The 2 Kradschutzen Battalion in Eisenstadt, Austria

Anschluss

When Austria merged with Germany in mid March 1938 to create the "greater Reich", the outward appearance from photos and newsreels showed an enthusiastic Austrian population greeting Hitler and German troops. Behind the scenes, however, the German military was hedging its bets with no real trust of either the political or military leadership of their southeastern neighbor. Only a few years earlier, the former Austrian chancellor, Engleburt Dollfuss, had violently suppressed the Nazi movement. After his assassination, his successor, Kurt Schuschnigg, was also seen as no particular friend of Berlin and was forced from power by intense pressure from Hitler. The new chancellor, Arthur Seyss - Inquart, created a pro Nazi government in Vienna and the massed German troops on the border spilled across as the propaganda film crews captured the scenes.

   
  There are no known photos showing the 2 Krad departing Manteuffel Kaserne for the long trip to Austria but here are two stray and uncaptioned period pictures that give you a good impression of that hectic day. In a motor pool that looks very familiar, these mechanized infantry men are turned out in full kit and baggage; no one looks very happy over the sudden alert.  

In the months running up to the invasion of Poland, in light of developing doctrine, untested soldiers and new equipment, the High Command in Berlin had few units they considered to be truly combat ready. Among these was the 2 Panzer Division and when the deployment orders to Austria was written, they were fast on the move. By committing the best the Wehrmacht had to offer, it guaranteed there would be no Austrian dissent, no backing out of the union. Four infantry divisions, a mountain - infantry division, a wide variety of corps support troops and SS units were deployed in addition to the 2 Panzer.

   
  At least here, a few of the men can muster a smile. Uncaptioned and actual location unknown, again, a very familiar background. The fast departure of K2 to Austria would have been a very similar scene.  

Of note, the famous Gross Deutschland Motorized Rifle Regiment stationed in Berlin, the official ceremonial unit of the Nazi Party,

http://members.shaw.ca/grossdeutschland/overview.htm

was attached to the 2 Panzer Division control and even though over 1/3 of the division’s tracked vehicles broke down on the long road march, much to the participant’s and senior command’s silent alarm, the unit nevertheless closed in relatively good order on Vienna. The crowds cheered wildly, the news reel crews captured the euphoria and a series of grand parades for the Fuhrer were held in the major Austrian cities of Lenz, Salzburg and the capital, Vienna.

   
  Period post card showing home of the 2 Krad in Eisenstadt, Austria.
--Stefanowicz
 

The 2 Kradschutzen Battalion was a participant in these events. The unit was alerted and immediately departed Bad Kissingen on Saturday, 12 March 1938. They arrived at Vienna in the early morning hours the following day. It had been a remarkable road march of over 700 Kilometers, first south by southeast then due east across the Austrian border, through the mountains and into the central plateau.

There appears to be no written record that details these hectic hours for the 2 Krad beyond the caption in one participants foto album. He titled the page devoted to the movement as “ the very long ride “. There is, however, a great recollection of the alert found in the post war unit history of the 2 Panzer Division’s anti - tank battalion that was stationed in Schweinfurt during this same period. From Die Geschichte der 2 Panzer Division: Friedens - und Kriegerlebnisse einer Generation ( The Story of the 2 Panzer Division - the Peacetime and War Experiences of a Generation ) assembled by the veterans of the 38th Anti - Tank Battalion and edited by F. J. Strauss with the full support of the Division’s Veteran’s Association, this account of the alert and deployment of their battalion. It is safe to say that the experiences in Bad Kissingen were quite similar.

   
  Photo from the Oath Swearing Ceremony as the first wave of Austrian Panzer troops join the 2 Panzer Divsion at Modling near Vienna. Lt. Stotten standing in front.
--Franz Steinzer
 

“On the evening of 10 March ( Thursday ) 1938, the Battalion Adjutant and the 3rd Company Commander are on leave; the officers of the battalion and those from the 4th Panzer Regiment are entertaining their wives and guests at the Military Garrison Ball at the ( Schweinfurt ) Wintersaison. ( a large function hall ) Suddenly at about 22 00 hrs. quite unexpectedly, the mobilization order was received to include possible deployment not only for the men in Schweinfurt but the associated Reserve units. At about 22 45 hrs. the general alert alarms were sounded in the barracks the those who were asleep were quickly out of bed. The NCOs who had passes for Schweinfurt were quickly retrieved using trucks and motorcycles. The preparation efforts for such a deployment, with an as of yet unknown purpose or destination, went according to plan through the night. Let there be no secret, wild rumors flew and they were met with often repeated orders.

“‘Should the anti-tank cannons be combat zeroed?! … Should the troops carry their full set of clothing and gear?! … What about the personal effects in the barracks, pack for storage or not pack??!! ‘ The night was filled with questions of that nature while some of the subordinates muttered that it was all only a drill. Later on, such alarms and our reactions became well rehearsed events and we certainly had the opportunity to practice what we learned.“

   
  On the road! Members of 2 Krad off to one of their many deployments. This time it is Czechoslovakia.
--Stefanowicz
 

11 March  At exactly 7 AM, we were fully march ready. Towards 11 AM, the final march order was received and by 11 45, we had joined the assembled 2nd Panzer Division on the march in the vicinity of Bamberg. The objective was still undetermined. Closer still to Bamberg, we received an intermediate objective for the day, we passed through Nurnberg and reached the vicinity of Regensburg“

12 March “The march continued, Straubing - Passau, across the Austrian border near Scharding and then further over the Lenz near Enns, where the battalion - once more on Austrian soil - spent the night at the Cavalry Barracks.“

   
  "The battles were fast and often. Hardly time to take a photo and move on." 2 Krad and French war dead in 1940.
--Stefanowicz
 

“It was sort of a ghostly existence. No one really knew what to make of this deployment. We had considered the possibility that at the border, there may have been a battle but, this did not come to pass. This was really the first ‘ Flower War ‘. … and a short while later, all this became a ’ rain of flower blossoms …’“.


A few paragraphs later, the narrative continues:

13 March “The battalion resumed the march over the Saint Polten and into the vicinity of Vienna. Near Puckersdorf, the Adjutant and CO of Company 3 finally caught up with the column and we were halted and ordered to ‘ clean and dress everything up’ . Then, through the indescribable joy of the population, we marched into the near suburbs of the city …“

   
  " ... but somehow, we always came home to a parade." 2 Krad returns to Austria after France.
--Stefanowicz
 

A glimpse of the 2nd Kradschutzen Battalion briefly appears in the microfilm rolls of the Bad Kissingen Stadtarchiv. By going back through the Saale Zeitung records for the key dates, Erwin Ritter found a mention of the unit.

Understandably, reporting on the Anschluss dominated the mid March editions of the Bad Kissingen newspaper. The reports were glowing, filled with the unquestioning enthusiasm of the day and based in large part on radio reports from Radio Vienna and Radio Berlin. The headline of the Monday 14 March 1938 paper was “Austria, a Land of the German Government“ and a few pages later, in this brief note from what can best be described as a News of the Region column:

“Our Kradschutzen Battalion in Vienna. Oberburgermeister Doctor Pollwein ( Mayor of Bad Kissingen ) reports receipt of the following telegram from the Commander of noted Kradschutzen Battalion # 2: that the battalion reports its arrival in Vienna in the early hours between Saturday and Sunday. We are greatly please that our military unit has had the opportunity to participate in this great event.“

   
  In the Soviet Union, it all changed.
--Stefanowicz
 

A few paragraphs later, a report that a 25 year old man from Schweinfurt had been sentenced to a year in prison for “intimate relations“ with a ½ Jewish woman appeared followed by a brief listing of local obituaries.

Throughout Austria, the activities associated with the Anschluss and the various Hitler parades received enormous coverage in the German press; hundreds of photographs of the events appear in both period and modern historical books. There are several images of the 2 Krad taking part in the military parade through the streets of Vienna. The soldiers appear businesslike and perhaps somewhat weary on their motorcycles.

Eisenstadt

Once the dust settled and the flowers were swept from the streets, the decision was made in Berlin to retain the 2nd Panzer Division in Austria and the various battalions of the small Austrian Army would deploy to Germany and, for the most part, be integrated into existing German units. This policy seems designed to merge important aspects of Austria into the dominant German culture. For the military, this would insure that military training, equipment and doctrine were rapidly standardized, there would no longer be an army that thought of itself as Austrian, only as German. There were, however, interesting consequences for the 2 Panzer Division.

The German Army personnel system was based on tying units to geographical regions for both replacements and locations of training barracks. With the move to Austria, the replacement pool for the 2nd Panzer Division became the Ostmark region, former Austria, and as more and more casualties were sustained by 2 Panzer over the run of the war, the " German " character of the unit, based in part on the initial staffing from the Bavarian and Thungarian towns that first raised the battalions and then contributed sons with each yearly draft, quickly gave way to an " Austrian " sense and dialect. Further, while in Vienna, a few Austrian units were added as complete blocks to the 2 Panzer Division. This unit, among the best trained and equipped German tank divisions in the late 1930s is recalled in the post war years as the " Viennese Panzer Division ". By the time the unit went to war in Poland, well over 75% of the enlisted men recalled an Austrian background. The officers of the unit were drawn from greater Germany as a whole.

The ironic twist to the story continues with the fate of the Austrian army units at the time of the Anchluss. As the small corps of mechanized units moved to Germany for retraining and fresh equipment some of these units occupied the Meiningen, Wurzberg and Bamberg barracks just vacated by the 2nd Panzer. The Austrian Light Artillery Regiment #3 for example, was redesignated and added to the just built 4th Panzer Division. Its home barracks was located in Meiningen and its replacement pool region became central Germany.

The men of the 2nd Panzer Division moved into garrison locations in and around Vienna, the 2 Kradschutzen Battalion found a home in a long existing castle like structure in the small city of Eisenstadt, about 100 kilometers SE of Vienna. http://www.eisenstadt.at/ The facilities had previously been home to the recently departed Austrian Infantry Regiment #13. The town may have lacked some of the charm of Bad Kissingen, but for the officers and men from central Germany, it probably had a certain exotic charm, the Hungarian border was only a few dozen kilometers distant. Their life, however, was hardly a relaxed affair.

The motorcycle infantry unit participated in the occupation of the Sudatenland in Czechoslovakia http://www.worldwar2database.com/html/czech.htm

the integration and training of a new “ class “ of draftees and an increasingly up tempo field and range training schedule. In September 1939, the 2nd Panzer Division was on the far southern flank during the invasion of Poland and the men of the 2 Kradschutzen Battalion won their first awards for combat valor and buried their first war dead.

   
  Found in Bad Neustadt, a few stray pages from a Kradschutzen photo album that probably once belonged to a soldier stationed at Manteuffel and then deployed to Austria.  In this group, a souvenir post card from Eisenstadt, officers in discussion, learning to operate a motorcycle.  
 
From the same small collection: a squad ready for machine gun training, on a march with the motorcycles and an very informal group picture. The off white uniform was called the Drillig Anzug and is almost always seen on recruits in training. In the pre war years, with a mandatory two year term, as one year - group of soldiers finished its commitment, the Krad battalion would lose over 40% of its experienced junior enlisted troops. The training cycle began again.