The aging and unraveling has-been Habsburg Empire was on the ropes after the military disaster called Koniggratz .
War reparations bankrupted it. Francis Joseph pleaded for Sisi to live within the reduced three million budget — for naught. Sisi just had to have her Greek Palace and Then her Corfu Palace and then…… etc. etc. etc.
The plan to industrialize the country stalled. The Robot Scheme freed the serfs and belatedly launched the Agricultural Revolution but stalled at the Industrial Revolution. That left only Bohemia industrialized. The result of the Franco Prussian War was the rush to the gold standard. That resulted in a glut of silver causing world depression. Some called it the Long Depression. Some called it the Long Recession. Some called it the Founders Depression after Bismarck who helped to cause it to begin with. Vienna was plunged into a bleak depression. Johann Strauss played waltzes for free to entertain the desperate. It looked like something out of the 1930s.
The army was hopelessly antiquated. The rotten Camarilla ate out the heart of the Hofburg, embezzling funds. War Profiteers ran off with their embezzlements. The Hochadel aristocracy had to borrow money from Jews to keep up the façade of nobility. The rural poor poured into cities which had no jobs to offer them. The really poor lived in the sewers like rats. The kitsch redevelopment scheme to replace the moldering city walls crumbed. The Viennese joked they had their own antique ruins —- not even ten years old! Vienna became the capital of humiliation and nervosa. Today called psychoanalysis. The nervous breakdown became fashionable along with female hysteria and suicide. Vienna joined Tokyo as the twin capitals of suicide.
The Hofburg added another wing to become the largest palace in Europe — but did not have one functioning toilet or running water.
Gangly Rudolph was given a jumble of disconnected rooms in the worst wing. Outside in the corridor he could hear servants carrying royal slops day and night. He decided to live in the Royal Attic which was a garret.
The garret was located next to rooms that age (rot) beef and taxidermy rooms. He fed raw meat to his pet ravens. Ravens are brilliant tool using creatures. Poor Rudolph found it easier to relate to the ravens than his own absentee parents as he came of age in a nation careening toward the cliffs of historic annihilation.
Pan Germans embraced the role of client state lackey. It made Austro Hungary that much more the longed for province of the Imperial Second Reich! (At least the Pan Germans longed for that delusional dream which Adolf Hitler later delivered.) A protectorate if you will!
Iron & Blood Bismarck as the ‘protector’ of Austria! Yeah! Heck! Who needs an army then? Heck! Who needs a navy? Give Trieste to Berlin too! Heck! who needs industry? Buy German manufacturing with raw commodities! Perfect! Heck! Who needs independence? Well! You get it! Defeatism oozed into the bloodstream of Austro Hungary.
Francis Joseph tried to get the Catholic Church to bless his gross incompetence by signing the Concordant which made the Pope his co-ruler and turned the country 500 backwards into a medieval Catholic theocracy.
The ‘Blackies’ had a field day ruling as Princes of the Church. Power corrupts and power quickly corrupted. The non Catholic minorities like the Protestants and Jews and Orthodox and Muslims were persecuted. Only Catholic Marriage was legalized so that left every non Catholic damned. Free schooling was dictated by the reactionary Church which did not embrace anything modern like science or technology. And the ideal was every twelve year old boy shoved out of school to work in the fields. And let’s not discuss the view of females being educated! And as frosting on the cake the Pope then invented the ‘Infallibility Doctrine’ which meant he was never wrong which meant he was a demigod which made Francis Joseph his lackey. Being the lackey of Bismarck was one thing! But even Francis Joseph drew the line at being the Pope’s lackey!
And the antiquated army was riddled by Hochadel aristocrats who were medieval reactionaries. And the Hungarian Magyars were just as snooty. Lineage and First Estate titles were more important than competence. Officers bought their commissions. They could buy their kit such as the expensive Cavalry required and looked so dashing on their race horses! Who needs artillery or Maxim Machine Guns?
As far as the elite was concerned if you did not quality to enter the Hofburg then you should not be in the Imperial Army!
And the sons of Third Estate self made middle class professionals and Protestants and Freemasons and Jews were infecting the Infantry and Artillery as if vermin! And the damn Czechs were pushing their way into not only the Second Estate bureaucracy but the army as well! Who needs translators? Of competent administrators? Everyone should speak German! Unless you were a Magyar of course! Then everyone should speak Hungarian! And as for the 60 military words of command of Czech, Slav, Croat, Romanian, and Bosian, who needs that? Just stand before the polygot army of 100 languages and dialects and shout at them in either German or Hungarian until you got red in the face! That always works swell!
As for the novel idea of expanding modern infrastructure and telegraphic communication, well! Who needs that? So what if the Germans used both brilliantly to win battles! Or modern gunnery! Francis Joseph redesigned the uniforms instead! Then he revised the Red Book of Regulations! That was so much more needful!
Meanwhile Supreme Commander Albrecht investigated endless devious Hungarian plots to depose of Francis Joseph. Albrecht saw Magyar coups the way Joe McCarthy in 1950 saw Reds. Everything else just stacked up on his dusty desk until his office turned into a near sighted badger’s subterranean lair. (Oh yes! Besides being increasingly senile Albrecht was also all but blind!)
And the Hungarian urge to further weaken the already unraveling bonds of unity caused Budapest to demand a fatal division of the Imperial Army. The Kaiserlich Imperial Army and the Koniglich Royal Army. That was called the K & K Armee. That was for draftees. Then there was the K & K Landwehr which was the Austrian wing of the Imperial Army. Then there was the Hungarian Honved which was the Magyar wing of the Imperial Army. That splintering really helped! Not!
The Command Language was suppose to be German with each officer learning the 60 words of Hungarian and Czech and Slav and Croat and Bosian along with perhaps Romanian and/ or other odds and sods of 100 languages and dialects. Hungarians were suppose to learn 60 additional words of German. But no Austrian or Magyar bothered. So the splintered army was the incarnation of babel.
There no money or interest in modernizing the logistics or setting up modern military field hospitals or rebuilding barracks or improving transportation to move armies faster toward battles or improving telegraphic communication for faster military response time or even modernizing sanitation or gunnery. Much less studying how Blitzkrieg achieved victory or why the Imperial Habsburg lost every battle of every war since Francis Joseph came to power. Just keep wearing gaudy uniforms and racing expensive horses across the parade grounds while every other army scraped up money to buy some expensive Maxim Machine Guns! Who needs modern gunnery or artillery or Maxim Machine Guns anyway? Why did Napoleon beat Vienna? Not artillery! Nah! Beautiful uniforms! The lesson was well earned! In a Parisian contest the best and most beautiful new uniform was declared to be —- drum roll please — the Viennese! When you have the most beautiful uniform in the world who needs Maxim Machine Guns?
Supreme Field Commander Albrecht was starting to go seriously senile (as well as blind). Francis Joseph had the education level of a junior level country officer. The Pope was co-ruler and infallible. It was therefore no surprise that the world wrote Austro Hungary off. Francis Joseph appointed Taaffe to be Prime Minster.
Taaffe announced the official policy of the empire would be Fortwurschsteln. Muddling Through. Berlin smirked it was ‘chained to a corpse’. But there was life in that corpse yet!
The Imperial Second Reich was a quasi dictatorship. A Commanding Heights War Economy. Everyone and everything devoted and totally focused toward one thing: war. Everyone and everything micro managed from the Commanding Heights by one man: Bismarck. Top down. Blind obedience. Don’t question. Just obey orders. Children obeyed their parents and then their teachers until they became workers and then they obeyed their employers and their rulers. The nation and the economy was wedded to the Iron Triangle of rural Junkers, Coal Mine Owners, and the Military Industrial Complex. Everyone who researched and manufactured for war was rewarded. Otherwise you were on your own but don’t hold your breath for any credit lines. The War sucked up all credit and all monies. Krupp was the top of that totem pole.
Market forces did not rule. War priorities did. The consumer middle class was bought off with an iffy social safety net and deliberately rationed consumer products which they were encouraged to save to buy. No credit! That way they plunged all of their money into saving accounts which the War Economy could tap. That was fortunate because Bismarck gave the Military Industrial Complex carte blanche. Whatever they charged Bismarck paid. Who needed to compete or prove their competency or adjust prices to what the market might demand? If it was for war then it was rewarded. Neither economic competition or industrial efficiency was required . Cost overruns could be ignored. War would bring out the best! The Commanding Heights knew all! Bismarck was a demigod! The best product would magically appear on cue! Prussia Germany was the best of the best so anything they manufactured had to be the best! The Junkers were the best racial breed of supermen on earth! Proven by war! Tempered by war! Bred for war! And triumphing over every inferior breed courtesy of war! And Bismarck was the ultimate Junker!
Patriots never doubt! The Germans gave up on genuine democracy and sacrificed for their new nation. Every German became a member of the army, the navy, the reserves, or some industry that produced for war. It insured 100% employment. Prussia Germany was the greatest nation in the world. And the Military Industrial Complex War Economy ensured that deficits fed growth. 125% growth! What could possibly go wrong?
But Austro Hungary was a struggling capitalistic economy. Market forces ruled. Costs and prices were dictated by competition and efficiency. The best product for the best price was what sold in the market place. Entrepreneurs and consumers ruled. Credit and capital went to toward producing what the consumer wanted. War did not suck out the life blood of the economy. No Military Industrial Complex devoured the economy as if vampires. Demigods did not micro manage every aspect of business or dictate prices or quality or quantity or what to invent or what to manufacture or what to buy or what to sell. Not Commanding Heights anyone was that powerful. Not even the Infallible Pope!. So Francis Joseph and Albrecht did not have the power to totally run the country off the cliff.
And Austro Hungary was a genteel police state. Francis Joseph pretended to be a dictator everyone hated. Taaffe pretended to run the largest secret police force on earth but mostly just winked. But the Viennese likewise only pretended to cower. If a book was banned it was simply sold under the counter in the endless coffee shops and became a best seller.
Foreign newspapers were like wise sold under the counter. International syndicates like Szeps syndicate just bought up chains of smoke shops to sell his progressive papers. Everyone just folded them up inside briefcases or else inside other papers. Decadent art deliciously shocked everyone. Risqué books circulated like ‘Venus In Furs’ which was the prequel to ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’ in the Fin de Siecle. Cutting edge composers were supported by the Jews, unlike Mozart who died bankrupt. People spoke in code. They were experts in Doublethink and could read between the lines of the official spiel as if mind readers. If authorities bellowed out the ‘truth’ then the Viennese automatically assumed the exact opposite.
There was this blasé quality in the face of authority. It was all wink wink. Defiance was never so elegant. Every female except the middle class married at last. Virginity was manufactured no less than face lifts. The Viennese were even ‘Cafeteria Catholics’. The Pope bellowed he was now infallible but every Austrian Catholic just winked and nodded and continued to pick and choose what they wanted from their charmingly antiquated religion until the Last Rites which gracefully tidied up the loose ends of life while never interfering with the Viennese definition of delightful living. Ultimatums were rude. Crises were ignored. The difference between a Junker and an Austrian was this: A Junker bellowed the crisis was serious but never hopeless! An Austrian would say the crisis was hopeless but never serious! Bring on the champagne! Strauss! Play the End Of The World Waltz please!
The waltz symbolized the Austrian mind set. The Junkers thought the Austrians cowardly and duplicitous. And the waltz symbolized that. The waltz moved across the dance floor in a circular motion of back and forth and side by side in a sly and roundabout attack. It seduced while being the height of elegance. It was insolent. Wry. Ironic. Austrian Viennese duplicity incarnate! Junkers would sneer the has-been and cowardly Austrians for their circular waltzing maneuvers.
Junkers like bellowing bullying. But the waltz also symbolized the sly Austrian Viennese gift for out maneuvering so gracefully. The Viennese appeared to simply dance around doom. The Viennese understood that you can often outsmart the thug and out maneuver the bully by graceful maneuvering. That was called strategy. So Austrians in general and the Viennese in particular learned how to elegantly outmaneuver and slyly out strategy their enemies be they tyrants or thugs or secret police or even Bismarck.
This graceful ability to slyly outmaneuver heavy handed authority would make the Austro Hungarians struggling but still contending Free Market Capitalists. Cue Smith, Hume, and Ricardo please! Wealth of Nations! Capitalism to the rescue!
Down in Bohemia a pair of brothers named Werndl dreamed of being gun manufacturers. They loved Bohemia where German efficiency and precision was wedded to Czech creativity and enterprise. The Werndls went to America to learn from the best: Colt and Remington. They came back and found a great foreman called Holub. They built the best modern plant in Bohemia and featured serial number production, steam power, precision equipment, along with the best trained workers in Bohemia. All while investing in the best R& D. Then they then founded Steyr Manufacturing and built one of the world’s largest gun manufactures of the best guns and ammo in the world. 6000 workers could produce 13,000 rifles a week. the best! And those rifles could be customized because the consumer was god!
They sold to everyone. Everyone loved their products. They were Merchants of Death who took pride in offering the best products at the best price. When the Dutch asked for small guns for their small Java soldiers Steyr developed small guns and then repackaged the small guns as children and teenager guns. Inventiveness was Steyr’s middle name. Right after Quality and right before Integrity. So make that Steyr Quality & Inventiveness & Integrity Inc! Oh yes! add reliability! Make that Steyr Quality & Inventiveness & Integrity & Reliability Inc!
Steyr was the incarnation of the Hume and Smith and Ricardo School of Economics. Capitalism. Not the Military Industrial Complex. Not micro managing Commanding Heights War Economy. Capitalism. Good old fashion Capitalism! So while Spandau became the incarnation of the micro managed Commanding Heights Prussian Military Industrial Complex, Steyr became the incarnation of Capitalism. And not just Steyr! Old fashion Capitalism also produced Mauser who was manufactured by an independent businessman named Loewe. Capitalism also produced Browning who was based in Belgium. Ditto Colt and Winchester and Remington. So lets see how Spandau and Steyr competed! Lets compare how their most famous products went toe to toe and mano u mano!
Steyr R & D looked toward the breech loading repeater rifle to shoot the full metal jacket bullet. It was all revolutionary and untested and unknown. Steyr R & D always focused on long term development. So they hired and ex-railroad engineer named Ferdinand Mannlicher. What happened next would become history.
Steyr R & D ran on three parallel tracks: developing the repeater rifle and developing the full metal jacket bullet and developing the best gunpowder to put inside the full metal jacket bullet to put inside of the best repeater rifle. But by working on three tracks Steyr could make sure the repeater and the full metal jacket and the powder would all mesh together flawlessly. Their customers did not want a gun that blew up or was unreliable. Steyr was Quality and Inventiveness and Integrity and Reliability after all!
They studied Rubin’s full metal jacket (respecting his patents) and produced the best rival in the Steyr bullet. The full metal jacket had to be a complex fusion of metals, the form and function infinitely complex to blend a bullet, a gunpowder, and a percussion cap inside one tiny container of brilliant death. That tiny bullet had to combine velocity, range, penetration, and accuracy.
Rifles were harder to load than smooth bore muskets because of the rifle patterns which increased accuracy and range. So bullet fouling on the rifle pattern was both frustrating and lethal. The bullet had to be soft enough to not wear away the rifle pattern yet not be fouling. The oil inside the barrel had to be correct too. The cleaning and maintaining was crucial as well. Rifles fouled much faster than muskets. That was a serious crisis on the battlefield. But gunpowder even inside a full metal jacket fouled dreadfully, especially when contained by softer lead bullets. So the caliber of the full metal jacket bullet was crucial. Absolutely critical. The wrong caliber of bullet was disaster in fact. This would become very clear later in this story.
Black powder was obsolete. Nitro powder was the future. It increased velocity and range and was suppose to be less fouling while not creating any smoke on the battlefield. But Nitro was iffy. Very iffy. So far Nitro was mostly just blowing up things. Blowing factories. Blowing up warehouses. Blowing up guns. Or else going mysteriously ‘stale’. Steyr decided to research a blend of nitro and traditional black powder to slowly evolve their ideal full metal jacket bullet toward the goal of best bullet in the world. Steyr R & D always looked long term.
Meanwhile rumors circulated of a revolutionary French Nitro called the Meille. But too many manufacturers rushed and too many Nitro bullets blew up. So far every single Nitro bullet failed. So Steyr R & D choose to not panic about this rumor about the Meille Miracle. They moved with deliberate determination toward their goal of producing the best on their terms. They supplied the world so the world could wait for them to produce the best which the world expected from Steyr. Quality and Inventiveness and Integrity and Reliability at the Best Price could not be rushed. Solid R & D would produce the best.
Steyr first aimed toward a modified black powder Rubin full metal jacket bullet by 88. That allowed Mannicher to release his revolutionary repeater in 86 for field testing to work out any kinks. 88 would be the wedding of repeater with custom powder inside a tested and proven version of the Rubin full metal jacket. That would work out any kinks with caliber or rifling issues. Also any pressure or fouling issues. It was a doable goal that would work through any kinks or problems while combining all of this revolutionary technology together for the first time.
2000 fps was the rumor of iffy and heretofore untrustworthy nitro. Fine! So Steyr developed a 1610 fps modified custom black powder which got as close to nitro as black powder could go. That still made the 1610 model the best black powder full metal jacket bullet on the commercial market. After all! No Nitro was available yet! Or successful yet! Or tested! Or proven! And the 1610 got Steyr’s foot into the door of nitro while allowing them to research how to put that 1610 fps (fee per second) powder into the revolutionary Rubin Full Metal Jacket and also research the critical issue of fouling and caliber and rifling and pressure.
No one knew what upping the fps or the full metal jacket would do to any bullet inside the revolutionary repeater. This was like rocket science. No one had done it yet. It was totally unexplored technology. The 1610 model allowed them to test out every unknown without leaping totally off the cliff into outer space. And it would still produce the best commercial bullet for the world wide commercial market.
Steyr then planned a R& D toward achieving a semi smokeless blend of nitro/ black powder blend by 1890 when the next upgraded repeater was produced. Then a full and flawless nitro by 1895 with the next upgrade repeater was produced. 95 was projected to see the fruit of ten years of R & D as full perfection was achieved.
Focus on producing the best long term. After all nitro was iffy. Why rush? The Rubin full metal jacket was revolutionary but brand new. Why rush? The repeater was revolutionary. Why rush? Rushing too many cutting edge prototypes at one time would only lead to disaster. Caliber and fouling and pressure all had to be explored. No! Steyr would move with deliberate precision. Quality. Inventiveness. Integrity. Reliability. That defined Steyr.
This was the same modus operandi which every capitalistic merchant of death employed except Spandau. Colt. Remington. Winchester. Browning. Mauser. Lee Enfield. Steyr. Even the French. Certainly Rubin. Everyone except Spandau choose a deliberate R & D march toward perfect death– except Spandau.
Meanwhile Mannlicher developed the repeater rifle. It had to be a breech loader. It had to have a bolt. It had to have a magazine to hold multiple bullets. It had to be fast to load and fast to shoot. It also had to be forgiving so armies of draftees could shoot it. The Pin Rifle was so delicate only the best elite professionals like the Prussians could weld it. But modern armies of draftees needed a forgiving gun they could learn how to shoot quickly and weld in the field under any conditions.
And that gun had to be slim as a ‘sweet girl’ and not too big or too long or too heavy. That was a hang over from the musket days! Cut off the excess and make the rifle a compact and elegant profile! A sweet girl of a repeater any soldier would fall in love with!
Mannlicher hated the tubular magazine. Everyone had one. It was a pain to load. But no one could figure out now to get beyond the pain in the arse tubular magazine. Mannlicher also wanted the latest Rubin model of full metal bullet. 8mm. The demigod Rubin on Mount Everest declared 8 mm to be simply divine. So that was that! No 11 mm! To hell with the old Habsburg supplies of left over obsolete 11 mm bullets! Why develop a prototype gun and then use obsolete caliber bullets? Rubin was thinking ahead of the box. So Mannlicher jumped out of the box too. 8 mm. Black powder hybrid 1610 fps blend to get a firm handle on the Rubin Full Metal Jacket and the Repeater technology. Mannlicher was worried about the wedding of repeater and powder and full metal jacket. He wanted to nail down any questions about pressure and caliber and fouling and fps. Then his 1890 upgrade gun would use the next upgrade semi smokeless nitro black powder blend full metal jacket bullet. Then his next 1895 upgrade gun would use the upgraded fully smokeless nitro full metal jacket. Like Steyr, Mannicher projected his perfect gun by 95. (Likewise Mauser and Lee Enfield and the French ). So while Bismarck wanted war sooner rather than later the gun developers eyeballed 95 as the year when all of the guns would jell together. Of course if another gun and bullet could be achieved before 95 then that nation would win any war.
Mannlicher was ambitious but he was not going to rush his head start. Mauser likewise choose this deliberate march toward perfect death. Mauser said after messing up his embarrassing 71/84 model gun he would not be rushed. His masterpiece was due in 95. And that was that! Browning likewise said he would do his masterpiece on his own schedule. If anyone did not like that they could bugger off. This left Mannlicher with a remarkable lead which he exploited carefully but brilliantly.
Mannlicher created his mechanism to hold the full metal jacket bullet. He researched Rubin’s full metal jacket painstakingly to develop the perfect mechanism to hold the bullet and ignite the bullet and eject the bullet casing. Anything other than perfection might see the bullet blow up inside of the mechanism or else two bullets getting jammed inside of the mechanism. Steyr kept him abreast of their ammo research.
The enbloc packet magazine clip would be inserted into the mechanism from the top down so gravity would propel it down through the mechanism to spit out of the bottom of the mechanism. Mannlicher did not want springs and widgets and contraptions inside a pure form and functional mechanism which might foul up. He did add a safety catch to eject the magazine clip if needed. But that was it for widgets. The more widgets the more likely things would simply break down or jam. His repeater would never ever jam even in the hands of draftees.
Then Mannlicher invented the single greatest thing in gunnery par none. The enbloc packet magazine clip. It held five bullets. Finger groves told the shooter the top from the bottom. The packet clip was one way. That was the only minor pain in the beauty of the creation. But that was minor. The finger groves and the loading containers would instantly tell the shooter even in the dark how to inset the enbloc package clip magazine into the mechanism. Gravity did the rest. The empty enbloc package clip just dropped out of the bottom of the gun. Loading took two seconds.
Then Mannlicher developed the perfect straight bolt for the exact needful pressure combined with the fast shooting speed. Mannlicher thought Mauser and others were making a mistake of ratcheting up pressure which might in fact blow up guns or blow up nitro full metal jacket bullets inside of the mechanisms. Mannlicher thought the Goldilocks ideal was the exact NEEDFUL pressure. No more. No less. That allowed the straight bolt to create incredible speed of shooting to rival the incredible speed of loading for maximum killing potential. This was so far out of the box everyone else was dazed when he filed his patents.
Albrecht was horrified. Where was the cut off? Hell! Why have a cut off to shoot single bullets? Blast out those bullets! Why preload the enboc packet clip magazines? Such waste! Hell! A good factory like Steyr could mass produce cartons of the stuff! Why not? Fast loading is fast shooting! But Mauser said only a 90% bolt could work! Hell! Mauser was not god! Mannlicher was! A brilliantly designed straight bolt meant fast shooting! NEEDFUL PRESSURE is the Goldilocks ideal! Mauser could bugger off! Browning just laughed. He know Mannlicher was right! He even said he could not wait until the Mannlicher patents went public so he could adopt them for his own masterpieces!
Browning, Mauser, and Mannlicher respected each other. It never occurred to them to pilfer each other’s genus. Browning was suing Maxim for its copyright monopoly on the machine gun patent to create his own masterpiece. But Browning would never cheat. Great inventors never cheated or stole each other’s achievements. So now the best of the best applauded when the first man out of the gate produced what proved to be not only the first repeater but one of the best repeaters! Thus the Mannlicher Repeater was born!