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

  • ALEXANDER WATSON (a1)

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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References

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1 Heereswesen, Bundesministerium für und Kriegsarchiv, Österreich-Ungarns letzter Krieg 1914–1918. Das Kriegsjahr 1914 vom Kriegsausbruch bis zum Ausgang der Schlacht bei Limanowa-Lapanów, 7 vols. (Vienna: Verlag der Militärwissenschaftlichen Mitteilungen, 1931), I [hereafter ÖULK, I], 54.

2 See Stone, N., ‘Army and Society in the Habsburg Monarchy, 1900–1914’, Past and Present, 33 (1966), 99101; Hämmerle, C., ‘Die k. (u.) k. Armee als “Schule des Volkes”? Zur Geschichte der Allgemeinen Wehrpflicht in der multinationalen Habsburgermonarchie (1866–1914/18)’, in Jansen, C. ed., Der Bürger als Soldat. Die Militarisierung europäischer Gesellschaften im langen 19. Jahrhundert: ein internationaler Vergleich (Essen: Klartext, 2004), 181.

3 Stone, ‘Army and Society’, 97–8.

4 For the most recent studies in this field, see Jeřábek, R., Potiorek. General im Schatten von Sarajevo (Graz: Styria, 1991); Sondhaus, L., Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf: Architect of the Apocalypse (Boston, MA: Humanitas Press, 2000). The development of research on the Habsburg High Command is outlined in Tunstall, G. A. Jr., ‘The Habsburg Command Conspiracy: the Austrian Falsification of Historiography on the Outbreak of World War I’, Austrian History Yearbook, 27 (1996), 181–98.

5 Deák, I., Beyond Nationalism. A Social and Political History of the Habsburg Officer Corps, 1848–1918 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990).

6 For a charming illustration of the complexity and elective nature of east-central European identity, see Snyder, T., The Red Prince. The Fall of a Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Europe (London: The Bodley Head, 2008). For similar observations in the Habsburg military context, see Marin, I., Contested Frontiers in the Balkans. Habsburg and Ottoman Rivalries in Eastern Europe (London: I.B. Tauris, 2013), esp. 104; Cole, L., Military Culture and Popular Patriotism in Late Imperial Austria (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).

7 For examples of recent groundbreaking work, see King, J., Budweisers into Czechs and Germans: A Local History of Bohemian Politics, 1848–1948 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005); Deák, J., Forging a Multinational State. State Making in Imperial Austria from the Enlightenment to the First World War (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015). A good summary of the trends in recent Habsburg historiography is Kwan, J., ‘Nationalism and All That: Reassessing the Habsburg Monarchy and its Legacy’, European History Quarterly, 41 (2011), 88108.

8 R. Jeřábek, ‘Die Brussilowoffensive 1916. Ein Wendepunkt der Koalitionskriegführung der Mittelmächte’, 2 vols., unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Vienna (1982).

9 Stouffer, S. A., Suchman, E. A., DeVinney, L. C., Star, S. A. and Williams, R. M. Jr, The American Soldier. Combat and its Aftermath, 2 vols. (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1949, 1965), II, 127.

10 Kronenbitter, G., “Krieg im Frieden”. Die Führung der k.u.k. Armee und die Großmachtpolitik Österreichs-Ungarns 1906–1914 (Munich: R. Oldenbourg, 2003), 83–5, 256–7, 281.

11 See, for the British and German debates, Travers, T. H. E., ‘Technology, Tactics, and Morale: Jean de Bloch, the Boer War, and British Military Theory, 1900–1914’, The Journal of Modern History, 51 (1979), 264–86; Jackman, S. D., ‘Shoulder to Shoulder: Close Control and “Old Prussian Drill” in German Offensive Infantry Tactics, 1871–1914’, Journal of Military History, 68 (2004), 73104.

12 von Hötzendorf, F. Conrad, Aus meiner Dienstzeit 1906–1918. Vierter Band: 24. Juni 1914 bis 30. September 1914. Die politischen und militärischen Vorgänge vom Fürstenmord in Sarajevo bis zum Abschluß der ersten und bis zum Beginn der zweiten Offensive gegen Serbien und Rußland, 4 vols. (Vienna: Rikola, 1923), IV, 290–4. For discussion of Conrad's tactical thought see also Sondhaus, L., Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf: Architect of the Apocalypse (Boston, MA: Humanitas Press, 2000), 3958.

13 See Wagner, W., ‘Die k.(u.)k. Armee – Gliederung und Aufgabenstellung 1866 bis 1914’, in Wandruszka, A. and Urbanitsch, P., eds., Die Habsburgermonarchie 1848–1918. Band V. Die Bewaffnete Macht, 11 vols. (Vienna: Verlag der Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1987), V, 627. For the reasons for the force's artillery inferiority, see Kronenbitter, “Krieg im Frieden”, 189–95.

14 Hadley, T., ‘Military Diplomacy in the Dual Alliance: German Military Attaché Reporting from Vienna, 1906–1914’, War in History, 17 (2010), 307–8.

15 See Watson, A., Ring of Steel. Germany and Austria-Hungary at War (London: Allen Lane, 2014), ch. 3.

16 See Wawro, G., A Mad Catastrophe. The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire (New York: Basic Books, 2014), 174–6, 190215.

17 Krauß, A., Die Ursachen unserer Niederlage. Erinnerungen und Urteile aus dem Weltkrieg, 3rd edn (Munich: J. F. Lehmanns Verlag, 1923), 97–9.

18 R. Nowak, ‘Die Klammer des Reiches’, 507–8. KA Vienna: NL Nowak, B/726/1. For Trimmel's work as an observer in the Boer War, see Murray, N., The Rocky Road to the Great War. The Evolution of Trench Warfare to 1914 (Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2013), 94, 111, 114.

19 K. und k. Armeeoberkommando, ‘Erfahrungen aus den bisherigen Kämpfen’, 1 Oct. 1914. KA Vienna: NFA 43. Sch.D. 1914 (Op.Akt. Sept–Oct.) (Box 2180): Op. Nr. 2610.

20 K.u.k. Armeeoberkommando, ‘Weisungen für die Truppen- und höheren Kommandanten’, 29 Sept. 1914. KA Vienna: NFA 5. Inf.Div. 1914 (Box 297): Op. Nr. 2676.

21 For the debate on ‘learning curves’ in the west, see esp. Sheffield, G., Forgotten Victory (London: Headline, 2001).

22 See k.u.k. Korpskommando Szurmay, ‘Erfahrungen aus der Neujahrsschlacht 1916 bei Toporucz-Rarancze’. KA Vienna: NFA 2. Inf. Div. 1916 (Box 121): Op. Nr. 143/6.

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 122.

24 K. und k. 4. Armeeoberkommando, ‘Ergänzung zu Deutsche Erfahrungen bei der Russ.Märzoffensive an der deutschen Nordostfront’. KA Vienna: NFA 2 Inf.Div. (Box 121): Op. Nr. 146/6.

25 See Heereswesen, Bundesministerium für und Kriegsarchiv, Österreich-Ungarns letzter Krieg 1914–1918. Das Kriegsjahr 1917, 7 vols. (Vienna: Verlag der Militärwissenschaftlichen Mitteilungen, 1936), 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), 247–54.

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

29 See Craig, G. A., ‘The World War I Alliance of the Central Powers in Retrospect: the Military Cohesion of the Alliance’, The Journal of Modern History, 37 (1965), 341, 343. For German war aims in relation to Austria-Hungary, see Fischer, F., Germany's Aims in the First World War (New York: W. W. Norton, 1967).

30 Arz von Straußenburg, A., Zur Geschichte des Grossen Krieges 1914–1918 (Vienna: Rikola, 1924), 126–9 and 170–3. Caporetto is examined at length in ÖULK, VI, 493–714.

31 von Zeynek, T., Ein Offizier im Generalstabskorps erinnert sich, Broucek, P., ed. (Vienna: Böhlau, 2009), 252.

32 This paragraph is largely based on Jeřábek, ‘Brussilowoffensive’, II, 471–83. Also Arz von Straußenburg, Zur Geschichte, 129, 258–9.

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.

35 Romer, J. E., Pamiętniki (Warsaw: Bellona, n.d.), 25

36 Deák, Beyond Nationalism, 87, 174–5,180–5. For ‘national indifference’, see Zahra, T., ‘Imagined Noncommunities: National Indifference as a Category of Analysis’, Slavic Review, 69 (2010), 93119.

37 Gayczak, J., ed., Pamiętnik Oberleutnanta Stanisława Marcelego Gayczaka (Przemyśl: Urząd Miekski w Przemyślu, n.d.), 5–6 and 12 (entry for 7 Oct. 1914).

38 Arz, Zur Geschichte, 141 and Deák, Beyond Nationalism, 195.

39 Jeřábek, R., ‘The Eastern Front’, in Cornwall, M., ed., The Last Years of Austria-Hungary. A Multi-National Experiment in Early Twentieth-Century Europe revised and expanded ed. (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1990), 157–8; ÖULK, I, 56.

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.

42 Okey, R., The Habsburg Monarchy (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2001), 229–50.

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, 97–118.

44 For a guide, see Table 52 on the secondary schools, technical academy and university students in the Empire in 1910–11 in Katus, L., ‘Die Magyaren’, in Wandruszka, A. and Urbanitsch, P., eds., Die Habsburgermonarchie 1848–1918. Die Völker des Reiches, 11 vols. (Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1980), III.1, 483.

45 See I. Deák, ‘The Habsburg Army in the First and Last Days of World War I: a Comparative Analysis’, and Spence, R. B., ‘The Yugoslav Role in the Austro-Hungarian Army, 1914–18’, in Király, B. K. and Dreisziger, N. F., eds., East European Society in World War I (Boulder, CO, and Highland Lakes, NJ: Social Science Monographs and Atlantic Research and Publications, 1985), 306, 356.

46 Intelligence, GHQ British Force in Italy. Annexe to Summary No. 241, 28 July 1918. The National Archives, London: WO157/ 638.

47 Stawecki, P., ‘Rodowód i struktura społeczna korpusu oficerskiego Drugiej Rzeczypospolitej’, Studia i materiały do Historii Wojskowości, 23 (1981), 239.

48 H. Kollenz [pseudonym], diary, 5 Apr. 1916. Deutsches Tagebucharchiv, Emmendingen: 1844, 3.

49 For Infantry Regiments 36 and 28, see Rauchensteiner, M., Der Tod des Doppeladlers. Österreich-Ungarn und der Erste Weltkrieg, 2nd edn (Graz: Styria, 1994) 205–6. For the Czechoslovak Legions, see, McNamara, K.J., Dreams of a Great Small Nation. The Mutinous Army that Threatened a Revolution, Destroyed an Empire, Founded a Republic, and Remade the Map of Europe (New York: PublicAffairs, 2016), 141.

50 K.u.k. Festungskommando in Krakau to Präsidium der k.k. Polizei in Krakau, 1 Nov. 1914. Archiwum Narodowe w Krakowie: DPKr 99: 3513/14, 951.

51 Krauß, Ursachen unserer Niederlage, 71.

52 See Lein, R., Pflichterfüllung oder Hochverrat? Die tschechischen Soldaten Österreich-Ungarns im Ersten Weltkrieg (Vienna: Lit, 2011), 53201. 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.

53 Rothenberg, Army of Francis Joseph, 207; Herwig, First World War, 372.

54 Cornwall, M., The Undermining of Austria-Hungary. The Battle for Hearts and Minds (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000), 131–49.

55 Hašek, J., The Good Soldier Švejk (London: Penguin, 2005).

56 Cornwall, Undermining, 295–7.

57 Jeřábek, ‘Brussilowoffensive’, I, 211–8. The low loss rate also testifies to the inactivity of most Habsburg units in the months before the offensive. See Stone, Eastern Front, 240.

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, 335–42.

59 Stone, ‘Army and Society’, 100.

60 Scheer, T., ‘K.u.k. Regimentssprachen. Institutionalisierung der Sprachenvielfalt in der Habsburgermonarchie in den Jahren 1867/8-1914’, in Ehlers, K.-H., Nekula, M., Niedhammer, M. and Scheuringer, H., eds., Sprache, Gesellschaft und Nation in Ostmitteleuropa. Institutionalisierung und Alltagspraxis (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2014), 80–5.

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), 407. 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), 78.

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. 8.

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.

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

  • ALEXANDER WATSON (a1)

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