The Carpatho-Dukla Operation

In summer 1944 the Red Army was already liberating Southeastern and Eastern Europe. In the main Warsaw-Berlin strategic line the Belorussian Operation ended on August 19, 1944 when it reached the borderline of East Prussia and rivers of Visla and Narew in the territory of Poland. On the same day the fighting within the Lvov-Sandomierzska Operation also ended. At the same time the Jassko-Kissinovska Operation took place in the Southern strategic line. Its successful result gave an assumption of quick advancement of the Soviet troops from Romania to the northeastern Hungary. Because of this fact it was expected that it will be possible to enter the Carpathian curve from the south.

The main military plan, which the military authorities and plotters of the Slovak National Uprising counted on, called for the two eastern Slovak divisions, holding and controlling about 100km of the front in the midst of the German troops in the territory of northeastern Slovakia, to open the Carpathian passes and then the Army in the Field concentrated in the central Slovakia together with Partisan troops will defend the territory until the arrival of the Soviet Army. This plan was approved by the Communists just like by the government administration in London nevertheless they did not manage to discuss it with the army command of the Soviet Army. Until the beginning of the Uprising itself the representatives of the illegal underground Slovak National Council were not successful in reaching any specific final results. It might have been caused by their late notification of the Soviets. As a result of a hasty decision and action of the Partisan troops the Uprising broke through precociously at the time when the Soviet troops as well as rebellious troops were not adequately and consistently prepared for the armed battle. The signal to begin the Uprising was when the German occupational army entered Slovakia in the morning hours on August 29, 1944. The critical point for the Carpatho-Dukla Operation was when the German troops began to disarm the eastern Slovak Army troops on August 31 and thus they managed to crack down the essential conditions for the future success of the whole Uprising.

In the beginning of September 1944 the left wing of the 1st Ukrainian Front which included 38th Soviet Army under command of General Colonel K. Moskalenko and the right wing of the 4th Ukrainian Front which included the 1st Soviet Guards Army under command of General Colonel A. Grechko were positioned at the foothills of Carpathians. Roughly in the area in the northeast of the Krosno-Sanok line. These forces just about a month ago ended the Lvov-Sandomierska Operation. After the outbreak of fighting in Slovakia in the rear of the Garman troops, the command of the Soviet Army called for the 1st and 4th Ukrainian Front to carry out military operation in order to help the SNP (Slovak National Uprising), to cross the Carpathians, to enter the territory of Czechoslovakia and to join the rebels. The army troops had only 4 days to get prepared for the battle. One of the other shortcomings was that the number of soldiers in rifle divisions of the 38th Soviet Army was about 4 500 to 5 000 men which was merely 2/3 of its full staff. Although on paper the Army was markedly reinforced by the reserves of the commander of 1st Ukrainian Front, its troops were also exhausted by the previous battles and fighting except for the troops of 1st Czechoslovak Army Corps however these were not quite adequate army forces.

The Carpathian Mountains became to be part of the territory liberated by the Soviet Army however being the firmest part of the German defense territory. At first the Soviet Army Command itself planned to hardly push on and capture these mountainous areas, but relied on situation that the Germans will leave and retreat themselves just when the Soviet forces get through the plains of Poland and Hungary further to the west.

Northeast Slovakia was protected and controlled by the special German operation army group Heinrici which included German 1st Panzer Army and 1st Royal Hungarian Army. Both of them were positioned in well built up and deep defense line spanning into more than 50km. The German defense focused on and concentrated in get through river and brook valleys and mountain passes that were the only places for the Soviet heavy army equipment to pass through. The small number of roads and other communications furthermore limited the chances of quick manoeuvre. The Germans also effectively took advantage of the system of focused defense in these dominant highlands. The character of the landscape together with unfavorable weather and climatic conditions reduced the effectiveness of support by the air forces and artillery troops of the offensive army.

The most important direction of the main attack Krosno – Dukla – Prešov should have been carried out by the 38th Soviet Army, reinforced by the 25th Tank Corps, 1st Guard Cavalier Army and the 1st Czechoslovak Army Corps in USSR. The supportive offensive operation in direction of Sanok – Prešov should have been provided by the right wing of the 1st Guard Army. Further on the operational plan assumed and expected that the first zone of German defense in the foothills of Carpathians will be defeated by the frontline troops of the 38th Soviet Army and in the second series of attacks carried out by the 25th Tank Corps, 1st Guard Cavalier Army and 1st Czechoslovak Army Corps should ensure fast movement and development of the operation so that the offensive Soviet army reaches the zone of Stará Ľubovňa – Prešov within 4 or 5 days. 38th Soviet Army should have been supported by some part of the 2nd Air Forces and the 1st Guard Army by some part the 8th Air Forces. The attack of the two East Slovak Divisions into the rear of the German defense line was planned on the 3rd day. However the 38th Soviet Army could not actually perform the tasks of planning the operation, preparing the forces including maintenance and supply in such a short period of time as was provided by the Army command. The course and development of the battle itself proved that the character of landscape, area of the battlefield and the battle space management appeared to be underestimated. The Soviet forces intended to go through this operation were facing difficult natural barrier that was to be conquered – The East Carpathian Mountains in the territory of 350km wide and 110 – 130km deep all covered by dense forest and poor infrastructure and communication network.

It was not until the preparation for the battle was over that it became clear that the Soviet Army will not get any help from the Slovak Divisions that were holding up the mountain passes and on the contrary they themselves have to try to help the rebels who were about 100km deep in the German defense that was well secured in the terrain unsuitable for large-scale offensive action and deployment of tanks. Making an attack and pushing through the Carpathians in a way of rapid direct military assistance of Red Army to the Slovak National Uprising was primarily a political decision.

On September 7, 1944 the Soviet Army forces took the first major military actions in the section of the front of German 96th Division in the area of Sanok. These actions were directed for the purpose of obtaining the information on the deployment of German troops.

A day later in the morning after two-hour artillery preparation the 38th Soviet Army with the significant military support of the air forces forged ahead at 8:45a.m. They quickly pulled through the front lines of the German defense located in the middle of the 38th Soviet Army and these troops were targeted by the artillery preparation the most. However the Soviet Army was not able to capture the city of Krosno at once but they were forced to go around using the poor roads. This affected the timeline of the attack as well as the whole operation and it predicted the general hard development of the operation itself. In the morning on September 9, Ivan Konev commanded to set forth the second lines of the 38th Army: the 1st Guard Cavalier Army, the 1st Czechoslovak Army Corps in USSR and the 25th Tank Battalion that moved onto their initial positions during the night. However their subsequent advancement was not quick enough so the German resistance became much harder. The Germans started to occupy once built up defense line at the depth of 6 to 12km. At that time German commanders ordered to transfer 2 Panzer Divisions and 2 Infantry Divisions into the area of the battlefield (the total strength being about 12 500 men, which means that the troops were severely affected by the fighting) moving them from the other parts of the front but primarily from deployments against rebels. In this zone, the Germans managed to hold back the advancement of the Soviet and Czechoslovak troops. Heavy fighting took place on September 9, near the villages of Wrocanka, Bóbrka a Machnówka where the Germans carried out the counterattack against advancing Czechoslovak troops. 611 dead, missing and wounded were left after the fighting. This day became one of the most tragic for the Czechoslovak Army in the entire war.

At the same time the right wing of the 1st Guards Army pushed through to attack but did not substantially get through the persistent German resistance. Together with the 38th Army and 1st Guard Army the soldiers of the 2nd Czechoslovak Paradesant? Brigade with the support of Soviet tank troops fought over and captured the villages of Pułavy, Pielin, Dalany and Jędruskowce. After that based on the order of the front commander on September 18 it began to move into the rear positions where the soldiers prepared to taking off for Slovakia to join the rebels. In respect to the slow progress of the offensive Soviet troops other troops from the front reserves were selected to give support to the operation, namely 4th Guard Army and 31st Tank Corps as well as other smaller troops and especially artillery.

After a few days of protracted battles the Soviet and Czechoslovak forces managed to rebut the second line of the German defense and capture the city of Dukla on September 20. From September 10, 1944 the 1st Czechoslovak Army Corps waged heavy fighting for the hill 534 - spot height - being the dominant place of the German defense in the northeast of the town of Dukla. On September 13, the Germans reacted with 5 counterattacks with initial strength of 5 battalions in order to make an attempt to capture the hill they lost a day before. In the next seven days the hill passed from hand to hand on both sides. The soldiers slowly got to the limits of their powers and the chances to take a rest or have something to eat were at the minimum because of the constant firing from the enemy. Ludvik Svoboda himself later on said that anyone who survived the fighting will without any doubt never forget it. At this time the offensive Soviet forces had too much of missing soldiers and it was because of the fact that many of them who were wounded were in German captivity. In a consequence most of them were killed by the Germans or they just let them to die because there were no capacities nor the resources to take care of the captives.

From September 13, the 1st Guard Cavalier Army of Colonel General Baranov began to move ahead to the rear of the enemy through the gap in the defense line. Its role was to push forward in the direction of Zborov and Bardejov and from there to expand the offensive action towards the city of Stará Ľubovňa. The German command, however was able to deploy the 75th Infantry Division and the 1st Panzer Division against the penetrating Soviet Army and they managed to encircle the incurred breakthrough and started to press in the Guard Army. The Soviet tank troops have already failed to move ahead and follow the Guard Cavalier Army that reached the southeast side of the Dukla Mountain Pass so they were ordered a new task to occupy the communication road connecting the pass with the town of Svidník and therefore to cut the German off from the retreat way in the south. Moreover they failed to perform this order because of the strong enemy defense that was still growing and as well as the lack of ammunition. The fighting between the besieged Guard Cavalier Army and the 357th Division has continued for almost two weeks. The rest of the broken Army Corps joined the partisans.

In the second half of September 1944, the 4th Guards Army among the other offensive army troops was the one to push through the most. Other forces of the 4th Ukrainian Front were gradually deployed in the attack in order to begin the East Carpathian Operation and its goal was to liberate the entire area of the East Carpathians. On September 20, 1944 the 1st Guards Army crossed the main Carpathian ridge, forced out the German troops of the 96th Division and entered the territory of Czecho-Slovakia through the Lupkovsky Pass. The first line troops of the 3rd Mountain Gunnery Corps liberated the first Slovak village of Kalinov on September 21, 1944 but overall they failed to push through the German positions significantly. In late September heavy fighting also continued in the area of the 38th Soviet Army when the Czecho-Slovak troops tried to fight their way to the state borders. From September 21 the Czech-Slovak Army Corps fought down the enemy in hard military encounters for the bear Hyrowa mountain massif situated in the opposite side of the valley marked as spot height and altitude no. 534 and it was the last barrier to overcome in order to get to the borders of Czechoslovakia. At first the offensive infantry troops captured adjacent hillside and after that it organized all-round defense and in doing so they kept knocking off the German attacks till the night. In the morning the next day these soldiers carried out a successful attack and captured top of the hill. The important role in the fighting was played by the tanks of Richard Tesarik who was wounded in the battle. However due to persistent resistance of the German defense troops the fighting passed off for a few days in the north of the road to Dukla near the village of Zyndranowa and around the pass where they fought the defending German 75th Division. At that time the Germans relieved hardly tried troops of the 1st Panzer Division by the 1st Skier’s Division because it had better chances in the on-coming time to lead a successful battles in difficult mountainous terrain. This was the troop withdrawn from the Western Front. In order to enter the Czech and Slovak territory as soon as possible the Soviet command decided to withdraw the 1st Czechoslovak Army Corps from the fighting at the Hyrowa Hill and moved it to the immediate vicinity of the border. In the next few days the Czechoslovak Corps took several unsuccessful attacks in order to reach the borders. Particularly hard battles were fought for the nameless upland in the southeast of the village of Barwinek. On September 30 the Brigade lost here its last 7 tanks (later on two of them were towed and repaired). Because of the failures in the next few days it was only the October 4, 1944 that some troops of the 67th Gunnery Corps with the support by the air forces and artillery managed to overcome the German line south of the Dukla Pass and move on to the Chzech- Slovak territory. The Czech-Slovak Army Corps followed them, crossed the Dukla Pass and even on the same day after fighting they liberated the village of Vyšný Komárnik. German troops, however, stopped on the next defensive zone located 6km south of the Pass supporting its defense at the uplands of Javira and Obšár. Germans after reducing the defense line managed to ward of other attacks that were supposed to defeat this defense line.

The command of the 38th Soviet Army, therefore, decided to strike southeast of the pass in direction of the road from Kapišová to Svidník. Along this road troops of 67th Gunnery Corps together with tanks tried to break through their way to the main road leading from the Dukla Pass. The first attacks by the 1st Czechoslovak Army Corps, 12th Guards Tank Brigade and 305th Gunnery Division hit the German troops of the 75th and 357th Division between the villages of Krajná Bystrá and Nižná Pisaná. It was just in here in this Kapišovka brook valley between the villages of Nižná Pisaná and Kapišová that the hardest fighting of the entire operation took place from October 21 to October 27, 1944. In the northern part of the village of Nižná Pisaná on October 22 the street fights aroused and the Germans lost virtually all of the 357th Gunnery Battalion whose strength was reduced to 15 men who were able to fight. Here the German defense relied on a hilly terrain that was at that time due to rain difficult to pass. For the next week the Soviet and Czech-Slovak forces moved ahead through the valley suffering heavy losses caused by the German anti-tank artillery attacks deployed on both sides of the valley. On October 27 the Soviet 17th Guard Gunnery Corps together with tanks took control over the village of Kapišová. But in turn the German counterattacks caused the loss of almost all of the armored equipment and meant the ceasefire on both sides. The German 357th Division was due to heavy losses relieved by the 168th Division. Both sides suffered heavy losses in the bloody fighting led in a bad autumn weather typical of the entire operation. Brook valley of kapišovka soon acquired the name “the Valley of Death”. During this operation the Soviet forces did not significantly manage to push through and capture the town of Svidník.

Just at that time the German forces managed to suppress the rebel army in the central Slovakia, therefore the command of the 1st Ukrainian Front decided to stop the Carpatho-Dukla Operation. Some local attacks were led by the 1st Czech-Slovak Army Corps together with the 67th Gunnery Corps for the next few days. Most of the other Soviet forces involved in the Operation shifted to time-limited defense on October 28, 1944. Fighting also continued around the city of Michalovce.

It took the Czech-Slovak, Romanian and mainly Soviet army forces to push through the mountainous terrain of the territory of Slovakia several months until April 1945. Liberation struggles were completed within the East Carpathian Operation.

The Carpatho-Dukla Operation certainly did not finish with success. It developed in extremely difficult conditions and to a large extent it was wasting of human forces and material resources of the USSR. Since the beginning it did not have great prospects for the success. It was rather a political gesture of goodwill of the Soviet Union to Czech-Slovakia. It obliged a large number of troops that the Germans could otherwise deploy against the partisans and rebels and so it probably meant to be the greatest military assistance that Allies provided to the uprising. Furthermore the German command also deployed 12 of the 20 divisions in the zone of the 38th Soviet Army that could have been otherwise deployed against the 1st Ukrainian Front. This means that 60% of all German forces were deployed in the zone of the 1st Ukrainian Front during the fighting in the Carpatho-Dukla Operation. The fighting also prevented the German command from making use of the temporary operational break at the Warsaw-Berlin Line in order to move some of their forces to Romania, eventually to eastern Hungary where 2nd and 3rd Ukrainian Front fought their troops. And so, the Germans did not have enough troops in the southern zone because of the fighting in Carpathians. Offensive efforts of the Soviet and Czech-Slovak army troops were enormous as can be seen in their fractional advancement through mountainous terrain which was difficult to pass and it was hardly defended by the Germans. And besides that they forced the enemy deeper in the East Carpathians and caused them considerable loss of live force (according to Soviet data: about 52 000 dead, wounded and missing), as well as loss of equipment and weapons (800 cannons and mortars and no more than 185 tanks). The losses of the Soviet Army and Czech-Slovak Army Corps were great as well – 19 000 of Soviet soldiers and 1 800 members of the 1st Czech-Slovak Army Corps died in the battles. Altogether the offensive army troops had almost 88 000 wounded.


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