Chapter 8: The Postal Service of the Austro-Hungarian Army

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Unlike the previous chapters which are based mainly on official sources, Chapter 8 is in part drawn from the works of earlier researchers, and in part from original research by the writer. The aims of this chapter are to give the reader an outline of the postal service of the Austro-Hungarian Army in the field, and to offer the writer's views as to the deployment of the various field post offices between August 1914 and November 1918. These latter cannot be regarded as other than a start to a fascinating subject. The reader is invited to add, alter and further expand wherever possible, always being expected to tell others of the results.

The earlier researchers in this field, whose works have been studied and drawn upon, are of course, Majetic, Tranmer and Clement. To them the writer and the reader owes a great debt. In addition there are the views of the members of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft osterr. Feld- und Zensurpost 1914-18 as expressed in that ARGE's Rundbrief. Appendix A to this chapter is largely based upon Clement. Appendix B is based upon Majetic and shows the 'in-service' dates of the various field post offices in diagrammatic form, so revealing how the field postal system developed as the war progressed. Appendix C is the result of the writer's study of over two and a half thousand items using the data drawn from them, and a study of the foregoing Chapters 1-7. In making this study it was realised that each item is a human document, written to or by a soldier: where he was at the time, which unit he served with, and what was going on around him, together with the situation his family and friends faced, are matters of interest to collectors and students of postal and social history. Language is a problem, but not an insuperable one. There is a great deal more to collecting such material than just attempting to get one from each field post office!

This chapter is concerned solely with the postal service in the field. It does not deal with the movement of postal items by that service out of or into the civil postal system. It is designed to display the postal service with the armies in the field forward of the agencies that linked that service with the civil postal system; for those agencies, see Clement's great, and sadly uncompleted, work, now being added to by members of the aforementioned ARGE. The field postal system that operated with the Austro-Hungarian Army was manned by employees of the postal departments of Austria-Hungary enlisted in that army. Ordinary army personnel filled those posts in this service that did not require a knowledge of the workings of the postal service.

The entire field postal service was controlled by the k.u.k. Generalfeldpostdirektor through a General-Feldpostdirektion located at Etappen-Oberkommando (EOK). Under it each Armee had its own Armeepostdirektion bearing in its title the number of that army, and located at the Armee Etappen-Kommando (EK). In addition, and where in a war zone no field army was operating, a Feldpost-direktion (normally with an identifying number) filled the same role as an Armeepostdirektion, overseeing and administering the field postal service in its area. In occupied territory, when the field armies had moved on, a k.u.k. Etappenpost und Telegraphdirektion was established to oversee all postal and telegraph services in its area. Details of Armee-, Feld- and Etappen-postdirektionen are at Appendix A to this chapter.

Under control of such Direktionen were a number of field post offices. These could be manned by men of either the Austrian (using German language cancellers) or the Hungarian (using Magyar cancellers) postal administrations. Such offices were of three types. Here only the German titles of each will be given, the Magyar ones being introduced in Appendix B. Each Armee- and Feld-postdirektion had a main field post office, Hauptfeldpostamt (HptFpA), normally stationed in an army at the Armee EK, with a staff of some 23 men from the postal service. The majority of the post offices serving the army in the field were Feldpostämter (FpA). Each of these had a postal staff of about four men with some eight soldiers for non-technical duties. The FpA were deployed according to the following scale:

a. AOK, EOK and Kriegspressequartiers each had one FpA.

b. Each HFront, HGp and AGp had one FpA.

c. Each Armee Kommando had two FpA. One was with Armee op.AK, the other was with the Armee EK, in addition to the HptFpA referred to above.

d. Each Korps Kommando had one FpA, but another was allocated when the number of troops in the Korps area required it. Ultimately all Korps had two FpA, of which one was with the Korps Train.

e. Each infantry and cavalry division had one FpA to serve all troops under command. But note that GbBrig serving with an infantry division retained their own FpA.

f. Each independent brigade and GbBrig had one FpA.

Sometimes a FpA had branch offices, shown on its cancellers by a letter or Expos(itur). It then had an increased staff. There were exceptions to the above scale, but that indicates the broad principles for the deployment of FpA. It should be understood that in certain circumstances, normally when an army moved forward and so created an Etappenbereich of some depth behind it, that some FpA became EtpA, retaining the same number: see Appendices B and C. Within an Etappenbereich, whether under control of an Armee-, Feld- or Etappen-postdirektion, were a number of Etappenpostämter (EtpA) serving the units and establishments in their area. Such offices had some seven postal staff with two or more soldiers for non-technical duties.

Each HptFpA, FpA and EtpA bore a number which was shown on its cancellers. Appendix C gives the writer's identification of all such numbered post offices, where this has proved possible. When the field army moved on, an EtpA was likely to drop its number and take the name of the place where it was located. These named EtpA are outside the scope of these pages. However it was not unusual for the numbers of such superseded EtpA to be used again. But in the case of HptFpA and FpA whose numbers had been changed as noted in Appendix B, their old numbers did not come back into service.

In normal circumstances the mail for or from a headquarters, establishment or unit was handled by the field post office detailed to serve it, the number of that field post office being published in unit etc orders. The men then had to tell their correspondents of their address. But men, and indeed units or sub-units could be away from their own locality, on leave, courses, detachment or sick. And then they posted their mail at the nearest field post office, usually indicating their permanent address on the item. Marsch formations which moved forward from the Hinterland would use field post offices on their route as they moved, and civil post offices where necessary, until they arrived at and were absorbed by their parent unit. Of course all this flexibility means that identification of an affiliation can be difficult. But familiarity with and use of the earlier chapters will enable a collector to go far towards giving an item an interesting and full write-up, as shown by the examples in the introduction to this work.

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Last updated 3 Apr 2001