World War I and the End of the Habsburg Monarchy


What was the trigger for the 1st World War? How did the war unfold? When did Franz Joseph die and who was the last Austrian emperor? What happened to the emperor after the collapse of the monarchy?

Long before July 28, 1914, preparations for war in Europe were in full swing. Around 1914, Europe was divided into two blocs: The Axis Powers (Central Powers) with Austria-Hungary, Germany, Turkey, Bulgaria and Italy on one side and the “Entente” with Great Britain, Russia, France, Portugal and many other states on the other side. Austria formed the Triple Alliance with Italy and Germany. Later, Italy switched to the Entente because they promised the Italians South Tyrol.

The military conflict was thus unstoppable, as nationalism and the European rulers’ ambitions for great power spread throughout Europe. The assassination attempt caused the powder keg of Europe to explode.

On June 28, 1914 , the fatal assassination attempt on Austria’s heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand , and his wife, Sophie , triggered World War I . Austria issues an ultimatum to Serbia (July crisis). This ended exactly 1 month later on July 28, 1914 in Austria’s declaration of war on Serbia.

As a result, both Austria-Hungary and Russia were in a state of war. On August 1 , the German Empire declared war on Russia, and three days later on France. German troops attacked France from the northeast, violating Belgium’s neutrality. This in turn led to the entry of the Belgian guarantor power, Great Britain, into the war .

The First World War was supposed to be only a short military retaliation against Serbia , but events rolled over. In April 1915 , poison gas was used for the first time when the German Reich used more than 160 tons of chlorine gas against French soldiers.

In 1915 Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary . The Isonzo battles drag on until 1917. The Battle of Verdun referred to an approximately 10-month material battle for the fortress of Verdun that cost the lives of some 700,000 people but changed little. The Battle of the Somme was no less costly. In 1917, unrestricted submarine warfare prevailed and the USA declared war on the Germans.

The October Revolution of 1917 in Russia provided a turning point in the war and an armistice between the Central Powers and Russia.

In January 1918, US President Wilson presented his 14-point program, which was initially rejected by the German Reich. Finally, on 11.11.1918 , the armistice was signed, confirming the victory of the Allies.

Theaters of war were not only Europe (Alpine Front, Eastern and Western Fronts), but also Africa, the Middle East and East Asia. It is believed that a total of about 25 states and their colonies were involved in the First World War.

Karl Kraus called the Great War very significantly: “The last days of mankind” . It will cost the lives of about 10-15 million soldiers and lead to the downfall of the Habsburg monarchy . It was the first war fought with large-scale use of machinery, and poison gas was also used for the first time.

In the third year of the war, in November 1916, Emperor Franz Joseph died at the age of 86, after having reigned for 68 years. His great-nephew Charles I succeeded to the throne as the last Austrian emperor . In 1918, after the defeat in World War I, he had to renounce any participation in the affairs of government in Austria and Hungary. However, he never abdicated, as the title of emperor was always claimed by “God’s grace,” as with all previous Habsburgs.

In Austria, the 1st Republic was proclaimed on November 12, 1918, initially still called German Austria Only on October 21, 1919, the official name Republic of Austria was introduced when the treaty came into force.

Charles is sent into exile in Switzerland , together with his wife Zita of Bourbon-Parma and his children. There are two more attempts to restore the monarchy in Hungary. Finally, he is exiled by the Allies to the Portuguese island of Madeira. He died there a short time later, at the age of only 34, as a result of severe pneumonia.

He is survived by his wife Zita and eight children, including the eldest son Otto, who later attracted attention as a European politician . Zita outlived him by 67 years and in 1989 became the last Austrian empress to receive an official state funeral in Vienna. Her bones are in the Capuchin crypt. Charles’ remains rest in Madeira. However, the hearts of both are reunited in the monastery of St. Muri in Switzerland.

Time Travel Tip:
Where in Vienna can you learn more about the First World War? Wars belong in museums is the slogan of the Museum of Military History. A visit takes them through several centuries of Austrian wars.

More info: Home – Museum of Military History (



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