Buried in Madeira

IN CENTRAL SARAJEVO, there used to be a pair of footprints carved on the corner of a pavement where two roads met. I do not know whether these impressions, which I saw in the 1980s, still exist. They marked the spot where a young sharpshooter, Gavrilo Princip, took aim and assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary in 1914. Had his aim not been so accurate, the last Emperor of Austria might not have been buried in a church high above the city of Funchal in Madeira.

Emperor Karl of Austria-Hungary

Had Princip’s aim not been so good,  his victim, Franz Ferdinand, would have been successor to the imperial throne. With the Archduke eliminated, his nephew, Karl (1887-1922), succeeded Emperor Franz Joseph when he died in 1916.

Following the end of WW1 in 1918, Austria’s last Emperor, Karl, fled to Switzerland. After a couple of attempts to regain his throne,  the British exiled him and his wife to Madeira in 1921.

In 1922, Karl died of pneumonia.  He was interred in a chapel on the north side of the nave in the Igreja Nossa Senhora in the Monte district high above Funchal.

Plenty of tourist gawp at Karl’s simple tomb in the lovely church, which overlooks the city and the Atlantic Ocean far below.  I wonder whether Madeira would have been the final home of the Archduke had he not been so unlucky in Sarajevo.

Curiously, Karl was beatified in 2004. Equally strange was the British choice of a Portuguese island for Karl’s exile. After all, Napoleon Bonaparte was eventually exiled to a British possession: St Helena.

Military disasters

IT IS ALWAYS PLEASING to read about a subject that is new to me. A friend gave me a copy of “Fall of the Double Eagle” by John Schindler. It deals with the conflict between Austria Hungary (‘AH’) and its enemies Russia and Serbia at the beginning of WW1.

BLOG book

Schindler’s book is clearly written and engaging. It reveals a tale of truly lethal incompetence, that of the military leaders of AH during their pointless attacks on Galicia and Serbia. These were confrontations whose aim appeared to be to satisfy the egos of the arrogant leaders of AH’s military.

With the exception of skilful use of radio interception of Russian signals, everything else that the leaders of AH’s military laid their hands on led to the unnecessary deaths and injuries of a horrendously large number of brave and loyal soldiers. These soldiers, drawn from all of the numerous ethnic groups in the AH Empire, were united in their loyalty to their Habsburg rulers and very brave in battle. However, the incompetence of their superiors rendered their bravery pointless and in most cases their actions resembled those of lemmings running towards a lethal ending.

Despite knowledge of recent examples of modern warfare, the Anglo-Boer War, the Russo-Japanese War, the Balkan Wars, the AH high command made little or no attempt to update military equipment and tactics/strategies. Schindler describes this well, and also the unwillingness of the AH government to invest money on bringing the military up to date. Consequently, when the AH armies came into conflict with the Russians and Serbians, courage and bravery were futile in the face of superior artillery and tactics.

What Schindler describes brilliantly in his book is a tragic epic of incompetence. The military leaders of AH should have had, but did not appear to have had, very bad consciences in the light of the number of fatalities caused by their negligence.

Reading Schindler’s fascinating compendium of official arrogance, refusing to learn from experience, and lack of foresight, during the first years of WW1, made me have worrying thoughts about what is going on around us today during the current pandemic.

I recommend Schindler’s book to anyone interested in WW1 and/or the importance of competent planning by governments.

PS: The inclusion of some maps might have been helpful to assist the reader in following the exciting descriptions of some of the campaigns described.