|Krakovian War (A Federation of Equals)|
|Kingdom of Prussia||Russian Empire
|Commanders and leaders|
|Frederick William IV of Prussia||Nicholas I of Russia
The Krakovian War, also known as the Russian War, was a European War that started in 1850 and concluded in 1852, fought over Eastern-European tensions. The war ended the period of Russian hegemony that had existed for over 35 years, and confirmed the Danubian Federation as a permanent power in the region. Three of the five great powers were involved in the military conflict, making it the largest European conflict since 1815, finally concluding in 1852 with a Prusso-Danubian victory.
Ever since the fall of Napoleon in 1815, the Russian Empire had been the principle military and diplomatic force on the European continent, surpassing the crumbling Hapsburg Monarchy and the unstable French successor states. The Russian nation, led by Tsar Nicholas I, emerged from the Congressional System of Europe with ambition to expand southward to the Black Sea and sustain all its Polish possessions. Russia was initially challenged by the Prussians over its Polish possessions, but in a brief but decisive conflict, the Russians dealt the Kaiser a crushing blow. The aftermath saw the former Prussian capital of Königsberg annexed to the Tsar, which toppled by a defeat by the French, knocked the Northern Germans out of the Eastern European struggle by 1844.
This left the Hapsburg Monarchy as the last remaining power to challenge the Imperial state, but troubles within Austria and the existence of the "Holy" Alliance between the powers meant that hegemony had been achieved. The state of stability was short lived, however, when the stench of revolution arose in 1848 across Europe. The popularity of the Tsar meant that Russia was able to avoid the storm, but the Kaiser and his Prussian nobility were not as lucky, as unpopular taxes and policies eventually drove the state into civil war.
With Europe ablaze, attention quickly shifted to Austria, where domestic discontent and a surge of nationalism brought the Hapsburg Monarchy into civil war, much like its northern neighbor. The rebels, young and prominent idealists, managed to defeat the Royalists in their revolution, forming the Danubian Federation as the successor state to the Hapsburg Monarchy. The Federation, a democracy in its federalist form and a decentralized traditionalist nation in regards to its many congruent states, caused a great storm of political upheaval between the liberals, conservatives, and reactionaries as they debated over the ways the young nation was to be administered.
The Russian Empire, dismayed over the collapse of another European Monarchy, took the revolutionary years to prepare itself for a Imperial expansion.
The Krakow Crisis
The immediate aftermath of the Danubian Revolution had sparked mass chaos in Eastern Europe. The execution of the Austrian Emperor, Ferdinand I in front of the Hofsburg had concluded the conflict, with royalists arriving at the parliament to push forth their sentiments, accepting the temporary status quo with the absence of an heir. Indeed, heir-apparent Prince Franz Joseph had fled to the city of Krakow, a Polish city-state centred upon the eponymous city of Krakow, that had supported the Royalists and the Hapsburg dynasty during the civil war.Upon Ferdinand I’s death, Krakow made peace with the Federation, but by November, Krakow was making it very clear it was not finished. Ferdinand’s nephew, the 18-year old Franz Joseph, had appeared in the city and was using it as a base to rally the Royalist cause. The Danubian Congress quickly labelled him an enemy of the state, facing execution should he be captured, yet agreement over their course of action could not be reached. Many thought that the Federation should demand that Krakow extradite him; President Metternich, however, felt that that would both push the city and the Prince towards the Russians, with whom the young Federation could not grapple. Metternich proposed annexing the city into Galicia with enough speed that Franz Joseph could not escape. It was a risky plan, for Russia’s rising influence in the city could lead her to try to intervene and protect her claims, but Metternich felt that it was better to take the chance than risk Russia's might attempting to restore the crown. He therefore proposed the Krakow Act, which labelled the city of Krakow as a de jure part of Galicia. He never got to see the vote go through though, as, on 1st December, just four days before he was due to gain an overwhelming majority thanks to his universal support as the creator of the nation, a German ultra-royalist, by the name of Albrecht Kurtzler, shot the acting-President in his back, damaging the spine. He was rushed from the scene just outside parliament to hospital, where he died a slow, agonizing death as his right lung collapsed. The president asphyxiated after two hours.
The Austrian was followed by a Serbian liberal, Vlado Nikolić, as President of the Danubian Federation. Nikolić was very aware that to the East lay the Federation’s biggest threat, Russia. Having stayed out of the revolution, the Tsar is often said to have felt responsible for the Republic’s successful foundation. Called upon by a young, charismatic and rather dashing young man (who also happened to be the rightful heir to the Austrian Empire), Moscow increasingly turned her back on the young Federation. Nikolić’s attempts to have Franz Joseph extradited back to Vienna were to no avail as were the attempts of his Foreign Minister to negotiate an alliance. Indeed, the Tsar's determination to see what he regarded as a rebel state put back in the hands of monarch meant relations went the other way. By the signing of the Dual Alliance, no official channels of communication existed between the two capitals, with the Federal diplomatic contingent in Moscow having been deported the previous year, followed quickly by the withdrawal of the Russian Ambassador in the Federation. All information about the situation in the Russian capital was therefore either suspect, after having been routed through foreign embassies, or very slow to arrive.
It was in this light that the issue of Krakow once more raised its ugly head. In the time between failure of the Krakow Act and August 1850, everyone save the city herself had accepted that the Russians were going to be a major part of Krakovian politics. However, in August 1850, it became clear just how opposed much of the city was to Moscow, as the mayoral elections there became an international issue. The death of incumbent Mayor, Jan Kowalski, precipitated a bitter contest between the nominee of the Krakovian Liberal League, Piotr Nowak, and his counterpart from the Conservative Association of Krakow. Nowak won, accruing a staggering 87% of the votes, and despite the contest primarily focusing on other issues, Russia took Nowak’s foreign policy pledge to align with the Federation and apply for statehood as a direct threat to Russian interests in the region.
Russian troops marched into Krakow at first light on 22nd August with no prior declaration of war. The city fell with minimal resistance and, though Nowak’s government was forced to flee over the border into Galicia, little physical damage was done to the city and it was peacefully incorporated into Russia’s other Polish possessions.
The news took 48 hours to filter back to Vienna, by which time the city was well and truly lost. The question therefore remained: would the Federation stand back and allow Russia to invade and occupy a sovereign state or would the Federation honour its alliance with the tiny city-state? Would the peoples of the Danube go to war?
Declarations of War
As the news of invasion filed into Vienna, political movements were already preparing their cases. The attack on Krakow was quickly perceived as not just an act of aggression against an allied nation, but rather, against a fellow state. Such perceptions allowed the Conservative Bloc, spearheaded by de Nytra, to advocate for an official declaration of war. Vlado Nikolić, intent on retaining an image of strong government, also rallied his party members to the cause of war. Despite a few resistant members of the chamber, the Declaration of War passed through both houses within a few days. On August 24th, two days after the invasion, the Declaration of War was made official, and the Danubian Forces prepared for a Russian Assault on the Eastern Border.
Klemens Eckhel, the Chief of the General Staff, a liberal thinker and political activist, desired a defensive stance, creating advanced fortification lines through the forests of Galicia and the Northern Carpathians. This maneuver allowed the Tsar and his forces to prepare themselves, granting the command of the Russian Army to Prince Aleksandr Sergeyevich Menschikov and Count Yegor Tolstoy.
The Russian Prince understood the weak position of the Danubian Forces, and that Imperial Forces would outnumber them by a significant quantity, and as such, attempted to delay no more time after the army was under his wing. By November, the full Russian Army was crossing the Danubian Border, and with little resistance, over-running the Federal defenses. Edvard Francois Masaryk, General of the Second Danubian Southern Army, attempted to make a firm stance at the defensive base in Przemysl, garrisoned by 18,000 Danubian troops. General Pyotr Gorchakov, and 30,000 Russian soldiers, after consultation with the Tsar, decided that an assault on the Federal Base could force a full enemy withdrawal. On the 12th of November, the assault on Przemysl was commenced. Led by General Pyotr Gorchako, Russian troops smashed the Danubian Second Southern Army and forced it into full retreat. Over 11,000 Federal troops were lost for under 6000 Russians, with a full rout only prevented by the timely appearance of the Army of the Centre to facilitate an orderly withdrawal from the area. By mid-December, there would be at least two Russians for every Danubian troop in Galicia. Indeed, defeat at Przemysl did little to push Vienna’s hand. With no further troops being deployed to the region for the rest of the year, the congress was more concerned with persuading a König reluctant to join the war effort. König Friedrich Wilhelm was reported to have said, “Russian troops will have to march through Berlin before I abandon my eternal friendship with the Tsar.”.
The rest of November marked a fairly constant retreat for Federal troops, with a defensive line eventually being drawn behind the Prut River as the last line of defence east of the Carpathians. Luckily for the Federation, two events in early December pushed Prussia such that, by 20th December, the Chancellor and the König both signed a declaration of war against the Tsar.
The first event occurred in the middle of December, with the Russian Army under General Pyotr in pursuit of the Republican National Guard. After falling ill, Pyotr was replaced by Count Yegor Petrovich Tolstoy, in command of 37,000 men and slowly grinding through Carpathia. With the last remaining defense in Galicia before an invasion of Hungary crumbling away, Stefan Göring, General of the Republican National Guard and 15,000 troops, provoked the Imperial Army into a chase maneuver. Bad Weather fared poorly for the Federal efforts, as the Imperial Army delivered another decisive blow on the 16th of December, during the infamous Battle of Bielsko. The conflict, while decisive in favor of the Russians, delivered a morale victory to the Danubian Forces. Nonetheless, the advance of the Russians brought forth the threat of a new Austrian Emperor, with the victory coming less then 50 miles from Prussian territory.
The Prussian Intervention
Upon the victory of Prince Aleksandr Menschikov and Count Tolstoy, at Bielsko, the Russian Prince sent word to the Tsar of the achievement. As dominance over the east had been secured, Nicholas sent word to the Russian Foreign Ministry, with intentions to proclaim the annexation of Krakow. In a parade resembling ceremony, the Emperor marched through Krakow with Russian forces, and declared it a city of the Empire. In doing so, the Tsar made it as clear as day his actions were not in defence of Russian interests in the city, as he had claimed to the Prussian delegation in Moscow, but rather the aggressive ones that he had displayed during the Franco-Prussian war. On the 20th of December, the Kaiser called an emergency convention with his ministers, in which the Prussian King was persuaded into intervention, the following day, Prussia declared war.
The Prussian declaration of war opened the taps, and most of the other states of the former German Confederation (The German Confederation was dissolved by the Austrian Empire in 1847 for fear that the new powerful Parliament of Prussia would use it as an instrument to further Liberalism within Germany. Though there was talk of reforming the confederation after the revolution, nothing was ever done and the project of a pan-German state seemed to have been put on hold.) had declared hostilities together with many of the North Italian states by the beginning of the New Year.
Beating Back the Bear
1851 started well for the Federation. The panic inspired in Vienna following the defeats of the past half-year meant that the Federation’s entire professional army was on the front in Galicia by mid-January. Furthermore, Prussian troops were by now flowing East, as were regiments from states as disparate as Tuscany and Hannover. Indeed, the first battle of the New Year was won in Prussia by an army whose largest contingent was from Bavaria and was commanded by a Saxon. Following this early victory, Kaiser Fredrick Wilhelm took personal control of the Prussian forces.
The drastic military shift in the war is generally recognized during the defense of Srem, in Poland. The defense came after a renewed offensive spearheaded by redeployed Pyotr Gorchako, leading the sixth army into contested territory. After several assaults on the city, the Russians were eventually forced into a full withdrawal on the 13th of January, with their supply lines threatened. Russian withdrawal in the north triggered a Prussian counter-offensive, which stalled Imperial progress in the Danubian territories. Communications between Berlin and Vienna co-ordinated a combined offensive on Bielko, where but months before, the Russians had delivered a crushing blow. The Republican National Guard met up with the Prussian 7th Army in late January, totalling a combined force of 60,000. The Dual Alliance crushed Yegor Petrovich Tolstoy at the Second Battle of Bielsko, turning the tide in the Polish Region.
To the people of the Federation, though, the early part of 1851 saw little respite; a seemingly inexhaustible supply of enemy troops continued to head towards the Federal line in the Carpathians and the Russian occupation of Galicia began in earnest while all little progress was made by allied armies in the North despite most of Russia’s might being applied in a concerted effort to knock the Federation out of the war. This lack of progress along the Prussian border through January and February 1851 can be largely attributed to a lack of an organised military command from the minor powers involved. In many ways the coalition victory at Srem was the exception rather than the rule, for the outcome of most battles where neither Federal nor Prussian forces were present is better reflected by the battle of Torun in early February, where some 30,000 Germans from a variety of states were repulsed by a Russian force of just over half the size when they tried to relieve the siege of Torun. The story goes that the leadership of the German force started ended up fighting amongst themselves over whose colours should be flown highest from the camp flag pole and didn’t stop even once the battle had started!
February proved to see little by the way of action anywhere along the line with the next major battle coming in mid-March when the Republican National Guard, once again backed up by a good deal of Prussian support recaptured the city of Tarnow. Meanwhile, troops from six North German countries, including almost 50,000 Prussians, crossed into Russian territory for the first time near Königsberg. Meanwhile, the Red Star Fleet established a blockade of the Crimea that would last the rest of the war. The Federal ships in the Black Sea faced no resistance - larely in part to the delay of the local Imperial Fleet’s deployment; Prussia was perceived as the greater naval threat and all Russian warships were sent into the Baltic accordingly during the first months of the war.
April, however, would be the real test of the policies of the Chief of Staff, the Minister of War and basically every man with any influence in Vienna. A Russian Army of 30,000 men marched straight into the central Carpathians. They met the 2nd Southern Army at the Battle of Volovets on 4th April and managed to push them back around ten miles before re-inforcements arrived, who happened to be conscripts drafted into service earlier in the year. Volovets was thus the test bed both for the Federal defence plans and the General Mobilisation: defeat was out of the question.
For twelve days the battle raged, on and off. By the end, more than 60,000 Federation troops and 70,000 Russians had been deployed to this small valley and its surroundings, with at least half of them being killed and numerous more invalidated home; the 2nd Southern Army suffered some 15,000 casualties alone (around five-sixths of its total manpower). General Masaryk, who commanded operations at Volovets, is reported to have said during the final days of the battle that “this loss is more than can be understood by human minds; the only faith we have is in the salvation that victory brings.”
And victory he brought, but not for long; the 2nd Southern Army was quickly withdrawn in the aftermath of the battle to recoup, but few reinforcements remained in the area leaving a force that was almost entirely conscript and tired from the fray. Another large and entirely fresh Russian army of around 20,000 men approached from the East, and, though the strategic and numerical advantage lay with the Federal troops, the resulting battle on 20th April at Nehrovets (which is roughly 20 miles east of Volovets) left either side in much doubt as to who controlled the mountains. Actual casualties were far lower at the latter battle, but the strategic loss of the mountains hit the Federation hard, with near fatal panic erupting in the halls of the Hofburg: the concern everyone had but was too scared to ask was, ‘What was Franz Joseph’s plan following a Russian invasion?’
Fortunately for the people of the Federation, they never had to find out, for a string of Prussian victories in Poland diverted large sections of the Russian forces north and preventing any possible attack into Hungary and beyond. Gains made at the Battle of Tarnow and Bielsko were forsaken to provide the strongest possible force to retake the Carpathians. In total, 80,000 men, or nearly two thirds of the Federal Army, marched into battle on 6th July. The Battle of Uzgorord ensued, and though the losses on both sides remained fairly consistent throughout, sheer weight of numbers pushed the Russians out of the mountains.
Simultaneously, a parallel battle was taking place in Northern Transylvania. The Army of Italy was ambushed just North of Cernauti by a far larger Russian force and was largely massacred. A once 15,000 men strong army was reduced to just 3000 in the space of one hour. Forced into headlong retreat, General Božidar Skala did all he could to prevent the full rout that seemed certain. He managed to make his way south with what remained of his force, but despite constant entreaties to the leadership for help, none came. The response was always the same: “The men are needed more at Uzgorord.”
By 19th July, Skala found himself short on supplies and stuck in a never-ending retreat. His chosen last stand was the old, abandoned castle just outside of Suceava. Not suited to 19th century conflict, the castle had largely been reduced to ruins by the winds of time, but nonetheless Skala’s performance left little to desire. Outnumbered almost six to one, Skala’s men managed to hold the castle under more or less constant barrage for over 36 hours with little sleep and no food or running water. In the end, Skala was trapped in the deepest reaches of the keep and reportedly kept on firing back even after taking shots to his left arm and right leg before a bullet through his forehead silenced the resistance in the castle. In those 36 hours, Skala and his men managed to kill almost 7000 Russian troops and prevent any further Russian attempts to gain ground in the south. His remains were sent back to Vienna, as was custom for military officers, where his remains were interred beside the Kings of yore in St Stephens Cathedral and tales of his bravery inspired the next generation of military leaders.
From thereon in, Federal forces suffered not one major defeat, with fairly constant progress being made towards the Russian front. In August, the last Russian attempt to take the Carpathians was repulsed by the Republican National Guard, before Prussian forces assisted Federal troops to victory in the 2nd battle of Tarnow. Victory after victory came, culminating in a rout of nearly all the Russian forces in Federal territory on November 8th at, fittingly, the place where it all started; Przemysl.