“Operation Danube” – a look at the invasion of Czechoslovakia 50 years later

“Operation Danube”. That was the name in the documents of the strategic exercises of the troops of five member countries of the Warsaw Pact, the purpose of which was “protection of the socialist gains in Czechoslovakia.”

Under Gorbachev, the introduction of troops into Czechoslovakia on 21 August 1968, wrote about “the suppression of the construction of socialism with a human face”, and after the collapse of the USSR, these events are only in sharply condemning, and sometimes rudely, the foreign policy of the USSR is considered to be aggressive, Soviet soldiers are called “invaders”, etc.

The current writers don’t want to reckon with the fact that all events in the world happen, and happen in a specific international or domestic environment in a given period of time, and judge the past by today’s standards. Question: could the leaders of the countries of the socialist camp and, first and foremost, the Soviet Union at that time to make another decision?

Source: Jjournal/warhistory

The international situation

1. At that time in Europe there were two worlds of opposite ideology, socialist and capitalist. Two economic organizations – the so-called in common parlance “Common market” in the West and the Council for Mutual Economic assistance in the East.

There were two opposing military blocs – NATO and the Warsaw Pact. I remember only that in 1968 in the GDR was the Group of Soviet forces in Germany, in Poland Northern group of Soviet troops in Hungary’s southern group of forces. But for some reason do not remember that in Germany deployed troops to the USA, the UK, Belgium and was ready to go in case of need the army corps of the Netherlands and France. Both military groups were in a state of full combat readiness.

2. Each party defended its own interests and, observing decorum, by any means trying to weaken the other.

The socio-political situation in Czechoslovakia

At the January 1968 Plenum of the Central Committee was subjected to fair criticism of mistakes and shortcomings of the country’s leadership, as well as the decision on necessary changes in the governance of the state’s economy. The General Secretary of the Central Committee, was elected Alexander Dubcek, who led the reforms, later called the “construction of socialism with a human face”. Changed the country’s top leadership (except for President L. Svoboda), and with it began to change domestic and foreign policy.


4. Using delivered at the Plenum of the criticism of the leadership, opposition political forces, capitalizing on the demands of the “expansion” of democracy, began discrediting of the Communist party, government agencies, public security organs and socialism in General. , The concealed preparation of the change of the political system.

5. In the media on behalf of the people required: the abolition of the leadership of the party of economic and political life, ad HRC a criminal organization, a ban on its activities, the dissolution of the state security and militia. (The people’s militia – preserved since 1948, the name of the party armed working teams, reporting directly to the Secretary-General of the Central Committee.)

6. Across the country there were different “clubs” (“Club 231”, “Club of active non-party”) and other organizations, the main aim of which was to tarnish the country’s history after 1945, to rally the opposition to anti-constitutional propaganda. By mid-1968, the interior Ministry received about 70 applications for registration of new organizations and associations. So, the “Club 231” (under article 231 of the Law on the protection of the Constitution, was punished by anti-state and unconstitutional activity) was established in Prague on 31 March 1968, even though he had permission from the interior Ministry. The club United more than 40 thousand people, among whom were former criminal and state criminals. As noted by the newspaper “rude pravo”, the number of club members were former Nazis, SS, golanova, puppet Ministers “Slovak state”, the representatives of the reactionary clergy. At one of the meetings the Secretary General of the club Jaroslav Brodsky said: — “the best Communist is a dead Communist, and if he’s still alive, he should pull his feet”. Businesses and various organizations were created branches of the club who were called “Societies for the protection of speech and press”.

7. One of the most prominent anti-constitutional materials can be considered the appeal of the underground organization “Revolutionary Committee of democratic party of Slovakia”, issued in June, organizations and enterprises of the city of Svit. It was put forward demands: to disband collective farms and cooperatives to distribute land to peasants, to hold elections under the control of Britain, USA, Italy and France, to stop press criticism of Western countries, and focus on the Soviet Union to allow legal activity existed in Czechoslovakia bourgeois political parties, to join in 1968 “Transcarpathian Rus” to Czechoslovakia. The proclamation ended with the appeal: “the Death of the Communist party!”

French weekly “Express” may 6 gave the statement of the editor of the foreign Department of the newspaper “Literarni sheets” Antonina Lima: “Today Czechoslovakia is the question of the seizure of power”. Underground revived the activities of the Social democratic party and the labor Party.

8. In order to create a counterweight to the Warsaw Pact has been revived the idea of creating the little Entente as a regional bloc of the socialist and capitalist States and buffer between the great powers. Publications on this theme was picked up by the Western media. Notable was the remark of an analyst of the French newspaper Le Figaro: “the Geographical position of Czechoslovakia may turn it in the bolt of the Warsaw Pact, the Pact, and in the gap, opening the whole military system of the Eastern bloc”. In may a group of members of the Prague political-military Academy published “Comments to the action plan of the Czechoslovak people’s army”. The authors suggested that “the withdrawal of Czechoslovakia from the Warsaw Pact or perhaps joint action of Czechoslovakia from other socialist countries for the elimination of the Warsaw Pact as a whole and its replacement by a system of bilateral relations.” Alternatively, there was a proposal to take a position “consistent neutrality” in foreign policy.

Serious attacks from positions of “common economic calculation” was made against the Council for Mutual Economic assistance.

9. On 14 June the Czechoslovak opposition invited the famous “Sovietologist” Zbigniew Brzezinski to speak at the Prague lectures in which he outlined his strategy of “liberalization”, called for the destruction of the HRC, as well as the elimination of the police and state security. According to him, he fully “supported the Czechoslovak interesting experiment.”

A direct blow to the national interests of Czechoslovakia were calling for “rapprochement” with Germany, expressed not only in media but also in the speeches of some leaders of the country.

10. It’s not limited to only words.

The Western border of Czechoslovakia was opened, began to liquidate the border barriers and fortifications. At the direction of the Minister of state security Pavel identified by counterintelligence spies of Western countries are not detained, and gave them the opportunity to leave. (In 1969, the authorities of Czechoslovakia, Paul was put on trial and executed.)

The activities of foreign governments, military and media

This period was the Advisory meeting of representatives of NATO countries, which examined possible actions to bring Czechoslovakia from the socialist camp. The United States expressed readiness to exert influence on Czechoslovakia on the question of the loan from the capitalist countries, using the interest of Czechoslovakia in return for her gold reserves.

11. In 1968 its activities in Czechoslovakia intensified the Vatican. His guide had recommended to direct the activities of the Catholic Church to merge with the movement for “independence” and “liberalization”, and to take on the role of the “support and freedom in Eastern Europe”, focusing on Czechoslovakia, Poland and GDR.

12. The population of Czechoslovakia persistently instills the idea that from Germany there is no danger of revanchism doesn’t exist that you can think about returning to the country of the Sudeten Germans. The newspaper “the General Anzeiger”(Germany) wrote: “the Sudeten Germans will expect of Czechoslovakia liberated from communism, a return to the Munich agreement, which in the autumn of 1938 the Sudetenland was ceded to Germany.” In the program of the National democratic party of Germany one of the paragraphs read: “the Sudetenland to become German again, because they were bought by Nazi Germany under the Munich agreement, which is effective international agreement”. This program actively supported the “Fraternity of the Sudeten Germans” and the neo-fascist organization “Witcobond”.

And the editor of the Czech trade Union newspaper “Pratsya” Irick stated by the German television: — “our country is home To about 150 thousand Germans. It is hoped that the remaining 100-200 thousand would return home later”. Of course, no one and nowhere recalled the persecution of the Sudeten Germans by the Czechs.

13. In correspondence of the Agency ADN reported that the officers of the Bundeswehr has repeatedly sent to Czechoslovakia with intelligence purposes. This applies primarily to the officers of the 2nd army corps, connections which were stationed near the border of Czechoslovakia. Later it became known that in the course of preparation to planned for autumn teaching German troops “Black lion” the entire command structure of the 2nd corps, to the commander of a battalion inclusive, visited Czechoslovakia as tourists and drove along probable routes of movement of their parts. With the beginning of the “exercises” were planned to be short throw to occupy the territory annexed by Germany in 1938, and put the international community before the fact. The calculation was based on the fact that if the USSR and the USA were not at war because Israel captured in 1967 of Arab territories, and it will not be now.

14. To create in Czechoslovakia a situation that would facilitate the exit of Czechoslovakia from the Warsaw Pact, the NATO Council has developed a program called “Zephyr”.

Article in Finnish newspaper “Paiwan Sanomat” on 6 September 1968 it was reported that in the area of Regensburg (FRG) “has worked and continues to function on to track of the events in Czechoslovakia. In July started to operate a special Center for monitoring and control, which American officers called “Staff strike group”. In its structure more than 300 employees, including officers-intelligence officers and policy advisers. Centre three times a day reported information about the situation in Czechoslovakia to the NATO headquarters”. Interesting the comment of the representative of NATO headquarters: — “Although the invasion of the Warsaw Pact into Czechoslovakia and the conclusion of the Moscow agreement, a special centre has not decided the issues before him, his work still has been and continues to be a valuable experience for the future.”

Thus, by the spring of 1968, the socialist countries faced a choice:
— allow opposition forces to push Czechoslovakia from the socialist path;
— open to a potential enemy the road to the East, jeopardize not only the troops of the Warsaw Pact but also the end of the Second world war;

— forces of Commonwealth countries to protect the socialist system in Czechoslovakia and to assist the development of its economy;
once and for all put an end to the Munich policy of rejecting all claims of the heirs of the revanchist war.
— to put a barrier in front of the new “Drang nach Osten”, to show the world that nobody will be able to redraw post-war borders, established in the result of the struggle of many Nations against fascism.

15. Based on the current conditions, in late July, 1968, was selected second. However, if the leadership of the Communist party of Czechoslovakia showed no such weakness and tolerance for enemies of the ruling party and the existing political system, nothing like this would be. The military-political leadership of the USSR and other Warsaw Pact countries followed closely the events in Czechoslovakia and tried to bring their assessment to the authorities of Czechoslovakia. Met senior leadership of the Warsaw Pact countries in Prague, Dresden, Warsaw, Cierna nad Tisou. During the meeting the parties discussed the current situation, Czech authorities were given recommendations, but to no avail.

16. In late July at the meeting in Cierna nad Tisou A. Dubceka it was stated that in case of refusal to carry out the recommended actions of the troops of the socialist countries will be included in Czechoslovakia. Dubcek not only failed to take any action, but not brought this warning to members of the Central Committee and the government. From a military point of view, other solutions could not be. The rejection of the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia, and especially the whole country from the Warsaw Pact and its Alliance with NATO was put under flank attack groupings of troops of the Commonwealth in the GDR, Poland and Hungary. Potential adversary has direct access to the border of the Soviet Union.

17. From the memoirs of the commander of the alpha group of KGB of the USSR, Hero of the Soviet Union, major General retired Zaitsev Gennady Nikolaevich (in 1968 — the team leader of the 7th Directorate of the KGB during the operation “Danube”):

“At that period, the situation in Czechoslovakia was as follows.

… To the fore began to leave not even the “progressives” of the HRC, a non-partisan forces — members of various “social” and “political” clubs, which is different from the orientation to the West and the hatred of the Russian. June was the beginning of a new phase of aggravation of the situation in Czechoslovakia and the leadership of the HRC, and in mid-August, the team Oak-check completely lost control over the situation in the country.

It is also noteworthy that some leaders of the “Prague spring” thought that the sympathy of the West certainly materialists in the form of hard anti-Soviet position of the United States in the event of a military action by the Soviet Union.”

18. The task was: the group led by G. N. Zaitseva to enter the Ministry of internal Affairs of Czechoslovakia and to bring it under control. Minister of interior I. Paul managed to escape the night before. According to numerous testimonies, Paul I. the development of the “Prague spring” gradually eliminated the public security organs, getting rid of Communist cadres and supporters of Moscow. Their employees, trying to work to neutralize the so-called “progressives” (Club of non-party activists and organization K-231), he was threatened with reprisals. Until the decision of the government, they were ordered to immediately stop jamming foreign broadcasts and to dismantle the equipment.

19. … The documents contained information that the Minister of internal Affairs I. Paul and head of Department of the Central Committee General Prchlik “has prepared the project of creation of the steering Center, which should take all state power into their own hands during a time of political tension in the country.” The same was said about the implementation of the “preventive security measures against the actions of conservative forces, including the establishment of labor camps.” In other words, the country held a hidden, but very real preparation for the establishment of concentration camps, where they were to be locked up all opposition to the regime “with a human face” of the force… But if we add to this the Herculean efforts of some foreign special services and agents of influence of the West intending at any cost to detach Czechoslovakia from the Eastern bloc, the overall picture of events did not look as straightforward as we are trying to assure.

20. … How managed to capture not a small European country in the shortest possible time and with minimal losses? A significant role in this course of events played neutral position of the Czechoslovak army (and it is about 200 thousand people, armed in the time, modern military equipment). I want to emphasize that General Martin Dzur in the very difficult situation played a key role. But the main reason for the small number of victims was the behavior of Soviet soldiers, who showed in Czechoslovakia striking restraint.

… According to Czech historians, when troops killed about a hundred people and injured and injured nearly a thousand.

21. I am sure, that in that period another way out of the crisis simply did not exist. In my opinion, the results of the “Prague spring” is very instructive. If not for the hard actions of the USSR and its allies, the Czech leadership, immediately after passing the stage of “socialism with a human face” would have been in the arms of the West. The Warsaw Pact would have lost a strategically important state in Central Europe, NATO would have been at the borders of the USSR. Let’s be honest: the operation in Czechoslovakia gave to the world two generations of Soviet children. Or not? After “releasing” Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union inevitably would be faced with a Domino effect. Would be unrest broke out in Poland and Hungary. Then would come the turn of the Baltic States, and after it.”.


22. On the night of 21 August the troops of five Warsaw Pact countries entered Czechoslovakia, the Prague airport landed troops. The troops were ordered not to open fire until they are fired. The column was at higher speeds, the stopped car was pushed off the roadway so as not interfere with the movement. By morning, all the advanced military units of the Commonwealth was released in specified areas. Czechoslovak troops were ordered out of the barracks not to go. Their military camps were blocked with armored vehicles were filmed batteries, tractors blended fuel.

23. Interestingly, in early August, representatives of the militia groups met with their commander A. Dubceka and issued an ultimatum: either he changes the policy, or August 22 national police put the control of all important objects, will take power into their own hands, it will slip from the post of Secretary General and will require the convening of the party Congress. Dubcek listened to them but did not answer anything specific. Most importantly, he didn’t tell his subordinate personally to the commanders of the armed detachments of the party about the ultimatum he had received in Cierna nad Tisou from the leaders of the GDR, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and the USSR. Apparently, something expected. And when the troops of the Warsaw Pact entered Czechoslovakia on August 21 that the leadership of groups and the rank and file Communists considered it an insult. They believed they could do to cope with the situation in the country, without the input of foreign troops. Experience has shown that if they overestimated their strength. Only after the defeat of the opposition in August 1969, the opponents of the regime have long gone underground.

The attitude of the local population

24. First, the attitude of the local population to the military of the Commonwealth was poor. Drugged hostile propaganda, duplicitous behavior of the first persons of the state, the lack of information about the true causes of invasion, and sometimes intimidated by the local opposition people not only looked askance at foreign soldiers. In the car the stones were flying, at night the location of troops fired from small arms. The roads were demolished, the signs and signs and walls of houses are painted with slogans such as “Occupiers go home!”, “Arrows of the invaders!” etc.

Sometimes in a military unit secretly came to the locals and asked what was the Soviet troops. And okay, some Russian came, and then another, and “Caucasians” from “gook” brought. In the center of Europe(!) people were surprised that the Soviet army was multinational.

The actions of the opposition forces

25. The entry of allied troops showed the strength of the Czech opposition and their foreign masterminds that hopes to seize power collapsed. However, they decided not to give up and called for armed resistance. In addition to attacks on vehicles, helicopters and locations of the allied troops, began terrorist attacks against the Czech workers party bodies and employees of special services. The evening edition of British newspaper “Sunday times” on 27 August published an interview with one of the leaders of the underground. He said that by August, “underground consisted of about 40 thousand people, armed with automatic weapons”. Many of the weapons were secretly supplied from the West, primarily from Germany. However, the advantage failed.


27. In the first days after the entry of the allied forces, in cooperation with the Czech security bodies of the plurality of caches and cellars seized several thousand rifles, a hundred machine guns and grenade launchers. Was discovered even mortars. So, even in the Prague house of journalists, the management of which was carried out very opposition figures, was discovered 13 guns, 81 machine guns and 150 boxes of ammunition. In early 1969, in the Tatra mountains were found ready concentration camp. Who built it and for whom, at that time was unknown.

Information-psychological war

28. Another indication of the existence of Czechoslovakia organized the anti-constitutional forces is the fact that by 8 o’clock on the 21st of August in all regions of the country began to operate a clandestine radio station, some days up to 30-35 units were Used not only radio, pre-installed on vehicles, trains and in secret shelters, but the instrument is captured in the bodies of the MoEHE, at the offices of the Union for cooperation with the army (like DOSAAF in USSR), to large rural farms. Clandestine radio transmitters were integrated into the system, which determines the time and duration of work. SWAT teams found operating radio stations, deployed in homes, hidden in the vaults of the heads of various organizations. There are also radios in special bags together with schedules transmission of waves at different times of the day. Set is applied to the station antenna to work. Radio stations and four channels underground channels spread false information, rumors, calls for the elimination of the soldiers of the allied forces, sabotage, sabotage. They also transmit the encrypted information and the coded signals for the forces of the underground.

29. This “choir” fits the West German radio transmitters 701 battalion of psychological warfare.

Soviet radionuclidic surprised at first that a number of anti-government stations planguide in the West, but their guesses on 8 September confirmed the magazine “stern” (Germany). The journal reported that on 23 August the newspaper “Literarni sheets”, and behind it, and clandestine radio reported that “allied troops fired at the children’s hospital at Karlovo square. Broken Windows, ceilings, expensive medical equipment…” the Reporter on the television of Germany rushed to the area, but the hospital building was intact. According to the magazine “stern”, “this false information was passed with Czech and West German territory.” The magazine noted that the events of these days “provided the perfect opportunity for practical training 701 battalion”.

30. If the first leaflets with the message of the entry of the allied forces issued an official power or the party and the printers, for the next any output was not. In many cases, texts and calls in different parts of the country were the same.

A change of scenery

31. Slowly but the situation is changing.

Was formed by the Central group of troops, Soviet military units began to settle in the liberated for them by the Czech military camps, where chimneys were littered with bricks, clogged sewer, and the glass shattered. In April 1969, A. Dubcek was replaced by Gustav Husak, the new leadership of the country. Were enacted emergency laws, which, in particular, shows the Russian fist “cost” up to three months imprisonment and provoked a fight with the Russians – six. At the end of 1969, in garrison, where the battalion built housing, servicemen were allowed to bring family. The construction of housing for families continued until 1972.

32. So, what are these “occupiers” who sacrificed his life to killed civilians were not shot at the most arrogant provocation, was saved by unknown people from a massacre? Who lived in hangars and warehouses, and bunks, even in the officer and female (nurses, typists, waitresses) hostels, stood in two tiers? Who preferred to act not as soldiers, but as agitators, explaining to the population situation and its objectives?


The invasion of Czechoslovakia by troops of the Warsaw Pact was a necessary measure aimed at preserving the unity of the socialist countries, as well as to prevent exit of NATO troops on the borders of the USSR.

33. The Soviet soldiers are not occupiers and not behave as invaders. No matter how pathetic it sounds, but in August 1968, they defended their country on the front lines of the camp of socialism. Set the army the task was accomplished with minimal losses.

34. Whatever may be said of the modern scientists, but in that situation, the government of the USSR and other socialist countries made a decision adequate to the situation. Even the current generation of Czechs should be grateful to the Soviet army for the fact that the Sudetenland was part of Czechoslovakia and the state exists in its present borders.

“Field notes”

35. But what is interesting and raises questions.

The soldiers, who were the first(!) was called the “Soldiers-internationalists”, such in Russia is not even recognized, even by Order of the Minister of defence Marshal Grechko No. 242 of 17.10.1968 it was gratitude for the fulfillment of international duty. By order of the Minister of defense of the USSR № 220 from 05.07.1990 G. “a List of States, cities, territories and periods of warfare with participation of citizens of the Russian Federation” was supplemented by the Republic of Cuba. For unknown reasons, Czechoslovakia (only!) the list was not included, and, as a consequence, the relevant documents were not given to former servicemen, carrying out international duty in the country.

36. Repeatedly at various levels was discussed whether or not to admit members of the operation as the soldiers and combat veterans.

A group of scientists, analyzing the available for studying the materials and after meeting with the direct participants of the events in Czechoslovakia, said that “in 1968 in Czechoslovakia was carried out superbly planned and flawlessly implemented forces combat operation, in which it was conducted is fighting. Both from the point of view of military science, and real world application of forces and means”. And the soldiers and officers who performed their duty during operation “Danube”, have every right to be called soldiers-internationalists and fall under the category of “combatant”.

37. However, the Ministry of defense of Russia does not recognize them as such, and the questions and requests of regional organizations participating in the operation “Danube” replied that there was only “clashes”, and declared gratitude to them for “performing international duty” and not for participation in hostilities.

38. Meanwhile, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine included Czechoslovakia in the corresponding list, and the President issued Decree No. 180/2004 from the city of 11.02.2004 “On the day of honoring combatants in the territory of other States.” According to the Decree, former soldiers and officers who took part in the defense of sozdavaemoi in Czechoslovakia in 1968, established the status of “combatant”, “war Veteran” and given privileges within the Law of Ukraine “On status of war veterans, guarantees of their social protection”.

39. To date, the youngest participants in the operation “Danube” already for 64 years, and every year their ranks become less frequent. The latter, according to the author, treatment of only the Rostov organization participating in the operation “Danube” were sent to the Minister of defence of the Russian Federation in January of this year. Wait, that will meet the new Minister.

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