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Jan Syrový (Munich Goes Sour)

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Jan Syrový
Portrait of Jan Syrový in 1938.
Minister of Defence in exile
In office
18 November 1938 – 15 May 1946
President Edvard Beneš
Prime Minister Jan Šrámek
11th Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia
In office
September 22, 1938 – 12 November 1938
Preceded by Milan Hodža
Succeeded by Jan Šrámek (in exile)
Minister of National Defence
In office
22 September – 12 November 1938
Preceded by František Machník
Succeeded by Himself (in exile)
In office
March 18 – October 12, 1926
Prime Minister Jan Černý
Preceded by Jiří Stříbrný
Succeeded by František Udržal
Personal details
Born January January 24, 1888(1888-01-24)
Flag of Austria-Hungary (1869-1918) Třebíč, Moravia, Austria-Hungary
Died October 17, 1970(1970-10-17) (aged 82)
Czechoslovakia Prague, Czechoslovakia
Nationality Czechoslovakia Czechoslovak
Profession Officer, politician
Signature Jan Syrový
Military service
Allegiance Flag of Austria-Hungary (1869-1918) Austria-Hungary
Flag of Bohemia Czechoslovak Legion
Flag of Czechoslovakia Czechoslovakia
Service/branch War flag of Austria-Hungary (1918) K.u.k. Armee (1906-1914)
Emblem Czechoslovak Legion Czechoslovak Legion (1914-1920)
Emblem Czechoslovak ArmyCzechoslovak Army (1920-1939)
Years of service 1906, 1914–1946
Rank General of the Army
Battles/wars First World War (1914-1918)
Russian Civil War (1918-1920)
World War II
Awards Legion Honneur GO ribbon Légion d'honneur (Grand Officier)
Czechoslovak War Cross 1938-1939 Ribbon Czechoslovak War Cross (1938-1939)
Czechoslovak War Cross 1918 Ribbon Czechoslovak War Cross (1914-1918)
Others

Jan Syrový (January 24, 1888 - October 17, 1970) was a Czechoslovak national hero, a veteran of the Czechoslovak Legion and a prominent four-star general of the Czechoslovak Army in the interwar period. On September 22, 1938 he was appointed Prime Minister and Minister of National Defence by president Edvard Beneš following the resignation of the government lead by Milan Hodža.

As Prime minister he gave the order to initiate full mobilization of the Czechoslovak armed forces on September 23, 1938, in response to the increasing tensions with Nazi Germany.

Early life and military career

Jan Syrový was born on January 24, 1888 in the town of Třebíč in Moravia, then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He studied engineering at the Technical School in Brno. Following his graduation in 1906, he became a one year volunteer in the Austro-Hungarian army. After that, he went to Russia, where he studied at the Technical College in Warsaw (which at that time was part of the Russian Empire).

In 1914, instead of joining the Austro-Hungarian Army, he switched sides to the Russian Army and was one of the first officers to join the Czechoslovak Legion, where he played a big role in planning the military operations. He participated in several reconnaissance actions, and was as a result of this promoted and decorated several times. As a Second Lieutenant, he participated in the Battle of Zborov between July 1-2, 1917, during which he was wounded by an artillery shrapnel and subsequently lost his right eye. Despite his injuries he soon returned to the front and from April 1918 commanded the 2nd Riflemen Regiment (2. střeleckému pluku).

Following the Bolshevik government's attempts of disarming the Czechoslovak legionaires following the peace agreement in Brest-Litovsk, and the incident in Chelyabinsk when the local Bolshevik government arrested some of the Czechoslovak legionaires after having lynched a Hungarian POW on May 14, 1918, the Czechoslovak legionaries decided to take up arms against the Bolsheviks. Syrový was in August 1918 promoted to Major General. From October 1918 to January 1919 he was in command of the Legion and the anti-bolshevik forces on the Trans-Siberian railway. In April 1920, he left the port of Vladivostok for Czechoslovakia.

Inter-war military career

He returned to Czechoslovakia on June 20, 1920, where he was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd in the capital Prague. His war experience had earned him recognition, and in August 1920 he became the commanding officer of the Prague Military Command.

In 1922 he took a course for generals in Versailles in France and by the end of the year was promoted to Divisional General. In January 1924 he took over as Deputy Chief of the General Staff, and on January 1, 1926 he was promoted to the post of Chief of the General Staff of the Czechoslovak Armed Forces. In March 1926 he was appointed Minister of National Defence in the caretaker government of Jan Černý, and in October he returned to his post as the Chief of the General Staff. In December 1927, at the age of 39 years, he was promoted to the rank of Army General.

In his capacity as the Chief of the General Staff of the Czechoslovak Army, he intensified contacts with France, Yugoslavia and Romania and has also sought to establish a military cooperation with Poland. At the turn of the 1920s and the 1930s, however, the development of the army began to stagnate, as the armed forced lacked financial resources and the headquarters was not fulfilling its regulatory role well. Syrový that he was probably aware, but being unable to solve the situation, the problems would over the following years continue accumulating.

But when officers of the Operations Section of the General Staff prepared a plan for modernization and reorganization of the army, Syrový supported the plan and approved it in 1933. On December 31, 1933, Syrový was appointed Inspector General of the Czechoslovak Armed Forces.

After he started in his new job, which was more of a representational character, he decided to expand his field of responsibility, which caused a unfortunate and long feud between him and the new chief of staff, General Ludvík Krejčí, who refused to give up any part of his power. The whole case had to be solved by president Beneš with a compromise in 1936.

Syrový became with the years first of all a person with a authority with morale and also a symbol for the Czechoslovak Army. Partly thanks to his resemblance of Jan Žižka (c. 1370-1424), who was a Czech general and Hussite leader, the follower of Jan Hus and a hero for the Czech people, he was very popular in the public, and this popularity brought him to the government.

Munich Crisis

Main article: Government of the Defence of the Republic

On September 22, 1938, the the Government of Prime Minister Milan Hodža and all chairmen of political parties, on the recommendation of President Beneš, unanimously accepted the Franco-British proposals at Godesberg. The news of the Czechoslovak capitulation precipitated an outburst of national indignation. In Prague large crowds were marching toward the Hradčany, protesting the capitulation and some calling for a military dictatorship to defend the integrity of the state. Syrový told them that a dictatorship would do no good:

You do not know the causes which forced the Government to make its decisions. We cannot lead the nation to suicide.

However, following the capitulation the Hodža government resigned, and President Beneš asked Syrový to form a new cabinet. Syrový resisted, insisting he was a soldier, not a politician, and that he had no qualification to execute this position. President Beneš told him that the nation needed him and, if he was a soldier, to take it as an order.

In the end, Syrový consented, and on September 22, 1938, Syrový was appointed Prime Minister and Minister of National Defence heading the so-called Government of the Defence of the Republic (Vláda obrany republiky). On September 23, 1938 a decree of general mobilization was issued.

Invasion of Czechoslovakia

Main article: Invasion of Czechoslovakia (1938-1939)

In the early hours of October 1, 1938, Nazi Germany invaded Czechoslovakia. Having negotiated with the Germans and dealt with both military and political decisions during the night, he was still awake when he received the first reports of German troops crossing the border and reports of heavy German artillery bombardment across the whole German-Czech frontier. After contacting the Army High Command and General Staff, as well as the military intelligence service, Syrový summoned his cabinet to a meeting with Beneš along with several members of the Army High Command and Military Intelligence at 09:20 A.M. Among the attendees were Chief of Army, Arm. Gen. Ludvík Krejčí, Chief of the General Staff, Brig. Gen. Bohuslav Fiala and Chief of Military Intelligence, Gen. František Moravec. They discussed the further political and military situation, now as war with Germany had broken out. They concluded that they would see what the Western powers, and France in particular, along with the Soviet Union, would react to the German attack. Until then they would have to defend themselves the best they could.

Later life and death

Awards

Decorations

Flag of Belgium Awarded by Belgium Flag of Belgium
Belgium Order Crown Ribbon Order of the Crown II Class
Croix de Guerre Belgium Croix de Guerre 1914-18
Flag of Czechoslovakia Awarded by Czechoslovakia Flag of Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovak War Cross 1918 Ribbon Czechoslovak War Cross 1914-1918
Czechoslovak War Cross 1938-1939 Ribbon Czechoslovak War Cross 1938-1939
Flag of Estonia Awarded by Estonia Flag of Estonia
Order of the Cross of the Eagle Ribbon Order of the Cross of the Eagle (I Class)
Flag of France Awarded by France Flag of France
Legion Honneur GO Ribbon Legion d'Honneur, in the grade of: Grand Officier
Legion Honneur Commandeur Ribbon Legion d'Honneur, in the grade of: Commandeur
Legion Honneur Officier Ribbon Legion d'Honneur, in the grade of: Officier
Legion Honneur Chevalier Ribbon Legion d'Honneur, in the grade of: Chevalier
Croix de Guerre France Ribbon Croix de Guerre 1914-18 (with palm)
Awarded by Morocco
106px The Order of Nischan el Quissam Alaouite (I. class)


Awarded by Belgium:
  • The Order of the Crown: II. class
  • Croix de Guerre 1914-18

Awarded by Czechoslovakia:

Awarded by Estonia:

  • The Order of the Eagle, for the Protection of the Country: I. class

Awarded by France:

  • Legion d'Honneur, in the grade of: Grand Officier
  • Legion d'Honneur, in the grade of: Commandeur
  • Legion d'Honneur, in the grade of: Officier
  • Legion d'Honneur, in the grade of: Chevalier [Knight]
  • Croix de Guerre 1914-18: with palme

Awarded by Italy:

  • The Order of the Italian Crown: II. class
  • Military Cross of Merit

Awarded by Japan:

  • The Order of the Holy Treasure: II. class

Awarded by Yugoslavia:

  • The Order of St. Sava: I. class
  • The Order of the White Eagle: I. class
  • The Order of the White Eagle: II. class
  • The Order of Karadjordjević: Star, II. class

Awarded by Lithuania:

  • The Order of Vytis: Cross, II. class

Awarded by Latvia:

  • The Order of the Bear: Fighter, II. class
  • The Order of Three Stars: II. class
Awarded by Morocco:
  • The Order of Nischan el Quissam Alaouite: I. class

Awarded by Poland:

  • The Order of Polonia Restituta: II. class

Awarded by Romania:

  • The Order of the Romanian Star: I. class
  • The Order of the Romanian Crown: II. class
  • The Order for Loyal Services: I. class
  • Remembrance Cross 1916-19: with the clasp: "Siberia"


Awarded by Imperial Russia:

  • The Order of St. Vladimir: IV. class
  • The Order of St. Anne: IV. class
  • The Order of St. Stanislav: III. class
  • The Cross of St. George: IV. class

Awarded by Greece:

  • The Order of the Phoenix: I. class
  • The Medal of military merit

Awarded by Tunisia:

  • The Order of Nischan el Iftikchar: I. class

Awarded by Great Britain:

  • The Order of the Bath, in the grade of: Knight Commander [KCB]

See also

Positions held

Political offices
Czechoslovakia COA large Preceded by:
Milan Hodža

11th Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia
22 September – 13 November 1938

Office abolished
Preceded by:
František Machník

11th Minister of National Defence
22 September – 13 November 1938

Preceded by:
Jiří Stříbrný

6th Minister of National Defence
March 18 – October 12, 1926

Succeeded by:
František Udržal
Military offices
Emblem Czechoslovak Army Preceded by:
Eugène Mittelhausser

Chief of Staff of the Czechoslovak Army
1926 - 1933

Succeeded by:
Ludvík Krejčí

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