Carl Szokoll and Operation Radetzky
Carl Szokoll was given orders to destroy bridges, power plants, railway stations and even the Anker bread factory in Favoriten. He planned instead to use his network of loyal commanders (built up at the time of the failed plot to assassinate Hitler on July 20th 1944), to seize these facilities and preserve them. He also made contact with O5 and others involved in the resistance.
He also planned to contact the Russians and persuade them to enter the city not through the South, but through the Vienna Woods to the West and North of the city - a ‘back door.’ His co-conspirators would guide them. In return the Russians would preserve the water supply. Ferdinand Käs, Szokoll’s staff sergeant, and his driver Johann Reif, went to meet the Russians and the plan was agreed by April 4th. On the 6th, flares went up from both sides to signal the start of the plan.
But then disaster struck. The plan was betrayed and three of the plot leaders, Karl Biedermann, Alfred Huth and Rudolf Raschke, were arrested and, on April 8th, executed. An army barracks in Vienna is named after them.
Szokoll, Käs and other plotters fled. Szokoll tried to find the Soviets to surrender to, but was unable to do so and returned to the city on April 8th and hid in a friend’s apartment until 10th April when the district was taken by the Russians. He then briefly became chief of an unarmed police force and was active in trying to protect the citizens of Vienna from, amongst other things, rape.
The Russians were suspicious of Szokoll and of O5, believing them to be linked to the interests of the Western Allies. Szokoll was arrested and interrogated by the Soviets on 15th April, but fled their custody in June, after which he lived illegally in Vienna, marrying his fiancée on 21st June. Imprisoned by the Soviets again in September he was finally released in mid October after it was concluded that he was not an American spy.
In his memoirs, Szokoll recollects the 8th May, the day the war in Europe was formally ended:
“The [8th May was] day, the hour when every bell in Vienna proclaimed peace and the end of the Second World War. I was lying on an upturned fridge, unwashed and unshaven, covered in filth in my ‘partisan uniform’ in a coal cellar in the Plössgasse in the 4th Bezirk. The door to the cellar was guarded by a Red Army soldier speaking only a smattering of pig-German, who played ad nauseam the first bars of the Volga Boat Song - he clearly couldn’t manage the rest.”
Translated in Macdonogh, G. (2007) After the Reich. John Murray (Publishers). p. 278.
Fighting in the city
The Radetzky plan was partially implemented in spite of its betrayal, with Soviets approaching the city from the West and North as suggested, as well as coming up through the heavily defended South. The Anker bakery in Favoriten was taken by them, halting bread production.
German defenders began to destroy bridges on the Danube canal and concentrate their forces on the Prater island between the canal and the Danube itself, defending themselves with artillery which included flak guns on the Augarten flak tower. By 9th April Soviet troops infiltrated the city centre. Firing from the Germans destroyed buildings along the Franz Joseph Kai and shells fell on the inner city.
As the fighting went on, former prisoners of war - French, Belgians, Dutch, Slavs - sat in cafes and wine bars, playing accordions and guitars, waiting for the war to end, sometimes within a few hundred metres of the fighting. Free to loot during a short period on the 11th April when neither Russians nor Germans wanted to occupy the inner city, people dragged sacks of plundered goods through the streets. Huge fires, with no firefighters to control them, included the cathedral, which was badly damaged.
The Russians stormed of the Danube canal on 11th April and on the 12th captured the Reichsbrücke bridge, the last intact bridge, so had access to the area across the canal where the Germans were. This led to a further German retreat northwards, into a small pocket near the Floridsdorf bridge. On April 13th the last German defenders escaped north, or surrendered, and the fall of Vienna was reported to Stalin.