Tag Archives: Austro Hungarian Army

The Austro-Hungarian Bravery medals in WW1 – part 3: paperwork

The Austro-Hungarian army was well organized in its paperwork. Each request for a medal would go through the hierarchy and be kept in the personal record when awarded. It would depend on the level of the medal in which stage of the hierarchy the decision would finally be made.  For the Golden Bravery Medal a separate register was kept that still is available as a reference in the Vienna Military Archives. 

After the medal was awarded the person would receive  an award paper (Legitimation) confirming the award which should be worn on the person (to be able to proof the medals that were actually worn in the field). The standard place to keep these papers were the small ID capsules each person would wear. This made it necessary to make the documents very small. Here are some examples.

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Some units made more elaborate documents available for their men in a larger size. These are not standard and not official but relatively rare and desirable.

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Personal files were partially lost in the 2nd world war and also these were split between the different states that resulted from the end of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The Honved related files are mostly in the Hungarian Military Archives in Budapest and most others in Vienna and some in the other states. Here an example of Bravery medal related request as found in these archives.

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More about the research on one person can be found in this earlier blog: Vitéz Horvath Janos winner of the Golden Medal for Bravery, WW1 Austro-Hungarian Army

An interesting secondary source for Hungarian WW1 bravery medals related info are the Vitezi rend yearbooks in which also medal lists are published. 

Go here for part one: The Austro-Hungarian Bravery medals in WW1 – part 1: History and Medals

And here for part two: The Austro-Hungarian Bravery medals in WW1 – part 2: exchange with the German Iron Cross

 

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Vitéz Horvath Janos winner of the Golden Medal for Bravery, WW1 Austro-Hungarian Army

Published before on my Vitezi Rend website

Sergeant in the 44th Infantry Regiment (Erzherzog Albrecht Nr. 44). Awarded with the Austro- Hungarian Golden Medal for Bravery, the highest possible award in the  Austro-Hungarian Army for non commanding officers. 

Awards:

  • Golden Bravery medal
  • Silver Bravery medal 1st Class, 2 times
  • Bronze Bravery medal
  • Karl Troop cross

The short version of his citation as recorded in the Golden Medal award records in the Austrian Military Records.

Im Gefechte vom 12/3 auf den 13/3 (1915) am Brdo Bewies er beispeillose unerschrockenheit u. heldenhafte Tapferkeit. Kam bis auf 40x vor der fdl Stellung. Trat den Ruckzug trozt des Befehls erst nach 2 Stunden als letzte abt der Angr. Gruppe an.

Which translates into: In the fights of 12/3 and 13/3 in Brdo he showed unprecedented fearlessness and heroic Bravery. Came up to 40x before the enemy position. Retreated, despite the order, only after 2 hours as the last of the attacking group.

His feats where also published in a Hungarian book (A MAGYAR NEMZET ARANYKONYVE 1914-1918.” Budapest, 1921 – Golden book of the Hungarian nation 1914-1918 )

“He ran forward in the killing adverse drum-fire of the enemy as the head of his platoon and during the assault he exhorted his comrades. The regiment met irreplaceable and heavy losses, so sergeant Janos Horvath got the order to withdraw his fellows from the first line. Horvath was forty paces off the enemy and he sent back a message that they would not leave the line as long as the wounded comrades of the neighbouring Regiment (3rd Bosnians) could not be retrieved. Finally he withdrew his men two hours later, him being the last soldier to leave the front line.”

Replacement Golden Bravery Medal (gilded bronze in the Karl version). This came directly from the family but has to be a replacement as he would have been awarded a Franz Joseph version. Maybe the golden version was lost or sold at some moment and this was the replacement.

Hungarian public transport travel pass for winners of the Golden Bravery Medal.

    

Below the official request for the Golden Bravery Medal to Horvath Janos, this and the following documents are in the Hungarian Military Archives. They were so kind to deliver these pictures free of charge. Many thanks again!

Request for a silver bravery  medal

Request for a bronze bravery medal:

About the Vitézi Rend:

The Order of the Valiant (in Hungarian, Vitézi Rend) or Knighthood of the Heroes was the first and probably the most important Hungarian order established after the Great War. It was established in 1920 (Prime Ministerial Edict Nr 6650/1920) by the Government under Prime Minister Count Teleki and Admiral Horthy, the Regent of Hungary from 1920 till 1945. The latter also became the Captain of the order from its institution till its formal ending in 1945 (According to the rule 529/1945 but it was 1948 before it was practically disbanded).

(The word vitéz has several meanings in the dictionary. As noun: warrior, soldier, champion, hero, knight and as adjective: valiant, gallant, brave, fearless of danger. Therefore giving the name of the order an exact translation is difficult. The two translations used here I have seen used in several documents therefore I use them as well.)

Part of receiving the order was the granting of a title: vitéz. This title was used in front of the name. This title was also made hereditary to the first son in line. If the son were of sound physical and mental condition he would inherit the title at the age of 17.

In this way the order can be compared to a noble title especially as the title was accompanied by a grant of land of approximately 10 hectares, so even landed nobility. The granting of land to the vitéz members was part of a land reform executed by István Nagyatádi Szabó. In the early 20s much land was still in the hands of few and it was part of a modernization of land ownership that was badly needed to become a more balanced and modern nation.

In this way the order had a strong social impact as well. The redistribution of lands was combined with the recognition of individual contributions made by Hungarians for Hungary. This way a new class of “nobility” could be formed that had a very strong tie with the Hungarian nation and its leadership. The new order was bound by sword and land which is represented symbolically in the badge that belongs to the order. The badge will be described in more detail later on.

All the recipients were proven soldiers and there were minimal requirement for obtaining the title vitéz that was linked to the receipt of certain medals. In the beginning of the order this was still linked to medals won in the Austro-Hungarian dual Monarchy, mainly in the Great War that was concluded only two years before. The grants in the 1940s were still linked to obtaining certain medals but now in World War Two.

The medal requirements were more or less the same across those periods. The small silver medal for bravery (96.000 awarded in WW1 for Hungarians) in the case of soldiers, and the large silver medal for bravery (26.000 awarded in WW1 to Hungarians) from the rank of NCO. The Signum Laudis was minimal from the rank of Lieutenant and this continues, for higher ranks higher grades of medals were expected. The small silver medal for bravery only very seldom led to titles. It was too common to bestow the title on all owners of these. It was a minimal requirement.

This way of working made if possible to reward exceptional deeds of a previous period that would otherwise have passed unknown and unrewarded in a country that fought on the losing side of the war.

Below the excerpt from the 1939 Vitéz Albuma:

Large Vitézi Rend diploma

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Vitézi Rend Award Certificate

Vitézi Rend Award and miniature. The full size award is numbered and has the initials of Horvath.

   

 

Historical riddle – Dutch officers on the eastern front in WW1?!

This is adaptation and translation of an article I published in Decorare in 2011

What is this?

After finding the photo that is the theme of this blog I saw myself confronted with something impossible. Dutch military officers among a group of Austro-Hungarian soldiers, so probably on the eastern front in the first Worldwar?

As you may know the Netherlands were a neutral country during the first worldwar (and they tried, unsuccesfully, to do the same in the second worldwar – but that is a different story). Surrounded by warring countries the war had a great impact on the Netherlands but there was no military participation of any kind so the big question that arised is: what is the story of this photo?

The photo had a Hungarian text on the back that helped to shed some light on this. It can be translated as follows: Dutch officers visiting Lieutenant Colonel Safrán. So the Dutch are not participating but visiting the front and we know whom they were visiting, a good starting points for further research.

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Timeframe established!

Like most countries the Austro-Hungarian army also published rank lists with information on officers, these are a great source of information. During peacetime the lists (thick books) are almost perfect but during war time with rapid promotions, casulaties and all kinds of unregular changes they become less and less trustwothy. Nevertheless I could find (with the help of some research friends) that he was promoted to full Colonel in November 1917. So the photo must be from before that date. Another clue is the uniform the Dutch officers are wearing – it was only introduced in 1916 so the period is between 1916 and the end of 1917.

Study tours to the frontlines

Why would Dutch neutral officers visit the front of a war they are not part of? Well the First Worldwar changed the face of warfare in a shocking way. A neutral country could not learn from their own experience what this impact was. The only way to learn is by studying the experiences of others. So in that direction goes the second part of the research. There is only one publication on this subject written by Sven Maaskant. He states that between 1914 and 1920 approximately 60 tours were made by Dutch officers to study the effects of the war and the impact for the Dutch armed forces. After some research I succeed in contacting Maaskant and mail him a copy of the photo. He instantly recognized one of the Dutch officers. It is Lieutenant-Colonel T.F.J. Muller Massis who was the Dutch military aide to the Dutch embassies in Germany and Vienna between 1916 and 1920.

With that information he also can determine the specific trip out of the 60. Only one trip fits the participants, timeframe and location. It is a study tour to the Austro-Hungarian front that was made between June 25th and July 31st 1917. The four participants were: Colonel D.G. van der Voort Maarschalk, Lieutenant-Colonels T.F.J. Muller Massis and E.M. Carpentier Alting and Captain W.J. van Breen.

Carpentier Alting, an officer of the Dutch East Indies army is not in this picture, did he make it or was there another reason for his absence? The tour would have been organized by Muller Massis in his capacity of military aide in Berlin and Vienna. An officer that would raise to the rank of General and commander of the Dutch field army from 1922 until his pension in 1928 after which he would become a member of parliament untill 1948.

In 1933  Muller Massis donated a collection of helmets and gasmasks of different countries that participated in the war to the Dutch National Military Museum. He wrote about this: “The object were picked up by me during the visits I made to the battlefields. Further I still have the German gasmaks that was supplied to me in my function as military aide in Germany and that I wore on several fronts.”  The donation also held his collection of Austro-Hungarian distinctives. These are the so called “Kappenabzeichen”, unofficial badges worn on the military caps by Austro-Hungarian troops which he collected during these trips. On the picture in question can be seen that the 3 Dutch officers al wear such insignia on the left breast of their uniform.

What is the unit in the photo?

Some research on the Hungarian officer in the pictures gives the specific unit, the 10th Honved (Hungarian territorial army) Infantry Regiment (HIR) which was part of the 39th Honved Infantry Division which is confirmed by a “Kappenabzeichen” on the breast of one of the Dutch officers which is of this division.

mm5mm2Wy this unit?

In March 1917 the 39th HID waged a very signifact battle against Russian troops on the realively new Rumanian front in which the 10th HIR of which Safrán was the commander played an important role. The entire unit was used as Stormtroops. The use of Stormtroops was a new military development of the Germans that was quickly adopted by their Austro-Hungarian allies. These troops were used mainly to force breaktroughs in the stallmate of trenchwarfare and new tactics and weapons were deployed by them. They were the first to get handgrenades and machine guns but also helmets and gasmasks which were not widely spread yet with the Austro-Hungarian army. They can be seen as an early variation of Special Forces within the army, receiving addtional training and equipment in comparison with the regular infantry.

The entire action of the 39th division would literally become a textbook example for the Hungarian (Ludovika) officers academy of a Stormtroop attack. In the fight for Hill 1504 (Magyaros near the Uz river) there were hardly any Austro-Hungarian casulaties but the Russians sufferend hundreds of casulaties and a multitude of were taken as Prisoners of War. A good reason for a visit of Dutch officers to learn from this example attack only a few months later especially a good promotion for the Austro-Hungarian army that struggled with its performance in other places.

From hypothesis to proof

The Dutch Institute for Military History has the archive of Muller Massis that also contains his (formerly SECRET) report from September 1917 on the “Commission sent to visit the Austro-Hungarian fronts”. It is a sort of diary of the trip with several appendices on specific military themes. In his reports he also describes how they received “Kappenabzeichen” as gifts. Here some translations relevant to this article:

“July 3rd.
With this regiment we learned 
for the first time about regimental and other insignia
which were attached to the headwear.  
As momento of our visit to the 
von Hindenburg regiment we each received
a similar badge with a in white metal
portrait of the “Inhaber” or owner
surrounded by a wreath of laurels and a ribbon 
in enemal with the years 1914, 1915 and 1916
and the words v.hindenburg K.u.K. Inf. Reg. Nr. 69.”

That same badge is depicted below and is still part of the collection of the Dutch National Military Museum today.

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The report also confirms date and location of the photo.

“July 7th.
    Guided by several officers
we visited the first line of defense of the 10th
Honved regiment, wich line was a very short
distance away from the enemy line. Here
also the hostilites had not commenced again
which even made it possible to get in front of the trenches.
After visiting some trenches of neighbouring 9th Honved regiment,
we walked down to the customs office
The starting point of a forresttrain (waldbahn) to Rumania.
from here we went back to the headquarters of the 39th division.

Without the mentioning of Safrán in the text we can date the picture to July 7th 1917. Most information was already completed when the confirmation in the form of the original report was found. This shows that with thorough research it is possible to determine much valuable information.

In order to do this I had help from several other researchers, many thanks to my friends in making this article possible!

Sources: