Who should win the 1920 election?

  • Charles Evans Hughes (Republican)

    Votes: 37 88.1%
  • James Cox (OTL Democratic nominee)

    Votes: 4 9.5%
  • Other Democratic nominee (please specify who!)

    Votes: 1 2.4%

  • Total voters
    42
If Austria loses its empire, which despite what people claim is by no means a given, there is just too much internal pressure for unification in both Austria and Germany. No matter what concerns or fears anyone might have they would be essentially throwing away any and all power and influence they have by opposing it.
That, and past a certain point, 'Catholic' and 'Protestant' become less important than 'German'.

That said, I do think the Habsburgs would remain an international dynasty, much like the Hohenzollerns. The Hohenzollerns, after all, have the main branch ruling as Kings of Prussia and German Emperors, but a branch line also rules as Kings of Romania. I can thus see the main Habsburg(-Lorraine) branch continuing to reign as Archdukes of Austria as part of the greater German Empire, but branch lines possibly reigning as Grand Dukes of Lothringen (also as part of the greater German Empire), as well as Kings of Bohemia and Croatia (i.e. the pro-Habsburg core territory of their former empire).
 
For that matter, even if the Austro-Hungarian Empire broke up, a Hapsburg could stay on the throne of Hungary, depending on how it happened - the Hungarian loyalty to the Hapsburgs was the thing that kept the union going, not any affiliation with the Austrians per se. And during 1848 there was serious talk among some in Hungary of Austria joining a greater germany and the Hapsburgs moving to Buda while remaining Kings of Hungary.
 
For that matter, even if the Austro-Hungarian Empire broke up, a Hapsburg could stay on the throne of Hungary, depending on how it happened - the Hungarian loyalty to the Hapsburgs was the thing that kept the union going, not any affiliation with the Austrians per se. And during 1848 there was serious talk among some in Hungary of Austria joining a greater germany and the Hapsburgs moving to Buda while remaining Kings of Hungary.
That was not that serious. Only one of many ideas that circulated that time.
Kossuth wanted a Danubian Confederation headed by Hungary, some wanted a Russian prince on the throne, many others wanted the throne for themselves and so on.
After actual combat broje out, not one Hungarian would have wanted a Habsburg king. Similar thing would happen here. They would want a king that is from a powerhouse nation to secure their borders. It would be Germany as they are the strongest by far in the vicinity.
While Germany would have a strong ally in A-H, they would be much more stronger if they annex Austria and make a German noble King of Hungary. (Not to mention the Slavic problem in the east. If they maintain Hungarian borders, than the minorities will be in check. If they let it fall, than the nearby nations would get much stronger and those have a far less positive relation to Germany. Simple realpolitics. Germany would always choose the vest outcome for theme. Why let a possibly loyal subject fall and strenghten at best neutral nations.)
 
That was not that serious. Only one of many ideas that circulated that time.
Kossuth wanted a Danubian Confederation headed by Hungary, some wanted a Russian prince on the throne, many others wanted the throne for themselves and so on.
After actual combat broje out, not one Hungarian would have wanted a Habsburg king. Similar thing would happen here. They would want a king that is from a powerhouse nation to secure their borders. It would be Germany as they are the strongest by far in the vicinity.
While Germany would have a strong ally in A-H, they would be much more stronger if they annex Austria and make a German noble King of Hungary. (Not to mention the Slavic problem in the east. If they maintain Hungarian borders, than the minorities will be in check. If they let it fall, than the nearby nations would get much stronger and those have a far less positive relation to Germany. Simple realpolitics. Germany would always choose the vest outcome for theme. Why let a possibly loyal subject fall and strenghten at best neutral nations.)
After Combat broke out, yes, though actually part of the reason Hungary lost is that there were tons of moderates who still wanted the conflict in 1848/49 to end in a negotiated settlement, unlike Kossuth and his radical idiocy.

But the collapse of A-H here doesn't *have* to involve combat (again, anyway), and depending on when and how it happens, Hapsburgs remaining on the throne there is not outside the realm of plausibility.
 
Dear Readers,

It is an honour to be back. I have missed this TL so much- Karl of Danubia, Not-Wilson Hughes, Regent-Emperor Maximilian, Georges Sorel and Jean-Jacques Famride versus Paul Deschanel, the morally dubious Lucien Chanaris, and of course Eccentric Kaiser Wilhelm II. But most of all, I've missed all of you. Opening up AH.com every day and finding that someone, somewhere found my work to be at the very least five minutes of fun means a very great deal to me.

Also: we won second place in the Turtledoves? I am so humbled. Thank you to all of the one hundred and thirty people who voted for this TL. I wish I could shake your hands personally. I'm really honoured that all of you were willing to vote for me and I look forward to progressing with you in this TL together. (My congratulations, by the way, to @allanpcameron for the success of Sir John Valentine Carden Survives!)

So, here's what's going to happen now.

The next couple of months are going to be rather busy for me in the Real World™. SATs, AP exams, and all that are conspiring to reduce my writing time. Now, I'll still be working on Place In the Sun, of course, but it won't be at the level of 4-5 thousand words a week. Fortunately, I have not been idle throughout Lent, oh no. I have three chapters, each of fairly substantial length, concluding Danubia, Mexico, and France respectively. Danubia will go up either today or tomorrow, Mexico a week after that, France a week after that.

Speaking of Danubia.....

I've done some retconning of the Danubia arc- the more I read about Austro-Hungarian politics, the less I like what I have written. The Imperial Constitutional Convention, based on what I've read, was basically impossible. Furthermore, it doesn't fit into the structure of imperial politics at the time, which were very heavily oriented towards compromise. So instead, we have a crisis over Croatia blow up out of proportion, with accident, miscalculation, an overdose of guts and pride, and not a little bit of jingoism land the Dual Monarchy (or Triple Monarchy, as it becomes) in a war it doesn't want but can't avoid. The actual structure of the empire is changed too- rather than a federation, it's a trial monarchy between Austria, Hungary, and Croatia-Slavonia. I think this new version is much more plausible and, dare I say, exciting. Additionally, there's been a fair bit of confusion as to who's running rebel Hungary. This is largely my own fault: I started off with Karoly Kuhen-Hedevary, then retconned him for Istvan Tisza, but I missed a few references in the retcon. No more! For the last time, we have a definitive Hungarian leader: Mihaly Karolyi, leader of OTL's Aster Revolution.

Chapter 16 has been completely re-done (it's even got a new title), while chapters 18, 20, and 24 have undergone minor retcons. You might want to go back and re-read them (especially chapter 16; the other three have mostly cosmetic changes) to see what I've done. In retrospect, maybe I've been a little hard on Emperor Karl; he was a good man in both OTL and TTL.... but his fate doesn't change....

The end of the Danubian War awaits!

-Kaiser Wilhelm the Tenth
 
Last edited:
Dear Readers,

It is an honour to be back. I have missed this TL so much- Karl of Danubia, Not-Wilson Hughes, Regent-Emperor Maximilian, Georges Sorel and Jean-Jacques Famride versus Paul Deschanel, the morally dubious Lucien Chanaris, and of course Eccentric Kaiser Wilhelm II. But most of all, I've missed all of you. Opening up AH.com every day and finding that someone, somewhere found my work to be at the very least five minutes of fun means a very great deal to me.

So, here's what's going to happen now.

The next couple of months are going to be rather busy for me in the Real World™. SATs, AP exams, and all that are conspiring to reduce my writing time. Now, I'll still be working on Place In the Sun, of course, but it won't be at the level of 4-5 thousand words a week. Fortunately, I have not been idle throughout Lent, oh no. I have three chapters, each of fairly substantial length, concluding Danubia, Mexico, and France respectively. Danubia will go up either today or tomorrow, Mexico a week after that, France a week after that.

Speaking of Danubia.....

I've done some retconning of the Danubia arc- the more I read about Austro-Hungarian politics, the less I like what I have written. The Imperial Constitutional Convention, based on what I've read, was basically impossible. Furthermore, it doesn't fit into the structure of imperial politics at the time, which were very heavily oriented towards compromise. So instead, we have a crisis over Croatia blow up out of proportion, with accident, miscalculation, an overdose of guts and pride, and not a little bit of jingoism land the Dual Monarchy (or Triple Monarchy, as it becomes) in a war it doesn't want but can't avoid. The actual structure of the empire is changed too- rather than a federation, it's a trial monarchy between Austria, Hungary, and Croatia-Slavonia. I think this new version is much more plausible and, dare I say, exciting. Additionally, there's been a fair bit of confusion as to who's running rebel Hungary. This is largely my own fault: I started off with Karoly Kuhen-Hedevary, then retconned him for Istvan Tisza, but I missed a few references in the retcon. No more! For the last time, we have a definitive Hungarian leader: Mihaly Karolyi, leader of OTL's Aster Revolution.

Chapter 16 has been completely re-done (it's even got a new title), while chapters 18, 20, and 24 have undergone minor retcons. You might want to go back and re-read them (especially chapter 16; the other three have mostly cosmetic changes) to see what I've done. In retrospect, maybe I've been a little hard on Emperor Karl; he was a good man in both OTL and TTL.... but his fate doesn't change....

The end of the Danubian War awaits!

-Kaiser Wilhelm the Tenth
Ah, Real Life, the spoiler of our fun everywhere!

Great to have you back! :)

- BNC
 
Dear Readers,

It is an honour to be back. I have missed this TL so much- Karl of Danubia, Not-Wilson Hughes, Regent-Emperor Maximilian, Georges Sorel and Jean-Jacques Famride versus Paul Deschanel, the morally dubious Lucien Chanaris, and of course Eccentric Kaiser Wilhelm II. But most of all, I've missed all of you. Opening up AH.com every day and finding that someone, somewhere found my work to be at the very least five minutes of fun means a very great deal to me.

So, here's what's going to happen now.

The next couple of months are going to be rather busy for me in the Real World™. SATs, AP exams, and all that are conspiring to reduce my writing time. Now, I'll still be working on Place In the Sun, of course, but it won't be at the level of 4-5 thousand words a week. Fortunately, I have not been idle throughout Lent, oh no. I have three chapters, each of fairly substantial length, concluding Danubia, Mexico, and France respectively. Danubia will go up either today or tomorrow, Mexico a week after that, France a week after that.

Speaking of Danubia.....

I've done some retconning of the Danubia arc- the more I read about Austro-Hungarian politics, the less I like what I have written. The Imperial Constitutional Convention, based on what I've read, was basically impossible. Furthermore, it doesn't fit into the structure of imperial politics at the time, which were very heavily oriented towards compromise. So instead, we have a crisis over Croatia blow up out of proportion, with accident, miscalculation, an overdose of guts and pride, and not a little bit of jingoism land the Dual Monarchy (or Triple Monarchy, as it becomes) in a war it doesn't want but can't avoid. The actual structure of the empire is changed too- rather than a federation, it's a trial monarchy between Austria, Hungary, and Croatia-Slavonia. I think this new version is much more plausible and, dare I say, exciting. Additionally, there's been a fair bit of confusion as to who's running rebel Hungary. This is largely my own fault: I started off with Karoly Kuhen-Hedevary, then retconned him for Istvan Tisza, but I missed a few references in the retcon. No more! For the last time, we have a definitive Hungarian leader: Mihaly Karolyi, leader of OTL's Aster Revolution.

Chapter 16 has been completely re-done (it's even got a new title), while chapters 18, 20, and 24 have undergone minor retcons. You might want to go back and re-read them (especially chapter 16; the other three have mostly cosmetic changes) to see what I've done. In retrospect, maybe I've been a little hard on Emperor Karl; he was a good man in both OTL and TTL.... but his fate doesn't change....

The end of the Danubian War awaits!

-Kaiser Wilhelm the Tenth
I continue to applaud your willingness to keep researching and then go back and change things.
 
Chapter 41: The Black Eagle
Chapter Forty-One: The Black Eagle

"You cannot defeat the will of the people. No one man can undo five centuries of power from this dynasty. By the grace of God, I will see to that."
-Regent-Emperor Maximilian IV

"You will have whatever- whatever- you need, Herr Kaiser-Konig. Vienna will be avenged! Budapest Delenda Est."
-Kaiser Wilhelm II to Maximilian

"In dispatching the Danubienkorps, Germany demonstrated her utter commitment to hegemony in Central Europe. The Black Eagle of the Hohenzollerns was about to sink its claws into the Hungarian Republic."
-Excerpt from Irish military historian Robert FitzGerald's The Great War for Civilisation (1998)



German boots pounded on the railway platform. Prussian sergeants barked commands. Crisp salutes flew back and forth. Officers conversed over maps. Hungary’s doom was at hand.

1917 had been an annus horribilis for the Habsburg Empire. Engulfed in victory’s afterglow, Emperor Karl I had reshaped Austria-Hungary into a triple monarchy, but like Icarus, in trying to fly next to the sun Karl had burnt his wings. Hungary and Serbia were in revolt, the Transylvanian government was ethnically cleansing its Magyars, Vienna’s ashes lay under rebel rule, and Karl was now dead. With imperial arms scattered and Mihaly Karolyi’s state intact, the end seemed nigh. Though Karl’s five-year-old son Otto sat on the throne, real work fell to his uncle. Regent-Emperor Maximilian (Maximilian IV) didn’t need experience to see how bad things were.

Fortunately, he didn’t need to look far to find the solution.

Germany was every bit as concerned as he was. The Habsburg Monarchy had been allied to Berlin since 1878. Vienna provided a stable southern flank and a check against Russian influence. A shared history and culture linked the Habsburgs with the various German dynasties; Maximilian was the great-times-four grandson of the last Holy Roman Emperor while many Germans lived in Vienna and vice versa. Kaiser Wilhelm II had been close to the late Franz Ferdinand and had held the late Franz Joseph in great respect. Since Hungarian was unrelated to any European tongue, many looked down their noses on the Magyars. Racist imagery of Europe’s crown jewel smashed by ‘hordes from the East’ crisscrossed the continent, unfair though it was. Germany had gone to war in 1914 in part to protect their ally from the Russians, hawks pointed out, and they couldn’t abandon them to Hungary three years later. Strategy compounded emotion: the Habsburgs provided a stable southern flank for Germany. Chaos on the German border, regardless of whether it was caused by Hungary or Russia, would destroy Berlin’s ring of steel, opening the way for hostile foreign powers. Besides, how could Germany claim mastery over Europe if it let Danubia collapse under its nose?

All this weighed on Maximilian IV’s mind when he stepped onto Berlin Station.


Emperor Maximilian IV, regent for Karl's five-year-old son Otto and forced to reunite his empire at the point of a sword.
Archduke_Maximilian_Eugen_of_Austria.jpg


When the two heads of state conferred at the Imperial Palace on 4 December, Maximilian remembered years later, he came “with cap in hand. German generosity was our only hope, the life-blood our fatherland needed… When I look back even now, I don’t know what I would have done had that not been given…” This didn’t save Maximilian from depression. His brother was dead, and his nephew in the black of loneliness. His fiance Franziska was in Salzburg with Karl’s widow. All were in peril, and he was in Berlin. All Maximilian could do was stare out his bedroom window at the world, watching the snow, knowing he couldn’t help that which he loved right when he was most needed. The curtains might have been prison bars, the servants jailers. When his journal and his books wore out, what was there to do between meetings but brood? “Unbecoming for any man”, his diary records, “much less an emperor.” But he was a man and an emperor. With his countrymen dying in service to the empire, what right had he to weep in a foreign palace? All there was for Maximilian to do was bite his lip and wear the mask of an emperor.

He had plenty of chances to publicly wear that mask, as his hosts needed convincing.

Germany wasn’t in the best place to send forces south. Billions of marks of debt needed paying off and people needed to return to their prewar civilian jobs. Finance Minister Count von Roedern gently reminded the emperor that bailing him out would cost an astronomical amount and that Vienna would be on the hook for at least part of that. “Tell that to me again”, the emperor retorted, “when I am in Vienna!” Von Roedern shut up. Manpower was needed in the eastern puppets and to hold down Belgium and northern France, as well as to establish a colonial apparatus in Mittelafrika. Chief of Staff von Falkenhayn wanted to send forces south, but anything which would diminish German strength in the east would never be approved by Erich Ludendorff. Since Ludendorff remained in the East, the retired Marshal Hindenburg argued with Falkenhayn on his protege’s behalf. Hindenburg might have been retired and thus lacking formal power, but his status as the hero of Tannenberg gave him much prestige. It wasn’t that he disliked Maximilian’s regime, Hindenburg said, but Germany had to look out for itself first. When the two men conversed for thirty minutes, a servant recalled, one could have cut the air with a knife. Danubia’s regent was deeply offended and neither Hindenburg nor Maximilian were on speaking terms afterwards. The Navy too had voices objecting to intervention- battleships didn’t build themselves and it would be a disaster if that money went south! One suspects that they might’ve been rather more supportive of intervention had there been the prospect of glory on the waves. None of this helped the emperor’s depression. If Germany couldn’t save him, then nothing would. He contemplated suicide, preferring death over the dishonour of returning home empty-handed.

Maximilian IV was not just fighting to save his empire- he was fighting to save himself. Nothing would get him to stop short.

Ten days in the capital reminded Maximilian that for every German who wanted to abandon him, three had his back. Erich von Falkenhayn and the rest of the General Staff wanted to review age-old contingency plans- could his men use Bohemian roads and railroads? Of course, whatever they needed. Come to think of it, was such-and-such a mountain pass wide enough to accommodate enough troops? Poland’s ambassador to Berlin wanted to know if a unit of German Poles could be formed and sent to Galicia under Danubia’s banner. Prime Minister Ernst von Heydebrand let Maximilian address the Reichstag for two hours, where he received thunderous applause. Most gracious of all was the Kaiser. Wilhelm II treated his counterpart as an honoured guest, giving him a room in the Imperial Palace and dining with him nightly. He even purchased an ivory elephant sculpture from Mittelafrika and a set of Prussian blue tin soldiers for Otto. Doubtless the personal relationship between the two men smoothed the process greatly. “You shall never defeat our friend to the south”, Wilhelm declared on 14 December. “Herr Mihaly Karolyi does not know the depth of the mistake he has made. It will not be long before our two peoples unite to teach him exactly what he has done!” When the press distributed these remarks across the globe, mixed feelings were aroused. Germans (including those in America) cheered Kaiser Wilhelm, as did Catholics (sacking St. Stephen’s Cathedral had won the rebels few friends), while Karolyi’s regime used the quote to rally the people to war. What compromise, they asked, could there be with a man who said such things? The Kaiser’s remarks came as the Austro-German Dual Alliance (renamed the German-Danubian Alliance) was reconfirmed. The treaty had been signed in 1878 and was extended for another forty years until 1958. There was much pomp and ceremony as Maximilian made his way to Berlin Station on the 14th. As his armoured train provided courtesy of the Kaiser rolled through Saxony and Bavaria, stops became more frequent. Maximilian was none too pleased- every moment he spent on a siding kept him from his family- and grumbled about inefficiency. Surely this was no way to treat an emperor? When he found out why his train was delayed though, he silently apologised to the Germans and complained no more.

The trains carrying German soldiers into Danubia, Maximilian recalled years later, were “the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, before or since.”

After reaching Salzburg on the second day of 1918 he returned to his mansion. His fiancé Franziska threw her arms around him while Karl’s widow Zita was scarcely less pleased. Emperor Otto was battling not Hungarians but spinach, and viewed Maximilian’s return as a liberation all its own- the German toys did wonders for his mood. Maximilian spent the night with his family before addressing the nation the next day. Reporters from both empires lapped up his words, and there were groundless but reasonable fears that an assassin might sneak into the crowd. With Otto on Zita’s knee, Maximilian reassured his people that better things lay ahead.


“Who among us has not suffered? Who among us has not felt the sting of pain, of confusion, and of death? Every calamity on the face of the earth has struck our fatherland over these three and a half years. I need not repeat them to you. It was His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty Franz Joseph who led us through the Great War, and he gave up his strength a bare two months after the guns fell silent. (1) From the forge of the Great War emerged a new and vitalised fatherland. In the years preceding the war, some foolhardy detractors had claimed that our dynasty was weak. They said that ‘the Habsburgs have had their day! Let them crumble alongside the Ottoman Turks, and given time they shall be as gone as the Romans!’ My subjects, I ask you- were these detractors correct? Did the voices of doubt and destruction in Petrograd, in Paris, did they predict what would happen? No! Under this ancient banner, the people of our empire drove back the fearful invader. Our imperial father, as much as our Heavenly One, led us to a historical triumph. Like the Israelites in the Desert, His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty Franz Joseph did not live to see the Promised Land. The war consumed him, and not a day went by when he did not devote every fibre of his being to prosecuting it. In this, he may be considered as much a casualty of the Great War as the valiant men who laid down their lives at the fighting front in service to the State. His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty Franz Joseph was the architect of victory in the war. It fell to his noble successor His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty Karl to become the architect of victory in peace.


“My illustrious predecessor reigned over this State and its varied peoples for three hundred and eleven days. It was his life’s dream to restructure the very fabric of our State. This goal aroused controversy, for we are a mosaic of nations. Doubtless, every citizen of this State can recall their objections to this restructuring. Granting each national component its own territorial settlement with scant regard for precedent was doubtless a revolutionary act. But His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty Karl, it must be agreed, was acting as a good father does. Reshaping our fabric to align with the nationalities and facts was done in the utmost good faith. This was nearly universally recognised. What objections existed were raised in the same good faith as the proposal itself. It seemed, then, that after wandering the desert, our imperial father would guide us into the promised land.

“Yet, there were those who could not accept this. Pride, that human foible which more than any other can swallow justice or prudence, reared its ugly head. In no way did my illustrious predecessor’s plans infringe upon the dignity of the Holy Hungarian Crown. (2) In no way, that is, but one. Mihaly Karolyi and his cabal could not bear the sight of becoming equals! We kneel to Vienna, they said, but the Slovaks, the Croats, and the Romanians of Transylvania kneel to us! Nothing could be accepted which did not satiate their pride. Thus, Mihaly Karolyi irrevocably broke with centuries of tradition. Nothing is sacred for this man- not the fatherland, not the union, nothing. Such thinking, it need scarcely be said, poses the gravest of threats to common institutions, the rule of law, and the national groups of the State. As your imperial father, I would be remiss if I were to tolerate such a thing.

“Thus, people of Danubia, the trumpet blares for the second time! This State cannot and therefore will not tolerate the armed treason being committed in the lands of the Holy Hungarian Crown by Mihaly Karolyi and his clique. As my august predecessor summoned you to the defence of your homes three years ago, now your imperial father summons you. Defend this union which we have laboured for. Only the continuation of empire can provide that safe and secure society necessary for the common good- such a thing will never be found in the chaos of rebellion. This is an hour of gravity and tumult for us all. Yet we have faced such crises before. Vienna was occupied a century previous by the strongest nation on the continent, but did we fold? We shall no more submit to Karolyi than we did to Napoleon. Neither the strength of the foe nor our deep-seated fears will cause this State and its nations to falter when resolve and fortitude are most called for. I know my people well enough to say this from the bottom of my heart with the fires of conviction raging.

“To the people of Vienna and of the Burgenland, I say this. Hold for a little longer, continue to resist the despotism arrayed against you. Remember that as subjects of this crown you are entitled to every protection it is within our means to provide. Every hour you remain valiant and steadfast, every act of defiance against the cruel foe, is an hour closer you come to liberation and reunification with your Fatherland. The hearts and minds, thoughts and prayers, of your fellow subjects and of the world are united to you as never before. When this calamity has passed, as indeed it must, we shall restore you to prewar glory. Vienna, the crown jewel of Europe, shall be made whole once more, if only you can ride out the storm for a brief while longer. The men ought to take arms, the women ought to take shelter, but all must take heart. If you have warriors amongst you, men who wear the title ‘Habsburg Citizen’ as the badge of honour it is, now is the time.

“I must now turn to our greatest of allies. In war, as in life, no burden is too great if born with a friend by one’s side, a man of strength and of infinite compassion. Such a description is amply fitting for the German Government. For the past forty years they have stood at our side. In every respect they have tailored their strategic policies to minimise conflict with our interests; I can say with confidence that His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty Franz Joseph charted the same course. Brotherhood in all, unity in war. As the Berlin Government proved its fealty in the summer of 1914 as the world descended into madness, so it does so once more now. For this, German people, we are forever indebted to you.

“Lastly, I must address a few words to the Hungarian nation. Return to the fold! Far be it from me to deny the obvious- Hungary is as ancient a state as Austria. The Hungarian people are possessed of a firm national consciousness which nothing shall ever shake. Yet this is not the way to pursue it. The lands of the Holy Hungarian Crown are and shall for eternity be linked with this State and this crown, the person of the Habsburg emperor. I speak to the Hungarian peasant, the Hungarian soldier, the man who wishes for his political life to revert to what it was before madness swept over our continent: Reject Mihaly Karolyi and his path of folly, for nothing good shall ever come of it. Know that this empire has stood for seven hundred years and shall stand for seven hundred more. Think of your children. Shall they live in a safe and secure society in which each national unit possesses its territory under a common State, united by a God-ordained ruler, a father for the Fatherland, or shall they live in a realm marked by discord and chaos? The choice, people of Hungary, rests in your hands. To Mihaly Karolyi, I say this: You cannot win. The German Government has given its unequivocal backing to the unity of the Danubian state. Herr Karolyi, I ask this of you: can you look yourself in the mirror and honestly say that this is essential? Are the deaths and suffering inflicted upon your people truly essential? I speak to you not just as a man with deep love for his fatherland, but as one God-fearing man to another. Spare your people this, Herr Karolyi. Surrender now and permit the natural political order to resume its course, and the Hungarian nation will remember your return to decency and the greater good. Your life, and the lives of your collaborators in high treason against the Triple Monarchy shall- I personally swear it upon my honour, with God and the people of my empire as my witnesses- be spared. Thank you.”


When Karolyi read it the next day, he is said to have quipped that “(Maximilian’s) speech was truly dull and tepid, all but guaranteed to dissuade people from his hopeless cause. Yet another case of the pen triumphing over the sword!”

He would soon come to regret those words.

By the end of the third week of 1918, Germany’s Danubienkorps was fully assembled in western Austria. This was peacetime and budgetary concerns had had to be factored in; thus, the army wasn’t as strong as it might have been. Professional soldiers, those who’d been under arms before the Great War, dominated- civilian conscription was seen as having too many societal and financial costs to be worthwhile. However, many civilians volunteered. Some, particularly in the south, were of Danubian descent and felt affinity to that country, while others simply hadn’t thrived in the civilian world and wanted a steady job. (3) Bavarian units predominated- not only did the Land share a long border with Danubia, but the locals were more at home in the Alps than those from the North German Plain. Added to this was a shared ‘south German identity’ which survived despite Berlin’s discouragement. It was hoped that Danubian Germans would feel more affinity towards Bavarians than northerners and vice versa. Thus, the nucleus of the Danubienkorps was the six-division Bavarian Sixth Army, commanded by Generaloberst Ferdinand von Quast. (4) Added to this was a brigade from Wurttemberg and two volunteer divisions from all across the empire. Oskar von Hutier, hero of spring 1916’s Bardonecchia Offensive (5), reprised his role as commander of the mountainous Alpenkorps. This placed approximately 100,000 Germans on Habsburg soil. Nearly all had served in the previous war and so only a minimum of training was required. After entering the empire in the first week of the new year, the Danubienkorps spent an average of fifteen days practising fighting in the mountains under the tongue of Danubian sergeants before heading east. Locals treated them like heroes. Out came the best wine and foodstuffs as church bells clanged in celebration and mayors gave pompous speeches. Children’s choirs sang ‘Watch on the Rhine’ with varying degrees of skill, while busty Austrian girls gave the troops flowers and kisses on the cheek. Fears abounded amongst officers that discipline would falter. Famous German discipline notwithstanding, these were relatively deprived young men being cast into a land of milk and honey- who wouldn’t want to stop and indulge? Soldiers were under standing orders to refuse food, drink, and sex- those who were caught with contraband faced a tongue-lashing they never forgot. Of course, the officers weren’t immune, and they often ‘confiscated’ a bottle of schnapps or a roast goose ‘for the sake of discipline’ only to be caught enjoying themselves later. Jokes circulated amongst the minority of Prussian northerners that if they were in charge, discipline wouldn’t have been an issue, and what could one expect from a lot of southerners anyhow? The coda to this is that most of the generous Danubians were quite put out when their gifts were refused.


6TH ARMY (Generaloberst Ferdinand von Quast)
  • 8th Infantry Division
  • 16th Infantry Division
  • 36th Infantry Division
  • 38th Infantry Division
  • 5th Bavarian Division
  • Bavarian Cavalry Division
BAVARIAN ALPENKORPS (General Krafft von Dellmensingen)
  • 1st Bavarian Jager Brigade
  • 2nd Bavarian Jager Brigade
STURMTRUPPENKROPS (General Oskar von Hutier)
  • 3rd Assault Company
  • 23rd Assault Detatchment
  • 46th Assault Company

It was with a heavy sigh that the men left western Austria and entered the war zone.


German troops enjoying Austrian hospitality, spring 1918
germanofficers.jpeg


While the men weren’t resisting temptation, the generals had been laying plans. Danubian Chief of Staff Arthur Arz von Straussenburg had conferred with von Quast and Emperor Maximilian, and the three men had devised a broad strategy for winning the war. First would come the liberation of Vienna. The imperial capital offered both prestige and strategic value- hence why the Hungarians had been so keen to occupy it. Most of Danubia’s major roads and rail lines ran through the city and as such were currently cut. For example, as it stood in January 1918, moving from Graz to Prague required extensive use of branch line and district rail, much of which had only three or four tracks- the story was much the same for the imperial highway network. Taking Vienna would solve most of Danubia’s logistical issues. Added to this was the moral factor: the empire’s credibility as a Great Power would always be tarnished as long as it let its capital remain under foreign rule. Liberating the grandest city on the continent would prove that the imperial government was capable of defending its citizens- and punishing those who harmed them. However, moving to liberate Vienna would be almost as big a gamble as moving to conquer it had been. Intelligence reports and plain common sense suggested that the Hungarians had heavily fortified the city- some estimates in January 1918 gave them over 100,000 men there, the size of the Danubienkorps. There was a slim but real chance that a liberating offensive against the capital might fail, which would be catastrophic for imperial strategy, to say nothing of imperial morale. In order to forestall that, subsidiary attacks would have to be made. Little could be done in Bosnia-Herzegovina- the region’s nationalists were giving imperial rule a headache while large forces were needed to prevent the Serbian rebels (7) from pushing west. However, Croatia, where this entire mess began, seemed to offer possibilities. Fighting between Croatian Home Guardsmen and Hungarians had subsided, usually in the latter's favour, but if properly executed, an offensive northeast from Croatia could strike into Hungary’s underbelly, diverting resources from Vienna. Similarly, the imperial authorities contemplated an offensive south. Bohemia and Slovakia were both solidly loyal and housed large numbers of troops. While an autumn offensive in that direction had failed, everyone hoped that a better-planned successor might break through. Since Budapest was only sixty miles from the Slovak front, a break-through there would be a first-rate emergency for the rebels.

It was here that politics entered the story. What Maximilian and von Straussenburg were proposing was, even with German help, a tall order with high stakes: failure would only exacerbate the empire’s weaknesses and create more rifts in its political fabric. Not knowing what the political consequences would be, the men in Salzburg decided to boost their chances by summoning foreign reinforcements from Poland.

Tadeuz Jordan-Rozwadoski was commander-in-chief of the Polish Legions. This formation had been established in the Great War to garner Polish support for the Central Powers and was in the process of transforming into a standing army for the Kingdom of Poland. A few days before the New Year, the imperial ambassador in Warsaw ordered Rozwadowski (8) to go to Salzburg. There, he was presented with a most unpleasant ultimatum. The Polish Legions were to be sent to Galicia with all due haste, whence they would be integrated with forces of Lodomeria (the Polish crownland). The Legions would be under imperial command, not that of Warsaw. Rozwadoski was livid. He’d allied with the Central Powers for Poland’s sake. Good Polish boys had served Berlin and Vienna in the hopes of liberation, and were now being treated like pawns. Rozwadowski had little choice though. German occupiers had replaced Danubian ones and the straw dangled before Poland could be withdrawn at any moment. If Rozwadowski did not cede the Legions to Danubia, his people would suffer. So he sent a cable home, and Poland’s fighting men went south while foreign soldiers occupied their homes. In time, this would brew into a political drama which would end poorly for all concerned, but that’s for another chapter...

Mihaly Karolyi had been just as frantic as his opposite numbers. When Vienna had fallen on 30 October, he’d assumed the war would be done by Christmas. With a five-year-old boy on the throne and his regent uncle scarcely more experienced, why would the empire keep fighting? He had spent November agonising over whether or not to make a peace offer. Karolyi genuinely regretted that war had been necessary. He may have been a Magyar nationalist par excellence, but he held a certain respect for the empire. “It is a tremendous pity”, he wrote in his journal three weeks after Vienna’s fall, “that I must choose between my people and the state they love. But if our national rights can be achieved only under the banner of the Hungarian Republic, then so be it.” Had Maximilian recognised Hungary’s independence with its traditional borders- including Croatia, Slovakia, Transylvania, and the Burgenland- Karolyi would have been all too happy to pull out of Vienna and spend the rest of his days in peace. However, his advisers dissuaded him from extending a peace proposal. They agreed that Danubian power was irrevocably broken but dreamt of the propaganda opportunities. What glory there would be in making the Habsburg Emperor ask them for peace because he could not take it any more! If they asked Maximilian for a ceasefire, these foolish men said, they would be asking him to acknowledge their independence out of the goodness of his heart, to concede something which wasn’t his. No, if Hungary held out for a few more weeks they would have not just peace but glory. Against his better judgement, Mihaly Karolyi agreed, and his proposal for peace was shelved. One suspects it wouldn’t have made much difference- it’s hard to see Maximilian agreeing to a peace at the cost not just of half his empire, but the self-determination of the Slovaks, Croats, and Transylvanian Romanians he’d sworn to lead. At any rate, the war dragged on.

Once it became clear that he would have to carry on the fight, Mihaly Karolyi holed up in the map room to stare at a grim reality. Its short-war dreams having failed, Hungary was entering the sixth month of war and the strain was showing. Despite its lack of accomplishments thus far, Danubia was in many ways stronger than the rebels: the mountains of western Austria provided an impenetrable heartland while Bohemia and Galicia added reservoirs of manpower and resources. Danubia had enough men to fill the ranks while keeping factories and fields humming. Hunger was an issue in the empire’s cities, but (admittedly overpriced) German and Italian imports alleviated the pain. (9) Hungary had the opposite problem: their people and army were well-fed but lacked industry. Once the existing Great War surplus of ammunition and such was expended, they would be in trouble- and no one was interested in selling them anything. In short, while the empire could afford more blunders because even shorn of Vienna, it was the stronger of the two, Hungary would only grow weaker. Much ink has been spilled comparing Karolyi’s revolt to the American Civil War. The South convinced itself it could win despite being the weaker of the two because it did not need to conquer the North; it simply needed to convince the North that conquest wasn’t worth the bother. To this end, it struck at Pennsylvania, Maryland, and later Washington, DC, but failed to take any of them. Having defended its vital spots, the Union was able to let attrition win the war. Back in the summer, Karolyi had taken this to heart. Just as the Confederates could’ve defied the maths and won had Philadelphia fallen into their lap, he told himself, so too could his state defeat the odds and Danubians if they seized Vienna. As the days ticked by and no pleas for peace came from Salzburg, the scales fell from the Hungarian Prime Minister’s eyes. Hungary had taken the prize, sacked the capital, smashed the rail network, killed the emperor. To extend the American Civil War analogy, Lee stood in Philadelphia, rode his horse on the White House lawn, stood weary but triumphant over the fields of Gettysburg. (10) There was no possible greater symbol of victory- and yet the war was still being lost. He had given it his all but hadn’t knocked the stronger power out. Nothing, Karolyi reasoned, could be gained from another offensive but unaffordable casualty lists. Now, David would have to dodge Goliath’s club- and the beast would swing with the force of not one empire but two.

Mihaly Karolyi was determined to make his foes pay for every step they took.

Vienna had to be held at all costs. The Habsburg capital was the sole bargaining chip the rebels had, the greatest sign that they were winning. Allowing that to revert to imperial control would be a very visible harbinger of defeat, to say nothing of opening the road to Hungary itself. Thus, the end of 1917 saw close to one-third of Hungary’s rebel army- some half a million men- stationed in the key sector. Not all were actually in the city- that would’ve been a recipe for encirclement- with many defending the flanks of the Hungarian salient around the capital. Much time and effort was put into ensuring that when the day of battle came the enemy would have to cut through not just the Austrian Alps, trenches, machine-guns and barbed wire, but concrete pillboxes and similar fortified positions. Permanent artillery was placed on the mountains just northwest of Vienna, whence they could rain fire on approaching troops. Explosives were laid on the banks of the Danube River, surrounded by requisitioned pleasure-craft. When the moment was right, these would be set off and the resulting debris would hopefully block the river, creating a logistical nightmare for an advancing foe. Civilians were conscripted to dig ditches and man supply chains. This latter point ran counter to the Geneva Convention and many heads would roll after the war as Viennese civilians found judges eager to hear their accounts of the sacking and occupation excesses. Attempting to curry favour with the locals was a doomed game and the Hungarians didn’t even bother trying. Christmas and New Years saw Vienna on lockdown, with Hungarian troops shooting first and asking questions afterwards. The people may have hated foreign rule but they were in no position to end it. At a great cost in moral power, the Hungarians had secured their prize against all but the strongest enemy assaults.

Time would tell how good their construction was.

The first objective for the liberation offensive was the town of St. Polten. Thirty miles west of Vienna and sixteen south of the Danube, it served as a useful ‘forward post’ for the enemy defence and housed two connecting highways. Mountains narrowed the approach to the city to a twelve-mile wide, twenty-mile long corridor, which the defenders stripped of everything of value. Peasants were deported across the front lines and their property confiscated. Roads were torn up to prevent lorries from using them. Small clusters of mountains became artillery outposts, towns were surrounded by barbed wire.

When the Germans and Danubians entered this mess on 1 March 1918, it became clear that the Hungarians had gotten value for money. Previous fighting in Danubia- in the forests of Slovakia and the eastern approaches to the capital- had been fast-moving affairs dominated by traditional pre war tactics of infantry columns and cavalry assault. The former was due to the openness of the territory and relatively small armies both brought to bear, the latter due to Hungary’s crushing material superiority. Now, the tactics of the Great War reared their ugly head. Danubian and German forces left their trenches in the forward base of Amstetten and plodded towards their first-day objectives. Prior to the war, the number of people who’d ever heard of, much less set foot in, Blindenmarkt, Ferschnitz, and Euratzfeld could be counted on two hands. Now though, these sleepy Alpine villages would become synonymous with ‘death’ for thousands of young men. As at Neuve-Chappelle, Artois-Loos, Menton, and a dozen other battles, expectations were greater than the results but smaller than the casualty list. Conscripts from western Austria charged into the teeth of Hungarian machine-guns and were caught up on barbed wire. They slipped on loose Alpine rocks and were struck by a bullet as they fell. They were mown down and crashed to the field, spilling blood and guts all over white snow and green grass. It may have been a cold spring day but the heat of battle hung in the air, clutching at men’s lungs, making their heart ram against its ribcage, on alert for every little thing yet still missing the bullet which shattered your skull. Different German accents mingled with Czech and even Italian and Slovene, urging one another on, while Hungarian cheers emerged from sandbagged machine-gun posts. The tongues were different, but the screams were the same. Hungarian machine-gunners massacred imperial infantry until they were wiped out by artillery or bombs dropped from planes, as helpless as their victims had been a moment before. It was easy to tell when six feet of ground had been captured- that was the average height of a corpse sprawled in the mud. Hardly knowing why or even how, the two sides claimed one another’s lives all day long in the quaint Alpine villages.

On the other hand, it brought prestige to the Fatherland.


The first-day objectives weren’t taken on 1 March. Nor on the second, nor the third. Only on 4 March did the three hamlets succumb to the weight of imperial artillery. 8,200 Danubians had died to capture six miles of land over four days; the Hungarians had lost three-fourths that number. Imperial arms now stood on the left bank of the Ybbs River, a north-flowing estuary of the Danube. St. Polten lay across thirty miles of what had once been a highway but was now a strip between the hills and trees armed to a fare-thee-well. If the pace of advance and casualty rates stayed where they were now, just reaching St. Polten- to say nothing of actually conquering it- might cost forty thousand lives. Yet what choice was there? The empire had to plod on. Thus, the guns roared at dawn on 5 March and the men charged over the top. A new set of villages waited to be conquered, all equally well-defended and none of them having any value beyond lying on the road to St. Polten. And, cynics asked, what value did St. Polten have except that it lay on the road to Vienna? Enough value, evidently, that men had to lay down their lives for it. Neumarkt, Karlsbach, and Steinakirchen dangled like jewels before the generals’ eyes, and they reached out to grab with thousands of human fingers. Two weeks were spent chasing these little hamlets, only for Bergland and Petzenkirchen to take their place in the queue. As March trickled to a close, the days grew warmer and longer. Spring rain melted Alpine snow, sticking boots into mud. Men drowned and horses died of exhaustion as their hooves got stuck in the muck and no one could save them. There seemed to be an endless supply of villages to conquer and an endless supply of pink flesh to throw on the line- but there was only one of you, and no one saw himself as expendable. Yet while the odds of dying in combat were high, the odds of being executed for refusing to go forward were one hundred percent. Reinforced by mathematics, the grinder cranked on.


Austrian troops advance through what had once been St. Polten, April 1918
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For their part, the Hungarians were determined not to let the strain show. Every step the enemy took, their propaganda never ceased to remind the troops, was a step they took towards the fatherland. Courage and honour became the Hungarian watchwords and retreats were always due to supply issues, never fear. Attempts to minimise casualties led to defence-in-depth: numbers were thinned in the first trench line but strengthened in the rear. This incentivised the Danubians to attack and hopefully break through the first thin line, after which the reserves could counterattack. In practise, it disintegrated into a bloody mess of cordite, profanity, blood, guts, steel, and the taking of human life.

Finally, after six weeks of fighting, the Danubians reached the promised land. After losing almost exactly forty thousand men (39,992 to be precise), the imperial armies set foot in St. Polten. Of course, they still had to conquer the bloody place.

The Battle of St. Polten lasted from 17 April to 22 May. Both sides hung on to scraps of rubble which had once been a block of flats or greengrocers as though they were defending the Holy City. Machine-gunners set up shop in upper rooms and blazed away while in lieu of trenches, the men fought from urban barricades and the safety of rubble. Civilians either took shelter in basements or approached the imperial forces with raised hands- these were sent to the rear and spent the rest of the war in refugee camps. Finally though, the weight of imperial numbers made a difference, and an eerie quiet hung over the front as June approached. Had the Hungarians committed their strategic reserve to this forward defence, they could well have held the Danubians up all summer. As it was, their advance guard had performed admirably for what was supposed to be just the tip of the iceberg, claiming some forty-eight thousand imperial lives while losing two-thirds of that number.

Meanwhile, the Danubians had been putting their Polish Legions to work. Units from the Polish and Ukrainian-speaking territories were integrated with Polish troops under imperial command. This raised eyebrows- ethnic tensions and lingual differences made it harder for Poles and Ukrainians to operate as one- but saved time. Razdowski’s pride was soothed when he was given joint command to share with General Eduard von Bohm-Ermoli- the latter’s experience fighting in Galicia with local troops recommended him for the post. A total of 100,000 troops were concentrated in the region, outnumbering the Hungarians by a quarter.

At five-thirty AM on 28 February 1918, the Hungarian defenders of Pliesovce were woken by imperial artillery. Since the town lay sixty miles up the road from Budapest, its defences approached the quality of those in the west. Only one brigade was stationed in the immediate vicinity, but tens of thousands of reserves lay waiting. That brigade survived four days of hellish shelling, comforted only by the depths of their dugouts and the knowledge that help was en route. The Danubians and Poles were making the same mistake the Entente had during the Great War: a long barrage expended shells and gave the enemy ample time to prepare for what was to come. Prioritising the approaches to St. Polten left little for Pliesovce, but the Hungarians found enough spare artillery for a counter bombardment. Reserves exploited the breaks in shelling to dig earthworks and lay extra barbed wire, and with trembling hands everyone stared over open sights for four long days.

When the Danubians and Poles charged over the top on 4 March, they found a bed of nails waiting for them.

Bohm-Ermoli and Radzowski had committed the grave sin of attacking fixed defences. In making the move their enemy expected, they ceded him the initiative. The Hungarians had the initiative… but opted not to use it. Defence required less energy. The first brigade in the line withstood brutal odds for a day before attrition had its way with it. Pliesovce passed into imperial hands on the fifth, but all that gave the empire was a road into a nest of machine-guns. Poles from both sides of the border charged into a storm of cordite and flames, of land mines waiting to blow their legs off, of other scared young men ready to take their lives because they, too, had no choice. The only thing which emptied faster than Hungarian cartridges were the skins of imperial soldiers. 6 March was spent trying to break out of Pliesovce without success. So too was the seventh, and the eighth, and the remainder of the week. Only on the thirteenth did the Hungarians run out of men and metal, and they opted to fall back to Bzhovska Lehota, whose two hundred souls had long since fled.

Bzhovska Lehota lay between two roads, each of which ultimately led to Budapest. If imperial forces tried to bypass it, the town’s defenders could sever their communications. This gave it value well beyond what one might expect, and the Hungarian commander was determined to hold it no matter what. Bohm-Ermoli and Radzowski were determined to conquer it no matter what. Such mutual stubbornness meant that a lot of young men would die in Bzhovska Lehota no matter what.
It seems redundant to describe what the combatants endured at Bzhovska Lehota. All that need be said is this: over the course of seven weeks, 9,000 Danubians, 7,000 Poles, and an unknown number of Hungarians gave their lives for thirteen square kilometres, by which point Bzovska Lehota and the all-important roads flanking it were indistinguishable from what had once been the countryside. What a senseless waste of human life.

By the middle of April, just as the battle for St. Polten was beginning in the west, the northern front fell silent. Both men had expended irreplaceable life for some petty villages. Since the north was a secondary concern for both sides, the fighting had been conducted with less than a quarter million troops in total. This meant that both sides felt their losses far more than they would’ve elsewhere. The empire’s supply of Polish cannon-fodder wouldn’t last forever while the Hungarians only had so many men to trade for space and time. As the pressure in the north receded, the Hungarians were able to feed troops into the St. Polten meatgrinder. Another failure did little for the empire’s morale. People began to query the point of another offensive- the breakthrough hadn’t occurred and Budapest was still a long way away. There was talk of court-marshalling Bohm-Ermoli and Radzowski for incompetence but Maximilian vetoed that idea.

June found both sides approaching the breaking point. Following directives from Berlin, Ferdinand von Quast had been cautious with the Danubienkorps. “Think of a rapier”, the commander remembered years later. “If one drives a thin fencing sword into a sheet of plate armour, what will happen? The man in the armour will surely be wounded, but the blade will shatter. What is needed there, as we needed in Austria, is an axe, something to bludgeon the foe but not run him through.” The Danubienkorps was an elite formation, good for breakthroughs but not the endless blood and tears characterising war in 1918. Individual German formations fought with distinction in the St. Polten campaign, but too much was at stake for the Danubienkorps to be committed en masse. German papers spoke of heroism, but official telegrams regretted to inform you that there was another side to the story. After six months, the German people started wondering why Fritz and Karl were risking their lives in peacetime when they should’ve been back on the farm. France, Russia, and Britain were viewed as existential threats by the bauer and burgher; Mihaly Karolyi most definitely was not.

The Danubian people were suffering just as badly. Newspaper reports on the damage done by liberating armies were censored for fear that they’d wreck morale; banalities about joyous celebrations in St. Polten were given pride of place instead. Emperor Maximilian crisscrossed the country, speaking in Salzburg, Prague, Kosice, Cracow, Lemberg, Cluj, and Zagreb (but not Sarajevo: the last thing his regime needed was another turnover of power). He was fully aware of his people’s suffering and thanked them profusely; he also publicly renounced meat and alcohol until victory came. Despite this, Danubia’s people were reaching the end of their rope. They’d gone to war in the summer of 1914 and had had only six months of reprieve since. Men were absent from the empire’s cities while women and children divided their time between factories and ration queues. War-weariness was simply a fact of life. Just as people couldn’t imagine the sun not rising every morning and setting every night, so the years before 1914 might have happened in a dream. Pictures and newspapers from 1913 seemed strange. ‘Why’, the response was, ‘there was no war on then!’ A world in which the Russians or the French or the Hungarians weren’t the hated enemy, vilified in the press and crude gutter slang, was by June 1918 as alien to the empire’s subjects as Mars. But what was there to do? One got out of bed in the morning, sipped one’s ersatz coffee and munched on one’s bread roll before heading off to school or a factory because it was simply what one did. The empire’s people had taken too much to care anymore, so they focussed on one day at a time, going through the motions because it was the only way to keep going. As one desperate teenager opined in Salzburg, “if God wished to economise on time a bit, He could simply remove all the days between now and when Mihaly Karolyi lies dead. He would be doing us all a favour.” They knew that one day, the war would end, and every pointless day they made it through was a pointless day they’d never have to worry about again. People were too tired to care about revolution. The herberts with red flags, who whispered of Marx, Engels, and Martov in back alleys and compared Maximilian with Nicholas II, were ignored. (11) The only thing the September Revolution had changed was that hundreds of Petrograders were needlessly dead. People may not have loved the monarchy after four years of suffering, but neither did they hate it, and the overwhelming majority didn’t believe throwing it out would fix their problems. Communism might deliver on peace, bread, and land, but the price of gunfire in the streets was too high. It would be done without patriotic convictions- much less enthusiasm- but the Danubian people would carry on until the end.

The Hungarian people weren’t so resilient.

By June 1918, Mihaly Karolyi was panicking. Militarily, his state had held its own in a year of fighting. Repeated imperial assaults in the north had been beaten off, Vienna had been conquered and secured, and the ethnic cleansing in Transylvania was ignorable. Yet none of that mattered. Hungary’s economy was in freefall; the defence of St. Polten and Bzhovska Lehota had expended ammunition the arms factories couldn’t hope to replace. Economic reports showed that by the end of July, Hungary’s ammunition reserves would be expended, after which the men would have only the bullets physically in their guns- enough for a day of combat at the most. German patronage of Danubia left Hungary isolated diplomatically- not even the Balkan rebels wanted anything to do with them. Anglo-Russian offers to mediate were universally understood as attempts to get into Berlin’s good graces and were seen as worthless. Croat fealty to the union left Hungary shorn of a coastline, reducing its trade with the world to nothing. Severe requisitioning kept the troops fed but civilians hungry. While Karolyi and his cabal dined on goulash and the soldiers ate tinned egg noodles, the people endured deprivations every bit as bad as their imperial counterparts. Hungary was an agricultural land so there was no danger of famine, but there were more than enough shortages to go round. The miracle, then, was that Hungary had survived this long.

Hungarian morale had been machine-gunned at St. Polten. The Hungarian people, for the most part, had been amiable to the Danubian project. They saw themselves as somewhat special, true, but also as proud subjects of the Habsburg dynasty. There was a reason their realm had been titled the “Lands of the Crown of Saint Stephen”- the Hungarian national identity had existed within the Habsburg framework since the late seventeenth century. Even Mihaly Karolyi was saddened by secession and had held the dynasty in great respect before the war. The difference between Karolyi and the Hungarian man in the street was that the latter didn’t care about Hungarian claims to Slovakia, Croatia, and Transylvania. If goulash and egg noodles were cheap and the government left him alone, he was a happy man. (12) Franz Joseph had provided those things in 1913; Mihaly Karolyi’s Hungarian Republic did not. The war was doing nothing for the average Hungarian, who wanted peace with honour.

A spectre was haunting Hungary: the spectre of revolution.

Mihaly Karolyi’s simplest propaganda was also his best: if the imperial armies conquered Hungary they wouldn’t discriminate between rebel leader and ordinary Hungarian. Guilt by association gave everyone an impetus to fight. While most took this to heart, by summer 1918 a small number of Hungarians decided to travel in the opposite direction. They would turn on Karolyi and spare themselves from Maximilian. Only one trait existed amongst these different groups: opposition to the regime. Some were urban, some agrarian. Some were liberal, others conservative, others Marxist. Many viewed their fellow rebels with as much scorn as Karolyi, while others would have sided with him against Maximilian had Budapest not been losing. All that mattered was that they wanted to live.


Jozef Pogany, leader of the Piros Revolution
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Jozef Pogany (13) had been born in Budapest, and at the time of the Great War was a comfortable twenty-eight year old journalist. He hadn’t thought much of Emperor Karl or the Imperial Constitutional Convention, but neither had he been keen on secession. In lieu of joining Mihaly Karolyi, Pogany had become a war correspondent. Covering the plight of the Hungarian workers and peasants in the winter of 1917-18 had changed Pogany. He’d never considered the war winnable, but now saw the harm it was doing for the very people it was supposed to be helping. Sometime around the New Year, Pogony left his lukewarm Judaism for Marxism. He knew that Maximilian would destroy Karolyi root and branch, but hoped that the Hungarian people could gain clemency if they stabbed their leader in the back.

Jozef Pogany made it his personal mission to save the Hungarian people.

As a writer, Pogany knew how to attract attention and that truth made the best propaganda. Taking inspiration from Georges Sorel in France, he authored anonymous pamphlets. Sympathetic printers mass produced copies while ‘forgetting’ his name. Mihaly Karolyi was compared to Tsar Nicholas, the feckless despot losing a war and causing his people to suffer; Maximilian was Tsar Michael II, the lesser of two evils. By May 1918, the ‘nameless writer’ (as he came to be known by friend and foe alike) had a small following amongst hungry Magyars. (14) Assuming Karolyi had him on a hit list, Pogany slipped into the mountains on the Transylvanian border- nominally Hungarian but not somewhere where Budapest wielded much control. Thence, he won converts. Pogany had some support in the army- many soldiers were disillusioned with Karolyi after a year of fighting and if revolutions could get them back home then so be it.Whispers crossed Budapest and Debrecen that revolution would deliver them not just from their poor conditions but the imperial threat as well. When strikes broke out in May, Pogany took undeserved credit- the strikers may have been loosely inspired by his words but they barely knew his name, much less viewed him as a source of authority. Nonetheless, he deserves all the praise and all the scorn he received from his actions that summer.

The Hungarian for ‘red’ is “Piros”, and it’s by this name that the events of summer 1918 are remembered. As with all such things, the Piros Uprising began with a single spark which lit a steppe fire.

Janos Dámvadtehén had been wounded at Karlsbach in March. Unable to walk, he’d been discharged in late June and sent onto the streets of his native Nagykata. His two brothers had been killed- one by a Russian, the other by an Austrian- and his parents had succumbed to tuberculosis. Hobbling around on his crutch begging had gotten old very fast, and Janos had begun thinking with his stomach, not his head. Since begging brought only enough for a few crusts of bread a day, he turned to theft. As mentioned above, food shortages were a problem by summer 1918 and when the shopkeeper wasn’t watching over the goods with his gun, the attack dog was. It was one such attack dog who caught Janos on 15 June, sinking its canine fangs into his remaining leg as he tried to make off with a sack of boiled beans. His howls of pain attracted a fair bit of attention, and the shopkeeper turned up in short order. Bleeding profusely, Janos was turned over to the police. By now, word had gotten round about what had happened, and a crowd turned up at the police station demanding his release. “This man has fought for the fatherland”, they cried, “and this is the thanks you give him?” Mounted police well past their salad days dispersed the crowd and Janos stayed in jail. The people returned home, angry but helpless.

The next day, they started a revolution.

The workers of Nagykata refused to go in on 16 June. Janos Dámvadtehén had served honourably and the people saw in the way in which he was abused everything that was wrong in rebel Hungary. Protesting his ill-treatment relieved their anger and looked patriotic. The mayor was having none of it though, and had Janos executed that very day to set an example. Infuriated, a group of fifty torched the mayor’s house, whaling the stuffing out of him as he fled. Next, they turned on the shopkeeper whose dog had started this whole mess. No matter how fierce the animal was, it was outnumbered and didn’t have a gun. The shop owner had little time to grieve before he had the living daylights beaten out of him. A desire for justice gave way to a desire for a full stomach, and the mob ransacked the grocer’s. Bread, cheese, vegetables, potatoes, even meat and milk were all there, and the mob gorged itself. At this point, someone pulled out one of Jozef Pogany’s writings. It was time, they decided, for change. Congregating at the town hall, the workers declared themselves the “Nagykata Worker’s Council”, protected by their armed citizens. They issued a memorandum calling for “peace, bread, and land.” The war was to be stopped on “honourable terms”- these were left vague but generally assumed to mean no military occupation and a general amnesty from Maximilian. The Budapest government was to guarantee better rations to its subjects, while agriculture was to come under “popular control”. No one quite knew what the latter was to look like, but it does illustrate how far Hungary’s urban and rural relations had fallen by June 1918. There was a widespread and not unjustified feeling that farmers were looking after themselves first and indifferent to hunger in the cities, and the Nagykata council may have intended “popular control” to mean urban supervision of the fields to limit this skimming off the top.

Unfortunately, they didn’t last very long.

Mihaly Karolyi wasn’t about to let revolution sweep his heartland. Not bothering to consider why such a thing was taking place- the chickens were coming home to roost in his doomed war- he ordered a clampdown. Honved troops marched into Nagykata on the eighteenth. These were ill-trained and even worse-armed militiamen, but they outnumbered the local revolutionaries. By the end of the day, the revolt was as dead as the twenty-six casualties sustained. That would hopefully be the end of that, thought Karolyi, and he could get back to the real war… except it wasn’t and he couldn’t.

The first act of the Piros Uprising was over, but the second act had yet to begin.

Jozef Pogony had been on the other end of Hungary when the brief Nagykata revolt began, and had been reading a heavily censored article about it when it ended. Nevertheless, the journalist-cum-revolutionary was elated. Here was proof that the Hungarian people wanted revolution! Being a wanted man slowed his pace only a little as he moved west. By 1 July, he was conferring with his handful of allies in Budapest. Many of the Nagykata insurgents had made their way to the capital, and once they found out who this big-eared man with the jutting jaw was they became willing to take any order. “Truth is the best weapon we have”, Pogony said, “and we must use it. Once the people want revolution badly enough, it will happen.” There were genuine fears that the people would reject him- after all, not only was revolution a bloody affair, but the Habsburg armies were drawing closer to the capital every day- but Pogony waved those aside. If they didn’t act, Maximilian would crush them all.

Events at the front now took pre-eminence.

By July 1918, Hungary was fraying at the seams. Despite not having suffered any cataclysmic defeats, the weight of attrition had left the rebels exhausted. The shortages mentioned above had taken their toll, while the “Nagykata pox” (as one officer referred to revolutionary sentiment) had infected the men. Attempts at founding soldiers’ councils had been made while desertion rates had skyrocketed. With the war so clearly lost, many said, why bother?

To extend Ferdinand von Quast’s metaphor, now that the foe had been softened up the time had come to run him through.

When Emperor Maximilian met with von Quast and von Hutier on 13 July 1918, all agreed that with Hungary reaching the end of its rope, it was time to press the attack. A steady stream of volunteers had returned the Danubienkorps to its initial strength of 100,000; six times that many Danubians prepared to exploit a German breakthrough. And ten minutes past midnight on the first of August, the endgame began.

Reichsgrüben was yet another sleepy town en route to Vienna. After the St. Polten meatgrinder ran out of steam in late May, the Hungarians had fortified the town, knowing that imperial arms would soon come knocking. And come knocking they did, as a five-hour barrage crashed on poor Reichsgrüben long enough to knock the defenders about but not long enough for reserves to arrive. Shells smashed machine-guns and dugout roofs and tossed barbed wire and bloody flesh about. German soldiers sliced through Hungarian weak spots and lines of communication, leaving the Danubians to eradicate strongpoints. Losses from the St. Polten battle left the defenders too outnumbered and outgunned to properly resist. Surrounded Hungarian units surrendered en masse, preferring to be done with the war rather than risk their necks over nothing. Hungarian commanders screamed at one another over the telephone while some diehards shot at their fleeing comrades. Panicked rear officers fled gunfire in staff cars or on horseback; the resulting traffic jams were shot up by imperial troops or strafed by fighters. Austrian villagers evicted their overlords with guns and knives, joyously welcoming imperial troops. Fears that the liberators would slow the advance by stopping to enjoy the gratitude proved groundless. The Danubians and Germans were like wolves chasing after their prey, wanting nothing but victory. Testosterone fuelled their killer instinct. There would be time to rest when the deed was done, but first there was a war to be won.

By the end of 1 August, the two empires had conquered ten miles and rolled up an entire Hungarian defence network. had been rolled up- results not seen, ironically enough, since the Hungarian lunge towards Vienna in October. Such a devastating advance, when compared to the bloody slog of St. Polten, can be ascribed to several things. First, the Hungarian supply situation was abysmal. As Karolyi’s economic advisers had so glumly predicted, the rebels were running out of bullets and rations- the oil greasing the wheels of an army. A million men cannot make a single brick if they lack mud and straw. Second was morale. Four years of war had worn the Hungarian nation out. The soldiers wanted to be back home with their families, not crouched in the trenches waiting to die. Many harboured respect for the Habsburgs and were only fighting because they had no choice. Enough was enough. Choosing between getting filled with lead in a blaze of glory or getting filled with potato in a prisoner-of-war camp was easy. The third factor was that this was the first time the Danubienkorps was committed en masse. Fear of its being ground up in street fighting, while reasonable, had prevented the Danubienkorps from maximising its explosive power. Now, Oskar von Hutier could add the Vienna campaign as another feather in his cap.

And this was just the first day.

The 450,000 Hungarian troops opposing three-quarters of a million Danubians and Germans were doomed. Their expensive fortifications were rendered moot by a lack of shells, bullets, men, and morale. Mihaly Karolyi would have been better served ensuring that these men each had guns to defend themselves with rather than concrete slabs to hide behind. Each of the next three days saw five miles conquered, until the armies reached a sight which made many weep. After nine months, they had reached their goal. The crown jewel of Europe, the maiden despoiled, was about to be freed.

Vienna.

Comments?


  1. Against Russia, anyway.
  2. This isn’t actually true- Slovakia and Croatia became ‘things’ at Budapest’s expense.
  3. Amongst those who fell into this latter category was one Adolf Hitler.
  4. Very much an OTL figure.
  5. See chapter 9
  6. An analogue to the Oath Crisis still occurred in TTL, meaning that Pilsudski is out.
  7. See chapter 24
  8. Polish names are written given name then family name, no?
  9. With the Great War over, the British naval blockade obviously isn’t a thing.
  10. Confederate wank much? ;) Note: Obviously, the idea that the CSA could’ve won had it taken Washington and Philly is fallacious but I’m just using it as an analogy- hope the idea gets through.
  11. See chapter 12.
  12. Cheap goulash and egg noodles? Sign me up. My experience with Hungarian cuisine has been minimal but enjoyable…
  13. This gentleman
  14. ‘Hungry Hungarians’ would’ve been a bad enough pun to attract the mods… ;)
 

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Chapter 41.2: Budapest Delenda Est
Chapter 41.2: Budapest Delenda Est

"Down with the Communists! Peace, bread, and land!"
-
Legitimist slogan, summer 1918

"Marxist orthodoxy dictated two revolutions: a liberal bourgeois one to sweep away the feudal structure, and a communist one to sweep away the liberal bourgeois structure. In the absence of a successful communist revolution, Marxists the world over looked to Mihaly Karolyi as the harbinger of revolution. He would create a liberal bourgeois Hungary; Jozef Pogany would create a communist one. There was just one small problem with this theory: what do the Marxists do when the feudal structure refuses to burn?"
-Excerpt from Irish military historian Robert FitzGerald's The Great War for Civilisation (1998)



The tides of war had carried them here.

The sack of Vienna had been an unpardonable offence. Emperor Karl lay dead; St. Stephen's Cathedral had been ruined. In winning the battle for Vienna, the Hungarians had forever lost the battle for world opinion. Aided by the German Danubienkorps, Imperial forces had pushed the rebels back to just outside Vienna. Now, on 4 August 1918, a sense of history hung in the night air. Ever since Franz Ferdinand had gone to his death, gunfire had been the background noise across Europe. Staying alive had been the primary concern for Germans, Danubians, and Hungarians alike. The incoming shell or mail delivery had been more urgent than “what’s it all for?” If they spent too much time wondering what would come after the war, the answer would turn out to be nothing. The fate of nations, the tides of history, how they’d be remembered by future generations were for other people to sort out. They had a rifle to muck out. Yet, on the night before the assault on Vienna the men couldn’t help thinking about history. A hundred years from now, people would remember the liberation of Vienna. These men were in the same league as the Russians who liberated the ashes of Moscow from the invincible Napoleon. These men were in the same league as the heroes of 1519 and 1683, who’d defended not just this very city but all of Europe from the Muslims, the same league as the heroes of Constantinople in 1453, the same league as the Crusaders, as Charlemagne and Roland, as Julius Caesar. The world was watching the men of Germany and Danubia, and the future of Europe hung in the balance.

Their sovereign knew all too well. Every shrill telephone ring piercing his sleep, every missive dropped on his desk, every general knocking on his door with red stripes on his trousers, reminded him what was at stake.

A devout Catholic, Maximilian saw the Danubian Civil War as a crusade against chaos. That night, kneeling in Salzburg Cathedral, Maximilian prayed for his dynasty, his empire, and above all his people. Father Theodor Innitzer, the Viennese priest who’d been ordered to leave St. Stephen’s shortly before the attack, joined him. After nine months of administering Sacraments at the front, it was a joy to be back in Salzburg. Father Innitzer read out Psalms 23 and 91 and called on Saint Urich of Augsburg, who’d fought the Magyars nine centuries previously. Danubia, Father Innitzer said, was walking in the valley of the shadow of death. By the grace of God, Maximilian and young Otto would deliver their people from the snare of the fowler, from the noisome pestilence. They would tread upon the lion and the adder. And before too long, the Triple Monarchy would dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

It would all begin in a few hours.



The crown jewel of Europe: about to undergo one last ordeal
viennawwi.jpeg


The prospect of conquering 175 heavily-populated square miles kept the men awake as the fourth of August became the fifth. Even as the foe drew closer, the Hungarians had reserved 125,000 men to defend the city- these were augmented by those who’d escaped the advancing foe. The Klosterneuburg mountains northwest of Vienna overlooked not just the city but the approaches from the west, and they’d been turned into a vast artillery platform. Dozens of Hungarian guns- many of them Skoda howitzers akin to those which had crushed the Belgian fortress of Liege- were poised to rain shells upon the advancing foe; they were too high up to be vulnerable to imperial counter battery fire. Impressive though this was, it had only been made possible by depriving everywhere else, and there weren’t enough shells to go round- a microcosm, some might say, of the Hungarian war effort.

While the hills south of Klosterneuburg weren’t exactly impassable, they weren’t ideal for maneouvering Sturmtruppen through. A flank attack, Maximilian, von Quast, and von Hutier decided, was necessary. The southern flank, encompassing such towns as Baden bei Wien and Wiener Neustadt, was shielded by mountains. Attacking there would cost more in blood and time than it could gain. That left the north. Danubian troops had occupied the village of Tulln on the fourth, whose only distinguishing characteristic was a bridge over the empire’s namesake at one of its narrowest points. If a suitable force could cross the river there, they could work their way around the river’s north bank and hit the capital from the east. The drowsy Sturmtruppen made a night march to Tulln and began crossing the river at 1 AM on the fifth. Meanwhile, the logistical apparati needed for such a massive assault moved up. Everything was done with great haste as people fought their exhaustion. There would be time to rest once the battle was won and Vienna freed, but first the task had to be done.

It began at dawn on 5 August 1918. Sturmtruppen struck east on the river’s north bank, catching the Hungarians unaware- no one had expected them to move at night. A machine-gun burst and grenade toss later, and Mihaly Karolyi’s river defences were no more. On they swept. To the south, Danubian troops cut their way into the capital. The desire to avoid the guns at Klosterneuburg led them to the southern routes. Thus, it was the suburbs of Penzing, Hietzing, and Liesing which first saw imperial flags. 300,000 imperial soldiers advanced eastward, wishing with all their might that the artillery would get moving. Fortunately for both sides, the population of the suburbs had been ‘evacuated’ to the east bank of the river. This was ostensibly for safety reasons, but the real purpose was to prevent Austrian civilians from rising up. After two days the defenders of Penzing and Liesing gave up- there wasn’t enough pink flesh and grey metal to go round. Hietzing, however, held out two days more. The reason was simple: they couldn’t give up Schönbrunn Palace without a fight.

The Habsburg estate encompassed three centuries and two hundred hectacres. Even more so than with Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, it symbolised the glory not just of Vienna but of the Habsburg Monarchy. With grandeur dripping from its walls, the trappings of power spanning its grounds, Schönbrunn would not have been out of place on Olympus. Its surviving the October sack had been miraculous. Now, since Maximilian would get too much from being allowed to unfurl his flag across its grounds again, it was too great a symbol to be left alive. Mihaly Karolyi thus consigned the better part of an irreplaceable division to a hopeless battle in Hietzing just to destroy beautiful Schönbrunn. And what for? Pride. Since those deaths served no military purpose, and nothing was gained from wrecking the Imperial Palace, his success must be rated as one of the great tragedies of European history. Both sides took the gloves off. Danubian troops ran on fire and fury, seeking nothing more than revenge for all they’d been through. Adrenaline and testosterone kept them from thinking about the damage they were doing to their emperor’s palace. The room where Maria Theresa had once slept became a sandbagged machine-gun nest; the room where peace had been made between France and Austria in 1809 had its windows blown out. When Danubian forces finally secured Hietzing at the end of 8 August, the Imperial Palace was a burnt-out shell of its former self. Priceless works of art were destroyed, great dining halls and bedchambers reduced to smoking heaps of rubble, exotic gardens piles of ash. The Roman ruins had been sent the way of Carthage. (1) Forty-eight hours of modern war had rendered moot three centuries of construction.

This is war.


Imperial troops pose in a room of the liberated Schonbrunn Palace
schonbrunn.jpeg


Emperor Maximilian refused to fight a house-to-house battle for his capital. If the Hungarians were going to defend everywhere as they had Schönbrunn, he would have no capital left once it was all done! Von Quast disagreed, preferring to wear the foe down in the suburbs. House-to-house fighting would consume the meagre rebel supplies, leaving them helpless. Blood rushed to the emperor’s cheeks. If they were fighting to liberate Berlin, he thundered, and Frederick the Great’s grave had just been desecrated, would von Quast support destroying another district? Had it not been for Oskar von Hutier, the two men might’ve gotten into a fisticuff. Since Hutier was speaking to his superior officer and a foreign head of state, he had to propose his compromise delicately. German and Danubian forces would concentrate on the north bank of the Danube and subdue the Klosterneuburg position. Doubtless, the Hungarians would defend their heavy guns like madmen, and in so doing wear themselves out without destroying half of Vienna. It was a mark of how far the rebels had fallen that an attack into a nest of artillery could be seriously proposed. The fighting in Vienna subsided that morning as men were transferred north. Defences were dug around Penzing, Hietzing, and Liesing while men crossed the Danube. German pilots kept Hungarian scouts on the ground and so the rebels had little inkling of what was coming. Vienna’s defenders spent the morning of 9 August patrolling the streets, bayonets fixed on those who hadn’t been deported. This pleasant reprieve didn’t prepare them for what came next.

At one PM, the hamlet of Burg-Kreuzenstein heard gunfire. A ceaseless rumbling from the west had been part of the village’s life for days. It meant liberation, true, but it also meant the chaos of war was coming their way. Nonetheless, no one was lobbing grenades into their front gardens and so the people grew used to the noise. Now, it crescendoed and sharpened. Everyone knew what the pounding of artillery mingled with the rat-tat-tat of small arms meant- they had last heard it when the Magyar tide swept over them. As they had in the first moments of winter, Berg-Kreuenstein’s townsfolk took to the cellar to ride out the storm. For the first time in the occupation, the Hungarian masters envied their unwilling subjects for enjoying a liberty they lacked. Sheltering in their makeshift trenches, with only a few strands of barbed wire and no machine-guns, the occupiers of Burg-Kreuzenstein were savaged. Karolyi’s assumption that Vienna would be attacked from the west meant the far bank of the Danube had to make do with cheap defences. What cost few forints (2) cost life and land. For a few hours in the afternoon of 9 August, the Hungarian position in Vienna appeared doomed.

They were saved at the eleventh hour.

Fighting on the far bank of the Danube carried one major risk; the men were less than five miles from a massive artillery reserve. Oskar von Hutier hadn’t imagined this would jeopardise the attack, but he’d been wrong. At three PM, the guns of Klosterneuburg opened fire on the German troops across the river. Unable to return fire, the Sturmtruppen retreated to the trenches previously occupied by the Hungarians. Enemy shells rained upon the elite troops till dusk, whence the Germans retreated outside the range of the big guns.

Overconfidence had led von Hutier to stick his head in the lion’s mouth.

Both sides had stalemated one another by the tenth. A break-in battle would destroy the city and cost too much, while von Hutier had shown movement within range of the Klosterneuburg artillery to be prohibitively expensive. Everyone still felt that avoiding a pitched battle and letting attrition wear the foe down was the best move. Thus, Maximilian, von Quast, and von Hutier settled on a siege. Severing supply lines would render Hungary’s position untenable; doing so far enough from the city would negate the dreaded artillery.

The only problem was that cutting roads fifteen miles away on the other end of a river would be a hefty operation for even the fastest armies of 1918.

German forces had been damaged in the previous day’s fighting and so much of the work fell to the Danubians. The rubble of Leising became the staging-point for five divisions. Three were veterans of the battle for the suburbs; the other two freshly arrived from the heartland. Out of range of their precious cannons, the Hungarians were weak. Heavy fighting had left them tired and no relief was en route. As he heard the footsteps and gunfire, as he smelled the cordite and saw the devastation under an iron-grey sky, as every raindrop penetrated his thin uniform, the young conscript realised the only way to get back to Budapest was through Maximilian IV. Four days of interlude saw 180 such men give themselves up. They went limp as imperial raiding parties entered their trenches, throwing up their hands and falling on their knees, crying in broken German not to be shot, or they sprinted across No-Man’s-Land, dodging their own side’s bullets and placing their lives in the hands of the nearest imperial patrolman. Most never made it that far. As the stars fought their way through the clouds to bathe Vienna in silver light on the night of August 13, everyone knew that no matter how wily Hungary’s commanders were, the battle was already decided.

Shells- many of them German-made- (3) began falling on Vosendorf shortly before eleven PM. If the Danubians wanted to use all the sunlight they could, they’d have to start just after six AM; thus, the preliminary barrage had to begin very early. Bombardment kept Vosendorf’s Hungarians up while also slamming the roads behind it. Ironically, the locals had the Hungarians to thank for their safety more than anyone else; the deportations meant to forestall an uprising kept them out the way of their liberators’ shells. As Danubian soldiers drank coffee like water and scoffed rations, Hungarian troops screamed in their dugouts. Many who’d worried about what the morning would bring found the question moot…

When whistles blew at 6:30, the Danubians thanked God for a bad night’s sleep. The artillery had kept them up but had savaged the foe. Rear defences and roads were as badly torn up as the forward trenches. Excavating themselves from their pharaonic tombs took all the fight out of the Hungarians. Outnumbered diehards were overwhelmed. Concentrating sparse machine-guns in the city centre left few for flank action; thus precluding sandbagged nests of Hungarians mowing down two dozen enemies. Vosendorf fell within eighteen hours, cutting one road out of six. That night, aggressive patrols traded hundreds of yards and dozens died in near-blind skirmishes, but both sides had something resembling rest. Just before the sun rose, they got right back at it. Rain turned the shell-holes into puddles and the road into gravel soup. This brought the Hungarians time to flee- those who didn’t get stuck on the roads themselves. Leopoldsdorf, the next exit from the capital, was only three miles away and had taken its fair share of shells. When, after eight hours, soggy imperial forces entered the town, the rearguard lived just long enough to collect sixty human lives at the door. Only one more road south remained.

Meanwhile, German and Danubian forces had been doing the same on the far bank. Nearly all the Danubienkorps less the storm troopers plus four imperial battalions went forth at the same time as their southern comrades. Avoiding the Hungarian guns at Klosterneuburg entailed a wide sweep towards the target costing time and lives. Thus, Niederhollabrunn suffered the travesties of war as punishment for being en route to a road junction. As the day dragged on Hungarian reinforcements were carefully brought from Vienna. Only the explosive power of the German Army coupled with rebel supply and morale woes advanced the double-headed eagle. Niederhollabrunn fell shortly after noon on the ninth, and fighting was just dying down in Ritzendorf as pink sunset gave way to a cloudy night. The first day had seen tell-tale signs of Hungarian materiel shortages: like the Russian Army at its worst, Hungarians were going into battle unarmed and filching their dead comrades’ weapons. Men had been rather too quick to give themselves up. Yet Germans would have to keep dying as long as Hungarians kept fighting. Rain and blood slid from their Stahlhelmmen (4) as Ferdinand von Quast’s men pursued their second-day objectives. Hills kept the Germans out of Kreuttal for three hours before the defenders were hit in the rear and surrendered, but Ulrichkirchen and Wolfpassing lacked natural defences. Helping hooves out of mud and wringing out one’s mac took time which could’ve been used chasing the enemy, but the advance was still impressive. Having shot their bolt the Hungarians ceded Wolkersdorf before dusk and ate their rations from a safe distance. Two roads out of Vienna on the far side of the Danube had fallen without the artillery cluster coming into play.

The local Hungarian commander was furious. He had to conserve every man, shell, and bullet like grain in a famine, but German industry gave the foe reserves falling out of his ears. It wasn’t tactics eroding his position, it was maths. Thank God Mihaly Karolyi seemed to understand! Once the weather dried up, imperial forces would speed up, and as it was nothing could keep them from reaching the Danube. Since surrendering his forces on the western bank would get him fired, the only thing to do was pull back to the eastern bank. Yet another good night’s sleep was missed as the remaining Hungarian soldiers in the south spent the night of 15-16 August crossing the river. But for the heart of Vienna itself, every rebel position west of the Danube was now gone. All the effort put into avoiding encirclement had been wasted.

The Danubians were going to win and Vienna didn’t have very long left.

A week after von Hutier’s bunder, the liberating troika looked forward to closing the ring. Weary men left their hastily dug night trenches for the fray. Adrenaline and noise had kept them up all night while weeks of combat had left them at the end of their rope, but their foes were worse. In the south, the six miles to the river were covered in a morning with barely a shot fired; the Hungarians had all retreated to the other bank. As tens of thousands of Danubians bathed in and drank from their national namesake, tears mingled with Alpine water. With the southern exits from Vienna sealed and no means of crossing the river, the day was won.

The north wasn’t so peaceful. Pulling the rebels out of the south bank hadn’t just been for their own safety; they could now keep the last road open. The Hungarian commander was ordered to keep Gross-Enzersdorf as a forward base for counterattacking reserves. In declaring casualties ‘acceptable’, Karolyi consigned irreplaceable men to their deaths, with no encouragement other than “be valiant.” One doubts whether the exhausted men took this to heart as they spent another night marching and entrenching. To their commanders, as to every man in Vienna, Gross-Enzersdorf was their last lifeline; the gravel road heading east and west might’ve been paved with solid gold. Staving off encirclement was worth any price. The defending men saw Gross-Enzersdorf as hardly worth putting on the map, much less dying over. Twenty-two defected that night and spent the small hours being grilled by German and Danubian officers while eating like the starving men they were.

When the guns rumbled at dawn, these twenty-two men had a much better time than the rest of their regiment. Skill and numbers dashed hopes of an eleventh-hour stand. Unwilling conscripts fought till their rifles were empty then threw up their hands. Sixteen-year-old boys in labour battalions turned on the Magyars with shovels; their sisters threw bricks and pots from a distance. Men were killed trying to grab rifles from dead bodies. Surrendering Hungarians had to be protected from the locals. A handful of Danubians from the south bank crossed the river and marched three miles to the battle in the early morning fog. Half his men in captivity or made casualties, the Hungarian commander presented a white flag at 11:20 AM. Five minutes later, the Oberstleutnant in charge of the Danubians from the south saluted the German colonel who’d led the attack from the north. Laughing and joking, their men stepped over the rubble of Gross-Enzersdorf to shake hands and embrace. They had beaten the foe and linked up at last.

Vienna was encircled.

From his headquarters in the Rathaus (city hall), the Hungarian commander pondered his options. His main asset was the Klosterneuburg guns; the foe still entered their range at his peril. An attack from the north would entail crossing the river and advancing through miles of defensible hills, all while under bombardment. Danubia enjoyed a manpower superiority, he knew, but there were cheaper ways of getting in. Being able to worry less about his north was the only bit of comfort the Hungarian enjoyed. 100,000 rebels had to defend a seventy-mile perimeter and 270 square miles of vengeful Austrians. They’d been receiving the lion’s share of supplies, but no more were en route, and when those ran out there would be nothing. At least half a million enemy troops were in the siege area and reserves would only swell that number. By contrast, in order to be of any use to him Hungary’s meagre reserves would have to break through an army.

Which brings us to the question of a breakout.

Vienna was encircled at roughly noon on 17 August. Telephone and telegraph lines had already been damaged in the fighting, so it fell to a messenger pigeon to carry the bad news. ‘Grey Grenvaros’ dodged imperial bullets on a ten-mile odyssey to Wiener Neustadt, whence the local commander telephoned Budapest. Mihaly Karolyi’s initial comments are best left untranslated, but he calmed down quickly. An immediate hard choice presented itself. Since it was already close to five PM, to accomplish anything before dusk was impossible. Something as complex as a breakout would be a Gordian knot in blind night fighting; doing it with disorganised, fatigued men would be impossible. Yet, the ring around Vienna was several days old in places and had already begun to harden. If they had a night to bring up reinforcements and dig trenches, the Danubians and Germans would make Gross-Enzersdorf impenetrable. Lastly, there was the question of how much the Vienna garrison could participate in a break-through. Every hour presented an opportunity for the enemy to pound the perimeter from all sides, and every man sent to the breakthrough point was one not manning the perimeter. If too few men were holding the perimeter and garrisoning the streets, the edifice might collapse. After conferring with the General Staff, the rebel leader decided to “amass reserves at a suitable point over two or three days, and then we shall punch a hole and see what develops.”

Time would tell how successful he’d be.

Maximilian IV had been eating his lunch when the telephone rang. When Chief of Staff von Straussenburg told him the news, his eyes moistened. All that time worrying over what was to be done, whether or not he could save his country- it was now past. His agonised questions alone in that Berlin bedroom had been answered. The battle was won, Danubia saved. After hanging up, Maximilian whispered the old Polish motto, “Si Deus nobisicum, qui es contra nos?”- if God is with us, who is against us? In the eighteenth century, his Habsburg ancestors had watched anachronistic Poland be wiped from existence, and recent months had led Maximilian to wonder if, like Poland, Danubia’s time had come. Now the question appeared settled. Unlike Poland, this ancient empire would live to fight another day. The United Empire of the Danube was saved. “The mission”, Maximilian murmured with tears in his eyes, “the nightmares. They’re finally over.” (5)

Vienna was on the brink. With liberators on four sides, the people finally had the chance to take matters into their own hands. The evening of 17 August saw riots which the occupiers brutally repressed. Fearful for their own safety and sick of this war, fighting civilians was a way of releasing anger. Thus, Hungarian troops took the gloves off and deployed bayonets and gas. Not anticipating quarter, they weren’t about to dole any out. Cavalry patrolled the streets all night. When morning came, the people struck back. Soldiers were mugged while morning soup and horse feed were poisoned. Tussles with rebels merged with early-morning arrests into riots, and by ten AM all pretence was abandoned. The Great Viennese Revolt had begun. Men fought their occupiers however they could, lobbing homemade bombs and wielding butcher’s knives. Those who spoke Hungarian disguised themselves and did real damage. All the while, imperial and German soldiers were pounding on the perimeter. With their rear in chaos and supplies dwindling, the outnumbered defenders couldn’t hold. Rothneusiedl in the southeast was taken in two hours while to the north, German forces marched up the left bank of the Danube. Hungarian hopes of retaining the western districts were dashed. Much damage was done to the beautiful capital, but not on the scale of October. Nightfall saw imperial forces bring up reinforcements and tend to their wounded civilians. The key event of the next day would not be, however, an advance through the capital. Rather, 18 August would be dominated by the last Hungarian offensive of the war.

As Karolyi had feared, the Viennese perimeter hadn’t been defensible. Too many factors had conspired in Danubia’s favour, and the southern half of the capital was slipping away. If the rebels didn’t reclaim the initiative fast, the pocket wouldn’t last two days. The only way to reclaim the initiative was to go on the offensive, piercing the siege to delay the conquest.

Like most things born of desperation, this counterattack was ill-planned. There weren’t enough reserves to punch through the imperial defences while the rebel artillery was concentrated in Klosterneuburg. Nonetheless, what choice was there? If victory was asking too much, then in throwing their lives away these men could postpone defeat. That ten percent of the understrength militia division armed with thirty-year-old guns deserted the night before the attack speaks volumes about what the Hungarians thought of their odds. Hochleithen was chosen as the break-through point: it was closest to Vienna and was near the Klosterneuburg guns. Its being miles away from yesterday’s fighting raised hopes that it would be poorly defended. A small lunge from the perimeter to meet the advancing troops was planned. Yet, one junior officer wrote the truth in his diary that night. “If our national and military hopes are to lie in these six thousand men, half of whom are fifteen and the other half sixty-five, it would be to Hungary’s advantage to seek whatever clemency the Emperor deigns to offer, lest we entrust the defence of Budapest to my six-year-old daughter.”

It’s hard to imagine his little girl could have done much worse.

Things didn’t start as poorly as one might expect. Striking in the quiet sector had been wise; the defenders of Hochleithen weren’t expecting an attack and lacked machine-guns. The two thousand men pushing out of Vienna should have been fighting further south, but still made a difference. For once, numbers played into Hungarian hands- there were fewer Danubians in Hochleithen than rebels. After an hour the unthinkable happened: the bullet-ridden imperial banner was lowered from the village. A tenuous escape tunnel had been crafted, and for a few hours the garrison appeared saved. It didn’t take long for things to go wrong, though. Exuberant at being reconnected, the commander in Vienna telephoned Karolyi at 12:47 for instructions. He wanted to cut his losses and pull out, but the civilian Karolyi refused. Ceding Vienna would be a harbinger of defeat. Whatever reserves existed, no matter how decrepit, were to march through the new corridor and defend the Vienna perimeter. The only snag was that the battalion of boys and grand-dads who had enough flesh to punch through the weakest of defences, were the only reserves at hand for a day’s march. Everything else had already been committed. “Well then”, declared Karolyi, “we shall just have to be all the more deadly, short, and swift. We cannot lose now. That corridor is our lifeline.”

Hungary’s leader had forgotten that the Danubians could move through his corridor just as easily as his own forces. He had punched his hole, but wasn’t to like what developed.

While Karolyi had been bickering with his commander, the Danubians and Germans had liberated Vienna. Aided by the people’s storm, they swept through city blocks and thoroughfares. People cheered the black and yellow banner as it was hoisted over rubble. Crying “Gott mit uns!”, “Dominus nobisicum!”, and even “Deus vult!”, the people of the United Empire of the Danube reclaimed their city. The burnt St. Stephen’s cathedral was liberated, as were concert halls, coffee houses, and shops selling boys’ toys and electric irons. Mindful of civilian lives, von Straussenburg forbade gas while explosives and shelling were minimised. A few pockets held out- including the Klosterneuburg guns- but by 1 PM on 18 August, just as Karolyi was lecturing his commander in Hochleiten, the capital was secure. Imperial forces then pounded the Hungarian corridor, tearing their way east.

From the Hungarian perspective, Vienna was not just dead- it was cremated and the ashes were blowing towards Budapest. Two and a half weeks of fighting were rendered moot. The Hungarians had lost the battle for Vienna, and every step east the enemy took reminded them that they’d lost the war.

The fall of Vienna was too big an event for even the censored Hungarian papers to hide. On the twentieth- two days after the fact- an officially sanctioned article was released. Hungarian arms, it declared, were “preparing to defend the regions of Bratislava, the Nieuslieder Sea, and to continue occupying the forward position of Wiener Neustadt and Graz, all to best repulse any enemy offensive.” These positions, it emphasised, had been established “only after very heavy defensive fighting in which many of the foe were cut down.” The word ‘Vienna’ didn’t appear once, nor was a map provided. Nevertheless, it didn’t take long for the people to realise what had happened. A panicked realisation set in that since they couldn’t win, Maximilian would be at their gates before long. Fear led the Hungarian people to turn on Mihaly Karolyi.

In this, they had an ally in Jozef Pogony, whose dreams of a people’s revolution seemed on the cusp of fulfillment. The second half of the Piros Revolution was about to begin.

Pamphlets were distributed across Budapest on 22 August calling for a general strike. “The only way to save the Fatherland from reaction and destruction is for the working masses to take things into their own hands!” When Pogony lambasted Karolyi for losing the war and called for revolt, his words were heeded. The people of Budapest had suffered greatly and had finally had enough. “Peace, Bread, and Land” sounded bloody good to them, and they turned on Mihaly Karolyi’s regime with fury. Clashes with police and riots mixed with a general strike as workers threw down their tools and entered the streets. “Peace, Bread, and Land! Peace, Bread, and Land! Peace, Bread, and Land!” Four syllables summed up the dreams of Budapest, dreams which the foolish and arrogant Karolyi had thrown on the line and which Maximilian seemed fit to steamroller at any moment. They had to pull their city and fatherland back from the brink, back from the horrors of war which they’d been spared so far. If Jozef Pogony could save them from what lay ahead, they would follow him. What had they to lose? “Peace, Bread, and Land!” Half the troops in Budapest were just as desperate as the rioters and so they joined them. No longer safe, Mihaly Karolyi attempted to flee the city, but was stopped. One of his bodyguards, whose name has not survived, had had enough. The Hungarian rebel heard the gun cocking, and turned around a split second before the blast. Mihaly Karolyi was forty-three years old, and had been Prime Minister of the Hungarian Republic for thirteen months. His assassin was gunned down moments later, but the damage was done. Rebel Hungary had been decapitated.
Chaos reigned in Budapest. One policeman might be for Pogany, another for the ancien regime. As with policemen, so with bakers, doctors, and school-teachers. Priests offered sanctuary inside their churches- weapons had to be left at the door. By midmorning, the riots had consumed half the capital. Karolyi’s protege Janos Hadik had survived and rallied the loyalists to his cause. With the top floor of a department store his headquarters, he planned a counteroffensive. The situation was bleak- many of the soldiers in the capital had gone over to Pogany, while nearly everything else was busy being battered a hundred miles to the west. Tapping into the western reservoir would cost territory- and besides, in the time it took to move a unit from the front to the capital the riots might consume Budapest. The roar of a canister shell told Hadik to hurry, the screams of the mob reminded him what was at stake. He shook his head. If the regime couldn’t defend Budapest with what it had on hand, it was in too much trouble for units from the front to make any odds. Every available unit in Budapest was to throw itself against the rioters, asking no questions and taking no prisoners. Pogany may have had the pen, but Hadik had the sword, and he knew which would conquer Budapest- aphorisms be damned. Budapest’s armoury was cracked open, and out came the CS gas and bayonets. Professional soldiers were outnumbered, but their equipment made a key difference. As the mob soon learned, raising red flags while smashing windows and heads was easier than fighting fully-armed troops. Triumphal shouts were replaced by the screams of the dying and the cacophony of stamping boots, pierced only by gunshots. It was a mark of how far humankind had regressed in three years that what would’ve made headlines in 1914 as “Massacre in Budapest!” was now almost de rigeur. Justinian’s men had hardly done worse in Constantinople fourteen hundred years previous. When the sun set on 22 August, two hundred and forty-seven bodies had been pulled from the smoking ruins- twice that number had been wounded. Fires nibbled away at the capital for another two days, but they were not fires of revolution, and that was all Janos Hadik cared about. The Piros Revolution had been brought to a swift and brutal end.


Janos Hadik: the man who oversaw the Hungarian Republic's death throes.
Hadik_Janos.jpeg


Attacks against the rebel regime came from the opposite direction, too. August saw the rise of a new Hungarian faction who made up for paltry numbers and a total lack of training with excessive common sense. Dubbed the “Legitimists”, these men were Hungarians fighting on behalf of Maximilian and Danubia who saw Mihaly Karolyi and Janos Hadik as traitors to their emperor. The communists weren’t allies of convenience; they were enemies who’d dangle at the end of a rope. Legitimists had no fewer qualms about shooting rebel troops than communists trying to redistribute their harvest- or, for that matter, attacking their neighbours who sold their grain to Hadik. Young men took their rifles to the countryside and became partisans fighting for “Danubia and Hungary.” The most obvious reason people became Legitimists was opportunism. With Vienna gone, hunger in the streets, and society fragmenting, foreboding hung in the air. Perhaps by allying themselves with the coming storm, they might escape the worst of its wrath? There was more to it than that though. Many Legitimist partisans were Catholic peasants who’d venerated Franz Joseph. The Habsburg dynasty stood for peace and prosperity, for conservatism and Faith, for the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. Having grown up under propaganda telling them that the emperor was their father and guardian of the Hungarian people, many couldn’t believe that Maximilian was all bad. Doing something for the empire wouldn’t just save their skin- it was what they owed their fatherland. “To remove the Habsburgs from Hungary”, wrote an unusually eloquent Legitimist, “is to remove the salt from the sea, the oxygen from the air.” They were the real Hungarian patriots; Mihaly Karolyi and Janos Hadik were the traitors. Little else united the Legitimists, who lacked a clear leader or a unified structure. Legitimists, for obvious reasons, were concentrated near the front lines and many would join the Danubians once the armies washed over their villages. Postwar, many Legitimists would find their careers fast-tracked by the grateful Maximilian; they supported his narrative of the Hungarians being wayward brothers who needed forgiveness, not the eternal enemy. The role these men would play in reconstruction is for another chapter.

The Legitimists were about to get their big break.

Janos Hadik couldn’t stop the imperial tide eastwards. On 29 August, seven days after his predecessor’s death, Hadik conferred with his ministers in Debrecen. Everyone knew about the atrocities committed in Vienna- many of the men in the room had encouraged them at the time. No mercy could be expected from the vengeful Danubians. “Unless you gentlemen wish to dangle from a rope over burning Budapest like a pig over flames, we must find a solution to this war.” The words tasted like bile. All the death and suffering, all the hopes and fears, all the triumph of taking Vienna and killing Emperor Karl, had been for naught. Magyar supremacism had been set back a generation. Historians would remember Janos Hadik and his colleagues as fools who lost the war and paid for it at the gallows. But if surrendering without enemy troops on national soil could spare his people from the worst excesses of war, Hadik had no choice but to do so. None of his ministers were fanatics. After three days of arguing, and with the Danubienkorps battering on Bratislava’s gates, a decision was made. “Placing our trust in God and in the mercy of the emperor, the Government of the Hungarian Republic as of seven PM, 1 September 1918, requests a cease-fire with the Government of the United Empire of the Danube and all allied forces fighting alongside said Government.”

Hadik’s proposal enjoyed Maximilian’s unreserved support. With Mihaly Karolyi dead, the repentant Hungarians were coming to their senses. He could have peace without making a desert, and that could bring re-integration. Von Straussenburg cared about the military, not the political. Four years of suffering had taken its toll, and the imperial army was reaching the end of its rope. What would it cost his men to reach Budapest by Christmas? Accepting Hadik’s ceasefire would save lives. Not everyone agreed, though. Giving the Hungarians a slap on the wrist for murdering Emperor Karl and torching Vienna would only encourage them to revolt again. Teaching the Hungarians what a mistake they’d made wasn’t enough- they had to rub their noses in that fact till they bled. One suspects revenge for Vienna was the paramount concern. The Germans concurred- putting the jackboot to Budapest would satiate bloodlust. Berlin had spent a lot of money to help its ally, and photographs of a burning Budapest would show the German public that their investment had been worthwhile. When Kaiser Wilhelm II telephoned Maximilian on the second, he advised “crippling the successors of Attila by leaving their horde with nothing but ashes!”, and in a separate telegram to von Quast floated the idea of the Danubienkorps marching alone to Budapest if Maximilian made peace. Had such a thing been tried, the Habsburgs would have evicted the Germans by force and public sympathy would’ve shifted to Hungary. As it happened, Maximilian didn’t want the Danubienkorps to enter Hungary. He was immensely grateful for German aid, but Vienna’s liberation had shifted everything. No longer were his armies fighting to free German-speaking territory; they were moving to reunite the empire. In order for Hungary to become a normal part of Danubia, both Hadik and Pogony had to be felled by imperial arms. Hungary’s people had to be shown that they weren’t being conquered by a hostile foreign power. Sturmtruppen burning Budapest would be satisfying in the short term, but would do more to weaken his empire’s structure than anything else. Vienna would be avenged- he already had a list of those whose heads would roll- but torching Budapest would do little more than literally inflame passions. As King of Hungary alongside Emperor of Danubia and Archduke of Austria, Maximilian had to be sensible. If the Hungarians were to forget frustrated dreams of independence, he would have to forgive their worst excesses.

This aroused German ire. “I do not think much of this idea”, said a young Sturmtruppen commander named Erwin Rommel. “Karl attempted to placate and look where that got him. Mark my words, if Emperor Maximilian follows this policy of his we shall have to repeat this at another time. That would not be peace, but an armistice for twenty years.” Why were German boys dying in the empire if not to avenge Vienna with Budapest, an eye for an eye. Anything else would be unsatisfactory. Fear was the best way to restore the union. Rome had never had trouble with Carthage after it was sacked and the fields sown with salt. It was here that Erich von Falkenhayn intervened. Germany’s Chief of Staff believed Berlin had the right to dictate events in Central Europe and that Danubia was only a Great Power by virtue of its victory in the Great War. In a missive to the emperor, von Falkenhayn declared that it would be “unfortunate” if the empire “paid insufficient attention to means of ensuring continued internal stability.” His polite words masked serious intent. The Germans had much support from those in the imperial court who wanted revenge. There was a real sense amongst the empire’s Austrians that since Maximilian only ruled because of Emperor Karl’s untimely death, he had a responsibility to avenge his predecessor. Those who spoke of removing the regent if he didn’t commit to finishing the war found quiet support from the Germans. Maximilian conceded. Destroying Hungary would cost blood, time, prestige, and moral strength, but losing Berlin’s support would be fatal. The war would plod on and thousands more would go to the grave for German visions of grandeur. Against his better judgement- to say nothing of his conscience- Budapest would be made to pay.

The end now came quickly.

Imperial troops had conquered Bratislava during the debate over a cease-fire, forging a clear path ahead. Reinforced by the Danubienkorps, one arm would advance down the great river while a smaller force attacked in Slovakia. The two branches would converge on Budapest, destroying Jozef Pogany’s Communist regime, after which the rest of the rebel state could be mopped up. The only things rumbling at the front in mid-September were the stomachs of ill-fed Hungarians. Imperial engineers spent the month toiling away on the roads east of Vienna, connecting the new positions to supply bases in Salzburg. Since Mihaly Karolyi hadn’t thought the empire could reach this far east, he hadn’t earmarked as much force for defending it as Vienna. Without knowing it, Hungary’s late leader had handed the enemy an intact set of rail lines and roads. More German-made bullets and rations crossed the chewed-up roads from Salzburg to Bratislava while commanders stared at maps. In the north, the weary Polish Legions prepared for another attack while reinforcements from various crownlands moved up. They were nearly at the end of their rope, but the Danubians had to carry on. The end was too near for peace now.

Janos Hadik would’ve given anything he had to trade places with Maximilian. Legitimist partisans were moving from nuisance to threat by interfering with the harvest. The resulting food shortages in cities ironically drove people to support the communists. Soldier’s relations with officers can be summed up by the following joke, “they (officers) have it so hard these days. For every three men he commands, one will be a communist, one will remain loyal to Janos Hadik’s regime, and one will be marking time till he can defect to Maximilian. It is not an easy thing to tell the first two they are wrong!” Protecting one’s farm from partisans superseded defending Janos Hadik, and so people took off. Equipment had long since dried up- people were armed with Austro-Prussian War rifles, hunting guns, or not at all. The better part of Hungary’s artillery had been taken from Klosterneuburg, and was now sitting only a few hundred yards away from the defenders- except the enemy was pointing it east. With Germany determined to fight to the death, all Hadik could do was lead his country to a glorious end.

Maximilian IV now brought the axe swinging for the final blow.

Dawn came early on 2 October 1918. Hundreds of Danubian and German shells lit up the night sky, their orange streaks slicing through the black and muting silver stars. Gas gurgled. So did blood stuck in human lungs as men fought a losing battle for their last breaths. All across a forty-mile corridor between the Neusiedler Sea and Galanta, the weight of over a quarter of a million men punched through the Hungarian lines. It was Bardoneechia, the Oststorm (6), and Reichgrüben all over again. (7) Sturmtruppen used weak spots as their highway to supply dumps and roads. The Hungarians had had enough. Their homeland would fall regardless of what they themselves did, so why not give up? Secret Legitimists turned on their comrades and waved white flags; communists deserted. Imperial gunboats sailed down the Danube, pounding Hungarians who couldn’t shoot back. German fighters- including one flown by a certain Hermann Goering, another by Rudolf Hess- kept the sky clear of Hungarian planes.

A similar story played out in the north. With Vienna gone and the road to the heartland opened, defending Bzovska Lehota suddenly seemed unimportant. Grizzled Polish troops leapt over the top on the second and punched through the defences. Foreign bodies were fed into the crank to overwhelm the Hungarians. After a day’s fighting, Bzovska Lehota, the sleepy Slovak town for which thousands had given their lives, fell. Poles and Galicians streamed south, while attacks from the flanks further pressured the defenders. By the end of October, imperial and Polish troops had advanced to within thirty miles of Budapest. Legitimists in the countryside presented themselves to imperial officers- their knowledge of the terrain made them invaluable, and since they spoke the same language as the people they were seen as less provocative. This prompted Maximilian to use them as occupation troops.

With collaborators greasing the wheels, the juggernaut finally reached its goal.

The Hungarian Republic died on 12 October 1918. Nothing else mattered- not ideology, not differences of opinion or race or class- now that the hour was approaching. Mobs ransacked the government buildings taken over by the regime and clashed with die-hards. Meanwhile, people fled east. Better to take their families to the countryside than die in the capital. The men in front of Budapest knew they couldn’t win. Outnumbered and outgunned, all they had was the knowledge that they were defending their wives and children. It was a good reason to fight but not enough to win. By the end of the day, after the better part of a year’s suffering, the harvest sown with blood at St. Polten, Bzovska Lehota, and Vienna had been reaped. Without needing to do more than organise the Legitimist street fighters and disperse crowds, the Danubians occupied Budapest. The people hid in cellars and attics. Any moment, the soldiers would come knocking to offer their family to the men like a pagan sacrifice in appeasement for Vienna. What had they done but been born on the wrong side of Lake Balaton? Nurses clutched babies to their breasts, shopkeepers yelped in protest. German Sturmtruppen rampaged through the streets where children had played before the war, shooting first and asking questions afterwards. No cathedrals were burned, but many homes and shops were. Aeroplane-dropped leaflets in German and Hungarian informed the people that ‘for every house which hides one rebel, ten will be punished’. Prominent Legitimists had been told to flee ahead of time, but those left in the city flew a flag with a coded message: white on one side, the Habsburg eagle on the other. Soldiers in the heat of combat sometimes paid attention, but they could no more control where their bullets went than they could prevent people from dying once they’d set the buildings alight. Imperial troops were less vicious than the Germans- after all, as Maximilian never ceased to remind himself, he was King of Hungary. It wasn’t murder, the emperor told himself a thousand times that day, watching reports come into Vienna, the Hungarians had brought this on themselves. Surely, in spite of the destruction the world told him to wreck on Budapest, a new leaf could be turned over? Surely, the Triple Monarchy could recover from this?

Maximilian IV would have given anything to know the answers.

Comments?


  1. I felt like such an arse writing this.
  2. Hungary’s currency?
  3. Why not? Germany is at peace and might as well send its ally a few of the shells which exploded at OTL’s Second Marne or what have you…
  4. This was introduced during OTL Verdun for the Germans and during the Brusilov Offensive IOTL for the Austro-Hungarians, so all three should be wearing it now, at least to an extent. No way that could cause confusion…
  5. Bonus points for anyone who gets this reference!
  6. Germany’s TTL August 1916 offensive which led to Tsar Nicholas’ fall. See chapter 11.
  7. And let’s not forget Caporetto! ;)
 
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Nice. Glad the TL is back!
Thank you very much. It's great to be back.
Ah, Real Life, the spoiler of our fun everywhere!

Great to have you back! :)

- BNC
Thanks very much-- and thanks for nominating me for that Turtledove! You are the man (and next week, we'll see a cameo from Old Blood and Guts, just as you requested)
I continue to applaud your willingness to keep researching and then go back and change things.
Thanks. It can be frustrating but it's absolutely worth it.
 

NoMommsen

Donor
Chapter 41.2: Budapest Dendela Est

...
... we 'nitpick' to get your Latin - or at lest the sequence of letters - right that as I assume shall resemble Cato the Elder and his "ceterum autem censeo : Cathaginem esse delendam" often abbreviated by lesser educated to "Carthago delenda est" - it should be :
Budapestem Delendam Esse​
or at least :
Budapest Delenda Est​

Dendela seems to be between other options a tanzanian surname ...
 
... we 'nitpick' to get your Latin - or at lest the sequence of letters - right that as I assume shall resemble Cato the Elder and his "ceterum autem censeo : Cathaginem esse delendam" often abbreviated by lesser educated to "Carthago delenda est" - it should be :
Budapestem Delendam Esse​
or at least :
Budapest Delenda Est​

Dendela seems to be between other options a tanzanian surname ...
Good to have you back. Will fix.
 
The above two chapters were originally meant to be one, but I ran afoul of the 100,000 characters per post limit.
A 20,000 word update? :eek: :) Don't think I've ever seen one of those before! Nice work.

next week, we'll see a cameo from Old Blood and Guts, just as you requested)
:angel: I might have just recently killed him off in my own timeline, so looking forward to him causing more chaos here!

- BNC
 
  1. Hungary’s currency?
The Austro-Hungarian currency was the Krone, which was also in use in Hungary. It was introduced in 1892, where it replaced the previous Gulden/Forint (samme currency but different names in Austria/Hungary). Post-ww1 OTL, the Hungarian Korona replaced the Krone to avoid hyperinflation cause by Austria, but was itself devalued by hyperinflation due to Hungarian spending. It was replaced by the Pengő in 1927, which also suffered hyperinflation, and got replaced by the Forint in 1946.

Long story short, it is definitely not impossible for the separatist Hungarian government to introduce a new currency and call it the Forint. After all, it doesn't make sense to burn Vienna and wish to maintain a common currency with Austria at the same time, so they kinda need a new name for their currency. The easy thing would be the direct OTL-analogue, ie. overstamp the bank notes and rename the Krone to the Korona, but there are many possible names that could be used.
 
The Austro-Hungarian currency was the Krone, which was also in use in Hungary. It was introduced in 1892, where it replaced the previous Gulden/Forint (samme currency but different names in Austria/Hungary). Post-ww1 OTL, the Hungarian Korona replaced the Krone to avoid hyperinflation cause by Austria, but was itself devalued by hyperinflation due to Hungarian spending. It was replaced by the Pengő in 1927, which also suffered hyperinflation, and got replaced by the Forint in 1946.

Long story short, it is definitely not impossible for the separatist Hungarian government to introduce a new currency and call it the Forint. After all, it doesn't make sense to burn Vienna and wish to maintain a common currency with Austria at the same time, so they kinda need a new name for their currency. The easy thing would be the direct OTL-analogue, ie. overstamp the bank notes and rename the Krone to the Korona, but there are many possible names that could be used.
I could never bring myself to include the word "Korona" or "Corona" where it's not necessary, not since about March of 2020. ;) So, Forint it shall be. Thanks for filling that particular gap in my knowledge.
A 20,000 word update? :eek: :) Don't think I've ever seen one of those before! Nice work.


:angel: I might have just recently killed him off in my own timeline, so looking forward to him causing more chaos here!

- BNC
Yes, I went overboard. Seal me up in quarantine with nothing but books and my computer and, well...
Patton never dies. He'd never forgive himself. He exists across all timelines.....
 
As the others wrote already: Very good to see this is back!
Chapter 16 has been completely re-done (it's even got a new title), while chapters 18, 20, and 24 have undergone minor retcons. You might want to go back and re-read them (especially chapter 16; the other three have mostly cosmetic changes) to see what I've done.
Could you summarize the changes? I glanced at your new chapter 16, but it's too long since I read the previous version.
 
A 20,000 word update? You put the rest of us to shame :)

Though one thing I noticed...

By the end of October, imperial and Polish troops had advanced to within thirty miles of Budapest. Legitimists in the countryside presented themselves to imperial officers- their knowledge of the terrain made them invaluable, and since they spoke the same language as the people they were seen as less provocative. This prompted
There seems to be part of a sentence missing. I assume it's a copy and paste error?

Great writing as always.
 
I continue to applaud your willingness to keep researching and then go back and change things.
Agreed; it's a rare AH author willing to admit he's wrong and then go back to correct things.

We might be reading and discussing AH, but reality is still reality. The butterfly's wings can only flap so much.
 
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