Czech and Slovak Fighters After the Battle of Sokolovo
|Ludvik Svoboda before a company of Czechoslovak soldiers after their victory at the Battle of Sokolovo, March 14, 1943 (source)|
(For more, see the complete 1943 Moscow reports.)
April 8, 1943
The first independently led and organized units of the Czechoslovak army to fight the Germans in this war went into action the other day somewhere on the Russian front.
The men of this army, refugees from their homeland, lived up to every standard of courage and honor that has made Czechoslovakia one of the proudest of Europe's small nations. The story is worth reporting.
The Czech army in Russia is led by Colonel Ludvik Svoboda, a 48-year-old veteran who fought against the Germans in Russia during the last war. (He has been fretting for action since the Germans marched into his country. Meanwhile, as his refugee army was trained, they spent part of their time helping Russian peasant harvest their crops. When the Czech soldiers left the district for the front, the Russian villagers gave them a banner all their own.)
At the first of April, the Czechs were thrown into the front line—probably somewhere on the Donets front. Their sector was of big importance. The Germans launched a counterattack. It was a big show, and sixty tanks appeared on one narrow sector opposite the dug-in Czech troops.
A young lieutenant named Yarosh was in command on this sector. His field telephone rang, and Colonel Svoboda said the unit would have to hold out alone. There were no reinforcements to help the lieutenant stop the sixty tanks. The colonel's orders were "It is impossible to retreat."
The unit was equipped with the new Russian antitank rifles. They knocked out tank after tank, but they still came on. (Some of the tanks were equipped with flamethrowers, and many of the Czechs were burned to death. However, the fight continued all day and into the night. About twenty tanks broke through to a village, where they were engaged by artillery.)
Approaching the Czechs behind the tanks came the German infantry with Tommy guns. While the Czech machine gunners kept the German infantry on the ground, other Czech soldiers continued the battle against the tanks with incendiary bottles.
But during the battle Lieutenant Yarosh was killed. He was crushed under a German tank thinking he might be able to stop it at the last moment.
That's the first story of the Czech army in Russia. The official communiqué commemorating the event read: "The men of the Czech unit (during the whole day and night) self-sacrificingly waged fights against the enemy and repelled all attacks. As a result of this fighting, nineteen German tanks were disabled and burned, and four hundred German Tommy gunners annihilated."