Prague Operation of 1945

Prague Operation of 1945

 

an offensive operation of the troops of the First, Second, and Fourth Ukrainian fronts from May 6 to 11 to destroy the fascist German groupings in Czechoslovakia during the Great Patriotic War (1941–45).

In early May two German Army groupings continued to offer resistance in Czechoslovakia and northern Austria: Field Marshal F. Schörner’s Army Group Center, composed of the First and Fourth panzer armies and the Seventeenth Army, and part of Colonel General L. Rendulic’s Army Group Austria, composed of the Sixth Panzer Army of the SS and the Eighth Army. The two groups included more than 900,000 men, about 10,000 guns and mortars, more than 2,200 tanks and assault guns and about 1,000 airplanes. According to the plan of fascist Germany’s new government, headed by K. Dönitz, Army Group Center was to hold regions of western and central Bohemia in order to gain time and allow the rest of the troops to withdraw to the west, where they were to surrender to the American forces.

The strategic plan of the Soviet Supreme Command was to deliver several powerful strikes along axes converging on Prague in order to encircle and break up the main enemy forces east of Prague and prevent their withdrawal to the west. The routing of the enemy was assigned to the First, Second, and Fourth Ukrainian fronts, commanded, respectively, by Marshals of the Soviet Union I. S. Konev and R. Ia. Malinovskii and General of the Army A. I. Eremenko. In addition to Soviet troops, the groupings of the fronts included the Polish Second Army, the Czechoslovak I Army Corps, and the Rumanian First and Fourth armies. The strength of the fronts was more than 1 million men, more than 23,000 guns and mortars, about 1,800 tanks and self-propelled gun mounts, and more than 4,000 airplanes (not counting one army of the First Ukrainian Front and the Rumanian troops). The main attacks were delivered by the troops of the First and Second Ukrainian fronts on both flanks of Army Group Center.

A people’s uprising broke out in several regions of Czechoslovakia from May 1 to 5 and in Prague on May 5. On the night of May 5 a Prague radio station broadcast an appeal for help to the Soviet troops. The main attack force of the right wing of the First Ukrainian Front passed to the offensive 24 hours early. It was composed of the Thirteenth Army under Colonel General N. P. Pukhov, the Third Guards Army under Colonel General V. N. Gordov, the Fifth Guards Army under Colonel General A. S. Zhadov, the Third Guards Tank Army under Colonel General of the Tank Forces P. S. Rybalko, and the Fourth Guards Tank Army under Colonel General of the Tank Forces D. D. Leliushenko. By late May 7 they reached the northern slopes of the Erzgebirge and opened a battle for Dresden. The remaining armies of the First Ukrainian Front and Colonel General M. S. Shumilov’s Seventh Guards Army of the Second Ukrainian Front passed to the offensive on the morning of May 7. On May 6 and 7 the troops of the Fourth Ukrainian Front continued the offensive on the Olomouc axis. In coordination with the troops of the Second Ukrainian Front they threatened to encircle the fascist German troops operating east of Olomouc, thereby forcing the enemy to withdraw the First Panzer Army. In connection with this, a successful offensive was mounted by Colonel General K. S. Moskalenko’s Thirty-eighth Army and Colonel General A. A. Grechko’s First Guards Army of the Fourth Ukrainian Front.

On May 8 the offensive continued on all axes. The armies of the right wing of the First Ukrainian Front achieved the greatest success. They broke the enemy’s resistance on the line of the Erzgebirge, completely occupied Dresden, and entered Czechoslovakia. On the Second Ukrainian Front the Sixth Guards Tank Army under Colonel General of the Tank Forces A. G. Kravchenko was committed to combat on May 8 and swiftly developed an offensive on Jihlava while advancing toward Prague from the south. The troops of the Fourth Ukrainian Front liberated Olomouc and attacked Prague from the east.

On May 8 the German command signed the act of capitulation, but Army Group Center continued to resist. The insurgents in Prague were in a difficult situation. On the night of May 8 the Third and Fourth guards tank armies of the First Ukrainian Front swiftly advanced 80 km, entered Prague the next morning, and soon cleared the enemy out of the city. The same day, forward units of the Second and Fourth Ukrainian fronts approached Prague, and the main forces of Army Group Center were encircled. Only the divisions of Army Group Austria escaped the encirclement, but they were routed by the troops of the left wing of the Second Ukrainian Front. The aviation of the fronts greatly contributed to the success of the Soviet troops. On May 10–11 the main forces of the enemy were taken prisoner, and the Soviet troops made contact with the American Third Army. The liberation of Czechoslovakia was completed.

The swift action of the Soviet troops saved the cities and villages of Czechoslovakia from the devastation and atrocities of the fascist German troops and gave the Czechoslovak people the opportunity to decide independently the fate of their homeland.

From the point of view of the art of war, the Prague Operation of 1945 was characterized by quick preparation; complex operational troop regroupings; employment of tank armies to encircle and rout large groupings in a forested, mountainous military theater; and very rapid advances.

REFERENCE

Za osvobozhdenie Chekhoslovakii. Moscow, 1965.

A. S. ZHADOV

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