Military history

13. CZECHOSLOVAKIA CEASES TO EXIST

WITHIN TEN DAYS of affixing his signature to the Munich Agreement—before even the peaceful military occupation of the Sudetenland had been completed—Adolf Hitler got off an urgent top-secret message to General Keitel, Chief of OKW.

1. What reinforcements are necessary in the present situation to break all Czech resistance in Bohemia and Moravia?

2. How much time is required for the regrouping or moving up of new forces?

3. How much time will be required for the same purpose if it is executed after the intended demobilization and return measures?

4. How much time would be required to achieve the state of readiness of October 1?1

Keitel shot back to the Fuehrer on October 11 a telegram giving detailed answers. Not much time and not very many reinforcements would be necessary. There were already twenty-four divisions, including three armored and four motorized, in the Sudeten area. “OKW believes,” Keitel stated, “that it would be possible to commence operations without reinforcements, in view of the present signs of weakness in Czech resistance.”2

Thus assured, Hitler communicated his thoughts to his military chiefs ten days later.

TOP SECRET

Berlin, October 21, 1938

The future tasks for the armed forces and the preparations for the conduct of war resulting from these tasks will be laid down by me in a later directive.

Until this directive comes into force the armed forces must be prepared at all times for the following eventualities:

1.     The securing of the frontiers of Germany.

2.     The liquidation of the remainder of Czechoslovakia.

3.     The occupation of the Memel district.

Memel, a Baltic port of some forty thousand inhabitants, had been lost by Germany to Lithuania after Versailles. Since Lithuania was smaller and weaker than Austria and Czechoslovakia, the seizure of the town presented no problem to the Wehrmacht and in this directive Hitler merely mentioned that it would be “annexed.” As for Czechoslovakia:

   It must be possible to smash at any time the remainder of Czechoslovakia if her policy should become hostile toward Germany.

The preparations to be made by the armed forces for this contingency will be considerably smaller in extent than those for “Green”; they must, however, guarantee a considerably higher state of preparedness since planned mobilization measures have been dispensed with. The organization, order of battle and state of readiness of the units earmarked for that purpose are in peacetime to be so arranged for a surprise assault that Czechoslovakia herself will be deprived of all possibility of organized resistance. The object is the swift occupation of Bohemia and Moravia and the cutting off of Slovakia.3

   Slovakia, of course, could be cut off by political means, which might make the use of German troops unnecessary. For this purpose the German Foreign Office was put to work. All through the first days of October, Ribbentrop and his aides urged the Hungarians to press for their share of the spoils in Slovakia. But when Hungary, which hardly needed German prodding to whet its greedy appetite, spoke of taking Slovakia outright, the Wilhelmstrasse put its foot down. It had other plans for the future of this land. The Prague government had already, immediately after Munich, granted Slovakia a far-reaching autonomy. The German Foreign Office advised “tolerating” this solution for the moment. But for the future the German thinking was summed up by Dr. Ernst Woermann, director of the Political Department of the Foreign Office, in a memorandum of October 7. “An independent Slovakia,” he wrote, “would be weak constitutionally and would therefore best further the German need for penetration and settlement in the East.”4

Here is a new turning point for the Third Reich. For the first time Hitler is on the verge of setting out to conquer non-Germanic lands. Over the last six weeks he had been assuring Chamberlain, in private and in public, that the Sudetenland was his last territorial demand in Europe. And though the British Prime Minister was gullible almost beyond comprehension in accepting Hitler’s word, there was some ground for his believing that the German dictator would halt when he had digested the Germans who previously had dwelt outside the Reich’s frontier and were now within it. Had not the Fuehrer repeatedly said that he wanted no Czechs in the Third Reich? Had he not in Mein Kampf and in countless public speeches reiterated the Nazi theory that a Germany, to be strong, must be racially pure and therefore must not take in foreign, and especially Slav, peoples? He had. But also—and perhaps this was forgotten in London—he had preached in many a turgid page in Mein Kampf that Germany’s future lay in conquering Lebensraum in the East. For more than a millennium this space had been occupied by the Slavs.

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