||This article needs additional citations for verification. (March 2007)|
|Part of the Eastern Front (World War II)|
Polish People's Army
Russian Liberation Army
|Commanders and leaders|
| Ferdinand Schörner
|| Ivan Konev
|Army Group Center:
Army Group Ostmark:
|Casualties and losses|
|Some 860,000 taken prisoner; remainder killed, missing in action, or fled||Soviet: 49,348
The Prague Offensive (Russian: Пражская стратегическая наступательная операция "Prague Strategic Offensive") was the last major Soviet operation of World War II in Europe. The offensive, and the battle for Prague, was fought on the Eastern Front from 6 May to 11 May 1945. This battle for the city is particularly noteworthy in that it ended after the Third Reich capitulated on 8 May 1945. This battle is also noteworthy in that it was fought concurrently with the Prague Uprising.
The city of Prague was ultimately captured by the USSR during the Prague Offensive. All of the German troops of Army Group Centre (Heeresgruppe Mitte) and many of Army Group Ostmark (formerly known as Army Group South) were killed or captured, or fell into the hands of the Allies after the capitulation. The capitulation of Army Group Centre was nine days after the fall of Berlin and three days after Victory in Europe Day.
By the beginning of May 1945, Germany had been decisively defeated by the coalition of the Western Allies and the Soviet Union. Germany's capital, Berlin, was on the verge of capitulation in the face of a massive Soviet attack and the great bulk of Germany had been conquered. There remained one large concentration of German troops (over 1,000,000 men in two army groups) in southeastern Germany and Czechoslovakia. These troops were Army Group Centre and the remnants of Army Group Ostmark. Confronting this German concentration on the northern, eastern, and southern flanks were the 1st, 4th, and 2nd Ukrainian Fronts of the Soviet Army.
To the west of the German forces were elements of the U.S. First and Third Armies. The U.S. forces were destined to play only a peripheral role in the events of the Prague Operation as there was a demarcation line in western Czechoslovakia beyond which the U.S. forces were not to advance by prior agreement with the Soviet Union.
Politically, both Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin saw Prague as a significant prize, the seizure of which could significantly influence the political makeup of postwar Czechoslovakia. On 1 May 1945, before Berlin was subdued, Stalin issued orders directing the 1st Belorussian Front to relieve the 1st Ukrainian Front in the Berlin area so that the latter could regroup to the south along the Mulde River and drive on Prague. The 2nd Ukrainian Front also received orders on 2 May to drive on Prague from the southeast. Stalin was determined to have the Soviet Army present in force in western Czechoslovakia when the German troops there finally surrendered.
From 30 April to 1 May 1945, SS Senior Group Leader (Obergruppenführer) and General of Police Karl Hermann Frank announced over the radio in Prague that he would drown any uprising in a "sea of blood." Frank was also a General of the Waffen SS. The situation in Prague was unstable. Frank knew that several Soviet Army Fronts were advancing towards Prague. More immediately, he was faced with a city population ready to be liberated.
The terrain over which the Soviets had to advance was varied but in the main mountainous and forested. The routes of march of the 1st and 4th Ukrainian Fronts were perpendicular to the orientation of the ridges while the 2nd Ukrainian Front was able to move along a less arduous route in regions of lower elevation that led to Prague. In particular, the 1st Ukrainian Front had to cross the Ore Mountains to advance on Prague from the area north of Dresden and Bautzen. The other significant military terrain obstacle was urban areas, the two largest of which to surmount were Dresden and Prague itself.
With Soviet and U.S. forces pressing in from all sides, Army Group Centre's deployment resembled a horseshoe straddling the historical regions of Bohemia and Moravia. To the west, the 7th Army (formerly part of Army Group G) had been pushed east by operations of the U.S. Sixth Army Group and had become a subordinate command of Army Group Centre. 7th Army was deployed roughly along a north-south axis in western Czechoslovakia. Besides the 2nd Panzer Division and the 347th Volksgrenadier Division, 7th Army had only four other "divisions", two of which were named battle groups (Schulze and Benicke) while the remaining two were replacement army formations mobilized for combat and filled out with military school staffs and trainees (413th and 404th Divisions).
To the northeast of Prague and just north of Dresden and Bautzen, the 4th Panzer Army defended along a front running slightly southeast. 4th Panzer Army had five Panzer or mechanized divisions (1st and 2nd Hermann Goering Divisions, the 2nd and 10th SS Panzer Divisions, and the 20th Panzer Division) as well as 13 other divisions or battle groups. Furthermore, 4th Panzer Army had just won the Battle of Bautzen, inflicting serious damage on the Soviet 52nd and Polish 2nd Armies.
To 4th Panzer Army's right (eastern) flank was 17th Army, and from here the front ran southeast to Olomouc, where the 1st Panzer Army was deployed. In southern Moravia, Army Group Ostmark's 8th Army was deployed on a front leading to the southwest into Austria where its right flank met up with the 6th SS Panzer Army in the area north and west of Vienna.
The Soviet assault on Prague crushed the last sizable pocket of German military resistance in Europe. The Soviet assault on Prague was carried out by the 1st (under Ivan Konev), 2nd (Rodion Malinovsky) and 4th Ukrainian Fronts (Andrei Yeremenko). As well as the Soviet armies these Fronts included the 2nd Polish Army, the 1st and 4th Romanian armies and the I Corps of the Czechoslovakian Army. The Soviet Fronts totaled more than two million troops. In order to participate in the Prague Offensive, the troops of the 1st Ukrainian Front made a forced march from south of Berlin just after they had completed their participation in the Battle of Berlin.
The Soviet force was opposed by 600,000 - 650,000 German troops of what was left of Army Group Centre commanded by Field Marshal Ferdinand Schörner: the First Panzer Army, the Fourth Panzer Army, the Seventh Army and the Seventeenth Army. In addition to remnants of Army Group Centre, the Germans opposing the Soviets in Czechoslovakia included some 430,000 men of Army Group Ostmark, commanded by Dr. Lothar Rendulic.
On 7 May, General Alfred Jodl, Chief-of-Staff of Oberkommando der Wehrmacht ("German Armed Forces High Command"), signed the surrender of all German forces at SHAEF. OKW had last heard from Schörner on 2 May. He had reported he intended to fight his way west and surrender his army group to the Americans. On 8 May an OKW colonel was escorted through the American lines to see Schörner. The colonel reported Schörner had ordered his operational command to observe the surrender but could not guarantee he would be obeyed everywhere. Later that day Schörner deserted his command and flew to Austria where on 18 May he was arrested by the Americans.
When it came, the Soviet assault on Prague crushed any remaining Germans and relieved the Czech partisans fighting in the Prague Uprising. The uprising started on 5 May 1945. During the march south, the 1st Infantry Division (600th German Infantry Division) of the Russian Liberation Army (ROA) commanded by General Sergei Bunyachenko came to the help of the Czech insurgents to support the Prague uprising which started on May 5, 1945, against the German occupation. The ROA was created by former Soviet General Andrey Vlasov as an anti-communist Russian force in the combat against Bolshevism. Vlasov was initially reluctant, but ultimately did not resist General Bunyachenko's decision to fight against the Germans. The ROA First Division engaged in battle with Waffen-SS units that had been sent to level the city. The ROA units armed with heavy weaponry fended off the SS assault, and together with the Czech insurgents succeeded in preserving most of Prague from destruction. Due to the predominance of Communists in the new Czech Rada, the ROA division had to leave the city the following day and tried to surrender to U.S. Third Army of General Patton. The Allies, however, had little interest in aiding or sheltering the ROA, fearing such aid would severely harm relations with the USSR. Soon after the failed attempt to surrender to the Americans, Bunyachenko, Vlasov, and the ROA forces in general were returned to the Soviet Union, after which they were mostly executed as traitors.
On 9 May 1945, Soviet troops entered Prague. Due to the fear of Czech and Soviet revenge for massacres committed in last days of the war and other crimes several remnant formations of Army Group Centre continued resistance until 11/12 May (see Battle of Slivice). The left flank of the 2nd Ukrainian Front met with troops of the U.S. Third Army (George Patton) in the regions of České Budějovice and Písek, thus completing the encirclement. Later, 1st and 2nd Ukrainian Fronts met with Americans in the regions of Karlovy Vary and Klatovy. German soldiers and ethnic German and a minority of ethnic Czech pro-Nazi civilians fleeing Prague were surprised by the advancing Soviets and completely routed. The Czech population resumed hostilities against the surrendered German troops regardless of their intentions, in what the veterans of the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian) who had laid their weapons down in May 1945 recalled as the 'Czech Hell'.
On 14 May, Dr. Emil Hácha was arrested in Prague and transferred immediately to a prison hospital. Hácha was the State President of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, a 1939-created protectorate of the Greater German Empire. He died in prison on 26 June under mysterious circumstances.
In mid-May, the acting Mayor of Prague, Professor Josef Pfitzner, was hanged in public. Konrad Henlein, the leader of the Nazi Party of Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia, committed suicide at about the same time.
On 22 May 1946, SS Obergruppenführer Karl Hermann Frank was hanged after being convicted of war crimes.
Dr. Wilhelm Frick, a prominent Nazi official, was convicted of war crimes by the Nuremberg Tribunal and executed on 16 October 1946. Frick also had held the ceremonial post of Protector of Bohemia and Moravia.
SS-Fuehrer (Oberstgruppenführer) Kurt Daluege was captured by American troops and extradited to Czechoslovakia. He was convicted of war crimes by the Czechs, and hanged on 24 October 1946. Among other titles, Daluege was an officer of the Central Reich Security Office (RSHA) and the Governor of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.
To honor the participants of the operation, the Soviet Union instituted the Medal "For the Liberation of Prague".
- Army Group Centre
- Army Group Ostmark
Soviet and Soviet allied nations
- 11,997 irrecoverable
- 40,501 wounded and sick
- Total 52,498
- 373 tanks and self-propelled guns
- 1,006 artillery pieces
- 80 aircraft
Losses in men of both army groups taken prisoner by the Soviets amounted to some 860,000 men.
- Battle of Berlin - 1945
- Vienna Offensive - 1945
- Prague Uprising - 1945
- End of World War II in Europe
- Lakowski, p. 674.
- Ziemke (2002), p. 498.
- Krivosheev 1997, p. 159.
- Glantz 1995, p. 300.
- Location data from the Soviet history of World War II (История второй мировой войны 1939-1945 в двенадцати томах) Map 151 and 12th Army Group Situation Map
- Under the laws of war there is a distinction between those captured and those who "fall into the power" of the enemy after a mass capitulation. The 1929 Geneva Convention only covered those who were captured during the fighting not those who fell into the power of an enemy following a mass capitulation (See Disarmed Enemy Forces). This was explicitly changed in the Third Geneva Convention (1949)
- Erickson 1983, pp. 625-630.
- Erickson 1983, p. 627.
- Tessin 1974, p. 52.
- Tessin 1973, p. 228.
- Lakowski, p. 674.
- Tessin 1980, p. 157.
- Like many institutions in Nazi Germany the control of the Army was split between the German Armed Forces High Command (OKW) and the Oberkommando des Heeres ("German Army High Command") (OKH). By 1945 the OKW commanded all German forces in every theatre apart from those on the Eastern Front which were under OKH control and which, before his suicide, had reported directly to Hitler. So it was not clear if Schörner was under the command of OKW on 8 May or if President Karl Dönitz or Chancellor von Krosigk needed to order Schörner to surrender.
- Ziemke 1969, p. 134.
- Taylor 1975, p. 223 Taylor states that Soviet troops entered Prague on the 12 May.
- Estonian State Commission on Examination of Policies of Repression 2005, p. 35.
- Hiio & Kaasik 2006, pp. 927–968.
- Erickson, John (1999), The Road to Berlin, New Haven: Yale University Press, ISBN 978-0300-078138
- Estonian State Commission on Examination of Policies of Repression (2005), "Human Losses", The White Book: Losses inflicted on the Estonian nation by occupation regimes. 1940–1991, Estonian Encyclopedia Publishers, p. 35
- Glantz, David M. & House, Jonathan (1995), When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler, Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, ISBN 0-7006-0899-0
- Hiio, Toomas; Kaasik, Peeter (2006), "Estonian units in the Waffen-SS", in Hiio, Toomas; Maripuu, Meelis; Paavle, Indrek, Estonia 1940–1945: Reports of the Estonian International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity, Tallinn, pp. 927–968
- Krivosheev, Grigori (1997), Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses in the Twentieth Century, London: Greenhill Books, ISBN 978-1853-672804
- Lakowski, Richard, Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Volume 10/1, Munich: DVA, ISBN 978-3-421-06237-6
- Taylor, A. J. P. (1975), Second World War: An illustrated history, New York: Putnam, ISBN 0-399-11412-2
- Tessin, Georg (1973), Verbände und Truppen der deutschen Wehrmacht und Waffen-SS 1939-1945 (Volume 2), Osnabrück: Biblio Verlag, ISBN 3-7648-0871-3
- Tessin, Georg (1974), Verbände und Truppen der deutschen Wehrmacht und Waffen-SS 1939-1945 (Volume 3), Osnabrück: Biblio Verlag, ISBN 3-7648-0942-6
- Tessin, Georg (1980), Verbände und Truppen der deutschen Wehrmacht und Waffen-SS 1939-1945 (Volume 14), Osnabrück: Biblio Verlag, ISBN 3-7648-1111-0
- Ziemke, Earl F. (1969), Battle for Berlin: end of the Third Reich, New York: Ballantine
- Ziemke, Earl F. (2002), Stalingrad to Berlin: The German Defeat in the East, Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office
- Konev, I. (1969), Year of Victory, Moscow: Progress Publishers.
- Советская военная энциклопедия (Soviet Military Encyclopedia), vol. 6 (In Russian).
- Ziemke, Earl F. (1990), Stalingrad to Berlin: The German defeat in the East, New York: Dorset Press.