TimelineMapsSearch QuotationsSearch Images

Follow us through the World War I centennial and beyond at Follow wwitoday on Twitter

The Austro-Hungarian Empire

Advertising postcard map of Austria-Hungary from the Amidon Starch Company with images of Vienna, Budapest, and a wheat field.
Text in French and Dutch:
Demandez L'Amidon REMY en paquets de 1, 1/2 et 1/4 kg.
Vraagt het stijfsel REMY in pakken van 1, 1/2 et 1/4 ko.
Ask for REMY Starch in packages of 1, 1/2, and 1/4 kg.
Il n'est pas de meilleur Amidon que l'Amidon REMY, Fabrique de Riz Pur.
Er bestaat geenen beteren Stijfsel dan den Stijfsel REMY, Vervaardigd met Zuiveren Rijst.
There is no better starch than Remy Starch, made of pure rice.

Advertising postcard map of Austria-Hungary from the Amidon Starch Company with images of Vienna, Budapest, and a wheat field.

Image text

Text in French and Dutch:

Demandez L'Amidon REMY en paquets de 1, 1/2 et 1/4 kg.

Vraagt het stijfsel REMY in pakken van 1, 1/2 et 1/4 ko.

Ask for REMY Starch in packages of 1, 1/2, and 1/4 kg.

Il n'est pas de meilleur Amidon que l'Amidon REMY, Fabrique de Riz Pur.

Er bestaat geenen beteren Stijfsel dan den Stijfsel REMY, Vervaardigd met Zuiveren Rijst.

There is no better starch than Remy Starch, made of pure rice.

Other views: Larger, Larger

Eastern, Russian, Serbian, Romanian, and Balkan Fronts

A Restive Union

The Austro-Hungarian EmpireAustria-Hungary — was a dual monarchy united by the Habsburg Franz Josef, Emperor of Austria and Apostolic King of Hungary. Austria and Hungary each had a parliament and Prime Minister, but the Empire shared ministries of war, finance, and foreign affairs in a Council of Ministers for Common Affairs. Vienna was the capital of Austria and the Empire; Budapest the capital of Hungary. Franz Josef was Commander in Chief of the armed forces. His rule, his army, his fleet, were K.u.K. — kaiserlich und königlich — Imperial and Royal.

Besides the largely Germanic Austrians and the Magyars of Hungary, the Empire included large ethnic and linguistic populations of Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Romanians, Slovenes, Croats, Serbians, Ruthenians, and Italians. These populations were increasingly restive in the years leading up to World War I. The 1878 Treaty of Berlin ending the Russo-Turkish War formalized the Ottoman Empire's significant losses in the Balkans, and led to the establishment or independence of Serbia, Montenegro, Romania, and Bulgaria. It also assigned administration of Bosnia-Herzegovina to Austria-Hungary.

Italy's unification (the Risorgimento) in the mid-nineteenth came largely at the expense of Habsburg dominions on the Italian peninsula. In 1914, the Empire's Italian population was concentrated in the mountainous Trentino (Tyrolia) and the Adriatic port of Trieste.

Pan-Slavic sentiment was strong among Czechs, Slovaks, Croats, and Serbians, with groups advocating for a union of south Slavs based on an expanded Serbia. In Galicia, isolated in northeastern Austria-Hungary by the Carpathian Mountains, ethnic Poles longed for an independent and reunified Poland, divided among the Austro-Hungarian, German and Russian Empires in the late 18th Century. In the Empire's southeast, a large Romanian population occupied Transylvania, separated from Romania by the Transylvanian Alps or Eastern Carpathians.

Peoples of Austria-Hungary in 1914 from Historical Atlas by William R. Shepherd. The empire

The continued dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in Europe, and the rise of the Balkan states, particularly Serbia, encouraged Austro-Hungarian leaders to assert the Empire's dominance in the region. Austria-Hungary's incorporation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908 thwarted Serbia's hope to bring the province under its own control, and incorporated large populations of ethnic Serbs and Croats, many of them Orthodox and Muslim, into the empire. To a Serb nationalist, Austria-Hungary had supplanted one oppressor with another.

Turkey, primary state of the Ottoman Empire, continued to lose its European lands. With its allies Montenegro, Greece, and Bulgaria, Serbia defeated Turkey in the First Balkan War of 1912-13, and significantly expanded its territory and population. Within polyglot, multinational Austria-Hungary, many saw Serbia as a threat to its existence. The Empire tried to appeal to restive populations within Bosnia, improving roads and railway, with some success. Even so, when the aging Emperor Franz Josef visited the province in 1910, there had been an attempt on his life. The visit of his nephew and heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand to the province to observe military maneuvers in 1914 was intended as a cementing of ties of the province to the Empire.

Using a pistol that would be traced to Serbia, the Bosnian Gavrilo Princip shot the Archduke and his wife Sophie von Hohenberg in the Bosnian city of Sarajevo on Sunday, June 28, 1914, killing them both. In killing the heir, Princip believed he was striking a blow for Slavic independence that would lead to a Union of Southern Slavs in the Balkans. In doing so, he removed one of the primary opponents to those in Vienna who advocated war with Serbia.

Alliances and the July Days of 1914

In July 1914, the Great Powers in Europe were divided into two alliances, the Triple Entente of France, Russia, and Great Britain, and the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy.

The Triple Entente was based on the alliance of France and Russia, pursued most vigorously by France, which feared facing Germany alone in war, and which did much to finance Russia's recovery after its defeat in the Russo-Japanese war of 1905. Britain and France had separate military agreements in the event either country was attacked by Germany and the Triple Alliance. Russia was also seen, and saw itself, as the leader of Slavic aspirations and the primary supporter of Serbia.

On May 23, 1915 Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary, its former ally as a member of the Triple Alliance. Clasping the hands of the German and Austro-Hungarian emperors Wilhelm II and Franz Josef, Italy

The Triple Alliance was built on the relationship between the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires. Some in Berlin saw this as a pan-German alliance countering the Slavs of Russia and the Balkans, but a significant part of Austria-Hungary's population was Slavic. Italy joined the alliance in 1882, but had an uneasy relationship with Austria-Hungary, primarily because of Italian hopes to free all ethnic Italians of Habsburg rule and incorporate Italian-speaking parts of Austria-Hungary, including Trentino, Alto Adige, and Trieste.

The great powers of Europe had repeatedly managed through crises without a major war in the years before the assassination of the Archduke, and there was a measure of formality in responses from European capitals as July 1914 passed. Franz Ferdinand had married outside of the ruling families to a woman judged to be beneath his station. Because of the marriage and the Archduke's insistence that he be buried with his wife, the Austro-Hungarian authorities treated the murdered couple shabbily. The burial was not imperial, and heads of state were first invited to, then uninvited from, the services.

On July 5, Kaiser Wilhelm and Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg promised German support for Austria-Hungary in its response to Serbia. Wilhelm, bellicose and full of bluster, moderated as the days passed. On July 15, French president Poincaré left for a state visit to Russia.

The Sarajevo investigation quickly found roots of the plot in Serbia from which three of the conspirators had come bearing guns and bombs. The Viennese press first referred to those arrested as "Bosnians," then changed that to "Serbs."

On July 23 Austria-Hungary delivered an ultimatum to Serbia, demanding unconditional acceptance within 48 hours. The terms shocked governments in European capitals, and some attempted to intervene. Russian Tsar Nicholas wrote to his cousin Kaiser Wilhelm. Britain tried to organize a peace conference.

Minutes before the deadline, Serbia accepted all but one term: that representatives of the Austro-Hungarian government be involved within Serbia in suppressing anti-Austrian activity. This one condition was enough. The Austrian ambassador returned to Vienna. On July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. The next day its gunboats bombarded Belgrade, Serbia's capital.

War Plans

When the major powers went to war in 1914, they followed war plans that had been developed over years.

The German von Schlieffen Plan assumed the country would face a two-front war against both France and Russia. Although Russia could bring enormous numbers of troops to war, German military planners thought it could do so slowly and that Germany could engage in two short and sequential single-front wars. According to the plan, Germany would achieve a quick victory over France while Russia was mobilizing, then shift forces to the east over Germany's excellent rail system.

Russian war plans assumed the country would go to war against both Germany and Austria-Hungary.

Austro-Hungarian plans included one for a two-front war against both Russia and Serbia, with one army held is reserve to be deployed to the primary front. Both Austria-Hungary and Germany assumed the cooperation of the other, but did not coordinate plans.

Mobilizing troops of the major powers, putting them on a war footing, required complex schedules and operations: from the announcement to the start of mobilization, the calling up of reserves, the cancelling of leave for active service military, the placing of rail systems under military command, were all predicated on train schedules. Put in motion, these machines of millions of men were hard to stop. Nor were they intended to be: the plans of France, Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary put their forces on the offensive, not the defensive.

Engaging the War Machines

To support Serbia, Russia mobilized, but could not do so against Austria-Hungary only, or so the Tsar was told, so he authorized general mobilization, that is, along the German border as well as that with Austria-Hungary. Germany had no other response to Russian mobilization than war. Putting the Schlieffen plan into execution on August 1, Germany declared war on Russia, and opened its attack on France by invading Luxemburg. France ordered general mobilization effective on the 2nd. Germany requested free passage through Belgium, claiming that France were going to attack Germany through Belgium. Belgium, recognized by the European powers as neutral, refused. On August 3, Germany declared war on France and, on August 4, its forces crossed the border into Belgium. This invasion changed the debate in Britain which supported Belgian neutrality by declaring war on Germany. On August 5, Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia. Coming to Serbia's aid, Montenegro declared war on Austria-Hungary on August 11.

The Triple Alliance required that its members come to the aid of an ally being attacked. Italy concluded that Austria-Hungary was fighting an offensive rather than defensive war, and declared neutrality.

Across Europe, people and parliaments were generally supportive, with crowds rallying in the streets. In Vienna, crowds turned out in support. Most people expected a short war that would see them occupying the enemy's capital by year end.

6,000,000 men went into the first battles, numbers far greater than in any previous war. The British had recently fought the Boer War, and the Russians the Russo-Japanese War, but Europe, outside of the Balkans, had been at relative peace for a long time, and most of the generals had not seen war.

The Serbian and Eastern Fronts — Austria-Hungary Goes to War

Revenge! Austro-Hungarian troops charge into battle to revenge the assassination of Archduke %+%Person%m%7%n%Franz Ferdinand%-%. His spirit watches over them. From a drawing by Ludwig Koch.

Austro-Hungarian Commander-in-Chief Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf began to execute his war plan that called for three armies defending against Russia while launching an offensive against Serbia with three others, including the Empire's reserve army. With seven of its eight armies attacking France, Germany requested a supporting offensive against Russia. Agreeing to the request, Austria-Hungary redeployed its Second Army to the Russian Front on August 6. Conrad invaded Russia on August 20 from Galicia, northeastern Austria-Hungary, on the Russian side of the Carpathian Mountains. In four battles between August 23 and September 11, the Austro-Hungarians initially drove back the Russians, but were finally outmaneuvered and overwhelmed. The Russians repeatedly transmitted unencrypted messages, which saved some of the Austrian army, but by the end of October, Conrad had lost Galicia, much of Austria-Hungary's rolling stock, and 350,000 of his 900,000 men.

In November, the Russians began an offensive to cross the Carpathians to reach the Hungarian plain.

With only two of its planned three armies, Austria-Hungary crossed the Danube River into Serbia on August 11, only to be driven out of the country. Before the year was out, Serbia had raided Austria-Hungary, and Austria-Hungary had invaded Serbia twice more, in September and November, taking, and then losing Belgrade. Serbia defeated the three 1914 invasions, and ended the year in control of its capital.

Austria-Hungary called up 3,500,000 men in 1914 and had lost 1,250,000 by the end of the year. The Empire would lose 800,000 more by the end of March 1915.


A hold-to-light postcard of the German and Austro-Hungarian victory (shortlived) over the Russians in the Uzroker Pass in the Carpathians on January 28, 1915. Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, Chief of the Austro-Hungarian General Staff, launched an offensive with three armies on January 23, including the new Austro-Hungarian Seventh Army under General Karl von Pflanzer-Baltin.

Russian forces continued their attempt to break through the Carpathians as Conrad struggled to not only hold them back, but to advance and relieve the siege of the Austro-Hungarian fortress city of Przemyśl. Conrad launched a winter offensive on January 23 to recapture Galicia and Bukovina, Austria-Hungary's northeastern provinces and territory he had lost in 1914. He also hoped to end the threat of the Russians advancing through the passes of the Carpathian Mountains, which would put them in a position to strike BudapestWinter conditions were horrendous. Svetozar Boroević commanded the Third Austro-Hungarian Army, Linsingen the Austro-German Südarmee, and Karl von Pflanzer-Baltin an Army Group that would become the Seventh Army. Conditions were dreadful. Snow that was knee deep one day could be waist-deep the next. Men froze to death overnight. On March 23, the garrison at Przemyśl surrendered with the Russians taking 100,000 prisoners. With these losses, and those in his Carpathian campaign, by the end of March Conrad had added 800,000 losses to his total for 1914.

Italy's declaration of neutrality in August, 1914 did nothing to settle the question of war within the country where there was support both for and against joining the war. Although the Triple Alliance had coordinated military plans, including sending troops to support Germany, those favoring going to war primarily supported entering it on the side of the Entente. Italy had not recovered from its Libyan War against the Ottoman Empire in 1912, and was short of equipment to wage war. To entice Italy into the war, the Allies offered her parts of Austria-Hungary. So did Germany, which pressured its ally to turn over the Trentino, Trieste, and the Dalmatian coast of Bosnia-Herzegovina. With the entry of Turkey into the war, the Allies also offered islands in the Aegean Sea and on mainland Turkey itself.

With promises, France and Germany entice Italy into the war during a Mardi Gras masked ball, February 16, 1915. Italy, the caption implies, is the most masked of ball-goers, and this the most masked of balls, and one which only two will leave contented. The warring sides offered Italy territory for dropping its neutral stance, proposing Trentino and Trieste in Austria-Hungary, Piedmont in France, and Turkey

Italian politicians thought they should enter the war before Russia defeated Austria-Hungary with no benefit to Italy. On May 4, Italy formally abrogated its treaty with Germany and Austria-Hungary. On the 23rd, Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary, although it would not do so on Germany for more than a year.

Despite having to fight on a third front (along with the Eastern and Serbian fronts), Austria-Hungary held the heights of the Dolomite Mountains that formed much of its border with Italy. Two of Italy's four armies (the First and Fourth) faced north along Trentino and the mountain passes between the two countries, and these armies advanced into Austro-Hungarian territory. General Luigi Cadorna, commanding the Italian Army, concentrated his other two armies in the narrow plain in Italy's northeast. Here the front line roughly paralleled the Isonzo River flowing through Austro-Hungarian territory just east of its border with Italy. Before the war had ended, Italy and Austria-Hungary would fight eleven Battles of the Isonzo, four of them in 1915.

Despite his lack of adequate arms, Cadorna launched multiple offensives with the Italian Second and Third Armies, reaching, and in some locations crossing, the Isonzo. In the initial Italian advance, the Austro-Hungarians retreated to defensive positions along the river.

Beginning on June 23, 1915, the First Battle of the Isonzo lasted through July 7. Italy lost 15,000 men. From July 18 through August 3, Italy lost another 42,000 and Austria-Hungary 47,000 in the Second Battle of the Isonzo. From October 18 to November 4, the Italians and Austro-Hungarians waged the Third Battle in which 20,000 Italians were killed and 60,000 wounded. The Fourth Battle of the Isonzo, launched on November 10, ended on December 14, 1915.

By the end of 1915, Cadorna had lost over 250,000 men. 200,000 Italian soldiers were prisoners of war or missing.

The Eastern Front: Russia Thrown Back

With the Russian conquest of Przemyśl and Austria-Hungary's increasingly desperate struggle to prevent the Russians from breaking through the Carpathian passes to the Hungarian plain, German Chief of Staff Erich von Falkenhayn turned from his plans for an offensive in France to aiding Austria-Hungary, and agreed to Conrad’s plan for an attack on the Russian flank along a front from Gorlice to Tarnow. He withdrew troops from the Western Front in March and April, sending one of four infantry regiments and two of six artillery to Russia. His offensive and gas attack in the Second Battle of Ypres was in part intended to forestall an Allied offensive against his weakened line.

Commanding the new Eleventh German Army and an Austrian army, General August von Mackensen launched his campaign on May 3, 1915 along a 30-mile front after a four hour hurricane bombardment. By May 4, the Russian Third Army was shattered and Mackensen's army created a breakthrough too wide and deep for the Russians too close. The Russians abandoned Galicia and most of Poland, and lost 210,000 men including 140,000 prisoners. By 14 May, the German/Austrian allies reached the San River, capturing an additional 250,000 Russians. The German and Austro-Hungarian forces retook the Carpathian passes. On June 3, they regained the fortress city of Przemyśl. They retook Lemberg on June 22, and Kaiser Franz Josef promoted Conrad to the new rank of colonel-general. With Galicia secure, they moved north into Russian Poland and took Warsaw on August 4. On August 10, they besieged the great Russian fortress at Novo-Georgievsk with its garrison of 90,000 men. The Russian commander surrendered ten days later on August 20.

A Russian Cossack riding among refugees fleeing before a Central Power advance. The Russians adopted a scorched-earth policy in the months-long retreat before the German-Austro-Hungarian Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive of the spring, summer, and fall 1915, with Cossacks accused of burning homes and crops to deny them to the advancing enemy, and to prevent civilians from remaining behind and providing intelligence to the invader.

The Russians were pushed back to the Bug River. On August 25 and 26 they lost Brest-Litovsk as the Central Powers continued the campaign.

By the end of August, Russia had been pushed back 300 miles, and had lost territory the size of France. An estimated 10,000,000 refugees — most of them not ethnic Russians — had fled the battlezone and the Central Powers had captured 750,000 Russians in the campaign. Germany and Austria-Hungary held nearly 1,750,000 prisoners of war, 1,425,000 of them Russian.

The Russians continued to fight, but the soldiers did not have adequate weapons, rifles, or boots, and autumn rains made the roads impassable. Some Russian army units reported that Bolshevik anti-war propaganda was being distributed.

Falkenhayn renewed his call for separate peace with Russia. Commanding his depleted Austro-Hungarian army, Conrad agreed, but German Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg refused. It is likely the Tsar would not have abandoned his allies in any event.

By August 1915, after one year of war, Austria-Hungary had lost 2,500,000 men and 57,000 officers killed or wounded. One in eight officers were dead, and one in ten men. 730,000 men were missing or prisoners of war, and 928,000 were seriously wounded.

Falkenhayn opposed continuing the offensive against Russia, but Conrad and German General Erich Ludendorff separately tried to extend their success. Ludendorff attacked at Vilna on September 9, but the Russians held. Conrad attacked on August 26, taking Grodno and Lutsk. In counterattacks, the Russians drove Conrad back and retook Lutsk on September 23. In October, Conrad continued his campaign against the Russians with no German support, and lost almost 250,000 men. The Russians stabilized their front, but did not again threaten Germany.

Bulgaria and the Conquest of Serbia


Bulgaria signed a secret treaty with Germany and Austria-Hungary on July 17, 1915, concluded a military convention with Germany on September 6, and began mobilizing on September 23. With the success of the campaign against Russia, Falkenhayn aimed to remove Serbia as a threat to Austria-Hungary. Serbia had defeated Austro-Hungarian invasions in 1914 and early 1915, but on October 6, Austro-Hungarian and German troops under von Mackensen crossed the Danube River into Serbia, and took Belgrade on October 9. Austro-German forces crossed the Save-Danube border from the north. Bulgaria entered the war, and a week after the initial assault two Bulgarian armies invaded Serbia from the east.

Facing this combined force, Serbia fell quickly. Mackensen took 150,000 Serbian prisoners in October. The Serbian army fled west, into the mountains of Albania, and to the Adriatic coast. Of the 200,000 who set out, 20,000 were lost in the retreat. In the spring of 1916, many of the surviving Serbian soldiers joined the Allies on the Salonika front.


On the Isonzo River, the Italians recommenced the Battles of the Isonzo River, launching the Fifth on March 9, 1916. Fighting continued until the 17th. There would be four more Battles of the Isonzo before 1916 ended.

Commanding the Austro-Hungarian forces, Conrad von Hötzendorf had tried to get German support for a plan to attack Italy in the Trentino — southern Tyrolia — and drive the defenders from the mountains to the northeast Italian plain and the Adriatic Sea, trapping most of Italy's forces, including those fighting on the Isonzo, between the mountains, the sea, and Austro-Hungarian armies. Preparing for the offensive at Verdun, Falkenhayn was unwilling to provide troops, so Conrad instead drew from his forces on the Russian and Isonzo Fronts.

Map of the Trentino, part of "Italia Irredenta," unredeemed Italy: Venezia Tridentina (Trentino and Alto Adige).

On May 15, Austria-Hungary launched the Asiago Offensive, attacking Italy in the Trentino with two armies. In its initial assault, Austria-Hungary regained some to the territory it had lost the previous year, including the city of Asiago, but could not break through to the northern Italian plain. Italian counter-attacks, including one by its newly formed Fifth Army, helped stop the Austrian offensive.

When Italy requested an offensive against Austria-Hungary to relieve pressure on it from the Asiago Offensive, Russian General Alexei Brusilov responded, commencing an assault against Austria-Hungary on June 4. Rather than selecting a breakthrough point, Brusilov attacked along a 20-mile front with little or no preliminary bombardment. Taken by surprise, the Austrian-Hungarian forces collapsed, with the Russians taking 250,000 prisoners. Russia's successes continued into August pushing the Austro-Hungarians back, in increasing disarray, in Poland, Galicia, and the Bukovina. On July 27, the Austro-Hungarian First Army was crushed, the next day, the Fourth Army. But Germany again came to her ally’s aid, drawing forces from the Western Front and the Verdun offensive, and stopping the Russian advance. Despite the great success of Brusilov’s Offensive, the Russians suffered 1,000,000 casualties, many of them in fruitless frontal attacks. Austria-Hungary's official history recorded 464,382 men and 10,756 officers lost, but casualties have since been estimated to have been as high as 750,000, including 380,000 taken prisoner, many as deserters. German troops would be increasingly intermingled with those of its ally, and German commanders would soon take command of Austro-Hungarian forces.

With his opponent focused on the Eastern Front, Cadorna saw an opportunity to strike. Austria-Hungary had limited railways to redeploy its forces, but the superior Italian internal lines of communications allowed Cadorna to shift some of his forces from the Trentino to the Isonzo Front. On August 6, he launched the Sixth Battle of the Isonzo, and by the 17th, his troops had crossed more of the River, and taken the city of Goriza, but they could not drive the Austro-Hungarians from the Bainsizza Plateau north of the city.

The Sixth was the most successful of Cadorna's Isonzo offensives, and with its success, Italy finally declared war on Germany on August 28.

Before the year was over, the Italians struck along the Isonzo three more times with little further gain: the Seventh Battle of the Isonzo, from September 14 to 17, the Eighth, from October 10 through 12, and the Ninth, from November 1 to 4.

By the end of the 1916, Italy had lost another 500,000 men, double its losses in 1915. Austro-Hungarian losses on the front were half those of Italy.

Romania Joins the Allies

As the Brusilov Offensive was pushing back the Austro-Hungarian armies on the eastern front, Romania saw an opportunity to join the Allies. On August 27, 1916, Romania entered the war on the side of the Allies, advancing into Transylvania in Austria-Hungary with its large ethnically Romanian population. Dismissed as Chief of the German General Staff after his failure at Verdun, Falkenhayn was given command of the Central Power forces that drove Romania out of Transylvania, and occupied much of Romania before the year was out.

Map of the the Balkan Front — Germany

The Salonika Front

After the Allies' failed attempt to aid Serbia in 1915, Britain had been prepared to evacuate its troops from Greece, but had kept them in place at the request Tsar Nicholas. Many of the British, Australian, New Zealand, and Indian troops who evacuated Gallipoli at the beginning of 1916 were redeployed to Salonika and Egypt.

In the spring of 1916, many of the Serbian soldiers who had survived the retreat across Albania joined the Allies on the Salonika Front, a line that included British, French, Serbian, Russian, and Italian units, and a Montenegrin battalion under French command. In overall command of Allied forces, French General Maurice Sarrail prepared an offensive against the Bulgarian forces to his north to prevent them from joining an offensive against Romania. But the Central Powers were well aware of Sarrail's preparations, and the Bulgarians struck first, on August 17, against the Serbian line, advancing until August 26, when the Serbs held. Sarrail finally mounted his offensive, the Battle of Monastir, in September.

New German Commanders; A New Austrian Emperor

Generals Paul Hindenburg, appointed German Chief of the General Staff on August 28, and his Quartermaster General Erich Ludendorff, newly commanding the German Army, began reorganizing the economies of Germany and its primary ally for war. Having repeatedly come to Austria-Hungary’s aid, they subordinated its army to the German. The commanders had concluded that no decisive victory would be possible in the field in the coming year, so Ludendorff began preparing a new defensive line. Unlike Falkenhayn, he was willing to give up occupied ground, and designed a line, a defensive line, to Germany’s advantage with dugouts and light rail. Victory, he concluded, would be won by starving Britain through unrestricted submarine warfare.

On November 21, Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph died, ending a reign that had begun after the revolutions of 1848. His great-nephew Karl, nephew of the late Franz Ferdinand, was crowned Emperor of Austria and Apostolic King of Hungary.

Meeting in November 1916, Allied commanders agreed to simultaneous offensives on the Western, Eastern, Italian, Salonika, and Palestine Fronts in the coming year. These plans would change. In December, David Lloyd George became Prime Minister of Great Britain, and the French Chamber of Deputies forced Joffre into retirement, replacing him with Robert Nivelle.


Russia's Tsar Removed: the February Revolution

Russia's February Revolution removed Tsar Nicholas from power, restored the Duma, and brought a government that included moderates and liberals to power, but a government committed to keeping Russia in the war. The turmoil of the revolution brought activity on the Russian front to a standstill as Austria-Hungary and Germany awaited the outcome. The overthrow of the Tsar freed up German troops for redeployment from Russia to France and Austria-Hungary's Italian Front.

The Russian moderate Socialist and Justice Minister Alexander Kerensky took the post of Minister of War in May, and encouraged a Russian offensive which began in Galicia, in northeastern Austria-Hungary in June. Commanded by Alexsei Brusilov who had commanded Russia's great offensive of 1916, the attack began well, but the Russian army was disintegrating. Orders were countermanded by votes of committees that included soldiers and political commissars. Orders to advance were delayed to allow for debate and votes that sometimes affirmed the advance and sometimes countermanded it. Votes to advance were reopened for discussion and new votes taken to advance or retreat. Soldiers left the front. By early July the offensive had failed disastrously, with over 200,000 Russian casualties. It was the last major Russian military initiative of the war, and led to demonstrations and work stoppages.

As Germany's Chancellor had predicted, unrestricted submarine warfare brought the United States into the war. Although Congress approved President Woodrow Wilson's declaration of war on April 12, few American troops would be in action until 1918.

Romania Fights On

By early 1917, Central Power forces had conquered most of Romania, and confined what remained of the Romanian Army to Moldavia, Romania's northeast region, where Romanians and Russians held a line extending to the Black Sea.

German postcard map of the Romanian theater of war, with map labels in Bulgarian added in red. From north to south the labels are Russia, the Austro-Hungarian regions of Galicia and Bukovina, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and, along the Black Sea, the Romania region of Dobruja. Romania

Even as Kerensky's Offensive was failing, what remained of Romania's army and the Russians launched an offensive in Moldavia against the German Ninth Army. The Battle of Mărăşti began on July 24. Although the Romanians captured Mărăşti, the Russians to their north were driven back. Romania suspended operations on August 1.

On August 6 and 8, German and Austro-Hungarian forces attacked near Mărăşeşti and Oituz, the first a Romanian victory. Central Power casualties were 65,000; Romania's 27,410.

Romania's fate was sealed by events in Russia, first on the battlefield, where Russians increasingly concluded local ceasefires, and in Petrograd, where a new Russian government would soon take power. Romania concluded an armistice on December 9. The peace treaty — the Treaty of Bucharest — was signed on May 7, 1918.

Russia's Bolshevik Revolution

After Kerensky's failed offensive, Germany continued to advance into Russia. Many blamed the Bolsheviks for the disintegration of the army and accused the party of being in the pay of Germany. The Russian people were both anti-German and anti-war, and the most consistent voice calling for an end to the war was Vladimir Lenin of the Bolsheviks.

As the government prepared for a constituent assembly to form an elected government, the Bolsheviks called for the transfer of power to the Soviets in which the party was increasing its representation. When the government moved against the Bolsheviks on November 6 New Style, it was already too late, as the Bolsheviks controlled bridges, railway and power stations, and the telephone exchange. On November 8, the Second Soviet Congress met, and Lenin proclaimed an end to the war. The first phase of the Bolshevik Revolution had ended. The Russian Civil War would soon begin.

With a ceasefire established, representatives of the Central Powers and the new Bolshevik Russian government met in the Russian city of Brest Litovsk for peace talks that continued into 1918. Russia and the Central Powers finally signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on March 3, 1918. The ceasefire on the Eastern Front freed up German forces for the Western Front and both German and Austro-Hungarian troops for the Italian Front.

The Italian Front: The Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Battles of the Isonzo: Caporetto

Italy continued its offensives on the Isonzo River with the Tenth Battle of the Isonzo from May 12 through June 8 and the Eleventh from August 19 to September 12. In its battles of the Isonzo, the Italians had crossed the river, but had advanced only a few miles along a front of approximately 30 miles. But in the Eleventh Battle, they had at last driven the Austro-Hungarians from the high ground of the Bainsizza Plateau. Italian General Cadorna recognized that his lack of weapons, particularly heavy guns, put his forces at a great disadvantage against the Austrians.

Convinced that Austria-Hungary was on the verge of collapse, Germany sought to save their ally by defeating Italy. With a ceasefire on the Russian Front, they could redeploy troops to the Western and Italian fronts. Looking for a weak spot, the commanders found it at Karfreit, Caporetto in Italian, an Austro-Hungarian city on the west bank of the Isonzo.

Together with their Austro-Hungarian ally, the Germans launched, on October 24, the Twelfth Battle of the Isonzo, the Battle of Caporetto. The Italian front collapsed, falling back 70 miles to the Piave River, so quickly that German and Austrian forces could not keep up with the retreat of 1,000,000 Italian soldiers. There are 700,000 Italian casualties, 400,000 of whom deserted, 200,000 of whom were taken prisoner. In a pattern that had occurred before and would again, German and Austro-Hungarian soldiers delayed their advance for food and the spoils of war.

On the Piave, the Italians held their shortened line and Italian morale rose. Cadorna was replaced by Armando Diaz who would lead the Italian army through the end of the war. Like Henri Pétain in France, Diaz would not strike again until his forces are ready.

In one response to the disaster in Italy, the Allied statesmen meet on November 5, at the Rapallo Conference, and agree to create, on November 8, a Supreme War Council, with French General Ferdinand Foch as Chairman, and with independent military advisors to the civilian leadership.


The United States had a quarter of a million troops in Europe at the beginning of 1918 with more coming, but none were yet in the line. German commanders Ludendorff and Hindenburg planned a final blow to end the war before the American troops could matter. They were optimistic, even though, facing a German offensive, the Allies would have the advantages the Germans had in their defensive war in the west. The Allies would have internal lines for communication, troop transport, and supply behind the front. They would be able to fall back, regroup, and increase their strength. The German armies would, on the contrary, attack across devastated land, and risk outrunning their supplies. On March 21, 1918, Ludendorff launched Operation Michael, the first of what would be five offensives through July.

Shared headstone of Otto Waldow, replacement reservist, and Hans Jobst, infantryman, in the Belleau German Cemetery, Belleau, France, died June 25, 1918, possibly during the final American assault to seize Belleau Wood, a battle begun on June 6.

Preparing for the Western Front offensive, the Germans withdrew their forces from Italy at the beginning of the year. As the offensives failed to achieve their goal of driving Britain or France out of the war, German command pressed Emperor Karl for a supporting offensive. Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, having been replaced as Austro-Hungarian Chief of the General Staff, commanded the Austro-Hungarian Tenth and Eleventh Armies in Trentino. Svetozar Boroević commanded the Fifth and Sixth Armies on the Piave River. On June 15, having sent its last 29 supply trains to the front, the Austro-Hungarians launched the Second Battle of the Piave with four armies. The Allies outmatched them and their equipment. Austria-Hungary destroyed much of its remaining military power in the battle, and, on June 20, Karl called off the attack.

Salonica, the Balkan Front, and the Defeat of Bulgaria

In the Balkans, where Serbian, French, British, and Italian forces held a line facing Bulgarian armies along the northern border of Greece, and Turkish troops to the east, French General Franchet d’Esperey, commander of Allied forces in the sector, launched an offensive, the Battle of Dobro Pole, across the entire front on September 15. The Serbs, moving through the mountains, advanced 20 miles in two days west of the Vardar River valley. Cavalry (Moroccan French Spahis) moved through the mountains. The French advanced. The Bulgarian right collapsed.

In the east, the British and Greeks attacked at Lake Doiran on September 18 and 19, but were repulsed with heavy casualties. Faced with the collapse of his right wing, Bulgarian Commander in Chief General Georgi Todorov ordered the withdrawal of his army that was holding against the British offensive. Stunned, the First Bulgarian Army retreated from Doiran through narrow mountain passages. Strafed and bombed by British aircraft, an orderly withdrawal turned into a rout.

On September 26, the Bulgarians asked that hostilities be suspended. Bulgaria signed an armistice on September 29, the same day the British breeched the Hindenburg Line on the Western Front. Their continued advance across Serbia would soon put the Allied forces on the Danube River and Austria-Hungary's southern border.

The Defeat of Turkey

After British Empire forces entered Jerusalem on December 9, 1917, General Edmund Allenby prepared to continue his advance north through Palestine with an attack on March 9 at Nablus. Germany's offensives on the Western Front halted further action for six months as British command redeployed men and materiel to Europe.

A British Mark IV tank advances across the red field, star and crescent moon of a Turkish flag under a chain of grey and yellow clouds. Entitled Entente-török fegyverszünet, Entente-Turkish Armistice, it refers to the British-Turkish Armistice signed on October 30, 1918, that took effect on October 31. Original watercolor postcard by Schima Martos.

By August the Allies had begun to reverse German gains and could pay some attention to other fronts. The British began an offensive with all available resources in September, took Damascus on October 1, and continued moving north through Syria towards Turkey itself. British troops advanced in Mesopotamia as Allied forces on the eastern flank of the Salonica Front were within striking distance of Constantinople. Turkey, defeated in Mesopotamia, Syria, and Palestine, and threatened along its European border, capitulated on October 31.

The End of the Austro-Hungarian Empire

Austria-Hungary had destroyed much of its remaining military power in its offensive on the Piave River in June. By July, the Empire was defeated in the field. The army reflected the internal divisions, many along ethnic lines, that would soon break apart the Empire. In mid-August, Emperor Karl traveled to Spa for a meeting of the Austro-Hungarian and German high commands. He and his civil and military leaders told the Germans their Empire could not survive another winter and must make peace immediately.

In late September, Italian commander Diaz fielded two new armies, the Tenth, with two Italian and two British divisions, and the Twelfth with three Italian divisions and one French. As Diaz prepared a major attack, Austria-Hungary retreated. On October 1, General Pflanzer-Baltin began withdrawing from Albania. In Mid-October the Veneto in northeast Italy was evacuated allowing Diaz to advance. In the third week of October, with Allied forces moving north across the Balkan Front, General Kövess retreated from Serbia.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire was collapsing, breaking into nations. On August 16 a Pan-Slavic Congress at Laibach (Ljubljana) brought thousands of Poles, Slovenes, and Czechs together. There were food riots in Budapest and Prague. On October 5, quasi governments were formed in Zagreb and Prague. On October 7, Poles declared independence. On October 21, the same day the Czechoslovak National Council published a declaration of independence in Paris, German speakers proclaimed an Austro-German state. Two days later, on October 23, Croatian units rebelled in Fiume. With retreats on all fronts, some soldiers simply left, headed home, individually and in armed and hungry groups.

Austro-Hungarian trench art pencil drawing on pink paper of a soldier in a ragged, many-times-patched uniform, labeled

Having for months resisted Allied demands for an Italian offensive and fearful that the war would end with Italy taking little part in the final battle, Diaz attacked along the Italian front from Switzerland to the Adriatic on October 24. His primary attack was in the center of the Austro-Hungarian line, in an attempt to split it by encircling the Sixth Army. The Austro-Hungarians held back the Italian Fourth and Eighth Armies central to Diaz's plan. But within two days, the Allies had crossed the Piave River at two locations, and suddenly found their opponent evaporating. The Battle of Vittorio Veneto would be a further disaster for thousands of Austro-Hungarian troops.

Hungarian troops mutinied, refusing to fight. On October 24, Hungary called its Honvéd (territorial) soldiers home, and on October 31, recalled the rest of its troops. By the end of October half the Austro-Hungarian forces were in revolt. Former Royal Hungarian Premier Count Tisza, who in July, 1914 had been the last member of the Austro-Hungarian Council of Ministers for Common Affairs to resist a military response against Serbia in retaliation for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, was murdered.

On October 29, Austria-Hungary, in general retreat before the Italian offensive, and with its army collapsing, asked Italy for an armistice. The advancing Italians were in no hurry to agree. On November 2, Kaiser Karl accepted Italian armistice terms, but the document was not signed until the next day, and did not take effect until the 4th, leaving time for further Italian gains. The Austro-Hungarian high command, indifferent to their soldiers, neither modified the ceasefire terms, nor alerted the troops to the 24-hour delay. For a day, Austro-Hungarian troops who thought the war was over were rounded up by an Allied advance in which 30,000 died and in which the Allies took 350,000 to 400,000 prisoners. Many of these would die as POWs.

On November 3, a naval expedition from Venice seized Trieste, achieving one of Italy's primary war goals.

On November 5, Franchet d’Esperey set out for Belgrade to meet with representatives of the new Hungarian government. He spent a night in Sofia, Bulgaria's capital. Continuing across Serbia, he reached Serbia's capital on November 10, on the Danube, Serbia’s border with Austria-Hungary. The same day, Romania's King Ferdinand mobilized the army, and Romania re-entered the war on the side of the Allies.

By the end, the average Austro-Hungarian soldier weighed 120 lbs, and only one in three had a coat. Austria-Hungary had mobilized 8,000,000 men of whom 1,015,200 had died, and 1,943,000 had been wounded. 3,748,000 had been hospitalized due to illness. 1,691,000 had been taken prisoner. Huge numbers of men were in transit, leaving the front, going home or elsewhere, many of them to a country that was being reborn or was in the first stages of formation. Returning soldiers, often in groups, looted on the way home.

In his memoir In the World War, Count Ottokar Czernin, Former Austro-Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, summed up the fall of the Empire: 'We were bound to die. We were at liberty to choose the manner of our death, and we chose the most terrible.'

The new country of Austria, the primarily German-speaking region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, signed the Treaty of St. Germain in 1919. The Empire's flagship, Viribus Unitis, renamed Yugoslavia and part of that country's navy, was blown up by Italians on November 1, 1919. The Treaty of Trianon configured a diminished Hungary. On November 11, 1918, Karl, former Emperor of Austria and Apostolic King of Hungary, renounced political power, but did not abdicate. He went into exile in Switzerland four months later, his border crossing recorded by Stefan Zweig.