As early as late summer 1914, surprise was registered concerning the rapid rise in the numbers of prisoners of war in the 10th Department of the Austro-Hungarian War Ministry, which dealt with matters relating to soldiers captured in combat. After all, there were around 200,000 enemy soldiers in the hands of the Danube Monarchy, confronting the military authorities with new challenges.
On the Eastern Front, significantly more soldiers fell into enemy hands than on other battlefields. What were the key reasons for that? Were, for example, the soldiers of the Habsburg army ‘demoralised’ earlier by the events of the war than others? Or was it even a lack of loyalty towards the Danube Monarchy that caused them to switch sides?
During the First World War millions of the enemy’s armies were taken prisoner. But no major power lost as many soldiers through being internment as the Danube Monarchy.
Having suffered great distress at the hands of the Central Powers, the Balkan states turned out to be the victors of a four-year long mass slaughter. Apart from the territorial expansions of Romania, the Slovenes and Croats in particular flocked around Serbia, eager to establish a multi-ethnic state of the Southern Slavs. As in other regions, the political map of the Balkans was indeed redrawn without ensuring the permanent guarantee of stability. The ‘Great War’ transformed itself in this way into different, smaller zones of conflict. At the same time it became obvious that the problems that had already resurfaced before 1914 were in no way solved, but had in many cases even deteriorated. Under such circumstances, the events at the beginning of the 20th century point ultimately towards its conclusion, to the national hatreds and ‘ethnic cleansings’ of the 1990s.
Despite the defeats at the hands of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria, the Romanian government managed once again to mobilise the nation at the turn of the year 1916/17. King Ferdinand promised an agricultural reform and so succeeded in getting the peasant population on his side. Furthermore, French support at the frontline made itself felt. Romania’s situation seemed to improve when the events in St. Petersburg started to make an impact, too.
Belgium’s neutrality was disregarded by Germany for operational reasons. In contrast, less attention was paid to Greece’s neutrality. Although Prime Minister Elftherios Venizelos tended towards the Western Powers, the ‘Germanophile Camp’ around King Constantine had considerable scope of action. However, Constantine’s followers were confronted by the presence of Entente troops, who were not be used against Bulgaria and its allies alone, and in Serbia’s interest, but also exercised a significant influence on the internal development of Greece.
Originally, the government in Bucharest was bound to Germany and Austria-Hungary through an alliance treaty from 1883. In reality, however, this agreement continuously diminished in value.
After the conquest of enemy territory, the Centrals Powers’ military administrative authorities assumed governmental and administrative functions almost everywhere, with the governor or commander concerned promoted to ‘head of government’. In principle, it was possible to distinguish between friendly and hostile occupied territories; effectively, however, the ‘invaders’’ generals were dominant. Only the lowest level of administration was left in the power of the locals.
What the Habsburg Army failed to achieve alone, it managed with help of the Allies from autumn 1915: the Central Powers gained substantial territory, forcing the Serbian army to retreat.
Even though the Danube Monarchy mainly focused on the ‘penalty kick’ against Serbia, they failed to achieve their operational goals by the end of the year. Every offensive ended in fiasco.