Karl Graf Kirchbach auf LauterbachThe noble family of Kirchbach often produced Generals mainly in the different German armies. Karl, who belonged to the Saxon branch of the family was born as the oldest son of FmLt Ferdinand Freiherr von Kirchbach on the 20th of May 1856 at Gyöngyös (Hungary). Together with his younger brother Johann he was destined to embark on a military career to fulfill the family traditions. At the age of 11 he entered the cadet institute at St.Pölten, later at Eisenstadt and finally the Theresian military academy at Wiener Neustadt which he left in August 1875 on commissioning as a Leutnant in dragoon regiment number 5. After passing the course at the Militär-Reitlehrerinstitut (riding school) he was promoted to Oberleutnant on the 1st of May 1880. He attended the Kriegsschule (1881-1884) at Vienna with "Gutem Erfolg" or great success and was attached to the general staff and employed on various duties and received a promotion to the rank of Hauptmann. In May 1891 he returned to the troops with dragoon regiment number 9 and two years later married Rosa Carol Vay. On the 1st of November 1893 he received his promotion to Major and was again employed in general staff appointments firstly as chief of the general staff of the 15th corps command and between 1895 and 1897 in the same function with the cavalry division at Stanislau. Meanwhile promoted to Oberstleutnant (1st of May 1896) he did two further years at troop duty with dragoon regiment number 1. In April 1899 he became chief of the general staff of the 3rd corps command followed by promotion to Oberst on the 1st of May 1899.
At his own request he was discharged from general staff duty and, honored with the Militärverdienstkreuz (military merit cross), transferred (4th of April 1901) to dragoon regiment number 5 whose commander he became about a month later. After more than 3 years of service as a regimental commander he was awarded the Orden der Eisernen Krone 3.Klasse (Order of the Iron Crown 3rd class) and became the commander of the 12th cavalry brigade. Two years later, meanwhile promoted to Generalmajor (1st of November 1905), he assumed command of the 10th cavalry brigade at Vienna and in 1909 of the cavalry division at Temesvar. Karl Freiherr von Kirchbach was promoted to Feldmarschall-Leutnant on the 1st of May 1910 and honored with the knights' cross of the Leopold order on the 28th of February 1911. Belonging to those young and modern thinking generals centred around Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand and Conrad von Hötzendorf who were determined to reform the old army into a modern fighting force, there was no surprise when he assumed the newly created post of k.k.Landwehr-Kavallerie-Inspektor on the 23rd of March 1911.
In the following years he put all his efforts into raising the educational and training standards of the neglected Landwehr cavalry to the same level as the common army cavalry. He observed that they could do more than reconnaissance duty and the escorting of train columns and drilled them to operate as larger independent formations and developed cooperation with infantry divisions. He was promoted to General der Kavallerie on the 1st of May 1914 and was further honored for his efforts with the title "Geheimer Rat" or privy councillor in early 1914. When the war began he took over the command of the 1st corps and was appointed as the commanding general at Krakau. His first assignment was to cover the mobilization transports to Russia and with the assumption of the offensive, the 1st corps formed the left wing of Dankl's army. During the August fighting north of Tanew the1st corps contributed decisively to the victory of Krasnik. For this action GdK Kirchbach was honored with the Orden der Eisernen Krone 1.Klasse mit Kriegsdekoration (Grand cross of the Iron Cross with war decoration) on 5th of October 1914 and when the sword were introduced he received those retroactively . When Dankl's army was compelled to retreat his corps formed the rearguard. During the battles in September his corps reached Iwangorod and he temporarily assumed command of an army group south of the Vistula. In May and June 1915 GdK Kirchbach and his corps reached again Tarlow and was later able to build a bridgehead at Sokal east of the Bug-river. The following Mackensen offensive (Gorlice-Tarnów) brought him to the Ikwa river near Dubno. GdK Karl Freiherr Kirchbach auf Lauterbach was again honored by receiving the 1st class of the order of Leopold with war decoration (20th of November 1915) also receiving the swords retroactively.
In May 1916 Kirchbach was honored with the award of the bronze military merit medal (Signum Laudis) with war decoration and swords and his corps was transferred to the southern Tyrol to form part of the 3rd Army in the following offensive. His assignment was to complete the final and most difficult phase of this offensive but the final breakthrough failed in the face of the superior strength of the Italian forces and the poor results of the Austrian artillery fire which had been unable to accurately eliminate the well camouflaged Italian emplacements. Returning to the Russian front Kirchbach took over a position east of Stanislau and in August 1916 his corps became responsible for the defense of the Tartarenpass. The Russian army attempted repeatedly to take this strategic "door" into Hungary and Kirchbach's troops were able to repulse all of these efforts. On the 8th of September 1916 Kirchbach assumed command of the 7th Army and again had a defensive task. During the following offensive, which the Russian army mounted to relieve the Rumanians, he was able, by executing unusual and risky but finally successful operations to prevent a Russian breakthrough. On the 1st of November 1916 Karl Freiherr Kirchbach auf Lauterbach was promoted to Generaloberst.
Shortly after he took over the command of the 4th Army in March 1917 a serious illness forced GO Kirchbach to leave his post, receiving the Military Merit cross 1st Class with war decoration and swords. In October 1917 he returned to active duty but looking at contemporary pictures of this time his face still shows the signs of the sickness. GO Kirchbach was raised to the rank of "Graf" or count on the 8th of December 1917. At the beginning of 1918 he became the commander of all Austro-Hungarian troops in the Government of Cherson with headquarter at Odessa. His important mission was to pacify the country and get out as much materiel, mainly agricultural goods, as possible from this fertile region. For his outstanding performance he received the grand cross of the order of Leopold with war decoration and sword on the 26th of March 1918. Already in the first days of April his poor health again forced him to relinquish his command. During the course of the war Karl Graf Kirchbach auf Lauterbach received many of foreign decorations (but only) from the German allies: the Prussian Iron Cross 2nd class (1914) and 1st class (1915), the relatively rare decoration for bravery from the Grand Duchy of Hessen (1917) and in 1918 the grand crosses of the Bavarian Military-Merit-Order with swords, the Saxon Albrechts order with golden star and swords, the Order of the Württembergischen Crown with swords and finally the Prussian Order of the Red Eagle with swords.
After some months of convalescence he again asked for a command at the front and Kaiser Karl appointed him to the post of Inspizierender der k.u.k. Truppen an der Westfront (inspector of the k.u.k. troops at the western front) on the 24th of September 1918 - in view of this late date it was more a honorary title than an active job! After the end of the war Generaloberst Karl Graf Kirchbach auf Lauterbach remained in Austria and recovered completely from his illness. He died at Scharnstein (Upper Austria) on the 20th of May 1939.
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