ANAVETS Shoulder to Shoulder

March 2017

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24 SHOULDER TO SHOULDER Book reviewS A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Hapsburg Empire by Geoffrey Wawro; New York: Basic Books 2014, Hard cover 440 pp., $34:50. I f the unprovoked attack on and the atrocities committed in neutral Belgium and peaceful France tended to cause the British and French, and ultimately the American, populations to focus on the war on the Western Front, the causes of the disaster that finally engulfed the German Empire originated in the east. For the eventual success of the Allies in the west could not have been achieved were it not for the feckless performances of Germany's feeble eastern ally, the initiators of the war, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The German defeat thus was more to do with the calamities that overwhelmed them supporting their ally on the River Bug than the bloody setbacks they experienced on the Marne. In this book, university of North Texas military historian Geoffrey Warwo's impeccable research and profound knowledge of the rotting and tottering Austro- Hungarian and Russian Empires shows their demise to have been as inevitable as the climax and denouement of a classic Greek tragedy. The mad Kaiser Wilhelm's egotistical fantasies were similarly foredoomed by his lack of viable allies and a kind of wilful blindness to the realities of the ones he did have, whether the moribund and mutually antipathetic Austro-Hungarians or the corrupt and decadent Turks. Focusing mainly on the first year of the war following Austria-Hungary's opening shots to teach the uppity Serbs a lesson, Warwo sets forth the origins and unhappy recent history of the Teuton-Magyar state and its polyglot empire in which the bulk of the people, especially the army had no language in common. Equipped with substandard weapons, particularly lacking modern artillery, combat support elements and aircraft, it was inevitable that the magnificent little Serbian army should sweep the battlefields of them, causing them to send peals of anguish to Berlin for support. When the Russian juggernaut finally got rolling it actually fought extremely well under very trying circumstances, even as the moribund Tzarist regime itself began to implode and the supply system proved hopelessly inadequate, leading to the rips in the fabric of the state that gave the Bolsheviks their opportunities. But in the field the Austro-Hungarians were no match for the indomitable well-trained Russian soldiers. The poorly-led, unwilling and inadequately armed and trained, Austro-Hungarian soldiers, mutually antipathetic and unintelligible along ethnic lines, were slaughtered in the millions. Under the befuddled Emperor Franz Josef, the Vienna regime of comic-opera uniformed buffoons self-destructed in salacious intrigues, corruption, hypocricy, betrayals and lingustic disputes. The unhappy population, numbering 12 million Germans, 9 million Hungarians, 8.5 million Czechs and Slovaks and 5 million Poles, with Croats, Bosnians, Serbs, Italians, Ruthenes, Slovenes, and Rumanians, opposed and assailed the government and each other in 15 different languages. It was all-in-all a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, but paid for in buckets of blood. By Terence Cottrell BA (Hons), MA, JD, KStG

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