Napoleonic Era: Austrian Army Reform II


The Archduke John was so engaged with the Landwehr that he devoted most of the winter of 1808 to the organisation of the force and its training. Typical of the Archduke John’s devotion to the new unit was his insistence that orders and training were inescapably bound up with the idea of a ‘comprehensive defence of the land’ (umfassenden Landesverteidigung). Uniforms and weapons had to reflect local traditions. John fought many battles with the rigid Austrian military hierarchy to ensure that the militia were not forced to adopt weapons that were alien to them or drill that was adapted for more formal manoeuvres.

As John noted: ‘The utter concept of this method of waging war rests on movement and speed, cunning and courage, calm in critical moments: this is what we must encourage.’ The officers were urged to speak frequently with their men and involve themselves even with their domestic issues (häuslichen Angelegenheiten). At all times the officers of the Landwehr must demonstrate their ‘support and paternal comfort’. To help encourage these instincts of solidarity among the other inhabitants of the crown lands, the songs of Collin were translated into Polish, Czech, Slovene and Hungarian.

While John worked ceaselessly on perfecting the Landwehr into a credible force, instilled with a Befreiungshoffnungsrausch (the intoxicating hope of liberty), Charles worked away at the regular forces in an attempt to raise not only morale and discipline but initiative and prestige.

The period of service in the regular army was reformed. Instead of a lifelong commitment to ‘the colours’, service was now limited to men between the ages of 18 and 40. Fourteen years was the envisaged length of service in the artillery arm; twelve years in the cavalry and ten years in the infantry. Recruitment was by ballot and the prescribed term of service could, on expiry, be extended for a further six years through agreeing a ‘Kapitulation’. (This automatically offered a bonus and the right to marry while in service.)

A newly organised regular Reserve consisted of those who were eligible for military service but were superfluous to standing military requirements. Members of the Reserve were required to train each year but they retained their jobs and were not required to change location. During their annual training they would be paid for their military service as if they were regulars.

In addition to its permanent establishment, each Austrian line regiment came to have two Reserve battalions, members of which had to train for four weeks in their first year of service and three weeks in their second. By 1808, this ‘sedentary army’ had reached a strength of 60,000 men.

To ensure that the manpower once available to the Habsburgs in the German provinces of the Holy Roman Empire was not entirely lost through the supineness of their rulers, ‘Confinenwerbung’ (Frontier recruitment) replaced the old ‘Reichswerbung’ (Imperial recruitment). This enabled German volunteers to join the Austrian service.

The Archduke John’s Landwehr complemented this Reserve perfectly. Charged with the defence of the ‘Habsburg soil’ and including in its remit all men capable of bearing arms, not just those between 18 and 45, it drew on the experiences of the American War of Independence. For the first time in Habsburg history, the Landwehr developed the concept of a nation in arms. Uniforms were to be worn over civilian clothes and the individual companies that made up the Landwehr were divided between localities. The Landwehr enjoyed a strong local flavour not dissimilar to the Yeomanry regiments of the British Army, which had been raised a few years earlier (without the particular social structures of the English rural population which were perhaps only echoed by the feudal arrangements of the Hungarian lands).

Four Landwehr companies comprised a Landwehr battalion, which usually trained every Sunday. Each month, training in larger formations took place. In the event of one of the Imperial frontiers being threatened, the Landwehr would muster and take an oath of loyalty in front of the local commanding general of the area. As the Landwehr recruited locally, many middle-class professionals were automatically drawn to its commissioned and non-commissioned officer ranks. Those who had never wished to bear arms – teachers, professors, doctors and lawyers – were turned by the Archduke John into patriotic and well-drilled defenders of the dynasty. Only in Galicia and the Bukowina was the Landwehr not introduced, because the local population was still considered politically unreliable, due to the painful partition of Poland some fifteen years earlier. Elsewhere, the Landwehr slowly became a regular feature of the Imperial military landscape and would rise to the occasion in 1809 with singular heroism, bearing out John’s faith in the middle class he so greatly preferred to the aristocracy, whom he viewed as lethargic and gripped by a ‘longing for distraction’ (Zerstreuungssucht).

The creation of the Landwehr and its elevation to a well-trained force was an ambitious project which could not easily be perfected in the few years of peace between Austerlitz and the next round of hostilities. John was given the rank of Landwehrinspektor for Inner Austria (Styria, Carinthia and Carniola). He immediately set about imbuing the troops there with his ideals of a democratic defence of the regions along Spanish lines. From the summer of 1808, the uprisings of the Spanish militia and their successes had illuminated the Austrian military horizon like flashes of inspired lightning. But discipline in these newly formed units was still far from rock solid at home by the time hostilities began. Petrie notes how some units of the Landwehr had staged bayonet attacks against their officers and how two regiments refused to march at all.

As the news of these formations spread, Napoleon began to realise that Austria planned to challenge him yet again. In 1808 he had accepted assurances from Vienna that the Landwehr was not an aggressive force but in January 1809, while at Valladolid, he decided to leave Marshal Soult to pursue the defeated British from Corunna. By returning to Paris Napoleon hoped to discover in more detail the significance of the disquieting rumours reaching him from Vienna.

As the fateful year of 1809 began, war became increasingly certain. In March, the Archduke Charles hastily ordered the establishment of volunteer battalions. Thousands flocked to the Habsburg colours. In Bohemia alone, 6,000 men rushed to join the newly formed Legion Erzherzog Karl. In Vienna, six battalions of volunteers were recruited, mostly from among middle-class professionals. They would put up a formidable fight against some of Napoleon’s best troops.

Perhaps most important of all, the Archduke adopted a ‘corps’ system of army organisation which would be a key factor in the improved Austrian performance in the campaigns of 1809.

Mobility increased: The new Jaeger Corps and artillery reform

These developments were complemented by a strengthening of the Empire’s light infantry capabilities. In 1804 a ‘Jaegerregiment’ had been established from the different light infantry formations that had fought since the First Coalition War. This had been increased to become a ‘Jaeger Korps’, inspiring the Archduke Charles to establish eight full battalions of Jaeger by 1808. Crack elite troops drawn from the Alpine valleys and forests, these were soldiers noted for their strong mental and physical qualities, but their elevation reflected other political considerations.

The proven quality of Austrian Alpine troops had led to the Tyrolean ‘Landmiliz’ being established from the remnants of the century-old Tyrolean ‘Verteidigungsmiliz’ or defence militia. Though Tyrol was now nominally part of Bavaria, the Tyroleans secretly organised themselves with little encouragement into a formidable irregular force of some 20,000 insurgents ready to strike as soon as Vienna gave the word. The incorporation of all these Alpine units into the coming campaign imparted something new to the army the Archduke Charles was creating: these forces would be the Habsburgs’ first ever Volksheer (People’s army).

These developments were only part of the process of bringing the Imperial forces into the new century. They were accompanied by equally significant reforms in drill and tactics. Artillery was reorganised into a distinct and wholly independent tactical unit. The Archduke abolished the old reliance on tactical lines of batteries supporting infantry in favour of more mobile formations, drawing on the experience of Napoleon’s more inventive use of artillery. The brigade artillery was divided into batteries of eight guns while horse-artillery batteries would comprise smaller, more agile units of four guns and two howitzers, The so-called static artillery (Positionsbatterien) would be made up of four heavy guns and four howitzers. Garrison artillery was divided into fourteen districts to reduce the century-old exclusive dependence on Bohemia.

The Archduke John was appointed commandant of engineers and, in the short time available, he established a strong line of defensive forts along the French model. One of these, Komorn on the Danube, was fortified under Chasteler and would serve Austria well in the coming campaign.

Similar reforms awaited the infantry. Although the grenadier battalions were still denied regimental status, they were now formally grouped on a permanent basis into a ‘Grenadier Korps’, which was to serve as a tactical reserve directly under the command of the FZM or FM of any campaign (Feldzeugmeister or Feldmarschall).

In addition to the Grenadier Korps, the infantry now comprised 63 line regiments, one Jaeger regiment of eight battalions and 17 Grenz regiments (including the Czaikistenbattalion: boat crews on the Banat Military Frontier). Each regiment comprised five battalions, each of these made up of four companies. Cavalry was divided into eight Cuirassier, six Dragoon, six Chevauxleger, 12 Hussar and three Lancer regiments, each of eight squadrons. This gave a slight preponderance to light over heavy shock cavalry and again emphasised the need for greater mobility in the arm.

The new ‘Generalgeniedirektor’, the Archduke John, reorganised the structure of the Engineer corps, which was commanded by 145 officers, of whom nine were of general rank to reflect the corp’s importance. A Mineurkorps and Pontonier battalion (sappers) of six companies were also placed under Archduke John’s control.

Overhaul of staff and the Hofkriegsrat: New tactics: the Mass

After the fiasco of Weyrother’s staff work at Austerlitz, the Archduke Charles ordered a total overhaul of the Austrian staff system. The Generalquartiermeisterstab (General Quartermaster Staff) was organised into a logistics staff comprising one general, 24 staff and 36 senior officers. Military transport was divided into divisions based on the regional capitals.

No less important was the overhaul of the venerable Aulic Council or Hofkriegsrat whose lack of support Charles had so often experienced in the previous five years. This institution was now split into four subdivisions with responsibility for: (1) military affairs; (2) political-economic issues; (3) artillery and engineering issues; and (4) judicial and legal matters. (Subdivisions 1 and 2 were the critical parts of the Council because they dealt with the issues of uniforms, training, recruitment and equipment.)

Charles was formally placed above the Council so that the chain of command was entirely unambiguous. At the same time the forces of the Empire were divided into corps formations which, in 1808, were assigned to the individual crown lands. Each corps had its own internal organisational structure, General Staff, artillery commander and quartermaster so that in the event of hostilities it could operate completely independently of any other military unit.

Changes were introduced to enable weapons drill to become simpler. On 1 September 1807, the new Reglement for infantry was introduced. Besides simplifying certain parts of musket drill, it reinforced marksmanship skills significantly. Every infantryman in the Austrian army now had to hit a certain number of targets, shooting from a distance of 300 paces, if he was to continue to serve. Fire discipline and formation drill were also strongly emphasised in training. A new quick-pace drill (120 paces a minute) was introduced to speed up movement and reactions. At the same time more complicated drills such as firing while marching in oblique formation, a relic of the Frederician wars, were dropped.

In their place came some of the Archduke’s own ideas of tactical formation, which his military theorising had evolved after careful study of Napoleonic techniques. Notable among these was the ‘Mass’, a formation that drew infantry into flexible lines, capable of withstanding (even in theory on occasions charging!) cavalry and column attack. The ‘Mass’ in its novel use of company front and support lines became a hallmark of the 1809 Austrian infantry tactics and generally served them well.

The 1806–7 regulations also humanised discipline: ‘All forms of maltreatment and heavy-handedness in the drilling of a soldier are firmly forbidden. Brutality is usually the evidence of some lack of knowledge and destroys that self-respect which must be at the very heart of a soldier.’

To save money, the expensive classical helmet that virtually every unit of the Austrian army wore was to be replaced by a cheaper black felt shako. By 1809, not all of the Hungarian infantry regiments had been equipped with these, so Austria went to war against Napoleon more or less attired as she had been at Austerlitz, though with an army which had digested many useful lessons in the art of war.

In the whirlwind of reforms, the Archduke Charles left no stone unturned: new cadet companies were established in Olmütz and Graz while the Wiener Neustadt Academy was reorganised to lengthen the time of study to eight years. Everywhere the Archduke did his utmost to ensure that, when it came to the next measuring of swords with Napoleon, the Austrians would be in better shape. It was a desperate race against time.

Another two years, perhaps even another eighteen months, and most of these reforms would certainly have borne fruit. However, fate dictated that Austria would wage war once again against the Archduke’s wishes and before she was ready. But that the campaign of 1809 was fought with such glory for Austrian arms is entirely due to the Archduke Charles. Europe stood at Napoleon’s feet; only the insurgency in parts of Spain and the refusal of London to treat prevented him dominating the entire Continent. With Prussia vanquished and Russia pacified, Austria was under no illusions that she stood alone. Neither England nor Spain could offer her a single soldier or gun. Prussia, broken and dismembered, with her armies ruined, could barely offer moral support, and when some officers urged support for the Austrians, their spineless and weak King would have none of it. England, her treasury at a low ebb, offered diversions but none of these came to pass until long after the campaign on the Danube was over.

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