War painter – Kriegsmaler

During the first worldwar the Austro-Hungarian empire used artists to make professional paintings of the war. These painters did not become part of the army but were paid by it for their services, they were called war painters or in German Kriegsmaler. Sometimes they were attached to a specific unit or a theatre of war.

In an album from my collection there are is a picture of a Kriegsmaler at work and also two pictures of the results of his work. Such pictures are hard to find.

For a portrait of an officer (in my collection) made by a Kriegsmaler go to this earlier blog.

Kaiser Karl visiting the front

Karl was a well known visitor to the front like many others from the royal family. There are many photo’s of him visiting the front. Especially from the period before he became the Austro-Hungarian Kaiser so up to 1916.

These few all come from one album of an officer in the 306th Honvéd Infantry Regiment (Honvéd Gyalóg Ézred)

And below my favorite of this small series. Karl needs a table for his map so he uses a decorated Huszar officer for this….

38th Honvéd Infantry Division Diploma

This is a very nice diploma given to Major Joszef Keresztes de Nagy-Baczon, Chief of Staff of the 38th Honvéd Infantry Division in 1917 for (only?) three months upon his discharge.

The document is signed by the commanding officer of the Division, General Péterfalvi Molnár (altábornagy).

Namecard of Arthur Giesl Freiherr von Gieslingen

Sometimes as a collector you find unexpected treasures. Years ago I bought some paperwork with which came a group of namecards from the Pehm family. Going through the cards one stuck out:

Feldmarschallleutnant Arthur Freiherr Giesl v. Gieslingen

Based on the rank the card dates between November 1907 and Oktober 1912. He used this card as a quick thank you note/letter to a Pehm, referring to him and other students he comes across in the field and that are doing well. He was the commander of the Theresian Officers Academy between 1905 and 1910 so this must refer to his activities there where this Pehm (and a Krainz he mentions) were his students.

In the collection there are two Pehms with officers ranks so I am not sure which one is adressed here?

Mayerling and Redl

Von Gieslingen had a long career but two incidents are notable. He was attached to Crownprince Rudolph at the moment he commited suicide in the Mayerling hunting lodge. The whole affair was handled by Von Gieslingen.

His impact in the Redl affair could be even greater. He brought Redl as a young Russian speaking officer into the Evidenz bureau (Military Intelligence) of which Von Gieslingen was the commander at that moment. Later he made him his Chief of Staff of the 8th Corps in Prague. Redl as spy for the Russians probably gave all detailed plans for war to the Russians. The poor handling of the Redl case might even have been a main reason for the extremely poor performance of the AH army in the first war year. The plans most likely fell in the hands of the Russians but were not altered as Von Gieslingen claimed they had not been compromized. His own releive of command in 1914 due to poor performance might have been a result of this too.

A great short bio about Von Gieslingen can be found here:

http://www.austro-hungarian-army.co.uk/biog/giesla.htm

The Austro Hungarian Bravery Medals in WW1

Three earlier blogs now combined into 1 complete blog covering medals, paperwork, amounts awarded and equivalents.

History before WW1

The basis for this medal was made in 1789 in the form of the  Ehren-Denkmünze für Tapferkeit (honor remembrance coin for bravery) by the Habsburg emperor Joseph II. In its original form it had two classes, gold and silver, for ranks below officer who had distinguished themselves in combat. In 1809 by Emperor Franz II the form was changed to make it a wearable medal that was also renamed in Tapferkeitsmedaille – Bravery Medal. Then again in 1848 the silver class was split into two classes. Next to the original Silver class (40mm in diameter) a second class was added that was smaller in size (31mm in diameter). Emperor Franz-Joseph I in Februari 1915 added a Bronze class with the same size as the silver medal 2nd class (also 31mm in diameter).

The four classes with FJI with his last variation of the observe

A last change was made by Emperor Karl in 1917 in making the Golden class and the Silver 1st class medal available to officers. Until then officers had no specific gallantry medals apart from the Military Maria Theresia order that was only very rarely awarded for extreme examples of gallantry. Most officers received the regular medals that were available for officers that were awarded for gallantry but also other other forms of distinguished service.

Three classes with Emperor Karls’s head

In all these periods the medal would have the ruling Emperor of that moment on the observe and the words “Der Tapferkeit” (The Bravery) on the reverse. Karl would change the text on the reverse to the Latin text “FORTITVDINI” as that language was neutral in an empire where the first languange of many people was not German.

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The two reverse variations

The Bravery medal in WW1

With two emperors during the war there were also two versions of all medals from gold to bronze with either Franz Joseph I and from 1917 onward Karl on the observe of the medal. Franz Joseph had 3 versions of his head on the medals during his very long reign. The third version was the regular one for WW1 but the 2nd and even the 1st version could still be awarded if available. This was mainly the case with early awards of the Golden Bravery Medal.

A novelty in WW1 was that all classes could be worn next to each other. Before that period only the highest award of the medal would have been worn. For each next award in the same class a clasp (introduced in October 1915) could be worn on the medal ribbon with 4 bars as the maximum (which obviously was extremely rare in any class).

Version of a single and triple bar (so for second and fourth award)

As officers also could get an award of the Golden and 1st class Silver medal from late 1917 onwards a difference had to be made. This was done in the form of a capital K letter on the triangular ribbon. These existed in both gold (gilded) and silver. An officer could wear both medals of the same class, one with the K device and one without the K device (so awarded as an officer and nco for different occasions).

The official announcement of the K device for officers bravery Medals

As all officers in training went through the non-commissioned ranks before becoming commissioned they were during this training period also eligible for the Bravery Medals. So WW1 Austro-Hungarian officers groups often have Bravery Medals in the group. This is just a sign that the officers was not yet commissioned when he received the medal. The ones with the K on the ribbon are much rarer.

Nice selection of Bravery Medals to officers (all without K device)

Payment

The winners of the Gold and both classes of Silver medals also received an additional monthly payment. The Bronze class was excluded from this so it was also of financial interest to soldiers to receive the highest possible level of Bravery Medal as the payment was doubled for each higher class. Only the highest class was paid and only for one instance of the award. Multiple awards did not multiply the amount received.

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Announcement of the amount paid per class

Variations

Before WW1 all medals would have a fixed eye for the ribbon. Only during the war this was replaced with the more standard moveable eye for the ribbon fixture. The only exception to this would be the Golden Bravery Medal that would remain using the fixed (Henkelöse) version. This makes it relatively easy to recognize the non official version of the Golden version. Private/non-official versions of all medals would be made during and after the war. These are not “fake” but bought examples of these medals. Especially real Golden Bravery Medals were often sold for the gold value in the post war period and replaced with a privately purchased gilded version.

Well worn example of the Golden Bravery Medal (gilded bronze, stamped BRONZE on rim. The majority of FJI examples were gold (14/15), the majority of Karl examples were gilded bronze (17/18). Gold versions of Karl are the rarest and gilded bronze versions of FJI (16/17) are the second rarest.

The official versions can also be recognized by the name of the artist below the head of the Emperor. On most private versions this name was not copied! Three names can be found. Two for the FJ versions: Tautenheyn and Leisek. The Karl versions all have Kautsch.

From 1916 onward the Golden version became to expensive to be awarded. A gilded bronze version was made that would have BRONZE stamped in the rim of the medal. These medals were planned to be exchanged for real gold after the war. As the war was lost this never happened nor would the winners get their additional payment for the new Governments in the countries that would come into being after the war. Karl was on the front often, also for award ceremonies. He only handed out real gold versions. These are the rarest variation of the Golden Bravery Medal.

It was also possible to replace the golden medal when lost or to get a second version. These are marked with the HMA (Hauptmunzamt) stamp next to the material stamp.

Award Certificates and other paperwork

The Austro-Hungarian army was well organized in its paperwork. Each request for a medal would go through the hierarchy and be kept in the personal record when awarded. It would depend on the level of the medal in which stage of the hierarchy the decision would finally be made.  For the Golden Bravery Medal a separate register was kept that still is available as a reference in the Vienna Military Archives. 

After the medal was awarded the person would receive  an award paper (Legitimation) confirming the award which should be worn on the person (to be able to proof the medals that were actually worn in the field). The standard place to keep these papers were the small ID capsules each person would wear. This made it necessary to make the documents very small. Here are some examples.

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Bronze
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Silver IInd Class
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Silver Ist Class

Some units made more elaborate documents available for their men in a larger size. These are not standard and not official but relatively rare and desirable.

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Full size award paper for a Ist Class Silver Bravery Medal

Personell files were partially lost in the 2nd world war and also these were split between the different states that resulted from the end of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The Honvéd related files are mostly in the Hungarian Military Archives in Budapest and most others in Vienna and some in the other states. Here an example of Bravery medal related request as found in the Hungarian archive.

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An interesting secondary source for Hungarian WW1 bravery medals related info are the Vitezi rend yearbooks in which also medal lists are published. 

Amounts awarded and exchange with the German Iron Cross

The German Iron Cross is probably the most iconic award in the world. As part of the same coalition an exchange agreement between Germany and Austro-Hungaria was made for their armies. Were the German award system is the same for all ranks this is not the case in the Austro-Hungarian (AH) award system were there are specific medals for officers and different medals for the nco ranks. For the Germans the Iron Cross was the most general medal for gallantry so a good basis for exchange. But this would not fit the AH system. Therefore the choice was made to make the German Iron Cross only available to the officers in the AH army. The 2nd class for troop officers and the 1st class only for high ranking officers which can be seen in the extreme low amounts awarded. This only began to change slightly in the last year of the war.

For the ranks below officer a different solution had to be found. This came in the form of the Prussian Warriors Merit Medal (Krieger Verdienstmedaille) that always had been intended for foreign soldiers of ranks below officer. It was worn on the same ribbon as the Iron Cross which made the distinction between officers and men a bit more tolerable.

The Iron Cross could be awarded to the lowest rank of officer (Fahnrich) and also to Officer replacements. Most officers that became an officer during the war had gone through the nco ranks as part of their officers training and often had been awarded medals for the nco ranks in that period. As soon as they were officers they would be eligable to receive the German Iron Cross. So in mixed groups (officers that had been a nco before) both officers and nco medals can be found. This often leeds to the misunderstanding that the German Iron Cross could be awarded the nco’s as well in the AH army – which is not the case.

Officers medals, Bravery Medals for NCO and Iron Cross in a mixed NCO/Officer group

Statistics

The award criteria for gallantry medals are very different in each country as is the structure of the army and the processes to award medals. So a comparison of “level” is not possible. But a comparison of relative numbers of awards should be possible.

To do this I have taken some data from online sources and combined those. I have taken the number of men mobilized between 1914 and 1918. Further I have taken the number of awards per class and compared these with the number of mobilized men. Both as an percentage and as 1 decoration awarded per how many mobilized men.

There are several reasons why this comparison is not “fair”. The AH Bravery Medals were aimed at the men below the rank of officer. No other gallantry medals could be given to them. The German Iron Cross in the German army was open to all ranks. Next to this there were many other awards for gallantry/bravery from the different states within Imperial Germany. Those facts are not taken into account – it is a simple, straightforward comparison of numbers only!

Nevertheless I have made the comparison in numbers and found to my surprise that even the total relative amount of Iron Crosses is way bigger than that of Bravery Medals. Even the “unpopular” Bronze Bravery Medal is relatively rarer than an Iron Cross 2nd Class. And the Silver Bravery Medal 1st class can be compared to the Iron Cross 1st class in relative amounts.

The last part of the statistics show the numbers I have taken from the reference below and state the amount of German Iron Crosses (IC) and Prussian Warriors Merit Medals (WMM) that were awarded to members of the Austro-Hungarian army.

Reference: Steiner, J.C. (2010) Heldenwerk 1914-1918. Vienna, Austria

Now also available as an online source: http://www.heldenwerk.info

Colonel Miklósy (Nikolajevics) – Commander of Honvéd Infantry Regiment 32 (gyalogezred), Eastern Front 1942-43

This is a compilation of several blogs that I had on another website.

His medal entitlement from the Vitéz yearbook (foreign awards not mentioned here)

Some time ago I was able to acquire a medal group with papers (not complete but most was there) of a Hungarian officer who saw service in both world wars and the interbellum.

Although the materials came directly from the family no additional information was there so this was the start of my research in which I tried to reconstruct his career based on his medals and archive materials.

Excerpt from the Hungarian officers archives

For service in World War 1 as an officer he received:

Merit Cross 3rd class, Silver Merit Medal, Bronze Merit Medal, Wounded Medal with three stripes on the ribbon, Karl Troop Cross and the remembrance medals of Hungary, Austria and Bulgaria. Basically the set of a lower ranking officer with good (brave) performance. Only of one of these medals the story could be reconstructed based on the Medal Request Form that was found in the Hungarian Military Archives

Silver Military Merit Medal

This is the Silver Military Merit Medal with swords in its original box and with the 1917 award paper to the (then) Lieutenant Nikolajevics in the 301st Honved Infantry Regiment – his name would be changed to Miklosy only in 1932.

Medal in box with the award paper in the background

In the morning hours of the 5th of March, 1917 when superior enemy units attacked our positions on the Vinot heights, he distinguished himself with death-defying behavior and with energetic actions of the machineguns by, at the right moment giving strong fire against the flanks of the enemy attack causing strong losses, in which he contributed strongly in the repelling of the attack. He continued with his men, throughout the day, in killing enemy artillery fire that destroyed our positions almost entirely, to stand his ground.

The 301st Honved Infantry Regiment was in 1917 part of the Austro-Hungarian 7th Army that fought in the Russo-Romanian front in these beginning days of the Russian revolution that would change the war.

With my sincere thanks to the Hungarian Military Archives who provided me with the citation!

Interwar Period

In the interwar period he continued his service with succes based on his medals in that period, a bronze merit medal and a merit cross and continuing his rise through the officers ranks reaching the rank of lieutenant-colonel at the beginning of the re-annexations of lost territories. One medals is peculiar.

Bulgarian St. Alexander Order, 4th class

Although this medal came with the official document it would have impossible to determine the reason behing it if not another piece of paper had accompanied it. The official report of the formal, military Hungarian participation in the opening in 1935 of a Mausoleum in Varna, Bulgaria.

The Mausoleum was made in honour of the Polish / Hungarian / Croatian King Vladyslaw III. The Mausoleum was placed in Varna, the city in Bulgaria where history places his untimely death at the age of 20 in a battle against the Turks in 1444.

A group of 4 Hungarian officers participated as the Hungarian delegation in this opening of which Miklosy was one. All participants received Bulgarian orders for their participation in the opening according to rank.

Order, award paper and report.

Vitéz order – change of names in 1935

One of the requirements for the Hungarian Vitéz order was having a Hungarian name. For Hungarians of other descent like German or Slavic this was a big obstacle. Many officers with a non-Hungarian name decided not to apply for the Vitéz order or only very late like this officer only in 1932 (the order was started in in 1922). Probably he did this to improve his chances to further advance his career. His name changed from Nikolajevics into Miklósy!

Zrínyi Miklós 7th Honvéd Infantry Regiment (gyalogezred)

From 1939 up to 1941 Miklosy served as Lt-Colonel in the 7th Honved Infantry Regiment. This regiment is named after the Hungarian poet and military leader Zrínyi Miklós. Upon his transfer to the 9th Regiment he received a formal commendation for his work in the unit which was accompanied by this very nice table medal in it’s original presentation box.

Return of Erdély and Felvidék to Hungary

Both, the ranklist and the officers record (that is kept in the military archives)  regarding Miklosy state that he received the Erdély (Transylvania) medal. This is shown with the sign of an encircled E. The medal was in the estate too but to my own surprise there was this paper that states he received the Military Merit Medal for the action in Felvidék (Southern Hungary) but he has not been awarded the corresponding medal for actual participation in that action in Felvidék.

So a separate Medal for Merit regarding that action but no medal for the participation – did he do staff prepatory work? It will be impossible to tell what is the story here I am afraid.

Commander of the 32nd HIR – Eastern Front 1942-43

In the second world war Hungary was an unwilling, but nevertheless active, part of the Axis forces. Their participation on the Eastern Front with a hardly trained and poorly equipped army resulted in an enormous bloodshed. Miklosy was a part of this as commander of the 32nd Honved Infantry Regiment from October 1942 up to October 1943.

With his staff on the Eastern Front as commander of HIR 32

In 1942 he got promoted to Colonel – in Hungarian Ezredes – literally 1000, so the leader of 1000 men. In Hungarian the word for Regiment is Ezred – so 1000 men. So it follows a colonel belongs to a regiment.

Because of the war effort many Regiments were split. In this case the 2nd Honved Infantry Regiment was split in two with both officers and men and then officers and men were added to both units. So the half of a trained regiment with backfill of additional officers and troops. The so-called brother regiment would have the same number +30 so in the case the 2nd and the 32nd were brother regiments.

Miklosy with his promotion to Colonel became eligible for the position of Regimental Commander and received the 32nd as his new unit to command in oktober 1942.

From that period up to 1943 they were on the Eastern Front as part of the Hungarian 2nd Army near the Don bend, south of Voronezh. Miklosy was a replacement after the initial battles that cost more than 20% of the officers lives. They served next to the Italian 8th Army.

Colonel Miklosy would “only” receive the Iron Class 2nd class from his German allies. A relatively low award for a colonel with one year service in the Eastern Front. Maybe he was not as co operative as they wished?

From the Hungarians he would receive the Officers cross for the Order of Merit , with wreath and swords, a level up from his earlier peace time award. A rare order with only 215 awarded during the war. Unfortunately both the order and document are missing.

His career after the Eastern Front was shortlived. He got involved in the Hungarian youth movement, the Levente. His commander saw him as unfit for further commands and promotions so he retired. This might have to do with the change in politics in Hungary in 1944 but the exact circumstances are unclear. At the end of the war he was taken back into the army with his rank of colonel to defend Hungary against the Russian enemy that was at the gates….

Due to this he ended his career as a prisoner of war of the Russians where he spend several years in their camps before being released.

Medalgroup of Colonel Miklosy (missing one medal: the Hungarian Order of Merit Cross – officer with swords and laurels) 

Hungarian Merit Order, officers cross. I am looking for an original as replacement for the missing one in this group!

KuK Machinegun Detachments in the Austro-Hungarian Army

Although Machine Guns were not new in the beginning of WW1 they were still quite rare in the Austro-Hungarian army with only 2.700 pieces in the entire army.

During the war the importance of the machinegun became clear and many new machineguns were produced and deliverd to the infantry but also to cavalry units (that often became dismounted) during the war and of course the mountain troops. By the end of the war more than 40.500 machineguns would be in use!

Machine gun units could be recognized by the specific collar badge as can be seen above (not my collection) and sometimes also by the clothing in the case of cavalry units as can be seen in the photo’s furher below.

The back from the postcard above, also part of Honvéd Huszar unit!

Cavalry: KuK Dragoons and Honved Hussars

The cavalry units that became dismounted during the war and most often acted as regular infantry. They also had machinegun detachments in their regiments. The collar badge was the same as can be seen with the Huszar in the photo above. But the clothing could be different, specifically the jackets had some different versions.

Honved Cavalry Machinegun detachments Field Grey Fur Jacket (lower photo from the book The Emperor’s Coat).

Dragoon officer of a Machinegun detachment with the regular Dragoon’s fur coat with white lambskin and not the black version. See pictures below from The Emperor’s coat again.

Cavalry Machine Gun unit with a nice variation of all of the coats shown and discussed above! Both the Honvéd and the regular KuK cavalry versions


KUK IR 48 – Machinegun Instruction detachment

And as last picture from my collection the Belobende Anerkennung (Bronze Signum Laudis medal equivalent) or honorable acknowledgment for the Commander of a Machinegun Instruction unit of KuK Infantry Regiment 48, received when he left this command.


Sources: The Emperor’s Coat by Dr. Ortner

All period pictures and the paperwork are part of my collection

Return of Transylvania to Hungary in 1940 – Koloszvár and Nagyvárad

Second Vienna treaty

As a result of the 2nd Vienna treaty Transylvania was returned to Hungary in 1940. It had been part of the Austro-Hungarian empire but became part of Romania in 1920 as a part of the Trianon treaty. In 1940 a large part of the population was still affiliated to Hungary and also many people were of Hungarian decent and language. The return was a military action but without any confrontation.

Photo album

Here some pages from a photo album of an officer (name unknown) that was part of this action. It has been painted to become a work of art in that period. The album also contains some later actions that I will share in another blog soon. The cities of Koloszvár and Nagyvárad are the focus of these pages.


Officers of Marchbatallion XXVI, BH2 – Bosnian Herzegovian Infantry Regiment 2 – Italian Front

These are pictures of an officer from Trautenau who volunteered (1 year volunteer) and became an officer in BH2 together with several of his friends or familiy members. The earlier pictures in this blog came from the same album!

Photo while still as an aspiring officer (so NCO in rank, training as an officer) in 1916
Sitting in the middle
Back row, second from left, now as a decorated officer (in training)
On the right side
And as a decorated officer in 1918

Offensive Group Edelsbrunner BH2 (Bosnian/Bosniaken) – Golden Bravery Medal

Bosnian Herzegovian Infantry

Bosnia Herzegovina became part of the Austro-Hungarian empire only in 1878. Nevertheless its capital Sarajevo would be the scene of the start of World War 1 in 1914 by the assination of Archduke Franz-Ferdinand.

The AH regimental system was regional so each regiment would get men from a specific region. This way four Bosnian Herzegovian Infantry Regiment were formed. Officers (on purpose) would come from a different region. These regiments were numbered BH1 to BH4.

Golden Bravery Medals

Despite the fact that they had been linked to the Austro Hungarian empire for a very short time or maybe even because of this the 4 Bosnian Herzegovian Infantry Regiments that were formed in WW1 would get the highest number of gallantry (Golden Bravery) medals in the entire AH army.

The average of these Golden Bravery medals was around 10 per regiment but the BH2 Infantry Regiment would get the highest amount of all, 42! The runner up regiment would get 36 Golden Bravery medals. There was even a saying in the AH army – “The Bosnians are coming” which would bring fear to the enemies as they were seen as fierce fighters.

More about the bravery medals can be found in my earlier blog.

Officers in BH2

As a large part of the Bosnians were Islamic the Fez was worn as the standard hat in these units for all men, independ of belief! Officers not being from the same region could choose if they would wear “normal” officers hats or also the Fez like in the picture below.

An album in my collection has photo’s from several related (two brothers with family name Almasi) and befriended officers coming from the same “German” city of Trautenau in the current Czech Republic.

It seems they al went as volunteer (1 year) officers to the war. Several of them becoming officers in BH2. Below Leopold Erben from Trautenau who also, as an officer in training, would earn a Golden Bravery medal for BH2 in 1918!

Leopold Erben GTM, BH2

Offensive Group Edelsbrunner

One photo has the caption of “Offensivgruppe Edelsbrunner” named after its leading officer, Edmund Edelsbrunner, also from Trautenau! He was also one of the 42 people in BH2 who was awarded the Golden Bravery medal.

He would receive it during his training period for officers (so still NCO for the awarding of medals) in 1915. During the rest of the war he would remain very active even getting an Iron Crown order 3rd class as a lieutenant which is very rare for such a low ranking officer, almost only flight aces would get that honour.

A specific event is mentioned in the book “Die Bosniaken kommen” by Werner Schachinger. In the book his group is mentioned as a “Nachrichten” or reconaissance group. This part is about his role in the 12th and decisive Isonzo battle. Probably this is the action for which he received the Iron Crown order!

“After the arrival of the main group of BH2 1st Lt Edelsbrunner and his men detached themselves again and went north. While two companies of BH2 were involved in heavy streetfights in the city of Forgaria. In the meantime Edelsbrunner circled around the city and went straight for Anduin capturing an Italian Artillery unit in the proces. He captured 7 pieces of artillery, 12 machineguns and other materials but also 600 Italian soldiers. The struggle for the bridge of Cornino was over after this. He earned the title of “Ramssurimann of Anduin” for this from the men of BH2″

All of these pictures come from the same album in my collection. I will publish some more in another blog soon.