Wladimir Giesl Freiherr von Gieslingen
Wladimir Giesl was born at Fünfkirchen (Hungary) on the 18th of February 1860. He was the youngest son of the late Feldzeugmeister Heinrich Karl Giesl Freiherr von Gieslingen and his first wife Emilie and just like his elder brother Arthur he was destined for a military career. After attending the Militär-Ober-Realschule at Mährisch-Weißkirchen and the Theresian Military Academy at Wiener Neustadt he was commissioned as a Leutnant in ulan regiment number 2 on the 18th of August 1879. After graduating from the Kriegsschule he received his promotion to Oberleutnant on the 1st of November 1884 and was permanently attached to the general staff. His first staff appointment was with the general staff of the 11th cavalry brigade at Tarnów and from May 1885 with the general staff of the 10th cavalry brigade at Brünn. On the 1st of May 1888 he was promoted to Hauptmann 1st class and transferred to the general staff of the 15th corps at Sarajevo. On the 29th of September 1889 Wladimir Giesl Freiherr von Gieslingen married Julie (born in Vienna on the 2nd of January 1867), the daughter of the Statthalter von Dalmatien (Governor of Dalmatia), Feldzeugmeister Emil David Edler von Rhonfeld. They had a son, Hans who was born at Constantinople on the 25th of October 1898 and a daughter Marie who was born on the 13th of October 1900 also at Constantinople where she also died on the 5th of March 1905.
On the 1st of November 1891 he was transferred for troop duty with dragoon regiment number 1 in Theresienstadt. On the 26th of November 1893 he was appointed as the military attaché with the k.u.k. embassy at Constantinople where he reported for duty on the 9th of December. On the 1st of November 1894 he was promoted to Major im Generalstab. On duty occasions he traveled to Egypt, Syria and Crete. On the 15th of June 1896 he services were honored by the award of the 3rd class of the Order of the Iron Crown and with the 2nd class of the Ottoman Medschidje Order and the 3rd class of the Bulgarian Order of Saint Alexander in October of the same year. During the international "peacekeeping"-actions on Crete during 1896/97 he was part of the international Gendarmeriekommando on the island. Following this he received his promotion to Oberstleutnant on the 1st of May 1897. During the Ottoman-Greek war he was in the Thessalonica theatre and was part of the Grenzregulierungskommission (Border regulating commission). For his efforts during this war he was honored with the award of the Ottoman War Commemoration Medal and finally with the Knight's Cross of the Order of Leopold with war decoration on the 26th of September 1898. At the end of December 1898 he was additionally appointed as the military attaché to the k.u.k. embassies at Athens and Sofia . In May 1899 his services were recognized by the award of the Commander's Crosses of the Prussian Order of the Crown and the Serbian Takowo Order. In October 1900 he received the 2nd class of the Ottoman Osmanie Order and the Brilliants to his Bulgarian Order of Saint Alexander and his promotion to Oberst on the 20th of November 1900 with the seniority from the 1st of November.
It is in the nature of the job of a military attaché to work closely together with the military intelligence services of their countries but Wladimir Giesl Freiherr von Gieslingen did more than this. The whole Balkan area was a permanent source of political instability and was constantly observed with some concern by the major powers. The explosive mix of nationalities and the growing weakness of the Ottoman Empire made the Balkans a perfect "playground" for the interests of Tsarist Russia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. During the two decades prior to the world war the eyes and ears of the Dual Monarchy at this critical junction were those of Giesl and only a few others like Consul Alfred Rappaport, the expert on Albania and Montenegro. Their reports were heard by all the important bureaus, from the Evidenzbureau to the Chiefs of the General staff and the Emperor's military chancery up to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. This however did not necessarily mean that Giesl's and others suggestions were followed or acted upon. From the point of today's knowledge many important acts were not implemented and recommendations were not followed through lack of money or simply by bureaucratic hindrances.
During 1902 Wladimir Giesl Freiherr von Gieslingen was awarded the Golden Liakat medal of the Ottoman Empire and the Commander's Cross of the Order Star of Romania. On the 28th of July 1903 he was relieved from the post at Sofia followed by the award of the Military Merit Cross for his services there on the 3rd of August 1903. In January 1904 he received the Grand officer's Cross of the Bulgarian Military Merit Order and on the 25th of October 1904 the Commander's Cross of the Greek Order of the Redeemer. In January 1905 he was honored with the award of the 2nd class of the Russian Order of Saint Stanislaus with breast star. On the 24th of November 1906 (rank of 1st November) he was promoted to Generalmajor and his title was altered from military attaché to Militärbevollmächtigter (military plenipotentiary) at the k.u.k. embassies at Constantinople and Athens. On the 18th of April 1907 he was sent as "Délégué-adjoint" to the second international Peace conference at the Hague where he was the first authorized military representative of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. The first (civilian) representative was the diplomat Kajetan Mérey von Kapos-Mére, who was a "veteran" of the first conference in 1899. For his efforts at this important international conference he was honored with the award of the Commander's Badge of the Order of Franz Joseph with breast star (13th December 1907), the Grand cross of the Order of Danilo of Montenegro (1907) and the Netherlands Commemorative Medal for attached representatives in April 1908.
On the 7th of May 1907 his field of operations was enlarged to the legation at Cetje. On the 10th of December 1909 he was exceptionally transferred to the diplomatic services with the rank of "außerordentlicher Gesandter und bevollmächtigter Minister" with the appointment to the court of Montenegro and the additional award of the Commander's Cross of the Order of Leopold (with the war decoration of the knight's cross) for his outstanding performance on the 17th of December 1909. On the 10th of November 1910 (seniority from 1st November) he was promoted to Feldmarschall-Leutnant. For his efforts at Montenegro he received the Grand cross of the Order of Franz Joseph on the 15th of October 1913 followed by his transfer to Serbia in the same appointment on the 13th of November 1913. After the murders at Sarajevo on the 23rd of July 1914 it was Wladimir Giesl Freiherr von Gieslingen's duty as ambassador to pass the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to the Serbian authorities. From his Chief, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Graf Berchtold, he was instructed to ascertain the answers of the Pasic government 48 hours later and - if all points of the ultimatum were not accepted - to leave Belgrade immediately with his personnel. The Serbian government agreed to all points with the exception on one (activities of Austro-Hungarian investigators on Serbian ground) and Giesl obeyed his orders and left Belgrade.
Much has been written about this act since then and many historians blamed Giesl for leaving Belgrade too quickly therefore being responsible for the outbreak of the World War. This is excessive and the responsibility for triggering a whole World War cannot simply be put on the shoulders of an officer who simply obeyed his orders. Other historians published the obscure idea, based on the close friendship between Giesl and the Russian Ambassador, that these diplomats would have prevented the war if they had talked. Indeed they arranged a meeting on the 10th of July but when the Russian Ambassador von Hartwig, a corpulent man, arrived at Giesl's home he had a heart attack and died immediately before the responding doctor arrived - but these were surely the wrong shoulders too.
However, when Giesl returned to Vienna he was appointed as the liaison-officer of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the Army Headquarters on the 3rd of August 1914 shortly followed by his promotion to General der Kavallerie on the 15th of August 1914 with seniority from the 6th of November 1914. This appointment soon lead to problems with the Chiefs of the General staff and of the military chancery. Conrad von Hötzendorf as well as Bolfras blamed Giesl on several occasions for divulging secret details of military operations to the foreign minister and consequently from this ministry they were passed on to other persons. In the eyes of the army the existence of such a post (Giesl's) was an attempt to monitor the supreme command. Objectively this was not true but at the beginning of the war the paranoia within the higher echelons of the army was greater than normal. Giesl soon realized what was going on and asked for his relief on the 4th of January 1915 and requested an equivalent command in the army. This was refused on the grounds that he had not performed duty with the troops since 1893! On the 27th July 1915 he received his retirement by the additional expression of the commendation of the Kaiser, which allowed him to wear the bronze Military Merit Medal (Signum Laudis), and the title of Geheimer Rat (Privy Councillor).
In 1917 he was sent on special mission to Constantinople where he carried out the preparations for the visit of Kaiser Karl and Kaiserin Zita in early 1918. He then retired to his estate near Radkersburg in southern Styria. After the war his papers, notes and memoirs were compiled by Eduard Ritter von Steinitz in the book "Zwei Jahrzehnte im nahen Orient" and published in 1927. General der Kavallerie Wladimir Giesl Freiherr von Gieslingen died on the 20th of April 1936 at Salzburg.
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