Sunday, December 10, 2006

Przemysl's Jews in the Army - WWI

Przemysl, home to the largest Fortress in the Empire, was a very important military city in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Jews of Galicia, as citizens of the Empire, either joined or were conscripted into military service from the late nineteenth century on. War broke out on August 1, 1914. The next day, which happened to be T'ish B'Av, a general conscription was announced.

The 10th - The Przemysl Regiment

The Austrian Army was also know by the acronym kuk which stands for kaiserlich und königlich, German for Imperial and Royal, referring to the so-called "Dual Monarchy" of Austria-Hungary.

The basic building block of the army was the regiment. Each regiment had a home garrison, a ceremonial name, as well as unique colors. While this post will deal with infantry regiments, they were by no means the only kinds of formations organized by the Austrians who had Cavalry, Artillery and Fortress regiments. Additionally, there were literally hundreds of specialty units at the battalion level - bridges, sappers, engineers, veterinary, medical, food, supply, religious, laundry, pay,…

Regiments, which consisted of 4 battalions, were raised locally, which in the vast Austro-Hungarian Empire, meant they were from everywhere. I do not know if Jews were put in a specific battalions but I do know that the Army had a designation for Feldrabbiner - literally "field Rabbi." They were joined by Feldkurats, Catholic, Greek and Protestant, as well as Militärimams for the Army's Muslims. Casualties were horrific, and no one was spared.

The table below lists the four Regiments that were garrisoned in Przemysl just before the war. The Garrison column shows the home base of the Regiment's officers (Przemysl) and sub-garrisons of its battalions. The bold garrison indicates the area that the conscripted troops for the regiment came from. If you were a Jewish man living in Przemysl, you probably went into the 10th, the Gustav V. König von Schweden Regiment and wore a uniform with parrot-green facings and white buttons. If you were from Sanok, your facings would have been scarlet and your buttons yellow.

Regiments were further organized into Brigades. The 10th belonged to the 48th Brigade. Brigades made up Divisions. All four regiments garrisoned in Przemysl were part of the 24th Division. Divisions were incorporated into Korps which in turn made up Armies. Korps and Armies were reconstituted as facts on the ground changed. On occasion, Divisions and Brigades were assigned to Groups - special Armies with specific missions usually named after the General or Field Marshall who commanded them.

The 24th Galician Division (source data)

Regiment Name Reg No. Brigade Garrisons/Recruits
Graf Clerfayt 9th 47th Przemyśl, Stryj, Radymno
Erzherzog Joseph Ferdinand 45th 47th Przemyśl, Travnik, Sanok
Gustav V. König von Schweden 10th 48th Przemyśl, Bijeljina

Philipp Herzog von Württemberg 77th 48th Przemyśl, Sambor, Tuzla

Below is a listing of the Korps and Armies for Przemysl's 24th Division throughout the War. From the outbreak of war, August, 1914 to November 1916, they were in Poland and Ukraine - the Eastern front - fighting Tzarist Russia. During November, 1916 they were moved to Romania, joining two smaller Groups before heading to the Italian front during May, 1917.

You can follow the march on maps by clicking on the linked Army numbers, below. Find the corresponding Army number in the red (Austrian) box.

As far as I can tell, the 10th regiment fought in the Battle of Caporetto, on the Trentino (mountain) front. After the battle, they were transfered to prisoner of war duty behind the lines - there were a lot of Italian prisoners! They remained in Italy until the war ended.

The 24th Division during World War One (source data)

Date Army Korps Notes

8/1/14 1st X Przemysl
10/15/15 4th IX Luck (Ukraine)
1/11/16 7th
Brody to Monasterzyska (SW Ukraine)
7/3/16 7th
Group Benign
7/23/16 10th
to Wlodawa, Poland
11/1/16 10th
Group Eichhorn (N Poland)
11/13/16 10th
Brest -Litowsk to Kronstadt (Romania)
11/30/16 10th
Group Gerok
12/22/16 1st
Group Stein
3/1/17 1st
Group Seeküchner
5/14/17 1st
Madefalva (Romania) to Podmelec (Croatia)
6/5/17 5th
XVII 48 IBrig with 57 ID near Trieste
10/24/17 11th
XXIV Battle of Caporetto
12/26/17 1st
S of Udine, prisoner of war duties: Palmanova
7/1/18 1st IV Cinto Caomaggiore / Pramaggiore.
8/15/18 1st VII Cinto Maggiore: to the end.

Identifying your Przemysl ancestor's WWI uniform:

Austrian Army uniforms can easily be identified by the scalloped chest pockets.
Ranks were worn on the collar facings. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to tell a soldier's rank from a black & white photo as color was a major determinant. For example, the only difference between a lieutenant and a corporal was that the latter's stars were made of white celluloid wile the former's were usually embroidered gold or silver. Here are the rank insignias:

Another page of insignias is here.

In addition to facing color, the regiment number was usually embroidered onto the side of the field cap. See examples here.

Ranks in the Austro-Hungarian Army

Rank English Command
----- General

Feldmarschall Field Marshall
Generaloberst Colonel General
General General Army
Feldmarschalleutnant Lieutenant Field Marshall Corps
Generalmajor Major General Division
----- Regimental

Oberst Colonel Regiment
Oberstleutenant Lieutenant Colonel
Major Major Battalion
----- Field

Hauptmann Captain
Oberleutenant Lieutenant
Leutnant 2nd Lieutenant
----- non commissioned

Feldwebel Sergeant-major
Zugsführer Sergeant
Korporal Corporal
Gefreiter Lance-corporal

Infanterist Private

The Polish Legions & Early Army

Some of your Jewish ancestors may have ended up in the Polish Legions. If they did, they may, (or may not!) have had different uniforms. The Legions were allied with Austria against Russia and operated as part of the greater Austro-Hungarian army until late in the war.

When modern Poland was born, in November, 1918, the Legion became the Polish Army and fought a war against the Soviet Russians and the Ukranians, from 1919-22.

Rank insignias for the Legion during WWI can be found here. The most easily identified Legion/Polish Army item is the 3 sided hats called "Rogatywka" - a symbol of Polish independence. The photo above is a typical late 20's Polish dress uniform. Ranks for the Polish army here.

Early Polish army men in Przemysl, c. 1920, including my grandfather, Emanuel Silberman, seated, center.

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Sources: There are many wonderful Internet sources for information about the Austro-Hungarian army. I used the following for this post:

Austro-Hungarian Land Forces 1848-1918 by Glenn Jewison & Jörg C. Steiner


Austro-Hungarian Army uniforms in WW1

Uniform Insignias



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