The Red Army deployed 1.3 million experienced and well-armed troops to take Berlin. Marshal Zhukov called the battle for Berlin the 'final hour of vengenance'. Stalin set up a competition between Zukov and Koniev. The German cimmander was Gotthard Heinrici, a competent officer given and impoosible task, especially after Hitler stripped his Army Group Vistula of the well equipped panzer divisions that might have slowed the Soviets. They were inexplicably sent to defend Prague. The German forces were both numerically small, but include porrly trained and equipped men and boys. There a relatively small regular Whermacht force bolstere with poorly armed fanatical NAZIs, old men, and Hitler Youth boys fought it out with the well-equipped Red army troops. [Bahm] Stalin ordered the Soviet soldiers to swear an oath on the Soviet flag to fight with 'special zeal for the motherland, the Communist Party and final victory'. The Soviets after Stalin told Eisenhower that Berlin was of no interest launched their offensive (April 16). [Ryan, p. 251-52.] The major German defenses were the Zeelow Heights. The Germans did not have suffient forces to hold the heights, but exacted substantial casulaties on the Red Army. After achiebing the Heights, the Grmans pushd forward to Berlin itself. The battle became a bloody building to bulding struggle. There were already piles of rubble from the Allied strategic bombing campaign. The building to building fighting reduced the structures still standing to rubble. Soon bodies were dangling from lamposts, hung by SS squads executing men seen as desertersor avoiding combat. The civilian population was more ndangered by these SS squads than the Red Army soldiers, although mass rape would soon begin. One author wrote that there has never been a city so desperately contested. We are not sure this was the case. Stalingrad might be a a more desperate battle and lasted longer. Lenningrad even longer. The Soviets both drove ito the city, but also encircled it. The encirclement was complete (April 25). Then the Soviets relentlessly pressed forward, driving toward central Berlin where the Reichstag and the Chancellery were located. There were Whermacht forces to the north and west of Berlin. After assuring Heinrici that Berlin was not the Red Army's target, Hitler began issuing desperate orders for these forces to come to Berlin;s rescue. The commanders had better sence than to comply. Red Army soldiers seized the Reichstag raised the Soviet flag (April 30). Hitler committed suiside in his bunker the same day. The Whermacht commander, defying Hitler's orders to fight to the death, finally surrendered (May 2).
Hitler for inexplicable reasons was was convinced that Berlin wa not the Red Army's proincipal target. The Soviets dispelled that notion with the Vistula–Oder Offensive (January 1945). The Red Army which had remained on the Vistula which ran thriugh Warsaw in Pollznd. They built up supplies and men and frive east toward Berlin, ending on the Oder. It was a mjor advance into German-held territory, capturing major Polish cities--Kraków, Warsaw and Poznań. The Red Army had built up their strength in key bridgeheads across the Vistula. Two fronts (army groups) were commanded by Marshal Georgy Zhukov and Marshal Ivan Konev. They attacked German Army Group A, led by Colonel-General Josef Harpe who Hitler replaced by Colonel-General Ferdinand Schörner. By this time of the War, the Germans were now hugely outnumbered some five to one. The German commandants evacuated the remaining concentration camps in Poland, sending the starving prisoners on death marches west. Ethnic Germans megan fleeing, althoufg they received little advanced warning. All this occurred in the dead of winr=ter. In a mere 2 weeks, the Red Army dreove 300 miles from the Vistula to the Oder. Thus put them only only 43 miles from the center of Berlin which because of Hitler's orders was largely indefended. Here Zhukov prdered called a halt becsuse of German resistance on his northern flank in Pomerania or what had been the Polish Corridor. The Red Army began preparing for the last major battle of the War--the Battle for Berlin.
The Barttle of Berlin would be the last and decisive World War II battle in Europe. The Soviets valled it the Berlin Strategic Offensive Operation. This might not have been the case. Berlin was titularly the Reich's capital, in fact since the outbreak of the war, the capital was essenilly whereever Hitler was. He was an absolute dictator so the NAZI capital in effect moved with him. And Hitler could hace flown to the north or south and continued the War for a few weeks more. His staff facing the advancing Red Army pleaded with him to move out of the capital away from the Red Army. They wanted be captured by the Americans or British. Hitler decided to remain in his Berlin Bunker and end his war there. Primary to his thinking was that here in his bunket he could comtrol the situation and end his life wihout fear of capture.
The Red Army deployed 1.3 million experienced and well-armed troops to take Berlin. Marshal Zhukov called the battle for Berlin the 'final hour of vengenance'. The principal Soviet forces were the 2nd Belorussian Front, the 1st Belorussian Front, and the 1st Ukrainian Front. 'Front' was the Red Army term for an army group.
Hitler had assigned the defense of Berlin and commnd of Army Group Vistula to SS Reich Führer Heinriuch Himmler January 24). He proved a total incomentent. Himmler did not want thr job. It put him squarely in the path of the Red Army. He did little ti set up a serious defense. Hitler much to Himmler's relief was forced to turn to a proffesional Whermact commander. He chose Colonel-General (Generaloberst) Gotthard Heinrici. He was given command (March 20). Himmler much to his relief moved to a rear area. Heimnrici was given an impossible task, especially after Hitler had stripped Army Group Vistula of the few panzer divisions with at least some tanks -- that might have slowed the Soviets. Hitler ordered the IV SS Panzer Corps was committed to defend Budapest (January 1945). nd then muvch of what was lest to western Hungary (March). The German forces were both numerically small, but include porrly trained and equipped men and boys. Manby units were at this point of the war units on paper only. There a relatively small regular Whermacht force bolstereg with poorly armed fanatical NAZIs, old men, and Hitler Youth boys ehich fought it out with the well-equipped Red Army troops. [Bahm] What was left of Field Marshal Ferdinand Schörner's Army Group Centre also participated.
Stalin set up a competition between Zukov and Koniev. Stalin ordered the Soviet soldiers to swear an oath on the Soviet flag to fight with 'special zeal for the motherland, the Communist Party and final victory'. The Soviets after Stalin told Eisenhower that Berlin was of no interest launched their offensive (April 16). [Ryan, p. 251-52.] He pressed his commndees because he was afaid that Eisenhower might make for Berlin, especially after realiing he had been deceived.
Along the Baltic coast, Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky's 2nd Belorussian Front launched the Stettin-Rostock Offensive Operation (April 16). This was designed to link with the British driving east and to endure that German units in the north could notrelieve the forces in Berlin.
Marshal Georgy Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front launchd the Seelow-Berlin Offensive Operation (April 16). This was the beginning of the Blle for Berlin. Stalin gave him primary resomsibility for capturing the German capitl. The German majora outer defenses of Berlin was based on the Oder-Neisse Rivers and beyond the Zeelow Heights. This was a powerful defensive position and the only one betweem The Soviets and Berlin. The Germans did not have, have, in part thanks to Hitlet, suffient forces to hold the heights. Heinrici through slillful maneuer, did have sufficent forces to exact substantial casulaties on the Red Army. The Battle of the Oder-Neisse is the opening action of the war-ending Battle. This was the frontal attack on Berlin to be be supported by pincer movements to surrond the city. Zukov commenced the battle with one of the most massive artillery brages of he War to destroy the German positions on the Seelow Heights. Thousands of artillery pieces and Katyusha rockets opened up on the Germans in a barrage which was sustained for nearly 2 hours in some sectioms of the front. Soon after and before dawn, the 1st Belorussian Front which had some footholds attacked in force across the Oder. The 1st Ukrainian Front attacked across the Neisse. The 1st Belorussian Front had been strengthened because it had the more difficult assignment and was facing the strongest German forces in well-prepared defences. The initial Red Army attack was a disaste. Heinrici anticipated the Red Army brage and withdrew his defenders from the first line of trenches just before the Red Army 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 Red Army formations. The swampy ground was also a hinderence to a attcking fotcer. A German counter-barrage exscted heavy casualties. Zukov was frustrated by his flagging advance and committed his reserves. They had been intebdedd to exploit breaks in the Germnan lines. But without a break they had to be used to create breaks. They had advanced 6 kme, but the German front line was still intact.
The Soviets before druiving into Berlin, firsr encircled it. The Cottbus-Potsdam Offensive Operation was the northern flank of the Soviert Berlin offensive. It was launched by Marshal Ivan Konev's Cavalry Mechanized Group of the 1st Ukrainian Front (April 16). The Spremberg-Torgau Offensive Operation was the southern flank of the Berlin offensive. It was also launched by the 1st Ukrainian Front (April 16). the Soviet 1st Belorussian Front and 1st Ukrainian Front tightend the encirclement, severing the last link between the German IX Army and the city (Aapril 23). The Soviet 1st Belorussian Front and 1st Ukrainian Front tighten the encirclement, severing the last link between the German IX Army and the city. Elements of the 1st Ukrainian Front continued to move westward and started to engage the German XII Army moving twith little entudism toward Berlin. The encirclenent was completed when units of Zhukov and Konev met at Ketzin (April 25). This was also the day that Soviet units of 1st Ukrainian Front and Lt. Gen. Courtney Hodges First U.S. Army met on the Elbe at Torgau.
There were Whermacht forces to the north and west of Berlin. None were anxious to move into the maelstrom of the fight for Berlin. After the War they would claim that they were just waiting for the British and Americans to advance so they could surrender to the Western Allies. The primary concern of most German soldiers at the time was to surrender the the Americans and British and not the Soviets. Jodl and Keitel were at Hitler's side throughout the War. They understood, hiwever, as Hitler did not, that Stalin had ordered the conquest of Berlin. Jodl contunued to be in command up to the end of the war. He and Keitel moved to northern Germany as the Soviets drove on Berlin. Jodl's goal was to move move as much of the German Army west and out of Soviet hands as possible. Hitler after repeateky assuring Heinrici and others that Berlin was not the Red Army's target, finally began issuing desperate orders for German forces to come to Berlin's rescue. He hovered over maps showing the location of nonexistent or largely incapcitated forces. The commanders involved for the most part had better sence than to comply. Hitler was focused on the XIIth Army (Wenck) , the IX Army, and XLI Panzer Corps (Holste). Jodl replied to the desperate requests by Krebbs in the Führerbunker, "Firstly, Wenck's spearhead bogged down south of Schwielow Lake. Secondly, the XII Army therefore unable to continue attack on Berlin. Thirdly, bulk of the IX Army surrounded. Fourthly, Holste's Corps on the defensive (early morning April 30)."
The fight for the Zeelow Heights could be clearly heard in Berlin. And the city telephpone system could be used to monitor the Red Army entry into the city suburbs and then Berlin itsef. Adolf Hitler refused to leave the capital, and decided to spend the last days pf his life underground in the Führerbunker at the center of the city. He last appeared above ground on his 56th birthday just a the battle for Berlin began (April 20). He awarded medals to those defending the city. That same day, Soviet forces began to shell the city centre. Speer flew into Berlin, landing on Unter-dem-Linden for a last meeting with Hitler (April 22). Hitler told him of his determination to remain in the city. Hitler appointed General Helmuth Weidling to commander the Berlin Defence Area, replacing Lieutenant General Reymann April 24). The Soviet investment of Berlin was consolidated April 25). The leading Red Army units penetrated S-Bahn which ringed the city (April 25). No one had any illusions that the German defence could not do anything but slow the Soviets seizure of the city. A depleted and disorganised garrison of about 95,000 faced two full Soviet army groups attacking from the east and south. Some 1.5 million Soviet troops encircled and were now assaulting the capital. It was the last major offensive of the war in Europe. After the Battle for the Zeelow hights, Schörner's command was separated from the Berlin offensive. Schörner was popular with Hitler and Goebbels for his harsh measures--he ordered the execution of more of his own men than any other German commander before finally deserting his post in Prague. After seizing the Zeelow Heights, the 1st Belorussian Front pushed forward into to Berlin itself. The battle became a bloody building to bulding struggle. There were already piles of rubble from the Allied strategic bombing campaign. The building to building fighting reduced the structures still standing to rubble. Soon bodies were dangling from lamposts, hung by SS squads executing men seen as desertersor avoiding combat. The civilian population was more endangered by these SS squads than the Red Army soldiers, although mass rape would soon begin. One author wrote that there has never been a city so desperately contested. We are not sure this was the case. Stalingrad might have been a more desperate battle, with more matched forces, and lasted longer. Lenningrad even longer. Then the Soviets relentlessly pressed forward, driving toward central Berlin where the Reichstag and the Chancellery were located and Hitler was awaiting the end in his bunker. Hitler's relaced Heinrici who defied his orders to never order a retreat, and replaced him as commander of Army Group Vistula with General Kurt Student (April 28). General Kurt von Tippelskirch was named interim commander until Student could get to Berlin. It made little differemnce what was left of the Army Group was distengrating. Hitler married Evaa Braun (April 29). The next day Soviet forces captured the shell-damaged Reichstag. A famous staged photo shows a Soviet soldier lifting the Soviet flag above the historic building (April 30). Hitler that morning had informed Jodl that no relief was possible. Hitler and his new wide committed suiside in his bunker the same day. Hitler took cyinide and shot himself to make sure. Their bodies were taken above ground and burned in a bomb crater nearby. The Whermacht commander, defying Hitler's orders to fight to the death, finally surrendered. The Soviets finally captured the Reich Chancellery (early morning May 2). , General Weidling surrendered with his staff. (06:00 hours). He was taken to see General Vasily Chuikov where Weidling ordered the city's defenders to surrender. [Beevor, p. 386.] The 350 men in the Zoo flak tower with drew from the building. Berlin was left in ruins and it was not all the work of the Allies ans Soviets. As a result of Hitler's Nero Decree (March 19), Berlin's food supplies had been mostly destroyed. Over half (128) of Berlin's 226 bridges were blown. Some 87 pumps weredisabled. A quarter of the subway stations were under water, flooded on Hitler's orders. Thousands and thousands who had sought shelter in them had drowned when the SS had carried out the blowing up of the protective devices on the Landwehr Canal." [Engelmann, p. 266.] It could have been even worse. Workers managed to prevent the blowing up of the Klingenberg power station, the Johannisthal waterworks, and other pumping stations, railroad facilities, and bridges tht the SS had rigged with dynamite by the SS. Occupying Soviet troops gave out bread and essentials to the tarving civilians, but some soldiers also committed atrocities against civilians. Huge numbers of women were brutally rapped.
Bahm, Karl. Belin: The Final Reckoning (2014).
Beevor, Antony. (2003), Berlin: The Downfall 1945 (Penguin Books; 2003).
Engelmann, Bernt (1986), Berlin – Eine Stadt wie keine andere (Berlin – A City Like No Other) in German (München: Bertelsmann Verlag, 1986).
Ryan, Cornelius. The Last Battle (Simon andSchuster: New York, 1966), 571p.
Navigate the CIH World Wr II Pages:
[Return to Main Battle for Berlin page]
[Return to Main World War II Second Phase]
[Return to Main World War II campaign page]
[Return to Main Great Patriotic War page]
[Return to Biography: Adolf Hitler]
[Biographies][Campaigns][Children][Countries][Deciding factors][Diplomacy][Geo-political crisis][Economics][Home front][Intelligence]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]