The Battle of Koniggratz won the Austro Prussian War for Prussia courtesy of the breach loading Pin Rifle which featured a bolt and all in one bullet in its first crude form of what later became the full metal jacket. The ‘pin’ pierced the all in one bullet inserted into the mechanism igniting the primer inside the all in one bullet. This made pouring gunpowder down the barrel and setting tiny percussion caps obsolete. In sort this was revolutionary. The gun won the battle which won the war which made Prussia-Germany the dominate new nation in Europe. That made the Austrian Habsburg Empire the has-been lackey client state ever afterwards.
Francis Joseph hunted on his private hunting estate far from the battle as Kaiser Wilhelm and his son personally led the charge across the battlefield welding pin rifles. By the time the battle was over the battlefield was covered by no less than three layers of corpses —– all Austrian-Hungarians. Hundreds. Thousands. Some regiments featured a 95% mortality rate. The cream of the Habsburg Empire was slaughtered as if golden corn under the impact of hail. The hail of bullets filling the battlefield like silver rain. The clink clink clink of the pin bolt became the notorious sound of industrial death.
The gaudy cavalry was racked as if by Maxim Machine Guns. The infantry was devoured. Blood sodden the fields as the dying were abandoned to the merciless rapine of looters. Meanwhile the shattered survivors staggered away in a dazed retreat which left hundreds of the dead and dying lining the roads toward Vienna. But the time General Benedek could regroup his devastated army at the edge of the river the carnage filled the horizon.
And because of the speed of the battle the Habsburg Army was all but totally unprepared. Their artillery and munitions were far in the rear. The Habsburg Army was forced to face the most modern and industrialized War Machine in the history of warfare armed with only swords and old muskets. No food. much less medicine or field hospitals. Not even boots.
General Benedek had wanted to fight from a massive fortress which commanded the road to Vienna because he knew the Habsburg Army was hopelessly antiquated. Corrupt Camarilla insiders and the Pan German politicians had shamelessly gutted the army. After watching the Junkers destroy Denmark General Benedek knew the Habsburg Army had no chance. And After the Italian Campaign Benedek knew the Habsburg Army could not win against anyone.
In fact Francis Joseph had recklessly invited disaster. One: he allowed the army to be financially gutted while living extravagantly while giving Sisi millions to build lavish palaces. Two: he turned down a deal to hand Venice over to the new Italian Nation for a large amount of money. There was no way rebellious Venice would stay under Habsburg control. Sooner or later it meant to defect. Trieste could become the Habsburg port. So why not accept money and let it go? That money could have been invested in modernizing the unraveling Imperial Army. Why not? But no! That was too dishonorable! So Francis Joseph turned the deal down! Three: Francis Joseph could have accepted a deal to sell his claim to the disputed German principality which Bismarck was using to justify his upcoming war against the Habsburg Empire. After losing to France and Italy how could the Habsburg Empire hope to win against the Prussians who destroyed Denmark? Especially as the bitter Italians were allied with the Junkers so the Habsburg Empire would be fighting on two fronts! But no! Too dishonorable! So Benedek knew it was a hopeless military situation. There was no way to win.
But of course that was why Archduke Albrecht and Francis Joseph ordered him to fight on the Northern flank instead of the Italian Front. Benedek knew every inch of the Italian Front. He completely unfamiliar with the Northern Front. So why order Benedek to the north? Because Albrecht and Francis Joseph also knew the war was hopeless. Rather than compromise or stop the war they rigged it for General Benedek, the country’s most beloved general, to take the blame and take the fall.
General Benedek’s only option was to minimalize the losses by fighting from the key fortress which guarded Vienna. That would allow him some sort of artillery and it would somewhat neutralize these pin rifles. But no! Too dishonorable! Francis Joseph ordered that ‘tailor’ (cowardly) Benedek to march forth and heroically slay the Junkers —- while Francis Joseph hunted on his private hunting estate far to the rear! It was suicide!
The Junkers had prepared for the battle for years, stockpiling weapons and supplies, attacking one minute past midnight. Their full time War Economy focused all of the power of the state toward war. So now the speed and ruthlessness of the Prussian War Machine destroyed the entire Habsburg Army in only three days.
When news reached Vienna of the shattering defeat the entire city panicked. The Hofburg hastily packed up its best riches and the Imperial Jewels as Sisi fled. Everyone fought to get on the last trains out of Vienna for Budapest. The panic was like Moscow when Napoleon was marching toward it. It was inconceivable. Horrifying. Shocking. Terrifying. The ancient glory that was Habsburg crashing down into the dust. Even the Pan German Viennese who once fantasized defecting from the has-been Habsburgs to join the up and coming Prussians now ran in terror of Bismarck’s Iron & Blood’ redrawing of the borders by modern industrialized war.
Andrassy the defacto Magyar dictator of Hungary watched Budapest fill with refugees from an ex- Empress to titled members of the now homeless Hochadel to slimy insiders of the crooked Camarilla to war profiteers to deserters. It was an horrifying spectacle.
Andrassy faced the total collapse of his enemy Francis Joseph. But there was no joy in the grim sight. If tyrannical Hasburg Austria imploded then the Prussian War Machine would be at Hungary’s door step next. Hungary’s definition of an army was gaudy cavalry on race horses. Period.
Hungary had wanted to defect from the Habsburg Empire for a century now and since 48 hated Francis Joseph for his bloody crushing of the first Hungarian Revolt. During 48 Andrassy had been hung symbolically. Unable to hang him Francis Joseph ordered his photograph and name pinned to a stuffed bag and hung. After 48 Francis Joseph signed death warrants for thousands of Magyars. Francis Joseph was utterly, utterly, utterly hated. But after Koniggratz Andrassy also realized that the only thing worse that Francis Joseph was Bismarck.
General Benedek has the guts to play a repeat of the Moscow Gambit which defeated Napoleon. Let Vienna burn. Retreat to Hungary. Suck the Prussians deep into the countryside which was wild and underdeveloped. Force the Prussians to over stretch their supply lines. Wait to winter. Then wage partisan warfare. It would be brutal and terrible but Benedek could win. The Prussians knew it. Their War Machine was built for lighting battles. The blitzkrieg. Not prolonged partisan war.
Andrassy debated that grim option. He did not trust Bismarck to offer his Hungary ‘liberty’ from Francis Joseph. ‘Liberty’ was not in Bismarck’s vocabulary. Hungary could be a client state of the all devouring Prussia Germany and wait to become the next bon bon to be devoured when gluttonous Prussia Germany got hungry again. Or Hungary could fight with Benedek and the ruins of his shattered army and make the conquest so bloody Bismarck would finally withdraw. Neither option was good.
Bismarck was no fool. He knew that the blitzkrieg was spectacular but he could not let the battle of Koniggratz turn into a protracted partisan war in winter. Kaiser Wilhelm wanted to march into Vienna and stable his horses in the Hofburg.
But Bismarck ordered the blood crazed Prussian War Machine to stop at the Gates of Vienna. Then Bismarck offered Francis Joseph a negotiated peace.
Bismarck was no fool. He knew the Prussian War Machine could not conquer the entire Habsburg Empire by force or hold the conquered Empire. It was too big. It was undeveloped. It was mostly rural. It could not be seized and brutalized the way Bismarck brutalized poor Denmark. Occupying the hostile countrywide would also pin down thousands of soldiers and that would prevent Bismarck from planning his next war against France. Bismarck wanted to outdo Napoleon but not by reliving the Russian Disaster and reenacting the Moscow Gambit replayed in Vienna.
And Bismarck knew that Francis Joseph did not have the guts to play the Moscow Gambit. For all of his bluster about ‘tailors’ Francis Joseph was a ‘tailor’ ie coward at heart. He did not lead his men into battle and every battle he presided over was a disaster. Francis Joseph was a chocolate soldier. A pretend soldier. He only understood parades and parade grounds. He only understood posing for oils with a chest full of fake metals and rewriting regulations and redesigning silly uniforms. His only concept of a gun was a hunting shotgun. So now Francis Joseph desperately clasped the fig leaf which Bismarck cynically dangled: Peace — and a Prussian Austrian Treaty.
Bismarck graciously offered to let Francis Joseph continue be Emperor — at a price. . He would still have Vienna and his Hofburg — at a price. He could still sit on his throne —- at a price. The price would be that treaty. Francis Joseph sued for peace and hugged that treaty to his breast and thanked God and the Catholic Church for the miracle. In the years to come he turned treaty into a pearl of great price.
Pearls are made when an oyster gets a piece of grit or a parasite lodged inside its tender guts. So the increasingly deformed oyster wraps pearly nacre around and around and around the loathsome thing. The loathsome thing is transformed into a beautiful pearl of great price. That is what Francis Joseph did to the Prussian Austrian Treaty of defeat.
But that treaty was no pearl. It was no miracle. After Koniggratz the leader of the German People was Prussia Germany. The man bestriding the Commanding Heights was Bismarck. The dominate Germanic ruler was Kaiser Wilhelm. The junior partner was Francis Joseph. The client nation was the Habsburg Empire. And the treaty tied Francis Joseph to his conqueror as if a leash. Francis Joseph became Bismarck’s lackey. For now on whenever Bismarck snapped his fingers Francis Joseph asked ‘How high to you want me to jump?’.
Now Bismarck masterfully secured his vulnerable southern flank which allowed him to attack France while demoting Francis Joseph and his has -been Habsburg Empire to his own personal jumble table to pick and choose what tattered goods he wanted for free and which he could toss away like dross. Use. Exploit. Then toss when no longer needed.
Francis Joseph was so defeated Andrassy demanded a new relationship called the Duel Monarchy.
Austro-Hungary. Hungary would be all but totally independent. Only the shared crown and Imperial Army and imperial Navy and the Port of Trieste would bind the two alienated halves of a splintering country together. Koniggratz gave Andrassy what he always wanted: virtual independence. And as Hungary did not have a modern army or navy it was a needful compromise anyway.
So you see the power of a gun. Koniggratz was won by a Pin Rifle and a prototype all in one bullet. No musket. No loose powder. No percussion cap. No ramrod. Breach loader. Capable of shooting from any position. Behind trees. Behind walls. Rapid firing. Bang! Bang! Bang! The dreaded sound of the bolt going clink. Clink. Clink. The Pin Rifle rewrote the borders and made Prussia Germany the most powerful nation in Europe.
A few years later the Pin Rifle would win the Franco Prussian War and all but destroy Paris and Belgium and earn Bismarck five billion in French gold in war reparations. The largest war reparations ever demanded.
And land. That too of course. Redrawn borders. A nice port. Belgium was crucified by the war. Cannibalized. A Prequel to the Rape of Belgium. But because of the Pin Rifle Belgium became Prussia’s door mat. And in the next war everyone knew the Junkers planned to keep poor Belgium and its rich Congo colony. The Pin Rifle allowed Bismarck to play god. He could literally do anything and get away with it.
That is the power of a gun. It does not even have to be pointed point blank at your skull to destroy you. Just the threat of having the gun is enough for a bully to do whatever he wanted to do. Do whatever you can get away with. The Pin Rifle allowed Bismarck to do anything. And he did.
Denmark war reparations. Austro war reparations. French war reparations. Bismarck had billions to build his super state and his one million man army and brand new navy.
And Bismarck could even move his nation to the gold standard to threaten London bastion of high finance The City in The Mile. The Pin Rifle made Prussia Germany pretty much the most powerful nation on earth. Britain was a naval super power but not an land superpower. It survived by keeping Europe divided. Now Bismarck was playing Napoleon. And the Pin Rifle allowed Bismarck to now threaten Britain on land and sea as well as global finance. All because of the Pin Rifle.
But by 1886 The Pin Rifle was dangerously obsolete. Every modern nation was rushing into the development of the revolutionary repeater rifle as well as the full metal jacket bullet. And there were rumors of a revolutionary gunpowder as well: the nitro powder. The first nation to combine the repeater rifle, the full metal jacket bullet, and nitro powder would win the next war.
Bismarck and his arrogant Junkers had conquered and brutalized so much of Europe. Now everyone hated and feared The Imperial Second Reich.
And the Imperial Second Reich was encircled by enemies. Russia on the east border. Britain on the watery north border. France and bleeding Belgium and the terrified Dutch on the west border. And the sullen and humiliated Austro Hungarians guarding the precarious south border. And Bismarck was out of money. His Commanding Heights War Economy was horribly in the red. The gold standard was rashly embraced and now was wobbling. As if some vampire, Bismarck desperately needed fresh infusions of war reparations to sustain his Imperial Second Reich.
And Bismarck had created his own Frankenstein Monster: Willy. He created Willy. He used Willy to destroy his parents who were liberal progressives who threatened his grip on power. He made Willy Kaiser. Wilhelm The Second. But now, Willy wanted to pay Warlord. And Willy also wanted to play with his new toy the expensive dreadnought. And Willy wanted to play with colonies. And Willy wanted to make Uncle Wales crawl for punching him in the face after Willy gloated while his poor father died horribly. And Willy wanted to make Grandmother Victoria cower at his booted feet and beg for mercy. And Willy wanted to be Kaiser of Britain and turn Buckingham Palace into his digs and use the Union Jack as a grease rag to clean his guns with. And worse of all Willy forgot who made him and placed him on his throne. Willy forgot that Bismarck was his creator and stage manager.
Willy was power mad. Willy wanted to govern instead of simply being the gaudy figurehead which Wilhelm The First had been content to be. Willy did not want Bismarck to rein him in or tell him what he could do. Willy wanted to snap his fingers and see Francis Joseph and Queen Victoria AND Bismarck jump!
Bismarck desperately needed a new war to get money. Money. Money. Money. Now. France was the obvious target. But so was Belgium which possessed industrial riches, coal, and crucial railroads as well as the Congo ‘Wedding Cak’e of gold and ivory. But then the Dutch was tasty too. They had colonies including Java which was rumored to have oil. And sooner or later the Prussian War Machine would need that northern coastline to attack Britain.
Russia. Too dangerous. But Once Bismarck’s War Machine devoured France once and for all which would allow him to keep Belgium and force the Dutch and Italians to sue for peace as client states then Bismarck would have all of Europe under his control. Then he would not need Austro Hungary. He could cut a deal with Russia.
Bismarck could confiscate Austria and the Industrialized Bohemia (throwing out the filthy Czechs of course!). Russia could devour the Slav dominated eastern flanks and turn Romania and Bulgaria and the Balkans into client states. That would divide Europe between The Imperial Second Reich and Russia. Then Russia could devour the Ottomans which it so wanted to. Thus Bismarck’s Imperial Second Reich would dominate Europe. A feat not seen since Napoleon. And seize the Congo and Dutch colonies.Then Bismarck could take on Britain. First its far flung colonies. Then the tiny Island itself. Seduce the Free Irish Fenians into allowing Prussia to attack from Ireland as well as by sea. Piece of Cake. Except for one thing. Guns.
The latest Krupp heavy artillery piece had just secretly failed. And Spandau still had no replacement for the obsolete Pin Rifle. So all of Bismarck’s grand plans were now hinged on finding a new gun. The first nation that got the repeater rifle, the full metal jacket bullet, and nitro power combined into one beautiful package of death would win the next war which would determine the fate of Europe and the world. It call came down to guns.
The brilliant Rubin, who was Swiss, invented the first great full metal jacket rifle bullet. Maximum speed and piercing deadliness for maximum carnage. Perfect for the proposed repeater rifle.
But black powder limited its brilliant deadliness. Black powder was old. It fouled rifles. It blinded shooters. It filled the battlefield with smoke and also revealed where the shooter was. A sniper did not want a trail of black powder to reveal his presence on the battlefield. Black powder limited speed and piercing deadliness of the revolutionary full metal jacket Rubin Bullet.
No. the future belonged to Nitro (blanc) Powder. The White powder. Nitro. invented by Nobel (as in the Nobel Peace Prize). But more about Nitro — and Vielle — later.
Meanwhile Rubin and his pal Schmidt produced a niffy repeater for the Swiss citizens to hold off Bismarck. Heavy. But that would later be fixed as all repeaters became shorter. But super accurate and it held twelve bullets. The straight bolt was fast to allow fast shooting. It was beautifully engineered. The Swiss had prototypes being tested and would have every Swiss male armed by 1889. Those damn cuckoo clock Swiss! Fortunately the clockwork obsessed Swiss only thought defensive warfare. They could be ignored.
In Bohemia Steyr had a genius called Mannlicher. Ex railroad engineer. He was also very fast off the track. In fact he was in first place with his prototype repeater. But Austro Hungary was a has-been! What could they do! Please! it was a joke!
Mauser, like Browning, was going through a bad patch. His 71/84 repeater was an embarrassment. It was jerry rigged from the start. Mauser based it on a single shot rifle. Hybrids never work. They just muddy the waters. Its tube magazine was lousy as well. It was laborious to load. Mauser was experimenting with a stripper loader system but it was just a sweet dream at night. It pulled to the right. It was a mess. Only the Mauser 90% bolt was a masterpiece.
The French were being coy like the effete Frogs they were. Their Lebel was heavy and looked ugly. Its tube magazine repeated the same problem of Browning and Winchester and Mauser. Tube magazines were laborious to load. It was a joke. And its rifling pattern was weird. But there were rumors that the ridiculous Lebel possessed one redeeming feature: it shot a top secret bullet called the Meille Blanc Powder Full Metal Jacket based on the brilliant Rubin Full Metal Jacket. But the devious Frogs were being very devious! Bah! It was probably all just smoke and mirrors! What could those filthy Frogs possibly do?
The Lee Enfield Army in nutty England was likewise rumored to be developing a gun called the Lee Metford Prototype. A transcendental gun evolving from the Martini Henry toward their final product which would be called naturally a Lee Enfield Repeater Rifle. This mysterious prototype boasted a mysterious Lee 60% hybrid bolt engineered to combine the speed of a straight bolt with the power of a 90% bolt.
Rifles required more pressure than smooth bore muskets. And Repeater mechanisms required more pressure than rifles. Pressure was being racketed up. The bolt racketed up the pressure. The full metal jacket likewise racheted up the pressure. The bolt was the Achilles Heel of any Repeater accordingly. Too little pressure and the repeater did not work. Too much pressure and the repeater blew up/and/or blew up the full metal jacket bullet inside of the repeater mechanism. The key was to find the Goldilocks of pressure. Not too little. Not too much.
There were rumors about a ‘Mad Minute’ about this English prototype. Something about the ten bullet magazine and charger clip. But bah! The English were all nutters who talked to trees! What could they possibly develop?
(PS the resulting Lee Enfield Repeater would not only create a ‘Mad Minute’ which mimicked a machine gun but continued in use all the way to the latest Afghan War where the Taliban used the guns to shoot back at the British!). Oh well! Hindsight Monday morning quarterbacking! Back to 1886!
Back at Spandau Bismarck was busily preparing for his upcoming war. One day he visited Spandau and asked when their masterpiece the ‘Commission’ Infanteriegewehr Rifle would be ready. The answer yanked the carpet right out from under Mr. Commanding Heights himself! What gun? We ain’t got no gun!