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Profile - The Austrian Army in the Anschluss

As a result of the Treaty of St. Gerrnain-en-Laye (September 10, 1919), Austria was restricted to maintaining a very modest military establishment, no more than 30,000 volunteer officers and men serving for a minimum enlistment of 12 years, which was barred from having a general staff, conscription, aircraft, tanks, poison gas, or more than a very detailed prescribed list of arms and equipment (e.g., no more than 34,500 rifles with no more than 500 rounds apiece, etc.), all organized into six "mixed brigades" 

After Hitler came to power in Germany in January of 1933, fear of annexation by Nazi Germany spread through much of Austrian society. Right-wing Premier Engelbert Dollfuss, a close friend of Itlay's Benito Mussolini, who saw Austria as a valuable satellite, decided to junk the treaty limitations and initiated a modest rearmament program while acting to dissolve the militias maintained by the Nazi and Socialist parties, not without bloodshed in the case of the latter

In July of 1934 a Nazi coup was suppressed, partially by the mobilization of Italian troops on the Austrian frontier. Although Dollfuss was killed during the coup, the Austrians accelerated military preparations and rearmament, creating a general staff, introducing conscription, and expanding the army. Field Marshal Alfred Jansa, Chief of the Austrian General Staff from June of 1935, the former military attaché in Berlin, developed a detailed defensive plan, designated "Operation Case DR" [for Deutsches Reich], but commonly known as the "Jansa-Plan."

The Jansa Plan focused on deterrence, presenting so strong a resistance that the Germans might prefer not to invade, because if they did they would tie down large numbers of troops and take such heavy losses that other nations (i.e., France, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Britain), might find the moment opportune to intervene and unseat the Nazis.

On paper, by early 1938, the Austrian Army totaled 59,065, including a 5,500 man air force, plus a reserve of over 60,000 troops and a national militia of some 60,000 more, for a mobilization strength of over 180,000..

In February of 1938, tensions between Nazi Germany and Austria came to a head. As the new Austrian Chancellor, Kurt von Schuschnigg attempted negotiations with Hitler. With prospects for peace dim, it looked like the Jansa Plan would be put into effect.

Field Marshal Jansa's staff had estimated that the Germans could commit perhaps 120,000 troops to an invasion of Austria, plus an unknown number of armed police formations. Under the plan devised, Austria would mobilize seven infantry divisions, a mechanized "Schnell -- Fast" division, a mountain brigade, and several cavalry regiments, backed up by the militia. The plan assumed that the manpower ratios on all fronts would be roughly equal, except for the Salzburg region.

Equipment was a problem. There was an adequate number of small arms and machine guns, Italy having been covertly supplying such materiel for some years, but other equipment was in short supply. There was not enough artillery available to provide each division with a full regiment and what was available was rarely as heavy as 105-mm. The Schnell division was actually a motorized cavalry unit, with several battalions of Italian CV 33 tankettes, some motorized infantry, and some horse cavalry. Ammunition was in short supply, with that for small arms perhaps sufficient for two weeks, but that for artillery for only a few days of heavy fighting. The Air Force was hopeless outclassed, partially because it had ordered German equipment, which somehow was never delivered.

The defense was based on a minimal surrender of Austrian territory. The main line of resistance was to be inside the country but as close to the border along the most defensible terrain, which, being mountainous and seasoned with fix defenses would provide an excellent force multiplier. The militia was to provide initial frontier defense, while blocking roads and destroying bridges, rail lines, and other facilities before falling back on the main line of resistance. The resistance would have been supported by worker volunteers, the communists and socialists having called upon their followers to help defend the state against Nazi aggression, to which a million workers responded, including veterans of World War I or the former workers' militias, many of whom would have remained behind as the enemy advanced, to conduct sabotage in his rear, while others would help maintain the ranks of the army and militia. While the Germans had more resources than the Austrians, they were not actually prepared for a sustained fight, also having many equipment shortages. An effective defense might inflict relatively heavy losses, setting the stage for limited counter offensives that might embarrass the Nazis so much that dissident army leaders (many Austrian officers had friends in high places in Germany and were aware of the military's wariness of Hitler) or foreign intervention might cause the regime to collapse.

The Austrian planners, perhaps assisted by friends in Germany, had very accurately figured out the German invasion plans, correctly identifying most of the units involved, their initial deployment areas, and planned attack routes. In fact, they had over-estimated the number troops Hitler was willing to commit to the operation, only some 105,000 plus about 12,000 police. So Austrian forces were marginally superior in number, fighting on their own ground, against an enemy as green as they were. The possibility of success was by no means foolhardy.

Of course, the Jansa Plan was never implemented. Chancellor von Schuschnigg dickered with Hitler over numerous issues, and made many concessions, including lifting the ban on the Austrian Nazi Party (and, certainly to Hitler's displeasure, on the Communists and Socialists as well), adding a couple of Nazis to the cabinet, and even relieving Field Marshal Jansa. When it became clear that Hitler would settle for nothing less than annexation, on March 9th Schuschnigg announced a plebiscite on the question, knowing it would go overwhelmingly against Anschluss. On the 11th, Hitler issued an ultimatum, demanding that a Nazi government be installed. Schuschnigg, issued mobilization orders, but also, realizing that foreign support would not be forthcoming, since Britain and France were pretending Hitler could be negotiated with and Mussolini had adopted a pro-German policy, decided to resign.

On March 12, 1938, German troops marched unopposed into Austria and effected Anschluss -- unification -- of the little country with the Third Reich, for the most part meeting a very enthusiastic reception.

The Austrian Army, purged of many openly anti-Nazi elements, was quickly incorporated into the German Wehrmacht, and the tiny country (c. seven million people), eventually contributed more than two dozen divisions to Hitler's war effort.

The question remains, however, as to how well would the Austrians have done in the even of that the German invasion had been resisted.

And the answer is interesting.

German plans put many restrictions of the invading troops, who were under orders to avoid antagonizing the populace, since Hitler was claiming he was "liberating," so massive air attacks on civilian targets would have been unlikely.  

In addition, the actual movement into the country it revealed a lot of problems in the Wehrmacht. As one German officer charitably put it "only 30 percent of the tanks broke down" during the road march to Vienna, while the supply of fuel was so inadequate that units had to refuel at local gas stations, which would probably not have been available in the event of armed resistance. Moreover, German casualties from accidents were surprisingly high, a couple of dozen men were killed and the number otherwise injured is estimated to have exceeded a hundred. So had the Austrians resisted, they most likely would have inflicted heavy losses on the Germans, at least for the 10-15 days that their ammunition lasted. 

But would that have been sufficient to prompt intervention by other powers? 

 


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