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    The Austro-Prussian War — Austria’s War with Prus Essay

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    sia in 1866TheAustro-Prussian War — Austria’s War with Prussia in 1866One nation.

    A single, unified nationpowerful enough to plunge Europe and the world into two of the most devastatingwars in history. That is the legacy of Germany. Two world warsare all we remember of a unified Germany. But, we never rememberthe struggle that took place to create such an entity. As GeoffryWawro covers well in this book, the Austro-Prussian War was the turningpoint in German history that allowed Prussia to become the major figurein German affairs and start to unify the German confederation under onepower, ending years of Austrian interference.

    Although wading throughthe tactical and strategic events of this war in detail, Wawro does notlose sight of the very important political aspects of this war, which beganGermanys unification in earnest. This unification of Germany wouldprove to be one of the most influential events in Europe, with its effectsbeing felt well into the next century. A unified Germany, and othersfear of it, would be one of the stumbling blocks that would lead to thefirst “Great War” and quickly after it, another one. But withoutPrussias ascendance to the top of the German states, both World Wars mightnot have happened.

    So it is about time to lavish some of the attentiongiven those two wars on one of its major causes, which Wawro does a greatjob of. Geoffry Wawro himself is a rather youngwriter. A recent graduate of Yale, Wawros book is an expansion onhis doctoral dissertation, which won him a fellowship from the AustrianCultural Institute in 1994 for Best Dissertation on Austrian Culture. This fellowship allowed him to spend two years converting his dissertationinto 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 problemsassociated with the German peoples attempts to unify after the allieddefeat of Napoleon. He then goes on to detail how Austria and Prussia bothvied for supremacy in the confederation of German states. He focusesmainly on the direct confrontations between the two nations and the abilitiesof their leaders.

    Wawro appears almost to be a Germanophile as hefawns over the ingenious political strategies of Prussian Chancellor Bismarck,while constantly berating the sub-par performance of Austrian Emperor FranzJoseph. He also uses the beginning of the book to describe past Austriandomination in Italian affairs, and the animosity that was building betweenthese two states. He reviews the history of Austrian interferencein Italy that drove the Italians into a military alliance with Prussia,and eventually into the war. Although he is less enamored of Italysleaders, he still holds them above the Austrian leaders whom he portraysas foreign interlopers trying to prevent Italian unity as much as German. He moves through the months and years quickly, going from one crisis tothe next until the three nations were on the brink of war, with Austriafacing a double-edged sword, Italy in the south and Prussia in the north.

    The main force of the book is Wawrosretelling of the war; planning, mobilization, and engagements. Heuses a whole chapter to detail all three nations problems in organizationand preparedness. He repeatedly praises the Prussians for their efficiencyin mobilization of troops and superior strategy. Wawro humbles boththe Austrians and Italians as he berates both nations military state insupplies, manpower, technology, and strategy. He takes special interestin pointing out the ineptitude of Italian and Austrian generals and thepolitical intrigue and maneuvering that got them their commands. As the war begins he first covers the Prussian advance from the north andtheir quick defeat of the Austrian allies, before their new envelopmenttactics on a poorly placed and poorly led Austrian army.

    He showerspraise on this new Prussian tactic that proved unbeatable against an Austrianarmy that ignored its natural defenses, limited its own mobility, and whosegenerals ignorance and laziness allowed it to be swallowed up by a superiorPrussian force. He then focuses on the belated Italian attack, whichwas a case study in ineptitude, as both Italian and Austrian commandersbungled from one battle to another. Eventually, he covers the mainbattle of Custoza which the Austrians barley winning, mostly due to theirsuperior firepower and weapons. After repulsing Italy, the Austriansthen sent reinforcements to the north, which is where Wawro then takeshis book.

    He finishes be explaining how the Prussian army moved furtherand further south by enveloping, breaking, and then chasing down the Austrianarmy at every instance. Eventually, the immobile and demoralizedAustrians retreated and the Prussians marched on Vienna where the Austrianswere forced to sue for peace. After discussing the devastating termslaid on the Austrians and their allies by Prussia, Wawro goes on to discusstheir political aftermath. He shows how once Prussian dominance wasestablished in the German confederation and Bismarck had absorbed the opponentsto Prussian rule, Prussia tossed Italy aside and forced them to sign aseparate peace. After Austria was defeated, Prussia turned its backon the lesser powers of Europe and focused on unifying the rest of Germanyin the west.

    Wawro discusses Prussian policy after the war with aheavy focus on their turn towards the west, foreshadowing their war withFrance in 1870. Prussia had defeated its biggest foe to this pointand as was recognized by the Austrian minister of state in 1866, and quotedby Wawro in this book, Prussia will not neglect the opportunity to showthe 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 Austrianarmy, but he also goes to great lengths to explain why. Throughoutthe book Wawro reiterates several times how superior Prussian technology,tactics, and leadership carried the war. He gives an in-depth lookat how Hapsburg complacency and inefficiency, especially by the Austriangenerals, blundered away the war.

    Even before his discussion of thewar, he derides Austrian preparedness and pales them in comparison withthe Prussians. As for the war, he does not get so deep into the tacticsof every battle without explaining the strategic problems and poor judgmentsthat led to it. He gives a biting, almost vindictive, criticism ofthe inept Austrian army. Their lack of supplies and training, horriblemorale, ignorance of technology and tactics, and need for innovative leadershipis all scrutinized. He explains how the Austrian General Staff foolishlyplaced themselves away form their natural defenses, cutting their mobilityand offensive capabilities to nothing.

    Their laziness and reluctanceto engage the Prussian enemy, hoping to draw them into one decisive battle,is particularly scathed by Wawro. He places the Prussians and theirinnovative tactics on a pedestal, showing again and again how their strategyof envelopment, along with their superior weapons, overwhelmed the Austrians,first in Bavaria and Saxony and then against the Austrian North Army atKoniggratz. He does not treat the Italians much better, and doesnot focus much of the book on the southern front, except for the majorbattle at Custoza where he chides both sides repeatedly. Wawro finishesthe book sounding almost germanophilic, but his thesis holds true without.

    Prussia defeated Austria through the overwhelming force of superior Prussianweapons and tactics, coupled with the inexcusable complacency and ineffectivenessof the Austrian Army and General Staff. Wawros selected audience for this bookis 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 historybut consume their free time with it. However, the general publicwould shy away from a book with so much detailed tactical information. Although Wawro provides good maps of troop placements and battles, whichhe uses to back up his points about Austrian and Italian mistakes, he clearlystill assumes a lot of knowledge on the part of the reader as to Austrian,Italian, and German geography. Also, Wawros bibliography is a longlist from Austrian archives and the few published works are almost allin German or Austrian.

    Thus, Wawro would overwhelm the common readerswhile historians of this time would likely not discover anything new inthis book. More scholarly than popular, Wawros book is perfect forthe “at-home” historian. Wawros book serves it purpose well. A former dissertation, the book is converted nicely into a format perfectfor those with an interest in the subject. Although a bit of pro-Prussianbias lurks throughout, Wawro accomplishes what the title promises, a thoroughrecollection of the Austro-Prussian War of 1866.

    Again, I would notrecommend it to just anyone on the street because the author is writingto a more scholarly audience than that. However, the book is enjoyableand enlightening as to the tactics of mid-nineteenth century warfare, andis a good read for anyone with a real interest in the field.

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