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Managing an ‘Army of Peoples’: Identity, Command and Performance in the Habsburg Officer Corps, 1914–1918

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 April 2016

ALEXANDER WATSON*
Affiliation:
Department of History, Goldsmiths, University of London, New Cross, London, SE14 6NW; a.watson@gold.ac.uk

Abstract

This article examines the officers who led the Habsburg Army during the First World War. It highlights the complexity of their identities, demonstrating that this went well beyond the a-national – nationalist dichotomy in much historiography. It also argues that these officers' identities had a profound impact on how their army functioned in the field. The article first studies the senior command in 1914–16, showing how its wartime learning processes were shaped by transnational attitudes. These officers had belonged in peace to an international military professional network. When disaster befell their army at the outset of the First World War, it was natural for them to seek lessons from foreign armies, at first from their major enemies, the Russians, and later their German allies. The second half of the article explores the changing loyalties of the reserve officers tasked with frontline command in the later war years. It contends that the officer corps' focus on maintaining social and educational standards resulted in an influx of middle-class junior leaders whose conditional commitment to the Empire and limited language skills greatly influenced the Habsburg Army's record of longevity but mediocre combat performance.

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Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

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References

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23 Ibid. For the armaments statistics, see Gratz, G. and Schüller, R., Der wirtschaftliche Zusammenbruch Österreich-Ungarns. Die Tragödie der Erschöpfung (Vienna and New Haven, CT: Hölder-Pichler-Tempsky and Yale University Press, 1930), 113–4 and 122Google Scholar.

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25 See Heereswesen, Bundesministerium für und Kriegsarchiv, Österreich-Ungarns letzter Krieg 1914–1918. Das Kriegsjahr 1917, 7 vols. (Vienna: Verlag der Militärwissenschaftlichen Mitteilungen, 1936)Google Scholar, VI [hereafter ÖULK, VI], 51–2.

26 For the composition of the armies, see Reichsarchiv, Der Weltkrieg 1914 bis 1918. Die Operationen des Jahres 1915. Die Ereignisse im Westen im Frühjahr und Sommer, im Osten vom Frühjahr bis zum Jahresschluß, 14 vols. (Berlin: E.S. Mittler & Sohn, 1932), VIII, 140.

27 See Stone, N., The Eastern Front 1914–1917 (London: Penguin, 1975, 1998), 247–54Google Scholar.

28 For a recent analysis of the battle, see Watson, Ring of Steel, 300–10.

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33 Gratz and Schüller, Der wirtschaftliche Zusammenbruch, 151; Deák, Beyond Nationalism, 169.

34 K.u.k. 1 Korps- und Landwehrkommando in Krakau, Korps- und Landwehrkommandobefehl Nr. 25 (6 Aug. 1914). KA Vienna: NFA 12. Inf.Div. 1914 (Box 719): Op. Nr. V.2.8.-30.9.

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40 Deák, Beyond Nationalism, 194–5. According to Deák, the officer corps expanded from around 60,000 at the outbreak of war to 188,000 officers serving in October 1918. Around 100,000 officers became casualties. For the Habsburg army's strength, see Arz, Zur Geschichte, 141.

41 Deák, Beyond Nationalism, 85–8, 126–38; ÖULK, I, 48, 54.

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43 Conrad, Aus meiner Dienstzeit, IV, 34. More generally on the Hungarian and Czech nationalists, see the useful essays, C. Albrecht, ‘The Bohemian Question’, and Zsuppán, F.T., ‘The Hungarian Political Scene’, in Cornwall, M., ed., The Last Years of Austria-Hungary. A Multi-National Experiment in Early Twentieth-Century Europe, revised and expanded edn (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2002), 7596, 97–118Google Scholar.

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51 Krauß, Ursachen unserer Niederlage, 71.

52 See Lein, R., Pflichterfüllung oder Hochverrat? Die tschechischen Soldaten Österreich-Ungarns im Ersten Weltkrieg (Vienna: Lit, 2011), 53201Google Scholar. For Czech disaffection already from the autumn of 1914, see R. Nowak, ‘Die Klammer des Reiches’, 291–326 KA Vienna: NL Nowak, B/726/1.

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58 See the appendix in Plaschka, R. G., Haselsteiner, H., Suppan, A., Innere Front. Militärassistenz, Widerstand und Umsturz in der Donaumonarchie 1918. Umsturz, 2 vols. (Munich: R. Oldenbourg, 1974), II, 335–42Google Scholar.

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61 These examples are taken from E. Suchorzebska, ‘Zur Geschichte der polnischen Militärsprache in der Habsburgermonarchie’, unpublished Diplomarbeit, University of Vienna (2009), 24–6, 90–1, 96.

62 See for example, H. Kollenz, diary, 15 Apr. 1915. Deutsches Tagebucharchiv, Emmendingen: 1844, 1. Also, Wawro, G., ‘Morale in the Austro-Hungarian Army: The Evidence of Habsburg Army Campaign Reports and Allied Intelligence Officers’, in Cecil, H. and Liddle, P.H., eds., Facing Armageddon. The First World War Experienced (London: Leo Cooper, 1996), 407Google Scholar. For the quotation, see ÖULK, I, 54.

63 Conrad to AOK, ‘Erhebungen über Desertion’, 15 Sept. 1917. KA Vienna: AOK – Op. Abteilung (Box 133): 45286.

64 Intelligence, British Expeditionary Force, Italy, 24 Nov. 1917. The National Archives, London: WO157/ 632.

65 Death statistics offer support to this thesis. See Winkler, W., Die Totenverluste der öst-ung. Monarchie nach Nationalitäten. Die Altersgliederung der Toten. Ausblicke in die Zukunft (Vienna: L.W. Seidl, 1919), 78Google Scholar.

66 AOK liaison officer at the Sixth Army's Headquarters, 29 Sept. 1918, in H. Kerchnawe, ed., Der Zusammenbruch der Österr.-Ungar. Wehrmacht im Herbst 1918. Dargestellt nach Akten des Armee-Ober-Kommandos und anderen amtlichen Quellen (Munich: J. F. Lehmanns Verlag, 1921), 22.

67 Annexe to Summary of Intelligence, British Expeditionary Force, Italy, 16 Aug. 1918. The National Archives, London: WO157/ 639.

68 The former officer Robert Nowak recognised this in his unpublished study of the Habsburg Army in 1914–16. ‘Efficient commanders could make an elite unit out of substandard soldiers, the less gifted were not able to manage it’. See R. Nowak, ‘Die Klammer des Reiches’, 533. KA Vienna: NL Nowak, B/726/1.

69 For German tactics and training at this time, see Samuels, M., Command or Control? Command, Training and Tactics in the British and German Armies, 1888–1918 (London: Frank Cass, 1995), ch. 8Google Scholar.

70 Romer, Pamiętniki, 155–7; Bundesministerium für Heereswesen und Kriegsarchiv, Österreich-Ungarns letzter Krieg 1914–1918. Das Kriegsjahr 1918, 7 Vols. (Vienna: Verlag der Militärwissenschaftlichen Mitteilungen, 1938), VII, 245, 612.

71 See, for example, [U.S.] Army War College, ed., German and Austrian Tactical Studies. Translation of Captured German and Austrian Documents and Information Obtained from German and Austrian Prisoners from the British, French and Italian Staffs (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1918), 205–20.

72 See the morale reports in Kerchnawe, ed., Zusammenbruch, 117, 119–20, 123–5, 134–5, 142–5.

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