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Polish invasion of Czechoslovakia
Part of The Invasion of Czechoslovakia in World War II
Date 3 – 5 October 1938
Place Zaolzie, Cieszyn Silesia, Czechoslovakia
Result Polish victory
Territorial changes Zaolzie annexed by Poland
Belligerents
Flag of Poland (1928-1980).svg Poland Czechoslovakia Czechoslovakia
Commanders and leaders
Flag of Poland (1928-1980).svg Wacław Stachiewicz
Flag of Poland (1928-1980).svg Władysław Bortnowski
Czechoslovakia Ludvík Krejčí
Czechoslovakia Vojtěch Luža
Czechoslovakia Jindřich Birula
Strength
SGO Śląsk
3 infantry divisions
2 cavalry brigades
1 tank battalion
35,966 men
837 horses
103 tanks
103 aircraft
2nd Army: 1 division
2 border guard battalions
In reserve:
3 infantry divisions
Invasion of Czechoslovakia
Battle of the Border
Opava    Bruntál    Šatov    Znojmo    Křelovice   České Budějovice

Bohemian front
Plzeň    Hořovice    Prague    Tábor    Hradec Králové    Kutná Hora    Jihlava


Moravian front
Prchala offensive   Hranice   Šternberk   Olomouc    Brno    Blansko    Vyškov    Třebíč    Vyškov    M Line


Polish front
Zaolzie Campaign


Hungarian invasion of Czechoslovakia
Komárno    Levice    Nitra    Zvolen    Kosiče    Užhorod    Trenčín


The Polish invasion of Czechoslovakia, known in Poland as the Zaolzie Campaign (Polish: Kampania Zaolzie) was a brief military conflict fought from 3 to 5 October 1938 between Czechoslovakia and Poland over the disputed territory of Cieszyn Silesia (Polish: Śląsk Cieszyński, Czech: Těšínské Slezsko).

As the main body of the Czechoslovak forces were engaged with the German armies, the Polish invasion met only minor resistance and suffered minimal losses.

Prelude to the campaign

Background

After World War I, a territorial dispute between Poland and Czechoslovakia erupted over the Cieszyn Silesia area in Silesia. According to the Austrian census of 1910, part of the old Duchy of Teschen, just west of the Olza river, called Zaolzie by the Poles (English: Trans-Olza) had a Polish-speaking population of about 164,000 out of a total regional population of about 230,000. On 5 November 1918, the local Polish and Czech councils (the Rada Narodowa Księstwa Cieszyńskiego and the Národní výbor pro Slezsko) had agreed on a division of the territory along ethnic lines, leaving Zaolzie to Poland. The region was allotted a number of seats in the forthcoming elections to the Polish Constituent Assembly, scheduled for January 1919, but the Polish government decided to delay them pending an agreement on the disputed territory with the Czechoslovak government.

Indeed, the Polish ethnic claim to Zaolzie clashed with the Czech historic claim to it as part of the lands of the Bohemian Crown, for the Duchy of Teschen, at first loosely under Polish rule, had been part of the Bohemian Crown since 1339 and later came under Habsburg rule along with the rest of Bohemia. The Czechs also used economic arguments to back their claim to this territory. The area was very rich in black coal, and it was one of the most industrialized regions of Austria-Hungary. The important Třinec iron and steel works were also located here, and if Poland would obtain Upper Silesia from Germany, so it would not need the coal and steel of Zaolzie. The only railway from Czech territory to eastern Slovakia ran through this area (Košice-Bohumín Railway), and access to the railway was critical for Czechoslovakia: the newly-formed country was at war with Béla Kun's revolutionary Hungarian Soviet Republic, which was attempting to re-establish Hungarian sovereignty over Slovakia.

Józef Piłsudski, Head of the Polish State (his official title pending the election of a president), was mindful of the need for good neighbourly relations, and this is why he wanted to obtain a Polish-Czechoslovak agreement. Therefore, in December 1918, he sent a small Polish delegation to Prague with a personal letter to President Tomáš Masaryk. Piłsudski proposed the establishment of a mixed Polish-Czechoslovak commission to resolve all problems in mutual relations, though clearly Zaolzie was the key problem. Masaryk expressed his agreement to the Polish delegation, but handed the matter over to the Czechoslovak government, which had no intention to negotiate. The Czechoslovak government in Prague requested that the Poles cease their preparations for national parliamentary elections in the area that had been designated Polish in the interim agreement as no sovereign rule was to be executed in the disputed areas. When the Polish government declined, the Czechoslovak government decided to stop the preparations by force. Czechoslovak troops entered the area on 23 January 1919 and gained the upper hand over the weaker Polish units. The majority of Polish forces were engaged in fighting with the West Ukrainian National Republic over eastern Galicia at that time. Czechoslovakia was forced to stop the advance by the Allies, and Czechoslovakia and Poland were compelled to sign a new demarcation line on 3 February 1919 in Paris. The Poles deeply resented the Czechoslovak use of force at a time when they were facing armed Soviet expansion into Lithuania and western Byelorussia and battling the Ukrainians over Lwów (Lviv). Negotiations for a plebiscite or arbitration of the dispute over Zaolzie failed to yield agreement.

A final line was set up at the Spa Conference in Belgium. The Poles expected a thorough consideration of the problem, but the conference simply awarded the western part of the disputed territory to Czechoslovakia on 28 July 1920, just as the Red Army was nearing Warsaw, thus creating a Zaolzie with a substantial Polish minority. Czechoslovak Foreign Minister Edvard Beneš agreed to cede to Poland 13 villages (especially Nowa Biała, Jurgów and Niedzica; 195 km²; pop. 8747) in northwestern Spiš and 12 villages in northeastern Orava (around Jabłonka; 389 km²; pop. 16,133), in matter of fact the Czechoslovak authorities officially regarded their inhabitants as exclusively Slovak, while Poles pointed out that the dialect used there belonged to the Polish language. The Polish government was not satisfied with this results. The conflict was only resolved by the Council of the League of Nations (International Court of Justice) on 12 March 1924, which decided that Czechoslovakia should retain the territory of Javorina and Ždiar and which entailed (in the same year) an additional exchange of territories in Orava - the territory around Nižná Lipnica went to Poland, the territory around Suchá Hora and Hladovka went to Czechoslovakia.

Polish-Czechoslovak relations, though never close, were generally friendly in the years 1921–33. The high points in this relationship were the Beneš-Skirmunt Pact of 6 November 1921, named after Czechoslovak Foreign Minister Edvard Beneš and Polish Foreign Minister Konstanty Skirmunt, as well as a series of treaties signed by Beneš and Polish Foreign Minister Aleksander Skrzyński on 24 April 1925. The key provisions of the Beneš-Skirmunt Pact were mutual guarantees of territory; agreement to observe benevolent neutrality if one of the parties was attacked by a neighbouring state, and to ensure the passage of war supplies. Czechoslovakia declared its lack of interest in East Galicia (western Ukraine), and undertook to dissolve interned Ukrainian formations. The annex to this treaty stated that local litigation on the former plebiscite territory of Cieszyn, Spiš and Orava would be resolved with the help of a special Polish-Czechoslovak delegation, while the fate of the village of Javorina (in the Spis region) would be decided in six months. The treaties signed in 1925 by Beneš and Polish Foreign Minister Skrzyński, confirmed the new frontiers and seemed to provide for close cooperation in international affairs as well as on minority and territorial problems. However, territorial disputes were not resolved, and they remained a major stumbling bloc to closer relations. The Poles had hoped the Czechs would agree to cede Javorina to Poland and that this would blunt the widespread Polish resentment against the Czech seizure of Těšín, but this never happened.

There were close contacts between the two general staffs, and even talk of a military convention. However, the relations between Czechoslovakia and Poland were strained and antagonistic. Neither the Czechoslovak or the Polish government was interested in an alliance or closer ties, as a Polish offer in 1933 and a Czechoslovak offer the following year were rejected by the counterpart. The Zaolzie question rankled the Poles, but it was not die only problem in their relations with Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia led the Little Entente consisting of Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia, a defensive coalition directed primarily against Hungary, while Poland maintained friendly relations with Budapest. From 1933 the relationship between Poland and Czechoslovakia deteriorated. Poland, in reaction to the Locarno Treaty of 1925, had as foreign policy goal to restore 'equilibrium', that is, balancing Poland's relations with Germany and the Soviet Union. This policy was implemented in the Polish-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of July 1932, balanced by the Polish-German Declaration of Non-Aggression Pact of January 1934, valid for ten years, after which the pact with the USSR was renewed for ten years. At the same time, the Franco-Polish alliance of 1921 remained the pillar of Polish security in case of war with Germany, while the Polish-Romanian defensive alliance, signed that same year, provided some security against the Soviet Union. After Locarno, however, Piłsudski and Foreign Minister Józef Beck doubted that France would fulfill her obligations to Poland without British support. Poland's relations with France were also inharmonious and strained due to the premiership of Léon Blum and the Franco-Soviet treaty of 1935, complemented by Czechoslovakia's Treaty of Friendship and Mutual Assistance with the USSR on 16 May 1935. Neither was welcomed by Poland in view of its past relations with Imperial Russia and its deep distrust of Soviet Russia. The French failure to act against the German remilitarization of the Rhineland in 1936, which aroused Warsaw's contempt, led to a reassessment of the military value of the ties to Paris.

With Austria and Czechoslovakia in the foreground of Hitler's aspirations, he had good reason for wishing improved relations with Poland. Accordingly, in June 1937, German Foreign Minister Konstantin von Neurath received the Polish ambassador, Józef Lipski, in order to propose a joint "declaration of minorities" which "would contribute to a relaxation of the relations and set an example for the local authorities to follow." Hitler, simultaneously with announcement of the minorities declaration, received Lipski and gave oral assurances that he did not intend to alter the Danzig statute of 1920, that Polish rights in Danzig would be respected, and there would be no "surprise action" there by the Germans. The declaration was simultaneously signed in Berlin and Warsaw on 5 November 1937, with Hitler and Polish President Ignacy Mościcki receiving representatives of the Polish and German minorities. Hitler assured Lipski that German-Polish relations would not be disturbed by the Danzig question. The minorities declaration, while containing no provisions for enforcement of the benevolent principles it proclaimed and did little to alleviate the conditions for the minority populations in either country, marked a new high point, at least on surface, of the German-Polish relations. In January 1938, Foreign Minister Beck visited Berlin en route to a League of Nations Council meeting in Geneva, where he had long conversations with Hitler, Hermann Göring and Hitler. Here he learned of German plans to destroy Czechoslovakia. A month later Göring visited Poland to discuss politics with Marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły and Beck and to hunt boar in the Białowieża Forest. Göring extended Hitler's invitation to visit Germany, and stressed the congruence of the German and Polish interests in raising a rampart against Soviet communism. During the two meetings between Beck and Göring, Beck expressed "serious interest" in the Czech problem and indicated Těšín, an interest Göring promised "would not be infringed." Beck then suggested that the two countries' ten-year non-aggression pact of 1934 be extended, and Göring enthusiastically endorsed the idea, proposing a period of 15 to 25 years.

Czech-Polish tensions during the Sudeten Crisis

Main article: Sudeten crisis

As the pending crisis between Germany and Czechoslovakia loomed, Beck kept his options open. He held to the Polish position, first communicated to Prague in February 1937, that any concessions made by the Czechoslovak government to the Sudeten Germans should be followed by the same concessions to the Polish population in Zaolzie. While the disparity in numbers between the two minorities gives this claim a demagogic appearance, there was an almost unanimous demand by Polish public opinion for the return of Zaolzie to Poland. Beck's strategy was to pursue this aim without committing Poland to Germany. The Polish demand of equal treatment was supported by the British and French governments in their desire to defuse Polish pressure on Prague.

This pressure resulted in early May in a declaration to Beck by the Czechoslovak minister in Warsaw, Juraj Slávik, that the Polish minority would receive the same concessions as those granted to any other minority. Thus Prague conceded the key Polish demand. (Other Polish grievances concerned Polish communist and Comintern activity in Czechoslovakia as well as transit difficulties). However, two days later the May Crisis erupted, and matters rapidly deteriorated. Polish press and officials took the German side of the issue and accused Czechoslovakia of spreading false rumours, and redoubled their complaints about mistreatment of the Polish minority. Throughout the months preceding the outbreak of war, Beck, Jan Szembek (Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and Juliusz Łukasiewicz (Polish ambassador to France) rebuffed every French effort to mitigate or qualify Poland's hostility toward Prague. Beck also rejected French Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet's request that Poland join the Franco-British appeals to Hitler not to use force on the grounds that it was an obligation beyond the Franco-Polish alliance of 1921; Beck, however, did not want to jeopardize Polish-German relations by joining the Franco-British warnings to Berlin.

Sometime in the late spring or early summer of 1938, Beck outlined his views to the Polish cabinet. He saw the situation as follows: The Czechs would not fight; the Western powers were unprepared to help them; and the Soviet Union would limit itself to demonstrations. He believed that the USSR preferred to compromise Czechoslovak and French relations with Germany rather than engage in any military action itself. He also noted that, though some Soviet planes had flown over Romania to Czechoslovakia, there were no visible Soviet military preparations for intervention, and, in any case, the Red Army was in a perilous state after the purge of its higher officers. Finally, Beck stated that, whatever happened, Poland should not be the first to take action against Czechoslovakia, and that if his basic hypothesis were negated by the facts Polish foreign policy would have to change radically within 24 hours, for in case of a European war against Germany, Poland could not, even indirectly, side with the latter. (It should be noted that according to the Franco-Polish military convention of March 1921, each country was to aid the other if it was attacked by Germany, though French aid sent to Poland was to be in the form of supplies and technical equipment, not troops). In this account Beck believed Poland should use the opportunity provided by the Czechoslovak crisis to secure three objectives: (1) parlay her 'neutrality' toward Germany in return for the latter's official recognition of the Polish-German frontier as well as specific German recognition of the status of the Free City of Danzig. (2) Poland should establish a common frontier with Hungary in Subcarpathian Ruthenia as the foundation of a projected bloc called the 'Third Europe'. This was to consist of Poland, Hungary, Romania and possibly Yugoslavia; its function would be to prevent German - or Soviet - domination of eastern Europe. Finally, if there was a peaceful settlement whereby Czechoslovakia lost the Sudetenland to Germany, objective (3) was to regain Zaolzie.

As the crisis intensified, most of the Polish press kept up a drumbeat of accusations against the Czechoslovak government, alleging severe mistreatment of the Polish minority in Zaolzie. At the same time, the anti-Czechoslovak press campaign, which also accused Czechoslovakia of being an outpost of Soviet communism, was used to exert pressure on Prague and simultaneously increase public support for the government's policy. Meanwhile, Beck refused to be drawn either into cooperation or confrontation with Germany. He rejected both German proposals of coordinated economic pressure on Czechoslovakia, and repeated French proposals that Poland should warn Berlin against using force.

The Czechoslovak crisis began to intensify in mid-September. Throughout the summer, Germany had been trying to increase pressure on Czechoslovakia by encouraging Czechoslovakia's other neighbours to press their own claims. On 16 September Göring met with Polish Ambassador Józef Lipski, who had earlier informed State Secretary Ernst von Weizsäcker in the German Foreign Ministry that "the Polish Government would categorically request" a solution to the Těšín question. On 20 September Hitler summoned Lipski to Berchtesgaden, where he told Lipski that a forceful occupation of the Sudetenland would be the best solution, as he had told Hungarian Prime Minister Béla Imrédy and Foreign Minister Kálmán Kánya earlier in the day. Hitler warned that the British proposals would involve a new delineation of the frontiers, and Lipski outlined the geographical borders of the Zaolzie region that Poland would demand and assured Hitler that Poland would be prepared to use military force to secure Těšín. He and Hitler agreed that neither country would join in guaranteeing the new Czech borders until all the minority claims had been satisfied.

Meanwhile, in order to find a solution to the crisis, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain traveled to Berchtesgaden on 15 September to meet Hitler, who demanded Czechoslovakia ceded all areas where the majority of the population were ethnic Germans. Chamberlain returned home to discuss the matter with the British Government and French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier and Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet. On 19 September Czechoslovakia was presented to the British-French plan, which required Czechoslovakia to cede all areas where more than 50% of the population were ethnic Germans in exchange for an international guarantee of Czechoslovakia's territorial integrity. Czechoslovakia rejected the plan and instead asked for a border arbitration, but when Basil Newton and Victor de Lacroix (the British and French Ambassador to Czechoslovakia, respectively) warned the Czechs that a rejection of the British-French proposal would disrupt Anglo-French solidarity with Czechoslovakia, making a French commitment to Czechoslovakia contingent upon acceptance. As a result, the Czechoslovak government capitulated to the Anglo-French ultimatum on 21 September.

As Hitler had planned, the Polish and Hungarian ministers presented their demands in Prague on at 07:00 pm of 21 September, soon after the decision to accept the Anglo-French ultimatum. The Polish ambassador in Prague, Kazimierz Papée, assured the Czechs that if the disputed Zaolzie region were ceded to Poland, there would be no further problems between the two states. At the same time, the Polish Army mobilized the Independent Operational Group Silesia (Samodzielna Grupa Operacyjna Śląsk, SGO Śląsk), concentrating in the vicinity of Cieszyn Silesia. Commanded by General Władysław Bortnowski, it comprised several Army units and five air squadrons, having a total strength of 35,966 men.

The Polish government had pursued secret intelligence-gathering activities in Zaolzie, made efforts to build up secret Polish organizations there since 1935, and tried to organize guerrilla groups in summer 1938. On 13 September 1938 the Committee of Fight for Rights for Poles in Czechoslovakia (Komitet Walki o Śląsk Zaolziański) was created in Katowice, which began infiltrating the Zaolzie territory to conduct clandestine operations against the Czechoslovak government and the soldiers stationed there. Along them members of the K-7, a nationalist organization that was strictly covert (both in Poland and abroad) and was elite rather than large-scale in nature, which proceedings were directed from Warsaw by Wiktor Tomir Drymmer and Edmund Charaszkiewicz, and on the ground by Major Feliks Ankerstein (Organizacja 'B') and Lieutenant Colonel Ludwik Zych (Zaolzie Legion, or Legion Zaolziański). On 23–24 September 1938, orders were given to the so-called 'battle units' of Zaolzie Poles and to the Zaolzie Legion made up of volunteers being assembled from all over the country to cross into that territory and attack Czech strong points. However, the few that did so were repulsed by well-prepared Czech troops and retreated to Poland. Sporadic attempts by local Poles to start an uprising also failed. Thus, the effort to produce a 'popular uprising' in Zaolzie, or at least a convincing demonstration by local Poles, was a complete fiasco. This secret Polish policy, partly modelled on the methods of Konrad Henlein's Sudetendeutsche Partei (SdP), was designed to show local support for the union of Zaolzie with Poland. However, without the SdP's numbers and financial resources the Poles had no chance of mounting such a demonstration. Furthermore, while there had been sporadic cooperation between Polish and SDP politicians in Czechoslovakia, in September SdP propaganda was claiming the region for Germany, so there was danger of a local or even a Polish-German clash over the territory.

On 25 September General Krejčí had sent a letter to President Beneš and Prime Minister Syrový demanded them to secure, if not active Polish cooperation, at least a benevolent neutrality, even at the price of certain territorial concessions. In exchange for territorial concessions, besides neutrality, Krejčí asked for material assistance, such as the supply of fuel, as well as consent to overflight, or even passage of Soviet troops through Polish territory. The importance of Poland's attitude was reiterated in a meeting between Krejčí, General Husárek and President Beneš' secretary Prokop Drtina the following day.

During the night of 25-26 September, President Beneš responded to the army high command's requests by undertaking diplomatic actions to ensure least Polish neutrality. He wrote a letter, dated 22 September 1938, to Polish President Ignacy Mościcki, proposing 'a frank and friendly discussion' of all mutual differences regarding the Polish population of Czechoslovakia. He stated that he wished to resolve them on the principle of frontier rectification. An agreement would, he believed, lead to a new period of mutual relations. However, the letter did not reach Mościcki until 26 September 1938.

Meanwhile, Beneš' letter to Mościcki was delivered on 26 September 1938, preceded by a Czechoslovak offer to start immediate negotiations and accompanied by a Franco-British note expressing hope that Poland would accept his proposal. However, Warsaw viewed it as part of Beneš' policy to avoid territorial losses. In fact, the Czechoslovak president was under pressure from France and Britain to secure Polish neutrality by agreeing to negotiate with Poland over Zaolzie with the goal of territorial cession, which Beneš tried to avert or at least put off as long as possible. Warsaw also suspected him of inspiring the Soviet note.

President Mościcki answered Beneš with a courteous letter dated 27 September stating that the time had come for 'a courageous decision on territorial questions'. Along with his letter, he handed Polish ambassador to Prague, Kazimierz Papée, a memorandum demanding the immediate conclusion of an agreement whereby indisputably Polish territory (Těšín) should be occupied by Polish troops; this was to be followed by an agreement on plebiscites in districts with a strong percentage of Polish population. However, this Polish note went unanswered until 1 October 1938.

Polish ultimatum

On 1 October 1938 German forces invaded Czechoslovakia from the west, north, and south. Czechoslovak forces gradually withdrew to the southeast where they prepared for a defence of the Moravian-Slovak border and awaited the French, British and Soviet support and relief that they were expecting. The Allied governments declared war on Germany on 3 October but failed to provide any meaningful support.

The news of the German invasion was met with alarm in Warsaw. At 07:00 Foreign Minister Józef Beck met with Michał Łubieński, the head of the Office of the Polish Foreign Ministry, and discussed whether Poland should mobilize in defense of Czechoslovakia. Beck also discussed the matter with Marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły, the Commander-in-Chief of the Polish armed forces, and the Chief of the Polish General Staff, Brigadier General Wacław Stachiewicz. Beck had originally thought the Czechs would not fight, that the Western powers were unprepared to help them, and that the Soviet Union would limit itself to demonstrations. Now as hostilities had broken out, and the French signaled that they would fulfill all her obligations, Poland was put in a predicament whether to side with the Western Allies or remain neutral.

While the Poles had sharpened the anti-Czech rhetoric as the crisis escalated, the question of Polish mobilization against Germany was not unheard of. In late May 1938, while refusing to support the peace efforts of London and Paris, Beck had confirmed to French Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet Poland's readiness to fulfill its alliance obligations to France, that is, if the latter went to war with Germany. Beck tried later to inform the Western powers of his policy confidentially so as not to provoke Germany, mainly through Anthony J. Drexel Biddle Jr., the US. ambassador to Poland, whom he trusted and considered a personal friend. In June 1938 he had told Biddle that the combined armies of Poland, Romania, and possibly Yugoslavia, could present a potentially effective resistance to German aggression eastward if British and French forces simultaneously engaged German forces in the west. If this happened, "Poland would march not for Czechoslovakia, but against Germany." Later, on 31 August, Sir Robert Vansittart, the chief diplomatic adviser to the British Foreign Office, took note of a statement reportedly made by a member of Rydz-Śmigły's, who stated that Polish policy would depend on the Western powers: if they came to Czechoslovakia's assistance, Poland would fight on their side, but if they did not, she would annex her share of Czechoslovakia. There had also been discussions in the Polish general staff on the possibility of using the force mobilized opposite Zaolzie to support Czechoslovakia in case of war between the latter and Germany.

At 2:00 PM Łubieński met with French Ambassador Léon Noël to discuss the details of a French military response to the German invasion. However, Noël could only state that France would fulfill its obligations to Czechoslovakia. Polish Ambassador Juliusz Łukasiewicz, who had met with French Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet in Paris, were likewise told that "France would fulfill all her obligations in due time", and urged Poland to fulfill their obligations in the Franco-Polish alliance of 1921. Bonnet also appealed for Polish-Czechoslovak negotiations, offering French mediation in a settlement of the Zaolzie question. The Polish ambassador in London, Edward Raczyński, telephoned Beck and told him that he had received a personal offer of British mediation from Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in return for Polish neutrality, which was also presented to Łubieński by British Ambassador Sir Howard Kennard at 4:30 PM.

Meanwhile, the Polish General Staff were alarmed when reports indicated that German forces now were only four kilometers from Bohumín, the important railway junction north of Ostrava. Poland had on 28 September learned that on the map presented by Hitler to Chamberlain at Godesberg on 23 September, the northwestern part of Zaolzie (which included significant coal mines and steel industry as well as the important railway junction at Bohumín) was destined to go to Germany. Beck had instructed ambassador Lipski in Berlin to clarify the matter with the German government, warning that it this was necessary in order to avoid a political or military conflict. The result had originally been a German agreement on 28 September not to claim Bohumín, but with the outbreak of war and the proximity of German forces in the area there were now fears that Germany might seize the area. At 4:45 PM Lipski telephoned from Berlin relating his conversation with German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, which indicated that Hitler would take on the role of protector of Poland and Hungary. He told Lipski that Poland could be satisfied with the way in which her interests had been safeguarded. Germany, in accordance with its understanding with Poland, would respect Poland's territorial demands on Zaolzie, but only if Poland guaranteed their neutrality and acted quickly in seizing the disputed region in question.

As such, there were several reasons for Beck's drastic step to change policy at a moment's notice, which would eventually tarnish Poland's reputation, and particularly that of Foreign Minister Józef Beck. In the evening of 1 October 1938, a cabinet meeting was held at the Warsaw Castle which Beck proposed military action. Beck claimed that the German invasion had altered the political situation dramatically. Poland should, argued Beck, quickly and quite drastically take a stand by issuing an ultimatum to Prague to cede the Zaolzie region to Poland. Only such a determined step by Poland could save the region from falling under German control. Furthermore, the close geographic proximity of Germany forced Poland to take immediate action. If the Poles hesitated, Germany could seize the valuable and highly industrialized area of Zaolzie for themselves, eliminating Polish claims to the region for a long time to come. Beck also said that the Polish government had long been demanding, and received, the Czechoslovak government's agreement in principle to the equal treatment of Polish claims and the rights granted by Czechoslovakia to its German minority. In view of this, Beck proposed an ultimatum to Prague. While all participants at the meeting agreed in principle with these arguments, but there was a sharp clash to the proposal of presenting the Polish demands as an ultimatum. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Treasury, Eugeniusz Kwiatkowski, argued for normal diplomatic procedures so as to prevent Poland's identification with Germany, avoid disharmony with Western friends, and avert creating a dangerous pretext for Soviet intervention. In the end, however, Kwiatkowski's protest was overruled, as the majority of the conference members supported Beck's proposal. Thus, the Polish government decided to issue an ultimatum to Prague.

Thus, the Polish government issued an ultimatum to Prague. It was delivered by Polish Minister Papée at 23:40 on 1 October 1938, that is, 17 hours after the outbreak of war. The Polish note rejected the Czechoslovak proposal of negotiations and demanded the immediate cession of the preponderantly Polish areas of Zaolzie and the withdrawal of all Czechoslovak military personnel by 3 October, and a cession of the the Orava territory in the Beskidy Mountains, Spiš and Čadca in the Tatra Mountains by 9 October. An answer was demanded by midnight on 2 October.

President Beneš called for a meeting at the Prague Castle with Prime Minister Jan Syrový and the cabinet at 01:30. General Krejčí, the commander of the Main Headquarters of the Czechoslovak Army (HVOA), was telephoned at 00:45 the headquarters in Račice, where he again urged the government to accept the ultimatum in exchange for Poland remaining neutral and for Poland allowing material assistance as well as consent to Soviet overflight or transit rights for Soviet ground forces Polish territory. At the cabinet meeting the Beneš and the government decided to agree to the ultimatum in return of Polish neutrality and transit rights for Soviet forces if they entered the war. Foreign Minister Kamil Krofta telephoned Ambassador Papée to deliver Prague's reply to the Polish ultimatum at 08:30 on 2 October. Papée telephoned at 09:15 on 2 October transmitting Prague's offer, which Beck discussed with Rydz-Śmigły. The matter was discussed in a cabinet meeting convened at 12:00 Noon, where the Polish government decided that it would agree to remaining neutral, but that they could not give their consent to overflight or transit rights to Soviet troops. Beck subsequently instructed Papée to deliver the Polish response to the Czech offer, which was given to the Czechoslovak foreign ministry at 13:40. However, the Czechoslovak government were unable to reply to the Polish response. At 15:00 the Czechoslovak government and members of the National Assembly evacuated Prague by train towards Hranice, which they reached at 21:20 that evening. Most of the cabinet and the National Assembly continued by car and buses to the provisional capital of Turčiansky Svätý Martin in Slovakia, while Beneš and Syrový telephoned Foreign Minister Krofta, who had remained in Prague to continue the negotiations with the Polish, British, French and Soviet governments. Beneš was informed of the Polish response, but since he could not consult with the cabinet and representatives of the political parties, he instructed Krofta to request a twenty-four hour delay so the cabinet could convene and discuss the matter. Beneš also hoped that, in the meantime, France and the United Kingdom would declare war on Germany following the expiration of the deadline of their ultimatums, thus forcing Poland to show restraint. At 9:50 PM the Czechoslovak foreign ministry called Papée and requested a 24-hour delay.

Papée telephoned Beck at 10:00 PM transmitting Prague's offer. Poland was aware that the deadline of the French and British ultimatums to Germany would expire the following morning, making any seizure of the Zaolzie region impossible without British, French and Soviet accusations that Poland had entered the conflict on the side of Germany. Beck, therefore, decided to act immediately and take advantage of the situation and seize Zaolzie, hoping the Czechoslovak government would accept the loss of Zaolzie as a fait accompli and quickly give in to the Polish demands. Thus, at 10:40 PM Beck informed Papée that the Polish government had rejected the Czech request. This was reiterated to Foreign Minister Krofta by Papée at 11:10 PM, who also informed that Polish forces would seize Zaolzie by force if the Czech government did not accept the ultimatum before midnight. In the meantime, Marshal Rydz-Śmigły ordered General Władysław Bortnowski to initiate Plan B and order the forces of SGO Śląsk to advance into Zaolzie at dawn on 3 October, some five hours before the French ultimatum to Germany expired.

The British and French governments had criticized the Polish ultimatum and urged Poland to show restraint. The British, for their part, criticized the tone of the Polish press toward Czechoslovakia and warned Poland against the use of force. The French warned that a Polish military operation against Zaolzie would damage the Franco-Polish alliance of 1921. Meanwhile, the Polish ambassadors in London and Paris, who had stated repeatedly that the rights the Czechoslovak government granted to one of its minorities must also be granted to the Polish minority, countered with the statement that Poland simply were willing to protect the Polish minority in Zaolzie from possible German aggression. At 22:00 on 2 October Beck instructed Łubieński to inform the French and British governments that Poland had rejected the Franco-British appeal for Polish-Czechoslovak negotiations, as well as Neville Chamberlain's personal offer to him of British mediation. An hour later, at 11:00 PM, Łubieński met with British Ambassador Sir Howard Kennard and with French Ambassador Léon Noël; he told them that the Polish government could not accept the British mediation offer 'as it was too late'.

Opposing forces

Poland

Despite tensions between Poland and Czechoslovakia increased during the Sudeten Crisis, the Polish general staff had not developed any war plans directed against Czechoslovakia until September 1938. As the Sudeten Crisis escalated, the Polish Army High Command arranged military maneuver in Volhynia in eastern Poland on 5-19 September 1938. The scenario of the maneuvers were an attempt by the Soviet Red Army to march through Polish territory to assist Czechoslovakia, with the "blue" force imitating the Polish defenders and the "red" side imitating a Soviet attack. As a result, the border opposite Zaolzie was unprotected until the 21 September 1938, as the 21st Infantry Division participated in the maneuvers in eastern Poland, while the 23rd Infantry Division was exercising in the area of Jasło and Gorlice in the Carpathian Mountains.

The Chief of the Polish General Staff, General Wacław Stachiewicz, sent at 2130 hours on 16 September a telegram to Marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły with a confidential report on military arrangements in Czechoslovakia and a conspicuous concentration of German troops, the actions of Henlein and the militia units of the SdP, and Hungarian demands for a plebiscite in Slovakia and the Polish postulates concerning Zaolzie. According to Stachiewicz, in connection with the Czech military measures at the border and the initiation of Polish political actions regarding Zaolzie, it was advisable to demonstrate certain military measures at the border by deploying the school regiment of the Border Protection Corps' (Korpus Ochrony Pogranicza, KOP), the 4th Podhale Rifles Regiment as well as retaining older classes of reservists. Rydz-Śmigły agreed to deploy the KOP school regiment, but decided to keep the 4th Podhale Rifles at the army for a few more days and to determine whether to dismiss or retain the reservists.

Several reports were sent from the general staff on the military developments the following days. At 1400 hours on 19 September Stachiewicz sent a detailed report to Rydz-Śmigły with new information on the situation in Czechoslovakia. Stachiewicz concluded that a local war seemed inevitable, and that the rapid development of the situation and the diverse attitude of the Western powers regarding the other ethnic minorities besides the Sudeten Germans required a fast demonstration of force. He proposed redeploying the 21st Infantry Division and the 10th Mechanized Cavalry Brigade to Silesia the same evening or in the morning of 20 September at the latest. This was granted by Rydz-Śmigły at 15:15 hours and the units were loaded on trains and departed the following day. On 22 September Rydz-Śmigły, following a briefing of the Polish military leadership on the current political and military situation, it was decided to launch military intervention. The Polish military preparations gained momentum; on 23 September Order No. 3000 order was implemented, ordering the Polish Army to form the Independent Operational Group Silesia (Samodzielna Grupa Operacyjna Śląsk, SGO Śląsk). Marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły appointed Brigadier General Władysław Bortnowski as commander of SGO Śląsk. The bulk of the operational group comprised the 4th, 21st, 23rd and 25th Infantry Divisions of the Polish Army, along with the Wielkopolska Cavalry Brigade with a total of 837 horses and the 10th Mechanized Cavalry Brigade. The Polish Air Force deployed five fighter squadrons, two squadrons of light bombers (21st and 22nd), one reconnaissance squadron and five platoons of support aircraft, comprising a total of 103 aircraft. In total the operational group had a strength of 35,966 men, 837 horses, 267 cars, 707 trucks, 459 motorcycles, 103 tanks, nine armoured cars, one armoured train, 1,012 light machine guns, 445 heavy machine guns, 117 anti-tank guns and 103 aircraft.

On 26 September Bortnowski presented SGO Silesia's operational plan, which envisaged two main axes of attack. The 21st Infantry Division, supported by the 10th Mechanized Cavalry Brigade, was to bypass Český Těšín to the south and advance towards Hnojník - Horní Tošanovice via Třinec and then continue towards Frýdek - Bruzovice. On their left flank, the Wielkopolska Cavalry Brigade, supported by the Battalion "Różan", would advance on and secure the Jablunkov Pass. The second main line of attack, was to be carried out by the 23rd Infantry Division, supported by the majority of the ON troops (Obrona Narodowa). Supported by the heavy artillery, they would carry out a frontal attack on Český Těšín from the north. The purpose of this attack was to pin down as many Czechoslovak units in the area as possible. On their right flank three battalions of the National Defense would advance on Fryštát and Karviná and then cross the Olza River. The attack was scheduled after strong artillery preparations from the early morning, while the air force was tasked with protecting the ground forces from enemy air strikes.

Polish Order of Battle

Polish Order of battle – 3 October 1938
Independent Operational Group Silesia
(Samodzielna Grupa Operacyjna Śląsk, SGO Śląsk)
Codename: "Wacław"
CO: Brigadier General Władysław Bortnowski
Chief of Staff: Lieutenant Colonel Czesław Kopański
Artillery commander: Colonel Leon Bogusławski
Aviation commander: Lieutenant Colonel Władysław Kalkus
Anti-aircraft artillery commander: Colonel Franciszek Mołodyński
Engineer commander: Major Jan Guderski
Headquarters
Unit Commanding Officer Note
4th Toruńska Infantry Division
  • 4th Legions' Infantry Regiment
  • 14th Kujavian Infantry Regiment
  • 15th Wolves Infantry Regiment
  • 4th Light Artillery Regiment
  • 15th Light Artillery Regiment
  • 16th Light Artillery Regiment
Brig. Gen. Mikołaj Bołtuć Comprised of 9 infantry battalions
21st Mountain Infantry Division
  • 1st Legions Infantry Regiment
  • 3rd Podhale Rifles Regiment
  • 4th Podhale Rifles Regiment
  • 4th Light Artillery Regiment
  • 21st Light Artillery Regiment
  • 31st Light Artillery Regiment
Brig. Gen. Józef Kustroń Comprised of 9 infantry battalions
23rd Górnośląska Infantry Division
  • 11th Infantry Regiment
  • 73rd Infantry Regiment
  • 75th Infantry Regiment
  • 23rd Light Artillery Regiment
Brig. Gen. Jan Jagmin-Sadowski Comprised of 6 infantry battalions
25th Kalisz Infantry Division
  • 29th Infantry Regiment (one battalion)
  • 56th Infantry Regiment (one battalion)
  • 60th Infantry Regiment (one battalion)
  • 25th Light Artillery Regiment
Col. Wojciech Tyczyński Comprised of 3 infantry battalions
Wielkopolska Cavalry Brigade
  • 15th Poznań Uhlans Regiment
  • 16th Wielkopolska Uhlan Regiment
  • 17th Wielkopolska Uhlan Regiment
  • 7th Wielkopolska Mounted Artillery Regiment
  • 11th Wielkopolska Mounted Artillery Regiment
  • 3rd Squadron of Pioneers
  • 7th Squadron of Communications
Brig. Gen. Roman Abraham The 16th Uhlan Regiment was composed of squadrons of the 16th Uhlan Regiment, 18th Pomeranian Uhlan Regiment and the 8th Mounted Rifles Regiment of Pomorska Cavalry Brigade.
10th Mechanized Cavalry Brigade
  • 10th Mounted Rifle Regiment
  • 24th Uhlan Regiment
  • 1st Motorized Artillery Regiment
  • 10th Reconnaissance Tank Squadron
  • 10th Anti-Tank Squadron
Col. Antoni Trzaska-Durski
Support units
1st Tank Battalion Maj. Adam Kubin
1st Engineer Battalion Maj. Zygmunt Pieńkowski
3rd Rifle Battalion Lt. Col. Marian Wieroński
18th Heavy Artillery Detachment Lt. Col. Władysław Brzozowski IV
Heavy Artillery Detachment Lt. Col. Piotr Jezierski Subordnate to the 1st Heavy Artillery Regiment in Góra Kalwaria.
2nd Anti-Tank Company
22nd Anti-Tank Company
Armored Train No. 260 Capt. Bronisław Korobowicz
Silesian Brigade of National Defense
  • ON Battalion "Tarnowskie Góri"
  • ON Battalion "Zawiercie"
  • ON Battalion "Katowice"
  • ON Battalion "Sosnowiec"
  • ON Battalion "Rybnik"
Col. Józef Giza
Silesian-Cieszyń Half-Brigade of National Defense
  • ON Battalion "Bielsko"
  • ON Battalion "Cieszyn"
  • ON Battalion "Oświęcim"
Lt. Col. Jan Gabryś
School KOP Regiment Lt. Col. Jan Gabryś 16 platoons from the Border Protection Corps' (Korpus Ochrony Pogranicza, KOP) Central School of Non-Commissioned Officers in Osowiec.
Border Guard (Straż Graniczna) units Six police stations and 28 subordinate units stationed in the area of the SG District in Bielsko.
Battalion "Różan" Maj. Karol Fanslau
Zaolzie Legion
  • Group I "Cieszyn"
  • Group II "Rybnik"
  • Group III "Bielsko"
  • Group IV "Pszczyna"
Lt. Col. Ludwik Zych The legion had a strength of 1,700 men divided into 14 companies.
Battle groups from Organization "B" Maj. Feliks Ankerstein Ten battle groups with a total strength of 131 men.

Czechoslovakia

The Czechoslovak Army High Command's reserves had at their disposal three divisions facing Poland. The 16th Division, commanded by Brigadier General Josef Buben, was tasked with reinforcing the defences around Těšín. The division was not deployed in the Těšín area, however, as the division was still in the process of mobilization. Several important subunits of the division had not yet arrived, since the division was being mobilized with soldiers from Eastern Slovakia (Michalovce) and Carpatho-Ruthenia (Chust, Užhorod and Mukačevo). The transportation of these troops were slow due to limited rail connections and railway carts of poor quality. The divisional headquarters arrived in Vsetín on 2 October, while the first troops arrived the following day. The 16th Division, commanded by Brigadier General František Marvan, was responsible for the defence in the areas of Ružomberok, Žilina and Dolný Kubín. The division was deployed in Čadca and Krásno nad Kysucou along the Polish border. The 22nd Division, commanded by Brigadier General Josef Beránek, was tasked to support either the 12th Division in the defence of Těšín or the 16th Division in the defence of the Slovak border against Poland. However, the division was still being mobilized, and important subunits had not yet arrived from Slovakia.

Czechoslovak Order of Battle

Units subordinate of 2nd Army
Border Zone XIII
(Hraniční pásmo XIII)
Codename: "Rostislav"
CO: Division General Emil Fiala
Chief of Staff: Colonel Jan Procházka
Headquarters Hranice
Unit Codename Commanding Officer Headquarters Note
Border Area 37 (Hraniční oblast 37)
  • Infantry Regiment 15
  • ZLO Regiment 160
  • Border Regiment 8
  • Infantry Regiment 8
  • Infantry Regiment 40
  • Artillery Regiment 37
  • Artillery Regiment 128
  • Artillery Detachment I./133
  • Mixed Reconnaissance Unit (SPO) 37
  • Engineer Company 29
  • Telepraph Battalion 37
  • Tankette Platoon 11
  • Improvised Armoured Train (IOV) 37
"Florián" Brig. Gen. Jindřich Birula
Chief of Staff: Lt. Col. Ferdinand Čatloš
Šternberk
Units of the HVOA Reserve
Unit Codename Commanding Officer Headquarters Note
12th Division (12. divize)
  • Infantry Regiment 70 (I.-III.)
  • Infantry Regiment 86 (I.-III.)
  • Infantry Regiment 95 (I.-III.)
  • Artillery Regiment 12 (I.-III.)
  • Mixed Reconaissance Unit (SPO) 12
    • Including a troop of thhree light tanks
  • Engineer Company 12
  • Telegraph Battalion 12
"Fajnor" Col. Josef Buben
Chief of Staff: Maj. K. Eminger
Vsetín Divisional headquarters arrived on 2 October.
16th Division (16. divize)
  • Infantry Regiment 41 (I.-III.)
  • Mountain Infantry Regiment 1 (I.-III.)
  • Mountain Infantry Regiment 2 (I.-III.)
  • Artillery Regiment 201 (I.-III.)
  • Mixed Reconaissance Unit (SPO) 16
    • Including a troop of three light tanks
  • Engineer Company 16
  • Telegraph Battalion 16
"Jablonský" Brig. Gen. František Marvan
Chief of Staff: Lt. Col. Petr Duda
Ružomberok The division was still in the process of mobilization.
22nd Division (22. divize)
  • Infantry Regiment 66 (I.-III.)
  • Infantry Regiment 87 (I.-III.)
  • Mountain Infantry Regiment 7 (I.-III.)
  • Artillery Regiment 204 (I.-III.)
  • Mixed Reconaissance Unit (SPO) 22
  • Engineer Company 22
  • Telegraph Battalion 22
"Hviezdoslav" Brig. Gen. Josef Beránek
Chief of Staff: Lt. Col. A. Pospíšil
Žilina The division was still in the process of mobilization.
State Defense Guard (Stráž obrany státu, SOS)
Unit Commanding Officer Headquarters Note
SOS Battalion 16 Lt. Col. Ludvík Cibulka Ostrava 1,723 men (427 gendarmes, 240 policemen, 406 customs officers, 648 military reservists and two active soldiers)
SOS Battalion 20 Lt. Col. Albert Říha Žilina 366 men (246 gendarmes, 52 customs officers, 67 military reservists and one active soldier)

Details of the Campaign

Land campaign

Air campaign

Conclusion of the fighting

Aftermath

Germany

Western Allies

Negotiations with the Soviet Union

Main article: Second Polish–Soviet War

See also

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