Battle of Berlin
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|Battle of Berlin|
|Seelow Heights – Berlin – Halbe|
The Battle of Berlin was one of the final battles<ref>The last major battle was the Prague Offensive on May 6–May 11, 1945, when the Soviet Army with the help of Polish, Romanian and Czechoslovak forces defeated the parts of Army Group Centre which continued to resist in Czechoslovakia. The operation involved about 3,000,000 personnel from both sides. The last actual battle in Europe was the Georgian Uprising of Texel (April 5–May 20, 1945). See The end of World War II in Europe for details on these final days of the war.</ref> of the European Theatre of World War II. Two massive Soviet army groups attacked Berlin from the east and south. The battle lasted from late April 1945 until early May. Before it was over, Adolf Hitler committed suicide. The city's defenders surrendered on May 2, 1945, although some fighting continued until Nazi Germany's surrender on May 8th (May 9th to the USSR) 1945.
At the start of 1945 the Eastern Front had been relatively stable since August 1944 in the aftermath of Operation Bagration. Romania and Bulgaria had been forced to surrender and declare war on Germany. The Germans had lost Budapest and most of the rest of Hungary. The plains of Poland were now open to the Soviet Red Army.
Starting on January 12, 1945 over three days on a broad front incorporating four army Fronts, the Red Army began the Vistula-Oder offensive across the Narew River and from Warsaw. After four days the Red Army broke out and started moving west up to thirty to forty kilometres per day, taking the Baltic states, Danzig, East Prussia, Poznań, and drawing up on a line sixty kilometres east of Berlin along the Oder River.
A counter-attack by the newly created Army Group Vistula under the command of Heinrich Himmler failed by February 24, and the Russians drove on to Pomerania and cleared the right bank of the Oder River, thereby reaching into Silesia. In the south, three German attempts to relieve the encircled Budapest failed and the city fell to the Soviets on February 13. Again the Germans counter-attacked, Hitler insisting on the impossible task of regaining the Danube River. By March 16 the attack had failed and the Red Army counter-attacked the same day. On March 30 they entered Austria and captured Vienna on April 13.
By this time it was clear that the final defeat of Nazi Germany was only a few weeks away. The Wehrmacht had a twelfth or less of the fuel it needed to operate effectively, and production of fighter aircraft and tanks was down significantly, with quality much lower than it had been in 1944. However, it was also known that the fighting would be as fierce as at any other time in the war. National pride, the Allied insistence on unconditional surrender, and the desire to gain time for refugees to escape to the west before the Red Army arrived, all contributed to bitter resistance by German forces.
Adolf Hitler decided to remain in the city against the wishes of his advisors.
The Western Allies had tentative plans to drop paratroopers to take Berlin, but decided against it. Eisenhower saw no need to suffer casualties in attacking a city that would be in the Soviet sphere of influence after the war. The plan was unrealistic in terms of the number of soldiers and the amount of supplies needed for the operation.
 The Soviet offensive
The Soviet offensive into central Germany [what later became East Germany (GDR)] had two objectives. Stalin did not believe the Western Allies would hand over territory occupied by them in the post-war Soviet zone, so he began the offensive on a broad front and moved rapidly to meet the Western Allies as far west as possible. But the overriding objective was to capture Berlin. The two were complementary because possession of the zone could not be won quickly unless Berlin was taken. Another consideration was that Berlin itself held useful post-war strategic assets, including Adolf Hitler and the German atomic bomb programme<ref>Beevor see References</ref>.
On April 9, 1945, Königsberg in East Prussia finally fell to the Red Army. This freed up General Rokossovsky's 2nd Belorussian Front (2BF) to move west to the east bank of the Oder river. During the first two weeks of April the Russians performed their fastest Front redeployment of the war. General Georgy Zhukov concentrated his 1st Belorussian Front (1BF) which had been deployed along the Oder river from Frankfurt in the south to the Baltic, into an area in front of the Seelow Heights. The 2BF moved into the positions being vacated by the 1BF north of the Seelow Heights. While this redeployment was in progress, gaps were left in the lines and the remnants of the German II Army, which had been bottled up in a pocket near Danzig, managed to escape across the Oder. To the south, General Konev shifted the main weight of the 1st Ukrainian Front (1UF) out of Upper Silesia north-west to the Neisse River. The three Soviet Fronts had altogether 2.5 million men (including 78,556 soldiers of the 1st Polish Army); 6,250 tanks; 7,500 aircraft; 41,600 artillery pieces and mortars; 3,255 truck-mounted Katyusha rockets (nicknamed 'Stalin Organs'); and 95,383 motor vehicles, many manufactured in the USA.
General Gotthard Heinrici replaced Heinrich Himmler as commander of Army Group Vistula on March 20. He was one of the best defensive tacticians in the German army and immediately started to lay defensive plans. He correctly assessed that the main Soviet thrust would be made over the Oder river and along the main east-west Autobahn. He decided not to try to defend the banks of the Oder with anything more than a light skirmishing screen. Instead he arranged for engineers to fortify the Seelow Heights which overlooked the Oder river at the point where the Autobahn crossed it, some 17 kilometers west of the Oder, and 90 kilometers east of Berlin. He thinned out the line in other areas to increase the manpower available to defend the heights. German pioneers turned the Oder's flood plain, already saturated by the spring thaw, into a swamp by releasing the waters in a reservoir upstream. Behind this they built three belts of defensive emplacements which reached back towards the outskirts of Berlin. These lines consisted of anti-tank ditches, anti-tank gun emplacements, and an extensive network of trenches and bunkers.
 The battle of the Oder-Neisse
- Main article: Battle of the Seelow Heights.
In the early hours on April 16, the offensive began with a massive bombardment by thousands of artillery pieces and Katyusha rockets in a barrage which was sustained for several days. Shortly afterwards and well before dawn the 1BF attacked across the Oder. The 1UF attacked across the Neisse before the dawn the same morning. The 1BF was the stronger force but it had the more difficult assignment and was facing the majority of the German forces.
The initial attack by the 1BF was a disaster. Heinrici anticipated the attack and withdrew his defenders from the first line of trenches just before the Soviet artillery obliterated them. The light from 143 searchlights which were intended to blind the defenders was diffused by the early morning mist and made useful silhouettes of the attacking Soviet formations. The swampy ground proved to be a great hindrance and under a German counter barrage, Soviet casualties were enormous. Frustrated by the slow advance, or on the direct orders of Stalin, Zhukov threw in his reserves, which in his plan were to have been held back to exploit the expected breakthrough. By early evening an advance of almost six kilometres had been achieved in some areas, but the German lines remained intact. In the south the attack by the 1UF was keeping to plan. Zhukov was forced to report that the Battle of the Seelow Heights was not going as planned. Stalin, to spur Zhukov, told him that he would give Konev permission to wheel his tank armies towards Berlin from the south.
On the second day the 1BF staff were reduced to combing the rear areas for any troops which could be thrown into the battle. The Soviet tactic of using massed attacks was proving more costly than usual. By night fall of April 17 the German front before Zhukov remained unbroken, but only just. To the south Army Group Centre under the command of General Ferdinand Schörner was not proving such a hindrance. IV Panzer Army on the north flank of his formation was falling back under the weight of the 1UF Attack. He kept his two reserve Panzer divisions in the south covering his centre, instead of using them to shore up the IV Panzer Army. This was the turning point in the battle because by nightfall the positions of both the Army Group Vistula and southern sectors of Army Group Centre were becoming untenable. Unless they fell back in line with the IV Panzer Army they faced envelopment. In effect Konev's successful attacks on Schörner's poor defences, to the south of the battle of the Seelow Heights, were unhinging Heinrici's brilliant defence.
On April 18, both Soviet Fronts made steady progress but Soviet losses were again substantial. By the nightfall the 1BF had reached the third and final German line of defence and the 1UF having captured Forst was preparing to break out into open country.
On April 19, the fourth day the 1BF broke through the final line of the Seelow Heights and nothing but broken German formations lay between them and Berlin. The remnants of the IX Army which had been holding the heights and the remaining northern flank of the IV Panzer Army were in danger of being enveloped by elements of the 1UF, these were the 3rd Guards Army and the 3rd and 4th Guards Tank Armies, which having broken through the IV Panzer Army turned north towards Berlin and the 1BF. Other armies of the 1UF raced west towards the Americans. By the end of the 19th the German eastern front line had ceased to exist. All that remained were pockets of resistance. The cost to the Soviet forces had been very high between April 1 and April 19, with over 2,807 tanks lost. During the same period the Allies in the west lost 1,079 tanks.
 The encirclement of Berlin
On April 20, Hitler's birthday, Soviet artillery of 1BF began to shell the centre of Berlin and did not stop until the city surrendered. After the war the Soviets pointed out that the weight of explosives delivered by their artillery during the battle was greater than the tonnage dropped by the Western Allied bombers on the city. 1BF advanced towards the east and north-east of the City.
1UF had pushed through the last formations of the northern wing of Army Group Centre and had passed north of Juterbog well over halfway to the American front lines on the river Elbe at Magdeburg. To the north between Stettin and Schwedt, 2BF attacked the northern flank of Army Group Vistula, held by the III Panzer Army.
On April 21 the 2nd Guards Army advanced nearly 50 km north of Berlin and then attacked southwest of Werneuchen. Other Soviet units reached the outer defence ring. The Soviet plan was to encircle Berlin first and then envelop the IX Army.
The command of the V Corps trapped with the IX Army north of Forst, passed from IV Panzer Army to the IX Army. The corps was still holding onto Cottbus. When the old southern flank of IV Panzer Army had some local successes counter attacking north against 1UF, Hitler gave some orders which showed that his grasp of military reality had gone. He ordered IX Army to hold Cottbus and set up a front facing west. Then they were to attack into the Soviet columns advancing north. This would allow them to form the northern pincer which would meet with the IV Panzer Army coming from the south and envelop the 1UF before destroying it. They were to anticipate an attack south by the III Panzer Army and to be ready to be the southern arm of a pincer attack which would envelop 1BF which would be destroyed by SS-General Felix Steiner's XI SS Panzer Army advancing from north of Berlin. Later in the day, when Steiner made it plain that he did not have the divisions to do this, Heinrici made it clear to Hitler's staff that unless the IX Army retreated immediately it was about to be enveloped by the Soviets. He stressed it was already too late for it to move north-west to Berlin and would have to retreat west. Heinrici went on to say that if Hitler did not allow it to move west he would ask to be relieved of his command.
On April 22 at his afternoon situation conference Hitler fell into a tearful rage when he realised that his plans of the day before were not going to be realised. He declared that the war was lost, he blamed the generals and announced that he would stay on in Berlin until the end and then kill himself. In an attempt to coax Hitler out of his rage, General Alfred Jodl speculated that the XII Army which was facing the Americans could move to Berlin because the Americans already on the Elbe river were unlikely to move further east. Hitler immediately grasped the idea and within hours General Walther Wenck was ordered to disengage the Americans and move the XII Army north-east to support Berlin. It was then realised that if the IX Army moved west it could link up with the XII Army. In the evening Heinrici was given permission to make the link up.
Away from the map room in the Berlin Führerbunker with its imaginary attacks of phantom divisions, the Soviets were getting on with winning the war. 2BF had established a bridgehead on the east bank of the Oder over 15 km deep and was heavily engaged with the III Panzer Army. The IX Army had lost Cottbus and was being pressed from the east. A Soviet tank spearhead was on the Havel river to the east of Berlin and another had at one point penetrated the inner defensive ring of Berlin.
On April 23 the Soviet 1BF and 1UF continued to tighten the encirclement, including severing the last link that the German IX Army had with the city. Elements of 1UF continued to move westward and started to engage the German XII Army moving towards Berlin. Hitler appointed General Helmuth Weidling defence commandant of Berlin. By April 24 elements of 1BF and 1UF had completed the encirclement of the city.
The next day on April 25 2BF broke through III Panzer Army's line around the bridgehead south of Stettin and crossed the Rando Swamp. They were now free to move west towards the British 21st Army Group and north towards the Baltic port of Stralsund. The Soviet 58th Guards Division of the 5th Guards Army made contact with the US 69th Infantry Division of the First Army near Torgau, Germany on the Elbe River.
 The Battle of Berlin
The forces available for the city's defence included several severely depleted Army and Waffen-SS divisions, supplemented by the police force, boys in the compulsory Hitler Youth, and the Volkssturm which consisted of elderly men, many of whom had been in the army as young men and some were veterans of World War I.
To the west was the XX Infantry Division, to the north the IX Parachute Division, to the north-east Panzer Division Müncheberg, XI SS Panzergrenadier Division Nordland were to the south-east, (east of Tempelhof Airport) and XVIII Panzergrenadier Division, the reserve, was in the central district.
Berlin's fate was sealed, but the resistance continued. The Soviet advance to the city centre was along these main axes: from the south-east, along the Frankfurter Allee (ending and stopped at the Alexanderplatz); from the south along Sonnen Allee ending north of the Belle Alliance Platz, from the south ending near the Potsdamer Platz and from the north ending near the Reichstag. The Reichstag, the Moltke bridge, Alexanderplatz, and the Havel bridges at Spandau were the places where the fighting was heaviest, with house-to-house and hand-to-hand combat. The foreign contingents of the SS fought particularly hard, because they were ideologically motivated and they believed that they would not live if captured.
On April 30, as the Soviet forces fought their way into the center of Berlin, Adolf Hitler married Eva Braun and then committed suicide by taking cyanide and shooting himself. General Weidling, defence commandant of Berlin, ordered the surrender of German defenders to the Soviets on May 2. Despite this, heavy fighting continued in the city as large number of the Germans did not wish to surrender. It was not until May 8 when the last German troops, including Wilhelm Mohnke surrendered as a result of Germany's surrender.
 The Battle of Halbe
Main article: Battle of Halbe.
To the south of Berlin, during the battle of Berlin and for a number of days afterwards, the German IX Army fought a desperate action to break out of the pocket which they were in so that they could link up with the German XII Army and then to cross the river Elbe and surrender to the Americans.
The battle ended after a week of heavy fighting because the Germans ran out of men and materiel. The German supply dumps were located outside the outer defence line (the Inner Ring) and were captured quite early in the battle by the Soviets. In the battle for the city the Soviets lost about 2,000 armoured vehicles, in good part due to the effective shoulder-firing recoilless gun known as the Panzerfaust, mass numbers of which were supplied to German civilians, though countermeasures such as armor and wire skirts were being deployed. The Germans had only a few tanks.
In many areas of the city, vengeful Soviet troops (usually rear echelon units) looted, raped an estimated 100,000 women and murdered civilians for several weeks (see under Marta Hillers and Red Army atrocities). After the summer of 1945 Soviet soldiers caught raping were usually punished to various degrees. <ref>Norman M. Naimark. The Russians in Germany: A History of the Soviet Zone of Occupation, 1945-1949. pg. 92.</ref> The rapes continued however until the winter of 1947-48, when the problem was finally solved by the Russian occupation authorities by confining the Soviet troops to strictly guarded posts and camps.“<ref>Norman M. Naimark. The Russians in Germany: A History of the Soviet Zone of Occupation, 1945-1949. pg. 79</ref>
The Soviets sustained 20,000–25,000 dead in the city and 81,000 for the entire operation. Another 280,000 were reported wounded or sick during the operational period. The Germans sustained as many as 450,000 killed, wounded or missing, civilians included.
Following Hitler's wishes in his last will and testament, on his death Admiral Karl Dönitz became the new Reichspräsident and Joseph Goebbels the new Reichskanzler. However Goebbels' suicide on May 1, 1945 left the new head of state to orchestrate negotiations of national surrender on his own. The German high command and most German armed forces surrendered unconditionally to the Allies on 8 May 1945, which became known as V-E Day. Although a few German units kept fighting a few days longer, the war in Europe was effectively over, and with it went the Third Reich.
- Beevor, Antony. Berlin: The Downfall 1945, Penguin Books, 2002, ISBN 0-670-88695-5
- Krivosheev, G. F., Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses in the Twentieth Century, Greenhill Books, 1997.
- Read, Anthony, The Fall of Berlin, London: Pimlico, 1993. ISBN 0-7126-0695-5
- Ryan, Cornelius, The Last Battle, ISBN 0-684-80329-1
- Ziemke, Earl F., Battle For Berlin: End Of The Third Reich, NY:Ballantine Books, London:Macdomald & Co, 1969.
- Marta Hillers, A Woman in Berlin: Six Weeks in the Conquered City Translated by Anthes Bell, ISBN 0-8050-7540-2
- Hastings, Max, Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945, Macmillan, 2004, ISBN 0-333-90836-8
 See also
 External links
- BBC article
- Photos of World War 2 Berlin Locations today
- Map of the battle
- The battle and buildup
- "They raped every German female from eight to 80" Antony Beevor
- Alternative account of crimes against civilians, by war correspondent Oscar White
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cs:Bitva o Berlín de:Schlacht um Berlin es:Batalla de Berlín fr:Bataille de Berlin ko:베를린 공방전 id:Pertempuran Berlin it:Battaglia di Berlino he:הקרב על ברלין nl:Slag om Berlijn ja:ベルリンの戦い pl:Bitwa o Berlin pt:Batalha de Berlim ro:Bătălia Berlinului ru:Битва за Берлин sr:Битка за Берлин sv:Slaget om Berlin zh:柏林戰役