Austrian Imperial Army

Austria and Hungary both had their own standing armies. In 1914 Austria had 40,000 soldiers and Hungary had 30,000. There was also the Imperial and Royal Army that was drawn from all parts of the Empire. The 350,000 men in this army gave their allegiance direct to Emperor Franz Josef. Recruits for all three armies were obtained by conscription.

The Army was officially under the control of the Commander-in-Chief, Emperor Franz Josef. By 1914 Josef was 84 years old and the chief of staff, Count Franz Conrad, was firmly in control of the armed forces. Conrad, favoured an aggressive foreign policy and advocated the use of military action to solve Austro-Hungary's territorial disputes with Italy and Serbia.

On the outbreak of the First World War Austro-Hungary was able to mobilize 2.25 million men. This was fairly small when one compares it to the 4 million mobilized by the French Army. Attempts were made to rapidly expand the size of the army and recruitment posters in 15 different languages appeared all over the Empire.

Austro-Hungary: 1914-1918
Austro-Hungary: 1914-1918

Language was a major problem for the Imperial and Royal Army. Around 80 per cent of all officers in the army were German speakers. However, this was true of only 30 per cent of other ranks and this created difficulties, especially for Czechs, Ruthenes and other racial minorities. In the first year of the war, Austro-Hungary lost 40 per cent of its troops, including most of its experienced officers. Over 500,000 men had been taken prisoner. Army morale was poor and nationalist resentment increased. This was reflected by the mass surrender in April 1915 of the Czech unit fighting against Russia on the Eastern Front.

When Franz Josef died on 21st November 1916, he was succeeded by his great-nephew Karl I. Unlike his chief of staff, Count Franz Conrad, Karl favoured a negotiated peace settlement. He also wanted more personal control over the Austro-Hungarian forces and in March 1917 he sacked Conrad and replaced him with Arz von Straussenberg.

Straussenberg was no more successful than Franz Conrad in improving the morale of the army. Nationalistic unrest continued and after the Allied victory at Vittorio Veneto, the Imperial and Royal Army began to disintegrate. Kaiser Karl I signed a peace settlement with the Allies on the 3rd November, 1918 and abdicated eight days later.

Official figures suggest that 1.54 million men in the Austro-Hungarian army were killed during the war. A further 1.22 million were taken prisoner and about 2 million were wounded during the conflict.

Primary Sources

(1) Conditions of the Armistice concluded with Austro-Hungary (3rd November, 1918)

(1) The immediate cessation of hostilities.

(2) The demobilisation of the Austro-Hungarian army and its withdrawal from the fronts between the North Sea and Switzerland. A maximum military force of twenty divisions at prewar establishment to be maintained in the Austro-Hungarian homeland. Half the Austro-Hungarian artillery to be handed over to the Allies.

(3) The evacuation of all territories occupied by Austria-Hungary since the beginning of the war. All the evacuated territories to be occupied by the forces of the Allies. No sabotage to be done.

(4) The Allies to have freedom of movement with Austria-Hungary and the right to occupy strategic centres.

(5) All German troops to evacuate the Italian and Balkan Fronts, and Austria-Hungary, with 15 days, on pain of internment.

(6) The evacuated territories to be administered by the Allies.

(7) All Allied prisoners-of-war and civilians evacuated from their homes during the course of the war to be repatriated immediately.

(8) Austro-Hungarian personnel too sick or wounded to be evacuated from the specified areas to be looked after by Austro-Hungarian personnel left behind for that purpose.

(9) The location of all Austro-Hungarian warships to be made known to the Allies, to disarm and pay off the remainder and to intern any German submarines entering their waters.

(10) The Austro-Hungarians to surrender 15 submarines to the Allies, to disarm and pay off the remainder and to intern any German submarines entering their waters.

(11) The Austro-Hungarians to surrender to the Allies three dreadnoughts, three light cruisers, nine destroyers, twelve torpedo-boats, one minelayer and six Danube monitors. The rest of the Austro-Hungarian fleet to be paid off and disarmed in ports designated by the Allies.

(12) The Allies blockade of Austria-Hungary to remain in force.

(13) All Austro-Hungarian naval aircraft to be handed over to the Allies and immobilized.

(14) The Austro-Hungarians to evacuate all Italian and other ports outside Austro-Hungarian national territory.

(15) The Allies to occupy all Austro-Hungarian land and sea fortifications, and the defences of Pola.

(16) All Allied merchant vessels held by Austria-Hungary to be returned.

(17) No ships or naval material to be damaged before handing over to the Allies.