Battle of Berlin | World War II

Battle of Berlin | World War II

Overview

The Battle of Berlin is considered one of the final significant offensives of World War II's European theatre. The Red Army had momentarily halted on a line 60 kilometres (37 miles) east of Berlin after the Vistula–Oder Offensive of January–February 1945. With Operation Clausewitz, Germany prepared its city's defence plan on March 9th. On March 20, the newly appointed commander of Army Group Vistula, General Gotthard Heinrici, began the initial defensive preparations on the outskirts of Berlin. Two Soviet fronts (army units) attacked Berlin from the east and south when the Soviet offensive commenced on April 16, while a third overran German soldiers stationed north of Berlin. After winning the battles of the Seelow Heights and Halbe, the Red Army ringed Berlin before the primary fight began. On April 20, 1945, Hitler's birthday, the 1st Belorussian Front, led by Marshal Georgy Zhukov, started pounding Berlin's city centre from the east and north, while the 1st Ukrainian Front, led by Marshal Ivan Konev, broke through Army Group Centre and moved into Berlin's southern suburbs. General Helmuth Weidling took command of the soldiers within Berlin on April 23. Several depleted and disorganized Army and Waffen-SS divisions and inadequately trained Volkssturm and Hitler Youth troops made up the garrison. The Red Army progressively assumed control of the city over the next week.

Hitler committed suicide on April 30th (with several of his officials also dying by suicide shortly afterwards). On 2 May, the city's garrison surrendered. Still, fighting continued to the northwest, west, and southwest of the town until the war in Europe on 8 May where 9 May in the Soviet Union, while some German units fought westward to avoid surrendering to the Soviets.

Background

The Red Army launched the Vistula–Oder Offensive over the Narew River on 12 January 1945, followed by a three-day attack from Warsaw on a broad front involving four army fronts. The Red Army broke out on the fourth day. It began pushing west at a rate of 30 to 40 kilometres (19 to 25 miles) per day, capturing East Prussia, Danzig, and Pozna before drawing upon a line 60 kilometres (37 miles) east of Berlin along the Oder River. The newly formed Army Group Vistula, directed by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, launched a counter-offensive, but it failed by the 24th of February. Next, the Red Army advanced to Pomerania, clearing the Oder River's right bank and crossing into Silesia.

The Siege of Budapest took place in the south. The attempts of three German units to liberate the surrounded Hungarian capital city were unsuccessful, and Budapest fell to the Soviets on February 13th. To retake the Drau-Danube triangle, Adolf Hitler insisted on a counter-offensive. The purpose was to reclaim the Danube River for future operations and secure the oil sector of Nagykanizsa, but the depleted German forces were handed an impossible assignment. By March 16, the German Lake Balaton Offensive had failed, and a Red Army counter-offensive had retaken what the Germans had gained in 10 days in under 24 hours. The Soviets entered Austria on March 30 and conquered Vienna on April 13 in the Vienna Offensive.

The Wehrmacht had lost over a million men between June and September 1944, and it lacked the gasoline and munitions it required to operate successfully. Then, on April 12, 1945, Hitler, who had already opted to stay in the city despite his aides' desires, received word that American President Franklin D. Roosevelt had died. It gave the Führerbunker false hope that the Allies would still fall out and Berlin would be rescued at the last possible time, as had previously happened when Berlin was endangered.

The Western Allies had no preparations to take the city by force on the ground. General Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander [Western] Allied Expeditionary Force, lost interest in the race to Berlin and saw no reason to risk casualties by attacking a city that would fall under Soviet control after the war, fearing excessive friendly fire if both armies attempted to occupy the town at the same time. The bombing of Berlin in 1945 was an essential Western Allied contribution to the fight. During 1945, the US Army Air Forces started massive daytime raids on Berlin. Scores of RAF Mosquitos bombarded the German capital for 36 nights in a row, concluding on April 20/21, just before the Soviets stormed the city.

Preparations

The Soviet invasion of central Germany, subsequently known as East Germany, had two goals. First, Stalin did not believe the Western Allies would yield over territory they seized in the postwar Soviet zone; therefore, he launched an all-out push to meet the Western Allies as far west as possible. The overarching goal, though, was to take Berlin. Because control of the zone could not be gained fast unless Berlin was taken, the two goals were complementary. Another factor to consider was Berlin's postwar strategic assets, such as Adolf Hitler and Germany's nuclear weapons development. Lieutenant General Helmuth Reymann was named commander of the Berlin Defense Area on March 6, replacing Lieutenant General Bruno Ritter von Hauenschild.

General Gotthard Heinrici succeeded Himmler as Commander-in-Chief of Army Group Vistula on March 20. Heinrici was one of the German army's top defensive tacticians, and he immediately began laying defensive tactics. The primary Soviet thrust would be made over the Oder River and along the east-west Autobahn, as Heinrici rightly predicted. He decided against using anything more than a modest skirmishing screen to protect the Oder's banks. Instead, Heinrici had engineers strengthen the Seelow Heights, which overlooked the Oder River where the Autobahn crossed them. It is located 17 kilometres (11 miles) west of the Oder and 90 kilometres (56 miles) east of Berlin. To enhance the men available to defend the heights, Heinrici weakened the line in other regions. German engineers unconstrained water from a reservoir upstream and turned the Oder's flood plain into a swamp, which the spring thaw had already saturated. Engineers created three belts of defensive emplacements behind the table on the plateau, spanning back to the outskirts of Berlin. Anti-tank ditches, anti-tank gun emplacements, and a vast network of trenches and bunkers made up these defences.

Königsberg in East Prussia demolished the Red Army on April 9th, following a protracted fight. It allowed Marshal Rokossovsky's 2nd Belorussian Front to manoeuvre west to the Oder's east bank. Marshal Georgy Zhukov gathered his 1st Belorussian Front, which had been stationed in the south to the Baltic, at an area in front of the Seelow Heights. North of the Seelow Heights, the 2nd Belorussian Front took over the positions vacated by the 1st Belorussian Front. During the redeployment, however, breaches in the lines were left, and the remnants of General Dietrich von Saucken's German II Army, which had been besieged around Danzig, were able to escape into the Vistula delta. Marshal Konev transferred the 1st Ukrainian Front's main weight out of Upper Silesia and northwest to the Neisse River to the south. The three Soviet fronts had a total of 2.5 million men.

Battle of the Oder–Neisse

The Seelow Heights, the final central defensive line outside Berlin, was where most of the combat in the overall attack occurred. The Battle of the Seelow Heights, which lasted four days from April 16 to 19, was one of World War II's final pitched battles, with nearly a million Red Army soldiers and 20,000 tanks and artillery pieces attempting to break through the "Gates to Berlin," which were defended by about 100,000 German soldiers and 1,200 tanks and guns. Zhukov's Soviet forces pushed through the defensive barriers, killing around 30,000 Soviet troops and 12,000 German troops.

The 1st Belorussian Front smashed through the final line of the Seelow Heights on the fourth day of April, leaving nothing but broken German forces between them and Berlin. After capturing Forst the day before, the 1st Ukrainian Front spread out into open terrain. Rybalko's 3rd and Lelyushenko's 4th Guards Tank Armies and Gordov's 3rd Guards Army were leading a significant advance north-east into Berlin, while other armies were marching west towards a sector of the US Army's front line on the Elbe southwest of Berlin. The Soviet forces carved a wedge between Army Group Vistula in the north and Army Group Centre in the south with these advances. As a result, the German eastern front line north of Frankfurt, around Seelow, and to the south, at Forst, had ceased to exist by the conclusion of the day. The two Soviet Fronts could encircle the German 9th Army in a vast enclave west of Frankfurt because of these breakthroughs. The Battle of Halbe was fought in response to the 9th Army's attempts to break out to the west. Between 1 and 19 April, the Soviet forces lost around 2,807 tanks, including at least 727 in the Seelow Heights.

Meanwhile, RAF Mosquitos carried out large tactical air raids against German positions inside Berlin on the evenings of April 15 (105 bombers), 17 (61 bombers), 18 (57 bombers), 19 (79 bombers), and 20 (79 bombers) (78 bombers).

Encirclement of Berlin

The 1st Belorussian Front's artillery began shelling Berlin on April 20, 1945, Hitler's 56th birthday and did not cease until the city surrendered. During the conflict, the weight of ammunition launched by Soviet artillery was more significant than the entire tonnage dropped on the town by Western Allied bombers. The 1st Ukrainian Front drove through the final formations of Army Group Centre's northern flank. It crossed north of Juterbog, well over halfway to the American front line on the Elbe at Magdeburg, while the 1st Belorussian Front advanced towards the city's east and northeast. The 2nd Belorussian opposite attacked the northern flank of Army Group Vistula was controlled by Hasso von Manteuffel's III Panzer Army, between Stettin and Schwedt. Bogdanov's 2nd Guards Tank Army moved approximately 50 kilometres (31 miles) north of Berlin the next day before attacking southwest of Werneuchen. The Soviet strategy first encircles Berlin, then surround the IX Army.

The German V Corps, besieged with the IX Army north of Forst, was handed over to the IX Army by the IV Panzer Army. The corps was still holding the front line of the Berlin-Cottbus highway. Field Marshal Ferdinand Schörner's Army Group Centre threw a counter-offensive in the 1st Ukrainian Front region, aimed at breaking through to Berlin from the south and making a successful initial incursion (the Battle of Bautzen), engaging the 2nd Polish Army and elements of the Red Army's 52nd Army and 5th Guards Army. When the IV Panzer Army's old southern flank had some local victories counter-attacking north against the 1st Ukrainian Front, Hitler issued orders that demonstrated his complete lack of understanding of military reality. First, he ordered the IX Army to hold Cottbus and establish a front-facing west. Then they were supposed to strike the oncoming Soviet columns to the north. It would allegedly allow them to construct a northern pincer to confront the IV Panzer Army approaching from the south and encircle the 1st Ukrainian Front before destroying it. Finally, they were supposed to anticipate a southward advance by the III Panzer Army and be prepared to be the southern arm of a pincer attack that would encircle the 1st Belorussian Front and annihilate it with SS-General Felix Steiner's Army Detachment advancing from north of Berlin. Later that day, when Steiner revealed that he lacked the necessary divisions, Heinrici warned Hitler's staff that the Soviets would encircle the IX Army unless it fled promptly. He said it was too late to go northwest to Berlin, and it would have to retreat west. Heinrici went on to add that if Hitler refused to allow the army to deploy west, he would want to be relieved of command.

At his afternoon status conference on April 22, 1945, Hitler burst into tears as he realized his plans, which he had prepared the day before, could not be carried through. He announced the war was lost, blaming the generals for the disaster, and that he would halt in Berlin until the end of the war and then commit himself. General Alfred Jodl predicted that General Walther Wenck's XII Army, facing the Americans, could move to Berlin because they were unlikely to move further east. After all, they were already on the Elbe River. This assertion was based on his examination of the stolen Eclipse documents, which outlined the Allies' division of Germany. Wenck was instructed to disengage from the Americans and send the XII Army north-east to support Berlin within hours of Hitler catching on to the notion. It was subsequently realized that the IX Army could hook up with the XII Army if it marched west. Heinrici was given the authorization to make the link-up later that evening.

On the west bank of the Oder, the 2nd Belorussian Front had created a bridgehead 15 kilometres (9 miles) deep and was fiercely engaged with the III Panzer Army. The IX Army, which was being pressed from the east, had taken Cottbus. East of Berlin, a Soviet tank spearhead was on the Havel River, and another had pierced Berlin's inner defensive ring at one point. As a result, the capital can now be attacked by field artillery.

The 1st Ukrainian Front and the Soviet 1st Belorussian Front tightened the encirclement on April 23, 1945, breaking the final link between the German IX Army and the city. The 1st Ukrainian Front moved westward and faced the German XII Army, marching towards Berlin. On the same day, Hitler named General Helmuth Weidling to succeed Lieutenant General Reymann as head of the Berlin Defense Area. Meanwhile, by April 24, 1945, the city had been completely encircled by units of the 1st Belorussian Front and 1st Ukrainian Front. The Soviet investment in Berlin was consolidated on April 25, 1945, with elite Soviet battalions exploring and piercing the S-Bahn defensive ring. It was evident that the German defence of the city could only do so much to prevent the Soviets from capturing it because the critical stages of the struggle had already been struggled and lost by the Germans outside the city. That point had generally blocked Schörner's effective onslaught, but he did manage to inflict substantial fatalities on opposing Polish and Soviet soldiers, halting their progress.

Battle in Berlin

Weidling had around 45,000 soldiers in multiple critically depleted German Army and Waffen-SS divisions ready to defend the city. These divisions were improved by the police force, Hitler Youth boys, and the Volkssturm. Many of the Volkssturm's 40,000 older members had been in the army as young men, and some had even served in World War I. SS Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke was the Battle Commander for the central government district, the Reich Chancellery, and the Führerbunker. He commanded a force of over 2,000 troops. Weidling divided the defences into eight sectors, labelled 'A' through 'H,' each led by a colonel or general who had no military experience. The 20th Infantry Division was stationed west of the city. The 9th Parachute Division was stationed to the north of the town. The Panzer Division Müncheberg was located to the northeast of the city. The 11th SS Panzergrenadier Division Nordland was situated to the city's southeast and the east of Tempelhof Airport. Finally, the 18th Panzergrenadier Division was stationed in Berlin's central district as a reserve.

Katukov's 1st Guards Tank Army and Berzarin's 5th Shock Army attacked Berlin from the southeast on April 23, overcoming a counter-offensive by the German LVI Panzer Corps and reaching the Berlin S-Bahn ring line on the north side of the Teltow Canal by the evening of April 24. Only a small group of French SS volunteers led by SS Brigadeführer Gustav Krukenberg arrived in Berlin during the same period, out of all the German forces sent to reinforce the city's inner defences by Hitler. Krukenberg was named commander of Defence Area C on April 25, the sector under the most strain from the Soviet assault on the city.

Chuikov's 8th Guards Army and 1st Guards Tank Army pushed their way through the southern suburbs on April 26th, attacking Tempelhof Airport, just within the S-Bahn defence ring, where the Müncheberg Division faced tough resistance. However, by April 27, the two understrength divisions (Müncheberg and Nordland) defending the southeast, From east to west, the 8th Guards Army, the 5th Shock Army, the 1st Guards Tank Army, and Rybalko's 3rd Guards Tank Army had been forced to retreat to the centre, taking up new defensive positions around Hermannplatz. Krukenberg notified General Hans Krebs, Chief of the General Staff of (OKH), that the Nordland would have to return to the centre sector Z within 24 hours (for Zentrum). The Soviet advance into the city centre followed these main axes: from the south, along the Frankfurter Allee (ending and stopping at the Alexanderplatz); from the south, along Sonnenallee (ending north of the Belle-Alliance-Platz); from the north, near the Reichstag; and from the south, near the Potsdamer Platz. The most intense fighting occurred at the Reichstag, the Moltke bridge, Alexanderplatz, and the Havel bridges in Spandau, with house-to-house and hand-to-hand battles. The SS foreign contingents fought extremely fiercely because they were ideologically driven and believed they would perish if captured.

Battle for the Reichstag

The Soviet 3rd Shock Army crossed the Moltke Bridge early on April 29 and spread out into the surrounding streets and buildings. The lack of backup artillery impeded the early attacks on facilities, particularly the Ministry of the Interior. Artillery could not be deployed forward in support until the damaged bridges were rebuilt. Hitler made his final testament in the Führerbunker at 04:00 a.m. and married Eva Braun shortly after. The Soviets continued their assault in the southeast around dawn. They were able to take Gestapo headquarters on Prinz-Albrechtstrasse after fierce combat, but a Waffen-SS counter-attack forced the Soviets to flee the premises. The 8th Guards Army advanced north across the Landwehr canal towards the Tiergarten from the southwest.

The Soviets solved their bridging problems the next day, 30 April, and launched an attack on the Reichstag with artillery support at 06:00. Still, due to German entrenchments and support from 12.8 cm guns on the roof of the Zoo flak tower, close to Berlin Zoo, it was not until that evening that the Soviets were able to enter the building. The Reichstag had not been used since it burned down in February 1933, and it is inside looked more like a rubble dump than a government structure. The German troops on the inside took full advantage of this and were well entrenched. There was a lot of room-to-room fighting. A sizable concentration of German soldiers remained in the basement at the time, launching counter-attacks against the Red Army. The Red Army finally acquired complete control of the facility on May 2, 1945. The famous photo of the two troops placing the flag on the building's roof was taken as a re-enactment the day after the building was captured.

Battle for the Centre

Weidling personally told Hitler in the early hours of April 30 that the defenders would most likely run out of ammunition throughout the night. Accordingly, he was given authorization by Hitler to break through the encircling Red Army lines. Braun and Hitler committed suicide that afternoon, and their remains were incinerated not far from the bunker. Admiral Karl Dönitz was named "President of the Reich" (Reichspräsident) following Hitler's testament, while Joseph Goebbels was named ReichsChancellor (Reichskanzler).

As the perimeter narrowed and the remaining defenders withdrew, they gathered in a tiny area near the city centre. Around 10,000 German forces were stationed in the city centre, under siege from all sides. Another primary drive was along Wilhelmstrasse, where significant concentrations of Soviet artillery hammered the reinforced concrete Air Ministry. Finally, the Hermann von Salza battalion's remaining German Tiger tanks took up positions in the Tiergarten's east to defend the centre against Kuznetsov's 3rd Shock Army (which was flanking the area by advancing through the northern Tiergarten despite being heavily engaged around the Reichstag) and the 8th Guards Army moving through the Tiergarten's south. These Soviet forces essentially cut the German-held sausage-shaped territory in half, making any attempt by German troops in the centre to flee to the west much more difficult.

Krebs called General Chuikov, commander of the Soviet 8th Guards Army, in the early hours of May 1 to notify him of Hitler's death and his willingness to negotiate a citywide surrender. They couldn't agree because the Soviets insisted on unconditional surrender, and Krebs claimed he didn't have the authority to consent to it. Goebbels was a staunch opponent of capitulation. Goebbels and his wife executed their children and then themselves in the afternoon. The death of Goebbels eliminated the final obstacle to Weidling accepting the terms of unconditional surrender of his garrison. Still, he chose to postpone the surrender until the following day so that the planned breakout could take place in the dark.

Breakout and Surrender

Most of the remainder of the Berlin garrison attempted to break out of the city centre in three different directions on the night of 1/2 May. Only those who walked west via the Tiergarten and across the Charlottenbrücke (a bridge across the Havel) towards Spandau could break through Soviet defences. Only a few who prepared it to the Western Allies' lines survived the initial breakout; most were killed or captured by the Red Army's outer encirclement forces west of the city. The Soviets took control of the Reich Chancellery early on May 2nd. At 6:00 a.m., General Weidling and his staff surrendered. At 08:23, Weidling was transported to see General Vasily Chuikov, who ordered the city's defenders to submit to the Soviets. The Zoo flak tower's 350-strong garrison has evacuated the structure. There was intermittent combat in a few isolated buildings where some SS troops refused to surrender, but the Soviets razed them.

Hitler's Nero Decree

On Hitler's orders, the city's food supply was largely destroyed. One hundred and eighty-six of the 226 bridges had been blown up, and 87 pumps had been rendered inoperable "On Hitler's instructions, one-quarter of the subway stations were flooded. When the SS blew up the defensive barriers on the Landwehr Canal, hundreds upon thousands of people who had sought cover in them perished." In the war's final days, workers destroyed and prevented the SS from blowing up the Klingenberg power station, the Johannisthal waterworks, other pumping stations, railroad infrastructure, and bridges with dynamite.

Battle Outside Berlin

After defying Hitler's express orders to hold Berlin at all costs and never order a retreat, Commander-in-Chief of Army Group Vistula, General Heinrici, was removed from his command and replaced by General Kurt Student on the 28th or 29th of April. Until Student arrived and took control, General Kurt von Tippelskirch was Heinrici's interim replacement. There is still some discussion about who was in leadership, as some sources claim that the Student was kidnapped by the British and never returned. Whether von Tippelskirch or Student-led Army Group Vistula in the war's closing days, the Germans' rapidly deteriorating condition meant that the joint troops under Army Group Vistula's nominal direction were irrelevant.

Krebs radioed General Alfred Jodl (Supreme Army Command) on April 29: Request a report right away. The first is the location of Wenck's spearheads. The attack was planned for the second time. Finally, there's the IX Army's location. Fourth, the specific area where the IX Army will make its breakthrough. The site of General Rudolf Holste's spearhead is the fifth question.

Jodl wrote to Krebs on April 30th, early in the morning: "First, Wenck's spearhead bogged down south of Schwielow Lake." Second, as a result, the XII Army cannot continue the onslaught on Berlin. Third, finally, the majority of the IX Army was encircled. The fourth point is that Holste's Corps is cautious.

North

While the 1st Ukrainian Front and the 1st Belorussian Front surrounded Berlin and began fighting for city control, Rokossovsky's 2nd Belorussian Front launched an offensive. Rokossovsky's 2nd Belorussian Front take on the northern flank of Army Group Vistula, which was held by the III Panzer Army, on April 20 between Stettin and Schwedt. By April 22, the 2nd Belorussian Front had built a 15-kilometre (9-mile) deep bridgehead on the Oder's east bank and was severely engaged with the III Panzer Army. However, the 2nd Belorussian Front broke through the III Panzer Army's line around the bridgehead south of Stettin on April 25, passed the Randowbruch Swamp, and was now free to proceed west into Montgomery's British 21st Army Group and north toward the Baltic port of Stralsund.

Under continuous pressure from Rokossovsky's 2nd Belorussian Front, the German III Panzer Army and the German XXI Army, located to the north of Berlin, retreated westwards and were eventually pushed into a 32 km (20 mi) wide pocket stretching from the Elbe to the coast. To their west, the British 21st Army Group (which had broken out of its Elbe bridgehead on 1 May and had raced to the beach, capturing Wismar and Lübeck), to their east, Rokossovsky's 2nd Belorussian Front, and to their south, the US Ninth Army (which had penetrated as far east as Ludwigslust and Schwerin).

South

The 1st Ukrainian Front's victories in the first nine days of the conflict meant that by April 25th, they had taken control of vast swaths of the terrain south and southwest of Berlin. Their spearheads had met 1st Belorussian Front units west of Berlin, completing its investment. Meanwhile, at Torgau on the Elbe River, the 58th Guards Rifle Division of the 5th Guards Army in the 1st Ukrainian Front made contact with the 69th Infantry Division (United States) of the United States First Army. These manoeuvres had split the German forces south of Berlin in three. First, in the Halbe Pocket, the German IX Army was surrounded. Second, Wenck's XII Army attempted to push its way into Berlin from the southwest following Hitler's April 22nd but met severe resistance from the 1st Ukrainian Front surrounding Potsdam. Finally, Schörner's Army Group Centre was forced to withdraw from the Battle of Berlin due to a lack of communication lines with Czechoslovakia.

The IX Army waged a desperate battle to break out of the pocket and meet up with the XII Army between April 24 and May 1. After a successful breakout from the bag, Hitler thought that the IX Army would be able to unite forces with the XII Army and relieve Berlin. Although there is no evidence that Generals Heinrici, Busse, or Wenck thought this was even remotely strategic, Hitler's consent to allow the IX Army to burst through Soviet lines permitted numerous German soldiers to flee to the west and surrender to the US Army.

Clausewitz, Scharnhorst, and Theodor Körner, three youth divisions, struck from the south-west toward Berlin at daybreak on April 28. They were a portion of Wenck's XX Corps and were made up of officers from officer training schools, making them some of Germany's most vital reserve forces. They travelled roughly 24 kilometres (15 miles) before coming to a standstill at the tip of Lake Schwielow, south of Potsdam and yet 32 kilometres (20 miles) from Berlin. During the night, General Wenck informed the German Supreme Army Command in Fuerstenberg that his XII Army had been pushed back along the entire front. No attack on Berlin, according to Wenck, was possible. Care from the IX Army could no longer be anticipated at that point.

Meanwhile, after breaking out of the Halbe pocket, around 25,000 German soldiers from the IX Army and several thousand civilians were able to reach the lines of the XII Army. Both sides agonized a large number of casualties. After the war, about 30,000 Germans were buried in the cemetery at Halbe. About 20,000 Red Army men perished in the attempt to thwart the breakout; the majority are buried in a cemetery near the Baruth-Zossen route. These are the known fatalities, but new bodies from the conflict are discovered every year; therefore, the total number of those killed will never be known. Nobody knows how many civilians were killed, but it might be up to 10,000.

Wenck's XII Army, having failed to break through to Berlin, made a fighting retreat back to the Elbe and American lines after giving surplus transport to the IX Army survivors. By the 6th of May, several German Army units and individuals had crossed the Elbe and surrendered to the Ninth Army of the United States. Meanwhile, the XII Army's bridgehead, which had its headquarters at Schönhausen Park, was heavily bombarded by Soviet fire and was crushed into an eight-by-two-kilometre sector (five by one and a quarter miles).

Surrender

General von Manteuffel, commander of the III Panzer Army, and General von Tippelskirch, commander of the XXI Army, capitulated to the US Army on the night of May 2–3. On May 9, Von Saucken's II Army, fighting in the Vistula Delta north of Berlin, surrendered to the Soviets. The XII Army's bridgehead perimeter began to crumble on May 7th. Wenck surrendered to the American Ninth Army after crossing the Elbe under a small arms fire.

Aftermath

According to Grigoriy Krivosheev's research based on declassified archival data, Soviet troops lost 81,116 men throughout the operation, including the battles of Seelow Heights and the Halbe; another 280,251 were reported injured or sick. The Soviets also lost 1,997 tanks and SPGs in the process. "All losses of armaments and equipment are recorded as irrecoverable losses," according to Krivosheev, "i.e. beyond economic repair or no longer serviceable." According to Soviet estimates based on kill claims, Germany lost 458,080 men killed and 479,298 taken; however, German research places the death toll between 92,000 and 100,000. The exact number of civilians murdered during the operation is unknown, but it is estimated that 125,000 people died.

The Soviet authorities took steps to restore essential services in regions that the Red Army had taken before the city centre's combat ceased. Almost all modes of transportation in and out of the city had been rendered inoperable, and bombed-out sewers had tainted the city's water supply. Local Germans led each city block, and the Soviet authority coordinated the cleaning. The Red Army made a concerted effort to feed the city's inhabitants. The food distributed by Red Army soup kitchens, which began on Colonel-General Berzarin's instructions, was gratefully received by most Germans, both troops and civilians. Following the surrender, the Soviets went door to door, detaining and imprisoning everybody in a uniform, including firefighters and railway workers.

Immediately after the attack, enraged Soviet troops (typically rear echelon units) indulged in mass rape, plunder, and murder in numerous city districts. When Red Army soldiers arrived in Germany, Oleg Budnitskii, a historian at Moscow's Higher School of Economics, told a BBC Radio program that they were amazed. "Eight million Soviet citizens travelled abroad for the first time in their lives, and the Soviet Union remained a closed country. They only knew about unemployment, famine, and exploitation in faraway lands. And when they arrived in Europe, they discovered a world utterly different from Stalinist Russia, particularly Germany. They were enraged and couldn't understand why Germans, who were so wealthy, came to Russia ". Other scholars doubt that sexual abuse by Red Army soldiers was anything more than a tragic routine on all sides during the war, including the Western Allies. Nevertheless, the commander of the Red Army in Berlin, Nikolai Berzarin, swiftly imposed punishments for looting and rape, including the death penalty.

Nonetheless, Red Army soldiers had a fearsome reputation even after the surrender. Despite Soviet efforts to deliver food and restore the city, Starvation remained an issue. One month after the capitulation, in June 1945, the ordinary Berliner was only obtaining 64% of a daily portion of 1,240 calories (5,200 kJ). As a result, over a million individuals were homeless across the city.

Commemoration

For their courage in Berlin's nearby suburbs and the city itself, 402 Red Army men were awarded the Soviet Union's highest honour, the title of Hero of the Soviet Union (HSU). For their contributions in the battle's conclusion, Marshals of the Soviet Union Zhukov and Konev won their third and second HSU honours, respectively. Guards Senior Sergeant Lyudmila S. Kravets, a combat medic of the 1st Rifle Battalion, 63rd Guards Rifle Regiment, 23rd Guards Rifle Division, was the Battle of Berlin's only female HSU recipient for her courageous acts (subordinate to 3rd Shock Army). 280 Red Army enlisted personnel would be given the Soviet Order of Glory First Class and upgraded to Full Cavaliers of the Order of Glory for their courage during the Battle of Berlin. Complete Cavaliers of the Order of Glory were given the same rights and honours as Soviet Union Heroes in Soviet society.

The Medal "For the Seizure of Berlin" was given to 1,100,000 Soviet troops who took part in the imprisonment of Berlin from April 22 to May 2, 1945. On May 7, 2007, a federal law of Russia determined the design of the Victory Banner be used for ceremonies of the Soviet Victory Day. On May 2, the Polish Army hoisted its flag on the Berlin Victory Column on the final day of the war in Berlin, Poland celebrates its official Flag Day.

Last updated: 2022-January-13
Tags: History World War II
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