Sudeten Germans greet representatives of Nazi Germany passing in cars. October 1938
After the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a number of states were created on its ruins, including Czechoslovakia.
The Czechs, who were actively working to create a "new order" in Europe and helped the Entente to fight with Russia, were able to achieve the maximum borders of the new state.
Prague also avoided the reparations assigned to Austria, and was able to create an economically quite developed country on the basis of the industrial potential and gold (and other valuables) mined in Russia by the Czechoslovak corps.
But Czechs were less than half the population.
Slovak and German (Sudet) separatism immediately arose, since there was a large German community (more than a quarter of the country's population).
Already by the 90th century, the Germans made up the majority of the population of the Sudetenland region (about 1938%). The number of Sudeten Germans in 3,3 reached XNUMX million people.
In addition, the Czechs pursued a nationalist policy. German schools were closed, Czech schools were opened instead. Until 1937, Germans who did not know the Czech language were prohibited from holding public office. It was proposed to settle Czech colonists on the lands confiscated during the land reform.
The German Nazis despised the Czechs, whose state was artificially created after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles at the expense of part of the German lands. The main industrial wealth of the country was created by the German Sudetenland. Therefore, Nazi Germany considered it its duty to annex the Sudetenland to the Reich.
Since 1935, the Sudeten German Party operated in the Sudetenland (it was founded on the basis of the Sudeten German Patriotic Front, existed since 1933). Party leader Konrad Henlein demanded the fulfillment of the promise of the Czech government to build a state modeled on Switzerland, where all peoples had broad autonomy.
Henlein enjoyed the material support of Nazi Germany. Through the German embassy, the Sudeten Fuhrer received money, campaign materials, instructions, etc.
Members of the German party, which began to represent the entire Sudeten community, began to control the socio-economic life of the region. The Sudeten separatists were actively supported by the German security service and the Gestapo.
German agents were active in the Sudetenland and in Czechoslovakia as a whole. In 1936 alone, 40 career intelligence officers were sent through Switzerland to Czechoslovakia. They created spy networks, collected information and campaigned.
Through their agents and the Sudeten Germans in Berlin, they received information of a political, economic and military nature and knew almost everything about Czechoslovakia.
The Nazis were also interested in the military-economic and strategic potential of Czechoslovakia. The Czech industry of Czechoslovakia, including the military, was one of the most developed in Europe. Czechoslovakia was one of the world's leading exporters weapons. Thus, the Skoda factories at that time produced almost as much military products as the British military industry produced.
The country itself was located in the center of Europe, and it was necessary to solve the Czechoslovak question in order to develop further expansion. The Czech Republic had a first-class and well-armed army, strong border fortifications. Prague concluded agreements with the USSR and France on mutual assistance.
Thus, Hitler needed to dismember and destroy Czechoslovakia in order to destroy the foundations of security in Europe.
A Czechoslovakian military patrol stops a truck for inspection on the road during the Sudeten German Uprising. September 1938
At the end of 1937, the Wehrmacht headquarters provided Hitler with the Grun (Green) plan.
It was finalized in the spring of 1938 in connection with the annexation of Austria (How Hitler annexed Austria).
In April 1938, Keitel proposed a surprise attack on Czechoslovakia. But, according to Hitler, the Wehrmacht was not yet capable of such an operation, especially with the threat from France and the USSR. Berlin, taking into account the policy of Western countries, wanted to solve the Czech problem mainly through political and diplomatic means.
The Germans planned to capture Bohemia and Moravia. For the first time, emphasis was placed on propaganda, information and economic warfare against Czechoslovakia.
Clear goals were set: to intimidate Prague, to undermine its will to resist; support the "fifth column" in the face of the Sudeten Germans and Slovaks; influence neutral countries in the direction necessary for Germany; in the economic direction to contribute to the collapse of Czechoslovakia.
The reason for the war was to be a loud provocation, for example, the murder of a citizen of the Reich, a diplomat.
The Wehrmacht was supposed to deliver a powerful blow with the main forces to the center of the country from north to south. Blitzkrieg idea. 4 days were allotted for the defeat of the Czechs and the occupation of the Czech Republic and Moravia, with the expulsion of the remnants of the Czechoslovak army to Slovakia. At this time, minimal forces covered the western border.
Bunker of the Czechoslovak line of fortifications in the Sudetes ("Beneš Line")
The first crisis
The Third Reich skillfully aggravated the situation.
A volunteer corps of Sudeten Germans is being formed (about 15 thousand people). German intelligence arms and supplies volunteers. The corps was supposed to help seize power and then act as a police force.
Four SS battalions were deployed to the aid of the Sudeten Nazis. At the same time, sabotage and reconnaissance groups were sent to Czechoslovakia, which, at the time of the Wehrmacht's invasion, were supposed to disorganize the rear of the enemy, destroy communications (bridges, tunnels, communication centers), and attack military factories.
The Sudeten-German Party, after the Anschluss of Austria, is acting bolder, heading for the inclusion of the Sudetenland in the Reich.
In May 1938, the Henleinites intensified pro-German propaganda, demanding a referendum on the entry of the Sudetenland into Germany. The municipal elections, which were scheduled for May 22, were announced by the German party as a plebiscite on the question of joining the Sudetenland to the Reich.
At the same time, Hungarian, Slovak, Polish and Ukrainian nationalists are activated. The German special services are establishing contacts with them, establishing interaction with the Sudeten German Party.
There is a provocation at the border, during the action of the Czech police, two Sudeten Germans are killed. The German press launches a furious anti-Czech campaign. Berlin pushes troops to the Czech border.
Thus began the first Sudeten crisis.
At first, Hitler hoped to pull off the Austrian option, that is, to break the will of the Czech leaders so that they themselves capitulate.
The Czechoslovak government was informed of the Fuhrer's claims. Minimum program: autonomy for the Sudeten Germans. Prague was warned that if Hitler's demands were not met, the country would be crushed in a week by strikes from the north, west and south. A particularly strong blow will come from the south, where Hungary will go over to the offensive.
The Czech leadership was offered to "save themselves and Europe, both from the nightmare of a world European war and from the nightmare of Bolshevism." It would have been best if President Beneš or Prime Minister Goxha went to Germany and negotiated personally with the Fuehrer.
The Czechs did not fall for this provocation.
Prague conducts a partial mobilization of troops, the army enters the Sudetes and occupies border fortifications. Moscow and Paris declare support for Czechoslovakia (Soviet-French and Franco-Czechoslovak treaties of 1935).
France, in which in April 1938 the government headed by Daladier came, announced that the country would be "faithful to all the pacts and treaties that it had concluded." This was an official confirmation of France's obligations, including those under the 1924 Franco-Czechoslovak Treaty of Alliance and Friendship and the 1925 Pact on Mutual Guarantees.
True, Paris was afraid of the war and, first of all, looked at the position of London. Many French politicians wanted to find a way to abandon their obligations to Prague and come to an agreement with Berlin.
London's position was different.
The British leadership, seeking to send Hitler to the East (against Russia), expressed pessimism about the future of Czechoslovakia. As early as March 24, 1938, Chamberlain, speaking in Parliament, declared that the British Government could not assume any obligations in advance in an area where its interests "are not affected to the extent that they are in relation to France and Belgium."
Thus, the British were ready to satisfy the interests of Berlin at the expense of its neighbors, so that Hitler unleashed a big war with the USSR.
Moscow expressed readiness to defend Czechoslovakia, but Poland refused to let the Red Army through to help the Czech Republic.
Warsaw itself at that time was ready to take part in the division of Czechoslovakia and claimed Cieszyn Silesia (How Poland unleashed World War II with Hitler). Polish troops were concentrated near the Czech border, ready to partition Czechoslovakia along with Germany.
Italy also opposed the actions of Germany, fearing a further strengthening of the Reich.
The Soviet Union proposes to hold an international conference on this question. However, Prague, Paris and London refuse to hold the conference.
In Germany itself, the generals expressed fear that the crisis could cause a war on two fronts, against Czechoslovakia and France, whose military potential was much higher than the German one. Only the French army is two larger than the German one. Plus the possibility of war with the USSR. Such a war would be hopeless, disastrous for the Reich.
The head of the German General Staff of the ground forces, Beck, spoke out against the plan of attack on Czechoslovakia. In the headquarters game conducted by Beck, which took into account the intervention of England and France in the Czech-German conflict, it was noted that while the Germans were busy fighting the Czech defense lines, the French would have time to capture the entire Ruhr area.
This was reported to Hitler, in August Beck was sent into an honorable retirement.
His successor was Halder, who also had a negative attitude towards the Fuhrer's aggressive policy and was privy to plans for a military coup against the Nazi regime.
Thus, in May 1938, Nazi Germany was unable to "swallow" Czechoslovakia.
Hitler had to temporarily postpone the plan of aggression and move on to negotiations. But active military-political preparations for the seizure of the country continued.
How the West “helped” Prague
The Western powers, continuing the policy of "appeasement" of Hitler at the expense of "minor" neighbors, increase pressure on the Czech government, recommending an agreement with Henlein.
Thus, on May 7, the British and French envoys in Prague visited the Foreign Minister and demanded that Prague go "as far as possible" in meeting the demands of the Sudeten Germans, warning that if armed conflict should arise because of its "intransigence", the Western powers would not help Czechoslovakia.
In Washington, on the whole, they supported the similar policy of London and Paris.
US Ambassador to Germany Wilson reported to Washington on April 28, 1938, which is important
"to conclude such an agreement with Berlin ... which, so to speak, would channel Germany's aspirations and even her unshakable intentions in such a way as to ensure world peace."
At the same time, the Westerners almost directly informed Berlin that they were not going to fight for the Czechs and did not want a pan-European war, from which the Bolsheviks and Mongols would benefit.
Thus, the British ambassador to Germany, Henderson, told the Deputy German Foreign Minister Weizsäcker that the British government did not intend to “sacrifice at least one soldier” for the Czechs, and if Prague went to aggravate relations with the Germans, then England would not support them.
On May 23, French Prime Minister Daladier spoke with the German Ambassador Welczek. He expressed fears that the war would destroy Europe, and Cossacks and Mongols would appear there. Therefore, the war must be prevented, and "heavy sacrifices" must be made.
The idea was conveyed to Berlin that the “uncompromising” Czechoslovakia would be sacrificed.
In the Czech elite itself there was no unity on the issue of resistance to Germany and the future of the country.
The conservatives, represented by the Agrarian Party (the leading political force in the country), its leader and Prime Minister Milan Goggia wanted to establish "strong power" in Czechoslovakia and negotiate with Berlin. In particular, to make concessions to the Sudeten Germans and terminate the mutual assistance agreement with the Russians.
Another group included President Edvard Benes and representatives of big business. Benes was guided by the Western powers and, above all, France. The Czechoslovak president listened attentively to the advice of London and Paris and was ready to make big concessions in negotiations with Henlein and Berlin.
Prague went on about the West.
Negotiations began between Henlein and the Czech authorities, through the mediation of a special British representative, Lord Runciman. Negotiations went from the beginning of August to September.
The British followed the policy of "appeasement" of Hitler, sided with the Germans and demanded that Prague create the Sudetenland. Lord Runciman himself, in his report to the head of government Chamberlain, proposed to give the Sudetenland to Germany.
In early September 1938, Prague yielded to pressure and agreed to create German and Hungarian autonomies.
Meeting British Prime Minister Chamberlain at Munich Airport. September 29, 1938
To be continued ...