From World War I Document Archive
Revision as of 21:40, 20 July 2009 by Bkimberl
Note: among the men of the Austro-Hungarian army killed in action during WWI there were four generals: three major generals plus Artur Edler von Mecenseffy who was Feldmarschalleutnant (= lieutnant general) when he was killed - so he was the highest ranking Austro-Hungarian soldier who lost his life on the battlefield.
Born on 23 June 1865 in Vienna, Mecenseffy was married to Hedwig von Thausing; the couple had two children, a son Emil and a daughter Greta.
In 1882 Mecenseffy volunteered for the Engineer's Regiment and became second lieutnant in 1885. He passed the Kriegsschule (war academy), became general staff officer for the following years and went up the ranks: In 1895, as a captain, he was transferred to the operations bureau of the general staff. In 1907 he was one of the officers who had to work out "Plan U", a top-secret-plan dealing with the possible military occupation of the Hungarian part of the Habsburg monarchy in case of internal disturbances. In 1909, as a lieutenant-colonel, he became head of the supplies section/general staff. On 1/11/1912 he was appointed major general and made commander of the 18th infantry brigade (9th infantry division, Prague / now, the Czech Republic).
On 29 July 1914 Mecenseffy was made chief of the general staff 2nd Army (Gen. Boehm-Ermolli). The army commander and his chief of staff didn't cooperate properly, their characters were too different, and so when the 2nd Army - which first had been transferred to the Serbian border - arrived on the Russian front, Boehm-Ermolli told General Conrad, chief of staff of all the Austro-Hungarian forces, that he - although regarding Mecenseffy's abilities very high - wanted a change. Conrad did not react to Boehm's letter, so Boehm renewed his wish (letter dating from 23 September 1914) pointing out that Mecenseffy had had to stay in bed for three days because of bronchitis and needed a rest. At this time Conrad carried out Boehm's wish: Mecenseffy was replaced by Major General Bardolff (24 September 1914), but immediately he got a new task: he was made commander of supplies 4th army.
On 20 January 1915 Mecenseffy was made commander 10th infantry division. As part of the 4th army, his division took part in the Gorlice-Tarnow offensive operation which forced the Russian armies to withdraw far to the east (May 1915). On 7 September 1915 he was appointed Feldmarschalleutnant (Lieutenant-General).
In autumn 1916, Mecenseffy had to move to the Italian front: On 5 September 1916 he was made commander 6th infantry division, one of the most famous Austrian divisions, whose peacetime headquarters was in Graz / Styria. At this time the division held a frontline crossing the Ortigara massif south of the Val Sugana (Trentino), a rather dreary and desolate plain, between 1880 and 2100 meters above sea level. Before WWI none had considered this ground a possible battlefield where thousands of men on both sides had to stay for more than 18 months. Mecenseffy who was a specialist in supplies first had small cable railways built for the transport of food, ammunition etc., then he ordered strenghthening the defence lines e.g. by using caverns as dugouts and forward aid posts. On 10 June 1917 a long-expected Italian attack was launched, but during a 19-day battle the Italian troops (112 battalions + 1500 guns) could not repell the defenders (42 battalions + 400 guns); the Italian Alpini troops suffered heavy casualties (about 23000 killed and wounded, most of them on a 4 kilometer frontline!).
On 6 October 1917, early in the morning Mecenseffy left his divisional headquarters (some wooden huts near Campo Gallina - Dosso del Fine) to inspect troops in the trenches. The first part of the way he and his entourage could go by car, but later there were only small foot paths. After the inspection had come to an end at about 1 p.m. Mecenseffy wanted to return to his headquarters and went to his car which at the same moment was hit by an Italian artillery round. Mecenseffy was wounded seriously and fainted; when being transported to the dressing station he died. He was buried at a military cemetery near the divisional headquarters, but soon field marshal Conrad personally - fulfilling a wish coming from Mecenseffy's family - ordered to exhume the body and transport it to the family's tomb in Vienna (Doebling cemetery) where it still rests. Close to the battlefield there are still two memorials of Mecenseffy. One small marble plaque near the spot where he was wounded lethally by the shells says: Hier fand am 6. X. 1917 Fmlt. v. Mecenseffy, Kmdt. der 6. I.D., den Heldentod -- near the former divisional headquarters one may find another inscription: Dem Kommandanten Artur Edlen von Mecenseffy, k.u.k. Feldmarschalleutnant, die dankbare 6. I.D.
There are few accounts of Mecenseffy's military service, nor apparently any biographies based on major sources.. The circumstances of his dismissal in 1914 one may read in Conrad's memoires Aus meiner Dienstzeit, vol. 4. Some very detailed articles deal with the Italian offensive operation in June 1917 when Mecenseffy commanded one of the defending Austrian divisions. In December 1992, Prof. Bepi Boccardo published an article in the Italian journal Asiago ieri, oggi, domani on the 75th anniversary of Mecenseffy's death: Profilo di un ex avversario: Ten.gen. Artur Edler von Mecenseffy. This Italian article was translated into German and published in the Austrian journal Dolomitenfreund, II/1993.