March 25 is the 75th anniversary of the final bombardment of Prague by the Allies during World War II. Whereas previous bombings had been accidental, this time the US air raids were targeted at strategic sites in the east of the city.
Milena Šotolová was nine in 1945 and lived near the Emmaus Monastery, one of the most notable victims of the devastating February air raids.
“Our windows overlooked the Botanical Garden. Above us was a large building that was used as a store by the National Museum. It took a direct hit. It was quite dramatic, because we were in the middle of the bombing. In the hospital on Karlovo náměstí there was an underground shelter where my classmate Anička Pospíšilová lived. They had gone to the shops and when they ran to the cellar it was hit and she died. As well as the Emmaus Monastery the bombs hit the hospital, the St. Ignatius Church, Palacký Bridge, and a maternity hospital, where the Gestapo were based.”
Almost six weeks later the Americans were back, but this time deliberately, as hundreds of bombers targeted the ČKD engineering works in eastern Prague and a number of military airfields.
It was one of the last major operations of the US 15th Air Force, who were operating out of bases in southern Italy.
The bombardment was planned for Palm Sunday in a bid to limit the losses among Czech workers at the industrial plants in Nazi-controlled Prague.
Though the attack – which took place around lunchtime – was viewed as successful in military terms, losses among the civilian population of Prague and surrounding municipalities were still relatively high.
Escort fighters shot down one German plane, which landed near Prague Zoo.
Milena Šotolová recalls how the March 25 bombings impacted her community, which was several kilometres away.
“The first major air raid was on Ash Wednesday, when they confused Prague with Dresden. The second raid was not so heavy, and Vysočany took the brunt of it. Where we lived there was also a family named Mlejnek. The fiancé of their daughter was from Vysočany, where there were all these small houses. They made a shelter in the cellar. The whole street was flattened, but his parents found him alive in the cellar. All the people where we lived were overjoyed by that.”
The Allies entered Prague airspace earlier in the war. The first Allied plane to fly over the city, a French aircraft, dropped not bombs but leaflets in April 1940.
The first bombing mission was flown by Britain’s RAF in October 1941 and the Americans made a small, probably unintentional raid, in October 1944.
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