11/11/1918 Emperor Karl renounces power but without actually abdicating as his empire dissolves around him #1918Live

Austria-Hungary has made peace with the Allies. This effectively marks the end of the Habsburg Empire. Emperor Karl issues a statement renouncing power in Austria, but it is worded so carefully that it does not constitute an actual abdication. Karl continues to consider himself the rightful Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary.

Austria and Hungary are both going their separate ways, and both are being torn apart by the conflicting national aspirations of Czechoslovaks, Yugoslavs and Italians, as well as those of the German-Austrians and Hungarians themselves. Hungary also looks like it might be losing Transylvania, coveted by Romania. Romania was bludgeoned into submission by Germany earlier this year but now it has sprung back into life. Yesterday it declared war on Germany and today it invades the eastern Austrian province of Bukovina. Transylvania (inhabited both by Hungarians and Romanians) is surely next on its list.

1/11/1918 As one war comes to an end, another begins

Austria-Hungary is beginning to disintegrate, with new states emerging from its shattered remnants. This remaking of nations is leading to new conflicts as a lack of clearly defined borders between the new entities leads to border disputes.

The Austrian province of Galicia is home to many Poles. They are intent now on separating from Austria and joining the new Polish state that has been proclaimed in Warsaw. But not everyone in Galicia sees their future as Polish, with many in the east of the province feeling more affinity with Ukraine. In Lemberg, the provincial capital, most of the population is Polish (and thinks of the city as Lvov) but there is a considerable minority of Ruthenes who look more to Ukraine (and to them the city is Lviv).

Most of the troops stationed in Lemberg are Ruthenes and today they stage a coup, declaring the city to be part of Ukraine. The Poles do not take this lying down, and fighting breaks out between the two sides. For now the advantage lies with the Ruthenes but the Poles hope that with reinforcements from the rest of Galicia they will be able to establish their dominance.

This battle for Lemberg could just be the first struggle for the bones of Austria-Hungary. The Czechoslovaks and Austrian-Germans are both claiming territories in Bohemia and Moravia in which German speakers live. Hungary faces threats to its territorial integrity from Czechoslovakia to the north and Yugoslavia to the south; Romania too might decided to re-enter the war in order to claim Transylvania. Although Austria-Hungary is about to sign an armistice with Italy, this might not mean the end of war for the Empire’s inhabitants.

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Dmytro Vitovsky, commander of pro-Ukrainian forces at Lemberg, and two of his comrades (Wikipedia: Battle of Lemberg (1918))

30/10/1918 National revolution in Hungary #1918Live

The collapse of Austro-Hungarian forces in the field has convinced the various peoples of the Empire that their future lies in independence. National committees have appeared across Austria-Hungary and are taking over powers that would previously have belonged to officials appointed from Vienna or Budapest. The local civil administrations are transferring their allegiance to these new bodies, leading in many cases to a surprisingly seamless transition. It is as though the Empire is just fading away.

In Zagreb a national committee of Croats has taken over the local administration. Now it declares Croatia part of a new united nation of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, to be colloquially known as Yugoslavia. With Serbian and Allied forces advancing up the Balkans the Austro-Hungarian authorities are in no position to block this new state’s emergence. Meanwhile in Hungary the situation is more tense. A power struggle has emerged in Budapest between the national committee of Károlyi and forces loyal to the Habsburg crown. Demonstrators have been killed by the security forces, but the tide is flowing towards the nationalists. Nationalism has made inroads into the city’s garrison and now Hungarian army officers are themselves joining the revolution. The city’s telephone exchange is taken over by rebel troops, leaving Lukachich, Budapest’s loyalist commander, isolated and unable to exercise any control over events.

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Revolutionary crowds & Mihályi Károlyi (The Orange Files: The First Hungarian Republic)

28/10/1918 As his empire disintegrates, Emperor Karl requests an armistice #1918Live

Austria-Hungary is at breaking point, with the Empire’s cohesion being torn apart as the strains of war and the imminent defeat leave the central governments powerless in the face of local unrest. In Cracow the city council confiscates food supplies intended for the Austro-Hungarian army, determined that the needs of Polish people should come first. In Prague the Czechoslovak National Council declares itself the government of an independent Czechoslovakia; across Bohemia and Moravia officials who had previously served the Austrian government in Vienna now row in behind the new regime. Unrest continues in Budapest, where the authorities are struggling to contain nationalist supporters of Károlyi and his National Committee. Meanwhile the military situation remains dire, with every indication that the Italian advance across the Piave will lead to a complete rout of the Austro-Hungarian army.

Seeing that the end has arrived, Emperor Karl now requests an unconditional armistice from the Italians. In Prague the news is greeted with jubilation. Crowds throng the street, shouting the names of President Wilson and Tomáš Masaryk, Czechoslovakia’s exiled leader.

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Karl, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary (Wikipedia)

27/10/1918 Italian troops surge across the Piave as Hungary moves towards independence

Italian attempts to take Monte Grappa have thus far been unsuccessful, with the Austro-Hungarian defenders inflicting heavy casualties. But Emperor Karl is not complacent and knows that his Empire is on its last legs. Mutiny and indiscipline are now rife within the army, with reserves refusing to move to the front and units seeing their numbers deplete through desertion. At home the various nationalities within the Empire are increasingly restive and making preparations for independence. In Budapest today a national committee is formed, headed the nationalist leader Károlyi and made up of socialist and radical politicians. The committee claims to be the sole legitimate voice of the Hungarian people and announces a raft of reforms, including Hungarian independence, an end to the war and a massive expansion of Hungary’s restrictive franchise (including the granting of votes to women).

At the front the military situation takes a turn for the worse. Austro-Hungarian positions continue to hold on Monte Grappa, but declining flood waters on the Piave now allow the Italians to launch the second stage of their offensive, an amphibious assault across the river. Supported by British troops, the Italians are able to establish themselves on the east bank, linked back to the west by rickety pontoon bridges. Initially the Austro-Hungarians are able to contain the bridgeheads but British troops successfully spearhead a breakout. With enemy resistance weakening, it now looks like Italy’s hour of victory is at hand.

Bridge across the Piave (Italian Ministry of Defence: La battaglia di Vittorio Veneto)

25/10/1918 Hungarian leaders demand the return of their troops as the Austro-Hungarian army calls for an armistice

Military collapse is feeding the centrifugal forces tearing apart the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As Serbian and other Allied troops push up the Balkans, Hungarian leaders in Budapest increasingly fear invasion of their outlying territories. They fear also that Romania may re-enter the war and launch another invasion of Transylvania. So that Hungarian territory can be defended they they call for the recall of Hungarian troops from the Italian front. Meanwhile on the streets of Budapest increasingly rowdy demonstrations are demanding a new government, led by Mihály Károlyi, a radical nationalist who has long advocated an end to the war and the democratisation of Hungary.

In Italy the Austro-Hungarian army is falling apart. Frontline troops are continuing to resist Italian attacks on Monte Grappa, but the army as a whole is wracked by indiscipline many units mutinying or disintegrating through mass desertion. Logistical failures mean that the army is close to running out of ammunition. So grave is the situation that the army’s high command now tells Emperor Karl that an immediate ceasefire is needed to prevent total collapse.

21/10/1918 As Wilson recognises the Czechoslovaks, Austria’s Germans seek their own nation #1918Live

Centrifugal forces are tearing Austria-Hungary apart. The southern Slavs have declared a new state of Yugoslavia while the Poles of Galicia are seeking to join the independent Poland recently proclaimed in Warsaw. The Hungarians are restive too, as are the Czechs and Slovaks. Unrest is affecting the army as well as the home front, with many divisions on the Italian front today refusing to obey orders.

President Wilson of the United States has already signalled that autonomy may not be enough for the peoples of the Austro-Hungarian Empire: if they want independence, they can have it. Now he goes a step further, joining Britain and France in recognising the Paris-based Czechoslovak National Council as the legitimate government of Czechoslovakia.

Emperor Karl must feel that the one group within the Empire whose loyalty he can rely on is the German-speaking Austrians. But now they too join the march towards the Empire’s dissolution. German members of the Austrian parliament meet today and proclaim themselves to be the Provisional National Assembly for German-Austria, representing all the German people of the Austrian half of the Empire. The territory they claim for this putative German-Austrian nation is large, stretching beyond the Austrian heartland into the Tyrol, Bohemia, and Moravia.

Whether the German-Austrian leaders will be able to exercise control over all this territory remains to be seen. The Italians covet the South Tyrol while the Czechoslovaks understandably want to exercise control over all of Bohemia and Moravia.

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map (Wikipedia)