Prague uprising


Prague uprising

:"For the events of Spring 1968, see Prague Spring"Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Prague Uprising


caption=Residents and defenders of the Prague Uprising barricades greet the Red Army tanks on May 9, 1945
partof=World War II
date=May 5 - May 8, 1945
place=Prague, Czech Republic
result=German retreat
combatant1=flag|Nazi Germany|name=Germany
combatant2=flagicon|Czechoslovakia Czech Resistance
flagicon|Russia Russian Liberation Army
commander1=flagicon|Nazi Germany Karl Hermann Frank
flagicon|Nazi Germany Rudolf Toussaint
commander2=flagicon|Czechoslovakia Otakar Machotka
flagicon|Russia Sergei Bunyachenko
strength1=Unknown
strength2=30,000 (Czechs only)
casualties1=1,000 killed
casualties2=2,000 killed
casualties3=Unknown number of civilians killed|
Campaign
name=Prague Uprising
battles=Czech Radio
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 ceasefire the day before the arrival of the Soviet Red Army and one day after the Victory in Europe Day.

Battle for Czech Radio

From 30 April to 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, encouraging citizens to revolt.

Uprising

At about 1:00 am on the May 5, armed Czech resistance fighters overwhelm the Waffen-SS defending the radio buildings. The radio announcer broadcast a call to the Czech nation 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. They attacked any Germans within sight and seized their weapons. The Germans retaliated as best as they could.

By the morning of May 6, over a thousand 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

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 westwards to the American lines for the German Army (Wehrmacht) troops of Army Group Center.

During 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 another location.

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 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

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

At this crucial moment, a division of the anti-communist Russian Liberation Army (ROA, also known as "Vlasov Army") under the command of General Sergei Bunyachenko turned on the Germans and joined Czech insurgents in the fight against the Waffen-SS. Unlike the Czech forces, these forces were relatively well equipped (including armoured vehicles and artillery) and experienced veterans of the Eastern Front. However, ROA did not plan to stay in Prague during the entire uprising. Vlasov did not have the full support of the Czech leaders and he was afraid that they would betray him and his soldiers to the approaching Soviets. Thus, the Russian soldiers soon left the city in order to try to reach the American lines.

German retreat

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 Germans would not have enough time to benefit from it.

Liberation

On May 9, 1945, the Soviet Red Army arrived in Prague. U.S. Army units had been closer to Prague than Soviets, and their reconnaissance units were already present in Prague suburbs when the uprising begun. However, the Americans did not help the Czech insurgents. Instead they waited for the Red Army to liberate Prague, as had been requested by Soviets.

Participants

Czechs

*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. Comprised 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

*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 bare lives. Many useless cruelties were committed on both sides as some Germans, mainly the SS, took revenge on the Czech non-combatants.

*Regular German army 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 considered all those, who did, traitors. Their last remains were mopped up by the Red Army in the woods southwest of Prague as late as May 11.

Others

*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 to the very last moment and signed the capitulation 13 hours before the first Soviet tanks approached the city from the north. Some 30 Soviet soldiers were killed in the nearest vicinity of the Prague.

*Russian Liberation Army, Russian and Ukrainian 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 for 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 and taken to Siberian Gulag labour camps. 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. American 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 south of Prague. In any case, a U.S. Army mission was sent all the way, to eastern Bohemia in order to persuade Field Marshall 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.

Casualties

During the uprising in Prague 1,694 Czechs were killed and another 1,600 seriously wounded. Almost 1,000 Germans were killed. The Vlasov Army lost 300 men. On May 9, the Red Army casualties amounted to 30 killed. However, many other victims were never identified. It is to this date unclear who exactly killed the Czechs who died. It is possible that not only Germans were responsible, but that Czechs fought between themselves in a settling of scores between loyalists and collaborators, and communists and democrats.

See also

* Slovak National Uprising

References

* 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).

External links

* [http://www.radio.cz/en/article/10895 Czechoslovakia marks 56th anniversary of liberation] , Český rozhlas, 2001
* [http://www.radio.cz/en/article/53783 "Calling all Czechs, calling all Czechs!" - the Prague Uprising remembered] , Czech Radio, 12-05-2004
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4517943.stm Czechs commemorate Prague revolt] , BBC News, 5 May, 2005
* [http://www.praguepost.com/P03/2005/Art/0505/news2.php Prague's war: Legacy of questions - Historians still debate myths and mysteries of the liberation] , "The Prague Post", May 5, 2005
* [http://www.ahmp.cz/povstani/galerie.html Picture gallery of Prague uprising ] — a gallery located at the official website of The Prague City Archives


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