The ministers of defense of the Second Republic - a series

Manfried Rauchensteiner

Johann Franz Freihsler

Johann Freihsler (born 4th December 1917 in Vienna, died 17th February 1981) was an Austrian general and federal minister of national defense. After passing an award at the Vienna III Teacher Training Institute, he joined the Vienna Infantry Regiment No. 3 of the Federal Army of the First Republic in September 1936 as a one-year volunteer. In 1937 he began training as an officer at the Theresian Military Academy. After the annexation of Austria in March 1938, he was taken over into the Wehrmacht, and in September of this year he was transferred to Oldenburg as Oberfähnrich to the Infantry Regiment 16 of the 22nd Infantry Division. Promoted to lieutenant, he took part in the Polish campaign with this regiment in September 1939. Moved to Romania in 1940, his association took part in the campaign against the Soviet Union from 22 June 1941 in the southern section. He was wounded as company chief in August 1941 and then used as an ordonnance officer in the XXX Army Corps. From May 1942 to October 1943 he was assigned to The Army Command 11 and from November 1943 to February 1944 with the Army Groups South and Don. In May 1943 he became captain. From March 1944 to April 1945 he completed the General Staff training. After the end of the war, he managed to return to Vienna in long foot marches. He found employment in the Ministry of the Interior in Department 12 K, which dealt with the care of prisoners of war and returnees. In mid-1955 he was transferred to the Office of National Defense and was appointed to cooperate in the establishment of the Federal Army. From 1st January 1956 he became Major dhmD (General Staff Service). From 1958 to 1961, as head of the organizational department in the Federal Ministry of National Defense, he played a major role in the construction of the army. After the changes in the department under Federal Minister Karl Schleinzer, he had to leave this post and became head of the staff department of the inspector general, General Erwin Fussenegger, who is now limited in his powers. He held this post from 1st August 1961 to 19th January 1966, during which time he was able to gain the recognition and trust of the General. Among his main achievements during this period is the preparation of the first major manoeuvres of the Bundesheer in the autumn of 1965 and the organization of several large parades on Vienna's Ringstrasse. He also led the disaster response during the great floods of the summer of 1965 in Carinthia. On January 1st, 1966, he became a brigadier. At that time, he was also entrusted by Federal Minister Georg Prader with the leadership of the Operation Group. In this capacity, he organized the deployment of the Federal Army during the crisis caused by the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact in 1968. On 21st April 1970, he, who was politically close to the SPÖ, was appointed federal minister of national defense to the first cabinet of Chancellor Bruno Kreisky. He was the first Social Democrat Minister of Defense of the Second Republic. His ministerial position was the implementation of the Federal Army Reform, after which military service was shortened from nine to six months. A few months of ministerial work, however, destroyed his health and turned this fun-loving but sensitive man into a wreck. He was apparently crushed between two loyalties. He would certainly have preferred to remain loyal to both – the Social Democratic Party and its Chancellor on the one hand, and the army and his comrades on the other. However, he was unable to cover these two worlds. On 3rd February 1971, he resigned from his ministerial post for health reasons and retired shortly thereafter, having been promoted to general of the infantry on 1st January 1971. Johann Freihsler died ten years later on 17th February 1981.