Emil Poppr

Emil Poppr was born in 1896 in the Győr (Raab) area of Hungary as the son of a senior forestry official and had himself planned to enter the forestry service. With the outbreak of the First World War however, Poppr reported voluntarily for service with the Austro-Hungarian army as a Kadett-Aspirant in the Depot Battalion of infantry regiment number 83 and completed his one year volunteer's training before being posted in November 1915 to the regiment in the field then fighting in Galicia. The dashing Kadett soon found himself attached to the assault company of his regiment.

Kadett in der Reserve Poppr constantly volunteered himself for dangerous missions, no enterprise appeared too difficult and no task was impracticable. In only six months he was awarded the Bronze, the Silver Bravery Medals in both classes and the Golden Bravery Medal.

Risky patrol engagements and nocturnal assault operations were repeatedly executed with great success. As an example can be found his citation for the award of the Golden Bravery Medal:

"had attacked during the night of the 11th/12th of April 1916 southeast of Nowi Aleksiniec under the most dangerous conditions a Russian standing patrol and had personally captured one man and shot down another two when he had alone jumped into an hollow occupied by five men. His sudden sally was so rapid that his own men were still twenty paces behind him had proved a success which produced the first authenticated and reliable information about the presence of a new Russian formation in this sector. He volunteers for such operations repeatedly, effecting a fascinating influence on his subordinates, outstandingly brave, tireless to every danger and already decorated for a similar enterprise."

After this Emil Poppr was promoted to Fähnrich in der Reserve but his love of such operations did not desert him. In the summer he received for the 2nd time the Silver Bravery Medal 1st Class and on the 4th of October 1916 accomplished a deed which known as the "counterattack at Batków" was the first of two operations which would finally be used as citations by the chapter of the Military Maria Theresian Order.

The action at Batków was described as follows: "In the autumn of 1916 under the auspices of the 2nd army infantry regiment 83 was situated in the strengthened positions between Batków and Zwyzyn about 22 kilometres east of Zloczów in Galicia. When in the first days of October after strong artillery preparation yet another great attack of Brussilow developed, the regimantal headquarters ordered the concentration in the forward most lines by individual companies to which of one them Fähnrich in der Reserve Poppr belonged. However with the rider that he should not participate in the forthcoming action he was to report to battalion headquarters. This order was based on an instruction from the supreme command that holders of the Golden Bravery Medal were to be withdrawn from the immediate area of danger in order to remain available for further duty with their troops.

Poppr only obeyed reluctantly. He was already on his way to the rear on the afternoon of the 4th of October when the masses of Russian infantry succeeded to breakthrough on both flanks of the IV battalion of infantry regiment 83 and as a result the companies in the centre were compelled to abandon their sector. The battalion headquarters deprived of all telephone communications found themselves further to the rear in a small shelter whose entry was blocked by enemy artillery fire.

In this extremely critical situation, Fähnrich Poppr imposed his authority over the retreating components of the various companies and quickly occupied the edge of the wood between the first and second defence lines and with about 80 to 90 men opened heavy rapid fire on the assaulting Russians and immediately went over onto the counter-attack in which the enemy gave way under pressure and had to leave behind many dead, wounded and prisoners.

Through this partial success the entire enemy attack was brought to a standstill; the lost positions could be retaken, the divisional front and that of the two neighboring sectors could also be maintained."

With effect from the 1st of November 1916 Fähnnrich Poppr was granted accelerated promotion to Leutnant in der Reserve on account of his brave conduct before the enemy. 

When following the death of Kaiser Franz Joseph I and Kaiser Karl I ascended to the throne on the 21st of November 1916, the leading circles in Hungary demanded a speedy coronation in Budapest. The decision of Kaiser Karl to have himself crowned Apostolic King of Hungary took place within a few days of his accession and the date of the 30th of December was shortly set which faced the competent court authorities with great organizational and protocol problems.

In accordance with the old coronation ceremony, this time in a great hurry, persons of Hungarian nationality where chosen who were deemed worthy in accordance with tradition of becoming Knights of the Golden Sporn (spur) at the coronation. An exact determination of the selection criteria is no longer today available due to the lack of complete records. The composition of these 51 persons shows however that nearly half of those chosen were descendents of old Hungarian noble families - names like Teleki, Andrássy, Esterházy and Festetics speak for themselves. Of the remainder they were divided into almost equal groups of either the new influential political nobility like Wekerle, Hazai or Tisza or of the so called "courageous nobility" among whose members numbered the Lieutenants Ladislaus Barcsay, Zoltán Vén and naturally Emil Poppr. The officers of the latter group had already been repeatedly decorated for bravery before the enemy; nearly all had already been awarded the Golden Bravery Medal whilst in the rank of Fähnrich.

Altogether the service records of some 51 young officers were requested in the strictest confidentiality which apart from one case (Leutnant  Paul von Leidenfrost was undergoing at that time an investigation by a court of honour which later however found in his favour) were found to be positive and so the remaining 50 officers and officer aspirants were summoned to the coronation in Budapest. They were granted leave from Christmas until the conclusion of the coronation ceremonies and had to appear in field service dress at the solemn knighting ceremony although eventually only 47 managed to attend due to the exigencies of the war and the very short time span between being designated and the actual ceremony. Leutnant Nikolaus Jurkovic und Oberleutnant Dionys Kovács simply arrived too late in Budapest and Leutnant Ladislaus Barcsay lay in a field hospital at the time of the coronation.

Since time immemorial  there had been the desire for an outward and portable sign for the knights of the Golden Sporn which had been awarded by each respectively newly crowned king and finally this time it seems, although with some delay this was again implemented. They argued for more than a year over the appearance and financing of the new badge. Nevertheless on the 5th of April 1918, the foreign minister Graf Czernin placed before the Kaiser the appropriate statutes and regulations for wear, which he approved on the 10th of April 1918. Two Imperial decrees were written stating that this was not in itself an order but in fact it should be treated as an historical act of the King's crowning in Hungary and that the decoration was only to be worn at the throat and in no other manner. When and in what form the recipients were awarded the commemorative decoration is unfortunately not known, it did however apparently transpire before the war's end. The decoration from Emil Poppr's estate, which along with his knight's cross of the Military Maria Theresian Order are in a private collection in Austria and are shown below.

By the winter of 1916/17 Emil Poppr was the most decorated Hungarian junior officer in the k.u.k. army and his superiors were under pressure to ensure that he was now kept away from immediate danger so that his experience and qualities would be preserved for the army. However the life in the rear area was not for Poppr. Repeatedly he attempted to be moved forward to the front and this wish was eventually granted in the Spring of 1917 and immediately on his return he again participated in the death defying patrol actions which he did so well. Within a very short period he would be decorated with the Military Merit Cross 3rd Class and the Order of the Iron Crown 3rd Class both naturally with the War Decoration and Swords. Here is a short quote from one of his citations: "During the successful operations carried out by him on the 27th and 28th of March 1917 in the vicinity of Batków, he broke through the six rows of enemy obstacles, rushed into the position and wiped out the greater part of the garrison and returned taking along a prisoner, a complete machine gun and seven rifles with very slight losses to our own forces".

As the resolute leader of the assault company of infantry regiment 83 he was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class by the German allies. However on instructions from corps headquarters Poppr was again reined in. He was only to be employed for really important missions. The divisional headquarters decided on such a mission in the summer of 1917 as it was necessary to bring in a prisoner so that finally the composition of the enemy reinforcements could be ascertained. Naturally enough Poppr freely volunteered to undertake this mission and this operation would be known as the "Assault troop operation at Batków" as the second and decisive action by which the chapter of the Military Maria Theresien Order would decide on Poppr's award of that decoration.

Here is the citation: "Poppr assembled an assault troop of 35 men and had  a strong wooden framework made on which 150 hand grenades were suspended and the fuses prepared. This frame was then successfully moved during the night of the 4th of July 1917 into the thick Russian wire and by the explosion a breach 100 metres wide and 12 metres deep was created through which Poppr and his men assaulted forward and penetrated into the hostile main enemy position and rolled it up to a company's width.

After an hours fighting with hand grenades, bayonets and rifle butts the bold assault troop withdrew without loss but with numerous prisoners and by their interrogation made it possible for the divisional command to make very important assessments regarding enemy strengths and attack intentions. This was of decisive significance for the successful defence against the next offensive."

For these two actions Leutnant in der Reserve Emil Poppr was awarded the Knights' Cross of the Military Maria Theresien Order by the Order's Chapter in the 189th promotion on the 27th June 1922.

It now finally became clear to the high command that the life and experience of this daring officer must be preserved and in the autumn of 1917 he was transferred to the replacement battalion and remained there until the war's end involved in the training of assault troops.

After the collapse he returned to the comitate of Moson in Hungary and entered the state forestry service for which he had already striven before the outbreak of the war. He died on the 6th of March 1928 as the consequence of a road traffic accident while involved in his forestry work at Lébény. So died at the early of age of just 32 years one of the bravest Hungarian officers, one could almost say "against his own will" - only through the orders of his superiors had he survived the up to then bloodiest war to die of this totally normal civilian misfortune.

Poppr's MMThO - Obverse Poppr's MMThO - Reverse
Poppr's Golden Spur- Obverse Poppr's Golden Spur - Reverse

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