Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf
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Count Francis Conrad von Hötzendorf (German: Franz Graf Conrad von Hötzendorf – the proper family name is Conrad) (November 11, 1852 – August 25, 1925) was an Austrian soldier and Chief of the General Staff of the Austro-Hungarian Army at the outbreak of World War I.
Conrad was born in Penzing, a suburb of Vienna. His father was a retired Hussar colonel, originally from south Moravia. His great grandfather had been raised to the nobility in 1816 adding "von Hötzendorf", the surname of his wife from the Palatinate, as his predicate. His mother was the daughter of the famous Vienna artist Kübler. He became a cadet at a very young age and remained in the armed forces until the end of the First World War. He rose in the ranks quite rapidly.
Conrad married Wilhelmine le Beau in 1886, with whom he had four sons. He would later marry Virginia von Reininghaus in 1915, against the wishes of his children.
In November 1906 Conrad was made chief of staff for the Austro-Hungarian armed forces. He was a tireless campaigner for modernization of the armed forces. He was something of a social Darwinist, and believed a battle between German and Slavic civilization was inevitable. The power of the Magyar elite within Austria-Hungary troubled him, as he believed it weakened and diluted what he saw as an essentially German empire. He also worried about Italian ambitions in the Balkans. However, his greatest ambition was for a pre-emptive war against Serbia in order to neutralize the threat that he believed they posed, and at the same time change the political balance within Austria-Hungary against the Magyars by incorporating more Slavs. According to Hew Strachan, "Hötzendorf first proposed preventive war against Serbia in 1906, and he did so again in 1908-9, in 1912-13, in October 1913, and May 1914: between 1 January 1913 and 1 January 1914 he proposed a Serbian war twenty-five times."
World War I
Conrad often proposed unrealistically grandiose plans, disregarding the realities of terrain and climate. The plans that he drew up frequently underestimated the power of the enemy. For example, the Serbian army proved far more effective than he had expected (see Serbian Campaign (WWI) for details). Also, his first offensives against Russia were remarkable for their lack of effect combined with massive human cost. His mistakes led to the disastrous first year of war that crippled Austro-Hungarian military capabilities. The most disastrous defeat came in 1916, in the Brusilov Offensive by Russia. The Austro-Hungarian forces under Conrad's command lost nearly 1.5 million men, and were never again capable of mounting an offensive without German help. Most of Austria's victories were possible only in conjunction with German armies, on which the Austro-Hungarian army became increasingly dependent.
On the other hand, British historian Cyril Falls argues that Conrad was probably the best strategist of the war and that his plans were brilliant in conception. The German generals in the east based most of their successful offensive operations on Conrad's plans. To his admirers he was a "military genius"; one such admirer was the Soviet general and theorist Boris Shaposhnikov in his book Mozg Armii, in which Conrad was presented as a model for a good Chief of the General Staff. On the other hand, "Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf never admitted his share of responsibility for the onset of the First World War or the defeat of Austria-Hungary... he claimed to have been "just a military expert" with no voice in the key decisions."
Conrad von Hötzendorf was dismissed from his post as chief of the staff of the army by the new emperor, Karl I, and named commander of an army group on Italian front. After the Battle of Piave he was fired from his posts. Many historians believe that the reason for the Austrian defeat in the battle was the decision to split the attack forces in two: the Conrad group that fought around the Asiago Plateau and the Boroevic Group army in the plain. Conrad opposed the decision of Karl I to reach an agreement with the Entente Powers.
In 1918 he was made a Graf, or Count, having been a baron.
- He appears in Karl Kraus' Tragedy The Last Days of Mankind in act 1 scene 24.
- He has a prominent role in Dennis Wheatley's historical adventure The Second Seal.
- The Army post in Oberammergau, Bavaria, Germany, built in 1937, was named the Conrad von Hötzendorf Kaserne.
- Regarding personal names: Until 1919, Graf was a title, translated as Count, not a first or middle name. The female form is Gräfin. In Germany since 1919, it forms part of family names. von Hötzendorf is also a title.
- Falls, Cyril: The Great War, Putnam, New York 1959, p. 36.
- Sondhaus, Lawrence: Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf. Architect of the apocalypse. Humanity Press, Boston 2000, ISBN 0-391-04097-9, p. 244.
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