Charting the SNP's military course

“START with evacuation”. In response to the start of the Nazi German occupation of Slovakia, Slovak Army Lieutenant Colonel General Ján Golian issued this code for military units on the evening of August 29, 1944, which signalled the start of active military defence against the occupation. Germans sent the occupational army to Slovakia to help the Slovak government extinguish the partisan movement. The president of the wartime Slovak state, Jozef Tiso, agreed to the occupation on August 28.

“START with evacuation”. In response to the start of the Nazi German occupation of Slovakia, Slovak Army Lieutenant Colonel General Ján Golian issued this code for military units on the evening of August 29, 1944, which signalled the start of active military defence against the occupation. Germans sent the occupational army to Slovakia to help the Slovak government extinguish the partisan movement. The president of the wartime Slovak state, Jozef Tiso, agreed to the occupation on August 28.

In the following hours and days, the majority of Slovak military units, as well as civilian volunteers mainly in central but also eastern and western Slovakia, joined the insurgents. The Slovak National (SNP) started even though preparations were incomplete and coordination with the Soviet Red Army had not been secured, which, along with other factors, resulted in the failure of several partisan military units.

Right from the start, the SNP did not go according to plan. A quick and effective German pacification action had the most negative impact on the uprising, eliminating some of the best units of the insurgent Field Army. All of western and eastern Slovakia (with some exceptions) fell from the insurgents’ grip, caused in part by the hesitance and inflexibility of the local garrison commanders, who were unable to organise the takeover and transfer of units to Banská Bystrica.

In the first days of the SNP, the insurgent-controlled territory was about 20,000 km2 in size, but it shrank each day due to the advance of German units. Initially, about 18,000 insurgent soldiers and officers faced the German occupational army. Their number increased after the first official mobilisation on September 5 to 47,000 and after the second mobilisation at the end of September 1944 to 60,000 soldiers. But many of them were poorly armed and equipped.

The military development of the SNP can be divided into three phases. The first phase of defensive insurgent battles lasted until September 9. The insurgent army lost large amounts of its military supplies, in addition to losing control of the Spiš and Liptov regions. Heavy withdrawal fighting occurred in the Upper Nitra region and the insurgents suffered serious causalities.

In the second phase of insurgent fighting, from September 10 to October 18, the reorganisation of the insurgent army slowed the German advance. Despite retreating, the insurgents achieved several remarkable military successes, thanks to the personal heroism of their soldiers, in notable battles near Telgárt, upland Ostrô, in the areas of Dolná and Horná Štubňa and later Čremošné, among others. Despite this, the Upper Nitra and Turiec regions were lost in September 1944.

The last phase of the defence of insurgent territory occurred in the period from the beginning of the German general offensive on October 18 to the military defeat of the SNP at the end of October 1944. The direct occupation and establishment of Ferenc Szálasi’s regime in Hungary allowed the Nazi German army to wage a decisive attack against the weakly fortified southern areas of the insurgent defence - an area that until then had seen no fighting. Besieged on all sides, the uprising could not withstand the pressure and succumbed after 10 days. Open conflicts with German units had no more chance for success.

General Rudolf Viest, who arrived from London exile and took over the command of the insurgent army from General Golian, gave the order to retreat from Banská Bystrica to Donovaly on October 27, 1944. Shortly thereafter, the insurgent army was dissolved and the partisan mode of warfare started. Later, individual partisan groups helped liberate Slovakia and joined the liberation forces.

The SNP’s military importance lied in its ability to control a crucial territory with important communications hubs, which linked the northern wing of the German defence against the Red Army with the southern one. It prevented German troops from fully using Slovak roads and railways for transportation of troops and materials to the eastern front, and caused losses in material and military force. The SNP helped complete the political and moral collapse of the cleric-fascist regime in Slovakia.


Source: The website of the SNP Museum in Banská Bystrica, 1944 SNP book published by the SNP Museum

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