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The S.O.E. and the Failure of the Slovak National Uprising

Martin D. Brown tells the little-known story of how British and American soldiers disappeared in Slovakia’s Tatra Mountains during the remarkable episode of Slovakia’s National Uprising against its Nazi-supporting government during the Second World War.

On January 21st, 1945, a lone long-range fighter aircraft was dispatched from an Allied airfield in southern Italy, with orders to fly north eastwards over Occupied Europe towards the mountains of central Slovakia. Its mission was to re-establish contact with a party of British and American soldiers in the region who had not been heard from since before Christmas. These men were drawn from the ranks of two secret organisations, the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS), and had taken part in the Slovak National Uprising that had begun in August 1944. Once the revolt collapsed in late October, after being overwhelmed by Axis forces, these men had withdrawn into the Tatra mountains with the remnants of the Slovakian army.

Unfortunately the SOE/OSS mission was unsuccessful, and the aircraft returned to base without having located the soldiers. Four days later, German radio announced that eighteen Allied ‘spies’ had been executed in Mauthausen concentration camp. It was only after further investigation that SOE, several months later, discovered that these victims had indeed included some of its missing men.

This year marks the sixtieth anniversary of these events, and as both the Slovak and the Czech Republics are today members of the European Union and NATO, it is perhaps timely to give an account of Britain’s involvement in this ‘unknown’ uprising.

Slovakia was formally a constituent part of Czechoslovakia, a state with a brief but tumultuous history, and the events discussed here are commonly referred to as the Slovak National Uprising (Slovenské narodné povstanie). Yet references can also be found to the Czechoslovak Uprising or the Mutiny of the Slovak Army. Equally, these events could be defined as a coup, an insurgency or a revolt. Essentially it was a complex affair.

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