Friday, May 8, 2015

The Liberation of Czechoslovakia - Victory in Europe 70 Years Later

Three days ago I posted a short piece commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Gusen Concentration Camp on May 5, 1945, explaining the role my Dad’s unit - the US Army’s 26th Infantry Division - played in that historic event.

Later that same day, Dad’s division, commanded by Major General Willard S. Paul, began advancing northward into western Czechoslovakia as part of Third Army’s XII Corps, commanded by Lieutenant General LeRoy Irwin.  It was one of only two American corps, along with V Corps, to serve in Czechoslovakia during the war.  After slugging its way across northern France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and central Germany since the late summer of 1944, the 26th Infantry Division drove deep into the National Redoubt area in Bavaria, and into Austria in late April 1945.  Moving into Czechoslovakia, on May 6, Third Army fielded 18 divisions and over 540,000 men, making it the largest field army assembled by the United States.  General George Patton went a step further, calling his command “probably one of the most powerful armies ever assembled in the history of war . . . .  ”  For the next three days infantry and armored units of V and XII Corps conducted a major offensive against the German Wehrmacht’s Seventh Army,  liberating over 3.400 square miles of the Sudetenland and Bohemia, in western Czechoslovakia, and taking tens of thousands of German prisoners.  On May 7, the 26th accepted the surrender of the remnants of the 11th Panzer Division, much of which had already surrendered to the 90th Infantry Division in Austria three days earlier to avoid moving northeast to battle the Red Army near Prague.  It was against this same division that Dad’s 104th Infantry Regiment had its baptism of fire in the Moncourt Woods, in northern France, the previous October. 

Third Army quickly held a line running from Ceské Budejovice (Budweis) to Plzen (Pilsen) to Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad).   Patton was eager to continue east toward Prague but General Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied commander, ordered the Americans to hold their present line.  Prague was finally occupied by the Soviet Red Army on May 9 after several days of intense combat with its German defenders. Dad’s unit ended up in Ceské Budejovice on May 8 and advanced no further.  It was V-E Day; the war in Europe was over.  Forward elements of the Red Army arrived in Ceské Budejovice on May 9.

My dad and his 26th Infantry Division remained in western Czechoslovakia until early June 1945, then returned to Austria to assume occupation duties there and to train near Linz for possible deployment to the Pacific Theater where the war would rage on for another three months.  Thankfully, V-E Day was the end of the war for Dad as V-J Day, on September 2, 1945, came before he could be shipped out to the Pacific.

Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos.

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