Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Those who scoff at the Imperial-Royal military also often pay scant notice to the great number of fronts Austria-Hungary had to manage. At one point there was the Serbian front, the Italian front, the Russian front and the Romanian front to deal with and there were also Austro-Hungarian contingents fighting on the western front and in Palestine before it was all over. This factor alone would have been enough to test the strength and organizational capacity of even the most advanced and homogeneous powers. Additionally, despite what some think, the diversity of Austria-Hungary was not, in every case, a weakness. Polish forces, for example, rallied to the promise of the liberation of their homeland and Bosnian Muslim forces made up the bulk of the Hapsburg forces sent to the Middle East to support the Ottoman Turks. Of course, the religious diversity is not often remarked upon either. Most of the leadership were Catholics but the rank and file were Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Muslim and Jewish and there were never any major problems because of that. It is still a bit controversial today, but there is also the point that Russia had a highly placed spy in the Austro-Hungarian army and so much of the planning for the war was already known in St Petersburg when the fighting started. Given that, the fact that the Imperial-Royal forces won any battles at all is rather remarkable.
In 1915 a renewed offensive saw Serbia successfully conquered and after Italy joined the war the Austro-Hungarian forces held their own against superior numbers, giving ground grudgingly and taken a heavy toll on the Italian armies. 1915 also saw the Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive which resulted in a stunning defeat for the Russian forces and yet, all too often, the Austro-Hungarian contribution to this success is often ignored. The same could be said for many other victories won when German and Austro-Hungarian forces were working together, such as in the Balkans, Romania and the big victory in Italy at Caporetto. However, important though the German assistance undeniably was, the Germans did not win all these victories all on their own and the Austro-Hungarian forces deserve just as much of the credit for the part they played in all of them, many times shouldering most of the burden. It is also worth pointing out the other armed services of Austria-Hungary which likewise seldom get the attention or credit that they justly deserve. On the naval front, for example, there may not have been any big clash of fleets in the Adriatic but the Imperial-Royal Navy was successful just as a threat in keeping enemy forces at a distance. They also carried out several very damaging raids on Allied naval forces. Few also realize that the tiny Austrian submarine force actually had a greater percentage of hits per torpedoes fired than their German allies did. In the air, despite having a rather late start and being often outmatched, the Austro-Hungarian air forces had quite an impressive record with no less than 20 flying “aces” with some shooting down more than 30 Allied aircraft.