Austria-Hungary’s Many Armies
Part Two: The Landwehr
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Of all the armies that fought in the First World War, probably none is less understood than the Imperial-Royal Austrian Landwehr. Even professional historians get lazy and refer to these troops as “militia,” figuring the title must mean the same thing in Austria-Hungary as it did in the Imperial German Army. While the Imperial and Royal forces, the so-called “Common Army,” have a rich historiography, few historians pay much attention to the Landwehr at all.
2nd "Linz" Schützen (Landwehr) Regiment on the Isonzo Front, 1917.
So if the Landwehr wasn’t a militia, then what was it?
Austria’s Landwehr was one of the Empire’s three regular armies. The Landwehr drew out of the same draft pool as the Imperial and Royal Forces (Kaiserliche und Königlich, or K.u.K.): those drawing low numbers went to the K.u.K. and those with the next-lowest went to the Landwehr. Those with higher numbers still (the majority of draft-eligible young men) weren’t conscripted at all, just placed in an untrained general reserve.
Established in 1868 following the “Ausgleich” with Hungary that turned Austria into Austria-Hungary, the Landwehr was sort of an afterthought. Hungarian negotiators had demanded their own regiments in the K.u.K. forces, with their own flags, uniforms and command language. The Imperial side balked at dividing the army in such a manner, and a compromise was reached creating a Royal Hungarian Army known as the Honvédség reporting to its own ministry, but wearing the same uniforms as the K.u.K. and carrying the same flags.
To match the Honvédség, the “Imperial half” of the Dual Monarchy (under official terminology, there was no “Austria”) would field its own armed force. The Imperial-Royal (Imperial Austrian and Royal Bohemian) Landwehr, like its Hungarian counterpart, began as a distinctly second-line force lacking its own artillery. During the secret mobilization of 1870, the two national armies were assigned only rear-area security duties.
Throughout the rest of the 19th Century, the Landwehr’s development mirrored that of the Honvédség. When the Hungarians gained an advantage for their army, the “Austrian” half of the Monarchy followed. Like the Honvédség, the Landwehr reported to a separate Ministry of War, in this case headquartered in Vienna, but carefully sited in a different part of the city than the K.u.K. bureaucracy. Yet both armies remained distinctly second-line, suited for security duties but not anything more.
Things began to change in the years before the First World War. The Landwehr organized its first artillery units in 1909, accepting hand-me-down cannon from the K.u.K. forces then modernizing with new (but already out-of-date) weapons. Eight artillery “divisions” (in Austrian parlance, a two-company “half battalion”), each of two six-gun field gun batteries, were formed, joined in 1912 by eight matching howitzer “divisions.” By 1914 these had been increased to regimental strength (four batteries each), with the two twin regiments forming a 48-gun artillery brigade for each of the eight new Landwehr infantry divisions.
In 1912 the Landwehr (along with the Honvédség) officially became a first-line military force. It formed eight divisions on mobilization, the same as the Honvédség. Each of the Imperial and Royal Army’s 16 corps (of two divisions each) was fleshed out with a third division from one of the two “national armies.”
Landwehr organization mirrored that of the K.u.K. forces, with a few exceptions. Landwehr infantry regiments had only three field battalions apiece, against four in the K.u.K. army. The Landwehr numbered 40 regiments in 1914: 35 infantry, three mountain rifle and two mountain infantry. During the course of the war the K.u.K. altered its own structure to match that of the Landwehr. The Landwehr’s eight divisions remained intact throughout the war; while the K.u.K. infantry expanded from 102 to 139 regiments, the Landwehr remained steady at 40 regiments. To honor the Landwehr’s combat record, and in answer to the annoyance of Landwehr generals seeing their troops labelled “militia” in the German press, in 1917 the newly-crowned Kaiser Karl re-named all Landwehr infantry regiments and divisions as “Schützen” (“Rifle”).
Even during the most chaotic moments of the war, the Imperial and Royal Army rarely mixed Landwehr troops and K.u.K. units in the same divisions. All three divisions in a single corps usually drew their assigned cavalry from the same regiment, which meant that some K.u.K. cavalry squadrons reported to Landwehr divisions and vice versa, but otherwise the three services (Austrian, Hungarian and Imperial) did not mix.
June 1924. 2nd "Linz" Schützen (Landwehr) Regiment finally receives its colors.
The Landwehr had its own set of technical schools and a military academy, but lacked the ancient prestige of the K.u.K. regiments. K.u.K. regiments had a sponsor, or Inhaber, sometimes someone still living, sometime sometimes an old figure of Austrian military glory. The regiment carried his name (in one case, her name) and its own set of colors with the double-headed Imperial eagle and the Madonna. From the colors streamed the regiment’s battle honors; for the old “House regiments” these dated back to the Thirty Years’ War. Each regiment had its own color scheme, a unique combination of facing and button colors. This was all carefully designed to build unit morale and prestige, and this mattered a great deal indeed: the most prestigious regiments got their pick of the Army’s finest young officers.
Landwehr regiments had none of that; they weren’t even granted their own colors until 1915, and few of these were ever actually delivered. Instead of a famous Inhaber, each Landwehr regiment carried a number and the name of the city where it was headquartered. The Landwehr wore the same uniform as the K.u.K., but instead of the colorful facing-and-button combination, every regiment wore grass green facings and white buttons. Landwehr troops did get to wear a much spiffier parade hat than the K.u.K.
A look through the Landwehr’s Rangliste, the seniority list of every officer, shows far fewer noble predicates than the same book for the K.u.K. army. Without the prestige of the K.u.K., Landwehr regiments could not attract high-potential career officers. Balancing that somewhat, the Landwehr did manage to attract ambitious sons of the middle-class, including Jews.
Landwehr troops varied widely in fighting ability. The 44th Schützen Division, raised in Tirol and Salzburg provinces and attached to the XIV Mountain Corps at the start of the war, fought well in Poland and exceptionally well on the Italian Front. The 22nd Schützen Division, raised in southern Austria and Slovenia, served as the “fire brigade” of the Isonzo Front and more than once prevented the front’s collapse. Others, like the 28th Schützen Division from Prague and Vienna’s 13th Schützen Division, fell apart in combat.
Like the Honvédség, the Landwehr stretched the Imperial and Royal Army’s combat strength, but did so in a wasteful manner. A whole duplicate bureaucracy supported the two national armies. Edmund Glaise von Horsenau, editor of the Army’s official history of the war during the 1920’s and 1930’s, opined that the elevation of the two national armies to first-line status robbed Austria-Hungary of a true second-line force for rear-area duties and as a source of trained replacements (a conclusion borrowed by a more recent publication).
Glaise and his echo have a point, but it ignores the realities of Austro-Hungarian politics. The Budapest parliament proved willing to spend money on its own Honvédség, and whatever the Hungarians granted, the Vienna parliament could be counted on to match. Had the two national armies and their 72 regiments not existed, the K.u.K. forces would not have been increased by a matching number and likely not increased at all.
Landwehr troops appear in Infantry Attacks: Fall of Empires in their own color scheme. Their firepower values are usually the same as the Imperial and Royal troops (in many cases, the Landwehr went to war better-equipped than the K.u.K.). Because of the Austrian system of mixing Landwehr and Honvédség divisions with K.u.K. formations in the same corps, they often appear in scenarios together with Imperial and Royal troops so they need to be distinguished as their morale values aren’t always the same (in general, K.u.K. troops are slightly better morale-wise, but there are some cases where the opposite is true).
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.