Arthur Giesl Freiherr von Gieslingen

Arthur Giesl Freiherr von Gieslingen was born at Krakow on the 19th of June 1857. He was the eldest son of the late Feldzeugmeister Heinrich Karl Giesl Freiherr von Gieslingen and his first wife Emilie and like his younger brother Wladimir he was destined for a military career. After attending the cadet institute at Eisenstadt he passed through the Theresian Military Academy and was commissioned as a Leutnant in dragoon regiment number 2 on the 1st of September 1875. In this regiment he received his promotion to Oberleutnant on the 1st of May 1880. After attending the Kriegsschule he was attached to the general staff of the18th cavalry brigade at Stuhlweißenburg and transferred in the same function to the 25th infantry division on the 1st of November 1883. On the 1st of November 1884 he received his promotion to Hauptmann 1st class in the general staff. Very little is known of what he actually really did in the decade between 1877 and 1887.  He was probably engaged in clandestine missions for the military intelligence office - some details in his later career made this suggestion plausible. On the 24th of July 1887 he married Helene Virginia Comploier (24th January 1860-4th March 1944). They had two daughters, Margarete (10th April 1888-30th January 1919) married with to Freiherr von Chlumecky and Theodora who died 1894 at the age of 3 weeks.

On the 26th of April 1887 he was appointed as Ordonannz-officer (orderly officer) to the heir to the throne Erzherzog Rudolf. Together with the Flügeladjutant Major Graf Orsini, he was now one of the two officers with the closest contact to the future Kaiser. It is possible to speculate that he was sent by military intelligence to inform the general staff about the plans and activities of the heir to the throne but there is nothing to prove this suggestion. But fact was, that Giesl and Orsini were both strongly involved in the Mayerling affair. Arthur Giesl Freiherr von Gieslingen was one of the very few people who personally witnessed the rooms and the corpses shortly after the fatal shots and he was the first (and the only personally involved) person to give details to a newspaper in the 1930's telling for the first time about the double suicide. At this time it was commonly believed that the heir to the throne was murdered possibly by foreign powers. Today it is known that Erzherzog Rudolf had shot his mistress Mary Vetsera followed by his suicide at the estate of Mayerling but many questions are still unanswered. The main reason for this was the great effort to draw a veil of secrecy over the whole affair which started immediately after - and both officers were the main figures during this operation. However Arthur Giesl Freiherr von Gieslingen was honored "for his services to the deceased heir to the throne" by the award of the 3rd class of the Order of the Iron Crown on the 24th of February 1889. Indeed a very high decoration for a Hauptmann usually only awarded to an Oberst or a Generalmajor during peacetime. After a short period of duty with the troops he was appointed as Flügeladjutant to the Kaiser with simultaneous promotion to Major on the 1st of May 1891. During this and the previous duty close to the imperial court he received many foreign decorations:  The silver 50 years Crown jubilee Medal of Queen Victoria of Great Britain (7th October 1887), the 5th class of the Serbian Order of the White Eagle (1887), the 3rd class of the Prussian Order of the Crown (5th July 1888), the 3rd class of the Persian Order of the Sun and the Lion (5th October 1889), the Commander's Cross of the Order Crown of Romania (October 1890), the 2nd class of the Prussian Order of the Crown (1891), the Officer's Cross of the Saxon Order of Albrecht (1891), the 3rd class of the Serbian Takovo Order (11th October 1891) and the Commander's Cross of the Saxon Order of Albrecht (January 1892).

On the 27th of April 1892 he was transferred to the general staff of the cavalry division at Lemberg followed by duty with the troops with ulan regiment number 3 where he received his promotion to Oberstleutnant on the 1st of May 1894. In January 1896 he was appointed as chief of the general staff of the 8th corps at Prague followed by his promotion to Oberst on the 6th of May 1897. For his achievements in this post he was honored with the award of the Military Merit Cross on the 22nd of June 1898. On the 18th of June 1898 he was appointed as Chief of the Evidenzbureau (office of military intelligence) at the Kriegsministerium. It was in the nature of such services that only a little is known about their activities and in contemporary publications such career moves were not published. Dr. Albert Pethö, who wrote the remarkable book "Agenten für den Doppeladler" (published 1998) reported after more than a decade of research that, especially during the last month of 1918, so many files and material had been destroyed that it would be never possible to find answers to a great deal of questions. He wrote further that in the archives two different "official" lists of the Chiefs of the Evidenzbureau for the period pre 1900 exist, one with 6 and one with 13 names on it! However Giesl's name is on both of them. In practice an officer would not be appointed to this post without previous experience in clandestine missions abroad so it seems he must previously have worked for military intelligence. During this period of command several activities in many countries had to be performed but mainly in Russia and this was the reason why he had two young officers from the general staff who spoke fluent Russian posted into the Evidenzbureau. One was Major Anton Liposcak, the later General der Infanterie and last governor of Poland and the other was Hauptmann Alfred Redl, who received dubious glory as a Russian "Master-Spy" in 1912! During his years at the Evidenzbureau Giesl received the following foreign awards: the 2nd class of the Württemberg Order of Friedrich (9th January 1900) and the 2nd class of the Persian Order of the Sun and the Lion with Brilliants (17th January 1901). Finally he was honored for his outstanding performance with the military intelligence services with the award of the Knight's Cross of the Order of Leopold on the 20th of April 1903.

On the 20th of April 1903 he assumed command of the 10th infantry brigade shortly followed by promotion to Generalmajor on the 17th of May 1903. During the summer months of 1903 a large flood disaster near Troppau necessitated the assistance of the army and consequently 33 persons from Korporal upwards were honored by decree of the war ministry - Generalmajor Giesl von Gieslingen was one of them. On the 19th of January 1904 he received the breast star to his Commander's Cross of the Prussian Order of the Crown. On the 12th of September 1905 he was appointed as commander of the Theresian Military Academy at Wiener Neustadt. For the following five years he was now the commander of the most important educational institute for officers of the Austro-Hungarian Army. On the 3rd of November 1907 he was promoted to Feldmarschall-Leutnant and was honored by the award of the Knight's Cross (the so-call Kleinkreuz) of the Hungarian Order of Saint Stephen on the 12th of March 1909. The military academy was often visited by foreign delegations and so he received additionally the Ehrengroßkreuz des großherzoglich-oldenburgischen Haus- und Verdienstordens des Herzogs Peter Friedrich Ludwig (October 1908), the Grand cross of the Swedish Order of the Sword, the 1st class of the Japanese Order of the Holy Treasure and finally the 3rd step of the 2nd grade of the Chinese Order of the Double Dragon!

On the 8th of April 1910 he took over command of the 29th infantry division at Theresienstadt. On the 1st of October 1912 he was appointed to the command of the 8th corps and to be the commanding general at Prague followed by his promotion to General der Kavallerie on the 30th of that month. At his new command he remembered the excellent general staff officer Alfred Redl, who was meanwhile an Oberst and Deputy Chief of the Evidenzbureau and made him his Chief of the general staff at 8th corps. But the fortune of this high-flying officer had come to an end. The agents of military intelligence had discovered that he was the Russian spy within the general staff for whom they had searched for so long and when he was in Vienna to again collect money from dubious sources, he was visited at his hotel by two officers. They gave him a pistol and left the room. On the 25th of May 1913, the day after, the chief of the Evidenzbureau August von Urbansky and Major-Auditor Wenzel Vorlicek traveled to Prague to meet Giesl and informed him about Redl. Together in civilian clothes they opened Redl's flat and cleared it of it's contents. Giesl was now one of the very few superior commanders and general staff officers who was completely in the know regarding this affair. Again he was a leading personality in a large cover-up operation. It was not difficult to conceal the facts from the public and it was years before the affair became general knowledge and much is still unknown. However the main task of the officers involved was to surprises the fact that one of their own, an Oberst of the general staff  had been extorted on the account of his homosexuality and delivered material over years to the Russians. Their suppression of the facts was so rapid and perfect that - until today - no one could exactly say what he had given to the enemy. There was no interrogation, no investigation, only a cover-up - to include the public and the Kaiser! For example the safe of the 8th corps at Prague had contained the complete operations plan which would be executed in the event of war with Russia. The  limited attempt at finding the facts did not ascertain whether Redl had passed it on to the Russians and  more than this, they informed the Chief of the general staff and the Kaiser that he had definitely not done so.  Consequently no major changes were made to the plans until 1914. Later many historians ascribed the serious setbacks against Serbia and Russia at the beginning of the war as a result Alfred Redls' treachery.

Giesl's handling of the immediate aftermath of Redl's death led to some complications. When Redl's flat was searched Giesl had hired a local locksmith to open the flat door and the desk drawers. The locksmith had remained throughout the search and had overheard the conversations of the officers searching the flat. He passed this on to the Prague newspaper journalist  Egon Erwin Kisch who brought the scandal to light in the 1920s. Additionally he had Redl's belongings auctioned to pay the latter's debts without having them properly examined. These included the browning pistol used in the suicide which was army property and a camera including the negatives of the army mobilization instructions. Fortunately the film was returned to the army authorities. Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand was furious and wanted Giesl's head but Giesl was protected by the Kaiser. Franz Ferdinand's later attempts to have Urbansky relieved were thwarted by his own assassination at Sarajevo.

Arthur Giesl 1932On the 11th of October 1913 General Giesl was honored with the title of Oberstinhaber of infantry regiment number 16 and with the title of Geheimer Rat (Privy Councillor) on the 20th of December of the same year. When the war started in 1914 the 8th corps was a part of the 5th army which advanced into Serbia on the 12th of August 1914. After crossing the Drina Giesl's corps was badly hit by the Serbs on the Cer Plateau on the night of the16th and had to fall back across the river. The 8th corps had suffered heavy casualties and in particular the 21st Landwehr-Infantry Division had not performed well. The neighbouring 13th corps was thus obliged to retire also and shortly afterwards Giesl was relieved of command and replaced by Feldmarschall-Leutnant Viktor von Scheuchenstuel. Remembering back to the Redl affair, Arthur Giesl was possibly more responsible for this defeat that at first sight. Following his relief General der Kavallerie Arthur Giesl Freiherr von Gieslingen was placed on half-pay status and sent on leave to Vienna. He was however reactivated in 1917 by Kaiser Karl and  awarded the Bronze Military Merit Medal (Signum Laudis) with swords on the 11the August 1917 for his services in 1914! With no active field command being available he was assigned to the staff of the commander of replacement services where he saw out the remainder of the war and was finally permanently retired on the 1st of January 1919. 

During the following years he lived in his flat in Vienna's 3rd district away from public life. In 1928 he became honorary president of the society of former graduates of the Theresian Military Acardemy "Alt-Neustadt". On his death in 1935 this appointment was passed to General der Kavallerie Rudolf Ritter von Brudermann, another cavalry general who's career had not survived the surprising defeats of 1914! The general died on the 3rd of December 1935 was was buried on the 6th of December in the family grave with his parents and his daughters. His wife was interred there also following her death.

Back to Miscellaneous Biographies