Prague uprising

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For the events of Spring 1968, see Prague Spring
Prague Uprising
Part of World War II
Prague liberation 1945 tanks barricades.jpg

Residents and defenders of the Prague Uprising barricades greet the Red Army tanks on May 9, 1945
Date May 5–8, 1945
Location Prague, Czech Republic
50°04′43″N 14°26′04″E / 50.07861°N 14.43444°E / 50.07861; 14.43444Coordinates: 50°04′43″N 14°26′04″E / 50.07861°N 14.43444°E / 50.07861; 14.43444
Result Nazi victory against insurgents, occupation for one more day
Belligerents
Nazi Germany Germany Czechoslovakia Czech Resistance
Russia Russian Liberation Army
 Soviet Union
Commanders and leaders
Nazi Germany Karl Hermann Frank
Nazi Germany Rudolf Toussaint
Nazi Germany Carl von Pückler
Czechoslovakia Otakar Machotka
Russia Sergei Bunyachenko
Strength
Nazi Germany 40,000 Czechoslovakia 30,000
Russia 18,000
Casualties and losses
Nazi Germany 1,000 killed Czechoslovakia 1,500 killed
Russia 300 killed
Soviet Union 30 killed in Prague
Unknown number of civilians killed

The Prague uprising (Czech: Pražské povstání) was an attempt by the Czech resistance to liberate the city of Prague from German occupation during World War II. Events began on May 5, 1945, in the last moments of the war in Europe. The uprising went on until May 8, 1945, ending in a German victory and ceasefire. One day after the Germans conquered Prague, they surrendered on the arrival of the Red Army.

Prior to Uprising[edit]

Several factors greatly influenced the daily life of the majority of people, including the militarization of the economy, the elimination of political rights, transportation to Germany for forced labor, and national oppression. Various forms of German oppression in the cities affected not only the working class, but also the "middle strata"—the small and middle businessmen, and the lower categories of state and civic employees, for example.[1]

The most important task of the Czechs was to stop the Germans from disturbing what Czechoslovak territory they still occupied as well as to stop them from continuing the war on Czech soil. The goal of the resistance was to force the German occupants to retreat to Germany. The Czech Resistance needed the support and help of the Red Army in order to become fully liberated.[1]

As the ending to the war was coming closer, it had a powerful effect on the residents of all over Czechoslovakia. In fact, it strengthened their longing to explicitly demonstrate their bitter hatred toward the German occupants.[1] During the German occupation or protection of Czechoslovakia, tensions had built up because of oppression. This would later lead to the expulsion of three million Sudeten Germans from their homes of 800 years.

In the spring of 1945 throughout Czechoslovakia, there were both many large and small partisan groups that totaled about 7,500 men. These followers mostly took part in the "battle of the rails", in which they disturbed the railway and highway transportation, attacked trains and stations, as well as German troop trains, and damaged tracks and bridges. For example, there were some lines the Germans could use only in the daytime and not even every day.[1]

On the eve of the uprising, the propaganda activities of the group called the Communist Youth, were in full swing, but didn’t last long. The communist groups whose solidarity had been broken by arrests in March were somehow able to work under the tough circumstances of illegality.[1]

Battle for Czech Radio[edit]

From 30 April-1 May 1945, the Waffen-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". As rumors of an impending Allied approach reached Prague, the people of Prague streamed into the streets to welcome the victors. Frank ordered the streets to be cleared and instructed the German army and police forces in Prague to fire at anyone who disobeyed.

On 5 May, the uprising was triggered in the morning by a broadcast on Czech radio. In a mixture of Czech and German, the broadcast announced: "It is just six o' clock". A group of Czech policemen attempted to seize the radio building on Vinohradská street, without realizing that a detachment of SS soldiers was already stationed there, which resulted in bitter fighting. With the sounds of combat in the background, the radio station continued to broadcast messages of defiance, encouraging citizens to revolt.

Uprising[edit]

At about 1:00 am on May 5, 1945, armed Czech resistance fighters overwhelmed the Waffen-SS defending the radio buildings. The radio announcer broadcast a call to the Czech nation to rise up and asked the people in the streets of Prague to build barricades. Elsewhere, Czech resistance fighters occupied the Gestapo and Sipo Headquarters.

In the afternoon of May 5, the Prague mayor formally switched allegiance to the National Committee in the City Hall. The Czechs in the streets tore down the German road traffic signs and store inscriptions. The insurgents attacked any Germans within sight and seized their weapons. The Germans defended themselves as best as they could by shooting at the insurgents.

In the remaining hours of May 5, the insurgents' camp learned of the Nazis' intent to eliminate the uprising by using a very heavily armed attack from the outside. The intent of this maneuver was to join up with the local German forces that were positioned inside the city. The news reached Prague Resistance Headquarters of German tanks, armored carriers, weaponry and motorized units that were heading for the capital city. However, in the evening hours of May 5, the balance of power between the insurgents and the Germans started to change. After a phase of dominance of the insurgents in the beginning of the uprising, a phase of stabilization began, which was also an equalization of power.[2]

By the morning of May 6, over 1,000 barricades were erected. Czech resistance troops had managed to seize half of the city before the Germans reacted in force. German garrisons throughout Prague were surrounded. The insurgents forced the besieged Germans to surrender by cutting off their electricity, water supplies, and telephone wires. Prague experienced a rash of anti-German excesses, while some Germans, mainly the SS, took revenge on the Czech non-combatants.

German counter-attack[edit]

German forces outside of Prague started to move toward the city center in order to relieve their trapped countrymen. The other objective of these German forces was the capture of the railroad and highway communication network. Possession of these vital transportation links would secure free passage westward to the American lines for the Wehrmacht Heer troops of Army Group Center.

On May 6, the Germans attempted to recapture the radio station building. As the German advance ran into significant resistance, both in the building itself and at the barricades in nearby streets, the Germans decided to use bombers instead. This attack was a success. However, the Czech resistance managed to continue to broadcast its message from the Hussite church tower. The tower was used on the 7-9th May 1945 as an impromptu radio tower when it also sheltered Czech resistance fighters who were trying to evict the occupying German force from the city.[3]

With news that Americans were already in Pilsen, hopes were initially high about their tanks reaching Prague soon. But the insurgents were not aware of the demarcation line agreement between the Americans and the Soviets some 70 km (43 mi) west of Prague. The Czech radio appeals to the United States Army remained unanswered. Insurgents also did not know where the Red Army might be at the time and the German military pressure was increasing.

The SS attack[edit]

On May 7, Waffen-SS armoured and artillery units stationed outside of Prague, frustrated by the lack of decisive progress made by the Heer infantry, launched several furious tank attacks on the city defenders. The situation was grave. The Waffen-SS started to use their heavy equipment and even the feared Luftwaffe air raids were launched on Prague. Many downtown historical landmarks were bombed. In the next hours, the German occupation forces gradually overwhelmed the Czech fighters. The resistance had only a few anti-tank weapons to counter German tanks. In addition, their ammunition was running out.

The ROA defection[edit]

During the march south, the 1st Infantry Division (600th German Infantry Division) of the Russian Liberation Army (ROA) commanded by General Sergei Bunichenko (or 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 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 relentless 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 first division had to leave the city the very next day and tried to surrender to the US 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 Soviet Union. 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.

German retreat[edit]

On May 8, faced with no arriving allied help and the imminent destruction of the city, the insurgents were forced to negotiate, and accepted the German terms presented by General Rudolf Toussaint, the German Military Governor. It called for the immediate capitulation and unhindered passage of German forces, including civilians, through Prague. In return, Prague would not be destroyed. Although the compromise seemed to give the Germans most of what they wanted, the Czechs were confident that the Germans would not have enough time to benefit from it.

Liberation[edit]

On May 9, the Soviet Red Army entered Prague. U.S. Army units had been closer to Prague than Soviets, and their reconnaissance units were already present in the suburbs of Prague when the uprising began. However, the Americans were unable to help the Czech insurgents due to previous political agreements with the Soviets.

Participants[edit]

Czechs[edit]

  • Czech insurgents were the ethnic Czech residents of Prague, forced to work for the Nazis. Although spared most of the horrors of war like the draft and massive air raids, they despised anything German and were the first to rise spontaneously without waiting for political orders. Lacking military training, they armed themselves with small arms captured from the Germans. They fought surprisingly well trying to hinder the superior German forces by an extensive network of hastily established street barricades. Their tactics of blocking the German movement proved successful and their main goal of demonstrating Czech resistance was reached. However, it was a close call, in which every single hour counted. Thanks to them, Prague liberated itself before the arrival of the Soviets. The Czech National Council—led by Otakar Machotka and loyal to President Edvard Beneš in London—represented them in negotiations. The participating communists stayed loyal to their provisional government in Košice, Slovakia.
  • Puppet government forces: police, the customs, and other security forces of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Consisting mostly of native Czechs and controlled by the Gestapo, they turned their weapons and equipment against the Germans they were supposed to protect. Although no match for the well-trained German military, they voluntarily handed over large part of their small arms stockpile and communication equipment to the insurgents. They were supposed to guard Prague against the internal enemy, but in reality faced their former allies attacking from outside. Formerly considered traitors by the Czech civilians and now by the Germans, they had no escape route and had to fight, come what may.

Germans[edit]

  • German civilians residing in Prague, administrators, officials, and family members of the German military were the easiest targets of Czech anger. They had to flee by any means, including stolen vehicles, in order to save their lives. Many atrocities were committed on both sides as some Germans, mainly the SS, took revenge on the Czech non-combatants.
  • The Regular German army (Wehrmacht Heer) was actually trapped both inside and outside Prague. They found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. They needed the huge Prague communication network to move west in order to surrender to the Americans. Superior in numbers, equipment and training, they were pressed only by time. However, the signing of the Surrender Act with the Czech National Council by their commander, General Toussaint, may be considered only a partial victory, as only a minor part of German forces passed westward. Some units were even supposed to suppress the SS, their ally, which refused to cease fire.
  • Waffen-SS units were considered the best equipped, trained, and motivated of all German forces. They mostly consisted of Kampfgruppe Wallenstein that was created by the units from SS-Truppenübungsplatz Böhmen, a large training area near Benešov. There were two main units created, each with one leader. They had the strength of four regiments and accompanied by small number of artillery and armored vehicles. As the most fanatical of the German units, they had the most to lose. In case of capture they expected (and received) no mercy. They did not honor the signed Surrender Act and regarded all those who did as traitors. Their last remains were mopped up by the Red Army in the woods southwest of Prague as late as May 11, 1945.

Others[edit]

Mass grave of two generals and 187 unknown soldiers of the Russian Liberation Army in Prague cemetery
  • Red Army arrived unexpectedly in Prague on May 9, took the city, ended the conflict, and paved the way for the Czech government to arrive from both East and West. As the people welcomed Soviet tanks, the last German units were leaving the city under the Surrender Act terms. Although the Allied military command reserved Prague for the Red Army to secure, the insurgents were unaware of the Soviet move to assist them until 13 hours before the first Soviet tanks approached the city from the north. Meanwhile they had signed a cease fire with the German forces. About 30 Soviet soldiers were killed in the vicinity of Prague.
  • Russian Liberation Army, Russian nationalists recruited in the prisoner of war camps to help the Germans fight the Red Army, but in the end they turned their German weapons against the Nazis. These Russian-speaking troops were often mistaken for the Red Army. However, they fought well and saved the uprising at the crucial hours. They did help Prague when it needed most, but they paid the price of three hundred ROA soldiers who were killed in the fighting against the SS. In spite of that, the communists in the Czech National Council refused to accept them as allies and considered them fighters by their own choice. Most were later captured by the Red Army, officers were shot immediately, while some soldiers were taken to Siberian Gulag labour camps. Some historians claim that up to 300 ROA soldiers wounded in the battle were later killed right in the hospitals of Prague. In 1946, General Andrey Vlasov and the other captured ROA leaders, including General Bunyachenko, were executed for treason in Moscow.
  • United States Army forces were forced by politicians to play a passive role due to the previous agreement establishing the demarcation line. Although they were able to reach Prague in few hours, the Red Army command insisted upon strict adherence to the established positions, disregarding the actual situation in Prague. General George S. Patton was wanted and expected in Prague by everybody but the communists, yet he was not allowed to move, even when his reconnaissance units were reported a mere 20 km (12 mi) south of Prague. In any case, a U.S. Army mission was sent all the way, to eastern Bohemia in order to persuade Field Marshal Ferdinand Schörner to surrender. On the way, the U.S. Army negotiators stopped in Prague and helped persuade General Toussaint—the German military commander in Prague—to offer his capitulation.
  • Prisoners of war from the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian) were mistaken for war criminals by the Czech insurgents, which resumed their hostilities on the surrendered Estonian troops regardless of their intentions. They had been forcefully drafted into the Waffen SS membership, had received no special training apart from the regular military drill and had committed no war crimes. In what the veterans of the Estonian Division, which had laid their weapons down in May 1945, recall as Czech Hell, the local people chased, tortured and humiliated the Waffen-SS men, murdering 500–1000.[4][5][6][7]

Casualties[edit]

Since the most organized basis for an uprising is to have it led by an armed struggle, there will usually be many casualties.[2] During the uprising in Prague 1,694 Czechs were killed and another 1,600 seriously wounded. Almost 1,000 German Soldiers were killed. The number of German civilian casualties is unknown. The Vlasov Army lost 300 men. On May 9, the Red Army casualties amounted to 30 killed.[1] However, many other victims were never identified.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • Roučka, Zdeněk. Skončeno a podepsáno: Drama Pražského povstání (Accomplished And Signed: Pictures of the Prague Uprising), 163 pages, Plzeň: ZR&T, 2003 (ISBN 80-238-9597-4).
  • Bartosek, Karel. 1965. The Prague Uprising. Prague, Czech Republic: Artia.
  • Skilling, Gordon H. “The Czechoslovak Struggle for National Liberation in World War II.” Dec. 1960. The Slavonic and East European Review. 39: 174-197. Retrieved March 11, 2009 (http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/4205225.pdf)
  1. ^ a b c d e f Bartosek, Karel. 1965. The Prague Uprising. Prague, Czech Republic: Artia.
  2. ^ a b Skilling, Gordon H. “The Czechoslovak Struggle for National Liberation in World War II.” Dec. 1960. The Slavonic and East European Review. 39: 174-197. Retrieved March 11, 2009 (http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/4205225.pdf)
  3. ^ The Prague Vitruvius, PragueStory.com, retrieved 12 November 2013
  4. ^ (Estonian) Karl Gailit (1995). Eesti sõdur sõjatules. (Estonian Soldier in Warfare.) Estonian Academy of National Defense Press, Tallinn
  5. ^ 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. 32. 
  6. ^ Toomas Hiio, Peeter Kaasik (2006). "Estonian units in the Waffen-SS". In Toomas Hiio, Meelis Maripuu, & Indrek Paavle. Estonia 1940–1945: Reports of the Estonian International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity. Tallinn. pp. 927–968. 
  7. ^ Mart Laar (2008). Estonian Legion in Words and Pictures. Tallinn: Grenader. 

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