Of all the fronts of 1914, the Eastern Front between Russia and Austria-Hungary is the least studied, and yet it was the site of some of the largest and most costly battles of the year. These battles saw the ill-prepared and badly led Hapsburg army suffer a series of disastrous defeats that forced them to retreat from Galicia and withdraw to the Carpathian Mountains, destroyed the pre-war Hapsburg army, and with it one of the strongest props of the ancient Hapsburg realm.
Before the First World War the Hapsburg Empire was an increasingly troubled entity, made up of a patchwork of nationalities, many agitating for independence or more autonomy. The Army was seen as one of the few unifying factors in the Empire, and even the army had problems, with three desperate forces – the unified main army, and separate Hungarian and Austrian national armies, limited funding, and a great deal of distrust of many of the Empire's nationalities at higher levels (in particular the Czechs and Serbs).
In 1914 the army would prove to be enthusiastic and loyal, but as the author demonstrates that army was wasted, partly in Serbia, where a series attacks were repulsed at great cost, but mainly in Galicia and Russian occupied Poland, where the Austrian commander, Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf, implemented an unrealistic plan that left the right wing of his armies on the Eastern Front exposed to attack and defeat by much strong Russian forces.
Schindler begins with a brief history of Austria-Hungary during the Nineteenth and early Twentieth century, looking at the political changes in the Empire and the development of the three armies. We then move on to an examination of the immediate pre-war period, the clashes between Conrad and the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the development of Conrad's war plans, and the build up to conflict. We then move onto the military campaign itself, looking at the two Austro-Hungarian campaigns of 1914 – the failed invasions of Serbia and the disaster in Galicia.
One minor flaw with this book is a lack of maps – not only are there no detailed battle maps, there is also no overall map of Galicia to give some idea of the campaign area. There is also comparatively little on pre-war Russia, the Russian army or Russian plans – this is very much written from the Austro-Hungarian point of view, but these are both minor quibbles.
This is an excellent book, covering one of the most significant campaigns on the Eastern Front, but one that is rarely covered in any detail. The account of the fighting is compelling, taking us to the heart of these disastrous battles that played a major part in the eventual collapse of the Hapsburg Empire.
1 - AEIOU
2 - The Most Powerful Pillar
3 - War Plans
4 - July Crisis
5 - Disaster on the Drina
6 - To Warsaw!
7 - Meeting the Steamroller
8 - Lemberg-Rawa Ruska
9 - From Defeat to Catastrophe
10 - Aftermaths
Author: John R. Schindler
Publisher: Potomac Books