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The Archdukes of Atterbury

Camp Atterbury was built just after the US entry in World War 2, soon training countless battalions--one of which left barely a trace.

A longtime national guard training facility, Camp Atterbury has become increasingly prominent since the 9/11 attacks. Commissioned in February 2003 as a one of two Joint Forces Maneuver Training Centers in the country, the Indiana base has recently served as the last stop for countless troops before deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The last time the Edinburgh facility saw so much activity was soon after the US entry in World War 2, when Atterbury was built. Prior to their legendary sacrifice at the Battle of the Bulge, the 106th army infantry division trained at Atterbury; but there was another unit that kept a lower profile at the Indiana base.

Prompted by the Greek émigrés who had formed the “Free Greece” battalion in the US Army, exiled Austrians hatched a similar plan. An expatriate since the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, Empress Zita von Habsburg tapped connections in the U.S. Department of State to propose the formation of an Austrian battalion.

The Empress had already help persuade President Roosevelt officially to declare the restoration of Austrian independence as one of the goals of U.S. war involvement. Although Empress Zita’s ulterior motives may have been a Habsburg restoration, the US and Austria were at least nominally united in their opposition to Nazi occupation.

In late November 1942, Americans of Austrian extraction, along with those from Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Poland and other countries formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire were transferred into the Army’s 101st Battalion. Although heir apparent Otto von Habsburg remained in Washington D.C. during the war, younger brothers Charles, Rudolf and Felix von Habsburg all reported to Camp Atterbury.

The Indiana winter was long, and troop morale tenuous. Inter-ethnic divisiveness prevailed within the battalion, and the enlisted Archdukes were accused of pulling rank, allegedly insisting on being called by their titles, which they emblazoned upon their government-issue footlockers.

The beleaguered men of the 101st started writing letters to editors about conditions at camp, but publicity about the unit was strictly banned. The US government hoped to avoid the suggestion that it was supporting an Austrian royalist movement. Soon after a reporter from New York appeared at Atterbury to investigate first-hand, the unit began dispersing. The Austrian-American soldiers were relocated in twos or threes to other divisions, so that no trace of the 101st would remain.

  • Jim West

    The official site for the history of Camp Atterbury, which includes details of the 101st Austrian Battalion is http://www.IndianaMilitary.org.

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