During the Cold War era occupying Soviet forces were deployed all over Eastern Europe. They did not mingle with locals – had their own schools, shops and naturally vehicle repair shops. One of those in East Germany even built buses!
Zeesen is a village south of Königs Wusterhausen. It was here that the Soviet army set up a repair workshop in 1945 in the former buildings of the Johann Schütte airship company. First it was called the 53rd Automobile Repair Plant, but later it was named Progress.
It is worth noting that in the early 1950s around 5,5 million Soviet troops were stationed across Central and Eastern Europe. These were the occupying forces in East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia etc. However their story is not yet written. Their numbers were never officially confirmed, their movements were always clouded in secrecy – this was the essence of Cold War.
These people had families, they had children so there were schools catering for their needs. The first Progress bus was built on the chassis of either a ZIS or Studebaker (sources differ) and was used as a school bus.
In the late 1940s small-scale production of the Progress-3 got underway. This was based on the ubiquitous GAZ-51 truck – just like dozens of other buses in the Soviet Union. In the 1950s every Soviet military unit in East Germany had a fleet of Progress buses.
Naturally there is no official history available. Progress-3 was replaced by the Progress-4 and in the mid-1960s there was a Progress-5 which was almost identical to the PAZ 651A save for the side windows which had sliding vents.
In the mid-1970s came the best known Progress, designated Progress-35. It was based on a GAZ 53A truck and there were lot of different body styles, grille and headlight options. It was produced until 1989 when the Soviet forces withdrew from Germany and the workshop was closed.
In the 1990s many Progress buses ended up in the “motherland”: Russia and Ukraine. Today only a handful survives.