Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Saturday, January 5, 2013
It was in 1915 that the Kingdom of Italy joined the conflict, declaring war on Austria-Hungary, and the baron was given command of the V Army and bringing his usual skill and solid determination in defensive fighting. The Austrians had the terrain to their advantage (along with some other things) but as their forces were fighting on numerous fronts it was the Italians, who mostly had a single front to concentrate on, that held the numerical advantage and they hit the Austrian lines in a series of gallant, costly offensives. Baron von Bojna and his men took a devastating toll on the attacking Italians and while Austria-Hungary was usually forced to give ground, it was minimal and came at a disproportionate loss to the Italians and much of this was due to the tenacity of the baron and his forces. Eventually, however, as conditions inside Austria-Hungary became worse, the stress increasing on the forces on every front and the slow but continuous progress of the Italians, Field Marshal Conrad von Hoetzendorf, the chief of staff and a renowned strategist (despite what you may have heard) recommended that the imperial-royal forces on the Italian front fall back, abandoning most of what is now Slovenia, to a better defensive position that could be held with fewer troops.
In 1916 the baron was promoted to Colonel General and later was given even wider authority as a commander who had tangible proof of his ability. In this context, it is also important to remember that he was a loyal soldier of his emperor and defender of Austria-Hungary as it then was. His background may have been a disadvantage at times, but it also made him something of an embodiment of Austria-Hungary itself in that (as would later be seen) it would have been hard to say there was one group to which he belonged; he was not German, not Magyar and a Serbian Orthodox Croatian seems almost a contradiction in terms, however, as long as the empire existed, none of that mattered because Austria-Hungary as a whole was his country, it was where he belonged and he would fight for it to the bitter end. That included actions away from the front such as his staunch opposition to an effort by some in the Hungarian government to split the military completely in two with an Austrian branch and a Hungarian branch. While others were exasperated by trying to keep Germans, Magyars, Slavs, Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, Muslims and Jews from trying to break away, for Baron von Bojna it was enough that he was from one of the many Hapsburg lands and he was loyal to his monarch, simple as that. Of course, as with any of us mortals, he was not flawless. He was notoriously difficult to work with, being an extremely strict disciplinarian and was rather excessively vain; however, given his great talent one can certainly see why.
Emperor Charles, of course, refused the offer, being a very pious and peace-loving man, and Austria-Hungary was no more. Minority populations declared their independence, the Imperial Family went into exile and the Hapsburg lands were divided up amongst the Allied powers with the most generous portions going to Romania and Serbia with a totally new country (Czechoslovakia) being created in the process. Without the empire, Baron von Bojna regarded himself, as he always had, as a Croatian and offered his services to the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (under the Serbian monarchy which would later become the Kingdom of Yugoslavia) but was refused, even though one would think any power would have been grateful to accept the services of a commander of such proven ability. The baron then made his home in Austria and, sadly, was forced to live a very modest existence on a small pension, being denied employment in the one occupation to which he had devoted his life. Embittered by his treatment after a lifetime of loyal and remarkable service, the Slavic field marshal died of an apoplexy on May 23, 1920. Still, not everyone was ungrateful as, despite his own immense difficulties, the exiled Emperor Charles I paid for his burial and would no doubt have attended the services for this exceptional former soldier of his had the Austrian authorities allowed it. Still, his life is one which can or should inspire others. He was a gifted soldier, a loyal subject and a devoted monarchist.