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The Military Power of Austria[398]

Frederick Engels

It is a curious fact that the English press, which, for the last six months, has busied itself with nothing but the position of Austria, should never have given us any positive information about the real military force which Austria can throw into the scale the moment she may choose to follow a definite line of policy. The London daily journals have been divided upon the question whether the Austrian alliance or an open rupture with Austria was the preferable thing. But these journals, which represent the public opinion of a nation priding itself upon being the most businesslike in the world, have never condescended to enter into those details and statistics which, not only in trade and political economy, but also in national policy, form the ground-work of every measure intelligently adopted. In truth, the British press would seem to be conducted by gentlemen who are as ignorant in their line of business as those British officers who think they are doing all their duty when they buy a commission[a]. One paper says the Austrian alliance must be cultivated at all hazards and under all circumstances, because Austria is an immense military power. Another says the Austrian alliance is worse than useless, because all her energies are required to keep in check Hungary, Poland and Italy. What the real military forces of Austria are, neither the one nor the other ever trouble themselves to know.

The Austrian army, though managed up to 1849 according to a cumbrous and old-fashioned system, was entirely remodeled in that year. The defeats in Hungary had as great a part in it as the victories in Italy. The Administration was freed from old traditional hindrances. The army, employed in a country where revolution in the capital and civil war in the provinces had only just been subdued, was organized on a regular war footing. The distribution of the army into permanent brigades, divisions, and corps, as it existed under Napoleon, and as it exists now in the Russian active army, was introduced with success. The 77 regiments of infantry, beside riflemen, and 40 regiments of cavalry, which had been split up during both the Italian and Hungarian campaigns, not only battalions of the same regiment, but even companies of the same battalions being employed partly in Hungary and partly in Italy at the same time were now reunited and brigaded in such a manner as to prevent any similar disorder and to insure the regular course of regimental administration. According to this new plan, the Austrian force is divided into four armies, composed of twelve corps d'armée and two corps of cavalry. Every army is not only complete in the three arms, but provided with a perfectly independent administrative staff, and the material to insure its immediate readiness for action. The first army—1st, 2d, and 9th army corps—generally occupies the German provinces of the Empire; the second army—5th, 6th, 7th and 8th army corps, and 2d cavalry corps, and the third army—10th, 11th and 12th army-corps, and 1st cavalry corps—generally occupy the Hungarian and Slavonic provinces; while the fourth army, consisting only of the 4th army corps, occupies Italy.

Every army corps consists of from two to three divisions of infantry, one or two brigades of cavalry, four batteries of reserve artillery, and the necessary detachments of pontoniers, train-commissariat, and medical officers. A cavalry corps consists of two divisions, equal to four brigades, or eight regiments of cavalry, with a corresponding number of light batteries. An infantry division consists of two brigades of five battalions, with one foot battery each, and from two to four squadrons of cavalry.

The whole force thus distributed consists, as we have stated above, of seventy-seven regiments of infantry, beside riflemen, forty regiments of cavalry, and fourteen regiments of field-artillery, beside garrison-artillery, engineers, sappers, etc. The infantry is composed of sixty-two regiments of the line, fourteen regiments of frontier infantry, and one regiment and twenty-five battalions of riflemen. A regiment of the line consists of five active and one dépôt battalions, or of twenty-eight active and four dépôt companies. The active company numbers two hundred and twenty men, the dépôt company one hundred and thirty. A regiment of the line, consequently, is expected to number, in its five active battalions, 5,964 men, or, for 62 regiments, inclusive of dépôts, 369,800 men. The frontier infantry, counting fourteen regiments, has two active and one reserve battalions to each regiment, equal to twelve active and four reserve companies. The active company has the strength of 242 men, inclusive of 22 riflemen. A frontier regiment, therefore, numbers 3,850 men, and the whole of the fourteen regiments numbers 55,200. The rifle-force, or Jägers, consists of one regiment of seven battalions 32 companies, inclusive of dépôt; and 25 battalions—125 companies, inclusive of dépôts; every company numbering 202 men, making the entire rifle-force 32,500. The total is thus 470,000 men.

The Austrian cavalry consists of 16 heavy regiments (8 cuirassiers and 8 dragoons) and 24 light regiments (12 hussars and 12 lancers). In the arm of cavalry, the different nationalities composing the Austrian Empire have each been used, very properly, according to their distinctive capabilities. The cuirassiers and dragoons are almost exclusively Germans and Bohemians; the hussars are all Hungarians, and the lancers are all Poles. In the infantry a similar distinction could hardly be kept up with any profit. As a general rule, the Germans and Hungarians form the élite battalions of grenadiers, while the Tyrolese (German and Italian) and the Styrians generally furnish the riflemen; and the great majority of the frontier infantry is composed of Croats and Servians, who are equally well adapted to the duties of light infantry.

The heavy cavalry counts six active squadrons and one dépôt squadron to each regiment—the squadron numbering 194 men. The light cavalry counts eight active and one dépôt squadron to each regiment, with 227 men to each squadron. The entire active cavalry force is 62,500, without dépôts, and 67,000 men, including dépôts.

The artillery consists of twelve field regiments, one coast regiment, and one rocket regiment. The Austrians have no horse-artillery. In what they call cavalry-artillery, the men serving the guns are transported on the carriages. Every field regiment has four cavalry batteries (six-pounders) and seven foot batteries (four six-pounders and three twelve-pounders), beside reserve companies. Every battery has eight guns. The coast regiment has no permanent batteries, but is only divided into battalions and companies, and employed for garrisoning the coast defenses. The rocket regiment has 18 batteries, of eight tubes each. The total of Austrian artillery is thus seen to be 1,056 guns and 144 rocket-tubes. The artillery has, besides, eight battalions of garrison artillery, of about 10,400 men, with technical detachments consisting of 4,500 men. The engineering troops number about 16,700 men.

Beside these active, reserve and garrison troops, Austria possesses separate corps organized for special service, who, although not available as active combatants, prevent a reduction of the active force by those drafts of men which very often reduce battalions to companies, and regiments of cavalry to squadrons. There are three sanitary battalions, train-troops, and with every army corps a detachment of cavalry to do duty as orderlies. The latter institution has just been introduced into the English army, by the formation of the Mounted Staff Corps. The whole Austrian army counts altogether something like 476,000 men, and 1,140 guns of active troops; including dépôts, technical troops, staff, garrison and police troops (gendarmes), they count about 620,000.

The Austrian soldier serves eight years, remaining for two years more in the reserve. By this arrangement a reserve is kept available, which, in the case of war, can be called out to the strength of about 120,000 men. In the military frontier every Grenzer[399] has to serve from his twentieth to his fiftieth year. Thus the active force of 55,000 frontier infantry can be increased up to 150,000 or 200,000 men. During the year of 1849 there were at least 150,000 of them under arms. But at that time the military frontier was so deserted that the women had to do all the work of husbandry.

The sum total of these details, for the correctness of which we can vouch, shows that the military organization of Austria allows her to take the field, at once, with a force of 600,000 men, of whom 300,000, at the utmost, may be made available on any given point; and, at the same time, a reserve of about 200,000 veteran soldiers may be called out, without the necessity of any extra recruiting, or extra strain upon the productive forces of the country.

The Russian army is organized upon a footing which allows of far greater numbers being admitted into its framework. The population of Russia is 60,000,000 to Austria's 40,000,000; yet, we have seen that Austria, by merely calling in the reserves, can increase her army beyond 800,000; while Russia, in order to attain the same number, has been obliged not only to call in the reserves, but also to recruit fresh troops, at a ratio equal to four years' regular conscription.

Written on December 21, 1854
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4281, January 8;
reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1008, January 23
and the New-York Weekly Tribune, No. 697, January 27, 1855 as a leader
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune


[a] See this volume, p. 210.—Ed.

[398] This article was entered in the Notebook as "Freitag. 22. December. Oesterreich. Militärkraft".

[399] Grenzers—inhabitants of the Military Border area (see Note 48↓).

[48] Military Frontier (or Border)—in the sixteenth-nineteenth centuries the south-ern regions of the Austrian Empire bordering on Turkey and having a military administration; their inhabitants (borderers) were allotted land in return for military service in the border regiments.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 13 (pp.550-553), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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