The Invasion of Czechoslovakia, also known as the 1938 Defensive War (Czech: Československá obranná vojna 1938) in Czechoslovakia and the Czechoslovak Campaign (German: Feldzug in Tschechoslowakei) in Germany, was an invasion of Czechoslovakia carried out by Nazi Germany, while its ally Hungary used the opportunity to satisfy its own territorial claims and started its own independent military operations against Czechoslovakia. The invasion began on October 1, 1938, a day after the Czech government refused to abide to the Munich Agreement, and ended November 26 with Germany and Hungary dividing and annexing the whole of Czechoslovakia.
The morning after the Šluknov incident, German forces invaded Czechoslovakia from the north, south, and west. Having mobilized its forces in the months leading up to the war, and relying on its lines of border fortifications running along the German-Czech frontier, Czechoslovakia was able to resist the initial German advances for far longer than the Germans expected while awaiting expected support and relief from France and the United Kingdom.
When the Germans finally broke through the border fortifications two-three weeks into the campaign, the Czechs withdrew from their forward defensive lines to the second line of established defensive lines in Moravia and around Prague. After the capitulation of Prague in the beginning of November, the Germans gained an undisputed advantage. Czech forces, having withdrawn to Moravia and Slovakia, where preparing for a final stand, but suffered to some degree from desertion among Slovak soldiers.
On October 20, 1938 the Hungarians launched their invasion of the Slovak part of Czechoslovakia despite low ammunition and supply stockpiles. Although a Hungarian offensive was anticipated, which also motivated Slovak soldiers to fight against the invaders, it rendered the Czech plan of defense obsolete. Facing a second front, the Czechoslovak government concluded the defense of Moravia and Slovakia was no longer feasible and ordered an emergency evacuation of all troops to neutral Poland and Romania. On November 10, following the Czechoslovak defeat at the Battle of Topoľčany, German and Hungarian forces gained full control over Czechoslovakia. The success of the invasion marked the end of the Czechoslovak Republic, though Czechoslovakia never formally surrendered.
On November 28, after an initial period of military administration, Germany directly annexed Sudetenland and established the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia from the rest of the occupied Czech lands. Hungary annexed Slovakia and Carpathian Ruthenia, while Poland annexed the Zaolzie region. In the aftermath of the invasion, a collective of underground resistance organizations formed the Czechoslovak Underground State within the territory of the former Czechoslovak state. Many of the military exiles that managed to escape Czechoslovakia subsequently joined the Czechoslovak Legions in Poland and in France, an armed force loyal to the Czechoslovak government in exile.
In 1933, the National-Socialist German Workers' Party, under its leader Adolf Hitler, came to power in Germany, and between 1933–34 the Nazis gradually seized full control of the country (Machtergreifung), turning it into a dictatorship with a highly hostile outlook toward the Treaty of Versailles and Jews.
Hitler's diplomatic strategy was to make seemingly reasonable demands, threatening war if they were not met. When opponents tried to appease him, he accepted the gains that were offered, then went to the next target. That aggressive strategy worked as Germany pulled out of the League of Nations (1933), rejected the Versailles Treaty, initiated wide scale re-armament and re-introduced conscription (1935), won back the Saar (1935), re-militarized the Rhineland (1936), formed an alliance (Rome-Berlin Axis) with Mussolini's Italy (1936) and sent massive military aid to Franco in the Spanish Civil War (1936–39).
As early as the autumn of 1933 Hitler envisioned annexing such territories as Bohemia, Western Poland, and Austria to Germany and creation of satellite or puppet states without economies or policies of their own. One of the Nazi's aims was to re-unite all Germans either born or living outside of the Reich to create an "all-German Reich", by convince all of the ethnically German people who were living outside of Germany that they should strive to bring these regions "home" into Greater Germany (known as Heim ins Reich).
In a meeting on 5 November 1937 between Hitler and his military and foreign policy leadership, Hitler's future expansionist policies were outlined. The meeting marked a turning point in Hitler's foreign policies, which outlined his plans for expansion in Europe. In his view the German economy had reached such a state of crisis that the only way of stopping a drastic fall in living standards in Germany was to embark on a policy of aggression sooner rather than later to provide sufficient Lebensraum by seizing Austria and Czechoslovakia. ' On the morning of 12 March 1938 German troops crossed the border to Austria, thus initiating the annexation of Austria by Nazi German known as the Anschluss. It was among the first major steps of Adolf Hitler's creation of a Greater German Reich that was to include all ethnic Germans and all the lands and territories that the German Empire had lost after the First World War. The annexation provoked little response from other European powers.
Demands for Sudeten autonomy
From 1918 to 1938, after the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, 3,123,000 ethnic Germans were living in the Czech part of the newly created state of Czechoslovakia, comprising 23.4% of the total Czechoslovak population. The majority of them lived in the Sudetenland, a predominantly German region alongside the Czechoslovak border with Germany. In the Treaty of Versailles it was given to the new Czechoslovak state against the wishes of much of the local population. The decision to disregard their right to self determination was based on French intent to weaken Germany.
Despite efforts to integrate the Sudeten Germans into the Czechoslovak political process and society, Czech chauvinism and controversies between the Czechs and the German-speaking minority (which constituted a majority in the Sudetenland areas) lingered on throughout the 1920s, and intensified in the 1930s. During the Great Depression the mostly mountainous regions populated by the German minority were hurt by the economic depression more than the interior of the country due to the high concentration of vulnerable export-dependent industries (such as glass works, textile industry, paper-making, and toy-making industry).
The high unemployment made people more open to populist and extremist movements such as fascism, communism, and German irredentism. In these years, the parties of German nationalists and later the Sudeten German Party (SdP) under Konrad Henlein with its radical demands gained immense popularity among Germans in Czechoslovakia. After 1933 Czechoslovakia remained the only democracy in central and eastern Europe. By 1935, the SdP was the second largest political party in Czechoslovakia. After the Anschluss on 12 March 1938, all German parties (except German Social-Democratic party) merged with the Sudeten German Party (SdP).
- Main article: Sudeten crisis
In the early hours of 28 September the Czechoslovak government, following meetings with both Slovak and German minority leaders, announced the intent of forming a federal state with autonomy for Czechoslovakia's ethnic minorities. The Czechoslovak government also confirmed that they would abide by the British-French proposals of 21 September, but the Godesberg ultimatum. The news shocked the supporters of appeasement in both Britain and France, while . In France, prime minister Daladier Chamberlain, however, declared that in light of the , France would abide by their treaty obligations with Czechoslovakia and urged Germany to return to the negotiations. Chamberlain reluctantly announced that Britain would be obligated to support France if they were actively involved in hostilities with Germany.
Hitler, meanwhile, was furious. Germany immediately broke off diplomatic relations with Czechoslovakia. At 02:40 PM, Hitler issued the Führer-Directive N°1, ordered hostilities against Czechoslovakia to start at 6:00 AM on 1 October and silently ordered the full mobilization of the Wehrmacht (Allgemeine Mobilmachung mit öffentlicher Verkündigung).
German forces and dispositions
Czechoslovak forces and dispositions
- The Second Army, commanded by Gerd von Rundstedt with headquarters in Cosel, was deployed in Silesia. The army comprised of eight infantry divisions, one armoured division and various support units. Forming the northern part of the pincer movement, the army would break through the Czechoslovak fortifications in the Northern Moravia and then attack towards Olomouc and link up with the Fourteenth Army, thus encircling the Czechoslovak forces in Bohemia and prevent them from retreating towards Slovakia.
- The Eight Army, commanded by Fedor von Bock with headquarters in Freiburg in Schlesien, was deployed in Silesia between Hirschberg and Waldenburg, on the right flank of the Second Army. The army comprised four infantry divisions and various support units, and would advance in the direction of Vysoké Mýto – Svitavy – Náchod and, after having broken through the Czechoslovak defenses here, support the Second Army's advance.
- The independent IV Army Corps was deployed north of Žitava, with headquarters in Herrnhut. The corps comprised two infantry divisions, the motorized SS regiment "Germania" and various support units. The corps had orders to advance towards Železnice and tie down enemy forces in the area, thus protecting the flank of the Eight Army. Heeresdienststelle 4 with four border guard regiments was to protect the border mellem Göritz and the Lusatian Neisse, while Heeresdienststelle 5 was to protect the border between the river Elbe and Aš.
- The Tenth Army, commanded by Walther von Reichenau with headquarters in Schwandorf, was deployed between Gottleuba and Cham in southern Saxony, Thuringa and northern Bavaria. The army comprised the motorized XVI Army Corps under general Heinz Guderian, three infantry divisions, three motorized infantry divisions, one armoured division, one light division, the motorized SS regiment "Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler" and various support units. The army was to carry out a "lightning attack" ("Blitzschlag") towards the capital city Prague through the important industrial city of Plzeň.
- The Twelfth Army, commanded by Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb with headquarters in Passau, was deployed in Bavaria and in northern Austria. The army comprised eight infantry divisions, one mountain division, one armoured battalion, the motorized SS regiment "Deutschland" and various support units. The army's task was to break through the Czechoslovak fortifications in southern Bohemia and then advance on Brno, protecting the left flank of the Fourteenth Army.
- The Fourteenth Army, commanded by Wilhelm List with headquarters in Vienna, was deployed in Austria. The army comprised two infantry divisions, two mountain divisions, one motorized infantry division, one light division and one armoured division. The army formed the southern pincer and was to break through the Czechoslovak fortifications in southern Moravia and then advance on Brno, thus linking up with the Second Army. Due to the poor road conditions in Austria and southern Moravia, the Second Army had the lead role in the pincer movement.
Czechoslovak defense plan
Details of the campaign
At 06:15 A.M. on 30 September 1938, Germany commenced the invasion of Czechoslovakia with an artillery barrage on Czechoslovak defences on the entire front.
Half an hour later, Hitler's proclamation to the Wehrmacht is read out over the radio: “ The Czechoslovak State has refused the peaceful settlement of relations which I desired, and has appealed to arms. The Sudeten Germans are persecuted with bloody terror and driven from their houses. This is intolerable to a great Power which has sworn to protect them. Mr. Beneš must not only pay for his lies and atrocities against the Sudeten German people, but also the German people. In order to put an end to this lunacy, I have no other choice than to meet force with force from now on. The German Army will fight the battle for the honour and the vital rights of reborn Germany with hard determination. I expect that every soldier, mindful of the great traditions of eternal German soldiery, will ever remain conscious that he is a representative of the National-Socialist Greater Germany. Long live our people and our Reich!
Phase 1: German invasion
Battle of the Border
- Main article: Battle of the Border
In Northern Moravia.
In northern Bohemia.
In western Bohemia, the Tenth Army attacked west of Plzeň with two infantry divisions to the south, the 1st Panzer Division and the 1st Light Division in the center and three motorized infantry divisions to the north. Here the Czechs had decided to construct the fortified line 30 to 40 kilometres beyond the Czechoslovak-German border, thus shortening the line the Czechoslovak forces had to defend. As a result, the Germans could advance relatively unopposed, facing only scattered border guard units of the State Defense Guard. The 1st Panzer Division and 20th Motorized Infantry Divisions ran into covering forces in front of the fortified line, but these were quickly dealt with. By noon the units of Guderian's XVI Corps had reached the fortifications near Křelovice. Following a German artillery barrage and aerial bombardment the Germans became entangled in the Czech fortifications, as the fortifications held out against repeated assaults. Guderian himself came up forward to assess the situation, and subsequently ordered up the 88 mm guns from the Flak detachment as well as 150 mm howitzers to soften up the bunkers.
The following morning the German units started heavy artillery bombardment on the Czech positions. After six hours of constant artillery fire, the assault was started and, in the result of close combat, the Czech defenders started to waver. By nightfall the German forces had broken through the defences at Pláň and Krukanice. Guderian had broken through the defences and was now advancing towards the secondary defensive line around Prague. The commander of 1st Corps, General Jan Šípek, ordered the 32nd Border Section to withdraw towards Plzeň. Further to the south, the 10th and 17th Infantry Divisions had advanced without serious opposition until they became entangled with the fortified line in the late afternoon. During the night of 2–3 October broke through the scattered bunkers near Merklín during the cover of darkness, thus driving a wedge between the 35th and 153rd Infantry Regiments.
In southern Bohemia.
In southern Moravia.
Both the Luftwaffe's and the Czechoslovak air force's operations would be constrained throughout the campaign due to fog and mist. The Army and the Luftwaffe had in late September discussed the possibilites concerning the two branches attack times in relation to weather conditions. The army wished to attack during dawn at 6.15 a.m. and to carry out some operations in the cover of darkness. The Luftwaffe, on the other hand, was dependent on weather conditions, which could postpone the attack in time and also limit the attack geographically. As the weather of the preceding days had postponed the start time to 8-11 a.m. because of radiation fog in Bavaria. Luftwaffe attacks after the army already had started its attack would prevent any tactical surprise over the Czechoslovak air force and cause certain changes in the attack procedures (among these flight altitude). While the Luftwaffe wished a later attack time by the army, this would not quarantee a joint attack by the two branches since bad weather conditions on the day of the attack could postpone or prevent completely the deployment of the Luftwaffe. As an arly attack time of the army was considered a necessity, on 27 September Colonel Jodl suggested in a Vortragnotiz that the Army's began its attack at 6:15 A.M. regardless of the air force, while the Luftwaffe would initiate operations when weather conditions allowed it.
On 1 October only three out of ten Kampfgruppen in Luftwaffe Group Command 3 could take off. The weather conditions remained unfavorable for the first days of the campaign, as reported by Luftwaffe Group Command 3:
- 2 October: Unfavorable weather
- 3 October: Weather conditions prevents air operations from 2:00 p.m.
- 4 October: Storm depression prevents air reconnaissance until 5:00 a.m.
- 5 October: Clear skies.
The Luftwaffe's doctrine focused on the need to gain air superiority over its enemy. Consequently, half of the Luftwaffe's missions on the first day of the war against Czechoslovakia were staged against Czech airfields. However, these operations were to a large extent futile, as the Czechoslovak Air Force had dispersed to improvised camouflaged air strips on 13 September 1938. While the dispersion saved the Czechoslovak air force from the initial German attack, it also made operations more difficult since the units were operating out of grass strips with limited technical support. The Luftwaffe had considerable trouble locating the dispersed Czechoslovak bases, and only 24 combat aircraft were destroyed on the ground during the campaign, though many unserviceable aircraft and training aircraft were destroyed.
Other Luftwaffe missions were directed against a wide variety of objectives, including Czechoslovak border fortifications and key road and rail targets. There were not close air support missions but rather attacks on targets selected prior to the outbreak of war. The Luftwaffe was not yet prepared, either in terms of doctrine, training or communications equipment, to carry out close air support missions on demand from the army.
The first bombing missions were carried out at 10:15 a.m. by Dornier Do 17s of Kampfgeschwader 255 which bombed the important transportation hub of České Budějovice and an ammunition depot in Rudolfov, 3 kilometres from České Budějovice, killing 400 civilians.
There were air engagements between fighter squadrons attached to the armies and German units, but the Luftwaffe ruled the skies over Czechoslovakia wherever weather conditions allowed air operations. The exception was Prague. Göring planned a major air attack on Prague on the first day of the war, but the attack was something of a shambles due to low-lying clouds. The four bomber groups (three from Kampfgeschwader 157 and the 1st Group from KG 254) that arrived over the city through the day were intercepted by the TOPL "A" (I./4th Squadron) and the Czechoslovak fighters shot down 14 aircraft with a loss of 10 Czech fighters and 23 damaged. The Czech fighter squadrons were the most effective element of the air force, credited with 48 German aircraft in the first seven days of the war. Ho
German air attacks concentrated mainly on rail lines, airfields, fortifications and various troop concentrations, though the Luftwaffe seemed to pay special attention to the roads near the frontier battles which were crowded with refugees. The Luftwaffe attacks successfully disrupted the mobilization of the last Czechoslovak army units and the redeployment of Czechoslovak formations, which were dependent on rail transport in many cases.
Air landing at Bruntál
- Main article: Battle of Bruntál
Phase 2: German breakthrough
- Main article: Prchala Offensive
Phase 3: Hungarian invasion
- Main article: Hungarian invasion of Czechoslovakia
The German armed forces lost 21,343 killed, 4,029 missing and 36,000 wounded. A total of 674 tanks were lost, 217 of them totally destroyed and the remainded damaged to the extent that they could not be repaired in the field by divisional recovery units. The totally lost tanks included 89 Pz.Kpfw. Is, 78 Pz.Kpfw. IIs, 26 Pz.Kpfw. IIIs, 19 Pz.Kpfw. IVs and 6 CV-35 tankettes. The heaviest losses were suffered by the 2nd Panzer Division, which lost 81 tanks, mainly because of the Prchala offensive and in the Brno street fighting. In addition, 251 armoured cars of various types were lost, as well as 195 guns and mortars, 6046 trucks and 5,538 motorcycles. The heavy loss of motorcycles is traceable to their widespread use for scouting, and their consequent heavy contact in combat. In addition, about 664 aircraft were lost. The losses suffered — especially in terms of personnel — proved very serious, as was to emerge during the subsequent years of war. Lost or damaged material was only more or less quantitatively offset by captured Czechoslovak weapons, equipment and stores, and it would take months before the sabotaged Škoda Works again could produce armoured vehicles for the German army.
Hungarian losses amounted to 5,126 killed, 21,383 wounded and 121 missing. The Hungarian Army lost 31 tankettes in the fighting, while a total of 43 airplanes were destroyed. Poland suffered relatively light casualties, losing only 521 killed, 1,166 wounded, 8 tanks destroyed, and 13 tankettes. However, by participating in the invasion and occupying the Zaolzie region they provoked the Soviet Union and were ulimately invaded by the Soviet on the 20 October 1938.
Czechoslovak losses amounted to 63,200 killed, 135,500 wounded and 637,000 captured by the Germans and 100,000 by the Hungarians. Equipment losses were nearly total, except for small quantities of equipment accompanying the troops who withdrew into Poland and Romania. 383 aircraft had been lost, while 228 tanks were destroyed, of which 98 were total write-offs. About 80,000 troops escaped into Romania and Poland, where they were interned. These men were gradually spirited out and about 35,000 made their way to France where they served in four infantry divisions and a mechanized brigade during the 1939 campaign, quickly organized a new fighting force of about 60,000 men in France. The Soviets, lost 118 men and 462 wounded, as well as 267 aircraft.
The Czechoslovak Campaign was an instance of total war. Tens of thousands of Czech civilians were killed during the September invasion of Poland and more were killed in the following years of German and Hungarian occupation. Starting from the first day of invasion, the German air force (the Luftwaffe) attacked civilian targets and columns of refugees along the roads to terrorize the Czechoslovak people, disrupt communications, and target Czech morale. The Luftwaffe killed 4,000–5,000 Czech civilians during the bombing of Prague, and 13,000 civilians in total were killed during the siege.
The German invasion saw atrocities committed against Polish men, women, and children. The German forces (both SS and the regular Wehrmacht) murdered thousands of Czech civilians. Altogether, the civilian losses of Czech population amounted to about 63,000. Roughly 1,250 German civilians were also killed during the invasion (and an additional 2,000 died fighting Czechoslovak troops as members ethnic German militia such as the Sudetendeutsche Freikorps which constituted a fifth column during the invasion).