Agony of the Third Reich. The war in Europe did not end with Hitler’s suicide on April 30 and the official surrender of the Reich on May 9, 1945. Fanatics, war criminals and soldiers who simply did not receive information about the surrender in time continued to fight.
Many thousands of soldiers of the Wehrmacht and their allies (Croatian, Russian and other nationalists) did not lay down their arms immediately after Germany’s surrender. The last battles of World War II in the European theater took place in the Czech Republic and Courland (Latvia), in the Balkans and in the Netherlands.
Battle of Prague
On May 11, 1945, the last strategic operation of the Red Army in the Great Patriotic War ended – the Prague offensive operation, which was carried out by the troops of the 1st Ukrainian Front under the command of I.K.Konev, 4th Ukrainian Front I.S.Eremenko and 2nd Ukrainian front of R. Ya. Malinovsky. Konev’s strike force, which had just taken Berlin, turned to Prague. A powerful German grouping was defending in the Prague direction: Army Group Center under the command of General Field Marshal Schörner and Army Group South Rendulich (about 900 thousand people in total).
The German command refused to surrender even after the fall of Berlin. It was decided to turn Prague into a “second Berlin,” and they were dragging out the time to lay down their arms in front of the Americans. On May 5, an uprising began in Prague. The rebels prevented the Nazis from evacuating to the west. They promised to drown the Prague uprising in blood. The Soviet command hastened the start of the operation – the offensive began on May 6. The German front collapsed under the blows of the Soviet armies. On the morning of May 9, 1945, Konev’s tank armies broke into Prague. The German SS divisions offered stubborn resistance. On the same day, the advance detachments of the 2nd and 4th Ukrainian fronts entered the Czech capital. From 16 o’clock. the Germans began to surrender.
On May 10, Soviet troops met with the allies. The troops of Army Group Center began to surrender en masse. On May 11, the operation was officially completed. However, the pursuit and capture of troops, battles with separate fierce groups of the enemy, and the clearing of the territory continued for several more days. The Nazis, SS men and Vlasovites sought to save their lives: to leave the Soviet zone of occupation and surrender to the Americans. So, on May 12, in the area of the city of Pilsen, a column of Russian collaborators led by General Vlasov (ROA, Russian Liberation Army) was blocked and captured. On May 15, in the area of the city of Nepomuk, the commander of the 1st division of the ROA Bunyachenko and his headquarters were arrested. On the night of May 12, 7 thousand men were liquidated in the Pribram area. a group of SS men led by the head of the SS Directorate in Bohemia and Moravia, SS Obergruppenfuehrer Count von Pückler-Burghaus, who fled from Prague. The Americans refused to let the SS troops into their territory. The Nazis took the last battle and were defeated.
Red Army soldiers and Czech rebels ride the SU-76M self-propelled guns on the Vltava river embankment in Prague
Soviet tank T-34-85 with the Prague rebels on armor rides through the Wenceslas Square in Prague
Residents of Prague greet Soviet soldiers-liberators riding a ZiS-5 truck
Battle of Ojak
In the Balkans, a real battle unfolded between the Croatian Nazis (Ustasha) and the troops of the People’s Liberation Army of Yugoslavia (NOAJ) under the command of JB Tito. Yugoslav troops in early May 1945 completed the liberation of the Balkans from the Nazis (Army Group E) and Croatian nationalist divisions. The troops of the Independent State of Croatia (NGH – Germany’s satellite), the Ustashi, guilty of the genocide of Serbs, Jews, Roma, many war crimes (hundreds of thousands of civilians died), did not want to surrender to the NOAJ. This group also included Serbian, Slovenian and Bosnian nationalists who were hostile to Tito. These “thugs” were often destroyed without trial or investigation.
Therefore, Croatian Nazis by hook or by crook sought to avoid punishment and fled to Austria, to the British zone of occupation. Some are lucky. The leadership of the Ustasha, headed by the dictator Ante Pavelic (NH), with the help of the Catholic clergy, fled to Austria and Italy, and from there to Latin America or Spain. Pavelic himself first lived in Argentina, was a member of the inner circle of President Peron, then moved to Spain.
Some of the nationalists, including the Ustasha, were able to leave for Austria and surrendered to the British. However, the British did not need ordinary soldiers. Therefore, they were returned to Yugoslavia, where executions awaited many. Part of the Ustasha settled in the city of Odzak and its environs (modern Bosnia and Herzegovina). The Croatian detachment was commanded by Petar Rajkovacic. According to various estimates, there were from 1.8 to 4 thousand soldiers in the detachment. They fought from April 19 to May 25, 1945. The desperate Croats put up such strong resistance that they were able to repel several attacks by the Yugoslav troops, who suffered heavy losses. It was finally possible to suppress the furious resistance of the Croatian thugs by bringing up additional artillery forces and with the help of aviation, which delivered several strong blows to enemy positions. After the loss and destruction of the main positions, the remnants of the Croatian garrison tried on the night of May 24-25 to break out of the city and go into the forests. However, they were destroyed. At the same time, the Ustashi continued to wage a partisan war in the forest areas and resisted until 1947.
A motorized detachment of the 4th NOAJ Army advances in the direction of Tolmin, May 1945
Parts of NOAU enter liberated Zagreb. May 9, 1945
Prisoners of the Ustasha. May 1945
The uprising of “Queen Tamara”
In April 1945, former prisoners of the Red Army revolted on Texel Island (West Frisian Islands, Netherlands). Texel Island was part of the so-called defensive system. Atlantic Wall. In 1943, the Germans in Poland formed the 822th Georgian Infantry Battalion (“Königin Tamara”, “Queen Tamara”) from captured Soviet soldiers as part of the Georgian Legion (about 800 people). The battalion was transferred to the Netherlands. In 1944, an underground anti-fascist organization appeared in the unit. The Nazis, suspecting that the battalion was unreliable, transferred it to Texel Island in February 1945. There, Georgian soldiers performed auxiliary functions.
On the night of April 5-6, 1945, hoping for a quick landing of the allied forces, the former Red Army men, with the help of the Dutch resistance, raised a mutiny and captured most of the island. About 400 German soldiers were massacred. The rebels were unable to capture the well-fortified German batteries. The Germans landed troops from the mainland, threw about 2 thousand marines into battle. After two weeks of stubborn fighting, the rebels were defeated. The rebels lost over 680 people killed (over 560 Georgians and over 110 Dutch). The remnants of the rebel battalion retreated to the hard-to-reach places of the island, switched to the position of partisans and continued to resist. The fighting continued after Germany’s official surrender on May 8, 1945. Only on May 20, Canadian troops landed on the island and stopped fighting.
Georgian soldiers on Texel
Baltic Spit and Courland
After the fall of the Reich, the last “cauldrons” surrendered, where German troops were blocked. During the East Prussian operation, the Red Army defeated the East Prussian grouping of the Wehrmacht. On April 9, Soviet troops took Konigsberg, at the end of April the Zemland group was destroyed. On April 25, the last stronghold was taken – the fortress of the Zemland grouping and the Pillau naval base. The remnants of the defeated German group (about 35 thousand people) were able to evacuate from the Zemland peninsula to the Frische-Nerung spit (now the Baltic spit).
To prevent these troops from being deployed to defend Berlin, the Soviet command decided to land a landing party on the spit and finish off the Nazis. On April 25, the forward forces of the Red Army captured a bridgehead on the spit. On April 26, the eastern and western landing parties were landed on the spit. They cut the Frische-Nerung spit and joined up with the troops moving from the north. Part of the German group in the northern part of Frische-Nerung were blocked and captured. However, further operation did not lead to success. The Germans stubbornly fought back, taking advantage of the convenience of the terrain for defense – the narrow spit was blocked by many fortified positions. The Soviet troops did not have enough artillery to destroy the enemy defenses. The mistakes of the Soviet command affected, it was not possible to establish interaction between the ground forces and the fleet.
As a result, it was decided to abandon the offensive. The Germans were tightly blocked and kept under fire from artillery and air strikes. Part of the German group was able to evacuate by sea. But most were captured after May 9, 1945 (about 22 thousand soldiers and officers).
Another “cauldron” was eliminated in Courland. In the western part of Latvia, part of the German army group “North” (16th and 18th armies) was blocked in the fall of 1944. The Germans held the front along the Tukums-Liepaja line. The group initially had about 400 thousand people. At the same time, the Nazis maintained contact with the Reich by sea. The Red Army made several attempts to eliminate the enemy grouping, but without success. The Germans created a strong and dense defense, which relied on convenient terrain (difficult forests and swamps). There were many troops, the front was small, so a significant part of the divisions could be placed in the second or third echelons, withdrawn to the reserve. In addition, the Soviet troops (1st and 2nd Baltic Fronts) did not have a serious advantage over the enemy in order to quickly hack his defenses.
As a result, the Germans remained in Courland until the very end of the war. Part of the troops were transferred to defend Germany; by the time of the surrender, there were about 250 thousand people in Courland. Our troops made the last attempt to break into enemy positions in May 1945, but without much success. Only on May 10, 1945, the commander of the Kurland grouping, General Karl Hilpert, gave the order to surrender. At the same time, individual groups of Reich soldiers, mainly SS men, tried to break through to East Prussia. So, on May 22, a German group led by the commander of the 6th SS corps Walter Kruger was destroyed. The corps commander shot himself. Until July 1945, shots rang out in Courland, the Nazis and Latvian SS legionnaires fought to the last.
The last “hunters”
On March 25, 1945, the German submarine U-234 under the command of Lieutenant-Commander Fehler left the home port of Kiel and headed for Norway. The submarine was on a secret mission. She was supposed to strengthen the combat potential of the allied Japan. On board the submarine were important passengers, military specialists, including Air Force General Ulrich Kessler, who was supposed to lead the Luftwaffe units located in Tokyo, Heinz Schlick – a specialist in radar technology and electronic jamming, August Bringewalde – one of the leading specialists in jet fighters, and other experts. Also on board were Japanese officers who adopted military experience in the Reich. Also on board the submarine were special cargo: various technical documentation, prototypes of the latest electric torpedoes, two disassembled Messerschmitt 262 jet fighters, a Henschel Hs 293 guided missile (projectile aircraft) and a load of uranium oxide in lead boxes with a total weight of about 560 kg …
On April 16, Fehler’s ship left Norway. On May 10, Fehler received the news of the surrender of the Reich and the order of Admiral Dönitz to all submarines to cease hostilities, return to bases or surrender. Fehler decided to surrender to the Americans. The Japanese officers, not wanting to surrender, committed suicide. On May 14, 1945, an American destroyer intercepted a submarine in the area of the Newfoundland Bank and took it to the waters of the Portsmouth naval shipyard, where the previously surrendered German submarines were already located.
On May 2, 1945, the submarine U-977 of Oberleutenant Heinz Schaffer left the Norwegian Kristiansannan for a hunt. Having accepted the order of surrender on May 10, the team decided to go to Argentina. For 66 days the boat went without surfacing. This dive was the second longest in the entire war. The longest was accomplished by U-978, which sailed without surfacing for 68 days. On 17 August, the sub was interned at Mar del Plata, Argentina. In total, the passage across the ocean lasted 108 days. In November, the ship was handed over to the United States.
The last German unit continued to serve the Reich on an island in the Barents Sea. The Germans (operation of the Luftwaffe and Abwehr) equipped a meteorological station on Bear Island south of the island of West Spitsbergen. They lost radio contact with the command and did not know that the war was over. They found out about this only in September 1945 from the Norwegian hunters. Upon learning of the end of the war, the Germans did not offer resistance.
Surrender of U-234
U-977 at Mar del Plata, Argentina