A Brigade’s Story
During the years before the 1866 war, the
Austrian army devised a new doctrine relying
on bayonet attacks by its infantry. The reliance
on these deep storm columns made the infantry
the primary battlefield arm, despite the excellence
of Austrian artillery and cavalry.
Today we have a look at a typical Austrian
infantry formation of Southern Army, Anton
Baron Scudier’s brigade of VII Corps.
Southern Army fought at Custoza, and had adopted
a “lighter,” easier-to-handle
organization of three brigades (Northern Army
corps had four).
When mobilization began, VII Corps had four
brigades, each at about half strength. As
a Southern Army formation, it had a higher
proportion of regulars on hand than those
stationed in other parts of the empire. Mobilization
completely shuffled the peacetime assignments,
with different regiments now brigaded together
under different commanders.
Scudier had commanded a brigade in V Corps,
stationed in Mantova. He brought the elite
10th Feldjäger Battalion with him to
Verona for VII Corps mobilization, and received
two V Corps infantry regiments: the 19th “Kronprinz
Erzherzog Rudolf” from Daun’s
brigade and the 48th “Erzherzog Ernst”
from Piret’s brigade. From Weckbecker’s
VII Corps brigade came the 2/VII artillery
The 10th was considered by many the toughest
single battalion in the Austrian army, with
a fearsome reputation after its destruction
of Pius IX’s Swiss Guard in hand-to-hand
fighting at Vicenza in 1848. The 19th, recruited
around Raab (Györ) in western Hungary,
had fled the battlefield at Solferino in 1859
and had a very poor reputation. The 48th,
from Nagy-Kanisa in central Hungary, also
was not a prime posting.
In the Austrian system, a regiment’s
reputation gave it first pick of junior officers.
The status of elite “house” regiments
like the 4th “Deutschmeister”
or 32nd “Maria Theresa” became
self-fulfilling, as the best young officers
sought appointments there. While the regiments
assigned to Southern Army had some allure
due to Italy’s charms and the aspect
of seeing action, the 19th and 48th were Southern
Army’s dumping ground for malcontents
Scudier appears to have blamed his new corps
commander, Feldmarschallleutnant Joseph Freiherr
von Maroicic di Madonna del Monte, for giving
him a misfit brigade. Maroicic, the coarse-spoken
son of a Grenzer (border troops) captain,
had won the Military Order of Maria Theresa
at Vicenza in 1848 and thus gained his title.
Contempt for the commoner raised above his
station seeps from Scudier’s letters
and diaries. Their relationship sank even
further when Maroicic selected the 10th Feldjäger
for detached duty along the Po River.
Maroicic, in turn, suffered fools with ill
grace and had a powerful sarcastic streak.
Ordered by the War Ministry to report all
“political actions,” he filed
a 44-page blow-by-blow description of a bar
fight involving two of his soldiers, a pimp
and a prostitute. Scudier’s pretensions
irritated Maroicic, who tried to get him sent
to Northern Army. Northern Army’s commander,
Ludwig von Benedek, plucked every other high-born
brigade commander from his old post in Italy
— but told Maroicic he could keep Scudier.
Scudier stood second in seniority among Southern
Army's brigadiers. He had commanded a brigade
in Southern Army for several years before
the war. During the 1859 war, he led a brigade
in Benedek's VIII Corps for a short time before
taking over as Second Army chief of staff,
and he served in that capacity at Solferino.
He’d been transferred out of V Corps
to clear the way for an officer junior to
him in standing, Gabriel Rodich, to take command.
Worse still, Rodich was of common birth.
The baron was a very unhappy man when war
with Italy broke out.
At 3 a.m. on 24 June, 1866, Maroicic’s
three brigades broke camp around Verona and
set out to seek battle with the Italians.
Ordered to send only one brigade forward and
keep his others in reserve, Maroicic selected
Scudier’s as his spearhead.
Scudier's troops came under Italian artillery
fire about 9 a.m., and Scudier's attached
artillery returned the fire. Seeing IX Corps
move forward, Scudier — according to
Maroicic's report — resolved on his
own to join in the attack. Scudier sent both
his regiments forward about 10 a.m. against
the cypress-covered Belvedere heights including
the village of Custoza. This rise dominated
the battlefield. There they met firm resistance
from the Italian army's toughest brigade,
the two elite regiments of the Sardinia Grenadiers.
The 19th quickly stopped and its troops refused
to move. Capt. Ludwig Szábo strode
in front of the men, cursing them in Magyar,
calling them cowards and onanists while waving
his sword, before uttering a primal scream
of rage and turning to charge the Italian
grenadiers on his own. Only the regiment's
5th and 6th companies followed, and those
went forward reluctantly. While the 19th Infantry
Regiment faltered, Col. Max Fischer brought
his 48th to the top of the Belvedere heights.
A savage bayonet fight erupted along the crest
of the Belvedere, as the Italian 3rd Grenadier
Regiment counter-attacked and stalled the
Soldiers of both sides today rest together
in Custoza’s military cemetery.
Troops from IX Corps joined the attack, surging
over the crest where they met yet another
counterattack from the Italian grenadiers.
The IX Corps regiments had already begun to
waver when they were struck in the flank by
a bayonet charge from the Lombard Grenadier
Brigade, led personally by King Vittorio Emanuele's
younger son Amadeo. The young prince plunged
into the mêlée just like his
father at Palestro in 1859, and the Austrians
began to fall back. A Czech infantryman shot
the prince in the chest, and the grenadiers
halted in shock as their leader lay bleeding
on the ground.
Brignone’s grenadiers continued their
assaults, but Scudier’s troops held
onto the Belvedere heights and some houses
on the fringe of Custoza. Meanwhile, fresh
Italian troops poured into the threatened
sector. After a heavy bombardment the Italians
sent in the Cacciatori delle Alpi brigade,
a unit formed in 1860 from the pick of Garibaldi’s
Red Shirts. This tradition gave the unit considerable
élan, and they ejected Scudier's troops
from the rest of the village but could not
take the Belvedere.
Italian gunners on the Belvedere await an
By Giovanni Fattori, Museo Fattori-Livorno.
IX Corps sent most of its reserve to strengthen
Scudier, and this arrival seems to have broken
the brigadier. He left the IX Corps troops
to hold the line and ordered his men to the
rear. But Scudier’s retreat continued
once his men had moved beyond Italian rifle
range. A Southern Army staff officer found
the 19th Regiment at 3 p.m. about six kilometers
from the Belvedere, while VII Corps’
other outnumbered brigades were locked in
combat on the Belvedere. Four hours later
another found them still there, having set
Scudier told both staff officers that his
men were too exhausted to return to action.
By the end of the year, Scudier had been court-martialed,
though the emperor quashed the action before
the court reached a verdict. Shunned by the
officer corps, thanks to the emperor’s
patronage Scudier continued to receive promotions
and even sponsorship of the 29th Infantry
Regiment (one of the IX Corps units whose
arrival sparked his flight from the Belvedere),
yet remained a bitter old man into his 80s,
and until his death he argued that Maroicic
ordered a withdrawal. The troops ended up
much further away, Scudier explained, because
of a “misunderstanding” by the
19th Infantry Regiment's commander. Maroicic
won the Maria Theresa again for his personal
bravery later that afternoon, and briefly
commanded Southern Army later in the war.
Most Southern Army brigades numbered just over 7,000 men, and so start at a combat strength of 8. Scudier’s had lost the 10th Feldjäger, and so it rates a 7 at full strength.
The typical Southern Army Austrian brigade starts at a morale of 7. This is similar to the Army of Northern Virginia in Gettysburg. These contained a high proportion of long-service regulars and Southern Army held regular peacetime maneuvers. But Scudier’s troops don’t rate the same respect as other Southern Army regulars, and this lowers them to a 6. Plus they have a weak commander, and that lowers them again to a 7.
In contrast, another VII Corps brigade, Johann Töply’s, rates 8-7. It does not have an elite regiment: The 43rd “Alemann” was a Transylvanian German unit, and the 65th “Erzherzog Ludwig Victor” a Magyar unit from northeastern Hungary. Each had solid but not spectacular reputations. His light infantry battalion was the Slovene 7th Feldjäger. Töply himself had held the prime regimental command in the Austrian army, that of the 4th “Deutschmeister,” and was seen as one of the army’s top troop commanders.
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