Operation ‘Danube’

21st August 1968 was the day marking the start of the foray of five `friendly’ Warsaw armies into Czechoslovakian territory. The operation with the code name `Danube’ had already been planned in Moscow in May 1968. Its main task was to stop the democratic processes which were approved by the Czechoslovakian government members. prior to the operation the Warsaw forces had been on maneuvers from 22 June till 10 July.

Operation ‘Danube’ began with the occupation of the civil airports in Prague (Ruzyne airport ) and Brno city late at night night on 20th August 1968. Around 23.00 7th Paratrooper division equipped with ASU-57 light self propelled guns arrived at Ruzyne airport with orders to arrest the main members of the reformed government. During the night of 20 – 21st August the first ground units of the soviet 20th armored army arrived in Prague from the North. The people of Prague reacted to the Russian armies arrival by building barricades with the most dramatic events happening in front of the Prague radio building on Vinohradska street. The first barricade built from tram and bus blocked off Vinohradska and Italska street crossroad. Another two barricades built from trucks blocked off the crossroads at Vinohradska and Balbinova street, and another barricade built from trams, trucks and buses blocked the exit out from Vaclavske (Wenceslas) square. The streets of Prague streets were filled with people from early that morning.

The first T-55 tanks arrived at Vinohradska street around 8.00 am on August 21st and they stopped in front of the barricade at the Vinohradska and Italska crossroad. The Tanks had rhomboid symbols with number unit codes on their turrets, and they were joined by other tanks with square symbols and unit codes on turrets and it was these tanks which first attempted to drive through the barricades. A tank with white turret number white 212 and square unit code 5/3-4 reversed against the bus. During repeated collisions the bus fuel tank was punctured and the spilled fuel was ignited by the hot tank exhausts. With its engine deck in flames, tank no. 212 drove to the front of Prague radio building where the crew were forced to evacuate it.

The burning tank hindered the advance of the other Russian tanks and armored tranport so it was pushed by another T-55 with turret no. white 6 and square unit code 24/5-2. During this proceedure the rear fuel drums of the second T55 also caught alight however the crew were able to successfully extinguish the flames. Tank no. 212 was eventually pushed to Balbinova Street where it continued to burn until the fire set off the ammunition causing an explosion. Tragically this explosion panicked the Russian forces who opened fire killing several Czech civilians. By this time Russian troops had begun to occupy the Prague radio building, and Russian paratroopers arrived on ASU-85 self-propelled guns. The SPG’s also tried smash through another barricade which was reinforced by a TATRA T-111 fuel transporter truck. This unmanned truck caused another tragedy when it crushed some people. The actions of the ASU-85’s caused a fire on the barricade which spread to two nearby buildings.

There were similar events and scenes of resistance in the other Czechoslovakian towns but these photos show the dramatic situation in front of Prague radio building which was focus of the organizated resistance by the people of Prague.

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