Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Sunday, April 19, 2015

How Did That Plan to Punish Serbia Work Out for Austria-Hungary?

The Plans: General Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, Austrian Chief of Staff, was delighted in 1914 at the opportunity to punish the Serbs; it was something he had long advocated. He was far less enthusiastic about fighting Russia. This led to indecision at the start of hostilities. His heart was in his Balkan strategy that involved invading Serbia with the three of his armies while placing the remainder of his forces on guard against the feared Russians. However, when the Russians declared war, Conrad was presented with an immediate threat of invasion through Galicia and Poland. The Russia-centered alternate strategy involved a stronger defense in Galicia and a thrust to cut off enemy forces in Russian Poland.

Serbian Troops Dug In on the Danube

What Happened: Belatedly shifting his forces to the north for these tasks, Conrad weakened his advance into Serbia. Poor railroads ensured that the tardy shift of units northward was a confused mess and boded ill for the ensuing operations against the Russians. Serbia — fighting for its homeland and experienced from the earlier Balkan Wars — repelled three invasions. They used the mountainous terrain cut by numerous rivers to great advantage, winning decisive victories in August and in December pushing their opponents out of their temporarily occupied capital, Belgrade, and then beyond the frontiers. Austria-Hungary would need help from both Germany and Bulgaria to rout the Serbs in October 1915. The empire would never regain its footing as a major power after the fiascoes of the early war.


  1. Conrad thought that he himself was a strategic genius on a par with Molke or Radetzky but he had neglected to include the Russian Bear in his calculations. Of course, most of his invasion plans were probably already known to the Serbs due to the treason of Redl. Still he counted on Russia backing down like they had during the Annexation Crisis of 1908. Conrad did not know how backward the forces of the Dual Monarchy really were. For which position he was largely responsible as Chief of the Austro-Hungarian General Staff.

  2. I just finished reading Hastings history of 1914. In addition to Conrad's supreme confidence of his military ability. He commanded a bastardized army composed of many nations beside Austrians. That this army was ill-trained, ill-equipped, and led by incompetents, all plans foundered on indecision, poor intelligence, and total lack of a logistical system that the Germans had perfected over the years. Only the presence of German troops enabled its eastern ally to persevere for as long as it did.