On 4 May 1945, the 9th Infantry Regiment of the US 2nd Infantry Division - part of General Patton's Third Army - broke through the eastern frontier of the Third Reich and entered occupied Czechoslovakia. Shortly before noon, the regiment set up its command base in Neukirchen (Czech Nový Kostel). The following day, the population of Pilsen (Czech Plzeň) rose up against the Nazi occupation. Citizens entered the streets and began to tear down Nazi symbols. As the Germans attempted to suppress the uprising, the civilian population called on the Allies for immediate assistance.
Early in the morning of 6 May, tanks from the US 16th Armored Division set out for Pilsen, reaching the city and its grateful citizens around 8.00am. The first unit into town was Combat Command B, led by Colonel Charles Noble. The Americans encountered sporadic resistance from German soldiers and were fired on from the tower of the cathedral, but it soon became apparent that further fighting was futile. Around 2.15pm, Lieutenant Colonel Perkins, Noble’s second-in-command, received the capitulation signed by the German commander, General von Majewski, who then shot himself. The 16th Armored Division was relieved by the 2nd Infantry Division (nicknamed the “Indianheads”) and the 17th Belgian Fusilier Battalion, which included 700 volunteers who had joined the US Army after the liberation of Liège.
Many Sudeten Germans and German soldiers were desperate to avoid falling into the hands of the Soviet troops and significant numbers fled into the US zone of occupation; once there, they had to be protected by the Americans from vengeful attacks by the Czechs. General Patton was eager for his men to continue on to Prague to prevent Czechoslovakia falling into the hands of the Soviets. Churchill and many senior Americans were of the same opinion, but such a move (though easily achievable) was vetoed by Eisenhower as the western Allies' supreme commander. Czechoslovakia had been designated within the so-called Soviet sphere of interest at the Yalta Conference and he felt that to renege on this would create all sorts of political complications in the future.
The Patton Memorial Pilsen museum was opened on 5 May 2005 to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the city and southwestern Bohemia by the US Army. It contains over a thousand exhibits drawn from private collections, including archive photographs showing the war’s final days, with the arrival of US troops and their enthusiastic reception by the local population. Much of the exhibition focuses on General Patton and General Ernest N. Harmon, who assisted the postwar recovery of the country. The museum underwent a major refit in 2018–19, so check it’s open before visiting.
On a street named America, close to the junction with Klatovská třída, is the Thank You America! Memorial, erected to honour the US liberation of Pilsen. Two tall granite stelae with gold-leaf inscriptions in both Czech and English stand side by side up a small flight of steps opposite a fountain. In front of them is a separate smaller block dedicated to the 16th Armoured Division bearing the words, “We’ll Never Forget”.
A wedge of land at the junction of Klatovoská and E. Benese is the site of the memorial to the 2nd Infantry Division. Conceived and designed by Dr Pershing Wakefield, a veteran of the division, it was erected in 1990 and takes the form of a small black obelisk with the division’s insignia – the head of an American Indian superimposed on a star (the division was known as the “Indianheads”).
This memorial, located opposite the Czech National Bank, is in the shape of a metal-framed glass pyramid. Etched on the glass is the division’s emblem.