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Prince Kraft zu Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen: Observations on the State of the Austrian Army (1854)

In his observations on the state of the Austrian army in 1854, Prussian general Prince Kraft zu Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen (1827-1892) looks at military tactics since the Napoleonic Era and discusses the army's technical backwardness, lack of training, and inability to respond to new ideas. His devastating judgment about the strategic and tactical incompetence of most Austrian aristocratic officers seems to have been confirmed later on by the Austrian defeat against Prussia in 1866.

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I became acquainted with the famous Clam Gallas during the parade on July 12. In my notes from the time, I now see that I wrote to Berlin about him, suggesting that he was not up to his job as commanding general, that he was just a show-off warhorse, neither a tactician nor a strategist, and [that he was] incapable of having a comprehensive overview of things. The activity of this once so celebrated Austrian general in the years 1859 and 1866 splendidly confirmed my verdict, one that was quite bold for such a young officer to have made about such an old leader. At the parade, and later in the officers' mess hall, I had frequent opportunity to converse with him, and I encountered such an acutely meager knowledge – such an immature tactical and strategic judgment, leaving him not even the faintest idea about the military events in which he had played a role – that I realized he was only a puppet who might have lent his name to the activity of any old general staff officer. At the same time, he was a distinguished grand seigneur through and through, loved society, hunting, dinners, was generous, rode horseback elegantly, and treated military activity like any another sport, not in earnest, but for fun. It was said of him that, whenever a battle report was given to him to sign, upon seeing the appended drawings of the terrain, he would ask what the horrid cobwebs drawn by the general staff officer signified, and that he was quite surprised to hear that they represented mountains.

The general of the cavalry, Prince Franz Liechtenstein, was then, as I already mentioned, the Seydlitz of the nineteenth century in the opinion of authoritative personalities. When I made his acquaintance, it occurred to me that he carefully evaded expressing a view about historical or tactical questions, and I arrived at the suspicion that he had none. I am confirmed in this by the remarks of many a general staff officer, as cautious as they were, and the Windischgrätz family noisily said about him that he was the most incapable of all Austrian generals, yes, and that after the battle of Schwechat, Prince Alfred Windischgrätz demanded a court-martial against Prince Franz Liechtenstein. But when Prince Windischgrätz fell into disfavor, his opponents branded Prince Franz Liechtenstein a hero.

The old Prince Alfred Windischgrätz, who with iron energy had restored order in Prague and Vienna in 1848, had fallen into disfavor because he had never wanted to become a chamberlain or a privy councilor and, contrary to the Spanish custom of the Austrian court, had claimed the rank of a prince and field marshal. The iron man bore this disfavor with the dignity of an iron hero from the sixteenth century, at least in the way that heroes like this have been portrayed by history, although maybe not as they ever really lived. He was a noble man of character and had a stubbornness that triumphed over all insight. He was a friend of Prussia, i.e. to the extent that an Austrian at that time could be a friend of Prussia. That is to say, he regarded solidarity between Prussia and Austria as the only advantageous path for Austria, from which he drew the conclusion that Prussia was duty-bound to sacrifice its last drops of blood for Austria's welfare. His insight was slow and therefore steady. After all, he was an aristocrat and a man of honor through and through. His word was like an Amen in church. He was the only Austrian whom I got to know back then who believed that Austria also had to keep its commitments, even if they had been made toward Prussia. This sensibility, in the personal as well as the political, was passed on to his sons. That he was wounded for this sensibility is something that later brought about his death from a broken heart. But this belongs to a later historical epoch.

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