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Count Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf
Birth name Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf
Born (1852-11-11)November 11, 1852
Died 25 August 1925(1925-08-25) (aged 72)
Place of birth Penzing (Vienna), Austrian Empire
Place of death Bad Mergentheim, Germany
Allegiance Austria-Hungary Austria-Hungary
Service/branch Army
Years of service 1871–1918
Rank Feldmarschall
Battles/wars World War I

Count Franz Xaver Joseph Conrad von Hötzendorf German language: Franz Xaver Josef Graf Conrad von Hötzendorf (11 November 1852 – 25 August 1925) was an Austrian officer and Chief of the General Staff of the armed forces of the Austro-Hungarian Army and Navy during the 1914 July Crisis that led to the outbreak of World War I.[Note 1]


Conrad was born in Penzing, a suburb of Vienna, to an Austrian officers' family. His great-grandfather Franz Anton Conrad (1738-1827) had received the nobiliary particle von Hötzendorf as a predicate in 1815, referring to the surname of his first wife who descended from the Bavarian Upper Palatinate region. His father Franz Xaver Conrad (1793–1878) was a retired Hussar colonel, originally from south Moravia, who had fought in the Battle of Leipzig and took part in the suppression of the Vienna Uprising of 1848, whereby he was severely wounded.

Conrad married Wilhelmine le Beau (1860–1905) in 1886, with whom he had four sons. He would later marry Virginia von Reininghaus in 1915, against the wishes of his children.

Military career

Conrad joined the cadet corps of the Hainburg garrison and was educated at the Theresian Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt, where he developed a strong interest in natural science, especially in Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. In 1871, at age 19 he received a commission as lieutenant in a Jäger battalion.[1] After graduating from the Kriegsschule military academy in 1876, he transferred to the General Staff Corps of the Austro-Hungarian Army.[2]

In 1878–1879, upon the Treaty of Berlin, these duties brought him to the Condominium of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Sanjak of Novi Pazar, when those Ottoman provinces were assigned to the military administration of Austria-Hungary. He was also a member of the staff in the rank of a Captain (Hauptmann) during the 1882 insurrection in the Austrian Kingdom of Dalmatia. In 1886 he was appointed Chief of Staff of the 11th Infanftry Division at Lemberg, where he showed great ability in reforming field exercise. Elevated to the rank of a Major, in the fall of 1888, he began a new appointment as a professor of military tactics in the Kriegsschule in Vienna,[1] a position he prepared for by touring the battlefields of the Franco-Prussian War. Conrad proved to be a good teacher quite popular among his students.[3]

Return to command and Chief of Staff

Chief of Staff, 1906

In 1892 he requested transfer back to command and took charge of the 93rd Infantry Regiment at Olmütz. From 1895 he commanded the 1st Infantry Regiment Kaiser at Kraków and from 1899 the 55th Infantry Brigade in Trieste, promoted to a Major general.[2] After acting against a major Italian uprising in the city in 1902, he was made Field Marshal lieutenant and took command of the 8th Infantry Division at Innsbruck in 1903.[2]

By the time of his appointment to Chief of Staff for the Armed Might of Austria-Hungary at the suggestion of the heir to the throne (Thronfolger) Archduke Franz Ferdinand in November 1906, he had established a reputation as a teacher and writer. Like other Austro-Hungarian officers of his generation, he had little direct combat experience,[3] but had studied and written extensively about theory and tactics. His published works on infantry tactics sold well and were printed in multiple editions.[4] He was a tireless campaigner for modernization of the armed forces.

Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria vested Conrad with the noble rank of a Freiherr in 1910. His differences with Foreign Minister Count Alois Lexa von Aehrenthal, who several times objected Conrad's suggestion of a preventive war against Italy, over the Bosnian crisis led to his dismissal in 1911, under the pretext of an affair with his later wife Virgina Reininghaus. Nevertheless, after Aehrenthal had resigned and died the next year, Archduke Franz Ferdinand urged for Conrad's re-appointment, which took place during the Balkan Wars in December 1912.

World War I

Up to the July Crisis upon the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Conrad was one of the main proponents of a preemptive strike against the Kingdom of Serbia in response. However, he was aware that the Austro-Hungarian armed forces were not prepared for an immediate attack, and now asked for delay. Emperor Franz Joseph as well as Foreign Minister Count Leopold Berchtold hesitated and left the decision on war to the German allies. Even after Chef de Cabinet Count Alexander Hoyos returned from Berlin with carte blanche, it took Berchtold until 23 July to issue a 48-hours-ultimatum to Serbia. Conrad declared the point of no return was reached and the army's return to peace no longer possible.

Conrad at the map table, 1914

Upon the Emperor's declaration of war, Conrad moved against Serbia, but had to deal with a massive incursion of Imperial Russian troops into the Austrian Kingdom of Galicia. He had obviously underestimated Russian manpower, but with the support of the German Army he was able to repulse the invading troops, to conquer large parts of Serbia, Montenegro and Romania and to stabilise the Italian front. He pushed the new Foreign Minister Stephan Burián von Rajecz for the annexation of the occupied lands and continuously intrigued against the Hungarian prime minister István Tisza as well as against the Austrian minister president Count Karl von Stürgkh, whom he considered a fool, though to no avail. On the other hand, the relations with the German Supreme Army Command (OHL) worsened due to the uneasy relationship between Conrad and General Erich von Falkenhayn.

Following the accession of Emperor Charles I of Austria to the throne in November 1916, Conrad was elevated to the rank of field marshal, one of only three men in Austria-Hungary to hold that rank at the time.[5] While still the heir-apparent, Charles had reported to Emperor Franz Josef that the "mismanagement" in the army's high command could not be cleared out until Conrad was replaced, but admitted that finding someone to take his role would not be easy.[5] Yet under the new emperor, Conrad's powers were gradually eroded. In December, the commander-in-chief Archduke Friedrich of Austria-Teschen was removed from office, which the new emperor assumed himself. Charles took operational control of all combat units in the army and navy and on 1 March 1917 officially dismissed Conrad, who then requested retirement. The emperor personally asked him to remain on active duty, and when Conrad accepted, he was placed in command of the South Tyrolean Army Group.[6]

In the late spring of 1918, the failure of the Austro-Hungarian offensives against the Italians, with costly and bloody assaults led by both Conrad and Boroević, brought condemnation upon the imperial leadership.[7] Further complicating Conrad's image was his identification with those in the government intent on continuing the war.[5] In this atmosphere, Conrad, described as a "broken man", was dismissed on July 15, perhaps in an effort to deflect further criticism.[8] At the same time he was promoted from Freiherr to the noble rank of a Graf (Count) and received the honorific post of a Guard colonel.


After the war, Conrad denied any personal guilt for the outbreak and the results of the war and blamed the Imperial court and politicians for it. Embittered and sickened, he died on 25 August 1925, while taking a cure in Bad Mergentheim, Germany.

When he was buried at Hietzing Cemetery in Vienna on 2 September 1925, more than 100,000 mourners participated in observances. After long discussions, his Ehrengrab (grave of honor) was changed into a historical grave in 2012.

Policy, politics, and theory

1915 portrait, Heeresgeschichtliches Museum, Vienna

In military matters, Conrad emphasized the importance of aggressive, well-trained infantry and the strategic and tactical offensive.[2] He often proposed unrealistically grandiose plans, disregarding the realities of terrain and climate. The plans that he drew up frequently underestimated the power of the enemy and the potential of quick-firing artillery forces.

His mistakes led to the disastrous first year of war that crippled Austro-Hungarian military capabilities. For example, in the 1914 Serbian Campaign, led by General Oskar Potiorek, the Serbian Army despite the enormous Austro-Hungarian manpower advantage proved far more effective than Conrad had expected. Undefeated in all major battles, it finally enforced a full-scale retreat of Potiorek's troops by the end of the year. Also the first Austro-Hungarian offensives against Russia were remarkable for their lack of effect, culminating in the lost Battle of Galicia and the disastrous Siege of Przemyśl combined with massive human cost. Conrad blamed the German allies, who had driven out the Russian Army from East Prussia in the Battle of Tannenberg, for the lack of military support. The most disastrous defeat came in 1916, in the Russian Brusilov Offensive, one of the most lethal battles in world history, whereby the Austro-Hungarian forces under Conrad's command lost more than 600,000 men, and were never again capable of mounting an offensive without German help. Most of Austria's victories were possible only in cooperation with the German OHL command, on which the Austro-Hungarian army became increasingly dependent.

On the other hand, the historian Cyril Falls argues that Conrad was probably the best strategist of the war and that his plans were brilliant in conception. The German generals in the east based most of their successful offensive operations on Conrad's plans.[9] To his admirers he was a "military genius"; one such admirer was the Soviet general and theorist Boris Shaposhnikov in his book Mozg Armii, in which Conrad was presented as a model for a good Chief of the General Staff. On the other hand, "Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf never admitted his share of responsibility for the onset of the First World War or the defeat of Austria-Hungary... he claimed to have been "just a military expert" with no voice in the key decisions".[10]

Conrad was something of a Social Darwinist, and believed a battle between German and Slavic civilization was inevitable. The power of the Magyar elite within Austria-Hungary troubled him, as he believed it weakened and diluted what he saw as an essentially German-Austrian empire. He also worried about Italian ambitions in the Balkans. However, his greatest ambition was for a pre-emptive war against Serbia in order to neutralize the threat that he believed they posed, and at the same time change the political balance within the Dual Monarchy against the Magyars by incorporating more Slavs in a third Yugoslavian component under Austrian control, denying the principle of self-determination. According to Hew Strachan, "Conrad von Hötzendorf first proposed preventive war against Serbia in 1906, and he did so again in 1908-9, in 1912-13, in October 1913, and May 1914: between 1 January 1913 and 1 January 1914 he proposed a Serbian war twenty-five times".[11] When the moment came, Conrad was not able to carry the desired preemptive strike, making a world war inevitable.


For decades, the reputation of the Austro-Hungarian Army and Conrad as one of the greatest military commanders in modern history was a matter of national pride among patriotic circles in post-war Austria—though his policies and tactics had already been criticized by contemporaries like Karl Kraus, who in his satirical drama The Last Days of Mankind portrayed him as a vain poser (I 2). Not until the 1960s, in the course of the renewed controversy over the causes of World War I, the evaluation of his role shifted from hagiography towards a widespread perception as a warmonger and imperialist. Nevertheless, up to today several streets in Austria are named after him.

Conrad's guard uniform and some of his personal belongings are on display at the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum, Vienna. In 1938 the Wehrmacht barracks of the 1st Mountain Division in Oberammergau, Bavaria were named Conrad-von-Hötzendorf-Kaserne; it is today operated by the Bundeswehr and site of the NATO School. The medical service centre of the Austrian Armed Forces in Innsbruck is named after Field Marshal Conrad. In the Austrian cities of Graz and Berndorf streets were named Conrad-von-Hötzendorf-Straße.

Conrad has a prominent role in Dennis Wheatley's historical adventure The Second Seal (1950). He also appeared as Major Hötzendorfer in various episodes of the East German Mosaik comic book.

Decorations and awards


  1. the proper family name is Conrad.

Regarding personal names: Graf is a title, translated as Count, not a first or middle name. The female form is Gräfin.

From April 1919 Conrad's official name was Franz Conrad-Hötzendorf, since the Republic of Austria abolished nobility for its citizens by law.


  1. 1.0 1.1  "Hoetzendorf, Baron Franz Conrad von". Collier's New Encyclopedia. 1921. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Rothenburg 1976, p. 143. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "FOOTNOTERothenburg1976143" defined multiple times with different content
  3. 3.0 3.1 Sondhaus 2000, p. 37.
  4. Rothenburg 1976, p. 43.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Rothenburg 1976, p. 202.
  6. Rothenburg 1976, pp. 202–203.
  7. Rothenburg 1976, pp. 213–214.
  8. Rothenburg 1976, p. 214.
  9. Falls, Cyril: The Great War, Putnam, New York 1959, p. 36.
  10. Sondhaus 2000, p. 244.
  11. Strachan, Hew. The First World War: Volume 1: To Arms. Oxford, 2001.


  • Rothenburg, G. E. (1976). The Army of Francis Joseph (Eurospan 1998 ed.). West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press. ISBN 0-91119-841-5. 
  • Sondhaus, L (2000). Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf. Architect of the apocalypse. Boston: Humanity Press. ISBN 0-391-04097-9. 

External links

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