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Slovak National Uprising
Part of World War II
Povstalecka kolona.jpg
Convoy of Slovak army vehicles near Kelemeš (today part of Prešov)
Date August 29, 1944 – October 28, 1944
Location Slovakia
Result German victory
Belligerents
Nazi Germany Germany Slovakia 1st Czechoslovak Army
Commanders
Gottlob Berger
Hermann Höffle
Ján Golian 
Rudolf Viest 
Strength
40,000, later increased to 83,000 18,000 initially, later increased to 78,000
Casualties and losses
≈10,000 ≈10,000 + 5,304 captured and executed
Memorial of the Slovak National Uprising in Banská Bystrica

The Slovak National Uprising (Slovak: Slovenské národné povstanie, abbreviated SNP) or 1944 Uprising was an armed insurrection organized by the Slovak resistance movement during World War II. It was launched on August 29, 1944 from Banská Bystrica in an attempt to oust the collaborationist government of Jozef Tiso. Although the rebel forces were defeated by Germany, guerrilla warfare continued until the Soviet Army seized Slovakia in 1945.

In the post-war period, many political entities attempted to "hijack" the uprising to their credit. The communist regime in Czechoslovakia presented the Uprising as an event initiated and governed by communist forces. Slovak nationalists, on the other hand, claim that the uprising was a plot against the Slovak nation, as one of its main objectives was to oust the regime of the puppet Slovak state and reestablish Czechoslovakia, in which Slovaks were dominated by Czechs. In fact, many factions fought in the uprising, including large rebel units of the Slovak Army, Slovak partisans, communist partisans, and international forces. Given this fractionalization, the Uprising did not have unambiguous popular support. Yet, the participants and supporters of the Uprising represented every religion, class, gender, age, and anti-Nazi political fraction of the Slovak nation.

Contents

Preliminaries

Edvard Beneš, leader of the Czechoslovak government in exile in London, had initiated the preparations for the possible revolt in 1943 when he made first contacts with the dissident elements of the Slovak Army. In December 1943, various groups that would be involved with the uprising—the government in exile, Czechoslovak democrats and communists and Slovak army—formed the underground Slovak National Council, and signed the so-called Christmas Treaty, a joint declaration to recognize Beneš's authority and to recreate Czechoslovakia after the war. The council was responsible for creating the preparatory phase of the Uprising.

In March 1944, Slovak army Lieutenant Colonel Ján Golian took charge of the preparations. Conspirators stockpiled money, ammunition and other supplies in military bases in central and eastern Slovakia. The rebelling forces called themselves Czechoslovak Forces of the Interior and the First Czechoslovak Army. Approximately 3,200 Slovak soldiers deserted and joined partisan groups or the Soviet Red Army. In April 1944 Slovak Jews, Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler escaped from Auschwitz and eventually spoke about the horrors in German death camps.

In summer 1944 partisans intensified their war against German occupation forces mainly in the mountains of north-central Slovakia. In July, Red Army troops in the Soviet Union and Poland began to advance towards Slovakia. By August 1944 the Red Army was at Krosno, Poland and within 40 kilometers of the North-Eastern Slovak border.

Two heavily armed divisions of the Slovak Army together with the entire eastern Slovak Air Force were deliberately relocated to Prešov in north-eastern Slovakia in summer 1944 to execute one of two planned options to begin the uprising. The two options were:

  1. the two divisions would start the uprising by coordinating their capture of Dukla Pass (joining Poland and Slovakia through the Carpathian Mountains) with the arrival of the Soviet Army (1st Ukrainian Front under Marshall Ivan Konev), or
  2. respond to insurrectional army leader Ján Golian's orders to start resistance by immediately confronting any invading German forces and hold the pass until the Soviet Army could arrive.

Colonel Viliam Talský was Chief of Staff over the two divisions. He had agreed in advance with the insurrectional army leadership and the uprising planning committee of the Slovak National Council to execute either of these two plans, depending on the circumstances he faced. On August 27, 1944 in Martin, a group of communist partisans under Soviet command in Kiev killed 30 members of a German military mission en route from Romania, a country that had just changed sides to support the Allies. German troops began to occupy Slovakia the next day to put down the rebellion. German arrangements for such occupation were done few weeks earlier.

At 19:00 hours on August 29, 1944 Slovak Defence Minister General Ferdinand Čatloš announced on state radio that Germany had occupied Slovakia. Golian sent the coded message to all units at 20:00 to begin the Uprising. Instead of adhering to the agreed plan, Colonel Talský gathered the entire eastern Slovak Air Force on August 30 and abandoned the two divisions flying to a prearranged landing zone in Poland to join the Soviet Army. The two divisions, left in chaos and without leadership, were quickly disarmed on the afternoon of August 30 without a single shot. Consequently, the uprising commenced prematurely and lost a crucial component of their plan as well as their two most heavily armed divisions capable of resisting any German advance.

Forces

Accounts of the exact numbers of combatants vary. At first, the rebel forces consisted of an estimated 18,000 soldiers. The total increased to 47,000 after mobilization on September 9, 1944, and later to 60,000, plus 18,000 partisans from over 30 countries. The Slovak Insurgent Air Force had a small number of mostly obsolete planes.

In addition to Slovak forces, the combatants included various other groups from escaped French POWs to Soviet partisans and SOE and OSS operatives. The Slovak side had to use mostly bi-planes and improvised armored trains to fight against the better equipped German weapons. In addition to Soviet aid, United States B-17 Flying Fortress bombers landed at Tri Duby airfield on October 7, 1944 and brought supplies and OSS agents. Before returning they embarked 25 Allied pilots shot down over Slovakia in past few month and also five French partisans.

Course of the uprising

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Uprising begins

Rebels began the uprising on August 29 8:00 p.m. under the command of Ján Golian. They entered Banská Bystrica in the morning of August 30 and made it their headquarters. German troops disarmed the Eastern Slovak Army on August 31. Many of the soldiers were sent to camps in Germany while others escaped and joined the Soviet-controlled partisans or returned home. On September 5 Ján Golian became the commander of all the rebel forces in Slovakia and was given the rank of General. Slovak forces in central Slovakia mobilized 47,000 men. His first analysis of the situation predicted that insurgents could resist German attacks for about two weeks.

By September 10 the rebels gained control of large areas of central and eastern Slovakia. That included two airfields, and the Soviet Air Force began to fly in equipment.

Momentum lost

Situation map in first days of Slovak National Uprising

The pro-German government of Tiso remained in power in Bratislava. Germany moved 40,000 SS soldiers under Gottlob Berger to suppress the uprising. They detained and disarmed two Slovak divisions and 20,000 soldiers that had been supposed to secure the mountain passes to help the Red Army. Beneš had met with Stalin and Molotov in Moscow in December 1943 to secure Soviet support for the uprising. However, Stalin and the STAVKA failed to deliver the needed support on time to the insurgent army and even blocked Western offers of military aid as they did only a few weeks earlier in the Warsaw uprising. Meanwhile, General Koniev and the Soviet partisan headquarters in Kiev, Ukraine continued to undermine the Slovak insurgent army by ordering partisan groups operating in forward positions in Slovakia to conduct operations and avoid coordination with the Slovak insurgent army. The Soviet led partisans even demanded and took desperately needed weapons and munitions from the insurgent Slovak army that were stored for the uprising. The vast majority of Soviet air drops of weapons over insurgent-held territory in Eastern and Northern Slovakia were quickly confiscated by Soviet partisans and little ended up in the hands of the much stronger and better trained Slovak insurrectional army.

On September 8 the Red Army began an offensive on the Dukla Pass on the Slovak-Polish border and tried to fight through the Carpathian Mountains to penetrate into Slovakia. This poorly-planned and late action resulted in tremendous casualties on both sides and became bogged down for nearly two months.

Beneš, the Soviet partisans and various Slovak factions began to argue among themselves for operational control. Although he tried on repeated occasions, General Golian could not bring the sides together to coordinate their efforts. General Rudolf Viest flew in and took command on October 7. Golian became his second-in-command. Viest could not control the situation when political rivalries resurfaced in the face of military failure.

The uprising also coincided with the stalling of the Soviet summer offensive, the failure of the Warsaw Uprising, and other troubles on the side of the Western allies. The Red Army and its Czechoslovakian allies failed to quickly penetrate the Dukla Pass despite the fierce fighting between September 8 and October 28; they suffered 85,000 casualties (21 000 dead). The Czechoslovak government in exile failed to convince western allies to ignore Stalin's obstruction and send more supplies to the area.

On September 17 two B-17 Flying Fortresss flew in the OSS mission of Lieutenant James Holt-Green. SOE team of major John Sehmer followed the next day on its way to Hungary. Their reports confirmed the suspicions of Western Allies that the situation of the uprising was worsening.

Counteroffensive

On September 19 German command replaced SS-Obergruppenführer Berger, who had been in charge of the troops fighting the Uprising, with General Höffle. By that time Germans had 48,000 soldiers; they consisted of eight German divisions, including four from the Waffen-SS and one pro-Nazi Slovak formation.

On October 1 the rebel army was renamed the 1st Czechoslovak Army in Slovakia, in order to symbolize the beginning of the Czech-Slovak reunification that would be recognized by the Allied forces.

A major German counteroffensive began on October 17–18 when 35,000 German troops entered the country from Hungary, which had been under German military occupation since 19 March 1944. Stalin demanded that his advancing Second Ukrainian Front led by General Malinovsky be immediately diverted from Eastern Slovakia to Budapest. The western advance of Soviet forces came to a screeching halt in late October 1944, as Stalin's interests focused on Hungary, Austria and Poland before he was interested in Slovakia or the Czech lands. By the end of October, Axis forces (six German divisions and one pro-Nazi Slovak unit) had taken back most of the territory from the insurgents and encircled the fighting groups. Battles cost at least 10,000 casualties on both sides.

Insurgents had to evacuate Banská Bystrica on October 27 just prior to the German takeover. SOE and OSS agents retreated to the mountains alongside the thousands of others fleeing German advance. The rebels prepared to change their strategy to that of guerrilla warfare. On October 28, Viest sent London a message that said the organized resistance had ended. On October 30, General Höffle and President Tiso celebrated in Banská Bystrica and awarded medals to German soldiers for their part in the suppression of the uprising (claimed by some to have been done by Tiso as to save the lives of Slovak soldiers captured by German forces in the uprising, who were deported to concentration camps, and to save three Slovak cities from German bombardment).

Aftermath

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Principality of Nitra
Great Moravia
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Realm of Máté Csák
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Slovak Uprising
(1848-1849)
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Slovak National Uprising
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However, partisans together with the remains of the regular forces continued their efforts in the mountains. In retaliation, Einsatzgruppen executed many Slovaks suspected of aiding the rebels and destroyed 93 villages for suspicion of collaboration. A later estimate of the death toll was 5,304 and authorities discovered 211 mass graves that resulted from those atrocities. The largest executions occurred in Kremnička (747 killed) and Nemecká (900 killed).

On November 3 Germans captured Golian and Viest in Pohronský Bukovec; they later interrogated and executed them.

SOE and OSS teams eventually united and sent a message in which they requested immediate assistance. Germans surrounded both groups on December 25 and captured them. Some of the men were summarily executed. Germans took the rest to Mauthausen concentration camp where they were tortured and executed.

The German victory only postponed the eventual downfall of the pro-Nazi regime. Six months later, the Red Army had overrun Axis troops in Czechoslovakia. By December 1944 Romanian and Soviet troops had driven German troops out of southern Slovakia in the Battle of Budapest. On January 19, 1945, the Red Army took Bardejov, Svidník, Prešov and Košice in Eastern Slovakia. On March 3–5 they had taken over northwest Slovakia. On March 25 they entered Banská Bystrica and on April 4 marched into Bratislava.

Although the main military objectives were not achieved due to improper timing of the uprising and discoordinate actions of Soviet partisans that often undermined the plans and objectives of the insurrectional Slovak army--if occurred later when preparations were complete could theoretically have reverted the whole of Slovakia to the allied side and allowed the Red Army to quickly pass through Slovakia (though it is questionable whether the Soviet leadership would have preferred such an option because this would have significantly empowered the democratic forces in Slovakia)--the guerrilla struggle bound significant German forces that could otherwise have reinforced the Wehrmacht on the eastern front lines against the advancing Ukrainian Fronts to the north and south of Slovakia. Nevertheless, much of Slovakia was left devastated by the Uprising and the German counter-offensive and occupation.

References

See also

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