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|Wladimir Giesl von Gieslingen|
|Wladimir Giesl Freiherr von Gieslingen was born on 18 February 1860 in Fünfkirchen (Pecs), Hungary. He was the son of General Heinrich Karl Giesl. Wladimir followed in his father's footsteps and became a soldier, continuing a long family military tradition. Following completion of the Maria Theresa military academy, Giesl served in an army capacity until 1893, and then he was appointed as military attache to Constantinople. Giesl remained on the Golden Horn long enough to start a family.
Summertime in Crete
For a very brief spell in 1897, Giesl enjoyed the fair climate and witnessed the harsh inter-ethnic strife of Crete. The Graeco-Turkish War concluded in the Porte's favour, but the Great Powers would not allow the Sultan to reap his rewards. Crete was where the war started (thanks to Eleftherios Venizelos' Greek revolutionaries) and that’s where it ended. Policing of the island was partitioned among the six Great Powers, whose troops were to maintain order in the interest of humanity. However, the island was granted an autonomous governorship under Prince George of Greece, the son of Turkey's defeated enemy. This ridiculous settlement resulted in the flight of whichever Mohammedans still remained alive on Crete, and the chaotic scene of penniless refugees cramming onto tiny ships at Canea was one of desperate pathos. Germany and Austria-Hungary immediately withdrew from the island in protest to the settlement, and Britain and Italy sent their police to fill the void. Wladimir Giesl left within days of his arrival and was sent to monitor the drawing of new frontiers between Greece and Turkey on the southern slopes of Mt. Olympus.
Summertime in Macedonia
Giesl became the chief pointman on Balkan affairs during the lull of 1898 to 1903. Once the Macedonian revolt started, Giesl was sent to Sofia to find out just how much help Prince Ferdinand of Bulgaria was giving to the revolutionaries. He was recalled to Constantinople by Foreign Minister Aloys Lexa von Aehrenthal, where he was Austria's headman to the Porte while the "Mürzsteg Programme" of reform in the Turkish Macedonian vilayets was discussed by the Great Powers.
Giesl later wrote of how hostile the Turks were toward the European police and administrators who filed into Macedonia after the agreement was signed—there was even an episode where the German military attache, General Colmar von der Goltz, was directed to make a map of Constantinople, but the vindictive Turks broke into his room and took it from him. Nevertheless, Giesl had enough goodwill from both the Turks and the non-Moslems to be treated with dignity, even if both sides tended to ignore his advice.
Having been surrounded by Ottoman orientalism and the backwardness of the Turkish Balkans for more than a decade, Giesl was an expert in their mindset and methods. No matter how deeply involved he became in the local politics and bizarre intrigues, he never lost his distaste and distrust of orientalism or the mountain way of life. His career took him to some of the wildest places in Europe but his heart was set in the old Vienna and its finer social manner.
After his tour of the Macedonian vilayets, Giesl returned to Constantinople, which may have been the centre of the oriental world but was cosmopolitan enough for the diplomats and attaches living there. In 1908, Giesl witnessed the Turkish revolution that swept Sultan Abd-ul Hamid II from power and ushered in a spring-time of hope and optimism, something long absent among the Turks. He also testified to the absolute hostility among the whole populace of the ancient city toward Austria and things Austrian thanks to the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. For months, it was impossible for him and the other Austrians in the city to even get a table at a restaurant. By April 1909, the crisis was resolved through diplomacy and a cash payment, but the animosity remained and would not evaporate until the World War.
Summertime in Montenegro
In February 1910, Giesl moved definitely from the military to the diplomatic sphere. His successful tenure in the Ottoman capital, and his hard work on the now failed Balkans reform programme proved to the Foreign Minister Aehrenthal that Giesl had a practical understanding of the less civilised peoples in the Balkans. Hence, he was sent to Montengro, to replace the outgoing ambassador, Otto Freiherr Kuhn von Kuhnenfeld, who had tread water amidst the manic antics of Prince Nicholas. These antics did not change but became more outlandish, and dangerous, as the Prince grew older. In fact, Giesl arrived in Cetinje, the capital, right in the midst of a ballooning scandal that threatened to destroy the Montenegrin ruling dynasty.
A supposed assassination plot against Nicholas a few months before gave the Prince a reason to order the arrest of the opposition political party and close down their newspaper. A speedy trial of suspects resulted in 7 death sentences and dozens of long prison terms. As the opposition was radically pro-Serbian, Nicholas naturally linked the Serbian government to the so-called Kolasin plot (named after the munitions depot at Kolasin, where some disaffected soldiers attempted a rebellion in the name of Serb union).
Giesl entered Montenegro at the height of Nicholas’ anti-Serb ranting and raving, and was surprised on how pro-Austrian the Prince seemed to be, contrary to reports he had read from his predecessor. (The Serbian ambassador, Petkovic, kept his suitcase packed for fear of the Prince all the way to summer 1910.) Only a few months before Giesl arrived, Kuhn was reporting on how much anti-Austrian the Prince was, having threatened to march on Herzegovina and join Serbia, arm-in-arm, to defend Serb brothers under Austrian domination in the formally annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina. Giesl learned quickly that the slightest change of mood altered all politics and diplomacy in the land of the Black Mountain. In a very short time, Giesl would come to loathe the place, and Nicholas caught on very quickly.
Of course, Cetinje was no Constantinople or Vienna. The only two-storey stone buildings in the town were the royal palace and the Russian legation. There were scarcely any public facilities, and most houses were thatch-roof peasant hovels.
Giesl helped forge new trade agreements with Nicholas throughout the spring of 1910, and this tempered the formerly bad feelings from years of dispute first over Dalmatian territory south of Montenegro (Spizza, Budva, and Sutomore) and then over contested regions of Herzegovina.
Russia did not like the closeness to Austria that Nicholas was showing in 1910. To counter this, a large sum of money was given to Nicholas’ impoverished household, as well as a military subsidy of weapons and instructors. The money was happily received but the Russians had not bought Nicholas’ good will. He still refused a rapprochement with the Serbians and believed his daughters’ marriage to two Russian Grand Dukes was sufficient to keep St. Petersburg on his side. In this case, Russia was taken for granted, but Austria was not.
Back in March 1910, Prince Danilo, Nicholas’ heir indicated to Giesl that for his father’s upcoming 50th anniversary jubilee, the Montengrin skupstina would declare him King. By May, Nicholas had passed his intention on to the other diplomats in Cetinje. At this time, this secret information was leaked to the Viennese press. In June, newspapers were loaded with stories of how the jubilee celebration was ignored by St. Petersburg, how the Serbian king refused to attend, how Serbia’s Prime Minister Nicholas Pasic was refused attendance, how the Serbian ambassador suggested that the Kolasin prisoners be given a good-will amnesty, and how Prince Nicholas reacted with rage to the suggestion. A new low in Serbian-Montenegrin relations was reached on this most important moment of Montenegro’s existence.
Meanwhile, Nicholas asked Giesl if the Habsburg royal house would honour his jubilee by sending an Archduke to attend the celebrations. Giesl refreshed Nicholas’ memories by pointing out that the Montenegrin royal house had deliberately snubbed the 60th jubilee of Kaiser Franz Josef in 1908, during the Bosnian Annexation crisis. Prince Danilo offered a Montenegrin mission to Franz Josef’s 80th birthday celebration later in the summer to rectify the slight, and Giesl expected this to be well-received by both the Foreign Ministry and the Hofburg.
Although diplomatic relations were improving between Austria and Montengro, there were still hostile actions amongst the people, who were doctrinally anti-Austrian and pro-Serbian. On 15 July 1910, Montengrin border guards seized two Austrian officers who were surveying the unmarked frontier. Giesl had to issue his first formal diplomatic complaint, stating that the men were not treated like officers before they were released into his care. Nicholas issued an apology and the matter ended amicably.
When the jubilee began in August, the Serbian delegation was headed by Prince Alexander, and Giesl reported that he was received by the people of Cetinje as a hero. This was quite the opposite of the official cold policy of the government. Alexander congratulated Nicholas on his jubilee and elevation to kingship, but although friendliness was to be seen everywhere, the recent events, the kingship, and upcoming events ensured the continued frosty relations between the two Serb states. Giesl was gratified by the results. As a tangible sign of good relations, Kaiser Franz Josef’s letter of congratulations to King Nicholas was published on the front page of Montenegro’s newspapers. Letter from Serbia, Britain, France, and even the Tsar were consigned to the inside of the papers.
Trouble Brewing in the South
Back in May 1910, Albanian tribes of the north exploded into rebellion, and suddenly Nicholas was the saviour of Albanian refugees and patron of the rebellion. Giesl was informed of Austria’s Albanian policy, which was specifically designed to prevent Serbian access to the coastline. And that included Montenegro. By mid-July 1910, the rebellion was so fierce and so many thousands of refugees and rebels were on Montenegrin territory that regular talk of war circulated in Cetinje. It was Giesl’s observation that Nicholas was definitely preparing for war but the Prince would not march against the Turks alone. For, although the rebellion was spreading into Kosovo and affecting Serbs living there, neither Serbia nor Russia were inclined to intervene. For the time being, it was an affair between Albanians and Turks, and only Nicholas seemed interested in the process.
Montenegro’s policy deviated so far from Russia’s line, that by July 1911, Russia’s Foreign Minister Izvolsky described Nicholas as totally Austrophile, neither Slavic nor Good, and Izvolsky flatly opined that Giesl had bewitched the Prince into doing Vienna’s bidding. In that month, the Russians froze half of the bank account that Nicholas was drawing on, in order to hold back the Montenegrin involvement in Albania. The Russians figured the amount would be only enough to pay for the palace expenses, and would not be used for mobilising the Montengrin army.
Nicholas still mobilised and on 26 July, all moneys were frozen. Nicholas said he’d “rather starve than be Russia’s slave,” but he had no choice but capitulate. In August 1911, he ordered all refugees out of Montenegro, and told the Albanian rebels to make peace with the Turks. 5,000 Albanians were thrown out of Podgorica alone, and suddenly the rebellion ended within a week.
Nicholas meanwhile vented his rage over Russia to Giesl. Nicholas even told him that he intended to spare Montenegro from the Russian subsidy, shouting “In 1702, we freed ourselves from the Turks, but today we free ourselves from the Russians.” The next time they met, Nicholas asked Giesl if Austria would offer a loan to Montenegro. Giesl was too experienced with Nicholas’ mood swings by now. He advised Aehrenthal not to take the King’s flighty Russophobia seriously, especially since the Russians had invested in Montenegro’s welfare for so many decades. A loan would not buy Cetinje’s alliance, not when the Russians resumed their subsidy. Money talks, and free money was bound to be louder than loaned money.
Things heated up in Cetinje after the Italo-Turkish War began in October 1911. Simultaneous reports of Turkish troop movements in Albania, of heavy arms in the Sanjak of Novi Pazar separating Serbia from Montenegro, and rumours that Austria was about to seize control of the Sanjak in the event of war in the Balkans disquieted everyone in the country. Giesl was making daily rejections of the endless stream of rumours and reports. On 31 October, Nicholas succumbed to the rumours, and asked Giesl to take a secret treaty to Vienna, pledging an Austrian-Montengrin military alliance in exchange for northern Albania should Turkish rule collapse there. Giesl reported this amazing offer to Aehrenthal, who responded in the negative, chiding Nicholas for threatening peace and the delicate status quo on the Balkan peninsula. To placate the disappointed King, Giesl was happy to present a loan from a Viennese bank to Montenegro, which helped pay for the huge budget deficit from the last year.
The loan angered Serbia, which saw it as another power play by Vienna. They were even more enraged when the Patriarch of Constantinople chose a Montengrin bishop to be the new Metropolitan of Prizrend, instead of the heartily endorsed Serbian candidate. The Serbs saw Giesl’s influence written all over the decision, as Giesl and the Austrian Ambassador to Constantinople, Janos Markgraf Pallavicini, were well-connected in the city. Belgrade’s newspapers railed against “the Austrian Metropolitan” in Prizrend. Rumours had it that, if there been a common frontier, war would have broken out between Serbia and Montenegro.
The beginning of 1912 had Nicholas making a rare journey outside his homeland. Just before setting off for St. Petersburg, Nicholas met with Giesl and explained his fears for a new round of violence in Albania. Giesl agreed and wished the King a good journey to Russia. He believed Nicholas was going to ask for Russian assistance—again, and with the hope that soured relations would be patched. As Nicholas was leaving, there were rumours that a Serbian putsch was going to overthrow him while he was on his way, and replace him with his younger son.
Nicholas proceeded anyway—stopping in Vienna for an informal visit to Kaiser Franz Josef—and his time in Russia was not wasted. The Russians promised new financial aid, but also insisted that Montenegro keep the peace and not stir up Albania. Nevertheless, once Nicholas was home, the Austro-Montenegrin trade treaty went into effect, a railway concession was granted to an Austrian firm, and Giesl contracted Austrian jurists to help overhaul Montengro’s legal system. The Russian ambassador in Cetinje could hardly contain himself.
For no apparent reason, Nicholas made a formal visit to Vienna in June 1912, and Giesl accompanied the King to the Austrian capital. Nicholas finally received the pomp and celebration of the official court as he always wanted. He also received precisely the same advice in Vienna as he had gotten from St. Petersburg: Keep the peace. Mysteriously, Nicholas joined up with Tsar Ferdinand of Bulgaria, a regular visitor to Vienna, for an afternoon and then headed home.
Giesl, meanwhile, reported to the Foreign Ministry and confirmed or denied hundreds of reports that had been dispatched by himself and other Austrian officials in Montenegro over the years. The new Foreign minister, Leopold Graf von Berchtold, understood the picture right away: King Nicholas could not be trusted, even for an instance. Giesl was ordered to return to Cetinje right away, and later wrote that the trip to Vienna, with all its courtesies, was just another gross deception by Nicholas.
Things Becoming Muddier
In August, while Giesl recuperated in Vichy, Montenegrin and Turkish troops fought several skirmishes in the latest round of Albanian rebellion. Once again, Nicholas was patron to disaffected rebels, who fired on Turkish troops near Berane, suffered brutal Turkish retaliation, and then fled to Montenegrin territory where Nicholas’ troops opened fire on the pursuing Turks. Giesl was ordered to cut his vacation short and he arrived in Cetinje on 23 August, along with the French ambassador, just in time to hand Nicholas a virtual ultimatum. Nicholas complied and the ambassadors in Constantinople convinced the Turks to drop the matter. In the last week of August, Nicholas tried to mend things with the diplomatic corps by inviting them all on a tour of Mount Lovcen with him. While being shown the places of historical Montenegrin resistance on the steep slopes of Lovcen, Giesl firmly believed that Nicholas wanted a war with the Turks.
Meanwhile, the Russians were secretly sponsoring the formation of the Balkan Alliance between Serbia and Bulgaria. Greece would join at the last hour. At Serbia’s insistence, Montenegro was specifically left out. Enmity still remained. However, Nicholas knew all about the developments thanks to the Bulgarians, who were perhaps the friendliest state in Balkans. Back in May, Prince Danilo had been in Sofia for the celebration of Prince Boris’ majority, and he had been informed of the negotiations. King Ferdinand had confirmed the Alliance to Nicholas during his early June trip to Cetinje for the Montenegrin King’s jubilee, and the real alliance had been set in stone when the two met in Vienna at the end of June.
The Balkan Alliance
When King Nicholas took the diplomats on a tour of Lovcen in late August, Giesl noted that the Bulgarian ambassador was missing. It so happened that M. Kolushev’s journey was to carry a draft military alliance between Montenegro and Bulgaria. Giesl alone suspected that the king’s little summer sojourn was the last breather before war. At the insistence of King Ferdinand in late September 1912, the Serbians drafted their own alliance with Montenegro in Geneva on 6 October, mostly because the Bulgarians feared Serbia and Montenegro would end up fighting each other instead of the Turks.
The Balkan Alliance drew together in summer 1912 mostly because the Turkish army had suffered a series of setbacks to the Albanian rebels, who had been backed exclusively by Nicholas. What happened, however, is not what Nicholas intended: the Turks gave in to Albanian demands and created Albanian national regions out of the vilayets of Scutari, Jannina, Monastir, and Üsküb. The last thing Nicholas wanted was Scutari to be a centre of Albanian nationalism. The other Balkan states saw their territorial claims washed over by the Albanian national cause. All the states prepared for war.
On Tuesday, 1 October 1912, as more and more men reported for duty in Cetinje, Giesl tramped up the hill past guns and munitions and soldiers to the palace and advised Nicholas to keep the peace at all costs. Nicholas assured Giesl that he would not be the one to fire the first shot. Giesl recorded the witticism in his diaries, noting that dozens of shots had been fired, but nobody in this land ever cared who did the shooting. The Italians were certain that Nicholas was the prime carrier of the war fever. The next day, Giesl reported to Berchtold that preparations were moving so fast that he could not properly record the happenings; every hour brought more rumours and false alarms.
The Last Days of Peace
Meanwhile, Nicholas’ hubris had reached such immense proportions, that he no longer cared that Giesl was the diplomatic representative for his huge neighbour to the north. The next morning, 2 October, Giesl was called to the palace. King Nicholas asked him, with his twenty years of experience as military attache in Turkey and the Balkans, to help draw up plans for Montenegro’s invasion of Turkey. Giesl declined politely. A few days later, on a bright Sunday afternoon, he was again called to the palace, and Nicholas said he was ready to march against Turkey “within days.”
On Tuesday morning, 8 October, Giesl and Russia’s ambassador, Alexander Giers, marched up to the palace and presented the joint Great Powers’ note demanding that Montenegro stand down its armed forces. Giesl cannot have known that Russia was sponsoring the whole event. Nicholas informed the two that he already sent a message to Constantinople, informing the Turks that only war could sort out their differences. Immediately thereafter, Nicholas left for his army HQ at Podgorica. Next morning, on 9 October, Nicholas stood on a hill outside Podgorica, and witnessed his youngest son, Peter, ceremoniously fire the first shot of the war.
Montenegro at War—Giesl’s View
Giesl’s main concern was to inform the King of Vienna’s demands concerning the direction of Montenegro’s advance. The Sanjak of Novi Pazar was a traditional Austrian interest, and it was Giesl’s opinion that Nicholas would steer clear of it if the Serbians did not advance on it. Although Berchtold had written off the Sanjak by this time, Giesl believed it could be yet another means of playing Serbia off Montenegro and preventing their alliance from growing. He even outlined specific military directions for the Montenegrins (part of his military training that Nicholas had wanted to tap) but Berchtold rejected Giesl’s plan, instead opting for a general statement warning Montenegro to keep away from the Austrian frontier and respect territorial status quo.
Nicholas complied with the note, happily at first, since the Turks were being very difficult in the south and he did not want to thin his troops by sending them north. However, the Serbians invaded the Sanjak in the last week of October, and Nicholas was desperate to grab whatever land he could. Giesl received an explanation from Princess Ksenia, the official representative for the palace in Cetinje on 29 October, that Montenegrin troops were invited into the Sanjak by the village elders to quell disorder between the Christians and Moslems living there. Giesl rejected the explanation as typical wartime propaganda. By November 1st, Giesl was busy directing the Austrian Red Cross and several other humanitarian organisations to help ease the suffering of war casualties.
Montenegro was medically unprepared for war of any kind. With hundreds of wounded arriving in Podgorica and Cetinje every week, makeshift hospitals soon turned into makeshift morgues. Even enemy wounded were attended to by Austrian caregivers in Montenegro, including a batch of captured Turkish soldiers who had their noses hacked off, a traditional mountain practise of tallying enemy losses.
After the start of the war, Giesl considered himself alone in the effort to contain the conflict. Giers, the Russian ambassador who had appeared to be his closest confidant and arbiter of peace, completely changed his tune after the war began, as indeed, did most of Europe, caught up in the enthusiasm of what would soon be termed “the Last Crusade.” By mid-November, the biggest battles were over and the whole Balkan peninsula was under the control of the Alliance, except for a few holdouts. One of them was Scutari, surrounded by Montenegrin forces, most of whom were exhausted and depleted of munitions. Meanwhile, the Serbians were marching across the Albanian mountains in order to occupy the coastline for themselves.
Giesl informed Nicholas of the Great Power plans for an independent Albania, including the entire Albanian coastline. This specifically excluded Serbia from gaining an Adriatic port, but it also excluded Nicholas from gaining any further coastline for Montenegro. His troops nevertheless occupied San Giovanni di Medua, south of Scutari, on 10 November 1912. Nicholas sent a reply to Giesl, explaining on the one hand that Scutari depended on San Giovanni, and on the other that he had no troops there, suggesting instead that Albanian irregulars were there. The Austrian consul in San Giovanni, the only diplomat in the small, depressed town, reported otherwise.
Next morning, on 12 November, Giesl read his official communique in the local paper, and the paper’s joyous report that the King had rejected it. Giesl was fuming, and so was Berchtold. Giesl demanded an apology, and Nicholas, thinking better of the situation he caused, explained that his bad behaviour was the result of fever brought on by a sore foot. Then the King bent Giesl’s ear for an hour on his imaginative solutions to the Albanian question, including his being King of Albania and Montenegro simultaneously. By 18 November, Scutari was still holding out and the Serbians had reached Alessio and Durazzo, beating the Montenegrins’ slow advance down the coast. Montenegrin troops seized the bridge to Alessio, but they suddenly discovered Serbian troops on the other side. They rejoiced as brothers, but Nicholas was filled with rage back home.
The Problem with Nicholas
On 17 November, Berchtold wired a series of proposals for Giesl to make to King Nicholas concerning the future relations of the enlarged Montenegro and Austria. Berchtold intended to cash in some of the good will that had been gained over the years. Giesl replied to the wire with his own list of proposals, fortified with a good measure of Austrian military assertion. Why had Giesl suddenly become a warhawk? Simply put, Giesl’s experience during these years led him to a single conclusion: Austria was good to Montenegro only as long as she could be exploited—that held true for every “friend” of King Nicholas.
Even during the Albanian rebellions, when Montenegrin troops were daily exchanging shots with Turkish forces, Nicholas had been approachable and listened to the diplomats. Now, he was on the move from camp to camp, not only unwilling to listen to advice, but becoming impossible to treat with—he was victorious and intended that very Great Power acknowledge it. Berchtold’s plans involved the exchange of Mount Lovcen for Montenegrin rights to Scutari, and possibly San Giovanni di Medua. Giesl did not believe the King would accept the offer, and suggested it could only happen through military intervention, mostly because he knew that Lovcen, the Black Mountain, was the sacred heart of the country, gave the land its name, and held its defiant history.
In the end, Berchtold decided not to risk either plan, because he feared Nicholas would leak it to the other powers, notably Italy. Italy did not want Austria to gain an advantage anywhere on or near Mount Lovcen, simply because it overlooked the Bay of Cattaro, and the exposed Austrian naval station. Should Austria gain the mountain, they would certainly expand the naval base and that would present a sizable shift in the naval balance of power in Austria’s favour. On 22 November, Giesl finally met with King Nicholas. He detailed Berchtold’s new proposals, and made it clear that Scutari was to remain part of Albania. King Nicholas replied that, should Austria try to drive him out of Scutari, he would fight to the last goat and cartridge. He ended the discussion with a warning: He would wait, sword in hand, for the Austrians.
Giesl reported the defiance to Berchtold, and then met with the Montenegrin minister of economics, Lazar Mijuskovic, who discussed the other parts of Berchtold’s proposals. Giesl finally suggested the Lovcen-Scutari exchange at the end of the meeting, to which Mijuskovic declared the loss would cost the Petrovic dynasty its throne. Why Giesl pressed ahead with this offer is a mystery, as he himself knew it would be rejected, but he was following Berchtold’s orders. Furthermore, the offer was immediately wired to Serbia, and Nicholas Pasic sent it on to the other Great Powers. Three days later, on 27 November 1912, Mijuskovic approached Giesl about the idea of Nicholas becoming King of Albania. It was timed to head off Ismail Vlorë’s impending declaration of Albania’s independence, which happened the next day.
On the day after, Giesl reported to King Nicholas, who explained that he was taking personal command of the Montenegrin army, in place of his son, and would not end the siege of Scutari until it was recognised as part of his kingdom. Nicholas confided to Giesl that the popular enthusiasm for Serbia and their great victories over the Turks was getting louder and louder. The pro-Serbian political party, which had its leaders imprisoned by Nicholas after the Kolasin incident and its size reduced to insignificance, was suddenly the biggest party in the country. Unmoved by the King's confession, Giesl reiterated that Austria’s unbending policy was to have Scutari remain part of Albania. Nicholas grew enraged and declared he would remain in Scutari; nothing could remove him. Giesl also became heated, and said the Great Powers would decide Scutari’s fate. Finally, Nicholas asked aloud if he would have to abdicate and move to the United States.
Montenegro During the Second War
On 17 December 1912, the Great Power convention was held in London, and Mijuskovic revealed to the Italian delegate what Giesl had offered. The news was sensational, and soon Berchtold’s office was filled with wires from every capital demanding an explanation. Berchtold flatly lied and denied that Giesl made the offer; however, he pinched the Italians, and their argument that he had violated Article 7 of the Triple Alliance, by noting that Article 7 dealt specifically with Turkey in Europe. Now that Turkey in Europe was exclusively Constantinople, the article was void. Rather than gaining good will needed for the Scutari issue, Berchtold was slapping his ally in the face and snubbing the rest of the Great Powers. It wouldn’t be the last time.
In January 1913, revolution in Constantinople ousted the Turkish government, bringing the Young Turks back to power after an absence of several years. The new government rejected the proposals made by the London Conference, and the second war started. This time, it was centered on the three besieged cities of Adrianople, Jannina, and Scutari. Winter passed with troops camped around defiant Scutari while the diplomats wrangled. No advantage was made against the Turks but more and more Serbians arrived to help break the siege.
Work Is Never Done
In March 1913, Father Luigi Palic was executed by Montenegrin troops after being accused of inciting Catholics against the king. Giesl had to march to the palace in the snow to demand an investigation into why a Catholic priest was so brutally killed without a trial in a country with a functioning justice system.
Meanwhile, on 5 April 1913, the Serbians agreed to withdraw their troops from Albania. The Montenegrins remained, armed with Serbian munitions. Now Giesl began to have some of the worries that had beset Nicholas months before.
Although conditions in Scutari were terrible, they were also terrible without, and the Montenegrin soldiers who had fought victoriously in the fall were tired of the siege and grumbling against their king who was unable to break the deadlock. Union with Serbia, the more victorious and honourable nation, was being heard in Cetinje as well as in the trenches. If Nicholas did not at least get to march into Scutari, he might face revolution at home. Giesl wired Berchtold about an economic package to rescue Montenegro from the financial crisis that was also ballooning. If failure in Scutari didn’t bring the king down, then insolvency surely would. In the event, Nicholas turned down financial aid from Vienna. “Scutari or nothing,” was his effective reply.
Anger Building and Building
As if Giesl hadn’t been exasperated enough by Nicholas’ attitude problem, a serious incident arose involving Majour Gustav von Hubka, the military attaché in Cetinje and Giesl’s virtual right hand. On 21 April 1913, the Montenegrins cut all telegraph and mail communication with Austria for a day. Giesl dispatched Majour Hubka with diplomatic mail to Cattaro. Along the way, his car was forced to a halt because of a trench in the road. Majour Hubka attempted to hike down to Cattaro, but he was detained by Montenegrin soldiers. Giesl heard of this affront and let Nicholas know that he was prepared break relations between their countries if Majour Hubka was not allowed to complete his journey. Majour Hubka was released immediately and reached Cattaro. As Hubka returned to Cetinje, some Montenegrins hurled stones at him and he had to run to the legation.
Giesl reported these outrages to Berchtold the next day, who made them into a diplomatic incident: the Austrian Foreign Ministry demanded an apology and prosecution of the stone-throwers; until that time, gasoline deliveries to Montenegro from Cattaro were withheld and horses on their way to the port required a vet’s certificate of health. Within hours, some Montenegrins were fined for throwing stones, but no apology was forthcoming. Giesl wanted an ultimatum sent to Nicholas, but Berchtold surmised that the current crisis surrounding Scutari did not warrant any compounding just because Nicholas was irritated.
Scutari Falls (Is Given) to Nicholas
On 23 April 1913, as the sun rose, the Turkish garrison surrendered to the Montenegrins. Word traveled far that the Montenegrins had achieved a surprise victory over the Turks guarding the northern heights, and that the starving, diseased defenders had no more strength to resist Nicholas. Giesl received a report that the Montenegrins themselves were starved, and celebrated the fall of Scutari by holding a feast the night of 24 April in the town centre. If things were so terrible in Scutari, where did the food come from? Giesl discussed the issue with the German ambassador, and he concurred that the defender of Scutari, Essad Pasha, had cut a deal with Nicholas. Future events would prove this more than true.
After midnight on 24 April, Giesl got no sleep as Cetinje celebrated as he had never seen it before, a riotous drunken display far more genuine than Nicholas’ jubilee of a few years before. He also heard the drunken Montenegrins shooting guns in the streets outside his legation, hollering “To the devil with Giesl! To the devil’s mother with Austria! To the devil with the Great Powers!” Next morning, as peaceful Cetinje slept off its stupor, Giesl wired his report to Berchtold, advising the Austrian army to storm the Montenegrin capital while its defenders had a hang-over and the rest of the army slept in Scutari.
Nicholas Plays for Scutari
On 27 April 1913, Easter Sunday, the Great Powers sent their collective message to Nicholas, demanding that he release Scutari. Nicholas never read the message and neither did his ministers, who explained that, it being Easter, no governmental offices were open. Instead, the wily King summoned both Giesl and Germany’s Ambassador Heinrich von Eckardt to the palace. Giesl wanted to know why Nicholas did not accept the Great Powers note. Nicholas replied that he knew the contents but wanted to discuss the matter with him beforehand. First he made the bizarre suggestion that the Great Powers ships—which were currently anchored off the coast to pressure Nicholas—should land troops on the Montenegrin coast, as they had done with Crete, and provide the King a reason to abandon Scutari—these troops could then occupy and police the city. Following this, Montenegro would cede Mount Lovcen to Austria in exchange for a legal reoccupation of Scutari. Giesl was unamused by this latest bluff. He informed the King that as ambassador to Montenegro, he could not treat with the London decision. He further rejected the offer of Lovcen, knowing full well that the issue was dead with the scandal it caused months before.
Through the last week of April and into May, thousands of telegrammes flurried between the Great Powers’ capitals, as Nicholas defiantly sat on Scutari. On 3 May 1913, Giesl was warned by Berchtold to prepare to evacuate Cetinje at a moment’s notice, and, if necessary, to seek refuge in the German embassy. All traffic was blocked between Austria and Montenegro. Cetinje was slowly emptied as people headed away from the frontier.
Giesl’s Power Play
A final telegramme from Foreign Minister Sir Edward Grey of Britain convinced Nicholas that his gains from the war were his to lose—to Austria, as they were ready to leap at the first moment. Rather than risk this, Nicholas finally caved on 4 May 1913. He sent a message to Giesl requesting two days’ delay in Austria’s military movements so there would be no possibility of confusion as his troops left Scutari.
Giesl had his chance: He responded in a small hand-delivered note that he expected the cases of Father Palic and Majour Hubka closed to his satisfaction, due within 12 hours, or the troops would be marching in fourteen! A note from a reeling Nicholas accepted the terms. Giesl’s next note made no mention of receiving the King’s note, but demanded that any reply should be made through the Montenegrin Foreign Ministry and addressed to the Austrian government. A formal reply accepting all demands arrived at Giesl’s legation that evening, and a victorious Giesl sent it on to Vienna.
The Last Days in Cetinje
The Scutari affair reduced the King’s standing among his people, and it savaged the few years of goodwill between Austria and Montenegro. Nicholas tried to rescue some honour by marching his army toward Macedonia in July 1913, as the new Balkan War erupted between Serbia and Bulgaria. Nicholas knew his troops would never be used in fighting but the show of alliance with his big Serb brother was important to keeping his throne—he still feared the Serbs and the ever-stronger pan-Serbian propaganda floating around the country. Giesl tried to stay out of the blazing summer sun in barren Cetinje.
Nicholas found his country bankrupt after the march to Macedonia, and attempted to gain another loan from Austria. To the request for both a loan and engineering assistance to drain Lake Scutari for arable land, Giesl replied that Nicholas had a long way to go to earn back Austria’s trust. Finally, the Great Powers offered a guaranteed loan, each member paying 16 percent of the tab, Austria included. After this good news had reached the King’s ear in the first week of September, Nicholas decided to repay Giesl’s earlier cold attitude in kind. He ordered that the ambassador be ignored by all of the Petrovic royals and their staffs and friends. Giesl heard of the “royal banishment” and reported to Vienna that Nicholas had thrown away confidence in him.
Berchtold decided to fix the situation: he recalled his old friend Janos Graf von Forgách from the Serbian ambassadorship to work in Vienna. In the last week of October 1913, Giesl packed he belongings and prepared to leave Cetinje forever, and start an even more important—and historically significant—job in Belgrade.
He was completely ignored in Cetinje, and received only animosity from every Montenegrin he encountered. On 16 November 1913, all diplomats and staff attended a banquet celebrating of the 100th anniversary of Vladika Njegos’ birth, the heroic ancestor of Nicholas. Even though Giesl wore his Montenegrin awards, the Montengrin royals did not wear their Austrian awards, as they were expected to. Prince Peter brandished his Turkish Star, which he was not supposed to, as Montenegro had not yet signed a peace treaty with the Turks. Giesl remarked to his staff that the Petrovic clan had lost both senses and graces, and insisted that nobody attend the theatre performances following the banquet. Not even the Princes, formerly friends of Giesl, deigned to say farewell when his car left Cetinje two days later.
To rub salt in the wound, Nicholas prepared a huge welcoming banquet on 11 December 1913, for Giesl’s successor, Eduard Otto, who was to take up the issue of the international loan, which was still hung on minour details. Otto returned from the banquet and wired Giesl in Belgrade that the King was as oriental a despot as Sultan Abd-ul Hamid: cunning and untrustworthy. Giesl’s reply assured Otto that his first impression was the correct one, and his judgment was on the mark.
Summertime in Serbia
Giesl was transferred to the embassy at Belgrade, Serbia, at the end of November 1913. Now, Giesl might have been familiar with the oriental despotism in Yildiz palace, or the cunning ways of the wily King Nicholas, but his eyes were truly opened to the hostility of the Serbs toward his country once he settled in Belgrade. If he thought the wild mood swings in Cetinje were bad news, he had precious little idea of just what anti-Austrian feeling was, until he settled in Belgrade.
Graf von Forgách could only express relief at being replaced by Giesl following the Balkan Wars. From Forgách’s reports and soon from just picking up the afternoon newspapers, Giesl learned a great deal about his hosts, particularly the nationalists who had assassinated the Obrenovic king and his wife. Giesl became a heartened enemy of Serbdom in very little time.
However, Giesl did not forget his duty, and maintained as outwardly an accommodating and friendly disposition as one could ask from a diplomat. He quickly came to like the Serbian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Nicholas Pasic, who was cunning yet approachable. In a month, Giesl felt more at home in the busy city of Belgrade than he had in years of service in the country town of Cetinje.
Duty called in March 1914, with a majour task for Giesl. He was ordered to hand to Pasic a genuine military ultimatum, something he had insisted on doing in Montenegro several times the year before, but had never been allowed to. Now, the ultimatum demanded the immediate withdrawal of Serbian troops from Albanian territory, which they had invaded ostensibly to pursue bandits, but in reality were attempting to destabilise the fragile new government. Behind the mess was King Nicholas’ old friend from Scutari, Essad Pasha, bought and paid for by the Serbian military. Pasic notified Giesl that the Serbian troops were withdrawing immediately, and there no need for Austria to mobilise its army corps in the border regions. Peace settled, but the Belgrade press roared with calls of vengeance and war against Austria. Giesl sent daily headlines and editorials to Vienna.
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand struck a heavy blow to Giesl. Premier Pasic had delivered a general warning to Giesl, swearing that nothing but trouble would come from the Archduke's visit to Sarajevo. Giesl could not have forgotten this warning even though he chose to ignore it. His hostility to things Serbian had heated and heated during his time in Montenegro. Now it was set on boil.
After this, Foreign Minister Berchtold could rely on Giesl. As a true believer in the "war party," Giesl was even dispatched from Belgrade to Budapest in the first week of July to try and bring round Hungarian Premier István Tisza to the idea of war. Tisza reiterated his unshakeable belief in a note preceding war. Giesl also believed in the great Serb conspiracy that motivated the war party. The Serbs were waiting for the Empire to collapse "like a worn-out corpse into the lap of the soon-to-be-created Greater Serb Empire," as quoted from Austria-Hungary’s Foreign Policy from the Bosnian Crisis until the Outbreak of War.
On July 23, Giesl delivered Berchtold's carefully worded ultimatum to the Serbian Premier's office. It was the second ultimatum he had delivered in four months. It was a difficult moment. Pasic was not in his office, and neither was anyone else with plenipotentiary powers. Pasic's Finance Minister Lazar Pacu, who was the only high official around, received Giesl. When he saw the paper in Giesl's hand, Pacu knew precisely what it was, and refused to accept it. Pacu repeated over and over "I do not have the authority to accept this note" but Giesl simply placed it on a table and left the office having delivered the note.
Following announcement of the ultimatum, Giesl reported that "with the Russian minister dead, the French minister crazy, and the English minister ill, the Triple Entente is barely represented in Belgrade." Of course, Giesl never referred to the ultimatum as such, for war was not automatic upon its expiration, but Berchtold had trouble keeping the Entente from referring to it as the ultimatum that may bring a world war. When Prime Minister Pasic handed Giesl their reply two days later on 25 July, he said "We accepted your demands... for the rest, we place our hopes on your loyalty and chivalry as an Austrian general. We have always been very satisfied with you." The Ambassador replied likewise and departed.
There was keen desperation as Giesl rushed back to the embassy, where the staff made all due haste in packing essentials and burning sensitive papers. Giesl had a reply to an unsatisfactory note already prepared, and he sent it to the Foreign Ministry as soon as he had read the Serbs' note. A special bodyguard composed of Serbian soldiers awaited the staff outside the embassy. As Giesl departed for the railway station, both he and his staff feared an attack by an angry Serbian mob. But they arrived at the station unmolested; most Serbs simply watched the carriages surrounded by Serbian soldiers pass them by. As they boarded the last train bound for Semlin in Hungary, Giesl noted how the station was filled with soldiers arriving from all over Serbia. They casually observed the departure of the Austrian ambassador, filled with the expectation of conflict around Belgrade within 24 hours. The train moved unusually slowly across the Sava bridge.
Upon reaching Semlin, Giesl made his way to the local garrison office. Tisza was the first to contact him, and asked "Did it have to be?" followed by Giesl's solitary "Yes." Then, Giesl telephoned his final report to Berchtold. With Giesl's departure from Belgrade to Semlin, so too did the Serbian government depart Belgrade for Nish, expecting an immediate offensive from the north. But, they did not remember that the note wasn't described as an ultimatum for war, but a "series of demands." Thus, 25 July ended with Serbia being the first country involved in World War I to mobilise. A day later, the bridge over the Sava river was blown, and war was inevitable.
Though he was a General, Wladimir Giesl von Gieslingen did not become an active officer during the war. His brother, Artur Giesl von Gieslingen was in command of the VIII. Corps in the V. Army at the outset of war. After the war, Giesl wrote "Zwei Jahrzehnte im Nahe Orient," which was published in Berlin in 1927.
Wladimir Giesl von Gieslingen died on 20 April 1936 in Salzburg.
GWS, 1/02 [rev. 8/05]