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A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War…

A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the… (2014)

by Geoffrey Wawro

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unbelievable and obscene tragedy of wwi ( )
  clarkland | Nov 21, 2015 |
All World Wars have been started and lost by natives of Austria. Is there something peculiar in the water of the not so blue Danube? Budapest is also known as a city of suicides, so self-destructive activities seem to be in the water (see also the Nibelungen saga). For Geoffrey Wawro, Hungary is the key culprit whose destructive behavior in the failed Austro-Hungarian marriage made Austria go postal in the face of a mad Serbian act of aggression.

Wawro chiefly blames Franz Joseph and uses a string of abusive adjectives among which "senile" is still the most friendly. His charge does not make sense, though. If Franz Joseph is some kind of demented King Lear on the throne, his lack of compos mentis restricts his guilt. It was the men around Franz Joseph who took the fatal decisions. Wawro is on much firmer (and traditional) ground in blaming the incompetence, corruption and backwardness of the k.u.k. army, part of which Wawro blames on the undeclared budgetary war of Hungary against Austrian rule by starving the beast to a level that made the army unusable as a tool for war.

The previous books of Wawro were mostly about Germany and Prussia in particular. He therefore sees Austria through the lense of a mediocre Prussia. In reality, the muddling through of Austria was and is the normal state of affairs of most empires and Prussian militarism the exception. Wawro also seems not to be too familiar with Austrian history prior to 1864, so that his judgments are often unfair and incomplete if one considers a wider span of history than the 50 years he tends to focus on. The Habsburg family had managed to hang on for more than 400 years by their strategy on relying more on marriages and diplomacy instead of war. The death of archduke Franz Ferdinand, a firm opponent of war in the Balkans (where "thieves and regicides" lived), was doubly tragic as it put two of the worst generals in history in the driver's seat: Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf and Oskar Potiorek. Wawro is justly scathing about their dismal and inexcusable performance. They wargamed their plans and lost - heavily. Instead of going back to the drawing board and making sure that they had a winning strategy, they executed their dismal plans - and lost as predicted.

One element Wawro does not really deal with is the deadly combination of green troops (mobilized in July, sent into war in August) into a campaign theater with severely deficient logistics. In the Western theater, civilian infrastructure could compensate for the deficiencies in logistics. In South-eastern and Eastern Europe, only the bare minimum of infrastructure existed, so that the green troops quickly began to suffer for any incompetence and idiocy. The latter was in abundance in Hötzendorf and Potiorek's planning - having troops march through Bosnia instead of crossing the Danube opposite Belgrade or having the troops disembark from the trains more than 100 km from their target. Underperforming Russian czarist logistics was no mean feat.

The book actually ends too soon, as the real question is why Austria-Hungary stayed in the war in 1915, having lost nearly half a million men in half a year, decimated its NCO and officer corps as well as lost almost all major battles, especially as it was fighting mostly for honor and no territorial gains. Hatred against Serbia and later Italy certainly was a powerful motivator. The main bloodletting, however, happened in the East against Russia about a territory neither the Russians nor the Austrians cared at all. ( )
1 vote jcbrunner | Jul 31, 2015 |
An insightful, learned chronicle of how imperial hubris and meaningless slaughter in the First World War brought the crumbling multinational dual monarchy to collapse and the Hapsburg dynasty to an ignominious end. ( )
  Sullywriter | May 22, 2015 |
Distilling down a generation's research for the general reader, Wawro aims to disperse the fog that still allows Vienna to escape its share of culpability in creating the disaster that was the Great War. While if you have read the specialist military history you'll be aware that Habsburg military leaders such as Conrad and Potiorek have come in for their just share of criticism, Wawro ends this book with a meditation on how Emperor Franz Joseph has been allowed to waltz off into history essentially unstained by culpability. What might be disappointing for some readers is that this book essentially ends in with events in the Spring of 1915 and does not deal in detail with the Italian campaign; the point by which the Habsburg polity had devolved into a German puppet state. ( )
  Shrike58 | Jan 16, 2015 |
Dr. Wawro is definitely not impressed with the leadership and strategic skills of Austrian General Conrad von Hotzendorf!! This book presents the early period of WWI from the perspective of Austria-Hungary. It covers the diplomatic moves, the military mobilization, and the opening strategy and battles of the AH army. Without giving away the entire work in a review, basically AH in general and Conrad von Hotzendorf in particular bundled all aspects of the start of the war which led to disaster. I found this book well written (not my first reading of Wawro's books) and fascinating. Wawro has apparently done his homework in researching this book.

To say the least, Conrad v Hotzendorf should have court martialed and probably executed for his performance during the war. At one point, according to Wawro, Conrad quips to a colleague "if Archduke Franz Ferdinand were still alive, he would have had me executed." Interesting. This is a fine read for anyone interested in a close look at the performance of the Austro-Hungarian Army, its leadership and the diplomats during the start of WWI, ( )
1 vote douboy50 | May 25, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0465028357, Hardcover)

The Austro-Hungarian army that marched east and south to confront the Russians and Serbs in the opening campaigns of World War I had a glorious past but a pitiful present. Speaking a mystifying array of languages and lugging outdated weapons, the Austrian troops were hopelessly unprepared for the industrialized warfare that would shortly consume Europe.

As prizewinning historian Geoffrey Wawro explains in A Mad Catastrophe, the doomed Austrian conscripts were an unfortunate microcosm of the Austro-Hungarian Empire itself—both equally ripe for destruction. After the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914, Germany goaded the Empire into a war with Russia and Serbia. With the Germans massing their forces in the west to engage the French and the British, everything—the course of the war and the fate of empires and alliances from Constantinople to London—hinged on the Habsburgs’ ability to crush Serbia and keep the Russians at bay. However, Austria-Hungary had been rotting from within for years, hollowed out by repression, cynicism, and corruption at the highest levels. Commanded by a dying emperor, Franz Joseph I, and a querulous celebrity general, Conrad von Hötzendorf, the Austro-Hungarians managed to bungle everything: their ultimatum to the Serbs, their declarations of war, their mobilization, and the pivotal battles in Galicia and Serbia. By the end of 1914, the Habsburg army lay in ruins and the outcome of the war seemed all but decided.

Drawing on deep archival research, Wawro charts the decline of the Empire before the war and reconstructs the great battles in the east and the Balkans in thrilling and tragic detail. A Mad Catastrophe is a riveting account of a neglected face of World War I, revealing how a once-mighty empire collapsed in the trenches of Serbia and the Eastern Front, changing the course of European history.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:57:35 -0400)

"The Austro-Hungarian army that marched east and south to confront the Russians and Serbs in the opening campaigns of World War I had a glorious past but a pitiful present. Speaking a mystifying array of languages and lugging outdated weapons, the Austrian troops were hopelessly unprepared for the industrialized warfare that would shortly consume Europe. As ... historian Geoffrey Wawro explains in [this book], the doomed Austrian conscripts were an unfortunate microcosm of the Austro-Hungarian Empire itself--both equally ripe for destruction"--… (more)

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