File:E.GIFEUGEN, Erzherzog (Archduke). (1863-1954).
Born on Thursday, 21 May 1863 in the Castle of Gross-Seelowitz (Moravia); father: Archduke Karl Ferdinand (1818-1874), mother: Archduchess Elisabeth of Austria (1831-1903). Eugen's grandfather was Archduke Carl who had commanded the Austrian Army defeating Napoleon in the battle of Aspern 1809. Erzherzog Friedrich (q.v.), Commander in Chief of the Austro-Hungarian Army from the outbreak of WWI until 2 12 1916, was Eugen's oldest brother.
1894 Eugen was inaugurated as High Master of the Teutonic Order of Knights, a highly estimated honorary position dating from the Middle Ages. As a leading member of the Teutonic Order of Knights he was not allowed to marry.
Pre-war military career:
After having served with infantry and cavalry units Eugen passed the Staff College (Kriegsschule) successfully and became member of the General Staff Corps (he was the only member of the Habsburg family who did so!). 1900 commander of the XIV. Army Corps (Innsbruck) and head of the national defence of Tyrol and Vorarlberg. 1901 General, 1908 inspector general and supreme commander of the national defence of Tyrol and Vorarlberg. 1912 Eugen gave up all his military duties (according to official sources for health reasons, but it was said that Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Habsburg throne, was jealous of his very popular relative and forced resignation from Eugen).
At the outbreak of war with Serbia - after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo - a commander-in-chief had to be chosen because Emperor Franz Joseph was too aged to take over command himself. It was a tradition in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy that a Habsburg prince should lead the army, and there were two "candidates": Eugen and his elder brother Friedrich (q.v.). Although Friedrich's military ability was not estimated as high as Eugen's, he was made commander-in-chief because he was older than Eugen and everyone involved expected Friedrich would cause no troubles for General Conrad (q.v.), the chief of staff of the Austro-Hungarian army and dominating person in Austro-Hungarian warfare. So Eugen first remained without any military command.
On 22 12 1914, after the Austrian troops had been forced to withdraw from Serbia, Eugen replaced Feldzeugmeister Oskar Potiorek (q.v.) as commander of the Austrian troops on the Balkan theatre of war (5th Army). The name "Eugen" should also call to mind Prince Eugene of Savoy, the defender against the Turks two centuries ago. Archduke Eugen's troops, although weakened to strengthen the Eastern front against Russia, held the lines against the Serbian army which was unable to try any offensive operation.
After Italy had declared war Eugen, appointed Generaloberst (colonel general, 22 05 1915), became supreme commander of the South West Front (24 05 1915) and took his headquarters at Marburg (Maribor, now Slovenia). The new frontline was approx. 460 km long and reached from the Swiss border to the Adriatic Sea; the main operation theatres were: Southern Tyrol (Trentino) where Austrian fortresses strengthened the defence, the Dolomites and the following mountains to the headwaters of the Isonzo river, the Isonzo line with two Austrian bridgeheads (Tolmein - now Tolmin in Slovenia, Goerz - now a city divided into Nova Gorica/Slovenia and Gorizia/Italy) and the Carso region south of Goerz to the Adriatic. The Italian army was superior in numbers and equipment (infantry approx. 4:1, artillery 2:1) but had no war experience and the commanders over-estimated Austrian strength. So the Austrian troops got the chance to build up a defensive line and could repell Italian attacks (five Isonzo battles) with heavy losses on both sides.
The Austrian Supreme Army Command (especially Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf [q.v.], chief of the Austrian general staff) planned an offensive from north (Southern Tyrol, Trentino) to south (Adriatic Sea) to encircle the Italian troops who attacked the Austrian Isonzo frontline eastwards. Eugen took over command of the attacking armies (3rd and 11th); the Austrian offensive operation started 15 May 1916, but after great initial gains had to be halted in June (because of Italian reinforcements, Austrian lack of supplies; Austrian troops had to be sent to the Eastern Front to stop the Russian armies who had obtained a great success under general Brussilov). Thus it had beome apparent that the Supreme Army Command (Archduke Friedrich and especially his chief of staff, Conrad) were unable to achieve any longer lasting military success, and it was considered to make Eugen the new commander-in-chief of the Austro-Hungarian armies; after the assassination of the Austrian prime minister, Count Stürgkh (21 10 1916) the proposition was made to appoint Archduke Eugen his successor in order to establish a sort of military dictatorship - both plans were rejected first by Emperor Franz Joseph, then (Franz Joseph had died on 21 11 1916) by his successor Emperor Karl who took over command personally and nominated a man of his choice prime minister of the Austrian part of the Habsburg dual monarchy.
Eugen was appointed Field Marshal (23 11 1916) and was given the Grand Cross of the Military-Maria-Theresien-Orden, the highest Austrian military decoration (15 01 1917). He returned as supreme commander of the South West Front (March 1917), but his area of responsibility was reduced to the Isonzo region where the decisive Italian offensive operations were expected. During the May/June and August/September attacks (10th and 11th Isonzo battles) the Italian army advanced step by step, both sides suffered huge losses and it was clear that the Austrian frontline could hardly withstand another Italian effort to break through.
A new army consisting of six German and seven to nine Austrian divisions (14th Army commanded by the German general Otto von Below) was assembled to break through the Italian lines between Flitsch and Tolmein and to repell the Italians at least to the Tagliamento river. Eugen became commander-in-chief of the Army Group Archduke Eugen and thus was the supreme commander of the attacking troops (14th Army + Army Group Boroevic [q.v.]). The offensive launched on 24 October 1917 was one of the most successful operations of WWI (Durchbruch von Flitsch und Tolmein, Ital.: Battle of Caporetto; among the officers who took part were the later German General Field Marshals Rommel and Schoerner; Ernest Hemingway was on the Italian side and put down what he saw in his novel "A Farewell to Arms" ). The Italian troops lost about 500.000 men and large stocks of equipment, but after a disastrous defeat they could retreat to the Piave river where a new frontline was established, assisted by British and French reinforcements.
Archduke Eugen returned as commander-in-chief of the South West Front and took his headquarters at Udine (12 11 1917 - 11 01 1918) where his Italian antagonist Cadorna had had his residency. When Emperor Karl I. (Charles I.) decided that the Austrian front was to be reorganized the Supreme Command of the South West Front was dissolved. So Eugen's military career came to a sudden end (12 01 1918). He moved to Vienna where he saw the end of WWI, the dissolution of the Habsburg monarchy and the beginning of the Austrian Republic.
According to expert opinion Archduke Eugen's military ability was not out of the ordinary, but two of his Chiefs of Staff were very able men: Alfred Krauss (1914-1916, then corps commander during the Caporetto breakthrough; in the twenties his Germanophilia led him to the nazi party) and Theodor Konopicky (1917/18). Eugen harshly repelled any interference in military affairs rising from politicians, but on the other hand his staff produced a large number of memorandums dealing with political affairs. Because of his Christian attitude Eugen repeatedly ordered his officers to take care of their soldiers, he forbade inhuman treatment of POWs and even tried to avert demolition of the countryside as far as possible. Austrian propaganda made him very popular with both soldiers and ordinary people, especially in the regions with German-speaking people in the Habsburg empire; some secret and even open rivalry between Eugen and other members of the Habsburg family rose from this popularity.
In April 1919 Eugen left Vienna and went into exile to Switzerland of his own free will. In 1934 he returned to Austria. After the German occupation of Austria the Gestapo interviewed him, but he could live of private means in Vienna. In April 1945, when the bombing of Vienna had increased and the Russian Army approached, he went to Innsbruck (Tyrol) where he stayed for the rest of his life, respected as a witness of the past, honoured by the people, even by the commanders of the French occupying troops. In winter 1954 Eugen went to Meran (Merano/Southern Tyrol) to recover from pneumonia, but here he died there on 30 December 1954. His body was transferred to Innsbruck,where the funeral took place. Eugen is buried in the Saint Jacob's Cathedral in Innsbruck.
Kramer H., Feldmarschall Erzherzog Eugen (1863-1954); in: Ostdeutsche Wissenschaft V/1958, p. 462-485
Künigl L.(ed.), Erzherzog Eugen 1863-1954. Innsbruck 1957
v. Schildenfeld Z., Erzherzog Eugen 1863-1963. Innsbruck 1963
Note: You may listen to the voice of Archduke Eugen delivering a Birthday Proclamation to Emperor Franz Joseph once recorded in 1916, now available on CD "Historia" , Nova-Founders Vienna, Nr. TJM 0028
Return to A-Index
Return to Alphabetical Index of WWI Biographies