Austro-Hungarian Overseas Forces


In the late 19th Century, while the other European Powers scrambled for Africa and a slice of Asia, Austria-Hungary had no overseas colonies and had made no attempts to establish any (with the small exception of a failed colony on the Nicobar Islands in the Indian Ocean in the late 18th Century). A series of disasters for the Empire including rebellion in Hungary in 1848, defeat by the Prussians and Italians in 1866 and the failure of the Mexican Adventure of 1867 left Austria-Hungary with little appetite for overseas ambitions. Austro-Hungarian efforts were mainly absorbed in controlling the diverse ethnicities within their own European Empire and keeping an eye on the turbulent Balkans. Despite having no colonies, Austria-Hungary as a European Power was still invited to the Berlin Conference of 1885 to agree on colonial policy in Africa.

Austro-Hungarian forces were however deployed abroad on a few occasions. These occasions were either to protect and expand Austria-Hungary's trading interests in China and the Pacific, to predict and neutralise further trouble in the Balkans or to support the interests of their allies, Germany and the Ottoman Empire. Austria-Hungary also assisted Germany by allowing the passage of troops through her territory and ports. For example the 1905 Marine Expeditionskorps to German East Africa sailed from Trieste (an Austro-Hungarian port at the time), while the German Marine Detachment Skutari were partially equipped by Austria-Hungary and served under Austro-Hungarian command in the opening campaign against Serbia in1914.

Recommended External Links - Austro-Hungarian Army, Doppeladler, KuK Kriegsmarine, Freenet KuK Kriegsmarine, Austro-Hungarian Navy Homepage. Note- The Emperor of Austria ("Kaiser") was also the King of Hungary ("König"), therefore Austro-Hungarian army was known as the Imperial and Royal Army ("Kaiserlich und Königlich" or "KuK"). The same title was used in the Austro-Hungarian Navy.

Austro-Hungarian Overseas Involvement 1878-1918

Speculation on North Borneo 1878
Baron von Overbeck, the Austro-Hungarian Consul in Hong Kong bought rights and a lease of territory in North Borneo which he in turn offered to the Austro-Hungarian government. They however turned his offer down having neither the means nor the desire to govern a far distant piece of wilderness.
Recommended External Link - Wikipedia Entry
Austrian Colonial Policy

Clash on the Solomon Islands 1895
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries the Austro-Hungarian navy sent several ships to explore and patrol the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Rather than colonising attempts, these were mostly peaceful fact-finding missions and as such usually encountered no resistance. An exception is the reception received by the crew of the gunboat SMS Albatross on the Solomon Islands in August 1895. It was here that islanders ambushed an Austro-Hungarian landing party. The sailors defended themselves with rife fire and eventually beat the islanders off but suffered several fatalities and wounded in the process. Years after the event, the SMS Leopard stopped by the Solomon Islands and erected a monument to the fallen sailors.
Recommended External Link- The Journey of SMS Albatros in the Solomons

The Peacekeeping Mission to Crete 1897-98
In 1897 the European Powers intervened to stop a war between Greece and the Ottoman Empire erupting on the island of Crete, which had been a part of the Ottoman Empire but was now in a state of rebellion and bloodshed supported by Greek troops. Ships from various European nations (including Austria-Hungary) blockaded the island to prevent further reinforcements to either side and an international peacekeeping force was established with troops from Great Britain, France, Italy, Russia and Austria-Hungary. The Austro-Hungarian contribution was just under 700 troops from the 2nd Battalion of the 87th Imperial and Royal Infantry Regiment. They were not involved in heavy fighting.

Highly Recommended External Link - The Land Forces on Crete 1897-98 page at Austro-Hungarian Army

The Boxer Rebellion in China 1900-01
Austria-Hungary had no land based forces in China but ships and sailors from the Austro-Hungarian navy did fight alongside other allied troops in the conflict. The small cruiser SMS Zenta was already in Chinese waters when the rebellion broke out. Along with other allied ships she took part in the bombardment of the Taku forts and landed sailors to take part in the successful storming of these emplacements. The armoured cruiser SMS Kaiserin und Königin Maria Theresa, the protected cruiser SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth and the small cruiser SMS Aspern were all later deployed to China but arrived too late to take part in any actions, though their armed sailors did perform occupation duties. 
Recommended External Link -
KuK Kriegsmarine

Maintaining a Presence in China 1901-17
From the Boxer Rebellion until the outbreak of the First World War the Austro-Hungarian navy always kept one or two ships in the area of the China seas. They were maintained by their own shipping supplies within the German port of Tsingtao. An Austro-Hungarian concession  was also established in Tientsin in 1901, this was defended by a small force of sailors. When China joined the First World War on the Allied side in 1917, the Austro-Hungarian concession was taken over.
Recommended External Link - Wikipedia Entry on
Concessions in Tientsin

The Peacekeeping Mission to Skutari, Albania 1913-14
At the Treaty of London in 1913 ending the First Balkan War it was agreed that Albania be recognised as an independent state. The port of Skutari was given an international peacekeeping force mainly to defend it from the Montenegrins. The international force consisted of troops from Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary. The Austro-Hungarian contribution was about 300 officers and men of the 4th battalion of the 87th Imperial and Royal Infantry Regiment. When the First World War broke out the Austro-Hungarian troops (also incorporating the German Marine Detachment Skutari) took part in the opening offensive against Serbia.
Recommended External Link- Discussion on the Axis History Forum on the Skutari Force of 1913-14

The Siege of Tsingtao 1914
Japan declared war on Austria-Hungary on August 25th 1914. After a personal request for assistance by Wilhelm II of Germany the protected cruiser SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth sailed to Tsingtao to help in the defence of the city. The ship took part in the bombardment of Japanese troops, and also moved some of her her guns to land positions as the "Elisabeth Batterie" with her sailors fighting in the front lines alongside their German allies. Just before the surrender of the city the SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth was scuttled in Tsingtao harbour.
Recommended External Link -Austria's East Asian Squadron article at Avalanche Press.

The Western Front 1914-15
Although Austria-Hungary often relied on German support herself during the First World War, there was one particular area in which her army excelled- heavy artillery. Germany called on Austro-Hungarian artillery in August 1914 to bombard Belgian forts into submission during the opening offensive on the Western Front. Four Austro-Hungarian artillery batteries fought at Namur, Antwerp, Ypres and other actions in support of the the German invasion. By May 1915 they had all been transferred back to Austro-Hungarian sectors of the Eastern Front.

Assistance to the Ottoman Empire 1915-18
Austria-Hungary also lent its heavy artillery to the Ottoman Empire in December 1915. Two heavy artillery batteries (the "9. Mototmörserbatterie" and the "36. Haubitzbatterei") fought for the Ottomans at Gallipoli and later during the Suez Offensive. In 1916 the "Gebrigshaubitzdivision von Marno" consisting of two batteries of mountain howitzers was also sent to the Suez Front and continued to fight alongside the Ottoman army until the end of the war (having been renamed the "Gebirgshaubitzabteilung in der Türkei" in 1917 and "Feldhaubitzabteilung in der Türkei" in 1918). As well as artillery, Austria-Hungary assisted the Ottoman army in 1916 with four much needed motorised units (the "1., 2., 3., 4., Autokolonnen Türkei").

In late 1917 a new Austro-Hungarian mission was planned to be sent to assist the Ottoman Empire called the "Orientkorps". This unit was intended, like the German Asienkorps, to include infantry battalions as well as artillery and transport. The Orientkorps underwent training and equipping for tropical climates but with the war not going so well for Austria-Hungary by this late date most of the troops were diverted to other fronts. Only the artillery batteries (the "Gebirgskannonenabteilung in der Türkei") and one motorised unit (the "10. Autokolonne Türkei") were eventually sent to Palestine in June 1918.

As well as these troops, many Austro-Hungarian army and navy personnel served in the Ottoman Empire during the First World War as staff officers, pilots, engineers, medics, communications technicians, and as training personnel assisting the Ottoman army with artillery, engineering and even skiing. 
Recommended External Links - Page listing all Austro-Hungarian Units in the Ottoman Empire at the Austro-Hungarian Army website and a discussion on the Axis History Forum on Austro-Hungarians at Gallipoli and in Palestine

The Western Front 1918
In July 1918 four Austro-Hungarian Infantry Divisions were sent to the Western front (
1. and 35. Infanterie-Division, 37. Honved-Infanterie-Division and the 106. Landsturm-Infanterie-Division). The divisions were then put under the command of different German Army Corps. They suffered heavy casualties in the opening of the American offensive in the Argonne in September 1918.
Recommended External Link - Discussion on the Axis History Forum on Austro-Hungarians on the Western Front

Other Austro-Hungarians Serving Overseas
Aside from the episodes mentioned above individual Austro-Hungarians also saw action in several other theatres and campaigns of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among these were Rudolf von Slatin (who fought in the Anglo-Egyptian army against the Mahdists during the Sudanese Wars and spent eleven years in captivity before becoming Inspector-General of the Sudan
in 1900), Adolf Schiel (who commanded the Johannesburg German Commando in the Second Anglo-Boer War), Maximilian Hey (who fought in the Shanghai Volunteer Corps under British command during the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900), Paul Fiedler (who served as pilot for the Schutztruppe in German South West Africa in the First World War) and Leutnant Freiherr von Unterrichter (who served in the Schutztruppe in German East Africa in the First World War).
Recommended External Links - Rudolf von Slatin biography on Wikipedia and Maximilian Hey biography at Austro-Hungarian Army



Please contact me here if you have more information or photos on this topic. 

Back to Main Menu for German Colonial Uniforms