Over by Christmas
On the assassination of the Archduke in Sarevago and the rejection of the Serbs
on some of the terms, the reaction of Austrian military was swifter than many
politicians both home and aboard anticipated. In spite of the risk of Russian
involvement, and in uncharacteristic form, Berchtold* pushed General von
Hotzendorf into mobilising the army on the Serbian front. Whilst the action was
technically unconstitutional (and the Emperor was rumoured to have wanted the
Prime Minister to sack Berchtold), just as in 1912 Russia failed to react giving
the Austro-Hungarian military a free hand to prosecute the war as they saw fit
quickly achieved ascendancy by forces completely surrounding the border cities
of Ram and Shabaz. In addition, advancing troops also threatened to cut the
railway to Belgrade. This move was prevented by the Serbian High Command rushing
every available unit to keep the way to their capital open.
than getting bogged down in bloody sieges, Hotzendorf left just enough troops to
contain any garrisons and with the remains of his army push deeper into Serbia
as far as the cities of Valjevo and Uzhitse and the arsenal at Kragujevac.
Because the Serbian army was slow to mobilise, initially fighting was generally
limited to around Belgrade and the approaches to it.
However, as more defending units moved north, it
became increasing bloody. This was because the Austro-Hungarian generals were
heedless of casualties, the majority which were not Austrians or Hungarians but
A number of Russian leaders were less than happy with the course of events. At
the very least, they wanted to immobilise troops on the Austro-Hungarian border
in order to draw away troops from the Serb front. However the Tsar was loath to
take any action that might be construed as the preliminaries of an attack on
Austro-Hungary out of fear that the Germans too would become embroiled. Thus
when the British diplomat Lord Gray proposed a congress to resolve the issue, he
immediately supported it, even offering to hold it in Moscow.
The Austro-Hungarian government also endorsed the idea, the politicians at least
seeing it as the opportunity to get out of a potential quagmire. They suggested
London instead as it was a more neutral venue. With the Germans also signing on
and the French and Italians being in invited as observers, the only detail
standing in the way was the fighting in Serbia. Whilst diplomats argued the date
and terms of a cease-fire, the Austro-Hungarian generals pulled all the stops
out. Their aim was to seize as much territory as possible as well as to be in
the best possible position to continue the war should the congress fail.
weeks into the war, Austro-Hungarian stocks of shells were now badly depleted
and well below what the High Command considered necessary were one of the
surrounded city to be assaulted. Therefore, Hotzendorf suggested to Berchtold
that it would advisable to call a cease-fire. Berchtold endorsed it and ordered
the diplomats to push for one as soon as possible. Four weeks and three days
after the murder of the ArchDuke, the attacking forces halted their advance and
began to dig in. With the front now static, the defenders did likewise.
movements did not stop though (and neither did the terms of the truce prevent
them). The Serbians despatched newly mobilised units to reinforce the front line
whilst for its part the Austro-Hungarian rotated units, replacing battle worn
formations with fresh ones.
At the Congress of London, buoyed by the successes in the field, the
Austro-Hungarian delegation took a stronger line than it had hitherto with the
Serbs. Their argument that they had sweated blood and wanted recompense for it.
Besides, they added that to endorse only the previous terms would be a charter
for countries to chance wars with the knowledge that they could always revert
back diplomacy without any penalty if events went wry. What was needed for the
knowledge that such duplicity would not be rewarded.
The Germans and the British openly agreed with this position as did the French
in private. The Russian delegation's view was that as it was the
Austro-Hungarians who had attacked first, the Serbs ought to be given some
leeway. However without the Tsar's backing, they were forced to give ground.
Belgrade was thus left on its own.
The terms of the final treaty were harsh. As well as meeting all of the
Austro-Hungarians' initial demands made after the death of the Archduke, they
agreed to reduce the size of their armed forces, have no artillery heavier than
75mm and pay reparations equal to the cost of the war to the Austro-Hungarians.
Moreover until the last mark of the latter had been paid, Austro-Hungarian
troops were to be stationed on Serbian soil, the maintenance of which was to be
paid by the Serbs.
Facing possible total conquest and having no obvious support, the Serb Prime
Minister signed the treaty. As the news was telegraphed to the various capitals
Europe breathed a sigh of relief. There were still a few details to be tied up
but another Balkan war had been prevented in escalating into a major conflict.
* Historically Berchtold was a notorious procrastinator. However as events in
leading up to the First World War on OTL, he suddenly took the bull by the
horns, driving events further to war. I have made his uncharacteristic
impetuousness occur earlier in the course of events.
Implosion of Empire
(sequel to Over by Christmas)
Tsar Nicholas's acquiesence to the defeat of Serbia by Austro-Hungary and the
subsequent Treaty of London which forced heavy reparations on the former and
legitimised an army of occupation by the latter disgusted many Russian military
commanders, politicians and businessmen. Added to the defeat by Japan ten years
early, they concluded that Russia needed new leadership and decided to take
steps to achieve this. They had no plans to actually remove the Tsar, though.
Instead they wished to change his role more to one akin to the God-Emperor of
Japan, a figure head not a ruler. As the model appeared to work there very
successfully, they saw no reason why it could not be applied in Russia. As for
the current government, they were regarded as weak sycophants who had to be
replaced if Russia were ever to regain her rightful place in the world.
A number of cliques emerged holding this view. Under the leader of a prominent
Russian hey amalgamated to form an umbrella group called Patriots of the
Fatherland. This organisation's aims now also encompassed a war on the
communists and nihilists whom the members saw as destroying Russia within.
Furthermore the Patriots adopted a Pan Slavic flavour and saw the continuing
Austro-Hungarian occupation of Serbia as an affront to Slavic pride and thus to
be resisted. A number of the organisation travelled to Serbia to recruit allies
with which to attack the army of occupation along with any collaborators. They
found kindred souls in the remnants of the Black Hand as well as demobbed
soldiers. Soon guns, explosives and money started to flow in to support them
For Austro-Hungary's part the invasion of Serbia and the subsequent occupation
were regarded as a good thing. The honour of the empire was seen to have been
restored and the reparations would repay Vienna for the cost of the war. The
support of the army of occupation by the Serbs reduced the defence budget by a
small amount was seen as a further bonus. In fact once bureaucrats had their
attention drawn to this the number of Austro-Hungarian units in Serbia was
increased at every opportunity; no limits on the size of the army had been
specified in the Treaty of London.
However all was not well. Most of the casualties in the war had been from
non-Austrian and Hungarian subject races. In addition, it was they who were
formed the bulk of the troops stationed in a hostile country far from home. Any
sympathy that Czech and other Slavs may have had for Serbs soon evaporated when
they became targets in a concerted terrorist campaign. For their part, Serb
guerrillas did not distinguish between the occupiers who were the hated
Austrians and Hungarians and those who were not. As far as they were concerned,
they were all the same.
Buoyed up by their success in Serbia the Patriots began assassinate communist
and nihilists living outside Russia. One of the first victims was one known to
his comrades as Lenin. The pogrom was facilitated by the fact
that the Patriots had sympathisers in embassies in most European capitals that
could alert the center. On given a name and an address it would send a special
team to make the hit. Thus, its eyes were not imperiled and could
remain to track down other enemies.
The communists and nihilists did not take this lying down and stepped up their
attacks on Russian government officials. However, it had no hard intelligence on
whom the leaders of the Patriots were and so killed ten persons with no
connection for each one who had.
In 1916 Emperor Franz Joseph died and Charles I ascended to the throne. He
called a council with his government and requested that they look at withdrawing
from Serbia. For their part, the ministers were unanimous in declaring that it
could not be done without compromising the honour of the empire as well as
rewarding terrorism. The new emperor backed down.
months later the Austro-Hungarian government had totally lost control of the
situation. Outside cities much of Serbia was now a no go to its troops. The
Belgrade government was starting to get behind on paying reparations. This was
partly because of the disruption to its economy due first to the war and now to
the terrorist campaign. However, civil servants were now deliberately sabotaging
the process of payment whilst workers went on strike thus reducing revenue from
taxes and customs dues. If all that was not enough, the influenza epidemic hit
the continent killing thousands in both countries.
With the flow of revenue from Serbia do to a trickle, the fiddle on funding
troop deployments had been suspended. Ostensibly the extra troops that had been
sent would be now payrolled by Vienna, but there were some politicians who
believed that Belgrade should be eventually billed. To try and gain control of
the situation Hotzendorf sent more troops to Serbia until the numbers deployed
were equal to that of the original army of invasion, but with little impact on
Within the ranks of the Austro-Hungarian army there was now dissension about
going to Serbia and not just by Slavs. So far the casualties from the guerrilla
war had only been low. However rumours made out that they were higher and
government denials to the contrary were disbelieved.
Many young men now evaded conscription by crossing the border into Germany and
Switzerland or gaining some form of deferral. As they tended to be those whose
families could support them, a certain amount of dissension began to build up in
Austro-Hungarian society most noticeably in the poorer Slavic regions.
In Russia, the operations of the Patriots had started to dent the authority of
the Tsar. Whilst Nicholas could not clamp down on those who were apparently his
allies neither could he stand by and allow them to manipulate his position
without taking some action. However, there was little he could do other than
issue decrees against its activities. There were too many hard core members and
sympathisers of the Patriots to sack and his words were ignored. Where loyal
supporters did take action against those who could be identified, extreme
measures are often taken against them in return. It was about this time that the
mad monk Rasputin was killed by members of the movement.
By late 1920 dissent in the Austro-Hungary now moved from covert to open dissent
with radical newspapers proposing radical agendas ranging from equality for all
races to absolution of the empire and the formations of a
series of states. Some of the communists and nihilists in Russia began to ape
the latter agenda. However, their demands had less impact as per se groups such
as the Balts, Georgians and other minorities were a smaller
proportion of the population.
Seeing Serbia as nothing but a sink now, and with reparation payments well below
what the treaty had mandated, Charles overrode his ministers and on the first
radio broadcast by an Emperor, announced a partial withdrawal troops commencing
in the summer of 1921.
Again the bureaucrats struck. As the units were to be demobbed and unemployment
was rising, it was subject races that were in the main brought home. Soon on the
streets of many towns were young men out of work and nothing to do with their
time. They were easy prey for nationalists looking for trained fighting men.
Nationalistic fervour also spilled over into Germany and Russia. In the former
only the Poles presented a significant number and were largely ignored by the
majority population. In Russia, events took a bloody course of events as groups
emulated the Serbs and commenced guerrilla wars in the Baltic and Caucasus
regions. They may not have been well equipped but they added to the sense of
chaos that Russia had slipped into. Those Russians whose sole loyalty was to the
Tsar were now under pressure from three groups; the Patriots, the communists and
nihilists and now the nationalists.
Elections for the Duma in 1922 resulted in significant gains by those
sympathetic to the former although a number of candidates were assassinated
during the campaign. With their hands now on many of the reins of power the
Patriots commenced a heavier clamp down on their enemies. Protestations from
Nicholas were replied with either give the orders yourself or leave us to deal
with the situation. Seeing little choice and on the advice of his personal
staff, the Tsar gave in even to the extent of signing some executive powers over
to his ministers. He was fast becoming just a figurehead that the Patriots so
The chaos in Austro Hungary now had the empire on its back. It could no longer
really afford to support the army in Serbia, but if the troops were removed that
would mean the Serbs would stop paying any reparations.
was the city of Trieste that brought events to a head. When in the late autumn
of 1923, food shortages led to rioting, the police and local army units failed
to continue the situation. In fact some of them joined the local nationalists
and declared themselves part of the Kingdom of Italy. They were soon supported
by fellow countrymen, some of which merely demonstrated their side of the
border, others who crossed over to join their compatriots in attacking symbols
of Austro-Hungarian authority.
As the news of the rebellion spread across the empire, other nationalists seized
control of cities. The process was largely peaceful where there was one race and
police and army units acquiesced or openly joined the rebels.
It was far less so where cities were divided or local commanders attempt to
suppress any rebellion with (mainly) Austrian or Hungarian troops.
Large numbers of the army in Serbia now deserted and gangs of soldiers hijacked
trains in order to return home. On the way they were often harried by Serb
guerrillas and so in return took heavy reprisals on the local population.
Seeing an opportunity to rid itself of its enemy’s demands, Belgrade announced
that it would no longer pay any
reparations until the situation was calmer. The Russian Foreign Minister, a
closet Patriot, declared support for his fellow Serbs and demanded that Vienna
put its house in order before the conflagration spread any further.
growing increasing alarmed at the chaos and without contacting his government,
Kaiser Wilhelm contacted Charles and offered the loan of German troops. Hoping
to salvage something, Charles unwillingly agreed although
insisted they should be under Austro Hungarian control.
Prime Minister Ludendorf was initially not very happy with the Kaiser's action.
However, after some discussion with cabinet colleagues, he gave secret orders to
the General Staff that certain areas were to be occupied for eventual
incorporation into Germany, namely Austria, Bohemia and parts of Poland. If the
empire were going to collapse, it would make sense to cherrypick some of the
better parts. Thus when the Imperial Army moved in "to support the civilian
authority", it was so far and no farther.
The German answer to the request precipitated a similar reaction by other
neighbouring states. Italian troops occupied the disputed border territory
including Trieste. Those Austro Hungarian units still remaining along the
border stayed in their barracks rather than provoke a clash with the invading
forces. Whilst it was in no state to seize Austro Hungarian territory, Serbia
accepted the secession of Serbians in Bosnia. Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia (the
latter with the assistance of local Austrian troops) were declared to be
independent states by nationalist movements.
Where there were still organised governments or one was quickly formed, eg like
Hungary where a group of nobles set up an interim administration under Bela Kun,
order was quickly restored. However, because the diverse populations and no
obvious supreme power, Croatia and Bosnia collapse into a series of statelets
headed by local warlords.
Faced by the effective loss of his empire, Charles did not so much as abdicate
as accept a new title of Archduke of Austria in an expanded German state. The
Austro-Hungarian Empire was no more.
When the dust had settled, the Patriots in Moscow were pleased with their
efforts. Whilst they were still in conflict with dissident elements in Russia, a
potential enemy had been eliminated.