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WWII Articles
USS North Carolina vs Bismarck
Operation Compass
Book Review: APc-48
Agent 110: An American Spymaster
Rudolf Hess/Tancred Borenius
Soviet Rifle Corps of WWII
The Morality of Okinawa
The First Class at RAF No. 31 Radio School
Operation Dragoon and Invasion of Southern France
Battle of Buna-Gona
The Silent Service and the Turkey Shoot
Published works on WWII OOB for land forces
Flying Tiger, Hidden Eagle
SAARF – Special Allied Airborne Recon Force
Force at la Difensa
Sabotaging Hitler’s Heavy Water
Soviet Offensive in the Arctic
The Failure of Strategic Bombing
Dutch Harbor: Unraveling of Japan’s Pacific Strategy
Ed Ramsey, 26th Cav Reg (Philippine Scouts)
US Army in Czechoslovakia '45: An Operational Overview
Strategic Culture of the IJN
Battles of Luneville: September 1944
Visual Guide to US Fleet Subs Pt 1
Lodge Act Soldier
The Fate of the Kido Butai
Air Recon in WWII
Turning East: Hitler's only option
Resupply Operations to Malta, 1942
WWII Veteran Interview
Why Arnhem?
Hell Ship - From the Philippines to Japan
The Battleship USS Oregon
US Army in Czechoslovakia '45 to '48
Jewish Resistance in WWII
Battle for Seaports
Banzai Attack on Attu
End of the Battle of the Java Sea
Texas National Guard in WWII
How Arnhem was Lost
Saga of Ormoc Bay
Silent Service of the Pacific
USS Wahoo
Polish Cavalry: A Military Myth Dispelled
Confucian Martial Culture
Operation Market Garden
Legacy of WWII Sub Veterans
Lausdell Crossroads
Kasserine Pass
Arnhem Startline
Bushido: Valor of Deceit
British Offensive Operations
Sir Winston Churchill
American Stubbornness at Rimling
The OSS in Greece
Strategy of Blitzkrieg
Breaking Seelow Heights
The Rape of Nanking
Small Battle: Big Implications
Harris Class APA's
Aerial Defense of East Indies
Why the Bulge Didn't Break
American Forces in WWII
Shadow Warriors
Battle of Surigao Strait
Panzer Brigades
Adolf Eichmann
Interview of a WWII Veteran
Failure and Destruction
Winter Warfare
Operation Rusty: The Gehlen-U.S. Army Connection
Was Hitler right to invade Russia?
Hitler, Germany's Worst General
Surface Actions of World War II
MacArthur's Failures in the Philippines
Japan's Monster Sub
Popski's Private Army
The Soviet Formula for Success
Japan's TA Operation
Hitler Youth: An Effective Organization
After Midway: The Fates of the Warships
Barbarossa: Strategic Miscalculation
The Story of a "Go Devil"
Long Range Desert Group
Island of Death
The Failure of Operation Barbarossa
The Liberation of Czechoslovakia 1945
Only the Admirals were Happy
Bicycle Blitzkrieg - Singapore
Good Grief Sir, We're in Trier!
Thermopylae, Balaklava and Kokoda
How Hitler Could Have Won
The Battle of Midway
Waffen SS - Birth of the Elite
Nomonhan and Okinawa
Der Bund Deutscher Mädel
Rulers of the World: Hitler Youth
Breakout From the Hedgerows
Memories of D-Day
Motivation of the Einsatzgruppen
Pearl Harbor and Midway
Amphibious Assaults during WWII
The 9th SS Panzer Division
The Warsaw Uprising
Sea Lion vs. Overlord
Maginot Line
Battle of Bastogne
Battle of the Barents Sea
Anzio: The Allies' Greatest Blunder
US Army in WWII
Battle of Mers-el-Kebir
Hitler's Ultra-Secret Adlerhorst
The Wilhelm Gustloff Disaster
The 88th Infantry in Italy

Bryan Dickerson Articles
In Memoriam: Lt(jg) James A. Nist, USNR (1921-1945)
In Memoriam: LtCol Adrian Grant-Duff, C.B. (1869-1914)
Al Asad Air Base, Iraq During Desert Storm
The Third Day at Gettysburg
US Army in Czechoslovakia '45: An Operational Overview
Battles of Luneville: September 1944
US Army in Czechoslovakia '45 to '48
USS Charger
After Midway: The Fates of the Warships
Liberation of Czechoslovakia
U.S. Army vs. The Maginot Line

Bryan Dickerson Books

The Liberators of Pilsen: The U.S. 16th Armored Division in World War II Czechoslovakia

Recommended Reading

The Coasts of Bohemia: A Czech History

Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague 1941-1968
From Liberation to Confrontation: The U.S. Army and Czechoslovakia 1945 to 1948
From Liberation to Confrontation: The U.S. Army and Czechoslovakia 1945 to 1948
by Bryan J. Dickerson

In the closing days of World War II in Europe, soldiers of the U.S. Army were welcomed as Liberators by crowds of Czech civilians exuberant at being freed from six long years of Nazi tyranny and occupation. Just three short years later, the relation-ship between the U.S. Army and Czechoslovakia was dramatically different. Instead of allies, they were now adversaries. Due to the rapidly changing political situation in central Europe and the emergence of a Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, the U.S. Army in Europe underwent a series of major changes in mission and structure which culminated with it being forced to assume a combat posture against the very same country and ally that it had helped liberate from the Nazi Germany in the spring of 1945. In just three and a half years, the U.S. Army performed the roles of a combat force / liberator, an occupation force / rebuilder, a police or constabulary force and ultimately, a combat force again in rapid succession.


It was the rapid disintegration and collapse of the German Army following the March 1945 Rhine River crossings that precipitated the U.S. Army’s involvement with Czechoslovakia. Following its assault crossings at the end of March, General George S. Patton, Jr.’s Third U.S. Army undertook a rapid and often unopposed drive across central Germany. By the middle of April, Third Army was poised on the western borders of Czechoslovakia. Though some limited operations were undertaken across the Border, Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight Eisenhower shifted Third Army’s advance southeastward to prevent the formation of the rumored National Redoubt.[1]

Once the National Redoubt area had been occupied and proven to be a myth, Eisenhower agreed to Patton’s repeated requests to liberate western Czechoslovakia. On the morning of 5 May, XII Corps and V Corps launched their six infantry divisions eastward to secure the mountain passes for the armored divisions to exploit. The next morning, the 4th Armored and 16th Armored Divisions and Combat Command A of the 9th Armored Division rushed through the infantry and headed east. At the Soviets’ request, Eisenhower halted Third Army at a line that ran southeastward from Karlsbad through Pilsen and Budweis to the Austrian border. Though German opposition was virtually non-existent and elements of Third Army had reached the city, Eisenhower allowed the Soviets to liberate the Czechoslovak capital Prague. Altogether, Third Army liberated some 3,485 square miles of western Czechoslovakia, thousands of towns and villages and the cities of Cheb, and Plzen.[2]

Most of Third Army’s operations in Czechoslovakia had been conducted in the border region known as the Sudetenland. Since this area was predominantly German, the arrival of the Americans was not welcome. The atmosphere radically changed, however, once the American soldiers crossed into the Czech populated areas of Bohemia. “The scattering of Czech flags should have warned us, but we were totally unprepared for the mad celebration which greeted us in the next town,” Capt. Charles MacDonald of the 23rd Infantry Regiment / 2nd Infantry Division later wrote. All across Bohemia, American soldiers were greeted by joyous Czech civilians dressed in their native costumes. Whole towns and villages were decorated with Czech and American flags. “Suddenly there they were --- happy, overjoyed Czechs --- smiling, laughing, waving, hugging one another, and cheering,” Lt. Col. Al Irzyk, commander of the 8th Tank Battalion / 4th Armored Division, later wrote in his memoirs. Writing to his parents, Sgt. Lee Walenta of the 15th Field Artillery Battalion / 2nd Infantry Division described the experience as “like a hero in a great football game carried off the field on the shoulders of the spectators.”[3]

The largest celebrations occurred when the 16th Armored Division liberated Plzen, one of Czechoslovakia’s largest cities. In Republic Square, thousands of people turned out to greet their liberators and celebrate their liberation from the Germans. The Czechs showered their American liberators with flowers, food, and their world famed Pilsner beer. Vera Fiedlerova was nineteen years old at the time. “I was among those happy people with tears in my eyes,” she later recalled. “It was one of the happiest days of my life.” Another teenager living in Plzen, Malvina Zajicova wrote afterwards that “every inhabitant [of Plzen] tried to express his joy and gratitude.”[4]

Occupation / Re-Building

Though most units were pulled out within several weeks of the end of the war, the U.S. Army remained in western Czechoslovakia until December of 1945. XII Corps and most of its units withdrew back into Germany within just a couple weeks of VE Day. Six weeks later, V Corps and most of its units left western Czechoslovakia and were replaced by XXII Corps and several new divisions.[5]

The U.S. Army occupation of western Czechoslovakia was very different from its occupation of Germany. First off, Czechoslovakia was a liberated Allied nation and was treated as such by the U.S. Army. The U.S. Army remained in Czechoslovakia to assist the Czechs re-build their war damaged country and re-establish their society. American soldiers maintained law and order until the Czechs re-established their police forces. They restored water and sewer utilities and telephone services in several areas. They employed nearly 100,000 German prisoners of war to rebuild railroad facilities and other areas destroyed during the war. To help with the harvest and ensure that the Czechs had adequate food supplies, U.S. Army trucks were used to transport agricultural goods and tens of thousands of gallons of fuel were given to Czech farmers to help them harvest their crops. The Americans repaired captured German vehicles and gave them to the Czechs for their use.[6]

The U.S. Army occupation of western Czechoslovakia was not without controversy. Many senior American political and military leaders were eager to get American troops out of Czechoslovakia as quickly as possible and send them to the Pacific to finish the war against the Japanese. After the Japanese surrender, pressure intensified to bring them home along with the bulk of U.S. Army forces in Europe. It must be recalled that Czechoslovakia was a joint occupation by U.S. and Soviet forces. While the U.S. Army occupied some 3,500 square miles, the vast majority of the country was controlled by the Soviet Army with upwards of 500,000 troops. This presented difficult diplomatic problems. Gen. Eisenhower, President Harry S. Truman and many U.S. State Department officials recognized the threats posed to the re-establishment of democracy in Czechoslovakia posed by the Soviet Army. Therefore they resisted pressures to withdraw American forces and were able to negotiate a simultaneous mutual withdrawal with the Soviet Union. By the first week of December 1945, all U.S. and Soviet forces had left Czechoslovakia.[7]

Only a handful of American soldiers remained behind in Czechoslovakia. At the Potsdam Conference in July 1945, British and American leaders had reluctantly agreed to Soviet and Czechoslovak demands that all Germans be deported from Czechoslovakia. Under the command of Col. John Fye, these several soldiers supervised the transfer of some 1.75 million Sudetenland Germans into the American occupation zones in Germany. The deportations began in January 1946 and lasted until late November of that year.[8]

Re-Deployments and De-mobilization

Following the surrender of Nazi Germany, the U.S. Army forces in Europe had to contend with a great many difficulties. Having conquered Germany, the U.S. Army now had to occupy the country, re-establish order, take care of the millions of repatriated Allied military persons and displaced persons from all over Europe, dismantle the Nazi war machine and support war crimes prosecution efforts.

In addition, the U.S. Army had to re-deploy the bulk of its forces back to the United States and the Pacific Theater to finish the war against Japan. Of course, once the Japanese surrendered, the re-deployment became de-mobilization instead. The re-deployment and de-mobilization of U.S. Army forces in Europe was a staggering effort of transportation. On VE Day, these forces numbered some 61 divisions. Including the U.S. Army Air Forces, there were some 3,069,310 American servicemen in theater. Between June and December of 1945, an average of 345,000 Americans left the European Theater each month. By the end of 1945, over 2.5 million Americans had left the European Theater. By 30 June 1946, 3,044,985 Americans, or 99.2% of the VE Day theater strength, had been re-deployed. Since few of the departing Americans were replaced, European Theater strength fell from over 3 million on VE Day to 342,264 on 1 July 1946. Theater strength bottomed out at 135,000 on 1 July 1947 and remained around there until new deployments in 1950.[9]

Naturally with the hemorrhaging of American forces from Europe, American commanders were extremely hard pressed to find the manpower to accomplish all of their missions. Major reorganizations were required as units were de-activated, re-deployed and dismantled. With remaining units experiencing manpower turnover rates that oftentimes approached one hundred percent, morale suffered, technical knowledge and skills evaporated, and significant disciplinary problems occurred. Sacrifices had to be made in order for occupation missions to be accomplished. Those sacrifices took their greatest tolls on the combat units. Training became virtually nonexistent, units were de-activated and remaining units were given occupational missions.[10]

The United States Constabulary

Even as its forces were rapidly de-mobilized and re-deployed from the European Theater, the U.S. Army still had to fulfill its occupational responsibilities in Germany. In the fall of 1945, the War Department and the European Theater Headquarters decided to create a “police-type” occupational force modeled after American state police forces. On 10 January 1946, XXII Corps commander Major General Ernest Harmon was named to head the U.S. Constabulary, and it became operational in July of that year. At its inception, the Constabulary had 38,000 troopers.[11]

To accomplish its missions with limited manpower, mobility was emphasized. The new U.S. Constabulary drew its forces primarily from armored, artillery and cavalry units. The mechanized units of the 1st and 4th Armored Divisions, 6th and 11th Tank Destroyer Groups, and 2nd, 6th, 11th 14th, and 15th Cavalry Groups were stripped of their heavy armored vehicles and converted into Constabulary squadrons. The new Constabulary forces were equipped with jeeps and light armored cars. Each regiment maintained a company of light tanks as a mobile reserve if heavier firepower was needed. Horses were used for patrolling in the rugged terrain along the occupation zone’s borders. The U.S. Constabulary began its existence with 38,000 troopers but was most often well below that figure.[12]

At this time, Lt. Col. Al Irzyk was serving as the Chief of Staff for the 4th Armored Division. With the creation of the Constabulary, the Division Headquarters became the headquarters for the 1st Constabulary Brigade and he became its S-3 (Operations) Officer. His former command, the 8th Tank Battalion, became the 8th Constabulary Squadron of the 5th Constabulary Regiment. Irzyk later recalled what this transformation meant.

***Even more important was the psychological change. There had to be a different mindset. No longer were the tactical troops warriors [and] fighters. Yes, they were still soldiers, but now they would have to learn to be soldier/policemen -- Constabulary Troopers. [13]***

The U.S. Constabulary was organized, equipped and operated like a police force. Its units conducted frequent motorized patrols throughout their areas of responsibility. They enforced speed restrictions, operated road blocks and check-points, conducted raids on illegal activities and checked every train entering and leaving the American zone. They maintained border control posts along the U.S. occupation zone’s borders with Czechoslovakia, Austria and the other occupation zones. Once they became operational, German police were used in support of the Constabulary.[14]

In 1946, the German-Czechoslovak Border was primarily the responsibility of the 11th Constabulary Regiment and its 25th, 51st and 94th Squadrons. In addition, the 8th Squadron was attached from the 5th Regiment. The 28th Squadron of the 6th Constabulary Regiment was responsible for the Border in the vicinity of Hof, Germany. By the end of 1947, these forces were halved as the 51st Squadron moved west towards Munich and the 8th Squadron was inactivated. Border crossing points were manned by Constabulary troopers and later assisted by German police. Vehicle, horse and foot patrols were also employed along the Border. Intensive patrolling was conducted throughout the zone within 10 miles of the Border. Their primary mission was to control crossings of the Border, and apprehend smugglers and illegal crossers.[15]

Policing the German - Czechoslovak Border was no easy task for the Constabulary. Much of the 160 mile or so Border was inaccessible to motor vehicles due to rugged, thickly wooded terrain. Since they had many other responsibilities within their zone, squadrons could only devote a portion of their total strength to border control and patrolling.

Despite these difficulties, the Constabulary were rather effective in apprehending illegal border crossers. The numbers of persons attempting to cross fluctuated with the seasons. For example, during the summer and fall of 1947, the 11th Constabulary Regiment alone apprehended over 1,000 illegal crossers each month. During August and September 1947, between 4,000 and 5,000 illegal crossers were being apprehended by American and German forces each week! When snow and harsh weather in the winter and early spring made crossings much more difficult, fewer attempts were made. Consequently much fewer apprehensions were made. In December of 1947, only about 350 illegal crossers were apprehended by the Regiment and the figures for the next two months were not even half that.[16]

Among the more mundane tasks of controlling traffic across the German - Czechoslovak border, two incidents stand out as noteworthy. In February 1946, a twelve man team from the U.S. Army’s 1246th Engineer Combat Battalion conducted a covert operation deep into Czechoslovakia to recover a cache of documents of the German-controlled Protectorate government. The cache had been buried in a wooded ravine near a village 16 miles south of Prague. Assisted by a former German SS Sergeant who led them to the site, the team recovered some 30 boxes of records that included President Benes’s papers. Unfortunately, however, three U.S. soldiers were captured by the Czechoslovak Ministry of the Interior, interrogated and held for 21 days. Needless to say, the Czechoslovak government was none too happy about this intrusion. “Some folks don’t seem to know that we are an Allied country and that the war is over,” Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk was quoted by the New York Times. The United States apologized and handed over most of what was recovered. [17]

Then in the late summer of 1947, American soldiers along the Border began apprehending small groups of wild, armed men who claimed to be soldiers of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). During interrogation, they shared their incredible story. The Ukraine had a history of anti-Soviet insurgency and resistance dating to the Russian Civil War. For the last several years, the UPA had been waging a guerrilla war against the Soviets in the thick forests of the Carpathian Mountains near Poland. At times, their force numbered over 10,000 partisans. By the summer of 1947, Soviet and Polish security forces were gaining the upper hand so they decided to head west. Most were ultimately captured. In small groups of a dozen or so, UPA soldiers snuck into the U.S. zone across the Czechoslovak Border and were apprehended by U.S. patrols. The first group was picked up 11 August after having traveled 1,500 kilometers and fought numerous small battles along the way. It took about four weeks for the Ukrainians to make the journey. Altogether approximately 120 Ukrainians were picked up by American forces.[18]

Combat Deficiencies

The U.S. Constabulary was a police force, and was not intended to be a combat force. It lacked artillery, combat engineers, heavy armor and heavy infantry weapons. The heaviest weapons employed by its troopers were the 37 mm guns in their armored cars. Mostly they were armed with light machine guns and small arms. Originally each regiment had a company-sized reserve that was equipped with M24 light tanks armed with 75 mm guns but by early 1947, these were inactivated. [19]

Not surprisingly, the 11th Constabulary Regiment was ill-equipped to defend the German - Czechoslovak Border from any threat greater than smugglers. Its crossing points were manned by only six or seven troopers. In an emergency, these points were to be reinforced by a reserve platoon within a half-hour and if needed, the Troop Reserve within two hours. As Gen. Lucius Clay later reported, “our so-called constabulary was very lightly-armed frontier troops who were also stationed all along the frontier and never had any training as combat teams.”[20]

The U.S. Army in Germany was similarly weak. At the time that Gen. Clay became Military Governor of Germany and Commanding General of U.S. Forces in Europe, there was only one division-sized combat force in Germany. That force --- the 1st Infantry Division --- was scattered in battalion-sized and smaller units across the American zone. The division had experienced a very high turnover of personnel and had not conducted significant combat training or any field maneuvers since the end of the war. The 26th Regiment Combat Team with 3,000 soldiers was the only major component of the division that was combat ready. Creating a strategic reserve with armored field artillery, tanks, anti-aircraft artillery and infantry had been considered in the second half of 1945 but was discarded because of insufficient manpower. While sufficient to maintain law and order, American forces in Germany were unable to perform any offensive operations and barely able to conduct defensive ones. [21]

Though the likelihood of an attack against U.S. forces in Germany by any of the other occupying forces including the Soviet Union was deemed very remote, plans were prepared to defend against that possibility. In January 1946, the G-3 section of U.S. Forces in the European Theater headquarters released “Plan ‘Totality’,” a defensive plan for the American zone. The plan was very vague but called for a rapid concentration of occupation forces, delaying actions until the arrival of reinforcements, and the defense of key areas such as the Frankfurt and Nuremberg areas. The latter in particular was very important because losing it could isolate U.S. forces in Austria. Air power was vitally important to offset deficiencies in the ground forces. It was presumed that intelligence would give adequate warnings of the build-up of hostile forces. The report glumly noted that “with the limited forces at our disposal it would not be possible to maintain a defense unaided within the US Zone for any great length of time against a strongly sustained attack.” [22]

The area along the German - Czechoslovak Border was deemed to be one of the most defensible in the American zone. With its rugged and thickly wooded mountains the Border region would have been ideal for a defensive line to counter aggression from the north-east, ie. Czechoslovakia or the Saxony region of the Soviet zone. Of course as U.S. troop levels in Germany evaporated, such a defense could not have been maintained for very long and a fighting retreat would have been the best that American commanders could have hoped for. [23]

In Washington, however, senior American military leaders had no intention of conducting a fighting retreat, let alone an outright defense, in western Europe in the event of a Soviet attack. They recognized that western Europe was indefensible because of the weakness of American forces and the refusal of the Truman Administration and Congress to provide sufficient funds for adequate military, naval and air forces. Therefore, the Pincher series of war plans drafted in 1946 for war against the Soviet Union called for the abandonment of western Europe in the face of unstoppable Soviet land forces. More significantly, the Pincher plans called for neither a “Overlord II” return to Europe nor the use of atomic weapons. Instead, Pincher placed the highest priority on retaining the petroleum fields of the Middle East, and the use of conventional air power to reduce Soviet war making capabilities. Eventually American and Allied forces would invade the southern Soviet Union across the Black Sea to seize Soviet petroleum fields in the Caucusus. [24]

The Pincher Plans were superseded by the Broiler, Charioteer, Frolic, Bushwhacker, and Crankshaft Plans which were drafted in 1947 and 1948. Like Pincher, these plans called for the immediate abandonment of western Europe and counter-offensives elsewhere. Unlike Pincher, these plans relied heavily upon atomic weapons and strategic air power for cripple Soviet warmaking capabilities and force a favorable conclusion to the war. Despite the fact that American atomic capabilities were extremely limited, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had no choice but to rely upon them. They simply did not have any other forces available to inflict significant destruction upon the Soviet war machine. They also had too many places to defend and not enough forces to do so. [25]

Czechoslovakia Between Nazism and Communism

In the short years immediately after its liberation from Nazi Germany, Czechoslovakia had realistic hopes of re-establishing its pre-war democracy. Czechoslovakia’s pre-war democratic traditions and strong political and economic ties to the West posed significant obstacles to the Communists in their efforts to seize power. When the Soviet Army withdrew from the country in December of 1945, the Czech Communists lost both an major asset and a major liability to their efforts.

Especially in western Bohemia, pro American sentiments ran high amongst the Czechs. These sentiments were produced by the combination of Czech gratitude for their liberation and for the U.S. Army’s assistance in re-building war damage in that part of the country. As a demonstration of their gratitude, the Czech people erected several monuments and memorials to U.S. Army units. In Cheb, two monuments were erected to the U.S. soldiers killed during battles to liberate the city and its vicinity. In Plzen, foundation stones were laid for memorials to both the U.S. Army and the 16th Armored Division. Despite the difficult economic times in post-war Europe, the people of Plzen managed to raise five million Czech korunas (about $185,000) for a larger memorial to the 16th Armored by 1947. [26]

For the first year or so after liberation, Czechoslovakia was run by a provisional government that was a coalition of President Eduard Benes’s pre-war government, Moscow supported Communists, Slovak Nationalists and other political parties. Jan Masaryk, son of the country’s first President, was Foreign Minister. Communists held most of the important positions. They did not, however, yet have total control of the government. [27]

The first post-war elections for the Czechoslovak Parliament were held on 26 May 1946. The Communists gained the most seats but failed to capture a majority. A coalition government was established under President Benes with the Communist Klement Gottwald as Premier. [28]

Despite having withdrawn their troops in December 1945, the Soviets had not given up on their desire to dominate Czechoslovakia and incorporate the country into its own sphere of influence. Geographically, Czechoslovakia lay right between eastern Germany and Poland to the north and Austria and Hungary to the south. It also shared a small border with the Soviet Ukraine. Thus a pro-West, democratic Czechoslovakia was perceived by the Soviets as a threat not only to their occupational forces in Eastern Europe but also as a potential invasion route into the Soviet Union. Furthermore, Soviet leaders recognized the significant benefits of incorporating the Czechoslovak economy into their own. Of all the Eastern European nations, Czechoslovakia’s industrial base was the most developed and would significantly enhance the Soviet Union’s ability to wage war.[29]

During this period the Soviet Union had been attempting to both woo and pressure the Czechoslovak government into its orbit. Through the use of economic credits and promises, the Soviets attempted to integrate the Czechoslovak economy into their own. Geographically Czechoslovakia was surrounded on three sides (north, east and south) by countries occupied by the Soviet Army. The presence of these hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers served to intimidate the Czechs and Slovaks and their leaders. The Soviets further reinforced this threat by transporting 100,000 of its troops across the country over the course of three weeks in June 1946. Though the movement was at night, it did serve as a powerful reminder of Soviet strength. [30] One of the most important factors in intensifying Soviet tactics against Czechoslovakia was the Marshall Plan. On 5 June 1947, U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall unveiled an economic recovery plan for Europe, including those nations in the Soviet sphere. Even the Czechoslovak Communists could see the advantages of participation in the plan. So without consulting the Soviets, the Czechoslovak Cabinet voted unanimously to accept America’s invitation for economic recovery. [31]

However, the Czechoslovaks’ acceptance of the Marshall Plan infuriated Soviet Premier Josef Stalin. He summoned Czech Premier Gottwald, Foreign Minister Masaryk and several other Czech officials to Moscow where he harangued them into rescinding their decision to participate in the Marshall Plan. As U.S. military intelligence analysts ominously noted in December of 1947, “The steady pressure of Communists against moderate parties in Czechoslovakia in recent months has demonstrated that the Soviets no longer feel assured of voluntary cooperation from that nation.”[32]

The country’s lagging economic recovery had serious repercussions for the Czechoslovak Communists. During the second half of 1947, Benes’s National Socialist Party grew at a much faster rate than the Communists. As 1948 dawned, there was a strong possibility that the Communists would lose significantly in the next major elections scheduled for May 1948. It became apparent to the Communists that democratic means were not going help them expand their control or even retain what they had and so more forceful means would be needed. [33]

1948: The Communist Coup

Fearing defeat in the upcoming May elections and under increasing pressure from Moscow, the Communists began taking action to secure power through non-democratic means. The Party mobilized its armed People’s Militias in case force was needed. The Communist-dominated Interior Ministry began arresting democratic leaders without just cause. Events escalated into a crisis in the middle of February when the non-Communists refused to permit the Communists to continue their dominance of police forces. On 12 February, Interior Minister Vaclav Nosek fired eight non-Communist commanders of the Prague police force and replaced them with loyal Communists. Outraged, the Chamber of Deputies demanded the reinstatement of the fired commanders and voted to censure Nosek. When their vote was ignored by both him and Premier Gottwald, the twelve non-Communist members of the Chamber resigned in protest. This brought an end to President Benes’s government. [34]

Amidst the chaos, Premier Gottwald and the Communists moved quickly to seize power. As U.S. Ambassador Laurence Steinhardt reported from Prague, “the Communists were aggressive and bold, and were sufficiently organized to take advantage of the situation.” The People’s Militias were armed and prepared for action. Defense Minister and Communist Ludvik Svoboda began purging non-Communist Czechoslovak Army officers. The Chairman of the Slovak government, Gustav Husak dismissed all non-Communist members of that government and replaced them with Communists. Early in this turmoil, Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Valerian Zorin arrived in Prague ostensibly on a trade mission. With the Army, People’s Militias and Police all arrayed against him, President Benes was forced to accept a new government of Communists as dictated by Gottwald and Zorin. He and Foreign Minister Masaryk were the only true non-Communists. Czechoslovakia’s second attempt at democracy was over, crushed like its predecessor by fear and intimidation. [35]

In the wake of the Communist Coup, purges and repression intensified. Non-Communists were arrested and/or removed from their positions. Fifteen pro-West, non-Communist officers on the Czechoslovak Army General Staff were forced to retire. Gen. Heliodor Pika, a Deputy Chief of Staff and former chief of the Czechoslovak Army mission in Moscow during the war, was arrested and executed the following year for treason. Other Army officers were transferred to remote and unimportant posts in Slovakia. The only remaining significant non-Communist officer remaining was President’s Benes Military Adviser. The Communists launched blistering propaganda attacks against the United States while at the same time lionizing about how the Soviets had liberated Czechoslovakia from the Nazis. Non-Communist newspapers, publications and political parties were shut down. Then on the morning of 10 March, Masaryk body was discovered beneath the bathroom window of his ministerial apartment. Though officially his death was ruled a suicide, it was widely believed that Masaryk had been murdered by the Communists. [36]

With all opposition either suppressed, arrested, or otherwise neutralized, the Communist victory in the May 1948 Parliament elections was virtually guaranteed. The Communists worked to further manipulate the outcome through intimidation at the polling places. A few token seats were gained by non-Communists, but the Communists secured 239 of 300 seats and their sympathizers/puppets held most of the remainder. [37]

However, the election was not the popular mandate that the Communists made it out to be. In protest of Communist actions, Czechoslovak voters submitted blank ballots, mutilated ballots and protest ballots depicting Benes and Masaryk. Based on this, foreign diplomats and correspondents estimated that between sixty and seventy-five percent of the voters were opposed to the Communist regime. [38]

In reality, the Czechoslovak National Assembly elections were of little consequence. Communists already held control of the government. The National Assembly now simply served to solidify that hold, and lend it some semblance of legitimacy. Henceforth, the Assembly was no more than a rubber-stamp for Premier Gottwald. The remainder of 1948 saw the Communists complete their stranglehold over Czechoslovakia. Arrests and purges continued. Czechoslovak industry and private property were nationalized. Rather than sign a new Constitution, President Benes resigned and was replaced by Gottwald. Benes died in early September.

U.S. and Western Reactions to the Communist Coup

U.S. and Western reactions were swift and hostile. Many senior leaders, including President Truman, had been concerned about increasingly expansionist tendencies in Soviet behavior. The February Coup served to both justify these concerns and intensify them. On 26 February 1948, the Governments of the United States, Britain and France issued a joint statement condemning the Coup and “the establishment of a disguised dictatorship of a single party under the cloak of a Government of national union.” Truman quickly called upon the American people to support efforts to oppose the growing Soviet threat to democracy. Congress overwhelmingly approved the European aid bill, ie. the Marshall Plan, which was quickly signed into law by Truman. [39].

Among those calling for the harshest response was Ambassador Laurence Steinhardt. In a cable to U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall, Ambassador Steinhardt advised “it is obvious that we should render it [the new Czechoslovak government] no material or moral support whatever. To do so would be diametrically opposed to United States interests.” In other cables, he urged the U.S. Army to halt all freight traffic traveling through the U.S. occupation zones in Germany and Austria into and out of Czechoslovakia. However, the State Department rejected this proposal as “inadvisable.” [40]

In Europe, negotiations had been underway between Britain, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands for the formation of a mutual defense arrangement against Germany. Escalating difficulties with the Soviet Union coupled with the Communist Coup in Czechoslovakia lent greater importance to this effort. When the resultant Brussels Pact was concluded 17 March 1948, it pledged mutual defense against not Germany but any enemy. Of course, “any enemy” meant the Soviet Union. [41]

The creation of the Western European Union, the Marshall Plan and the Czechoslovak Coup had a massive impact upon U.S. strategic planning. Beginning with the drafting of the JSPC 877/9 emergency war plan in July of 1948, the defense of Western Europe became one of the highest priorities. This and all subsequent war plans called for a defense of Europe as far east as possible, and a fighting retreat to slow Soviet advances and buy time for the mobilization of relief forces. If American and Allied (later NATO) forces were ejected from the Continent, then an “Overlord II” would be launched as soon as practicable to liberate Europe. Though the strategies for their employment varied, the use of atomic weapons featured prominently in all of these plans. [42]

Militarily, Western Europe still could not be defended with the forces available but politically it could not be abandoned with little or no resistance in the event of a Soviet invasion. The success of the Marshall Plan and NATO were heavily dependent upon a firm American military commitments to defend western Europe. As the Joint Strategic Plans Committee of the JCS noted in April 1948, such a commitment was necessary to protect the western European states from Czech style Communist coups. Indeed, Gen. Clay later surmised that a strong U.S. military presence in western Europe of at least ten divisions would have clearly demonstrated American resolve in Europe and would have deterred Communist seizure of not only Czechoslovakia but possibly Hungary and Poland as well. [43]

Of course the Communist Coup in Czechoslovakia in and of itself was not responsible for the major change in American strategic thinking. However, coupled with the Berlin Crisis, the Coup was interpreted by American leaders as irrefutable proof of Soviet intentions to conquer Western Europe. “His [Stalin’s] subjugation of Czechoslovakia, despite all its efforts to oblige him, was plausibly, if wrongly, regarded abroad as the first act in the incipient westward expansion of his empire rather than the last act of its sovietization,” historian Vojtech Mastny wrote in The Cold War and Soviet Insecurity. As a result, “the Czech coup plus the Berlin Airlift was the ‘straw that broke the back’ of resistance to NATO and everything else,” Counselor of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow Elbridge Durbrow later noted. [44]

The Communist Coup and the Border

From 1945 to early 1948, relations between U.S., German and Czechoslovak border forces were rather cordial and cooperative. “Relations with the Czechoslovak Border Police continue to be excellent,” stated a December 1946 11th Constabulary Regiment report. “All liaison matters have been handled smoothly with mutual cooperation.”[45]

In the weeks immediately preceding the Coup, the Border was relatively calm. Due to the heavy snow and hostile weather, fewer persons attempted to cross illegally. The amount of U.S. forces committed to the Border zone actually decreased as the 94th Constabulary Squadron began the conversion to a field artillery battalion. [46]

Not surprisingly, life on the Border became dramatically different as a result of the Coup. American soldiers began to see Czechoslovak Army units near the Border. They also reported sounds of gunfire and explosions coming from the east. It was soon learned that two divisions of the Czechoslovak Army were holding maneuvers within a few miles of the Border. [47]

Due to the immediate persecutions which occurred along with the Coup, U.S. officials anticipated a heavy influx of Czechs and Slovaks fleeing west. But the actual numbers of illegal crossers / political refugees were far below the anticipated least at first. The 11th Constabulary Regiment reported apprehending only 153 persons in February, mostly following the Coup. The deep snows probably deterred many persons from fleeing. [48]

The month of March was a different story altogether. Over 1,151 refugees were picked up. During the week of 8 March 1948, the 11th Constabulary Regiment picked up nearly a hundred refugees. Two weeks later, the regiment picked up nearly 500 refugees. Another 320 refugees were picked up the following week. Included in the refugees was Gen. Shlenovsky of the Czechoslovak Army. Formerly he had served as Chief of Staff of the Czechoslovak Army that fought with the Western Allies in World War II and later served as Military Chancellor for President Benes. [49]

Throughout the spring and summer of 1948, considerable numbers of refugees continued to flow across the Border. In April, the 11th Constabulary Regiment picked up nearly 1,800 refugees and nearly 2,400 in the next two months. The Berlin Crisis sent even more refugees across the Border. In the first week of July alone, over 1,400 refugees were picked up by American forces. Underground movements had sprung up to help persons escape into the American zone. [50]

By the end of May, however, American officials were noting a significant shift in the composition of refugees coming from Czechoslovakia. Initially, over half of the refugees were Czechs with the remainder being primarily Sudeten Germans. Beginning in May, the percentage of Czechs dropped dramatically. For example, during the first week of July, Sudeten Germans comprised 1,287 of the 1,436 refugees picked up by American forces. [51]

U.S. Army officials soon learned the explanation for the demographic shift from the refugees themselves. First, the Communist Czechoslovak government had greatly intensified its border control efforts. They had established three border security belts along their entire border with the American zone in Germany and Austria. These belts were heavily patrolled and numerous checkpoints and roadblocks were established within them. The zone from six kilometers to three kilometers from the borders was the joint responsibility of the Czechoslovak Army and the Sbor Narodni Bezpecnosti (SNB) or National Security Corps. Run by the Ministry of the Interior and thoroughly Communist, the SNB was a political paramilitary force. The zone from three kilometers to the borders was exclusively the Army’s. On the borders themselves, SNB agents replaced the Border Police. Civilians were removed from houses located near the borders and replaced by soldiers. Refugees also reported that the soldier and SNB agents had orders to “shoot to kill” anyone trying to cross the borders. [52]

The other explanation for the dramatic increase in Sudeten German refugees was a change in Czechoslovak government policy. Ever since the end of the official transfer of Sudeten Germans into the American zone, the Czechoslovak government had been pressing the United States to accept more of them. Already heavily burdened with refugees, the United States repeatedly refused. Now the Czechoslovak Communists saw an opportunity. Whereas as apprehended Czechs were detained and even imprisoned, the Czechoslovak government was actually transporting the Sudeten Germans to the Border to get rid of them. [53]

The sudden influx of refugees created many problems for the Americans. Unlike most previous illegal crossers, these political refugees were not being returned to Czechoslovakia. But the Americans had trouble accommodating them. Not surprisingly the Germans had no great desire to help out the Czechs. After a period of time in already established refugee facilities, the refugees were re-settled in non-Soviet Germany. Italy proved to be a partial solution to the dilemma as some 2,000 of the Czech refugees were later re-settled there. [54]

Along with the replacement of the Czechoslovak Border Police with hardened Communists came a new attitude. The Communists had always harbored animosities against the Americans. In the wake of the Coup and the emerging crisis over Berlin, the Communists now became convinced that an American invasion was imminent. At the end of March, Czechoslovak border guards began asking their German counter-parts when the Americans were going to invade. They even asked some American soldiers stationed at the Border Crossing Points. And it was not just Border Guards. Many Czechoslovak officials and civilians actually believed that the United States, Sudeten Germans, anti-Communist Czechoslovaks or some combination of the three were about to invade. [55]

Re-Building American Military Forces in Europe

Even before the Czechoslovak Coup and the Berlin Airlift, senior American commanders recognized the pressing need to overhaul their forces in Europe. When Gen. Clay assumed command of the European Command in the spring of 1947, he and his staff began a long process of converting their occupation forces back into combat forces. Specifically that meant intense training, and the re-organization of existing forces. As a means of accomplishing the former, Clay re-opened the German Army training range at Grafenwohr. But progress was slow because the soldiers first had to be taught the basics of combat skills and small unit tactics. Clay’s first major reorganization concentrated the 26th Infantry Regiment into a Regimental Combat Team that included two medium tank companies, two field artillery battalions, combat engineers, medics and detachments of assorted special troops. This reorganization was accomplished by November 1947 and Clay began concentrating another regimental combat team of the 1st Infantry Division. [56]

The Czechoslovak Coup in February 1948 and the escalating tensions over Berlin in later weeks both justified Clay’s actions and prompted greater efforts to re-build American forces. Additional reorganizations resulted in the activation of field artillery, armored cavalry and tank units. At Grafenwohr, unit training up to the regimental combat team level was conducted throughout 1948. [57]

One of the major forces that the US Army lacked in Europe was artillery. In January 1948, an important step was taken to address that deficiency when the 91st Field Artillery Battalion was activated and the 94th Constabulary Squadron was re-designated the 94th Field Artillery Battalion. Slowly but surely, the two new field artillery battalions accumulated their 155mm towed howitzers and other new equipment necessary for them to fulfill their new mission. By the middle of March, both battalions were routinely conducting live fire training of their howitzers at the Grafenwohr range. When not training, they assisted the Constabulary units in patrolling. Two more field artillery battalions --- the 70th and 74th --- were created from Constabulary squadrons at the end of 1948. [58]

Clay’s Constabulary units had great mobility but little combat power. Therefore it was proposed to convert three of the Constabulary Regiments (2nd, 6th and 14th) into Armored Cavalry Regiments and re-equip them with heavy armored vehicles. The 2nd Regiment was the first to begin the conversion. In January 1948, the 2nd Regiment was designated as the Theater Tactical Reserve and began training as such. Its responsibilities were assumed by other units so that it could focus on becoming a combat unit. The training emphasized weapons proficiency and small unit tactics. Meanwhile, U.S. commanders in Europe worked feverishly to draw up new organizational schemes for their proposed armored cavalry regiments and find the means to equip them accordingly. [59]

During the summer and early fall, the 2nd Constabulary Regiment was heavily involved in converting to an armored cavalry regiment. Its subordinate units were re-organized. The regiment trained extensively at the Grafenwohr Range. Training included working with field artillery. In July, seven M24 light tanks were added to each reconnaissance company and seventeen M26 medium tanks were issued to each medium tank company. Rigorous training of the new tank crews ensued. [60]

For ten days in September, the U.S. Army conducted its largest field exercise since World War II with other 70,000 American soldiers and 1,000 British soldiers participating. Named Exercise Normal, the maneuvers pitted the 2nd Constabulary Regiment reinforced by the 91st and 94th Field Artillery Battalions and the 371st Infantry Regiment as the aggressor against the 1st Infantry Division and a British parachute infantry battalion at Grafenwohr. Since its crews were not yet proficient in them, the 2nd Constabulary Regiment did not employ its M26 medium tanks. On 13 September, the 2nd Constabulary launched aggressive armored attacks that badly disorganized the 1st Division forces. [61]

The U.S. Army left the German - Czechoslovak Border on 5 August 1948 and turned its responsibilities over to German Border Police. In doing so, the Army freed up several Constabulary units for training and employment as combat units. When additional forces were deployed to Germany a few years later, the U.S. Army returned the Border with its armored cavalry units serving as a picket line against Soviet aggression. [62]

By the end of 1948, U.S. Army, Europe had made significant progress in its efforts to become a capable combat force. The three armored cavalry regiments were well underway in converting from Constabulary to combat roles. The 1st Infantry Division was concentrated and training as a division instead of manning widely dispersed occupation posts. In addition to the 1st Infantry Division’s organic field artillery, four field artillery battalions had been created. Logistics, engineers and other vital support units had also been created. The Constabulary headquarters had been designated to serve as a corps headquarters for tactical purposes. Much tactical training had taken place and much more was scheduled for 1949. [63]

Though American forces in Europe improved significantly in quality during 1948, their overall numbers were not expanded. Clay’s reorganization had assigned new missions to existing units. They were still a long way from being able to resist a Soviet invasion. The Soviet Army was still quite capable of conquering Western Europe without much difficulty. In September of 1948, military intelligence experts of the Department of the Army estimated that the Soviets had some 1.785 million troops in Europe of which some 485,000 were in their German zone and in Poland. It was also believed that the Soviets had upwards of 33,000 tanks and 75,000 artillery pieces (75 mm or greater) in Europe. Altogether, the total size of the Soviet army was estimated at 2.5 million. As the division noted ominously “Generally, Soviet forces could overrun wide areas of Europe, the Near and Middle East, and the Far East in a relatively short time.” Two months later, a study by the Joint Intelligence Committee of the Joint Chiefs of Staff estimated total Soviet forces at 2.5 million troops. The Soviet Army was estimated to have 154 divisions, of which 31 were in Eastern Europe. [64]

Compared with the enormity of the Soviet threat from their occupation zone of Germany, American military leaders gave much less credence to the Czechoslovak Army as a threat. The Czechoslovak Army was exponentially smaller and less capable. In September of 1948, the Czechoslovak Army numbered about 110,000 troops. Their weapons and equipment were a heterogeneous mixture that was mostly obsolete. The Czechoslovak armament industry produced the bulk of its small arms and a significant percentage of its artillery. Most of its artillery had been provided by the Soviets or been captured from the German Army during the war. Their tanks were primarily Soviet T-34s and ones provided by the British during the war. They also were also using captured German tanks and self-propelled guns. Despite their best efforts to modernize, the Soviets were reluctant to provide them with modern weapons. Furthermore, though the command structure was thoroughly Communist, there were serious questions about the reliability of the Czechoslovak Army itself. The last thing that Moscow wanted was to equip a Czechoslovak Army that someday might thwart its efforts to consolidate control over the country. It is also significant to note that the Halfmoon - Fleetwood Plan drafted in October of 1948 was the first of America’s war plans to include Czechoslovakia and its army as Soviet satellites. [65]

Though U.S. Army forces in Europe had improved significantly in qualitative terms, few improvements had been made quantitatively. By the end of 1948, U.S. forces consisted of the 1st Infantry Division, a field artillery group, some Constabulary units and three armored cavalry regiments (2nd, 6th and 14th). Nevertheless, U.S. military and political analysts strongly believed that the Soviets would not invade Western Europe at this time. Similarly, no one seriously expected that the Czechoslovak Army would launch its own invasion of Germany independent of the Soviets. In fact, U.S. Army forces in Europe were not significantly increased until the early 1950s when the Communist instigated Korean War was interpreted as the opening of a global Communist offensive.


In just three and a half short years, the U.S. Army and its relationship with Czechoslovakia had undergone tremendous changes. In the exuberance of the Liberation Days of May 1945, few could have anticipated that the Czechoslovak and U.S. Armies would be actively training to fight as potential adversaries. The explanation for this sudden change is rather simple: the emergence of the Cold War.

In its relationship with Czechoslovakia, the U.S. Army went from a liberating combat force to a benevolent occupier to an amicable border policeman and finally to an adversary training for war. By the fall of 1948, the new adversarial relationship between the U.S. Army and Czechoslovakia was in place. Both armies were training for possible war against each other. Though the U.S. Army was primarily focused on a Soviet invasion, a possible Soviet / Czechoslovak attack from the east could not be discounted. Similarly, for much of 1948, the Czechoslovak Army and people fully anticipated a U.S.-led invasion from the west. Meanwhile their Communist leaders undertook a systematic propaganda and intimidation program designed to destroy any and all amicable feelings that the people of Czechoslovakia still had for the United States. Their efforts also included eradicating all memory of the U.S. liberation and re-writing history to suit their ideological purposes.

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Copyright © 2011 Bryan J. Dickerson.

Written by Bryan Dickerson. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Bryan Dickerson at:

About the author:
Bryan J. Dickerson is a military historian specializing in World War Two and a Navy Reserve veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He earned a Masters of Arts in American History from Monmouth University in New Jersey in 1999. He is the former Editor of Cold War Times - the online newsletter of the Cold War Museum in Virginia.

Published online: 09/18/2011.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MHO.
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