Sokols in WW1 and 2

Sokols and the Czech Sokol Organization played key roles in World Wars I and II

legionnaires in Russia
The legendary legionnaires of WW I were largely a Sokol product utilizing Sokol training and answered the call to arms from future Czechoslovak President Masaryk, a life-long Sokol member. Following World II, Sokols provided security for the Czechs, as the new country was being established. Photo: legionnaires in Russia.
Bohemia and Moravia were under a German Protectorate
Bohemia and Moravia were under a German Protectorate that began on October 4, 1939, and by 1941 a Sokol Resistance Organization was active. President Beneš, in exile in London had Czech patriots assassinate Reinhard Heydrich the leader of the Nazi Secret Police. Jan Kubis (in photo), who thew a bomb in Heydrich’s auto, was a Sokol member.

Sokol’s Role in World War I (1914-1918)

Czech men were obliged to serve in the Austrian Army, which was supported by the armies of Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire. Few Czechs approved fighting the Allies, i.e., Serbia, France, Great Britain and Russia (and later the United States). Thus, at the onset of the war some Czech soldiers joined the Russian fighting forces and fought the Austrians and Germans. This group of Czechs were known as the Česká Družina (Czech Brigade), and later when they were joined by Slovaks they were known as the legionnaires and members of the Legion. Their legacy is that they fought bravely for the independence of Czechs and Slovaks from Austrian-Hungarian dominance. The Bolsheviks seized power in 1917 and Russia was no longer with the Allies. Thus, the legionnaires seized the Trans-Siberian railway and traveled 6,000 miles from the Ukraine to Vladivostok.

This fighting force was inspired by the Sokol culture of fitness, discipline, hardness, and ethnic pride. Not surprisingly, a remarkable number of legionnaires were Sokol members, and many of them served in leadership roles in the Legions. They fought battles from France and through Russia and became a very strong voice for the establishment of Czechoslovakia in 1918. That year President Masaryk, a life-long Sokol said: “Without Sokol there would be no legions, and without Legions there would be no Czechoslovakia.”

Sokol (the falcon) with the seal of Czechoslovakia

Sokol’s Role in the Creation of Czechoslovakia

  • Sokol’s key role in the creation of the first Czechoslovak Republic has often been largely overlooked in writings regarding World War I.

  • As noted above, President Masaryk regarded the role of Sokol in the establishment and the service of the Legions as critical, and that the formation of Czechoslovakia as dependent on the service of the legionnaires. Masaryk received the cooperation of Sokol President Scheiner already at the onset of the war.

  • The logo in the photo captures the relationship of Sokol (the falcon) with the seal of Czechoslovakia (Czech lion, and Slovak flag).

Establishing an Army to fight with the Allies against Austria and Germany

  • Česká Družina (Czech Brigade) was a fighting force created at the request of the future president of Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Masaryk. Their training was that of the Sokol system. Many of the Legion’s leaders were Sokol members.

  • Later the Czech Brigade expanded to three Czech-Slovak Legions who fought in France, Italy and Russia.

  • The Legions, with 85,000 men in 1918, became legendary because of the men’s bravery and success in battles.

  • Masaryk, who spent time in the US during the war, was able to document that the armies of his comrades were fighting for their independence, while assisting the allies.

  • More than 2,000 Czech and Slovak immigrants from the US joined the fighting forces in France during the last year of the war
Czech-Slovak Legions

Future President Masaryk visiting legionnaries During World War I

National Library of the Czech Republic

World War I Legendary Czech-Slovak Legionnaires

Legionnaires in Russia 2
Legionnaires in Russia
Legionnaire’s insignia
Legionnaire’s insignia Symbols clockwise from bottom: Bohemia (lion), Moravia (plaid eagle), Slovakia (cross) and Silesia (black eagle).

Legionnaires on a camouflaged train on the Trans-Siberian Railway

  • They traveled 6,000 miles from Ukraine to Vladivostok, and then by ship to France.

  • Their 50,000-man army defeated the Bolsheviks along the journey.

  • They were loyal to future President Masaryk who had recruited them.

  • Legionnaire’s legacies: formation of Czechoslovakia, support of Western countries, and victory for democracy.
Legionnaires on a camouflaged train on the Trans-Siberian Railway

Armored War Train Seized by the Legions

The train safeguarded their journey through Siberia to the Pacific City of Vladivostok on the Sea of Japan
Armored War Train Seized by the Legions

Czecho-Slovak Legion, stranded in Siberia in 1917, seized control of the Trans-Siberian Railroad and helped found Czechoslovakia

These efforts impressed the world, including US President Wilson, who helped create a new nation of Czechs and Slovaks
Weapons seized along the legionnaire’s journey
Weapons seized along the legionnaire’s journey
Dressed for the cold Siberian winter
Dressed for the cold Siberian winter

Legionnaires Return from Russia by Sailing Around the World

During 1918-1919, the legionnaires controlled the Trans-Siberian Railroad and reached Vladivostok near the Sea of Japan, ready to be evacuated by sea. But they were asked to help the Allies fight the Russian Bolsheviks. Therefore, they did not leave Vladivostok until 1920, two years after WW I ended.
  • As seen in the photo, the troops are boarding a ship which sailed around the world to France. Their wait in Russia was made possible by a deal reached with the Bolsheviks, requiring the legionnaires to give the gold they captured from the disposed Czar.

  • Sadly, the heroic saga of the brave legionnaires is not known by a wide audience. A detailed account is now available in: K.J. McNamara, Dreams of a Great Small Nation, 2016.
boarding a ship which sailed around the world to France

Slovaks and World War I

Česká Družina, formed, at the onset (1914) of the war, by defectors from the Austro-Hungarian Army, later became known as the Czecho-Slovak Legion. When the Slovak leader, Milan Štefánik, encouraged Slovaks to fight courageously for Slovakia, more Slovak men joined the cause.
  • The formation of Czechoslovakia depended on a merger of Slovaks with the Czechs. Although traditions and languages were similar for the two groups, their histories differed. The marriage was essential, because at the time the formation of two separate, independent countries was not feasible.

  • As indicated in the poster (to the right), there was a call for Slovaks to fight for their freedom. Thus, the Czech-Slovak Legion became the single most important factor that led to downfall of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and the formation of Czechoslovakia in 1918.
call for Slovaks to fight for their freedom.

Sokol played a key security role in the newly established Czechoslovakia, as the
Czech Organization Sokol formed “Sokol Guard” (Sokolská Stráž)

At the end of World War I, and the disintegration of Habsburg authority, Sokols were charged with issues of national and personal security by:
  • guarding train stations and trains

  • guarding military barracks and fortresses

  • confiscating weapons from enemies

  • preventing looting and theft

  • helping defend Slovakia from Hungarian and Communist invasion

They served from 1918 – 1922.

Sokol guards at Prague Castle circa 1919

Sokol guards at Prague Castle circa 1919
(photo Military Historical Institute, Prague)

Sokol guards of Hradčany Castle (Presidents Office)

  • Sokol guards in 1918 (left photo) at the castle protected the new president (Masaryk). The coat of arms represents the 3 Czech provinces: lion - Bohemia, checkered eagle – Moravia, black eagle – Silesia.

  • That tradition evolved to special military guards still utilized today (right photo).
The coat of arms represents the 3 Czech provinces
Sokol guards in 1918

Bohemia and Moravia become a Protectorate of Nazi Germany German occupation: 1939 - 1945

Seal for Bohemia (lion) and Moravia (bird)
Seal for Bohemia (lion) and Moravia (bird)
Seal for Bohemia & Moravia as Protectorates of Nazi Germany

Sokols in the Resistance Movement in World War II

  • The Czech Sokol organization was a major player in the resistance of Nazi occupation.

  • Sokols built a network of operatives as part of UVOD, the resistance organization.

  • Nazis banned Sokols because they understood them to be the most dangerous group.

  • Sokols helped in the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich Chief of German Security.

  • 8,223 Sokols were imprisoned; almost 5,000 were executed or died in concentration camps.

  • Sokol President Dr. Stanislav Bukovský died in Auschwitz.

  • Olympic 1928 parallel bar gold medalist Ladislav Vácha died following his arrest by the Gestapo.

  • Jan Gajdoš, two-time World Gymnastics champion and a resistance group member died after a death march in 1945.

  • Vlasta Děkanová the first women’s World Gymnastics champion worked in the resistance movement throughout the war years.

  • At the end of the war President Edvard Beněs honored the Sokols for their resistance during the
    war and attached the Czechoslovak War Cross to the Sokol battalion.

Czech Union Sokol gives birth to the resistance group, OSVO

  • Shortly after declaration of Bohemia and Moravia as a “Protective State” of Germany in 1939, the Sokol organization began preparation for a resistance movement.

  • OSVO or Obec Sokolská Odboji (Organization Sokol Resistance) was formed and provided these functions:
    1. Disturbing German transport
    2. Hiding prisoners
    3. Raising money for arrested citizens
    4. Some sabotage
    5. Providing information to other resistance groups

  • OSVO played a role in “Operation Anthropoid”the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich.

  • Sokol’s participation in the resistance movement was considered critical.
Czech Union Sokol gives birth to the resistance group, OSVO

President Edvard Beneš in Exile 1939-1945

Beneš fled
In October 1939, Beneš fled to London and declared a Czechoslovak National Committee and then a Provisional Government of Czechoslovakia. His plan was to disrupt the Nazi’s rule in Germany’s “Protective State” (Bohemia and Moravia) via the “Resistance Movement,” which was part of the Sokol’s underground organization. In September of 1941, Hitler appointed Reinhard Heydrich, Chief of Security for the Protective State. Heydrich was known for his mass murders and the “final solution of the Jewish question.”
In his first two months in Prague, Heydrich instituted massive executions and repressive measures. Beneš then helped train Czechs in London in a plot to assassinate Heydrich. Two parachutists landed near Prague and threw a bomb into Heydrich’s car on May 27, 1942; he died 8 days later. Sokol underground helped shield the assassins in a church, but they were killed. That same year Beneš in a broadcast on BC stated: “it is not possible to imagine the development of our nation without Sokol, without Sokol thinking.”

In remembrance of the dissolution of the Czech Sokol Organization (October of 1941) by the Nazis, the Czechs want to have October 8 added as a national holiday.

The quotation on the poster refers to former president Masaryk’s words after World War I: “Without Sokol there would not have be Legions; without Legions there would not have been a Czechoslovakia.”
In remembrance of the dissolution of the Czech Sokol Organization

Sokol emerges after World War II (1945-1948)

Post war membership in Sokol soars (member’s card for 1945)
Post war membership in Sokol soars (member’s card for 1945)
  • Gymnastic activities resumed (magazine for juniors – right photo). Women gymnasts won team gold in 1948 Olympics.

  • 1948 Slet was a huge success, but Communist infiltration of Sokols began and Sokol districts are dissolved. Czechoslovakia joins the Communist bloc.

  • 1952 Sokol disbanded.

  • 1990 Sokol renewed.
magazine for juniors