The liberation of Prague from the Nazi German occupation was brought about 75 years ago by the Soviet troops under the command of Marshal Ivan Konev. Seeing as the Czechs have recently decided to erase that particular page of their history, we must do all in our power to counterbalance the destruction of memory, by remembering the events of 5th through 12th of May 1945 in all the unaltered detail.
For those seeking to learn even more, I would highly recommend to also read Lada Ray’s in-depth article 75 Years Later, Nazism Won in Europe? Czechia Demolishes Monument to Russian Marshal Konev, Liberator of Auschwitz & Prague! (LADA RAY REPORT).
And now, let me present translations of two materials that shed light on the events, unfolding in Prague as the War was drawing to an end…
Written by Klim Podkova, 08.05.2018
Who doesn’t know the history of the liberation of Prague? On May 5, 1945, Prague rose in revolt, Soviet troops came to the aid of the rebels, and on May 9, Prague was liberated.
But it happened not quite like that, or rather, it wasn’t like that at all. In May, parts of the German garrison were really conducting bloody battles in Prague. Only their main opponents were not the rebelling Czechs, but the fighters of the 1st division of the RLA (“Russian Liberation Army”, or Vlasovtsy [Translator note: The name Vlasov is synonymous to that of Quisling in Norway]).
Czech Republic – the reliable industrial rear of the Third Reich
Czechoslovakia as an independent state disappeared from the political map of Europe before the Second World War. First, in April 1938, under pressure from Britain, France and Italy, Czechoslovakia abandoned the Sudetenland in favour of Germany (the so-called Munich Conspiracy).
Then, less than a year later (March 14, 1939), Hitler summoned President Hácha to Berlin and offered to sign a document on Czechoslovakia’s voluntary acceptance of German “patronage”. Hácha signed. The country did not resist for a day.
Only in Mistek, captain Pavlik’s company met foreign soldiers with rifle fire. This single fight lasted 30 minutes. Czechoslovakia lost its independence at a cost of 6 wounded soldiers. The Czech Republic became a protectorate, and Slovakia became an independent state, a staunch ally of Hitler.
For 6 years, the Czech Republic was a reliable industrial rear of Nazi Germany. Wehrmacht soldiers fired carbines made in Czech factories, and Czech tanks disfigured the fields of Poland, France, and Ukraine with their tracks. Individual actions of the underground and partisans (such as the murder of Heydrich) did not change the overall picture: he Czech Republic had neither a strong underground as in Poland, nor a broad partisan movement as in Yugoslavia.
May 1945 – the perfect time to start an uprising
In April 1945, when the outcome of the war was no longer in doubt, Czech politicians began to think about the future of the country, as well as their own future. They did not want to be listed as German collaborators at the end of World War II. It was decided to start a fight.
There were several centres of resistance in Prague that operated completely independently. “Commandant Bartosz” focused on Britain and the United States, while the Czech National Council oriented itself on the USSR.
By the end of April 1945, both groups decided that the time for resistance had finally come. Both “Commandant Bartosz” and the CHNC planned to rehabilitate themselves in the eyes of the West for some, and of the USSR for others, and end the war in the ranks of the fighters against fascism. There was only one problem: the German garrison stationed in Prague.
Balance of forces before the uprising
The garrison was not very large. The commandant (General Rudolf Toussaint) had about 10 thousand soldiers stationed directly in the city and about 5 thousand in the surrounding area. But these were military units with combat experience.
The Czechs could only oppose them with civilian rebels armed with revolvers and hunting rifles. In this scenario, the uprising was doomed to fail, unless someone came to help.
But the Americans (General Patton’s units) were 80 km from Prague in the Plzen region, and the nearest Russian units (the troops of the 1st Ukrainian front) were even further away – 150 km, in the area of Dresden.
Help came from where no one expected it. On April 29, the 1st RLA infantry division under the command of major General Bunyachenko (Vlasovites) appeared 50 km Northwest of Prague.
The defected division
The division, which was formed in November 1944, on the 15th April 1945 left the front without leave and marched South-West to surrender to the Americans. There were about 18 thousand soldiers in the division. Vlasov’s soldiers were armed – in addition to small arms and light weapons – with the machine guns, light and heavy artillery, anti-aircraft guns, mortars, antitank guns, self-propelled platforms and even 10 tanks.
The commander of army group Center, field Marshal Scherner, issued an order to stop and return the division to the front (or at least to disarm it), but for some reason there were no people willing to stop and disarm this horde of Russians armed to the teeth.
On April 30, representatives of the “commandant’s office of Bartosz” came to Bunyachenko and asked him to support an armed uprising in Prague. The negotiations began, which lasted until May 4. In exchange for their support, the future rebels promised the Vlasovites the status of allies and political protection after the victory.
Prague in exchange for the political asylum
On the evening of May 4, Bunyachenko summoned the commanders of regiments and individual battalions to discuss the proposal. Bunyachenko expressed the idea not only to join an Alliance with the Czechs, but also to play his own game: capture the city, present it to the Americans on a blue-rimmed plate, and at the same time surrender to them. It was assumed that the Americans in gratitude would grant political asylum to all those who surrendered. Only the commander of the first regiment Arkhipov was against, all the others were “for”.
On the morning of May 5, representatives of the command of the 1st division of the RLA and representatives of the “commandant’s office of Bartosz” signed a document “on the joint struggle against fascism and Bolshevism”. Having bet both on the Czechs and the Americans, the Vlasovites hoped that at least one bet would be a winner.
We are starting an uprising, the Russians will help us!
Having received guarantees of support, the leaders of the “commandant’s office of Bartosz” began an uprising on May 5, around 11 am. Other Resistance groups had no choice but to join. By 14 o’clock, about 1,600 barricades were built in the city, and calls for help were broadcast.
The Soviet command planned the liberation of Prague on May 11. Because of the uprising, the plans urgently had to be adjusted. On May 6, the troops of the 1st Ukrainian front began moving towards Prague. But it was almost 150km away, while Bunyachenko’s division entered the village of Sukhomasty on May 4, from where it was stationed less than 20km to Prague.
On the morning of May 6, the advanced units of Bunyachenko’s division entered the city. With the arrival of the Russian division, the activity of the rebels went up sharply. While on the 5th their situation was regarded as disastrous, during May 6-7 Vlasovites occupied the entire Western part of Prague and cut the city into 2 parts. The surrender of the German garrison was just a matter of time.
All plans go to hell
And at this time, there were significant changes among the rebels and the situation for the Vlasovites became not just bad, but very bad. The Czech National Council stood at the head of the uprising, and it was oriented to the USSR.
The leaders of the CHNC did not want to “spoil” themselves by collaborating with the Vlasovites and stated that they do not intend to recognise the agreements with the “commandant’s office of Bartosz”, and advised the division soldiers to surrender to the Red Army.
After the Czechs, the Americans threw a spanner in as well. On the evening of May 7, a reconnaissance unit of the 16th American Armoured Division arrived in the city. When asked to take Prague, which was almost liberated, the American officer replied: “No!»
By May 1945, the winning countries had already divided Europe into zones of “responsibility”. Prague was to become Soviet. General Patton might not have minded being remembered as the liberator of Prague, but Eisenhower, the commander-in-chief of the combined Anglo-American forces in Europe, was already thinking not only as a military man, but also as a politician. He categorically forbade moving East of the Karlovy Vary – Plzen – Ceske Budejovice line. Patton could only watch from the sidelines.
For the Vlasov’s men it was a blow. Participation in the uprising lost all meaning for them. On the evening of May 7, Bunyachenko gave the order to stop fighting and leave Prague. On the morning of the next day, the 1st division of the RLA left the city.
The pendulum swung in the opposite direction. The Hitlerites went on the offensive, the territory controlled by the rebels began to shrink rapidly, and it was not Germans, but the Czechs, who should have started to think about the terms of surrender.
The so-called “surrender”
The commandant of Prague, General Toussaint, was neither a fanatic nor a fool. Germany is defeated, Berlin has fallen. Either Russians or Americans (and most likely Russians) would still take the city. In this situation, the General decided not to bother with pointless defence, but to save the lives of the last remaining soldiers under his command.
An envoy was sent to the rebel-controlled island, and the CHNC leaders were surprised to learn that they had won and the Germans were ready to surrender Prague to them. On May 8, at 16:00, General Toussaint signed the act of surrender. The capitulation was more like a peace agreement: leaving heavy weapons in the city, the German troops went to the West to surrender to the Americans, the Czechs pledged not to hinder them.
Early in the morning of May 9, the 1st Ukrainian front troops entered Prague left by the Germans, losing 30 soldiers killed and wounded in skirmishes with SS fanatics holed up in the city.
So who freed Prague?
437 Soviet soldiers and officers are buried in the Olshansky cemetery in Prague. The dates of death range between May 9th, May 10th, and 12th, and up to July and August. These are the Red Army soldiers who died after the Victory from wounds in the Prague military hospital. They are the true liberators of Prague. If there were no Stalingrad and Kursk, if Leningrad did not persevere and Berlin had not fallen, if on May 1945 the victorious Red Army had not stood 150km away from Prague, the Czechs would not have thought of raising an insurrection, and the Germans would not have “capitulated” to them. Isn’t that right?
And the second article, appearing in “Argumenty i Facty” 05.05.2014
An uprising that no one expected. How Prague saw the end of the Second World War
Prague residents welcome participants of the uprising, 1945.
The last protectorate
One of the widespread stereotypes concerning the Great Patriotic War is that the war ended with the capture of the Reichstag and the fall of Berlin.
Indeed, this event was of historical significance, but the fighting in Europe was by no means over.
Some territories in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic – which was renamed to “Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia” – remained under the control of the Nazis.
On the territory of the Czech Republic, the units of Army group “Center” under the command of field Marshal Scherner continued their fight, as well as part of the units of Army group “Austria” under the command of General Lothar Rendulich. The total number of these groups was about 900 thousand soldiers and officers.
Scherner and Rendulich had no illusions about the outcome of the war and were fighting not so much for greater Germany as for their own future. The Nazi commanders expected to retreat to the West in order to surrender to the American army while fighting defensively against the Red Army. Scherner and Rendulich rightly believed that they might be treated more warmly by the Western allies than in Soviet captivity. [Translator note: not so rightly, after all, as will be revealed in an upcoming article.]
The capital of Czechoslovakia, Prague, also remained under control of the Nazis. The city had an important strategic significance for the Hitlerites — it was through it that the German troops intended to retreat to the West.
In Prague itself, the situation was quite complicated. Scouts sent to contact the Prague underground reported that there were conflicts within it between various forces oriented to the West or East, and the Communists could not find a common language with the nationalists. In addition, the uprising in Prague is not prepared in military sense and may end in defeat with great loss of life.
Captain Karel Pavlik.
Alone against Hitler. How Captain Pavlik saved the honour of Czechoslovakia
The collaborationist government in Prague, led by Emil Hácha, played its political game. Realizing that the days of the Hitlerites were numbered, the collaborators hoped that they would be able to negotiate with the allied forces.
However, in the city of Kosice, which was liberated by the Soviet troops in April 1945, the government of Czechoslovakia was already operational, formed of Communists and representatives of the Czechoslovak government in exile. This structure, known as the National Front government, was represented in Prague by the Czech National Council, with which the collaborator President Hácha had been negotiating the transfer of power since the end of April 1945.
The Hitlerites, concentrated on the matter of self-preservation, had no time for these internal Czechoslovak disputes.
Many Czechoslovak politicians believed that the Prague uprising, no matter how much it meant to the national consciousness, did not make much sense. The entry of American or Soviet troops into the city was expected within the next few days, and many considered it madness to make sacrifices in these conditions.
However, the uprising began almost spontaneously. The government of Emil Hácha, hoping to earn additional sympathy of the population, allowed to hang national flags on the streets of Prague. But the citizens did not stop there and began to destroy the Nazi symbols. This did not please the Hitlerites who were in the city, which caused skirmishes that turned into an armed confrontation.
On the night of May 5, the news of the fall of Berlin reached Prague, which caused a new strong emotional outburst among the city’s residents. That night, Richard Binert, the Prime Minister of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, announced on the radio that the Protectorate was being liquidated and that a general uprising against the invaders had begun.
Fierce fighting broke out in the streets of the city. The insurgents captured the central telegraph office, the post office, the electric power station, the bridges over the Vltava river, and the railway stations with echelons there, including German armoured trains. They also managed to disarm several small German units.
However, the rebels could not resist the powerful 40-thousand-strong group of Hitler forces located near Prague.
The news of the Prague uprising infuriated the commander of army group “Center”, field Marshal Scherner, who was cut off from the West by the loss of control over the Czech capital. He gave the order to throw tanks against the rebels.
The Hitlerites, who had nothing to lose, committed atrocities on the streets of the city, sparing neither women nor children, with mass-executions of those who fell into their hands.
RLA comes and goes
It became clear that without outside help, the Prague uprising risked turning into a bloody disaster. Different political forces expected help from different sides — the nationalists hoped for the Americans, who were located 80 kilometers from Prague, the Communists — for the Soviet troops.
A great betrayal. European democracies “surrendered” Czechoslovakia to Hitler
Troops of the 1st Ukrainian front under the command of Marshal Ivan Konev moved to the aid of the insurgent Prague on May 5. However, it took them several days to reach the city. The American command decided not to advance on Prague, leaving the task of its liberation to the Soviet troops.
Prague radio broadcast an appeal to residents: “Citizens of Prague, we call on you to fight for Prague, for the honour and freedom of the people! Build barricades! Let’s fight! The allied armies are coming! We must endure, there are only a few hours left. We will stand! Onward to battle!”
But by the end of May 6, German troops, using armoured vehicles, aircraft and artillery, managed to occupy most of the city.
Here the “Vlasovtsy” — units of the 1st division of the Russian Liberation Army under the command of General Bunyachenko — came to the aid of the rebels.
The RLA units pursued their own goal — they expected to receive guarantees from the Czechoslovak government that they would not fall into the hands of Soviet justice. General Bunyachenko expected that American troops would enter Prague and help given to the Prague uprising would be credited to him.
Vlasovites fought in Prague for two days. They managed to liberate the Western part of the city, causing serious damage to the Nazis. But on May 7, the Czech National Council refused to help the RLA units, because the participation of Vlasov’s units in the uprising threatened to seriously damage relations with the Soviet Union. In addition, it became known that American troops would not enter Prague for sure, and General Bunyachenko decided to withdraw his division to the West, hoping to surrender to the Americans. Only a part of the RLA fighters who left Bunyachenko’s subordination remained together with the rebels.
Barricades on the streets of the revolted Prague, 1945. Photo: RIA Novosti
Thirst for revenge
By the evening of May 7, it became clear that the rebels would not be able to contain the German group of field Marshal Scherner’s that was retreating to the West. The Czech National Council entered into negotiations with the Hitlerites, agreeing not to hinder the German advance to the West.
Scherner had no time to take revenge on the Czechs for the uprising — the clang of the Soviet tank tracks could already be heard behind him.
Not all of the Hitlerites left Prague: the withdrawal of the main group was covered by SS formations consisting of the 2nd Panzer division “Reich”, the 5th Panzer division “Viking” and the 44th motorized infantry division “Wallenstein”.
On the morning of May 9, 1945, tanks of the 3rd and 4th Guards Tank Armies of the 1st Ukrainian front broke into Prague, suppressing the last pockets of enemy resistance in the city. The destruction of the most fanatical Hitlerites in the vicinity of the capital of Czechoslovakia continued for several more days.
Participants of the Prague uprising on the streets of the capital liberated by the red Army, may 1945. Reproduction of a photo from the book “History of the Great Patriotic War”, volume 5, page 321. Photo: RIA Novosti
About one and a half thousand insurgents, about 300 RLA fighters, more than a thousand Hitlerites, and a large number of civilians were killed during the Prague uprising.
In May 1945, peaceful Germans who lived in Prague also paid for the sins of Nazism. Despite calls from the Soviet command and the new Czechoslovak authorities to respect the rule of law, there were cases of Czechs beating and even lynching ethnic Germans on the streets of the city. The desire for revenge overshadowed the minds of many: the Germans were driven from their homes, stripped of their property, maimed, humiliated…
The prologue to World War II was the “Munich Conspiracy”, according to which the German-populated Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia passed to the Third Reich. The epilogue of World War II was the expulsion of more than 3 million Germans from Czechoslovakia.