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Military History - Northeast Slovakia

Battle for Dukla Pass

World War II European Battle Maps  |   Military History - Northeast Slovakia  |  Carpatho-Dukla Operation

1944 Soviet Battle Maps - Czechoslovakia | Post-Dukla Army Advances in East Slovakia

Town of Svidnik  |  History

The Dukla pass is north-east of Presov, north of Svidnik on the Poland border.  Most westerners have not heard of the large WW2 battle fought here as the loss of life was Russian, Czechoslovak and German. American General Patton's troops were held back at Pilsen (Plzen) so the Red Army would have the honor of liberating Czechoslovakia.

 

Carpatho-Dukla Operation Lecture Notes

Presented at Minnesota, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, 2006-2009

 

Dukla Pass - Slovakia and Poland Photos by Fred Jones (October 2009)

 

In the Autumn of 1944, the 38th Soviet Army, combined with the Czechoslovak First Army Corps began its offensive into the German occupied nation of Slovakia.  On September 8th, the armies began an assault southward from Poland intent on breaking through the Dukla mountain Pass (at the Polish border, near Svidnik, Slovakia) and meeting up with insurgents deep within Slovakia.  This particularly long and bloody Carpathian Mountain operation was a component of the First Ukrainian Front (Soviet General Konev).  The Germans positioned the 97th, 100th and 101st Jager, 254th Infantry and 82nd Division to defend the land in then-Slovakia.  The battlefield was well-defended with artillery and mechanized vehicles.  The area of battle stretched nearly 20 kilometers deep. 

 

   

The original Soviet battle plan did not include entering Slovakia via Dukla Pass.  The Soviet troops were originally proceeding east to west across a broad front, from Ukraine into Poland and Ukraine, through Hungary to Slovakia.  Troops in Poland were expected to continue their westward assault towards Germany.  The Dukla operation was quickly conceived in order to support the SNP partisan uprising in Slovakia.  The Soviet and Czechoslovak armies expected to take the pass quickly.  However, the help they expected in terms of rebel troops of the East Slovak Army Corps did not arise.  The partisan uprising was quickly being suppressed by German troops and the Slovak Army was disbanded.  Consequentially the battle lasted for 50 days. The pass was taken on October 6th, but vicious fighting persisted for another month.  The German 254th retreated through Presov, Levoca and Poprad.  More than 46,000 Soviet, Czechoslovak and German soldiers perished.  Over 93,000 Soviet and Czechoslovak troops were wounded1.  A large military cemetery in Svidnik contains the graves of over 9,000 Soviet soldiers.  As the Germans retreated, they burned what remained of Svidnik.

In 1949, the Czechoslovak government erected a massive memorial tower and cemetery just southeast of the Dukla border crossing, in Vysny Komarnik, Slovakia, the first occupied territory after the pass breakthrough.  It contains the graves of several hundred Czechoslovak officers and other designated heroes.  We stopped and photographed this area.  Further down the road in Hunkovce is a small German Cemetery containing the graves of 2,648 German soldiers.  We did not stop here but did manage a photograph in the pouring rain.

   

 

Placed throughout the fields for several miles south of the border are planes, artillery and tanks as an "open air" or "natual" museum.  In fact, this Militaria has been carefully positioned at dramatic locations as military monuments.   At one point, a road diverges northwestward towards the village of Kapisova.  This Kapisova brook valley is referred to by the local signage as the “Valley of Death” to describe a vicious tank battle that took place October 25-27.  At this intersection is a monument of two tanks (see above), a German PZ-3 and a Soviet T-34.  The Soviet tank has been positioned such that it appears to be crushing downward the German tank. 

On the pathway to the observation tower, a monument entitled “Cracked Heart” was dedicated in 1969 at the location, where General Jaroslav Vedral-Sazavský died on October 6th 1944, only hours after the first troops set foot on Slovakia soil. He was commander of the First Brigade of the First Czechoslovak Army Corps.

 

I noted how quickly nature has recovered and the land has settled back to its' quiet, sleepy self, totally disguising its horrid, recent past.   Mature trees grow again, tank tracks covered and artillery shell craters covered in growth.  There are unfortunate secrets buried in these farmlands.  Throughout the region, live ammunition, shells and landmines continue to be found.  There continues to be annual reports of a couple of cows being killed or a farmer losing his legs in the field.  It was as if the war ended and everyone left. 

There were planes, tanks, artillery and more planes (Soviet IL-10, nicknamed "Sturmovik") scattered throughout the region.  War memorials are spread over vast distances.  One couldn't help but be awestruck by the amount of equipment, most having been placed on concrete blocks. 

   

In a large, rolling farmer’s field at Kapisova we noticed an T-34 tank, sitting, a rusting monument.  Standing next to the tank was a cow grazing, oblivious to what had gone on before it.  It seemed so innocent, tragically ironic and yet very sad.  All of these lost lives had someone’s mother grieving.  We were told that further down the road we could find gun emplacements, trenches and foxholes.  But it rained harder at this point, so we turned back.

   

The major troops involved in the Dukla operations included: Soviet Soviet 38th Army (KS Moskalenko),Czechoslovakia First Army (Ludvik Svoboda) and the German First Panzer Army, XXXXIII and  XXXXVIII Corps, Army Group East 24th Panzer Division & 246th Infantry Division  (General Gotthard Heinrici).

Attacking Slovakia from the east (through Ukraine and Hungary) were the First Guard Army (General Colonel Andrei A Grechko), Third Mountain Division Corps of the First Guard Army (General Major A J Vedenin.)

 

 

 

    

Sources:

"Road To Berlin", John Erickson, Westview Press, 1983 ISBN 0891587950

"The Great March of Liberation", Konev, Zakharov, Zheltov, Grechko, Sharokhin, Telegin, Progress Publishers, USSR, 1972

"Dukla", Vydavatelstvo Osveta, Vychodoslovenske Vydavatelstvo & Dukla Museum in Svidnik, 1979, CSSR

Below Snina Rock (1964) - Translated to English

Feldgrau.com - Research on the German armed forces 1918-1945

Dukla Soviet Battle Map Sep-Nov 1944

Dukla Soviet Battle Map - Engagement

"Srazheniye v Karpatakh", Levchenko V.S., Moscow, 1960

Moskalenko, K. S. Na wgo-zapadnom napravlenii (On the Southwestern Front). Moscow: Izdatelstvo Nauka, 1969

"Crack of Doom" by Willi Heinrich (German officer from the 101st Jager Divsion)

Further Reading

  • The Story of John Kulhan, a soldier in the Czechoslovak First Army Corps who saw combat during the Dukla offensive.

Dukla-Related English-language Web Sites

Notes:

1 - I have taken great care to corroborate these data, since various publications promote significantly different figures.  Casualties include deaths, missing in action and wounded .

Credits:

"Cracked Heart" photo provided by Jim Abra, son-in-law of General Jaroslav Vedral-Sazavský (June 2005)

 

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Last Update: 27 April 2013                                                    Copyright © 2003-2013, Bill Tarkulich