16 March 2012

Museum of Military History (Vienna - Day 7)

Following another rainy day we set off to explore the Museum of Military History.  Established in mid 19th century primarily as a military complex to house troops and weapons, an allowance was made to add the first museum in Vienna.

A beautiful building designed with a mix of Byzantine, Hispano-Moorish to Neo-Gothic style, it stands at 235m in length, with a square tower-like section in the centre topped with a cupola. 

Centre tower topped with cupola.
The architecture of the building was only the beginning of the museum's journey into becoming what it is today.  The interior design took 16 years to complete and the outcome was a stunning combinaton of statues of renowned leaders and military commanders along with frescoes of major battles and events in military history.

Entry hall depicting statues of leaders and military commanders.
Fresco depicting battle scene.  One of many.
Over the course of 35 years, the board of trustees collected important military objects which was first presented to the public in 1891.  The museum continued in its then current form until the start of WWI when the museum was closed for the next 7 years and during which time the collection continued to grow.

Tragedy fell upon the museum towards the end of WWII when the building was destroyed severely followed by pillaging.  The exhibit losses were significant.  Rebuilding the museum provided the trustees an opportunity to reconsider the displays and purpose of the museum, turning it from an army museum with military displays to an history museum conveying a more "integrative impression".

Substantial paintings depicting battle scenes, significant individuals and various other war related works were introduced into the exhibitions.  The museum also became the recipient of numerous naval ship models from the Technical Museum providing the visitor with an insight into Austria's naval prowess.

Today the museum is divided into several sections illustrating Habsburg Empire's military history from the late 16th century to the end of WWI and dissolution of the empire.

Exhibit Hall 1 - 17th Century

Beginning with the 17th century the exhibition covers the Thirty Years War, Ottomans, Prince Eugene of Savoy and Empress Maria Theresa.

Thirty Years War (1618-48)

What initially began as a religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics and covered most of Europe the Thirty Years War is to date the longest unceasing war.  As conflicts ensued the war developed into a battle of supremacy largely between France (at the time the Bourbons) and Austria's Habsburg Empire.

The consequences of this war was calamitous.  Famine and disease spread throughout, villages were burnt to the ground and it is calculated that some 25-40% of the population in the German states of the time were decimated.  In some villages up to half the men were killed. Displacement and expulsion of Protestants ran rampant leaving central Europe economically crippled.

The war was finally ended when a group of treaties were negotiated over a period of four years amongst France, Sweden and the Holy Emperor.

Turkish-Austrian War (1683)

With east and southeast of Europe under Ottoman rule and its subsequent conquests into western and northern Europe in the 1760s, derived serious concerns for Central Europe about Ottoman advancements into their territory.

This concern was to be realised in 1683 when the Ottomans equipped with weapons, such as bows and arrows, unknown to Europeans and a different military organisation entered Vienna.  Besieging Vienna for two months, the Ottomans were eventually defeated by German and Polish troops under the command of Sobieski, King of Poland.  Following this crushing defeat the Ottomans retreated thereby allowing the Habsburgs to take control of Hungary, Transylvania and Croatia.

The Ottoman Wars hall showcases Turkish weapons, headgear and insignia and a massive painting depicting the Viennese 1683 battle.

Turkish weaponry
Battle of Vienna 1683 (artist unknown)

Prince Eugene of Savoy

A brilliant military commander and astute strategist, Prince Eugene was born to aristocratic parents of Italian descent.  He grew up around the French court and due to poor health and physique he was being prepared for a career in church.

At the age of 19 he decided on a military career but was not taken seriously by the French court and he moved his allegiance and loyalty to Austria's monarchy.  Commencing his career the same year as the Battle of Vienna, Eugene rose to the highest offices of state at the Imperial court.

Emerging victorious from several high profile battles, Eugene's fame was secured throughout Europe.  Never married, he died in his sleep at the age of 72.

One of the frescoes depicting Eugene at the Battle of Belgrade 1717. 
Artist: Johann Gottfried Auerbach.

Empress Maria Theresa

The only female ruler in the Habsburg dominion, it was not a position that came without conflict.  With no male heir, her father paved the way for her succession with the Pragmatic Sanction which declared that females may also ascend the throne.  Unfortunatley upon his death, the Sanction was rejected and Maria found herself fighting for her throne against the Prussians, French and Spanish coalition, known as the War of Austrian Succession.

Maria's greatest nemesis, whom she hated fervently but admired his capabilities, was King Frederick II of Prussia.  Inheriting full coffers and a well-organised army, Frederick took advantage of Maria's weakened position and demanded rule over the prosperous duchy of Silesia in order to recognise the Pragmatic Sanction.  Initially ignoring the Prussian's demands, Maria eventually ceded and subsequently lost Silesia to Prussia.  The war lasted eight years.

Embarking on an extensive course of reform, Maria made education compulsory, abolished rural serfdom and torture, introduced taxation of nobilities and churches and promotion of crafts, trade and manufacturing, to name a few.

Of the 16 children she bore, ten lived to adulthood of which with the exception of her favorite daughter, Marie Christine who was allowed to marry for love, all were bound to marry for political alliances.  The most notable marriage was that of the youngest daughter, Maria Antonia, later known as Marie Antoinette who at the age of 15 married King Louis XVI of France.

Exhibit Hall 2 - 18th-19th Century

This exhibition is dedicated to Austria and Europe from 1789-1866.  Displays included war plans, paintings of famous battles and weaponry which were the most technically advanced at the time such as muskets, swords, rapiers and flint lock hand cannons.

Napoleonic Wars

Starting with the French Revolution in 1789 when King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were trialled for tyranny against French people and subsequently executed, the Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars declared against Napoleon's Empire. 

Austria's involvement was largely a result of France declaring war upon it in 1792. A battle which Austria lost along with some of its western Europe territory.  Austria along with its allies waged war with France on a further two occasions and whilst France was eventually defeated it did not come without substantial territorial losses to Austria.

Napoleon was a formidable military commander, who successfully led several campaigns.  Following a coup in 1799 he installed himself as a First Consul (basically one step short of head of state) and five years later was elected Emperor by the French Senate.  Napoleon conquered much of Europe until his defeat at Waterloo in 1815 at which point he abdicated and surrendered himself to the British who exiled him on Saint Helena for the rest of his natural life.  He died six years later of stomach cancer (some suggest it may have been arsenic poisoning).

Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte
Austro-Prussian War 1866

In 1864 Austria and Prussia joined forces and waged war against Denmark over two German-speaking territories.  The ensuing quarreling over the two territories brought them to war against each other.  Whilst the Austrians were victorious in the south at Custoza, they were defeated in the north at Koniggratz.  Subsequently Austria lost all influence on the politics of the German states and Italy.  

Battle of Custoza

The painting below depicts Regiment Commander Rodakowski at the head of a cavalry charge at the battle of Custoza thereby bringing about victory to the southern battle.

Commander Maximilian Ritter von Rodakowski
Artist: Ludwig Koch (equestrian specialty)
Battle of Konnigratz

Whilst the Austrian's were victorious at Custoza the following painting illustrates the devastation encountered at Konnigratz in the north.  The casualties and losses for the Austrians were a staggering 42,000 when compared to the 9,000 Prussians.

"Battery of the Dead" by Vaclav Sochor

Military Uniforms of the Mid-1800s

These beautiful uniforms whilst magical in the illusions it created, their bright colours were a danger in the war against Prussia.  Overcoats were worn in July, the height of summer, as a way of camouflaging themselves from their enemies.

Uniforms c1848/49.

Military Weapons of the Mid-1800s

In the mid-1800s military science changed dramatically.  Artillery and infantry weaponry were vastly improved.  Inexact firing rockets were replaced allowing shots to travel further with greater accuracy.  Austrians made a fatal error when they believed that the previously used bayonnets would be more effective than a fast shooting rifle.

Fixed bayonets.

Exhibit Hall 3 - 20th Century

A period of peace followed from 1867 to 1914 until the heir to the Austrian throne was assassinated in Sarajevo thereby causing the outbreak of WWI, breakdown of the Habsburg Empire and dissolution of the monarchy.

 Sarajevo Assassination 1914

Annexing Bosnia-Herzegovina to the Austrian empire caused a major stir amongst the Slavic people of south Europe.  As a means to break the south-Slav provinces from Austria, an assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was planned and carried out by a trained 19 years old assassin.  Ferdinand was shot in the neck whilst his wife Sophie was shot in the abdomen.  Both died shortly after.

Up until his death, Ferdinand was trying to keep Austria out of a war.  With his death Austria declared war on Serbia.

The car Archduke Ferdinand and his wife were shot to death.

World War I - 1914-1948

Ferdinand's assassination and Austria's declaration of war on Serbia was the catalyst to the outbreak of WWI.  Commencing as conflict within the European continent it soon spread worldwide via their colonies abroad.

With substantial advancement of artillery and weaponry the death toll was disastrous.  At 9 million deaths including military personnel and civilians, WW1 is the fifth-deadliest conflict (WWII is first at approx. 65m deaths). 

The exhibition hall illustrates the complexity and expense of the war both in lives and finance.  Allied with the Germans, both countries had to ward off Russian troops in 1914.  The following year they needed to ward off Italy too.  Food was becoming scarce.  Secret peace negotiations failed and when the Germans found out the diplomatic relations between them were catastrophic.  The 17 different nationalities within the empire was threatening to fall apart and by 1918 strikes and mutinies were surging.  Armistice was reached late 1918 and the Habsburg Empire was dissolved after 600+ years of rule. 

In 1921 the last emperor of Austria together with his family was exiled to the Portuguese Island of Madeira where he would die a year later of pneumonia.

The Nameless 1914
Artist: Albin Egger-Lienz
World War I memorabilia

Military Weapons of the 20th Century

A leap-frog in weapons advancement included arms such as early machine guns, semi-automatic rifles, revolvers and early automotic pistols.  The more antiquated bayonet was still in use and was particularly handy in close combat.  Nerve gas, flamethrowers and grenades added to the menagerie of weapons.  Mortars were ideally suited for trench warfare due to its projectile capability at a steep angle.  Finally heavy artillery such as tanks, howitzers and cannons on the ground were supplemented by warplanes in the air.

An 1895 bolt-action rifle cut through the repeater to illustrate the inner-workings.

Adopted by the Austrian army in 1912, this semi-automatic handgun
remained in service until the end of WWII.

This 81,700 kg howitzer had a firing range of 15,000m. 
A pit of 52 cubic metres had to be excavated to hold the firing platform.

The shell of the howitzer weighing in at 750 kg. 
The shells were rammed by a hand-powered winch with pushrod.

Various artillery shells.

Exhibition Hall 4 - 20th Century

Republic, Dictatorship and WWII - 1918-1945

With the dissolution of the empire, Austria became a democratic republic and an independent state.  However conflict amongst the political forces and the ever increasing authoritarian government culminated into a civil war in 1934.  Pressures from Hitler followed suit and by 1938 Nazi Germany occupied the country and incorporated Austria into the Third Reich. 

Artist interpretation of the 1934 Revolution
Artist: Florian Maximilian

A forced expulsion of Jewish Austrians commenced and deprived them of their assets and possessions.  Austria yet once again suffered substantial losses with approximately 380,000 deaths including 65,000 Austrian Jews.  With the fall of the Third Reich in 1945, Austria was finally liberated by the Allies, regained its independence and made a new start.

German anti-aircraft and anti-tank artillery gun.
German remote-controlled demolition vehicle.

Austria's Naval Power

The final exhibition hall of the museum provides an insight into Austria's naval power spanning a mere 200 years mostly due to Austria's landlocked location.

It originally developed during the 17th-18th centuries to control the Danube river when threatened by the naval power of the Ottoman Empire.  Due to financial difficulties only a small fleet of warships existed.  Following a peace treaty with Napoleon during the Napoleonic Wars, in 1797 Venice and Dalmatia were annexed as Habsburg territory thereby inheriting the Venetian naval forces and facilities.  This formed the basis of the future Austrian Navy.

Victorious sea battles ensued right up to the end of WWI when the monarchy dissolved and all maritime possessions were distributed amongst successor states and allies.

Besides military tasks, Austrian warships undertook research voyages such as the frigate SMS Novara which circumnavigated the globe from 1857-59 or the custom-built schooner Tegetthoff's Arctic expedition in 1872-74.  Crews generally consisted of naval officers-to-be using these expeditions as training and an opportunity for scientific research.

Model of frigate "Novara"
Model inner workings of SMS Viribus Unitis, which entered service in 1912
and was sunk in 1918 by a limpet mine.
Various sea battles paintings.
Half a day later we depart the Military Museum satisfied with what we've seen, what we've learnt and the numerous photographs we took.  Trinity may have phased out at times but she particularly enjoyed the shelled bunker, the wheel of a ship and climbing lots of stairs.  On the other hand John, a military history and weapons enthusiast, thought the museum as a package was just tops.

Shelled bunker.
Steering the imaginary ship with daddy.
Conquering more stairs.
John, enjoying every facet of this museum beginning with the beauty of the building
all the way through to the interior design and its spectacular military displays.

Here are some more random photos from the museum.