Otto Freiherr Ing. Ellison von Nidlef

The Ellison family originally came from England to Hannover and from there to Austria around 1800. Otto Ritter Ellison von Nidlef was born on the 6th April 1868 at St. Pölten as the son of Major Friedrich Ellison Edler von Nidlef (1822-1910) who had been raised to the nobility on the 28th of July 1889. One of six children, Otto attended the Technical Military Academy from he which he graduated on the 18th of August 1889 and was commissioned as a Leutnant in the 2nd Engineer (Genie) Regiment. He was promoted to Oberleutnant on the 1st of November 1891 and following service as a battalion adjutant, as a company officer and an instructor in the regimental NCOs school he attended the senior engineer course from the 1st of October 1892 until the 1st of September 1894. After the successful completion of the course he was transferred to the Engineer Directorate at Trient followed by a further assignment to the Engineer Directorate at Cattaro on the 1st of December 1895. He was promoted to Hauptmann on the 1st of May 1897 and assigned as a company commander in Infantry Regiment Number 22 until the 1st of May 1899 when he was officially transferred to the engineer staff branch and assigned to the Engineer Directorate in Brixen in the South Tyrol.

On the 1st of January 1901 he became the Deputy Director of Engineering at Trient followed by his appointment as the General Staff Officer to that headquarters on the 20th of August of the same year. He became an advisor to the Technical Military Committee on the 15th of May 1903 followed by his promotion to Major on the 1st of November 1905. On the 1st of November of the following year he was appointed as an instructor in fortifications, fortress warfare and the history of fortification warfare at the War School in Vienna with a similar appointment with the senior engineer courses also held in Vienna on the 15th of November 1907. Appointed as the Engineer Director in Brixen on the 18th of August 1911 , his final appointment before the outbreak of WW1 was that of Engineer Director of the Riva Fortress on Lake Garda which he took up on the 17th of April 1914.

Just prior to the declaration of war by Italy , Ellison was appointed as the commander of Fortress Riva’s Defence Sector V which he held until he assumed command of Group Vezzena on the 16th of July 1915. In mid August 1915, the Italian V Corps consisting of the 9th, 15th and 34th Infantry Divisions was assigned the task of breaking through the Sugana Valley towards Trent and to simultaneously capture the plateaux of Folgaria and Lavarone. The Austro-Hungarian defenders in this sector were the 52nd Half-Brigade in the Sugana Valley and the 180th Infantry-Brigade with positions facing east on the plateaux. Oberst Ellison’s Gruppe, which in the main consisted of March and volunteer formations including the young volunteers of the Upper Austrian Volunteer Rifles, the so-called Jung-Schützen, held the easternmost sector of the brigade’s area of responsibility. The Group’s positions ran from north to south from the redoubt of Cima di Vezzena, towering high above the Sugana Valley down to the Lusern armoured redoubt. Also included in the sector were the Verle armoured redoubt and the Basson earthen strongpoint which was situated in the interval between Verle and Lusern.

Click to enlarge.The Italians began shelling the redoubts and positions on the plateaux on the 15th of August and Cima di Vezzena was soon reduced to rubble and Lusern badly damaged. The initial Italian infantry assaults took place in the Sugana Valley and to the south of Ellison's sector, especially against Monte Coston. Following ten days of artillery preparation the entire V Corps went over to the assault and the 15th Division occupied Borgo in the valley, whereas the 34th Division now attacked on Ellison's front. The attack of the 34th Division would totally fail. Four times during the day the Italians assaulted Ellison's positions but only two battalions of Colonello Mario Riveri's 115th Infantry Regiment of the Treviso Brigade succeeded in getting within close proximity of the Basson earthen strongpoint. With darkness falling, the enemy artillery fire on Basson was such that it's garrison was compelled to withdraw to the woods about 400 metres to the rear and the enemy were able to occupy the position.  Ellison was initially unaware of the situation at Basson but during the night he could observe from his headquarters at an artillery observation post the flashes of enemy small arms fire coming from the direction of Basson and in the morning gloom was able to see Italian infantry moving about the position. He immediately ordered two companies of the II Battalion of the Upper Austrian Jung-Schützen to counter-attack and retake the position. Unfortunately the attack was never executed as the company commanders were under the mistaken impression that the redoubt was back in Austrian hands!

In the meantime it had become fully light and movement by closed formations across the open ground to retake the redoubt would have been prohibitively costly. Therefore in order to ascertain the situation for himself, Oberst Ellison accompanied by four officers armed with rifles and a plentiful supply of ammunition set out from the command post through the wood to the north and then made their way to the rearmost trenches of the Basson redoubt where they were met by Italian small arms fire. They succeeded in reaching the rear positions where they found eight Landesschützen soldiers who had been cut off in the withdrawal of the previous evening. There the small group engaged the as yet undetermined number of Italian occupiers for the next two and a half hours. They cleared the enemy of the outlying trenches and kept the remainder under cover within the redoubt.

In the meantime the supporting fire of the guns at Verle and Lusern were interdicting any possible withdrawal route for the Italians at Basson. With their situation now increasingly untenable, the Italians capitulated following Ellison's demand that they should lay down their arms. Oberst Ellison accepted the surrender of 353 enemy officers, NCOs and soldiers, had them assembled and escorted to his command post while in the meantime his four officers occupied the forward positions of the redoubt.[1] Ellison then ordered the two Landesschützen companies in the woods to reoccupy the redoubt, assemble the Italian weapons and bury the dead. The Italian losses were 22 officers and 219 NCOs and soldiers killed. Among the severely wounded was the gallant commanding officer of the 115th Infantry Regiment, Colonello Riveri. The Austrians had additionally captured a regimental banner, over 600 small arms, around 100,000 rounds of ammunition and other material.

For his decisive action at Basson, Oberst Ellison would be awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Military Maria Theresia Order at the 180th Promotion on the 17th of August 1917 at Villa Wartholz. On the 6th of October he assumed command of the Group von Ellison, Vezzena-Lafraun and the 43rd Landwehr Infantry Brigade on the 20th of May 1916. Oberst von Ellison led the 43rd Brigade during the May 1916 offensive as part of the III Corps against Monte Kempel and then south into the Asiago Plateau. On the 3rd of October 1916 he was appointed commander of the 1st Kaiserjäger Brigade which he led in the difficult high alpine struggle for Monte Pasubio. Promoted to Generalmajor on the 15th of August 1917 he became commander of the II Tyrolean Defence Sector in January 1918 and finally was appointed as the commander of the Austro-Hungarian Aviation Forces.

Having been raised to an Austrian Barony following his award of the MMThO, Freiherr Ellison retired in January 1919 and settled in Graz. Following Austria's incorporation into the German Reich in March 1938 he was honoured on the 25th anniversary of the battle of Tannenberg on the 27th of August 1938 by being promoted to the charakter or brevet rank of Generalleutnant in the German Army.[2] He died on the11th of November 1947 at St. Stefan ob Stainz in Styria.

[1] Der Militär-Maria-Theresien-Orden: Die Auszeichnungen im Weltkrieg 1914-1918, Wien 1944.


[2] Die Generale des Heeres, Band 3, Bradley/Hildebrand/Rövekamp, Biblio Verlag, Osnabrück 1994.



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