Carpathian-Dukla Offensive Operation

The Battle of the Dukla Pass, also known as the 'Dukla/Carpatho-Dukla/Rzeszów-Dukla/Dukla-Presov Offensive Operation' was the battle for the Dukla Pass on the border between Poland and Slovakia (8 September/28 October 1944).

The battle was part of the Soviet 'East Carpathian Strategic Offensive Operation', which also included the 'Carpathian-Uzhgorod Offensive Operation'. The primary goal for the Soviet forces was the provision of support for the Slovak National Uprising, and while this was not achieved it nonetheless completed the full liberation of Ukraine.

The forces committed in this Soviet offensive were, under Konev’s 1st Ukrainian Front, General Polkovnik Kirill S. Moskalenko’s 38th Army and General Leytenant Ludvík Svoboda’s I Czechoslovak Corps, and elements of General Polkovnik Andrei I. Grechko’s 1st Guards Army of General Polkovnik Ivan Ye. Petrov’s 4th Ukrainian Front; and on the German side under Generaloberst Gotthard Heinrici’s Armeegruppe 'Heinrici', Heinrici’s own 1st Panzerarmee and elements of Altábornagy Dezső László's Hungarian 1st Army.

The German resistance in the eastern region of the Carpathian mountains was much stronger than had been anticipated by the Soviets: the fighting began on 8 September, and while the Soviets forces reached the other side of the Dukla pass on 6 October, and German forces ended their resistance in the region only on 10 October. The estimated five-day advance Presov in fact lasted 50 days to Svidník alone, and cost more than 70,000 casualties on both sides. Presov, which was to have been reached in six days, remained in German hands for four months.This is clear indication that the battle was among the most bloody fought on the entire Eastern Front.

In the summer of 1944, Slovak elements rebelled against German occupation, and the Czechoslovak government appealed to the Soviets for support. On 31 August, Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Ivan S. Konev was ordered to prepare plans for his 1st Ukrainian Front to undertake an offensive designed to destroy the German forces in Slovakia. The plan was to push through the old Slovak/Polish border in the Carpathian mountains via the Dukla pass near Svidník and thus enter Slovakia proper.

Meanwhile, however, the Germans had fortified the region, forming the Karpatenfestung (Carpathian fortress) or 'Árpád-Linie'.

The Soviet operational plan called for the 1st Ukrainian Front’s forces to cross the pass and capture the town of Presov within five days.

The operation started on 8 September, and it took the Soviet forces three days to take Krosno. One of the largest engagements of the offensive occurred on and around Hill 534 to the north-west of the town of Dukla: the battle to capture this hill lasted from 10 to 20 September, and during the fighting control of the hill changed more than 20 times. The town of Dukla was seized on 21 September, and the area of the former Czechoslovak border, which had been strongly fortified by the Germans, was captured on 6 October, This it had taken the Soviet forces almost one month to reach Slovakia.

The Dukla operation did not end when the Soviets had finally forced their way over the pass, for the combat zone then shifted into the eastern part of Slovakia as the Soviet forces attempted to outflank and push back the German forces, still strong and having many fortified positions. To the south of the pass and directly to the west of the village of Dobroslava lies an area that has since come to be known as the 'Valley of Death'. Here Soviet and German armour clashed in a miniature re-enactment of the great tank battle of Kursk before Soviet and Czechoslovak forces entered Svidník on 28 October. A major German fortified position near the pass, Hill 532 'Obsár', was eventually secured by the Soviet forces only on 25 November.

The Slovak National Uprising had been largely crushed by the time Soviet units secured Slovak territory. One of the primary reasons for this failure was that the German resistance in the Dukla pass had been considerably stronger than had been expected. Another factor was that the Slovak insurgent forces failed to secure the western side of the pass as originally planned by the Soviet and Slovak commanders during their early preparations.