Austro-Hungarian military mission in Persia

Iranian cadets of the Austrian military academy in Tehran, around 1900

The Austro-Hungarian military mission in Persia was the development of a military organization in Qajar Persia in 1879 by Austria-Hungary, which is considered as part of efforts to reform the Persian army under Naser al-Din Shah and set up a standing army in Persia. The Association had the strength of a corps.

Establishment History

Parade of the Qajar Persian infantry trained by the Austro-Hungarian mission.

A corps is a large military organization, which consists of several branches of service. The creation of the built-up of the Austro-Hungarian Army Corps mission was part of modernizing process of the Persian forces that had been implemented with the help of Austrian military experts. Due to the good relations of the first interpreter of Naser al-Din Shah, the Armenian Mirza Davood (David) Khan, the Austrian court in Vienna, and the connections of his former personal physician, Jakob Eduard Polak, on his second trip to Europe Naser al-Din Shah recruited Austrian officers who were to undertake the reorganization of the Persian army. The arrival of Naser al-Din Shah in Vienna on 5 July 1878 was like a true festival. Johann Strauss (son) was commissioned by the Viennese court to compose a Persian national anthem to honor the royal guest. [1] First Naser al-Din Shah visited the Viennese Arsenal to witness a demonstration of the guns developed by Major General Uchatius,the ordnance expert and master artillerist,member of the Viennese Academy of Sciences,Knight Commander and recipient of the Royal Hungarian Order of Saint Stephen. The Shah was apparently so impressed that he immediately ordered 12 guns. Furthermore, he bought 26,000 rifles and agreed with the Austrian government terms for the deployment of a military mission.

The Mission

One Colonel Adalbert Schönowsky von Schönwies as Head of Mission departed with 30 other officers for Tehran on 29 October 1878. On 12 November 1878, the mission had arrived in Tarnopol, where retired military band Julius Gebauer with the instruments, which he had bought in Vienna for a Persian military band, joined the mission. The 14 participants of the mission then traveled with a luggage of 2.4 tons by train to Odessa, by ship to Poti, again by train to Tbilisi, from there to Baku and via the Caspian Sea to Rasht. [2] The Mission arrived in Tehran in January 1879. The mission was accompanied by Albert Joseph Gasteiger Freiherr von Ravenstein und Kobach, who had already served several years in Persia. The objective of the mission was to reorganize the Persian army on the model of the imperial Austrian army. The first thing to be established was a corps of 7,000 men, including a musical procession. The training of the soldiers would be completed by March 1881. The Austrians were able to achieve that the Persian soldiers of the Corps were better paid than the rest of the soldiers, and that the payment was paid regularly. Despite attacks by the clergy against the infidel, the corps was formed, and soon a corps spirit grew on the soldiers and seemed to make the training a success. On 22 May 1879, Naser al-Din Shah visited and took a look for the first time at the corps set up by the Austro-Hungarian military mission corps. He was greeted with a Radetzky March, took a parade and visited the barracks of Abd ol-Azim,which he had obviously never seen in such a clean condition. The good mood of the Austrian officers, however, was marred by the fact that in May 1879 Russian officers arrived to establish a Persian Cossack Brigade. In the end the Persian Cossack Brigade outstripped the Austrians Corps and later formed the nucleus of the Imperial Iranian Army. Even though it looked like a success of the Austro-Hungarian military mission. At the end of July 1879, the corps had 90 officers and 1,400 men and in January 1880, the Head of Mission and Schönowsky were dismissed by Colonel Schemel v. Kühnritt, a former commander of the regiment No. 2 of Hussars "Friedrich Leopold of Prussia". In May the corps was composed of 2000 men, who were equipped with Austrian uniforms and weapons. In April 1880, there were already 260 officers and 6,000 men who served in the Austrian Corps service.

The plans for the Persian army was to have a corps with the total strength of 7,000 men, organized as follows: [3]

Operation History

The first use of the "Austrian corps" came in October 1880. In Azerbaijan, a Kurdish uprising had sprung up against the central government in Tehran under the leadership of Sheikh Ubeydullah. The commander of the detachment was Captain Wagner von Wetterstädt who has already served in Mexico under Maximilian I and was battle-tested. The uprising was crushed. Captain Wagner was with the artillery in Urmia to defend it against further attacks. The successes of the Austrian corps led to further plans. The entire army should be preserved in Austrian uniforms and armed with new rifles and guns. But this was a tough task given Naser al-Din Shah lacked the necessary funds. In May 1881, the payment of the Corps was reduced, and on 5 August 1881 the payment to all officers terminated. The end of the Austrian corps had come. In the autumn of 1881 the last officer of the military mission came back to Austria. Also Wagner von Wetterstädt returned to Austria in 1881 and retired in 1885 as a Major from the Austrian army. At the request of Naser al-Din Shah, Wagner von Wetterstädt areturned to Persia with the rank of general in the Persian army in 1886. He reorganized the army and was given the title 'Khan'. As commander of the army he led numerous missions and accompanied the Shah to the World Exhibition in Paris in 1889. He did not return until 1901 for health reasons in his native Transylvania, where he died on 30 September 1902 in Hermannstadt.

Further development

After lengthy negotiations Naser al-Din Shah succeeded to recruit officers for the continuation of the Austrian army reform. This time they drove away "on their own account" in Iran and were no longer part of an official military mission. As a tribute to the work done so far by the Austrians in January 1882, the entire army consisting of 10,000 men was equipped with Austrian uniforms and bought 8,000 new rifles. During 1883 and 1888 several mountain guns and 20 heavy guns were added to the artillery.

Persian and Austrian Military Exchanges

In Bremerhaven, a warship was ordered with 6 guns and baptized "Persepolis". Naser al-Din Shah could control the Persian Gulf with it. The ship was to sail with a German team to the Persian Gulf. A military academy was founded in Tehran in 1885, which Austrian officers stationed in the Persian army taught there in addition to their military service duties. In 1886 Persian cadets sent to Vienna for further studies and Naser al-Din Shah asked Emperor Franz Josef for additional support in the army reform in 1887. An Austrian general was to go to Persia, inspect the troops and lead an Austrian military mission with the rank of Persian Defense Minister. Franz-Josef refused, fearing problems with Russia. But he sent General von Thömmel as ambassador to Tehran. After a brief inspection of the situation,it became clear that there would be little return for the military support Austria was to provide. Also, Persia began to lose its importance from a strategic military point of view. Thus, the first official Austrian military involvement in Persia was terminated. Even under Muzaffar al-Din Shah, the successor of Naser al-Din Shah, Austrian officers were hired as instructors. On 7 August 1906 he met Captain Artur Kostersitz von Marenhorst and Major Conrad Emil Padowetz in Tehran. Padowetz left Tehran for two years and went as honorary consul to Geneva. Kostersitz, the last Austrian officer in the Persian service, was Head of the Military Academy until its closure in 1911. The graduates were taken to the newly founded Persian Gendarmerie in 1911. Kostersitz remained in Tehran until shortly before the outbreak of the First World War.

Recruitment in Persian Army

At this time, the Persian army had nominally 72 infantry regiments, each with 600 men, recruits came exclusively from rural areas, as the inhabitants of the towns were exempted from military service. According to the National Defence Act each village was required to provide a certain number of soldiers. Conscription lasted between five and twenty years. The conscripts were in the army, however after a few months of basic training left it by paying of a bribe to the regimental commander for an indefinite period. Those who could afford no money worked, by the way, in order to earn an income. The soldiers received neither payment nor food. New uniforms were issued only every two to three years. The weapons were stored in arsenals and issued only to military exercises. Many soldiers had not fired a single shot as there was rarely target practice. A so-called military training took place more than twice a week. The officers of the army were usually landowners. Many of them had this position only because of their social status. The officers often had no military or other kinds of training. Most of them could not read or write. Some officers incidentally operated shops in the bazaar, to supplement their income. In a garrison from 100 to 500 soldiers were stationed. The Ministry of War sent inspectors twice a year in the garrisons, to verify the number of switches on the payment lists soldiers. When an inspection was announced, all standing on the payment list soldiers were called at short notice. To replace losses for the inspection day, laborers were hired, which is decked out with guns and uniforms lined up along with the regular soldiers in the ranks. The inspectors confirmed usually the presence of all listed men. Besides the infantry, there was an artillery consisting of 16 units. They had 60 Uchatius heavy guns produced in Austria and 30 Schneider-Creusot quick guns, although they were stored for up to a few guns in the arsenal, as it could serve no one. Some guns were loaned to the Gendarmerie. The artillery did not have their own horses. If an artillery exercise in Tehran was scheduled horses were borrowed from the hackney. [4] In the condition described by Hassan Arfa, the Persian army was ultimately not ready to fight. Even in the conflicts between the central government in Tehran and separatist movements in the west and north of the country erupting after the First World War, the army played no significant role. The defeat of the separatist movement has been made on the merits of the Persian Cossacks led by Reza Khan. The Persian army remained unchanged, with only minor reforms in the uniforms which some generals wore until after the end of World War I and the yellow paint of the Persian army barracks, until its dissolution by the measures implemented by Reza Khan, later Reza Shah Pahlavi, in 1921.

As the only member of the first Austro-Hungarian military mission of 1879 military bandmaster Julius Gebauer remained until his death in Tehran. On his grave in Doulab cemetery in Tehran reads: "Here lies Julius Gebauer, general and musical director, born 18 March 1846, died on 9 July 1895 [5] "

See also


  1. The anthem is now listed under the title "Persian March".
  2. Reinhard Pohanka, Ingrid Thurner: The Khan of Tyrol. Vienna, 1988, p. 82
  3. Helmut Slaby: shield lion and sun. Academic Printing and Publishing House, 1982, 153
  4. Hassan Arfa: Under Five Shahs. London, 1964, pp. 50f.
  5. Helmut Slaby: shield lion and sun. Academic Printing and Publishing House, 1982, pp. 182


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