Austro-Hungarian Armed Forces
- LAST REVIEWED: 14 April 2021
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2018
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0181
- LAST REVIEWED: 14 April 2021
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2018
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0181
The Austro-Hungarian armed forces were bookended by devastating military defeats. Born from the Austrian Empire’s defeat in the Austro-Prussian War in 1866, it passed in 1918 with the Central Powers’ defeat in the Great War, the only major conflict in which the Dual Monarchy’s armed forces participated. For this reason, the vast majority of scholarly literature on the Austro-Hungarian armed forces focuses on World War I and various facets of its operations and the experiences of its soldiers, sailors, and airmen. Institutional studies of the Austro-Hungarian armed forces have detailed the organizational, multiethnic, and political complexities which consistently hindered their ability to keep pace with Europe’s other “Great Powers.” Campaign studies reveal as much, offering a seemingly endless supply of military catastrophes due to all manner of ineptitude and implacability: the indecisiveness of its leadership, “Schlamperei” (carelessness), ill-conceived and/or poorly executed military operations, ethnic antagonisms within, and poor relations between officers and their men (Offizierhass). These deficiencies, during World War I, forced their German ally to intervene on an ever-greater scale to keep the army reasonably functional and intact. In the process, it placed the Habsburg Monarchy in an increasingly subservient role. The more recent turn of literature toward the experiences of Austro-Hungarian soldiers in the field has revealed the very real consequences of the debacles of the Habsburg high command. No soldiers among Europe’s Great Powers suffered more than did those of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
While Bassett 2016 offers an expansive operational and institutional overview of the Austro-Hungarian army compared to previous works, Rothenberg 1976 offers greater depth in its coverage of the k.u.k. army under Kaiser Franz Josef’s reign. Wandruszka and Urbanitisch 1987 is a particularly valuable source in terms of detailing the institutional changes effective with the Ausgleich (or compromise) of 1867. Its combination of breadth and depth remains quite impressive. Lackey 1995 is an able and well-researched study of Friedrich Beck’s efforts to overhaul and modernize the institution, but by design, it focuses only on Beck’s tenure as Chief of the Habsburg General Staff. Austro-Hungarian Land Forces 1848–1918 complements Rothenberg 1976 and Lackey 1995 by charting the organization of the separate Austrian and Hungarian national armies (the Landwehr and Honvéd, respectively) as well as that of the joint k.u.k. (Kaiserlich und Königlich) army. As for the Austro-Hungarian navy, Rechkron, et al. 1966 offers a detailed, archivally based account of the navy’s warships, their deployment, and actions at various points in monarchy’s history. Sondhaus 2017 and Vego 1996 provide concise and useful overviews of the development of the Austro-Hungarian navy, while Sokol 1980—a naval officer, Great War veteran, and author of the multivolume Österreich-Ungarns Seekrieg 1914–18, the naval counterpart to the General Staff’s official history of World War I, Österreich-Ungarns letzter Krieg—details its expeditions and actions before the outbreak of the Great War. In a similar vein to Sokol 1980, Desoye 1999 provides a useful narrative for the development of the Austro-Hungarian army’s air corps in the years leading up to World War I. The lack of scholarly attention given to the empire’s navy and air corps, in particular, makes these overviews all the more important. As is the case in most topic areas of the Austro-Hungarian armed forces, there much room for further research, analysis, and reassessment of these military institutions.
This website created by Glenn Jewison and Jörg C. Steiner is incredible in both its depth and breadth, detailing the organization, unit histories, ethnic composition of units, and orders of battle, among other aspects of the Austro-Hungarian army, but also includes a wealth of information on the organization of its air wing.
Bassett, Richard. For God and Kaiser: The Imperial Austrian Army, 1619–1918. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016.
Bassett’s monograph is a sweeping, chronological exploration of the Habsburg army. It follows the evolution of the army on the battlefield, detailing its descent from being the finest in Europe to being woefully ill-prepared for war in 1914. Nevertheless, Bassett channels Rothenberg’s ceaseless optimism, finding strength and achievement where others have found weakness and failure.
Desoye, Reinhard Karl Boromäus. Die k.u.k. Luftfahrtruppe: Die Entstehung, der Aufbau and die Organisation der österreichisch-ungarischen Heersluftwaffe 1912–1918. Hamburg, Germany: Diplomica Verlag, 1999.
This is Desoye’s published master’s thesis, which documents the brief life of the Austro-Hungarian army air wing from its inception to its demise in 1918. In doing so, it draws heavily on archival documents to detail the air service’s relationship with Austro-Hungarian industry, its organization and expansion, and its tactical and strategic doctrine during World War I.
Lackey, Scott W. The Rebirth of the Habsburg Army: Friedrich Beck and the Rise of the General Staff. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 1995.
In his revised PhD dissertation, he examines the achievements the first Chief of the Austro-Hungarian General Staff, Friedrich Beck. Following the Prussian model, Beck’s General Staff overhauled the empire’s system of mobilization, created a new reserve in the Landsturm, and established a defensive alliance with Germany. In short, Beck created the army Conrad von Hötzendorf took to war in 1914.
Rechkron, Josef Rechberger, Josef Ritter von Lehnert, Artur von Khuepach, Heinrich Bayer von Bayersburg, and Hans Sokol. Geschichte der K. u. K. Kriegsmarine. 5 vols. Vienna and Graz, Austria: Böhlau, 1966.
With volumes commissioned and written at various points in time by Austro-Hungarian and, later, Austrian authorities—the last having been completed in 1966—this five-volume set, written by generations of historians at the Kriegsarchiv in Vienna, provides a comprehensive history of the Habsburg navy from 1500 to 1914. Many of the volumes have been digitized and are widely available online.
Rothenberg, Gunther E. The Army of Francis Joseph. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 1976.
Still widely available, any broad examination of the Habsburg army must begin with Gunther Rothenberg’s foundational work, which remained, for many years, the only English-language study of the Austro-Hungarian army. Francis Joseph’s army, while a unifying force in the empire, was behind Europe’s Great Powers and could not wage a major war on its own. That this was never redressed reflected the dysfunction of imperial politics.
Sokol, Hans. Des Kaisers Seemacht: Die K.K. Osterreichische Kriegsmarine 1848 bis 1914. Vienna: Amalthea, 1980.
A history of the development of the Austro-Hungarian navy prior to the outbreak of World War I. In addition to his coverage of naval missions projecting Austro-Hungarian imperial power, Sokol’s coverage of the navy’s actions in international incidents, such as its support of the revolts in Crete in 1898, the Annexation Crisis of 1908, and the Boxer Rebellion (1900), are of particular interest.
Sondhaus, Lawrence. “Austria-Hungary: An Inland Empire Looks to the Sea.” In The Sea in History: The Modern World. Edited by N. A. M. Rodger and Christian Buchet, 180–190. Suffolk, UK: Boydell Press, 2017.
This book chapter provides an informative overview of the spasmodic development of the Austro-Hungarian navy as well as its embrace of maritime trade in the late decades of the 19th century. Sondhaus highlights the fact that despite being consistently underfunded and numerically inferior, it overachieved and held its own against the Great Power navies it faced.
Vego, Milan N. Austro-Hungarian Naval Policy, 1904–1914. Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 1996.
A limited but useful introduction to the development of the Imperial and Royal Navy under Admiral Rudolf Montecuccoli, who guided the institution throughout much of the period under examination.
Wandruszka, Adam, and Peter Urbanitisch, eds. Die Habsburgermonarchie 1848–1918. Vol. 5, Die bewaffnete Macht. Vienna: Osterreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1987.
This encyclopedic anthology details the organization and inner workings of the Austro-Hungarian armed forces from 1848 to 1914. With a useful introduction that positions the Habsburg armed forces in imperial society, the volume is topically divided, with the reorganization of the Habsburg army after the Ausgleich appropriately receiving the most extensive treatment.
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