Feldmarschall Franz Conrad Graf von Hötzendorf
Go back to the Austrian Commanders Page
Franz Conrad
Graf von Hötzendorf
The Empire's hopes were pinned on this man, the "most brilliant strategist in Europe," as Conrad was often called before the war.
Mission:  Seemingly Impossible

Conrad von Hötzendorf became General Chief of Staff to the Austrian Army in 1906, succeeding Feldzeugmeister Friedrich von Beck-Rzikowsky. His appointment came about as a direct result of the intervention of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Conrad was filled with a zealous spirit of reform.  In his first year in this capacity, he issued more regulations than his predecessor General von Beck issued in 25 years as Chief of Staff.  Conrad was also imbued with an interest in political developments.  Although meddling in political affairs by the military was forbidden by traditional German army principles, Conrad considered the case of Austria-Hungary to be special.  In his talks with the Archduke, he was convinced that a civil war was inevitable, and therefore the army should be prepared for the worst sort of internal discord.  In this regard, it was imperative that the army, or rather, the Army High Command, be in tune with political developments.  Conrad believed that internal discord could be quelled by a show of national strength, such as a foreign war.  He sternly believed that such a war would also be good for the morale of an army that had not been on the march in 30 years.
Testing Everyone's Patience

When the Bosnian crisis broke out in 1908, Conrad prepared the Army for possible war with Serbia, and shortly thereafter, Russia.  Once Germany's ultimatum forced Russia to bow down to Austria's will, the Serbs were effectively left to their own devices.  Conrad pushed Kaiser Franz Josef to agree to a war against Serbia for the sake of national pride and for the morale of the army.  However, as both Serbia and Russia accepted the status of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the crisis was over and the point of war was lost--but not to Conrad.  He was displeased with having been cheated out of war by the politicians. 

Essentially, Conrad's personality was like sandpaper:  his forceful demeanor and quick temper turned all the ministers against him.  Eventually, the Kaiser also grew tired of Conrad's insistence for unnecessary war.  The blow came in 1911, shortly after Italy had declared war on Turkey.  Having foresight enough to see the impact of these event, Conrad insisted on a preventive war against their Triple Alliance partner Italy.  Conrad's reasoning was that Italian nationalism would grow strong from a victory over Turkey, and that resurgence would be fed to the irridentists who coveted Austrian lands such as southern Tirol and the city of Triest.  Even worse, a weakened Turkey would encourage a bitter Serbia to aggrandize itself at Turkey's expense.  The upshot would be an irridentist movement in Serbia to seize coveted lands in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Hungary.  Although the cabinet ministers agreed on the future threat, there was no immediate danger, and the Kaiser snubbed Conrad's demands.  Finally, the Kaiser dismissed Conrad in exhasperation.   He was replaced by
Blasius Schemua, but only for a short period.  The onset of the Balkan Wars in late 1912 caused Archduke Franz Ferdinand to insist on Conrad's reappointment,as he was the only man with the energy to deal with a war situation.
Preparing for Götterdämmerung

The Kaiser relented and recalled Conrad as General Chief of Staff.  The belief was that if war were to come to the Empire, the hot-tempered General would rise to the occasion and meet the challenge.  As it turned out, Conrad mobilised the army in mid-1913 to help force the Serbs to accept an armistice with the Bulgars in the Second Balkan War.   In autumn 1913/winter 1914, he was forced to mobilise the army once again to compel the Serbs to evacuate Albania, which they had invaded following provocations from the wild tribes who inhabited Kossovo and the Drin basin.  These two mobilisations would weigh heavily on the Imperial Cabinet in July 1914.  When Hungarian Premier Istvan Tisza suggested merely mobilising to force the Serbs to comply with Austrian wishes, Conrad argued a third mobilisation in one year would have a demoralising effect on the troops.  Such was the argument for all-out war against Serbia, rather than a military demonstration.
German Chief of Staff  Helmuth von Moltke
During his time as Chief of Staff, Conrad had a very close working relationship with the German Chief of Staff, Helmuth von Moltke.  The two had come into their offices at basically the same time and with the same agenda:  reform and regulation. Together, they drew up literally dozens of contingency plans in the event of a war between the Central Powers and the Dual Entente.  Such plans included alternative moves including and excluding aid by their ally Italy, who was proving less and less reliable.  The case for the renewal of the Triple Alliance that cemented the Central Powers is evident:  When it came up in 1912, Italy refused to renew unless certain guarantees were made by Austria for the Balkans.  (This was perhaps payback to Austria for its 1912 veto against Italy bringing the Italo-Turkish War from the deserts of Tripoli to the nearby Balkan peninsula.)  When the two Chiefs weren't fine-tuning their grand scheme of the combined invasion of Russian Poland (critical to the success of their endeavours), Conrad was keeping busy by devising invasion plans in the event of war with Austria's neighbours without German aid.
Plan for Anything Except Retreat

Conrad prepared plans for the invasion of most neighbouring countries; "Fall I" (the invasion of Italy), "Fall R" (the invasion of Roumania), "Fall S" (the invasion of Serbia), and even "Fall U" (the invasion of Hungary.  This last plan was worked out by Conrad with his good friend and patron, Archduke Franz Ferdinand.  The Archduke was a known anti-Magyar insofar that he planned to introduce reforms to Hungary, on which his coronation was to be depend.  If the Hungarians were to rebel against his reforms--which might include the creation of a South Slav kingdom from Hungarian territory--Conrad was to direct the invasion of Hungary and enforce the new Kaiser's reforms.  There is some speculation as to whether Conrad ever drew up plans of invasion for Switzerland or even mighty Germany itself, but it is possible.  Conrad and von Moltke often discussed political matters, even though they were supposed to remain aloof from such things.  Among their discussions must have been the trends of the socialists and their threats of revolution.  Should Germany suffer rebellion by its workers, perhaps Conrad would have to aid the German army in restoring order?
"The hour has come!"

Conrad reacted differently to the news of the Archduke's assassination than
Graf Berchtold or Kaiser Wilhlem.  Upon hearing the news, those two were frozen in bitter silence, plunged into dread contemplation of the possible consequences of their friend's murder.  Conrad, on the hand, stormed to General Krobatin, the Minister of War, shouting "The hour has come!"  Once the so-called War Party had assembled in Vienna the next day, Conrad was in the forefront, pounding his fist on Berchtold's desk and insisting on immediate war against Serbia.  Of course, when the Germans sent their famous "blank-check" to Berchtold offering their full support in settling scores with Serbia, they also suggested a speedy response, before world opinion against the Serbs quieted.  Amazingly, that is, when the flustered Conrad composed himself and informed the War Party that in order for him to "utterly destroy" the Serbs, he needed to prepare the Army for full-scale invasion.  When Berchtold asked him how long it would take, Conrad replied "Three or four weeks."  To the stunned War Party, Conrad added that it was the responsibility of the Foreign Office to keep world opinion on their side until the Army was ready to move.

GWS, 10/00 [rev. 1/05]
Original Mission Lost!

Once Germany declared war on Russia on 1 August 1914, Conrad's desire to throw everything he had against the Serbians to deliver a swift coup de grace was lost.  Attentions focused from the small mountainous enemy in the south to the gigantic new foe to the north and east.  Per the last strategic military planning with von Moltke, it was agreed that Germany would have two armies advancing on Warsaw and Novogeorgievsk from West Prussia while one guarded East Prussia, and Austria would have two armies advancing on Lublin from Western Galicia while one army guarded Eastern Galicia. 

But Moltke had changed the plans without Conrad's participation.  He had, in the last year, devoted one of the three German eastern armies to the defense of Alsace and Lotharingia, thus making it impossible for Germany to invade Russia simultaneously with Austria.  Conrad understood even before the war started that their planned invasion of Russia would only have the Austrian side actually invading.  The German side would be too weak and therefore its job was to simply tie up whatever Russian armies that happened to be in northern Poland. 

As one might expect, this plan was fraught with potential disaster.  Moltke encouraged Conrad to begin the invasion of Russia as early as 6 August 1914.  Moltke assured Conrad that the strengthened German forces in the west would force France to surrender within six weeks.   During this time, the Austrian invasion of Russia would serve to distract the whole Russian army, and keep Germany's eastern frontiers safe until the whole German army could be shipped from the west to save the Austrians and force the Russians to make peace. 

The first problem was that the plan relied on an invasion by Austria to save Germany from a Russian invasion.  The second problem was that Germany was to defeat France just fast enough to allow Germany to turn around and save Austria.  This gamble was so huge and unpredictable, it is amazing that these military experts decided to play this dangerous game.

Russia, France, Potiorek:  Conrad's Three Worries

There were three concerns on Conrad's mind as the campaign opened.  The first was that Russia's mobilisation was moving much faster than he and Moltke had planned back in 1909 and again in 1913.  In fact, it was streamlined by Generals Danilov and Zhilinsky, and moving faster than even the Russians expected.  Five armies were moving against Austria in the second week of the war, whereas Conrad and Moltke expected four armies in six weeks. 

The second problem was that German firepower in the west was concentrated too much to the defensive rather than the offensive.  The French invasion of Germany foundered in the second week of the war thanks to the additional German forces in Lotharingia, but it did not speed the German invasion of Belgium and France.  The French were able to withdraw and reestablish themselves by the sixth week, and the British were able to find that big gap between the German First and Second Armies, thus bringing the German war machine to a halt on the River Marne.  If Moltke had found a way to put that extra army in Lotharingia in that gap, then the British would not have been able to stop the Germans and perhaps Conrad would not have found his armies totally alone in the Polish wilderness, surrounded by much larger enemy forces.

The third, and most grating, problem for Conrad was FZM
Oskar Potiorek. He was Military Governor of Bosnia-Herzegovina and tactical commander of the Austrian Sixth Army.  Potiorek held all the keys of power in the Balkans and was responsible for the security measures that ultimately failed to protect Archduke Franz Ferdinand from the assassin's bullets in Sarajevo.  From 6 August 1914, Potiorek was made supreme commander of the Southwestern Front.  By 12 August 1914, Potiorek managed to receive from Kaiser Franz Josef a military command totally independent from Army HQ.  This could not be worse for Conrad.  Although he had virtually forced the hands of the ministers in getting a declaration of war against Serbia and heartily approved a majour build-up of troops in the Southwestern Theatre, by 6 August he was completely focused on throwing the whole weight of the Austrian army against Russia as Moltke insisted. 

Potiorek, on the other hand, was proceeding with the invasion of Serbia without regard to Russia.  It was his personal mission to avenge the slaying of the Archduke and also to capture the hated Serbian enemy for his sovereign.  Conrad insisted on holding off until Russia was in retreat, but he was ignored by Potiorek.  The best Conrad could do was bring about the withdrawal of the entire Second Army, which was basically split between the Southwestern Front and the Northern Front.   In this way, Army HQ had the upper hand, and elements of the Second Army stationed in the Vojvodina and ready for a march on Belgrade were instead ordered to entrain for Lemberg and the Russian front.

Potiorek started his invasion of Serbia before Conrad could get his orders implemented.  Thus, the wily commander prevented the Second Army from fully redeploying, because he claimed every soldier in the Balkans was needed for the immediate engagement.  Conrad could not remove all of the Second Army from the Balkans at this critical moment, and so he allowed a Corps to remain behind for an additional two weeks. While one Corps sat on the Serbian frontier doing nothing and another Corps traveled across Hungary to reach the Northern Front, the rest of the Second Army was being hammered by an overwhelming Russian advance.  Disaster was unfolding to the North.

The first problem for Conrad was coming back to haunt him in a big way.  Austria's initally successful invasion of Russian Poland not only failed to divert Russia's attention from Germany, but compelled Moltke to take his reserves in the west and send them to East Prussia rather than against France.  As early as the fifth week of the war, it was clear that the grand plan was doomed and the German army was not going to rush across Europe to save Austria.

Ultimately, Russia was too big for Conrad and Moltke to handle.  Austria's invasion of Poland from the south had no effect on the Russian armies concentrating on Germany's frontier in the north.  Furthermore, Austria's invasion of Russian Poland did not affect the Russian armies operating in Kiev Guberniya, where their troops were concentrating in huge numbers for a push against Austria's lightly guarded eastern frontier. 

GWS, 1/05
Sketch Map of a Strategic Nightmare:  Battles of Lemberg and Rawa Russka
A Cannae For the Russians?

In the sketch map above, Conrad's most famous and disastrous battle scheme is represented. Lemberg was the pivotal point for the Fourth Army and the Second Army.  On this axis, Conrad intended to deliver a one-two knockout punch to two Russian armies that were converging on Lemberg from two directions.  Plehve drove from the north, after the Battle of Komarow had humiliated him and his Fifth Army.  Russky marched from the east, after all but destroying General
Rudolf Brudermann's numerically inferior Third Army. 

Conrad intended that elements of the Fourth and Second Armies should expel Russky from Eastern Galicia, since the terrible battles of Zlota Lipa and Gnila Lipa were undermining the whole effort in Poland.  However, neither Conrad nor any of his subordinates thought tha Plehve could recover as fast as he did from the setback at Komarow.  No sooner had Conrad initiated part one of his scheme, hitting Russky, than had Plehve crossed the frontier and began a fast march behind the Fourth Army.

Punch one failed, because like the Third Army, the elements sent to battle Russky were too weak to do the job.  Punch two consisted of throwing the whole Fourth Army into reverse and sending it against Plehve.  By this time, the Russian Fifth Army was being fortified by elements of a new Eleventh Amy originally destined to defend Warsaw from what was now a nonexistent German threat.

General
Moritz Auffenberg, Conrad's predecessor as Chief of Staff, was in charge of the Fourth Army, and was well aware of just how chaotic and disorganised an army could become when it is ordered to reverse itself.  The result was that in the middle of the first week of September, Plehve's determined forces crashed into the advanced divisions of Auffenberg's army, which was trying to reposition itself.  Conrad ordered all divisons to meet the enemy, and suddenly Russky was left with little cover save General Hermann Kövess' XII. Corps, which itself was undermanned thanks to losses at the Gnila Lipa. 

The resulting "Six Days' Battle" at Rawa Russka was a historic defeat for the Empire and for Conrad.  His plans were forever destroyed in that battle, and his reputation as a skilled leader was blackened as the details of Lemberg and Rawa Russka became known.  In effect, it showed that although Conrad was one of the best strategists out there, he was incapable of battlefield improvisation. A successful commander was one who could master both. 

Conrad privately admitted to some fellow officers at Army HQ that, had the Archduke Franz Ferdinand been alive and Supreme Commander, he would have shot him for what had taken place on the fields of battle in Galicia.  Meanwhile, General Brudermann of the Third Army, General von Auffenberg of the Fourth Army, and all of his Corps commanders were dismissed "on health grounds," but really to sweep away officers who participated in the great debacle that was Rawa Russka and the fall of Lemberg.

GWS, 3/01 [rev. 1/05]
Bitterness in Defeat

Conrad was initially outraged at the failure of the Germans to deliver their southward thrust into Poland from East Prussia, in spite of Germany's early warnings that such a move could not occur with France's participation in the war.  Regarding their invasion of Poland, Conrad complained that "We have kept our word and the Germans have not!"  He reasoned that the miserable failures at Lemberg and Rawa Russka would never have occurred if the Germans had invaded Poland for the north.  He was correct, of course, but it was equally true that had Conrad aborted his well-laid plans and chosen a different path, the inevitable defeats at Lemberg and Rawa Russka wouldn't have plummeted the fortunes of the Empire and ruined his reputation. 

In consequence of the Germans' failure to rescue his faltering armies, Conrad became increasingly bitter and incensed toward them.  At one point, Conrad asked General Josef Stürgkh, Austria's army representative at the Germans' HQ, "What are our devious enemies, the Germans, up to?  And, how is that comedian, the German Kaiser?"  General Freytag-Loringhoven, Germany's army representative at Austrian HQ, dismissed Conrad's bitter complaints by stating that "if Conrad had at his disposal an army like the German army, then his bold plans would not have been doomed to failure."

Conrad's only satisfaction in 1914 was the removal of Potiorek.  Having failed miserably in his three attempts to destroy Serbia, Potiorek was dismissed by Kaiser Franz Josef and replaced by the capable
Archduke Eugen. The hitherto independent command of the Southwestern Theatre was brought directly under the authority of Army HQ.  Conrad did not allow any further activity in the Balkans, but concentrated on the ferocious winter Battles for the Carpathians.

How Love Almost Destroyed Army HQ

One of the greatest scandals during the war, outside the "Sixtus Affair," was Conrad's marriage.  He had a mistress by the name of Gina von Reininghaus.  Conrad asked Kaiser Franz Josef for permission to marry, but was initially denied on several grounds, chief of them being that there was a war and a sumptuous wedding would be out of place, to say the least.  For another, Gina was a divorcee and could not remarry according to Catholic tradition.  Her decision to convert to the Hungarian Envangelical Church (Calvinism) was a shocking scandal in its own right.  Added to Conrad's professed atheism in spite of his official Catholicism, and the implications of an imperial blessing over this union would be the worst sort of scandal.  However, Conrad was not to be denied his happiness.  He certainly could not find satisfaction on the battlefield, and the difficulties of having a mistress was taking its toll on his reputation.

Thus, Conrad married on 19 October 1915!  His new wife travelled with him to Army HQ in Teschen, where it was generally considered indecent for a General to have his wife at his side in times of war...

When he had to leave as Chief of staff years later, it was correctly reasoned that
Kaiser Karl and he could not work together--not that Karl even wanted to.  Of course, the feeling was mutual: Conrad once said that the Archduke wasn't capable of  reading any length of text, but it is true that Kaiserin Zita was very angry about the marriage scandal and she wanted Conrad out of sight because of it.

Receiving Titles Instead of Punishment?

Conrad held the rank of General der Infanterie at the outbreak of war.  He may have been awarded the rank of Generaloberst on June 23, 1915, although it has been reported that this rank was not created until 1916.  He attained the highest rank of Feldmarschall on 25 November 1916, conferred by newly-crowned
Kaiser Karl as reward for the swift defeat of Roumania. 

Following his dismissal as Chief of Staff and replacement by
Arz von Straussenberg, General Conrad returned to the field as an active commander.  He was given command over Army Group Conrad, which concentrated on the Trentino region of South Tirol.  He held this command until July 1918.

Failure to make any impact on the enemy during the Piave offensive had its consequences, not the least of which was scorn from other officers.  One stated openly that instead of being punished for failure, Conrad had been made a Count, "whereas somebody who gets married at the age of 64 is more fit to be put into care."  Conrad's marriage was a scandal among the elite, but it was a joke among the soldiers.  They traded anecdotes about how Conrad was busier writing love letters than army orders, that his honeymoon was spent at the battlefield, that he petitioned for the Kaiser's approval for marriage rather than for artillery. 

Conrad was dismissed by the Kaiser on 10 September 1918, and was replaced by the
Archduke Josef. The number of desertions up to this time was immense, and was attributed by Conrad even before his departure to hunger and nationalist agitation; that is, propaganda.

In spite of scandal and various personality difficulties, Kaiser Karl paid the famous General due honour, and Conrad was elevated to the noble title of Graf in 1918 and then became chancellor of the Military Order of Maria Theresia. 

GWS, 3/01 [rev. 1/05]
Orders of Battle:  Italian Front, November 1917
Immediately following the breakthrough at Caporetto
Conrad Group, FM Conrad von Hötzendorf
     Erzherzog Peter Ferdinand Group, GdI
Archduke Peter Ferdinand
      Rayon I, Stilfserjoch, Oberst v. Lempruch
      Rayon II, Tonale, Oberst Forster
XI. Army, GO
Viktor v. Scheuchenstüel
     Rayon III, Südtirol, FML v. Kletter
           56. Schützen div., FML Kroupa
      Edelweiss, XIV. Korps,  GdI
Hugo v. Martiny
          Kaiserjäger, 8. inf. div., FML
Verdross v. Drossberg
      III. Korps, GdI
Josef v. Krautwald
           19. inf. div., FML v. Elmar
           6. inf. div., GM v. Schilhawsky
           18. inf. div., GM v. Vidale
      Rayon IV, Fassaner Alpen-Pordoi, FML Heinrich v. Goiginger
           52. inf. div., FML von Goiginger
      Rayon V, Buchenstein-Kärntner Grenz, FML v. Steinhart
          49. inf. div., FML v. Steinhart
          Reinforcements: 106. Landsturm div., FML
Karl Kratky
          21. Schützen div., FML Podhajsky
X. Armee, GO
v. Krobatin
          94. inf. div., FML v. Lawroski
         Group Lesachtal, Oberst v. Fasser
         Group Hordt, GdI v. Hordt


Orders of Battle:  Italian Front, mid-June 1918
Immediately preceding the Piave Offensive
Army Group Conrad, FM Conrad v. Hötzendorf
X. Armee, Feldmarchal
Alexander v. Krobatin
       Erzherzog Peter Ferdinand Group, GdI
Archduke Peter Ferdinand
       Rayon I, Oberst v. Lempruch
               1. inf. div., FML Metzger
               2. Schützen inf. div., GM Lemesic
       XX. Korps, GdI Kalser v. Maasfeld
              49. inf. div., FML v. Steinhart
              Riwa det., FML Kalser v. Maasfeld
       XXI. Korps, GdI v. Lütgendorf
              19. inf. div., FML v. Elmar
              61.Schützen div., FML Kroupa
      XIV. Edelweiss Korps, GdI
Verdross v. Drossberg
              Kaiser Jäger div., GM
Prinz zu Schwarzenberg
XI. Armee, GO
Viktor v. Scheuchenstüel
      III. Korps, GO
Hugo v. Martiny
               6. kav. div., FML v. Braganca
               6. inf. div., GM v. Schilhawsky
               52. inf. div., GM
Rudolf v. Schamschula
               28 inf. div., FML v. Kraself
      XIII. Korps, GdI v. Csanady
               38. Honved inf. div., FML v. Molnar
               16. inf. div., FML Fernegel
               42. Honved inf. div., FML v. Soretic
               74. Honved inf. div., FML Perneczky
               5. inf. div., FML v. Felix
       XVI. Korps, GdI v. Kletter
               18. inf. div., GM v. Vidale
               Edelweiss div., FML v. Wieden
               26. Schützen div., FML Podhajsky
       XXVI. Korps, GdI v. Horsetzky
               27. inf. div., GM Sallager
               32. inf. div., FML v. Bellond
                4. inf. div., FML v. Boog
       I. Korps, GdI
Kosak
               60. inf. div., FML
Carl Bardolff
               55. inf. div., FML
Aurel v. le Beau
       XV. Korps, GdI
Karl Scotti
               50. inf. div., FML Gerabek
              20. Honved inf. div., GM Stadler
              48. inf. div., GM v. Gärtner
      Res., 26. inf. div., FML v. Höhring
              52. inf. div., FML
v. Goldbach
              3. kav. div., FML v. Kopecek
              10. kav. div., FML v. Bauer
The war takes its toll on the otherwise energetic and unstoppable Conrad, as illustrated in these "before and after" photos.  He played the role of general from the beginning to the bitter end, though by that time his stock had depreciated considerably among his fellow commanders.  Like most retired generals, Conrad traded his sword for a pen and wrote several lengthy volumes about the war.
Conrad's Greatest Enemy [on the other side of the front, that is]:  Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaievich Romanov
After the war, Conrad was honorary president of the knightly Vereinigung Alt-Neustadt in 1919, simulateously with Freiherr v. Georgi. Conrad published his vast memoires "Aus meiner Dienstzeit," in five volumes by 1925.  Conrad also wrote "Meine Anfang:  Kriegserinnerungen aus der Jugendzeit 1878-1882" (Vienna, 1925).

Like his comrades
Samuel v. Hazai, Hermann v. Kövess, and Karl v. Pflanzer-Baltin, Conrad lost a son in the first campaigns in Galicia, 1914.  Franz Conrad died on 25 August 1925 in Bad Mergentheim, Württemberg.
1