After defeat in WWI, the monarchies of the German Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire rapidly crumbled, and their outlying provinces took the opportunity to declare independence and sovereignty. Austria's problems are well-known, but Germany also had uprisings in Bavaria, Silesia, Posen, and Berlin itself.

And yet the Weimar Republic was successfully able to put down these rebellions, despite massive economic, industrial, and military problems after the war and Armistice at Compegnie. By the time the Treaties of Versailles, Trianon, and Saint-Germain were to be signed, Germany still held on to all of its land, while Austria-Hungary no longer existed as a political entity. The unified German state was only ~50 years old at the time, while the Austrian Empire controlled its lands for much longer than that, so why was it that the former was able to stick together so much better than the latter?

The Entente powers, all too happy to dismantle Austria-Hungary and forbid the union from reoccurring, also left Germany intact (aside from reversing the territorial gains of Prussia at the expense of France and Poland). Why? If this was motivated by ethnic nation-statehood, why were Austria and Germany kept separate, when both are Germans (and Bavarians are closer geographically and religiously to Austrians than Prussians)?

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    Bavaria, Silesia, Posen, and Berlin were more "German" than Hungary, Galicia, Transylvania were Austrian. Austria's revolts mere more ethnic and had broader support than Germany's which were mostly attempts to go communist. Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 15:45
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    So many different languages and cultures. Germany had... well some poles in the east, but mostly germans. Many peoples in the old A-H empire started to demand their own country. Apparently so much that some provocateur managed to trigger WW1 over it on balkan. That's how the WW1 started after all... Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 19:58
  • Cultural dissimilarities, rigid military practices that could not stand up to anyone; bad government. A-H almost lost its land to Russia and Italy (Italy failed to attack Llubljiana? after capturing Gorizia? losing a chance to flank and destroy Austrias last real army) in WW1 and failed in Serbia 2x. Did you know Broz Tito fought for A-H and was imprisoned for stating he would surrender to Russia if Serbia was invaded? Not good, basically. Their best general was Bosnian (von Bojna). Also not good. Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 20:37
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    Austria-Hungary had only been around for 47 years at the start of World War I. Sure, the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary were individually much older, but the Dual Monarchy was only four years older than the German Empire.
    – Mark
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 21:48
  • Typo: Compiègne, not Compegnie
    – jlliagre
    Commented Dec 25, 2017 at 21:13

7 Answers 7

The unified German state was only ~40 years old at the time, while the Austrian Empire
controlled its lands for much longer than that, so why was it that the former was able
to stick together so much better than the latter?

The German Empire was a far more homogeneous state than Austria-Hungary. While the vast majority of Germans were... Germans, Austria-Hungary famously had to issue mobilisation orders in 11 languages. Their ethnic identities included:

  1. Germans
  2. Hungarians
  3. Czechs
  4. Croats/Serbians
  5. Bosniaks
  6. Slovenian
  7. Poles
  8. Ukrainians
  9. Romanians
  10. Italians
  11. Slovaks

Although Germans and Hungarians dominated politically, none of these groups were more than 25% of the population. Once the prestige and authority of the Habsburg Monarchy disintegrated, there was nothing holding these disparate nationalities together.

Perhaps even more importantly, each nationality was to a large degree concentrated in specific locales. The Hungarians dominated central Hungary; the Czechs were concentrated in Bohemia; and the Croats lived within Croatia-Slavonia, for example. Once central authority broke down, it was therefore relatively easier for each of these subregions to transition into a new nation-state of their own.

enter image description here

In contrast, the German Empire was very much a single-nation state. Now, to be sure, there was still numerous minority groups. However, Germans constituted 92% of the German population. This was an overwhelmingly dominant group, which by and large continued to identify with Germany even after the monarchies collapsed.

Moreover, on a geographical level, ethnic Germans dominated most of Germany. Hence although there were many uprisings, separatist revolts were limited to the periphery and did not threaten the core German territories.

enter image description here

The Entente powers, all too happy to dismantle Austria-Hungary and forbid the union
from reoccurring, also left Germany intact (aside from reversing the territorial gains
of Prussia at the expense of France and Poland). Why?

One of the policies pursued by the victorious powers is national self-determination, a principle expressed by President Wilson in his Fourteen Points declaration.

If you examine the ethnic maps posted above, then it becomes obvious that the Allies actually partitioned both Germany and Austria-Hungary roughly along ethnic lines. Most of the Polish regions of Germany were detached. The Danish dominated the northern bit of Schleswig-Holstein, which was returned to Denmark. Likewise, Austria-Hungary lost South Tyrol to Italy, Galicia to Poland, Banat to Romania, and the remaining Germans, Hungarians, Croats/Serbs/Slovenians, and Czechs/Slovaks each gained their own nation states.

Since most of Germany was inhabited by Germans, she stayed together largely intact. In contrast, Austria-Hungary was very fragmented ethnically. Therefore, the logical result of "giving every language its own state", as the exasperated French complained of Wilson, meant that Austria-Hungary ended up being completely dismantled.

Of course, Allied strategic concerns regularly overrode this principle. For instance, the Danzig Corridor was awarded to Poland despite its German majority, in order to give the Poles access to the sea. Austria was also prevented from entering into a union with Germany, because the Allies feared this would strengthen Germany too much. Even then, however, there was inter-allied manoeuvring to avoid taking blame for violating the principle of self-determination.

While they wished to make [the prohibition of Anschluss] permanent, the British instead stressed its temporary character. Some Englishmen wanted the French to bear the "odium" for any violation of the principle of national self-determination.

Low, Alfred D. The Anschluss Movement, 1918-1919, and the Paris Peace Conference. American Philosophical Society, 1974.

The principle of national self-determination was not wholly lip service - it found many believers among Allied intellectuals. Although practical concerns regularly overrode it, Allied leaders were nonetheless unwilling to appear completely hypocritical. Thus:

But why not give Bavaria to Austria, to make Germany weaker?

Preventing anschluss was relatively easy to achieve. the French simply dismissed the Austrian movement as a ruse orchestrated by Berlin. While President Wilson was insistent that the Allies "cannot deny a country the right to link up with another; we cannot refuse a country the right to join another, if she wishes it", he was quite willing to agree that "we can prohibit an annexation" by Germany. And so the Big Three resolved to prohibit anschluss except with the approval of the League of Nations.

To go further by substantially dismembering Germany, however, would have been a much more egregious violation of the principle of self-determination. The French did consider such a move, asking for the creation of an independent Rhenish state, but this time Wilson adamantly refused to budge:

The most that France felt able to urge for its own security was the creation of a separate Rhineland state, and even this was thwarted by Wilson's use of the national determination argument. In lieu, Wilson offered the French demilitarization of the Rhine and an Anglo-American guarantee of the frontier with Germany.

Cassels, Alan. Ideology and International Relations in the Modern World. Routledge, 2002.

Although the French didn't bother pushing to move Bavaria to Austria, we can reasonably expect Wilson to have the same reaction. Moreover, there was substantial support within the British Foreign Office for joining Austria to Germany in order to counterbalance Prussia's dominance by strengthening southern, Catholic Germany. To detach Bavaria would have the opposite effect, and would produce pressure on Lloyd George to oppose such a scheme.

[A] secret memorandum drawn up in the Foreign Office in the fall of 1916 had recommended both the dissolution of the Habsburg multinational empire and the Anschluss of the "German provinces of Austria" with Germany. In his memoirs [prime minister David Lloyd George] praised as "remarkable" this British memorandum, which had been prepared and signed by two prominent officials of the Foreign Office . . . In any event, this increase will not add to Prussia's power, but rather enhance the importance of the non-Prussian German states and substantially enlarge Germany's Catholic elements. The weakening of Prussia will diminish Germany's threat to Europe. "We therefore think that the drifting of the Austrian provinces to Germany need not alarm the Allies who are not intent on crushing Germany".

Low, Alfred D. The Anschluss Movement, 1918-1919, and the Paris Peace Conference. American Philosophical Society, 1974.

  • 1
    @LangLangC I never claimed it was followed perfectly, but the ethnic background behind most of territorial changes is self evident.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 17:28
  • 4
    @NikolaB Because they both spoke serbo-croat and differ only by religion, also Semaphore is not the one who made this chart so he's not responsible for that "mistake".
    – Bregalad
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 18:43
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    @NikolaB To be honest Slovenes, Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks could all be slashed together as a Pan South-Slavic group; it's divided like this because the Slovenes were in Cisleithania (Austria), the Croats were in Transleithania (Hungary), the Bosniaks were in the Condominium of B&H. The Serbs mainly refers to the ones in living in Croatia-Slovania, so they got lumped together with the Croats. @ Bregalad I'm not sure what you mean, I didn't talk about the military?
    – Semaphore
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 18:50
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    @Semaphore But why not give Bavaria to Austria, to make Germany weaker?
    – SPavel
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 19:08
  • 2
    @Semaphore That makes sense. Thanks for the explanation!
    – NikolaB
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 19:18

Nationalism was the defining organizing principle of the 20th Century.

Under that Principle, having a country named "Germany" made up primarily of Germans makes perfect sense. Such a country should be stable. There's no real seam for parts of it to separate off into other cohesive units.

On the other hand, an "empire" made up of Germans, Hungarians, Romanians, and all manner of different flavors of Slavs, all living mostly in their own self-contained areas is an incoherent mess that's going to take constant effort (likely repression) to keep together. Any unrest in any one area is going to instantly take on the proportions of a Civil War if it isn't contained quickly.

  • 5
    Germany 1914 had large parts of non-german speaking areas, and on the other hand I'm fairly sure Hungarians and at least some slavs were 100% supportive of their country in A-H. Only Romanians, Italians, Serbs and some Czechs had a good reasons to go against A-H.
    – Bregalad
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 15:55
  • 4
    @T.E.D. You're somewhat oversimplifying things. A-H was massively multiethnic and that was considered a problem only by nationalists, which was by far not everyone. It's interesting you bring up religion, because Germany was very divided, while A-H was overwhelmingly catholic.
    – Bregalad
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 18:35
  • 2
    But Austrians were also Germans (at least south Germans, like Bavarians). Why not annex Austria to Germany, or Bavaria to Austria, or something?
    – SPavel
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 18:55
  • 4
    I think a nice supplement to the opening statement of "Nationalism as the defining organizing principle" is the fact that the method, form, and ideology of the German Government did collapse. The consistent thread between the Germany of WWI and WWII was the sense of National Identity, certainly not the continuity of government. You can imagine a timeline chart of growing perception and rhetoric of national identity as it was used as a tool to overcome internal unrest. Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 19:17
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    @SPavel - That's exactly what that Nationalist German Corporal Whatshisname from WWI asked too....
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 2:21

Germany could remain a relatively large block somewhat resembling its pre-war shape in terms of international borders. But that does not mean these borders and the block itself weren't challenged. Most of the rebellions in Germany at the end of the war were communist uprisings, often quickly put down by proto-Nazi troops, which were officially and originally ordered to quell nationalist uprisings on the fringes of the Reich, mostly Polish incursions.

That is the first difference compared to Austria-Hungary: Austria was a weak state – structurally and administratively – before the war and really already in complete shambles by the end of the war. Many centrifugal forces – active from before the war – and utter breakdown across the field. Czech autonomy, only hinted at in Wilson's 14 points, was rapidly expanded into full independence by Czech nationalists while the Austrian leadership still tried to woo the Czechs into participatory citizenship.

Meanwhile Germany remained an orderly state, crushing any dissent and aspirations, with a self-image of "undefeated in the field" with functioning and effective (para-)military units. The ruling elites (except for the monarchs), the civil service and military power structures were a little shaken, but otherwise left completely intact. With the help of the social democrats in gunning down any rebellion the same conservatives loyal to the fatherland with their imperial ambitions were not only able to survive but emerge from the turmoil only strengthened.

The politics of nationalism are and were a complete disaster on every front imaginable. And arguing with nationalism as an intrinsic factor for anything is falling into the trap that the propagandists of nationalism laid out all around. Nationalism is a construct of arbitrary imprecision, actively invented and absent from human nature, but apparently useful for the ruling elites. (Cf. Immanuel Wallerstein: "The Modern World-System IV: Centrist Liberalism Triumphant, 1789-1914", "Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities", "Studies in Modern Capitalism: Geopolitics and Geoculture")

Its major political problem was twofold: how to provide historical legitimacy for the Bismarckian (Prusso-Little German) version of unification which had none; and how to deal with that large part of the democratic electorate which would have preferred another solution (Great Germans, anti-Prussian particularists, Catholics and, above all, Social Democrats). (Hobsbawm)

The "nation" of Germany (really the second Reich) was forged by Bismarck just a few decades before and explicitly excluding the Germans from Austria, for practical power politics reasons. But including the Danes and Friesians in the North, the Sorbs and Wendish in the Middle, a few French in thoroughly Germanic Alsace-Lorraine and Poles, Kashubs etc. in the East. Even the ever separatist Bavarians. As well as the 30% Polish minority in the industrialised Rhineland.

But for French revanche, Europe might have faced the Eastern Question with comparative ease. What gave the impending crisis its dreadful character was the fear of a simultaneous Franco-Russian assault on Central Europe. No American saw the essentially tragic nature of the Franco-Russian alliance more clearly than did William R. Thayer, an acute observer of the European scene, who wrote in November 1891:

Russia is ... the center of the warlike storm-area to-day. Eliminate her from European politics, and the other powers would have no plausible excuse for keeping up their armaments, because France, in spite of her grievances and wrath, would see the hopelessness of dashing her head against Germany, supported by Austria and Italy. The possibility of winning Russia as an ally ... has forced Germany to stand by her guns. But the Russian monster threatens not only Germany; as Napoleon discerned eighty years ago, he endangers all western Europe.


With the approach of peace, Wilson’s immediate challenge lay in Europe, where his leadership hinged on an armistice based on his Fourteen Points. The President understood fully that the European Allies did not share his vision of the post-war world, especially after the Russian publication of the Allied secret treaties. To protect his diplomatic independence, Wilson rejected a formal alliance with Britain and France, designating the United States officially as an “associated power” in the Western coalition. Throughout the final months of the war, he refused to compromise his principles by recognizing the secret treaties, or to prejudice any post-war Allied negotiations with wartime concessions to known British and French interests.

Those partitions away from the former Reich's territory clearly prove that the 14 points of Wilson's address were moot when the armistice was signed. They served their purpose and were put to rest. While some of the concepts of national self-determination were publicly proclaimed, in practice they were way too often undermined or ignored. Gerrymandering of voting districts in Schleswig, Eupen, Malmedy, parts of Eastern provinces, Saar and Alsace cut off without a vote, Rhineland occupation, relatively open voting fraud in other areas are a contestable issue. Later actions on behalf of the allies in forbidding German-Austria to join the other Germans and the ethnic make-up or construction of Czechoslovakia expose the best-before date of the principles of the 14 points.

Nationalism as well as "self-determination" are good for rousing peasants and middle class voters who didn't care before (as evidenced by peaceful co-settlement patterns). When it comes down to actual decisions: power and economic interests rule the day, any day.

Splitting up a country that was only formed a few years before was easy. Napoleon did just that a hundred years before with German lands: French Empire An exercise that after World War II was done again, of course.

And after World War I it was not unimaginable to separate especially Rhine-provinces and Bavaria from the Reich. Bavaria had to be bribed into the union from the start. The Rhenish resented Prussian rule, were catholic and had separatist tendencies, leanings and sympathy for the French who furthered their independence movement, occupied the zone in question for a time. They Rhenish and the Bavarians resented and still resent to a degree the Prussians. And they speak another language too:

linguistic divisions Notice the fat colourful lines that cross ancient, 19th, 20th century, and present day borders. Even today people from both sides of the border between Germany and the Netherlands understand each other much better than Bavarians can understand Friesian people. Swabians today advertise jokingly their inability to speak proper standard high German.

Calling Germany a more homogenous country is quite misleading. A Germany based on ethnicity according to nationalism would incorporate much more of the Netherlands and Belgium, Switzerland, Bohemia and the whole of Austria. But going by linguistic borders alone could arguably also lead to splitting Germany into several pieces, since East-Netherlands and Northern Germany as well as Bavaria and Austria are in two separate but very smooth continua. Culturally, language is not the only divide to observe. Even religiously German speaking countries remain split – or perhaps more accurate: very thoroughly mixed up:

confessional distribution in Germany

So the second main difference between Germany and Austria-Hungary is that Germany could have and should have been dismantled much more. But the French were not allowed to have it their way. Nor the Polish or the Czech were allowed to have it all their way by the other powers. Not because of anything about language or nationality or self-determination. Those concepts only mattered in rhetoric not in actual aims, plans or interests.

The French negotiating claims against Germany were presented to the British and Americans in the opening stages of the peace conference. For clarity of exposition, they may be divided into territorial, economic, and security elements, although this division obscures their interconnectedness. Although the French had claims on Germany's African colonies in the Cameroons and Togoland, the territorial starting point within Europe must be Alsace-Lorraine, the province and a half that in 1871 they had forfeited. The Clemenceau government successfully insisted that it be allowed to regain Alsace-Lorraine without a plebiscite, and with the authority to expel German immigrants and liquidate German holdings in mining and heavy industry. The protection for minorities that qualified other territorial transfers decided at the conference did not apply here. The northern frontier of Lorraine, however, had changed on many earlier occasions, and Clemenceau asked not for the line of 1870 but that of 1814-15, which included two salients round Saarbriicken and Landau. The former would give him most of the Saar coal basin, but he also wanted to occupy the remainder of the coalfield situated beyond the 1814 line, to exploit its mines and to incorporate the whole of the Saar into the French monetary and customs zone. Farther to the north lay the German territories on the left bank of the Rhine, which the French contended should be divided into one or more nominally independent states, to be disarmed, made neutral, and given their own central bank and note issue. They would be included, however, in the "Western European customs zone," and both the left bank and the Rhine bridges would remain indefinitely under Allied occupation.

Should this program be rejected, Clemenceau and his advisers intended to demand the annexation of a glacis inhabited by one million Germans to the north of the 1814 frontier.

This security system would be incomplete if it excluded the Low Countries, and the French hoped for military cooperation with Belgium, as well as closer economic integration. They supported Belgium's territorial demands on Germany and its pretensions to territory from the Netherlands, which latter would be "compensated" at Germany's expense. In Luxembourg, however, which the Belgians hoped to annex, the Clemenceau government refused Brussels a free hand. The Versailles treaty confirmed Luxembourg's departure from its prewar customs union with Germany but transferred the Grand Duchy's principal railway system from German to French control.

In the remaining territorial questions, French policy moved to weaken Germany as much as possible, disregarding both a scrupulous adherence to self-determination and sometimes the wishes of Germany's neighbors: Denmark, for example, wanted less of Schleswig than Paris wished to see assigned to it.
Similarly, France denied the legitimacy of Austrian aspirations for union with Germany, and the peace treaty required the Germans to respect Austrian independence in the absence of a contrary decision by a League of Nations in which France would have a veto. The new authorities in Prague, by contrast, wished to maintain control over the German-speakers of the Sudetenland, and as early as June 1918 the French had publicly supported the Czech National Council's desire for independence "within the historic limits of your provinces." The French conference delegates agreed that the Sudetenland was strategically and economically indispensable to the Czechoslovak republic and fended off American challenges to Czech claims on it.

In September 1918 Clemenceau had made a similar public promise to the Polish National Committee that "on the day of our victory … France … will spare nothing in order to revive a free Poland corresponding to the latter's national aspirations and bounded by its historic limits." These limits the French Foreign Ministry understood to be the Polish frontiers of 1772, giving the country a broad land corridor to the Baltic at Germany's expense, as well as the port of Danzig. During the armistice negotiations the ministry tried unsuccessfully to stipulate that German forces should retreat behind the 1772 frontier, and an interdepartmental meeting on January 29 reaffirmed support for a strong Poland with a broad land corridor as a "buttress against German expansion," although the "internationalization" of Danzig and the corridor might, in deference to Britain and America, have to be accepted as a second best. Farther to the south, in contrast, the French supported Polish claims to the whole of Upper Silesia, which contained the second largest German coalfield, and, although of mixed population, had not been part of Poland in 1772.

To territorial amputations would be added economic restrictions. […] If the wartime inter-Allied agreements for pooling raw materials could be preserved, it would demand only reparation for the damage in the occupied regions, together with protection against dumping and other unfair trading practices. But in the absence of such agreements it would seek an "enormous" German debt burden, as well as coal deliveries of up to 35 million tons annually for twenty-five years. If combined with Germany's loss of the iron ore, coal, and steel of Upper Silesia, Lorraine, and the Saar, such terms would place its heavy industry at a lasting disadvantage and go far to redress the Franco-German imbalance that had grown up in the prewar years. […]
Both the territorial and economic elements of the French position, then, had strategic implications. They must be considered in conjunction with the Clemenceau government's wider security demands. It did not ask that Bismarck's work be undone and German unity broken up, although it encouraged Rhenish and Bavarian separatism and unsuccessfully challenged the Weimar government's legal authority to sign the Versailles treaty.
In contradistinction to American thinking, such a body would be a disguised continuation of the wartime coalition, and in the Chamber of Deputies on December 29, 1918, Clemenceau served public notice that he still saw value in the defensive system, now condemned by "certain high authorities," of strategic frontiers, armaments, and alliances. Nonetheless, his "directing thought" in the negotiations would be that "nothing must happen which might separate after the war the four Powers that were united during it. To this unity I will make every sacrifice."

At one stage the French wanted apparently to achieve something like this: French partition plans for central Europe original or more colourful: French partition plans for central Europe modernised to colour

Germany went into the shape of borders it had after 1919 because the unchanged from before elites of Germany still aspired to a Great Reich (and after crushing the revolution and seperatist movements had the means to do so) – and Americans and British were able to restrain the French (and some other minor neighbours) from taking what they wanted.


Michael S. Neiberg: "The Treaty of Versailles. A Concise History", Oxford University Press: Oxford, New York, 2017.

Norman A. Graebner and Edward M. Bennett: "The Versailles Treaty and Its Legacy. The Failure of the Wilsonian Vision", Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, New York, 2011.

Manfred F Boemeke, Gerald D. Feldman and Elisabeth Glaser : "Treaty of Versailles. A Reassessment After 75 Years", Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, New York, 1998. (Review)

  • Did you truly mean "As well as the 30% Polish minority in the industrialised Rhineland"? Perhaps you meant "Silesia" or "East Prussia", or even "Pomerania", rather than "Rhineland"? Commented Apr 16 at 1:36

Austria-Hungary failed not only because of their multiculturalism and internal rivalities, but also because

  • They gradually became an insignificant puppet state of Germany during the war
  • Their military defeat was total
  • They couldn't sign a separate peace when it was still possible
  • Hunger, misery, desertions and major hunger protests

The situation evolved a lot between 1914 and 1918, so it's important to understand that, contrary to popular beliefs, collapse was not forseeable in 1914, not even in the Entente's dreams. The 11 different languages within the Empire caused little problems in peace time.

When war broke out in summer 1914, the Entente Sacrée and loyalty to Habsburgs prevaled almost everywhere in the empire. The destruction of Austria-Hungary was not on the Entente's war aims either, so, contrary to popular beliefs, the animosity between nationalities in the empires did not cause an immediate problem and nobody could foresee such a collapse.

The German army was much more prepared for the war than Austria-Hungary's. Germany was an economical superpower prior to the war, and the influence of Prussian militarism was everywhere, so it's army could have the best equipment and lots of funding and influence everywhere in the German society. On the other hand, Austria-Hungary was much less developed economically, only Bohemia and what is modern-day Austria and was back then German-Austria were economically on par with the western countries. Remote places like Transylvania, or Slovenia/Croatia were not yet industrialized, and made of peasant farming economy only. The influence of the military was much more limited, and Austria was more a culture-oriented country, were people were passionate for theatre and music. It's as such no surprise the Austro-Hungarian army was weaker and less prepared than the German army.

Another major factor was the incompetence of high-ranked officers. Austro-Hungarian general Conrad von Hötzendorf, was incompetent, and the German ally had to constantly come to save Austria-Hungary from military defeat. The earliest example is in 1915 when Conrad von Hötzendorf sent his own troops freezing in the Carpathians mountain in the middle of winter, without proper equipment. General von Falkenhayn had to send German divisions from the western front to support Austria, which also prevented Germany to beat France at the time. Since then things only got worse. From a trustworthy ally, Austria-Hungary became a "naughty student" to Germany. This made Austria a puppet state of Germany, incapable of acting on its own.

In 1916 as Austria-Hungary was extremely weakened and started to starve, Emperor Carl the 1st sought peace at all costs immediately after successing Franz-Joseph the 1st, even at defavorable conditions. The more time was passing, the weaker Austria-Hungary was and the more the war would damage the country. However such a peace was not possible without Germany's approval, unless it was a separate peace. German's high command, now lead by the very arrogant and authoritarian generals Ludendorff & Von Hindenburg, thought they were clearly going to win the war and did NOT want to seek a white peace with the Entente. The Kaiser was basically a puppet of those 2 generals and had almost no word to say. Similarly, young inexperiemented Emperor Carl the 1st couldn't do much on his own. Austrian-German nobility supported heavily fighting with Germany until the end, and Carl was isolated in his peace-leaning position. Separate peace would mean Austria considered as a traitor and being invaded by Germany, making the emperor extremely unpopular to say the least, or even be considered a traitor for the Austrian-Germans. Not to mention the half-defeated starving Austrian army could hardly repel such an attack.

A major factor was the arrival of famine and high price of food. Unlike the entente powers such as France and the UK which could import food from their colonies, Germany and Austria-Hungary basically had to feed themselves because of the naval blockade. Germany had a system with ration cards to prevent people stocking food, but Austria-Hungary did not, so prices in food increased tremendously as unscrupulous people could just stock grain and sell it back at a much higher price. As such, famine came sooner to the civilian population in Austria-Hungary (problems arose in 1915 already), while in Germany the situation was tense but under control. Since the soldiers could only be fed every two days, their force and motivation to fight was extremely low to say the least.

As the war advanced in 1917, Autria-Hungary was encountering a wave of desertions that increased even more in 1918. Since everyone, including officiers, were starving there was not much point in following orders anymore, and there was no more weapons and amunitions anyway. People deserted the army to loot nearby for food, or in some cases joined the enemy's army. Austria-Hungary's army gradually stopped to exist, and the few remaining loyal units were busy keeping order at home against food rioters and extremist political agitators. This lead to a situation where self-organized yougoslav and czechoslovak separatists could not be repressed anymore.

Germany, on the other hand, still had it's army mobilized when the armistice was signed, and even though it was on the verge of collapse, they signed the armistice in time to avoid allied occupation of Germany.

The enetente originally did plan to maybe steal a province or two from Austria-Hungary, but the destruction of that country was not on their plan before early 1918. Even in 1917 they still hoped an (impossible) separated peace to be concluded, and the 10th point of Wilson was supposed to grant autonomy to Austro-Hungarian people, not independance. Emperor Carl also wanted to give such autonomy, but alas, the Hungarian nobility tought that was out of question, and fought an united Hungary until the very end, even when the army stopped to exist and such a thing was no longer possible. So autonomy was impossible for Croats, Slovaks and Romanians. Now for the Austrian part of the country they tried to give autonomy to Poles and Czechs. Unfortunately this leads to miscontent by Bohemian-Germans and Ruthenian-Galicians, which did not want to be ruled by Czechs and Poles respecitvely. So a new administration of Austria needed to be put in place, and by the time the plan was ready, it was too late and Austria-Hungary already collapsed.

During 1918 as it became clear a separate peace with Austria-Hungary was impossible, the Entente choose to reconise the (ultra-minority) Czechoslovak and Yugoslav governements in exile as legitimate, which in turn made the destruction of Austria-Hungary on their war aims.

Now, as for why the allies did not allow Austria to join Germany, this is simply because they did not want a strong Germany, especially not France. As for why they kept Germany itself unified and did not revert the unification of 1871, I myself really wonder why it went that way, it makes almost no sense, considering southern German had lots of resentment towards Prussians at the time, seen as arrogant and ultra-militaristic. It's a wonder why the allies did not exploit that sentiment.

By the way, it's a minor nitpick but you're wrong in saying

they reverted territorials gains of Prussia at the expense of France and Poland

The Alsace-Moselle territories were never part of Prussa, just Germany. As for Poland, they drew entirely new borders and did not restore the border to what it was before the German invasion.

My sources includes mainly:


Germany was dismantled as much as possible while still mostly conforming with the self-determination of the local population. The Polish corridor and Danzig were split off without any vote, other areas had a vote. Clearly Polish regions were split off as it should be.

Projecting today's ethnic borders in the former German east on the borders of 1919 is plainly misleading, because the areas of most of Silesia, Farther Pomerania and East Prussia were overwhelmingly German-settled, and had been part of German states for centuries.

Only the huge population shift of 8M+ Germans from these lands cerate the impression that Germany remained "too large" -- in fact no one talks much, Germans the least on the largest-scale ethnic cleansing of 1945-48. So, to the contrary: Germany as of today has become unjustly small.

  • Some supporting sources would improve the quality of the answer.
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Nov 25, 2020 at 20:07

This question is not about Austria, it is about the Habsburgs. The Hungarians did not want any Habsburg ruler for most of them treated Hungary as a colony. The Hungarians always wanted to regain independency that eventually succeded in 1918.

  • 4
    Welcome to History:SE. Sources to support your assertions would greatly improve this answer. Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 12:59
  • 2
    What makes you think that The Hungarians, which was actually several million people at the same, wanted one and the same thing, and had only one opinion ?!? Also if they probably wanted more autonomy from Austria, they certainly did NOT want to loose more than 1/3 of their territory, and are still frustrated about it to this day.
    – Bregalad
    Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 18:22
  • Factually incorrect. There was no any political force in Hungary who pushed independent national states. Independence from Austria become a topic only after the war and the entire collapse of Habsburg power. They were dethroned in 1921, well after the Trianon treaty.
    – Greg
    Commented Jul 20, 2019 at 10:55
  • @Bregalad Hungary lost 2/3 and not 1/3.
    – Greg
    Commented Jul 20, 2019 at 10:56
  • @Greg The history of Hungary is full of independence movements and wars. See this: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R%C3%A1k%C3%B3czi%27s_War_of_Independence and this: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungarian_Revolution_of_1848. The Habsburgs were de facto dethroned on 16 Nov 1918 by the proto-communists by declaring Republic of Hungary. The last Habsburg king Charles IV attempted to retake the throne a couple of time with no success until he gave it up in 1921.
    – AcsErno
    Commented Dec 18, 2020 at 10:57

My answer will focus in on the German army, and, for lack of a better descriptor, its "cultural significance” . This is something which LangLangC's answer hit upon briefly, yet which I believe is the main reason Germany did not disunite in the aftermath of WW1. Historically, Germany was a country which was founded on war. War had been what united Germany and created it as a nation when it faced France during the Franco-Prussian War (~1870). In that war, Germany demonstrated its ability to integrate the divisions of its constituent states by pioneering having a general staff. This staff derived unity with eachother from both necessity and schooling, as Germany itself had a War Academy to provide training and doctrines of war for its army leaders (think On War, Carl von Clauswitz). These leaders, the army officers and generals, were likewise the elites of Germany. From ancient times, when warband leaders ruled the Germanic tribes, through the middle ages where an aristocrat class of warrior leaders was formalized, to the modern age where officers commanded and soldiers obeyed, the “job” of the German elites was warfare. As such, the best and brightest of Germany tended to end up there, and much of Germany’s skill was invested in the military. Therefore, the Imperial German Army was well led with the top coordinators and planners additionally having unity in background from schooling and societal place.

From its foundation as a nation, Germany enforced conscription which can only increase the importance of military within a society. All the young men of Germany would have shared in discipline and been trained to derive courage from unity. Those distributing discipline and ordering the unity were the officers. If the officers had unity with each other, the soldiers would share that unity. Disciplined armies are by nature a united whole formed of many parts enforcing discipline to see a single will carried out. They are autonomous except for provisioning and the voluntary subservience of its leaders to their state. When Germany lost WW1, the army did not disintegrate. Although its head was lost, (Kaiser removed), leaving no more a single will to guide it, the leaders of its parts did not, in each going his own way, carve up Germany. The people of Germany, the soldiers of its army, they knew that unity provided strength. Its leaders, the officers, had the will to find strength for Germany even after its defeat. Although there were plenty of upheavals in post-war Germany and communist rebellions, the presence of so many demobilized soldiers who retained their weapons enabled irregulars to put down rebellions and restore order rather than the opposite which would’ve been expected in many other countries. The “undefeated in the field” myth reaffirmed the commitment of the army to Germany and vice-versa through blaming the failure and loss of WW1 on its Kaiser and civil institutions, while maintaining its prestige and place in society.

Austria-Hungary could not rely on any “undefeated in the Field” myth because it relied too heavily on Germany rescuing it from the Russians, and it did not have the martial pride of Germany (especially, I would say amongst its citizenry whose martial pride would be directed more regionally than nationally, and who didn’t have as successful a recent war history as Germany). Its military defeats could be blamed in some cases on its constituent parts performing sub-par. Blame further fractured the army which already was not as united as the Imperial German Army. After the war, its separate parts did not have the drive to remain together but were content to de-muster to their respective recruitment pools. The army itself was not homogenized enough to have the same unifying cultural influence the German army had in Germany. This was not primarily the fault of its officers which were also its elites, but the system of the army was not standardized enough. As the centralized government of Austria-Hungary failed the people (by losing a costly war) a power vacuum emerged, and pre-existing or newly formed self-determination based states seemed more promising to the people. Without the army to hold them back or any promise of renewed or greater strength from the central government and the old ways, the empire was dissolved: a last step in a process which had been underway for a while.

Tldr: Armies = Order. For Germans, army is life. Austrians like Mozart > army, so they get disorder.

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