May 5 marks the 76 anniversary since the beginning of the Battle for Czech Radio which is traditionally seen as the start of the Prague Uprising that led to the city being liberated from German control after four days of hard fighting in the closing phase of World War Two in Europe.
At the beginning of May 1945 the supposedly 1,000 year Third Reich was in its last spasms. Adolf Hitler had already shot himself and much of Germany was overrun by the Allies. However, there was still a large army group stationed in Bohemia fighting the Americans advancing into Bohemian territory from the West and the Soviets who were coming from the East. Prague was still occupied by the Germans. This would begin to change on May 5, when Czech Radio began broadcasting only in Czech and resistance forces started occupying strategic points in the city. Then the broadcaster issued an urgent appeal at midday. “Everyone come to Czechoslovak Radio, Czechs are being shot! Come as soon as you can. We are calling on the Czech armed forces, Czech police units. Everyone come to the radio. Help us!” The radio staff had hung the Czechoslovak and American flag which had reportedly been smuggled into the building, still guarded by the SS, by two women.
Years later, Karel Tieftrunk, a head of one of the departments of Czech Radio, recalled what happened next.
“The SS men down below turned their machine guns against us and started shooting. It was at that moment that fighting broke out inside Czech Radio. It was basically the start of the revolt.”
A fierce fight broke out as Czech police units stormed the building. Machine gun crackling could be heard on the corridors and is preserved in the recordings we have of the time. By the evening hours, the Germans had been forced to retreat from the building.
The radio became an important source of information and, in part, a command and control centre for the resistance forces. As it became clear that the Germans still possessed a formidable force in the city and were holding key points such as Prague Castle, Letná and the Old Town, the radio began broadcasting calls for the construction of defences.
“We call on Czechoslovak citizens to build barricades against tanks all around the outer areas of Prague, particularly around Braník.”
By the end of the day around 1,600 barricades had been built.
In the following days, fierce fighting for possession of the Czech Radio building would continue. On May 6, a German aircraft dropped a quarter ton bomb on the building which destroyed large spaces around the hall of the building and, more importantly, the electronics. However, the radio team managed to set up a provisional broadcasting centre in Hussite church and continued their work.
Historian Martin Jindra told Czech Radio that the broadcasts played a significant role in the uprising’s success.
“The role that Czech Radio played during the Prague Uprising in May 1945 was irreplaceable, because it enabled the uprising to spread very fast and reach an intensity that would otherwise have been very difficult to achieve.”
The provisional radio centre would continue to operate until the evening hours of May 9, when broadcasting was returned to the Czech Radio building.