Czechoslovakia in Korean War

Veronika Valdova, DVM

Involvement of Czechoslovakia in the Korean War is not widely known.  As a Soviet satellite, it participated on the side of communist North Korea, under direct Soviet leadership, and their most important contribution was one of the field hospitals. The conflict in Korea was one of the ugliest small wars ever fought by the US and UN and became known especially for the stalemate it produced and large numbers of POW and MIAs who were never accounted for and never exchanged. It is worth remembering the

Veronika Valdova DVM
The conflict in Korea was one of the ugliest small wars ever fought by the US and UN
numbers [1] . The number of dead Koreans and Chinese is estimated around 2 million, both combat casualties and those who died of disease. Of the 75,000 U.N. and South Korean soldiers captured by Communist forces, only 12,000 returned home, leaving more than 60,000 unaccounted for.

















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Czechoslovakian hospital in Korea
Image: Military Historical Archive in Prague

Geneva Conventions

When the Korean War started in June 1950, Geneva Conventions [2] were still a very fresh document, signed by all participants immediately after the conference and ratified by many soon after, including Czechoslovakia. Geneva Conventions are inseparable from the Red Cross. Who read them, all four, including commentaries and final report, knows that it is a long text to read and even longer text to translate.

On the other hand, U.S.A. fully implemented Geneva Conventions in the Army Field Manual 19-40 in November 1952 [3] . It is not surprising then that when Czechoslovakia was moving to Korea with their hospital, full text of GCs was still not available for distribution to other ministries and staff, not even thinking about general awareness among military and civilian medical personnel sent to Korea. Ministry of Justice distributed Czech translation in January 1950. How this translation looked like is a good question because from what is available in the military archive, the Russian text is considerably shorter than the original.

In October 1952, Ministry of Defense created a commission on implementation of GCs, apparently in reaction to British enquiry

on their implementation from August 1952. When the war ended, Czechoslovakia was nowhere near implementation of GCs in their Criminal Code, and awareness of the text itself among those who were in the war zone was extremely limited. [4]

A historical survey “Communist treatment of prisoners of war” presented in U.S. Senate in 1972 mentioned that literally all articles of GCs were violated. Atrocities committed by the communists during Korean War were described in detail in report 848 Korean War Atrocities [5] and Report 2832 Indoctrination and exploitation of American Military and Civilian Prisoners [6] . Gen. Ridgway called it a “calculated criminal misconduct which meant to exterminate the POWs one way or the other”. Report on Korean War atrocities [7] concluded that North Korean and Chinese Communist Armies were guilty of the following war crimes and crimes against humanity: murder, attempted murder, malicious and aggravated assaults, various acts of torture, starvation, deliberate policy fostering starvation, experimental medical operations, coerced Communist indoctrination, and bayoneting.

Indoctrination of own staff

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Czechoslovakian hospital being built from scratch
Image: Military Historical Archive in Prague
The Communists paid lot of attention to indoctrination of their own personnel. The time between Communist Coup in Czechoslovakia (1948) was sufficient to throw many experienced people out of medical schools and take advantage of young and inexperienced fresh graduates. Age of doctors who participated in the mission was limited to 35 years. Shortly before the Czech engagement in Korea, Military Medical Academy in Hradec Kralove was established, and Czechoslovakian military medicine was re-organized from scratch. The

North Korea
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hospital was placed directly under Soviet leadership. At that time, major focus of Czech military research at home went into defense against biological, chemical, and radiological warfare. It should not come as a surprise that the Czechs were convinced that not only the other side was likely to use these weapons, but they in fact believed they were actually used [8] . The only reading permitted on site was hard-core communist literature and certain Soviet medical books.  As per witness statement of Gen. Jan Sejna and analysis of Dr Joseph Douglass, some of these prisoners were taken after the war to Czechoslovakia and experimented on in Central Military Hospital in Prague - Stresovice and in Institute of Aviation Medicine, under the scientific oversight of Czechoslovakian Academy of Sciences,
and eventually shipped to the Soviet Union.

Czechoslovakian participation in the war

Apart from diplomatic mission in North Korea and China, Czechoslovakia participated in Repatriation Commission of Neutral States (RKNS) and in Supervisory Committee of Neutral States (DKNS). In February 1952, Central Committee of Czechoslovak Communist Party decided to send a field hospital to North Korea, and about a month later, 29 Czech medical professionals led by Dr Bartak left for Sogam. The hospital originally only treated military personnel, but after allied bombing which killed about 5.000 people and wounded another 5.000, they also started accepting civilian casualties. This raid also killed about 100 U.S. POWs who were accommodated in the hospital. The hospital was located around village Chondzin, scattered over area about 15 km, 25-40 km north from Pyongyang, hidden in valleys around a river and with evacuation

North Korean street traders
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access route to China which was only 120 km away. Second group of Czech doctors led by Dr Placak got to Sogam in March 1953, at a time when the hospital was moving to Osanri in North Pchenan province. After the armistice, the hospital was handed over to the Koreans.

Because the hospital was located about 200 km north from the frontline, Czech doctors were not dealing with fresh casualties but mostly with reoperations and non-war-related illnesses. Casualties from frontline were evacuated first to a Korean field hospital where they received primary care, and then from one hospital to another further and further away from the frontline. Capacity of the Czechoslovak hospital in June 1952 was about 500 patients, and admissions ranged from 20 to 60 a day. Average hospital stay was 39 days. The archiving material which is available does not contain any detailed reports of individual medical cards or exact numbers of medical procedures per day but only summary charts per month. From these summaries it is impossible to distinguish Communist war casualties from Allied personnel; military from civilian; and war-related from other.

Bureau for Documentation and Investigation of Communist Crimes (UDV) [9] looked into this matter in detail and came to a conclusion that allegations of Gen. Sejna are unsubstantiated and there is no evidence of mistreatment of U.S.

POWs in Czechoslovakian hospital in Korea or later on Czech soil. Recently, Military Historical Archive in Prague declassified large number of documents from this period

. Analysis of lists of medical supplies, treatment procedures, organizational charts, and training materials, can potentially bring more light into nature of medical procedures undertaken in the hospital in both qualitative and quantitative terms. The hospital did receive drugs such as scopolamine and thiopental which were at that time used as experimental truth serums. To tackle malaria and other insect-borne diseases, the Czechs used large amounts of DDT, which has significant cumulative toxicity, especially to the nervous system.

Domestic research at that time was heavily focused on defense against bacteriological, chemical, and radiological warfare; mass treatment of casualties in transportation vehicles with oxygen; experiments with chemical mines; and identification of specific antidotes against chemical warfare agents.

Doctors in Czechoslovakian field hospital in Korea performed large numbers of operations which are not specified in sufficient detail, but the training materials from Soviet Union and surgical equipment used suggest that these were mainly ostheosynthesis and experiments with bone transplants and skin grafts. These techniques were relatively new at that time, even though not impossible to perform with experienced staff in a hospital with aseptic operation rooms and adequate follow-up care. Unfortunately, this was not the case of the field hospital which suffered greatly from shortage of antibiotics, and far from optimal sanitary conditions. Outcomes of these operations are hard to establish because there are no records to examine.

Unknown Delegation N Korea 1954
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[1] Carol M Highsmith, Ted Landphair: Forgotten No More. The Korean War Veterans Memorial Story. Chelsea Publishing, 1995 (2005 edition); p 29.

[2] Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 for the amelioration of the condition of the wounded and sick in armed forces in the field; I, II, III, IV. Available at

[3] Department of the Army: U.S. Army field manual FM 19-40. Handling prisoners of war. November 1952.

[4] Military Historical Archive in Prague: Fund MNO; box 477; file 67/4; 1952.

[5] "Korean War Atrocities" (January 1954, Report No. 848). Available at Military Legal Resources.

[6] "Communist Interrogation, Indoctrination and Exploitation of American Military and Civilian Prisoners" (December 1956, Report No. 2832). Available at Military Legal Resources.

[7] Committee on government operations; Permanent subcommittee on investigations; Subcommittee on Korean War Atrocities: Report Korean War Atrocities. Senate Resolution No 40.

[8] Military Historical Archive in Prague; fund MNO - HT-VO; box 267; file:  47-2; 1952. Report on implementation of measures against BW as per verbal order of Ministry of National Defense to the Veterinary Service from 23/4/1952 in reaction to alleged use of anthrax in Korean War.

[9] Bureau for Documentation and Investigation of Communist Crimes: Securitas Imperii 9. Activities of Czechoslovak Institutions in South East Asia at time of Korean and Vietnam wars; pp 7 – 57.

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About the author

After graduation from the University of Veterinary and Pharmaceutical Sciences, she spent most of her career, first in animal nutrition and then in pharmacovigilance (drug safety). Now she is mostly doing research and some writing.


Published books (All available at Amazon):
Rocky road to democracy
Biography of Air Marshall Karel Janousek
Translation of book The Last Man by Vlastimil Podracky
Current research: abuse of medicine after WW2


Veronika Valdova DVM
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Paper The Human rights responsibilities of multinational pharmaceutical firms in host nation states; published in JIRAG, Volume II, Spring issue 2012.

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