It’s strange isn’t it? Somehow, today we tend to think of Austria as almost not a military country, in the sense that we don’t now particularly associate it with fighting wars (though according to the Afghanistan ISAF website at the time of writing it has three troops in ISAF). A bit like Switzerland, perhaps it’s all those mountains and snow, and lederhosen (though, apparently, lederhosen aren’t a big Swiss tradition). But, of course, Austria has a huge military history, a fair bit of it involving us.
In many ways, Austria is one of those countries that some Brits might think we’ve invaded more than we actually have. After all, it’s a part of the world that was on the opposite side to us in both world wars. But in reality we also spent a lot of time fighting on the same side as the Austrians prior to the twentieth century. And it’s quite a long way away from both Britain and from the sea.
In the First World War, in a little-known part of our war, we had divisions fighting the Austro-Hungarian army, but almost all the fighting was done on Italian soil. By the armistice, which in this region was on 4 November 1918, not 11 November, our 48th South Midland Division had pushed to a position 8 miles north-west of a place then in Austria, called Löweneck. But when borders changed after the First World War, the area went to Italy and its name today is Levico.
In the Second World War, once again our troops were mainly approaching Austria from Italy (the main push into Austria from the west being conducted by US troops). This time we arrived in Austria just about the time the war ended. The big British push into Austria began on 8 May 1945 with 6th Armoured Division leading and Klagenfurt a major objective.
Having said that, after 8 May our troops moved in force into Austria. A lot of people have heard of our post-war presence in Germany, but our occupation of Austria isn’t so widely known. In July 1945, Austria was split into four zones, one each for us, the Americans, the French and the Soviets. We got Carinthia, East Tyrol and Styria. Vienna was similarly divided, plus the centre of the city was a separate zone under combined control. We had troops in Austria all the way through until 1955, enjoying the outstanding scenery. And perhaps, on occasion, the lederhosen.