It was now becoming ever more obvious that the Austro-Hungarian army could only function with massive German assistance. Politically this chained the Danube Monarchy even more firmly to Germany and left it even less freedom to make its own decisions.
Although on the eastern front the war had taken a turn in favour of the Central Powers, on the western front it had obviously reached a stalemate. However, early in 1917 a major turning point arrived with the entry into the war of the United States of America on the side of the Western Powers.
The situation in Russia at the beginning of 1917 was catastrophic. The food supply system had broken down and the populace in the large towns and cities was starving and freezing. The voices calling for a completely new ordering of society became ever louder. The autocratic rule of the Tsar was nearing its end.
Faced by authoritarian tendencies amongst the leaders of government and the demands of the omnipotent military apparatus, Emperor Karl could offer little in the way of resistance but his own good will.
Emperor Karl recognized that Austria-Hungary’s continuation of the war in alliance with Germany would mean the end of the Habsburg Monarchy. At the beginning of 1917, in a very round-about way, he initiated investigations into the possibility of concluding a peace with the Entente Powers.
After two years of war Austria-Hungary was economically and militarily entirely worn out. On 21 November 1916 a further blow came with the death of Emperor Franz Joseph, who had been an important linchpin for the unity of the decrepit Dual Monarchy.
The Austrian parliament (‘Reichsrat’) had not been convened since March 1914. At the outbreak of the war its splendid home on the Ring was demonstratively transformed into a military hospital.
Italy’s entry into the war on 23 May 1915 opened up a new theatre of war in the south of the Monarchy that was to be of decisive importance for the Austro-Hungarian army.
When the grim reality of the war became clear, Kaiser Wilhelm’s hearty promise that the war would end in a German victory by the autumn of 1914 – ‘when the leaves fall’ – was still fresh in all minds. In the first two years of the war, the Central Powers experienced both successes and also failures.
The oft-invoked ‘brotherhood in arms’ between Vienna and Berlin was in reality an alliance between two very unequally matched ‘brothers’ who had differing aims and were sometimes even rivals.