Born on 18 September 1854 in Udine in the province of Venetia (until 1866, part of the Habsburg monarchy, now Italy). His father was captain in the Austrian army.
After having attended "Gymnasium" classes (high school) in Goerz (Gorizia) and Triest (Trieste; both cities are now Italian) Dankl moved to the cadet school in St. Poelten (Lower Austria). From 1870 - 1874 he studied at the military academy in Wiener Neustadt (Lower Austria). In 1874 Dankl became second lieutnant (3rd Dragoon Reg.). He passed the Kriegsschule (war academy) 1877-1879, became general staff officer and went up the ranks, serving with both cavalry and infantry units: 1896 chief of staff XIIIth army corps, 1899 - 1903 head of the central office of the Austro-Hungarian general staff, and on 01/05/1903 Dankl became major general. 1903-1905 he commanded the 66th infantry brigade, then (until 1907) the 16th infantry brigade (Trieste), 1907 commander of the 36th infantry division (Agram, now Zagreb / Croatia) and field marshal lieutnant. 07/02/1912 commander-in-chief XIVth Army Corps (Innsbruck, Tyrol), 01/11/1912 general.
At the outbreak of the war with Russia Dankl was appointed commander-in-chief 1st Army. According to Conrad's strategic plans the 1st Army had to attack northwards, from a position on the eastern bank of the Vistula river, crossing the San river and to advance against the Russian forces which were suspected to concentrate near Lublin. Dankl's army indeed clashed with Russian 4th Army which withdrew (battle of Krasnik, 23-25 August 1914) - this Austrian initial success made Dankl very popular and he was decorated with the Commander's cross of the Militaer-Maria-Theresien-Order and was appointed "Count of Krasnik". Austrian defeat on the eastern flank of the front made retreat towards Western Galicia inevitable, and Dankl's Army moved back to a position north of Cracow. In October 1914 his army, with German troops on its left flank, advanced again, but no permanent success could be obtained. During the 1914/15 winter Dankl commanded on a relatively quiet part of the Eastern front, and so his army was merely considered a reserve army for those armies fighting the bitter winter battles in the Carpathians. After the Gorlice-Tarnow breakthrough (May 1915) Dankl's 1st Army, profiting from the Austro-German success, advanced too, but soon was stopped by a Russian counter-attack (battle of Opatow). This failure was Dankl's last acting on the Eastern Front, because when Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary (23 May 1915), Dankl was made commander-in-chief of the Tyrol defence (headquarters at Bozen, Southern Tyrol / now Italy). The situation there seemed to be rather hopeless: the Italian troops were largely superior in numbers and equipment, but because of their lack of war experience they did not dare to advance quickly; the Italians lost time whereas the Austrian defence positions could be strenghtened. All Italian efforts to achieve any greater success on the Tyrol front were in vain.
In 1916 Conrad, the chief of the Austro-Hungarian general staff and leading general (although he was not general-in-command of all Austro-Hungarian troops), wanted to execute a plan he had been making up since his service as a divisional commander in Tyrol ten years ago: to attack the Italian front from north (Southern Tyrol, Trentino) to south (Adriatic Sea) to encircle the Italian troops attacking the Austrian Isonzo frontline eastwards in the rear. Two armies (Army Group Archduke Eugen: 11th and 3rd Army) should break through the Italian frontline.
Dankl was made commander 11th Army (13 March 1916; III corps on the left flank, XX corps commanded by Archduke Charles, heir to the Habsburg throne, in the centre, VIII corps on the right flank) and appointed colonel general (1 May 1915). His troops had to obtain the initial breakthrough, the 3rd Army (gen. Koevess) following them should use their success and force the Italian 1st Army to withdraw from the mountains to the Venetian plains. The Austrian attack which started on 15 May 1916 was very successful at first, but after a very quick breakthrough through the first and second Italian defence lines the storming troops had to be stopped to wait for the artillery (20 May 1916) - because of snow, bad roads etc. it was a very hard task for artillery troops to remain close enough to help the attacking infantry. This halt made it possible for the Italian High Command to reinforce the troops on the Asiago plateau; when the Austrians started to attack again (at the beginning of June) it soon became obvious that no decisive success could be achieved. Moreover, on 4 June 1916 Russian armies under general Brussilov obtained a great success and Austrian troops had to be sent to the Eastern front. So the Austrian offensive operation which had started with such big hopes had to be stopped, on some places Austrian troops even had to withdraw to get better defence positions.
On the Austrian side scapegoats had to be found: Dankl who always had favoured a very systematical (but thus slow) way of attacking and who had ignored a written order given by Archduke Eugen, the Army Group commander, to quicken the attacks without considering artillery problems, was dismissed on 17 June 1916 - officially because of health problems, but Dankl himself had sent a letter of resignation because his conduct of the army command had been criticised by the Austrian Supreme Command (Conrad and his chief advisor for the Italian theatre of war, Lt.Col. Schneller) and the Army Group Command (Archduke Eugen and his chief of staff, General Krauss). Dankl's chief of staff, Major General Pichler, was dismissed as well - without having any health problems. In fact, Dankl went to hospital where he had a very difficult operation on his goitre.
This was the end of Dankl's career as an army commander, but on 21 January 1917 Dankl was called to the Imperial Court: he became commander of the 1. Arcieren-Leibgarde, a very special Imperial Guards unit. On 10 February 1918 he was made commander-in-chief of all the Imperial Guards, but this duty ended when Field Marshal Conrad (after he had been dismissed as Army Group commander) took over command on 15 July 1918; Dankl returned as commander of the 1. Arcieren-Leibgarde. Emperor Charles I. made him "Baron", then "Count of Krasnik".
Dankl won a lot of military decorations, but he also was made honorary Ph.D. by Innsbruck university.There still is a street named after Dankl in Innsbruck.
On 1 December 1918, after the end of the Habsburg monarchy, Colonel General Dankl was pensioned off.
Dankl is described as a very quick-tempered man. Conrad (q.v.) called him one of the most competent Austrian army commanders (besides Boehm-Ermolli, Pflanzer and Boroevic); he pointed out that Dankl always had tried to execute all orders he had been given (but one should note Dankl's performance as an army commander in 1916! Privates, unlike generals, usually were hanged or shot for disobedience).
After the dissolution of the Habsburg monarchy Dankl moved to Innsbruck. After Conrad's death (1925) he became Chancellor (chief secretary) of the Militaer-Maria-Theresien-Orden, the highest-ranking Austro-Hungarian military decoration, and was in charge of the post-war decorations which took place until 1931. Dankl was one of the leading pro-Habsburg figures and wrote a number of articles both in military journals and in newspapers to defend the performance of the Austro-Hungarian troops during WWI against all criticism, especially from pro-German authors. He had a strict anti-Hitler position and always dreamed of some kind of restoration of the Habsburg monarchy. Dankl died on 8 January 1941, three days after his wife had died, in Innsbruck, and the couple was buried there without any military ceremony - but how could the Wehrmacht honour a man who always had favoured a greater Austria ? The grave in Innsbruck still exists (Wilten cemetery).
The Dankl papers / diaries are kept in the Austrian War Archives Vienna (sign. B/3 ff.).
There does not appear to be any biography of Dankl based upon large historical research at this time. Of course, there are many accounts about his military service in all both general and detailed Austrian histories of WWI. Manfried Rauchensteiner, the Director of the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum (Museum of the Army History, Vienna) in 1993 published a very extensive work Der Tod des Doppeladlers. Österreich-Ungarn und der Erste Weltkrieg (Death of the Double Eagle. Austria-Hungary and WWI). One surely can get very good information from the memoirs of (later) General Edmund Glaise von Horstenau, edited by Peter Broucek: Ein General im Zwielicht © Mag. Florian Kotanko, A-5280 Braunau
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