Outbreak of the war
End of the war

The military film propaganda focused on good news from the front. In addition, the mechanization and destructive efficiency were shown on film, along with the organization and discipline of the soldiers in action.

The exaggeratedly heroic depiction of the Austro-Hungarian soldiers, reports of successful actions and demonstrations of strength were the focuses of film propaganda. One particularly popular subject was fighting in the mountains. At altitudes of 2,000 to 3,000 metres there was little room for mobile warfare. On the Alpine front, where the fighting lasted until 1918, every promontory was bitterly contested. Twelve bloody battles took place on the Isonzo on the south-eastern front between Italy and Austria-Hungary. Days of preparatory artillery bombardment in narrow confines, difficult ammunition transports through the mountains, infantry attacks, bitter defence and close fighting for every mountain summit were the characteristic features of these battles and were faithfully shown in the film reports (A Heroic Battle in Snow and Ice, A 1917). Explosives were often used to destroy entire summits and the enemy lodged on them. But nature also claimed victims. In the winter of 1916/17 more soldiers died in avalanches than through enemy fire. The avalanches were often caused by artillery bombardment of enemy positions.

Propaganda productions like Mit Herz und Hand fürs Vaterland (A 1915) focused on modern warfare. Radio equipment, military aircraft and bombing raids were effectively demonstrated. The rapid mechanization of warfare and above all the marked improvement in destructive efficiency left their mark on both the static Western front in Europe and in the mobile warfare on the Eastern front. Within a few months, the firepower of industrialized mass killing had shaken the traditional values of the professional soldiers. Cavalry riders were mown down in the barrage of artillery and machine gun fire. Gas, tank and aerial attacks heralded a new form of warfare that put paid to any ideas of glory. Members of the old officer corps, who sought to lead their troops through demonstrations of personal bravery, suffered particularly high losses.

There were fewer films showing the more radical warfare in the Balkans and on the Eastern front, although photo series of executions of alleged or actual spies and collaborators were published particularly at the beginning of the war as a deterrent. The acts of violence against civilians were omitted. French, British and Dutch cartoonists, by contrasts, created a highly negative picture of the ‘German soldier’: the perfidious scientist who invented poison gas, the barbarian who destroyed churches and libraries, and the pitiless murderer who shot civilians.

Translation: Nick Somers


Kessel, Martina: Gelächter, Männlichkeit und soziale Ordnung. ‚Deutscher Humor’ und Krieg (1870–1918), in: Lutter, Christina/Szöllősi-Janze, Margit/Uhl, Heidemarie (Hrsg.): Kulturgeschichte. Fragestellungen, Konzepte, Annäherungen, Innsbruck/Wien/München 2004, 97-116

Leidinger, Hannes/Moritz, Verena/Moser, Karin: Österreich Box 1: 1896–1918. Das Ende der Donaumonarchie, Wien 2010

Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    War and art

    Many artists, intellectuals and writers welcomed the outbreak of the First World War. They saw it not as an apocalypse but as the opportunity for a change for the better. As such they joined in the patriotic fervour of the first weeks and months of the war. What motivated them not only to devote their artistic energies to the fatherland but also to take an active part in the fighting? How were anti-war sentiments articulated by artists? What other forms of relationship were there between art and warfare during and after the First World War?

  • Aspect

    Guiding the masses

    Guiding the mood of the masses was an important aspect of warfare during the First World War. Considerable information and communication work was carried out to persuade the population of the “true facts”. All areas of life were influenced by propaganda in a way that had not been seen hitherto: reports in the newspapers, posters on the walls, even teaching material in schools now communicated controlled information. What methods and media were used? How did the various warring nations attempt to influence public opinion? What was communicated and how effective was the propaganda?

Persons, Objects & Events

  • Object

    War crimes

    The Austro-Hungarian army committed various types of war crimes, ranging from the use of illegal warfare agents and inhuman treatment of prisoners of war to brutality towards civilians. Villages and towns were burnt to the ground, hostages were taken and shot, there was forcible deportation, internment, forced labour, mass executions, rape and pillaging. The Habsburg military courts also sentenced tens of thousands of people to death. It only took a careless comment, a spurious suspicion or a denunciation for an innocent civilian to end up on the gallows.

  • Object

    Experiences of violence

    While some of the front soldiers experienced the “storm of steel” as the apotheosis of their own masculinity, most soldiers suffered on account of their physical and/or mental injuries. The destructiveness of modern mechanical warfare and the mental strain caused by the days and weeks in the trenches, the constant noise of the artillery and the sight of seriously wounded and mutilated comrades produced not only an army of war wounded but also masses of soldiers suffering from war neurosis.

  • Object

    Mechanical warfare

    In the years and decades before the First World War there were many innovations in arms technology with the result that the entire war machinery and with it the strategic and tactical considerations had to be fundamentally rethought. The artillery, with its powerful arsenal of guns, mortars and howitzers, epitomised the dominance of “fire power”. It was the prototype of industrialised mechanical and mass warfare and responsible for a larger number of casualties than any other type of weapon.

  • Object


    All Quiet on the Western Front was released in 1930. It was the film of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel of the same name about the experiences of a soldier during the First World War. Remarque’s book and the film adaptation are classic anti-war statements. Alongside the patriotic, glorified heroic epics and “authentic” documentation of service for the fatherland, this was just one way in which the First World War was portrayed in literature and films – a medium that had come into being only twenty years before the outbreak of war.

  • Object

    Depicting the war

    The photo by Alexander Exax shows a scene in the trenches in Galicia in 1915. The title “im Feuer” [“under fire”] gives the impression that the picture has been taken in the middle of the action. Dynamic photos like this were typical of the pictorial iconography of the First World War. The illustrated weeklies were among the most important distribution media, but there were others: exhibitions and posters, picture postcards and cinemas collaborated with private picture agencies and the official propaganda to provide a visual depiction of the war.

  • Object

    The foreigner, the adversary, the enemy!

    To popularise the greeting “Gott strafe England” [“May God punish England”] and the response “Er strafe es” [“May He do so”] it was printed on posters, badges and postcards. The idea was to promote patriotism and hatred of England. Right after the start of the war, animosity and mutual attributions of blame by the two sides were manifest. Xenophobia was officially encouraged as a sign of patriotism. This singling out and denigration of the enemy was designed to strengthen solidarity and justify the country’s own war policy.