Before the uprising
In the first days of May 1945, World War II was approaching its end in Europe. Berlin was conquered by the Red Army and Hitler had killed himself. However, for the occupied Bohemia and Moravia, the war was not over yet. In fact, it was one of the last remaining territories under Nazi rule. In eastern Bohemia, a huge Army Group Centre (Heeresgruppe Mitte) still stood against the Soviets as an organized fighting force of some 650,000 soldiers.
The Czech resistance movement was waiting for the most suitable moment to surge against the Nazis. However, it lacked the necessary weapons. Therefore, a successful uprising was possible only if the Allied armies were near. Premature uprisings led to massacres in some places.
Some German representatives, including the real ruler of the Protectorate, Minister of State K. H. Frank, were negotiating with the Government in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia with the aim to hand them the power. However, the events took a different turn.
The uprising begins
Chaotic clashes between the Czechs and the German troops were triggered by a government announcement that allowed the Czechoslovak flags to be raised on May 4th, because the Czechs began to tear down German inscriptions in the streets, and some German police or military units opposed it. The Czech Radio broadcast on the morning of May 5th – especially the appeal “Help the Czech Radio!” roused the Czechs and the uprising thus began rather spontaneously. The central resistance bodies – the Czech National Council and Prague National Committee – were soon in control of the uprising. The Protectorate Government was rendered powerless.
Prague was an important traffic hub for the Army Group Centre and, therefore, crucial for any retreat. But with the route being blocked by the uprising, there was no way for the Americans to get through. This was a major complication for the Germans who wanted to be captured by the Americans rather than Soviets because the Germans were afraid the Soviets would not treat them well. Every man available was sent to Prague. Among them were the most dangerous and well-equipped units of the SS from the training areas at Benešov and Milovice. Those soldiers were also the most cruel.
The Germans attack and Vlasov’s soldiers step in
The residents of Prague knew that they could not withstand a strong attack and raised about 2000 barricades. However, with only hand weapons and captured panzerfausts, their chances against enemy armour were slim. In the dire situation, the insurgents were helped by Russians – but not by the Red Army, which was still far away, but by the Russian Liberation Army led by General Vlasov. These units were fighting alongside the Germans against the Red Army but had changed sides. Vlasov’s soldiers had the numbers (around 18 000) and weapons to stall the German advance. They joined the fray in early morning of May 6.
The insurgents were also joined by members of the Protectorate Army, which was a token force allowed by the Nazis to exist only to create the illusion of sovereignty. The insurgents hoped for the help of the Americans standing at Pilsen. Unfortunately, because of a political deal between the Western Allies and Stalin, the Americans were not allowed to cross the demarcation line.
Vlasov’s soldiers leave, Germans attack and agree to a cease-fire
During the night from May 7 to 8, unsuccessful negotiations led to the withdrawal of Vlasov’s soldiers. The Nazis who knew about the surrender which was to come into force at 11 p.m. wanted to get to the Americans. Prague was an obstacle in their way and they launched one last push. During that push the Old Town City Hall was badly damaged. The Germans sustained heavy losses. In the morning the Czech National Council held talks with the German generals. The Wehrmacht capitulated in return for free passage through Prague. However, the SS did not follow and continued the fight.
The Soviets arrive
On morning of May 9 , the Red Army units arrived from the north. They engaged in some heavy fights and mopped up the remaining fanatical Nazi sharpshooters. The Soviets were welcomed by happy crowds of Czechs who had been ruled by the Nazis for more than six years. In some areas the Czechs retaliated for the massacres perpetrated by the Nazis during the previous days.
The Communists who seized power in 1948 made the Prague uprising, and especially the arrival of the Red Army, part of their mythology. They emphasized the role of Communists and the Red Army in the liberation of Prague and downplayed the other moments. The central role of non-Communists and the involvement of Vlasov’s army were a taboo. Only after 1989 was the public able to get to more balanced information.
Total losses can be only estimated and are as follows: ca 1500 Czechs and 300 of Vlasov’s soldiers dead on the insurgents’ side against approximately 1,000 Germans killed. Red Army losses in Prague and its vicinity amounted to 700 soldiers. The Prague uprising was, nevertheless, a major engagement. Numerous memorials scattered throughout the city commemorate the people killed in May 1945.