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

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

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.

Austro-Hungarian Storm Troops, Roham Csapat – 16 Honved Infantry Regiment (HIR)

Elite units of the Austro Hungarian army in WW1

During the first world war the Germans developed a new tactic using assault troops armed with hand grenades and machine guns. These were seen as elite troops and would get new types of equipment first. Based on the good results of these troops on the Western Front the Austro-Hungarians started sending units to the German Storm Courses. In 1917 they also started developing their own courses. Most regiments would have their own Storm Troops.

Before the Storm Troops the Austro-Hungarian army also had “Jagdkommando’s” on the Russian front as a form of elite unit. Their use was not widespread.

Jagd Kommando at the Russian front – using winter camouflage and riflegrenades.
Remembrance of the Hunting commando in Russia

Badges – Kappenabzeichen

As there were no official insignia for regiments an unofficial type of badge was worn on the hats, the so called Kappenabzeichen. Started unofficial the use became widespread and broadly accepted in the entire Austro-Hungarian army. They exist for regiments, divisions, armies but also for special occasions, leaders etc. Most units with Storm Troops would have a specific badge for them but also some generic Storm Troop badges exist.

Kappenabzeichen being worn by an officer.

Group belonging to a 16 HIR Stormtrooper

Group belonging to one man

The group exists of a dog tag, a knife, a small St Christopher statue and a course guide for the complete storm course in Hungarian and the extremely rare cap badge of the Stormtroopers of the 16th Honved Infantry Regiment. It is probably one of the rarest Kappenabzeichen as it was only made in a very small quantity, maybe even in a workshop and not as most by a factory.

Storm Course

Storm Courses would take 12 to 14 days. The programme booklets are very seldomly seen, only in museums as far as I know. Here a page from the inside of the booklet which seems to be a Hungarian language version of the info shown in the book “Storm Troops” by C. Ortner on which it is pictured. Grenade throwing was a important part of the course as can be seen in the photo’s.

In the Hungarian language the Stormtroops are called Roham Csapat or a stormtrooper a Rohamista as can be seen in the document below for the 1914-18 Hungarian medal:

Below some more Storm Troop related pictures. All pictures and materials are from my own collection.

Sources:

“Csak elore, edes fiam…”, Hermann Attila – Szanyi Miklos, Meliusz Kozpont 2012

Storm Troop, M. Christian Ortner, Verlag Militaria 2005E