It is often forgotten today that, like defeated Germany, Austria was split up into four occupation zones after WWII. Just like Berlin in Germany, the capital Vienna was split up four ways as well. When the country reunified in 1955, it’s new army was equipped with an interesting mix of WWII weapons; both Allied and Axis, and both Soviet and American.
Austria at the end of WWII
In 1945, the Soviet army overran the eastern part of Austria, including a tremendous battle against the 1st Waffen-SS Panzer corps near Vienna which went largely unnoticed in the west. The rest of Austria was captured by the US Army. The situation in the Soviet sector was one of the worst episodes of WWII’s ending. Commanders of the Soviet 3rd Ukrainian Front lost control of their units, which went on a spree of rape, looting, and arson inside Vienna after the war. While the Soviet army’s behavior in Berlin in 1945 was terrible, even that paled by what happened in Vienna. The brutality was so bad that in September 1945, Josef Stalin himself was appalled enough to order the army to restore order. The problems did not end until wartime units were relieved by different occupation troops in 1946.
The first steps to rearmament
In the British sector, the occupation forces began to establish a Gendarmerie over the winter of 1945-1946. It’s task was to assist the British in keeping order. The UK had an extra handicap in the occupation, as the British zone of Austria was not connected to the British zone of Germany. In Vienna, the UK was assigned two neighborhoods of the city which were not connected.
In their zone, the French established a small Gendarmerie in late 1945 which later merged with the British. France had little interest in the whole occupation other than to prevent the Soviets from taking over the country.
The Soviets made no effort to form any Austrian paramilitary units in their zone. The Soviet sector already had a huge contingent of Red Army troops and tanks, and Stalin’s primary objective was to hold the zone, and the Soviet sector of Vienna, as a bargaining chip. The Soviets did, however, disassemble and remove to the USSR the wartime German arms production industry located there.
In 1946, the US Army’s Constabulary Corps relieved wartime units in the American sector. Like the British and the French, the Constabulary established it’s own Austrian force, called B-Gendarmerie. The B-Gendarmerie was equipped with some light firearms, M38 jeeps, and M8 Greyhound armored cars with the main gun removed.
(A M8 Greyhound, with the main gun removed, of the Austrian B-Gendarmerie on patrol in the American zone.)
Operation Kismet and Stockpile A
After the 1948-1949 Berlin Blockade, the United States was concerned that the Soviets might try a similar stunt in Vienna – which, just like Berlin, was quartered up between the Allies but marooned deep in the Soviet zone. When the Korean War started in 1950, these fears increased as the USA was now preoccupied on the other side of the world, and divided Austria started to look a lot like divided Korea just before that war started.
Formally, the four allies had agreed not to assist occupied Austria militarily beyond gendarmerie units. However the United States secretly allocated $100 million for a “future Austrian army”. The top secret effort was codenamed Operation Kismet. Funds were routed through a bank in France. The arms were all WWII-surplus: M1919 machine guns, M1 Garand rifles, M1 Carbines, M1911 handguns, and M2 mortars. The weapons were “paperwork-transferred” to Great Britain, then shipped from the USA to Italy, trucked north into the British Zone of Austria, then distributed in small batches to US Army troops in the American sector. The US Army trained Austrians in small units, usually ten dozen at a time. To lessen the need for armories which might be observed by the KGB, Austrian trainees were actually told to take their carbines and pistols home with them and just stay quiet about it.
At the same time, the US Army established “Stockpile A”, a top secret plan for surge reinforcement of the Austrians. Prepositioned lots (227,000 tons total) of weapons and ammunition were established in the American zone of Germany and in France, which could be concealed from the Soviets in peacetime but rushed to Austria if war broke out. Also allocated were more M8 Greyhounds, but with the main gun installed.
The CIA was running it’s own plan for Austria and hid caches (usually twelve rifles and some explosives) around the country to be retrieved by guerrillas and used against the Soviets in any future war. Most were in the American zone, a few were in the British zone, and at least one was somehow placed inside the Soviet zone.
Reunification of Austria
Josef Stalin died in 1953 and the new Soviet leader, Nikita Krushchev, had a realistic outlook on occupied Austria. Unlike East Germany or North Korea, an “East Austria” would lack any military relevance and would be too small to be a viable nation. By now the KGB had also become aware of Stockpile A, and Krushchev was more concerned that the three western zones would be combined into a militarized independent country that would join NATO like West Germany had.
Meanwhile, the French had all but abandoned their zone and the British and Americans were tired of funding the occupation, now in it’s eighth year. Therefore the four allies opened discussions to grant Austria independence.
On 15 May 1955, a treaty was signed to end the occupation. The treaty set conditions on Austria: It was to be permanently neutral, and barred from entering any military alliance. It was permanently barred from uniting with West Germany. It was prohibited to host foreign military bases. There were specific conditions placed on Austria’s military: it was permanently banned from operating atomic or chemical weapons, ballistic missiles, or artillery with a range more than 15 miles. It was banned from employing mercenaries. Curiously, the Soviets insisted on also banning submarines (Austria is land-locked far from the sea). The last American and Soviet troops left in October 1955. The Osterreich Bundesheer (Austrian Federal Army) was allowed to form.
WWII-ERA EQUIPMENT OF THE OSTERREICH BUNDESHEER
In 1955, the departing Soviet army gave Austria twenty-seven T-34 tanks free of charge. The specific model was the T-34/85 (with 85mm main gun and two machine guns) but otherwise the tanks had not been upgraded. They still had the WWII-style “early” wheel and tread designs. The T-34s Austria received had all seen active combat during WWII, followed by a decade of storage, and were not in the best of condition. None the less, the T-34 was still a very well-regarded tank worldwide in 1955 and they were placed into service. The T-34 remained in Austrian service until 1959, and was then allocated to reserve. During the 1960s, some had their turrets removed and placed in concrete pillboxes. These turret bunkers were maintained for emergency use until 2000.
The M24 Chaffee
In 1955 the USA transferred forty-six M24 Chaffee light tanks to the Osterreich Bundesheer. These were of the standard configuration with a M7 75mm gun with 48 rounds, however many of the Austrian examples appear to have been missing the M2 Browning .50cal AA gun. The Chaffee’s primary advantages were that it was light (18 ½ tons) in the mountains, and that it was fast. By the mid-1950s however, it was viewed as too lightly-armored to stand alone against other tanks. While the T-34 was still in use, Austria experimented with both composite units fielding both the M24 and T-34, and, operating them separately. After the T-34’s retirement, the Chaffees were re-roled as armored scout vehicles. The Chaffee remained in Austrian use until 1966, when it was replaced by postwar-design tanks of the Patton series. Whatever it’s shortcomings, the M24 was fairly well-liked and was a good start to establishing an Austrian tank arm.
The M8 Greyhound
Austrian troops were already quite familiar with this vehicle, having operated the “de-clawed” version during the Gendarmerie years. In 1955, a total of forty-five Greyhounds were transferred into the army. In 1956-1957, the Austrians bought spare 37mm guns and M2 Browning .50cal AA mount rings to “re-claw” their M8s. The M8 Greyhound served as a frontline combat vehicle until 1963, when it was withdrawn Some were then refitted into mobile command posts (with a dummy wooden gun barrel) and used into the 1960s.
The M3/M4 series
Austria was an enthusiastic user of this WWII American half-track family. A few Austrians had began training on them during the occupation, and in 1955 the United States transferred thirty-seven vehicles.
Austria used these half-tracks for every imaginable use and they were very popular. Some were upgraded with a mount for a M2 Browning .50cal AA gun. They were frontline combat vehicles until 1962, and then used in secondary roles until 1969. The last was not out of use until 1970.
The M7 Priest
The United States transferred forty-one of these self-propelled artillery pieces in 1955, however they did not enter Austrian service until 1956. The Austrian examples were of the M7B2 version of which only 127 had been built during the latter part of WWII. This version carried a M2 105mm howitzer with 69 rounds of ammo, and had the late-WWII gunlaying improvement which allowed high-elevation (65°) use. The Priest was popular in Austrian service and remained in use until 1970.
This WWII American trailer was very useful. It was manufactured by Checker Cab during the war. With a 45-ton capacity, it could move anything in the early Austrian military’s arsenal including the T-34 tanks.
Manufactured by Dodge during WWII, the Austrians used this light truck for a number of roles including general cargo, engineering, and mobile command post. They served until the mid-1970s. During the 1960s, these aging trucks had been reconditioned by Lohnerwerke in Austria and were still in good condition when retired. Many of the WC52s in private collections worldwide are ex-Austrian.
The Willys M38 jeep was widely used during the 1950s and 1960s; these had been turned over from the French and American occupation forces as they departed. A small variety of other American WWII-built light trucks also served in low numbers during the late 1950s and early 1960s.
This 105mm howitzer was a mainstay of the American military during WWII. In 1955, the United States transferred 108 of these guns to Austria, where it was confusingly designated Haubitze M1A2 (not the same as the American M1 howitzer of 155mm caliber.)
This gun fired the 15lb M1 HE shell, with a 50/50 mix of TNT and amatol. It had a range of 6 ½ to 7 miles. There were also 13lb M67 HEAT shells for direct-fire use against tanks. These WWII artillery pieces were extremely well-liked by the Austrians. The Austrians installed modern tires and developed a snow chain kit for use in the Alps. In the 1960s, new gunshields (as seen above) were fitted. These were one of the longest-serving weapons in Austrian history; not leaving frontline use until 1996.
The M1 Long Tom
This 155mm WWII artillery piece was the heaviest-caliber weapon presented to the Austrians in 1955. Two dozen were transferred from the US Army. The Long Tom fired a 100lb HE-Frag shell. It had an official rated range of “14 miles 3,994′ ” which put it just barely under the 15 mile cap imposed by the treaty. Due to Austria’s geography and a lack of tow vehicles for this big weapon, the Long Toms were later installed in fixed pillboxes.
The USSR presented three dozen of these WWII 76mm field guns to Austria in 1955. The ZiS-3 could be used either as an anti-tank gun or as a short-range artillery piece. Despite their age, these guns were well-regarded in Austria as they could penetrate the armor of both the M4 Sherman and T-34, the tanks neutral Austria most expected to face off against in the mid-1950s.
The Austrian designation for the ZiS-3 was PaK-M42. Even as advances in NATO and Warsaw Pact armor made them obsolete in the 1960s, the ZiS-3s were retained as tactical fire support assets. They were kept on active duty until 1991 and were kept in reserve warehouses until 2000.
This was one of the Wehrmacht’s more famous anti-tank guns during WWII. In 1955, the USSR presented Austria with thirty-one of these guns. They had been captured during the battle for Vienna in 1945 and kept warehoused there after the war. The 75mm PaK-40 had a maximum range of about 1 mile.
This gun offered two advantages to Austria. The first was that some of the Osterreich Bundesheer’s “first generation” were Wehrmacht veterans and needed no training on the PaK-40. The second was that at most angles and reasonable ranges, the WWII-veteran PaK-40 could still defeat the armor of the T-34 and M4 Sherman. In the late 1950s, some were refurbished with American-made tires. These aging guns were kept in use until the mid-1960s, when the problem of ammunition non-availability made them impractical. Austria retained the wartime PaK-40 designation.
The M1 AT
The US Army presented two dozen of these 57mm anti-tank guns to Austria in 1955. During WWII, the M1 had been classified as a “Substitute Standard” gun compared to the M5 76mm and M3 37mm. It was less popular than either and the US Army was glad to be rid of the M1s in the mid-’50s. The Austrians did not like them either and despite being no-cost, they refused to issue them to frontline units.
The M1 Garand
This legendary WWII rifle was the mainstay of the early Austrian army. A total of 25,811 Garands were transferred in 1955; 25,000 from the departing occupation troops or the Stockpile A system, and the other 811 via an additional buy. Austria designated the Garand as GM1.
A huge supply of .30-06 Springfield ammunition was also transferred. Austria used the M1 Garand as it’s standard battle rifle until the FN FAL replaced it around 1959-1960. Some remained in reserve use until the end of the Cold War.
The M1 carbine
This famous WWII American carbine fired the .30 M1 intermediate cartridge from a fifteen-round magazine. As a mainstay of the American and French occupation units, many Austrian soldiers already had experience on it from the Gendarmerie years. Austria received 26,385 M1 carbines from the USA in 1955, and several hundred more from the French. A huge ($1.4 million worth) amount of ammunition was also transferred.
Austria greatly liked this carbine, which it designated K-M1. Some were refitted with leather slings made by Stolla Wien in Austria. Stolla Wien also manufactured Austrian-specific leather belt pouches which held two 15-round magazines. (Austria never imported the optional 30-round magazines.) A small number of Austria’s carbines were remanufactured by Erma in West Germany with replacement barrels. The M1s remained in frontline use until 1959, when the FN FAL began replacing both the M1 carbine and M1 Garand rifles. Hirtenberger in Austria manufactured ammunition for the M1 carbines as the original supply began to be exhausted.
In the 1960s, M1 carbines remained in reserve use. Several hundred were transferred to the Osterreich Zoll (customs & tax police); these have additional features like a rear sight guard and are highly collectible today. In 1970 the army completely phased out these WWII carbines and some began to enter the American civilian shooter market. In 1993, a fairly remarkable find was discovered in Vienna: a long-forgotten stockpile of 1,900 M1 carbines which were intended for last-ditch defense of the city’s government quarter. These guns were in mint condition (still in factory grease), never having been used by the US Army, the gendarmerie, or the Austrian army.
In 2008, Austria discarded it’s last M1 carbines from storage.
This WWII belt-fed machine gun fired the .30-06 Springfield cartridge and had a range of about 1,500 yards. A total of 1,605 M1919A4s were transferred by the USA in 1955. The Austrian designation for the M1919A4 was MG-A4.
This WWII-veteran machine gun remained in Austrian use until the early 1970s.
Other WWII American firearms
A total of 1,837 M1911 .45ACP handguns were transferred in 1955, along with 623 M3 Grease Gun sub-machine guns. The M3s served into the mid-1960s, when they were replaced by the FN FAL. The M1911s served until the end of the 1970s.
A very small number of BARs were transferred in 1955, along with a larger quantity (896) of M2HB Browning .50cal machine guns. The M2s were initially used as AA weapons on the half-tracks and tanks; when these were retired some were permanently installed in bunkers where some are still in use today.
WWII German firearms
The French had maintained a warehouse in their zone of recovered WWII German weapons, which they turned over to the Osterreich Bundesheer in 1955. The warehouse included 98k rifles, P38 pistols, and MG-42 machine guns. Meanwhile, the US Army gave Austria 2,838 MP-40 submachine guns which it had captured during WWII.
The 98k was only used briefly and in small numbers. The MG-42s were used alongside the M1919A4s in the support role until the mid-1950s. The P38 pistols had a much longer life, serving into the late 1970s.
The MP-40 submachine guns were quite popular. Many ex-Wehrmacht veterans obviously knew how to use them, and the crews of M24 Chaffee tanks liked them as they were more powerful than a handgun but more compact than a carbine. The MP-40s remained in use until the early 1960s.
The Enfields used by the gendarmerie in the former British zone were quickly discarded due to ammunition non-commonality.
WWII Soviet firearms
In 1955, the USSR donated 10,000 Mosin-Nagant rifles (which were designated G44 by the Austrians) and 15,000 PPSh-41 submachine guns. There is some doubt as to what was actually delivered, as the quantities listed by the Soviets are huge and would have been hard for the Austrians to absorb. The Mosin-Nagants were used until the early 1960s. Neither weapon was popular with the Austrians.
The M40 stahlhelm was briefly used in 1955-1956. These had been donated by the French and British occupation garrisons as they departed. For obvious reasons the Austrians did not want to be associated with their wartime union with Germany and these were discarded as fast as possible.
The American M1 pot helmet became an icon of the Austrian army during the second half of the 20th century. In 1955, the USA transferred 30,000 of these helmets. In the 1970s, Austria domestically manufactured a clone of the M1 with a different chin strap. Austria used the M1 as it’s only helmet until 1993, and in 2015 it remains in limited use for training and ceremonial duties.
WWII veterans in the Osterreich Bundesheer
As Austria had been part of Germany between 1938-1945, the four allies understood from the start that the new Austrian army would by necessity include many Third Reich WWII veterans. Generally speaking, senior officers were barred altogether and lower-ranking veterans were first cleared of any war crimes suspicions. Austria attempted wherever possible to restore an equivalent rank to the last held during WWII.
Some WWII veterans reached high ranks in Austria. Karl Wohlgemuth had been a major in the Wehrmacht during the war. Later, he attained the rank of general in the Austrian army and was the commander of an entire corps. Josef Haibock had been an ace in the Luftwaffe during WWII, he later became a general in the new Austrian air force.
The 1955 treaty ending the occupation barred Waffen-SS veterans from joining however this was ignored. For example, Friedrich Blond had been a senior lieutenant in the Waffen-SS during the war. In 1955 he joined the Austrian army and eventually reached the rank of colonel.
Unlike West Germany, Austria never minted “sanitized” versions of Wehrmacht medals and Austrian WWII veterans were prohibited from wearing German decorations in uniform. Some members of the Osterreich Bundesheer’s “first generation” had previously been highly decorated, for example General Ferdinand Foltin had been awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross as a paratrooper during WWII. In the new Austrian army’s first years, this created a strange situation where senior officers had few if any medals to wear. It was not uncommon in 1956 for an Austrian senior officer to be less-decorated than an average American or Soviet enlisted sergeant.
(Regards to the website http://www.wk1963.at , source for many of the photos and an excellent resource on this topic.)