Posted 14 June 2011 - 07:57 AM
In the various discussions on the Eastern front, especially on casualties, whether in this forum or in the available book material, the Austro-Hungarian combat force will often be described as a more or less ineffective "militia force" incapable of conducting modern warfare.
As my personal interest goes deeply into the topic of the Southern part of the Eastern front for the first two years of war, i decided to open a discussion to challenge this opinion.
After their defeat in the opening campaign of august to september 1914, the reduced Austro-Hugarian army seems to have played only a minor role in the warfare on the Eastern front, almost all of its offensives failed and troop strength remained low throughout the campaign, as casualties were well over the available replacements.
First, some open questions:
1) Austria-Hungary, in terms of combat effectiveness, looks like the "small brother", of Germany. Is it possible that people tend to compare Austrian successes with German ones. I think most people might agree that Germany's army was superior to any of the main combattants.
With Germany "out of league", wouldn't it be more objective to compare Austrian performance with that of e.g. Russia and France rather than Germany.
2) There are many discussions on Russian casualties during the Great War. Most accounts i came across give the impression that the Russian always held the ground against their Austrian foe. But to what price, actually?
3) Austria seems to be the only major combattant which includes casualties in the "sick" category in its official casualty figures, who are often quoted. Are there any statistics on Russian "sick" personnel?
There could be a lot more questions to be asked, but i would like to start with just these few points.
1) Let's have a look a the initial campaign in Galicia during August to September 1914.
While the German army fought an won two of its most sucesful battles in the war at all with Tannenberg and the Masurian lakes, the Austrian offensive was checked and repulsed with great casualties.
The official history pays alot attention to the inferiority of the Autrian artillery as a main cause for the reverse.
Field Marshal Conrad: "[...] Der erste Schlag (Krasnik) und der zweite Schlag (Komarow) waren gelungen, der dritte (Lemberg, Przemyslany) und der vierte (Lemberg, Rawa Ruska) waren es nicht[...]"
(the first strike (Krasnik) and the second one (Komarow) succeeded, the third and fourth ones (at Lemberg) did not)
To compare the effectiveness of the Austro-Hungarian Army with that of Russia, one has to consider how the battles of Przemyslany and Rawa Ruska were fought.
When all available forces on bot sides arrived the Galician theatre, both combattants had roughly 800,000 men in infantry strength. But on the Austran side the Eastern wing lacked its IV. and VII. Corps in the inital clashes, and Russian superiority therefore reached the same dimensions as it did in East Prussia.
I would like too claim that already a this point, a change reaction set in, which had desastrous effects on the whole course of the war, but did not necessarily mean that the Austrian Army was unable to fight a modern war at all.
In the battle of Zloczow, from 26th to 27th August 1914, the Austrian third Army faced a 2:1 numerical superiority, was defeated and lost many of its men. In the later battles on the Gnila Lipa, and at Rawa Ruska, the Austrians still were numerical inferior to the Russians, but battle accounts do not take into account that they must logically have suffered far worse in the initial battle.
At Zloczow, 115 Austrian fought 192 Russian battalions.
At the Gnila Lipa, 282 Austrian fougth 336 Russian battalions. Considering higher Austrian casualties in the first battle, the difference might well lay over the 50,000 men difference in this second one.
At Tannenberg, 153 German fought 175 Russian battalions
At the Masurian lakes, 184 German fought 228 Russian battalions. Apart from German tactical superiority, numbers were more equal in these two battles, than they were in Eastern Galicia.
The fact that 1st and 2nd Armies were defeated one after another is rather luck than ability. While most accounts speak of one weak German army defeating two Russian ones, while four Austrian were defeated by 4 Russian ones, those numbers give a different impression in my opinion.
Now the critic sets in at the wrong point when we compare German with Austrian battle results, as the situations were not equal.
2) and 3) questions could be dealt with with this one example: the Brusilov offensives cost the Russians more than 1,5, rather 2 mio men. Austrian casualties are given with around 1 mio, with many prisoners. But the fact is, in those 2 mio Russians, sick men are not included, while in the Austrian 1 mio they are.
Real combat casualties reach not more than 500,000 to 600,000 Austrians.
One might say, the success of the Brusilov offensives lay more with the ability of throwing masses of reinforcements into the battle.
The argument that the Germany were always inferior, on the other hand, to the Russians on their part of the front, is more a myth than real fact, as after the Tannenberg-East-Prussian Campaign a greater amount of German divisions was transferred to the East, to such a degree that in the Great retreat of 1915, not all of the German divisions in the East could be put into the front lines, due to their numbers.
At this point, again i claim that it was not really the Austrian weakness, but the impossibility of the circumstances. The Russian army was always superior in numbers.
And all those widely known and accepted reasons for Habsburg weakness, such as inhomogenous forces, bad austrian officer corps and so on...are more a side effect than a real reason.