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Unternehmen Frühlingserwachen (Fall Grün)

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Unternehmen Frühlingserwachen
Fall Grün Spring Offensive 1
German soldiers march towards Prague during Operation Frühlingserwachen, March 10, 1939.
DateMarch 1 - 15, 1939
Result Decisive German victory
Flag of Czechoslovakia Czechoslovakia
Flag of the Soviet Union (1923-1955) Soviet Union
Flag of German Reich (1935–1945) Nazi Germany

Flag of Czechoslovakia Arm. Gen. Vojcechovský White flag
Flag of Czechoslovakia Arm. Gen. Vojtěch Luža White flag
Flag of the Soviet Union (1923-1955) P. L. Romanenko White flag

Flag of German Reich (1935–1945) Gen.d.Art. Walther v. Reichenau
Flag of German Reich (1935–1945) GenObst. Gerd v. Rundstedt
Flag of German Reich (1935–1945) Gen.Lt. Heinz Guderian
Flag of German Reich (1935–1945) Gen.d.Inf. Wilhelm List
Remnants of two armies,
~250 tanks
Three armies,
~500 tanks,
Aircraft support
Casualties and losses
11,500 killed,
22,000 wounded,
450,000 captured

Soviet Union:
5,000 killed,
17,850 wounded,
18,000 captured
Official German figures:
550 killed,
1270 wounded,
45 missing

Unternehmen Frühlingserwachen (Operation Spring Awakening) was a military operation carried out by German forces against the remants of the Republic of Czechoslovakia in the beginning of March 1939. It was the last military operation of the campaign and culminated in the battles of Plzen, Prague and Olomouc and ended with the capitulation of the Czechoslovak Armed Forces on March 15.

Prelude to the Operation

Due to the resistance in both Bohemia and Moravia, the Wehrmacht attempted, on November 20, 1938, a direct offensive against Plzeň and Prague. However, this attack had only limited tank support and was forced to assault extensive Czech defenses. After meeting determined resistance from the Soviet 1st Guards Motorized Rifle Division and flank counterattacks staged by the 33rd Army, the German offensive was driven back four days later, with the Germans losing 1,000 men and several dozen tanks.

By early December, the temperatures, so far relatively mild by European standards, dropped as low as twenty degrees Celsius below zero, freezing German troops, who still had no winter clothing, and German vehicles, which were not designed for such severe weather. More than 10,000 cases of frostbite were reported among German soldiers. Frozen grease had to be removed from every loaded shell and vehicles had to be heated for hours before use.

The German offensive on Prague stopped. As Guderian wrote in his journal, "the offensive on Prague failed…. We underestimated the enemy's strength, as well as his size and climate. Fortunately, I stopped my troops on December 5, otherwise the catastrophe would be unavoidable."

Similarily, the Hungarians, suffering from lack of ammunition and supplies, as well as winter clothing and heavy casualties, were forced to halt their offensive in Slovakia.

In the ensuing months, the fronts were relatively quiet, appart from the numbers of artillery duels and raids on each others positions, as well as air-to-air combat. The winter gave both the Axis and the Czechs a chance to regroup and reorganise their troops.

The Plan

On January 15, 1939, Hitler held a meeting with the leading military officers of the OKW, OKH and OKL, among them Keitel, Brauchitsch, Halder and Göring. In the meeting, Hitler asked the OKW and OKH to make a combined effort to prepare the German forces for a spring offensive aimed against Prague.

A draft was made by the OKH (Brauchitsch and Halder in particular) with support from Keitel and Jodl, and on February 18, the new plan was presented for Hitler. The plan was named "Unternehmen Frühlingserwachen" (Operation Spring Awakening), and were to be carried out in early March if approved. The plan was designed to overwhelm the Czech-Soviet defenders in both Bohemia and Moravia, and looked for a quick conquest of major cities such as Plzeň, Olomouc and the capital Prague. It required full cooperation between the different army units and the Luftwaffe.

The plan was the following:

  • In northern Moravia, the Second Army should advance with overwhelming power and speed towards Olomouc and capture it, and then rendezvous with the Fourteenth Army coming from the south.
  • In northern Bohemia, the Eighth Army should advance southwards and capture Mladá Boleslav, and then make the northern pincer of an encirclement of Prague.
  • In Western Bohemia, the Tenth Army should first capture Plzeň, which had been encircled in October 1938 while the Czech defenders inside the city would be under constant pressure from artillery and the Luftwaffe. After securing Plzeň, the XIV. Armeekorps and two divisions of the XIV. Armeekorps (the 2. and 13. Infanterie-Division (mot.), all under the command of Gen.Lt. Heinz Guderian, would turn northeast and make the spearhead towards Prague. The northern spearhead would advance through the defences I. armáda ”Havlíček” and move to form the southern pincer of capital Prague.
  • In southern Bohemia, one half of the Twelfth Army would advance northwards towards Prague. The rest would secure the right flank of the offensive towards Prague.
  • In southern Moravia, the Fourteenth Army would advance along the Morava river towards Olomouc, as Brno had already fallen in late October the previous year.

Hitler immediately accepted the plan, and Brauchitsch ordered all armies to regroup and prepare for a spring offensive. All units were resupplied with arms, ammunition, supplies and soldiers from the Landwehr and Reserve divisions, all armoured units were reequipped with newly produced tanks and other vehicles.

Details of the Operation

Map Operation Fruhlingserwachen I

Operation Frühlingserwachen: Situation up to March 13, 1939.

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.

Fall Grün Spring Offensive 2

German infantry takes cover behind a Pz.Kpfw. I Ausf. B light tank during the offensive of the 1. Panzer-Division towards Prague, March 6, 1939.

Fall Grun Spring Offensive 3

German troops on the offensive in Moravia, March 4, 1939.

Fall Grün Spring Offensive 4

A Czech 37 mm KPÚV vz. 37 anti-tank cannon waiting for advancing German tanks in southern Moravia, March 7, 1939.

Fall Grun Spring Offensive 4

German motorcycle troops of the 4 Kav.Schützen-Regt. of Guderian's XVI. Armeekorps on their way towards Prague on March 8, 1939.

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 furter 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 numberous locations.

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.

Meanwhile, the Eighth and Tenth Armies continued their advance towards Prague at full speed, and by March 13 they had completely encircled the capital.

In northern Moravia the Second Army advanced at full speed southwards, and by March 5 they had encircled the city of Olomouc, and the remnants of the II. armáda ”Jirásek”, including its commander Arm. Gen. Vojtěch Boris Luža, had been encircled in the city.

On March 5, around 1700, Arm. Gen. Luža received reports of German forces in the suburbs of Neredín, Řepčín, Černovír, Chválkovice, Bystrovany, Holice and Nové Sady. Those forces consisted of armored scouts and have engaged Czech infantry units on their approaches. Arm. Gen. Luža then decided to defend the city, even though much of the II. armáda ”Jirásek” had left for Poland. The first German attack, carried out by Infanterie-Regiment 96, in the afternoon of the March 6 was repulsed by the Czech defenders and an artillery barrage of the 75 mm vz. 15 mountain guns. Later, in the evening, the Germans subsequently continued to push into the city. By the end of the day the German have secured the inner suburbs, and made several headways into the city.

By the morning of March 7 the advanced German infantry had been reinforced with tanks of the I/15. Pz.Regt. The Czech defenders delayed German advance, particularly by fighting from house to house, but later that day the poorly coordinated Czech defence collapsed and the Germans took control of the city.

In the early hours of March 8 the forward spearheads of the Second and Fourteenth Armies met at a line running southwest and south of Olomouc, completing the pincer movement.

Map Operation Fruhlingserwachen II

Operation Frühlingserwachen: Situation up to the Czech capitulation on March 15, 1939.

In the early hours of March 8 the forward spearheads of the Second and Fourteenth Armies met at a line running southwest and south of Olomouc, completing the pincer movement.

In southern Bohemia and Moravia the Twelfth and Fourteenth Armies began their offensive on the same day ad the Tenth Army, and faced little resistance and despite the extremely muddy and snowy conditions, the Germans managed to attack effectively and take the Czechs and Russians by surprise. By the end of the day they had eliminated the 15. Motorizovannaya Diviziya and the 23. Tankovaya Briygada at Vyškov. By the end of the week the main bulk of the IV. armáda ”Neruda” had been encircled. On March 8 the commander of the IV. armáda ”Neruda”, Arm. Gen. Prchala, decided to leave for Poland with the remnants of the Czech forces positioned east of Brno.

On March 13 the Twelfth and Fourteenth Armies began to clear out the pocket west of Brno, and by the early hours of March 15 over 3/4 of the Czech troops had been eliminated or captured.


Fall Grün Spring Offensive Leaflet

German propaganda leaflet dropped over 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.

Gen. Sergěj Vojcechovský and Brig. Gen. Langer, seeing they had no chance to continue the battle without risking the lives of hundreds of thousands civilians in Prague, started negotiations for capitulation with the Gen.d.Art. v. Reichenau in the morning of March 13. At noon, President Beneš and most of the Czech government left for Warszaw from Prague Ruzyně Airport. The Prime Minister, Arm. Gen. Jan Syrový, wished to stay in Prague, as he insisted that as a soldier and the minister of national defence, he should stay until the end. He shared the same thoughts as Vojcechovský and Langer, and a capitulation would spare the suffering inhabitants of Prague from an unnecessary aerial bombardement. However, he chose to follow the chief of military intelligence František Moravec after being told that his position as prime minister, minister of national defence and as a soldier could be abused in the post-invasion Czechoslovakia.

On September 14, at 12.00 a cease fire agreement was signed and all fighting halted. Soon afterwards Prague capitulated. Several units declined to put down their weapons and cease fire, and their commanding officers had to be visited by generals Vojcechovský and Langer personally. During the night of March 14-15 the garrison of Prague started to hide or destroy their heavy armament. On March 15 German units entered the city. At 10.00 on March 15, an full capitulation of all Czechoslovak Armed Forces was signed on Pražský hrad by Gen. Vojcechovský and Brig. Gen. Langer, with Gen.d.Art. Walther v. Reichenau and Gen.Lt. Heinz Guderian acting as representatives of Germany. The following day the evacuation of Czech forces to German POW camps started. The campaign in Czechoslovakia was over.

Fall Grün Capitulation 4

Czech soldiers being escorted by German soldiers following the capitulation, March 1939.

The losses sustained by the German offensive were unexpectedly light. During the fifteen days of combat the total casualty figures came to 550 men: 551 were listed as killed, 1270 sa wounded, and 45 as missing in action.

The operation marked the end of the Czechoslovak resistance. 11,500 were killed, 22,000 were wounded and over 450,000 were taken prisoner. 100 LT vz. 35 light tanks, 18 LT vz. 38, thousands of machine guns and several artillery pieces were captured by the Germans as well. Of the Soviet soldiers around 5,000 were killed, 17,850 were wounded and 18,000 were captured, including their commander P. L. Romanenko. 80 tanks, most of them T-26s, were captured, as well as over 200 artillery pieces.

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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