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Group of Soviet Forces in Czechoslovakia
Central Group of Forces (CGF)

The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 was a pivotal event in Czechoslovakia's political development. The August intervention by forces from the Soviet Union, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Poland, Bulgaria, and Hungary marked the beginning of the end of the Prague Spring and the reformist policies introduced by the Dubcek regime. It also set the stage for the reemergence in Czechoslovakia of a pro-Soviet regime and a politically orthodox environment.

In January 1968, Alexander Dubcek, who since 1963 had been first secretary of the Communist Party of Slovakia (Komunisticka strana Slovenska--KSS), was chosen to replace Antonin Novotny as first secretary of the KSC. Dubcek was not then the leader of the KSC reformers but rather was a compromise selection. The removal of Novotny triggered an outpouring of demands for further changes in all sectors of society.

During the night of August 20-21, the armies of five Warsaw Pact nations invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia. The KSC Presidium issued a statement over Prague radio condemning the invasion and appealing to the people to remain calm and the army not to resist. No armed resistance was forthcoming. Instead, outrage at the massive invasion was expressed nonviolently: road signs were altered and removed to slow the oncoming invaders; radio transmitters were repeatedly moved to elude takeover; and foreign soldiers were refused service in stores and restaurants and were engaged in heated arguments with Czechoslovak citizens from whom they vainly sought cooperation.

As the Warsaw Pact troops moved into Prague, Soviet security forces arrested Dubcek and other top party leaders and flew them to Moscow. Meanwhile, despite the presence of Warsaw Pact troops in Prague, the National Assembly met August 21-27, and delegates managed to convene the "Extraordinary" Congress of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. Dubcek's supporters in the government refused to recognize the Soviet-imposed government and instead demanded to join Dubcek in directly negotiating with the Soviets. The talks resulted in the signing of the Moscow Protocol, an uneasy compromise allowing Dubcek to remain in power but also requiring the dismissal of some reformists, a tightening of press control, a commitment to no persecution of pro-Soviet communists, and increased Soviet control over KSC appointments. After signing the Moscow Protocol, Dubcek was allowed to return to Prague, where he resumed his duties as first secretary of the party. Dubcek's efforts to maintain political control and to salvage the reform program were stymied by the new conditions imposed by the Soviets. Furthermore, popular resistance to the Soviet invasion continued and was reflected in such episodes as the public suicide of a university student and the vandalizing of Prague's Aeroflot office. All of these factors kept tensions high and led to Dubcek's ouster in April 1969. He was replaced by the more orthodox, Soviet-backed Gustav Husak.

Soviet influence within the armed forces became even stronger after 1968 because of the units left behind after the withdrawal of the main invasion forces. Resignations and purges eliminated the officers and NCOs who would have objected to the Soviet occupation, whereas those who remained on active duty and those recruited to replace losses were inclined to favor strong Soviet ties. In late 1987, nearly two decades after the invasion, five Soviet divisions were still stationed in Czechoslovakia and, to all outward appearances, Soviet influence was undiminished.

Soviet military units deployed outside the borders of the Soviet Union after World War II were organized in groups rather than in fronts, which was the wartime designation of these major formations. Throughout the postwar era, the largest deployment of Soviet forces outside its borders was the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany located in East Germany. Other groups were the Northern Group of Forces in Poland, the Southern Group of Forces in Hungary, and the Central Group of Forces in Czechoslovakia. The Central Group of forces comprised two tank divisions, three mechanized infantry divisions, three missle brigades, an artillery brigade, and an airborne assault brigade. Total strength was about 85,000. Group headquarters was located in the town of Milovice, northwest of Prague. In October 1984, Colonel General Viktor Yermakov was named by Moscow to command the Central Group of Forces, replacing Lieutenant General Grigoriy Borisov, who had assumed command in January 1981.

Four of the five Soviet ground divisions in Czechoslovakia were stationed in the Czech lands (Milovice, Mlada Boleslav, Vysoke Myto, and Bruntal), while one was headquartered in Slovakia (Zvolen). Armaments in early 1987 included 1,500 main battle tanks, 650 artillery pieces, 90 multipurpose rocket launchers, and 300 front-line aircraft, including 120 helicopters. The aircraft inventory also included Su-25 ground attack airplanes. The Central Group of Forces also possessed fifty operational and operational-tactical nuclear missiles consisting of SS-21s, SS-22s, and SS-23s. The SS-21 sites included Zvolen, Topolcany, and Vysoke Myto in Slovakia, and at Plzen, Ceske-Budejovice, Mlada Boleslav, Susice, Milovice, Brod nad Dyji, Havlickuv Brod, Bruntal, and Tabor in the Czech lands. In 1983 the Czechoslovak government attempted to muster public support for the decision to install these missiles. The Czechoslovak citizenry, however, realizing that their country had now become a primary target in a future war, did not support the installation.

The Central Group of Forces was a legacy of the 1968 invasion; until that event, Czechoslovakia had had no Soviet troops stationed permanently within its borders. The degree of permanence of the Central Group of Forces appeared to be a matter of semantics. For several years after the invasion, the deployment was referred to officially as "temporary," and a commission for the Temporary Stationing of Soviet Forces on Czechoslovak Territory existed for at least the first ten years. The Soviet purpose in maintaining troop units of the magnitude of the Central Group of Forces was undoubtedly twofold: first, to avoid any future Dubcek-like deviations and, second, to increase substantially the strength of the Warsaw Pact on its westernmost frontier.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:16:14 ZULU