Outbreak of the war
End of the war

The Occupying Regime in Different Regions

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.

At the time of the invasion, the Austrians and the allies certainly did not treat the local population gently. Summary executions and internments of ‘untrustworthy’ or ‘suspicious’ people were not uncommon.

Meanwhile, the decision-makers in Vienna, Budapest and Sofia viewed one another with suspicion. Hungary’s Prime Minister reclaimed Serbia, while the Dual Monarchy's military strove towards a South Slavic union under Croatian leadership. These rivalries led to a row over who should fill the post of governor and that of regional civilian commissioner in Serbia, still occupied by Austria- Hungary. Meanwhile, the remaining part was assigned to Bulgaria, which ultimately was aiming at an annexation of those areas won. Moreover, fights flared up time and again over the stretches of land concerned, whereupon the Bulgarian General Governor even gave instructions to use weapons against Austro-Hungarian soldiers in case of emergency.

At the same time, rivalries continued between the High Command and government circles in Budapest over future occupation policy. Besides, relations between the local population and the Central Powers proved to be equally problematic. The latter also tried to exploit economically the conquered regions, these including Serbia, Montenegro, Albania as well as Romania. The consequences included resistance from the locals and – often linked to this – ‘gangs’ that could never be fully controlled. 

Besides the governments of Serbia and Montenegro, this also applied to Albania, which though an ally, lacked an adequate political system, at least according to Berlin and Vienna. Also, an Austro-Hungarian army command remained in charge in this area due to its proximity to the front. So the Albanian population was permitted fundamental civic rights only to the extent that they were compatible with military authority and considerations.


Knezevic, Jovana Lazic: The Austro-Hungarian occupation of Belgrade during the First World War: battles at the home front, New Haven 2006

Scheer, Tamara: Zwischen Front und Heimat. Österreich-Ungarns Militärverwaltungen im Ersten Weltkrieg, Frankfurt am Main 2009

Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    Power blocks

    At the start of the war France, Britain and Russia formed the Triple Entente, extending the existing Entente Cordiale between Britain and France. The aim was to curb the ambitions of the German Empire under Wilhelm II to become a major power. Italy joined the war in 1915 on the side of the Entente. On the other side were the Central Powers consisting of the German Empire, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire. In 1917 the USA entered the war on the side of the Entente, marking a decisive turning point that was to lead to the military collapse of the Central Powers.

Persons, Objects & Events

  • Object

    Strikes, revolutionary movements

    The transformation of production facilities for war work and the departure of the men to the front meant that women increasingly performed typical male jobs, in the armaments industry and elsewhere. They also had to feed their families and were thus the first to react to the increasingly precarious food situation and the extremely bad working conditions.

  • 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.

  • Person

    István Graf Tisza

    Tisza was the “strong man” in the political scene of the Hungarian half of the Empire. He was assassinated during the revolts of 1918.


  • Development

    National politics in the multi-ethnic empire

    At the start of the nation-building era, the Habsburg empire was a breeding ground for the development of national concepts for the peoples of Central Europe. Later, the state framework of the Dual Monarchy was seen increasingly as an obstacle to full national development.