75 years ago, Soviet troops launched an offensive on the position of Hitler forces in the Carpathians. The goal of the East Carpathian operation was to go to the border of Slovakia and connect with the Slovak troops.
During the fighting, the Red Army inflicted a serious defeat on the German-Hungarian army group under the command of Colonel-General of the Wehrmacht, Gotthard Heinrici. The Soviet military liberated the western regions of Ukraine and part of Eastern Slovakia, and took control of the Eastern Carpathians. The capture of the passes of the Main Carpathian Range created the prerequisites for the liberation of Czechoslovakia.
Czechoslovakia in the 1930s
The territory of Czechoslovakia was under the occupation of Nazi Germany and its allies long before the Nazi attack on the USSR. In September 1938, England, France and Italy approved the annexation of the Third Reich of the Sudetenland, and Poland captured the Teszyn region.
On November 2, 1938, Berlin and Rome, based on preliminary agreements with Paris and London, transferred Hungary to southern Slovakia and most of Subcarpathian Russia (modern Transcarpathia) as part of the First Vienna Arbitration. In March of the following year, under the patronage of Hitler, a puppet Slovak Republic was created, headed by Prime Minister Josef Tiso, and the Czech Republic was completely annexed and transformed into the so-called protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.
In the 1930s, the military-industrial complex of Czechoslovakia was one of the most powerful in the world. After the capture of the country, the enterprises producing tanks, engines for trucks, aircraft, and small arms passed under the control of the Third Reich.
In the first months of the occupation, Nazi repression was directed mainly against left-wing politicians and the Czech intelligentsia. However, after the Czechs rallied in the autumn of 1939 in support of independence, mass arrests and executions began in the country. Subsequently, an underground resistance movement arose in Czechoslovakia, an important role in the activities of which were played by members of the local Communist Party.
The leadership of Nazi Germany was preparing for the complete destruction of the Czechs as an ethnic community. The population was conditionally divided into four categories: “good race and good minded”, “bad race and good minded”, “bad race and bad minded”, “good race and bad minded”. The former were subject to complete Germanization, the latter were transformed into servants without the right to have children, the others were evicted to Siberia, the fourth, the most “dangerous”, were physically destroyed.
- Nazis order to evict Czechs
- © Wikimedia Commons
Hundreds of thousands of Czech workers were taken as slaves to Germany. Instead, the Germans moved to the Czech Republic to divide the Czech people into small enclaves.
From the Slovaks, the Nazis formed units called up to fight the Soviet Union, however, the Slovak troops massively sided with the Red Army, fled to the partisans and deserted. Ultimately, the Nazis were forced to transfer them to Europe to use in counter-guerrilla operations in Italy and in construction work in Romania.
In August 1944, the Slovak underground together with the military personnel of the national units prepared a massive anti-fascist uprising, in which about 18 thousand partisans and 60 thousand soldiers took part. The uprising was led by the Chief of Staff of the Fast Division of the Slovak Army, Jan Golian.
During the battles in the summer of 1944, Soviet troops reached the foothills of the Carpathians, where they were forced to stop. Parts of the Red Army were weary during the battles for Western Ukraine and stumbled upon the deeply echeloned defense of the Nazis, trying to block the offensive on Hungary and Slovakia.
The military leadership of the USSR carefully prepared the further advance of the troops, given the complexity of the mountainous terrain and the presence of a powerful system of enemy fortifications. The possibility of bypassing the Carpathians and striking behind enemy lines with the forces of the 2nd Ukrainian Front without complex battles at mountain passes was considered.
Military historian Yuri Knutov told RT that military considerations clashed with political ones.
“Representatives of the Czechoslovak government in exile asked the Soviet leadership to urgently help the participants in the Slovak uprising. The decision to support the allies had to be made contrary to operational expediency, ”the expert emphasized.
To help the participants in the uprising and liberation of the eastern regions of Czechoslovakia and Transcarpathia, the Headquarters of the Supreme High Command decided to conduct an East Carpathian strategic offensive operation by the forces of the 1st and 4th Ukrainian fronts. It was planned to send 378 thousand Soviet troops with the support of about 5 thousand artillery pieces, 320 tanks and self-propelled guns, and over 1 thousand aircraft to break through the enemy’s defense.
- Participants in the Slovak Uprising of 1944
- © Wikimedia Commons
The Soviet forces were confronted by parts of the group under the command of Heinrici, numbering about 300 thousand people, with 3.2 thousand guns, 100 tanks and 450 aircraft.
The technical superiority of the Red Army came to naught due to the enemy’s presence of a powerful system of fortifications and terrain difficulties. The troops of the 1st Ukrainian Front were ordered to advance in the direction of Presov, and the 4th - in the direction of Comanche.
East Carpathian operation
At the beginning of September 1944, the 4th Ukrainian Front was reinforced by the 3rd Mountain Rifle Corps, which had experience in fighting in the mountains of the Caucasus and Crimea, had “alpine” equipment, as well as special artillery and engineering units.
September 8-9, 1944, Soviet troops went on the offensive and immediately wedged to a depth of 23 km in the enemy’s defenses.
“The Nazis not only prepared the defense well, but also began to transfer units from other sectors of the front to the battle zone. The offensive was moving slower than originally planned, ”said Yuri Knutov.
- Fortifications of the Nazis in the Carpathians
- © Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation
Despite the desperate resistance of the enemy and significant losses, the troops of the 18th Army crossed the Main Carpathian Range and launched an offensive in the territory of Transcarpathia.
At the same time, units of the 38th and 1st Guards armies reached the Main Carpathian Range only at the end of September. They took possession of the Dukelsky pass and proceeded to the liberation of Czechoslovakia, but moved forward slowly.
In October, Soviet troops liberated Rakhov, Mukachevo, Uzhgorod from the invaders. The Red Army was forced to stop at the boundary Stakchin - Sobranets - Pavlovce - Chop - the Tisza River due to counterattacks of the enemy's fresh forces. This East Carpathian offensive operation ended.
Slovak rebels could not break through to meet Soviet troops. At the same time, the Nazis increased to 83 thousand people a group that acted against the rebels.
“Professional punitive fought against the rebels, in particular, the SS Galicia’s division restored after the defeat near Brody, reinforced by police regiments participating in the Volyn massacre and displaying brutal brutality against the peaceful Slovak population,” Knutov emphasized.
On October 27, the Nazis entered the city of Banska Bystrica, which served as the main base of the uprising. A few days later, the Nazis captured the rebel leaders. Jan Golian and the commander of the rebel army, General Rudolf Viesth, were thrown into the concentration camp Flossenbürg and executed. The participants in the uprising went on to partisan struggle. During the battles for the liberation of Czechoslovakia in November 1944 - May 1945, they provided active assistance to the Red Army.
The rebels destroyed about 10 thousand German troops. Another 70 thousand were killed and wounded by the Nazis during the battles with Soviet troops in the Carpathians and Transcarpathia. The irretrievable losses of the Soviet troops during the East Carpathian operation amounted to about 26 thousand people.
- Soviet soldiers are fighting in the Carpathians during the East Carpathian operation
- © Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation
Anton Kobets, an employee of the scientific and methodological department of the Victory Museum, said in an interview with RT that the results of this operation are mixed.
“On the one hand, it was not completely possible to complete the originally set task of supporting the Slovak uprising. The mountainous terrain features did not allow the Soviet troops to quickly occupy the heights, which led to losses on the part of the attackers, ”the expert noted.
At the same time, Kobets emphasized, a number of important strategic goals were achieved during the operation. Soviet troops overcame the Eastern Carpathians, an important German defense hub, liberated part of Eastern Slovakia, created a bridgehead for further advancement in Czechoslovakia, and also covered the northern flank during the advance towards Budapest.
In addition, the USSR demonstrated "its readiness to help its allies and support with all possible forces an uprising in the rear of the German troops," the expert added.
In turn, Yuri Knutov noted that the East Carpathian operation had a lesser military effect than other offensive operations of the Red Army conducted in the summer and fall of 1944, but its results should not be underestimated.
“It was a partial success. The main political goal was not achieved, but Soviet troops liberated Transcarpathia and crushed most of the line of defense, which Hitler's command considered insurmountable. This predetermined future victories, ”concluded Knutov.