Golden Prague was Liberated by Soviet Tanks
Yuriy RUBTSOV | 12.05.2015 | OPINION

Golden Prague was Liberated by Soviet Tanks

The act of unconditional capitulation signed on May 9, 1945 did not put an end to hostilities in Europe. The German High Command’s ordered the forces in the north-west of Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands to lay down arms. There was no reason to continue resistance there. The fight was to go on in the east. Army Group Centre (1st and 4th Tank and 17thArmy) led by Field Marshall Ferdinand Schörner and elements of Army Group Ostmark (operational in Austria and Czechoslovakia) led by Generaloberst (Senior General) Lothar Rendulic were concentrated in Czechoslovakia to offer stiff resistance to the Red Army. The 900 thousand strong German force possessed 9, 7 thousand artillery pieces and mortars, 1, 9 thousand tanks and self-propelled guns, as well as around one thousand combat planes.

The new government of Gross Admiral (Grand Admiral) Karl Dönitz resisted the Soviet troops in the western and central parts of Czechoslovakia to ensure German troops would surrender to the British or Americans and not the Soviet troops. The Russia’s Western allies never did anything to change it hoping to diminish the success of Red Army and, subsequently, the extent of Soviet influence in Central Europe. On April 30, 1945 Winston Churchill wrote to Franklin Delano Roosevelt that the liberation of Western Czechoslovakia could change the post-war status of the country and influence the situation in the neighboring states. 

Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, sent a letter on May 4 to Army General Aleksei Antonov, the Chief of General Staff, to inform him that he intended to move forces to the shores of Vltava and Elbe rivers (the left bank of Prague). Antonov wrote that it was impermissible to deviate from the provisions of Crimean conference which clearly defined the line where the Soviet forces were to meet the allies. Then Eisenhower ordered General Omar Bradley, the commander of the 12th Army Group, to stop at the line Karlovy Vary - Plzen - Ceske Budejovice. Right after the Berlin Operation Marshall of the Soviet Union Ivan Konev, the commander of the 1st Front which bore the brunt of fighting in the Prague Operation, gave an order to the forces deployed on the right flank to start a rapid advance along the Elbe shores to strike the Dresden-Görlitz concentration of enemy forces and take Prague on the sixth day since the start of offensive. With the front’s depth of 150 km the pace of advance was to be 20-25 km a day.

The High Command ordered an offensive on May 7. Just before the operation was to be launched, the intelligence units of the 1st Ukrainian Front reported that the enemy started to retreat at some places. Soviet forces rushed after Germans in pursuit. The 4th Guards Tank Army led by General Lelushenko and the 13th Army led by General Pukhov covered 23 km on the first day and 45 km of the second day approaching Erzgebirge (the Ore Mountains). This sudden strike and the further advance led to the encirclement of the 40 thousand strong army group near Breslau.

On May 7, the 2d Ukrainian Front launched an offensive too. The 7th Guards Army led by General The 7th Guards Army led by General Lieutenant Mikhail Shumilov broke the 25 km wide enemy’s defenses to advance covering 12 km daily. On May 6 - 7, the 4th Ukrainian Front (Army General Andrey Yeryomenko) approached Olomouc to threaten the enemy’s retreating 1st Tank Army. After seizing the objective on May 8 the enemy launched an offensive to capture Prague.

The rapid offensive of Soviet forces frustrated the plans of German command. Later in the day on May 7, Field Marshall Ferdinand Schörner gave an order to retreat to the west and surrender to Americans. The Soviet command couldn’t let them go, especially in view of the fact that an act of capitulation was signed in Reims and Germans ceased hostilities at the Western Front.

The Soviet forces expedited the pace of advance. By the end of the day the forward elements of the 1st Ukrainian Front crossed the Ore Mountains to march straight to Prague where an uprising had already started.

On May 8, the 5th Mechanized Corps under the command of Major General Ivan Ermakov destroyed the headquarters of Army Group Centre leaving the German forces without control. On May 9, the elements of the 4th Guards Tank Army (62d and 63d Guards Tank armies and the 70th self-propelled artillery brigade) covered 90 km to enter the Czech capital first. The soldiers with automatic rifles were transported by tanks. After some time the 3d Guards Tank Army of the 1st Ukrainian Front followed by the elements of the 2d and 4th Ukrainian fronts came into Prague. They ultimately quelled the resistance and fully liberated the capital of Czechoslovakia. They came in time to support the insurgency in the city. Soviet soldiers saved the beautiful European city from destruction. The disorganized enemy’s forces comprising over 50 divisions were encircled to the east of Prague. They lost control and capability to fight. On May 10, the 1st and 2d Ukrainian fronts took prisoner 130 thousand men and seized many weapons systems and equipment. The 4th Ukrainian Front achieved great success.

On May 10-11 three Ukrainian fronts continued to move west. On May 11, the Soviet forces met the 3d US Army at Karlsbad - Plzen - Klatovy - Ceske Budejovice (Budweis) line. The last Soviet offensive in Europe was over. Unlike many other European capitals Prague cherishes the memory of its liberators. Milos Zeman, the President of Czech Republic, happened to be the only EU leader to ignore the peremptory shout from Washington and visit Moscow to mark the 70th anniversary of Great Victory.