Sunday, April 26, 2015

Emperor Francis I

The man who would be the last “Holy Roman Emperor”(elect) and the first “Emperor of Austria”, Francis II and then Francis I, was born in Florence, Italy on February 12, 1768 to then Grand Duke Leopold II of Tuscany, who was the younger brother of Emperor Joseph II. Named Francis (or Franz as you please) like the founder of the Hapsburg-Lorraine family line, his mother was the Infanta Maria Luisa of Spain, daughter of His Catholic Majesty King Carlos III, he was the second of sixteen children. For little Francis, while his childhood years were happy ones, basking in the bosom of his family and the sunshine of Italy, his parents were not to be a major part of his life ultimately. The liberal-minded, autocratic Emperor had no heirs and so, Francis was obviously the one in whom the future of the House of Hapsburg and its empire would be invested. So, at the age of 16, he was plucked from his family and his uncle the Emperor took charge of his upbringing personally. The experience was one that might have made even the children of ancient Sparta gape in amazement.

Young Francis was deemed to be utterly unsatisfactory, his uncle basically describing him as spoiled, clumsy and dim. He was subjected to a vigorous regime of study and exercise to correct these problems and was shut up in isolation as a way to make him more self-reliant. The Emperor himself said that his approach toward his nephew was, “fear and unpleasantness”. The Emperor, who seemed to turn cold after the death of his beloved first wife, was a man who was beloved by the common people for the actions he took to improve their welfare. However, it would be a mistake to think that this was due to his compassionate nature. Rather, it was because Emperor Joseph II had a fixation, perhaps even obsession, with orderliness, justice and making all things reasonable and rational. Taking any sixteen-year-old boy from any background and trying to make him orderly and reasonable would seem an impossible task for most and may, perhaps, explain why the Emperor could seem such a tyrant. Nonetheless, he filled his nephew with a respect for him that would last as long as Francis lived. Francis admired his uncle with ‘fear and trembling’ and the impact he had on Francis, and which Francis subsequently had on the rest of Hapsburg history, would ensure that Emperor Joseph II would be upheld as the standard by which all Austrian emperors were judged.

When Francis was sent to join the imperial army (a regiment on garrison duty in Hungary) it was probably the least demanding part of his training for the crown. In 1790 Emperor Joseph II died and was succeeded by Leopold II whose reign was to be a very short one. He spent most of his time trying to regain the support of all those his brother had offended while simultaneously retaining most of his policies. Archduke Francis acted on his behalf while his father was engaged in those duties and within a very short time Leopold II grew ill and died. At the age of only 24 on March 1, 1791 Francis became King of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia and was in due course (when all the formalities were attended to) was named Emperor-elect of the Holy Roman Empire of the German People, King in Germany and all the rest as Francis II. He inherited a Reich beset by threats but he was a good man to meet them. On the whole, more traditional than his uncle, he was just as, if not more, pragmatic and would make decisions he thought in the best interests of his empire, whether it cast him in a positive light or not. His first and immediate concern was France where revolution was raging and where revolutionaries were threatening to take their torches beyond their borders to set fire to the whole of monarchial Europe.

If one were to assume that the fate of the Austrian-born Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, was foremost on the mind of Emperor Francis II (Kaiser Franz II), one would be mistaken. He did not really know his aunt and was not prepared to deal with traitors in order to save her. Emperor Joseph II had concocted a scheme to rescue his little sister but, at that time, Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI thought it precipitous and a dereliction of duty to escape the country. By the time Francis II came along, the Queen was a prisoner and while Danton was willing to negotiate for her release (though considering the character of Danton it is entirely possible he was being false in the whole matter) Emperor Francis II refused to make any concessions and in due course the tragic queen was sent to the guillotine. For Francis, the only way to deal with the French Revolution was war and his empire went to war with France the same year he came to the throne. At first, he tried to take matters into his own hands during the failed Flanders campaign but he wisely decided to leave military matters to the experts and handed the army over to Archduke Charles, Duke of Teschen. This was the right choice as the Archduke would prove to be the most formidable continental opponent of Napoleon, even if he was not quite able to best the brilliant Corsican.

The war policy of Emperor Francis was one of resistance whenever possible, peace when necessary but to always strike again when the situation seemed favorable. At the outset, Austria was defeated and Francis decided to come to an agreement with the French republic, ceding land in Germany in exchange for half of the territory of the Republic of Venice which had tried to remain neutral. In the War of the Second Coalition, Austrian troops marched against France again and again in the War of the Third Coalition but both were French victories and most critically saw France take leadership in the German states away from Hapsburg Austria. This greatly alarmed Francis II and he decided to take a drastic and unprecedented step. With the reorganization of Germany and the victorious Napoleon making no secret of his imperial pretensions, Francis feared that the Corsican would apply sufficient pressure to have himself elected Holy Roman Emperor a title which, elections aside, the Hapsburgs had come to view as their property. The idea was too terrible to contemplate so Francis II decided to abolish the empire rather than see it fall into the hands of Napoleon. He dissolved the historic institution, abdicating his throne on August 6, 1806 and became instead Emperor Francis I of Austria.

This is something which some people remain at odds about even today, which is probably unavoidable for a move which was so historic. Did Francis have the authority to do what he did? Ultimately, the whole argument is academic. So much of what had been the Holy Roman (German) Empire was rather vague to begin with, being one thing in theory but something else in fact. It came about in an odd way and survived for so long because it was so changeable. Before the Revolution it had become essentially the Austrian Empire already plus those minor states allied to them with the Kingdom of Prussia being effectively independent. No emperor had actually been fully emperor, crowned by the Pope, for centuries and the electoral nature of it had long been a mere formality. Francis simplified things and brought what existed in fact into existing in name as well. His struggle with France was certainly not over and thanks to his leadership the Austrian Empire would remain as the dominant German power in the end.

In 1809, taking advantage of what Napoleon called “the Spanish ulcer” Emperor Francis I of Austria went to war again but once again suffered a stunning defeat. What was worse, Napoleon was determined to make major changes in regards to his relationship with Austria because of this. After all, if these numerous lost wars can seem disheartening from the Austrian point of view, one must keep in mind that they were extremely damaging to Napoleon even though he was always victorious. Emperor Francis I had the land, the population, the resources and an able general to remain Napoleon’s most dangerous continental foe and Napoleon was tired of having to fight them over and over again. Finally, it seemed, Napoleon had the Austrians where he wanted them. Always a pragmatic man, the Kaiser decided he had no choice but to come to terms with l’empereur. He gave up considerable territory and even the hand of his daughter in marriage to Napoleon as well as joining the “Continental System” the French had set up in an (ultimately futile) effort to starve Britain into submission. This may have been the peak of Napoleon’s career. He seemed to have broken the back of his most powerful enemy on the continent of Europe and by his marriage to Archduchess Marie Louise he gained an heir to his throne and, what was seen anyway as, acceptance into the ranks of the established dynasties of Europe.

However, Emperor Francis II was simply being pragmatic and he would do what was necessary at the moment and bide his time to come out on top in the end. If it meant doing something unfortunate, so be it. The same thing occurred in relation to the great Austrian monarchist hero Andreas Hofer. At one point, the land Hofer had fought so hard for and which he had won in fair combat was handed over by the Emperor to the Bavarian allies of France. It had to be a difficult moment for the loyal Austrian patriot but the Emperor was making the hard choices that were necessary and he would ultimately get it all back. Despite the efforts of his daughter to convince him that Bonaparte was not such a bad guy, Emperor Francis had never truly accepted him as a legitimate monarch and never would. Thankfully for Austria, Napoleon could not resist overreaching and this he did with his invasion of the Russian Empire. The steppes of Russia swallowed the Grande Armee and in the aftermath a sixth coalition was formed, including Austria, to bring Napoleon down. Russian and Prussian armies pushed the French out of Germany, the Swedes hit Napoleon’s Danish ally and the British pushed up from Spain into southern France. At battles such as Kulm and Leipzig, Austrian forces played their part in a string of allied victories. Austria had a talented commander on hand in the person of Field Marshal Karl Philipp, Prince of Schwarzenberg who had actually been picked by Napoleon himself to command the Austrian contingent of the invasion of Russia.

Emperor Francis I risked everything in this war, betting all the chips that Austria had but this time Napoleon was defeated and as the allied armies closed in on Paris in 1814, the French emperor abdicated and was exiled to Elba. A short time later, he would return to make his last bid for power but met with a crushing and decisive defeat at Waterloo after which he was sent to St Helena, never to return. For Emperor Francis of Austria, this was the high point of his reign and a moment of the greatest prestige for Austria. Allied leaders met in his capitol, in the Congress of Vienna, to redraw the map of Europe and organize a new, post-revolutionary international order. The Austrian Empire benefited greatly, giving up territories such as Belgium which was distant and next to impossible to defend while regaining the Tyrol and other areas and gaining new territory in Italy and Dalmatia (what had been the Republic of Venice).

More significant though, was the pride of place that the Austrian Empire received with the creation of the German Confederation, of which the Austrian Emperor was President, and the Holy Alliance of Prussia, Austria and Russia to safeguard religion and monarchy in central and eastern Europe (though Britain, the Pope and the Turks disliked it -an odd assortment). It was a very conservative and pragmatic new order that settled over Europe and that made it very much to the liking of Emperor Francis I whose chancellor, Prince Metternich, had arranged much of it. The Emperor and Metternich understood each other and worked well together, establishing an international order in Europe based on legitimacy and periodic international congresses to resolve disputes that prevented another pan-European war for a hundred years. Perhaps their own failing in this area was in their rejection of nationalism as a whole, thinking it could be suppressed rather than taking hold of it to steer in a beneficial direction. Nonetheless, what they did do produced undeniable results and, on the whole, worked for a very long time.

As a man and as a monarch, Emperor Francis I was probably unlike what most would suppose him to be. For enemies of the Austrian Empire he is often portrayed as a harsh, reactionary tyrant, paranoid and militaristic, cold and calculating. In fact, he was a complex man who understood the enormous responsibility he had as monarch and who tried to always do what was best, not for the sake of popular opinion but as a sacred duty. It is true that he had a very active and extensive secret police and his policies would today be seen as restrictive. They were certainly illiberal but no more so than many that exist in Europe today, the only difference being who they were aimed at stopping and the fact that, unlike modern European leaders, Emperor Francis never claimed to a liberal. His network of spies and use of censorship was a reaction to the horror and world war that came with the French Revolution and he was determined to prevent such words, ideas or movements ever gaining a foothold in the Austrian Empire. Much of Europe today has laws just as restrictive but where Francis banned “revolutionary rhetoric” or “egalitarian” or “anti-religious” and “republican” talk, today what is banned is called “hate speech” or “racist” or in some way offensive and “politically incorrect” talk. His ban on all things Jacobin could be compared to the current ban in Germany on all things Nazi and would be defended on the same grounds; that some ideas are too dangerous to tolerate.

To the charge of being a reactionary (which not everyone would consider a bad thing) Emperor Francis was more nuanced than most realize. He was certainly a man of very traditional and staunchly conservative politics but neither was he a radical legitimist. He favored policies which were as conservative as possible but was never so ideologically zealous as to hinder his pragmatism. This was partly why he opposed nationalism, because it interfered with the sort of monarchial territorial horse-trading that could benefit his empire. So, he had no qualms about northern Italy absorbed by the Austrian Empire rather than being restored to Venice and he was more supportive of the King of the French, Louis Philippe, than the very traditional King Charles X of France whose policies, though the Emperor was probably sympathetic to, he feared were impractical and could lead to another revolution and potential trouble for the rest of Europe.

Although he famously said that he had no knowledge of “the people” but only “subjects” he was not some distant, aloof sort of autocrat as he is often portrayed. Each week he set aside two half-days to meet with any of his subjects, whether high born or low, who made an appointment to see him. He would listen to their opinions or concerns and was able to converse with them in their own language, no matter what part of his polyglot realms they came from. In that way he was more accessible to the public than just about any republican president in any European country today (or most in the rest of the world at large for that matter). In a way, he inherited qualities from both of his immediate predecessors. From his father, who it was said ran the most successful secret police force in the world as Grand Duke of Tuscany, he had a talent at keeping himself well informed about what was going on within his empire and from his uncle Joseph II he had the ability to talk easily to anyone, be they prince or ploughman.

If Emperor Francis was busy with his public duties, his private life was just as eventful. He married first in 1788 to the charming Elisabeth of Wurttemberg, a bride chosen by Emperor Joseph II, but she died in childbirth in 1790, her baby girl surviving her by less than a year. Later that year he married his first cousin, Princess Maria Theresa of Naples and Sicily, who bore him twelve children, though four died young. These offspring included a future Empress of the French and Queen of Italy (while Napoleon ruled), a future Emperor of Austria, Empress of Brazil and Queen of Saxony. They had a successful marriage and mostly a happy one, though she was very lively and he very serious. She died in 1807 at only 34, no doubt thoroughly exhausted. The following year he married another first cousin, Maria Ludovika of Austria-Este, a refugee from the Napoleonic conquest of Italy, but she died in 1816 at only 28. Later that year he married Princess Caroline Augusta of Bavaria who was quite popular and who survived him.

At home, Emperor Francis I kept things calm and orderly. Trade was not much promoted and agriculture remained the primary industry of most imperial subjects. In this area, Francis can be faulted somewhat as his policy, summarized by his words, “I won’t have any innovations,” and “Let the laws be justly applied; they are good and adequate” as this allowed more business-friendly Prussia to have an economy and industry that expanded faster than Austria. The army was also neglected in terms of spending (while the overall debt continued to climb) which had negative effects for Austria later. Dissent in Hungary, however, remained as problematic for Francis as it had been for his predecessors and after a meeting of the Central Hungarian Diet in 1825 he was forced to agree not to raise taxes without their consent. In foreign matters, his primary concern was in suppressing any hints of nationalist or revolutionary sentiment in Germany and Italy. In the short-term, these were successful but in the long-term they proved fruitless. Nonetheless, Francis I was convinced that he was correct and that it only took a firm hand and a sharp eye to ensure that things remained as they were.

After ruling for 43 years, quite unexpectedly, Emperor Francis I of Austria came down with a fever and died on March 2, 1835 at the age of 67. In character to the end, his last advice was to “change nothing”. Additionally, he advised his son and heir to preserve the unity of the Imperial Family. That would be done, though after the traumas of 1848 his eventual successor, Emperor Francis Joseph I, would be forced to make some considerable changes. History, on the whole, has not been kind or very fair to Emperor Francis I, portraying him as a narrow-minded arch reactionary who liked nothing more than fiddling with his wax seals or making toffee. However, in truth, he was the driving force behind all that was Austria for nearly half a century. Metternich usually gets the glory (or the blame, depending on one’s view) but he only persisted in his position because the Emperor wanted him there. Francis I saw Europe torn apart by revolution, took a firm stand in stamping it out and did his best to ensure that it never happened again -and so long as he lived it did not. He could be short-sighted and sometimes he had to make tough decisions for the good of his empire but by his actions, the Austrian Empire survived and finally triumphed over Napoleonic France, regaining the dominant position in German affairs and central Europe. While there were problems in isolated areas, the actions and leadership of Emperor Francis prevented widespread unrest until 1848 and created a system in Europe based on facts rather than idealism, legitimacy rather than populism and established peace and stability for the better part of a century. Not a bad record that.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Austrian Style of the Confederacy

During the American Civil War neither side was without some monarchial connections. Men of royal rank actually fought on both sides, which is not all that surprising given what a titanic struggle it was. Given that the conflict marked the bloodiest war ever fought in the western hemisphere, it is only natural that others would be drawn in by it. Of course, the war did not directly concern the subject of monarchy at all as it was a war between two factions of republicans. Indirectly (as we have covered here over the years) it had a great impact on a number of monarchies in the world, particularly in effort to revive monarchism in the Americas by the Spanish in the Caribbean and the French in Mexico (and perhaps beyond). Both sides, however, had republicanism imprinted on them from birth and both used republican terms to insult their enemies. The Confederates, in the south, for example, were fond of referring to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln as “His Majesty, Abraham I” while the adherents to the Union in the north often branded the southern rebels with the title of “Tories”, originally the term for those loyal to the King in the American War for Independence and which had come to be applied to anyone viewed as a traitor to the American cause and ideals, particularly, in this war, with the notion that “all men are created equal”.

The deification of Lincoln
North and south may have had similar political prejudices concerning monarchy but no one could say they both exhibited a similar level of antagonism toward the institution. The southern Confederacy, then as now, could easily be viewed as the more royal-friendly of the two governments. It was the more tradition-minded, aristocratic, “Old World” part of America but this view was also due to a great deal of political expediency rather than genuine sincerity. The Confederacy was clearly outmatched in the struggle and, as such, it was in the interests of the south to persuade other powers to intervene and most of the foreign powers in the world in 1861 were monarchies. As such, a stridently republican attitude would not have served the south well. The north, on the other hand, was in a dominant position from the outset and, needing no direct foreign assistance, simply wanted foreign powers to stay out of the conflict and, indeed, threatened war against any who would even talk of making peace between the north and south. As such, anti-monarchy sentiment was quite common in the north though the great powers of the world tended to fall more on one side than the other depending on their own politics. This never extended to outright support but one could see prospective alliances waiting to happen. It was clearly in the best interests of the French Empire for the Confederates to win and Britain, while less sure, tended at the higher levels of society to favor a divided America as well. With Britain and France showing more sympathy for the Confederates, this left the Russian Empire showing more sympathy for the United States as a counterweight.

The United States also had a more republican fervor to it, not because of the American people, but because of Europeans. After the Revolutions of 1848 many European republicans had fled to American shores and most foreign immigrants flocked to the big cities of the north such as Boston or New York City. There were many German, Irish, Polish and Sicilian immigrants to the north who were far more zealous republicans than any native-born Americans for whom kingly rule was a distant memory and who, even earlier than the war, had even developed a bit of nostalgia for the old days of colonialism under King George. However, there was one particular immigrant to the American south whose influence gave the Confederacy a very monarchist appearance, even if not everyone in Dixie’s Land realized it. When the southern states seceded and southern boys marched off to war, they bore more than a passing resemblance to the armies of the Hapsburg Empire of Austria-Hungary.

Nicola Marschall
Nicola Marschall was a Prussian-born immigrant to the American south from a family, appropriately enough, of tobacco merchants. He arrived via New Orleans in 1849 and soon moved to Alabama. He did return to Germany for a time but came back and seems to have regarded Marion, Alabama as his home. By profession he was an artist and taught art in the south for a time. In those days, private schools that served the children of high-born southerners offered gainful employment to a number of Europeans as wealthy planter families wanted their offspring to be as “cultured” as the aristocrats of Europe. Every such southern child was expected to be well educated in art and music as well as being well-read in the classics. This reached such an extent that, though few remember it today, before the war it was very unusual to find a member of a wealthy planter family in the south who could not speak French. As an artist, Marschall painted landscapes and portraits and during his career had several notable people pose for him such as Otto von Bismarck, President Lincoln and Confederate President Jefferson Davis. However, his contribution to the monarchial appearance of the Confederacy did not come from his paintings. That started when a friend persuaded him to submit an entry for a possible design for a national flag for the new Confederate States of America.

Austrian & Confederate flags
A congressional committee had been set up to review designs for a proper flag for the Confederacy and they ultimately chose the design submitted by Nicola Marschall. It became known as the “Stars & Bars” because of its similarity to the United States flag or “Stars & Stripes”. However, if one had looked beyond American shores they would have been able to see clearly what the real influence was behind the first national flag of the Confederacy. With a field of three broad “bars” of red-white-red with a dark blue canton containing a circle of seven stars (for the seven original Confederate states) it was almost an exact duplicate of the unofficial national flag of Imperial Austria which Marschall would, of course, have been very familiar with. There was clearly an effort being made to keep it in line with the “style” of the American flag but it was obviously mostly influenced by the Austrian flag, adjusted by simply replacing the crowned arms with a more American circle of stars. The flag was formally adopted as the national flag of the Confederacy on March 4, 1861 and first came to world attention when it was raised over Fort Sumter, South Carolina after the first battle of the war.

However, the similarities between the Confederacy and Imperial Austria went beyond simply the flag that was flown above them. Another congressional committee was called upon to design a proper uniform for the Confederate army and, once again, via a friend of a friend, Marschall ended up being the one whose design was adopted. Thanks to the Prussian artist, the Confederates would march to war looking a great deal like soldiers of the Hapsburg Emperor. This time, the inspiration dates back to 1857 when Marschall, while in Verona, Italy (at that time under Austrian rule) had seen some Austrian sharpshooters and was quite taken with their stylish uniforms of grey tunics with green facings and stars on the collar to differentiate rank among the officers. The uniform Marschall designed for the Confederate army was very similar to this, although, ultimately, very few would end up following the official regulations exactly.

Uniforms of CSA artillery officers
The uniform of a grey tunic (in practice almost invariably replaced by a frock coat or jacket), blue trousers and a French-style kepi (cap) in branch-of-service color was very similar to that worn by the Austrians. For officers, rank was denoted by bars on the collar for company officers and stars for field and general officers as well as by the braid on the sleeves forming a design known as an “Austrian knot”. It was a very smart uniform though it was rarely seen as it was intended due to a shortage of materials, an aversion to uniformity and matters of practical necessity. The tunic, for example, proved very unpopular and few persisted in wearing it with most soldiers wearing a short jacket and most officers a frock coat. The kepi was also rather unpopular and for most southern troops was replaced with a broad-brimmed “slouch” hat. Colorful facings, trim and braid also tended to disappear as the war dragged on and more plain uniforms were adopted because of cost, shortage of materials and to avoid standing out as a target. Still, some, like Lt. Colonel Archer Anderson (a staff officer for several prominent Confederate generals) and Lt. General James Longstreet were among the few who persisted in wearing the Austrian-style tunics when other officers would not.

So it was that, aside from individual units on both sides that adopted the style of troops fighting for monarchs, from French Zouaves and chasseurs to Scottish highlanders, Hungarian hussars and Italian Bersaglieri, it was the Confederate armies that marched to war wearing uniforms and flying a flag that were both inspired by those of the Austrian Empire. What Emperor Francis Joseph might have thought of such a thing, we can only imagine.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

General Julius Jacob von Haynau

The story of General Julius Jacob von Haynau is somewhat illustrative of the problems which caused a steady decline in the fortunes of the Austrian Empire. A very controversial figure in his own time, loved by some, hated by others, his case is also indicative of the monarchist position in Europe today. During the Revolutions of 1848 he played an instrumental role in the preservation of the Hapsburg monarchy when the Austrian Empire teetered on the brink of destruction. Some regarded him distastefully as an unpleasant but necessary tool in the Austrian arsenal while others in Austria openly hailed him as a war hero and a savior of the monarchy, his troops dubbing him “the Hapsburg Tiger”. On the other hand, to others, particularly the Italians and Hungarians, he was known as the instrument of ruthless oppression and given more than one very unflattering nicknames by those he opposed. Yet, today, while Austria has forgotten him, there are those in Hungary who have not and so it is the critical view of the man that has lingered. Such criticism is, it must be said, not unfounded. He was a ruthless individual whose actions demonstrate why the Hapsburg monarchy was so hated by certain subject peoples. Yet, those ruthless actions were undertaken against internal enemies, people who von Haynau viewed as traitors pure and simple and thus not to be spared or pitied.

Strictly speaking, Julius Jacob von Haynau was a Hessian rather than an Austrian. He was born on October 14, 1786 in Hessen-Kassel, birthplace of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and source of some of the most prized German mercenary soldiers. Like many professional soldiers of history, von Haynau was of lofty though illegitimate birth being the natural son of the Hessian Prince-Elector Wilhelm I by Rosa Dorothea Ritter. It was the child’s paternal grandfather, Friedrich II, who supplied the famous Hessian troops to Britain’s King George III to fight in America. Wilhelm I recognized his son and made provision for his care and education. Like his grandfather (who had served with Frederick the Great), little Julius planned on a career in the army and because of his father was assured a place in the military as an officer-cadet. So, at the age of 15 von Haynau joined the Austrian Imperial Army in 1801. He proved a quick study and a capable soldier. With the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars it was a particularly dangerous but essential profession. Still, he found time, on October 11, 1808 to start a family of his own, marrying Therese von Weber, appropriately the daughter of a high-ranking officer. The couple had a very successful marriage of over forty years before Therese died in 1850.

In 1809, only a year after his wedding, Haynau fought at the Battle of Wagram, where he was wounded in a crushing Austrian defeat at the hands of Napoleon. His father-in-law died the same year at the Battle of Aspern-Essling. It was a difficult period for Austria but von Haynau gained valuable experience in the art of war and continued to distinguish himself in numerous battles. His military star continued to rise as the Napoleonic Wars threw into sharp contrast where the talent and the incompetence was in the Austrian army. Even as a young officer von Haynau was known for being rather volatile and ill-tempered but very effective against the enemy. When he had an army of Frenchmen in front of him, his personality was a strength, his fury an asset but when battles were not raging he tended to clash with his superiors. Nonetheless, his violent tendencies on and off the battlefield were not an impediment to his career and he earned numerous promotions, rising to the rank of field marshal lieutenant during extensive and meritorious service from 1815 to 1847. He reached the pinnacle of his career with a reputation for fiery aggression and also with a deep-seated hatred of rebels, republicans and revolutionaries, no doubt due to experiences in the wars with France.

The Austrian Emperor had no more ardent servant and no more merciless guard dog that von Haynau. When revolutions began to break out and spread all across Europe in 1848, both his military talent and loyal ferocity became urgent necessities as the venerable Hapsburg monarchy stood in very real danger of total collapse. One of the first areas where rebellion broke out was in northern Italy, that region conquered by France but placed under Austrian rule after the Napoleonic Wars. Haynau arrived on the scene and set to work methodically suppressing the revolutionary outbreak. Austrian troops had withdrawn to their fortress and shelled the town, causing considerable damage and then went on a rampage when the rebels surrendered. Haynau was unbothered by such actions. His was no ‘soft hand’ and brutal floggings were quite common in the period of Austrian rule but the most notorious actions he took, it should be remembered, were in reprisal to an atrocity by the rebels who massacred a group of wounded Austrian soldiers at a hospital in Brescia. Understandably outraged by such an infamy, von Haynau ordered immediate retribution, his Austrian execution squads working over time. This was, obviously, not cruelty simply for the sake of cruelty but was a natural reaction to a ghastly crime, something which is not always remembered. However, the violent temper of von Haynau meant that, while most of those who were executed were justly guilty, there were many innocent Italians who died as well.

Because so many were killed, and not just the guilty, von Haynau became a hated figure known to the Italians as “the Hyena of Brescia”. This was the image that became best known, while the atrocity of the rebels was often conveniently omitted of course. Still, it must be said that von Haynau was not terribly bothered by such name-calling and believed that such ruthlessness would instill fear and obedience. As such, being called horrific names was simply proof, to his mind, that he was succeeding in eliminating the enemies of his emperor. And there were certainly plenty of enemies to choose from, even as 1848 turned to 1849. One of the most serious rebellions to shake the Austrian Empire was in the Kingdom of Hungary and with so much trouble to quell in so many areas, defeating the Hungarian rebels was proving to be despairingly difficult. General von Haynau was recalled to Vienna from Italy and given orders to go to Hungary and put down the revolutionary forces there. So perilous was the situation that Emperor Francis Joseph had accepted the offer of assistance from Tsar Nicholas I of Russia who sent his reliable army in to aid in crushing the Hungarians.

This gave von Haynau an added incentive. Not only was there his usual zeal to strike down harshly all those who opposed the Hapsburg monarchy, he also had to make sure that the laurels of victory were not taken by the Russians so that the local would remember who it was who had brought them to heel. Haynau was convinced that the Russian army was not needed anyway and that, with his own troops who were veterans of suppressing revolt in Italy, the Hungarians could be easily dealt with by Austria alone. 1848 had been sufficiently disastrous that not everyone agreed and the helping hand of the “Iron Tsar” was not going to be refused. So, General von Haynau charged into Hungary with more zeal to succeed than ever before and, as usual, he was brilliantly effective at defeating the rebels and ruthlessly harsh in punishing their supporters. As in Italy, any Hungarian man or woman who was believed to have sympathized with the rebels were publicly flogged and all active participants were of course killed. The most famous (or infamous for most of Hungary) of these mass executions was the hanging of thirteen rebel Hungarian generals at Arad on October 6, 1849. For his success in suppressing rebellion, von Haynau was honored in Vienna and for leading them to victory his soldiers adored him. However, in Hungary he gained another nickname, “the Hangman of Arad”.

General von Haynau was appointed to a garrison command in Hungary when the trouble was over but, again, his temperament was not made for peacetime and he soon resigned after feuding with the local civilian officials. General von Haynau retired from the army and traveled around Europe, though his unsavory reputation reached across the continent and even to America. While visiting London he was assaulted by two laborers and more than once had to endure ugly scenes on his travels. He died on March 14, 1853 and was buried with all due honors for a man who had been a loyal soldier and defender of his Emperor and the Hapsburg monarchy. To much of the rest of the world, he was remembered as an almost storybook villain, his name being resurrected during the First World War even in Britain to stoke hatred of the Austrian enemy who most Brits were not sure why they were even fighting.

Was he harsh? Certainly, but his cruelty was cruelty with a purpose rather than simply being for its own sake and he was also a very effective soldier, a man who faced death and not just dealt it out. Today, when he is remembered at all, it is usually as simply an executioner or someone who had women beaten in public. This must be accepted as part of the reason why some were never going to be reconciled to Hapsburg rule, that is a price that comes with such measures. Yet, it should also not be forgotten that this was a man who had first faced death, seen battle and been wounded fighting in a gruesome world war spawned by a revolution and for him there were only two sides; the loyal and the disloyal. Today most tend to take for granted that anything and everything subversive must be tolerated but, in those days, treason was not taken so lightly and for very good reason. It is a judgment call as to whether the harsh methods of Haynau had an ultimately positive or negative effect but what is not disputable is that he was an excellent soldier, a loyal subject and an uncompromising defender of the Hapsburg monarchy.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Generaloberst Viktor Graf Dankl von Krasnik

The man who would become one of the most prominent generals in the last war and last years of life of the Dual-Empire of Austria-Hungary was born Viktor Dankl in Udine, Italy on September 18, 1854. Udine, near Venice, was at that time still being held by the Austrian Empire, as it had been ever since the Hapsburgs made a deal with the revolutionary First French Republic to divide what had been the Republic of Venice between them (after a successful campaign by an up and coming young general named Bonaparte). His father was from Venice and a captain in the Austrian Imperial Army so there was little doubt that young Viktor would one day carry on the tradition of military service to the Emperor of Austria. He attended German-language schools in Gorizia and Trieste as a boy before going off to a cadet school in Lower Austria. By that time, Prussia had surpassed Austria as leader of the German-speaking countries and the new Kingdom of Italy had regained Venice. Never before, it must have seemed, were talented military officers more needed. Young Viktor Dankl graduated and went on to study at the prestigious Theresian Military Academy (where Austrian officers are still trained today). After finishing he was posted to a dragoon regiment with the rank of sub-lieutenant.

After going back for further education in Vienna, Dankl joined the General Staff and by 1899 was head of the central office, having shown a notable dedication to duty and grasp of administrative affairs. He earned the respect of his superiors and in 1903 was given a field command, the 66th Infantry Brigade at Trieste (in what is now Italy, not far from where Dankl grew up) with a promotion to major general. After another brigade command in Trieste, Dankl was promoted to lieutenant field marshal and given command of a division in Croatia until in 1912 when he was transferred to a corps command with the rank of General of Cavalry. He had proven himself to be a dutiful officer, had performed well in command of combat units and in administrative posts but, of course, these had all been peacetime assignments. He lacked actual combat experience and would have to wait to show if his education and mastery of theory would be matched by accomplishments in battle. That opportunity was to come soon enough with the outbreak of the First World War in August of 1914. Dankl was as anxious of any of his fellow officers to see the long-standing tensions with Serbia settled and certainly there was no more loyal or ardent defender of Austria-Hungary and the Hapsburg monarchy than Dankl.

The studious, bespectacled general was given command of the Imperial & Royal First Army, made up largely of Slovak and Polish troops; a prestigious assignment. He would be on the flank of a massive offensive planned by the then-renowned strategist and chief of staff Graf Conrad von Hotzendorf to punch through the Russian frontier and cut off the so-called Polish salient. It was an ambitious plan but if successful it would have been a stunning blow to the Russians and the end of the Russian presence in Poland. At first, everything went as planned. Dankl and his troops pushed forward to the Galician frontier and met the Russians at the town of Krasnik (in what is now Poland but which was then Austria-Hungary). The Russians fought fiercely but the Austro-Hungarian troops were relentless and after three days of hard fighting the Russians retreated. Dankl had just won the first major victory for Austria-Hungary in the war and he was almost immediately catapulted to the status of a celebrity and war hero across the empire. With other victories by forces farther down the line, the Imperial & Royal Armies advanced as planned and Dankl was in the lead, pursuing the retreating Russians.

However, while things were going well enough on his own front, other sectors were less fortunate and soon Dankl had to stop and even fall back for fear of opening a gap in the Austrian lines. The Russians also rallied their forces and began to launch hard-hitting counter-attacks which took a heavy toll on the armies of Austria-Hungary. Ultimately, the offensive into Poland was stopped with very heavy losses and bitter fighting in Galicia would go on for some time to come. In the autumn, Austria-Hungary launched another offensive in cooperation with the Germans but the Russians soon took back the ground they gained at the start and a stalemate, which was all too familiar in First World War, ensued. Attacks were followed by counter-attacks, taking and re-taking the same ground with few lasting changes. The focus of the fighting shifted to the Carpathians and Dankl and his First Army were left with little to do for the rest of the year.

The next major action came in the spring of 1915 with the launching of the Gorlice-Tarnow offensive, again in cooperation with the Germans. Hotzendorf came up with the plan which was initially rejected by the German chief of staff, Erich von Falkenhayn but later Germany agreed to go along with it with the German General August von Mackensen in overall command. It proved to be a major success with the Russians suffering much higher losses and only ending due to a combination of bad weather and logistical strain. Dankl, once again, led his First Army forward with much success but this initial success was later halted by stiff Russian resistance in his sector of the front and Dankl was sidelined for the rest of the offensive. It was more frustration for Dankl who had been so celebrated for his victory at Krasnik and from whom everyone always expected better. Because Krasnik had been the first great victory of the war, Dankl had been celebrated to an extent that many were expecting this from him that were almost impossible. He was a competent commander but, of course, could not work miracles. In any event, after the Gorlice-Tarnow offensive he was transferred away from the Galician front and assigned to defend the Tyrol.

In 1915 the Kingdom of Italy had entered the war and the Tyrol was a huge salient, plunging into Italian territory. As Austria-Hungary was fighting on so many other fronts, the Italians also had a significant numerical advantage over the Austrians. However, the Austrians did have a great advantage in the terrain. The high mountains served as natural fortifications superior to any that could be built by the hand of man. Dankl showed his talent in a string of battles as his outnumbered and poorly supplied but well placed forces repelled fierce and repeated attacks by the Italians. They had the advantage of the high ground but little else and yet Dankl was able to successfully defend his position until further reinforcements could arrive to strengthen the Austro-Hungarian lines. For most of the year his forces were on the defensive, making counter-attacks when possible but, for the most part, fending off Italian attacks and making them pay heavily for every foot of ground gained. In 1916, however, Austria-Hungary was finally prepared to go on the offensive. Dankl himself had also been given a new command, the 11th Army and a promotion to Colonel General.

Hotzendorf planned an offensive in Trentino on the Asiago plateau. The goal was to punch through to the Po River plain and cut off three Italian armies in the process, crippling their war effort. This time the Italians would be outnumbered, almost 3-to-1 in manpower and much more outmatched in artillery. German support was requested but refused, still, it seemed Austria-Hungary had sufficient forces for the attack to be a success. Dankl and his army were assigned the crucial responsibility of making the initial breakthrough after which more troops could be poured in to exploit the breach and split the Italian armies. On May 15 the offensive commenced and despite stiff resistance, Dankl and his troops succeeded in breaking through the Italian center. Once again, everything seemed to go as planned, but once again problems soon arose. The artillery could not be moved forward fast enough to support the continued attack and so the Austrian forces had to halt. By the time the guns were brought up the opportunity had passed. The Italians had reformed and strengthened their lines plus a new Russian offensive was wreaking havoc on the Eastern Front and forced the transfer of Austro-Hungarian units to head off a potential disaster there.

Many of the gains Austria-Hungary had made had to be abandoned as the troops were pulled back to more defensible positions. It was a crushing blow for Dankl and he was, perhaps unfairly, singled out for blame as to the failure of the offensive. Most of this was due to the fact that Archduke Eugen of Austria, the army group commander in the area, had ordered him to press on regardless of the lack of artillery support. Conrad von Hotzendorf took the side of the Archduke that the risk of heavy losses was acceptable if it could have meant a decisive victory over Italy. They may have been correct but rushing forward was not in the nature of an officer like Dankl. He was meticulous and methodical, perhaps a result of his experience as a staff officer and given his witnessing first hand of the horrendous losses Austria-Hungary had suffered at the beginning of the war on the Eastern Front, he may have been more careful of the lives of his men than others. Of course, sometimes a general must accept such losses to achieve victory but it is easy to sympathize with Dankl given that Austria-Hungary had already suffered losses that could not be made good and, fairly early on, was forced to work in conjunction with Germany for almost any major offensive operations for this very reason.

In any event, the unpleasant episode of the Asiago offensive, combined with poor health, prompted Dankl to hand in his resignation. He was relieved of his command and after undergoing medical treatment was posted to the Imperial Guard, eventually becoming the commander until being replaced by his former superior Hotzendorf. He remained with the Life Guard until the end of the war and the collapse of Austria-Hungary when he retired to Innsbruck. In the last years of the war his service was, thankfully, rewarded with his elevation to the aristocracy, first as Baron von Dankl and then as Count Dankl of Krasnik in recognition of his most famous victory. He was also awarded the Maria Theresia Order and, long after the war in 1925, became its chancellor. Other honors he received included the Order of Leopold, Marianer Cross of the Teutonic Order and the Prussian Iron Cross from Germany. After the war, Dankl showed what a man of great character he was.

Never losing his care and concern for the average fighting men he led into battle, Dankl worked for a number of causes to benefit veterans and took great pleasure in being given the task of decorating them for actions during the war. He defended them whenever they were criticized and rather than devote himself to justifying his own actions or trying to explain away mistakes on his part, he defended his soldiers, the army as a whole and the honor of Austria-Hungary. Despite the political changes, he remained steadfast in his loyalty to the monarchy, refused to cooperate in any way with the rising Nazi Party or the communists and never ceased to advocate for the restoration of the House of Hapsburg. He detested anti-Semitism and opposed the union with Germany, instead urging as he always did for a return to monarchy. Sadly, many came to view him as being a sort of quirky old man, out of step with the times but they were times one should have been out of step with and it is to his credit that Dankl never forgot his loyalty to his Emperor and his country. He died on January 8, 1941 (3 days after his beloved wife) at the age of 86. As he was well known for his opposition to the Nazi Party, he was denied military honors at his funeral. It is doubtful he would have wanted them from such a regime anyway.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Hapsburg Submarines

 There is no doubt that the preeminent submarine power in World War I was Germany which built up the largest submarine fleet and which sank the most ships. In fact, the most successful submarine commander of all time was a German sailor of World War I rather than World War II as most would probably assume. In contrast, the K.u.K. Kriegsmarine of Austria-Hungary operated a much more modest and less advanced submarine fleet in the close waters of the Adriatic and Mediterranean Seas. However, while it was smaller, the submarine fleet of Austria-Hungary was still formidable for its size. In fact, the u-boats operated by Austria-Hungary actually had a higher ratio of hits per torpedoes fired than did their German counterparts.
U-3, sunk in 1915 before scoring any successes

U-4, sank 12 Allied ships and survived the war

U-5, sank 4 Allied ships, sunk in 1917 but was
resurrected and survived the war

U-6, sank a French destroyer in 1916, later sunk

U-12, entering Pola harbor, she sank one ship,
damaged another and captured six

Captain Georg Ritter von Trapp, top sub ace of 
Austria-Hungary in U-5

Officers and crew of U-6

U-12

Officers of U-12

U-12 at Pola