Czechoslovak military units in the USSR (1942 - 1945)

Before the German occupation, 13,5 million citizens lived in former Czechoslovakia. In particular 7 mil. Czechs, 3,5 mil. Germans, 2,5 mil. Slovaks, 0,5 mil. Hungarians, further around a hundred thousands Rusyns, Jews and Poles. That was also the reason why the national composition of Czechoslovak units was very disparated. The difference was not only national but also political and social. There were officers from regular Czechoslovak First-Republic army, "Spaniards" 1, members of communist exile, people which came to Soviet Union for work at time of world economic depression and many others.

The most typical ways to join the Czechoslovak units in USSR were:
  • a person was situated (lived, worked) free on USSR territory and joined the unit after a challenge to fight;
  • a person lived in Volyn province (Czech minority in USSR) was drafted by Red army (no matter of Czech nationality) from where he later came to Czechoslovak unit; or in relation to pre-war Soviet persecution in framework he was haled off to gulags, from where in case of his survival until general amnesty of Czechoslovak citizens (1942 - 1943) he joined the unit; or joined the unit after the liberation of Volyn province in the beginning 1944;
  • a person after the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Germany looked for sanctuary in Poland. After occupation of eastern polish territories by USSR respective person was, if he had no Soviet permission to leave and work on this territory, deported inland or to a gulag. After the general amnesty of Czechoslovak citizens (1942 - 1943) he joined Czechoslovak unit;
  • a person before or after the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Germany crossed the Polish state borders, entered Czech and Slovak legion in Poland, which was in September 1939 captured by Red Army and interned in different Soviet internment camps. Legion members later (in 1942) composed 1st Czechoslovak independent field battalion in USSR;
  • a person before or after the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Germany crossed the state borders (Poland, Rumania, elsewhere), entered into new nascent Czechoslovak military units abroad and by different ways arrived in England from where he was sent (especially officers and specialists /pilots/) to Czechoslovak unit in USSR;
  • a person was situated out of Czechoslovakia before the occupation, joined the new nascent Czechoslovak military units abroad and by different ways arrived in England from where he was sent (especially officers and specialists /pilots/) to the Czechoslovak unit in USSR;
  • a person before or after the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Germany crossed the USSR state borders where was arrested by Soviet administrative authority, convicted and put in working camps or colonies (gulags). In case of his survival until the amnesty of Czechoslovak citizens he joined the Czechoslovak unit, or if he did not prove Czechoslovak nationality he was sent to Soviet criminal battalions (Red Army) from where he could "thanks to a miracle" come to Czechoslovak unit;
  • a person voluntarily or involuntarily joined the enemy‘s army (Slovak Army, Hungarian Royal Army, Wehrmacht) from where he deserted and surrended to the members of Red Army. After that he was kept in a Soviet internment camp, checked and sent to Czechoslovak unit;
  • a person voluntarily or involuntarily joined the enemy‘s army (Slovak Army, Hungarian Royal Army, Wehrmacht). During combat or military service in USSR was captured by the Red Army and kept in Soviet camp for war prisoners. If he owned Czechoslovak citizenship, he had possibility to enter Czechoslovak unit in USSR;
  • a person was involuntarily sent in framework auxiliary or labor (liquidating) battalions (Hungarian Royal Army) to Eastern front from where deserted or was captured. After that he was kept in Soviet internment camp, checked and than sent to Czechoslovak unit;
  • a person acted in guerilla resistance movement during the war from where he joined Czechoslovak unit;
  • a person (Rusyn) joined the Czechoslovak unit during a short mobilization in the Subcarpathian Rus (a part of Czechoslovakian territory before the war);
  • a person joined the unit during or after the liberation of Slovakia.

Number and national composition of members of Czechoslovak eastern units
date Cz Sk Rsn Jw Hu Lv Pl D Ru Sov total
01.05.1942 277 (45,7%) 21 (3,5%) 19 (3,1%) 286 (47,2%) 2 - - - - - 606
1st Czechoslovak independent filed battalion
30.01.1943 ? ? 264 (27,1%) ? ? ? ? ? ? ? 974
1st Czechoslovak independent brigade
30.09.1943 563 (16%) 343 (9,7%) 2 210 (62,8%) 204 (5,8%) 13 2 5 2 6 169 (4,8%) 3 517
26.03.1944 ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? 5 325
1st Czechoslovak army corps
07/1944 ? ? 3 177 (19,6%) ? ? ? ? ? ? ? 16 171
04/1945 ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ap. 32 000
05/1945 ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ap. 60 000
Abreviations: Cz = Czechs, Sk = Slovaks, Rsn = Rusyns, Jw = Jews, Hu = Hungarians, Lv = Latvians, Pl = Poles, D = Germans, Ru = Russians, Sov = generally Soviets, ap. = approximately


The core of the first military unit in USSR consisted of soldiers and volunteers, who escaped the enemy-occupied Czechoslovakia north to Poland and entered a newly based unit Czech and Slovak legion. When it was clear that Poland lose war with Germany, legion's command decided to move eastward and look for protection in Romania. But legion was taken by Red Army and several times moved to different internment camps. Later legion reorganized into the Eastern group of Czechoslovak army. In regard to poor living conditions in camps, bad treatment from the side of Soviet jailers and "hunger for" fight against Germans, major part of legionaries during 1940 - 1941 left USSR and went to France and Middle East. Only small group of officers stayed and in 1942 established the 1st Czechoslovak independent filed battalion in the Ural's city of Buzuluk.
From 03.02.1942 was possible to recruit new volunteers among "Soviet citizens of Czechoslovak nationality" and at the same time Soviet state committee of defense approved amnesty for all Czechoslovak citizens, which were arrested, charged with "illegal border overrun" and put in prisons. Historians indicate their number between 3 000 - 4 000 2.

Czechs from Volyn province 3

30 000 Czechs came up to the Volyn guberny in the 1870‘s, where they built up fruitful and prosperous farmhouses grouped to several villages as Kasilkov, Zdolbunov, Český Boratín, Huleč, Podhajce, České Novosilky, Malín and others. During the World War I. many of them entered Czechoslovak legions and fought at Zborov, Bachmac and Siberia railroad. Creation of Polish state split Volyn area in two parts. The western part fell to Poland, the eastern to USSR. Eastern Volyn experienced soon what Stalin's dictatorship of the proletariat - collectivization, executions and deportations to gulags meant. Those horrors applied to the Czech minor community, so naturally they looked for ways how to come back home.
After liberation of Western Ukraine including Rovno's area by "1st Ukrainian front" in the begining of 1944, Czechoslovak command decided to mobilize and recharge brigade status even here. Within 6 weeks 12 000 Volyn’s Czechs entered the Czechoslovak units to fight for the return into their country.


On 14.03.1939 Slovakia declared independence of Czechoslovakia. Clerical-fascist government with its leader Tiso moved into the German military machinery. Slovakia as the only German ally attacked Poland in September 1939. Slovak army also participated in the framework of eastern axis campaign against the USSR (in particular "Fast (mobile) division" further "1st infantry division" and "Provisory division" further "2nd infantry division"). From 1943 it was more obvious, that German initiative languishes. Military failures on eastern front, increasing German disbelief and superiority towards their allies including Slovaks, hidden belief in pre-war Czechoslovakia and tradition of First-Republic Czechoslovak army among a number of Slovak officers, and naturally fear from military defeat of Slovakia and implicit in it consequences - those factors were determinant, that Slovak soldiers gradually deserted from their units. Among best-known cases belong:

[07.06.1939]8 members of 64th and Technical squadrons (3rd air regiment of "air force general M.R. Štefánik") on three planes Letov Š-328 and one Aero Ab-101 to Poland (airports Dęblin and Krakow).
[07/1939]Koren's group (mostly company) to Poland.
[1941]Hirner's group. 4
[1941/42]Drugda's group. 4
[1942]Gajdos's group. 4
[29.01.1943]53 soldiers under command first-lieutenant Pavol Marcelly deserted from "Fast division" (in the concrete 1st company / 1st battalion / 21st motorized regiment "David") in village Ponezhukaj and immediately volunteered to Czechoslovak unit. On 05.07.1943 this group arrived Novochopersk and completed 1st Czechoslovak independent brigade.
[30.01.1943]7th company of 20th motorized regiment "Matúš" and 45 soldiers from arnament unit under command lieutenant Jozef Jeremiáš deserted from "Fast division" at village Edepshukaj.
[11.02.1943]37 soldiers of staff company left Slovak unit.
[15.05.1943]group of captain Nalepka (future Hero of the USSR) deserted from 101st infantry regiment of "Provisory division", and organized the "1st Czechoslovak guerilla detachment in USSR". Afterwards their members joined the Czechoslovak units.
[09.09.1943]3 pilots of Slovak "13th fighter squadron" flew on two planes Me-109 G to Soviet side.
[30.10.1943]2 731 soldiers deserted, partly were captured, from "1st infantry division" around the Melitopol area. In Usman - Soviet camp for war prisoners captured Slovaks organized "Regiment of Slovak volunteer" and afterwards 2 028 of them entered 1st Czechoslovak army corps, where they created a core of nascent 2nd paradesant brigade (01/1944).
[31.08.1944]76 pilots under command major Trnka deserted on 26 planes from "Slovak air arms" [5] and flew from Slovakia to Soviet side. The group was trained for Soviet planes and incorporated into 1st Czechoslovak join air division.

Rusyns (Ruthenes)

From 10.09.1919 Subcarpathian Rus became a part of Czechoslovakia and experienced 20 years of peace, economic, curricular and cultural development. On the eve of German occupation of Czech lands (15.03.1939), local government decided, after the separation of Slovakia (14.03.1939), to declare independent state - "Carpathian Ukraine" (14.03.1939). Government at the head of prezident Voloshin started search protection in Germany against imminent Hungarian occupation. In meantime Czechoslovak units, in spite of Hungarian military invasion, began organised retreat and evacuation of Czechoslovak soldiers, citizens and state property from territory of Subcarpathian Rus. At same time successfully beat back Hungarian attacks. But domestic nationalistic light armed troops (Sich Guard 6) had no chance to oppose in long term and were defeated 7. Occupied territory got new name "Karpatalja" and Hungarian dominion "rules".
War between Germany and Poland brought small hope for Rusyns, who did not agree with the Hungarian occupation. According to the agreement between Hitler and Stalin, Soviets approached borders of former Subcarpathian Rus in September 1939. Mass exodus especially of young Rusyns, who wanted avoid the enlistment to the Hungarian army 8 or youth military organization "Levente" 9, brought them more suffering at the end. Directly after crossing the USSR borders they were arrested and convicted by Soviets for "illegal border crossing" or "espionage" and sent to concentration camps (gulags).
Soviet amnesty for Czechoslovak citizens in February 1942 was not kept in relation to Rusyns, who Soviets considered as Hungarian spies. The Czechoslovak military mission in USSR led by general Píka refused Soviet imputations and started to gather information. Based on the statements of already liberated prisoners, general Píka had compiled list of 29 gulags, where about 21 000 Rusyns were in jail, and pursued their liberation. Only on November 19th, 1942 Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet approved the amnesty for refugees from Hungary - Rusyns, Ukrainians and Slovaks, who were till breakdown of Czechoslovakia considered as Czechoslovak citizens. Although the first Rusyn transports arrived to Czechoslovak garrison only in winter 1942 10, major dispatch began only in the beginning of 1943. According to historians only 8 000 out of more than 21 000 11 Rusyns survived the Soviet gulags.


German occupation of the rest of Czech lands posed direct danger for Czech citizens of Jewish nationality. Therefore they scuttled through neighbouring countries, primarily across Poland 12. In Poland some Jews, as well as Czechs and Slovaks, joined rising Czechoslovak military group, although not to all of them happened to enter there 13. Some succeeded through different Jewish commitees and organizations 14 and went out to Great Britain, others decided to stay in Poland or look for salvation in USSR 15. As soon as Soviet administration consolidated on occupied Polish territory, started raids - foreigners, who could not prove documents that confirmed residence or work permits were arrested. Politically conscious Jews were sent to work in central or eastern regions of USSR, problematic were deported to works camps 16. Those, who were arrested by Soviets for illegal overrun of USSR state borders (especially from Subcarpathian Rus), were convicted and sent to works camps or colonies. Only Soviet amnesty in 1942 gave to Czechoslovak Jews possibility leave cruel camps and enter Czechoslovak military units.
Jewish volunteers were represented also by former servicemen of Royal Hungarian army. After beginning of German Russian war, in the rough 50 000 Jews were sent to eastern front in framework Hungarian auxiliary labour units in years 1941 - 1944. Those units were determined for liquidation 17, not supposed their return back to Hungary. For comprehensible purposes they sought ways how to give up to Red Army. From Soviet camps for war prisoners Czechoslovak Jews (from southern Slovakia or Subcarpathian Rus - occupied territories by Hungary) were able, after checking, to enter Czechoslovak units.

  1. "Spaniards" ("španěláci" in Czech) - term for Czechoslovaks who fought in Spanish civil war against Franko's regime (1936 - 1939).
  2. Including Slovaks.
  3. Citation from book. Source: Richter K. - Přes krvavé řeky.
  4. Source: http://www.szpb.sk.
  5. "Slovenské vzdušné zbraně" (SVZ) = official name for Slovak aviation. Existed from 1939 untill October 1944, when were disbanded. During this time from SVZ deserted 157 pilots with 58 planes. Source: Kliment Ch.K., Nakládal B. - Slovenská armáda 1939 - 1945.
  6. Adherents of Great Ukraine, mostly organized from Halic Ukrainian nationalists than Rusyns.
  7. The culmination of this was the Battle of Krasne Pole on 16 March 1939. Here the Ukrainian soldiers organized their defense against the regular Hungarian army which included tanks, planes, artillery and heavy weapons. By the evening, the Carpatho-Ukraininan capital fell. Source: Ukraine in Wolrd War II. All prisoners were executed by Hungarians on the spot.
  8. When Germany assaulted USSR, Hungary declared war on USSR and sent own soldiers to the Eastern front. Among those members of Hungarian Royal army were also Slovaks and Rusyns from occupied territories.
  9. Young people's organization equivalent to the Hitler youth in Germany as "Hitlerjugend". Set up after World War I with the objective of preparing its members for possible future military service. Later "Levente" formed the nucleus of the volunteers in the Hungarian Waffen-SS.
  10. 30.12.1942 (according other source it was on 31.12.1942) - first group of Rusyns (111) came to Buzuluk and at once commenced training (02.01.1943).
  11. According other source it was 25 000 Rusyns. Source: Pop I. - Dějiny Podkarpatské Rusi v datech.
  12. Credited with anti-Semitism.
  13. Jewish volunteer could be accetpted by military group only if he verified Czech, Slovak or Rusyns nationality. Jews, who endorsed German, Hungarian or Jewish nationality were rejected. Nationalistic Jews, Zionists were not accepted ever. The only exception were Jewish doctors. Source: Kulka E. - Židé v československé Svobodově armádě.
  14. As "British Committee for Refuges from Czechoslovakia" (called also "Czechoslovak Refugee Trust Fund").
  15. If they applied for Soviet citizenship or enlisted for work in regions, which were actively developed by Soviets (e.g. Donbas). Source: Kulka E. - Židé v československé Svobodově armádě.
  16. Estimations speaks about 5 000 Jewish refugees. Half of them reportedly died in labor camps. Source: Kulka E. - Židé v československé Svobodově armádě.
  17. Their members were abused and slaughtered by Hungarians and Germans. For example their were used for way through minefields. From 50 000 Jews sent to eastern front reportedly survived around 10 000. Source: Kulka E. - Židé v československé Svobodově armádě.


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