The army did not only exist of Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery but these pictures are the most common ones. This blog is dedicated to some of the other professions in the KuK army. All needed in the war effort but less standard to find pictures of. Here some orignals from my collection.
Communications (signals/telegraph) was an important part of the modernisation of warfare in WW1. Left the armlet with T for Telegraph which was in use before the more generic collar badge was introduced that can be seen on the man right.
And communications in use!
The Medical Corps plays an important role during war. Here some examples starting with the field medics, “sanitäter” in German:
And the hospitals, both in the field and regular military hospitals.
And some rare “action” pictures from the hospital
More medical people below. Based on rank not medics but MDs.
The FieldGendarmes were the military police that had an important role but often not very popular. They had standard KuK uniforms with only an armband as distinction from the regular army. They were the law behind the front lines and in the occupied territories.
Below some variations of the armband in wear from the photo’s above. It seems hard to find two examples that are the same. See also the book “The Emperors coat” (Rest/Ortner/Ilming) for multiple examples.
This is adapted and translated version of an article I published in Decorare in 2011
What is this photo?
After finding the photo that is the theme of this blog I saw myself confronted with something impossible. Dutch military officers among a group of Austro-Hungarian soldiers, so probably on the eastern front in the first World War?
As you may know the Netherlands were a neutral country during the first worldwar (and they tried, unsuccesfully, to do the same in the second world war – but that is a different story). Surrounded by warring countries the war had a great impact on the Netherlands but there was no military participation of any kind so the big question that arised is: what is the story of this photo?
The photo had a Hungarian text on the back that helped to shed some light on this. It can be translated as follows: Dutch officers visiting Lieutenant Colonel Safrán. So the Dutch are not participating but visiting the front and we know whom they were visiting, a good starting points for further research.
Like most countries the Austro-Hungarian army also published rank lists with information on officers, these are a great source of information. During peacetime the lists (thick books) are almost perfect but during war time with rapid promotions, casulaties and all kinds of unregular changes they become less and less trustwothy. Nevertheless I could find (with the help of some research friends) that he was promoted to full Colonel in November 1917. So the photo must be from before that date. Another clue is the uniform the Dutch officers are wearing – it was only introduced in 1916 so the period is between 1916 and the end of 1917.
Study tours to the frontlines
Why would Dutch neutral officers visit the front of a war they are not part of? Well the First Worldwar changed the face of warfare in a shocking way. A neutral country could not learn from their own experience what this impact was. The only way to learn is by studying the experiences of others. So in that direction goes the second part of the research. There is only one publication on this subject written by Sven Maaskant. He states that between 1914 and 1920 approximately 60 tours were made by Dutch officers to study the effects of the war and the impact for the Dutch armed forces. After some research I succeed in contacting Maaskant and mail him a copy of the photo. He instantly recognized one of the Dutch officers. It is Lieutenant-Colonel T.F.J. Muller Massis who was the Dutch military aide to the Dutch embassies in Germany and Vienna between 1916 and 1920.
With that information he also can determine the specific trip out of the 60. Only one trip fits the participants, timeframe and location. It is a study tour to the Austro-Hungarian front that was made between June 25th and July 31st 1917. The four participants were: Colonel D.G. van der Voort Maarschalk, Lieutenant-Colonels T.F.J. Muller Massis and E.M. Carpentier Alting and Captain W.J. van Breen.
Carpentier Alting, an officer of the Dutch East Indies army is not in this picture, did he make it or was there another reason for his absence? The tour would have been organized by Muller Massis in his capacity of military aide in Berlin and Vienna. An officer that would raise to the rank of General and commander of the Dutch field army from 1922 until his pension in 1928 after which he would become a member of parliament untill 1948.
In 1933 Muller Massis donated a collection of helmets and gasmasks of different countries that participated in the war to the Dutch National Military Museum. He wrote about this: “The object were picked up by me during the visits I made to the battlefields. Further I still have the German gasmaks that was supplied to me in my function as military aide in Germany and that I wore on several fronts.” The donation also held his collection of Austro-Hungarian distinctives. These are the so called “Kappenabzeichen”, unofficial badges worn on the military caps by Austro-Hungarian troops which he collected during these trips. On the picture in question can be seen that the 3 Dutch officers al wear such insignia on the left breast of their uniform.
What is the unit in the photo?
Some research on the Hungarian officer in the pictures gives the specific unit, the 10th Honved (Hungarian territorial army) Infantry Regiment (HIR) which was part of the 39th Honved Infantry Division which is confirmed by a “Kappenabzeichen” on the breast of one of the Dutch officers which is of this division.
Wy this unit?
In March 1917 the 39th HID waged a very signifact battle against Russian troops on the realively new Rumanian front in which the 10th HIR of which Safrán was the commander played an important role. The entire unit was used as Stormtroops. The use of Stormtroops was a new military development of the Germans that was quickly adopted by their Austro-Hungarian allies. These troops were used mainly to force breaktroughs in the stallmate of trenchwarfare and new tactics and weapons were deployed by them. They were the first to get handgrenades and machine guns but also helmets and gasmasks which were not widely spread yet with the Austro-Hungarian army. They can be seen as an early variation of Special Forces within the army, receiving addtional training and equipment in comparison with the regular infantry.
The entire action of the 39th division would literally become a textbook example for the Hungarian (Ludovika) officers academy of a Stormtroop attack. In the fight for Hill 1504 (Magyaros near the Uz river) there were hardly any Austro-Hungarian casulaties but the Russians sufferend hundreds of casulaties and a multitude of were taken as Prisoners of War. A good reason for a visit of Dutch officers to learn from this example attack only a few months later especially a good promotion for the Austro-Hungarian army that struggled with its performance in other places.
From hypothesis to proof
The Dutch Institute for Military History has the archive of Muller Massis that also contains his (formerly SECRET) report from September 1917 on the “Commission sent to visit the Austro-Hungarian fronts”. It is a sort of diary of the trip with several appendices on specific military themes. In his reports he also describes how they received “Kappenabzeichen” as gifts. Here some translations relevant to this article:
“July 3rd. With this regiment we learned for the first time about regimental and other insignia which were attached to the headwear. As momento of our visit to the von Hindenburg regiment we each received a similar badge with a in white metal portrait of the “Inhaber” or owner surrounded by a wreath of laurels and a ribbon in enemal with the years 1914, 1915 and 1916 and the words v.hindenburg K.u.K. Inf. Reg. Nr. 69.”
That same badge is depicted below and is still part of the collection of the Dutch National Military Museum today.
The report also confirms date and location of the photo.
“July 7th. Guided by several officers we visited the first line of defense of the 10th Honved regiment, wich line was a very short distance away from the enemy line. Here also the hostilites had not commenced again which even made it possible to get in front of the trenches. After visiting some trenches of neighbouring 9th Honved regiment, we walked down to the customs office The starting point of a forresttrain (waldbahn) to Rumania. from here we went back to the headquarters of the 39th division.”
Without the mentioning of Safrán in the text we can date the picture to July 7th 1917. Most information was already completed when the confirmation in the form of the original report was found. This shows that with thorough research it is possible to determine much valuable information.
In order to do this I had help from several other researchers, many thanks to my friends in making this article possible!
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).
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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. The official silver versions would be marked with an A in a circle on the rim (for the Vienna Mint).
Below an example of a private production version of the Gold Bravery Medal without the artists name Kautsch below Emperor Karl. Interbellum period replacement for Horváth János.
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 Karl examples in real gold 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The overview below is based on the information from the website of Dr. János Szentváry-Lukács, see the reference below. It gives the specific amounts for the Bravery Medals to the Honvéd part of the Austro-Hungarian army!
The award was continued after the war in Hungary (could be worn on the uniform) and a new version with Regent Horthy also came into existence. You can read more about those in this blog.
Reference: Steiner, J.C. (2010) Heldenwerk 1914-1918. Vienna, Austria
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!
Badges of the Machinegun Units
Machine gun units could be recognized by the specific collar badge as can be seen above (left and right). It depicts a three headed dragon spraying fire in all directions. The specific cap badge for machine gun units can be seen in the middle between the rank stars.
There was a proficiency badge for machinegun markmanship. The badge also with the dragon. It could be worn on the right breast above the pocket.
Below pictures of the actual badges on the photo album being worn by the original owner who was part of the Machinegun Company II of KuK IR 51.
Below examples of Machinegun collar badges being worn on different uniforms of men of several different units!
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 being worn in the photo above and next to it a photo from the book The Emperor’s Coat describing this type of coat.
Dragoon officer of a Machinegun detachment with the regular Dragoon’s fur coat with white lambskin and not the black version.
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 a document 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. He received the document upon his leave of this command.
Machineguns in the field. All period pictures and the paperwork are part of my collection.
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, each regiment would get men from a specific region. This way four Bosnian Herzegovian Infantry Regiments were formed. Officers (on purpose) would come from a different region. The Bosnian regiments were numbered BH1 through to BH4.
Golden Bravery Medals
Despite the fact that the Bosnians had been linked to the Austro Hungarian empire for only 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 headgear in these units for all men, independend of their belief! Officers not being from the same region could choose if they would wear “standard” officers headgear 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!
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 as an 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. This is very rare for such a junior 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. The 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. Two companies of BH2 were involved in heavy streetfighting in the city of Forgaria at that moment. In the meantime Edelsbrunner circled around the city and went straight for Anduin capturing an Italian Artillery unit in the process. 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.
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.
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.
Group belonging to a 16 HIR Stormtrooper
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 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.
“Csak elore, edes fiam…”, Hermann Attila – Szanyi Miklos, Meliusz Kozpont 2012
Storm Troop, M. Christian Ortner, Verlag Militaria 2005E