the Habsburg Armed Forces
by Rok Stergar
lands started coming in Habsburg hands in the late 13th
century. The long process began after the battle of Dürnkrut
(1278). In this last traditional battle of knights in the region,
the army of the emperor Rudolf of Habsburg defeated the army
of the Czech king Otakar Přemysl. Afterwards the Emperor invested
his two sons, Albert and Rudolf II, with Austria, Styria, and
Carniola, which were previously in the hands of Otakar. In the
next couple of centuries Carinthia, Istria, Triest and finally
in 1500 the County of Görz (Gorica, Gorizia) were one by one
incorporated into Habsburg Hereditary Lands as well. This and
other Habsburg domains evolved slowly in the Austrian Empire.
Of course the process was not straightforward. For the Habsburg
rule to become uncontested, it took a lot of skilful political
manoeuvring, some luck and several wars.
One of the great obstacles to an unimpeded
Habsburg rule was the Counts of Cilli (Celje). The rise of this noble family
from central Slovenia began in the second third of the 14th century.
As they acquired large estates in central Styria, Carniola, Carinthia and Croatia,
their prominence rose and soon they were one of the most powerful families in
southeastern Europe. They were related by marriage with rulers of Bosnia as
well as Polish and Hungarian kings.
In 1396 count Hermann II of Cilli was in
command of Styrian troops that took part in the Battle of Nicopolis. The Ottoman
army won the battle decisively, but the count saved the life of the Hungarian
king Sigismund of Luxemburg (from 1433 Holy Roman emperor). A strong bond between
the two men, which was even strengthened when Sigismund married Hermann's daughter
Barbara, was created.
In 1436 the Emperor elevated the counts to
the rank of dukes. This triggered a feud with the Habsburg duke Frederick V
(Frederick III as Holy Roman emperor from 1452), who was their formal liege
lord. The feud lasted until 1443, and the fighting in which local nobles, their
entourages and foreign mercenaries took part spread over much of Styria and
Carniola. Many castles and towns were besieged and destroyed. The troops of
the Counts of Cilli even unsuccessfully laid siege to the Carniolan capital
Ljubljana. The conflict was solved in 1443 with the signing of several documents;
one of them foresaw a mutual inheritance in case one of the families became
extinct. But after the last Count of Cilli, Ulrich, was killed in Belgrade (1456),
Frederick had to fight Ulrich's widow, Hungarian king Ladislas Postumus, the
count of Görz and the Croatian counts of Frankopani for the promised inheritance.
He personally led his troops in capturing Celje, the seat of the Counts of Cilli,
and was almost captured there by his opponents. After Ladislas died in 1457
and Frederick managed to strike a deal with the widow, the conflict was practically
settled. The war of succession ended in 1460, Frederick gaining all the former
possessions of the Counts of Cilli.
The rule of Frederick III was marked by other
conflicts, too. He clashed with his brother Albert VI and the Hungarian king
Mathias Corvinus (1461-1463), with Venetians (1463) and mutinous nobility from
Styria (1469-1471). His reign was also marked by a highpoint of Ottoman activity
on the southeastern borders of the Empire.
Turkish incursions were without a doubt the
longest and the most destructive armed conflict of the period. Turks started
raiding Slovene lands in the beginning of the 15th century, and their
attacks continued (with varying strength) for the next three centuries. Although
the Slovene lands were not on the main route of Ottoman penetration into the
southeastern part of the Empire and were therefore raided almost exclusively
by Turkish irregular troops (mostly Christians from Bosnia and Serbia), they
nevertheless suffered great devastation. Large tracts of land were transformed
in barrenness, many inhabitants killed or abducted.
Soon after the raids started, it was obvious
that the old military organisation cannot cope with the new threat. A reorganisation
was also needed because of the development of firearms, which had a profound
effect on the way of fighting. That is why Styria, Carinthia and Carniola joined
forces and reorganised their defences. As the traditional feudal levy (Lehensaufgebot)
of local nobleman and the peasant militia (Landesaufgebot) proved unsuitable
for the task, they were supplemented with mercenaries (Landsknecht) levied by
the king or provincial estates. At first they were mostly foreigners, later
they were substituted with more reliable locals, who were not so prone to looting
of civilians. Also new fortifications were built and existing renovated. A typical
feature of Slovene landscape – the fortified churches erected to protect the
peasants – dates from the period of Turkish incursions.
In the beginning of the 16th century
the three Inner-Austrian lands started to finance and man a line of defence
in neighbouring Croatia. It evolved in the sophisticated defence system known
as the Military Border. A lot of peasants from Slovene lands served there as
mercenaries and several nobles rose to fame as great commanders in the Military
The Military Border and the institutions
that were founded to administer it were also the foundation of the permanent
Habsburg military system. When the regiments raised by Wallenstein at the beginning
of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) were retained in Emperor's service after
it ended, this signalled the creation of a permanent Habsburg army. It numbered
about twenty-five thousand men and by the end of the century its strength rose
to almost a hundred thousand. During the Thirty Years' War the Emperor Ferdinand
II also managed to wrestle the prerogative to raise troops from provincial estates;
they managed only to retain the right to vote military funds.
In the second half of the 17th
century and in the beginning of the 18th century the Habsburg army
under the leadership of Eugene of Savoy fought several successful campaigns
against the Turks in the Balkans, driving them out of Hungary. It also fought
with great success in the War of Spanish Succession.
It is hard to say how
many soldiers from Slovene lands took part in those operations,
as regiments were made up of mercenaries from all overthe Empire.
But the famous polymath J. W. Valvasor, for example, claimed
that an extraordinary large number of mercenaries from Carniola
served not only in the Habsburg army but also in the Venetian
and Spanish armies. Several Slovene folk songs from that period
speak of agents recruiting people to serve in their regiment.
The song Sacrist's boy from Moravče – a volunteer says:
the soldiers pranced,
Beating a gaily coloured drum,
Making me of good cheer,
Trying on a soldiers gear
So a joined
But military service was still not a universal
experience. It was limited above all to single, young sons of peasants and "unreliable
elements". It must also be noted that, due to financial reasons, the majority
of the soldiers was furloughed after a few years, and they returned to their
units only in wartime. Nevertheless the introduction of conscription resounded
among the population; a large number of folk songs reflected the change.
reading of the new letters patent hears he,
A soldier everyone will have to be,
Carnithiants and Styrians,
And all the Carniolans …,
the first strophe of a number of them reads.
Other phenomena connected with conscription were absconders and deserters. This
reflected in many songs, too.
During French wars the standing army was
greatly enlarged, and the life long service was shortened to ten years in 1802,
but was again prolonged to fourteen in 1811. Home-guard (Landwehr) units were
also organised for the first time. The Landwehr was essentially a militia force
called-up only when war was imminent and used in secondary operations. To enthuse
the Landwehr with patriotism to fight the French, propaganda in national languages
was also used. An oath of a militiaman in Slovene language from that time is
During the French occupation (1809-1813)
of a large part of Slovene lands and the establishment of Illyrian provinces
(1809-1813), a regiment of light infantry (Regiment d'Illyrie) and some minor
artillery units were recruited by the French. Most of their soldiers shared
the fate of Napoleon's Grand Armée and perished in Russia. The lands that remained
under Austrian rule (Styria) of course still contributed soldiers to the Habsburg
armies and, being an ally of Napoleon at the time, Austria also sent a fifth
of its army to Russia.
After the French were forced to retreat (1813),
and the Provinces were again incorporated in the Austrian empire, the old military
organisation was re-established, and many military reforms were abolished (the
Landwehr for instance). Under the conservative rule of emperor Francis I, emphasis
was put on the political reliability of the army. It was also used to quell
the revolutions in the smaller states on the Italian peninsula (1821, 1830).
Units from Slovene lands habitually took part in such expeditions and the Slovene
stereotype about cowardly Italians owes a lot to those and later Italian wars.
In 1848 revolutions swept across Europe,
and in March the people of Vienna took to the streets demanding a constitution.
The revolution rapidly spread from the capital to the provinces. The army was
involved in the events of 1848 in a number of ways. Firstly it was used against
the radicals in Vienna and Prague, secondly the Austrian Army of Italy under
Radetzky fought against invading Sardinians and Italian insurrectionists, thirdly
in 148/49 the army was fighting the secessionist Hungarian army under Lajos
Kossuth. Therefore the situation was very complicated; as some Hungarian regiments
were fighting for the emperor in Italy, their co-nationals were fighting against
imperial troops and for independence.
The Slovenes proclaimed their demands for
a United Slovenia in 1848, but remained loyal to the emperor and Austria. Slovene
conscripts joined their regiments and marched off to northern Italy, the middle
class and students organised National Guard units. As the National Guard from
Ljubljana started flying a white-blue-red standard based on the colours of the
Carniolan coat of arms, the Slovene flag was created. There were also aspirations
for a Slovene language of command in the National Guard.
When the revolution was stifled and Italians
and Hungarians defeated, the new emperor Francis Joseph started to rule as a
sole ruler. The army was one of the mainstays of his power.
The French victory over the Austrian army
in the battles of Magenta and Solferino in 1859 meant that Lombardy had to be
handed over to the kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia (in 1860 the enlarged kingdom
was renamed Italy). The military catastrophe also ended the absolutist rule
of emperor Franz Joseph, and constitutional democracy was slowly taking hold.
In the army precious little changed after 1859. There were some minor reforms,
but a much-needed radical change had to wait for a few years more.
reform came only after the shocking victory of the Prussian
army in the battle of Königgrätz (1866). Although Austria defeated
the Prussian ally Italy at Custozza and in the naval battle
of Vis (Issa), its Northern army was humiliated by the army
of Helmut von Moltke on the other front. Several regiments with
Slovene soldiers fought against Italians and Prussians as well.
As a patriotic writer wrote in 1899:
– known far and wide as rowdies – have proven again that they
do not fight only at home and full of wine, but also in a
war when the honour and glory of our army are at stake.
of the soldiers was the later prominent politician Fran Šuklje,
who as a 16-year-old boy left school to join the 47th
regiment in Maribor as a volunteer. He took part in the Battle
of Königgrätz and was wounded heavily. Later he depicted the
ineffective and obsolete tactics of the imperial-royal army
in his memoirs. He wrote:
attacked in a dense formation, not a shot was fired from our
side. Our charge started 1100-1600 paces away [from the enemy],
… we moved forward with much difficulty … Our loses were becoming
terrible. … The Austrian command 'Sturm' was sounded ever
sharper and faster. We are by the forest; our boys from Lower
Styria are looking forward … to settling accounts with the
enemy – but what a deception! Only a few dead and wounded
but no real resistance! And as soon as we make a few more
steps the Prussian line is again in position and on the slightly
undulating terrain the fatal game starts anew!
The Prussian chief of general staff Helmut
von Moltke showed on the Czech plains how rapid development of technology changed
the nature of warfare. It became apparent that short but universal national
service (as practised in Prussia) has no alternatives, for it is the only way
to raise an army big enough to fight in a modern war. Therefore in 1868 several
army laws were passed by the Austrian and Hungarian parliaments. Military service
was shortened to three years, and almost all previously existing exceptions
were abolished. One of the remaining facilities was granted to high school graduates,
who could serve for only a year as the so-called one-year volunteers and receive
a reserve commission. Many Slovenes made good use of this opportunity, and several
of them served as reserve officers in World War I.
of the dualist structure of Austria-Hungary, the armed forces
comprised three distinctive elements. The joint common army
(Heer) was supplemented by the Austrian Landwehr and Hungarian
Honved. The latter were envisioned as a home guard, serving
in the rear of the common army. Therefore Landwehr and Honved
units were made up of older reservists at first but in time
evolved into active frontline units and served side by side
with the common army in World War I. Finally in 1886 a third
echelon (Landsturm) was added. The relatively small but effective
navy (Marine) was unified. Such structure persisted until the
disintegration of the monarchy in 1918.
Slovene lands were a part of the 3rd Army Corps;
several infantry, artillery and cavalry units were recruited
here. To name but a few: 17th infantry regiment,
7th Jäger battalion, 7th artillery battalion
and 27th Landwehr regiment (Ljubljana), 97th
infantry regiment (Triest), 87th infantry regiment
(Celje), 47th infantry regiment (Maribor), 7th
infantry regiment (Celovec/Klagenfurt), 5th dragoon
regiment (Maribor), …
These units were often seen as Slovene (or
partly Slovene) regiments. All mentioned units had a significant share of Slovene
recruits, and therefore their regimental language was also Slovene although
the command language of the common army and the Landwehr was German. Regimental
languages were a particularity of the Austrian army. It was stipulated that
all the languages spoken by more than a fifth of recruits in a particular unit
are to be used for the instruction of recruits as regimental languages.
During the long peaceful period, which lasted
from 1866 to 1914, the army saw action several times. Its most important mission
was the occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1878. The Great Powers concluded
at the Congress of Berlin that Austria-Hungary should occupy the two restless
Ottoman provinces and the Sanjak of Novi Bazar. Austrian civilian and military
authorities did not expect any resistance to the occupation, but were soon proven
wrong. The Muslim irregulars resisted the two advancing columns, and heavy reinforcements
were needed. At the end more than 150,000 Austro-Hungarian soldiers had to be
sent to Bosnia and Herzegovina; more than 10,000 Slovenes from most Slovene
regiments took part in the expedition. As Slovene soldiers were convinced that
they are liberating the Christian population of the provinces from the Turks,
they were quite eager to fight the pagans. Later they were surprised to find
out that Turkish pagans (=Bosnian Muslims) spoke a very similar language they
could easily understand.
next decades the army slowly evolved, but political will and
therefore necessary funds for a much-needed modernisation were
lacking. The navy, which was the darling of the heir to the
throne archduke Francis Ferdinand, had a short period of flourish
at the beginning of the 20th century, but was still
lagging behind its rivals. Consequently, it was no wonder that
the armed forces were ill prepared for their last war – World
War I. They suffered enormous loses in the first months of fighting,
but eventually managed to adapt and continue fighting until
the end. Surprisingly all the peoples of this multinational
army stayed loyal to their state, their ruler, and their oath,
thus proving that pre-war fears of a wide spread disloyalty
were unfounded. Slovene soldiers were but a small part of this
great battle; for the most part they fought quite well, and
they excelled on the Italian front. In the last years several
memoirs and diaries of Slovene soldiers and officers were published,
giving us a great insight in their war experience. Reserve lieutenant
Franc Zupančič, for example, described in his diary not only
the fighting, but also the social life on the front. The entrance
for May 5, 1916 reads:
and sultry. After lunch a notice that our battalion must be
ready at 3 pm for a marching drill came. Towards evening we
march off to Aldein, a mountain village (1220 m), where we have
a brigade exercise. We spend the whole evening in an inn and
begin the war at 4 am with a terrible hangover.
At the very end, as a result of political
and national turmoil in the monarchy, the army started to disintegrate, too.
On October 28, 1918 the Austro-Hungarian government accepted the peace terms
of the US president Woodrow Wilson, and on the next day the independence of
the new State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs was proclaimed. During a great manifestation
in Ljubljana a reserve first lieutenant dr. Mihajlo Rostohar took an oath of
allegiance to the new state in the name of all present officers and soldiers.
This symbolic act marked the end of a long chapter in the military history of
Slovenia, and a new one started.
military history up to the year 1918 is practically identical
with the Austrian military history. Because of that same or
similar sources and literature are useful in its research.
of the sources are to be found in the Austrian archives, especially
in the Family, Court and State Archives (Haus- Hof-, and Staatsarchiv)
for the Middle Ages and the War Archives (Kriegsarchiv) from
the 16th century onwards. For family research the
personal records of the War Archives are invaluable. Of course
most of the material is in German and written in gothic script.
As far as I know, very little has been microfilmed. Both archives
are situated in Vienna and their holdings available for research.
More detailed information about access, opening hours and holdings
can be found on the Internet (http://www.oesta.gv.at/ebestand/ehh/efr1hh.htm
There are also several useful unofficial sites dealing with
family research in the War Archives.
For Prekmurje, which was a part of the Hungarian
half of the Monarchy, the archives of the Honved in Budapest are of some value.
Slovene archives, on the other hand, have an almost negligible quantity of military
records in their holdings.
Several interesting sources – mostly war
diaries and memoirs – have been published. A few deal with the military experience
in peacetime (for example the memoirs of officer and author Jernej Andrejka;
Mladostni spomini: (1850-1878), ed. Rudolf Andrejka (Ljubljana, 1934)), but
most of them describe the Great War. Let me mention the diaries of cadet Franc
Rueh (Moj dnevnik: 1915-1918, ed. Igor Vilfan (Ljubljana, 1999), lieutenant
Franc Zupančič (Dnevnik: 1914-1918, ed. Jasmina Pogačnik (Ljubljana, 1998)),
private Jože Hameršak (Skoz prvo svetovno vojno, ed. Milan Dolgan (Ljubljana,
1994)) and the judge and writer Fran Milčinski (Dnevnik 1914-1920, ed. Goran
Schmidt (Ljubljana, 2000).
Official publications of the Austrian imperial
and royal War Ministry are also a very valuable aid. Let me mention the registers
of officers that were published yearly for the common army, navy, Landwehr and
Honved (Schematismus für das k.u.k. Heer und die k.u.k. Kriegsmarine, Schematismus
der k.k. Landwehr und der k.k. Gendarmerie der im Reichsrat vertretenen Königreiche
und Länder). The statistical survey Militär-Statistisches Jahrbuch (Military
statistical Yearbook) is also worth mentioning.
There is a great deal of literature on the
Austrian military history. The basic survey in English is still Gunther E. Rothenberg,
The Army of Francis Joseph (West Lafayette, In., 1976), which was reprinted
several times. In German a monumental volume Die bewaffnete Macht (Die Habsburgermonarchie
1848-1918, ed. Adam Wandruszka in Peter Urbanitsch, vol. 5, Die bewaffnete Macht
(Vienna, 1987)) is the standard work. The military history of Slovenes by Janez
J. Švajncer (Vojna in vojaška zgodovina Slovencev (Ljubljana, 1992)) is useful
but not very comprehensive.
The Habsburg Empire and the Sea: Austrian
Naval Policy, 1797-1866 (West Lafayette, In., 1989) and The Naval Policy of
Austria-Hungary, 1867-1918: Navalism, Industrial Development and the Politics
of Dualism (West Lafayette, In., 1994) by Lawrence Sondhaus are the newest and
very comprehensive books about the navy. The standard work on the officers is
István Deák's Beyond Nationalism: A Social and Political History of the Habsburg
Officer Corps, 1848-1918 (New York, 1990). It has a very good chapter on the
sources available in the Vienna War Archives.
There are many good general survey of World
War I in English and German. The multivolume The Last War of Austria-Hungary
(Österreich-Ungarns letzter Krieg, 1914-1918, ed. Edmund Glaise-Horstenau, 7
vol. (Vienna, 1930-38)) published after the war under the auspices of the War
Archives deserves a special mention. It is very comprehensive and rich in detail
but a bit one-sided.
Regimental histories are usually a very good
source of data. Most of them were published before World War I and were written
in German. Some regimental histories of the Slovene regiments were written in
Slovene. A comprehensive history of the 17th Carniolan regiment,
for example, was written by Ferdinand Strobl von Ravelsberg (Geschichte des
k.u.k. Infanterie-Regiments Ritter von Milde Nr. 17: 1674-1910, 2 vol (Ljubljana,
1911)) and a shorter Slovene version was published by Karl Capuder a few years
later (Karol Capuder, Zgodovina c. in kr. pešpolka št. 17 (Celovec, 1915)).
Recently a rather disappointing history of the 5th dragoon regiment
was published by Sergej Vrišer ("Finfarji": Štajersko-koroško-kranjski
dragonski polk št. 5 (Ljubljana, 2000). But it has to be said that on the other
hand his two volumes on military and civilian uniforms are excellent (Sergej
Vrišer, Uniforme v zgodovini, 2 vol. (Ljubljana, 1987-1991)).
Of course there is a
lot more literature on particular issues, but it would take
another half an hour to list only the monographs. The interested
listeners can consult the bibliographic essays of the standard