Albin MlakerAlbin Mlaker was born on the 25th of February1890 in Planina near Rakek, although his father originated from Ptuj (Pettau). He soon decided on a military career and entered the Cadet School in Krems. Assigned to Pionier-Bataillon No 5 he was commissioned as a Leutnant on the1st of May1912. He transferred to the newly formed Sappeur-Battalion14 on the 1st of October1912 but was placed on half-pay and sent on leave on the 1st of June 1914 probably on account of illness. With the outbreak of the war in1914 he was recalled to Sappeur-Bataillon 14 and deployed to the Russian Front where he soon distinguished himself by his courage. On one occasion, while defending himself with a revolver only, he engaged himself in a skirmish with a group of three Russian Cossacks and managed to repulse them despite being seriously wounded. As a consequence he was again placed on half-pay and left the front for six moths convalescence in Vienna on the 23rd of January1915.
Following Italy's declaration of war on Austria-Hungary in May1915, Mlaker again returned to front line service with his battalion. In May1916 he became a celebrity by capturing the fortress of Casa Ratti in Southern Tyrol. As the commander of a patrol of 1st company, Sapper Battalion 14 (Feldmarschalleutnant Edler von Horsetzky's 3rd Infantry Division, XX. Corps) he found on the 26th of May1916 that the fortress had been abandoned by the Italians before the arrival of the Austrian troops. Under the constant artillery fire of both the Italian and Austrian forces Leutnant Mlaker and his men, thereupon rushed into the mined fortress, knowing that it could blow apart at any moment and disabled the Italian explosive charges thus preventing its destruction. Almost all the important newspapers in the monarchy carried reports about this heroic act, publishing articles about it alongside the photo of the young Leutnant Albin Mlaker. For the capture of Casa Ratti, he was awarded one of Austria's highest decorations, the Knight's Cross of the Order of St. Leopold on the 30th of May1916 - a very rare decoration for one so junior in rank and also his first decoration. He additionally received the accelerated promotion to Oberleutnant on the 10th of June1916 which was backdated to the 26th of May1916. He continued to win prestigious awards throughout the remainder of1916: The Bronze Military Merit Medal (Signum Laudis) with war decoration on the 18th of October and the Military Merit Cross 3rd class with war decoration and swords on the 1st of November for successfully mining the top of the mountain of Monte Cimone near Arsiero on 23 September1916. With a cleverly planned operation Mlaker succeeded in deceiving the Italians, drilling an underground tunnel below their trenches and at 05:45 hours detonated the explosives. The explosion had killed some 100 Italian soldiers and only a small group of two officers and twenty-two soldiers remained from the whole Italian battalion. Infantry Regiment Number 59 who carried out the assault following the detonation captured a further 15 enemy officers and 477 non commissioned officers and men.
Because of the fame which now accompanied him throughout the Southwestern front, the commanding Officer on the Vrsic Stellung (position) demanded that Mlaker be put in charge for a similar operation, namely an underground explosion on Mount Vrsic. The mining of Mount Kal in the Krn mountain range was not as trouble free as had been the one in the South Tyrol. In an underground tunnel beneath the mountain, Mlaker and his men encountered a group of Italians who were digging a similar tunnel and it resulted in a small skirmish in the tunnel. Only when the Austrians brought a machine-gun into action were the Italians stopped but the action had cost the lives of three Austrian sappers during this short, yet stiff encounter with the Italian tunnel engineers. The work continued and the peak of Mount Kal (1698m) was blown off at nine in the morning on the 24th of October1917, then being stormed by the Kärntner of the 7th Klagenfurter Infantry Regiment who occupied the peak without any serious opposition. Oberleutnant Mlaker was subsequently awarded the Golden Bravery Medal for officers on the 27th of December1917.
Promoted to Hauptmann on the 1st of February 1918, Albin Mlaker now serving in Sappeur-Battailon 21 was additionally awarded the Karl Troop Cross and following the collapse of Austria-Hungary he joined the newly established Slovene National Army in Ptuj, only to be transferred later to the headquarters of General Rudolf Maister in Maribor (Marburg an der Drau).
Nonetheless the war effort had taken its toll and soon after the end of the war Hauptmann Mlaker fell seriously ill with his nerves. From February1919 he was in various medical institutions and the next year he was already retired from active military service. He was promoted to the rank of major in the reserve. Among the people he was considered a strange and a hot tempered person. When the city authorities wanted to move him from his apartment, he chased the officials with a shot gun.
He had two sons. The younger one, to whom he was especially attached to, was killed in the German Army in the Soviet Union. The story goes that a heavy explosion had torn off both his legs causing him terrible pain and he apparently begged in severe pain for passing soldiers to give him a mercy shot.
In September1944, the 54-years-old Albin Mlaker went from Ptuj to Dolenjska province and joined the Slovene partisans. He retained there his rank of Major and was responsible for engineering in the 7th Slovene Partisan Corps. Following one of his schemes the partisans erected a pontoon bridge at Brod na Kolpa. Major Albin Mlaker died in June1946 at a military hospital in Maribor and is buried at a local cemetery in Ptuj.
Special thanks to Klemen Lužar for providing much of the history on this officer.
Note on spelling. Although in official German documents spelt Mlaker, the name can also be found spelt as Mlakar although in his signed photograph above the Germanized version Mlaker is used.
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