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"Czechoslovakia 1938" Topic

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Armstrong26 Sep 2006 2:56 a.m. PST

Greetings to all from a new member. I wonder if anyone can help me out?
As is well known, in 1938 Hitler wanted a war with Czechoslovakia, ostensibly to liberate the "oppressed" Sudeten Germans. France had a treaty promising to help the Czechs militarily, but reneged (not least due to lack of support by Britain). After the Munich conference, the Czechs knew they were on their own and caved in.
As far as I know, in 1938 the Czechs had a rather good military, at least on paper: modern tanks and aircraft, backed by a strong arms industry, and strong fortifications along the border to Germany.My question(s): could they have held out against Germany? Or were their tactics of the French type, namely a static defence in their fortifications, which would have had a similar result to the May 1940 campaign? If the French and British had after all declared war, while remaining passive in a "phoney war" like they did in 1939/early 1940, would this have tied up German forces and helped the Czechs? What forces were available to France, Britain, Germany and Czechoslovakia in the autumn of 1938? (I read somewhere the Britain had virtually no useful tanks at that time; no Spitfires either, while Germany was also weak in tanks and was also still tied up in Spain).
How would the Soviet Union have reacted? Would Poland have come in on the German side? How about Hungary, Romania? If a general European war had broken out in 1938, would France and Britain have intervened in Spain and turned the tide there? Would the German military opposition have topped Hitler as they'd planned in the event of a Czech war? In short, could a Czech-German war have prevented the Second World War as we know it, or were France and Britain right to appease and rearm for another year?
I'd be grateful if anyone has any information, insights or thoughts.

D Stokes26 Sep 2006 5:17 a.m. PST

I'm interested in this as well. As near as I can make out from what I've read, the Czechs were unlikely to "win", but they might have given Hitler a black eye. On paper, as you say, the Czech army was pretty good. However, they had some serious problems. There were some good front line units, but the second and thid tier units were very weak and poorly supplied. Slovaks were not very happy and might have resisted call-ups. Czech strategy did rely heavily on their static defenses, because that took advantage of their natural assets (mountainous borders), but their fortifications were quite good, and there was no real way for the Germans to bypass them (no Belgium to go through).

Britain was not going to come in. I've read several books on diplomacy of the time by perople involved and that becomes very clear. France would have made noise, but without British support they were unlikely to declare war either. France might have been able to put on a demonstration of building up forces on the border to pull off a little German strength to keep an eye on them, but not really too much effect. Poland was interested in a fairly small strip of land and they might have joined in the invasion to take it, or the Czechs might have made a deal to give it too them so they could concentrate on the Germans. The Poles were unlikely to do much more than that since they were worried about the Germans themselves. Soviet Union – I'm not going to pretend to understand what Stalin thought about anything. Probably he'd do nothing but make speeches and conduct more purges.

If the Czechs could have stood up to the German Army for a while it might have delayed the start of the big war for a while. Certainly that was a possiblility – the Czechs were not bad and the Germans weren't yet what they were to be a year later. If the fight was bloody it could have reduced Hitler's support and might have led or contributed to a coup against him if things got realy bad. But most likely outcome would be it delayed the invasion of Poland by a year or so while the German Army fine tunes based on its new battle experience, thus comes out stronger than it did. But that would give the Allies a little more time, and a renewed urgency as well.

There were a couple of magazine articles on the subject a while back. I'd like to find copies. Abut 1991 the was a S&T game Case Green with a good accompanying article. Then about May 1997 there was an article in one of the British magazines (Miniature Wargames?) about running a miniatues campaign on the subject. I don't own them, but I'd love to get copies of each of these.

reddrabs26 Sep 2006 5:36 a.m. PST

The make-up of the German army would have been interesting – it was still developing.
I feel that the Germans may have been stalled long enough for three things to happen:
a maintenance problem for the panzers,
a political problem for Hitler (this was not a world war so opposition could grow without the charge of treason to the nation),
Stalin could weigh in: he was seriously affected by the failure of the West to support the Czechs AND the failings of his state/army were not evident to the rest of Europe.

However, the Czechs very probably would not have fought without help. France probably.

advocate26 Sep 2006 6:08 a.m. PST

Command Magazine #24 also concentrated on this theme – about the same time as S&T as it happens.

Admiral Knewt26 Sep 2006 9:40 a.m. PST

Actually I've been contemplating the same question.
See Occupation of Poland topic in WWII Books.

Just finished Master of Spies, the Memoirs of Frantisek Moravec. You'll be fascinated to know that Czech intelligence was well aware of what Germany was planning. What is shocking is how apathetic the Czech govermnents response was.
The lack of support from its allies was a big factor in the lack of Czech resitance. It is hard to say how it would fared militarily. The Czechs had a good idea of what they were up against, which helps a lot. But, they would have depended on swift intervention by France and Russia. I get the feeling Russia was actually collaborating with Germany at this point in history.

Prof Pate26 Sep 2006 1:30 p.m. PST

Yety another fasinating what-if

Good choice now where did I put those uniform guides??


Shagnasty Supporting Member of TMP26 Sep 2006 1:38 p.m. PST

Ironically a number of the the highly effective German panzer units in 1939 and 1940 were equipped with Czech 35t and 38t tanks.

zippyfusenet26 Sep 2006 2:40 p.m. PST

Admiral Knewt: I get the feeling Russia was actually collaborating with Germany at this point in history.

My information is that Stalin very much wanted to block Hitler's ambitions with the Red Army. His problem was that the USSR had no land border with the Czech Republic or Germany. The Russians would have had to march through Poland to intervene, and the Poles were absolutely opposed to that, threatened to fight them if they came. The Czechs were also unenthusiastic about hosting Soviet allies on their territory. Stalin asked France and Britain to apply pressure on Poland, but no one paid much attention to him, and the Czech crisis ended with Chamberlain's Munich agreement. Supposedly it was then that Stalin concluded that the French and British would never fight Germany, and changed his own foreign policy to ally with the Nazis.

I think I got this interpretation of the history from A.J.P Taylor. If you've heard different, I'd be interested to know where and what.

Augustus26 Sep 2006 2:47 p.m. PST

Pondered this question too. I was under the impression the 35t/38t were actually a bit better tanks than the PZII's of the Germans. The pneumatic shifting and the speed were both assets once kinks were worked out in early 35t's.

Personally, I think the Czechs might have held on long enough that the entire scope of the Second World War might have been changed or, at least, the European theatre. I wonder if the Czechs had held on for some time, if the French might have decided to ante against a Germany who was distracted and tied up in a Czech hornet's nest. Doubtful in light of what we know, but could the Czech resistance have polarized the issue against Germany quicker than expected? Interesting to ponder.

Armstrong27 Sep 2006 12:26 a.m. PST

Thanks everybody, for this food for thought. I'll continue to try and find stuff on the net, but what I haven't found yet is actual numbers of tanks, planes, guns, men etc. available to the protagonists in '38. More importantly, I found nothing about tactical doctrines, strategies and plans. Mere numbers don't always mean much – see the Winter War!

One thing I did read was that the German annexation of Austria meant that the fortifications along the German-Czech border could be bypassed.

Further reading indicates the Chamberlain et al. have been unfairly vilified for "appeasement". British and French policies were aimed at preventing any repetition of the 1914-18 bloodbaths and were very popular with the electorates. It all came down to incorrect assessment of Hitler's aims and of Germany's strength. Faulty intelligence at work, not for the first time and not for the last!

Carlos Marighela27 Sep 2006 12:44 a.m. PST

The Command boardgame is rather fun actually. Not a bad secnario generator. Another thing not to forget is the factor of Poland's territorial ambitions for Teschen, In the wake of the partition they actually rolled into Teschen. It throws in a third player but also complicates things diplomatically vis a vis the French. Soviet involvement would have to involve them rolling through Poland, which would expand the whole thing dramatically and would be as problematic for them in the immediate wake of the purges as it would be for the Poles.

D Stokes27 Sep 2006 1:47 a.m. PST

There were Czech fortifications along the Austrian border as well. It's not like they couldn't see that coming. Much of that border is mountainous, so mostly they just added a few hard points to the existing terrain. But along the river corridor they built pretty extensive works.

Armstrong27 Sep 2006 2:20 a.m. PST

Ah, thanks for that useful snippet of info, D Stokes. I'd assumed it was an open flank like on the Belgian end of the Maginot line. So many factors to consider here…

Zhao Zilong27 Sep 2006 5:29 a.m. PST

I've always been under the impression that the Poles only seriously became interested in taking Teschen after it became clear that the British/French were going to let Hitler have the Sudetenland. I have read that a large part of Polish foreign policy in the 1930s was to strengthen its alliance with Hungary and they hoped that they could get enough Czech territory to have a land border.

That being said if it came to war between Germany and the Czechs/French/British then I would think the Poles would have remained neutral with a small possibility of siding with the Allies. If the Soviets attempted to support the Czechs via Poland then it would open a whole new what if – could the purged Red Army beat the Poles in 1938? How would Germany react to a war in the East with Poland as a nominal ally? France would be in an awkward position?

If it had came to a war between the Czechs and the Germans, then Germany would have won – but would have been bloodied, and would take time to recover. Not as much Czech equipment would have been available because of war losses. And if during the conflict Czech industry had been damaged then the recovery time would have been longer. If there had been a phoney war with the Allies during the period, could Hitler have held back from an attack in the west in 1939/1940, before Germany had recovered. With fewer Panzers the campaign may have resembled more what the French were expecting.

One other thing – not sure where I've heard this at all – but wasn't there a plan for a coup in Germany if war broke out in 1938?

Frontovik04 Jan 2007 5:51 a.m. PST

What zippyfusenet & Carlos Marighella said.

Except Poland's desire for Teschen/Tiesyn/Cieszyn/Oh you choose! goes back to 1918. My wife comes from the area and there's still loads of ethnic Poles there, a hangover from the Austro-Hungarian Empire if you're interested.

I've also visited a restored 'Skoda Bunker' up near Opava, named after the Skoda 47mm gun & ranging MG it has as main armament. Now that's a scarily effective piece of fortification so good the the Germans incorporated the design into the Atlantic Wall unaltered.

Frontovik04 Jan 2007 5:55 a.m. PST

Nearly forgot – Hungary was also champing at the bit to get bits of Slovakia. Part of the leverage that Dolfie used with Tiso in March 1939 when he grabbed the rest of Bohemia & Moravia was the threat to hand the whole of Slovakia over to Hungary.

And it was regularly trotted to put pressure on them right up to the Slovak National Uprising of 1944.

Frontovik04 Jan 2007 6:51 a.m. PST

Damn! – I keep forgetting things.

re the unwillingness of the Slovaks to fight for the Czechs – the Czechoslovakian Government (historical note: the Czech Republic which someone mentioned above didn't exist until 1991) could have easily used the antagonism of the Hungarians to get Slovaks flocking to the colours.

A few hundred years of Hungarian rule where a Slovak life wasn't worth tuppence had left many Slovaks, even today, with a less than enlightened attitude towards Hungary & Hungarians.

Actually, I guess it comes down to what someone mentioned above in 1938 the Czechoslovakian Army were up for it their government just lacked the political will and their main ally, France, had deserted them.

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