Austrian-Hungarian Chiefs of the Army Command

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Conrad von Hötzendorf, Franz

Birth Date: November 11, 1852

Death Date: August 25, 1925

Austro-Hungarian general and chief of the General Staff (1906–1917). Born on November 11, 1852, at Penzing near Vienna, Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf entered the Cadet Institute at Hainburg at age 11 and then during 1867–1871 attended the Maria Theresa Akademie at Wiener-Neustadt, being commissioned a lieutenant. After three years with the 11th Feldjäger (light infantry) Battalion, he attended the Kriegsschule (Imperial Staff College) in Vienna. Conrad was attached to the General Staff in 1876. He distinguished himself in the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1878 and took part in crushing a rebellion in southern Dalmatia in 1882. Conrad was an instructor in tactics at the Kriegsschule during 1888–1892, when he wrote extensively on military affairs. Promoted to colonel in May 1893, he commanded the 1st Infantry Regiment during 1894–1899.

Promoted to major general on May 1, 1899, Conrad commanded the 55th Infantry Brigade during 1899–1903. Promoted to lieutenant field marshal on November 1, 1903, he commanded the 8th Infantry Division from 1903 to 1906. Conrad came to be regarded as a brilliant strategist because of his numerous military publications. With the strong support of heir apparent to the throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Emperor Franz Joseph appointed Conrad chief of the General Staff on November 18, 1906. Conrad was promoted to field train master on November 1, 1908, and to general of infantry two weeks later on November 15. He favored preventive war with both Serbia and Italy, a position that brought the strong opposition of Foreign Minister Count Lexza von Aehrenthal and led to Conrad’s departure from the post of chief of the General Staff at the end of 1911. Conrad served as army inspector during 1911–1912. He returned to the position of chief of staff on December 12, 1912, holding it until March 1, 1917.

A tactician rather than a strategist, Conrad lacked the necessary qualifications, and his appointment came after he had passed his intellectual peak. He strongly mistrusted Austria’s non-German nationalities and the expansionist tendencies of Italy (ally of both Serbia and Austria), and he worked hard to strengthen the monarchy’s military forces for war, which he believed to be inevitable. His efforts were only partially successful, and Franz Joseph repeatedly frustrated his chief objective of a preventive war against Russia, Serbia, and Italy. Conrad became more and more pessimistic, and after 1907 his affair with Virginia von Reininghaus, then a 28-year-old married woman and mother of six children whom he finally married in 1915, caused gossip and added further complications.

After the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife at Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, Conrad as head of the military party argued vigorously for war against Serbia, holding it responsible for the murders as well as for inspiring subversive Slav agitation within the Dual Monarchy. Lacking any fighting experience since 1878, Conrad shared the short-war illusions of other contemporary generals and underestimated the difficulties of warfare on two fronts against Russia and Serbia. His mobilization schemes were extremely complicated and contradictory, and no firm military agreements were reached with Germany before the summer of 1914.

When World War I began, Conrad, giving in to pressing German demands that were contrary to his prewar planning, hastily shifted troops from the Balkans to the Eastern Front and failed to carry out his strategy of concentration against one enemy. As a result, a large part of his force spent more time on trains than on the battlefield during the first decisive weeks of the war, and Austria finally suffered defeat on both fronts.

With considerable German assistance, Serbia was finally subdued by the end of 1915, but the situation on the Eastern Front in 1914 turned disastrous. Conrad’s troops suffered enormous losses that could never be overcome as far as the quality of officers and men trained under peacetime conditions. Offensives in 1915 and 1916 against Russia and Italy, respectively, again only possible with German aid, were successful, but they did not secure decisive victory. Conrad was promoted to colonel general on June 23, 1915, and to field marshal on November 25, 1916.

Austria-Hungary, obviously the weaker part of the alliance, became increasingly subordinated to Germany when Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and General of Infantry Erich Ludendorff took over the German Supreme Command in 1916. The new Austrian emperor, Karl I, dismissed Conrad on March 1, 1917. Conrad then took command of the South Tirolean Army Group on the Italian front but achieved only partial successes in that post. Karl recalled Conrad from this command on July 14, 1918, raising him to count and appointing him colonel of the Royal Life Guards, an honorific position. Conrad retired after the 1918 armistice, moved to Innsbruck, and wrote his memoirs. In 1922 he moved to Vienna. Conrad died at Bad Mergentheim in Württemberg, Germany, on August 25, 1925.

Conrad was a gifted but unlucky soldier, a hard-liner advocating ruthless military solutions for domestic and foreign policy problems. Caught in his extreme right-wing, anti-Semitic, and anti-Slav ideologies, he failed in his ambitious plans because of a lack of resources and the neglect of human and political realities. A strong advocate of psychological factors, Conrad regarded well-trained, offensive-minded infantry as the key to victory. He paid little attention to the need for artillery support and maintained that infantry could overcome an entrenched enemy with its own resources. Despite his failure, his former staff members, writing as military historians after 1918, framed their argument along the lines that Conrad had been the greatest Austrian commander since Prince Eugene of Savoy, a myth that has been destroyed by more recent scholarship.

Further Reading

Conrad von Hötzendorf, Franz. Aus meiner Dienstzeit, 1906–1918. 5 vols. Vienna, Leipzig, and Munich: Rikola, 1921–1925.

Herwig, Holger H. The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary, 1914–1918. New York: St. Martin’s, 1997.

Sondhaus, Lawrence. Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf: Architect of the Apocalypse. Boston: Humanities Press, 2000.

Arz von Straussenburg, Artur

Birth Date: June 11, 1857

Death Date: July 1, 1935

Austro-Hungarian Army general and chief of the General Staff. Born in Hermannstadt, Transylvania, on June 11, 1857, Artur Arz von Straussenburg graduated with honors from the gymnasium in Hermannstadt and commenced the study of law but then volunteered for a year’s enlistment in a Hungarian feldjäger battalion during 1876–1877. Having completed this service, Arz sat for and passed the officer’s examination and on May 1, 1878, was commissioned a lieutenant.

Promoted to first lieutenant, Arz attended the Kriegsschule (War Academy) in Vienna during 1885–1887 and the next year was assigned to the General Staff. Promoted to captain, he was assigned to the staff of II Corps in Vienna. Having been promoted to major, in 1898 he was reassigned to the General Staff and then returned to the staff of II Corps. Promoted to lieutenant colonel, he briefly commanded the 34th Infantry Regiment at Kaschau. Promoted to colonel in May 1902, he returned to the General Staff and during 1903–1908 was its chief of personnel.

In 1908 Arz was promoted to major general and assumed command of the 61st Infantry Brigade at Budapest. In 1912 he received command of the 15th Infantry Division at Miskolc. That May he was promoted to lieutenant field marshal. In 1913 he was assigned to the Ministry of War in Vienna as section chief of the military departments.

On the commencement of World War I, Arz immediately requested a field assignment, again commanding the 15th Infantry Division and fighting in the Battle of Komorów (August 26–September 2). On September 7 Arz assumed command of VI Corps, distinguishing himself in the defeat of the Russian Third Army during the Battle of Limanowa-Lapanów (December 1–13). He also played a major role in the successful Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive (May–December 1915).

Promoted to general of infantry in September 1915, Arz received command of the newly re-formed First Army. When Romania declared war on August 26, 1916, Arz fought a successful delaying action against numerically far superior Romanian forces. His army then cooperated with the German Ninth Army in pushing back the invaders to their own borders and effectively ending Romanian active participation in the war, in the process earning the great respect of his army group commander, the future Emperor Karl I, who acceded to the throne that November.

On March 1, 1917, Karl I named Arz to replace Field Marshal Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf as chief of the Austro-Hungarian Army General Staff. Loyal, tactful, and personally unambitious, Arz accepted Karl’s desire to serve as the de facto military commander. Unlike his predecessor, Arz saw his role as advising the emperor rather than actively pushing his own views. Arz has thus has been accused of being more an adjutant than a true chief of staff, but loyalty to the emperor and to the Germans was his guiding principle. Perhaps it was inevitable given the decline in the Dual Monarchy’s military resources, but Arz’s tenure saw increasing German control of the Dual Monarchy’s military affairs.

In 1917 Arz began to implement a radical reorganization of the army, proposed earlier under Conrad, that restructured divisions and envisioned significantly increased levels of equipment and support. The broader changes stalled amid renewed disagreement with the Hungarian leaders, however, resulting in concessions that significantly eroded the unified nature of the Habsburg Army. In addition, Arz created the Enemy Propaganda Defense Agency in an unsuccessful effort to ward off morale problems posed by Entente propaganda and the diminishing resources of the Dual Monarchy.

Promoted to colonel general on February 9, 1918, Arz played his most active role in shaping the Habsburg military effort that spring. With German leaders requesting a Habsburg offensive against Italy, Conrad (now an army commander on the Italian front) proposed a massive offensive aimed at defeating Italy decisively. Unconvinced, Arz vetoed these proposals.

Overruled by Emperor Karl, Arz worked successfully behind the scenes to divert resources away from Conrad. The resulting offensive lacked focus and numerical superiority and was quickly beaten back by Italy. Arz, sensing his responsibility, offered to resign, but Karl refused, opting to sacrifice Conrad instead.

Recognizing that the Dual Monarchy was on the verge of collapse, Arz tried to intervene in politics in October 1918, instructing the Supreme Headquarters to draft a proposal for the reconstruction of the monarchy. When Karl beat him to the punch with his own proposal, Arz kept the manifesto secret from the troops for several days.

A few days later on the night of November 2–3, Karl asked Arz to accept promotion to supreme commander. Realizing that Karl was unwilling to accept responsibility for signing an armistice, Arz refused. Karl instead nominated Field Marshal Hermann Kövess von Kövessháza, but with Kövess in the Balkans and to end the bloodshed, Arz as de facto supreme commander oversaw conclusion of the armistice on November 3, 1918.

Arz retired with the end of the war. Unwilling to return to his ancestral home, which was now in Romanian territory, and denied an Austrian military pension because he was technically a Hungarian citizen, Arz lived in Vienna in penury on funds supplied by army comrades and wrote his memoirs. In 1926 the Hungarian government granted him a pension. During a stay in Budapest required to collect his pension, Arz died of a heart attack on July 1, 1935.

Further Reading

Arz von Straussenburg, Artur. Zur Geschichte des Grossen Krieges, 1914 bis 1918. Vienna-Leipzig-Munich: Ricola, 1924.

Herwig, Holger H. The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary, 1914–1918. New York: Arnold, 1997.

Rauchensteiner, Manfried. Der Tod des Doppeladlers: Österreich-Ungarn under der Erste Weltkrieg. Graz-Vienna-Cologne: Styria, 1993.

Rothenberg, Gunther E. The Army of Francis Joseph. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 1976.

Kövess von Kövessháza, Hermann

Birth Date: March 30, 1854

Death Date: September 22, 1924

Austro-Hungarian Army field marshal. Born on March 30, 1854, in Temesvar, Hungary, Hermann Kövess von Kövessháza attended the Cadet Institute at Hainburg and the Technische Militär-Akademie (Genieabteilung) in Vienna. He was commissioned a lieutenant in the 2nd Engineer Regiment at Vienna on September 1, 1872.

Most of the army hierarchy was Roman Catholic, but the Protestant Kövess advanced rapidly in rank thanks to his hard work and ability. He was promoted to first lieutenant in May 1875 and attended the Kriegsschule (War Academy) during 1876–1878. Advanced to captain in November 1879, in 1882 he helped put down the mutiny at Krivosje in southern Dalmatia. After failing the General Staff examination, however, Kövess transferred to the infantry. His excellent performance brought promotion to major in May 1890, to lieutenant colonel in May 1894, and to colonel in November 1896. One of the youngest colonels in the army, in March 1898 he took command of the 23rd Infantry Regiment in Vienna, retaining that command until October 1902.

On November 1, 1902, Kövess was promoted to major general, and from October 1902 until November 1906 he commanded the 15th Infantry Brigade. He then commanded the 8th Infantry Division from November 1906 to April 1910, and on May 1, 1907, he was promoted to lieutenant field marshal. In June 1911 Kövess assumed command of XII Corps, and on November 1, 1911, he was promoted to general of infantry.

In August 1912, Kövess was present at a ceremony in which some 400 German-speaking Catholics converted to Protestantism. The Catholic Church condemned the event, and the ensuing religious uproar almost cost Kövess his military career. Emperor Franz Joseph remembered him favorably from the days Kövess had served in Vienna, however, and he retained his command. Regardless, there were negative effects, with Kövess’s subsequent military advancement delayed.

During the early part of World War I, Kövess served on the Eastern Front. He commanded XII Corps in the Galician and Carpathian Campaigns, followed by action at Gorlice-Tarnow in mid-1915, with his corps taking the Russian fortress of Ivangorod in August. In September 1915 Kövess assumed command of Army Group Kövess (later designated the Third Army) and a month later helped to overrun Serbia with the capture of Belgrade (October 9, 1915). His Third Army fought in and occupied Montenegro and then invaded Albania. On February 26, 1916, Kövess was promoted to colonel general. In March he and his Third Army were transferred to the Italian front.

The Brusilov Offensive brought the transfer of the Third Army back to the Eastern Front, and Kövess remained there from October 1916 until the end of the war. He took command of the Seventh Army in October 1916 and commanded it until January 1918. Kövess was ordered to block the Russian drive on Hungary. After the unsuccessful Russian advance, the Seventh Army counterattacked and recaptured Czernowitz, the capital of Bukovina, at the beginning of August 1917. For this success Kövess was promoted to field marshal on August 5, 1917, and that same month was ennobled as a Freiherr (baron). In 1918 Kövess commanded both the First and Seventh Armies on the Moldavian front, but he was relieved of this command following the peace agreements of Brest Litovsk with Russia (March 3, 1918) and Bucharest with Romania (May 7).

Kövess was briefly recalled to duty in Budapest at the end of the war, and on November 3, 1918, he was appointed the last commander of the Austro-Hungarian Army. Field Marshal Baron von Kövess served in this post until December 20. He retired in early 1919. Approached in early May 1919, he refused an offer to command forces against the communist revolutionaries in Hungary. He served as the head of the Vienna chapter of the military Maria Theresa Order and was active in veterans’ meetings in Austria and Hungary. Kövess died in Vienna on September 22, 1924.

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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