Klapálek was born in the town of Nové Město nad Metují, Austria-Hungary. His father, who worked at the railway, died when Karel was 8. His mother was left alone with five children. The family was very poor. Karel went to primary school in the town of Kralupy and Vltavou and then he studied at high school in Prague. He graduated in 1911. Then he got a job as an accountant in a small factory for automatic pumps.
First World War
In 1915, Klapalek joined the 8th regiment and left for Halicz. He fought at the Russian front. He was captured by Russians on 23 September 1915. In Tashkent, 1916, he enrolled in the Czechoslovak Legion in Russia and on 6 August 1916 he was accepted to the 1st artillery regiment as a soldier. After a successful battle at Zborov he was promoted to warrant officer. He went through the majority of battles of the Czechoslovakia Legion in Russia. Then he got tuberculosis. He did not return to his country until 1920.
After WWI, Czechoslovakia was established. Klapalek worked as a professional military officer and helped to establish the army of the newborn state. He served in Pilsen, Prague, Michalovice and Uzgorod, where he met his future wife Olga Klapalkova - Kosutova. Then he served in Milovice and worked at the Military Academy in Hranice. In the interwar period, Klapálek married Olga Kosutova (born 8.3.1901). Their daughter Olga was born March 24, 1926. Olga Klapalkova - Kosutova kept a diary during her life. Later she published her notes in a book. In it she described the life in a Nazi camp in Svatoborice u Kyjova, where she was arrested during the Second World War. Later in her life, Olga also published the book of her husband’s memoirs, „Voják vypravuje.”
Second World War
After the establishment of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Klapalek joined a Czech military anti-Nazi resistance organization Obrana Naroda (Protecting Nation) in České Budějovice. After the organization was destroyed in 1940, he fled the country. He fought for the British Army in Africa. He participated in the battle of Tobruk as a commander of the Czechoslovak 11th Infantry Battalion — East The defense of Tobruk was successful, but many Czech soldiers died. Then Klapalek left for England and served at the Czechoslovak Infantry Brigade there. In 1944 he volunteered in the USSR. Together with the 1st Czechoslovak Army Corps he participated in the Battle of the Dukla Pass. He met Ludvík Svoboda, the future Czechoslovak president. Svoboda made him a commander of the 3rd brigade. In April 1945 he made him a commander of the whole Czechoslovak 1st Army Corps in the USSR. Klapalek successfully led the army in the Battle for Brest. On May 17, 1945, Klapanek returned to Prague on a white horse, leading all the Czechoslovak soldiers who had fought abroad.
Between 1945 and 1950, he served as an army officer in Prague. Together with Svoboda he supported the communist coup d'état in 1948 by establishing the Central office of the National Front (Ústřední výbor Národní Fronty). He joined the communist party in June 1948. During the political trials with western soldiers he tried to protect his former colleagues. In 1949 he received a threatening letter encouraging him to leave the country. Klapalek did not take it seriously. But in 1951 he was sent into retirement. After the huge political trial of Rudolf Slánský in 1952, the communists took all his property and arrested him in Valdice prison. He was degraded, excluded from the communist party and deprived of his civil rights. In 1954 he was convicted of sabotage. He left prison in 1956, after two Soviet marshals, Zhukov and Konev[disambiguation needed], spoke up for him. But he was not rehabilitated until 1968.
Memoirs and National Honours
Klapálek published his memoirs in a book called Ozveny boju in 1968. Ludvik Svoboda, the president of Czechoslovakia, awarded him with the title Hero of the CSR. Kulhanek had already received the Order of the Red Star and the Order of the 25th February. Klapanek became an honorable citizen of his hometown Nové Město nad Metují. In 1984 he was awarded his last National Honour, the Order of the Red Flag. In 2009, Klapanek was nominated for the Order of the White Lion in memoriam. There was a debate whether he deserves the Order or not because of his deeds in 1948. Czech president Václav Klaus eventually did not give him this Honour.
Gen. Karel Klapálek died 18 November 1984. He was 91 years old.
National Honours given to Karel Klapálek
- The Order of the Red Star
- The Order of the 25th February
- The Hero of the CSR
- The Order of the Red Flag
- KLAPALKOVA-KOSUTOVA, OLGA: Voják vypravuje, published by Družstvo Moravského kala spisovatelů in Brno, Czechoslovakia,1948
- BROD, TOMAN: Tobrucké krysy, published by Naše vojsko, Czechoslovakia
- KUX, JAN: Pomníky zůstávají, Frangmenty z výstavy k 60. výročí osvobození. published by Onufrius Brno, Czech republic, 2005
- KLAPALEK, KAREL: Ozvěny bojů (memories from the WWII), published by Naše vojsko, Czechoslovakia, 1966,
- RESSEL, ALFRÉD: Mé cesty válkou, published by Mladá fronta, Czechoslovakia, 1975
- PEJŘIL, VACLAV: Sborník fotografií a textů k 90-tému výročí narození arm. gen. Karla Klapálka (Brochure with text and pictures published on 90th birthday of Karel Klapálek
- SOMMR, JOSEF: Od Tobruku do Plzně, published by Naše Vojsko, Czechoslovakia, 1992
- KRAUS, STANISLAV: Za svobodou třemi světadíly