Following the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, small
numbers of ex-Czechoslovakian officers and soldiers began slipping out of the country to
prepare for the fight against Nazism, or simply to avoid incarceration. Several hundred
enlisted in the French Foreign Legion and another 850 assembled in Poland to join the
nascent Czechoslovak Legion.
When Germany invaded Poland, the French government released
Czechoslovak nationals from the Foreign Legion and assembled them outside Marseilles where
the 1st Infantry Division began forming. They were joined by Czechs and Slovaks resident
in France and elsewhere, including several hundred men who had fought for the losing side
in the Spanish Civil War. Meanwhile, most of the troops of the unformed Czechoslovak
Legion in Poland were interned in the Soviet Union and later shipped to the Levant or to
Marseilles, many joining 1st Division before the invasion of France.
While most of the Czechoslovak division was extricated from
the grasp of the advancing German Army and assembled in the port of Sete in June, less
than 50% of the division's manpower elected to accept evacuation to the UK for continuing
the fight. Once in the UK, ranks were further thinned by a communist-inspired near-mutiny
over the British decision to recognise Eduard Benes as leader of the provisional
Czechoslovak government-in-exile. In August the remaining forces were reorganised as
Czechoslovak 1st Infantry Brigade. The 1st Brigade converted to armour in
September 1943, moved back
to the continent in September 1944, arrived at Dunkirk in October, and spent the remainder
of the war besieging the German fortress there.
A contingent of the brigade was
detached at the end of April 1945 to participate in the liberation
of Czechoslovakia. Most o fthe brigade arrived in time to
participate in the Prague victory parade on May 30th 1945.