World War II and the Defeat of Nazi Germany
In a strict sense, Austria was not a participant in World War
II because it did not formally exist when the war began with the
invasion of Poland in September 1939. On an individual level,
however, some 800,000 Austrians were drafted into the army (the
German Wehrmacht), and another 150,000 served in the Waffen SS,
an elite Nazi military unit. Austrians were integrated into
German units, and no specifically Austrian military brigades were
Austrians loyally supported Germany through the early years
of World War II. The early German military victories and
Austria's geographic location beyond the reach of Allied bombers
shielded the Austrian population from the full impact of the war.
Only after the German defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad in early
1943, when the course of the war increasingly turned against
Germany, did popular support for the war and for the Anschluss
begin to erode.
More important for Austria's future, however, was the
evolution in the Allies' position on Austria. In November 1943,
the foreign ministers of the Soviet Union, Britain, and the
United States met and issued the Moscow Declaration. In contrast
to the earlier Allied acceptance of the Anschluss, the
declaration described Austria as "the first victim of Hitlerite
aggression" and called for the reestablishment of an independent
Austria. At the same time, however, the declaration also held
Austria liable for its participation in the war, effectively
giving it the status of an enemy state.
Allied advances in Italy in 1943 enabled bombers regularly to
attack Austrian industrial and transportation centers. The winter
of 1944-45 saw an intensification of the air campaign and steady
advances toward Austria by the Soviet Union's Red Army. On March
30, 1945, the Red Army entered Austrian territory and captured
Vienna on April 13. Although the Germans resisted the Soviet
advances into eastern Austria, the Western Allies--the United
States, Britain, and France--met minimal resistance as they
advanced into the country. United States forces began entering
Austria on April 30, and French and British troops soon followed.
On May 8, 1945, Germany surrendered unconditionally.
Data as of December 1993