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Günther von Etzel
Günther von Etzel was born in Magdeburg on 14 December 1862.  He decided to make a life career in the army right from completing his primary schooling, and received the junior rank of Second Lieutenant on 13 September 1882.  Etzel was steadily promoted to First Lieutenant on 10 September 1890, Captain on 22 March 1895, and then to Major on 19 September 1901. 

Meanwhile, the China campaign of 1900 to suppress the Boxer Rebellion afforded him his first opportunity to prove himself before the enemy.  With great skill he managed to secure his standing with the generally suspicious Japanese officers corps, still closed to outsiders.  He became a most knowledgeable expert of the Japanese army, its national character, and the driving motives of that nation.  His reports to this day provide valuable informative and explanatory reading. 

Extensive travels took him through the United States, all of East Asia.  His travels included from the island of Sakhalin through Manchuria, Korea, China, Formosa, Philippines, all the way to Java.

Etzel’s next assignment was to be the German Military Attaché in Japan from 29 May 1902, utilizing his good reputation with the Japanese.  This was most important for the period of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, during which time he had an inside look at the workings of a newly modernized army in action against a well-tested enemy.  Etzel remained at this post until 17 December 1908, when he was summoned back to Germany and was ordered to command the Dragoons Regiment No. 14.

As regimental commander, Etzel was clear, thoughtful and decisive.  He led his regiment in an exemplary manner and furthered the training.  The commanding general, General of the Infantry Freiherr von Hoiningen said on 12 January 1911, "Colonel von Etzel is a highly talented, outstanding officer who has a very promising future."

Being promoted to Colonel on 21 April 1911 opened the door to higher leadership roles.  On 22 April 1912, Etzel became the commander of the 33. Cavalry Brigade, and he was promoted to the rank of Generalmajor on 22 April 1914.  His worth was proven by his extensive understanding of the larger, underlying military situation.  This he displayed during the war while serving the Cavalry Corps Hollen.

Genlt. Freiherr von Hollen said on 21 September 1914, "Etzel exhibited himself at every opportunity as an outstanding Cavalry leader.  Fully grounded knowledge of tactics, quick and clear assessment of the situation in every aspect, he displayed coolness and great personal courage.  With his calmness and decisiveness during the most critical conditions, he exerted a fascinating influence over those around him and his subordinates."

Racing to the Sea!


In late September, eight cavalry divisions (the Bavarian Cavalry Division had arrived and joined the others) were assembled in three Corps, the I. and II. under General
von der Marwitz, and the IV. under Glt. von Hollen. These were to cover the right flank of the ensuing German offensive and cross western Flanders all the way to the coast.  Throughout this time, almost no enemy forces lay here except for coastal defense battalions.  General von der Marwitz had the I. Cavalry Corps (consisting of the Guards and 4th Cavalry Divisions) and the II. Cavalry Corps (with the 2nd, 7th, and 9th Cavalry Divisions).  Hollen had the  IV. Cavalry Corps, which contained the 3rd, 6th, and Bavarian Cavalry Divisions.  Before 24 September, Etzel had been commanding the 33. cav. brig. with some success, and because of this, he was ordereed to lead the Guards Cavalry Division.  This force was already moving south from Cambrai toward Bapaume, as part of the Sixth army, whose infantry was filling in the wide gaps being left behind by Hollen's and von der Marwitz's cavalry.  Action around Arras compelled the Guards to take a defensive position, but that seem an epidemic in the face of a repositioning British Expeditionary Force.  The Guards were then detached and sent to von der Marwitz's Corps on 2 October.  The Guard were ordered southwest of Ypres to meet the other divisions in Bailleule, but nothing came of it in the face of a French Corps being force-marched north from the nearest railhead, they would have caved in the cavalry's flank but a swift German retreat prevented this.

Etzel remained at the helm of the Guards Cavalry until 1 December 1914, when he became full commander of the Leibhusaren Brigade.  Even before this, he was commander of the Dragoons Regiment No. 2.

To the East!

Etzel stepped up to divisional level on 3 May 1915, when he took control of the 3. Cavalry Division, a position he held for more than a year.   He was ordered to command the 2. Cavalry Division on 9 August 1916.  This was a result of the big reorganisation all across the Eastern Front as a result of the devastating Brussilov offensive in the early summer.  His army was made part of the redoubtable Austrian II. Army under the command of General
Eduard von Böhm-Ermolli, defending the flat lands of Eastern Galicia from the Russians who had scored big successes against the other Austrian armies to the north.

More Responsibilities to Come

Less than a year later, Etzel became commander of the 11. Infantry Division on 14 May 1917.  This time, he was stationed on the Western Front, in the Noyon Sector, where his division fought in some fierce battles as the Germans withdrew behind their new defensive fortifications and the Entente surged forward in new unrelenting assaults.  Etzel remained in this capacity for more than a year, until he was called to be acting commander of the XVII. Corps on 23 June 1918.  Meanwhile, he was promoted to Generalleutnant on 27 January 1918. 

Etzel was awarded the prestigious Pour le Mérite on 4 August 1918 for the defensive accomplishments of his troops lying between the Marne and Vesle.  On 27 August 1918, he became acting commander of the XVIII Corps, and he remained at this supposedly temporary post until the end of the war.  On 25 October 1918, as the German army slowly retreated from the worsening Entente offensive, Etzel received Oakleaves to his Pour le Mérite for the distinguished conduct of his troops in the defensive fighting between Cambrai and St. Quentin.

Toward the end of the war, the supreme commander of the XVII. Army, General of the Infantry von Mudra noted, "Etzel has shown himself as a leader under adverse conditions and a soldier of strong character with calmness and energy.  During the last battles at the Schelde, the divisions under his command, though exhausted and burned out, were inspired through his personal influence to resist enemy break through of their lines.  He is an exceptionally energetic commanding general who kept his troops firmly in hand."

Because of this, he remained full commander of the XVIII. Corps even after 11 November 1918, the day of the armistice, when the German army was rapidly demobilising and troops were deserting their posts to go home.  Etzel held this command until 4 April 1919.

Lt. Gen. Günther von Etzel, like his brother General Franz Hermann Karl Otto von Etzel, was an extremely gifted General Staff officer.  He was highly articulate and had exceptionally winning ways.  He retired from the army after demobilization brought the once gigantic German army to a mere 100,000 men and a few thousand officers.  Still, Etzel’s good war record permitted him to be granted the honourary promotion to General der Kavallerie on 27 August 1939.  Etzel was not activated during WWII.
Etzel married the daughter of Lt. Gen. Leo von Klingspor, a highly decorated vetern of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and commander of Fortress Magdeburg.  By this marriage Etzel had two daughters, the eldest being Gesetha von Etzel who passed away in 2001, and Vera von Etzel (from whom most details about Günther were reported here).  The military histories of von Klingspor and von Etzel are easily traced to the Napoleonic wars.  A famous uncle of Etzel’s, the architect Karl von Etzel, built the railroad tunnels and bridges throughout Austria.  A statue of him can be seen to this day in the Brenner railroad station.  The railway station is located on the aptly-named "Via von Etzel."
Col. Etzel before WWI
Günther von Etzel died in Wiesbaden on 21 January 1948.

GWS, 7/03 [rev. 7/05]
Orders of Battle:  Eastern Front, November 1916
Immediately following Roumania's defeat by the Quadruple Alliance
Böhm-Ermolli Army Group, Generaloberst Eduard von Böhm-Ermolli
   (part of the Southern Front under
Prinz Leopold von Bayern)
II. K.u.K. Armee, Generaloberst von Böhm-Ermolli
     XVIII. K.u.K. Korps, Feldmlt.
Klaudius Czibulka
          II. Deutsch kav. div., Genmj. von Etzel
          I. Landsturm inf. div., Genmj. von Soretic
          CVI. Landsturm inf. div., Genmj.
Kratky
          XXV. inf. div., Genmj. von Boog
Gen. Etzel as cavalry division commander
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