Günther Kronenbitter. "Krieg im Frieden": Die Führung der k.u.k. Armee und die Großmachtpolitik Österreich-Ungarns 1906-1914. München: Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag, 2003. 690 S. EUR 79.80 (cloth), ISBN 978-3-486-56700-7.
Reviewed by Gunther E. Rothenberg (Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra)
Published on HABSBURG (February, 2004)
To Save the Dual Monarchy: The Austro-Hungarian General Staff 1906-1914
To Save the Dual Monarchy: The Austro-Hungarian General Staff 1906-1914
The causes of World War I, and indeed the operations of the war, are probably among the most intensively worked-over topics in modern history. Even World War II has not interrupted the constant flow of new treatments, many using new archival material, and many departing from the simplistic interpretation that imperial Germany together with its Austro-Hungarian ally were solely responsible for the catastrophe of 1914-1918. Also, much of the recent writing departs from the earlier and still influential Fritz Fischer thesis regarding the "primacy of internal policy." Instead it stresses the combination of diplomatic and military concerns, power politics as they have been called, in which the alliance system, the steadily increasing troop numbers and the armament race between the various European powers during the first decade of the twentieth century assumes a central place.
Günther Kronenbitter supports this interpretation. Given that under the dualistic arrangements of 1867, the central command echelons of the Dual Monarchy, the k.u.k. General Staff and the Foreign Ministry, had but very limited influence on internal affairs, the response to a perceived existential external threat to Austria-Hungary's Great Power status rather than internal politics are considered by the author as the dominant considerations for the military. After 1906 this perception repeatedly drove chiefs of staff to advocate policies that ultimately contributed to the outbreak of a multi-front war for which the Austro-Hungarian forces were ill prepared.
This is a Habilitationsschrift, but it is not a revision of the author's original doctoral dissertation. Kronenbitter, now with the Institute for Canadian Studies at Augsburg University, completed his dissertation on the political writings of Friedrich Gentz in 1992, published two years later, followed by editing Gentz's collected works in 1997. Since 1991 he held various positions at Augsburg University, and among other posts he was a visiting lecturer at the University of British Columbia and taught at Salzburg and Vienna Universities. During this period he published a very substantial number of articles on the k.u.k Army, especially the General Staff and its relations with its German counterpart, preliminary work for the present volume. The result is a superb multifaceted study, which if not coming to any starling new results, surpasses previous books and articles in the depth of its research. This is not a book designed for the general reader, but it offers much to the specialist and deservedly was awarded the Augsburg University Foundation's first research prize.
The study is organized into two major parts: A "Kriegsvorbereitung Ideal und Realität," and B "Vom 'Krieg im Frieden' zum Weltkrieg." The first chapter in part A describes a "Military Elite in Crisis" and concerns itself with the entry and careers, character and psychology, education and strategic perceptions of Austria-Hungary's military elite, the bottle green uniformed General Staff officers, during the last years before the war. Overwhelmingly of German language background, future staff officers were educated at the Theresian Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt and entered the General Staff Corps following a rigorous selection after passing the War College. The majority came from recently ennobled military families and the bureaucracy, the high aristocracy had little interest in military careers. Staff officers enjoyed better career prospects than the line, though pay and social prestige remained low.
The General Staff was not given to self-examination and maintained the outward appearance of a solid body, faithful to the dynasty and opposed to the constant Hungarian aspirations for a separate army. But on the inside there was fierce competition for advancement, with success depending on seniority but more importantly patronage, especially that of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand, army inspector general and since 1906 maintaining his own military cabinet at the Belvedere. Staff reputation was shaken by two major scandals. The Hofrichter affair, the attempted poisoning of comrades to help this officer up the promotion ladder, which was followed by the discovery in 1913 that a senior intelligence staff officer, Colonel Joseph Redl, had for several years sold information to Russia and Italy.
By 1906 the post of the Chief of the General Staff of the entire Armed Forces, including the navy, was the most important military appointment in the Dual Monarchy. His relations with the emperor, the heir apparent, the war minister and his staff were of paramount importance and his views on military doctrine shaped strategic, operational and tactical developments. >From 1906 to 1917, with only a short interruption in 1911-1912, Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf held this position. His doctrine shared by military men everywhere emphasized offensive action supported by superior numbers and by achieving fire superiority over the defenders. But because of fiscal restraints, Austro-Hungarian artillery remained backwards and there was, at least until 1912, a marked deficit in the number of annual recruits, leaving manpower understrength. Believing like his counterparts in Germany, Russia, and France that war was just a question of time, and that time was not on the side of the Habsburg Monarchy, he repeatedly urged for preventive war against Serbia or Italy that he regarded as the most dangerous and imminent enemies. This brought him into conflict with the Foreign Ministry and with the peace-minded Emperor Francis Joseph and the erratic Archduke Francis Ferdinand.
Chapter 2, "Vorgestellte Kriege", shows how despite the experiences of the Boer War, the Russo-Japanese War and the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, the doctrine of the offensive continued to dominate military thinking throughout Europe, a view shared by the k.u.k. Armee, finally receiving machine guns and rapid firing field artillery after 1906. To make training more realistic Conrad abolished the set-piece maneuvers and introduced "free" maneuvers stressing offensive action with movements at maximum speed, leaving troops in poor shape for the final parade. This incurred the displeasure of the emperor as well as the heir apparent, both often interfering with the conduct of maneuvers. In the end, however, Conrad could not produce an answer to the problem of how an infantry attack could succeed against a well-positioned adversary.
Another critical issue was the question of rapid mobilization, deployment, command and control and supply for a mass army transported by railway demanding expansion of staff duties. Though this requirement was solved many staff officers became little more than military bureaucrats out of touch with their regimental colleagues. The chapter ends with a short discussion of the intelligence services of the army which might perhaps been reserved to chapter 3, which has a large section on intelligence, military attachés and agents.
In the previous chapter Kronenbitter has expanded, but not changed, the conventional picture of the k.u.k. Armee and the same is true of Chapter III, "Resources", which covers the struggle for army expansion long stalled by Hungarian demands for greater importance for the Honved, and the excruciatingly slow procurement of modern field artillery, not really solved until 1915-16. The author holds that the army suffered because of disputes with the emperor, the heir apparent, and the Foreign Ministry over Conrad's efforts to engage in preventive war, initially against Italy and after 1912 against Serbia, all covered again in greater detail in Part B.
Also discussed are the rising doubts about the loyalty of the multinational troops and the reserve officers that led to Francis Ferdinand's proposal to shift troops out of their home districts, which, of course, never came to pass. Industrial developments and the evolution of a Dreadnought navy are part of this chapter that concludes with a useful look at attempts--concerts, parades, youth movements and the like--to make the armed forces more popular.
Finally, chapter 4, "International Relations" consists of two major sections. The first deals with intelligence including counterintelligence and with the evolving role of the military attachés and provides extensive and well-researched detail. Given that the multi-national empire contained numerous disaffected ethnic minorities, especially Ruthenes, Serbs, and Italians there was a fair degree of formal cooperation between the military and various civilian agencies, though the Redl affair revealed shortcomings especially in the counter intelligence service. In addition there were problems in the relations between the military attachés and the intelligence service and the diplomatic status of the attachés and the diplomatic and consular service which generally recruited its members from higher social, that is aristocratic, backgrounds than the military. Overall, though badly underfunded, the intelligence service provided useful information, though in some crucial instances, for instance railroad capacities, the general staff refused to accept them and continued to underestimate the potential speed of Russian deployment.
The convoluted relationships between the Austro-Hungarian and the German General Staffs have been the subject of a near endless literature but there is general consensus that lacking clear agreement there really was no strategic, tactical, or industrial cooperation between the two allies. If the Habsburg officers regarded their more powerful ally with envy and admiration, the German General Staff had mixed feelings about the capability of its ally. As late as the summer of 1914 there were no concrete joint war plans though both counted on vague promises made by the other. Kronenbitter like most previous authors concludes that the military alliance between Austria-Hungary and Germany was not close enough and lacked clear strategic understandings.
Part B again tends to follow the conventional interpretation. Its first chapter "Versäumter Krieg" discusses the changes in the decision-making echelons of the military and foreign policy establishments made after 1906, with special emphasis on the role of Francis Ferdinand's military chancery. With Russia weakened by its defeat in Manchuria and revolutionary unrest, Conrad repeatedly pressed to use the window of opportunity to advocate war against Serbia or the nominally allied Italy. Opposed by Emperor Francis Joseph, but also on occasion by Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and always by Foreign Minister Alois Lexa Count Aehrenthal, Conrad lost out and in late 1911 was dismissed by the emperor in person, his dismissal widely seen as a victory for the peace party.
The following chapter "Unsicherer Frieden" shows that the peace party's victory at best was temporary. The two Balkan Wars shifted Austro-Hungarian attention and again created possibilities for war while at the same time the alliance with Italy was weakened. While Aehrenthal's successor Leopold Count Berchtold, supported by Francis Ferdinand, tried to pursue a rapprochement with Russia, events on the Balkan created a series of crises which Conrad, restored to office in late 1912, regarded as potential threats to the Dual Monarchy's very existence especially when Russia undertook test mobilizations. To counteract Serb gains and with the Monarchy's political and military position much weaker in 1912 than it had been in 1908, Vienna repeatedly partially mobilized, but by 1913 had achieved little more than preventing Serb access to the Adriatic.
The last chapter, "Entschiedenes Handeln," reveals the complications and initial indecision prevailing in the decision-making echelons in Vienna following the assassination of Francis Ferdinand, with further complications arising from the concerns of the Hungarian government. Although receiving firm assurances of German support, albeit for fewer troops than had been hoped for, Austria-Hungary was neither pushed into war by Germany nor slid into war by miscalculation--its leaders were firm in their resolve to go to war. They would have preferred a limited war against Serbia, but clearly were aware that Russia would support its Slav ally. In the event, however, though mobilization went unexpectedly well, the various suspect nationalities faithfully reported for duty, the initial deployment was repeatedly changed and the General Staff poorly handled the initial operations of war. Some analysis of the support offered by Germany as well as the opposing forces, the Serbs and the Russian army would have been valuable, but this would have overloaded an already long book.
In conclusion, the reviewer feels, though most likely he is going to be wrong, that Kronenbitter's volume will be the last word on the subject for a long time to come.
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Gunther E. Rothenberg. Review of Kronenbitter, Günther, "Krieg im Frieden": Die Führung der k.u.k. Armee und die Großmachtpolitik Österreich-Ungarns 1906-1914.
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Copyright © 2004 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.