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Posted on Dec 20, 2006 in Front Page Features, War College

The Czechoslovak Independent Armoured Brigade Group

By Stephen L. Wright

Finally, the War Office ordered field mobilization of the CIABG and all efforts were now concentrated on being combat ready by 00.01 hours on 25th June 1944. Field parks, arsenals and stores supplied new equipment, including tracked armoured transports, armoured cars, Stuart M5A1 cavalry tanks and Cromwells (with less than 2000 kilometres on the clock).

Frustration ensued as embarkation was delayed, and it wasn’t until 30th August that the CIABG set out for France. On arrival, the Brigade Group travelled to Falaise where it became part of the Canadian 1st Army as a general purpose reserve. It remained there until 4th October when it then moved to Dunkerque to begin its siege role.

Dunkerque – a name that raised fearful memories in the minds of many British soldiers. Now, nearly four and half years after that fateful day in May 1940, the port was besieged by the Allies. This time they were not going to leave until Dunkerque was theirs. Within the city’s defensive pocket lived a mixed bag of soldiers and sailors. The former were members of the 226th Infantry Regiment/79th Infantry Division and the latter were from a variety of splintered Kriegsmarine units. In total they numbered some 15,000 and had been brought together by the Commanding Officer, Konteradmiral Friedrich Frisius. Formerly Seekommandant Pas-de-Calais, a post he had held since December 1941, Frisius had become Festungkommandant Dunkerque at the beginning of October. He oversaw a perimeter roughly 21 miles in length. Dunkerque stood at the centre. A considerable part of the southern and southeastern front was under water.


During the 8th and 9th October 1944, the CIABG had relieved the British 51st Highland Division of its siege of the port. In command was Czech General Alois Liška. His own Independent Armoured Brigade Group formed the main part of his force. In support were four British units: 7th Royal Tank Regiment, 107th AA Brigade and 150th and 191st Field Regiments. The Dunkerque front was roughly 1550 square kilometres in area and Liška had been ordered to keep the enemy under siege, and to force him to surrender by strong reconnaissance, artillery, aerial bombardment and propaganda.

So it was that on 28th October, Alois Liška stood in the turret of one of his tanks and focused in on his objective. Letting the binoculars hang from the strap round his neck, he scanned the troops and vehicles of his 2nd Armoured Battalion and Motor Battalion. They were about to undertake some ‘strong reconnaissance’. Every man was ready for action. They had been kept on a short leash for too long. Liška checked his watch and nodded to his signaller. The latter switched his radio to ‘Send’ and uttered one word, “Uspisit!” (“Advance!”).

The vehicles of 2nd Armoured Battalion and Motor Battalion moved as one towards the German defences. Then, as the 2nd continued straight ahead, the Motor Battalion veered away, as though it were going to attack north of the Dunkerque-Furnes canal. The ploy worked and the Germans were drawn out into the open. The Czechs took full advantage, and pressed forward their attack, destroying a defensive post, inflicting forty casualties and taking fourteen prisoners, before returning to the siege line. The Battalion lost two men killed and sixteen wounded. The courage and determination of the Czech soldiers did not go unnoticed. Messages of congratulations came from Field Marshal Montgomery, General Simonds, the commander of the Canadian 1st Army, and other Allied officers.

General Alois Liška and Field Marshall Montgomery

The German defenders’ response to this attack was to increase the number of mines and tank obstacles behind which they ‘sheltered’. In reply, CIABG soldiers began to systematically remove this new deterrent. Such was their success, and buoyed up by the earlier successful operation, that Liška planned another battalion assault in the same sector, on 5th November. This time, perhaps due to Typhoons strafing German positions prior to the armoured advance, the result was not as successful as previously. Nevertheless, the Germans took a heavy toll in casualties and prisoners. After this, no major incursions were undertaken but Czech tanks continued to harass the enemy, as conditions allowed, over the following six weeks.

In this arena humour played a part, raising Czech spirits. Strange as it may seem, not all the Allies knew that Dunkerque was still in German hands. Consequently, aircraft still continued to overfly the town and thus into the sights of German anti-aircraft gunners. When any aircraft was seen approaching, Czech artillery crews laid down fire on enemy AA positions to prevent them being manned. Sadly, these precautions did not achieve a positive result and aircraft were shot down with alarming frequency. Some of these aircraft came down between the lines and very brisk fighting took place for possession of the occupants. Usually, the Czechs were the victors. On one occasion, a fully loaded Dakota was brought down by German fire. All the occupants were rescued, but the Czechs suffered casualties in the skirmish. It goes without saying that the aircraft’s passengers, all RAF personnel going on leave, were not happy with the course their navigator and pilot had chosen.

The autumn and winter passed with more patrols and ‘strong reconnaissance’. During the operation to cross the Rhine, on 24th March 1945, the CIAGB kept the Germans occupied and thus allowed the air armada to pass undetected. As news spread of the Allies’ advance into Germany, CIAGB members’ spirits were lifted, as the chance to march into their own country seemed assured. It was not to be. A mere token force of 150 were released to join the US Army’ entry into Czechoslovakia. Spirits, naturally, took a downward turn and morale was affected.

Some morale was restored with an awards ceremony, following a final three-day bombardment of the town. Both British and Czech awards were presented to those who had played particularly committed roles in the assault. But another boost to morale and comradeship also came out of this. The Czech Motor Battalion and one of the Royal Artillery regiments asked permission to wear each other’s cap badge. This was agreed. It was yet another sign of the comradeship that had developed between Czech and British soldiers.

On the 8th May, two officers, one Czech and one British, entered Dunkerque to ask for the immediate surrender of the garrison. The following morning, Friedrich Frisius presented himself to Alois Liška. The latter accepted Frisius’ surrender and ten Czech and two British officers conducted a flag raising ceremony in the town. In the afternoon, Liška and the CO of the British Liaison HQ flew in separate Auster aircraft over the town to view the flags.

On the 10th May, the CIAGB withdrew from the line and prepared to drive to Czechoslovakia. The journey was made quickly and in good order. It brought to a close an episode in which high morale, spirits and fortitude, often under trying, depressing and forlorn conditions, had been triumphant.


History of the Czechoslovak Army in the West by Vojensko-historická společnost – Zàpad (Military Historical Society – West: Czech Republic)
Outline of the activities of the Czech Independent Armoured Brigade Group at Dunkirk PRO W0205/1233
The Struggle for Europe by Chester Wilmot (Collins 1952)

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  1. I have a letter dated June 2nd 1945 from a Captain H.Nelan S-135, Mot. Bn. Czechoslovak Indep. Bde Gp, APO 655 U.S.Army, which he sent to my father.( at the time a Captain in the Royal Artillery )
    I would like to contact Capt. Nelan’s relatives and hope you might be able to help. Although the initial of his first name is “H” he signs off as “Alan”
    In the letter, he states that after demob he would “go either to England or Canada and start a new life”
    Dermot Gatenby

  2. my father was in the French Foreign legion during WWll after escaping from Prague and then Poland .where woud he have joined the legion in north Africa or France. why couldn’t he join the Legion in France. you say …” A part of this group then found its way into the French Foreign Legion and, and, from there, to France where its members helped to form the 1st Czechoslovak Infantry Division.


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