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Third Czechoslovak Republic

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Czechoslovak Republic

Československá republika
"Nad Tatrou sa blýska"
(English: "Lightning Over the Tatras")
Location of Czechoslovakia
Common languagesCzech · Slovak
GovernmentParliamentary republic
• 1945–1948
Edvard Beneš
Prime Minister 
• 1945–1946
Zdeněk Fierlinger
• 1946–1948
Klement Gottwald
Historical eraCold War
April 1945
25 February 1948
1992127,900 km2 (49,400 sq mi)
• 1992
CurrencyCzechoslovak koruna
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia
Nazi Germany
Slovak Republic
Kingdom of Hungary
Fourth Czechoslovak Republic
Zakarpattia Oblast
Today part of

During World War II, Czechoslovakia disappeared from the map of Europe. The Third Czechoslovak Republic (Czech: Třetí Československá republika, Slovak: Tretia česko-slovenská republika) which emerged as a sovereign state was not only the result of the policies of the victorious Western allies, the French Fourth Republic, the United Kingdom and the United States, but also an indication of the strength of the Czechoslovak ideal embodied in the First Czechoslovak Republic. However, at the conclusion of World War II, Czechoslovakia fell within the Soviet sphere of influence, and this circumstance dominated any plans or strategies for postwar reconstruction. Consequently, the political and economic organisation of Czechoslovakia became largely a matter of negotiations between Edvard Beneš and Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ) exiles living in Moscow.

In February 1948, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia seized full power in a coup d'état. Although the country's official name remained the Czechoslovak Republic until 1960, when it was changed to the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, February 1948 is considered the end of the Third Republic.

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They were men without their own country, living split up among not one, but two mighty empires. But when the Great War came and those empires began to crumble, those men took up arms in the struggle, and fought so that one day they too would have their own nation. These were the men of the Czechoslovak Legions. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to a Great War special episode about the Czechoslovak Legions. First, I have to say that this is not about Czechs and Slovaks during and before the war and how their nation came to be, that is a topic for another day. This is about those men actually fighting the war, and how the Legions themselves came to be. Who were these men? Well, they were Czechs and Slovaks fighting in France, Italy, Russia, and even volunteering in Serbia. Why Legion? Since Czechoslovakia did not yet exist, these volunteers, not allowed to fight in the regular armies, fought in units that were officially part of the French Foreign Legion, that’s who also paid them. Going back a bit, and changing sides, the Czech situation within the Austro-Hungarian Empire was not ideal before the war. They hadn’t gotten the recognition that Hungary did, even though they were the industrial heart of the empire and its third largest nationality, and the largest Slavic one and Slavs were half the empire. The Bohemian crown lands were actually as well-developed as Germany or France were, unlike much of Austria-Hungary, so morale was fairly low among the Czechs when the war broke out. And of course the outbreak of war mean soon they were fighting fellow Slavs and even Czechs and Slovaks in Entente nations. Those men in those Entente nations weren’t yet Czechoslovak Legions but they’re worth mentioning - those volunteers in Serbia, the Rota Nazdar in France, and the Ceska Druzhina in Russia. The were a few Czech volunteers in the Serbian army from the beginning of the war, but by the 1916 reorganization of that army, there were hundreds of them, including many officers. Rota Nazdar was formed already August 31st, 1914 in France, though recruitment had begun a week earlier. It consisted of 314 Czech and 2 Slovak volunteers, who became an integrated company in a Moroccan Division of the French Foreign Legion. In June 1915 at Arras they suffered huge casualties and the company was disbanded and dispersed among other Foreign Legion regiments, however, they had laid the foundations for independent Czechoslovak armed forces. Over the next couple of years, Tomas Masaryk, future Czechoslovakian President, and General Milan Stefanik began to organize Czech and Slovak troops in France. In addition to this, whole units reported from Russia and Romania, and American Czechs and Slovaks arrived beginning in 1917. French President Raymond Poincaré signed the decree that allowed autonomous Czechoslovak units within the French army in December 1917, and the 21st and 22nd Rifle Regiments were soon established, forming the 1st Czechoslovakian Brigade, which fought over the summer of 1918 on the Western Front. In Italy the situation was different. The Italian army did not easily warm to the idea of Czechoslovak Legions. Before the war, there had only been a few hundred Czechs and Slovaks living in Italy anyhow, far fewer than were in France or Russia. See, for Italy to commit to the formation of a Czechoslovak legion would mean committing to the dissolution of the AH Empire, and initially, Italy only wanted land from AH, not the end of the empire. Still, many of the POWs Italy took were Czechs and Slovaks and by January 1917 there were Italian POW camps by nationality, and that month the Czechoslovak Corps of Volunteers was created, led by Brother Josef Chapek. These men were at first used as scouts for the Italian army, indeed, for all the armies in which they served, since they spoke German or Hungarian, and they knew AH tactics. They were great for gathering intelligence, though they didn’t have autonomous units in Italy until after the Italian defeat at Caporetto and intense negotiations by General Stefanik. In April 1918, Czechoslovak Military Forces in Italy were approved, by the end of the summer there were over 13,000 soldiers and over 480 officers in the Legion there, and the division saw heavy fighting at the front. Just after the war, the Czechoslovak Army Corps in Italy was formed, to fight for its new nation’s territorial integrity. Also, the Czechoslovakian National Guard was created there from former POWs just after an independent Czechoslovakia was recognized. It was 60,000 troops strong, still going home in 1919. Now, in Russia, over 100,000 Czechs and Slovaks were already living there before the war, many had Russian citizenship. At the very beginning of the war, those who wished to fight against Austria-Hungary formed Ceska Druzhina, which awould become the base for the future Legion there. They never operated as a whole unit, and were tasked with small attacks, getting enemy information, and convincing Czechs and Slovaks on the battlefield and in POW camps to change sides. There were also around hundreds of Czech and Slovak volunteers in the Serb volunteer Corps in Odessa. They wore Serbian uniforms and were under Serbian regulations. By 1916, since the Serbs had no plans for the Czechoslovak troops to have independent units, a majority of them left to join the Czechoslovak Rifle Brigade that formed in the Russian army that May. They wanted independent units with the belief that fighting for the Allies would get them support for their national aspirations. The problem with that had been that those who were still legally Austro-Hungarian citizens were breaking the 1907 Hague Convention and were technically traitors. The Tsar in particular, though he appreciated their bravery, saw them as traitors to a brother monarch and was a supporter of the Hague Convention, hence his hesitation to have volunteer forces of foreign nationals in his army. Masaryk argued that just the willingness to fight against the Central powers demonstrated loyalty, and that since the Central Powers used poison gas and unrestricted submarine warfare the Hague Convention was broken and the Entente could legally use Czechoslovakian soldiers against their former nations. The greatest moment for the Czechoslovak Legions advancing their cause was the fighting of the 1st Czechoslovak Rifle Brigade at the Battle of Zborov in July 1917. 3,500 men under Russian Colonel Trojanov were in the trenches holding a 6 kilometer line opposite a force of largely Czechs and Slovaks in the AH army. On July 2nd, the second day of the new Kerensky Offensive, the Legionaries attacked as shock troops. They breached the barbed wire, advanced deep into enemy territory, and took FOUR lines of trenches, 3,300 prisoners, and 20 big guns that day. That’s about as many prisoners as their whole unit’s size. Legion losses for the day were just 167 killed and around 900 wounded. This battle meant little for the war in general, but was a real milestone in legion history. The brigade gained international attention, and the battle did wonders for new recruiting, and for Masaryk’s negotiating position. An enlargement of the brigade followed and by October 1917 the Czechoslovak Army Corps was formed with two divisions and two artillery brigades. There were so many volunteers they even had a reserve brigade and a shock battalion. Soon Masaryk had set up an autonomous Czechoslovak Corps of more than 50,000 soldiers. This was declared part of the autonomous Czechoslovak Army, headquartered in France, in February 1918. However, the Russian Legion was going to have a hard time making its way to Western Europe. Ukraine signed a peace treaty with the Central Powers February 9th, and after Russia did the following month, it was too dangerous for the Legion to head to Archangel or Murmansk in the north, they couldn’t go west or south without reaching enemies, so they had to head east. This would mean crossing Siberia to reach Vladivostok and then around the world to fight in France. The Bolsheviks wanted to disarm the soldiers, though Josef Stalin, the chief Russian negotiator, drafted an agreement by which they were civilians that could carry some weapons as self-defense. Still, at every train station on the long route the Bolsheviks tried to demand more and more weapons from the Legionaries. ...and there I’ll leave you hanging, for the tale of the Czechoslovak Legion crossing Russia, the uprising at Chelyabinsk, Trotsky’s manipulations to capture them and turn them in to the Central Powers, the liberations of Siberian cities by the Legion, the fighting together with the White Russians, the action on lake Baikal, the machinations of the Allies to keep them in Russia and hopefully reopen the Eastern Front, and the ultimate evacuation, are a tale for another special. Which we will 100% do, and it might be the most exciting one of them all. But in order to get there, we had to start here, with the origins of the Czechoslovak Legions and their actions in the First World War.




The Third Republic came into being in April 1945. Its government, installed at Košice on 4 April and moved to Prague after its liberation on 10 May, was a National Front coalition in which three socialist parties—KSČ, Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party, and Czechoslovak National Social Party—predominated. The Slovak Popular Party was banned as collaborationist with the Nazis. Other conservative yet democratic parties, such as the Republican Party of Farmers and Peasants, were prevented from resuming activities in the postwar period. Certain acceptable nonsocialist parties were included in the coalition; among them were the Catholic People's Party (in Moravia) and the Slovak Democratic Party. Employing 61.2 percent of the industrial labour force—were nationalised.

14 October 1945 saw a new provisional national assembly voted in.[1]

Beneš had compromised with the KSČ to avoid a postwar coup; he naïvely hoped that the democratic process would restore a more equitable distribution of power. Beneš had negotiated the Soviet alliance, but at the same time he hoped to establish Czechoslovakia as a "bridge" between East and West, capable of maintaining contacts with both sides. The KSČ leader Klement Gottwald, however, professed commitment to a "gradualist" approach, that is, to a KSČ assumption of power by democratic means.

The popular enthusiasm evoked by the Soviet armies of liberation benefited the KSČ. Czechoslovaks, bitterly disappointed by the West at the Munich Agreement, responded favourably to both the KSČ and the Soviet alliance. Communists secured strong representation in the popularly elected national committees, the new organs of local administration. The KSČ organised and centralised the trades union movement; of 120 representatives to the Central Council of Trades Unions, 94 were communists. The party worked to acquire a mass membership, including peasants and the petite bourgeoisie, as well as the proletariat. Between May 1945 and May 1946, KSČ membership grew from 27,000 to over 1.1 million.


In the May 1946 election, the KSČ won in the Czech part of the country (40.17%), while the anti-Communist Democratic Party won in Slovakia (62%). In sum, however, the KSČ won a plurality of 38 percent of the vote at the Czechoslovak level. Beneš continued as president of the republic, and Jan Masaryk, son of the revered founding father, continued as foreign minister. Gottwald became prime minister. Most important, although the communists held only a minority of portfolios, they were able to gain control over such key ministries as information, internal trade, finance and interior (including the police apparatus). Through these ministries, the communists were able to suppress noncommunist opposition, place party members in positions of power, and create a solid basis for a takeover attempt.


Czechoslovakian passport issued in 1947
Czechoslovakian passport issued in 1947

The year that followed was uneventful. The KSČ continued to proclaim its national and democratic orientation. The turning point came in the summer of 1947. In July, the Czechoslovak government, with KSČ approval, accepted an Anglo-French invitation to attend preliminary discussions of the Marshall Plan. The Soviet Union responded immediately to the Czechoslovak move to continue the Western alliance: Stalin summoned Gottwald to Moscow.

Upon his return to Prague, the KSČ reversed its decision. In subsequent months, the party demonstrated a significant radicalisation of its tactics. The KSČ argued that a reactionary coup was imminent, and that immediate action was necessary to prevent it. Through media and police means, they intensified their activity. Originally announced by Gottwald at the KSČ Central Committee meeting in November 1947, news of the "reactionary plot" was disseminated throughout the country by the communist press.

From June of that year, and especially after the outbreak of the 1947-1948 civil war in Mandatory Palestine in November, Czechoslovakia began to sell arms to the Palestinian Jewish Haganah defense force. It was the only foreign state to do so. This policy, continued after the declaration of the State of Israel the following year, would play an important role in the victory of the Jewish state in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.


In January 1948, the communist-controlled Ministry of Interior proceeded to purge the Czechoslovak security forces, substituting noncommunists with communists. Simultaneously, the KSČ began agitating for increased nationalisation and for a new land reform limiting landholdings to fifty hectares.

A cabinet crisis precipitated the February coup. Backed by all non-communist parties, the National Social ministers said that the communists were using the Ministry of Interior's police and security forces to suppress non-communists, and demanded a halt to this. Prime Minister Gottwald, however, repeatedly forestalled discussion of the police issue. On 21 February, National Socialists resigned from the cabinet in protest. The Catholic People's Party and the Slovak Democratic Party followed suit.

The twelve noncommunist ministers resigned, in part, to induce Beneš to call for early elections. Communist losses were anticipated owing to popular disapproval of recent KSČ tactics. A January poll indicated a 10-percent decline in Communist electoral support. Yet the Czechoslovak National Socialists made their move without adequate coordination with Beneš. The democratic parties, in addition, made no effort to rally popular support.

The non-Communists believed that Beneš would refuse to accept their resignations and keep them in a caretaker government, which would presumably force Gottwald to either back down or resign. Beneš initially refused to accept the resignations and declared that no government could be formed without non-Communist ministers. However, in the days that followed, he shunned the non-Communist ministers to avoid accusation of collusion. The Czechoslovak Army remained neutral.

In the meantime, the KSČ garnered its forces. The communist-controlled Ministry of Interior deployed police regiments to sensitive areas and equipped a workers' militia. The communist-controlled Ministry of Information refused broadcasting time to noncommunist officials. Ministries held by noncommunist parties were secured by communist "action committees." The action committees also purged all governmental and political party organs of unreliable elements. Gottwald threatened to call a general strike unless Beneš appointed a new, Communist-dominated government.

On 26 February, Beneš, perhaps fearing civil war and/or Soviet intervention, capitulated. He accepted the resignations of the dissident ministers and appointed a new cabinet from a list submitted by Gottwald. The new cabinet was dominated by Communists and pro-Soviet Social Democrats. Members of the People's, National Socialist and Czech Democratic parties were also included, so the government was still nominally a coalition. However, the ministers using those labels were fellow travellers working hand in glove with the Communists. This act marked the onset of out-and-out Communist rule in Czechoslovakia.


  1. ^ Jessup, John E. (1989). A Chronology of Conflict and Resolution, 1945-1985. New York: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-24308-5.

This page was last edited on 1 September 2019, at 02:21
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