Hermann Baron Kövess von Kövessháza

Herman Kövess von Kövessháza was born as the son of a senior officer on the 30th of March 1854 at Temesvár. His mother belonged to the German speaking minority of Siebenbürger-Sachsen or Seven Mountains Saxons from this area. In 1865 he entered the cadet institute at Hainburg and after a year at the Genieakademie at Klosterbruck near Znaim he moved on to the Technische Militär-Akademie (Genieabteilung) at Vienna. He was commissioned as a Leutnant in the 2nd Genie-Regiment at Vienna on the 1st of September 1872, followed by his promotion to Oberleutnant on the 1st of May 1875. He passed through the Kriegsschule (1876-1878) with good success and received accelerated promotion to Hauptmann on the 1st of November 1879 because of his excellent service. In 1882 he took part in the campaign in South Dalmatia to suppress the mutiny at Krivosje and was honored with a commendation by the commanding general and by the Kaiser which allowed him to wear the bronze Military Merit Medal (Signum Laudis) with war ribbon when it was instituted in 1890. On the 9th of July 1882 he also received the knights cross of the Order of the Italian Crown.

In the Autumn of 1892 Kövess married Eugenie Freiin Hye von Glunek, the youngest daughter from the second wedding of the well known lawyer and Minister of Law (Justizminister) Anton Freiherr Hye von Glunek at Gmunden. They had three sons; Adalbert, Geza and Eugen. The eldest - Adalbert was killed in action in1914 as a Leutnant of the Kaiserjäger. The others served during the war as artillery officers.

After the campaign Kövess failed his next general staff examination and was transferred to the infantry. Probably this was one of the reasons why this excellent officer never received the Military Merit Cross during peacetime. However his first-rate performance of duty resulted in further accelerated promotion to Major (1st May 1890) in infantry regiment number 26 followed a "normal" promotion to Oberstleutnant (1st May 1894) with infantry regiment number 72 and another accelerated promotion to Oberst on the 1st of November 1896 with infantry regiment number 52. In March 1898 he took over command of infantry regiment number 23 which became one of the best in the Vienna garrison during his command, often receiving commendations from the Kaiser. In April 1900 he was honored with the award of the Serbian Takovo Order 2nd class. Around 1900 Kövess was a well known officer within the Viennese garrison because so many details made him unique: he was one of the youngest colonels in the whole Army, he was a Protestant and it was therefore all the more remarkable that he had climbed so far and fast in a predominantly Roman-Catholic hierarchy. (later he was to become the only Protestant Field Marshal) and he was granted permission not to wear a beard because of his psoriasis, which made him look much younger than he was.

In April 1902 he was honored by the award of the 3rd class of the Order of the Iron Crown followed by promotion to Generalmajor on the 1st of November of the same year. From October 1902 to November 1906 he was commander of the 15th infantry brigade receiving the Order of Berthold 2nd class (April 1903) and the Order of the Lion of Zähringen 1st class (January 1904) both from the Grand Duchy of Baden. From November 1906 to April 1910 Kövess was commander of the 8th infantry division at Innsbruck. During this time he was promoted to Feldmarschall-Leutnant on the 1st of May 1907 and received the knights cross of the Order of Leopold on the 12th of August 1908. In June 1911 he assumed command of the 12th corps at Hermannstadt becoming the commanding general in Siebenbürgen, shortly followed by the award of the title Geheimer Rat (Privy Councillor) in August 1911 and the promotion to General der Infanterie on the 1st of November 1911. Shortly after he was appointed honorary colonel or the Oberstinhaber of infantry regiment number 95 in August 1912 he was innocently involved in a religious affair at Hermannstadt in which about 400 German speaking Roman-Catholics converted to Protestantism after a conflict with the Stadtpfarrer Egon Prinz Hohenlohe. This caused a huge scandal within Catholic circles around the court at Vienna. Prinz Hohenlohe reported in a letter to the heir to the throne, Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand that General Kövess had not done anything against this and was generally supporting this "Los von Rom Bewegung" by his ignoring of the problem. This was a good opportunity for all the jealous "comrades" of Kövess von Kövessháza to intrigue against him and he was expecting to be prematurely retired. Fortunately his years at Vienna were favorably remembered by the Kaiser and he remained at his post and received the 1st class of the Order of the Iron Crown on the 7th of March 1914 - probably a year later than he normally would have.

When the war started in 1914 GdI Kövess von Kövessháza was the "senior" - in age and rank - of all the corps commanders but he remained commanding the 12th corps while other and younger generals like Böhm-Ermolli and Dankl took over command of whole armies. At the outbreak of the war in August 1914, the then General Kövess led this corps to war against Russia in Galicia with simultaneous command of Armeegruppe GdI. Kövess von Kövessháza which was in fact the lead elements of 2.Armee en route from the Balkan theatre. Reverting to his corps command during the autumn and winter of 1914 the 12th corps suffered heavy causalities first commanded by the 3rd Army of Brudermann and then by the 2nd Army of Böhm-Ermolli. Kövess received the war decoration to the previously awarded grand cross of the Order of the Iron Crown on the 5th of October 1914.

At the beginning of 1915 the 12th corps was enlarged to become the Armeegruppe Kövess and was subordinated to the Prussian General von Woyrsch. During the breakthrough near Tarnów-Gorlice on the 2nd of May 1915 the Armeegruppe Kövess advanced to the Vistula river and stormed the Russian fortress of Ivangorod in August. In September 1915 Kövess took over command of the newly formed 3rd Army against Serbia. On the 9th of October 1915 the 3rd Army commanded by Kövess was able to capture the city and fortress of Belgrade - as the second Austrian General after the famous Prinz Eugen! Together with the German Heeresgruppe von Mackensen and the Bulgarian troops it was possible to take possession of the whole of Serbia. General Kövess was honored with the award of the Merit Star of the Red cross with war decoration (May 1915), the Grand cross of the Order of Leopold with war decoration (3rd August 1915) and the Military Merit Cross 1st class with war decoration (28th November 1915) - for the last 2 orders he received the swords when they were introduced later. The Germans honored him by awarding him the Iron Cross 2nd (March 1915) and 1st class (July 1915) and finally the Order "Pour le Mérite" on the 29th of November 1915.

Generaloberst Kövess and the commander of the Prussian X Reserve Corps - Generalleutnant Georg Fuchs, 15th September 1916Now Kövess was transferred to Sarajevo when he was appointed to lead the assault of the Lovcen mountain in Montenegro. On the 11th of January 1916 the Lovcen heights were attacked and captured followed by the offer of King Nikita of Montenegro to suspend hostilities. For the successful storming  of the Lovcen heights General Kövess was awarded the Silver Merit Medal (Signum Laudis) with war-ribbon on the 12th of January 1916. During the following weeks the troops of the 3rd army occupied Montenegro and invaded Albania, taking Scutari and finally Durazzo at the end of February. Kövess was promoted to Generaloberst on the 26th of February 1916, passing again those of  his contemporaries who had passed him before. On the 17th of March 1916 Kövess and his 3rd army were transferred from Cattaro to the southwestern theatre. He and his staff settled first at Klagenfurt, than at Bozen and finally at Trient. The Heeresgruppe Erzherzog Eugen was formed there from the 3rd army of Kövess and the 11th army of Dankl and commenced the offensive from the South Tyrol towards Italy. At the beginning, the offensive was successful, especially on the front of Kövess's 3rd army which was able to take Asiago. However the offensive had to be wound down and terminated because of the deteriorating situation on the Russian front. Generaloberst Kövess was now needed there and was quickly transferred to Stanislau in Galicia to assume command of a newly formed 3rd army. With this new army he was to attack the Russian troops but he was too weak and was compelled to withdraw. At the explicit wish of his commanding General, Archduke Karl, Kövess was appointed to take over command of the 7th army of Pflanzer-Baltin at Maramaros-Sziget on the 15th of October 1916. In hard defensive battles he now was able to protect Hungary from the Russian troops. On the 10th of December 1916 Generaloberst Kövess was honored with the award of the Golden Military Medal (Großes Signum Laudis) with war ribbon. Additionally the Allies honored his efforts during the year 1916 with the following awards; he received the Grand cross of the Bavarian Military Merit order with swords (24th January 1916), the Grand cross of the Order of the Crown of Württemberg (30th April 1916), the Ottoman Imtiaz Medals in Silver and Gold (April/May 1916), the neck badge of the Marianerkreuz of the Deutschen Ritterorden (19th June 1916), the Grand cross of the Bulgarian Saint Alexander Order with swords (16th September 1916) and finally the Ottoman Large Golden Liakat-Medal (30th September 1916) and the so-called Iron Crescent.

During the spring and early summer, Kövess, who prepared the re-conquest of the Bukovina, received the newly introduced swords to all of his previously won awards. In the first days of August 1917 Kövess's 7th army was able to retake the capital city of Czernowitz and the greater part of the Bukovina. On the 6th of August 1917 Kaiser Karl visited the liberated city of Czernowitz presenting to Generaloberst Kövess von Kövessháza a handwritten promotion to the rank of Feldmarschall dated the 5th of August 1917. During the following Chapter meeting of the Militär-Maria Theresien-Orden he was honored with the award of the Commanders cross of this order, followed by his ennobling to Baron, the Hungarian equivalent of Freiherr on the 17th of August 1917. In January 1918 he took over the command of the so-called Heeresfront Kövess at Klausenburg in Siebenbürgen but this unit was disbanded in April 1918 because of the peace agreements of Brest-Litovsk and Bucharest. Baron Kövess now traveled to Vienna where he received the Grand cross of the Order of Saint Stephen on the 26th of March 1918. Feldmarschall Baron Kövess and his wife took an involuntary vacation at Alt-Ausee were he received the Oak leaves to his Prussian Pour le Mérite (30th May 1918) and the Grand cross of the Merit order of the Maltäser Ritterorden (4th September 1918). At the end of September 1918 Feldmarschall Baron Kövess was again recalled to duty, receiving the command over an Heeresgruppe in the western Balkans. His appointment was to protect the Reich's frontier along the Danube river after Bulgaria's withdrawal from the war but in face of the conditions in October his mission was just impossible. From Belgrade he returned to Neusatz where he was able to take a Steamboat along the Danube back to Budapest and then to Vienna. During this journey he received a dispatch from Kaiser Karl informing Kövess of his abdication but as one of his last orders he was appointing him, Feldmarschall Baron Kövess von Kövessháza to assume the supreme command of the whole Austro-Hungarian Army! Kövess arrived at his new post on the 11th of November 1918. The Armeeoberkommando was meanwhile transferred from Vienna to Baden and he performed this duty until the 20th of December 1918 in permanent conflict with the new rulers.

Finally Field Marshal Baron Kövess retired to civilian life, living at his flats in Vienna and Budapest. Early in May 1919 he was asked by some Hungarian officers to take over the command of the "White" forces against the "Red" republicans in Hungary but he refused with two arguments: 1.) he was not interested in any politics and - very astonishing - 2.) his great lack of knowledge of the Hungarian language! During the following years he was engaged as head of the Chapter of the Military Maria Theresian Order and often visited veterans' meetings in Austria and in Hungary. On the 22nd of September 1924 Feldmarschall Hermann Baron Kövess von Kövessháza died in Vienna at the age of 70 of cerebral apoplexy. After a great ceremony there his body was transported to Budapest where he was laid to rest in a state funeral.

Photos Copyright © Christian Ortner.

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