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Austro-Slovene conflict in Carinthia

Austro-Slovene conflict in Carinthia
Part of the aftermath of World War I
Date23 November 1918 – 31 July 1919[1]
Carinthia and partly in Styria



Majority of southeastern Carinthia is ceded to Austria.

Meža Valley and Jezersko are ceded to Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.

 State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs

  • Maister's fighters

Austria Republic of German-Austria

  •  Carinthia (Provisional state government of Carinthia)

After unification with Kingdom of Serbia on 1st December 1918:
 Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes

Austria Republic of German-Austria

  •  Carinthia (Provisional state government of Carinthia)

After 13th February ceasefire:

Kingdom of Yugoslavia Army of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes

Austria Republic of German-Austria

  •  Carinthia (Provisional state government of Carinthia)
Commanders and leaders

Kingdom of Yugoslavia Rudolf Maister
Kingdom of Yugoslavia Franjo Malgaj 
Kingdom of Yugoslavia Alfred Lavrič
Kingdom of Yugoslavia Rudolf Knez
After April German-Austrian counter-offensive also:
Kingdom of Yugoslavia Vladimir Uzorinac
Kingdom of Yugoslavia Ljubomir Marić
Kingdom of Yugoslavia Dobrosav Milenkov

Kingdom of Yugoslavia Sava Tripkov[2]

Carinthia Arthur Lemisch
Carinthia Ludwig Hülgerth

Carinthia Hans Steinacher
Units involved

Kingdom of Yugoslavia Maister's fighters

  • Serb volunteers

Carinthia People's Defence (Volkswehr)

Carinthia "Green Guard" (Schutzwehr)[3]

4000 fighters
200 officers

150 Serb volunteers
Casualties and losses
150 killed 200–270 killed
800 wounded

In the aftermath of the First World War, there was an Austro-Slovene conflict in Carinthia in which ethnic Slovenes and ethnic Germans (Austrians) fought for control of the linguistically mixed region in southeastern Carinthia. Many Slovene speaking people were in favor of joining the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later Yugoslavia), while the German speaking people and also a large part of Slovenes were loyal to the newly proclaimed Republic of German Austria. The disputed territory had belonged to the Austro-Hungarian empire. At the centre of conflict was the position of the border that separated the two new states. In German-language historiography, the conflict is known as the Kärntner Abwehrkampf ("Carinthian defensive struggle"), while in Slovene-language historiography, the conflict is known as the Boj za severno mejo ("Struggle for the northern border").[4][5]


Slovene-speaking regions were integrated into several Austrian states throughout much of the 2nd millennium. The idea of South Slavic–speaking territories creating a new state of their own has been one of the key issues debated among Slovene intelligentsia throughout the second part of the 19th century, especially in the aftermath of the spring of nations. As a consequence of Austro-Hungarian invasion of the Kingdom of Serbia the Yugoslav committee was formed, with its goal being the unification of South Slavic lands known as Yugoslavia. In 1916 the Serbian parliament in exile voted in favour of creating a Kingdom of Yugoslavia as a plan of post-world war governance of the Balkan peninsula.[6]

Creation of the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs

As a consequence of the World War, the Austro-Hungarian Empire began to dissolve even before an official end to war was declared. In period between 5–8 October 1918 a pro-Yugoslav National Council of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs took control over the regional administration in Zagreb. On 29 October the National Council declared the formation of a Yugoslav state, following a rejection of a plan of greater autonomy within Austria-Hungary. Entente powers did not recognise the newly found state before it merged with Kingdom of Serbia only three days later in an effort to gain a stable and recognised country of all South Slavs, as well as discouraging Italy from conquering Slav-settled territory not accounted as war reparation to Italy in Treaty of London.[7]

Territorial claims

No formal border was yet recognised among the newly created entities, with both sides claiming that they are in control of the area along the ethnically mixed settlements.[8] The National Government in Ljubljana did not pay any particular attention to the border issue, as it was planning on gaining much area through negotiations on the peace conference. The municipal council of the largely German-speaking town of Maribor (Marburg an der Drau) declared the municipality to be a part of German-Austria on 30 October 1918.[9]



The National Council for Styria (Slovene: Narodni svet za Štajersko) gave permission to take control of the military branch in Maribor to Rudolf Maister, a veteran of the World War and a former officer of Austria-Hungary. He also gained the rank of a General, and was given authority over all military forces located in Styria under control of the Kingdom of SHS.[10] On October 31 Rudolf Maister announced his disagreement[11] with the municipal declaration of Maribor in front of an audience of Lieutenant Colonel Anton Holik and his officers at the Melj military barracks of the 26th infantry regiment. On 9 November Maister announced full mobilization of Lower Styria, which was disagreed with by both, the German-Austrian government and authorities in Ljubljana. The mobilization decree was successful as the armed forces grew to about 4,000 fighters, and establishing a new infantry regiment in Maribor by November 21.[12]

Military movements begin

First Lieutenant Franjo Malgaj and his unit entered Carinthia on November 6. Captain Alfred Lavrič's unit was designated to be in charge of capturing Carinthia, and began taking control of the territory on 13 November, when his units entered the Jaun Valley (German: Jauntal, Slovene: Podjuna) and Ferlach (Slovene: Borovlje). The Loibl Pass (German: Loiblpass, Slovene: prelaz Ljubelj) was captured the following day.[13]

Maister's fighters in Carinthia in 1919. The Slovene national flag is seen in the background

On November 23 Maister's fighters began to seize control of guard posts throughout the Maribor region by disarming the local guardsmen controlled by the Maribor municipality. Captain Rudolf Knez entered Sittersdorf (Žitara vas) and settled his units there. From November 27 onward, the Slovene fighters under direct command of Maister, took control of Spielfeld (Špilje), Bad Radkersburg (Radgona), Mureck (Cmurek), Leutschach (Lučane), Marenberg (now Radlje ob Dravi), and Muta (Hohenmauthen), while the units from Celje (Cilli) under command of Franjo Malgaj took control of the Meža Valley (Mießtal), Bleiburg (Pliberk), where Serb volunteers returning from the Eastern front of World War I also joined Malgaj's unit. All the areas captured were agreed upon by General Rudolf Passy of Carinthia and General Maister on November 27. The agreement included allowance to take control of all Slovene-majority settlements, but remained unsupported and criticized by Styrian, Carinthian, German-Austrian authorities, as well as the National council in Ljubljana. Units from Ljubljana took control of Dravograd (Unterdrauburg), Lavamünd (Labot) and Sankt Paul (Šentpavel).[12] The capture of Völkermarkt (Velikovec) on November 30 sparked much criticism, as it allegedly wasn't included in the demarcation line plans.[14]

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Armed conflicts

Result of a clash between Austrian Carinthian units and Maister's fighters on the northern side of the Karawanks Tunnel

First armed clashes already occurred under command of Malgaj during the attack on Bleiburg, but it was not until the battle in Lučane when violent confrontations became apparent. Lučane was the site of a first major clash between the two factions on January 14, 1919. Following minor fights between the two militias, a larger battle occurred on February 4 near Radgona.[15] Plans were set by Maister to attack and capture Klagenfurt (Celovec) but were abandoned following negotiations. On February 13 a peace treaty was signed by both parties.

On Sunday, 27 January 1919, Maister's forces clashed with German protesters, resulting in several civilian deaths.[16]

Graz-Ljubljana Protocol

With the occupation of southeastern Carinthia by Yugoslav troops, and the confrontation evolving into armed clashes, the provisional Carinthian government under Governor Arthur Lemisch decided to lead off the armed struggle in order to preserve the southern Carinthian border on the Karawanks. Bitter fighting of paramilitary groups around Arnoldstein and Ferlach alarmed the Entente powers. They arbitrated a ceasefire, whereafter a nine-day U.S. Army commission under Lt. Col. Sherman Miles scouted the disputed region between river and mountains in January and February 1919 and made the crucial recommendation that the Karawanks frontier should be retained, thus opening the possibility of a plebiscite. Yugoslav representatives urged for a border on the Drava; American delegates however spoke in favor of preserving the unity of the Klagenfurt Basin and convinced the British and French delegations to support their plan of plebiscite for the entire Klagenfurt region.

Yugoslav offensive and Austrian counter-offensive

On April 29, Yugoslav troops breached ceasefire agreement after months of relative peace. Armed clashes occurred throughout the region, with noticeable territorial gains achieved by Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. The Yugoslav troops experienced much resistance in the following days, as Austrian troops already made effective counter-offensive actions. The situation for Slovenes worsened, and on the 2nd of May Carinthian units had already taken control of Völkermarkt. Two days later Austrian counter-offensive reached the Gallizien (Slovene: Galicija)-Apače (German: Abstall)-Sankt Margareten im Rosental (Šmarjeta) line. After two days of fierce fighting the German-Austrian units successfully conquered the line and in process destroyed the 3rd infantry battalion from Ljubljana.

The remaining Slovene units continued to retreat back into lower Styria, while almost all of the Carinthian area that was gained during the winter clashes was lost to the advancing Austrian units. The last to fall was Dravograd (Unterdrauburg) before the Royal Yugoslav Army's 36th infantry regiment under control of Lt.Col. Vladimir Uzorinac managed to hold ground in Guštanj (Gutenstein) and therefore stop the counter-offensive. General Maister sent two units of his Maribor infantry regiment to aid the troops holding ground near Slovenj Gradec (Windischgraz).[17] Officer Malgaj was killed on 6 May, one of the key leaders of the Slovene fighters in Carinthia.

After a military defeat in the offensive initiated in April, authorities in Ljubljana mobilised all their assets and drafted regiments from Serbia to regain lost territory. On May 26 a new offensive was authorised which lasted throughout May and until June 6, during which they managed to capture much of the Klagenfurt region to as north as Maria Saal (Gospa Sveta). The offensive was considered a military success.[18]


The Paris peace conference turned the tide, when an order was given to the Yugoslavs to completely retreat from the northern B zone of the Klagenfurt Basin area in a time frame set to end on 31 July, at the latest, to enable the commission to carry out the planned plebiscite.

The Treaty of Saint-Germain with the Republic of Austria, signed on 10 September 1919, should have determined the Austrian-Yugoslav border. It ascertained that some small parts of Carinthia, the Meža Valley with the town of Dravograd and the Jezersko municipal area, would be incorporated into the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes while the fate of wider southeastern Carinthia area down to the Klagenfurt Basin was to be determined by a plebiscite.

The outcome of the plebiscite held on 10 October 1920, was 22,025 votes (59.1% of the total cast) for adhesion to Austria and 15,279 (40.9%) for annexation by the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. If the whole German-speaking minority voted for Austria, every second Carinthian Slovene agreed.

While a majority in the remote Alpine villages on the slopes of the Karawanks voted for Yugoslavia, the inhabitants of the densely-settled Klagenfurt Basin were motivated by their evolved social, cultural and economic ties to the central Carinthian region.

The region was placed under Austrian administration on 18 November 1920 and declared part of the sovereign Austrian Republic on November 22. Until today, October 10 is a public holiday in the State of Carinthia.

The plebiscite ultimately determined the border between Austria and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. The border remained unchanged after World War II, even as the Kingdom of Yugoslavia gave way to Josip Broz Tito's Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, but at the end of the war, Yugoslav Partisans again briefly occupied the area, including the capital city of Klagenfurt. Since the disintegration of Yugoslavia, the border separates Austria and Slovenia.


  1. ^ "Kako se je Rudolf Maister boril za severno mejo". Prvi interaktivni multimedijski portal, MMC RTV Slovenija. Retrieved 21 April 2016.
  2. ^ "Account Suspended". Archived from the original on 27 November 2015. Retrieved 21 April 2016.
  3. ^ "SVAROG APMG MSS". Archived from the original on 13 May 2016. Retrieved 21 April 2016.
  4. ^ "Nastanek novih meja – boj za severno mejo". Svarog. Svarog. Archived from the original on 2014-10-16. Retrieved 2014-10-10.
  5. ^ "Boji za severno mejo na Koroškem". KAMRA. KAMRA. Archived from the original on 2014-10-17. Retrieved 2014-10-10.
  6. ^ History of the municipal theatre Archived June 23, 2007, at the Wayback Machine from Corfu city hall Quote: "The Municipal Theatre was not only an Art-monument but also a historical one. On its premises the exiled Serbian parliament, the Skoupsina, held up meetings in 1916, which decided the creation of the new Unified Kingdom of Yugoslavia."
  7. ^ "SVAROG APMG MSS". Archived from the original on 13 May 2016. Retrieved 21 April 2016.
  8. ^ "Prevzem vojaške oblasti na štajerskem". Vojaški Muzej (in Slovenian).
  9. ^ "Maribor24". Maribor ali Marburg (in Slovenian). Retrieved 2014-10-10.
  10. ^ "Prevzem vojaške oblasti na štajerskem".
  11. ^ "Praznujemo dan Rudolfa Maistra". 24ur (in Slovenian).
  12. ^ a b "Kako se je Rudolf Maister boril za severno mejo". RTVSLO (in Slovenian).
  13. ^ "Boji na Koroškem, November 1918". Vojaški muzej (in Slovenian).
  14. ^ []
  15. ^ "Kako se je Rudolf Maister boril za severno mejo" (in Slovenian).
  16. ^ Ude, Lojze (1961). "Boj za Maribor" (pdf) (in Slovenian). Slovenia: Zgodovinski časopis. p. 138.
  17. ^ "Ponesrečena ofenziva". Franjo Malgaj (in Slovenian). Archived from the original on 2014-11-26.
  18. ^ "Boji se nadaljujejo". Franjo Malgaj (in Slovenian). Archived from the original on 2015-11-27.