This article was originally written by Herr Alfred A Graf and published in 1999 as a supplement to the Bulletin of the Favoriten Stamp Club in Vienna (BSV Favoriten). He granted permission to our member Herb Kucera for it to be translated and published in 'Austria' nr 133 (Spring 2001), which HK and I have done. My grateful thanks to them both. I have added a few illustrations of stamps and covers, and enhanced several of the cancels. Note added in 2014: this article has not been updated; if you wish up-to-date information on Schwechat see here.
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The final closing of the Vienna-Aspern airport on 31st March 1977 ended a historical development which formed a parallel to the changing destiny of aviation in Austria over more than half a century.
The cradle of Austrian aviation stood in Wiener Neustadt (about 50km south of Vienna). It had the first airport; the first motorized flights took place here and it was the site of the first aviation-related events. [The illustration below is of a violet cancel on a flown card, 8-18 Sep 1910.]
But it was only natural that the capital and imperial residence city did not want to be left behind, and plans were soon made to develop an airport in the centre of the monarchy, rather than put up with the temporary landing facilities on the Simmeringer Heide, where motorized airplanes had started and landed since 1909. Most of the preliminary work of planning and financing the new airport was performed by the k.u.k. Österreichische Aero Club and by the k.u.k. Österreichischer Flugtechnischer Verein (Austrian Aerotechnical Society). In January of 1912 the Wiener Flugfeldgesellschaft (Viennese Airport Company) was formed with a start-up capital of 125,000 Kronen.
The only area considered for the new airport was the southern portion of the Marchfeld adjacent to Vienna in the northeast. It was one of the driest and windiest districts in Austria, and in particular a head-wind was a prerequisite for many of the starting maneuvers. The 'Viennese Gate' (a gap between the Bisamberg and the Leopoldsberg which allowed the Danube to flow through) acted like a wind-tunnel, strengthening the prevailing north-westerly winds by up to one third. Consequently the old, now fallow battlefield site of Aspern, where Austrian forces managed to defeat the armies of Napoleon in 1809, became the choice for starting and landing strips. Construction of roads, hangars and ancillary buildings took only a few months, because completion was required by May 18th 1912 for the First International Aviation Exhibition in Vienna. Local newspapers described the then long-distance Berlin-Vienna flight as a 'struggle by idealists against the rain-sodden knee-deep mud on the usually dry soil of Aspern'.
The Austrian Aero club financed a considerable part of its share of the capital through the sale of advertising and propaganda postcards with corresponding cancels, over which philatelists at first hesitated; very soon however they recognised the airplane as the post transportation method of the future and 'wanted to be in at the beginning': the popularity of such cancels has remained unbroken until today. One of their 'leading lights' was Constantin, Freiherr von Economo.
The official opening of the airport took place simultaneously with the International Aviation week in Vienna from June 23 to June 30, 1912. The description 'International' was well justified, with more than half of the 44 participants coming from abroad, eg France, Germany, Italy, Rumania, Russia, Switzerland and even from Peru. However, a substantial portion of the quite generous prizes went to Austrian aviators. The factors for judgement included altitude, speed, ascent, circling and landing. There was a first prize for 4300 meter altitude with one passenger: or 201.8 km distance. Austria scored 23 world records and finished closely behind France and well ahead of the USA and Germany. The cancel illustrated is from the special exhibition post office.
The public interest was accordingly high, and on the second last day more than 100,000 spectators were present. Following the huge success, the Vienna Aviation Week (or Meetings, as they were later called) became an annual event. The next meeting took place on June 15 to June 23, 1913. This time two female pilots participated: Mme Palliers of France and Lilly Steinschneider from Austria. Even the military was officially represented; in 1912 officer pilots had to compete under aliases and wore civilian clothes. The press reported 'The Airforce Day on June 23 was a marvellous ending to the meeting. The machines flew past in Indian File at 1000 meters altitude and dropped bouquets of flowers'. No participant would have had any idea that slightly more than a year later other items would be dropped from the same machines. There was a third Meeting, but the start of World War I ended the glorious days of the airport at Aspern. Already, in 1913 some of the airforce equipment had been at this location and the mobilization put an end to aspects of civil aviation. The 'Vienna Airport Company Ltd' (Wiener Flugfeldgesellschaft m.b.H.) was replaced by the military administration. This cancel was applied to airmailed official letters:
During 1918, the last year of the war, the name Aspern appeared once more in connection with a pioneering event - the start of:
In March of 1918 the k.u.k. War Ministry, together with the two Trade Ministries (Austria and Hungary) organized a flight connection between Vienna and Kiev. Kiev was at that time the capital of the Ukraine, albeit occupied by Austrian and German troops. Ukraine had been recognized by the central powers as an independent state on February 9, 1918 and Russia ceded this area to the Ukraine in the peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk on March 3, 1918. It was expected that large scale deliveries of wheat from the 'Granary of Europe' would alleviate the hunger of the civilian population at home. This required substantial negotiations between Vienna and Kiev. The railways and telegraph lines between the two cities had been interrupted several times and were deemed inadequate for this purpose. Only airplanes could do the job. The military was given the responsibility of executing the plan, but the attendant mail service became the responsibility of the Trade Ministry. The only planes available were Albatros biplanes, which were no longer fit for combat duty. [They appear on the 1989 Tag der Briefmarke stamp shown above: ANK1990; 24.5.1989] As the distance of 1200 km was too great for non-stop flights, the service was divided into three segments: Vienna-Krakau, Krakau-Lemberg(Lvov) and Lemberg-Kiev. [See 'further reading' for much more details.] The first experimental flight with military mail only started in Aspern on March 20, 1918. Regular mail flights began on March 30, 1918.
Although the aviation aspect was organized militarily, the pilots had to conform with postal regulations as far as mail on board was concerned. Austrian Postal Authorities issued the first airmail stamps on March 30, and the proportion of civilian mail was expected to help finance this undertaking. However, this part of the venture did not generate much revenue. On the other hand, these stamps, just like the numerous mammoth stamp issues for Feldpost, Serbia, Italy, Rumania, Bosnia, Hungarian War Issues, etc were also primarily a means of financing military objectives by stamp collectors, at that time a highly speculative activity.
[ANK225-7: March 1918. The original stamps are grey, ochre, and violet: for later reprints see below]
On July 5, two additional daily flights were added for the Vienna-Budapest-Vienna line, for which the Hungarian Postal Administration issued two stamps. Admissible for airmail flights were letters and postcards addressed to any provincial capital in Austria, and to 24 cities in Hungary. Technical and political problems between Austria and Hungary led to the cancellation of the airmail service between Vienna and Budapest on July 24, only 19 days after its introduction.
The Airmail line functioned flawlessly until October 15 1918, although several planes had been lost for further service or had to be abandoned after making emergency landings in the Carpathian mountains. Altogether the civilian mail items transported were as follows: Vienna-Krakow 6488; Krakow-Vienna 8333; Vienna-Lemberg (Lvov) 9428; Lemberg (Lvov)-Vienna 11038; Vienna-Budapest 2411. Exact numbers for the very minute traffic between Krakow and Lernberg are not known. Although the flights continued to Kiev, civilian mail was not flown between Lemberg and Kiev; only official mail necessary for trade matters was allowed to be flown into the Ukraine.
After the ceasefire of 1918, the belief in Austria was that, due to the immense progress made in aviation during the war, there would be an opportunity to make peaceful use of the new facilities. Some people thought it possible to form new defence forces, including airforces. As a result, a German-Austria air defence team was created on December 6 1918. A large portion of the airplanes from the fronts had been secured, together with other equipment and spare parts from back-up stations. There certainly was no shortage of planes or even pilots. The peace treaty of Saint Germain between the allied powers and rump Austria (German Austria) nullified all these efforts. The new republic of Austria was forbidden to engage in any military aviation whatsoever. Airplanes and their motors had to be either delivered to the allied powers or destroyed. Airports also had to be demolished. Construction and importation of civilian aircraft was at first prohibited for a period of six months. Later, under the pretext that Austria had not kept its promise to deliver in accordance with the peace treaty, the prohibition was extended for an indefinite period.
Stamps, as well as airmail stamps necessary for the surcharge attached to these letters or postcards, were cancelled in the usual manner at the originating post office. In addition thereto, after March 31 1918, the airmail agents in Vienna, Krakow and Lemberg added their own cancel without considering whether the item was in fact transported by air or by other means. This cancel was applied by the agent in the originating office on the front of the letter and by the agent for the receiving office on the back of the letter. Postcards received both cancels on the address side of the postcard. Only on March 26th 1938, after Austria's annexation by Germany, were these cancels discontinued and replaced with regular cancels.
The numbers on the centre (date) bridge represent: (1) the day in arabic numerals; (2) the month in roman numerals; and (3) the hour - AM in roman numerals and PM in arabic numerals; the small numbers raised above the line indicate minutes. The cancel from Lemberg shows the third day of the fourth month at 8:30 AM. All civilian letters were manually supplied with an acceptance number, provided they were actually flown. These numbers were applied in the lower left corner on letters, and on the left part of the address field in the case of postcards. This method is the reason for the accurate numbers of actually flown covers (exceptions do confirm the rule).
All but six of the hangars in Aspern had to be destroyed after the war. Except for one miserable aviation meeting in 1921, there was nothing happening in Aspern. Until 1923 two thirds of the airfield and its hangars had to be reserved for the airplanes of the allied powers. This benefitted the French-Romanian Air line Franco-Roumaine, which operated daily flights between Prague-Vienna-Budapest beginning on May 2 1922, and subsequently added flights from Vienna to Prague, Warsaw, Budapest, Strassbourg and Paris on July 16 1922.
This cancel is on an envelope posted from Vienna to Prag in 1923.
With the largely regained freedom in civilian, and consequently also in postal areas, the founding of an Austrian Aviation company (Österreichische Luftverkehrs AG or ÖLAG) became possible, which started operations on May 14 on the Vienna-Munich route. The first transportation of airmail to Munich occurred on May 22 1923. The airplanes did not start or land in Aspern, but used the waters of the Danube near Jedlesee. With an extension to Budapest, where no suitable airfield could be found, it was the only way to service both. The first airmail to Budapest was flown on July 16th 1923.
During the following year (1924) ÖLAG moved its operations to Aspern. During a strike by railway workers in November 1924 new records were established for the transport of passengers and goods. Within only five days, the totals included 205 passengers, 1540 kg baggage, 2012 kg freight, 1979 kg mail and 1673 kg newspapers. At the time the daily newspapers reported that the new airport had experienced a remarkable and unexpected upturn with daily totals of forty passengers and 1000 kg freight and mail. All airmail sendings went via the post office Wien 1, where they were back-stamped with this airmail cancel. Transport to and from Aspern was handled by either the airline or by mail lorries, according to the existing regulations.
In 1925 a large scale extension of the Aspern airport began: new buildings for passport and customs controls, a restaurant, waiting room for passengers, and finally, on August 1, a separate post office (Flugfeld Wien-Aspern, Postamt Wien 1, which at first was only responsible for letters.
As well as the FLUGPOST cancel, the post office had a violet Postablage cancel, known used from 1926 until June 1928 [Kühnel 257]. Both cancels appear on the first illustration below, which is of a card flown on the first Vienna-Ostend-Antwerp flight.
The next illustration is of a card to Lodz dated 26-Oct-1926. The FLUGPOST cancel is concealed by the message.
In addition to regular air traffic, the old idea of sport flying, the real beginning of the airport in Aspern, became established again. Aviation days were held in 1925 and 1926 with the then immensely popular German flying ace Ernst Udet. In his 1946 novel 'The Devil's General', the German writer Carl Zuckmayer, a friend of Udet, created a literary monument for Udet.
Suddenly, in 1927 many 'First Flights' started to take place, and a new airmail cancel made its appearance
Shown below are several First Flight cards.
Flight to Malmö in Sweden (19.4.1927): the triangular cachet is ÖLAG
Flight to Gleiwitz (21.4.1927): note the FLUGPOST cancel in red
Flight to Marseille (1.7.1927)
Flight Klagenfurt-Salzburg (18.6.1928)
Beginning in 1930, Vienna became an interim destination for the Europa Rundflüge (European circular flights) of the International Aviation Association, or the start and finish points of the Alpine Flights with international participation, just to name two examples.
Quietly, military flights made their appearances again. Although Austria was still not permitted to possess an air force, at an ambassadorsí conference in Paris in 1926, permission was magnanimously given for twelve officers to participate in sport flying. With the assistance of ÖLAG a flying school was secretly formed, which primarily trained soldiers (not in uniform!) as pilots. In 1929 this training facility was moved to Graz-Thalerhof.
The first appearance of the Austrian Airforce occurred in 1937 during a large Flugtag (meeting). More than 100,000 spectators came, who subsequently became stuck in a tremendous traffic jam, as they were trying to cross the Danube in order to return to Vienna.
In 1980, a commemorative stone was found among the excavated material for the Aspern Motor Works on the former airfield. This caused some surprise, for the text read: "This commemorative stone was laid on 22 November 1922 in memory of the opening of the international air traffic route from Paris to Constantinopel by the Compagnie Franco-Roumaine de Navigation Aerienné". This line was the first route which flew via Vienna. Also, it provided the only sign of aeronautical life on the airfield, because until the end of 1922 the Treaty of St. Germain imposed an air traffic prohibition upon Austria, which did not extend however to foreign airlines. By 1930 ten companies were using the airport, the domestic ÖLAG and nine foreign companies, among them the British Imperial Airways on their long-distance London-India route: all this brought Aspern the title 'the most international airport in the world'.
Soon several airlines were flying the same routes, and postal customers could choose by which to have their letters transported. The sender of an airmail from Vienna to Budapest in 1925 besides AIRMAIL had to put a note 'JUNKERS' (Austrian Air Inc), 'ULAG' (Hungarian Air Ltd) or 'COMPT-INT' (Compagnie international de Navigation aérienne), to indicate the respective flight. In the absence of a such statement it was dispatched by the next available flight.
With the large expansion of the airport in 1925, the second ultra-short wave radio beacon in Europe (after Berlin) was put in service, a precursor of the present VHF beacons and instrument landing systems. Aspern had become more modern than Paris, and at the beginning of the thirties had each year over 6,000 take-offs and landings, about 14,000 passengers and 400 tons of freight - in the top bracket and way ahead of what are today very much larger European airports. Dr August Raft-Marwil, the organizer of the first international airmail line of the world (Vienna-Kiev), made an essential contribution to the development of the air-traffic control service, supported by the armed forces radio service.
On 12 July 1931 the airship LZ 127 'Graf Zeppelin' landed at the airport in Aspern. It had started around midnight in Friedrichshafen, and arrived around 0530 in the morning in Vienna, where it had to circle for a long time over the city until it received permission to land. 120,000 curious people had come to Aspern, along with President Miklas and almost the complete government, to receive the airship commander Dr Hugo Eckener on his Austrian excursion. With him were 23 passengers and a 40 man crew. For all those who could not be on the airfield, the speeches of greeting were broadcast on the radio.
From 1933, all available effort went into the construction of a new Austrian air force, and also private flying came under party-political influence. The German NSFK [Nationalsozialistische Fliegerkorps = National Socialist Flying Club] corresponded to the Austrian Heimwehr-Fliegerkorps, which had taken part in 1934 in the civil strife in Vienna. [See the Historical Appendix for more details of these events.]
On 12 March 1938, spearhead troops of the German army and parts of fighter, dive-bomber and transport squadrons landed in Aspern, which became the Ostmark base of the Third Reich Luftwaffe. The flight from Germany at the end of May 1938 to Vienna was in reality a camouflaged aerial reconnaissance by more than 400 'Sports machines'.
Aspern remained also during the war the Viennese traffic and post airport, until in April 1945 the Soviet army took over the runways (which were undamaged) and made it their hermetically sealed flight base for the next ten years (as well as Bad Vöslau)
Aspern, as the only intact airport, was for the western allies inaccessible in the Soviet zone, and later the British and French took over Schwechat as their airport, the Americans Langenlebarn at Tulln. However the Americans wanted from the first day in Vienna to fly in and out without their couriers being stopped by the Soviets. So in 1945 they began to lay out an airfield immediately beside the Karl-Marx-Hof along the Danube canal. The British did not go along with this, and arranged their airfield in their own sector outside Schönbrunn (where their HQ was) on Schönbrunner Schlossestraße along the Vienna river. [NB: that's the Wiener Fluß, not the Danube!] In Heiligenstadt and Hietzing, people became accustomed to British and American airplanes landing in the middle of the city. The ownership and organization of aerial devices was once again forbidden to the Austrians, at first for an indefinite time. But they could at least use civil airplanes in a private capacity, which the Germans were first allowed in 1948 as a consequence of the Berlin blockade. Also in Vienna, plans for an air-lift were considered in case of a blockade. Heiligenstädterstraße would have been used as a runway; at the start the available runway along the Danube canal would have served. Luckily these considerations remained only gray postwar [cold war] theories and were not carried out.
On 16 June 1946, the first civilian machine had landed in Langenlebarn: PANAM (Panamerican Airways) wanted to fly once a week to Vienna and transport airmail as well as passengers and freight. The airplane came from New York with stops in Newfoundland (Gander), Iceland, Ireland (Limerick), Britain (London), Belgium (Brussels), Czechoslovakia (Prague) en route to Vienna; it was well patronised by philatelists, as if people had no other cares at that time. In Langenlebarn, however, the obstacle race for the few passengers was not over: they still had to pass through the Soviet zone. At the exit of the US air force base a large board proclaimed in English: 'Follow the red arrows to Vienna. Driving on all other streets is absolutely forbidden.' The fraternization prohibition began to weaken: one could speak with an American soldier again, but the handshake was still forbidden! And a second board warned: 'The way to Vienna is dangerous. Narrow, winding streets full of ox carts, cyclists, children and unpredictable native drivers'. The Americans had evidently already met with the native, only this time they were not Indians. Perhaps that saved them from the former's fate... However the Viennese population was starving; 70% of the children were undernourished, half with life-threatening hunger symptoms. The Viennese mayor Körner called for help, the UNRRA (United Nations Refugee Relief Association) relief slowly started arriving via Langenlebarn.
From 1949 Austrians were allowed to fly gliders again, all other prohibitions remained for a month after the signing of the State Treaty. In June 1955 the Allies lifted the restrictions on Austrian aviation. ÖVP and SPÖ [the two main political parties: see Historical Appendix] wanted to found their own airlines immediately, so there emerged the ÖVP-linked Air Austria with participation by KLM (Netherlands) and the SPÖ-linked Austrian Airways with SAS (Scandinavian Airline system). Both companies sent ten pilots for training at the partner companies, but as there were no domestic airplanes they then went to Lufthansa! It needed a bi-party agreement before the two parties lines could be combined into one company with the name Austrian Airlines - AUA.
ANK1049: 27/3/1958. Many different covers exist, combining the FDC for this stamp with First Flights to Frankfurt, Paris, Rome etc.
On 31 March 1958, the first flights to London began, using four Vickers Viscounts, rented from the Norwegian Fred Olsens Flyselskap with Norwegian pilots and Austrian stewardesses. The occupacity was an inadequate 25%, ie 12 passengers per flight, and from then on the AUA made only losses, becoming bankrupt in 1962. The management, which had been party representatives in due proportion, was totally replaced with experts (naturally again in proportional representation, the staff reduced and new, jet-propelled aircraft obtained. In 1972 AUA made their first profit, and since then have developed the red-white-red fleet into a renowned international airline.
This is a soviet cancel. It was a gift to the Austrian post-clerks from the soviet delegation at the occasion of the departure of the soviet troops from Austria in 1955. This is the only example known until now, and exists used at Aspern on the above stamp. (Info from Wiener Ganzsachen Frei- und Poststempelsammlerverein - thanks)
Until the State Treaty, civilian air traffic used the former military airfields Schwechat-Heidefeld, Vöslau-Kottingbrunn and Tulln-Langenlebarn. Aspern as the Soviet military airfield was completely ruled out. The situation and size of Schwechat made it the only useful airfield for the future, besides which the British had left it in operable condition. This stamp [ANK1109; 17.6.1960] shows the control tower.
Building of the new airport Vienna-Schwechat had begun in 1955, and on 17 June 1960 it was opened by President Adolf Shärf. It had the most modern arrangements and was designed for the transport of 2 million passengers per year. Today little of the original buildings remain, as since the 1970s air traffic has grown like an avalanche, and the Vienna airport has expanded constantly and generously. In 1988 there were 4.6 million passengers, in 1998 10.6 million. From about 4,000 flight movements in 1956 the traffic has grown to 66,843 in 1988 and to 165,242 in 1998. Today (1998) the airfield has 400,000msq runways, 514,000msq taxiways, 674,000msq aprons and 578,000msq roads, footpaths and parking places. Its post office was opened on 17/4/1956; below is a first day cancel.
[however the office closed on 31 August 2010]
In 1968, the International Airmail Exhibition was held in Vienna; three stamps were issued [ANK1292-4] depicting aeroplanes - the 2ATS is the Etrich Dove: see 'The Planes'. In addition, the 1918 overprinted stamps were reprinted in changed colours (green, brown, red) and issued as a souvenir sheet without postal validity.
This stamp [ANK1765] was issued on 31.3.1983 to commemmorate the 55th anniversary of the first international airmail service (Vienna-Kiev); the 50th anniversary of Austrian Aviation Corporation; and the 25th anniversary of Austrian Airlines.
Langenlebarn became a military airfield, while Vöslau and Aspern were used as sport airfields, where until 1977 the popular airfield races were organised - Jochen Rindt and Niki Lauda started in Aspern.
In March 1977 Aspern was finally shut down, for the airfield lay exactly below the approach path for the second, 3600 m long, Vienna-Schwechat runway. The development of Austrian Airlines and of Schwechat continue, as do the philatelic links. The first stamp below [ANK2172: 18.11.1994] shows an Air Hostess; the second one [ANK2211: 28.3.1996] the West Pier extension of the Schwechat terminal opened in 1996.
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©Andy Taylor. Last updated 4 Jan 2014