Franz Graf Conrad von Hötzendorf
Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf was born on the 11th of November 1852 in Penzing then a suburb of Vienna. His father was a retired Hussar Oberst who hailed from South Moravia. His great grandfather had been raised to the nobility in 1816 adding the surname of his wife from the Palatinate - "von Hötzendorf" as his predicate. Conrad's mother was the daughter of the famous Vienna artist Kübler. As his father died in Conrad's youth, his mother oversaw his education.
At the age of eleven years the young Franz entered the cadet institute at Hainburg and from 1867 until 1871 attended the Theresian military academy at Wiener-Neustadt. On the 28th of August 1871 he was commissioned as a Leutnant in the k.u.k. Feldjäger battalion number 11 and after three years service with the troops attended the Kriegsschule in Vienna. After completing his studies at the war school with "distinguished success" he was attached to the general staff in 1876.
He took part in the occupation of Bosnia in 1878 and the suppression of the rebellion in South Dalmatia in 1882. He distinguished himself in both campaigns and already had at that time achieved a measure of admiration. He became a tactics instructor at the Kriegsschule between 1888 and 1892 and busied himself as a military writer.
In 1886 Conrad married Wilhelmine le Beau with whom he had four sons and in 1893 as an Oberst was appointed to command infantry regiment number one in Troppau. Here he put his theories into practice. He considered the attack superior to the defensive, taught the concentration of own forces at the most decisive and the enemy's most susceptible point and carried out where possible individual battle training for the troops.
A wealth of imagination, diligence, scrupulousness and a restless activity had by far distinguished him from his contemporaries and had brought him to the attention of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne. Conrad's incessant pushing for the strengthening and the modernization of the army very much corresponded with the wishes of the Archduke who influenced the Kaiser Franz Joseph into appointing Conrad on the 18th of November 1906 to the post of chief of staff of the entire Austro-Hungarian armed forces.
As the chief of the general staff Conrad was one of the most influential and powerful men of the monarchy. In addition to military problems he also concerned himself with those in the political field. In such a way, he desired to improve the position of the Danube monarchy by preventative wars against Italy and Serbia. He came into opposition with the foreign minister Graf Lexa von Aehrenthal and had to finally resign from his post at the end of 1911. Instead of this he was appointed to be an army inspector. However within a year later, on the12th of December 1912, Conrad was reappointed chief of the general staff on account of the intensified political situation.
Up to the outbreak of the war Conrad attempted to bring the army up to the highest possible condition through organization and warlike training. In the first days of the war Conrad was already in severe difficulty due to the lack of unity of purpose with the foreign ministry in respect to the mobilization, declaration of war, deployment and commencement of operations. Russia's entry into the war compelled Conrad to re-deploy components of the forces directed against Serbia and move them to Galicia. The double deployment although carried out with considerable difficulty was however successful.
Until the 1st of March 1917 Conrad led the k.u.k. army. He had a completely free hand in all military asspects of the conduct of the war and the direction of military operations. In addition during this time, Conrad was consulted fundamentally on all military-political negotiations with Austria-Hungary's allies and on all important internal and foreign policy deliberations at the highest level even if he were not allowed to fully independently carry out those military-political negotiations and take decisions himself.
Conrad had problems with the German High Command and above all with General von Falkenhayn. The differences of opinion in command and prestige questions were so great that the liaison between the two staffs temporarily broke down. In spite of this Conrad succeeded until the beginning of 1917 in cooperation with his allies to hold the Russians in check and to occupy Serbia, Montenegro and Northern Albania. Rumania was suppressed with German help. In Italy a stable front had been constructed.
With the accession to the throne of Kaiser Karl, the relationship between the Chief of Staff and the new ruler turned out to be more problematic. Kaiser Karl who assumed the supreme command pursued policies in favour of peace. As in the eyes of the Emperor Conrad was associated with the outbreak of the war, he dismissed him. The unusual honours and his reemployment in the army as ordered by the Emperor showed however that Conrad's military reputation continued to exist.
On the 25th of November 1916, Conrad had been promoted to Feldmarschall as the third officer of the army (after Erzherzog Friedrich and Erzherzog Eugen). At his new service position as the army group commander in the Tyrol which he accepted only after insistent representations he had hardly just over a year to distinguish himself. Only in June 1918 did this opportunity arise.
The planned attack against the Italians required both the army group commanders on the Southwestern Front, the Field Marshals Conrad and Boroević to lead the main assault. This resulted in a splitting of the available forces and led to failure.
On the 14th of July 1918 Conrad was recalled from his front command to Eckartshau by the Emperor under circumstances of repeated marks of high favour. He was appointed colonel of all Royal Life Guards and raised to the noble rank of Graf or Count. In deep depression and with the feeling of abandoning a sinking ship, Conrad left his post.
Conrad also suffered in his private life under a heavy strain. After the death of his first wife Wilhelmine, the mother of his four sons - Konrad, Erwin, Herbert und Egon, he had to fight them for nine years over his new marriage to the much younger Virginia von Reininghaus, also the mother of six children. The marriage, concluded on the 19th of October 1915 caused a great sensation in Austrian society.
He accepted the collapse of the monarchy without particular emotion, as despite his warnings and prophesies the collapse had come about. Conrad moved to Innsbruck where he grappled with philosophy and religion. In addition he began to write about his conduct as the Chief of Staff. In 1922 he settled in Vienna. In his final years he changed from a "Greater Austrian" to a Greater German". Feldmarschal Conrad died on the 25th of August 1925 at Bad Mergentheim in Württemberg where he gone for gall-bladder treatment. He was buried after a solemn funeral parade at the Hietzing cemetery in Vienna.
Back to the Field Marshals