Czech Interlude

From:
SECOND UNITED STATES CAVALRY – A HISTORY
Compiled, edited and published by Historical Section, Second Cavalry Association
Maj. A. L. Lambert and Cpt. G. B. Layton, 2d Cavalry

old-computer-ii-165Peace in Europe on 9 May 1945 found the Second Cavalry drawn up on the restraining line Pilsen – Nepomuk, and saw our mechanized patrols probing forward across the 10 kilometer “Buffer” zone, established by agreement at highest allied levels, in an attempt to gain contact with the Russians when they should reach their restraining line.

Here, on the line of deepest penetration reached by the Third Army when the freeze order on forward movement came down on 7 May, the 42d Squadron had relieved B Troop of the 2d Sq at Nepomuk. 25 miles to the north along the same road was the 16th Armored Division, which had just captured Pilsen, and to the south on the same road near Pisek was the 4th Armored Division of XII Corps, as always, with the pace setters.

Part of A Troop of the 2d Sq was occupying Zinkovy, which was also the site of the Baron von Skoda’s castle. Col. Reed, maintaining his penchant for keeping the Group C.P. with his leading elements, soon convinced the former Czech munitions king, Skoda, of the advisability of inviting an American Headquarters to move into his establishment.

So even as the 42d was moving into Nepomuk, the Second Cavalry Group C.P. was being established at Zinkovy Castle.

The tactical mission of the Group was relegated to the operation of a screen along the PilsenNepomukPisek line, the apprehension of German soldiers who had infiltrated into our rear areas in their feverish attempt to evade the Russians, and the aforementioned patrolling to gain contact with our Eastern allies.

The Troop dispositions to accomplish this task are shown on the accompanying operations overprint (Map No. 46).

Troop B of the 42d, after leaving the 1st Platoon under Lt. George at Prasily to assist Capt. Verry in the collection and control of the German prisoner Brigade Viechtach, moved to Planice, Czechoslovakia. Here the Troop, together with F Troop which was also billeted there, was royally feted by the happy Czechs who took their liberation pretty much to heart.

The same story was repeated at Nehodiv and Mysliv where Troop C was stationed and at Sobesuky in the case of E Troop.

All of the 2d Squadron less Troop A was comfortably entrenched in Klatovy, the scene of their earlier victory.

It was C Troop of the 42d, which had moved to Nehodiv, Czechoslovakia on May 9, and Troop A of the 2d already in Zinkovy, that pushed the first patrols to the east trying to be the first in the Third Army to make contact with the Russians.

2d Squadron patrols under Lt. Little, 2d Platoon A Troop, reached almost to Pilsen with no success, while the 42d pushed two sections from 2d Platoon Troop C as far east as their operating radius would permit. Reaching to Rosenthal, the site of the world famous Czech button factories, and almost to Mirowitz on the road to Prague, without gaining contact.

We all felt keen disappointment when XII Corps announced that a patrol from the 4th Armored Division had made the link-up far to the South on May 9. However, we did gain the consolation of arranging the first meeting of the Commanding Generals of the Russian and American Corps in our sector of Czechoslovakia, for that very night, when our patrols reported contact, the Russians were already moving in convoys at high speed through Nepomuk, on highway 95 toward Pilsen.

It was an awesome sight to watch the Soviet heavy guns roll by in the dark. It required half the 42d Squadron to induce the Russians to stop, due to language difficulties, and to the fact that their forward elements had not yet learned of the restraining lines agreed on by high Russian and American authorities.

By morning, however, the Second Cavalry had determined their march objective and contacted a Russian General who was convinced that he had gone far enough. This was how it came about.

Russian tanks were reported moving SW from Radosice (L3321) and the 42d Squadron Executive accompanied by T/Sgt. John W. Pradka, the S-2 Sgt. as interpreter, left Nepomuk to intercept them. At Zelezhut, 2 miles NE of Nepomuk, they met 4 self-propelled 76mm guns with red star markings. It was amazing to note some of them were driven by women. Immediately behind them, in a black Mercedes car, a civilian Cabriolet model, sat a short, thickset Russian with ice-blue eyes set in a square cut, wind burnt face. He wore a plain uniform devoid of all insignia. Here is the General, a Russian Staff Officer informed Pradka.

Finally, with the use of two interpreters and much arm waving, the Russian General, who commanded the 25th Soviet Tank Corps, was invited to the Squadron Command Post situated in Nepomuk castle on the commanding peak about 1000 yards North of the town of Nepomuk.

Here the General was met by Lt. Col. Hargis and temporary arrangements were made for the meeting between the Russian Corps Commander and Major General Erwin commanding the American XII Corps.

Then too, the Russians were finally dissuaded from continuing to Pilsen, which they stated was their march objective, since the 16th Armored Division had been occupying the town for several days. We also learned that this force, furthest West of all of Marshall Koniev’s Front, had participated in the capture of Budapest, Hungary’s capital, and in the seizure of Vienna. They had left the latter city a few days before, which explains why they were first met by the 4th Armored Division, to the South.

The next day talks were held with the Russian General Radsita (as we understood his name) at this advance C.P. in Urcen, near the point of initial meeting. He stated that his Corps was comprised of General Ognjev’s Division, General Kardelj’s Division and General Perovich’s Division.

In order that this won’t be confusing to the reader familiar only with American Army Units, we will explain at this point some characteristics of Russian Armored Formations.

The Russian Tank Corps is comparable with the U.S. Armored Division in the number of tanks and personnel strength. The principal divisions are Tank Brigades (like U.S. Combat Commands) which have organic Infantry and are commanded by Brigadier Generals. Hence, General Ognjev’s Division.

Also, Sgt. Pradka learned that their Infantry was organized similar to our own, although their supporting Artillery is often massed into Division formations which account in part for the large number of Divisions in a Russian Army.

One of the things General Radsita did not disclose was the designation of the Army that the 25th Tank Corps was operating with. It probably was the 4th, 2nd or 3rd Ukrainian Army, as they were known to be under Marshall Koniev’s command at this time.

At any rate, we escorted the General and his party to a temporary air strip near Nepomuk that Capt. Joseph S. Daiek, Headquarters Commandant of the 42nd Squadron had marked out. Here were a fleet of Liaison Type Aircraft from XII Corps to transport Col. Reed and the Russian Generals to an official dinner held at XII Corps Headquarters. As an after thought, we recall that the General dropped by the castle on the way to the air strip to pay his respects to Col. Hargis. There, without leaving his car, General Radsita broke open a case of Champagne — just to get a good mood for the dinner we supposed.

Now the story has gotten around that the Russians are ruthless drinkers — in point of fact, they regarded it as a personal affront when anyone drank without hitting bottom in a water tumbler at the first slug, be it filled with Vodka, Champagne, or Grape Juice.

Our new found contacts with Russian and Czech friends were not abruptly broken off, as day by day units of the Second Cavalry Group were dispatched to take over assignments in Germany in anticipation of our occupation mission there. Troop B of the Second Squadron was the first to leave, on May 12th, when they marched to Kotzting, Germany, to relieve the 90th Infantry Division from guard duty over the 11th German Panzer Division, which had surrendered intact.

Then at 0400 on 14 May Troop A of the 42d Squadron moved out of Hostau area taking 500 horses by truck and walking 30 miles to Schwarzenberg where they were left under the guard of the 3rd Platoon. The remainder of A Troop proceeded to Arrach, a few miles South of Kotzting, then moved to Lam on the following day.

On 16 May Troop C 2d left for Neukirchen, Germany and prepared a new Headquarters for the 2d Squadron.

On the same day Troop A of the 2d pulled up stakes in Zinkovy and marched the 17 miles to Eschlkam, Germany, thereby practically completing the coverage of Kreis Kotzting, the original area assigned to the Second Cavalry Group for the occupation of Germany.

While A of the 2d was enroute to Eschlkam, Troop B of the 42d, which had it’s 2nd and 3rd Platoons reinforced with a platoon of tanks, screening on the line Trebcice (L250147) to Zamecky Ryb (L374130) was relieved, and together with the rest of the 42nd Squadron moved on 17 May to Kreis Kotzting.

In the 42nd Squadron sector, Headquarters was set up at Lam, Germany, while B Troop continued on to Arrach and C Troop to Miltach.

Group Headquarters pulled out last, setting up the new C.C. at Brennes.

Capt. Verry with Lt. George’s platoon, and the several thousand prisoners in Brigade Viechtach moved to the Lohberg area near Lam on 18 May after leaving Prasily (or Studenbach as it is known to German speaking Czechs) thereby clearing the last of the Second Cavalry forces from the other side of the border and ending the pleasant interlude in Czechoslovakia.

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