Thursday, April 28, 2011
Monarchist Profile: Anton Lehár
By 1913 Lehár had attained field rank as a major and when World War I broke out he was given command of a battalion of Regiment 13 in Army Group Kummer. Lehár and his men were soon thrown into combat against the Russian 4th Army at the battle of Chodel south of Lublin. Lehár greatly distinguished himself in very hard fighting as the Russians tried to separate Army Group Kummer from Baron von Dankl’s First KuK Army. For his skill and courage he was decorated with the knights cross of the Maria Theresa Order and, for this action, was later ennobled with the title of baron in 1918. The next month, September, with brutal combat still raging in the Lublin area, Lehár was badly wounded and further decorated with the Order of the Iron Crown. Forced out of front line service while he recovered from his wounds he was posted to the general staff, specifically the Tyrol defense department. He distinguished himself in that position as well and was soon promoted to lieutenant colonel and decorated by the Germans with the Iron Cross in 1915.
However, Lehár was a man of action and pressed for a return to combat duty and was posted to the Italian front. However, in 1916, he was pulled out of the line to take command of the Infantry and Cavalry Weapons Department. While there he pushed for more machine guns on the company level but was never content with serving behind a desk and soon persuaded the high command to send him back into battle. In 1917 he was posted to command Landsturmbataillon 150 which he led in heavy fighting in the Bukovina region. In early 1918 he was sent to the Piave sector to command infantry regiment 106 where he earned promotion to colonel and the officers’ gold medal for bravery. His bravery and tactical skill inspired his troops and they were devotedly loyal to him and, at the end of the war, even as the empire was dissolving around them, he brought his regiment home without a single incidence of desertion. As a loyal Hapsburg monarchist and a zealous Hungarian patriot he was greatly disturbed by the fall of the Dual Empire and the Allied treaties which stripped the Kingdom of Hungary of most of its territory.
In 1921, Emperor Charles (Karoly IV in Hungary) returned to Hungary from Switzerland to resume his royal duties. Arriving on Holy Saturday, the “Easter Crisis”, as it became known, ended when Admiral Horthy persuaded the king to go back into exile, still protesting his loyalty to the monarchy, but arguing that the time was still not right for a full restoration. Charles did so but became convinced that, left on his own, Horthy would never think the time was right and meant to rule Hungary himself for the rest of his life. Therefore, in October, a new and more coordinated restoration attempt was made. Charles returned to Hungary, accompanied by his pregnant wife, to show that the King and Queen were determined to come home to stay. Upon landing, Baron Lehár was the first major figure they met with and he quickly began organizing loyal Hungarian soldiers for the return of the King to Budapest, with or without the support of the regent.
The King appointed the loyal baron Minister of Defense in the new administration he was drawing up. Baron Lehár was right beside his King as they made their way toward the capital, despite orders from Horthy to halt the advance, and Charles was hailed and cheered by crowds in every town they passed through. However, Horthy was organizing his own forces and gained a great deal of support when the British government stated their total opposition to a Hapsburg restoration in Hungary. Divisions appeared as the government officials, in the face of international opposition, began to hold aloof or drift back toward Horthy. Emperor Charles knew he could count on the support of Baron Lehár and Major Gyula Ostenberg but for the rest, there was doubt. Horthy warned of disaster if Charles was restored and used the British statement of opposition as “proof” that the world community would never accept a restoration in Hungary to sway top leaders and military officials to his side. Baron Lehár and Colonel Ostenberg wanted to fight it out, convinced that they could win, but Charles wanted no bloodshed and forbid any further struggle. He returned to exile and Admiral Horthy, still calling himself regent, remained safely in power in Budapest.