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The Austrian stay-behind organisation during the Cold War

ÖWSGV, also written as OeWSGV, was the abbreviation of Österreichischer Wander-, Sport- und Geselligkeitsverein (Austrian Association of Hiking, Sports and Society). It was the mysterious cover name of a secret Cold War paramilitary stay-behind army that existed in Austria in the 1950s and 60s. The organisation was founded with the consent of MI6 and the CIA, to combat communist attempts to assume power in post-war Austria, and was largely funded by the CIA.

Known radio equipment
The first Austrian spy radio set, developed in Austria by Dr. Hermann Berger
American RS-6 spy radio set, built by Motorola
Fully digital pan-European clandestine radio station FS-5000. Also known by its codename HARPOON.
Just before World War II, Austria became part of the Third Reich (i.e. Nazi Germany) by way of the Anschluss 1 in March 1938 [1]. Although this officially meant that Austria had joined voluntarily, it was seen by the Allied powers as occupation by Nazi Germany. It was therefore agreed in the Declaration of Moscow that the Allies would regard Austria as the first victim of Nazi agression, and that it should be treated as a liberated and independent country once the war was over [2].

Allied-occupied Austria
Allied occupation zones in Austria after WWII

Post-war Austria
When Austria was liberated, the country was divided into four occupation zones, under control of the United States (USA), the Soviet Union (USSR), the United Kingdom (UK) and France. Like Berlin, the capital Wien (Vienna) was divided into similar zones, but the central district was administered jointly by the Allied Control Council. Although the Western Allies wanted to withdraw gradually from 1950 onwards, the country remained under occupation of the Soviet Union until 1955.

Cold War
Meanwhile, in the spring of 1946, the Cold War had begun 2 and the Western Allies were afraid that the country would be invaded by the Soviets once the Allies had left (which had happened to Czechoslovakia in 1948). Because of this, the UK had been quietly arming the Austrian so-called B-Gendarmerie 3 since 1945, and were even discussing an independent Austrian Army by 1947.

The Americans, who shared this fear, even created a backup government base in Salzburg. At the same time, they also started the secret training of an underground Austrian army at a rate of 200 men a week, which was complemented by training of the B-Gendarmerie from 1950 onwards.

In the fall of 1950, the American aid was coming to an end, and Austria faced the communist-led general strikes, which are regared by many as the most dangerous events since the end of WWII. The communists stormed trade union offices and disrupted railroad traffic, but failed to gain sufficient public support for their actions, and finally had to admit defeat. The strike intensified the militarization of Western Austria, with active input from France and the United States CIA [3].

As a result of the East-West tension, the Americans and the French had started the formation of a secret well-trained Stay-Behind Organisation that had bases at strategic positions throughout the country, with weapons caches, communications centers and thousands of (secret) agents that were trained in intelligence, sabotage and man-to-man fighting. The organisation was initially setup within the B-Gendarmery, with Franz Olah being one of the key figures on behalf of the Austrians, and American espionage specialist Franklin Lindsay on behalf of the United States.

The organisation was known under various names, such as Militärisches Sonderprojekt (Special Military Project) and Einsatztruppe (Action Group). It played an important role in defeating the massive communist-led (and Soviet Union insprired) October Strikes of 1950, that are regarded by historians as the most serious events since the war. The strikes came at a time when the Americans wanted the occupying forces to retreat, and raised the fear of a Soviet invasion.

The secret stay-behind organisation, that eventually consisted of approx. 2500 people, finally became known under the intriguing cover name Österreichischer Wander-, Sport- und Geselligkeitsverein (OeWSGV), literally: Austrian Association of Hiking, Sports and Society, also established by Franz Olah. The organisation had the full cooperation of MI6 and the CIA [4]. In 1955, the B-Gendarmerie became part of the newly established Bundesheer (Federal Army).

  1. Anschluss is the German word for 'connection' or 'joining'. From 1996 onwards, it is written as Anschluß.
  2. In Austria, the Cold War began in the spring of 1946, a year before the outbreak of the global Cold War.  Wikipedia
  3. The B-Gendarmerie was the predecessor of the Austrian Federal Army (Österreichisches Bundesheer), similar to the German post-war Bundesgrenzschutz (BGS).  Wikipedia

Radio equipment
Over the years, the Austrian stay-behind organisation used a variety of radio sets, ranging from the first valve-based spy radio sets developed in post-war Austria, to a fully automatic pan-European digital long-range radio station. Below is a non-exhaustive overview of spy radio sets that were used at one time or another by one of Austria's secret stay-behind organisations.

The first spy radio set to be issued in post-war Austria, was the BE-20, developed in 1948 by Dr. Ing. Hermann Berger in Innsbruck (Tirol, Austria). It was developed with constent of the Western occupation forces (USA, UK and France), but entirely outside the view of the Soviet Union (USSR).

The problem was that during the war, the Allied Forces had decided to treat Austria as a liberated and independent country after the war, but that the Soviets didn't want to live up to this promise.

Development of the BE-20 started in the late 1940s, with the first protype, the BE-20/1, being presented for evaluation to the French Army in 1948. After some modifications, this resulted in an order from the French for 50 BE-20/2 sets. The front panels of these radios had French text. The BE-20/2 was nicknamed Poste Cunzi, after Berger's contact person within the French Army.
Berger BE-20/3 spy radio station

In addition, Berger got an order, probably from the Americancs, for another 50 units that were to be supplied to the secret section of the B-Gendarmerie, various Police stations, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Staatsschutz) and the command stations of the Western occupation forces. This version was known as the BE-20/3. The Berger BE-20 was in production until at least 1953, after which it was gradually replaced by cheaper alternatives, mainly supplied by the American CIA.

 More about the BE-20

In the early 1950s, suitable alternative spy radio sets became available from countries like the US, the UK and Germany. As a result, it was no longer necessary for the Austrians to develop their own equipment and it was decided to replace the BE-20 units by the American RS-6 radio set.

The RS-6 was developed by Motorola in the US in 1951 and was initially intended for exclusive use by the CIA. It was based on the earlier RS-1. A few years later, the Strategic Air Command (SAC) started ordering the RS-6 for use aboard aircraft during secret — covert/clandestine — missions.

From that moment on, the RS-6 became noticed by other services and was used as a clandestine radio station – spy radio set – for stay-behind organisations. In Austria, the OeWSGV used it from the mid-1950s onwards. The set consists of a transmitter, a receiver and a power supply.
Click to see more

A fourth box, the so called filter unit, was used to connect the other three units together. The PSU had an electro-mechanical vibrator that allowed the set to be powered from a 6V DC source such as the battery of a car. The PSU was used as the central hub to which all parts were connected.

 More about the RS-6

FS-5000   Harpoon
By the late 1980s, a new fully automatic digital radio system was introduced. It was developed by AEG Telefunken and was codenamed HARPOON. The set was designated FS-5000 and replaced all existing clandestine radio sets in Europe. By this time however, the Berlin Wall had already fallen (1989) and the Soviet Union was about to collapse (1991). As a result, HARPOON was the last set.

The FS-5000 consists of a number of modules that can be combined in several configurations, depending on the requirements. The complete system fits inside a standard briefcase, as shown in the image on the right. It has a built-in burst encoder with high-end NATO-grade encryption, and has an operational range of ~ 6000 km.

In some countries, the FS-5000 was known under a different name, such as AZO-90 in the Netherlands. The official Telefunken designator was SY-5000.

 More about the FS-5000

FS-5000 with DSU inside Samsonite attaché case

The Austrian Stay-Behind Organisation (SBO) was known under various names, including:

  • Militärisches Sonderprojekt (Special Military Project)
  • Einsatztruppe (Action Group)
  • Österreichischer Wander-, Sport- und Geselligkeitsverein
    (Austrian Association of Hiking, Sports and Society)
The following people were involved in the stay-behind organisation:

  • Oskar Helmer
    Innenminister (Minister of the Interior)  Wikipedia
  • Franz Olah
    Secretary of State of the Ministry of the Interior  Wikipedia
  • Karl Majcen
    Later: Generaltruppeninspektor  Wikipedia
  • Emil Spannocchi
    Rittmeister (Captain), later General  Wikipedia
  • Zdenko Paumgartten
    Later: General  Wikipedia
  • Franklin Lindsay
    American espionage specialist  Wikipedia
  1. Wikipedia, Anschluss
    Retrieved December 2016.

  2. Wikipedia, Allied-occupied Austria
    Retrieved December 2016.

  3. Wikipedia (German), Operation Gladio (Austria)
    Retrieved December 2016.

  4. Wikipedia, Austrian Association of Hiking, Sports and Society
    Retrieved December 2016.

  5. Der Spiegel, Österreich / Untergrund - ÖWSGV
    17 February 1992.

  6. Thomas Riegler, Deep State Austria
    Website. 6 January 2015 (German).
Further information
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© Crypto Museum. Created: Wednesday 08 April 2015. Last changed: Friday, 21 May 2021 - 09:14 CET.
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