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


Officers of U-12

U-12 at Pola

Friday, July 25, 2014

MM Mini View: The Hapsburg Emperors, Part III

Concluded from Part II

Emperor Francis I: The reign of Francis I was one in which he would be overshadowed by his wife and by a Bavarian rival for the imperial throne. When Charles VI died his daughter Maria Theresa succeeded him in his hereditary positions (Archduchess of Austria, Queen of Hungary etc) but it was uncertain what would be the place of her husband, Francis Stephen of Lorraine. He had practically been raised to be the husband of Maria Theresa (his brother was the original choice but died) and he did his part to gain friends and fortune for the Hapsburgs, gaining the favor of British elites by joining the Freemasons and challenging France over the Polish succession by which he traded Lorraine for Tuscany in Italy. When his father-in-law died, the Bavarian Charles VII was elected Emperor but quickly lost most of his territory to Austrian troops as Marie Theresa was more than prepared to fight for her land and titles (or those she wanted for her husband). Bavaria might have remained an Austrian possession were it not for the intervention of King Frederick the Great of Prussia. Maria Theresa managed to have Francis I elected emperor in 1745 and he was co-regent of her hereditary dominions but it was really Maria Theresa who ruled, which was well enough because she was pretty darn good at it, being a principled, decisive, religious and all around great ruler. Emperor Francis mostly “ruled” from behind a desk doing paperwork and though he was not a faithful husband he still did his part to secure the Hapsburg-Lorraine succession by fathering sixteen children with Maria Theresa, among them two future emperors and an ill-fated future Queen of France. He died in 1765, some time before his wife.

Emperor Joseph II: Known as the “People’s Emperor”, Joseph II will always be remembered as one of the “Enlightened Despots”. His personality changed after the death of his beloved first wife, making him more cold and aloof. He tried to apply reason to government which earned him friends and enemies alike. At home and abroad his desire was to make Austria a great power, centralize government and unify his diverse domains. His public popularity came for his emancipation of the serfs, granting of religious freedom (up to a point) and providing social welfare for the poor. Yet, he was also a very authoritarian man and a very absolutist monarch who would tolerate no opposition. His efforts to place the Catholic Church under state control earned him many lasting enemies among the clerical faction and Church histories to this day often speak more harshly of Joseph II than predecessors who actually made war on the Pope or never practiced their religion at all. To unify his people he tried to make German the official language of all Hapsburg lands, which did not go over well, and he tried to make the House of Hapsburg supreme in Germany, going to war with Frederick the Great of Prussia in the process. He also fought less consequential wars against the Turks and Hungarian rebels, which were practically family traditions. He planned a rescue operation to save his sister, Queen Marie Antoinette from the French Revolution but his offer was refused by the brave royal couple who were reluctant to leave (at least at that stage). A patron of the arts, particularly music, Joseph II was called the “Musical King” and is most remembered now for his commissioning of work from Mozart. He died in 1790 adored by the lowest but hated by many for his interference in religion and Germanization policy. Still, he set the example which almost all subsequent Hapsburg Emperors tried to emulate.

Emperor Leopold II: Succeeding his elder brother, Leopold II had to put down rebellions from Belgium to Hungary because of the unpopular policies of his brother and he repealed the most provocative of these but maintained the majority of them. He too was a proponent of “enlightened” absolute monarchy and had originally been trained for the priesthood. He ruled as Grand Duke of Tuscany where his aloof nature made him less than popular, despite abolishing the death penalty and instituting public health programs. As Emperor, he was cold and calculating, refusing aid to French royalists and preferring to try to eliminate Prussia as a rival in Germany than punishing republican France. He also refused to allow any Papal Bulls read in his territory without first approving of the document. Still, the treatment of his sister and brother-in-law stirred his fury as an absolute monarch and he agreed to make common cause with the other Crowned Heads of Europe to stop the spread of republicanism. He died before any concerted action could be taken in 1792 at the age of only 44. Whereas his brother Joe had been much more single-minded and uncompromising, Kaiser Leo II was always prepared to keep flexible and to always consider the “politics” of any given situation. Unlike his brother, he certainly did his part to secure the succession, having sixteen children just like his own parents did. Overall, Emperor Leopold II might not have been the sort of monarch to be widely admired but he was probably the right man for the job at that time.

Emperor Francis II/I: The last Holy Roman (German) Emperor and the first Emperor of Austria, Francis succeeded his father after being raised in extremely strict fashion by his uncle Emperor Joseph II whom he nonetheless idolized. Emperor Francis can be a hard man to understand. He seemed not to really care that his aunt was guillotined by revolutionaries and yet the honor of his house was of paramount importance to him. His empire was well known for its vast network of spies and powerful secret police, yet he was an approachable monarch who always made time for any of his subjects who wished to speak with him. Most of his reign was dominated by the war with Napoleonic France and he was Napoleon’s most intractable enemy on the continent. When Napoleon became so successful that he determined to make himself emperor, Francis II feared that he might be able to so dominate Germany as to win election so he dissolved the Holy Roman Empire and thenceforth ruled as Emperor Francis I of Austria. It was a bitter blow to have to cede territory to France and worse still to give his own daughter to Napoleon in marriage. However, he saw the Austrian Empire through the crisis and by his own very conservative nature, helped ensure that the peace was practical and based on a respect for traditional authority. In the end, his prestige also allowed the Austrian Emperors to become the hereditary presidents of the German Confederation. He was a good, solid emperor and though sometimes accused of being paranoid and tyrannical, the fact is that he had reason to be and the steps he took prevented Austria from falling apart due to radical nationalism. He died in 1835.

Emperor Ferdinand I: Although often dismissed, I have a bit of a soft spot for Kaiser Ferdinand, sometimes known as “Ferdinand the Good”. True, he was handicapped in a number of ways and suffered from very severe epilepsy, however, he was not as totally incompetent as some seem to think. He could speak several different languages, could write very well and was a considerate and very religious man. Married to the Italian Princess Maria Anna of Savoy, she was a devoted wife who took good care of her husband, really being more of a nurse than a traditional wife but he loved and appreciated her for her attentiveness in what was really a sacrifice for her. If all had remained calm and tranquil, it might have been possible for Ferdinand I to remain on the throne with considerable help but that all changed with the outbreak of the Revolutions of 1848. He realized that he was not up to the task and the best thing to do would be to abdicate in favor of someone young and fit who could handle the situation. So he did, handing power over to his nephew after which he retired to Prague and lived quietly the rest of his life. While there, he also proved to be a help to the local economy and actually proved to be quite an astute businessman, amassing a fortune that supported the family for the rest of the Hapsburg reign. He died in 1875.

Emperor Francis Joseph I: One of the longest ruling monarchs in modern European history, the events of the reign of Francis Joseph would be too numerous to mention. He started out by suppressing revolutionaries and remained ever vigilant to threat of rebellion thereafter. Despite rising ethnic unrest, Francis Joseph made the Austrian Empire a workable power with growing industry and a scientific and artistic community that was second to none. However, in 1859 he acted rashly in allowing himself to be provoked into war with France and Sardinia in northern Italy, losing Lombardy in the process and a short time later went to war with Denmark alongside the other German states. The aftermath of this led to a short, disastrous war with Prussia which saw Austria removed from German affairs in 1864. Any attempt at a revival was dashed by the continuing danger of rebellion in Hungary which Emperor Francis Joseph tried to put to rest by (rather reluctantly) agreeing to the Compromise of 1867 which saw the Austrian Empire become the “Dual-Monarchy” of Austria-Hungary with each having separate and co-equal governments. In 1882 he signed on to the Triple Alliance, a monarchist defense pact, with the German Empire and the Kingdom of Italy. In 1908 Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia which angered Serbia and Russia (as well as Italy since they did not receive the territorial compensations they had been promised) and pan-Slavism, led by Serbia and backed up by Russia would become the dominant concern of the latter years of Francis Joseph’s reign. He was always a dutiful monarch and he learned from experience. He also became more sincerely religious as he aged, possibly because of the many tragedies he faced in his private life, though he was still not above using the imperial veto to influence papal elections. Holding on to what he had been given became his primary concern and the strength and preservation of the monarchy was never far from his thoughts. When World War I came, he probably viewed some sort of showdown with Serbia as inevitable but he was still reluctant and had to be lied to before actually giving the order to go to war. Too old, by that time, to play much of a part, he died in 1916.

Emperor Charles I: Known as the “Peace Emperor”, it is rather illustrative of his life that this nickname was due to intentions rather than actual achievements. He was thrust into the position of heir to the throne when Archduke Francis Ferdinand was shot in 1914 but already displayed admirable qualities that would have served him well as monarch. He was an accomplished soldier, known for his concern for the welfare of his troops, his devotion to his wife and family and his deep faith. When the Pope called for a peace without victors, only Charles and the King of the Belgians took it seriously and made the attempt. Unfortunately, it was a rather na├»ve and futile gesture that almost brought about the early destruction of Austria-Hungary. His intentions were noble and his virtue was far above his contemporaries but it was simply beyond the realm of possibility that the Allies would have agreed to such a proposal at that stage and even more ludicrous to think they would have kept his secret when making the attempt public proved so helpful to the Allied cause. The Germans were furious at such a betrayal and made plans to invade and occupy Austria-Hungary at a moment’s notice (it would not have been dissimilar to what happened to Italy in 1943). From that point, Austria-Hungary was more like Germany’s prisoner than Germany’s ally and Emperor Charles had little choice but to see things through to the end. He dismissed the old army leadership and took command himself while also proposing new domestic plans in an effort to regain the loyalty of the various ethnic minorities. However, it was to no avail and the Allies had already agreed to the post-war dismemberment of Austria-Hungary in any event. After a final, crushing blow in 1918 the empire simply collapsed in on itself and Emperor Charles was forced to relinquish power and go into exile. However, he did not abdicate as he viewed the monarchy as a sacred trust that he could not abandon. In 1921 he tried twice to regain his throne as King of Hungary but was blocked by the ruling regent. He died in Portugal a year later at the age of only 34. In 2004 Charles, the last Hapsburg Emperor, was formally beatified by Pope John Paul II. He was a saintly man and, like a number of “last” monarchs, too good for his own good in a number of ways.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

MM Mini View: The Hapsburg Emperors, Part II

Continued from Part I

Emperor Matthias: Put in charge of Hungary by his brother, Matthias aligned with the Protestant rebels, gained control of more disaffected territories and finally forced Rudolf from power. In 1612 he was elected Emperor but the methods he had used to gain power soon caused him problems. He had to deal with rebellious forces in Hungary, Slavonia, Croatia as those who he had granted concessions to before demanded more from him. His hope was to reconcile the Catholics and Protestants but the Protestants did not want to be reconciled, nor did the more zealous Catholics of the House of Hapsburg who wanted to wipe out Protestantism, an idea which even Charles V had deemed impractical. Poor Matthias was, in a way, hoisted on his own petard. He had inadvertently stirred up ambitions among the rebellious to unseat his ineffective brother only to see his own reign crippled by divisions and rebellion. His brother, Archduke Rudolf III of Austria, Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, was one of the leaders in this area and succeeded in gaining power as Emperor Matthias grew old and feeble. He died in 1619 and any thought of reconciliation died with him.

Emperor Ferdinand II: One thing was certainly clear when Ferdinand II was elected Emperor in 1619; any concessions to Protestantism would be stopped. Kaiser Ferdinand II was a staunch, devout Catholic, Jesuit-educated and a man who wished to see Catholicism restored throughout Germany. Religious liberty was not his thing and he was not big on the idea of sharing power with the nobility either and he wasted no time in tearing up the agreements of his predecessors and enforcing an imperial smack-down on the Protestants in his territory. The Bohemians revolted first, declared Ferdinand deposed and tried to replace him but he still managed to be elected emperor first and soon fighting broke out that spread quickly. This was the start of the Thirty Years War as Catholics and Protestants struggled for the domination of Germany and really all of Central Europe. The forces of Kaiser Ferdinand seemed to always be successful only to have a new enemy arise to snatch final victory from their grasp. At White Mountain the Catholic imperial forces led by the Belgian general Tilly were victorious over the Protestants in Bohemia but then Denmark got involved. Spain came to help Austria and under Wallenstein the imperial forces were victorious again. But, then Sweden got involved and King Gustavus Adolphus dealt the Catholics a devastating blow. Tilly was defeated, Wallenstein was recalled and finally the Swedes were checked with the death of their King. However, just as Ferdinand II was about to declare victory, France intervened and in 1637 Emperor Ferdinand II died and both sides were exhausted.

Emperor Ferdinand III: Under his father, Ferdinand III has taken command of the imperial army and won a smashing victory over the Swedes, proving himself to be a capable commander. It was left to him to see the Thirty Years War brought to an end, not with the victory he had hoped but with a negotiated peace. The only thing that was really settled was that nothing was going to be settled and Germany would remain religiously divided between the Catholics and Protestants. It also changed the nature of the (German) Empire for whereas his predecessors like his father Ferdinand II, Ferdinand I and Maximilian I had tried to centralize power, Ferdinand III was obliged to do the opposite. In order to gain more support against the Swedes and then the French, he conceded much greater local autonomy to the various German rulers so that, once again, the empire existed more on paper than in reality. It became more of an idea and less of an actual pan-German empire. But, it was a matter of necessity for Ferdinand III and he did his best to stay strong and keep up the fight, even after the official peace, by helping Spain against France in Italy and helping the Catholic Poles against Sweden. However, it would be wrong to expect too much from the reign of Ferdinand III as the whole Hapsburg realm was exhausted by the Thirty Years War and the whole of Germany was in ruins and would be a long, long time in recovery. He did the best he could under such circumstances and should be appreciated for that.

Emperor Leopold I: Fortunately, Hapsburg fortunes turned around after the election in 1658 of Emperor Leopold I, though it was due in large part to a man who was not a Hapsburg and not even a German-Austrian but a rather frail, French-born Italian by the name of Prince Eugene of Savoy who happened to be one of the greatest captains in military history. Leopold I was a very learned man, conservative, a great lover of music as well as being devoutly religious. All in all, a fine combination. Hungary, Bohemia and Croatia rallied to him and there was a conflict with Sweden but the great rivals of his reign would be Turkey and Louis XIV of France. The Turks were first dealt with thanks to another brilliant general, the Italian Field Marshal Raimondo Montecuccoli. Next was Louis XIV of France who was blocked by the Prince of Orange who then managed a major coup in becoming King William III of England, Scotland and Ireland. He also had to deal with a rebellion in Hungary led by Protestant nobles who disliked Leopold’s efforts to enforce Catholic uniformity. This was used as a pretext by the Turks to launch a major invasion of Central Europe resulting in the attack on Vienna which was turned back thanks to the timely arrival of the Poles under King John Sobieski. Prince Eugene followed up with more victories over the Turks, pushing them out of Hungary and further south. He would go on to more fame in the War of Spanish Succession against France. Leopold I would not live to see the end of it but he had shown good sense, picked good commanders, consolidated power for his house and supported the Church. He was very intelligent and smart enough to know to leave military matters in the hands of those best suited for it while he focused on music, religion and government. A good man and a good emperor, he died in 1705.

Emperor Joseph I: Not much is usually said about Joseph I who suffered from bad timing as an emperor. He started out overseeing events already set in motion by his father and then died before seeing the conclusion of his own plans. However, he certainly had plans, the foremost of which was the establishment of Austria as a great power. He carried on with the War of Spanish Succession in the hope of seeing the Hapsburgs maintained on the throne of Spain which, in the end, did not happen though thanks to Prince Eugene of Savoy he did gain a commanding position in Italy. Considered a reformer in his youth, he was not a radical but did enact some needed changes in the Hapsburg government and he did manage to bring order to the chronically chaotic state of the Austrian economy. His efforts to dominate Italy brought him to the brink of war with the Pope (not an unusual occurrence) but he was obliged to make peace when rebellion broke out in Hungary (also not an unusual occurrence). Once again, Hungarian rebels aligned with the Turks and Joseph I was obliged to roll back some of the power gained by the imperial monarchy in order to win the support necessary to pacify Hungary and keep the Turks from getting any big ideas. Although not often mentioned, it was also Emperor Joseph I who got the ball rolling on the Pragmatic Sanction to secure the hereditary succession of the lands of Austria. He died, his work not yet finished, in 1711.

Emperor Charles VI: What potential and what a waste! Emperor Charles VI often seems left out of history as little more than a prelude to the reign of his daughter. This is somewhat understandable given that much of his early life was spent more like a pretender to a crown he never achieved. It was his overriding goal in life to become the King of Spain and he did live in the country for a time, mostly ruling over Catalonia and the British and Portuguese supported his bid for the throne. However, despite many victories, the war did not end the way Charles wanted. When Joseph I died he went back to Austria to be elected emperor and the British suddenly dropped their support for him. They did not want to see French power expanded but nor did they wish to see the same monarch ruling over both Spain and Austria. He married but had only daughters and became obsessed with securing the succession for his daughter, Maria Theresa, by issuing the Pragmatic Sanction and trying to get all the major powers to recognize it. Although not often recognized, Charles VI was quite an accomplished emperor. He defeated the Turks and gained the Banat for Hungary as well as taking Serbia and some other territories. He consolidated the Hapsburg position in Italy by trading Sardinia for Sicily with the House of Savoy and set Austria out on what might have been the start of a colonial foreign policy by founding a trading company for the West Indies. However, he emptied the Austrian treasury trying to bribe everyone in recognizing the Pragmatic Sanction as well as granting other concessions (Britain demanded he step back from trying colonialism). It was not always money well spent as most powers ended up adhering to or rejecting it as their own national interest dictated. He died in 1740.

To be concluded in Part III...

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

MM Mini View: The Hapsburg Emperors

Emperor Frederick III: Known as “Frederick the Peaceful”, Frederick III was the first Hapsburg to be elected Holy Roman Emperor and the last to be crowned by the Pope in the city of Rome in 1452. Known as an aloof, distant sort of man with a tendency to be indecisive, Pope Pius II sardonically said that he wished to “conquer the world while remaining seated”. Still, it seems to have worked for him and some have a tendency to unjustly dismiss Frederick III. He was not so much slow as methodical, not so much unimaginative as cautious, careful, sober and realistic. He negotiated a concordat with the Pope that governed Hapsburg Church-State relations for nearly four hundred years and his patience and determination allowed him to triumph over seemingly insurmountable obstacles. His brother rebelled against him and defeated him at every turn, yet Frederick III persevered and maintained himself on the throne. He failed to defeat the Hungarians, who won numerous victories over his forces, yet he survived and did manage to pull off a real long-term victory over Burgundy, securing an advantageous marriage for his son and the inheritance of that choice piece of real-estate. He died in 1493.

Emperor Maximilian I: One of the great ones, Kaiser Max is the real-life reason behind the famous saying, ‘Others make war, but thou, oh happy Austria, only marries’. His reign as Emperor dates from 1508 but he had been in charge of the Hapsburg dynasty for much longer. He was Duke of Burgundy thanks to the marriage contract won at gunpoint by his father and so from 1477 he was already ruler of a large slice of France and the Low Countries. When King Louis XI of France tried to take Burgundy from him, Max went to war and sent the French packing. He fought the French again in the Italian Wars and seized the Tyrol when he was asked to settle a dispute between the Tyrolese and the Bavarians. Perhaps most significantly, he married his son, Philip the Handsome, to Juana of Castile, daughter of Fernando and Isabella, thus securing Spain for the House of Hapsburg. He tried to make the Holy Roman Empire into a more unitary state and to use matrimonial alliances to gain mastery over France but was less successful in those endeavors. He also lost the Hapsburg ancestral lands to Switzerland but, the foundations he laid ended up bringing about a Hapsburg empire second to none in the western world.

Emperor Charles V: A giant in western history, Charles V was elected Emperor in 1519 but had already inherited a massive empire from Spain to the Low Countries to Austria itself. A sincerely religious man but a worldly and practical one as well, it is no understatement to say that Emperor Charles V saved Christendom on more than one occasion. During his eventful reign, he was almost constantly at war and was usually victorious. He defeated the Turks in the south, won a crushing victory over the French at Pavia in the west, broke the power of the Pope in Italy and subdued rebellious princes in Germany. A cosmopolitan man who almost defied classification, he was also in charge when Lutheranism first appeared and famously rebuked the monk at the Diet of Worms. He urged the Catholic Church to make reforms such as would make it easier for the Lutherans to get along with it but to no avail. He fought the Protestants for a time but ended by making peace with them so as to focus on external enemies. He was the last Emperor to actually be crowned, done in Bologna by Pope Clement VII after he had conquered Italy and forced the Pope’s submission. The Spanish empire expanded in the New World but so many conflicts did cause considerable financial problems in the future. Still, a giant historical figure who became something of a legend in Spain and Germany alike.

Emperor Ferdinand I: The brother of Charles V, he oversaw the German half of the Hapsburg empire, inheriting it when his brother abdicated while the Spanish half went to his nephew King Philip II. He also gained the thrones of Bohemia, Hungary and Croatia but a faction of the Hungarians allied with the Ottoman Sultan and rebelled against him. Vienna was besieged but in the end the Austrians were victorious. Ferdinand also negotiated the peace on behalf of his brother with the Protestants in Germany, allowing them to maintain their religion. He tried to centralize power and build-up an absolute monarchy in the Holy Roman Empire but had to deal with rebellions in Bohemia and Hungary. He sympathized with many of the positions of the Protestants but still supported the “Counter-Reformation” and invited the Jesuits into Vienna and Prague toward that end so the idea some have entertained that he was a crypto-Protestant is an exaggeration. He was a practical man who did his best to defend and consolidate the Hapsburg realm and to keep the Turks out of Central Europe. He died in 1564 after a reign that was difficult and not without setbacks but which had been successful when it counted most. Overall, an astute monarch.

Emperor Maximilian II: Elected the same year his father and predecessor died, Kaiser Max II at times seemed to be unsure whether he wanted to be a Catholic or a Protestant. He seemed so favorably inclined to the Lutherans that his father had to assure the Pope that Maximilian would not succeed him if he actually became a Protestant. As it happened, Max II remained at least nominally Catholic throughout his life. There were Protestant as well as Catholic electors and no law stipulating that an Emperor had to be a Catholic. In the end, he was on good terms with the Protestants and still elected Emperor as a Catholic with the Pope confirming his election. He then pushed for the Pope to accept Protestant practices such as doing away with clerical celibacy and giving communion in both kinds. When the Council of Trent issued its documents, he refused to have them published and tried to get his Spanish cousin to ease up on the Protestants in Holland. In the end, he angered the Catholics and still never managed to totally appease the Protestants and he was unable to take the remainder of Hungary back from the Turks. He died while trying to press his claim to the Kingdom of Poland in 1576. His reign was a rather well meaning mess that accomplished little.

Emperor Rudolf II: One of the more unusual Hapsburg emperors. Most regarded him as aloof, excessively formal and rather stiff. He was certainly reclusive and rather eccentric and not the most dutiful of monarchs. He never married so never produced an heir and delegated most of his daily tasks to others while he obsessed over machinery, astrology and alchemy (and religious people should remember when being lectured by modern scientists that astrology and alchemy were at one time considered solid, scientific “fact”). He was tolerant towards Protestants and Jews and was never really a serious, practicing Catholic but his actual state of mind became harder to determine and more erratic. He was prone to fits of depression and became almost obsessive in his fascination with alchemy. He naively tried to remain neutral in the growing tensions between Catholics and Protestants and tried to bring everyone together for a war against the Ottoman Turks but it got him nowhere and soon Hungary was in rebellion again. In Bohemia he granted concessions to the Protestants but they only demanded more and joined forces with the Hungarians to force Rudolf from power. He died in 1612 powerless and possibly mad.

Continued in Part II

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Today in History

It was on this day in 1519 that King Carlos I of Spain was elected Holy Roman Emperor as Charles V. His reign would be one of the most remarkable, not only in Hapsburg history but in European and world history as well. He respected local laws and customs, the rights and powers of rulers beneath him in the imperial hierarchy but he would also take forceful action when he felt his domain was threatened. He inflicted a crushing defeat on the French in Italy, smashed the forces loyal to Pope Clement VII and dominated the Italian peninsula. He stood on guard against the Ottoman Turks in southeastern Europe and the Mediterranean, launching counter-strikes into north Africa and all while being constantly distracted by the rebellions of the first Protestants in Germany and the further spreading of Protestantism. Throughout his reign he stood as the great champion of Catholic Christendom, rushing forces from front to front to protect it from surrounding threats. He saw himself in this light and that is important to consider, he would take action with or without the Holy See and at times even against it. As King of Spain, his empire was the first upon which it was said that 'the sun never set' and as Catholics were turning to Protestantism in the heart of his domains, his forces were winning new populations to replace them in the Americas. He was a giant among men and a huge figure on the pages of history.
It was on this day in 1914 that Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were assassinated by the Serbian terrorist Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo, Bosnia when he was in town for military maneuvers of the Imperial & Royal Army. Princip was part of a gang of conspirators armed and trained by elements within the Serbian military which wished to provoke a war in the hope of creating a "Greater Serbia". It was the spark that ignited the powder keg of alliances, bringing about the First World War. Before it was all over, fighting would reach all across Europe, the Middle East, parts of Africa, Asia and all the oceans of the world, bringing down the Russian, German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires. The institution of monarchy would never be the same again.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Field Marshal Joseph Graf Radetzky von Radetz

One of the most celebrated Austrian soldiers and a staunch defender of the Hapsburg monarchy in the revolutions of 1848 was Graf Radetzky. John Joseph Wenceslaus Anthony Francis Charles, Count Radetzky of Radetz was born on November 2, 1766 in Trebnice, Bohemia to a noble family in what is now the Czech Republic. His parents died when he was young and he was raised by his grandfather before entering the Theresa Academy in Vienna at a young age. In 1786 he became an officer-cadet in the Imperial Army, received his commission the following year and in 1787 was promoted to first lieutenant and posted to a cuirassier (heavy cavalry) regiment. He first saw action as a staff officer to Graf von Lacy in the Turkish War and from 1792 to 1795 served in the Austrian Netherlands (Belgium). He first really distinguished himself in the wars against Revolutionary and Napoleonic France, gaining attention by his skill and conspicuous bravery. He led a successful infiltration of the enemy lines at the Battle of Fleurus in 1794, saw action along the Rhine in 1795 and in 1796 led a troop of hussars to rescue his commander, Johann Beaulieu, in northern Italy at Valeggio sul Mincio.

Radetzky served in the fighting around the siege of Mantua against Napoleon, by then promoted to major and as a lieutenant colonel further distinguished himself at the battles of Trebbia and Novi. As a staff colonel at the Battle of Marengo he was wounded five times but never lost his determination or any degree of his almost reckless courage. Even as a young officer he was also very observant of the shortcomings in Austrian tactics and never ceased to advocate changes, often to the frustration of his less talented superiors. In recognition of his outstanding service, in 1801 he received the Military Order of Maria Theresa, the most prestigious Austrian military decoration and one which had something of a reputation for being given to officers who disobeyed orders but who were vindicated by success. This was not exactly the case with Radetzky but his situation probably helped further that rumor. In 1805 he was promoted major general and assigned to Italy under the command of Archduke Charles of Austria, often regarded as the most formidable continental commander of those forces allied against Napoleon. However, for Radetzky and the rest of the Austrian army, defeat was the final result and a peace was concluded with France.

During this interlude, Radetzky studied and served as a military instructor while also spending time with his family. In 1798 he had married Countess Francisca von Strassoldo Grafenberg with whom he had eight children. The peace, however, was short-lived and soon Radetzky was back in the field leading a brigade at the Battle of Eckmuhl in 1809 and then a division at the Battle of Wagram following his promotion to lieutenant field marshal. In 1810, along with further decorations, he was given the position of colonel-in-chief of the Fifth Hussars, thereafter known as the Radetzky Hussars. Also during that time and until 1812 he was chief of the general staff and in that position should have finally been able to make the changes to the organization and tactics of the Austrian Imperial Army that he had so long pushed for. However, in what had been, was and would be in the future a major problem for the Austrian armed forces, the government refused to allocate the funds necessary to implement these changes. Eventually, Radetzky resigned in disgust and returned to the field. In 1813 he served as chief of staff to Field Marshal Karl Philipp, Prince of Schwarzenberg and proved so capable that he quickly became extremely influential, not only in the Austrian army but amongst the other Allied powers as well.

Graf Radetzky displayed his considerable talents to their fullest extent during this period and his superiors had nothing but praise for his abilities. He helped plan the operation that led to the allied victory at Leipzig and displayed his tactical brilliance in the battles of Brienne and Arcis sur Aube. He was among those who march in triumph through Paris in 1814 when Napoleon was defeated and he even played a part in the Congress of Vienna, helping smooth things over between Austria and Russia. Unfortunately, the ensuing peace only brought about a greater disinterest on the part of the Austrian government for his plans to overhaul the military. He continued to advocate for a more efficient organization, improved tactics and overall a stronger commitment to national defense for the Austrian Empire. Unfortunately, few were willing to listen and many became annoyed at his incessant warnings. They would have been wiser to heed his advice.

Because of his impressive record, he could not simply be dismissed but he was pushed out of the way; promoted to General of the Cavalry and placed in command of a fortress. Most were content to ignore him but when the specter of revolution rose up again, Graf Radetzky was called upon to save the monarchy. When rebellion broke out in the Papal States, he was part of the Austrian army that suppressed it and in 1834 he was placed in command of the Austrian Imperial troops in Italy. Two years later, at the age of 70, he was promoted to Field Marshal. He ensured that his troops were the best trained and most disciplined force in the Austrian Empire and, back in a position of prominence again, he resumed his call for improvements to the military. But, yet again, the government refused to spend the money necessary to implement the changes he wanted and to modernize the army. It was a dangerous mistake as was proven when the Revolutions of 1848 began to break out and Radetzky had a major problem on his hands in Italy with large-scale rebellions in the Austrian-ruled territories and a war being waged by King Carlo Alberto of Piedmont-Sardinia. Despite the fact that the Austrian Empire was by far the strongest power in the region, the failure to adopt Radetzky’s policies meant that the Piedmontese were actually the more modern force and posed a considerable threat.

Nonetheless, despite such difficulties, Radetzky had lost none of the fiery determination of his youth and he succeeded in holding off the Italian forces until reinforcements could arrive, culminating in his great victory at the Battle of Novara in March of 1849. During the early unrest in Italy he even had the soon-to-be Emperor Francis Joseph serving under him, gaining first-hand experience at warfare under the old master. Radetzky defeated the Piedmontese, crushed the Italian nationalists and reconquered Venice, bringing it firmly back under Austrian control. This was the height of his military career and he was awarded the Order of the Golden Fleece for his victories in crushing the enemies of the Hapsburg monarchy. Also in recognition of his success, he was then made Viceroy of the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, the only one to hold the position not from the ranks of the Imperial Family. Of course, any time there is rebellion there will necessarily be punishments meted out but even among the Italians Graf Radetzky was not unduly vilified. His rule was firm but fair and his own troops certainly adored him because he always tried to do his best for them, tried to get them better weapons and equipment and his victories meant that fewer lost their lives. As a sign of their affection, his men referred to him as ‘Father Radetzky’.

Still, while perfectly willing to tolerate those who opposed Austrian rule peacefully, when it came to those who took up arms against the crown he did not spare the whip. Oddly enough, some chose to take exception with the method of execution he employed, hanging ringleaders as criminals rather than having them shot by firing squad as soldiers. Hungarians who fought alongside the Italian rebels objected to this, somehow thinking that their treason should not count since they were in the Italian portion of the Austrian Empire rather than the Hungarian portion. In any event, even his enemies could not accuse him of being especially harsh. He applied justice evenly and was honest in all his dealings. When it came to politics he had earlier favored the “Greater Germany” school of thought somewhat but for Radetzky he was always a soldier and avoided the political arena. It was enough for him to be a stalwart defender of his Emperor and that he certainly was, from the start of his career until his death on January 5, 1858 in Milan at the age of 91.