Helion's Operation Danube: the Intervention in Czechoslovakia 1968
|$29.95 MSRP from Casemate|
72 pages, softcover, over 100
This book covers an event that, for whatever reason, was really impressed into my mind when it took place. I was in college at the time and unlike today, these events unfolded on the evening television. What makes this somewhat amazing is that this was in the middle of the Vietnam War and the unrest at home regarding America's participation. The pre-occupation with Vietnam is also a reason that the US did not get involved in the events taking place in central Europe.
Czechoslovakia was a nation born out of the old Austro-Hungarian empire after WWI. It was a nation where two major groups, the Czechs and the Slovaks were joined together to form the nation. The Slovaks were allowed a bit of autonomy from the Czechs and both groups worked together to make what was a peaceful and progressive nation. Prior to the German invasion of 1938, Czechoslovakia was one of the most industrially advanced nations in the area and even after WWII, they were quick to get back on their feet. However, unlike their pre-war democratic government, within a few short years, a communist government took hold and based itself on the Stalinist form of communism with very close ties to the USSR.
Even then, Czechoslovakia was unlike other Warsaw Pact nations in that there were no Soviet forces based in the country like there was in Poland or East Germany. This made the Soviets somewhat nervous, though they held back and trusted the Czechs to hold up their end of the defense bargain. Then Alexander Dubcek came into power. He was still a communist, but quite reform minded. He wanted to increase the freedoms to own private businesses, increase freedom of speech and allow radio and newspapers to openly criticize the government.
This brought about what the Soviets and other Eastern Bloc nations called 'The Czechoslovakia Problem'. It was felt that the reforms went too far and that the Czechs would make moves to bring themselves closer to the West. Through the usual lies and suppositions from those afraid of losing power (where have we heard all this?), the Soviet leadership was brought to fear that they would lose part of their buffer against NATO.
The result was that the Soviets and other Warsaw Pact nations invaded Czechoslovakia. Though the people of the nation hated the invaders, the invasion was fairly peaceful with almost no loss of lives. Of course, when one sends half a million troops into a nation along with tanks and aircraft, there really is little that can be done. Eventually, Dubcek was ousted from power and a proper Soviet toady put into control who would return the country to proper communist control. The Soviets also were able to base forces in the country as they had wanted from the start. So for the next 20 years, Czechoslovakia was under communist rule until communism itself collapsed and the nation became everything that Dubcek would have hoped.
In line with other books in this series, the research is superbly done. Much of what is written is the political intrigue and build up to the Soviet invasion so we can see how events unfolded. Then there is the invasion itself and this provides a look at what units went where, how long they stayed. There are a lot of great period photos and the usual section of full color profiles for which this series is well known. It is a superb read and one that I found to be especially interesting. Well worth picking up and a must for those who have an interest in the subject.
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