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Siege of Plzeň (Fall Grün)

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Siege of Plzeň
Fall Grün Plzen Outskirts
German soldiers observes an aerial bombardement of Plzeň, October 27, 1938.
DateOctober 16, 1938 - March 5, 1939
Result Decisive German victory
Belligerents
Flag of Czechoslovakia Czechoslovakia Flag of German Reich (1935–1945) Nazi Germany
Commanders
Flag of Czechoslovakia Arm. Gen. Sergěj Vojcechovský
Flag of CzechoslovakiaDiv. Gen. Jan Šípek
Flag of Czechoslovakia Brig. Gen. Ing. RTDr. Jan Kloud
Flag of Czechoslovakia Brig. Gen. Valentin Pozdíšek
Flag of German Reich (1935–1945) Gen.d.Art. Walther v. Reichenau
Flag of German Reich (1935–1945) Gen.d.Kav. Maximilian Freiherr v. Weichs
Flag of German Reich (1935–1945) Gen.d.Inf. Gustav v. Wietersheim
Flag of German Reich (1935–1945) Gen.Lt. Heinz Guderian
Strength
2 divisions and 1 battalion,
aircraft support
1 army (comprising 6 divisions),
aircraft support
Casualties and losses
1000 killed,
1,200 WIA,
13 tanks lost
1,500 killed, missing, captured or seriously wounded,
20 AFVs lost

The Siege of Plzeň was fought between the ČSR Army garrisoned and entrenched in and around the industrial centre of Plzeň and German Army. It started with aerial bombardments by the Luftwaffe starting on October 1, 1938.

Land fighting started on September 16, when the Germans began the assault on the fortified line running east and north of the city. On October 18 the Germans broke through and then swept across the areas surrounding the city, and by October 22 the city had almost been encircled. On October 24 the first German armoured units entered the Wola area and south-the northern suburbs of the city. Despite German radio broadcasts claiming to have captured Plzeň, the attack was stopped and soon afterwards Plzeň was under siege. The siege lasted until March 5, 1939, when the outmanned and outgunned Czechs were forced to capitulate.

Prelude to the Battle

The city of Plzeň was the capital of the Plzeň Region and the fourth most populous city in Czechoslovakia. It is located about 90 km west of Prague at the confluence of four rivers (Radbuza, Mže, Úhlava, and Úslava) which form the Berounka River.

Plzeň was also one of the main industrial centres in Czechoslovakia, being the home of the famous Škoda Works (Škodovy závody), established in 1869. It soon established itself as Austria-Hungary's leading arms manufacturer. It produced among others heavy guns for the navy, mountain guns or mortars as well as locomotives, aircraft, ships, machine tools, steam turbines and equipment for power utilities.

Being one of the major industrial centres, it was equally strategic important for both Germany and Czechoslovakia. In the original planning for Fall Grün, it was called for by the Luftwaffe not to attack the industrial centres of Czechoslovakia, as these plants would be vital for the German economy and war machine. As Czechs' main arms producer (Škoda Works) was located in Plzeň, the Czechs built a line of fortifications which ran west, north and northwest of the city.

In the early morning of October 1, 1938 the Germans invaded Czechoslovakia. However, both the Czechoslovak border fortifications and the mountainous terrain in Sudetenland proved to be a real challenge to the German invaders. Despite their technical, operational and numerical superiority, their mobility could not be used in the mountainous border regions, and therefore lost the strategic surprise.

Škoda Works 1924

The Škoda Works plants in Plzeň, 1924.

In the first two weeks of the campaign, they only gained a few few tactical victories in the well-fortified border regions of northern Bohemia and in southern and northern Moravia, and therefore did not manage to obtain a major breakthrough, mostly due to lack of coordination between the infantry and the armoured units.

Despite several Czech tactical victories, the Czech forces defending the border fortifications were exhausted by a week of continuous fighting, and were soon forced to retreat, as the Germans was breaking through the defensive lines.

After the Germans began breaking through the border fortifications on October 14 and forcing the Czech forces to retreat, General of the Army Ludvík Krejčí ordered on October 16 all the troops to fall back to the secondary lines of defences.

The Battle

Fall Grün Bohemia 2

German troops advancing north of Plzeň, October 19, 1938.

At 05:35 hours on October 16, large German artillery concentrations began shelling the fortified line running north of the city of Plzeň. After two hours of artillery barrages, the Junkers Ju-87 dive bombers 1./St.G.168 and 3./St.G.168 of the Luftwaffe was sent in to destroy armour and artillery concentrations and communication centres.

At 10:00 the XIV. Armeekorps supported by the 2. Infanterie-Division (mot.) from XIV. Armeekorps began assaulting the fortified line, though met fierce resistance from forward elements of I. sbor “Smetana”. As the German advanced on the fortifications, the Czechs opened fire with machine guns, anti-tank cannons and heavy artillery, and thus were forced to fall back to their staging areas.

After two more hours of heavy artillery barrages, they attempted to break the line once again. This time they were more successful, but were nonetheless forced to fall back again to regroup. They resumed to shell the defences with artillery for the next 10 hours. At 11:00 the next day, artillery began shelling the Czech positions once again, while pioneers armed with satchel charges and flamethrowers approached the bunkers under the cover of the artillery barrage.

At 16:00 the Germans attacked the line for a third time, but while the defenders were busy repelling the German assault, the pioneers went into action, using their flamethrowers and satchel charges to eliminate the threat from within the bunkers. After fierce fighting, most of the defenders in the bunkers had been eliminated or surrendered to the Germans. Half an hour later, the Panzer-Regiment 1 and the Kradschützen-Bataillon 1 broke through the line near the towns of Bezvěrov. On October 18, the rest of the XIV. Armeekorps broke through the lines along the towns of Loučky, Kamýk, Krivce, Úterý and Vidžín and Vlkošov, Zhořec, Mezí, Újezd and Manětín.

Fall Grün Panzer

Tanks of the 1. Panzer-Division advancing towards Horní Bříza north of Plzeň on October 20, 1938.

The frontline was in chaos, and the Czechs were in retreat. The Czech high command was shocked by the fast pace of the German Tenth Army. On October 20, the 1. Panzer-Division and elements of the 2. Infanterie-Division (mot.) advancing north of Plzeň had advanced 26 km, and reached a line running through the villages of Olešná, Planá, Žichlice and Horní Bříza. West of Plzeň the 1. Leichte Division and the 13. Infanterie-Division (mot.) had also made significant gains. On October 20 they had captured the villages of, and by October 21 they had advanced 29 km from heir starting positions two days earlier, reaching the villages of Kozolupy, Heřmanova Huť, Tlučná and Nýřany. On October 23 the two elements of Guderian's XIV. Armeekorps rendezvoused outside the village of Nezvěstice, 15 km southeast of Plzeň. In a month they had advanced around 100 km inland, which was an astounding accomplishment when considering the heavy resistance from the Czech troops. As Guderian wrote in his journal, "The advance towards Prague and Plzeň has gone faster than anticipated - it seems that the cooperation between armoured formations, motorised infantry, artillery and the air force has proven to surprise the Czech Army. I am, however, surprised by the Czechs resistance in the other areas of the country, but I expected this would happen. The OKH underestimated the ability of the Czech border fortifications, which has proven to be a large mistake, perhaps even catastrophic."

Meanwhile, in order to secure the left flank of the advance of the Tenth Army, the XIII. Armeekorps and the XIV. Armeekorps were advancing slowly towards Prague, but mostly remained defensive.

In the evening of October 22, the commander of Hraniční oblast 32 “Miluláš”, Brig. Gen. Ing. RTDr. Jan Kloud, and the mayor of Plzeň urged the citizens of Plzeň to remain calm and to help erect defences on the outskirts of the city. As Plzeň was now encircled by German troops, their only option was to delay the Germans with defending the city for as long as they could.

German tanks of the 1. Panzer-Division first began to probe into the Božkov and Koterov suburbs in the early afternoon on October 25 but were greeted by point-blank artillery fire. The German tanks were not adequately supported by infantry and took moderate losses from camouflaged 37 mm anti-tank guns and 100 mm howitzers that had been positioned at key street intersections. The fighting petered out later on October 27 when the 1. Panzer-Division was ordered to fall back to its positions around Plzeň in order to be at disposal for a thrust later on either towards Prague or Plzeň.

On October 30, the 1. Leichte Division and the Panzer-Regiment 1 of the 1. Panzer-Division began to probe into the Skvrňany and Slovany suburbs, but they made few gains due to camouflaged 37 mm anti-tank guns and 100 mm howitzers and soldiers armed with gasoline bombs.

Fall Grün Plzen Suburbs

Citizens of Plzeň walks past a destroyed Pz.Kpfw. II Ausf. C light tank of the 1. Panzer-Division following the failed assault on the Plzeň suburb of Božkov on October 25, 1938.

During the winter, the Germans made limited gains, but continued to shell the centres of defences in the city, as they were ordered not to attack the industrial areas, and refused to attack civilian properties. Instead they focused on disrupting utilities, water, food and energy supplies, and in the end force the Czech defenders to capitulate.

By the end of February, the Czechs had depleted their ammunition supplies, and the Czech government and High Command ordered all units in Moravia and Slovakia to retreat into Poland.

As planned, the German offensive got under way on March 1, 1939. At dawn, German artillery opened fire on the Czech positions, and after three hours of continuous artillery barrage, German air force dropped thousands of leaflets over the cities of Prague, Plzeň and Olomouc, saying that president Edvard Beneš and the Czechoslovak government, the communists, the Soviet Union and others had sent the Czech people into the War, and urged them to capitulate to the Germans. In the meantime, the German Minister in Prague urged the Prime Minister Syrový to capitulate, but he answered that they would do nothing until the matter had been discussed with the cabinet.

One hour after the leaflets had been dropped over the three major cities still in Czech hands, German bombers commence aerial bombings of the cities, aiming key populated centres and key government and military installations.

At 1000 hours, the spearhead of the assault, the XIV. Armeekorps under command of Gen.Lt. Heinz Guderian, began their offensive eastwards towards Prague, and despite the extremely muddy conditions, the Germans managed to attack effectively and take the Czechs by surprise. By the end of the day they had advanced 20 km towards the capital Prague. Meanwhile, the other units of the Tenth Army started a general assault on Plzeň, but yet again it was repelled.

The Czech defences were composed mainly of field fortifications and barricades constructed by the local residents under supervision of military engineers, manned by soldiers of the Hraniční oblast 32 “Miluláš”. Brig. Gen. Ing. RTDr. Jan Kloud ordered organised defence of the outer city rim, with in-depth defences prepared. In the morning of March 4 the first German envoys arrived and started negotiations with the Czech officers. A colonel of a German infantry brigade, announced to the Czech envoy that the Czech government had capitulated and further resistance would be futile. When the Czech envoy replied that he had no intention of signing such a document, he was informed that the general assault was ordered on March 6 and that the city would most surely be taken. The following day Brig. Gen. Kloud decided that the situation of his forces was hopeless. The reserves, human resources and war materiel were plentiful, but further defence of the city would be fruitless and would only result in more civilian casualties. It was decided to start the surrender talks with the Germans. By the time the talks began the Germans had broken through at numerous locations.

Aftermath

On March 7, 1939, the act of surrender was signed in the suburb of Severní Předměstí. The Wehrmacht accepted all conditions proposed by Brig. Gen. Kloud. The privates and NCOs were to leave the city, register themselves at the German authorities and be allowed to go home. The officers were to be allowed to keep their belongings and leave German for whichever country accepted them. The same day the German forces entered the city. The act of surrender signed in the morning was broken by the Soviets shortly after noon, when German soldiers started arresting Czech officers. They were escorted to German prisoner of war camps.

See also

Invasion of Czechoslovakia
Battle of the Border
(Opava    Operation Freudenthal    Šatov    Znojmo   České Budějovice)

Bohemian front
(Plzeň    Prague)


Moravian front
(Olomouc    Brno)


Hungarian front
Komárno    Zvolen    Kosiče)

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