The AustroPrussian War

The Austro-Prussian War — Austria’s War With Prussia In 1866 Essay, Research Paper

One nation. A single, unified nation

powerful enough to plunge Europe and the world into two of the most devastating

wars in history. That is the legacy of Germany. Two world wars

are all we remember of a unified Germany. But, we never remember

the struggle that took place to create such an entity. As Geoffry

Wawro covers well in this book, the Austro-Prussian War was the turning

point in German history that allowed Prussia to become the major figure

in German affairs and start to unify the German confederation under one

power, ending years of Austrian interference. Although wading through

the tactical and strategic events of this war in detail, Wawro does not

lose sight of the very important political aspects of this war, which began

Germany?s unification in earnest. This unification of Germany would

prove to be one of the most influential events in Europe, with its effects

being felt well into the next century. A unified Germany, and others?

fear of it, would be one of the stumbling blocks that would lead to the

first ?Great War? and quickly after it, another one. But without

Prussia?s ascendance to the top of the German states, both World Wars might

not have happened. So it is about time to lavish some of the attention

given those two wars on one of its major causes, which Wawro does a great

job of.

Geoffry Wawro himself is a rather young

writer. A recent graduate of Yale, Wawro?s book is an expansion on

his doctoral dissertation, which won him a fellowship from the Austrian

Cultural Institute in 1994 for Best Dissertation on Austrian Culture.

This fellowship allowed him to spend two years converting his dissertation

into this book. Although young and relatively new to book writing,

Wawro shows a good grasp of the tools necessary to be a successful writer.

He has another book, on the Franco-Prussian of 1870, in planning.

Wawro builds his book chronologically,

beginning with the Congress of Vienna in 1815. He describes the problems

associated with the German people?s attempts to unify after the allied

defeat of Napoleon. He then goes on to detail how Austria and Prussia both

vied for supremacy in the confederation of German states. He focuses

mainly on the direct confrontations between the two nations and the abilities

of their leaders. Wawro appears almost to be a Germanophile as he

fawns over the ingenious political strategies of Prussian Chancellor Bismarck,

while constantly berating the sub-par performance of Austrian Emperor Franz

Joseph. He also uses the beginning of the book to describe past Austrian

domination in Italian affairs, and the animosity that was building between

these two states. He reviews the history of Austrian interference

in Italy that drove the Italians into a military alliance with Prussia,

and eventually into the war. Although he is less enamored of Italy?s

leaders, he still holds them above the Austrian leaders whom he portrays

as foreign interlopers trying to prevent Italian unity as much as German.

He moves through the months and years quickly, going from one crisis to

the next until the three nations were on the brink of war, with Austria

facing a double-edged sword, Italy in the south and Prussia in the north.

The main force of the book is Wawro?s

retelling of the war; planning, mobilization, and engagements. He

uses a whole chapter to detail all three nation?s problems in organization

and preparedness. He repeatedly praises the Prussians for their efficiency

in mobilization of troops and superior strategy. Wawro humbles both

the Austrians and Italians as he berates both nations? military state in

supplies, manpower, technology, and strategy. He takes special interest

in pointing out the ineptitude of Italian and Austrian generals and the

political intrigue and maneuvering that got them their commands.

As the war begins he first covers the Prussian advance from the north and

their quick defeat of the Austrian allies, before their new envelopment

tactics on a poorly placed and poorly led Austrian army. He showers

praise on this new Prussian tactic that proved unbeatable against an Austrian

army that ignored its natural defenses, limited its own mobility, and whose

generals ignorance and laziness allowed it to be swallowed up by a superior

Prussian force. He then focuses on the belated Italian attack, which

was a case study in ineptitude, as both Italian and Austrian commanders

bungled from one battle to another. Eventually, he covers the main

battle of Custoza which the Austrians barley winning, mostly due to their

superior firepower and weapons. After repulsing Italy, the Austrians

then sent reinforcements to the north, which is where Wawro then takes

his book. He finishes be explaining how the Prussian army moved further

and further south by enveloping, breaking, and then chasing down the Austrian

army at every instance. Eventually, the immobile and demoralized

Austrians retreated and the Prussians marched on Vienna where the Austrians

were forced to sue for peace.

After discussing the devastating terms

laid on the Austrians and their allies by Prussia, Wawro goes on to discuss

their political aftermath. He shows how once Prussian dominance was

established in the German confederation and Bismarck had absorbed the opponents

to Prussian rule, Prussia tossed Italy aside and forced them to sign a

separate peace. After Austria was defeated, Prussia turned its back

on the lesser powers of Europe and focused on unifying the rest of Germany

in the west. Wawro discusses Prussian policy after the war with a

heavy focus on their turn towards the west, foreshadowing their war with

France in 1870. Prussia had defeated its biggest foe to this point

and as was recognized by the Austrian minister of state in 1866, and quoted

by Wawro in this book, ?Prussia will not neglect the opportunity to show

the world ?and especially France- the immense power of its new position?

(p. 296).

Not only does Wawro provide a ?blow-by-blow?

account of how the Prussian-Italian alliance eventually defeated the Austrian

army, but he also goes to great lengths to explain why. Throughout

the book Wawro reiterates several times how superior Prussian technology,

tactics, and leadership carried the war. He gives an in-depth look

at how Hapsburg complacency and inefficiency, especially by the Austrian

generals, blundered away the war. Even before his discussion of the

war, he derides Austrian preparedness and pales them in comparison with

the Prussians. As for the war, he does not get so deep into the tactics

of every battle without explaining the strategic problems and poor judgments

that led to it. He gives a biting, almost vindictive, criticism of

the inept Austrian army. Their lack of supplies and training, horrible

morale, ignorance of technology and tactics, and need for innovative leadership

is all scrutinized. He explains how the Austrian General Staff foolishly

placed themselves away form their natural defenses, cutting their mobility

and offensive capabilities to nothing. Their laziness and reluctance

to engage the Prussian enemy, hoping to draw them into one decisive battle,

is particularly scathed by Wawro. He places the Prussians and their

innovative tactics on a pedestal, showing again and again how their strategy

of envelopment, along with their superior weapons, overwhelmed the Austrians,

first in Bavaria and Saxony and then against the Austrian North Army at

Koniggratz. He does not treat the Italians much better, and does

not focus much of the book on the southern front, except for the major

battle at Custoza where he chides both sides repeatedly. Wawro finishes

the book sounding almost germanophilic, but his thesis holds true without.

Prussia defeated Austria through the overwhelming force of superior Prussian

weapons and tactics, coupled with the inexcusable complacency and ineffectiveness

of the Austrian Army and General Staff.

Wawro?s selected audience for this book

is most likely that portion of history students known as ?armchair historians?.

This is a perfect book for those who are fully into the field of history

but consume their free time with it. However, the general public

would shy away from a book with so much detailed tactical information.

Although Wawro provides good maps of troop placements and battles, which

he uses to back up his points about Austrian and Italian mistakes, he clearly

still assumes a lot of knowledge on the part of the reader as to Austrian,

Italian, and German geography. Also, Wawro?s bibliography is a long

list from Austrian archives and the few published works are almost all

in German or Austrian. Thus, Wawro would overwhelm the common readers

while historians of this time would likely not discover anything new in

this book. More scholarly than popular, Wawro?s book is perfect for

the ?at-home? historian.

Wawro?s book serves it purpose well.

A former dissertation, the book is converted nicely into a format perfect

for those with an interest in the subject. Although a bit of pro-Prussian

bias lurks throughout, Wawro accomplishes what the title promises, a thorough

recollection of the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. Again, I would not

recommend it to just anyone on the street because the author is writing

to a more scholarly audience than that. However, the book is enjoyable

and enlightening as to the tactics of mid-nineteenth century warfare, and

is a good read for anyone with a real interest in the field.


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