The Jan Žižka brigade was the largest and best organised brigade in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, which later became Czechoslovakia. At its heart were a group of Soviet-trained paratroopers, who were dropped into Slovakia in August 1944. Its focus was guerrilla warfare, especially sabotage and intelligence gathering. 


The initial group of 21 fighters were made up by a contingent of ethnic Slovaks, some Hungarian defectors and seven Soviets, but numbers grew almost as soon as they dropped into Slovakia. They were joined by members of the Slovak National Uprising and Czechs who had fled Nazi rule. They also linked up with the British-trained Wolfram partisan group. 

The unit’s first commander was Lieutenant Ján Ušiak. Furnished with British money and supplies, the brigade grew to 200 men, and so was divided into four units. A number of raids on police stations to acquire more weapons and ammunition led to increased anti-partisan operations by the Germans. This included the Nazis posing as communist partisans in an attempt to lure the brigade leaders to a meeting. Pressure and reprisals against civilians reduced the support the brigade could call on from local people. 

On 16 November 1944 the Germans launched Operation Grouse in an attempt to flush out and destroy the brigade. Over 13,000 troops were deployed to cordon off dense forests where the brigade were hiding out, but the net was porous and locals helped many of the partisans escape. Despite the huge resources used in the operation, the Germans managed to kill only eight partisans. However, while most partisans escaped, they were disorganised, isolated and without supplies. 

Jan Usiak
Jan Usiak

It took several weeks for the brigade to re-organise and when it did it became more decentralised and split into many smaller groups operating over a much wider area. Avoiding large-scale confrontations with the German army, the focus then shifted to acts of sabotage and disruption, with railways, bridges, telecommunications and factory power-lines all attacked. By March 1945 the brigade was attacking on a daily basis. 

The brigade was disbanded on 26 May 1945. According to the records of its commander, over 1,500 people had joined the brigade in total, with 304 being killed and 208 wounded. It had 1,200 fighters operational by the end of the war. Over 1,100 were decorated by the Czechoslovak government, more than any other partisan unit.