Book Review: For God and Kaiser: The Imperial Austrian Army, 1619-1918


by Richard Bassett

New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015. Pp. xxiv, 592. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $45.00. ISBN: 0300178581

The Army of the House of Hapsburg

Journalist and biographer Bassett, author of Hitler’s Chief Spy, Waldheim and Austria, and other works gives us a comprehensive history of that seemingly improbable force, the “Imperial Austrian Army”. Bassett opens by making the very important observation that the army was that of the House of Hapsburg, and not of Austria or Hungary or Austria-Hungary, which caused it to have a remarkably complex institutional history.

Bassett makes a point of demonstrating that despite often loudly touted failures, the Hapsburg army was more durable than most of the armies of Europe for some three centuries. He points out that Hapsburg army may have suffered defeats, but it never experienced anything on the scale of catastrophes suffered by Prussia in 1806-1807 or France in 1870-1871. In fact, the army held together even until literally after the Empire began collapsing into its component realms in the final days of the first World War.

Bassett does a good job of discussing the evolution of army and navy. He integrates matters such as recruiting, organization, doctrine, and equipment with operational accounts, and usefully covers several campaigns that are rarely mentioned in English language treatments. He also offers little profiles of many important rulers and commanders, some of them quite good, such as the Archduke Charles, arguably the best general Napoleon ever faced until Waterloo, and Svetozar Boroevic, who commanded on the Italian Front for most of the Great War.

While Bassett perhaps looks rather too kindly on the Hapsburg regime, over doing his admiration for some of its better aspects while ignoring it’s flays, he does discuss the political forces that shaped the military and naval services, noting at times how efforts to modernize the army met with fierce resistance, while at other times great progress was made with little friction.

Although a weighty volume, For God and Kaiser is an easy read, and likely to be of use to anyone interested in modern European history.

Note: For God and Kaiser is also available in paperback, $30.00, ISBN 978-0-3002-1967-8, and in several e-book formats.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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