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.
Film: Prague Liberated (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.
Film: Prague Spring 1968
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.
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).
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.
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.
MODEL KITS AND DECALS
Trumpeter 05524 German Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer Starr – 2011
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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
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
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