Prague uprising

Prague uprising
Part of the Czech resistance to Nazi occupation during World War II
Prague liberation 1945 konev.jpg

Residents greet Marshal Ivan Konev upon the arrival of the Red Army on 9 May 1945.
Date5–9 May 1945
LocationPrague, Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia
50°04′43″N 14°26′04″E / 50°04′43″N 14°26′04″E / 50.07861; 14.43444
ResultGerman tactical victory
Ceasefire
Liberation of Prague
Belligerents
 Germany

Czechoslovakia Czech Resistance

Russia Russian Liberation Army
Commanders and leaders
Nazi Germany Karl Hermann Frank
Nazi Germany Rudolf Toussaint
Nazi Germany Carl Friedrich von Pückler-Burghauss
Czechoslovakia Karel Kutlvašr (cs)
Czechoslovakia František Slunečko (cs)
Russia Sergei Bunyachenko
Strength

Nazi Germany 40,000[1][a]

  • Several aircraft[5]
Czechoslovakia 30,000[1][b]
Russia 18,000[10]
Casualties and losses
Nazi Germany 380–953 killed[11][c]Czechoslovakia 1,694[12]-2,898[13] killed[d]
Czechoslovakia 3000 wounded[16][17]
Russia 300 killed and wounded[18][19][e]
263[18]–2,000 Czech[20] and 1,000+ German[21][f] civilians killed

The Prague uprising (Czech: Pražské povstání) of 1945 was a partially-successful attempt by the Czech resistance to liberate the city of Prague from German occupation during World War II. The preceding six years of occupation had fuelled anti-German sentiment and the approach of the Soviet Red Army and the US Third Army offered a chance of success.

On 5 May 1945, in the last moments of the war in Europe, Czech citizens spontaneously attacked the German occupiers and Czech resistance leaders emerged from hiding to join the uprising. The Russian Liberation Army, which had been fighting for the Germans, defected and supported the Czechs. German troops counter-attacked, but their progress was slowed by barricades constructed by the Czech citizenry. On 8 May, the Czech and German leaders signed a ceasefire allowing the German forces to withdraw from the city, but not all Waffen-SS units obeyed. Fighting continued until 9 May, when the Red Army entered the nearly liberated city.

The uprising was brutal, with both sides committing war crimes. Violence against Germans, sanctioned by the Czechoslovak government, continued after the liberation, and was justified as revenge for the occupation or as a means to encourage Germans to flee.

The US Third Army had refused to come to the aid of the Czech insurgents, which undermined the credibility of the Western powers in postwar Czechoslovakia. Instead, the uprising was presented as a symbol of Czech resistance to Nazi rule, and the liberation by the Red Army was exploited by the Czechoslovak Communist Party to increase popular support for communism.

Background

German occupation

Czech districts with a high ethnic German population, annexed by Germany in 1938.

In 1938, the German Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, announced his intention to annex the Sudetenland, a region of Czechoslovakia with a high ethnic German population. As the previous appeasement of Hitler had shown, the governments of both France and Britain were intent on avoiding war.[23] British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier negotiated with Hitler and ultimately acquiesced to his demands at the Munich Agreement, in exchange for guarantees from Nazi Germany that no additional lands would be annexed. No Czechoslovak representatives were present at the negotiations.[24] Five months later, when the Slovak Diet declared the independence of Slovakia, Hitler summoned Czechoslovak President Emil Hácha to Berlin and forced him to accept the German occupation of the Czech rump state and its re-organisation into the German-dominated Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.[25] Germany promptly invaded and occupied the remaining Czech territories. Although France had a defensive alliance with Czechoslovakia, neither the French nor British intervened militarily.[26]

The Nazis considered many Czechs to be ethnically Aryan, and therefore suitable for Germanisation.[27] As a consequence, the German occupation was less harsh than in other Slavic nations. Wartime living standards were actually higher in the occupied region than in Germany itself.[28] However, freedom of speech was curtailed and 400,000 Czechs were conscripted for forced labour in the Reich.[29] During the six-year occupation, more than 20,000 Czechs were executed and thousands more died in concentration camps.[30] In 1941, the Nazi Reinhard Heydrich was made Deputy Protector of Bohemia and Moravia and began enforcing the occupation more harshly.[29] Within five days of Heydrich's arrival, 142 people were executed.[31] His brutality led to the Allies ordering his assassination the following year,[32] but the Germans killed more than a thousand Czechs in reprisal, including the entire villages of Lidice and Ležáky.[33] While the general violence of the occupation was much less severe than in Eastern Europe,[28][34] it nevertheless incited violent anti-German sentiment in many Czechs.[35]

Military situation

Prague uprising is located in Czech Republic
8th Army
8th Army
6th SS PzA
6th SS PzA
link=
1st Pz Army
17th Army
17th Army
4th Pz Army
4th Pz Army
7th Army
7th Army
1st Army
1st Army
3rd Army
3rd Army
1st Ukrainian Front
1st Ukrainian
Front
4th Ukr. Front
4th Ukr.
Front
2nd Ukrainian Front
2nd Ukrainian
Front
PRAGUE
PRAGUE
Positions on 6 May 1945[36]
Red: Soviet / Grey: German / Green: U.S.

During the spring of 1945, partisan forces in Bohemia and Moravia totalled about 120 groups, with a combined strength of around 7,500 people.[37] Partisans disrupted the railway and highway transportation by sabotaging track and bridges and attacking trains and stations. Some railways could not be used at night or on some days, and trains were forced to travel at a slower speed.[38] Waffen-SS units retreating from the Red Army's advance into Moravia burned down entire villages as a reprisal.[17] Despite losing much of their leadership to a March 1945 purge by the Gestapo, Communist groups in Prague distributed propaganda leaflets calling for an insurrection.[39] German soldiers and civilians became increasingly worried and prepared to flee violent retaliation for the occupation.[40] In an attempt to reassert German authority, SS police general Karl Hermann Frank broadcast a message over the radio threatening to destroy Prague and drown any opposition in blood.[41]

In early 1945, former Czechoslovak Army officers set up the Bartoš Command (cs) commanded by General Karel Kutlvašr (cs) to oversee fighting inside Prague, and the Alex Command (cs) under General František Slunečko (cs) to direct insurgent units in the suburbs.[42] Meanwhile, the Czech National Council (cs), with representatives from various Czech political parties, formed to take over political leadership after the overthrow of the Nazi and collaborationist authorities.[43] Military leaders planning an uprising within Prague counted on the loyalty of ethnically Czech members of the police and the Government Army of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, as well as employees of key civil services, such as transport workers and the fire brigade.[44] The Russian Liberation Army (ROA), composed of Soviet POWs that had agreed to fight for Nazi Germany, was stationed outside of Prague. Hoping that the ROA could be persuaded to switch sides in order to avoid accusations of collaboration, the Czech military command sent an envoy to General Sergei Bunyachenko, commander of the 1st Infantry Division (600th German Infantry Division). Bunyachenko agreed to help the Czechs.[10][45]

On 4 May, the US Third Army under General George S. Patton entered Czechoslovakia.[46] British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was the only political leader to advocate the liberation of Prague by the Western Allies. In a telegram to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Churchill said that "the liberation of Prague...by US troops might make the whole difference to the postwar situation of Czechoslovakia and might well influence that in nearby countries."[47] Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union, also wanted his forces to liberate the city, and asked that the Americans stop at Plzeň, 50 miles to the west.[48] The Red Army was planning a major offensive into the Protectorate, due to start 7 May.[49] Eisenhower, disinclined to accept American casualties or risk antagonising the Soviet Union, acquiesced to the Soviet demands that the Red Army enter Prague.[50]

The Prague uprising was part of a wave of insurrection that broke out across the Protectorate in early May as Allied forces approached, including the Plzeň (cs),[2] Kladno (cs), and Přerov (cs) uprisings.[51][52]

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