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Invasion of Czechoslovakia (WFAC)

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Invasion of Czechoslovakia
Part of World War II
Invasion of Czechoslovakia (WFAC)
From left to right: Junkers Ju 87 dive bombers of the Luftwaffe preparing to bomb Czechoslovak forces; Wehrmacht soldiers of the 1st Panzer Division in front of a destroyed Czechoslovak bunker; German tank formation; Czechoslovak infantry and tanks during the Prchala Offensive in southern Moravia; Hungarian forces moves into Khust in Carpatho-Ruthenia; Bombing of Prague.
Date 1 October – 10 November 1938
(1 month, 1 week and 2 days)
Place Czechoslovakia
Result
  • Decisive Axis victory
  • Beginning of World War II
Territorial changes Polish territory divided among Germany, Hungary and Poland
Belligerents
Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
Kingdom of Hungary (1920–1946) Hungary (after 18 October)

Flag of Poland Poland (after 6 October)

Czechoslovakia Czechoslovakia
Soviet Union Soviet Union (after 3 October)
France France (air support; after 3 October)
Commanders and leaders
Nazi Germany Walther von Brauchitsch
Nazi Germany Gerd von Rundstedt
Nazi Germany Fedor von Bock
Nazi Germany Walther von Reichenau
Nazi Germany Ritter von Leeb
Nazi Germany Wilhelm List
Kingdom of Hungary (1920–1946) Hugó Sónyi

Flag of Poland Władysław Bortnowski

Czechoslovakia Jan Syrový
Czechoslovakia Ludvík Krejčí
Czechoslovakia Sergej Vojcechovský
Czechoslovakia Vojtěch Luža
Czechoslovakia Josef Votruba
Czechoslovakia Lev Prchala
Strength
Germany:
  • 900,000 men
  • 3000 guns
  • 2100 tanks
  • 2100 aircraft

Hungary:

  • 250,000 men
  • 153 tankettes
  • 292 aircraft
Czechoslovakia:
  • 1.28 million men
  • 350 tanks
  • 750 aircraft

Soviet Union:

  • 2000 men
  • 200 aircraft

Total: 1,300,000

Casualties and losses
Germany:
18,000 killed
36,000 wounded
3,400 missing
Hungary:
5,126 killed
21,383 wounded
121 missing
Czechoslovakia:
63,200 killed
135,500 wounded
637,000 captured
Invasion of Czechoslovakia
Battle of the Border
Opava    Bruntál    Šatov    Znojmo    Křelovice   České Budějovice

Bohemian front
Plzeň    Hořovice    Prague    Tábor    Hradec Králové    Kutná Hora    Jihlava


Moravian front
Prchala offensive   Hranice   Šternberk   Olomouc    Brno    Blansko    Vyškov    Třebíč    Vyškov    M Line


Polish front
Zaolzie Campaign


Hungarian invasion of Czechoslovakia
Komárno    Levice    Nitra    Zvolen    Kosiče    Užhorod    Trenčín


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.

Background

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).

Sudeten crisis

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).

Opposing forces

Germany

Army

Germany had a substantial numeric advantage over Czechoslovakia. For the mobilization year 1937/38, the German Army had a total strength of 3,343,476 men, of which 1,382,093 belonged to regular combat units. 183,897 men were organized into 17 fortress- and border guard formations, as well as 538,365 men construction troops to the Reicharbeitsdienst (RAD). Following the annexation of Austria (Anschluss) on 12 March 1938, an additional 59,065 men of the former Austrian Army were merged into the German Army, forming two infantry divisions, a light division and two mountain divisions.

The peace-time army was organized into 46 divisions, of which 34 were infantry divisions, four were motorized infantry divisions, three Panzer divisions, two light (Leichte) divisions, three mountain divisions, one Panzer brigade and one cavalry brigade. Of these, 135 were earmarked for the offensive, including 42 reserve divisions. In reserve, the German Army had eight reserve divisions, 21 Landwehr divisions and an additional 20 reserve divisions of the Replacement Army (Ersatzheer). When mobilized, the German Army thus had an initial strength of 95 divisions.

While the German field army as a whole was large and well-trained, the lack of a strategic reserve and a lack of qualified officers was a precarious problem for the Wehrmacht. The personnel situation of the Wehrmacht reflected a set of negative conditional factors, caused partially by the demographic situation and partially by political developments since 1919. Conscription was introduced in 1935 and was only three years old in October 1938. The 1914–1917 year-groups could be regarded as being trained on peacetime lines, though it had to be remembered that a proportion of these would not be discharged until 1938, having completed their two-year military service. The drop in birth-rate caused by World War I affected these particular year-groups, from which, by comparison with pre-war years of birth, in some cases up to 50 percent fewer conscripts per year were available.

The Germans had a substantial number of able-bodied men in the year-groups 1901–1913 (the so-called 'white' years), who were too young to serve in World War I, but they were untrained due to the provisions of the Versailles Treaty. From 1936 onwards the Wehrmacht leadership tried increasingly to provide short-term training for members of the 'white' year-groups. However, with only a three-month basic training period it was impossible to give these conscripts more than the most essential basic military knowledge. Up to the outbreak of war, most members of the 'white' year-groups remained untrained, and the German Army thus had only 200,000 men of the 1st Reserve (reservists who had served at least nine months of military service) and 250,000 men of the 2nd Reserve (men with the 3-month short-term basic training). In order to fill the manpower gaps in the wartime forces, it was necessary to fall back on the World War I year-groups 1894–1900, whose age (39-45) and training were of limited field capability.

Communications

Wireless proved essential to German success in the battle. German tanks had radio receivers that allowed them to be directed by platoon command tanks, which had voice communication with other units. Wireless allowed tactical control and far quicker improvisation than the opponent. Some commanders regarded the ability to communicate to be the primary method of combat and radio drills were considered to be more important than gunnery. Radio allowed German commanders to co-ordinate their formations, bringing them together for a mass firepower effect in attack or defence. In contrast, most Czech tanks also lacked radio, orders between infantry units were typically passed by telephone, telegraph or verbally.

Tactics

The main tool of the German land forces was combined arms combat. German operational tactics relied on highly mobile offensive units, with balanced numbers of well-trained artillery, infantry, engineer and tank formations, all integrated into Panzer divisions. They relied on excellent communication systems which enabled them to break into a position and exploit it before the enemy could react. Panzer divisions could carry out reconnaissance missions, advance to contact, defend and attack vital positions or weak spots. This ground would then be held by infantry and artillery as pivot points for further attacks. Although their tanks were not designed for tank-versus-tank combat, they could take ground and draw the enemy armour on to the division's anti-tank lines. This conserved the tanks to achieve the next stage of the offensive. The units' logistics were self-contained, allowing for three or four days of combat. The Panzer divisions would be supported by motorised and infantry divisions.

The majority of the tanks in the German Army were the obsolete Pz.Kpfw. I and IIs. In armament and armour, Czech LT vz. 35 tanks were a stronger design and comparable to the Pz.Kpfw. III and IV (although the German vehicles were faster and more mechanically reliable). However, the German Panzer arm possessed some critical advantages over its opponent. The newer German Panzers had a crew of five men: a commander, gunner-aimer, loader, driver and mechanic. Having a trained individual for each task allowed each man to dedicate himself to his own mission and it made for a highly efficient combat team. The Czechs had fewer members, with the commander double-tasked with loading the main gun, distracting him from his main duties in observation and tactical deployment. It made for a far less efficient system. Even within infantry formations, the Germans enjoyed an advantage through the doctrine of Auftragstaktik (mission command tactics), by which officers were expected to use their initiative to achieve their commanders' intentions, and were given control of the necessary supporting arms.

Luftwaffe

Czechoslovakia

Army

Air force

Czechoslovak border fortifications

Planning

German plan

Franz Halder

General der Artillerie Franz Halder was Chief of Staff of the OKH.

Fall Grün Plan (Munich Goes Sour)

The final German plan for Case Green, as drawn up by the General Staff of the OKH.

  • 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

Ludvík Krejčí

General Ludvík Krejčí was Chief of Staff of the Czechoslovak Army from 1933 to 1938. On September 23, 1938 he was appointed Chief of the Main Headquarters of the Czechoslovak Army.

The Czechoslovak military doctrine were due to French influence defensive in character on both a strategic and a tactical level. On 5 February 1938 the Czechoslovak Deployment Plan VI (Nástupní plán) went into effect. According to the plan, the bulk of the army were to be deployed in Bohemia and Moravia to repell a German attack, while three divisions were to cover the Czechoslovak-Hungarian border. The plan predicted a preliminary defence of Bohemia along the fortified lines. When German pressure was overwhelming, the army would carry out a delaying battle back towards Slovakia, taking positions first along the Vltava River, then in the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands and finally along the Moravian-Slovak border. Here the army would fight a defensive battle in mountainous terrain in the Slovak-Moravian Carpathians and in the Western Beskidy Mountains. The Army High Command assumed that the Czechoslovak forces without allied help would be able to hold for about two months. The plan's only offensive element was a Czechoslovak offensive in Lower Austria towards Vienna. The aim of such an offensive were to move the preliminary defensive positions forward in case the Wehrmacht tried to advance through Austria to circumvent the Czechoslovak defense in Bohemia.

After the German annexation of Austria in March 1938 (the Anschluss) and changes of borders, the Deployment Plan VI became obsolete. A defence of Bohemia was now impossible, as Czechoslovakia was virtually encircled from three sides by the Germans. An initial offensive into Austria was now seen as unrealistic as the Czechs had to immediately fortify the Czech-Austrian border in southern Moravia. Czech planners quickly revised the plan according to the changed circumstances, and the Deployment Plan VIa, in effect from 1 April 1938, expected an earlier delaying battle and withdrawal towards the Moravian-Slovak border and only a short-term defence of Bohemia.

The final deployment plan, Deployment Plan VII, was implemented on 15 July 1938. The plan predicted the Germans would launch converging attacks from Silesia and Austria, in order to cut off Bohemia from the rest of the country and encircle the main body of the Czechoslovak Army. To prevent this, the defence of western Bohemia would only serve to cover the mobilization. The bulk of the Czechoslovak army were to be deployed in the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands, where they hoped they could repell the German attacks from the north and south. The army was expected to abandon Bohemia and implement a strategic retreat either to the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands (if they managed to fend off the attack from the south) or the Moravian-Slovak border (if the Germans managed to break through the Czechoslovak defences). Alone the Czechs could only survive for a short time: in April 1938 General Bohuslav Fiala told the French Chief of Staff, General Maurice Gamelin, that the Czechoslovak would only hold out for a month on their own, while Chief of the General Staff, General Ludvík Krejčí, told president Beneš on 21 September that they would hold out for about three weeks.

Based on the Deployment Plan VII the Czech planners also drew up a Variant XIII, which General Krejčí implemented on 24 September 1938. The variant was based on the assumption that Germany would merely try to attack and annex the border areas, thus forcing the Czechoslovak government to accept a fait accompli. For this reason, three divisions from HVOA's main reserve were transferred to Bohemia in order to reinforce the First Army.

Plan VI and VII were both based on the assumption that Czechoslovakia would receive assistance from France and air support from the Soviet Union. As German numerical and technical superiority would make it impossible to repell the German attack on their own, the plan was to uphold the Germans until France (who were obliged to come to their aid through the Franco-Czechoslovak Treaty of Mutual Assistance of 16 May 1935) could launch an offensive from the West which would draw enough German forces away from the Czech front. The French warned the Czechs that they should not expect any quick assistance as the French army was only suitable for a small offensive towards the Upper Rhine, and the effect of this offensive could be limited. The French urged the Czechoslovak army to immediately withdraw from Slovakia in order to prevent them from being encircled. They also warned the Czechs that if the Czechs by the fourth week of the war did not tie at least a quarter of the Wehrmacht's forces, it would be difficult for the French to launch a relief offensive on the Rhine.

At 22:30 on 23 September a decree of general mobilization was issued, scheduled to begin on 25 September. On the first day of the mobilization, president Beneš appointed General Krejčí the Chief of the Main Headquarters of the Czechoslovak Army (Hlavní Velitelství Operačních Armád, HVOA), while the headquarters was transferred to the Račice Palace in Vyškov, Moravia on the 26 September. The operational deployment of the Czechoslovak army were as follows:

  • The First Army, commanded by General Sergej Vojcechovský with its headquarters in Kutná Hora, was established at 12:00 on 27 September and was responsible for the defence of western and northern Bohemia. As Czechoslovakia were surrounded by Germany on three sides, the defence of western Bohemia would only serve to cover the mobilization and the withdrawal of the main body of the Czechoslovak Army towards Slovakia. In the north, they were defending a line running through Hřensko on the Labe – the Lužické hory mountains – Jitrava – Chrastava – the Jizerské hory mountains, Mníšek – Kristiánov – Polubný) – Krkonoše (Riesengebirge, Harachov – Trutnov) and the Orlické hory mountains. In western Bohemia the army was tasked with the defence of the line Český Krumlov – Vimperk-Stachy – Klatovy – Staňkov – Stříbro – Manětín – Kryry – Blšany – Měcholupy – the river Ohře near Louny.
The army comprised five infantry divisions, 4 border sections, 3 independent combat groups and various support units. The total strength of the army was 264,500 men, 1,944 guns 472 mortars, 3,750 heavy and 18,134 light machine guns and between 181-189 tanks.
  • The Second Army, commanded by General Vojtěch Luža with headquarters in Olomouc, was deployed in northern Moravia. They were also tasked with securing the right flank and covering the planned retreat of the First Army towards Slovakia. The defensive line ran through Králíky – Vojtíšov – Kolštejn – Šerák – Orlík – Bruntál – Opava – Bohumín – Jablunka Pass on the Moravian-Slovak border. According to operational guidelines issued on the 26 September, the Second Army expected the Germans to attack on both sides of the mountain range Hrubý Jeseník (Altvatergebirge), and foresaw the Zábřeh – Opava – Bruntál sector as the point of the main enemy effort (Schwerpunkt). After the retreat of the First Army, the Second Army would then take up positions in front of Ostrava Jablunkovpasset – Ostrava – Opava – Fulnek – Nový Jičín – western part of the Moravian-Silesian Beskid mountains.
Luža had one infantry division, two border sections, one infantry division in reserve and support units at his disposal, and could be reinforced by two further divisions (the 12th and 22, located in Vsetín and Žilina, respectively). The total strength of the army was 135,390 men, 1,523 and 7,828 light machine guns, 483 howitzers, 347 anti-tank guns, 208 mortars and 49 anti-aircraft guns.
  • The Third Army, commanded by Josef Votruba with headquarters in Kremnica, was responsible for the defence of Slovakia and Carpatho-Ruthenia from a possible Hungarian attack. Ran from the confluence of the Morava and the Danube near Devín to the Czechoslovak-Romanian border near Královo nad Tisou. The hovedvegt was in the Levice – Krupina – Lučenec sector, as the Šahy – Fiľakovo area was the most vulnerable in case of a Hungarian attack towards Nitra and Levice. The army comprised two infantry divisions, one fast division (the 3rd), four border sections and various support units. The total strength of the army was 117,220 men, 33,000 horses, 1,049 heavy and 6,413 light machine guns, 438 guns, 189 mortars, 138 anti-tank guns, 56 anti-aircraft guns and 16 tanks.
  • The Fourth Army, commanded by Lev Prchala with headquarters in Brno, was tasked with the defence of southern Moravia along the former Czechoslovak-Austrian border, along the line České Budějovice – Slavonice – Znojmo – Břeclav Děvín – on the confluence of the Morava and Danube rivers. The army's objective was to prevent the Germans from breaking through the Dyje–Svratka valley and the lower Moravian valley, and preventing the Germans from cutting off Bohemia from the rest of the country, which would result in the encirclement the main body of the Czechoslovak Army. In case of a German breakthrough, the army could call on reinforcements in the form of the 13th Division in Humpolec and the 1st Fast Division. The VI Corps, which was defending the weakest sector of the front, were to hold the fortified line for as long as possible before withdrawing to the second line. In case of smaller German breakthroughs the III Corps could call on reinforcements in the form of the 4th Fast Division, but in case of a major German breakthrough the corps were to withdraw to the second defensive line as well.
The army comprised two infantry divisions, one fast division (the 4th) two border sections and one combat group. Total strength of the army included 104,336 men and 24,229 horses,
  • The army high command also had a strategic reserve, comprising eight infantry divisions and one fast division (the 1st), as well as the headquarters ČV and M, which were occupied with the construction of intermediary defensive lines along the Bohemian-Moravian border and the Moravian-Slovak border.

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
Map 1 of the Invasion of Czechoslovakia 1938 – 30 September-5 October (WFAC)

Map showing the advances made by the Germans, and the disposition of all troops from 30 September to 5 October 1938.

In Northern Moravia.

On the right flank of the Eight Army, General von Schwedler's IV Corps, supported by frontier guard units of Heeresdienststelle 4, rapidly seized control of the Šluknov and Frýdlant Hooks and got entangled with the frontier fortifications north of Liberec. After three days of heavy fighting elements of the 14th Infantry Division broke through and advanced rapidly towards Česká Lípa, while the 4th Infantry Division had finally captured Liberec and was advancing on Železnice by 5 October. While the IV Corps was breaking through the defences in the north, the occupation of northwestern Bohemia was assigned to a "Group Waldenfels" (Gruppe Waldenfels), composed of frontier guard units of Heeresdienststelle 5 (Frontier Sector 2), capturing Ústí nad Labem, Chomutov, Litvínov and Most with relative ease, reaching the forward fortified line by 1 October. After most Czech defenders had conducted a tactical withdrawal towards the Prague Line during the night of 3–4 October, the group eventually reached the Prague Line by the morning of 5 October.

German tanks and General Guderian near Úterý (WFAC)

German Panzer Is and Panzer IIs of the 1st Panzer Division, along with General Heinz Guderian in a Sd.Kfz. 251/6 command vehicle, approaching Úterý on the 30 September 1938.

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 Pernarec, 25 kilometres from Plzeň. Following a German artillery barrage and aerial bombardment the Germans became entangled in the Czech fortifications, as the fortifications held out against repeated assaults.

The following morning the German units started heavy artillery bombardment on the Czech positions. 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. After three and a half 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, in favor of the ununterbrochenen Angriff (uninterrupted attack), ordered the 1st Panzer and 1st Light Divisions to wheel northeastwards towards Hořovice and then on to the Berounka River. By 14:00 two pontoon bridges had been erected over the Berounka, and by the end of the day over 200 tanks had rolled over this eye of a needle. The Czech defeat at the Úterský Stream resulted in the collapse of the 1st Corps. The German attack, especially the breakout from the bridgeheads on the Berounka, was so fast that there were hardly any major combats. Many Czech soldiers were in such shock that they were taken prisoner before they could offer resistance. General Šípek, after conferring with his superior, General Sergej Vojcechovský, ordered a general retreat for the 1st Corps on 2 October. While the 5th Division managed to retreat to the secondary defence line, the 2nd Division was encircled in Plzeň, as the German 24th Infantry Division had reached Rokycany, after having broken through the Czech border fortifications near Buková on the 2 October.

In southern Bohemia.

In southern Moravia.

Air operations

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

Bohemian front

Moravian front

Prchala offensive

Main article: Prchala Offensive


Polish offensive into Zaolzie

Main article: Zaolzie Campaign

Phase 3: Hungarian invasion

Main article: Hungarian invasion of Czechoslovakia

Aftermath

Military casualties

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.

Civilian losses

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).

See also


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