Czechoslovakia Table of Contents
On August 20, 1968, Warsaw Pact forces--including troops from Bulgaria, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Hungary, Poland, and the Soviet Union--invaded Czechoslovakia. Approximately 500,000 troops, mostly from the Soviet Union, poured across the borders in a blitzkrieg-like advance (see Intervention , ch. 1).
The invasion was meticulously planned and coordinated, as the operation leading to the capture of Prague's Ruzyne International Airport in the early hours of the invasion demonstrated. A special flight from Moscow, which had prior clearance, arrived just as the Warsaw Pact troops began crossing the borders. The aircraft carried more than 100 plainclothes agents, who quickly secured the airport and prepared the way for a huge airlift. Giant An-12 aircraft began arriving at the rate of one per minute, unloading Soviet airborne troops equipped with artillery and light tanks. As the operation at the airport continued, columns of tanks and motorized rifle troops headed toward Prague and other major centers, meeting no resistance.
By dawn on August 21, 1968, Czechoslovakia was an occupied country. During the day, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs "with the endorsement of the President of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and on behalf of the Government of the Republic" transmitted to the governments of the invading countries "a resolute protest with the requirement that the illegal occupation of Czechoslovakia be stopped without delay and all armed troops be withdrawn." That evening in a nationwide radio broadcast President Svoboda stated that the Warsaw Pact forces had entered the country "without the consent of the constitutional organs of the state," thus officially denying the Soviet claim that they had been invited into the country to preserve socialism. The people of Czechoslovakia generally resented the presence of foreign troops. They demonstrated their objections in mass gatherings in the streets and by various acts of passive resistance. The invading troops could see that they had not been invited into and were not wanted in Czechoslovakia.
One of the priority missions of the Warsaw Pact forces during the early stages of the invasion was to neutralize the Czechoslovak armed forces. That mission proved to be easy because Czechoslovak authorities had confined the armed forces to their barracks. In effect, the Czechoslovak forces were prisoners in their own barracks although, on orders from the Warsaw Pact command, they had not been disarmed. At the end of three weeks, the Soviet units that had surrounded Czechoslovak military installations were pulled back, but the suspicions that had been aroused among the troops on both sides were not easily dispelled. Czechoslovak military spokesmen tried to depict their forces as the same strong, efficient organization that had previously manned the westernmost wall of the Warsaw Pact, but obvious doubts had been raised in the minds of authorities in the other countries. Czechoslovaks, in turn, wondered about allies who could so suddenly become invaders.
Data as of August 1987