Nobody could have been more enthusiastic at the prospect of war than Captain Kolbe. His whole life had been in preparation for it, and civilian life did not suit him.
From the beginning of hostilities to late 1915, after proving his worth as Base Commander in Késmárk (now Kežmarok in Slovakia), he was sent to perform the same duties at Kassa (now Košice, also in Slovakia), on the Hungarian side of the Carpathians from the front line. He was awarded the Military Merit Cross for the outstanding work he carried out setting up in very difficult circumstances hospitals, convalescence centres, disinfection and delousing facilities, emergency and prisoner accommodation and water installations in Késmárk, and horse and equipment collection points in Kassa.
Seconded with six companies as sappers to the German Army of the Bug in late 1915 for a period of six months, Josef Kolbe was again highly commended, with particular mention of the energy and enthusiasm he brought to his assigned tasks, together with his leadership skills and his exceptional sense of duty. According to his papers, he was nominated commander of the fortress at Przemyśl for a period of four days, during which time he acted as guide to the German Kaiser. Later he accompanied the German Minister of War von Einem and others. (As von Einem was Minister of War from 1903 to 1909, these statements require verification.)
On 1 April 1916 Captain Kolbe and his companies left the Army of the Bug, having helped build over a hundred bridges and rebuild hundreds of kilometres of roads. He was now the holder of the Prussian Iron Cross in recognition of his services to Austria-Hungary’s German allies.
War Archives, Vienna: http://www.oesta.gv.at/site/6154/default.aspx