As A G.I. Saw It
by Marvin C. Merbach
I am writing this as a result of my recent experience of attending the 1991 reunion of Tulln veterans of 1945-1955 at Atlanta, Georgia, October 17-19, 1991. Being at the reunion was a very pleasant and rewarding experience. However, I found that I arrived prior to any of those present at the reunion, and am thus writing this hoping to fill a void in the history of Tulln that may be useful and possibly interesting as well.
To begin, I need to go back in time to the end of hostilities in Europe in May 1945. At that time I was station at the Bari, Italy airport as an AACS (Army Airways Communication System) cryptographer. About the end of May, several of us were notified that we had been selected to go to Austria as soon as we were allowed in by the Soviets. We were to drive a convoy of vehicles up to Austria to be used at various new stations being established.
As time went by and no official orders came through, we wondered what was going on to cause the delay. Later, were able to discover the cause. In June, I was transferred to Ciampino Airport at Rome, Italy, still expecting to drive in a convoy to Austria. However, on July 13, 1945, orders were cut sending a C-47 load of us to London, England. We were informed that because all useable vehicles in Italy were being reconditioned for an expected invasion of Japan, no vehicles were available in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations for transfer to the European Theater of Operations. Consequently, the trip to England was needed to get the necessary vehicles.
We arrived in England in our summer uniforms to be greeted by a sustained rainy period and the temperature was in the 50s (F). Needless to say, most of us caught bad colds and were pretty miserable initially.
After getting warm ODs (olive drab) issued to us and spending a few days in London we were transported to a huge vehicle storage depot in Gloucester on the west coast. The officer in charged asked all those who drive to step forward. Out of about 30 men, 3 of us stepped forward myself included. It seems the rest of the group had been raised in large cities and had no need to learn how to drive. We had a short course in how to shift gears, where the brakes and clutch pedal were located and how to use them, etc. We then proceeded to London, which was about 90 miles away, on the left side of the road - luckily with no accidents!
The convoy proceeded shortly to Southampton for crossing of the English Channel. After waiting for a couple of days for winds to subside, we proceeded on to a LCT (Landing Craft Transport) and crossed to Le Havre, France on a beautiful July day.
After landing in La Havre we went to Paris, where my lead 6x6 truck broke and axle. We managed to find a temporary replacement vehicle for a couple of days so that we could see a little of "Gay Paree". Unfortunately, we hadn't been paid for an extended period and so our Paris visit was rather uneventful. After being in Paris for longer than we should have, we received orders from our Colonel in Rome asking where we had been for the last few days and ordered us to hit the road by 4 p.m. that day. Miraculously, were able to procure a replacement vehicle in short order and proceeded as ordered.
We then drove past Metz, France, to Stuttgart, down to Munich, and on to Salzburg, all without and accident (other than the broken axle). At Salzburg, the group was split up with some staying at Salzburg and a few of us going on to Vienna.
The next morning a sergeant who was already in Vienna picked us up in Salzburg and led us to Linz and through the Russian Zone to Vienna. We arrived on August 3, 1945. Instead of arriving at Tulln Airfield, we were directed to the Techniche Hochsuhule (Technical High School) located on Botzmanngasse which is located off Währingerstrasse midway between the Ring and the Gurtal. This was to be our home away from home for the next month or so. It was a large building in which were billeted and had a great mess hall with Austrian waiters and a three-piece string trio. There were even hot showers there! We thought we had died and gone to heaven!
The reason for the deluxe accommodations in the city was that the Russians had left the Tulln Airfield in a terrible mess. The one remaining barracks building was so filthy that the US Army had to use Austrian civilians who had to have a gun held on them to get them to clean up the filth. It may have been POW's who were used under duress in order to get them to do the job.
There was no mess hall on the airfield at this time, so we had our breakfast and dinner at Bolzmanngasse and our noon meal was eaten on the floor of the main hangar in the area we selected. Our meal consisted of "C" and "K" rations. This sumptuous fare continued until we got a base commander and we were informed we had to clean the mess up in the hangar.
Across the runway from the one remaining hangar were a series of one-story buildings that were actually in the worst condition I have ever seen. Trash on the floors six inches deep: toilets completely filled to overflowing with excrement. After the toilets were full, one corner of the room had been use as a convenient latrine. It was really bad!
When the barracks building was finally clean and our contingent was ordered to live on the airfield, I moved into a room on the ground floor. I had my choice of rooms as there were only three or four other men quartered there. Upon moving in, I noticed the room was immaculate, but absolutely bare! So, what to do for furniture? We were living in a civilized manner now, I thought, so I needed a chest of drawers to put my clothes. I'd been living out of my barracks bag for close to two months, and I'd had enough of that.
I noticed a large stack of chairs, tables and wardrobes, etc. out behind the building. Being naive, I thought to myself, 'What a waste!' So I promptly "requisitioned" the furniture I needed. I dumped out my barracks bag, arranged the items as neatly as possible in the draws, took a shower, and proceeded to dress in a clean uniform. I was all dressed and ready to catch the truck into town when I noticed that I was itching all over inside of my clothes. I had put my clothes into lice-infested drawers! And, since all my clothes were infested, I couldn't change. So, I took a small can of DDT powder I had, opened my collar and shook the DDT inside my clothes. I made the truck to Vienna all right, but in a short while I had to take my shoes and socks to get rid of the dead lice. It felt like my socks were full of sand. Needless to say, the chest of draws went back out to the pile and was burned. All my clothes had to be boiled. Some fun!
When we traveled to and from Vienna we could ride the "train", take the highway along the Danube, or go over the hills and through the Vienna Woods. We usually chose the latter route. In the fall of that year, as we went through the Vienna Woods, we would come upon dozens of old men and women out scrounging bits of branches and twigs for firewood - anything to keep warm. We gave a few a ride, but then everyone wanted to ride, so we had to discontinue that practice.
I remember the first evening that we spent in Vienna on the day we arrived there. There was at dusk to dawn curfew and the Russians patrolled the streets with their Tommy guns in hands. Anyway, after eating a delicious meal at the Boltzmanngasse, a few of us decided to find a beer tavern if possible. We found one all right, but it was pitch dark when we left. We didn't think the curfew was meant for us. After all, we were Americans and friends of our ally, Russia. At any rate, we had only gone a few steps and we heard some guttural commands and all at once I felt the Tommy gun in my belly button. Luckily I had a flashlight in my pocket which I shone on my insignia on my cap and uniform and said "americanski" a few times. It must have satisfied them because they let us go. We obeyed the curfew after that incident!
You are probably wondering in what condition Vienna and its people were in at that time. Well, the people were near starvation and there were absolutely no stores or public buildings open at that time.
The Germans troops were fleeing form the Russians in late April and took what food and supplies there were that they could carry. After the main force of German troops left, there was a period of approximately two weeks when no one was in control of the city. During this time of anarchy, the residents who were able looted the stores of goods still available. This was a dire necessity to prevent starvation. During the German occupation, strict rationing was in effect and, although the rations were not generous, they were adequate to prevent starvation. When they left, the rations ceased, and thus the period of panic and terror. The main fear was the expected behavior of Russian soldiers when they arrived in the city. As expected, the entry of the Russians entailed an extended period of rape, looting, and brutality. This period lasted from late April 1945 until the Four-Power government, which included Russia, the United States, France, and England, was in place in July 1945 for the Vienna area.
The obstinacy of the Soviet government was the main reason for the delay in not getting the Allies into Vienna earlier. The Soviets captured Vienna on April 13, 1945, and it took until July 9 of that year to come to an agreement by the four Allied Powers on disposition of zones of occupation and airfields in Vienna. Formal approval by the US was not made until July 24, 1945.
On July 27 of that year, the first contingent of 70 officers and 400 enlisted men came into Vienna for duty in that beleaguered city. The garrison forces, Headquarters personnel, and the Allied Council for Austria came into being on August 27, 1945.
I can truthfully say that I enjoyed my experience at Tulln and Vienna from August 3, 1945 until leaving the following January, even though things were in a pretty sorry state.
I hope that this narrative will be of interest to the reader, and also shed some light on the early occupation of Tulln Airfield by the US Forces.
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