Austria-Hungary during World War 1
At the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, Hungary was part of the dualist monarchy, Austria-Hungary. Although there are no significant battles specifically connected to Hungarian regiments, the troops suffered high losses throughout the war as the Empire suffered defeat after defeat.
The result was the breakup of the Empire and eventually, Hungary suffered severe territorial losses by the closing Peace Treaty.
In 1914, Austria-Hungary was one of the great powers of Europe, with an area of 676,443 km2 and a population of 52 million, of which Hungary had 325,400 km2 with a population of 21 million.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire conscripted 7.8 million soldiers during the First World War.
Although the Kingdom of Hungary composed only 42% of the population of Austria-Hungary, the thin majority – more than 3.8 million soldiers – of the Austro-Hungarian armed forces were conscripted from the Kingdom of Hungary during the First World War.
Austria-Hungary was more urbanized (25%) than its actual opponents in the First World War, like the Russian Empire (13.4%), Serbia (13.2%), or Romania (18.8%).
Furthermore, the Austro-Hungarian Empire also had a more industrialized economy and higher GDP per capita than the Kingdom of Italy, which was economically the most developed opponent of the Empire by far.
On June 28, 1914, Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria.
Before entering the war, only the prime minister Count István Tisza hesitated, unconvinced that it was the best time to engage in battle.
As soon as Germany promised to neutralize the Kingdom of Romania and promised that no territories of the Kingdom of Serbia would be annexed to Austria-Hungary, he then decided to support the war.
After the ultimatum sent to Serbia by Franz Josef I, the war broke out and soon spread over much of Europe and beyond.
In 1914, the Austro-Hungarian army was facing its greatest challenge so far in history. After mobilisation, the armed forces were grouped into six armies, totaling 3.2 million soldiers. Between 1914 and 1918, 9 million served in the army (7.8 million in the fighting forces).
In comparison to the other armies of Western Europe, Hungary’s experienced veteran armed forces, technical equipment, and military expenditures were underdeveloped. The artillery was insufficient, but it was heavily developed later in the war.
The correct supply of ammunition was not solved even by the end of the war.
The armed forces lacked an adequate air force: it had only 42 military and 40 sport airplanes before the war. Unifying the multi-ethnic units was also a serious problem for the military’s leaders.
The military forces of Austria-Hungary remained largely unified over the course of the war, in spite of their multi-ethnic nature and some expectations to the contrary.
While German support was undoubtedly critical to the success of various offensives (such as the Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive and the Battle of Caporetto), the multi-ethnic armies of Austria-Hungary proved fully capable in a defensive role in all the theaters of the war in which they were engaged.
The predominantly ethnic German commanders of the army generally favoured troops of German extraction, but ethnic Hungarian troops were also seen as being reliable and were widely used on the front lines, especially on the Russian front and Italian front.
For the most part, troops from other ethnic groups within the empire were less likely to be placed in strategically critical positions and therefore had lower casualties.
Over the course of World War I there was never a documented offensive by purely ethnic Hungarian troops, but such troops did contribute positively to the outcome of various battles, as follows:
On December 3–15, 1914 during the Battle of Limanowa, the “Russian steamroller” was held back, especially by the hussars.
Lieutenant-general Josef Roth attacked the Russian 3rd army, and on the right-wing, the 10th Budapest and 11th Debrecen cavalry divisions engaged in a man-to-man fight and were decisive.
On December 11, colonel Ottmár Muhr died in a heroic defense leading the Sopron 9th cavalry regiment.
Lieutenant-general Artur Arz, together with lieutenant-general Imre Hadfy, leading the 39th Kassa division, destroyed the 15th Russian division in Livno.
During the Siege of Przemysl, which defense was commanded by general Hermann Kusmanek, the main defense line, consisting of Hungarian troops, guarded the fortress for five months from November 1915.
The defenders were commanded by Árpád Tamásy, leading the 23rd Szeged division.
After the depletion of ammunition and food reserves, Przemysl capitulated, leaving 120,000 prisoners of war.
On the Isonzo front, Hungarian forces participated in all twelve battles.
On the Doberdo plateau and near Karst, the most serious battles were fought by Hungarians, who composed one-third of the total armed forces.
In particular, the 20th Nagyvárad and 17th Budapest common regiments distinguished themselves.
On June 15, 1918, near the river Piave, the 6th army commanded by Archduke József Ágost took over most part of mount Montello and held it until the end of the war.
Decisive fights were carried out by the 31st Budapest common regiment and the 11th Debrecen division.
The troops raised in the Kingdom of Hungary spent little time defending the actual territory of Hungary, with the exceptions of the Brusilov Offensive in June 1916, and a few months later, when the Romanian army invaded Transylvania, both of which were repelled.
A small number of troops from Austria-Hungary also fought in more distant theaters of war that are beyond the borders of Austria-Hungary, including the Gallipoli campaign, and in the Sinai Peninsula and Palestine.
Out of over 2.2 million men mobilized in Austria-Hungary, more than one million died during the course of the war.
In Hungarian areas, this meant a death rate of twenty-eight per thousand persons – a level of loss exceeded within Austria-Hungary only by German Austrians.
In comparison to the total army, Hungary’s loss ratio was more than any other nation of Austria-Hungary.
There could be two possible causes: Hungary was more an agricultural country, where it is easier to mobilize forces, rather than from more industrialized territories (i.e. Bohemia), and secondly, the Hungarian soldiers were considered to be more trustworthy and disciplined than soldiers from other ethnic groups.