Fighting despite peace: Exhibition documents major clash between German, US and Soviet forces in May 1945

Battle of Slivice

One of the last battles to take place in World War Two Europe occurred south-west of Prague around the town of Milín, several days after Germany had officially capitulated. It was unique in that the combat saw units of the Wehrmacht, SS, Soviet Union, United States and Czech partisans all take part in the fighting. A newly opened exhibition documents the events that took place there and the deaths that may have been avoided had the allies taken a different approach.

South-west of Prague, on the left bank of the Vltava River, lies the small town of Milín. It was around here, specifically in the area of Slivice, that one of the last battles to take place in Europe between Nazi Germany and the Allies was fought from May 11-12.

Photo: Příbram Miners Museum

Historian Dr Josef Velfl is the director of the nearby Příbram Miners Museum. After years of research he has prepared a special exhibition that documents the clash.

“There are several reasons for why this battle was important. First of all, it took place at a time when more or less the whole of Europe was already celebrating peace.

“Second, it was very unusual in that the battle saw a truly wide range of combatants. There were Czech partisans fighting alongside Soviet paratroopers, as well as units from three different Ukrainian fronts of the Red Army and a US tank division too.

“Last but not least, units of General Vlasov’s Russian Liberation Army, which had fought with the Germans before switching sides in the last period of the war, were also involved, fighting SS and Hitler Youth forces as they themselves tried to reach American positions.”

Despite Nazi Germany officially capitulating on May 8, isolated clashes would occur across Europe for several weeks between the Allies and German troops, often due to the latter trying to move west and avoid Soviet captivity. This was also the case in the battle around Milín, but on a larger scale than was normal for time.

Battle of Slivice | Photo: Příbram Miners Museum

Dr Velfl says that thousands of Wehrmacht and SS troops were using the road going from Prague to Western Bohemia in order to reach the American held lines around the city of Plzeň and surrender to them.

“Aside from the German units that were retreating from Prague, there was also a grouping largely made up of SS units who were based around Benešov to the south of the Czech capital. These were trying to get into US captivity by crossing the Vltava. This led to a large accumulation of Hitlerite forces around Milín.”

Battle of Slivice | Photo: Příbram Miners Museum

The German general in charge, Carl Friedrich von Pückler-Burghaus, ordered his men to set up defensive positions to protect their eastern flank against the Soviets and tried to negotiate a settlement with the Americans, hoping that they would take the Germans as prisoners. This didn’t work and the arriving Soviet forces began to hammer the Germans.

Eventually, on May 12, the Nazi forces agreed to capitulate at a meeting attended by both American and Soviet representatives. The German officers that agreed to the terms then shot themselves.

Battle of Slivice | Photo: Příbram Miners Museum

Czech and Soviet casualties numbered at least in the dozens. German losses in the hundreds. American losses are harder to document as those who died after May 8 are not officially listed as casualties of the war. However, Dr Velfl says the US 4th Armoured Division, which took part in the battle, did list a killed officer on May 11.

Several war crimes were also reported to have taken place. The historian says they were committed by the Germans on the Czech partisans.

Battle of Slivice | Photo: Příbram Miners Museum

“Some of them had gouged out eyes. Others had their ears or noses cut off. On one man’s corps no fewer than 17 bayonet wounds were found.

“This battle can be seen as a tragedy of sorts because if the American proposal to advance beyond the demarcation line had not been turned down several days before, they could have reached Prague around May 6 or 7 and there wouldn’t have been any fighting here around Příbram. The lives of dozens of civilians, as well as German and Soviet soldiers, could have been spared.”

The exhibition is being held at the Vojna memorial, which lies between Milín and Příbram. Aside from documents and photographs related to the battle, there are also many items of memorabilia on show. The exhibition is open until the end of the year. A detailed retelling of the battle, in both Czech and English, can also be found on the website of the Příbram Miners Museum: