September 16-17, 1938 – War Of Words – Flurries Of Diplomacy – Rattling Of Swords
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September 16-17, 1938 – As the world teetered on the brink of war, Diplomacy was being tested to the limit as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain shuttled back and forth between Number 10 Downing Street and Berchtesgaden with Adolf Hitler in an attempt to stave off a military confrontation between Germany and Czechoslovakia over the issue of a disputed territory known as Sudetenland. While diplomatic efforts were underway, the war of words was going full steam, as is evidenced by these two contrasting sets of news reports; from Radio Berlin and from Radio Prague from the 16th and 17th of September. Charges and counter-charges – Berlin accusing Prague of carrying out “unspeakable horrors” against German citizens living in the Sudeten region. And Prague accusing Berlin of attempting military confrontations and stirring up discord between German nationals and Czech citizens.
The situation in Czechoslovakia became more tense on September 16th, with the Czechoslovak government issuing an arrest warrant for the Sudeten German leader Henlein, who had arrived in Germany a day earlier to take part in the negotiations. The French proposals ranged from waging war against Germany to supporting the Sudetenland being ceded to Germany. The discussions ended with a firm British-French plan in place. Britain and France demanded that Czechoslovakia cede to Germany all those territories where the German population represented over fifty percent of the Sudetenland’s total population. In exchange for this concession, Britain and France would guarantee the independence of Czechoslovakia. The proposed solution was rejected by both Czechoslovakia and opponents of it in Britain and France.
On 17 September 1938 Hitler ordered the establishment of Sudetendeutsches Freikorps, a paramilitary organization that took over the structure of Ordnersgruppe, an organization of ethnic-Germans in Czechoslovakia that had been dissolved by the Czechoslovak authorities the previous day due to its implication in a large number of terrorist activities. The organization was sheltered, trained and equipped by German authorities and conducted cross border terrorist operations into Czechoslovak territory. Relying on the Convention for the Definition of Aggression, Czechoslovak president Edvard Beneš and the government-in-exile later regarded 17 September 1938 as the beginning of the undeclared German-Czechoslovak war. This understanding has been assumed also by the contemporary Czech Constitutional court. In the following days, Czechoslovak forces suffered over 100 personnel killed in action, hundreds wounded and over 2.000 abducted to Germany.
To get an idea of how things were being played out, at least on the airwaves, here are shortwave radio broadcast in English from Radio Berlin and Radio Prague for September 16-17, 1938.