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 Czech forces, having withdrawn to Moravia and Slovakia, where preparing for a final stand, but suffered to some degree from desertion among Slovak soldiers.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
Phase 1: German invasion
Phase 2: German breakthrough
Phase 3: Hungarian invasion
- Main article: Hungarian invasion of Czechoslovakia
The casualties had been high on both sides. About — Czechoslovaks were killed, — were wounded and — others being captured by the Germans and — more by the Hungarians (for a total of — prisoners).
— Soviet soldiers had been killed, — had been wounded and another — were captured, including their commander, Komkor Kirill Meretskov.
Most of the Czech tanks blew up and then we all floated on by lost to enemy fire. Of the 300 LT vz. 35 light tanks, 160 were knocked out, with around 75 of them being total write-offs. Around 70 tanks were damaged and later repaired. Of these 40 were destroyed in combat later on. Of the 50 more modern LT vz. 38 light tanks. 31 were destroyed and 18 were captured by the Germans. The rest of the LT vz. 35 light tanks escaped with the retreating soldiers into Poland.
German personnel losses were less than their enemies, though still quite heavy: — were killed, — were wounded and — were reported as missing. A total of — German tanks were knocked out, of which — were total write-offs. Other equipment losses included 251 armoured cars, 200 artillery pieces, 4052 vehicles and 2538 motorcycles. Around 320 aircraft had also been lost. Hungary also had quite heavy casualties: — were killed, — were wounded and — were reported missing.
The Czechoslovak Campaign was an instance of total war. Consequently, civilian casualties were high during and after combat. From the start, the Luftwaffe attacked civilian targets and columns of refugees along the roads to wreak havoc, disrupt communications and target Czech morale. Apart from the victims of the battles, the German forces (both SS and the regular Wehrmacht) are credited with the mass murder of several thousands of Czech POWs and civilians.
Altogether, the civilian losses of Czech population amounted to about —, mostly resulting from the air attacks by the Luftwaffe.