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|Johann Graf Salis-Seewis was born in Karlstadt, in Croatia-Slavonia, on 8 December 1862. After attending military school and completing numerous army assignments, Salis-Seewis was assigned as a military advisor to the international commission at Üsküb. This was the Great Powers’ joint effort to police anarchic Macedonia following the uprising of IMRO terrorists and the bloody response by the Turks in 1903. Salis-Seewis was in this position for two years, until he was recalled to Austria-Hungary and the international mission was gradually disbanded. His duties remained within the Empire, and he soon became commander of the Infantry Brigade No. 71. GM Salis-Seewis was still leading this force at the outbreak of war; his immediate superior was FML Claudius Czibulka.
The Devil's Division
Following a difficult summer and autumn battling the Serbians with numerous reverses, Salis-Seewis was appointed commander of the 42. Honvéd Inf. Div. in November 1914. This division, entirely Croatian, was the only one designated “Domobran” or home-guard, with the right for officers to use the Croat language in delivering orders, rather than German or Hungarian. Croatians in particular came to think of the force as their national expression in the multi-national army. The division was nick-named Vrazija Divizija, “Devil’s Division,” for its ferocious dedication to victory. It was also known for several mass desertions of Serb soldiers during the summer offensive in Serbia. Desertions under Salis-Seewis did not occur until the retreat from the Kolubara river in late December, and he attributed it to the terrible conditions, whereas the first desertions, before his tenure, were blamed on pro-Serb sentiment.
These same deserters were later featured prominently in Entente propaganda, for the Serbs were lauded for generosity toward their captured, even allowing them to roam freely in the streets of Nish, unlike Serb prisoners in Austrian hands. Of course, the propaganda failed to mention that the prisoners wandering around Nish in 1915 were Serb deserters from the Austrian army who were screened for the proper sympathy. It would have been difficult for even a Croat to be let loose at that time, much less any other prisoner. By the way, in late October 1918, 42. Honvéd Inf. Div. was the first division to collapse during the Battle of Vittorio Veneto; but that was a long way off.
Governor of a Partitioned, Defeated Serbia
In Novbember 1915, Salis-Seewis was commanded to take charge of the garrison in Vienna, and then on 7 January 1916, he was appointed military governor of Austrian-occupied Serbia. This consisted of Serbia west of the Morava river, excluding Nish and Pirot but including the Vranje triangle (to the annoyance of the Bulgarians), Kosovo, and the Sanjak of Novi Pazar. His duties involved disarming the populace, chiefly by holding village elders responsible for handing over a certain quota of weapons that were judged to be held before the war began. He also encouraged agriculture by threatening forced requisitions if the harvests were not good enough to produce a surplus. He was further responsible for ensuring that all Serbian schools educated their students in the German language, according to Austrian academic standards. Salis-Seewis administered Serbia until July, when he was superceded by his former commander, GdI Adolf Freiherr von Rhemen.
Governor of Part of a Partitioned, Defeated Roumania
Salis-Seewis was then part of the military courts, but soon tired of this. In October 1917, by his own devises, Salis-Seewis resumed frontline service as commander of the 92. Inf. Div. This division was stationed on the Moldavian Front, and Salis-Seewis was tapped to be the leader of Generalkommando Rumänien, which governed Austrian-occupied territory from the town of Pitesti, in central Wallachia, some 100 km west of Bucharest; he was directly subordinate to General August von Mackensen, the German military governor of occupied Roumania. His final wartime duty involved the 16. Generalkommando, which he led until the war's end, basically policing rural Roumania, which was increasingly dangerous thanks to “green cadres” operating against the occupation forces. After the war came to an end, Salis-Seewis was still promoted to Feldzeugmeister on 11 November 1918.
With no prospect of furthering his career, Salis-Seewis retired on the 1 January 1919, and moved to Croatia, which was then part of the new Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. Although he was governor of Serbia, and therefore responsible for enforcing the requisition of foodstuffs, animals, and policing dissidents with a heavy hand, the government at Belgrade did not find any evidence of criminal activity and allowed him to live in peace at Zagreb.
Johann Graf von Salis-Seewis died on 24 October 1940 in Zagreb, Jugoslavia.
GWS, 9/03 [rev. 5/04]
|Orders of Battle: Northern Front, January 1915
Immediately prior to the Battles for the Carpathians
Deutsch Südost-armee, Gen. d. Inf. von Linsingen
Pflanzer-Baltin Army Group, Gen. d. Kav. von Pflanzer-Baltin
XIII. Korps, Gen. d. Inf. von Rhemen
XXXVI. inf. div., Feldmlt. Czibulka
XLII. Honved inf. div., Genmj. Salis-Seewis
V. Honved kav. div., Genmj. von Apor
In the last week of January, the entire 42. Honvéd Inf. Div. was transferred to the Eastern front, along with the rest of the XIII. Corps. It was put into action to the north of Nadworna, and guarded Czibulka Corps’ left flank. The 42. came under immediate attack by Russian cossack brigades, and then by two infantry divisions a week later. In spite of enemy superiority, Salis-Seewis was able to throw the enemy back with the aid of the 6. Infantry of Fürst Schönburg-Hartenstein, who was south of the 42. on the banks of the Lomnica, a river that eventually meets the Dniester at Halicz. Salis-Seewis was elevated to FML at this time and received the coveted Order of the Iron Crown.
In late March 1915, the 42. Honvéd Inf. Div. was moved first to Czibulka Corps and then to Gruppe Marschall, both of whom were assigned to cover Bukovina from the enemy. Following a local offensive on 29 March, Salis-Seewis approached the Russian fortress of Hotin, but fierce counterattacks on 31 March caused him to order a retreat and the Russians came to the pre-war frontier, from which they were able to bring heavy artillery within range of Czernowitz. After suffering huge casualties that wiped out most of the Croat-speaking junior officers, the 42. Honvéd Inf. Div. was passed over to the reserves while Salis-Seewis sought new officers. After this, he went on leave but command of the Domobrani was handed to FML Anton Liposcak. [rev. 5/04]
Orders of Battle: Eastern Front, mid-October 1918
Immediately prior to the armistice
Ost Armee, Gen. d. Inf. Alfred Krauss
XVI. gen. kom., Feldmlt. von Salis-Sewis
LXII. inf. div., Feldmlt. Braunschweig von Korompa