From Suppression to Freedom
A sunny day of 8th May, 2003 was the day of a large re-enactment action organized by our military-historical club, Gardekorps-Praha. We are a club, involved in re-enacting many historical periods, from Napoleonic times, through the Prussian-Austrian war, WWI, the Czech Republic between the Wars (known as the First Republic), and of course the WWII period. We frequently visit events in our own country and overseas, such as Austerlitz, Königgratz, and Leipzig, and we organize some large actions ourselves. These are mainly actions of the WWII era. So far we have staged Dobrošov 1998, Barricade 2000 (commemorating the Prague Uprising of May 1945), and The Meeting on the Elbe 2002 (to celebrate the meeting of American and Soviet troops).
Military Re-enactment of the Sudetenland 1939-45,
Staged in Prague, Czech Republic, 8th May 2003
This year we decided to organize an even larger action to commemorate the end of WWII, requiring six months of organisation to attract sufficient historical vehicles, and the funds to support them. A cultural grant from Prague district 4 council (where the event was held) helped with the funds, and a promise of co-operation of the Czech Army Museum (formally the Military Historical Institute of Prague) guaranteed a good supply of beautiful and working vehicles. These were backed up by invitations to 200 participants, many of whom were also vehicle owners. The event planned to show the fall of Sudetenland (around the western border of the Czech Republic) to the Nazis after the Munich Agreement of 1938, and its subsequent liberation by the American Third Army in 1945.
After all the hard work, at last the day arrives. On the show field, located on the bank of the river Vltava, the scene is set around a full-scale replica of a village pub on the Czech/German border, surrounded by barbed wire and anti-tank obstacles, period road signs, border state symbols and everything that makes the impression of that period complete. Along one side of the show field visitors can walk round the military camps of British, American, German, Czech and Soviet troops, with a number of vehicles, equipment and soldiers on display. The programme of the day is interspersed with live music, presentations of the Czech army military police, and Czech police teams of horsemen and dog trainers showing their skills. The main event is, of course, the battle re-enactment.
Two different scenes were prepared; the first one from 1938 showing a tension on the Czech/German border in the times of Munich agreement and, after it, handing the border area over to the German Reich. The second scene showed the end of the war in the same area, at the time of liberation. These were not genuine battles in true locations, but show a general impression and spirit of those times. For this reason the organisers invented the imaginary Sudeten village of Růžov/Rossenberg. In fact, a village of this name did exist but, as many others, was first emptied of its German inhabitants and after the erection of the Iron Curtain razed to the ground. The name was chosen as a symbol of the events which helped to shape modern Europe before most of the audience were born.
The first re-enactment entitled `A Beginning of the Suppression` brought the thousands of onlookers to the year 1938 to the scene of the pub on the border in the village with the romantic name of Růžov (the `Village of Roses‘). The pub bears Czech name, Hospoda-Josef Čech, and there are local Czech and German citizens drinking outside side by side.There is a police post on the border, controlling people and cars passing. One of the passing cars is bringing some weapons for the Sudetendeutsche Freikorps and, after finding them, the border police begin to fight with the smugglers and other local Germans. The fighting is short, some of the police are shot dead, others surrender and are transported to Germany. The pub owner, using his head, finds that he is more German than Czech, and changes the sign on the pub. It is now called Gasthaus Sepp Böhm.
The victory of the Freikorps doesn’t last for long. Their victory celebration is interrupted by a Czechoslovak scout patrol, which initially they succeed in forcing back. Soon come more than a hundred of Czechoslovak soldiers, attacking in lines, supported by an LT-38 tank. This tank is one of the pieces borrowed from the Czech Army Museum, and is the only example in running order in the world. The Freikorps troops are soon defeated and Czechoslovak army begin to build up positions in the village. On the other side of the border appears a German Wehrmacht unit at a distance, taking positions as well. Both sides are waiting for orders. They soon come in the form of an original radio report, informing them of the Munich Agreement and the handing over of the Sudetenland. The Czechoslovak army begins to leave, followed by the Czech civilians. The Wehrmacht unit moves across the border and takes the village.
After this first re-enactment there is no rest for the participants, as most of those dressed as Freikorps or Czechoslovak army had to change into uniforms of the American or Soviet army for the second scene. The village and the pub in the second scene remain basically the same, except the village is now named Rosenberg and the pub wears a German sign as well. It is not located on the border any more, but is now only a regional border between Sudetenland and Bavaria within Germany. The police post is still there, occupied by German police. Suddenly they are attacked by some Czech resistance, remaining in the area. This is the beginning of May 1945 and the war is going to the end, so for many people the time is ideal for joining the fight at last. The German policemen are defeated and locked in the pub. But a German armoured column is coming back from the east. A sporadic defence from the resistance has no real meaning, as there is, in formation rolling many tons of steel towards the village. In the centre is a Panzer-IV J tank, another piece borrowed from the Czech Army Museum, followed side by side with two SdKfz 251 halftracks (converted from the Czech–made OT810) and a replica of an SdKfz 222 armoured car. Three platoons of infantry occupying such vehicles as Kübelwagens, Zündapp and BMW motorcycles, Opel Blitz Allrad, Praga RN, Tatra 57B soft-skinned transports. The column rolls into the village without any problems, all the opposition is smashed away and the Germans occupy the positions. One of the platoons is soon sent back on a lorry to stop oncoming Russians. The fight slowly gets nearer to the village. Another platoon, a heavy one, with both halftracks and armoured car is sent to help. Both platoons together succeed in pushing the Russians back, until a T-34 tank rolls into view. The German soldiers have nothing to stop it and the lonely tank breaks through their front line and rolls at a full speed onto the village. The Panzer IV in front of the pub turns around and fires, but doesn‘t score a hit. The T-34, meanwhile, breaks into the rear of the pub, as the German soldiers leave at the last moment. A lucky shot from a panzerschreck (an anti-tank weapon) ends the life of the steel monster in the rubble of the building.
Heavy shelling begins at this moment on the other side of the village as US troops try to cross a river with boats. There are not too many defenders left in the village, so the landing is successful and the German soldiers are forced back into the village and the rubble of the pub. Help comes as the heavy platoon turns back with two surviving vehicles and pushes back the US troops. That is the last thing it has a power for in this war. A German halftrack is blown sky-high by a shot from an approaching Cromwell tank of the Czechoslovak Armoured Brigade (based in Britain), which is accompanied by ground troops. After this disaster the rest of German troops pulls back to the village. The Panzer IV lifts its barrel as a sign to cease fire and a negotiator leaves the village in the direction of the allied troops. After a short briefing the German troops begin to surrender. Outside the village almost no defender is left alive. The last ones are running away to be captured by the Allies.The first Russians meet the Allies in the destroyed village and a heartfelt welcome begins.The war is over.
Now was a time for relief. In the three hours of the show there were six tracked vehicles, more than 20 wheeled vehicles and over 200 participants. The dusty meadow was half a mile long but only about 30 metres wide; everything worked according to plan, and without injury.There was no entrance fee for the event. Our reward is the cheers from the thousands of onlookers an the good feeling that gives us. In another two years, when it will be 60th anniversary of the end of the war we hope to organize an event better, larger and with even more vehicles than now.
Pavel Kmoch, chairman, KVH Gardekorps - Praha
All photos from this event are available on : http://foto.gardekorps.com, lines Od útlaku ke svobodě-Braník 2003.