Czechoslovak soldiers in Krásná Lípa.
| Sudetendeutsches Freikorps
|Commanders and leaders|
|Unknown|| Col. František Navrátil
(CO of 42nd Infantry Regiment)
Maj. František Klor
(CO of 47th Infantry Regiment)
|Casualties and losses|
| 35+ killed, 10 wounded|| 35 killed, 26 wounded
The Šluknov incident (German: Zwischenfall in Schluckenau, Czech: Incident v Šluknov) was a battle between the between members of the Sudetendeutsche Freikorps and the German Army on one hand and sections of the State Defense Guard (SOS) and the Czechoslovak army on the other. It is often used as the marker for the start of the Second World War.
Clashes between the Sudeten Germans and Czechoslovaks had occurred in the area since the beginning of summer, they escalated from September 12, 1938 in the aftermath of Adolf Hitler's speech at a Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg. In the speech he publicly denounced Czechoslovakia as being a fraudulent state that was in violation of international law's emphasis of national self-determination, claiming it was a Czech hegemony where neither the Germans, Slovaks, Hungarians, Ukrainians, nor Poles of the country wanted to be in union with the Czechs. Hitler accused Czechoslovakia's President Edvard Beneš of seeking to gradually exterminate the Sudeten Germans, and stated that he, as the head of state of Germany, would support the right of the self-determination of fellow Germans in the Sudetenland.
The speech incited Sudeten German attacks not only against symbols of Czechoslovak state power like police stations, but also the homes of Czechs, Jews and anti-Nazi-minded Germans, with the hope of sparking a rebellion that was to create a pretext for a German invasion. The police, the gendarmerie and the State Defense Guard, Stráž obrany státu (SOS), urged for all sides to restraint. The Czechs also enforced a strict ban on the use of firearms, even if directly targeted, from fear that some stray bullet might fly into the border to Germany and could be used as a casus belli for an attack against Czechoslovakia.
On September 14, the SOS declared a state of full combat readiness, and the following day, on September 15, martial law was declared in the districts of Šluknov, Rumburk and Varnsdorf, but its fulfillment remained a formality. The uprising was temporarily subdued when reinforcements of the Czechoslovak Army arrived, and on September 16 Czechoslovak authorities officially disbanded the Sudeten German Party (SdP). On September 17, by decree by Hitler, SdP leader Konrad Henlein began forming the Sudetendeutsches Freikorps (SdF) with the help of the SS and SA.
Between September 21 and 23, the SOS and the Czechoslovak Army were engaged in clashes with members of the Sudetendeutsche Freikorps in the vicinity of Šluknov, Rumburk, Varnsdorf and Krásná Lípa. After days of skirmishes, the Czechoslovak troops, supported by a tank platoon and an improvised armored train depot assembled in Liberec, moved to regain control of the area. By 8:00 A.M. Chřibská was in Czechoslovak hands, and by 05:00 P.M. they had retaken Varnsdorf. The entire attack took place without loss of life and the SOS and Czechoslovak Army captured large quantities of weapons and SdF members. The majority of the members, however, had retreated into Germany.
At 10:30 P.M. on September 23, the Czechoslovak government announced a decree of full mobilization, which meant that all military units withdrew from the area to the main line of defence along the border fortifications. This meant that SdF regained control in much of the area, with only a small number of SOS units remaining.
At 2:30 A.M. on September 29, members of the SdF attacked the buildings of the SOS in Varnsdorf with handgrenades, killing four. Shortly afterward, the Sudeten Germans attacked SOS guards in Šluknov, capturing ten. By dawn, around 100 members of the Sudetendeutsches Freikorps had taken control of Šluknov, Rumburk, Varnsdorf and Krásná Lípa, expecting that the planned conference in Munich between the leaders of Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy would result in the Czechoslovak government being forced to cede the Sudetenland to Germany.
In response to the attacks, Colonel František Navrátil, the commander of the 42nd Infantry Regiment, ordered the I./47. pěší pluk and I./42. and III./42. pěší pluk to move out at 8:00 A.M. into the Šluknov Hook and regain control over the area. They first marched into Krásná Lípa, where the III./42. pěší pluk were fired upon by 30 insurgents armed with rifles, machine guns and grenades. After one hour of fighting the Sudeten Germans withdrew, leaving 12 Sudeten Germans and four Czechoslovak soldiers dead. They then moved into the village of Křečany and then split into two spearheads; one heading for Šluknov, and the other for Rumburk.
At 9:00 A.M., the I./47. pěší pluk advanced northward toward Varnsdorf and Studánka. While Studánka was reclaimed without incident, the Czechs were fired upon by insurgents when approaching Varnsdorf from the south. The Czechs lost five men as they were pinned down for half an hour until the arrival of two OA vz. 30 armoured cars. By noon the Sudeten German insurgents were retreating from the town, having suffered an additional six dead, 13 wounded and five taken prisoner. The Czechs had lost a total of ten men at Varnsdorf, and were now in pursuit of the Sudeten Germans.
Meanwhile, the III./42. pěší pluk had by that time moved into Numburk after some fighting with Sudeten German insurgents. After half an hour of fighting, which left five dead and eight wounded, the Sudeten Germans withdrew toward Germany in two directions; eastward toward the village of Seifhennersdorf and northward toward the villages of Ebersbach and Neugersdorf. The Czech troops, thinking they could deliver a decisive blow to the insurgents, decided to pursue them.
To the north, the I./42. pěší pluk reached Šluknov at 11:00, where they encountered Sudeten German machine gun and small arms fire. After being held up for half an hour, they entered the town without casualties while killing three Sudeten Germans.
The incident began at 13:15 P.M. when Czechoslovak soldiers in Varnsdorf took fire as they were pursuing retreating Sudeten German insurgents crossing the German-Czech border south of Seifhennersdorf. Having lost six men, Major František Klor decided to violate the ban on the use of firearms, and ordered the Czechs to return fire.
The ensuing firefight killed not only six Sudeten Germans, but accidentally also killed three German soldiers. Confused, the German soldiers and border guards returned fire. The firefight would last for one hour, ending with three additional Germans killed, ten wounded and two Czechs killed.
Having heard the firefight south of Seifhennersdorf, the German border guards east of the village, began now to fire back at the Czech soldiers east of Numburk. Surprised, they fell back toward the town to take cover, losing four men in the process. Ten minutes later, at 13:30, the Czech troops north of Numburk also began taking fire from German soldiers in Ebersbach and Neugersdorf. The Czechs had already lost five men when the situation escalated when German artillery began shelling the Czech soldiers there, killing three and wounding 12 others. They also accidentally shelled Numburk, killing four soldiers and two civilians.
Major Klor, seeing the Germans were shelling the Numburk, ordered a battery of four 80 mm vz. 17 field guns to return fire on the German soldiers at Egersbach and Seifhennersdorf. This artillery shelling would result in three German soldiers killed and six wounded, as well as three civilians killed and five others injured. To the north, Czech soldiers reached Rožany, where they were met by German small arms fire. Three Germans were killed and three wounded, while the Czechs suffered another two killed and five wounded before retreating to Šluknov.
At 01:50 P.M. the divisional commander of the 3. divize, General František Jelínek, furiously ordered all Czechs to cease fire, fearing the incident would spark an international crisis. At 02:15 P.M. his orders reached the 42nd and 47th Infantry Regiments, who immediately ceased fire. Twenty minutes later, at 02:35 P.M., Major Klor walked to the German border station at Seifhennersdorf, where he apologized for the incident, stating that he had acted in self-defense and that harming Germans were not their intent.
While the incident had only lasted about an hour, damage had been done. At 2:35 P.M. Hitler, while in a meeting with Chamberlain, Daladier and Mussolini, received a telegram from his adjutant, Major Rudolf Schmundt, that over ten German soldiers and civilians had been killed in the incident. While the skirmish had ended an hour before this, either a telegram nor a telephone call confirming the skirmish had ended had reached Berlin.
Hitler then exploded, shouting that this was a blunt act of aggression not only against the Sudeten Germans, but to Germany itself, and said that while he had done everything to be reasonable and generous, he had now no other choice but to punish Czechoslovakia.
Chamberlain, worried by Hitler's outburst, tried convincing Hitler that the incident likely was of an accidental nature, and that Czechoslovakia would gain nothing from this incident. In fact, Chamberlain noted, it was likely that the Foreign Ministry Counselor and the Czechoslovak Minister to Germany, Hubert Masařík and Vojtěch Mastný, would likely to agree to more concessions as a token of good will in response to the incident, and that the Czech government would withdraw their forces from the border to avoid further incidents. Masařík and Mastný had taken off from Prague at three in the afternoon and was to arrive sometime after four.
Hitler dismissed this, stating that he had only convened the summit because Chamberlain had persuaded him that the Czechs could be trusted, but that his initial thought that Czechoslovakia should be punished for her arrogance and brutality proved to be right. Daladier, who have had no illusions about Hitler's ultimate goals, responded bluntly that the incident seemed to be too convenient for Hitler, and asked why Hitler now was so keen on invading Czechoslovakia, in response to a incident which was accidental in nature and most likely would prompt the Czechs to respond with moderation.
Hitler exploded in rage, shouting that "Mr. Beneš must not only pay for his lies and atrocities against the Sudeten German people, but also the German people. As soon as I leave this office, Germany will declare war on Czechoslovakia." After a prolonged argument between Hitler, Chamberlain and Daladier, with Mussolini desperately trying to calm the others down, Chamberlain and Daladier excused themselves to discuss the situation.
Twenty minutes later Chamberlain and Daladier, along with their aides, returned to the study. With a grim look on their faces, Daladier declared that the incident, no matter how unfortunate, was not a reason to start a war over, and that in case Germany attacked Czechoslovakia, France and the United Kingdom would be forced to honor their treaty commitments with Czechoslovakia by declaring war on Germany. Hitler then screamed in anger, ordering Chamberlain and Daladier to leave.
Germany invaded Czechoslovakia on October 1, 1938, as they had previously threatened. As a result, France, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union declared war on Germany on October 2.