Friday 5 February 2021

Export to Czechoslovakia

 "Chief of the General Staff
Worker and Peasant Red Army
July 5th, 1936

To the People's Commissar of Defense, comrade K. Ye. Voroshilov

While in Czechoslovakia I met with the Chief of the General Staff of the Czechoslovakian army General Krejčí on his request. The meeting was confidential and took place in a seldom visited suburban hotel near Prague. 

General Krejčí was accompanied by his deputy General Fiala and a Colonel, Chief of External Relations and military attache in France.

I was accompanied by our military attache in Czechoslovakia, Colonel L.A. Schnitman.

General Krejčí underscored the respect that the Czechoslovakian government and army have for the Soviet government and Red Army and stated that he found it necessary to inform me and discuss a number of important issues to do with Czechoslovakia and the mutual assistance pact.

The issues were given to me as follows:

1. Protective works at the border

The strategic situation in Czechoslovakia, specifically the changes after the Germans occupied the Rhineland, force a situation where the borders have to be fortified and defended until help comes from France or the USSR.

He mentioned French assistance with definite pessimism and mentioned that this help is remote and has a general strategic aim. There is no hope for direct operational cooperation between the French and Czechoslovakian armies. It is more realistic for the Red Army to offer assistance.

Considering its strategic situation, the Czechoslovakian government decided to create defensive lines with powerful concrete fortifications on all portions of its border except the border with Romania. 10 billion kroner will be spent in the coming 3-5 years. Work already started. The border with Germany will be covered first, then Austria, then Hungary, Poland will be last.

There will be no fortifications built on the border with Romania. The Red Army is expected to come through here and this is where the main direction of evacuation will go.

2. Armament and Supply of the Army

All armament and supplies are procured through Czechoslovakian industry. However, the industry cannot produce fast tanks. The value of fast tanks is enormous, which they were fully convinced of when they saw our exercises in 1935. 

Krejčí asks to give them one battalion of fast BT tanks to reinforce their army. He offered to exchange the tanks for any of their own products.

Regarding the size and rate of expansion of the army, Krejčí stated that there is an enormous amount of work being done at all factories to build armament and supplies.

He said "we are late with this undertaking and only now are catching up. Industry works on a wartime schedule with a full workload. 10 billion kroner will be spent on armament over the course of ten years."

3. Military tasks as a part of the mutual assistance pact

General Krejčí said that he knew that Romania did not yet permit Soviet troops to pass through its territory when he asked this question. According to Krejčí, president Beneš was presently in Bucharest and was supposed to ask this of the Romanian king and government. 

Krejčí proposed to not wait for the formalities to be resolved, as the Romanians would not oppose this and the people and army would be happy to let our troops through to help the Czechs. The only reason for their stalling according to Krejčí is "court etiquette" and no attention needs to be paid to it. Krejčí had a diagram on him depicting a project of a railroad network from Czechoslovakia's eastern border towards us through Chernovtsy-Iași. 

The Czechs had a special interest in our aviation, which can be seen in Krejčí's statement that if we need the Romanians' permission to send the Red Army then we don't need this for aircraft. They can fly right to Czechoslovakia. According to him, landing strips are ready for 18 squadrons and landing strips for 16 more squadrons are being built.

4. Invitation to Czechoslovakian army exercises in 1937

Since I was not present at the 1935 exercises and Krejčí was afraid that I could not come this year, he invited me to the 1937 exercises, highlighting that they would be happy to have me and will stage interesting exercises.

My answers:

Regarding the strengthening of borders and arming the army, I expressed satisfaction, stating that it is necessary to increase the rate of these undertakings.

Regarding purchasing BT tanks, I confirmed that the combat abilities of our tanks are high and that I will report to the People's Commissar of Defense upon my return to Moscow and will inform him of the results.

As for issues pertaining to military cooperation based on the pact, I did not share Krejčí's opinion of the Romanians and stated that a joint plan can be worked out, but development can start when:

  • the Romanians agreeing to let the Red Army through
  • we know what the French are planning, since as the pact states we will only act when the French join in.
Regarding the Romanians' agreement, I remarked that this is an important issue for Czechoslovakia and Czechoslovakian command needs to obtain positive results as a member of the Little Entente or with aid from France.

My impressions from this meeting:

After talking to Krejčí I got the impression that:

1. France is put in a difficult strategic position by the German occupation of the Rhineland. This situation has the following effects:
  1. The Czechs are afraid that help from France will come very late. Such lateness makes it impossible to coordinate strategic cooperation between the Czech and French armies and forces the Czechs to build fortifications around their borders (except for Romania).
  2. We need to deal with the French fear, as the current situation makes the more afraid than willing to risk in order to save Czechoslovakia.
They consider the first factor quite real, as Germany will no doubt fortify the Rhineland. The second factor can change. It is possible that the French position regarding military aid can change and a pact between France and Germany is not out of the question, provided that the right government comes to power in France.

2. The Czechs consider the Red Army to be the most realistic force that can save them. This is the cause for an all-round defense that is designed to hold back Germany and possibly Poland while leaving an open door towards Romania to allow the Red Army through and conduct their own evacuation. This is especially clear when Krejčí talked of accepting 18 squadrons and preparing room for 16 more.

3. Poland's position will be unclear at the start. For this reason the border with Poland will be fortified last. These fortifications and the passing of the Red Army in between Poland and Romania will force Germany to quickly decide on its position.

4. Germany will not be ready for a large war in 1937 or even 1938, so the Czechoslovakian army will have time to arm themselves. Despite my warning that it's dangerous to build plans for defenses without good reasoning backed up by documents, Krejčí stood behind this evaluation of the German army.


I consider it reasonable to sell the Czechs a battalion of BT tanks in return for technical aid, particularly in the fields of producing tank armour, armour piercing shells, high quality tools, measurement devices, and molds. The Czechs are excellent at this.

Chief of the RKKA General Staff, Marshal of the Soviet Union A.I. Yegorov"


  1. Did they ever send the BT battalion? Was really the URSS thinking about helping them if they had not made the Sudetenland agreedment?

    1. I don't think BT tanks were ever sent. The USSR tried to negotiate for protection of Czechoslovakia with Poland, the UK, and France in 1938 but got nowhere since Poland would not allow Soviet troops on its territory for obvious reasons and the UK favoured the appeasement strategy to buy time since they weren't ready for war.

    2. No, no BT ever made it to Czechoslovakia. AFAIK Czechoslovakia bought from USSR only Tupolev SB-2 bombers and licence for their production (called Avia B-71, running with slightly different engines and fuel).

      USSR evaluated LT vz.35 light tanks and quite many artillery pieces, for some actually even bought a licence (7,5 cm anti-aircraft gun vz.37), for others it didn't happen due to German occupation (10,5 cm heavy field gun vz.35). USSR also bough the anti-aircraft sight vz.37 and produced it in huge quantities.

      The question about Soviet military aid in case of war is complicated - first USSR didn't have a way how to do that without invading Romania or Poland (there was no common border between Czechoslovakia and USSR), second it's also possible that USSR was simply waiting for Poland to attack disputed Czechoslovak territory to have casus belli to attack Poland. Nobody knows what would happen if...

    3. Only Stalin himself knows how far he would have been willing to go on that offer, and he's long dead. But he did have a strong interest in damming German expansion at least.

      Moot point of course due to the intransigence of the Central European powers in the way - motivated in no small part by slices of the Czechoslovak cake they were themselves eyeing greedily, something the Poles prefer to conveniently forget these days - and Chamberlain falling for Hitler's bluff. (Germany was at the time even LESS ready for a shooting war than the Entente and there was a serious conspiracy in the works to depose Hitler in a military coup if necessary to avoid such a national disaster.)

    4. Kellomies

      Only Stalin himself knows how far he would have been willing to go on that offer, and he's long dead.

      We do know Stalin was offering a million men to stop Germany in Poland, from the British archives.

      That was a *huge* blunder by the British and French, and most of all-the Poles. From their own perspective the Polish government consistently managed to do the stupidest things, starting with their own *alliance* with Hitler in 1934. They then proceeded to covet Czech territory in 1938 (as Savo says) even though a German reduction of Czechoslovakia would have left Poland surrounded on three sides by Nazi forces (which actually happened) and *finally* in 1939 they imagined themselves as some sort of min-"Great Power" who could stand up to Germany by themselves (at least without accepting Soviet forces on their soil). Doing all of these differently would have likely resulted in a better outcome for Poland.

  2. Incidentally, the need to link up with their "Little Entente" allies in Central Europe (the Danube valley being the obvious and historically well-marched avenue) was one major reason the French wanted to establish permanent military bases in the western German border areas in 1918 - being in position to readily seize key iron and coal-producing centers in the case of German misbehaviour being another.

    Obvious questions can be raised over the long-term economic and political sustainability of that scheme but in any case Anglo-American opposition nixed it at the negotiation table already. (For much of the interwar period London and Washington were altogether more concerned over supposed French imperial ambitions than the possibility of German resurgence and revanchism.)