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sia in 1866The
Austro-Prussian War — Austria’s War with Prussia in 1866
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
Germanys 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
Prussias 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, Wawros 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.

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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 peoples 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 Italys
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 Wawros
retelling of the war; planning, mobilization, and engagements. He
uses a whole chapter to detail all three nations 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.

Wawros 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, Wawros 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, Wawros book is perfect for
the “at-home” historian.

Wawros 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.

Categories: Case Study


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