The Czechs and Slovaks of Central Europe have a long and proud military tradition that stretches back to the religious wars of the 15th century, when the Bohemian Hussites had become renowned as the finest infantry in Europe. Under the leadership of Jan Ziska, the Hussites’ tactics—which included the widespread use of firearms—enabled them to take on and defeat the mounted cavalry of Germany and Austria and laid the foundations of Czech nationalism.
By the 19th century the Czechs and Slovaks formed one of the best educated, most forward looking—and nationalistic—minorities within the multiethnic Austro-Hungarian empire of the Hapsburgs. With the outbreak of World War I, latent anti-Hapsburg feelings intensified to the point that entire Czech and Slovak units deserted the Austro-Hungarian army and surrendered to the Russians. Many of them enlisted in the Allied-sponsored Czechoslovak Legion and fought against the Germans and Austrians on the Russian front.
During the chaos of the Russian Revolution and Civil War, and against unbelievable odds and hardships, the Czech Legion fought their way east almost 5,000 miles along the Trans-Siberian railroad to Vladivostok, where they were transported by the Allies back to Europe. After the war and for the first time since the late Middle Ages, an independent Czech nation was reestablished…
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