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. This resistance movement was represented mainly by the members of the Civic democratic movement, but also by representatives and members of the pre-war Social democrats and Communists albeit on a smaller scale. It was launched on 29 August 1944 from Banská Bystrica in an attempt to resist German troops that had occupied Slovak territory and to overthrow the collaborationist government of Jozef Tiso. Although the resistance was largely defeated by German forces, guerrilla operations continued until the Soviet Army, Czechoslovak Army and Romanian Army liberated Slovakia in 1945.
In the post-war period, many political entities, mainly the Communists, attempted to "hijack" the uprising to their credit. The Stalinist regime in Czechoslovakia presented the Uprising as an event initiated and governed by Communist forces. Slovak ultranationalists, 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, the largest of which were units of the Slovak Army, Democratic resistance and Communist partisans, and international forces. Given this factionalization, the Uprising did not have unambiguous popular support. Yet the participants and supporters of the Uprising represented every religion, class, age, and anti-Nazi political faction of the Slovak nation.
Edvard Beneš, leader of the Czechoslovak government in exile in London, initiated preparations for a possible revolt in 1943 when he contacted dissident elements of the Slovak Army. In December 1943, various groups that would be involved in the uprising—the government in exile, Czechoslovak democrats and Communists, and the Slovak army—formed the underground Slovak National Council, and signed the so-called "Christmas Treaty", a joint declaration to recognize Beneš' 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 Army. In April 1944, Slovak Jews Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler escaped from Auschwitz and eventually spoke about the horrors of German death camps.
In summer 1944, the partisans intensified their war against German occupation forces, mainly in the mountains of north-central Slovakia. In July, Soviet troops in Poland began to advance towards Slovakia. By August 1944, Soviet troops were at Krosno, Poland, within 40 kilometres (25 mi) of the northeastern 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 the summer of 1944 to execute one of two planned options to begin the uprising. The two options were:
- Capture Dukla Pass (joining Poland and Slovakia through the Carpathian Mountains) when the Soviet (1st Ukrainian Front under Marshal Ivan Konev) arrived.
- As ordered by Golian, capture Dukla pass immediately and hold the pass against any German forces until the Soviet Army could arrive.
Colonel Viliam Talský was the chief of staff of the two divisions. He had agreed in advance with the insurrection's army leadership and the uprising planning committee of the Slovak National Council to execute either of these two plans, depending on the circumstances. On 23 August 1944, neighboring Romania changed sides in favor of the Allies. On 27 August 1944 in Martin, a group of Communist partisans under Soviet direction killed 30 members of a German military mission leaving Romania. The next day, German troops began to occupy Slovakia to put down the rebellion. German arrangements for the occupation were completed a few weeks earlier.
At 19:00 hours on 29 August 1944, Slovak Defence Minister General Ferdinand Čatloš announced on state radio that Germany had occupied Slovakia. At 20:00, Golian sent the coded message to all units to begin the uprising. But instead of adhering to the agreed plan, on 30 August Colonel Talský and the entire eastern Slovak Air Force flew to a prearranged landing zone in Poland to join the Soviet Army, and abandoned the two divisions at Prešov. The two divisions, left in chaos and without leadership, were quickly disarmed on the afternoon of 30 August without a single shot. Consequently, the uprising commenced prematurely and lost a crucial component of their plan, as well as the two most heavily armed divisions.
Accounts of the exact numbers of combatants vary. At first, the rebel Slovak partisan forces consisted of an estimated 18,000 soldiers. The total increased to 47,000 after mobilization on 9 September 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 (First Czechoslovak Army in Slovakia), the combatants included various other groups: escaped French prisoners of war, Soviet partisans, and Special Operations Executive (SOE) and Office of Strategic Services (OSS) operatives. The Slovak side had to use mostly biplanes and improvised armored trains to fight against the better equipped German weapons. In addition to Soviet aid, United States B-17 Flying Fortress bombers, escorted by North American P-51B Mustang's landed at Tri Duby airfield on 7 October 1944 and brought supplies and OSS agents, headed by a naval officer, Lieutenant James Holt Green. They also took out 15 Allied pilots shot down over Slovakia and five French partisans.
After the uprising started, Czechoslovak officials in exile discussed the possibility of bringing in Czechoslovak units deployed on the Eastern Front with the Soviet Army. Two such units were brought in. On 15–17 September 1944, the 1st Czechoslovak Independent Fighter Regiment landed at Zolná airfield near Zvolen with 21 Lavochkin La-5 fighters. Later the 2nd Czechoslovak Parachute Brigade was transferred from the Carpathians, arriving 25 September to 15 October.
Rebels began the uprising on August 29 at 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 had gained control of large areas of central and eastern Slovakia, including two airfields, which were used by the Soviet Air Force to fly in equipment.
The pro-German government of Tiso remained in power in Bratislava. Germany moved 40,000 SS soldiers under Gottlob Berger to suppress the uprising, which 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, but Soviet premier Joseph Stalin and the Soviet military command Stavka failed to deliver the needed support on time to the insurgent army and even blocked Western offers of military aid, as they had done only a few weeks earlier during 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 independently of the Slovak insurgent army and avoid coordination. The Soviet-led partisans even demanded and took desperately needed weapons and munitions that had been stored for the Slovak 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, each seeking operational control. Despite repeated efforts, General Golian could not persuade the different sides to coordinate their efforts. General Rudolf Viest flew in and took command on October 7, with Golian becoming 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 Czechoslovak allies failed to quickly penetrate the Dukla Pass despite 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 obstructionism and send more supplies to the area.
On September 17 two B-17 Flying Fortresses flew in the OSS mission of Lieutenant James Holt-Green. The 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.
On September 19, German command replaced SS-Obergruppenführer Berger, who had been in charge of the troops fighting the Uprising, with General Höfle. 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 sudden halt in late October 1944, when Stalin's interests focused on Hungary, Austria and Poland rather than 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 the 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 Höfle 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).
Nonetheless, partisans and the remains of the regular forces continued their efforts in the mountains. In retaliation, Einsatzgruppen executed many Slovaks suspected of aiding the rebels as well as Jews who had avoided deportation until then, and destroyed 93 villages on suspicion of collaboration. Several villages were burned to the ground and all their inhabitants were murdered, as in Ostrý Grúň and Kľak (January 21, 1945) or Kalište (March 18, 1945). 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, mostly Jews and Roma) and Nemecká (900 killed).
On November 3, the 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.
The main military objectives were not achieved due to the bad timing of the uprising and lack of cooperation by Soviet partisans. This undermined the plans of the insurrectional Slovak army. The guerrilla struggle, however, tied up significant German forces that could otherwise have reinforced the Wehrmacht on the eastern front against the advancing 1st Ukrainian Front to the north and south of Slovakia. Nevertheless, much of Slovakia was left devastated by the Uprising and the German counter-offensive and occupation.