11/5/1918 Emperor Karl takes his punishment #1918Live

The revelation that Emperor Karl of Austria-Hungary had been carrying out secret negotiations with the Allies has created a rift between the Emperor and his German allies. Karl’s position is an extremely awkward one, given Austria-Hungary’s dependency on Germany. Today he meets Kaiser Wilhelm at the German army’s headquarters at Spa in Belgium. Wilhelm is willing to put the Sixtus Affair behind him, but he extracts a price: Austria-Hungary will have to sign up to Germany’s Mitteleuropa plan, so binding the empire to Germany that it will become little more than a vassal state, akin in some ways to the status now enjoyed by defeated Romania. Germany also demands that Austria-Hungary prepare and launch a new offensive against the Italians, to draw Allied forces away from the Western Front.

Karl has no option but to accept his country’s complete subordination to its northern neighbour. He prepares to return home to tell his generals to start planning an attack across the Piave.

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Austrian magazine report on Karl’s visit to Spa (The World of the Habsburgs – The Sixtus Affair: A major diplomatic débacle)

28/4/1918 The Austro-Hungarian army’s nationalities problem #1918Live

Austria-Hungary is a large multi-national empire. At the start of the war the army was largely organised on linguistic and regional lines, so that men from one place who all spoke the same language were placed in units together. The downside of this approach is that some nationalities of the empire are (or are deemed to be) less loyal than others. Czechs are seen as particularly disloyal and putting them together in all-Czech units appears only to encourage their disaffection, leading to malingering and desertion (with desertion on the Eastern Front being so great that Russia was able to form a Czech Legion to fight on its side against Austria-Hungary). Serbs and Romanians are also regarded with suspicion by the authorities.

In an effort to prevent military unrest, the army of Austria-Hungary is now being reorganised. Units will henceforth contain men from across the empire. This will hopefully make it harder for disaffected minorities to work together and may also engender a greater sense of pan-empire nationalism in the army.

There are of course downsides to this reorganisation. The esprit de corps of units is undermined by throwing disparate elements together. Combining men who speak different languages together also undermines unit effectiveness. And the elite units of Slovenes and Croats that had fought so well against the Italians are now diluted by the addition of more unruly elements. The danger of this reorganisation is that it might spread the bacillus of disaffection throughout the entire army instead of keeping it safely isolated.

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Bosnian officers in the Austro-Hungarian army (Austro-Hungarian Land Forces 1848-1918: The Bosnians)

28/4/1918 Gavrilo Princip dies #1918Live

Do you remember Gavrilo Princip? Back in 1914 he shot and killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, triggering the crisis that led the outbreak of war. Princip was convicted of murder but, being under 20 years of age, was too young for the death penalty and was given a 20 year prison sentence. Held in harsh conditions, his health has deteriorated. His right arm had to be amputated while disease and malnutrition has led to him wasting away. Today finally he dies of consumption.

Princip expressed sorrow for having also killed Sophie of Chotek, Franz Ferdinand’s wife, thereby orphaning their children. He never accepted responsibility for having plunged Europe into conflict, blaming German ambition for having started the war.

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Gavrilo Princip (Wikipedia)

22/4/1918 Cracow: pogroms and inter-communal violence #1918Live

In Austro-Hungarian Cracow, the tensions of war have led to a disturbing outbreak of intercommunal tensions. Enraged by food shortages, Polish citizens of the town blame not the war, the authorities or the capitalist class but their Jewish fellow citizens, accusing them of controlling the black market and keeping themselves well fed while everyone else goes hungry. Tensions boiled over a few days ago when a mob descended on the city’s Jewish quarter to pillage local shops and abuse the quarter’s inhabitants. The police stood by on that occasion so Cracow’s Jews have taken steps to defend themselves from future outrages. Attempts to extract revenge lead to further outbreaks of violence, with traders at a flea market attacked by club-bearing Jewish youths.

By now the army has been called in to restore order, but the city remains in a tumult. The one thing now uniting the Polish and Jewish citizens of the town is a loathing for the Habsburg authorities. Soldiers find themselves stoned and beaten by angry townsfolk; there are even reports of shots being fired against them.

The situation in Cracow is extreme, but it is emblematic of much that is happening across Austria-Hungary. The pressures and privations of war have caused an unravelling of the ties binding the multi-ethnic empire together, with it looking like Austria-Hungary’s disintegration is inevitable if the war continues for much longer.

14/4/1918 The Sixtus Affair: Emperor Karl’s double-dealing loses him a foreign minister and the trust of Germany #1918Live

Since coming to power Emperor Karl of Austria-Hungary has seen the war as a disaster which, if allowed to continue, will tear apart his empire. Czernin, his prime minster, shares the Emperor’s views and has been trying unsuccessfully to persuade the Germans to agree to a negotiated peace.

Behind Czernin’s back, Karl has also attempted his own secret negotiations with the Allies, using his brother-in-law Prince Sixtus of Bourbon-Parma as an intermediary. In these secret communications Karl accepted that Alsace-Lorraine should be returned to France. However the negotiations ultimately led nowhere as the Allies felt that Austria-Hungary was too dependent on Germany to negotiate with separately.

Now though Karl’s secret negotiations catch up with him. Earlier in the month Czernin declared that France’s claims on Alsace-Lorraine were the only obstacles to peace. The French retaliate by publishing the secret correspondence from Prince Sixtus, revealing that Karl accepted the justice of France’s claims on the lost provinces. Feeling himself betrayed, Czernin resigns as Austria-Hungary’s foreign minister. Now Karl has to find himself a new foreign minister. Worse, he will have to fend off the inquiries of the Germans, who are furious that their junior ally has been secretly negotiating with their enemies.

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Emperor Karl of Austria-Hungary (First World War.com)

Ottakar Czernin (Wikipedia)

8/4/1918 Austria-Hungary’s poor welcome for its returning POWs #1918Live

Russia released its prisoners of war after making peace with the Central Powers. The former prisoners do not always receive a warm welcome on returning home. Austria-Hungary’s leaders fear that the prisoners may have been infected by Bolshevism while in Russia. To prevent the bacillus of revolution spreading, returning Austro-Hungarian prisoners are held in camps, where they are monitored for any sign of socialist sentiment.

To effectively move from one prison camp to another is demoralising for the returning prisoners, as are the meagre rations they are provided with, a testament to the state of near collapse that Austria-Hungary in which finds itself. Soldiers are better fed than civilians, but the flour ration for those serving in the armed forces is now just 283 grammes, down from 500 grammes last year. The army also appears unable to issue new uniforms to its returning prisoners, instead granting them just an armband or, if they are lucky, a new cap. The former POWs are further shocked when they learn of the deprivation gripping the home front of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The authorities’ fear that the returning prisoners will have become socialist firebrands appears to be unwarranted. However their experiences on returning contribute to feelings of disaffection on the part of the former prisoners. This disaffection is increasingly expressed in national rather than class terms, a further sign of the centrifugal forces tearing Austria-Hungary apart.

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Austro-Hungarian prisoners in the war’s early days (Slovenians in WW1: Prisoners of War)

26/3/1918 The Czechoslovak Legion: marooned in Russia #1918Live

Austria-Hungary comprises many nationalities, some of whom are more loyal the empire than others. The Czechs and Slovaks are particularly disaffected, with soldiers from these groups particularly prone to desertion from the Austro-Hungarian army. On the Eastern Front, the Russians had recruited a Czechoslovak Legion of volunteers from Habsburg prisoners. Members of this force fought alongside the Russians against their former army comrades, hoping that by doing so they would advance the establishment of Czechoslovak state after the war’s end.

Now that Russia and the Central Powers have concluded peace, the Czechoslovak Legion find themselves marooned in Russia. They want to continue their war against the Germans and Austro-Hungarians, but the Bolsheviks are obliged to prevent them from waging war from their territory. Today the leaders of the Czechoslovaks reach an agreement with the Soviets at Penza, whereby the Legion will be transported across Siberia by rail to Vladivostok in the Russian far east, from where the Allies will bring them by ship all the way around the world to France. While in transit the Czechoslovaks will be allowed to keep their weapons, ostensibly for self-defence but also because the Soviets would have trouble forcing them to disarm.

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Czechoslovak Legion troops in Russian trenches in 1917 (Wikipedia: Battle of Zborov)