Book review: “A Mad Catastrophe”

A Mad Catastrophe  by  Geoffrey Wawro  (2014)

Reviewed by WW1HA President Sal Compagno

Geoffrey Wawro is professor of history in Texas and has written a painful study of the role
of the Austro-Hungarian military in the first six months of World War 1.  He relates how in
these first months the empire of the Hapsburgs was doomed to extinction.  Most emphatically, he emphasizes the deliberate intention of the Austrian government and military in starting
the war.  Revenge for the killing of the heir apparent, Austria knew attacking Serbia, whom
they believed instigated the assassination, would draw Russia in.  Blatantly unprepared for
war, her infantry had little or no training, she attacked Serbia, only to be thoroughly defeated
three times by an inferior but determined enemy.  Conrad von Hotzendorf, a palace General,
enjoyed the reputation as the most incompetent supreme military leader.  Gen. Potiorek,
whose military experience was minimal, led the disastrous Serbian ventures.

The Hungarians were described by Wawro as continually undermining all the Austrian efforts
before and during the war.  They refused to fund or modernize their joint armies nor were
they willing to cooperate in battle!  When both faced the Russian army in the east, they were
unable to achieve even the the most modicum of victory.  Exhausted by heat, long marches,
little food, they died or surrendered in thousands.  Losing enormous territory, they begged
assistance from the Germans, who reluctantly complied.  The first winter in the Carpathian
mountains saw their Austrian-Hungarian troops frozen.  Gross incompetence by their leadership led to over 800,000 casualties in six months!  The end of the empire was guaranteed.  Wawro has painted a sorrowful & agonizing portrait of a mad reckless nation.

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