Plan could hardly believe his ears. He told the Kaiser essentially that the Schlieffen Plan had been set in motion and could not now be stopped, in part because it would cause chaos in the rail schedule. Germany declared war on France (August 3). The next day German troops entered Belgium (August 4). Belgian neutrality had been guaranted ny the great powers (Britain, France, and Prussia) in the 19th century. The independence of the Low Lards had been a cornerstone of British foreign policy for centuries. Britain had not committed to war to defend France. The British Government, however, honored its commitment to Belgium and declared war on Germany (August 4). Germany's decession to support Austria's desire to punish Serbia turned a Balkans crisis into a major European war.

Austrian Weakness

Prussia demonstrated in the Franco-Prussian War that Austria was not keeping up with the other great powers. Thus the decession of Kaiser Wilhelm II to make Austria-Hungary its chief security partner and failing to maintain treaty relations with Russiaas fundamentally flawed. When war came, Germany could possibly won a quick war, Austro-Hungarian failures on the battle field forced the Germans to divert resources from the critical Western Front. Once the war turned into a long war of attrition, Germany could not batch the superior resources of the Allies, especially after American entered the War. Gemany found it increasingly difficult to mantain the war effort. Food and other shortages undermined civilian morale nd the deterioration of the home front impaired German military capabilities. Germany was force to draw into its manpower resources to bolster the floundering Austrian military. Emperor Karl saw that the War was bringing down the Empire. He attempted to negotiate with the Allies. When the Germans learned of this, they essentially took command of the Austrian war effort. Germany kept Austria-Hungary in the war only at the cost of diverting critical resources. [Herwig]

Eastern and Southern Fronts

Austria-Hungary wanted to punish Serbia, not start a world war. It soon found itself fighting not just Serbia, a huge war with Russia in the east. The initil offesive against Serbia proved a disaster and the fighting with Russia a terrible blood letting. Other fronts subsequently opened up against Italy and Romania.

Serbia

Unlike Austria-Hungary, the small Serbian Army was battle tested, having participated in a series of Balkan wars. Although the War began in the Balkans, the campaign there is the least reported campaign of World war I. Austria began the campaign by launching three offensives against Serbia (1914). All three failed. The Central Powers planed a larger offensive. The Austrian failure was embarassung. Also Turkish entry into the war made it important to establish secure rail connections with AustriaHungary and Germany. The Central Powers convimved the Bulgarians to enter the War by offering territort that the Serbs had gained in the Balkan wars (September 6, 1915). The Austro-German forces attacked across the Danube (October 6). The Bulgars in the south, into eastern Serbia (October 11) and into Macedonia (October 14). The western Allies attempted to assist Serbia. Greece was neutral, but Prime Minister Eleuthérios Venizélos favored the Allies and made the port of Salonika available. The Allies diverted troops from the Gallipoli campaign. Commanded by French General Maurice Sarrail the Allied troops arrived at Salonika (October 5). Venizélos under pressure from King Constantine resigne. Nevertheless the Allies pressed forward north up the Vardar into Serbian Macedonia. Bulgar forces, however, prevented them from linking up with the Serbs. The Allied forced fell back to Salonika (mid-December 1915. The Serbian Army facing destruction executed a terrible winter retreat west over the Albanian mountains. They were accompanied by the King and many civilians. They sought refuge on the island of Corfu. Allied naval power made it impossible for the Astrian-German forces attack them. This meant, however, that Serbia was finally occupied by the Central Powers. I have no information at this time on the Austrian-German occupation. Serbian sources report that Croats and Muslims commited atrocities on Serb civilians. This is a highly politicized topic. I am not sure just what occurred in the wake of the Astrian-German advance. The Allies planned a new offensive. The Allies forces at Salonika were reinforced by the Serb Army transported from Corfu and more British and French troops as well as some Russians. What followed was a sea-saw battle with the Bulgars in Macedonia. The Allies were eventually reinforced by the Greek Army when Greece enter the War (June 1917). Greek and Serbian troops eventually proved decisive in breaking the Bulgar lines. This then opened up the liberatuon of Serbia.

Galicia and Poland

The Eastern Front was primarily the struggle between the Russians and the Germans and Austro-Hungarians. The Germans manned the nothern sector beginning in East Prussia. ThecAusro-Hungarians manned the southern sector. The Russian Austrian border was primarily located in Galacia. It was here and in Poland that fighting between the Russians and Austro-Hungarians occurred. The Central Powers would emege ictorious on the Eastern Front, but in the process the Austro-Hngarian Army would be left shattered with some units near mutiny and others largely ineffectual.
1914: Austrian Chief-of-Staff Conrad von Hoetzendorf attacked north toward Warsaw. The Russians had anticipated this and concentrated four well supplied armies to oppose Hoetzendorf 39 divisions. The Russian staged a counter offensive (August 30). The Russians achieved substantial successes and Hoetzendorf ordered a general retreat (third week in September). The Austrians sustanined 130,000 casualties and had to abandon Galicia. As winter fell Mackensen probed toward Warsaw and the Russians probed into the Carpathian passes. The Germans inflicted terrible losses on the Russians further north. Hindenburg and Ludendorff at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes devestated Russian armies (August and September 1914). Russia did not have the industrial capacity to properly equip its huge army. While it could deal with the Austro-Hungarian forces, the well equipped and professionally competent German military was a different matter. von Hoetzendorf was concerned about Russian forces in the Carpathian Mountains. He pleaded with the Germans to support a planned winter offensive. The Germans finally agreed. The Germans drove out of East Prussia. The Germns achieved some success. The Austrians not only failed to make any progress, but lost the Dukla Pass, a potential invasion route onto the Hungarian plains. The winter weather and notoriously eak Russian supply situation stopped the Russians ffrom moving into Hungary.
1915: The Germans in the face of Austrian failures took over command of the Eastern Front. German units were used to support the faltering Austrians. The Austrians with German reinforcements launched a new offensive (May 1). The attack focused on Gorlice and was a great success. They moved 200 miles forward in only 2 weeks, shattering the Russian Southern Front. The Russians were forced to retreat and Warsaw fell (August 1915). This left the Germans and Austrians in c ontrol of Poland. The Germans to the north continued the attack with little support from the Austrians. General Max von Gallwitz' new Twelfth Army drove into the Courland in the direction of toward Riga (September). The attack shatered the Russian northern front. Major Russian strong ponts fell (Novo-Georgiesk and Brest-Litovsk). The Russians managed to form a new line. After the battle-field didastrs, Tsar Nicholas decided to personally take personal command of the army. This of course meant that he would assume responsibility for any further defeats and management of the war. The decision which would have grave consequences. By the end of the the year, the Central Powers, mostly by German force of arms had seized Poland, Lithuania and Latvia from the Russins. The Russians had lost 2 million men, half of them tajken prisoner. Even in victory, the Germans and Austrians had lost 1 million men. It was in 1915 that the Allies launched the Galipoli offensive to open a supply route to Russia. It failed. Had the Allies broken through the course of the war in the east my have been very different.
1916: The battered Russians were first to strike in 1916. Russian General Alexi Brusilov, one of thevmore competent Russian commanders, Some Allied aid had reached the Russians. Brusilov employed new tactics including shock troops and open order formations. Brusilov commanded four armies (7th, 8th, 9th, and 11th) which he used to asttack the Astrians in Galacia (JUne 4). The Russians drove deep into the Austrian lines. After two months the Austro-Hungarian Army on the eastern front was near collsapse. The major imediment to Brusilov was the suupply situatuon. It is at this time that the Romanians entered the War. There goal was to take Transylvania. A Central Power counter-offensive, however, shattered the Romanian Army. This gave the Cetral Powers possession of important resources (coal and whear), but it also meant an additional 200 miles of front for their already badly streached forces. The High Command ordered Brusilov to continue his summer offensive, despite the heavy casualties sustained. Brusilov resumed the offensive (September). The same successes were not achieved and casualties were very high. Bukovina and Galicia were now in Russian hands. Russian industry was, however, proving increasing unable to supply the Army. The terrible losses began to affect discipline in the Army. (Similar problems were being expeenced with other armies, esecially the Austro-Hungarians abd French). Emperor Karl who replaced Franz Josef on the Austro-Hungarian throne set peace feelers to the Allies, seeing that the Army and this the Empire itself was desintegrating. The Germans upon learning of this essentially took control of the Austo-Hungarian Army.
1917: It was Russia not Austria-Hungary, however, that was the first country to crack. the Russian Army's officer corps themselves demoralized began loosing control of their men. It was increasingly clear that the Russians could not match the well-equipped anf competent German Army. But even when fighting the Austrians, the Russians had sustained terrible casualties. The Tsar's personal command had changed nothing. Front line units began ignoring orders from the High Command (March). Communists infiltrating in the Army exagerated reports of revolts in Petrograd. This forced the Tsar to abdicate (March). Fefense Minister Alexander Kerensky formnmed a provisional government. Kerensky tried to keep Russia in the War. He gave Brusilov command of another offensive against the German Southern Army in Galicia. This time s, Brusilov made little progress. He drove through mutinous Austrian units, but was stopped at great cost by German units commanded by Hoffman and Hutier. The Germans after stopping the Russians, launched a major offensive. This was the stroke that shattered the Russian Army. It shattered as Russian began to descend into civil war. While the Russian Army had been destroyed, the Austro-Hungarian Army was terribly weakened itself. It is at this time that nationaslities within the Empire began to agitate for first autonomy, but soon independence.

Italy

Italy came into the War on the Allied side (May 1915). The Allies offered Italy substantial territorial concessions to be cut out of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. An Italian offensive made little headway against a well-entenched Austrian Army. The Ilalians, however, suffered substantial losses. After 2 years of inconclusive fighting, the Austrians with German reinforcements achieved a stunning vctory at Caporetto (October 1917).

Romania

Romanian nationalists as did nationalists in other countries desired an expanded state emcompassing all the territories with important Romanian populations. Such irredentist desires had fueled the Balkan Wars that preseeded World war I. Romania at first declared itself neutral. The country finally decided to enter the war on the Allied side (August 1916). Given the weakening situation on the Eastern front this seems an unwise decession. Initially the Romanian Army scored some success. The Romanians attacked Hungarian Transylvania and occupied much of it. The Central Powers launched a counter-offensive made up of both German and Austrian-Hungarian forces (September) The Central Powers suceeded in occupying much of Romania, including all of Valachia and a major proprtion of Moldovia (late 1916). Bulgarian forces pressed forward into the Dobrudja. The Romanians managed to stop the Central Powers offensive and set up a defensive perimiter around the area of Romania they still controlled. Revolution occurred in Russia and the Russians finally quit the War (1917). This freed up forces for the Central Powers. As a result of the Revolution in Russia, the Tsarist Empire began to desintegrate. Bessarabia as a result of the substantial Romanian ethnic population voted to join Romania (April 9, 1918). The Central Powers soon afterwards launched their spring offensive and succeeded in occupying all of Romania, including Bessarabia. The defeated Romanians were forced to sign the Treaty of Bucharest (May 7, 1918). The Germans were later to complain bitterly about the harsh conditions in the Versailles Treaty. Rarely mentioned were the very severe treaties they forced on the Romanians and Russians. The Allied victory in the West, however rescued the Romanians. The Treaty of Bucharest was declared null and void under the conditions of the Armistice (November 11).

Collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire


Peace Treaties


Sources

Herwig, Holger H. The First World War : Germany and Austria-Hungary 1914-1918.







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Created: 3:44 AM 3/6/2006
Last updated: 1:32 AM 11/6/2009