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The Austro-Hungarian army that marched eastward in the opening campaign of World War I was as disordered a force as the world had ever seen. Speaking a mystifying array of languages and carrying outdated weapons, the troops were hopelessly unprepared for the mechanized warfare that would soon consume the entire continent. As prizewinning historian Geoffrey Wawro explains, t The Austro-Hungarian army that marched eastward in the opening campaign of World War I was as disordered a force as the world had ever seen. Speaking a mystifying array of languages and carrying outdated weapons, the troops were hopelessly unprepared for the mechanized warfare that would soon consume the entire continent. As prizewinning historian Geoffrey Wawro explains, the disorganization of these doomed conscripts perfectly mirrored Austra-Hungary itself. For years, the Dual Monarchy had been rotting from within, hollowed out by complacency and corruption at the highest levels. Germany goaded Austria into a longed-for fight with Russia and her allies before the monarchy collapsed completely, but the severity of the fighting was too much for the weakened Empire. By the time 1914 ended, the Habsburg army lay in ruins, and the course of the war seemed all but decided. Reconstructing the climax of the Austrian campaign in gripping detail, Wawro offers a riveting account of how Austria-Hungary plunged the West into a tragic and unnecessary war.


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The Austro-Hungarian army that marched eastward in the opening campaign of World War I was as disordered a force as the world had ever seen. Speaking a mystifying array of languages and carrying outdated weapons, the troops were hopelessly unprepared for the mechanized warfare that would soon consume the entire continent. As prizewinning historian Geoffrey Wawro explains, t The Austro-Hungarian army that marched eastward in the opening campaign of World War I was as disordered a force as the world had ever seen. Speaking a mystifying array of languages and carrying outdated weapons, the troops were hopelessly unprepared for the mechanized warfare that would soon consume the entire continent. As prizewinning historian Geoffrey Wawro explains, the disorganization of these doomed conscripts perfectly mirrored Austra-Hungary itself. For years, the Dual Monarchy had been rotting from within, hollowed out by complacency and corruption at the highest levels. Germany goaded Austria into a longed-for fight with Russia and her allies before the monarchy collapsed completely, but the severity of the fighting was too much for the weakened Empire. By the time 1914 ended, the Habsburg army lay in ruins, and the course of the war seemed all but decided. Reconstructing the climax of the Austrian campaign in gripping detail, Wawro offers a riveting account of how Austria-Hungary plunged the West into a tragic and unnecessary war.

30 review for A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire

  1. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    “As usual…the Austrians could not count on the Hungarians. Pressed by Vienna in 1913 to vote for increases in the army and navy…the Hungarians again demurred…Despite Hungary’s obstinacy – or perhaps because of it – Berlin by 1914 was ready to risk all. Scheduled French and Russian military buildups would not be completed until after 1916. Germany’s was nearly complete. Austria-Hungary, which had shrunk from war during the Moroccan Crises of 1905 and 1911, needed somehow to be forced into the bre “As usual…the Austrians could not count on the Hungarians. Pressed by Vienna in 1913 to vote for increases in the army and navy…the Hungarians again demurred…Despite Hungary’s obstinacy – or perhaps because of it – Berlin by 1914 was ready to risk all. Scheduled French and Russian military buildups would not be completed until after 1916. Germany’s was nearly complete. Austria-Hungary, which had shrunk from war during the Moroccan Crises of 1905 and 1911, needed somehow to be forced into the breach at Germany’s side. The Balkans had to be that place. The Austrian press was helpfully lamenting the impotence exhibited during the Balkan Wars…The running had to stop, and when the fateful pistol shots rang out in Sarajevo…killing the Hapsburg crown prince and his wife, German leaders were secretly pleased. They felt certain that the murder of the Hapsburg heir apparent and the arrest of a Bosnian Serb assassin would propel even the timid Austrians to war…” - Geoffrey Wawro, A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire Assigning blame for the start of World War I is a popular academic parlor game. Like all academic parlor games, it is a total waste of time, and totally worthwhile. Herewith, Matt’s Tips for a Great Night ™: (1) A 1.5 liter of Yellow Tail (per person); (2) Meat-and-cheese plate; (3) Profound and unanswerable historical questions to be debated vigorously. Over time, two chief culprits have evolved as instigators of the First World War: Germany and Russia. This makes sense for a variety of reasons. First, both of them were the “older brother” who decided to stick up for their impetuous vassals (Austria-Hungary and Serbia, respectively). Instead of reining them in, they let them loose. It also does not hurt that both of them ended up spending much of the 20th century jockeying for the title of Evilest Country in the World. By focusing on these two empires, the other Great Powers get to sneak away unscathed. France’s unnecessary bellicosity and outright belligerence in encouraging Russia towards war is forgotten. Meanwhile, Great Britain’s entrance into war, which was not compelled by any of the numerous entangling alliances that snared Europe in such a web, goes mostly unremarked. (The Treaty of London (1839), calling for the protection of Belgium’s neutrality, is the textbook example of a treaty that is enforced only when a signee wants it enforced…and thanks for that, Sir Edward Grey). Recently, more attention has been paid to the two “minor” powers that butted heads in the first place. Serbia and Austria-Hungary. In The Sleepwalkers, Christopher Clark painted a vivid portrait of an ambitious and dangerous Serbia that was to the Balkans as a flame is to gunpowder. Here, in Geoffrey Wawro’s A Mad Catastrophe, Austria-Hungary gets taken to the woodshed for some historical paddling. And boy, what a paddling it is! If you ever had any affection for the Dual Monarchy, prepare for the scales to fall from your eyes. In Wawro’s telling, Austria-Hungary (and not the Ottoman Empire) is the true “sick man” of Europe. A poorly-stitched polyglot empire that embodied every failure metaphor you can conceive: tearing at the seams; toppling like a house of cards; crumbling like a sandcastle. In 1913, Austria-Hungary appeared massive. And it was, literally, huge. After Russia, it was the second largest country in Europe, and the third largest – after Russia and Germany – in terms of total population. That population was a heterogeneous collection: 12 million Germans, 8.5 million Czechs and Slovaks, 5.5 million Serbs and Croats, 5 million Poles, etc. etc. However, those statistics did not add up to true strength. The Hungarians, the second part of the Dual Monarchy, were a powerful (and if you were Germanic, irritating) check on Emperor Franz Joseph and the court in Vienna. The Magyars effectively seceded from the unitary Austrian Empire in 1867 and revived a “Kingdom of Hungary” in Transleithania that was to have no direct connection with Vienna. The Austrian emperor’s actual title allowed that he was king of Hungary (as well as king of Bohemia, Croatia, Galicia, and other regions of the empire), but these titles had always been regarded as purely ceremonial and the domains they spanned merely provinces. Now the emperor was made to understand that the Hungarian crown trumped all others, including even the Austrian one. Budapest could make all manner of demands on Vienna, but Vienna must make none on Budapest. It was partly through Hungarian machinations that the Austro-Hungarian Army was in such epically bad shape. Hungarian refusal to acquiesce to budget increases ensured a poorly-equipped, raggedly-trained military armed with outmoded rifles, brass cannon instead of artillery, and few machine guns. The Hungarians also worked out draft exemptions for themselves, meaning the draft drew from a smaller population base. Just to make things more difficult, the men in the Austro-Hungarian Army spoke 15 different languages. (As it turns out, the word for “retreat” is roughly the same in every tongue). A dying Empire led by a dying Emperor, a nation without an identity, dozens of ethnic groups and languages each vying for their own advantage. This was the Empire that Archduke Franz Ferdinand stood in line to rule, when he was murdered in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. A Mad Catastrophe covers the outbreak of World War I from the perspective of this failing colossus. Wawro devotes the first hundred pages to simply setting the scene, describing in great detail the many, many (many, many, many) flaws of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, some of which I mentioned above. He also details the context in which events took place. The Balkans were a region in flux, with war-tried Serbia, backed by Russia, looking to flex its muscles and achieve their pan-Slavic goals, while the Austro-Hungarians looked on in concern. When Franz Ferdinand was killed by pan-Slavic terrorists backed by members of the Serbian military, Austria-Hungary saw it as an excuse to rap Serbia on the nose. In their response to the assassination of their unloved heir, it is clear that Emperor Franz Joseph (dim and fading) and his military chief of staff Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf (obsessing, always, over his mistress Gina) would have been well-served in reading Geoffrey Wawro’s book. From the start, they operated under the unfortunate assumption that they were not already doomed. Wawro briskly describes the July Crisis – Austria’s blank check from Germany, her ultimatum to Serbia – but wisely does not get bogged down in the near-infinite intricacies of the frenzied shuttle diplomacy. There are enough books about that. (I’ve read them! And reviewed them!) Suffice to say, Austria-Hungary wanted a war, and she was going to get it. In doing so, however, she made mistake after mistake. Instead of invading Serbia right away, she devised an ultimatum. Instead of delivering the ultimatum right away, she dithered. Instead of preparing for war, she stalled the mobilization. The list of blunders is glaring. Some of Wawro’s conclusions, especially about Germany’s role, are rather over-simplified, but this isn’t a volume interested in detailed causal discussions. It is interested in watching Austria-Hungary crash and burn. And crash she does. And burn. Wawro spends the bulk of the book discussing Austria’s three failed invasions of Serbia under the inept General Oskar Potiorek. The cruel irony here is that Russia, France, and Great Britain entered the fray partly to stop Austria-Hungary from steamrolling poor little Serbia. But when the war actually came, poor little Serbia – toughened by her wars in the Balkans, her soldiers fervent nationalists – kicked the crap out of Austria. (It was only later in the war, outside the scope of the narrative here, that Germany helped subdue Serbia). While Austria was getting thrashed by Serbs in the south, she was simultaneously getting pummeled by the Russians in the east. Somehow, the Austrians managed a slightly better result against the Russians, mainly because the tsarist army was, on the whole, as poorly led and equipped as the Austrians. It also helped that Ludendorff and Hindenburg led the German Army in the east, and consistently pummeled the Russians. I initially hesitated to get this book. Wawro used to be a talking head/host on the History Channel, back when it had, you know, history on it. (Now it’s just pawn shop owners and alligator hunters). It’s not fair, I suppose, but I have an innate bias against reading books written by talking heads or television hosts. There’s something unserious about it, almost frivolous. It’s a stupid notion, especially when you consider that Wawro’s books include titles on the Franco-Prussian War and the Austro-Prussian War. In other words, not the bibliography of a man out looking to be a celebrity. Long story short, I’m glad I got over myself and picked this up. (Once you read his Acknowledgments section, where he talks about driving around Europe with his mom, checking out battlefields and searching for primary sources, you can’t help but like him even more). A Mad Catastrophe is engaging and well written. It straddles the line between a serious study and an entertaining general history. The topic itself is not exactly mainstream material, but Wawro’s presentation definitely is. He goes light on the nitty-gritty battle details (which can still get insanely confusing) while emphasizing the broader results of each battle. He writes clearly, and does a fine job with the personalities. Still, it can be confusing, especially for someone – such as myself – whose study thus far has been confined to the Western Front. The geography, and especially the place-names, are hard to get straight (and to pronounce). By this point, years (and years, and years) into my self-education on World War I, I can truthfully say that Austria-Hungary (and Serbia as well) is oft neglected in discussing the war’s outbreak. She’s always there, of course. You can’t write about World War I without discussing Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. But Austria-Hungary always slips to the sides of the frame; she is never given agency over events. (She is always the German puppet, dancing on a string). In A Mad Catastrophe, Wawro refocuses out attention. He gives Austria-Hungary credit for her role in events. Unfortunately, that credit relates to her utter incompetence, arrogance, and myopia in all matters relating to diplomacy and war.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Steven Peterson

    The title says a great deal about the book--"A Mad Catastrophe." The book tells a tale of a once major power having in the process of disintegrating internally. A dual Monarchy had been created--one featuring Austria, the other Hungary. This alone undermined unity of purpose. In addition, the Empire was a mélange of many different nationalities: Austrians, Magyars, Slavs, Croats, Czechs, Rumanians, Poles, and others. There was not necessarily loyalty to the Empire among all of these parties. The The title says a great deal about the book--"A Mad Catastrophe." The book tells a tale of a once major power having in the process of disintegrating internally. A dual Monarchy had been created--one featuring Austria, the other Hungary. This alone undermined unity of purpose. In addition, the Empire was a mélange of many different nationalities: Austrians, Magyars, Slavs, Croats, Czechs, Rumanians, Poles, and others. There was not necessarily loyalty to the Empire among all of these parties. The Habsburg dynasty was another issue. Emperor Franz Joseph I was near the end of his life, tired and worn out, in his eighties. The heir apparent was Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who had considerable power and who did not always see eye to eye with the Emperor. The book begins with a discussion of the crushing defeat of Austria against Prussia in 1866. The creation of the Dual Monarchy between Austria and Hungary is considered at some lengt5h--including how this made decision making and cohesiveness within the extent of the Empire extraordinarily difficult. The Great Power quarrels of the late 19th and early 20th century are chronicled, to indicate the tensions "in the air" in Europe. Major powers began drawing up plans of action in case war occurred, including upgrading of the military. Artillery technology was changing—but the Empire depended on its older, now obsolete artillery because the country could not afford an investment in the new technology. Not enough ammunition was being produced—whether for artillery, machine guns, or troops’ rifles. Soldiers needed training, but rather little took place. Again, it was expensive to mobilize troops for such events and the Empire tended to ignore training. None of this bode well if war came about. After Europe dodged some close calls, the assassination of the Archduke in 1914 triggered World War I. Austria’s response was bungled. Then, to the astonishment of its German allies, the Empire decided on a two front war—against both Serbia and Russia--when its armies were outnumbered by Russians many times over and no troops could be spared. The three efforts to conquer the Serbs were all bloody failures, destroying much of Austria-Hungary’s military forces in the south. War against Russia featured two countries unprepared for war having at it. However, the Empire’s forces had a number of major disadvantages. They were outgunned and outmanned; Austria-Hungary’s ancient cannon were far inferior in range and performance to Russian artillery. The Empire’s forces did not have a lot of ammunition, so bayonet charges often became the standard attack procedure. The Empire was also hamstrung by its commander against Russia—General Franz Conrad Hotzendorf. He had a reputation for ability, but surely did not live up to it against the Russian forces. He dithered, had troops march back and forth, to little end. The Germans became alarmed and had to divert forces from the West over time to maintain any stability against Russia. The Empire’s forces were decimated by death, injury, and illness (actually, much more than decimated, since, from the term’s Latin derivation, that would imply 10% overall casualty figures). Needless to say, the war went badly for the Empire, and the epilogue speaks a small amount of the aftermath. This section could profitably have been expanded considerably to provide a sense of what the consequences of the botched war effort were. The book is best about giving a sense of the quiet rot within the Empire, making a successful venture into war doubtful from the start. More could have been done exploring the outcome after the conflict ended.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    About the first year of the First World War from the "Habsburg" perspective. Poorly written, ill-conceived. First off, if a book is supposedly about the "Austro-Hungarian" Empire, you'd think the author ought to know something about the second half of that term. But, no, it's obvious that the author knows nothing whatsoever about Hungary. In the end, he actually lists Hungary as one of the "new" nations created at the end of the war along side Slovakia! Slovakia had had no previous existence as a About the first year of the First World War from the "Habsburg" perspective. Poorly written, ill-conceived. First off, if a book is supposedly about the "Austro-Hungarian" Empire, you'd think the author ought to know something about the second half of that term. But, no, it's obvious that the author knows nothing whatsoever about Hungary. In the end, he actually lists Hungary as one of the "new" nations created at the end of the war along side Slovakia! Slovakia had had no previous existence as an organized state, whereas the Kingdom of Hungary (the so-called Crown of St. Stephen) went back more than nine centuries. The perspective in the book is entirely Germano-Habsburg centric. The author at one point claims that Francis Joseph, whom he clearly believes to be a craven fool for catering to the meaningless and anarchic demands of the Hungarians, could easily have used the military to crush the uppity Hungarians and should have done so to curb their "treason". Well, if the author had any idea what he was talking about, he would have known that the emperor had already tried to do precisely that during the revolution of 1848/9, and the failure of the move had forced him to call in the Russians to do the job, something that was out of the question later in the century. Now, I wouldn't want to be taken as some sort of "Hungarian nationalist", but you at least have to understand what the other side was up to even if you don't sympathize. There is not one single item about Hungary in the bibliography, and this ignorance shows repeatedly. As for the main content, it's basically a lot of "boy, were they stupid!" without any real consideration of why the system was set up as it was. After a fairly long introduction (including a long chapter on the assassination of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand, which really isn't germane), you get a series of chapters covering the war in chronological order until the spring of 1915 in terms of the operations of the "Austrian" army. The descriptions of military campaigns can only be described as confusing. The author never explains the geographic setting of the campaigns, and he has a long series of confusing descriptions of manoeuvres involving a lot of movements from one meaningless obscure Slavic place name to another. The maps are of little use, and the reader gets little understanding of why exactly the armies moved as they did or what difference the moves made. I remember having the same reaction to the author's previous book on the Austro-Prussian war of 1866. In terms of organization, there is little analysis, and the presentation is basically chronological. Lots of paragraphs consist of a hodge podge of disconnected items. Sometimes the reason for them winding up in the same paragraph is vaguely chronological, but sometimes I have no idea why the paragraphs are structured as they are. In terms of chapters, there is no internal subdivision, and the flow of information is basically determined by chronology. Okay for "they did this and then they did that", but not so okay for any sort of analysis. A striking example of this involves the fortress of Przemyśl in Galicia. During the Austrian defeat in the fall of 1914, a large garrison was left behind, and its eventual surrender the following spring was a major blow to Austrian prestige. Not much is heard of the place after the siege starts, and then all of a sudden it surrenders. There is strangely little made of the significance of this (just some retroactive complaining about how the officers ate okay while the troops starved). Presumably, this is because the basically chronological treatment doesn't leave much room for discussing something that starts in one time and finishes in another. If you take the trouble to look at the footnotes, the sources used are often bizarre. In addition to out-dated journalism (like Churchill's account of the war, as if he knew anything about the east, and John Reed's contentious hack writing), the author seems to have a strange reliance on the records of some sort of French intelligence service. He even cites some report about interrogating a captured Hungarian officer as the footnote to the views of the Hungarian prime minister in his discussions with the Habsburg court about whether to go to war. Some source! Oh, and that reminds me. The author takes German and Austrian "guilt" for causing the war for granted, and doesn't even argue the point (much less give any indication about the gargantuan dispute on the topic). Finally, just as the Hungarians are a sort of amorphous enemy, whose motives are nefarious but obscure, the Russian and Serbian forces are basically just a foil to be used to bludgeon the "Austrians" with as necessary. Sometimes they do things in a way that's much superior to Austrian bungling, but at other times they are just as (if not more) incompetent. Pretty much everybody outside the German leadership of the Austrian forces is there simply for whatever immediate purpose the author has without any overall assessment of their capabilities or motives. Finally, the English style is not particularly deft. While being basically uninspired narrative prose, it also has a fair share of jarring colloquialisms and clumsy imagery.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jill Hutchinson

    The Ottoman Empire, known as "the sick man of Europe" had nothing on the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary. The ruling Habsburg dynasty under the leadership of the aged Franz Joseph, was the oldest in Europe and continued to bask in the glory days of the 18th and 19th century. Made up of countries/principalities that all spoke different languages and had different priorities/cultures, the Empire had no domestic consensus on foreign policy, was deeply in debt and had a small military that still de The Ottoman Empire, known as "the sick man of Europe" had nothing on the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary. The ruling Habsburg dynasty under the leadership of the aged Franz Joseph, was the oldest in Europe and continued to bask in the glory days of the 18th and 19th century. Made up of countries/principalities that all spoke different languages and had different priorities/cultures, the Empire had no domestic consensus on foreign policy, was deeply in debt and had a small military that still depended on mounted cavalry, sabres, and brass cannons. The assassination of the heir apparent to the throne by Serbian dissidents and Austria-Hungary's response backed by the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, plunged Europe and eventually the world into the slaughter of WWI. The author looks at the Eastern Front (the Balkans) in the first year of the war (1914). It was there that the Austro-Hungarian troops were engaged and humiliated.....loss after loss, incompetent leadership, indecision, and lack of tactics and weapons. They were a toy army that didn't have the first clue about how war in the 20th century was fought and desertion and self inflicted wounds abounded. It was a sad ending to a once glorious Empire with a proud military history. This is a slow read as the author, who did intensive research, covers each battle and skirmish in detail......thankfully he provides maps of some of the more important battles. But it is an interesting look at the Eastern Front which usually doesn't get as much attention as does the fighting in France (the Western Front). It will also astonish the reader at the total ineptitude and seemingly uncaring attitude of the leadership. A perceptive history of the end of an Empire which had no one to blame but itself.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    Years ago in grad school, Hines H. Hall III assigned the Modern Europe seminar to write papers about how the cultures of various great powers led to their diplomatic and military behavior in the lead-up to WWI. I had the Italians. Now, Wawro examines the social, military and political structures of the Austro-Hungarians on the eve of the war, from why the Emperor was surrounded by yes men to the gay spy scandals that titillated the court without sufficiently alarming them about security. Wawro h Years ago in grad school, Hines H. Hall III assigned the Modern Europe seminar to write papers about how the cultures of various great powers led to their diplomatic and military behavior in the lead-up to WWI. I had the Italians. Now, Wawro examines the social, military and political structures of the Austro-Hungarians on the eve of the war, from why the Emperor was surrounded by yes men to the gay spy scandals that titillated the court without sufficiently alarming them about security. Wawro has a gift for illustrating with touches from primary documents, like the linguistic cheat sheet, Military Slovenian with key phrases like "do you STILL not understand?"

  6. 5 out of 5

    Heinz Reinhardt

    Geoffrey Wawro, himself of Ukrainian descent whose grandparents (I believe it was) emigrated to the United States from Austrian Galicia, has made a bit of a career of discussing the military history of the late Hapsburg Dynasty. This book, which details the steady decline of the Austro-Hungarian Empire post 1866, through the first year and a half of the Great War (when the Germans essentially took over the Hapsburg war effort), is easily his best work. Both entertaining, Wawro is an excellent wr Geoffrey Wawro, himself of Ukrainian descent whose grandparents (I believe it was) emigrated to the United States from Austrian Galicia, has made a bit of a career of discussing the military history of the late Hapsburg Dynasty. This book, which details the steady decline of the Austro-Hungarian Empire post 1866, through the first year and a half of the Great War (when the Germans essentially took over the Hapsburg war effort), is easily his best work. Both entertaining, Wawro is an excellent writer and definitely blows up the stereotype of academics not being even passable writers, as well as deeply analytical, if you ever wanted to know why the Hapsburg Empire was in the state that it was in, in 1914, this is the book to go to for answers. Detailing all of the scandals, the corruption, Imperial weakness, the cold war internally between the Austrians and the Hungarians, the growing schism with their own Slavic subjects, and their deteriorating foreign relations with Serbia, Italy, and Russia, Wawro makes the case that the Austro-Hungarian Imperium was doomed from the start. He also makes the case that Vienna-Budapest, more so than either Berlin or St. Petersburg, must take a majority portion of the blame for the outbreak of the Great War. Due to internal conflicts and the strained nature of the nobility with each other, the Austrians acted in such a way that following Franz Ferdinand's assassination, what could have been merely the 3rd Balkan War, turned into Armageddon. The Hapsburg Army (KuK) was woefully unprepared, inefficient, incompetent, and outdated in their tactics. The slaughter the Russians enacted on them in Galicia in 1914, and that beating the Serbs delivered to them that same year, were twin blows the KuK never recovered from. Wawro covers the Austrian efforts militarily in excellent, at times exciting, detail. All in all, this a truly outstanding work, and one that is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the beginning of the Great War, and the demise of one of the great Empires. Highly recommended.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Simon

    Very good, within the parameters of the sub-title. Wawro does an indispensable account of the period August 1914 - early 1915. His main interest is the military history. The account of Austro-Hungarian political history and foreign policy during the run up to the war is somewhat cursory. He is highly critical of Franz Joseph, ascribing a malevolence to the penultimate Habsburg emperor that one doesn't usually see in other accounts of his life and reign. Wawro reserves his chief vitriol for the c Very good, within the parameters of the sub-title. Wawro does an indispensable account of the period August 1914 - early 1915. His main interest is the military history. The account of Austro-Hungarian political history and foreign policy during the run up to the war is somewhat cursory. He is highly critical of Franz Joseph, ascribing a malevolence to the penultimate Habsburg emperor that one doesn't usually see in other accounts of his life and reign. Wawro reserves his chief vitriol for the commander-in-chief of the Dual Monarchy's army, Conrad. Conrad seems to have deserved it, conducting a totally ineffectual series of incursions into Serbia while sacrificing hundreds of thousands of hapless soldiers against the Russians. Wawro clearly comes down on Fischer's side: the Germans gave the idiots in Vienna a blank check in regard to Serbia. The most fascinating part of it is the account of how Austria-Hungary could never have succeeded, and yet chose to undertake the war anyway. That aside, this may be the most depressing book I have read in years. Wawro has an eye for telling details that illuminate the carnage and waste that marked the eastern front, and the hubris that guided the men who persisted in flinging 19th century tactics at modern weapons. Hundred of thousands of lives on both sides sacrificed for nothing at all, or even worse, as part of the debacle that produced the Soviet Union and fascist Germany and Italy.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    I thought this book was excellent--well written and well researched. As portrayed by the author, the beginning of the Great War was indeed a "mad catastrophe" for the Dual Monarchy. The time wasted at the outbreak of the war, while political and military leaders went on vacation (!) and soldiers were granted leave to deal with the harvest, put the Empire behind from the very beginning. Egos and incompetence severely damaged their war effort. Just 6 months into the war, the army had lost half of I thought this book was excellent--well written and well researched. As portrayed by the author, the beginning of the Great War was indeed a "mad catastrophe" for the Dual Monarchy. The time wasted at the outbreak of the war, while political and military leaders went on vacation (!) and soldiers were granted leave to deal with the harvest, put the Empire behind from the very beginning. Egos and incompetence severely damaged their war effort. Just 6 months into the war, the army had lost half of its manpower. It's a shame that diplomatic solutions weren't given more of a try before war was chosen as the only way. Wawro sums up the situation as follows: "In July 1914, the old emperor drew his sword for the last time, only to watch, horrified, as the blade was parried, reversed, and driven back into his own gut. The Habsburgs had no business going to war in 1914, yet they did, killing off their own people in poorly prepared offensives before settling into a war of attrition that ensured the already weak monarchy's collapse. Of the many errors and miscalculations in this uniquely catastrophic war, Austro-Hungarian decision-making in 1914 was arguably the most senseless--and the most reprehensible. The Great War has justly earned a dark place on our historical map, and Vienna, no less than Berlin, was the heart of darkness." A very worthwhile read on a topic that isn't very well covered in most World War I histories--the Eastern Front and the role of Austro-Hungary.

  9. 4 out of 5

    DoctorM

    The outbreak of the Great War in the East is woefully understudied, and the Habsburg Monarchy's campaigns against Serbia and Russia is barely treated in English. Geoffrey Wawro, who gave us a very decent study of the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, has produced his own account of the Monarchy and the campaigns of 1914--- one, alas, that's a clear failure. Wawro's account of the diplomacy of June-August 1914 is spotty at best, and his analysis of the relations between the Hungarian and the Cisleitha The outbreak of the Great War in the East is woefully understudied, and the Habsburg Monarchy's campaigns against Serbia and Russia is barely treated in English. Geoffrey Wawro, who gave us a very decent study of the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, has produced his own account of the Monarchy and the campaigns of 1914--- one, alas, that's a clear failure. Wawro's account of the diplomacy of June-August 1914 is spotty at best, and his analysis of the relations between the Hungarian and the Cisleithanian ("Austrian") halves of the Monarchy is no more than superficial. His account of the nationality question in the Habsburg army is, well...wrong-headed. He completely neglects the "territorial" re-organization of the imperial-royal armies under Beck in the 1880s-90s and the effects of prioritizing speed of mobilization. Wawro mentions the Fall U. plan for intervention in Hungary during the constitutional crisis of 1905 but seems to have conflated it with the later, very different plans from Franz Ferdinand's military chancery for some kind of coup upon the Archduke's planned accession as "Franz II". He also misreads the Habsburg military position in Albania and Bosnia at the end of the Balkan Wars and grossly underestimates the bonds of loyalty inside the Monarchy's armies. Quite simply--- a failure as a book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Julian Douglass

    Mr. Wawro has clearly done his research over this time period and it show in this book. A very detailed account of not only all of the battles but the state of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and how they led Europe into WWI through its corruption, lack of preparedness, and a fracturing empire lead by a ruler who seemed as if he would rather be doing anything else. Mr. Wawro has three central theses in this book and keeps adding supporting evidence to this book to make it clear that Austria-Hungary Mr. Wawro has clearly done his research over this time period and it show in this book. A very detailed account of not only all of the battles but the state of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and how they led Europe into WWI through its corruption, lack of preparedness, and a fracturing empire lead by a ruler who seemed as if he would rather be doing anything else. Mr. Wawro has three central theses in this book and keeps adding supporting evidence to this book to make it clear that Austria-Hungary was never going to win this war. The first was the Austria seemed to be more motivated by reclaiming its glory after being defeated by the Prussians in 1866. The Empire was too fractured to be a considerable power in world affairs, and the military was ran by egoistical morons who didn't seem interested in modernizing and had to rely on Germany way too much to be effective. Outstanding history that sheds new light on the European side of WWI.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Austria-Hungary certainly had no business going to war in 1914. The empire's ethnic tensions, military weaknesses and lack of grasp of modern realities meant that not only was it certain that war would mean defeat, but they also dragged the rest of the world into the war with them, with catastrophic results, one of which was the monarchy's fall and political dismemberment. Austria-Hungary was not strong enough to play the role of a great power, but apparently nobody told her. An excellent introd Austria-Hungary certainly had no business going to war in 1914. The empire's ethnic tensions, military weaknesses and lack of grasp of modern realities meant that not only was it certain that war would mean defeat, but they also dragged the rest of the world into the war with them, with catastrophic results, one of which was the monarchy's fall and political dismemberment. Austria-Hungary was not strong enough to play the role of a great power, but apparently nobody told her. An excellent introduction to the outbreak and first year of the war on the Eastern Front, Wawro's book combines brilliant and thorough research with smooth and enlightening narrative. I found it hard to put down.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Edward Sullivan

    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.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Michael Samerdyke

    This is a terrific book about the role of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in bringing on the First World War and the utterly dismal performance of the A-H military in the first year of the war. I had been aware of the failed Austrian campaigns against Serbia and some of the battles against the Russians, but Wawro paints a stark picture not only of the horrors of the battlefield but the dithering and vain commanders who presided over catastrophe after catastrophe. Wawro contends that only problems in This is a terrific book about the role of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in bringing on the First World War and the utterly dismal performance of the A-H military in the first year of the war. I had been aware of the failed Austrian campaigns against Serbia and some of the battles against the Russians, but Wawro paints a stark picture not only of the horrors of the battlefield but the dithering and vain commanders who presided over catastrophe after catastrophe. Wawro contends that only problems in the Russian supply system prevented the Austro-Hungarian empire from being overwhelmed in 1915. Certainly, his picture of the Habsburg leadership is quite damning. The book is well-written and quite accessible and has a reasonably length. Well worth a look for anyone interested in World War I.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Steve Switzer

    Superb account of Austria hungaries blundering entry into ww1 Years ago I played an SPI wargame of ww1 eastern front which rated all the armies .. germans best then ruskis then Austrians then Italians Always thought it was a bit hard on franz jozefs boys but turns out it was being generous Dim witted buffoons launch suicidal bayonet attacks , by mar 1915 the austro Hungarian army was a demoralised milita and having read wawros other books I can believe it. The one image I take is from an infantryman Superb account of Austria hungaries blundering entry into ww1 Years ago I played an SPI wargame of ww1 eastern front which rated all the armies .. germans best then ruskis then Austrians then Italians Always thought it was a bit hard on franz jozefs boys but turns out it was being generous Dim witted buffoons launch suicidal bayonet attacks , by mar 1915 the austro Hungarian army was a demoralised milita and having read wawros other books I can believe it. The one image I take is from an infantryman in the line watching his young officer get up to lead another mad bayonet charge ..white with fear he tries to lead his men onward before being shot down. Superb read

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kali Altsoba

    As must be expected in the centenary years of the seminal conflict of the 20th century, there is a growing avalanche of histories of the origins of World War I. A Mad Catastrophe stands out among these works as a passionately written, highly readable, welcome and important contribution to a shockingly understudied problem: the central role of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in starting the Great War, then in shaping its baleful southern and eastern fronts. Based on impressive local and archival rese As must be expected in the centenary years of the seminal conflict of the 20th century, there is a growing avalanche of histories of the origins of World War I. A Mad Catastrophe stands out among these works as a passionately written, highly readable, welcome and important contribution to a shockingly understudied problem: the central role of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in starting the Great War, then in shaping its baleful southern and eastern fronts. Based on impressive local and archival research, it documents and elucidates the final stage of “Austria-Hungary’s fatal degeneration and its impact on European civilization.” (xxi) Geoffrey Wawro is a trenchant military historian with a special focus on the impact of lost wars on Habsburg imperial decline. He identifies a wide historiographical gap he intends this work to fill. He decries historians who pass over Austro-Hungarian prewar moves with little comment, moving too quickly to St. Petersburg or Berlin or London. He also criticizes historians who treat the Habsburg Empire as just another contending Great Power in the last summer of peace in 1914. Or even as a comfortably old-fashioned, and hence less morally culpable, roller of the iron dice of war than its partner in hubris, Imperial Germany. Many historians have ploughed the familiar fields of 1914 ‘war guilt,’ with a growing consensus since at least the 1960s identifying the highly aggressive, gambling character of German diplomacy as the principal driver of conflict. While controversy swirls over less credible recent claims of primary Russian responsibility, Wawro reconfirms the consensus understanding on Germany with the addition of Vienna’s independent recklessness as both fatal and special. He makes a powerful case that even as the Habsburgs secured Imperial German agreement to war, it was breathtakingly reckless Viennese diplomacy that steered the European car over the war cliff. Wawro’s main contribution is to single out just how feckless and reckless was Austrian war-planning, and in later chapters, how this same deeply flawed imperial character doomed Vienna’s war-waging and field armies. He portrays decrepit Habsburg holdings as rotten to their core with internal weakness and division, and the government as led by second-rate men moved by delusion and overweening pride, and marked by overwhelming incompetence in both peace and war-making. He is seldom subtle or nuanced in these judgments as he argues, much more persuasively than not, that “Austria-Hungary’s anxieties and pretensions as a fading great power were a chief cause of the war, as these same qualities were also the source of its defeat.” (xxiii) The multinational Austro-Hungarian Empire fought a losing rearguard action against local nationalisms ever since its initial defeat in the Wars of the French Revolution. Its core political and also military weaknesses stemmed from an ethnic numbers game the German-speaking minority was steadily losing, but whose political consequences it would not accept. From the Revolutions of 1848 and Ausgleich of 1867, centripetal politics and constitutional intransigence was greatest inside Hungary. The main effort by Magyar nationalists focused on blocking centralizing tax and military preparedness policies by Vienna. That did much to ensure that even after the humiliating defeat of 1866 the southern Kaiser’s army remained underfunded and undersized, as well as deeply ethnically divided. Wawro points to Hungarian opposition to Vienna’s imperial project as the fatal weakness laced through the emperor’s policies and armed forces: “Hungary was the virus that was killing the Habsburgs.” (25) That produced a wide German cultural and political reaction of the völkisch sort after 1900. However, efforts to reassert the Empire’s core Germanness had a weak foundation in demography and quickly backfired. The internal collapse of the multinational Habsburg state then accelerated as other non-German speaking minorities also clamored for some form of autonomy, or looked to outside sponsors such as Serbia or Italy for succor and support. By 1905 the problem was so profound and pressing the Imperial General Staff secretly planned an invasion and occupation of Hungary. The idea was to rip back autonomy granted in the Ausgleich and replace it with a fundamental but hugely unrealistic reassertion of German internal dominance. Instead, ethnic crisis followed upon crisis until the “emperor was forced to quarter his most reliable troops —Bosnian Muslims— in the streets and squares of towns ... to stop attacks on German schools, theaters, and clubs.” (33) The regime faltered and stumbled over a worsening “ethnic problem” throughout the last years of peace: it took on the decrepit and delusional character of its senescent, indecisive, and intermittently senile emperor. In military terms this meant that before the war and during it, the southern Kaiser’s Army was divided into ethnic and linguistic enclaves of greatly varying reliability. A mostly German officer corps could not even communicate properly with increasingly resentful and half-hearted troops under its command. Conscripts in turn evinced little loyalty to the Imperial cause. In 1914, desperation over weakness and relative regional decline, exacerbated by perceptions of Serbian gains in the First and Second Balkan Wars, drove Habsburg authorities in Vienna to seek a delusional Gordian solution through war. An arrogant and crushing ‘punishment war’ was proposed against Serbia that actually led to utter humiliation for Habsburg arms by year’s end; and far worse, a simultaneous and always unwinnable war against Russia. For many good reasons, Archduke Franz Ferdinand is seldom praised by historians. Yet, Wawro convincingly shows that he was among the more rational and moderate voices in Vienna before the war. When his voice was silenced by Gavrilo Princip’s surprise bullet in Sarajevo, the central villain of the piece emerges in the person of Chief of Staff General Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf. Wawro is unrelenting in severe criticism, first of Conrad’s crisis diplomacy then of his inept generalship and total failure to grasp the demands of modern logistics of mass armies. It must be one of the true wonders of the Great War that Conrad survived in office to its very end, vacillating between absurd personal hubris and profound pessimism. Although the same fact goes far to explain the utter and ‘mad catastrophe’ suffered by the Habsburgs in 1914, and mass casualties inflicted on their disaffected and woefully commanded armies for the next four years. As is well known, in 1914 Austria-Hungary could only fight Russia with assurances of heavy military and unqualified diplomatic support from Berlin —the infamous “blank cheque.” This encouraged the worst tendencies in Habsburg decision-making. The Habsburg Kaiser’s armies were underfunded, undersupplied, and unprepared in both tactics and weapons for the aggressive two-front war inept ministers and worse generals dove into during the July Crisis. Their poor, and often brutal, early performance in the field shocked both allies and enemies. We know well how and why the German Army planned to devote the lion’s share, and more, of its divisions to the initial fight in the west against France. Conrad did not. Nor did he inform his German counterpart, Helmuth von Moltke, of radical and foolhardy changes he made in the first half of 1914 to his own mobilization and attack plans; or his late shift to bring greater initial weight against Serbia and weaken his critical Galician thrust; or his ad hoc rearward deployment in Galicia, followed by a needless and wearying 100 mile march to the original line. The tragicomedy of errors of Habsburg mobilization and initial deployments and tactics must rank among the most incompetent and disastrous in the annals of war. It included capture of the very able Serbian commander, General Radomir Putnik, at a train station in Budapest on July 25th, as he hastened from an Austrian spa to join his mobilizing army on the eve of battle. He was released. He then proceeded to defeat the invading Austrians not once but thrice by the end of 1914, helping to inflict over 400,000 irreplaceable casualties. Wawro’s depiction of operations on the Serbian and Galician fronts are vivid and worthy additions that will surprise and inform many readers more familiar with the Battles of the Frontiers and First Marne, or Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes. He places square blame for initial Austrian failure on the utterly inept generalship of Conrad in Galicia and General Oskar Potiorik in Serbia, who thrice invaded Serbia and thrice was defeated at enormous cost in lost lives and matériel. But he also attributes failure to prewar penury that limited live-fire practice and other modernizations, and to outdated tactics: “The Austro-Hungarians had failed to adapt to modern firepower. Whereas German infantry companies were already employing open-order tactics ... Austro-Hungarian companies were simply rushing forward in an easily targeted huddle of men.” (155-156) A main consequence of such appalling tactics matched to an ill-conceived offensive plan was a war of attrition with Russia that Austria could not win, and in fact quickly lost to the point that only German support and intervention saved a complete collapse in 1915. Vivid and informative chapters detail a series of mobile 1914 battles and campaigns in Galicia, Poland and the Carpathians: Krásnik, Komarów, Lemberg, Rawa-Ruska; more failed back-and-forth operations in Serbia along the Drina; German intervention on the northern half of the eastern front and direct aid to Conrad’s retreating and shrunken armies; and better-known, hugely draining fights with the Russian Army over the fortress of Przemysl and around Warsaw. A chapter on the third Austrian defeat in the mountain snows of Serbia is full of both pathos and pitiless killing. The book closes with German intervention essential to prop up the broken Habsburg Army. As a result, “by the beginning of 1915 Austria-Hungary had been reduced to German vassalage by the defeats of 1914.” (342) Conrad and Moltke’s successor, General Erik von Falkenhayn, fell out over deployment of fresh German corps in early 1915. Yet it was only German aid, along with Russian weakness, that kept the mortally wounded Habsburg giant going: “For the remainder of the war, every time the Austrians were hard-pressed, the Germans would ride to the rescue.” (369) But it was already too late, for Germany as well: “The Germans were capable only of prolonging the war, not of winning it.” Instead, efforts to refine offensive tactics that could never hope to rescue a failed initial strategy merely ensured that the ‘mad catastrophe’ went on and on. Wawro concludes: “We must reconsider the origins of the First World War and carve out a new place for the Austrians. Austria-Hungary wasn’t the essentially decent but charmingly slipshod power that muddled into and through the war. It was a desperately conflicted power that thought nothing of throwing all Europe into the flames to preserve its ancient rights to lands like Bohemia and Hungary —lands that had lost all interest in the Habsburg connection and were trying to break away. Austria’s Great War was built on the reckless gamble that the monarchy’s internal problems could be fixed by war. They couldn’t .... The Habsburgs had no business going to war in 1914, yet they did, killing off their own people in poorly prepared offensives before settling into a war of attrition that ensured the already weak monarchy’s collapse.” (383-385)

  16. 5 out of 5

    Aneece

    read this chiefly to find out how field marshal Conrad slept at night, during and after the war. The answer: quite easily.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Dale

    In the last year we have passed many one-century milestones marking the beginning of World War I, known then as The Great War. That decade was a remarkable time, resulting in the fall or reconfiguration of many dynasties and empires - the fall of the Habsburgs, the Ottomans, the Russian tsars, the Manchurian rulers of China, and the first German reich; the decline of British influence; and the rise of America as a world power. The Italians and Ethiopians were affected as well, but to a lesser ex In the last year we have passed many one-century milestones marking the beginning of World War I, known then as The Great War. That decade was a remarkable time, resulting in the fall or reconfiguration of many dynasties and empires - the fall of the Habsburgs, the Ottomans, the Russian tsars, the Manchurian rulers of China, and the first German reich; the decline of British influence; and the rise of America as a world power. The Italians and Ethiopians were affected as well, but to a lesser extent. The realignments that followed, including continued Chinese weakness during its brief flirtation with democracy, led to the rise of the Japanese empire as well. To all but the most dedicated history buff, not to mention quite a few historians, the Eastern origins of World War I have long remained a mystery, even though it famously began with the assassination of the Habsburg crown prince by a Serbian terrorist. As author Wawro points out, the vast bulk of the scholarship has focused on the Western conflict involving Britain, France, Germany and later the United States. Some have gone as far east as the Middle East, where Western fighting centered around control of the oil fields, but little history of the readable variety is available to satisfy the many compelling questions about the fall of the Ottoman and Habsburg empires. Mad Catastrophe succeeds in its goal of handling the latter. Wawro lays the blame for the Habsburg fall squarely on the shoulders of Emperor Franz Joseph, whose decisions from the mid-nineteenth century fostered the decline of the military and the Dual Monarchy schism that destroyed governance. His age of 84 at the time of the crown prince's assassination in 1914 goes a long way toward explaining the catastrophe caused by Archduke Franz Ferdinand's death. However, Wawro makes a strong case that by that time the empire's fate was sealed regardless of Franz Ferdinand's premature departure. The internal decay of the Habsburg influence was marked by several events not given enough attention at the time they occurred, in which an inevitable Austrian victory was incorrectly assumed. For some reason military observers of the time failed to notice how poorly equipped were the Austrians and Hungarians, and how poorly generaled. Adding to the problem was Hungary's desire to be independent of Austrian rule. After years of political and military pressure tactics Franz Joseph agreed to a "Dual Monarchy" in which Hungary would have its own kingdom but would continue to bow to the rule of the Habsburg emperor. They would jointly contribute to the military. Franz Joseph was completely fooled: the dual monarchy was part of a long-term Hungarian plan to split away. The Hungarian rulers created their own bureaucracies. What military they built stayed home, not in Austria. In public school and college history classes what remains unexplained was why the assassination of an obscure Austrian archduke by an even more obscure Serbian anarchist. Again, Mad Catastrophe serves well. Archduke Franz Ferdinand was nephew and heir to Emperor Franz Joseph, who was born in 1830. By 1914 even Ferdinand was in his fifties. With Franz Joseph in his dotage, Franz Ferdinand was chief operating officer for the empire. Later after his death a secret sanctuary of the archduke was found to contain maps and papers detailing his plans to break up the empire and remake Europe after he took power, but it was not to be. That Franz Ferdinand's assassination by a minor Serbian terrorist like Gavrilo Princip was even possible should have signaled the Habsburgs' military weakness. The killing took place only after a series of attempts and mishaps throughout a day of festivities; any intelligence operation worthy of the name should have picked up on the pattern and spirited the archduke away from the scene. Instead Franz Ferdinand died, and the emperor, now left without an heir apparent, had no choice but to attack Serbia. It was to be a quick, easy war of a Goliath against a David with no slingshot. Instead, Austria was soundly defeated. The destruction of its entire military establishment had begun. Franz Joseph dithered between fighting Russia, even then a gargantuan against which it he had no real chance, and Serbia, the brat he could not break. The demise of Austria-Hungary was important on the Western front because Kaiser Wilhelm in Germany was depending on the Habsburgs to keep at bay the troops of Russian Tsar Nicholas Romanov, his first cousin through Queen Victoria. Without Franz Joseph's assistance Germany's attention was split, and its plans to make a quick finish of France were thus spoiled, allowing America to enter the fray. The complete moral dissolution of the empire, as Mad Catastrophe lays it out, becomes obvious. What can you say about a war that starts with the entire general staff taking five-week personal vacations? A Mad Catastrophe has a lot to say about it. This book is a great read for any twentieth century history buff, and a must for any collection. Five stars.

  18. 5 out of 5

    S.

    competently executed rather than superbly scribbled. the main review https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... pretty much captures it. 4/5 competently executed rather than superbly scribbled. the main review https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... pretty much captures it. 4/5

  19. 5 out of 5

    E. Kahn

    A flawed and incomplete history of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the Great War. At 385 pages long including introduction and epilogue, the first third of the book is a broad-brush description of the political and military situation in Austro-Hungary immediately previous to the opening of WW1. Unfortunately most of this is wasted, as the author largely reiterates the obstructionism of the Hungarian part of the empire and the incompetence of the Imperial government and military leadership over and A flawed and incomplete history of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the Great War. At 385 pages long including introduction and epilogue, the first third of the book is a broad-brush description of the political and military situation in Austro-Hungary immediately previous to the opening of WW1. Unfortunately most of this is wasted, as the author largely reiterates the obstructionism of the Hungarian part of the empire and the incompetence of the Imperial government and military leadership over and over. There is very little in the way of facts and figures or biographical detail of the major players to illustrate the author's points; as it stands, the reader must take Wawro's facts on the basis of bald assertion and anecdotes. A far more detailed and illuminating account of the political battles within and between the Austrian and Hungarian parliaments and political elites and the industrialization (or failure to industrialize) of the Austro-Hungarian economy could have been written in the same space, and the topic deserves far more volume. The second third deals with the outbreak of the war and the opening campaigns against Russia and Serbia. Here, again, the narrative is lacking in detail and abundant in verbiage. Great armies advance, collide with great and pointless butchery, and one or the other withdraws. As to how and why the armies advance where they did, and are forced to withdraw, the author is almost silent. Again, the topic deserves more space, and could easily have included far more detail in the space allotted. The author instead writes at some length on the pettiness and incompetence of the Austro-Hungarian leadership, something he already established in the first part. The final (and shortest) third deals with the war after 1914 and its consequences to the Empire. Here are the book's most glaring flaws; the entire Italian Front is dealt with in a couple of paragraphs, the Romanian campaign is barely even mentioned and relations with Austro-Hungary's Bulgarian and Ottoman allies of necessity are glossed over in favor of yet another litany of Franz Josef's and Conrad's sins and errors. The Salonika front and Franchet D'Esperey's breakthrough -the campaign that actually ended Austro-Hungary's war- are completely ignored. In all honesty this book deserves two stars. The information it contains could have easily fit in a book half its (already short) length, and the subject matter requires at least three or four times the size to do it justice, even in an overview. I give it three stars simply because of the lack of other, better books on the topic. Contrast Thompson's The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919 for a much better popular history of one country in the Great War.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    This history is terrifying only because it describes the stupidity of WW I and I know that stupidity continues in today's wars. Geoffrey Wawro carefully describes the individuals and realities that insured the Austro-Hungarian Empire was never going to win the war--from the very first shot. Even if they had the arms (which they didn't), or the men (ditto), they had leaders who had no sense of reality. This is a very important look at the Austro-Hungarian role in WW I (rather than the German) and i This history is terrifying only because it describes the stupidity of WW I and I know that stupidity continues in today's wars. Geoffrey Wawro carefully describes the individuals and realities that insured the Austro-Hungarian Empire was never going to win the war--from the very first shot. Even if they had the arms (which they didn't), or the men (ditto), they had leaders who had no sense of reality. This is a very important look at the Austro-Hungarian role in WW I (rather than the German) and if you're a WW I history reader, you'll want to read it. I gave it three stars because of the detail on the battles--too many chapters detailing the stupidity against the Serbs and Russians. Perhaps that's not fair--but judge for yourself. War is always the last choice..

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    It was interesting reading this book in juxtaposition with Burns' work on the year 1920 in the U. S. Rather than a general overview of the war, Wawro focuses on the doomed Austro-Hungarian empire, with its dysfunctional leadership and rebellious hodgepodge of nationalities. Seemingly incapable of recognizing their shortcomings, the Habsburgs and their minions willfully embarked on a war that would consume a generation in Europe and lay the seeds for an even worse debacle a short time later. It s It was interesting reading this book in juxtaposition with Burns' work on the year 1920 in the U. S. Rather than a general overview of the war, Wawro focuses on the doomed Austro-Hungarian empire, with its dysfunctional leadership and rebellious hodgepodge of nationalities. Seemingly incapable of recognizing their shortcomings, the Habsburgs and their minions willfully embarked on a war that would consume a generation in Europe and lay the seeds for an even worse debacle a short time later. It seems fitting, if inadequate, that the empire was ripped apart for its troubles. And if the personalities who appear in this book are often head-scratchingly obtuse, there's a certain morbid amusement in watching them self-destruct.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ernest Spoon

    The First World War was, as the title says, "A Mad Catastrophe" that may have been averted had the Hapsburg dynasty, which had out-lived its usefulness, had not reacted to the assassination of the heir apparent, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, in Sarajavo like George W. Bush did to the events of September 11, 2001. Of course the analogy is not perfect for Austria-Hungry did not survive the brutal war its aging, senile emperor blundered into with eyes wide shut and ceremonial saber drawn. In 1914 the Au The First World War was, as the title says, "A Mad Catastrophe" that may have been averted had the Hapsburg dynasty, which had out-lived its usefulness, had not reacted to the assassination of the heir apparent, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, in Sarajavo like George W. Bush did to the events of September 11, 2001. Of course the analogy is not perfect for Austria-Hungry did not survive the brutal war its aging, senile emperor blundered into with eyes wide shut and ceremonial saber drawn. In 1914 the Austria-Hungarian Empire was a multiethnic hodgepodge headed for self-destruction which the war made a reality.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Carlos

    This book gives a look inside the Austria empire at the beginning of the 1st world war, it is a look that is lacking in most narratives of the Great War. It is central to understand why the Austrian empire was weak and why it couldn't have never won the war and this book makes a good job of trying to explain precisely that. There are many books that go deeper into the offensives in France , or Russian territories but I hadn't been able to find a book that focused on the Austrian border and its c This book gives a look inside the Austria empire at the beginning of the 1st world war, it is a look that is lacking in most narratives of the Great War. It is central to understand why the Austrian empire was weak and why it couldn't have never won the war and this book makes a good job of trying to explain precisely that. There are many books that go deeper into the offensives in France , or Russian territories but I hadn't been able to find a book that focused on the Austrian border and its contribution to the war. I am left with a broader picture of why the central powers should have never attempted a war in such a big scale .

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ali

    The author has researched the topic with close attention to details. He offers a narrative of an important side of WWI, ignored by westerners focusing on the battlefronts of France and Flanders. This is a must read book for anyone seeking to understand the roots of WWII and to trace back events in Yugoslavia in the aftermath of Soviet collapse and Cold War. It is an enjoyable read, although the last two chapters do not have the detailed portraits offered in the first ones.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jan

    An unrelentingly depressing account of horrors, mistakes, idiocy and descent into chaos. A stronger indictment of Austrian-Hungarian leadership prior and during the initial years of World War One would be hard to conceive.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

    Great coverage of the Austro-Hungarian Empire's role in WWI. This really added a whole new level to my understanding of the war and its outcomes by treating an often ignored, or generalized, aspect of the conflict. Great coverage of the Austro-Hungarian Empire's role in WWI. This really added a whole new level to my understanding of the war and its outcomes by treating an often ignored, or generalized, aspect of the conflict.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Riley Feldmann

    Author Geoffrey Wawro clearly feels a lot of things about the Habsburg Dual-Monarchy, but the one feeling that reigns above all else is a visceral sense of disgust. Disgust with the bloated and incompetent bureaucracy, disgust with the cynical calculations about ethnic conflict that pushed Austria-Hungary to devastating war, disgust with the leadership from Emperor Franz Joseph all the way on down, and disgust with the futility of it all. And, after reading his case, I can't help but feel at leas Author Geoffrey Wawro clearly feels a lot of things about the Habsburg Dual-Monarchy, but the one feeling that reigns above all else is a visceral sense of disgust. Disgust with the bloated and incompetent bureaucracy, disgust with the cynical calculations about ethnic conflict that pushed Austria-Hungary to devastating war, disgust with the leadership from Emperor Franz Joseph all the way on down, and disgust with the futility of it all. And, after reading his case, I can't help but feel at least a bit swayed towards his views. Austria-Hungary is an entity that has long fascinated me. A polyglot empire forged from the historic domains of the House of Habsburg, it was one of many creaking autocracies that shuffled its way into the waiting chaos of the 20th Century. Even in 1914 it was a complete anachronism in an era where nationalism really took hold as the motivating political ideology de jure. That it somehow functioned with a volatile heterogeneous population mixing Germans, Hungarians, Serbs, Croats, Czechs, Slovaks, and many others together served as my initial point of interest. This blend would prove to be as deadly as it was unique when tested by the economic, logistical, and sheer human costs total war in the 20th Century would begin to demand. The dysfunctional nature of Austro-Hungarian politics, often brought to complete gridlock thanks in part to the veto-wielding Hungarian half of the Empire, meant that the monarchy was ill-equipped, ill-led, and generally ill-prepared to trade the coming massive blows with enemies on all fronts. Instead of acknowledging these internal weaknesses, the arrogant leadership cadre in Vienna believed that a great war against an upstart opponent like the Kingdom of Serbia, then an emerging rival for Balkan predominance, would be able to fix ethnic strife and lead to a economic revolution. Suffice it to say, Viennese calculations turned out to be horrifically wrong. These incorrect calculations and their consequences are what Geoffrey Wawro primarily focuses on in A Mad Catastrophe. He begins by setting the stage that led to the start of hostilities, and then dives into analysis of the disastrous opening moves made by General Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, supreme commander of Austro-Hungarian military forces. What little chance the monarchy had of putting together a competent fight was undercut almost immediately by his decision (or, better yet, indecision) to split Austria's already weak forces between two fronts, thus ensuring that both army groups would find deadly failure against the Serbians and Russians, respectively. From that moment forward, Wawro dedicates his book to chronicling the continued comedy of errors made on the part of Conrad and his staff. Except these aren't laughing circumstances: Millions of men would pay with their bodies and lives due to the incompetence that ran rife in the Kaiserliche und Königliche Armee. In an era of warfare where the defensive was the imperative that continually won the day, Austrian soldiers were told to rush head long over and over again against fortified positions, losing men by the hundreds for no gain or an eventual retreat. There was only so much bloodletting this army could stand before it broke apart at the seams; the army was designed upon ethnic lines which meant that Czechs fought in primarily Czech units, Germans in German units, and so on. Any sense of unity of arms disintegrated as soon as horrific failures mounted. By Winter 1914, Austria-Hungary was effectively finished. Only the inclusion of units and commanders from Imperial Germany would help drag it to 1918 where it would finally implode. Perhaps I had come into this book with too high an opinion of this historical oddity. There has always been something alluring about a nation with as odd a name as Austria-Hungary, and I simply never took the time to really dig beneath the surface of how it operated. That it was such a hollow giant was a shocking discovery. If anything, Wawro has made me more curious about getting other perspectives on the Habsburg lands to understand the countless facets that led to its downfall.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Taylor

    A pretty good overview of the state of Austria-Hungary right before WWI as well as relatively detailed account of their operations during the first two years of WWI. As someone who has not read a lot about the eastern front in WWI, it was very interesting but I would have liked to have seen more set up. Wawro paints the Austrians as utterly inept, kind of naive buffoons who triggered WWI through misplaced sense of importance, a misreading of the international political landscape (especially with A pretty good overview of the state of Austria-Hungary right before WWI as well as relatively detailed account of their operations during the first two years of WWI. As someone who has not read a lot about the eastern front in WWI, it was very interesting but I would have liked to have seen more set up. Wawro paints the Austrians as utterly inept, kind of naive buffoons who triggered WWI through misplaced sense of importance, a misreading of the international political landscape (especially with regard to Russia) and a total misunderstanding of how ready they were for a modern war. I would have liked to have seen more about how they got into that state of mind. We get some allusions to 1866/1867 (the war with the Prussians/the creation of the Dual Monarchy) but more information about the years 1870-1910 would have been appreciated to set the stage. How did the Empire, which got beaten by the Prussians and the essentially hog-tied by the Hungarians under the Dual Monarchy think they would be able to fight an early 20th Century war? To be fair, everyone thought they were ready and no one was. But the Austrians come across in this work as especially unable to grasp what that war might look like. The accounts of the war itself range from almost comedic to chilling. The blunders by the Austrian high command are constant and their consequences are nearly always disastrous. Conrad and Emperor Franz Joseph come of as especially inept. The battlefield accounts are horrific as frontal attacks against trenches containing machine guns are wont to be. The portrayal of the loss of confidence of the army in its commanders is telling and damning. By early 1915, the soldiers had lost all confidence in not only their officers, the high command, but in the political structures they are ostensibly fighting for. Suicide and mass surrender become commonplace. The end felt a little rushed - after very detailed accounts of operations in 1914-early 1915, the rest of the war is pretty much glossed over. Granted, Austria-Hungary had ceased to be an effective combatant by this point, but there is surprisingly little about the Italian front. The last Hapsburg emperor is given a few paragraphs depicting him as a totally subservient German puppet. I would have liked a little more detail there. Overall, though, a very good book on a lesser known theater of WWI. Would recommend for those interested in WWI as a supplement to other works (such as July 1914: Countdown to War).

  29. 4 out of 5

    Evan

    I heard the author on the John Batchelor radio show and his book sounded interesting so I read it. It was good, but I couldn't give it four stars (which corresponds to "I really liked it"). The title was perfect, but from what I've read about military history, it could be applied to lots of campaigns or beginnings of wars (e.g., confederacy in the civil war). General Conrad and Emperor Franz Joseph should have read Sun Tzu and realized not to engage in a war they could not win. Austria Hungary w I heard the author on the John Batchelor radio show and his book sounded interesting so I read it. It was good, but I couldn't give it four stars (which corresponds to "I really liked it"). The title was perfect, but from what I've read about military history, it could be applied to lots of campaigns or beginnings of wars (e.g., confederacy in the civil war). General Conrad and Emperor Franz Joseph should have read Sun Tzu and realized not to engage in a war they could not win. Austria Hungary was bankrupt and ineffectual politically. They had fewer men than the Entente powers and they had worse technology. What struck me was that prior to WWI, Austria was paying twice as much to retired generals as to active. It made me think of the US military budget. I saw somewhere that veteran pay and benefits cost $177 billion (if this number is wrong, please let me know the correct one). It became difficult for Austria to maintain an army with new technology when their pension costs were so high and they were weakened by internal political instability. Really, Germany was ascendant, Britain was scared and there was a war. Graham Allison lays this out in his recent book "destined for war". Why is the title so fitting? Austria held war games in 1913 that illustrated their tactics in 1914 would not work. Yep, Conrad utilized plans that he projected to fail. So over a million Austrians died. Russian artillery could fire 4 to 5 miles, while Austrian could only fire 2 miles. You see, Austria still used bronze cannon instead of steel because bronze were cheaper. At one battle, Austrian artillery received blank shells and used them to no effect. Austrians would launch frontal attacks into machine gun-entrenched positions, losing needlessly high numbers of troops. It was a catastrophe that led to their subjugation to Germany and ultimate dismantlement by the Allied Powers.

  30. 5 out of 5

    David

    In the lead up to World War I, there were what many people considered the "Great Powers." Austria-Hungary was seen as one of the least of those powers. This book follows the Habsburg Empire's collapse, starting at its defeat at the hands of Prussia in 1866 to the decision to go to war in 1914. I have always found the Habsburgs a fascinating story, as they built a centuries-lasting empire across Europe mainly through marriage, not war. But the nation contains many different nationalities and as t In the lead up to World War I, there were what many people considered the "Great Powers." Austria-Hungary was seen as one of the least of those powers. This book follows the Habsburg Empire's collapse, starting at its defeat at the hands of Prussia in 1866 to the decision to go to war in 1914. I have always found the Habsburgs a fascinating story, as they built a centuries-lasting empire across Europe mainly through marriage, not war. But the nation contains many different nationalities and as time goes on, the empire begins to fracture. The book does a terrific job showing that over time, pointing out the mistake of allowing Hungary to have veto power and the weakness of Franz Josef in his old age. The beginning of the war is beyond depressing. Diplomatically and militarily it is bungled beyond measure. There is a complete lack of leadership or planning. The casualties incurred by their army are just appalling. Only by becoming a vassal practically of Germany does the country survive for a short time. I take a star away because the author skims over 1916-1918, the collapse of the empire, in a few pages in an epilogue. I think that could have been mined in much greater detail.

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