The Austro-Hungarian Empire Strikes Back I THE GREAT WAR Week 48
Articles Blog

The Austro-Hungarian Empire Strikes Back I THE GREAT WAR Week 48

October 10, 2019


The Austro-Hungarian Imperial army had fought
so badly during the early months of the war that by the spring of 1915 it had seemed on
the verge of collapse. It had not only been humiliated, it had lost huge amounts of land
and even one of the great cities of the Empire, Lemberg, but this week, after six weeks of
triumphant advance, the Empire took Lemberg back. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War Last week the six week long Second Battle
of Artois came to an end, with 100,000 total French casualties in a series of attacks designed
to prevent the Germans from sending troops east to fight Russia. But over on the Eastern
Front an Austro-German force of over 500,000 men was pushing the Russians ever back to
their own territory while in the south the Italians were moving toward the Austrian border.
Here’s what came next. It’s hard to imagine how much more effective
the Germans could be at this point on the Eastern Front if they had been given more
troops from the west, since they were still plowing through the Russians after two months
of the Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive. This combined Austro-German campaign had erased
eight months of Russian gains in weeks and the scale of the battles was truly mind-boggling.
For example, even though the Russians were in retreat and losing battle after battle,
it’s been estimated (Story of the Great War) that between the end of April and mid
June 600,000 Austro-German troops were put out of action. They may have been winning
victory after victory, but they were paying a price for it. Now, the Russian front had shrunk over the
past six weeks from 500km to just over 150. When it had been entirely united before, it
had been the longest battle line in the history of the world. It’s pretty cool that I get
to say that. By this point, the German and Austro-Hungarian colossus was advancing through
Galicia toward Lemberg, also known as L’viv or L’vov. This was the capital of Austrian
Galicia, but had been in Russian hands since September. On the 17th, the Russians began evacuating
Lemberg. Russian General Nikolai Ivanov had no intention of fighting a pitched battle
for it against German General Mackensen, whose phalanx was simply too strong and had 2,500
big guns. Mackensen’s force was the center of the German offensive, but the Russians
were seriously punishing the wings. General Boehm-Ermolli, for example, reportedly lost
half of his effective force trying to break through at Grodek and Dornfeld, 25 km south
of Lemberg. But on the 20th, Russian railway connections to Lemberg were cut. Lemberg and
Rawa-Ruska were going to fall, and fall they did on the 22nd, the former to Boehm-Ermolli
and the latter to Mackensen. Mackensen was promoted to Field Marshall that same day.
General Ivanov withdrew his forces toward the Bug River. If things seemed to be going badly for Russia
in the field this week, they were not much better at home. On June 15th, in Petrograd, Ivan Goremykin,
the President of the Council of Ministers- basically the Prime Minister- had a breakdown
and asked the Tsar to replace him. That didn’t happen. That same day several other ministers
tried to convince the Tsar not to convene the Duma- the government council assembly,
and urged him that Russia could no longer continue the war. But on the 20th, the Constitutional
Democrats demanded that the Fourth Duma be recalled and a new government formed that
would be acceptable to the liberals. It was decided that that would happen August 1st,
the one year anniversary of Russia’s declaration of war. Also on the 20th, Russian Minister of War
Vladimir Sukhomlinov was relieved of duty on charges of negligence, but was reassured
by the Tsar that he did not believe rumors of Sukhomlinov’s treason. Sukhomlinov was,
though, eventually accused of treason in 1916, and his political trial was with a public
jury for the first time in Russian history. His wife got Rasputin and the Tsarina to defend
him and he was eventually freed, but the public was disgusted with the whole affair and some
claim this actually did more damage to the Tsar than Rasputin’s scandals. Sukhomlinov
died in Berlin in 1926. His memoirs, written two years earlier, were dedicated to Kaiser
Wilhelm. I’d like to look now at the newest front,
the Italian front for a minute. We’ve talked a bit about the Italian-Austrian
front since Italy joined the war with the Allies last month, but I’ll go over it in
brief again here. Most of that front was in the highest mountains in Europe, from the
Tyrol to the Julian Alps, and Austria-Hungary held those mountain crests. At the very western
end, Trentino, there were nine routes that led through passes. At the east, where the
Isonzo River is, was an avenue of possible advance, but beyond the river the ground rises
to two plateaus that were basically enormous natural fortresses. One of them being broken
by a succession of steep ridges, and the other described by James Edmonds as “a howling
wilderness of stones as sharp as knives”. Now, all of this terrain would have been pretty
tricky for even highly skilled mountain troops. Italy did actually have such troops, but only
enough for two brigades. Most of the Italian army, though, came from town and farms, roughly
a quarter from the south or Sicily. Thing is, those southerners had only been part of
Italy for 40 something years and when they thought of a better life, most of them did
not look to the north for inspiration, but rather to America. Actually, the whole army
was undertrained compared to the other warring nations, and it had a serious lack of modern
artillery, which played a huge factor everywhere so far this war. Italy had only 120 heavy
guns at this point. One big strength that Italy did have was its
officers; specifically, the ones from the former Kingdom of Savoy. They were professional,
they were well trained and educated, and above all they were patriotic. They knew their business.
Their biggest problem, though, was the man in charge, Chief of Staff Luigi Cadorna. He
actively exercised his constitutional right of supreme authority over the army, independent
of King or Prime Minister and he was brutal. Just cheating a bit and seeing the future-
Cardona dismissed a total of 217 generals from duty during the war. His plan at the beginning of Italy’s war
effort was for a rapid breakthrough on the Isonzo. His men would break through the mountain
barrier and then follow the paths cut by the Drava and Sava rivers into Klagenfurt in the
north and Zagreb further south and east. This would put them in the very heart of the Austro-Hungarian
Empire. You can see similarities between his plans and the Russian plans in April to push
through the Carpathians and into the Hungarian plains, but the Russian plans were far more
realistic. For starters, the Julian Alps, which you’d
have to negotiate to get to Klagenfurt, are tougher than the Carpathians to tackle, though
at least it wasn’t winter. So anyhow, this week on June 23rd the Italian
army attacked at what would become known as the First Battle of the Isonzo facing a single
Austro-Hungarian entrenchment. Now, before Italy’s entry in the war, Austria had been
holding the border with Italy with local militias, but since May four divisions had arrived and
by this time The Austrian Fifth Army as it was now known, seven divisions strong, was
under the command of General Svetozar Boroevic, one of the war’s most capable generals.
Still, they were heavily outnumbered. But the Italian infantry, with more bravery than
skill, advanced en masse and were stopped in no mans land, taking 2,000 killed and 12,000
wounded. Now, that sounds like an awful lot more wounded than killed and we would see
that again and again on this front, because bullets or exploding shells would splinter
the rocky terrain into flying shards which were particularly harsh for the head or eyes. I haven’t said anything about the Western
Front or Gallipoli this week, and I’m not going to, events there will have to wait until
next week, but to recap the events of this week: The Italians were unable to make progress
against the Austrians in the south, and the Austrians and Germans scored a major victory
by re-taking Lemberg, Russian chaos in the field was matched by chaos at home, and the
Germans gained a new Field Marshall. That was a big deal; re-taking Lemberg. None
of the great cities of Europe had fallen for many months now, and when you realize that
Austria-Hungary had also re-taken the fortress of Przemysl two weeks ago, you can see that
amazing but true, the empire was very much in the ascendant, with Russia totally on the
run. But the Russians weren’t stupid; they were underequipped and outgunned, yes, but
they still had their two great advantages- an endless supply of men, and the vast open
spaces of Russia. How far would the Germans and Austrians penetrate into Russia? Would
they suffer the same fate as Napoleon and eventually be unable to supply their troops?
Would a war of attrition finally wear them down and give the Russians the upper hand?
Well, that’s the future and we’ll have to wait and see, but one thing I can absolutely
guarantee: hundreds of thousands of men would die. Przemysl – you heard that name at least 100
times in our show back in 1914 and early 1915. Conrad von Hötzendorf sacrificed a few hundred
of thousands of men to save the trapped army in the fortress. And still didn’t achieve
it’s goal. If you want to find out how he Hötzendorf’ed the whole thing, click here
for our episode from early January. Our Patreon supporter of the week is Pamela
Walkling. Your support on Patreon has been tremendous so far and we were able to improve
our digital map thanks to you. Help us reach the next milestone and support us on Patreon. And if you like our show, please subscribe
and recommend us to your history teachers.

Only registered users can comment.

  1. I really wanna see Hotzendorf and Luigi get into a one on one brawl. In fact now that i think about it, any of the generals doing that would be funny.

  2. The Italian Army makes Austria-Hungary look like the gods of war. I'm surprised that the Italians decided to keep cadorna for so long.

  3. I think that one of the reasons we don't want to look back at WW1 is that it was so horrendous. Among all the wars mankind has fought it has to be the most brutal of wars. My grandfather and his brother fought in this war. My great uncle died in France. I also am a combat veteran. I cannot imagine this scale of death. God help the human race

  4. These idiots sacrified so much life without reason. The bloody WW1 not else, just the preparation of WW2, the stupid punishing peace treaties leaded directly into the rise of Hitler, Mussolini and other monsters. Stupid humankind almost destroyed the heart of the world, our precious Europe…

  5. Great still photos! Some favorites: At 5:28 a Frera motorcycle, and just after, a German sign saying, "God is dead in Reims." That last is a bit out of place in a segment about Italian involvement, though. :/

  6. this is so cool! just stumbled on this video, and i LOVE the format of news when talking about ww1! just gives such a good, real-time picture!

  7. I just Hötzendorfd at creating the word Hötzendorf, so I am doing it here instead, Verb, Define:Hötzendorf :Fail or failure.

  8. Yes we strikes back: South Tirol, Bohemia, Istria, Krain, South Steiermark back to Austria. Highland (Slovakia), Transilvania, Southland back to Hungary. Bosnia, East Syrmia back to Croatia!

  9. History tell us several times that simply acting like a person that knows what is doing doesn't mean that we are going to do the right things. And this keeps happening even today, so annoying to see at work or universities those people that talks like a "smart" person and pretend to be cool but keep making mistakes and saying dumb things all the time.

  10. this is an amazing series. I started a couple of weeks ago. I'm going to catch up eventually. very well done. now back to binge watching

  11. After the attack on Franz Ferdinand, Germany should have first offered to mediate the conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia+Russia. And if/when that failed, should have just told Austria "Sorry bro, your on your own." Austria just wasn't an ally worth having or defending by then-it was falling apart internally and there were too many other players looking for a piece of it. It would have been better to stand back, watch it fall, and maybe even grab a piece of what was left for Germany itself.

  12. Watching this on Apple-TV. There's no way to like video's on there (afaik) sorry about that, but here is a like just to make up for some of those missed ones.

  13. My birthday is June 23. I always thought nothing happened on this day but now I know the first battle of the Izonso took place and that's pretty cool.

  14. Funny how you mention Thanksgiving at the end there, sine the USA isn't in the war yet, and that's something only USA citizens celebrate.

  15. Franz Joseph: Nicholas II never told you what happened to your father.
    Peter I: He told me enough! He told me you killed him!
    Franz Joseph: No, I am your father.

    Sorry, had to do it.

  16. I have a question will you delete your channel when you finish the regular episodes on November 11th 2018?

  17. Everybody expected that Austria-Hungary would collapse from internal stresses of 12 national groups. By and large they fought well. The result? splintered little multi-national States ripe for being picked off by Germany or Russia. Great goin Europe! The EU is designed to prevent this. Vienna! What a place!

  18. The Austro-Hungarian national anthem is amazing. Look it up, it is called Gott Erhalte Franz Den Kaiser

  19. A little sidenote I know you will like: Cadorna's infamous prestige as the most useless piece of military material in world history even arrived at Argentina, my country, with the italian inmigrants. As with many other things in my country's culture that were influenced by this inmigrants, a very popular quote of my country came with them: whenever someone screws up or is in need of help to fix an issue, you can hear argentinan say things like "Es una cadorna" (its a cadorna) and other things like if you screw it up and need money to fix something, you could "go ask Cadorna". In "Lunfardo" (this is, the language developed by italians in my country, which would use italian words in the spanish language), Cadrona became a synonim of "low quality" or "utter disaster". That's how huge Cadorna's failure was, and stil is.

  20. "and uncle Bob!" I just recomended this channel to my uncle :b He's a retired (?) General and he will absolutely love this!
    (yes, I'm still a little bit behind, but I'm catching up!)

  21. Heavy binge-watching to catch up. Just only a little over two years behind. And then there are the themed episodes.

  22. With that title ofr the video, I was half expecting for Hotzendorf to pull out his face, and reveal he was Jar Jar Binks.
    Certainly sould have explained a lot.

  23. 9:20 If you want to find out how he Hotzendorfed the whole thing.. What a hilarious sentence.. What a great sense of humour combined with a great show

  24. The Austrians, previously known as the weakest army of the world, seems to be wonderfully competent without the assistance of Field Marshal Hotzendörf.

  25. The photo at 1 minute 30 secs, while Indy is talking about 600,000 Austro-German troops being put out of action on the Eastern Front, shows wounded BRITISH troops. Some are wearing souvenired German helmets, but the uniforms are unmistakable. The man on the left is even wearing a tartan kilt!

  26. What is it with Chief of Staff's and being dangerously incompetent? It seems like only germany and france have anybody who even understands what they're actually doing.

  27. 💚💚💚💚💚💚💚💚💚💚
    💚💚💚👑💚💚💚👑💚💚
    ⬜⬜💛💛⬜⬜💛💛⬜⬜
    ⬜⬜💛💛⬜⬜💛💛⬜⬜
    💚💚💚💚💚🔴🔴🔴🔴🔴
    💚💚💚💚💚🔴🔴🔴🔴🔴

  28. In fairness to the Austro-Hungarian officers and men, it must be remembered that any multi-ethnic army is totally dependent on two things:

    1. A core of highly educated NCOs and officers, men who can speak several languages fluently and have served in a single regiment for their entire career.
    2. A highly developed sense of pride in the Regiment, backed up by centuries of unbroken traditions.

    The pre-war A-H army, which had these two factors, was effectively wiped out in Galicia in 1914 thanks to Hotzendorf's errors. These were the officers and men who could have given the army a sense of cohesion as it expanded. Instead, without that pre-war core to build upon, the A-H Army was essentially condemned to play a secondary role for the rest of the war. When you remember this, it's impressive the Austro-Hungarians were able to hold on as long as they did.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *