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Sudetenland - Railway Thematics of the German Occupation


Historical Context.

Whilst the German invasion of Poland on September 1st 1939 is often seen is the start of the Second World War, the road to war began much earlier. The entry of German troops into the demilitarised Rheinland went unchallenged. Then, in 1938, German troops entered Austria, almost without resistance. A policy of appeasement in the face of this aggression was followed by many war-weary European nations with only a few dissenting voices, for example from Churchill, whose warnings were dismissed by many as the rantings of a warmonger.

Up to this point, Hitler had restricted his ambitions to parts of Germany and to the German-speaking country of his birth, Austria, where the Anschluss was welcomed by many. Next door to Austria was Czechoslovakia, a nation created out of the upheavals of the First World War. Czechoslovakia was one of many nations created in the aftermath of the Great War, as much lines on a map as a nation state. Yugoslavia and the Polish Corridor around Danzig ( Gdansk ) were, like Czechoslovakia, creations that were bound to cause problems. None of them survived into the 21st century, although their ends came in very different ways.

The Versailles Treaty of 1919 had created new administrative areas or had legitimised some which had de facto status. Czechoslovakia was not just a union of Czechs and Slovaks. There were, in the west of the country, in a region that was formerly part of Bohemia within the Austrian Empire, but by this time known as the Sudetenland, a very large numbers of people of German descent. Indeed, this region had once been part of the German Confederation. With financial backing from Germany, a pro-Hitler political movement was fostered amongst the Sudeten Germans, agitating for union with the German Reich. This created a destabilising influence in the region, which sent shock waves around European capitals. Pacifist sentiment in these countries was quick to point out that it was natural enough for German-speaking peoples to aspire to such a ' union ', whilst paying lip-service to the integrity and sovereignty of the Czechoslovak state.

The Munich Agreement ( Sept. 29 / 30 1938 ) and Neville Chamberlain's scrap of paper are still images that stir many a conscience. The principal outcome, the annexation of the Sudetenland, for which Hitler received approval from Britain's Chamberlain, Duladier of France and the Italian fascist leader, Mussolini, and in which the Czechoslovak Government had no say, can, arguably, be said to have delayed the outbreak of war. There can be no doubt though that, from this point, war became inevitable. Czechoslovakia's principal defence lines lay within the Sudetenland. Once German troops entered the region on October 1st 1938, virtually unopposed, the remainder of the country was almost defenceless. In March 1939, German troops entered what remained of Czechoslovakia and Europe prepared for war.

Sudetenland Philately 1938

Exact dates of issue for Sudetenland stamps are, in general, not known. Curiously, the one issue ( from Asch ) for which a date is given, September 21st, pre-dates the occupation by 10 days and the Munich Agreement by 8 days. Generally, though, postmarked stamps and covers carry dates in early October 1938. Almost all covers ( and used stamps ) bearing Sudetenland overprints are philatelic, their period of validity ending as early as October 19th 1938.

Overprints were applied to Czech stamps in a number of towns / districts but only those from Asch, Karlsbad, Konstantinsbad, Niklasdorf, Reichenberg-Maffersdorf, Rumburg and Sudetendeutsches Niederland are recognized as authorized issues. Except for the first and last in the above list, all these places overprinted the same Czech stamp of railway interest, the 1938 50 heller Steam Train & Armaments Works in Pilsen ( Czechoslovakia Mi. 400 ). This stamp exists with a pictorial, horizontal interpanneau label ( producing ' gutter pairs ' ). Some of the Sudetenland stamps also exist in this format, as shown below.

The overprint ' Wir sind frei ! ', applied in several districts, is German for ' We are Free ! '. Forgeries exists and collectors should try to acquire examples which have been expertised. Dr. Dub and Dr. Hörr, amongst others, are recognized for their expertise on these issues. The railway values are all scarce, although the Rumburg is certainly more plentiful than the others.

All illustrations are ABOVE the stamp descriptions in this article.


Karlsbad : Optd. ' Karlsbad / 1.X.1938 / ( swastika ) ' in Red
[ . . ] 50h blue-green ( Mi. 62 )
[ . . ] - ditto - interpanneau pair ( label also overprinted ) ( Mi. 62WZ )

Konstantinsbad : Optd. ' Sudetenland ' in Black
[ . . ] 50h blue-green ( Mi. 34 )
[ . . ] - ditto - interpanneau pair ( I do not know if the label is overprinted ) ( Mi. 34WZ )

Niklasdorf singles
Niklasdorf Gutter

Niklasdorf : Optd. with new value in Black
[ . . ] 1.20 Kc / 50 h blue-green( Mi. 47 )
[ . . ] 2 Kc / 50 h blue-green ( Mi. 73 )
[ . . ] 4.50 Kc / 50 h blue-green ( Mi. 120 )
[ . . ] - ditto - interpanneau pair ( label not overprinted ) ( Mi. 120WZ )

Reichenberg cover

Reichenberg-Maffersdorf : Optd. ' Wir sind / frei ! / ( swastika ) ' in Black.
[ . . ] 50 h blue-green ( Mi. 137 )
[ . . ] - ditto - interpanneau pair ( label not overprinted, expertised Osper ) ( Mi. 137WZ )
[ . . ] - ditto - interpanneau pair ( label with overprint, expertised Hübner ) ( Mi. 137WZ )
Note: I have also seen an interpanneau pair ( label not overprinted ) overprinted in a deep bluish-black, expertised by Osper. Intriguing. They may all be authentic, but I do not have enough information to provide proper analysis.


Left Stamp: Rumburg ( normal ). . . Right stamp : Rumburg - missing bar to swastika . . . Colour not true in this scan

Rumburg : Optd. ' Wir sind / frei ! / ( swastika ) in Black (smaller opt than above )
[ . . ] 50 h blue-green ( Mi. 51 )
[ . . ] - ditto - variety - Swastika with missing bar ( Position 71 in the sheet, rarely seen )


German Occupation of Bohemia & Moravia, March 1939.

German troops invaded Bohemia & Moravia in March 1939. Czech stamps continued to be used until November 1939, supplemented by regular issues for the ' Protectorate ', which became available from July 15th. From December 1939 onwards, only Bohemia & Moravia stamps could be used, a few of which are of railway interest. Some of these exist with a variety of blank fields ( Leerfeld ) in the sheets. However, I am not covering these somewhat complex issues in this article.

There is one stamp, however, which is perhaps best listed here, as its overprint is very similar in design to the overprint on some of the Sudetenland stamps above. As early as March 14th 1939, German troops occupied the town of Mährisch-Ostrau and several Czech stamps were overprinted Wir sind / frei ! / ( swastika ). These stamps were only valid in Mährisch-Ostrau and are, therefore, listed by Michel as Local Issues .
Once again, the only stamp of railway interest, so overprinted, was the 1938 50 heller Steam Train & Armaments Works in Pilsen ( Czechoslovakia Mi. 400 ). I am unable to provide a scan of the actual stamp but the overprint in use is illustrated below. You will notice that the swastika is, proportionately, much larger than on the Sudetenland issues.

Mahrisch-Ostrau Type

[ . . ] 50h blue-green ( Pilsen ) overprinted as above ( Local Issue for Mährisch-Ostrau ) ( Mi. A.29 )
[ . . ] - ditto - Gutter pair
Note 1: Although the gutter pair is not listed in my edition of Michel, I believe it has been listed in the current edition ( requires confirmation ).
Note 2 : Michel reports that there are three variations of the exclamation mark in the overprint,
I : Downstroke and Stop joined
II : Stop separated, downstroke rounded at top
III : Stop separated, downstroke more diamond-shaped at top


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