Czechoslovakia 1945 and 1968

During the 20th century, Czechoslovakia experienced two invasions by the Soviet Union. The first was in the spring of 1945 when the Soviet Union liberated Czechoslovakia from fascist Germany. The second was 23 years later in August 1968 when the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact countries “liberated” Czechoslovakia to stop the democratization of the country and restore it back to communist rule.

The Prague Offensive was the last Soviet military operation of WWII. The offensive was fought from 6 May to 11 May 1945 which continued after Germany’s unconditional surrender on May 8. As the massive Soviet juggernaut rolled westward, German units retreated towards the west to surrender to the American forces rather than be captured by the revengeful Soviet Army. The capital city of Prague was ultimately liberated by the Soviets and all of the German troops of Army Group Centre (Heeresgruppe Mitte) and many of Army Group Ostmark (formerly Army Group South) were KIA, captured by the Allies or managed to escape.

IS-2 tank number 19 of the 78th Guards Heavy Tank Regiment of the 76th Guards Heavy Tank Brigade. The inscription on the gun barrel translates to: “Our cause is right – we will win!”
The rhombus diamond was the Russian staff sign for tanks and this was the tactical marking of the 76th Guards Heavy Tank Brigade.
This is my close up of the turret markings of IS-2 number 19. The star on the shield tactical marking in the center probably belonged to the 78th Guards Heavy Tank regiment (not confirmed).
IS-2, white or yellow 18 of the 76th Guards Heavy Tank Brigade, 1st Guards Cavalry-Mechanized Group, probably taken somewhere near or in Velké Meziříčí, May 1945. On the center rear of the turret probably is the 78th Guards Heavy Tank regiment tactical marking which is too small to make out.
The same IS-2 number 18 of the 76th Guards Heavy Tank Brigade in Jihlava (west of Velké Meziříčí), May 1945.
This is the corner of Komenského and Masarykovo Nám in Jihlava today facing northeast.
German support vehicles parked in Husovo náměstí (square) in Česká Skalice on 8 May 1945. This unit had left the town along with the Gestapo garrison around 1400 hours that day. In the foreground to the left is a captured British Scammel PioneerSV/25 with a German modified cab and behind it is a Fiat 626L truck. The building in the background with the tower is the town hall.
This view is from the southeast corner of Husovo náměstí in Česká Skalice today facing west.
This Jagdpanzer 38 was one of four AFVs captured by Czech insurgents on 9 May 1945 in Česká Skalice. It entered the southeast corner of Husovo náměstí from Zelená street. Around 1920 hours it opened fire in the town for the last time before being captured. These two photos were taken on the following day, May 10th.
This is another view of the same Jagdpanzer 38. Besides four AFVs, the insurgents captured around 60 cars and 60 heavy and 55 light machine guns. To the right is west on Husovo náměstí with the town hall at the far end.
This view is the southeast corner of Husovo náměstí facing south look down Zelená street today. The building which the Jagdpanzer 38 was parked in front of has been torn down long ago and was located where the trees are on the left.
This T-34/85 passes through the intersection of Masarykova, Brněnská and Pařížská streets in Ústí nad Labem on 9 May 1945. The truck parked in the background on the right is on Pařížská street and the T-34 was traveling south on Masarykova. This T-34 probably belonged to the 6th Guards Mechanized Corps of the 4th Guards Tank Army.
This is the intersection in Ústí nad Labem today. The yellow car is about where the T-34 was.
This is my close up of the T-34/85’s turret from above. There is an unidentified mount or something in front of the loader’s hatch.
These are T-34/85s of the 6th Guards Mechanized Corps. Note the tactical markings on the turret side appear to be the same. A yellow or white triangle was painted on the loaders hatches of these T-34s which probably was an aerial recognition marking.
A camouflaged Geschützwagen 38M für s.I.G.33/2 (Sf.) “Grille” from Kampfgruppe “Milowitz” followed by a Škoda Superb Kfz.15 (license plate S-503179) was in the last column leaving central Prague on the morning of 9 May 1945. They were heading south on Saratovská street approaching the intersection with Mrštíkova street.
Kampfgruppe “Milowitz” was one of five Kampfgruppen which unsuccessfully attempted to open Prague for the retreat of Heeresgruppe Mitte. It fought against Czech patriots/soldiers in Prague between 5-8 May. The Kampfgruppe also had some Hetzer “Starr” (Jagdpanzer 38) which only 14 were produced by Škoda. This is probably a Hetzer “Starr” passing the same location.
This is the same location on Saratovská street in Prague today. Since then an apartment (flats) complex with private balconies has been built between the two buildings. Note the graffiti painted on the walls and the bars on the windows.
This Sd.Kfz. 6/2 mounting a 3.7cm Flak 36 gun was abandoned at the corner of Mrštíkova and Starostrašnická streets in Strašnice, Prague on 9 May 1945. It is facing east on Mrštíkova street which is one block west of Saratovská street where the “Grille”, Superb and Hetzer had passed in the photos above.
This is another view of the same Sd.Kfz. 6/2 probably taken from a second story window of the building to the right. Note the folded down windshield frame has no glass. There is also a spare tire on the left rear corner of the gun platform.
This is the corner of Mrštíkova and Starostrašnická streets in Prague today facing west.
This T-34/85 of the 31st Tank Corps entered what is currently named Mírové nám (square) in Dobříš in May 1945. The turret number is probably “C 518” since another T-34 in a same series of photos had turret number “C 516”. The soldiers had unfurled a couple of large flags.
This is the same location at the east end of Mírové square in Dobříš today facing northeast.
A SU-76M carrying soldiers and refugees entered the town square of Lysá nad Labem in May 1945.
This is the east end of the town square in Lysá nad Labem today facing west. The same tower of Kostel Narození svatého Jana Křtitele (Church of the Birth of St. John the Baptist) can be seen in the background.
Just before noon on 10 May 1945, this captured T-34/76 mod. 1943 entered the town square of Trhové Sviny and caused a large commotion. Accompanied by German troops, a Schwimmwagen and horse drawn wagons, it stopped to refuel. Note the two women in uniform sitting on the turret.
This abandoned trailer was hitched to the T-34 and was loaded with soldiers and refugees before leaving the town to continue moving west.
This is the location in the town square of Trhové Sviny today. The full grown trees in the square to the right prevented a head on view of the buildings.
These ISU-122 SPs are parked in front of the local school in Neratovice in May 1945. Note the large tactical numbers 1956 and 1970. Other SPs in this unit had tactical numbers 1947 (or 1941), 1944, 1948, 1950, 1953, 1958 (or 1978) and probably 1951.

Film: Prague Liberated (1945)

Film: Освобождение Чехословакии /Liberation of Czechoslovakia (1945)

PRAGUE SPRING 1968

In early 1968, a mass protest “Prague Spring” was led by Alexander Dubček, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ). He introduced reforms which granted additional rights to the citizens of Czechoslovakia in an act of partial decentralization of the economy and administrative authority which was the start of democratization. The freedoms granted included lessening restrictions on the media, speech and travel. Relations with western countries were also opened which was not tolerated by the Soviets.

The Soviet leadership at first tried to stop or limit the impact of Dubček’s initiatives through a series of negotiations. The Czechoslovak and Soviet Presidium agreed to a bilateral meeting to be held in July 1968 at Čierna nad Tisou, near the Slovak-Soviet border. The meeting was the first time the Soviet Presidium met outside Soviet territory. The negotiations proved unsatisfactory and the USSR began to consider a military alternative. The Soviet Union’s policy of compelling the socialist governments of its satellite states to subordinate their national interests to those of the Eastern Bloc (through military force if needed) became known as the Brezhnev Doctrine.

OPERATION DANUBE 1968

On the night of 20–21 August, Eastern Bloc Armies from four Warsaw Pact countries, the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Poland and Hungary, invaded Czechoslovakia (ČSSR) to bring an end to that country’s brief period of political liberalization called the Prague Spring.

There were rumors among the invading Warsaw Pact units that NATO and US 7th Army units positioned along the Czechoslovakia border had invaded and that they were liberating the Czechs. The Czechs opposition to the invasion was expressed in numerous acts of nonviolent resistance at first. In Prague and other cities throughout the republic, Czechs and Slovaks greeted Eastern Bloc soldiers with arguments and reproaches. Every form of assistance including the provision of food and water was denied to the invaders. Signs, placards, and graffiti drawn on walls and pavements denounced the invaders, the Soviet leaders, and suspected collaborationists. Czech citizens gave incorrect directions to invading soldiers and defaced or removed street signs (except those which pointed the direction back to Moscow). The Eastern Bloc soldiers had no idea why the Czechs were giving them the finger. Then the Czech resistance towards the invaders escalated when Czech citizens were killed or wounded. About 500,000 Eastern Bloc troops were involved in the invasion and occupation during which 137 Czechoslovakians had died and some 500+ were wounded.

These are Soviet T-54 tanks indicated by the mushroom shaped dome vent on the turret roof and they are carrying the ordered invasion stripes for the invasion.
This column of Soviet T-55 tanks is advancing along a Czechoslovakian street which shows signs of capitalism. Note the FOTO KING sign on the building in the background.
This is my close up of the T-55 turret from the photo above. There is something attached to the face of the Luna L-2G infrared searchlight or it has a white stripe applied.
This is a column of Soviet T-10M heavy tanks standing along a street. Passing the tanks in the opposite direction are ZIL-157 Fuel cistern trucks (ATZ-3-157). Note the invasion stripes and the hatch on the roof of the truck’s cab.
This is a Soviet BTT-1 Recovery Tank (ISU-T). The BTT-1 was converted from WWII era ISU-122 assault guns. Some ISU-122S and ISU-152 were also converted. The main gun was removed and the front hull was closed by a large steel plate. A winch was mounted in the superstructure facing rearwards. The flatbed area on the engine deck was used to carry engineering equipment and some vehicles were fitted with a large A-frame crane that unfolded forward.
This Soviet BTR-152 Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) has the invasion stripe on the side hull.
This is a Ural-375D truck towing a trailer near or in Uherske Hradiste. Both the truck and the trailer carried the invasion stripe on their sides. The tarpaulin on the trailer appears to be custom made from three pieces of canvas sewn together.
Soviet T-55 number 513 on Námestie Slovenského národného povstania (SNP Square) in Bratislava. The truck parked to the left is a Praga V35 or S5T.
Soviet T-55 number 522 with T-55 number 528 behind it on SNP Square in Bratislava. Tank 522 is missing a section of its front right fender. The car in the background is a Škoda 1000MB.
This is SNP Square in Bratislava today. In the background is the Old Cathedral of Saint John of Matha and Saint Felix of Valois. In the upper center of the photo, the roof of the building does actually have a white arrow pointing down painted on it as part of some adverisement. The white car at the cross walk is about where the Škoda 1000MB was.
A soviet BTR-60PA number 551 in white parked near the new town hall in Ostrava. The crew climbing on and off the APC had worn off the upper part of the invasion stripe on the hull side.
This is the corner of 30. dubna and Prokešovo nám. just west of the New City Hall in Ostrava today.
Some Czech residents show their disapproval of the Soviet Army by marking up their vehicles. This Soviet T-10M heavy tank had been covered with graffiti and patriotic slogans.
This T-10M is covered with some offensive graffiti and signs labeling the Soviets as being Nazis.
This Soviet T-62 tank crashes into a building in Liberec Square.

Film: RUSKÉ TANKY V LIBERCI 1968-film

To impede the Soviet invasion, Czechs placed abandoned cars and other vehicles across streets as makeshift barriers. This Soviet ASU-85 Airborne SP crushes this wheel-less car which is blocking the street.
This Soviet T-55 tank climbs over a crushed street tram that was blocking the street.
Soviet T-54 tank number 212 rolls up a barricade of trucks and buses in front of the Czechoslovak Radio building.
A close up of T-54 tank number 212 crushing a bus.
T-54 tank number 212 moved pass the burning barricade. Note that it does not have the splash guard mounted on the front hull and the lower part of the invasion stripe is partlially obscured on the left.
While some older Czech residents are waving a Czechoslovakian flag, others threw Molotov cocktails in an attempt to stop T-54 tank number 212.
Czech residents carrying a tree forward to throw onto the burning barricade to stop the advancing tank.
This T-54 has succumb to the flames and is completely on fire. Smoke is bellowing out of the gun barrel. The crew most likely were able to abandon the burning tank in time. This T-54 could have been number 212 (see above) as it does not have the splash guard mounted on the front hull and the invasion stripe is partially obscured.

Film: PRAGUE SPRING 1968 SOVIET INVASION OF CZECHOSLOVAKIA RAW NEWSREEL FOOTAGE

Film: Prague Spring 1968

Film: Prague spring 1968 – Warsaw Pact tanks in Praha (Пражская весна)

Film: Soviet or Russian tanks on the streets of Prague

There were a few friendly fire incidents that occurred among the Warsaw Pact units during the invasion. The worst took place when the 6th Guards Tank Division and the 7th Guards Tank Division (GTD), both equipped with a mixture of T-54 and T-55 tanks, ran into each other. The 6th GTD had not painted their tanks with the invasion stripes as ordered while the 7th GTD had done so. When the 7th GTD tanks encountered the unmarked 6th GTD tanks, they assumed they were Czechoslavakian resistance and immediately engaged them. Several tanks were destroyed before the commanders realized the error and were able to order cease fire. The 7th GTD was sent back to Roßlau, East Germany supposedly in disgrace while the 6th GTD was ordered to quickly paint the invasion stripes on their tanks.

The last incident occurred on August 21 when a Bulgarian airborne unit arrived to secure the Prague main airport. Two Bulgarian ASU-85 SP guns were guarding the main road to the airport when all of a sudden a tank roared out of a side road and barrelled head on towards the airport main entrance. Both of the SPs opened fire which blew up the advancing tank sending its turret flying through the air. Having heard the rumors of US forces opposing the invasion, the Bulgarians thought they had destroyed a US M48 Patton tank but on closer examination of the burning hulk they recognized the turret was from a Soviet tank. It was the lead Soviet tank of a column that was trying to link up with the Bulgarians. The Bulgarian airborne unit was relieved of duty and escorted back to Bulgaria under close Soviet supervision.

A Soviet ASU-85 SP on the streets of Prague. The invasion began with the 103rd
Guards Airborne Division landing at the airport in Prague and captured it.

AND THE MUSIC STOPPED. . .

Many famous people just happened to be in Prague when the Warsaw Pact Armies invaded. Among them was the British band the Moody Blues, UK singer Shirley Bassey and French singer Françoise Hardy, who were all filming an episode of the TV show Europarty on Prague locations. Czech singer Marta Kubisová was also in the episode.

The Moody Blues were filming their segment on August 20 just hours before the invasion. The band appeared on Charles Bridge and the steps to Kampa Island to perform two songs, their big hit “Nights in White Satin” and “Voices in the Sky.”

Shirley Bassey sang her big hit, the theme song of the 1964 James Bond movie “Goldfinger” at a construction site. Her second song, “What Now My Love” was recorded on the steps of the Czech National Museum which the Soviet invaders later had mistaken as the Czech Parliament and fired upon it. Film clips showed the calm of Wenceslas Square in Prague just before the invasion. Her third song, “Big Spender” features her singing as she walked down Národní třída pasting pedestrians and shops with full shelves.

HOLLYWOOD MOVIE FILMING INTERRUPTED

“The Bridge At Remagen” starring George Segal, Robert Vaughn and Ben Gazzara.

United Artists producers took advantage of a political loop hole to film on location in Czechoslovakia during the 1968 Prague Spring movement which opened up the country to the West. The producers picked the small town of Davle just south of Prague because a local bridge best resembled the Ludendorff Bridge (before its destruction) at Remagen as well as the presence of skilled film staff including stunt performers and prop men. In March 1968, Davle was transformed into a movie set with its residents mingling with Hollywood stars dressed in US Army and Nazi military uniforms with tanks and other military vehicles. Replica buildings and structures were built imitating those in Remagen, a town on the Rhine river in Germany 1945.

Around 800 of Davle residents were used as extras portraying US 1st Army soldiers, German soldiers and civilians including several school children dressed up as Hitler Youth. There were piles of dead soldier mannequins that the filmmakers would distribute around the sets during the filming. The Austrian Army supplied the M24 Chaffee tanks (retired from Austrian service) and the Czech Army supplied Praga RN trucks and OT-810 halftracks (post WWII Czechoslovakian version of the Sd.Kfz. 251 built by Praga and Tatra).

The military vehicles used in the movie were stored near Davle at this site along the Vltava river.

During the shooting of a scene in which the bridge was being bombed, a horse was spooked and fell through the railings into the river below. Many thought the horse would had drown but rescuers managed to reach and save the animal in time.

Film: Natácanie filmu Most u Remagenu

One US vehicle column was shot on film as it raced to the bridge used in the movie to simulate the Rhine bridge capture. The movie column ran head-on into a column of very contemporary T-54 and T-55 tanks coming from the opposite direction. The Soviet tank crews were stunned to suddenly see the US Army in front of them and were about to engage the American column. Negotiations began which lasted for several hours. After some time, the invading Soviets finally understood they were facing actors filming a movie and not the expected imperialist cutthroats and moved pass the American movie column.

Movies Clip: The Bridge at Remagen (1969) “starting scene”

The shooting of the movie was immediately interrupted and the whole film crew and all the actors were rushed back towards the West by taxis leaving behind all the M24 tanks, vehicles and other movie props. The Soviets made good use of the movie props. Film makers from Moscow were rushed to the town and they created propaganda films to show the Soviet public images of American tanks and Nazi vehicles just 20 km (12 miles) from Prague to justify the invasion.

In late 1968, the US film crew were allowed to come to back to Davle briefly to take a few necessary shots. The film was completed at alternate locations in West Germany and Italy and was released in the United States in 1969.

Full Movie: The Bridge At Remagen

The Prague Spring resulted in the country to be split into two, the Czech Socialist Republic and Slovak Socialist Republic. This dual federation was the only formal change that survived the 1968 invasion. It was not until the non-violent Velvet Revolution (17 November to 29 December 1989) which ended Communist rule in Czechoslovakia and subsequently led to the dismantling of the command economy and the conversion to a parliamentary republic. Two years later, the USSR was dissolved on 26 December 1991.

Video: T-55 Tanks in Prague for a movie about the Soviet 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia

MODEL KITS AND DECALS

1/35:

Trumpeter 05524 German Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer Starr – 2011

PlusModel 103 Škoda superb 3000 typ 952 Kübelwagen Kfz 15

Dragon 6787 JSU-122 vs Panzerjäger (3 in 1) JSU-122, JSU-122S or JSU-152 – 2020

Tamiya 35289 Russian heavy tank JS-2 Model 1944 ChKz – 2007

Tamiya 35303 Russian Heavy Self-Propelled Gun JSU-152 – 2009

MR Modellbau MR-35366 Recovery Tank BTT-1 (ISU-T) Detail set
(FOR TAMIYA KIT 35303) – 2015

Trumpeter 01027 Russian URAL-375D – 2015

Meng Model TS-018 Soviet T-10M Heavy Tank – 2015
Trumpeter 05546 Soviet T-10M Heavy Tank – 2015

Star Decals 35-C1131 T-55 in Prague ’68 – 2018

Bison Decals 35207 Czechoslovakia 1968 #2

1/48:

Tamiya 32571 Russian Heavy Tank JS-2 Model 1944 ChKZ – 2012

Tamiya 32598 T-55 Russian Medium Tank – 2020

Star Decals 48B1001 T-55A Tanks # 1 Cold War

1/72:

Italeri 7040 JS-2 Stalin – 2006

ZV Models 72004 Ural-375D – 199x

Trumpeter 07154 Soviet T-10M Heavy Tank

Bison Decals 72047 Czechoslovakia 1968 Part 1
Russian T-55A, T-62A, BTR-152, Russian Gaz-69

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