Erzherzog Joseph

Erzherzog Joseph (August Victor Klemens Maria) was born on the 9th of August 1872 at Alcsuth in Hungary. He was the eldest son of General der Kavallerie Erzherzog Joseph, the supreme commander of the Hungarian Honvéd, and Erzherzogin Clothilde from the Sachsen-Coburg family. He was thus a member of the so-called "Hungarian Branch" of the House of Habsburg. After attending the Benediktinergymansium at Raab he was commissioned as a Leutnant in infantry regiment number 1 on the 26th of April 1890 where he received the Order of the Golden Fleece on the 24th of March 1891. He was transferred to infantry regiment number 72, shortly followed by his promotion to Oberleutnant on the 27th of October 1893. In the same year he married Augusta Maria Luise, the daughter of Prinz Leopold von Bayern, followed by the award of the Bavarian St.Hubertus Order on the 4th of September 1893 - some wags put this down to the fact that the Princess was corpulent and ugly! They had six children, Josef Franz, Gisela, Sophie, Ladislaus Luitpold and Matthias but Gisela and Matthias died as babies. Their eldest son Erzherzog Joseph Franz (born on the 28th March 1895) became a Rittmeister in hussar regiment number 7 and winner of the silver Bravery Medal for Officers at the end of World War 1 and later entered the Hungarian Army.

In 1894 Erzherzog Joseph was transferred to dragoon regiment number 6 where he received his promotion to Rittmeister on the 1st of November 1898. As an Archduke he often received high foreign decorations amongst others the Grand cross of the Order of Saint Joseph from the Grand Duchy of Tuscany (27th May 1897), the Marianer cross of the Deutscher Ritterorden (1895) and the Portrait decoration in Brilliants of the Shah of Persia (October 1900). Throughout his life he considered himself first and foremost an Hungarian and so it was not surprising that he asked the Kaiser for a post with Hungarian Honvéd. On the 1st of May 1902 he was promoted to Major and stimulatingly transferred to Honvéd Hussar Regiment number 1. He soon received his promotion to Oberstleutnant (1st November 1903) and took over the command of this regiment (July 1904), followed by promotion to Oberst on the 1st of May 1905. In this year he also received the Military Merit Cross (29th March 1905), the title of Oberstinhaber of dragoon regiment number 15 (28th April 1905) and the Grand cross of the Bulgarian Order of Alexander. Besides his military career he studied Law at the University of Budapest. After his promotion to Generalmajor on the 1st of November 1908, he assumedr command of the 79th Honvéd infantry brigade. For his performance there he received the commendation of the Kaiser, the bronze Military Merit Medal (Signum Laudis) on the 20th of September 1911. In early April 1911 he was appointed to the command of the 31st infantry division at Budapest followed by his promotion to Feldmarschall-Leutnant on the 1st of May 1911. During his years at Budapest he was honored several times by foreign awards: the Order of the Black Eagle and the 1st class of the Order of the Red Eagle from Prussia (1906), the Grand cross of the Victorian Order of Great Britain (1908), the Grand cross of the Order of Karl III. of Spain (1909) and the Grand cross of the Bulgarian Order of Cyrill and Methodius on the 22nd June 1912.

Archduke Joseph with the regimental colours of the 17th Infantry DivisionWith the outbreak of war in 1914 Erzherzog Joseph's division was first engaged on the southern and then on the Galician theatre. Erzherzog Joseph who was promoted to General der Kavallerie (1st November 1914) and honored by the award of the 1st class of the Order of the Iron Crown with war decoration (25th October 1914) took over the command of the VII corps (originally for Temesvár) during the heavy fighting in the Carpathian mountains. After Italy entered the war his corps was first transferred to the Carinthian border and finally integrated into the Isonzo army. On the southern wing of this army his VII corps, especially his 17th infantry and 20th Honvéd divisions fought long and hard in the ensuing battles of the Isonzo. During the 2nd battle of the Isonzo (18th July - August 3rd 1915) his corps held the so-called Carso, a barren wilderness of rock and particularly the important positions of Monte San Michele and Monte Sei Busi. His corps lost 5,500 men in the first 48 hours of the Italian offensive and in see-saw battles Monte San Michele was taken and retaken. By the 24th of July his corps had suffered 25,000 casualties in it's defence of the Doberdo Plateau. Equally difficult was the fighting in the fourth battle where the 17th division alone lost 11,700 soldiers during the period 15th October to 15th November 1915 in its desperate but successful struggle to hold Monte San Michele. Archduke Joseph  would remain on the Italian front until the conclusion of the ninth battle of the Isonzo  (31 October - 4 November 1916)  in command of his VII corps. His inspirational leadership of the predominantly Magyar troops under his command brought about a blizzard of honours and decorations: The neck badge of the Red Cross with war decoration (31st May 1915), the Grand cross of the Order of Leopold with war decoration (29th July 1915), the bronze Military Merit Medal (Signum Laudis) with war ribbon (2nd March 1916) and the Military Merit Cross 1st class with war decoration (17th October 1916). The young Archduke was one of the most beloved superior commanders by the troops. He wished to see the tactical situation at first hand which resulted in frequent visits to the trenches and forward most lines and he was the only senior general to earn the Karl Troop Cross. He loved to be among his common soldiers, he felt as one of them, always interested in improving their support, medical and hygiene situation.  The troops of Hungarian nationality were especially encouraged to high efforts when he was in their area. In 1915 he was awarded  the breast cross of the Malteser Ritterorden and received the Iron Cross 2nd class. During the year 1916 he received the Ottoman Imtiaz medal in Silver and Gold (March 1916), the Grand cross of the Bavarian Military Merit order with sword (4th July 1916) and the Prussian Iron Cross 1st class.

In November 1916 he assumed the command of the Heeresfront against Russian and Romania accompanied by his promotion to Generaloberst on the 1st of November 1916. With his forces he re-conquered  the eastern parts of the Siebenbürgen and started the armistice talks. Besides the Karl-Truppen-Kreuz and the Merit star of the Red Cross with war decoration (March 1917) he was further honored by the award of the large golden Military Merit Medal with war ribbon and sword (5th August 1917) and the Prussian Order Pour le Mérite (30th May 1917). During the Chapter meeting of the Militär-Maria Theresien-Orden he was honored, for his leading performance during the Isonzo-battles with the award of the Commanders cross of this order on the 17th of August 1917. In January 1918 he took over command of the 6th army again in the southern theatre and in July over the Armeegruppe Tirol, composed from the 10th and 11th Army). On the 26th of March 1918 he received the Oak leaves to his Prussian Pour le Mérite. An example of his desire to be with the forward most troops is the fact that during the Montello battle in June 1918 he was able to halt the fleeing troops, reform them and lead them back over the Piave river under constant heavy enemy fire. For this act of personal heroism he was awarded the Golden Bravery Medal for Officers by the Chapter of the Military Maria Theresien Order on the 31st May 1927. At the end of October 1918 he took over command of the Heeresgruppe Kövess in Balkan theatre. On the 18th of March 1918 he was honored by the award of the Grand cross of the Hungarian Order of St.Stephen and received as the last officer of the Austro-Hungarian Army the promotion to Feldmarschall on the 24th of October 1918. With these honours Kaiser Karl hoped to calm down the Hungarian nationalists at a time that troops of Hungarian nationality refused to do their duty - but it was to late.

Archduke Joseph Franz, the eldest son of Archduke Joseph as a Cavalry Captain in the Royal Hungarian ArmyOn the 27th of October 1918 Kaiser Karl appointed Feldmarschall Erzherzog Joseph as "Homo regius" for Hungary. After this Erzherzog Joseph requested the Kaiser to be released from his oath of allegiance. He immediately started negotiations and appointed Graf Janos Hadik with the building of a new national government on the 29th of October 1918. However all efforts were destroyed by the outbreak of the revolution on the 31st of October 1918. During the Räterepublik, Erzherzog Joseph was held under observation on his estate at Alcsuth. He was so popular that not even the Bolsheviks would risk harming him more than this. After the collapse of the red revolution he again took over the function of head of state with the title "Reichsverweser", he appointed Istvan Friedrich as Prime Minister and confirmed Admiral Nikolaus von Horthy as supreme commander of the Hungarian National Army. Erzherzog Joseph never made any secret of his plan to get the legal monarch Kaiser Karl back to the throne of Hungary and consequently the Entente Powers finally forced him to abdicate and hand over power to Horthy on the 23rd of August 1919. He did not completely retire from politics and when the House of Lords was installed again in 1927 he became a member of that institution but concentrated his efforts more to science and society work and published his memoirs. Before the war he received two honorary doctorates, one in Philosophy from the university of Budapest and one in technical sciences from the technical university of Budapest He now became an honorary member of the Hungarian Akademie der Wissenschaften, from 1936 to 1944 he was its president. After the early death of Kaiser Karl in 1922 it was often rumored that Erzherzog Joseph had some interests in the Hungarian Crown, for himself or his son Joseph Franz. This was not possible, because of Horthy, but it lead to serious trouble with Kaiserin Zita and the rest of the Habsburg family and it took until the 1950s for them to become reconciled. At the end of 1944 he escaped from Hungary to the USA, later he settled down with his sister Fürstin Margarethe von Thurn und Taxis in Regensburg/Germany. He died on the 6th of July 1962 at Rain near Straubing in Germany as the last Feldmarschall of the Austro-Hungarian Army.

Finally a remarkable note for the decoration enthusiasts:

In his memoirs Erzherzog Joseph stated that Kaiser Karl had awarded him, during a talk at the end of October 1918, the war decoration and the swords to his Grand cross of the Hungarian Order of Saint Stephen. This was strange enough because the Order of Saint Stephen was only for civil merit and no such decoration was ever instituted. The only person who could confirm his story, Kaiser Karl, was dead by the time Joseph first stated this but then why should an Archduke lie in such a case? During the late 1920s Erzherzog Joseph organized the manufacture of the decoration and wore the breast star during the following years. (An illustration of a modern copy is to the right) The latest research in this case demonstrates that Kaiser Karl had some ideas at the end of October 1918 to create such a war decoration for the (civil) Order of Saint Stephen to calm down the Hungarian nationalists. The somewhat emotional Karl always had a tendency for the unusual. Two examples are his awarding of the 2nd Class Order of the Iron Crown to a very junior officer - Oberleutnant Franz Kern and his promotion of Generaloberst Franz Rohr to Feldmarschall.  Only a few years ago in the archives a handwritten page was found in which he had asked for some suggestions regarding the look and regulations for such a decoration. However the war decoration and the swords were never legally instituted, produced or awarded!

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