Ministry of Defence in 1918 - 1989

Following the formation of an independent state, the National Defence Committee became the highest authority of the Czechoslovak military administration. The Committee was set up by the National Committee on the 30th October 1918 as its special element tasked to manage all state defence-related and military affairs.

The Highest Governor of Czechoslovak Troops became the Committee's Executive, while supreme command was executed by the Lands Military Command in Prague. The Highest Governor and the Supreme Commander created the Supreme Military Command. This Command was disbanded on 18 December 1918 and its duties were transferred to the newly formed Ministry of National Defence.

The Ministry of National Defence (MND) was a body designed to take care of all affairs related to the military build-up, its support, and providing for its needs. The MND had, first of all, to organise voluntary military units and at the same time to organise regular troops. Its concurrent tasks included efforts for the early return of soldiers serving in the Czechoslovak Legions, for the beginning of unification within the defence force, for setting up garrisons on disputed border territories, and for the build-up of the defence industry. In the 1930's the primary mission was to secure the defence of the state against the threat of aggression from Germany, and to provide adequate funds under conditions of economic depression complicated by market stagnation.

Especially in its first years of existence, the MND experienced frequent organisational changes, with its final shape being achieved in 1927. The changes made in the decade that followed were of a partial and minor nature. The MND was composed of departments, independent sections and special support, advisory and inspection bodies. In the beginning, there were many ministerial departments, but later (on 15 October 1919) their number was downsized to six departments. Also the number of independent sections was reduced, with these being gradually incorporated into the departments' structure. This process was terminated in 1927, when the only independent section remaining was the personnel section. This section was then assigned to the Main Staff which was detached from the MND and served as a separate authority during the period of the 1 January 1921 to 9 March 1922.

Organisation of the Ministry of National Defence

The core units of the MND were departments, among which a special position was attained by the Presidium, the jurisdiction of which covered issues common to the whole Ministry. The Presidium was divided into three sections, (1) the military one, which was in charge of a wide agenda of personnel management, disciplinary issues, etc., (2) the political one, which dealt with tasks coming from the government and the National Assembly activities, and (3) the administrative one, whose major duty entailed issuing official publications. Until 1926, the Presidium also included a foreign section, which were in charge of foreign military attaches. Later, the section was attached to the Intelligence Section of the Main Staff.

From the latter half of the 1920's, the MND included the following departments:

Ist Department – General Military Department – covered the infantry, attack vehicles (i.e. tank units), cavalry, veterinary, medical, recruiting, and justice services, as well as the military chaplaincy

IInd Department – Artillery and Ordnance Department – took care of artillery affairs, independent units of special combat equipment, etc.

IIIrd Department – Air Force Department – administered affairs of the air force and air defence

IVth Department – Technical Department – covered the affairs of the corps of engineers, railway and (telegraph) signal troops, and construction and housing services

Vth Department – Administration (from 1937, the so called "Intendant") Department – controlled organisational issues and affairs connected with pay, budgeting, etc.

VIth Department – Politico-legal Department – covered the legislative activities of the Ministry, developed and commented on bills, managed the personnel agenda, dealt with working legal relations, etc.

The Departments were also engaged in organisational and mobilisation readiness according to the guidelines of the Main Staff, procured weapons and armaments material, controlled management of this material and administered its records. The Ministry of National Defence had in its internal structure several special bodies that reported directly to the minister or Chief of the Main Staff. The post of the General Inspector of Czechoslovak Troops, later renamed the General Inspectorate of the Defence Force, was disbanded in 1925. Two years later, however, it was reinstated, having been directly subordinated to the Minister of National Defence.

The description of his activities included first of all execution of inspection activities, checking on the discipline achieved, observing service regulations, and others. His jurisdiction was significantly expanded in 1937 when the posts of Inspectors of Branches were also set up. Also the Inspection Corps of the Military Administration, which supervised the management of finances and material items in the military, reported directly to the Defence Minister. During the economic depression the office of the Economical Commissioner of the Military Administration was also set up, but it was abolished in 1936 as the depression faded away. The Military Advisory Corps became an important advisory body to the minister. It discussed and developed the fundamental issues of military organisation, training, mobilisation, operations and deployments plans, etc.

In 1926, it was the French Military Mission (originally sent to Czechoslovakia in 1919) that became an advisory body regarding issues of organisation in the Czechoslovak Army and its training. Their officers were directly incorporated into the organisational structure of the Czechoslovak military and occupied the most significant commander positions. The Mission's chiefs, Division General Pellé and Division General Mittelhauser, were chiefs of the Main Staff of Defence Force during 1919 - 1925. The Mission was withdrawn by 31 January 1939. The Minister of National Defence also commanded the Office of the Czechoslovak Legions, whose task was to keep records on the Legions' soldiers, help them in their transfer to civilian jobs, and take care of the legionnaires’ next-of-kin survivors, as well as to compile historical records on the activities of the Czechoslovak Legions.

After the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Nazi Germany beginning on 15 March 1939, the Ministry of National Defence terminated its activities on 31 December 1939. The period of 1939–1945 was characterised by organising the military administration under conditions of foreign exile. From the fall of 1939, the first attempts to build up Czechoslovak administrative bodies were made, including the military administrations to serve abroad. The National Czechoslovak Committee was set up in France on 17 November 1939, which included an element called the Military Administration managing affairs of the Czechoslovak Army in France. The Chief of the Czechoslovak Military Administration acquired the duties and rights of the chief of the national defence department.

The Czechoslovak Military Administrations comprised three departments:

Ist Military-political,

IInd Generally Military, and

IIIrd Air Force.

The National Czechoslovak Committee, together with the Czechoslovak Military Administration, was disbanded in June 1940 and its services were transferred to Great Britain. Finally, the Ministry of National Defence was formed in London on 22 July 1940. The organisation and jurisdiction of this MND exhibit similarities to the pre-war defence ministry, with the specific intention of keeping the traditions of the so called "First Republic". The MND, nevertheless, had to observe changed external conditions in its organisational structure. Therefore it was formed as a staff of higher military units. The Ministry was reorganised several times before the end of war in 1945.

The Minister of National Defence headed the Ministry, but was later followed by the State Secretary; from 1944, the post was titled the State Minister. The Chief of Staff controlled activities of four departments:

Ist Department controlled contacts with the homeland, and cooperation with other state authorities, and those with the Czechoslovak military missions abroad,
IInd Department was responsible for military intelligence,
IIIrd Department was in charge of training, organisation and education, and
IVth Department took care of material and administration affairs. It was responsible for acquisition and keeping records of material designated for Czechoslovak military units.

In 1941, the Study Group was formed at the MND whose task was to prepare documents for a peace conference and to monitor activities of the Czechoslovak Army abroad. It was disbanded in January 1943 in connection with the formation of the Staff for the Build-up of the Czechoslovak Defence Force, charged with the development of material for the build-up of the new Czechoslovak Army. The Chief of Staff directly reported to the defence minister. This Staff was disbanded in 1944 and its agenda incorporated into the newly formed Main Command of the Czechoslovak Defence Force. The Minister of National Defence also controlled the Command of Liberated Territory, which was set up on 12 June 1944. The MND in London was gradually disbanded following the appointment of a new Czechoslovak government in Košice on 4 April 1945.

After 1945, the MND underwent many reorganisations. The new organisation of the Ministry of National Defence was made public in early April 1945, but it was implemented only after the MND launched its activities in Prague in May 1945. It continued, in principle, as the MND of the "First Republic", but its structure was different. The organisation was strictly divided into administrative and staff parts (even though in later organisational schemes, this division was not so evident.) The MND included the Main Staff of the Defence Force having five sections and the Command of Troops Branches, and the Military Administration. The MND organisation also comprised the Main Administration of Education and the Main Administration of Defence Intelligence. In June and August 1945, the new provisional organisational structures were made public. Based on the "August" organisation, new units of the ministry were formed, especially the political and military cabinet of the minister, and the office of the state secretary; some sections of the Main Staff were also reshaped.

The next organisational structure of the MND was published in November 1946. A number of newly formed elements and sections were merged or disbanded because, from 1945, a number of sections had emerged spontaneously without any previous approval made by the 4th (Organisational) Section of the Main Staff. The number of sections reached the enormous size of 43 and the number of employees had jumped to twice that of 1938! In the years to come, the Czechoslovak military administration was based on quite different principles. The decision-making and controlling jurisdictions had increasingly been taken over by bodies of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (CPC), whose directives were applied into advisory and inspection elements of the Ministry of National Defence (e.g. the Military Council). From 1951 - 1954, it was the Political Secretariat of the Central Committee of the CPC; in 1954 - 1957, it was the Political Bureau of the CC CPC; and from 1957 the supreme body was the Military Commission of the CC CPC. Assuming Soviet patterns, the unshakeable position of Soviet advisors and the creation of bureaucratic administrative ways of command and control, led to the loss of independence of the MND.

The elements of the Ministry of National Defence were, at the beginning of the 1920's, located at many places all over the whole Capital City of Prague. During 1921 – 1923, there were in total 13 military establishments in existence along the Czechoslovak Army Street - the location to which these elements were moved. Originally this solution was taken as a temporary way of housing various military bodies; for this reason the buildings were constructed in such a way as to later serve as blocks of flats. The main building with the more magnificent frontage and with sculpture decoration was designed to serve as the future seat of the Czechoslovak Red Cross. But this large complex of buildings still serves as a seat of the Ministry of Defence until today. The concentration of central offices of the military in the districts of Dejvice, Bubeneč, and the area around the Prague Castle occurred in the 1930's. At the same time, at Victory Square, the then Main Staff of the Czechoslovak Defence Force was built up (now the building of the General Staff of Armed Forces of the Czech Republic), along with the adjacent Military Air Force and Technical Institute.

Another significant building of the military was the installation of the Military Geography Institute on Roosevelt Street which was built during 1921 - 1925. In the 1960's the MND was assigned a complex of buildings on Na Valech Street. The facilities inside (including the spacious hall of the Horse Riding School) were constructed during 1895 - 1900 for a cadet school. After the formation of Czechoslovakia, the complex served as a centre for a number of institutions, such as the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Finance, and the Highest Administration Court. In 1926, the complex was again taken over by the military, which set up the War College there. The buildings served as a centre of military educational institutions until the end of the 1960’s.

By Dr. Jaroslav Láník, Military History Institute, Prague, published in May 2005