The Battle of Brno (sometimes called the Siege of Brno) was a World War II battle for the control over the Czech city of Brno between the Czechoslovak Army and the invading German Army. The city was seen as the key to the corridor to Slovakia through which the Czechoslovak Army was to withdraw, and was defended at all cost.
After the German forces had encircled the city on 12 October, Czechoslovak forces launched a counter-offensive on 13 October in order to break out toward the Moravian-Slovak border. The breakout attack gained initial success but eventually faltered after a concentrated German counterattack. The Germans eventually outflanked the Czechoslovak forces and encircled the bulk of the Czechoslovak Army in the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands.
As the bulk of the German forces focused on destroying the encircled Czechoslovak forces in Bohemia and pushed toward the Moravian-Slovak border, the siege of Brno continued. On the 26 October a major assault on the town was launched, and the defenders capitulated in the morning of 27 October.
It was the major Czechoslovak counterattack of the campaign and the bloodiest and the largest battle of the entire Czechoslovak campaign. While a small numbers of Czechoslovak troops managed to escape during the counter-offensive, the losses in men and equipment were huge.
The Czechoslovak plan for defense against the German invasion, Deployment Plan VII of 15 July 1938, was based on the concept of deep retreat. The Czechoslovak Army, under hostile pressure, would carry out a tactical retreat eastward toward Slovakia and make use of its border fortifications and natural obstacles, like the Labe and Vltava Rivers, the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands and the Beskydy mountains. As a result, Bohemia would only be defended to cover the mobilization and the withdrawal of the bulk of the First Army.
The German annexation of Austria in March 1938 had very serious implications for the Czechoslovak defense plan, as it now could not only require to defend the North Moravian border from a German attack, but had to defend its South Moravian border from a German attack from Austria. As a result, the Czechoslovak Fourth Army, commanded by General Lev Prchala, was tasked with defending southern Moravia along the Austrian border and prevent the First Army in Bohemia from being cut off and encircled. In particular, the army's orders were to prevent a German breakthrough in the Dyje–Svratka Valley and the Lower Morava Valley.
In the case of a German breakthrough in southern Moravia, the army could ask for reinforcements in the form of the 13th Division in Humpolec and the 1st Fast Division in Pacov, which could be quickly moved to the area and stop the breakthrough. VI. Corps was tasked with defending the most vulnerable part of the front in southern Bohemia by holding the 1st defensive line as long as possible, and then retreat to the 2nd line while ensuring interoperability with the III Corps. In the case of minor German breakthroughs, III Corps could ask for reinforcements in the form of the 4th Fast Division, but in the case of a major breakthrough, the corps would be ordered to retreat to the 2nd line of defense.
The defense of southern Moravia was considered a priority and it was under no circumstances allow a German penetration through the Czechoslovak defences along the Austrian border. The 4th Army headquarters was aware over the fact that the defense line was not sufficiently reinforced with fortifications: the construction of light bunkers had only begun in the spring of 1938 while the construction of the heavy bunkers was still at an early stage. For this reason, Prchala and his staff officers had drawn up plans for ambush in the hinterland, where a relatively large number of rapidly maneuverable units were available for such an operation.
For the first week of the campaign the German Fourteenth Army was stalled, having suffered heavy casualties in engaging the border fortifications south of Znojmo – Dyjákovice – Mikulov. However, the defenders of Border Area 38 had been badly mauled, and during the evening of the 5 October the 2nd Panzer Division broke through the fortified lines near Šatov and Chvalovice. By the morning of the 6 October its forward elements had crossed the Dyje, while the 2nd Mountain Division had captured Znojmo itself.
The Czechoslovak defences in southern Moravia near Znojmo and Dyjákovice collapsed, and the remnants of Border Area 38 was forced to retreat toward the north-east. The Germans could now take advantage of their motorised units and mobility. On the left flank, the 2nd Panzer Division had by the 10 October advanced 60 km inland, with its forward elements having reached the town of Čebín, 12 km northwest of Brno. While the Czechoslovak 2nd Fast Division had attempted a counterattack near Moravský Krumlov on 8 October, it was unsuccesful in preventing the 2nd Panzer Division from from breaking through the gap between III Corps and Border Zone XIV.
While the 3rd Mountain Division engaged the secondary defence line between Bohutice – Pohořelice – Přibice south of Brno, the 29th Infantry Division on the right had outflanked the Brno defensive line, crossed the Svratka river and advanced toward Šlapanice and Slavkov, some 15 km southeast of Brno. From the north, the armoured forces of the 3rd Panzer Division, following their breakthrough near Bruntál, were pursuing the enemy toward Boskovice southeast of Olomouc, while the infantry elements of the Second Army was advancing along a wide front to close the gap. By the 13 October the Second German Army, commanded by Gerd von Rundstedt, and List's Fourteenth Army had linked northeast of Brno, thus cutting off the Czechoslovak First Army and parts of the Fourth Army from the rest of the country. However, while the Czechoslovak forces of Border Zone XIV had been badly mauled, the forces of Fourteenth Army had also suffered heavy casualties during the battle of the border fortifications. In the ensuming breakthrough, the Fourteenth Army had become thinly streched, with the 2nd Mountain Division and the 44th Infantry Division both stretched over a 30 kilometre defensive line along its left flank while the rest of the army was advancing to encircle Brno.
On 9 October the High Command (OKW), while expressing surprise in the rapid advance of the Second and Fourteenth Armies, acknowledged that especially the Fourteenth Army was overstreched, and feared it would scarcely be possible to hold the encirclement of the Czechoslovak Army in Bohemia and thus prevent a breakout attempt without securing the two flanks. As a result, OKH instructed both armies to reinforce the left flank west of Brno.
Czechoslovak plans for a counter-offensive
The commander of the Fourth Army, Lev Prchala, who had been heavily involved in the pre-war planning, had in a staff meeting in Prague on 24 July 1938 developed plans for a possible Czechoslovak counter-offensive into Austria with the Chief of the General Staff Ludvík Krejčí and general Sergěj Ingr. Options for a counter-offensive had also been part of the Deployment Plan VI of 15 February 1938, until the plan had been rendered obsolete with the German annexation of Austria in March 1938.
When communications with the Main Headquarters of the Czechoslovak Army (Hlavní Velitelství Operačních Armád, HVOA) were restored on 3 October, Prchala argued that a counteroffensive into Austria was not feasible. The main reason was that the units under his command were tied down by German forces, making any offensive operations impossible. Another reason was that the 2nd Fast Division in Jaroměřice nad Rokytnou, which was to spearhead the offensive, had no tanks as it had transferred its 3rd Light Tank Battalion to the 4th Light Division. While the battalion had been ordered back on 29 September, it did not reach the division's staging area until noon on 3 October. However, he was instructed to launch counterattacks to stall the German advance west of Brno.
While the counter-attacks failed to halt the German advance, Prchala soon became aware that the German Fourteenth Army commanded by general List was weakly secured on the left flank from the north by only the 44th Infantry Division and the 2nd Mountain Division, both stretched over a 30 kilometre defensive line while the rest of the army was advancing to encircle Brno. Prchala and his staff subsequently developed a plan for a counter-offensive north and south of Brno. The rationale for the offensive was to relieve pressure on Brno, to cut off the supply lines of the Fourteenth Army in southern Moravia, and breaking through the German lines to establish a gap through which as many formations in Bohemia as possible to escape and link up with the defenses on the Moravian-Slovak border.
The main thrust of the Czechoslovak offensive were to be carried out by the units of III Corps, under general Sergěj Ingr, and the VI Corps, under general Rudolf Viest. Situated on the right flank of the offensive, the III Corps (comprising the 2nd Fast Division, the partially motorized 14th Division and the 19th Division) were to advance toward Pohořelice and then to the Czechoslovak lines near Hustopeče. This would cut off the supply lines to the German Fourteenth Army. On the left flank, the VI Corps (comprising the 4th, 17th and 13th Division and the 4th Fast Division) were to break through the outstretched German 2nd and 3rd Panzer Divisions between Olešnice and Moravská Třebová and link up with the Czechoslovak frontline along defensive line "M" along the Moravian-Slovak border. This would create a gap through which as many Czech formations were to escape through as possible.
The Head of the HVOA, general Krejčí, agreed to the plan on 10 October, and the same day Prchala ordered the offensive to commence in the morning of 14 October. Several variations of Prchala's plan were discussed, but as communications were disrupted on 13 October the formations stuck to the original plan.
Czechoslovak Fourth Army
Czechoslovak Second Army
First assault on Brno
The same day General Miloš Kudrna, the commander of , was appointed commander of the city's defences. The Czech defences were composed mainly of infantry units with some artillery support, as well as field fortifications and barricades constructed by the local residents under supervision of military engineers. General Kudrna ordered organised defence of the outer city rim, with in-depth defences prepared.
After capturing Rajhrad (10 kilometres from Brno), general Dietl ordered his 3rd Mountain Division to break through the Czech defences and capture the city as soon as possible. The assault group was composed of two infantry companies and a battery of 150 mm guns. The group outflanked the Czech defenders and reached the outskirts of the city, but then was bloodily repelled by the numerically inferior Czech defenders. The following day the main forces of general Dietl arrived, and at 14:00 the Germans broke through to the city centre, but again were driven back after heavy city fighting with the infantry units.
Dietl decided to fall back in order to await reinforcements and allow the 2nd Panzer Division and the 29th Motorized Infantry Division to encircle the city. The hills around the suburb of Nebovidy gave a good overview of the city centre and Dietl placed his artillery there to shell the city. In addition, the city was targeted by the Luftwaffe. Among the main targets for the German air force and artillery were prominent buildings such as churches, hospitals, water and power plants.
On the night of 13–14 October, the Czechoslovak Fourth Army commenced a counterattack.
The 2nd Panzer-Division and elements of the 29th Motorized Infantry Division had captured the villages along the line Dukovany-Jamolice-Polánka-Rokytná-Budkovice, while also reaching the town of Ořechov, around 11 km from Brno on October 20 and began shelling the town the following day.
At 10.00 German motorised units of the 29th Motorized Infantry Division under Gen.Maj. Joachim Lemelsen arrived to the area. After the had captured Střelice, Troubsko and Zelesice (some eight km from Brno), the commander of the XVIII. Armeekorps, Gen.d.Inf. Eugen Beyer, ordered his units to break through the Czech defences and capture the city of Brno as soon as possible. The German assault group was composed of and a battery of 150 mm guns. The group outflanked the Czechs and reached the suburbs of the city, but was bloodily repelled by the - numerically inferior - Czech defenders. The Czech commander of the sector, Brig. Gen. Miloš Kudrna, had only the Hraniční pásmo XIV “Svatopluk” to defend the city, which consisted only of the Hraniční oblast 38 “Cyril”, an understrength border defence unit of the army. However, his forces were soon reinforced by elements of the 2. rychlá divize “Ondřej” and a battalion of the 20. divize “Bernolák” and held their positions until dawn.
The Germans halted the offensive for two days, and the front was relatively quiet except for the artillery duels and air battles above the city. At 10:00 on October 22, the main forces of 2nd Panzer-Division was prepared for an assault on the city. After a heavy hour-long artillery barrage, the Germans began their assault, and broke through the lines at Nový Lískovec, Bohunice and Horní Heršpice at noon. At 14.00 the Germans broke through to the city centre, but were driven back after heavy city fighting with the small infantry units formed of local volunteers and Soviet re-inforcements.
Gen.d.Inf. Beyer decided to fall back and encircle the city waiting for more reinforcements to arrive. His forces achieved a limited success and captured the important suburb of Žabovřesky together with surrounding hills. However, the Czech forces were also reinforced with reserves and new Soviet reinforcements. The hills gave a good overview of the city centre and the German commander placed his artillery there to shell the city. In addition, the city was almost constantly bombed by the Luftwaffe.
Fall of Brno
After the Czech counteroffensive had been stopped, the 3rd Mountain Division was relocated and again took up positions south of Brno.
On 24 October the German XVIII Corps began a major assault on the town at 10:00. By the evening elements of the 29th Infantry Division had reached the suburbs of Komárov and Juliánov from the east, while the 8th Infantry Division had captured the suburbs of Maloměřice and Husovice from the north. To the south, 3rd Mountain Division had made several headways into the town, with the 138th Mountain Infantry Regiment having captured the Špilberk Castle.
The following day general Dietl sent his envoy and demanded the city be surrendered to his troops. When the Czech envoy replied that he had no intention of signing such a document, he was informed that a general assault was ordered for 26 October and the city would most surely be taken. General Kudrna decided that the situation of his forces was hopeless, and further defence of the city would be fruitless and only result in more civilian casualties. He decided to start surrender talks with the German Army.
On 26 October 1938, the act of surrender was signed in the suburb of Bohunice.
Only a few Czechoslovak units managed to break out of the encirclement. These groups entered Warsaw and Modlin, mostly around 19 and 20 September, crossing the Kampinos Forest, and fighting German units in the area. Among them were Generals Ingr and Viest, parts of the 4th Fast Division of General _______, and the ____th and ____th Infantry Divisions. The remainder (), which didn't manage to cross the river, with , capitulated between 22 and 26 September. Czechoslovak casualties were estimated at 20,000 dead, including three generals: __________. German casualties are estimated at 8,000 dead.
After the battle the remaining German divisions rushed toward the Moravian-Slovak border. The Prchala offensive ended in defeat for the Czechs but because of the initial Czech local successes the German advance and destruction of the Czechoslovak First Army was halted for several days. The Wehrmacht was required to divert units from its push toward Slovakia. This enabled the Czechoslovak units defending the "M" secondary defense line and its environs to better organize their own long-term, but ultimately failed, defense.
The campaign also showed the importance of taking initiative, and proved the importance of air superiority as well as confirmed that simple numerical superiority did still matter.
The fighting in the city resulted in heavy casualties on both sides. The Germans suffered 2,060 casualties: 877 were killed and 1183 were injured. Czechoslovakia suffered 1,120 killed and 1600 injured. 1,380 Czech soldiers were taken prisoner as well.
As a result of the fighting, around 500 civilians were killed and 650 injured as a result of the German aerial bombardment and by crossfire during the fighting in the city.