Why didn’t the Americans come to liberate Prague? The legend of the agreement with the Soviets has fallen

Nobody can see inside Stalin’s head. The British play second fiddle, so Churchill desperately presses the US: „Free Prague!“ Perhaps to atone for Munich. But six days before the first American troops enter our territory, President Roosevelt dies. And to General Eisenhower, we are just pieces on the chessboard of war.

The defeat of the Nazis is imminent. There are only two paths that the European countries can take after the war is over. To establish a parliamentary democratic system with a market economy, or the Soviet model of communist totalitarianism with a nationalised and centrally planned economy. The political games begin. 

The legend of the agreement 

Until now, the tradition in this country has been that everything was decided in January 1945 at the Yalta conference of the so-called Big Three (Stalin, Roosevelt, Churchill). Czechoslovakia was to be „handed over“ to Stalin there. Unfortunately, this legend still has very strong roots today. And yet there was no mention of us at all. 

There was no reason to: all three powers recognised Benes’ London government and maintained good relations with it. Moreover, ironically, the meeting guaranteed all the liberated countries the same right: „To choose for themselves the form of government in which they wish to live.“ 

Churchill against all 

Perhaps only some naive Americans could believe that. Churchill knew his stuff. Soviet policy in the occupied territories of Eastern and Southern Europe made it clear that Stalin had his own views on the Yalta declarations on democracy and the right of nations to decide their future. 

The situation would be further complicated by the death on April 12, 1945, of U.S. President F. D. Roosevelt. His successor, Harry S. Truman, finds it difficult to navigate his new position and Churchill only vainly urges him to occupy Vienna, Berlin and Prague with the Americans. 

Berlin cannot be liberated 

What Truman can do, he’ll move on. And leaves the fate of central Europe to General Eisenhower. He sees the capture of Vienna realistically. I mean, as an unrealistic demand. He refuses to occupy Berlin, both for military reasons and out of gentlemanly respect for the Eastern Allies. He still needs to fight them together against Japan. But he also knows that Berlin is a symbol of victory for millions of Soviet soldiers. The culmination of a long and bloody journey from the banks of the Volga. Revenge for the thousands of dead Russian soldiers and civilians on whom the Germans committed an unimaginable number of horrific crimes. 

Blow Prague to the Soviets 

But Eisenhower could afford to „blow“ Prague to the Soviets. Especially after the outbreak of the Prague Uprising and the desperate radio appeals for help. Stalin might have gnashed his teeth, but it certainly would not have provoked any armed conflict. The British would thus increase the pressure on Eisenhower in April 1945. 

Already on April 13, the British foreign secretary advised the American ambassador that the US should liberate Prague. Churchill himself appeals to the Americans, saying that nothing stands in the way of Allied intervention in Prague, not even any arrangements with the Soviets. He corresponds directly with Truman. Their correspondence is documented in Truman’s memoirs, Year of Decision (New York, 1955). 

Prague Too Risky to Save 

Unfortunately, the Americans are unable to contemplate the fate of Czechoslovakia with the same foresight as the old fox Churchill. According to Eisenhower, Czechoslovakia as a whole is part of the Soviet operational zone. The American general also believes that there are two or three well-armed German divisions in the western tip of Bohemia. A campaign into Bohemia would therefore be a difficult operation. 

Another American general, Omar Bradley, commander of the 12th Army Group, in whose operational zone Czechoslovakia lay, agrees. Nor, in his view, was it expedient for Americans to die fighting on Czech territory when, according to the agreements on the future demarcation line of contact between the Allied armies, it could be handed over to the Red Army… 

And so, on May 1, 1945, after a preliminary agreement with the Soviet command, Eisenhower had already established the eastern line of the American advance: the Saxon Kamenice-Karlovy Vary-Plzeň-Czech Budejovice-Linec. The Soviets strictly insisted on the line even during the days of bloody fighting on the Prague barricades. Although it was here that quick American help from liberated Pilsen would have saved hundreds of lives. 

The American high command, on the other hand, would not even allow the ambitious and fiercely anti-communist commander of the 3rd U.S. Army, General Patton, to fully liberate Karlovy Vary or České Budějovice. And he will hand over to the Soviets after 9 May 1945 other liberated territories behind the aforementioned line.

„There is no doubt that the liberation of Prague by American troops would create a changed post-war situation and would strongly influence the situation in neighbouring countries. But if, on the other hand, the Allies play only an insignificant role in the liberation, this country will go the way of, for example, Yugoslavia. I consider it of the utmost importance that this very essential political point of view be explained to Eisenhower…“
Telegram from W. Chruchill to H. Truman on 30 April 1945

„The Soviet General Staff is preparing operations into the Vltava Valley. My intention is, as soon as existing military actions permit, to advance and destroy the remaining German military forces. If, therefore, it becomes desirable to enter Czechoslovakia and conditions here permit, our logical advance will be toward Pilsen and Karlovy Vary…“
Telegram H. Truman to W. Churchill, 1 May 1945

The American high command, on the other hand, would not allow the ambitious and fiercely anti-communist commander of the 3rd American Army, General Patton, to fully liberate Karlovy Vary or České Budějovice. And he will hand over to the Soviets after 9 May 1945 other liberated territories behind the aforementioned line.

Americans against each other 

But not all Americans were as casual about the fate of Czechoslovakia as Truman, Eisenhower or Bradley. Their opposite was the now legendary General George S. Patton and many of his soldiers. To the detriment of Czechoslovakia, he was stopped by his superiors without being able to help Prague. 

And so, unfortunately, the alleged threats of Patton (pictured below) to his superiors that he would „lose“ contact with them for a few hours and only call them from a phone booth on Wenceslas Square remain just nice stories from the life of the famous warrior. For the Czechs, as a victim of the great political game, they can only be a weak patch. 



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