A Mad Catastrophe : The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire
Overview - 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 Speaking a mystifying array of languages and lugging outdated weapons, the Austrian troops were hopelessly unprepared for the industrialized warfare that would shortly consume Europe. Read more...
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More About A Mad Catastrophe by Geoffrey Wawro
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 Speaking a mystifying array of languages and lugging outdated weapons, the Austrian troops were hopelessly unprepared for the industrialized warfare that would shortly consume Europe.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 Hotzendorf, 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.
Publishers Weekly Reviews
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Wawro (The Austro-Prussian War) aims to clarify the confusing nature of the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s military collapse early in WWI. Describing the trauma of the Austrian defeat in the Austro-Prussian War in 1866, he claims it eroded “the Austrian idea,” the belief that everyone in the Empire was satisfied and unified under Austrian rule. To stem the tide of protests, the reactionary Franz Josef became both the emperor of Austria and king of Hungary, thereby establishing the joint kingdom of Austria-Hungary. Intended as a solution, his reign only served to complicate the problem and let it sit and simmer ominously until 1914. As Wawro grimly notes, “Hungary... was dragging the Hapsburg Empire over a cliff.” Hungarian attempts to undermine the Austrian monarchy, limit the size of the military, and stymie any major decision-making were largely successful. Other betrayals crippled the state further, including when high-ranking Colonel Alfred Redl was discovered to be selling crucial military secrets to Russia. With the death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the outbreak of WWI, the inexperience of Austro-Hungarian troops and the incompetence of its military leadership were thrown into sharp relief. Wawro’s authoritative account is a damning analysis of an empire and a people unready for war. Maps and illus. (May)