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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

They 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.

Rather 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 subject races.
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.

Three 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.

Troops 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.

Eighteen 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 the situation.

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 desired.

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.

It 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.

Now 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.

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