80 years ago, in March 1939, Hitler sent troops to Bohemia and Moravia. Czechoslovakia ceased to exist, already in 1938 cut in favor of Germany, Poland and Hungary. On March 14, Slovakia declared its independence, but in fact found itself under the control of the Third Reich. On March 15, by decree of Hitler, the Czech Republic and Moravia were declared a protectorate of the German Empire.
The Third Reich, with the support of the masters of the West, interested in the early restoration of the military-economic power of the German Empire, in order to throw it on a "crusade" to the East, to the USSR-Russia, quickly eliminated the restrictions of the Versailles system and began to round off its possessions at the expense of its neighbors.
Hitler was preparing for a big war and was solving the problem of reuniting all Germans in one empire. In March 1938, the task of reuniting Germany with Austria was solved. Berlin took the first important step towards creating a "middle Europe" - Hitler's European Union. The Germans received a strategic foothold for the capture of Czechoslovakia (previously it was part of the Austrian Empire) and further expansion from South-Eastern Europe.
At the same time, the German generals were afraid of such an aggressive and careless policy of Hitler. He was warned against the capture of Austria, and then actions against Czechoslovakia. The Third Reich had not yet restored its military potential, was not ready for war. Even Czechoslovakia alone could then successfully resist the Reich, it only needed political support. And France and England could easily stop Germany with a tough political reaction and a concentration of troops on its western border. However, Hitler resolutely went to his goals, not listening to the completely reasonable warnings of his military. The point was that he was sure that he would not be stopped, confined to censure. The Fuhrer knew that the masters of the West would surrender to him a significant part of Europe, so that he would then go to the East.
Fascist Italy, which had previously obstructed the capture of Austria and was stronger than the newly created Nazi state, was now battered in Spain and Abyssinia (Ethiopia). The Third Reich surpassed the former "big brother" in technology, military and economic power. Now Rome obediently followed the strong partner. England and France turned a blind eye to the capture of Austria. The masters of London and Paris, which followed him passively, relied on Hitler, the growth of the Reich's power, in order to once again play the Germans against the Russians. Therefore, the diplomacy of England and France was silent while Hitler crushed the political resistance of Vienna. Left alone, Vienna surrendered. The British government of Chamberlain displayed a typical example of hypocrisy: at first it protested, condemned Berlin, and in April it formally recognized the capture of Austria by Germany. The fact that the leading powers of the West are not inclined to give a collective rebuff to the aggressive policy of Berlin, Moscow noted. At the plenum of the League of Nations on September 21, 1938, the Soviet delegation declared: "The disappearance of the Austrian state went unnoticed by the League of Nations."
On February 20, 1938, Hitler in the Reichstag declared his desire to unite "10 million Germans living on the other side of the border." The German press actively demanded that the interests of the Germans in the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia be satisfied. Among the Sudeten Germans, Henlein's "Sudeten German Party" was active. After the capture of Austria by the Reich, Henlein's supporters demanded territorial autonomy for the Sudetenland. Glinka's nationalist party demanded the same autonomy for Slovakia.
Prague then had the opportunity to defend its independence: the army was fully combat-ready, one of the best in Europe, had advanced equipment, good personnel, relied on strong border defenses and the military industry. However, the fate of Czechoslovakia was dependent on the decision of the masters of the West, primarily France, with which Prague had an agreement on mutual assistance. The Czechoslovak leaders themselves did not dare to confront Germany.
However, Paris was then walking in the wake of British politics. And London demanded at all costs to avoid a clash with Germany. The fact is that the masters of London and Washington created the Hitler project to once again play off Germany and Russia. Therefore, Hitler was consistently given one position after another, so that Germany would gain strength and be able to attack the USSR. Later, Britain and the United States were supposed to finish off Germany and establish their own world order on the planet..
Britain, first through the press and then through diplomatic channels, began to put pressure on Prague. The Czechs were informed that England and France would not fight for Czechoslovakia, therefore the Sudeten question must be resolved peacefully. Thus, in conversations with the Czech ambassador Massaryk, the British Foreign Minister Halifax persistently convinced him that it was necessary to prevent the war, to satisfy the demands of the Sudeten Germans. In the summer of 1938, the British and French recognized Hitler's proposals on Czechoslovakia as acceptable, this became the basis for the future Munich Agreement.
On July 22, 1938, London demanded that Prague take measures to "pacify Europe." The Czechs agreed to start negotiations on the autonomy of the Sudeten Germans. However, Henlein and his associates were no longer satisfied. On July 29, Henlein made a declaration in Breslau, where he proclaimed the principles of German pan-Germanism: all Germans should live in one state and obey only German laws. London immediately put pressure on Prague to conclude an agreement as soon as possible. Germany at that time exerted military pressure: reserve troops were drafted into the army, its mobilization began, military maneuvers were carried out, new fortifications were built on the border of Czechoslovakia, German planes invaded Czech airspace, provocations began on the border, etc. At the same time London threatened Prague that in case of war, Czechoslovakia would be crushed by the hordes of Hitler, therefore it was necessary to yield. As a result, Prague began to be accused of the fact that its tough position could cause a general war in Europe.
In France, the military spoke of the strategic need to defend Czechoslovakia. General Gamelin argued that Czechoslovakia can and should be protected, since this is a question of the security of France itself. The strongest army in Western Europe - the French, in alliance with the Czechoslovak army could stop the German aggression. However, French politicians were in a different mood. They believed that "peace with Hitler is better than a war against him together with Voroshilov." Therefore, Daladier told the Czechs that France could not fulfill its allied obligations with regard to Czechoslovakia.
On September 15, 1938, Chamberlain met with Hitler in Berchtesgaden. Hitler demanded the final and complete self-determination of the Sudeten Germans. After that, Chamberlain held a meeting with Daladier and Bonn. The British and French finally decided to sacrifice Czechoslovakia in order to come to terms with Hitler. On September 19, Prague was handed a note stating that in order to prevent a European war, it must immediately hand over the Sudetenland to the Reich. Prague was promised an "international guarantee" of its new borders. In fact, London and Paris demanded suicide from Prague.
On September 20, Prague asked England and France to reconsider this decision and refer the issue to arbitration in accordance with the German-Czechoslovak agreement of 1925. On the evening of the same day, the British warned the Czech government that if they persisted further, they would no longer "be interested in his fate." The French repeated this threat. On September 21, Czechoslovak President Beneš was presented with an ultimatum: the demand for the immediate surrender of Czechoslovakia. Prague had to accept the Anglo-French plan, or it became "the only culprit in the inevitable war." The Czechs were also warned that if they unite with the Russians, the war will take on the character of a "crusade against the Bolsheviks." As a result, Prague capitulated. Thus, in fact, Czechoslovakia was crushed not by Germany, the onslaught of which Prague was ready to resist, but by its "Western friends" - England and France.
On September 22, 1938, Chamberlain informed Hitler during a meeting in Godesberg that the case had been settled - the issue of the Sudeten Germans had been resolved in the interests of Germany. But now even this was not enough for Hitler. He demanded that at the same time the territorial claims of Hungary and Poland against Czechoslovakia be satisfied. On September 24, the British handed over Berlin's new demands to Prague. On September 25, the Czechoslovak envoy, Massarik, handed Chamberlain an answer from Prague - the German proposals were called "absolutely unacceptable." However, London continued its diplomatic pressure on Prague. In England and France, they staged a panic, "blackmail by war", fanning the threat of war with Germany over Czechoslovakia. Public opinion was inclined to "appease" Germany. Chekhov was shown as possible culprits in the outbreak of a great war in Europe.
Hitler, seeing that not everything was going according to plan, raged, made a mental attack. On the evening of September 26, he spoke at the Berlin Sports Palace with new threats against Czechoslovakia. "If by October 1, - said the Fuehrer, - the Sudetenland is not transferred to Germany, I, Hitler, myself will go, like the first soldier, against Czechoslovakia." He promised that after the settlement of the Sudeten question, Germany will not have any territorial claims in Europe: "We do not need Czechs." At the same time, the Czechs were accused of atrocities and oppression against the Sudeten Germans. Germany was seized by a military psychosis.
On September 29, 1938, a meeting of the leaders of the European great powers Germany, England, France, Italy - Hitler, Chamberlain, Daladier and Mussolini took place in Munich. The fate of Czechoslovakia was decided without her participation. The Czech envoys were received in Munich only to report on the results of the conference. Prague was offered to transfer all border areas to Germany, and not just the Sudetenland. The Czechs had to clear these areas before October 10, 1938. All military fortifications that were in these areas were transferred to the Germans. Also, Prague was supposed to properly resolve the issue of national minorities with Hungary and Poland. It meant that Czechoslovakia should transfer the corresponding areas to Hungary and Poland.
Prague surrendered under pressure from London and Paris. On October 1, 1938, German troops entered Czechoslovakia without hindrance. They captured the Sudetenland and a number of other regions and cities where there were almost no Germans. Slovakia transferred the southern and eastern regions to Hungary, where the Hungarians made up the majority of the population. Hungary received part of the Carpathian Rus. Poland, simultaneously with Germany, sent troops into the Teshin region. At the insistence of the Germans, President Beneš resigns. Thus, Czechoslovakia partially lost its sovereignty, 38% of its territory, a significant part of the population and its industrial potential. Its military security has been destroyed. The border fortifications were lost. The Germans were 30 km from Prague, the Czechs were forbidden to build new fortifications on the new border.
During the signing of the Munich Agreement. From left to right: Chamberlain, Daladier, Hitler, Mussolini and Ciano
Liquidation of Czechoslovakia
The further compliance of London and Paris on various issues showed Hitler that he could complete the capture of Czechoslovakia. In particular, London and Berlin developed the concept of "eternal peace" based on the redivision of the world between Great Britain and Germany. The British hinted that when moving east, the Germans would not encounter interference from England. London and Paris established diplomatic relations with the victorious Franco regime in Spain without any preconditions. France made concessions to Spain and Italy.
Initially, Berlin began to put pressure on Prague so that the Czechs would give autonomy to Slovakia and Carpathian Rus. On October 7-8, 1938, the Czechoslovak government granted autonomy to Slovakia and Carpathian Rus. On the initiative of Hitler's diplomacy in Vienna on November 2, 1938, a compromise decision was made between Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia transferred to Hungary the southern regions of Slovakia (about 10 thousand km²) and the southwestern regions of Carpathian Rus (about 2 thousand km²). In December 1938 - January 1939, Berlin made it clear to Budapest that in the event of the capture of Carpathian Rus (Ukraine), the Hungarians would not meet German resistance. For this, Budapest promised to join the Anti-Comintern Pact, which was done in March 1939.
German diplomacy actively worked with Slovak nationalists. They were to play the role of the Sudeten Germans, following the example of 1938. The separatist movement was actively developing in Slovakia. In Germany, the press actively fanned the conflict between Czechs and Slovaks. The Czech authorities were accused of "atrocities". A putsch was organized in Bratislava. On March 9, 1939, Czech troops occupied the territory of Slovakia and removed the Slovak Prime Minister J. Tiso from power. The leaders of the Slovak separatists Tiso and Durchansky went to Hitler and asked for his protection from the Czech "oppressors". On March 13, 1939, Tiso in Berlin declared the independence of Slovakia under the patronage of Germany. On March 14, the Slovak parliament declared independence. Tiso became prime minister and then president of "independent" Slovakia.
Events in Slovakia found an immediate response in Carpathian Rus. Voloshin's government formed there also declared independence on March 15. Voloshin asked for independence under the protection of the Reich. However, Berlin refused and offered not to resist Hungary. Hungarian troops occupied the Carpathian Rus by March 18.
The Italian-made Fiat-Ansaldo CV-35 tankettes of the Hungarian occupation forces enter the streets of the Czechoslovak city of Khust
Hungarian Italian-made Fiat-Ansaldo CV-35 tankettes and soldiers on the streets of the captured Czechoslovak town of Khust in Carpathian Rus. March 1939. Photo source:
On the night of March 15, 1939, German troops began to occupy the remnants of Czechoslovakia. The Fuhrer demanded the arrival of the Czech President to Berlin. President Gakha and Foreign Minister Khvalkovsky arrived in the German capital. Here they were presented with a ready-made document on the final liquidation of the state and national independence of Czechoslovakia. Hitler told Hakha and Khvalkovsky that now was not the time for conversations and he only needed their signature on the document according to which Bohemia (Czech Republic) and Moravia were included in the German Empire. Under severe psychological pressure (threats to destroy Prague, etc.), the Czech representatives surrendered. On March 15, Bohemia and Moravia were declared a protectorate of Germany.
By a note dated March 17, 1939, Berlin informed the world about the establishment of a protectorate over Bohemia and Moravia. This was justified by the fact that "for a millennium, the Bohemian-Moravian lands were the living space of the German people." And Czechoslovakia was an “artificial formation”, “a source of concern” and discovered “internal non-viability”, so the state actually collapsed. And Berlin intervened to restore "the foundations of a reasonable order in Central Europe."
Moscow refused to recognize the inclusion of the Czech Republic in the Reich. England, France and the United States have expressed a formal protest.
President of Czechoslovakia Emil Hacha and Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler. March 15, 1939
Residents of Brno meet German troops. March 1939
Thus, the masters of the West surrendered Czechoslovakia to Germany. Hitler received an important strategic territory in the center of Europe, a strong Czechoslovak army was eliminated, which, with the support of England and France, could resist the expansion of Germany. Now Hitler could start a war in the west or east. The Germans got the weapons and supplies of 30 Czechoslovak divisions (including equipment and materiel of 3 armored divisions), the powerful industry of Czechoslovakia, including the military. So, by 1942, up to 40% of all weapons and ammunition of the German Empire were produced in the territory of the former Czechoslovakia.
The Germans carried out the ethnic and professional Germanization of the Czech Republic. Many Czech workers and engineers agreed to "become" Germans and provided labor for the war machine of the Third Reich. The anti-fascist underground in the Czech Republic was practically invisible, the first partisans appeared only in 1944, when it became obvious that Germany was losing the war. Therefore, the military industry of the former Czechoslovakia worked regularly for the Reich until the end of the Great War. Hundreds of thousands of Czechs in 1939-1945 worked in Germany itself. In addition, the Czechs served in the Wehrmacht and the SS troops.
The army created in Slovakia actively fought on the side of Nazi Germany. 50-thous. the Slovak army (3 infantry divisions and other units) took part in the war with Poland. Then the Slovaks took part in the war with the USSR. In July 1941, the German Army Group South included the Slovak Army Corps (1st and 2nd Infantry Divisions), a total of about 45 thousand soldiers. The corps was supported by 63 aircraft of the Slovak Air Force. In August 1941, the infantry divisions decided to withdraw to Slovakia, and a mobile and security division was formed instead. As a result, Slovak troops fought for Germany until April 1945.
The bridge over the Odra (Oder) river, along which German troops enter the Czech city of Ostrava on March 15, 1939.