"That extraordinary empire known as the Austrian-Hungarian Dual Monarchy is less an Empire or a Kingdom or a State than the personal property of the Habsburgs, whose hereditary talent for the acquisition of land is recorded on the map of Europe today!"
— James W. Gerard, American diplomat
The Habsburg Empire was not a normal empire. Even when Austria was the premier power, its preeminence was not the same as that of Russia under the Czars. Rather the Habsburgs were the feudal system taken to its logical extreme, with dozens of nations having no connection to one another except their joint allegiance to the Habsburg Family. (Note that the spelling "Hapsburg," common in older English translations, is not considered the most correct.) Therefore it is proper to refer to their state (and by extension its military) by reference to The Family. (Not that onedespite occasional resemblances.)
The first Habsburg was a warlord named Rudolph who was Feudal Overlord of an alpine fortress called Habichtsburg, which translates into English as "the Hawk's Castle", whence the name "Habsburg." He was elected Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 1273, because of his lack of resources, which it was hoped would make him controllable. As it turned out, Rudolph had considerable military skill and sacked enough rebellious barons' castles to persuade them of the advisability of good order and loyalty to the crown. The Habsburg family became known for its skill in diplomacy and acquired many possessions by marriage, giving rise to the motto "Let others wage wars, but you, merry Austria, marry!" (Bella gerant alii, tu, felix Austria, nube!). At one time, because of a previous merger with the royal family of Spain, it was an empire with holdings in the Western as well as the Eastern hemisphere, becoming the first "Empire on which the sun never sets"; however, the Spanish-based section of the family and the Austrian-based one were split, with Charles V giving Spain and the Netherlands to his son Phillip (Felipe II of Spain) and the Central/Eastern European realms to his brother Ferdinand, and the Spanish branch eventually died out for lack of male issue (and sanity).
The Habsburg imperial forces were always a motley and colorful patchwork of levies from their various possessions as well as mercenaries. They probably reached their greatest height of prestige during the Thirty Years' War, in which the brilliant but ruthless general Wallenstein won a number of battles — only to lose his position due to his overweening ambition.
After that the Habsburg forces mostly just scraped by. They could always field a decent army, but rarely a Badass Army, though exceptional generals like Tilly, Eugene of Savoy, or Archduke Charles of Austria-Teschen occasionally won outstanding victories. It was, however, always a colorful force and had as one of its most interesting features a number of Proud Warrior Races from the Balkans, such as the Hussars from Hungary and the Croats. Slightly less romantic were the rather stolid ethnic Germans from Austria and allied states. They won few spectacular battles, but they did keep the Empire together until World War I which ushered in the end of the Habsburgs as a state and the end of their military. By this time the Austro-Hungarian forces were probably one of the worst armies in Europe. Their Russian opponents suffered from poor training, bad equipment and dismal leadership, but they repeatedly thrashed the Austro-Hungarians to the point that Imperial Germany had to bail them out. Furthermore, the Austrian suffered some embarrassing defeats at the hands of the much smaller Serbian army - they managed to conquer Serbia eventually, but once again it was only with substantial German aid. It should be mentioned that, since so many of the Austro-Hungarian soldiers were Slavs, they were understandably rather reluctant to fight under a Germanic/Hungarian banner against other Slavs (Russians and Serbs). The Austro-Hungarian army had considerably more success against the Italians...but they still lost eventually, further cementing their Red Shirt Army status.
One rather odd victory they had was Lissa, in which they defeated the Italian fleet in the war with Prussia and Italy in the nineteenth century — probably the only naval battle the Central-European Habsburgs ever won. Also, while their battleships did practically nothing during World War I, the tiny Austrian submarine force managed to pull off some amazing stunts; captain Von Trapp (made popular in The Sound of Music) was their greatest submarine ace. Another peculiarity noted by historians was that by the end of WWI, the Austro-Hungarian Army "laid down their arms" (rather than surrendered); they outlasted the Empire they served.
Rather amazingly the last Austrian Crown Prince, Otto von Habsburg (or Otto Habsburg-Lothringen in Austria) lived until the ripe old age of 98, dying on the 4th of July, 2011 . Had he actually succeeded his father on the throne he would have reigned for 88 years, becoming one of the longest reigning monarchs in European history. A politician of The European Union, he allegedly once punched Ian Paisley after the latter insulted The Pope as the Antichrist in the European Parliament.
A useful source for info on the Austro-Hungarian army
Tropes Associated With The Austro-Hungarian Military:
Both were allied to Austria-Hungary during World War One. Starting in 1908, the only nations that could legitimately be called Austria-Hungary's "arch-enemies" would be Serbia and Russia.
Historically, the Habsburg/Valois enmity (see Foe Yay below) defined European politics for three centuries. The two houses found their greatest achievements (respectively, becoming the Holy Roman Emperor and driving out the English) within years of each other, and immediately took a profound dislike for each other. When Maria Theresa left unreliable Britain for Russia and France, then went further and married her youngest daughter to the future King of France, it turned Europe on its head.
Blue Blood: One of the classic great houses of Europe.
Born in the Wrong Century: Austria under the Habsburgs had the strange honor of being seen as both bafflingly backward for its time and oddly progressive for the era. Among other things, the Empire pre-World War I was a multicultural and multinational hotbed...in an Europe where ethnic nationalism and the effects of the "Springtime of Nations" were still in vogue.
Broken Bird: Franz Josef, towards his final years. But even then, most people at the time wouldn't have even noticed it. See Iron Woobie.
And during World War One, a greyish light-blue (at least for the common footsoldiers).
However, in order to differentiate between individual units, an incredible number of different colours was used for collars, cuffs etc. to set them apart. In 1914 thus the Imperial and Royal Army used 28 different shades (including ten shades of red) to distinguish its 102 line infantry regiments, only up to four regiments wearing the same shade (two would be from Austria, two from Hungary, Austrian and Hungarian regiments wearing e. g. different trousers, and of the two from each section one would wear brass buttons and the other white metal buttons).
Cool Gun: During the Napoleonic Wars, Austrian skirmishers used the "Repetierwindbuechse" (Repeating Air Rifle), an airgun which could fire twenty shots without reloading—at a time when no conventional gun could fire more than one. It didn't see much use, though, as pumping up the thing once you'd fired those twenty shots took a long time.
Cool Horse: Hussars, recruited from Hungarian cowboys were some of the best cavalry in Europe.
Crazy-Prepared: The Austro-Hungarian Navy in World War I took incredibly paranoid precautions to prevent Italian assault forces from penetrating their harbours and sink their battleships. The Italians still penetrated their harbours three times, sinking a battleship the first and the third time (the latter success was due the Italians using a manned torpedo to penetrate and fix a limpet mine on the battleship just to prove they were braver than the Royal Navy, that had discared the idea as foolhardy).
Determinator: Until World War I, Austria/Austria-Hungary had gone through centuries of threats that would have torn up other countries. This could also apply to the Austro-Hungarian military, which for all its weaknesses effectively outlasted their own Empire.
Though ironically, he is still remembered somewhat fondly in the former Empire.
Oddly enough, many in his own time (especially by World War I) saw him as an almost divine grandfather figure.
Death Seeker: What Franz Josef was hinted in records and first-hand accounts to have become this towards the end of his life. This may have also affected how he perceived what is now World War I.
The Determinator: The Austro-Hungarian Army during World War I: they were fighting a war against Russia in the east, Serbia and Romania in the South and the backstabbing Italy at the south-western border and they were widely overstretched for this, yet they first conquered Serbia and Romania (with Bulgarian and Turk help, but they did most of the job), survived the Russian overwhelming numbers long enough for the Russian Revolution to torn apart the country and knock Russia out of the war, and finally break through the Italian lines. Later the Italians recovered, launched a counteroffensive so effective that the Austro-Hungarian Army was dissolved as a fighting force and caused the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but when the armistice took effect the Italians saw with horror that the annihilated Austro-Hungarian Army had spontaneously reformed in the span of a few days, and could still fight.
Didn't See That Coming: Who would have thought that after the Sarajevo incident, the internal arrangements of the Balkan Kingdoms and of the Dual Monarchy wouldn't last very long?
Also, the Italians. They had handed their asses to them, both on the land and on the sea, during the 1866 war, and handily resisted Italian offensives for most of World War I, so they were completely caught by surprise when the Italians Took a Level in Badass in days after being crushed at Caporetto, stopping the Austrian offensive on the Piave river and starting sinking Austrian ships in supposedly impenetrable harbours using speedboats (and their flagship in the middle of the sea. Two of those speedboats were passing by and decided to torpedo her...). Then happened again exactly a year after Caporetto, when the Italians annihilated the Austro-Hungarian army (they regrouped, but by that time the Italians had reached their war aims and the empire had surrendered and was collapsing), and then, before the unconditional surrender of the empire took effect, sank another battleship in harbour just to prove they could still bypass the many defences they had enacted.
Elite Army: The Grenzer regiments, recruited from farmers along the Military Frontier with the Ottoman Empire who spent half their year farming and the other half acting as elite soldiers. They were considered some of the best skirmishers in Europe.
Foregone Conclusion: According to Franz Joseph's own successor and said heir's wife, the Emperor mused in 1914 that the War would be a disaster for the Empire. Unfortunately, he was right, albeit four years too late.
I Have Many Names: The Habsburg Empire has also been known over the centuries as the Habsburg Monarchy, Danube Monarchy, Austrian Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire, Dual Monarchy, or simply the Empire.
Impoverished Patrician: The Habsburgs towards the end of World War I and in the immediate years after; they were essentially forced to make ends meet and rely on the support of sympathizers in the 1920s. These days however, Karl's descendants had long rebuilt the family's fortunes on a more modest scale.
Iron Woobie: For some reason they always seem to lose. Yet the Empire survived. One wonders why.
Perhaps they followed the Habsburg tradition of "muddling through."
Also, the last Emperor, Karl "the Blessed," though his entire life. Losing the Empire in World War I, being sent into exile, failing twice (deliberately and humanely) in reclaiming Hungary, then being Put on a Bus to Madeira. Yet he persevered to the end. A few Catholics affectionately refer to him as the "patron saint of losers."
Speaking of which, his coronation feast was a model of royal style. He had his chefs bring a grand variety of expensive meals and displayed them to his courtiers. After they had been displayed, he had them taken away and shipped to a nearby hospital for wounded soldiers.
Unfortunately, the "patron saint of losers" line is also used by critics who stress his failure to save the Empire.
Karl's predecessor, Franz Josef also took in a lot of suffering. Losing his son, Rudolf. Then his beloved wife. Then Franz Ferdinand and the clusterfuck of World War I tearing apart his Empire. It's surprising that he outlived Queen Victoria.
He also lost his brother, Maximilian, to a Mexican firing squad following his failure to forge a Habsburg Empire in the New World.
Jerkass Woobie: While many of their post-Imperial members in the 20's to the 50's were fairly typical of an autocratic Blue Blood family, they were unstained by the atrocities their predecessors committed, and by all accounts did nothing to deserve things like being locked up and being murdered in Dachau.
Knight Templar: Emperor Franz I was seen as this. Staunchly reactionary and ruthless, his involvement with the wars against Napoleon was largely one of the few positive points in his rule.
After the Hohenzollerns broke up the Teutonic Knights Order in what would become Prussia after converting to Lutheranism, the still-Catholic Knights fled to Habsburg lands and the emperor became their honorary chief. The head of the Habsburg family is still the head of the Teutonic Knights Order, even though it is now more of a fancy honorary society than a crusading order of warrior monks.
Modest Royalty: The Habsburgs, at least later on, were also known for this in some extent, compared to other royal houses in Europe. Franz Joseph's quarters were said to be relatively spartan and bare-bones, reflecting his military background.
This was even more strongly enforced by his successor, Karl. One example of this was the traditional banquet following his coronation, in which after the formalities were done, had the food shipped over to the front lines in order to help feed the soldiers.
Multinational Team: The Habsburg Empire was a veritable multinational, multicultural and multi-religious domain with a predominantly German (and later, Hungarian) veneer. Compared to Imperial Germany, it was the most pluralist part of Europe at the time. Vienna before World War I for example was home to many ethnic groups from Czechs to Serbs. In fact, the Empire was also notable for (despite or perhaps in light of its rulers' Catholic vestiges) being one of the first Western powers to recognize Islam as a part of its society: a tradition that outlasted the Habsburgs and still continues todaynote While tolerance for Muslims gradually came about throughout the 19th Century, notably in 1867 and 1878, it wasn't until the Law of Islam in 1912 that Islam was recognized as an official religion in Austria, later reaffirmed in 1979. If anything: modern-day Austria is more homogeneous in comparison.
This worked out rather badly in practice, especially when it came to fighting wars. The fact that the military didn't even share a common languagenote The Habsburg Empire had three separate armies, the Common Army (recruited from all parts of the empire), the Austrian Landwehr and the Hungarian Honvédség. Officially, everybody was supposed to speak either German (in the Common Army and Landwehr) or Hungarian (in the Honvédség), with the Common Army commanding the two local armies in wartime. In practice, Common Army units used whatever language unit's commander spoke natively, even if it wasn't German, especially if the commander was Hungarian. And they did a rather poor job of actually making sure everybody in the army was fluent in German and/or Hungarian. meant that coordination between units tended to be very poor.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Basically Austria is the reason The First World War happened. Sure, the "powder keg" that was Europe would've probably gone off eventually, but Austria gets the distinction of being the one who actually set it off. The terms they presented to Serbia after the Archduke's assassination were so deliberately insulting and impossible that even contemporary diplomats remarked that no country could accept them and still be considered an independent nation. Nevertheless, Serbia accepted all but two of the ten demands. Good enough for Austria, they invaded and the rest is history. And while the country can't exactly be blamed, a certain somebody who came from there would start the next world war as well.
Only Sane Man: Karl I/IV in World War I. He was among the handful of leaders at the time who tried to put an end to the bloodshed in amicable terms. Unfortunately, it was too late.
Real Men Love Jesus : The Habsburgs have their share of saints in their rather large family tree. But this Catholic royal family in general runs the gamut from the very pious to the staunchly regular/nominal, which is more often than not difficult to pin down. For instance, contrast Maria Theresa or Karl "the Blessed" to, say, Leopold II, Charles V or even Franz Ferdinand.
Red Shirt Army: There was a reason historian Basil Liddel Hart pointed out that the Austro-Hungarian army had a tradition of defeat by the time World War I rolled around.
Rescued from the Scrappy Heap: Following Franz Joseph's death in 1916, Karl attempted doing this for Austria-Hungary as a whole. But by that point, World War I was in full gear, virtually no one took his pleas for peace seriouslynote his German allies even ignored his warnings against allowing Lenin safe passage into Russia and the strains of conflict were already tearing the Empire at the seams.
Royals Who Actually Do Something: Part of the Habsburg code involved taking up a craft, which historically had ranged from gardening to combat roles to even acting. Franz Joseph in particular, for all his flaws was so obsessed with running his Empire that his work day stretched from 5 AM to 11 PM. Even having time to have his people come to him directly to address their concerns.
Ruritania : Often thought to have inspired this trope. Justified a bit, but more often than not, even its contemporaries didn't do the research and thought of the country as far more backwards, ignorant and undeveloped than it was in reality.
For example: it is not surprising that London should have the world's first electric underground. But the second? Budapest, capital of Hungary.
In the eighteenth century, the Hapsburg dominions were widely recognized as having Europe's most comprehensive education system.
Though it still paid lip service to the Catholic Church, the Empire also made moves, albeit initially slow and awkward, towards religious tolerance especially by the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Jews in particular more or less favored their position in Habsburg society. And by the dawn of World War I, Islam had been formally recognized as part of its social fabric.
Proud Warrior Race: Several Balkan nations (and the Hungarians) contributed these, most famously Croatia's cavalrymen. Hell, virtually every nationality in the empire often proved to be a bunch of Badass Normals once something had Gone Horribly Wrong. Eventually, though, this trope eventually turned into an Informed Ability during World War I, as the fact that none of aforementioned ProudWarriorRaces were interested in fighting for an empire that was falling apart and which they hated anyway led to them getting their asses kicked by Italy (traditionally the military Butt Monkey of Europe) and Russia (whose army was in as almost as sorry a state as Austria-Hungary's).
Red Shirt Army: As military historian Basil Liddell Hart wrote in his account of World War I, while the German army had a tradition of victory, the Austro-Hungarian army had a tradition of defeat. Even its supposedly Proud Warrior Races fell into this trope by the time the Great War rolled around.
Rightful King Returns: Averted after World War I. Karl attempted to pull this twice off in Hungary in the early '20s in the hopes of reuniting the Empire. They failed on both counts.
Somewhat averted also by his son and heir, Otto. In order for him to even regain citizenship in his homeland, he had to relinquish all formal claims to the throne...though this didn't stop Austrians in general from treating him like royalty to an extent.
Neither France nor Prussia hold a candle to the Habsburg-Ottoman relationship.
Subverted by the Triple Alliance: Italy and Austria-Hungary had teamed up after three wars fought against each other, then joined Germany as part of the Triple Alliance... And at the start of World War I the Italians stayed neutral and later joined their enemies exactly when Italy's scarcely equipped but numerous army could have overstretched France to the point of collapse, freeing German troops to fight Russia and allowing to reinforce the Austrians against Serbia.
Secret Police / The Men in Black : Subverted, since the Habsburgs possessed what was apparently the most incompetent and amiable secret police in Europe. Apparently, since this doesn't mention how efficient it was (at what they did anyway) despite the incompetence. Or consistent. Or oddly humane in contrast to the ones that came after. In fact, they tended to simply "ignore" their opponents out of relevance rather than make them "disappear."
It even outlasted the Empire well into the 1920s thanks to its pro-Habsburg remnants.
Of course, this was largely due to the work begun during the period it was run by Prince Metternich.
Take Over the World: The Hapsburg Emperors had a Fun with Acronyms motto, A.E.I.O.U., which is popularly supposed to stand for Austriae est imperare orbi universo or "Austria Shall Rule the World".
Later on, especially during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, there was Viribus Unitis.
Sometimes AEIOU is also read as Alles Erdreich Ist Oesterreich Untertan: All Earth Is Subject to Austria
And specifically black humoured people read it as Am End Is Ois [alles] Umsonst, "In the end, it will all have been in vain"
The Teutonic Knights: After the mastership of the Knights became a Habsburg preserve, a famous regiment, the Hoch-und-Deutschmeister, (famous particularly for its band) was established, and exists to this day as part of the Austrian army. Moreover, the very last secular Hochmeister of the Deutscher Orden, Archduke Eugen von Österreich-Teschen, was a field marshal of the Imperial-And-Royal army.
What the Hell, Hero?: The usual treatment of the Austrian Habsburgs during the Napoleonic Wars is basically that of the Coalition's Token Evil Teammate when compared the British and Prussians (or the Russians, if you are reading Tolstoy). Apparently, they weren't the nicest people on the block at the time. That the Emperor at that time, Franz I was also a very reactionary Knight Templar did not help matters.
The Illusionist: takes place in turn of the century Vienna involving a dramatized retelling of the Mayerling Incident.
Sunshine: A 1999 Hungarian film staring Ralph Fiennes follows a Jewish family through three different successive eras with the first set during the final years of the Habsburg Empire. The following ones take place before World War II and during the 1956 Revolution respectively, long after the Monarchy fell.
The Habsburg Empire exists in Europa Universalis and is a fan favourite. There was a fan write-in campaign to keep Austria's traditional white colour for Victoria II.
On that note, the first Victoria: An Empire Under The Sun features them as one of the major obstacles for Prussia/an Italian state to unify Germany and Italy, respectively.
And with Himaruya moving their story towards the Seven Years' War and the 19th Century, this could be made all the more bittersweet.
A Disney production as a two-parter for its TV series, Miracle of the White Stallions was about Patton rescuing the horses of the Vienna Spanish Riding School a showcase of the old Hapsburgs still around today.
Robert Musil's "unfinished" novel The Man with No Qualities revels in this, depicting the Empire in its final decade. Ironically, the author laments on how Austria-Hungary was so successful and deceptively progressive for the time that it became a victim of that very success.
Apart from Švejk, there was a Polish novel and later a film, C.K. Dezerterzy. Its similarity in depiction of WWI-era KundK army brought a number of plagiarism accusations, but was a genuine work. Which is yet another example of KundK forces' image of a Red Shirt Army.
The latest DLC and expansion pack for Civilization V,Gods and Kings features Austria as a playable nation for the first time in the series. Also of note is that it is represented in-game by Maria Theresa and that its unique building is a Coffee House.