Who's Who - Conrad von Hotzendorf

Conrad von Hotzendorf, Austrian Chief of Staff General Count Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf (1852-1925) served as the Austrian Chief of Staff and Commander in Chief from 1906 until 1917.

A highly energetic man and far-sighted in his approach to military reform, Conrad worked hard from 1906 to transform and modernise the Austrian army, championing such novelties as signals intelligence and aerial reconnaissance.

Politically however Conrad was less astute.  Supremely confident in the abilities of both himself and his armies, Conrad regularly proposed so-called 'preventative' or surprise wars directed against the supposed enemies of the Austro-Hungarian empire, usually Italy and Serbia; the realities of war and its consequences often escaped him, especially in the Balkans.

In 1911 Conrad's demand for a war with Italy (during the Italo-Turkish War) resulted in his dismissal, although he was recalled in December the following year and was in readiness to again demand war against Serbia at the height of the July Crisis of 1914, this time prevailing with the support of Foreign Minister Count Leopold von Berchtold.  Conrad himself had been a friend and associate of murdered Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Although widely regarded at the time as a notable strategist his reputation has not held up well over time.  Austria-Hungary's mobilisation in July 1914 was ill-managed and the army far from in readiness on either the Serbian or Russian fronts.  This was by no means a minor fault and was largely responsible for the army's initial string of woeful defeats at the hands of the Serbians.

Having at first despatched his forces to the Balkans - banking upon slow Russian mobilisation - he was obliged to hastily redirect forces to Galicia once he realised the Russians were mobilising far quicker than expected; the result was logistical chaos with troops stranded somewhere in between.

Similarly he underestimated Serbian determination and preparedness, again compounding military failures in 1914.  Concerned mainly with the war against Italy, the Austrian defence against the initially tremendously successful Brusilov Offensive of June 1916 was pitifully weak; Brusilov very nearly succeeded in demolishing the Austrian army, and was responsible for 1.5 million Austrian casualties and prisoners (of which there were some 400,000).

Although Conrad claimed credit for the Austro-German offensive of 1915, in reality the Austrians had largely subordinated the command structure to their German allies.

Conrad's lack of success in commanding his armies on both fronts effectively brought down the Austro-Hungarian empire.  With Karl I's accession as Emperor of Austria-Hungary on the death of Franz-Josef in November 1916, Conrad's grip on power began to slip.

The new emperor favoured a negotiated peace with the Entente Powers, in which he was very much at odds with his Chief of Staff.  Also keen to establish greater control over his armed forces, Karl I dismissed Conrad in March 1917, choosing to replace him with Arz von Straussenberg.

Accepting instead command of the army in Italy, Conrad was deprived of this too following a succession of defeats, and was recalled to Vienna.  He retired shortly afterwards, thereafter publishing his multi-volume memoirs (My Beginnings 1878-82 and My Service 1906-18).

Conrad von Hotzendorf died in Mergentheim in Germany on 25 August 1925 at the age of 72.

Click here to hear Conrad von Hotzendorf announce one of his military Orders of the Day in 1916 (MP3 284KB).

Both British and German fleets had around 45 submarines available at the time of the Battle of Jutland, but none were put to use.

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