Czechoslovak Arms Exports to the Middle East Volume 4 - Iran, Iraq, Yemen Arab Republic and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen 1948-1989
Illustrators: David Bocquelet and Tom Cooper; photo credits to the author, DoD, and Aero Vodochody
This is the fourth book in Martin Smisek’s Czechoslovak Arms Exports to the Middle East series. The previous three volumes were previously competently and eloquently reviewed by Paul R. Brown of the IPMS/USA Review Corps:
- Czechoslovak Arms Exports to the Middle East - Volume 1: Israel and Jordan 1948-1989
- Czechoslovak Arms Exports to the Middle East - Volume 2: Syria 1948-1989
- Czechoslovak Arms Exports to the Middle East Volume 3: Egypt 1948-1989
The Czechoslovak arms industry was prominent during the pre-World War II years and continued to grow during the Cold War. Noted for their quality military equipment, their products were in demand in nascent countries growing their military capabilities. To their detriment, the Czechoslovak government often played the middleman to the USSR’s policies, forcing them to provide military equipment at conditions more favorable to the USSR and the countries they supplied. As you can read in the reviews above, Paul R. Brown did a great job of highlighting these disparities. This volume continues that path with arms deals for Iran, Iraq, Yemen Arab Republic and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen from 1948-1989.
Who better to author a book on Czechoslovak arms export than a Czechoslovakian? Per the Helion and Company website, and the back of the book,
“Martin Smisek was born in 1985 and received a master's degree in aerospace engineering at the Czech Technical University in Prague in 2010. In addition to his regular job of a mechanical design engineer, he has written over 70 articles about contemporary armored vehicles, modern air-launched weapons as well as Czechoslovak military history and local conflicts since 1945. He is the author of the ground-breaking book Super Sabry nad Československem (Super Sabres over Czechoslovakia) about US spy flights over Czechoslovakia in 1955. Martin Smisek is also a regular contributor of the Czech and Slovak leading military website www.valka.cz.
Martin Smisek’s attention to detail is noteworthy and he backs up his statements with notes, an extensive bibliography, a plethora of detailed photographs, and 29 tables. While extremely detailed, the book also provides inspiration for modelers who wish to build a “non-traditional” Soviet Cold War-era vehicle.
The book is complete with extensive photographs, technical details and specifications, and detailed illustrations, composing the following four chapters:
- Chapter 1 - Iran (Operation 125, Country 608)
- Chapter 2 – Iraq (Operation 118, Country 607 and Operation 619)
- Chapter 3 – North Yemen (Operation 110, Country 611)
- Chapter 4 – South Yemen (Operation 625, Country 633)
- About the Author
Each chapter begins with a brief history of the highlighted country and how Czechoslovakia was approached to provide arms. A brief highlight of each country follows.
Iran, known as Persia until 1935, was the most important business partner with Czechoslovakia in the Middle East before World War II. After 1933, Czechoslovakia built six sugar mills, the Tehran power plant, a tobacco factory and more than 100 railroad bridges on the Trans-Iranian Railway. Weapons were also in abundance and continued until the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938. Iran was invaded by an Anglo-Soviet force in 1941 and became a thoroughfare for Lend-Lease supplies. Post WWII, Iran was subjected to various leadership styles from a democratically elected leader to a shah to the revolutionary government still in power. Czechoslovakian arms imports were tested throughout this period, including the eight-year Iran-Iraq War that significantly challenged imports as Czechoslovakia supported both countries.
Czechoslovakia maintained diplomatic and trade relations with Iraq before WWII. The Kingdom of Iraq was established in 1930 under British authority. In 1932, the Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq gained independence, with concessions to British power. Czechoslovakia was key in providing arms to the nascent Iraqi military. Post WWII, Czechoslovakia continued to provide arms, but ran into problems, along with the USSR, with the Kurdish opposition. As the Iraqi government continued to morph, so did their requirements for training, especially with their Air Force. This is a very interesting part of the book as the author outlines several Iraqi pilot trainees’ inexperience that resulted in loss of aircraft. The Iraqis were masters at manipulation and playing Warsaw Pact countries against each other to Iraqi advantage. A nod to the author on a section titled, “The Mother of All Arms Agreements”. As Iraq was the largest recipient of Czechoslovak arms in this book, 32 of the 84 pages are dedicated to this country.
The author begins the North Yemen chapter with, “The Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen was one of the most isolated and undeveloped countries in the Arab world, but despite the isolation of his country, Yemeni ruler Imam Yahya Muhammad tried to establish diplomatic relations with foreign countries.” In 1928, North Yemen signed an agreement the Soviet Union, followed with the Czechoslovak Republic in 1938, that lasted until German occupation. After the war, in the 1950s, Czechoslovakia was approached again, and again was used as a proxy for the Soviet Union. The Yemenis also approached Egypt for assistance for training. Czechoslovakia provided equipment from WWII stocks, including Stug IIIs, T-34/85s, SU-100s, and even exports of British Cromwell tanks were considered, but not delivered. Czechoslovak advisors were provided and often clashed with the Egyptian military. The state of Yemeni competence and training for even rudimentary military hardware was notable and a hinderance for much of the program. North Yemen experienced many leadership changes and became the Imamate of Yemen, and later the Yemen Arab Republic. The Soviet Bloc, particularly Czechoslovakia, found itself in a losing monetary proposition.
South Yemen was two British protectorates (Federation of South Arabia and the Protectorate of South Arabia) that merged to become the People’s Republic of Southern Yemen on 30 November 1967. From the start, the new country was subject to civil war, with both Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union providing arms. The Soviets gained a vital naval base with South Yemen’s Socotra Island while Czechoslovakia gained more debt. “Agreements” between Czechoslovakia and South Yemen were one-sided and even resulted in Czechoslovakia providing medical assistance both in Yemen and in Czechoslovakia. South Yemen and North Yemen went to war and in 1989-1990 entered negotiations that led to the union of the country. War broke out again in 1994, in which South Yemen was soundly defeated. Czechoslovakia continued to supply the newly reunited Yemen with military equipment. Most of that equipment was destroyed when the Houthi insurgency overran the central government, and the subsequent Saudi Arabian-led intervention in the country.
Each country received Czechoslovak arms, instructors, and training, and benefited from same; regarding the countries in this book, Czechoslovakia remained in the negative across the board, but the sales did provide minimal cash flow to help the government until the collapse of the Soviet Union. This was an amazing and informative look from behind the Iron Curtain into a lesser-known aspect of the Cold War.
Like most modelers, I have a ubiquitous T-34/85 in my stash. Perhaps one will be built and painted in Yemen livery from a tank that took part in during the Yemen Civil War of 2014-2022. Other vehicles highlighted include the Tatra 813 truck, OT-62 TOPAS tracked APC, OT-64 SKOT wheeled APC, DOK-M engineering vehicle, JVBT-55 armored vehicle, MT-55 bridge-layer, T-72M1, SU-100, vz. 53/70 self-propelled AA gun, vz. 53 towed, twin-barrel 30mm automatic AA gun, vz. 52 AT gun, and vz. 59A 82mm recoilless gun. Aircraft include Avia B-33 (Soviet Illyushin Il-10), Avia C-11 (Yak-11), Zlin Z-526 trainer, MiG-15, MiG-21, Aero L-29 Delphin, and Aero L-39 Albatross. There are a lot of unique military hardware within the pages of this book, including information on land-locked Czechoslovakian’s merchant navy.
Profuse thanks to Casemate and IPMS/USA for providing the review sample.