1968: The Fraternal Invasion
Dispute about Doctrine
General Vitanovský: I have never heard – and I attended Warsaw Pact meetings quite frequently – I have never heard anyone formulate a Warsaw Pact doctrine as such. But I know from practice it was based on two essential principles; first, a principle of limited sovereignty of individual members of the Warsaw Pact, this is basically Brezhnev’s doctrine of limited sovereignty, second, it was an offensive organization, of an aggressive nature, but let us not say aggressive, of an offensive nature.
[ . . . ] Marshal Malinovsky once prepared a brief document, “The Military Doctrine of the Soviet Union”. Just a few pages characterizing the initial period of the war, global military and political situation, and the chief principle sticking out of it was that if the enemy, that is NATO, used nuclear weapons, then the Soviet Union would respond by a strike using all means available. That was, I would say, the chief idea of the Soviet doctrine, which outlined the global military and political situation and explained and stipulated how the Soviet Union would react.
[ . . . ] And now we get to a problem, an approach, how we were expected to formulate, how we should have formulated, our military doctrine in the framework of the doctrine of Joint Forces of the Warsaw Pact, which I did not know. This is one of the most important questions. We were not allowed to formulate any military doctrine of our own at that time. I had been working on a Czechoslovak military doctrine of sorts since 1961, but that was basically my private initiative, because I enjoyed doing it, within limited sovereignty barriers, of course, but I still kept saying to myself we had to have one, why, we are a sovereign country, and every country must formulate its military doctrine [Vitanovský, 2 – 3]
General Vitanovský: None of the military officials of those times ever showed any initiative regarding the doctrine, not even one. On the contrary – even General Kushchev, then Lomský’s [Minister of Defense] advisor, an excellent, honest guy with a heart of gold [ . . . ], he liked me very much, that Kushchev, he kept telling me: “Václav Antonovich, don’t do it, else you’ll burn.” I tell him: “Goddammit, it needs to be done, Comrade General, it’s not possible not to do it, as we are an independent country, the Minister has ordered it, General] Rytíř has ordered the model.“ He insisted: “Don’t do it, find an excuse, tell them you’re ill and you cannot do it.” He knew how that was going to end. The reason why I am saying this is that there was no initiative whatsoever – on the contrary, everyone kept talking me out of it; why, Janko repeatedly told me: “Why are you so obsessed with that doctrine, we have the Soviet one.” And I said: “OK, so tell me what it is, formulate it for me.” Of course, he could not do that. [Vitanovský, 11]
General Mencl: At that time [in 1968] we also prepared what was known as the Memorandum, basically our reaction to what had transpired at the Plenary Session in May, this means ...
Q: The Action Program.
General Mencl: ... Action Program. We were trying to make use of – at that time, we had advanced quite a bit with doctrinal work, we had been working on it for at least three or four years. We were trying to put together an evolution of the idea and a structure of the military doctrine. And then we got together with Vitanovský and researchers at the General Staff; he was in a difficult position there and was very happy when we gave him an opportunity to prepare a number of sub-studies. Well, and the conclusion was that any war would have meant a total destruction of the republic. Especially a nuclear-missile kind of war. That all theories to the effect that an increased level of nuclear readiness could lead to a pre-emptive strike that would have prevented ... were a nonsense, that they were unfeasible. So, we outlined a military doctrine concept that would not have led to a war like this and basically to any war, but rather to a reduction of stocks of missiles and, if possible, to a reduction of their range. Through implementing a specific policy toward individual neighboring countries and the like – but I guess you have the concept somewhere.
Understandably, there was a lot of opposition because ... in their minds, all of them agreed, because the idea was clear enough even at the General Staff, and there had been many calculations and estimates as to what would have happened in each war opening scenario or in each phase of the war. And all of them predicted that, with the two opposing armies or blocs at each other’s throats, the missile or nuclear war would inevitable have had to start as soon as the Soviet superiority in conventional weapons began to prevail, say after eighty or a hundred kilometers of penetration, and that it would have had to be waged in depth, including the second echelon, that is the whole territory of Czechoslovakia. For technical reasons, the whole country would have had to be destroyed by a fairly powerful strike, which the Americans were capable of delivering, as they had enough medium-range weapons and also various … we also knew that from Vitanovský, different classes of bombs, which allowed for selective, but very systematic destruction.
So, we submitted it to Dzúr and to all powers-that-be – I think we sent to Štrougal as well. I am quite sure we sent it to Černík. They accepted it, all of them, except for a part of political officers. Because it was unthinkable for them that they should defend a position leading to a de facto neutrality, to a neutralization of the whole region. On the one hand, their (and also the commanders’) task was to train troops for the maximum possible level of combat preparedness and readiness, focusing primarily on PVOS, that is air defense of the country. On the other hand, they said it shouldn’t be like this, which was of course an argumentation discrepancy. So, I am not surprised they were against it. But inwardly all of them were saying that it would have really solved the issue.
As far as I know, the whistle was blown during that interview with Prchlík – that was sometimes in July.
Q: You are referring to his press conference.
General Mencl: Yes, that press conference. Because it became sort of obvious there that after the Soviet intervention – I think that Grechko then wrote a letter to the Central Committee, demanding an explanation, his arguments were sort of oblique, but I think he simply wanted to accuse Prchlík of a disclosure of military secrets. But the gist of it was that Prchlík criticized – he let fly what we had only been hinting at – the fact that the command of the Warsaw Pact was in Soviet hands, and that only the Soviets could make decisions, without any regard to consequences for frontline countries in combat contact. So, they started looking where Prchlík had got it from, and it was found out that Prchlík had always had good relations with the academy and that he had read the Memorandum before we published it – which was true – so we ultimately found ourselves to be completely mistrusted by the Soviets, and the lack of trust later resulted in the academy being disbanded. I was a colonel at that time, I was then demoted and have had nothing in common with the army since then. [Mencl, 2 – 3]
General Vinkler: [In 1968] the Soviets made up a … were spinning yarns to the effect that we were really on the brink of war. Take, for example, our situation, the way we of the Intelligence Directorate saw it: Ours was the most closely watched organizational components, you know. We even had the very last Soviet advisor in the army – his name was General Zadvinskii. He was one of those whose main job was to collect and supply information on the situation in the army. I can still see him, sitting behind a desk and reading Literárky  and so on, he himself translated articles or had them translated, and everything was immediately dispatched to the Intelligence Directorate in Russia. I think he was one of the main sources of information that subsequently resulted in the Soviet decision [to intervene]. [Vinkler, 3]
General Vinkler: It was sometimes in June. The Chief of the General Staff called me: “Hey, the Ukraine is full of troops, find out what’s going on.” I said: “Comrade General, but I can’t do that.” If, for example, we had sent officers without uniforms there, the Soviets, being no fools, would have arrested them. So, there was some awareness of troops massing in the Ukraine, which later proved to be true, and the Chief of the General Staff learned about it. This was not good, of course. What to do about it? Well, for example … the first rumor was in May, I think it was in May, when we got a message – but not through them, it was via Canada, that they were moving two Polish tank divisions overnight to us. So I was at the Chief of the General Staff, the Prime Minister was then calling immediately in that matter, because we had referred the matter to the Office [of the Government]: “Please, comrades, find out what’s really going on.” So we called all Chiefs of Staffs, Marshal Zacharov, then that Hoch,  that Polish Chief of the General Staff, and so on. Nichego, nichego ... they said it’s just a planned exercise. [Vinkler, 5]
General Procházka: Look, the question of the Šumava  Exercise, isn’t it? We, our staff and I personally were surprised to see such high planned numbers of troops. ‘Cause that was supposed to be a command post/staff exercise. So many communication assets. But it did not cross our mind that this was a preparation for a planned invasion. Although, look, various documents say that the invasion of troops was being planned as early as in May. It was that Iashkin’s Division,  you know, it was that division which was to come from Cracow and proceed to the western border. This means there was a plan and the plan was not that easy to devise. This means there must have been considerations like this, but then the political situation between the Soviet Union and our Communist leadership improved, and the intervention was postponed [Procházka, 7]
General Pezl: I took part in the Šumava Exercise. Finally, I remained alone there, as everybody was leaving; I participated in the return phase of the exercise, which was lengthy and protracted etc. The exercise itself showed, indicated, confirmed quite clearly that it was not any operational exercise, any routine training affair. Especially if one had participated in a number of large-scale command post/staff exercises before, and thus knew how those had been approached and managed, while this one accentuated field reconnaissance and preparation of assembly areas and support arrangement for units, and so on. Obvious, from the very beginning. Even the manner in which the exercise made its way to the … it had not been planned, discussions about it started only in March, and then it fell right down from the sky and ….
Q: Did top Czechoslovak commanders and party leaders know that this was underway, that there’s that strange exercise underway, and that there’s also a possibility of ... an invasion?
General Pezl: I am convinced that everything was pointing to such an unequivocal conclusion. But it was very difficult to prevent it. When the mobilization started in the Ukraine, when a strategic operational rear area was being built there, including prepositioned stocks and product pipelines, these steps could be indicative of something more than an occupation of Czechoslovakia. Personally, when I heard aircraft landing in the Ruzyně Airport – I live there – I told myself “war has broken out”. Because the mass of assembled troops was large enough to start a war. [Pezl, 9]
Q: OK, so you think that Czechoslovak leaders knew there was something in the air?
General Šádek: They did. In my opinion, they certainly did. They simply must have known. [Šádek, 17]
Was Deterrence Possible?
Q: What would your answer be if someone asked you the following question: Could we defend ourselves against the threat of intervention or the intervention itself in 1968, and if so, under what conditions?
General Vitanovský: I will give you a military rather than political answer, because I am more familiar with military matters. Let us keep in mind that we were a part of the Unified Armed Forces for forty years, or for less than forty years since the establishment of the Warsaw Pact, and that our mission in the framework of the Warsaw Pact meant we were poised toward a single enemy, in a single direction, to the west, against the North Atlantic Alliance. All plans, all matters, were approached and approved with this in mind. This also means that, because of the facts listed above, we were facing the West, We never considered a possibility that someone else could have attacked us. [ . . . ]
And if we now ask a question when we learned about the possible intervention – I will now disregard the fact that there were some indications, but were not taken seriously – I would like to note once again that those who failed miserably in the first place were our representatives and officers in the Unified Armed Forces; we didn’t receive from them even the tiniest clue that an intervention was being prepared. Here I would like to point out once again at the relation between the Unified Armed Forces and the General Staff of the Soviet Army, because it was the latter rather than the former, which prepared the intervention. [ . . . ]
So, you can imagine it is not possible to simply make an about-face and have logistic support units on the frontline and combat units in the rear. That is unthinkable. This is one of the issues that ruled out the possibility of immediately assuming a defensive posture and fight, as regrouping and redeployment would have taken too long, by which time it would have been too late anyway. So, this is one reason. And the other reason is, in my opinion, is as follows: We faced a situation in which we were being attacked from basically all compass points at a time. From Hungary, Poland, German Democratic Republic, Soviet units comprised the main thrust from East Germany. So, no matter how we would have redeployed the army – again, this is not a question of just blowing the whistle and telling the troops “OK, now we are going to split and defend ourselves against individual groups” – it would have been impossible as well. If someone asks me whether we could fight, my answer would be yes, but we would not have succeeded in defending ourselves and, in my opinion, our resistance would have ended on the very first day. [ . . . ] So, this is my soldier’s opinion, based on the ratio of forces, not to mention the fact that our army’s non-mobilized peacetime strength was 150,000, and deploying it against 2 million or so of intervening troops wouldn’t have made any sense. It’s simply out of question and no sane commanding officer or general can issue an order for defense under such circumstances. Because our decisions must always be based on the existing and realistic ratio of forces.
Q: General, let us assume that our leaders and authorities had received some signals, some information, and the Czechoslovak Army command had begun preparations for defense. How long would it have taken for the Czechoslovak Army, in the light of the fact that it was deployed along the western border, to redeploy for defense and to assume a defensive posture capable of stopping the thrust of the enemy? Assuming, of course, that no one knows anything about it and no one is going to interfere.
General Vitanovský: The question is clear. Naturally, I cannot give you the number of days, because I would have to sit and calculate it, but this is what I can say: If we had learnt about the planned intervention, say, a week in advance, that week would have been spent on planning, because you have to do some planning and tasking before you start moving troops, and even if we had worked round the clock, I cannot imagine anyone who could have done it in less than a week. Second, you have to factor in another aspect – regrouping and redeploying troops must take into account railway and road capacities and so on. [In my opinion] moving all first-echelon divisions to blocking positions and deploying them against advancing invaders would have taken at least a fortnight. So, redeploying our forces for defense, and an improvised defense at that, could not have taken, in my opinion, less than two or three weeks. [Vitanovský, 6 – 7]
General Mencl: At that time, it seemed obvious that the armies were around us and that they had been assembled for some maneuvers, the reason of which no one had bothered to explain properly and which did not match, to our knowledge, established strategic means and ways to conduct operations. So, it was clear – because of an attack of Czechoslovakia. The only outstanding question was whether there’s a way to prevent it. And what the army’s role would be, if assigned such a task. The position of soldiers is invariably difficult in this respect, as they do not know what kind of decision political leaders will make. If our political leaders had decided so – and Dubček, of course, was unable to make such a decision, and I think it was not possible, Czechoslovakia was undefendable from a strategic point of view – but if he had made the decision, the soldiers would have had to comply, and they would have had to rely on an assumption that … that the army would not develop an internal break, that it would be willing to do the job.
Prchlík had to take these things into account, but he was probably the only one, as otherwise ... Dzúr – he was a good man, a patriot, Dubček’s supporter, everything – but he would have never stood against the Soviet Army. Also because he knew what the outcome would have been. Vitanovský, he kept his hands off, as he could see it was militarily unfeasible. Another reason why it was not feasible was that we still had that Iamshchikov  sitting there and knowing everything about every company that had moved. It would have amounted to a total restationing and redeployment of the army, which would have taken half a year. It was simply beyond our capabilities. [Mencl, 6 – 7]
[Translated by Jiří Mareš, Prague]
 Colonel General Vladimír Janko, Commander of Armored Troops between 1950 and 1956 and the First Deputy Minister of Defense from 1958 to 1968. In 1968, following the revelation of the so-called Generals’ Coup and the defection of General Jan Šejna, he committed suicide.
 In the spring of 1968, thirty staff members of the Military Political Academy and the Military Technical Academy submitted a draft memorandum calling for the “formulation and establishment of Czechoslovak national military interests”. MPA Rector Vojtěch Mencl sent the Memorandum to the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party as a contribution to be used in the preparation of keynote documents for the XIVth Congress of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. For an English translation of the Memorandum see Vojtech Mastny, “‘We Are in a Bind’: Polish and Czechoslovak Attempts at Reforming the Warsaw Pact, 1956-1969,” Cold War International History Project Bulletin 11 (1998), pp. 230 – 250.
 In June 1968, the attempted reform in Czechoslovakia resulted in a so-called Action Program, a keynote document summarizing the reform’s objectives in different segments of political life. See the document No 36 in the documentary reader Antonín Benčík, Jaromír Navrátil and Jan Paulík, eds: Vojenské otázky československé reformy 1967 – 1970. Vol.1, Vojenská varianta řešení čs. krize (1967 – 1968) [Military Issues in the Czechoslovak Reform, 1967 – 1970: The Military Option in the Solution to the Czechoslovak Crisis, 1967 – 1968], pp. 162 – 176.
 General of the Army Martin Dzúr, Chief of Logistics from 1958 to 1968 and Minister of Defense from 1968 to 1985.
 Lubomír Štrougal, Minister of Agriculture from 1959 to 1961, Minister of Interior from 1961 to 1965; Prime Minister of the Federal Government of Czechoslovakia from 1970 to 1988.
 Oldřich Černík, Minister of Fuels and Energy from 1960 to 1963, Chairman of the State Planning Commission from 1963 to 1968. Between 1968 and 1970, he was Prime Minister of the Czechoslovak (since 1969 Federal) Government.
 Lieutenant General Václav Prchlík, Chief of the Main Political Directorate of the Czechoslovak People’s Army from 1955 to 1968, Head of the 8th Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party from February to July 1968. Demoted and ousted in the autumn of 1968, sentenced two years later.
 Literární listy, a reform-minded Czech newspaper published at the end of 1960's.
 General Bolesław Hoch was the Chief of the General Staff of the Polish army.
 In June 1968, Czechoslovakia’s territory hosted an initially unplanned exercise, code-named Šumava, in which troops from several other member states of the Warsaw Pact took part. Czechoslovak leaders received only meager information about its planning and purpose, and were seriously concerned about the fact that some Soviet units remained in the Czechoslovak territory even after the exercise had officially ended.
 In 1968, General Grigorii Petrovich Iashkin was the Commanding Officer of the 24th Samara-Ulianovsk Division (38th Army), which had made an attempt to enter Czechoslovakia as early as in May 1968 and occupied North Moravia during the August invasion.
 Alexander Dubček, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party from January 1968 to April 1969.
 Lieutenant General A. M. Iamshchikov, since 1968 the representative of the Supreme Commander of the Unified Armed Forces of the Warsaw Pact in Czechoslovakia, i.e. the Chief Soviet Advisor in the Czechoslovak Army.