The attempt to set up independent armed forces in Austria after World War II was vetoed by the four Allied occupation powers. The so-called alert formations set up in the western occupied sectors, which were transformed into police academies in 1952, formed the basis for the re-installation of Austrian armed forces after full sovereignty had been regained in 1955. The tasks of these armed forces were to be laid down in the constitution and governed by a Defence Act. They were based on universal conscription for all male citizens and comprised military national defence, protection of constitutionally established institutions, maintenance of domestic order and security , provision of aid in the event of natural or man-made disasters, and (from 1965) participation in international operations upon the request of international organisations. The financial framework, however, always remained quite constrained and caused repeated changes in the organisational structure. Although initially the doctrine of the major powers prevailed, the Austrian Army eventually was much smaller and technologically incomplete, particularly since its armament and equipment consisted predominantly of “gifts” left behind by the occupation powers. Even so, the immediately subsequent first performance test (the Hungary Crisis in 1956) was mastered successfully.
Based on the concept developed in the 1960ies, known as Comprehensive National Defence, in addition to military defence also mental, civil and economic national defence measures were to be put into place for possible threat scenarios, like the crisis and the neutrality and the defence situations. This included, among other things, the restructuring into standing operational forces and measures for the event of mobilisation as well as the expansion of territorial defence. The efficiency of these measures was proven in numerous assistance operations following natural disasters, but also when safeguarding the Austro-Italian border in 1967, as well as during the mobilisation on the occasion of the Czechoslovakia Crisis in August 1968. However, due to their social-political isolation, the Armed Forces were increasingly faced with criticism. The subsequent reorganisation caused by the need for reform in 1972 shifted the focus from peace-time establishment to the newly set up Landwehr, strengthening the militia-type character of the Austrian Armed Forces. This was reflected both in the new defence doctrine and the National Defence Plan elaborated by General Emil Spannocchi. His area defence concept covered almost all of the Austrian territory with key areas, secured by strong defence forces, area security zones and key zones, which were situated in between the key areas and where commando units were to be deployed against enemy forces. The 1980ies were marked by repeated attempts to prove the efficiency of the new concept in large-scale area defence exercises. At the same time, stationary positions and barriers as well as modern barracks were built. Following the motto “National defence concerns everybody“ the new concept was not only endorsed by the Austrian population, but it was also acknowledged abroad, especially during the East-West conflict, where the peacekeeping effort of Austria’s “blue helmets” received continuous praise. In addition to unarmed military observers, this included the contribution of troops (for instance on Cyprus and, from 1974, on the Golan Heights) as well as humanitarian and disaster relief (for instance in Armenia in 1986, and Iran in1991)
The collapse of the communist systems in Central and Eastern Europe resulted in a drastic increase in illegal border crossings in 1990. The assistance operation supporting customs authorities and police, which lasted until December 2011, was to strengthen the local population’s confidence in the Austrian Armed Forces in the same way as the security operation of June 1991 at the Austro-Slovenian border.
The most important objects
The exhibition is dedicated to the historical development of the Austrian Armed Forces until 1991 as well as to preceding efforts in 1955, most notably the establishment up of the Heeresamt (Agency for Military Affairs), the Alert Battalions and the police forces known as B-Gendarmerie). As the equipment of the Austrian Armed Forces almost entirely consisted of what the Allied occupation powers left behind, military assets, such as the 2.5 cm Hotchkiss air defence cannon 38/39 [FRA], the 10.5 cm light howitzer M2 A1 [USA] or the 12 cm mortar 38/41 [SU]), are exhibited in the outside area of the museum.
The exhibition area itself is divided into two areas, with the various operational scenarios of the Austrian Armed Forces being presented chronologically, starting with border protection in the context of military national defence, followed by U.N.-mandated international operations, national disaster management, and, eventually, national border assistance operations. The area defence concept developed since the 1970ies represents a focal point of the exhibition, showing construction scenes of prepared positions covering obstacles. Moreover, examples of further characteristic vehicles from various eras (e.g. M8, Jeep, Steyr 680, assault boat, Augusta Bell H-13, medical vehicle Pinzgauer, PUCH-G, light tank Kürassier A1), but also materiel, equipment and typical uniforms from the respective eras are presented.
The second exhibition area provides an insight into the Austrian Armed Forces from a more personal viewpoint, giving an overview of fields, such as training, decorations, military routine duty, armament, uniforms, history of garrisons, organisation, insignia and tradition, parade, military music and military sports. At the end of this section, some light is shed on the socio-political aspects of the Austrian Armed Forces.
A re-construction of a classical barracks room gives insight into the so-called “locker regime”. At the specially created “soldiers’ cinema”, a selection of historic film footage offers an overview of soldiers’ daily routine, from the induction of the first conscripts in 1956 to the graduation of career officers from the Theresan Military Academy at the beginning of the 1990ies.