Berlin Operation of 1945

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Berlin Operation of 1945

 

an offensive operation on the Second Byelorussian Front (under Marshal of the Soviet Union K. K. Rokossovskii), the First Byelorussian Front (under Marshal of the Soviet Union G. K. Zhukov), and the First Ukrainian Front (under Marshal of the Soviet Union I. S. Konev), from April 16 to May 8 during the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union of 1941–45.

Between January and March 1945, Soviet troops routed large enemy groupings in East Prussia, Poland, and eastern Pomerania. Advancing in a wide front toward the Oder and Neisse rivers, they drove deep into German territory. They captured important bridgeheads on the west bank of the Oder, including the especially important one near Küstrin. At the same time, the Anglo-American troops, who were not encountering any organized resistance, were on the offensive in the west. The Hitlerite clique, hoping there would be disagreements between the allies, took all measures to stop the advance of the Soviet troops at the approaches to Berlin and reach an agreement with the Anglo-American ruling circles on a separate peace. In the direction of Berlin the German command massed a large grouping composed of the Vistula Army Group (Third Tank Army and Ninth Army) under Colonel General G. Heinrici (beginning on April 30, General of the Infantry K. Tippelskirch) and the Fourth Tank Army and Seventeenth Army of the Center Army Group under General Field Marshal F. Schörner (a total of about 1 million men, 10,400 guns and mortars, 1,530 tanks and assault guns, and more than 3,300 airplanes). Three defense zones up to 20–40 km deep were established on the west banks of the Oder and Neisse rivers. The Berlin defense area consisted of three ring-shaped defense lines. All the large buildings in the city were turned into strong points, and streets and squares were covered with strong barricades.

For the offensive in the direction of Berlin, the Soviet command massed 19 combined-arms armies (including two Polish armies), four tank and four air armies (2.5 million men, 41,600 guns and mortars, 6,250 tanks and self-propelled guns, and 7,500 airplanes). The plan of operation was to strike several powerful blows on a wide front, break up the enemy’s Berlin grouping, encircle it, and destroy it part by part.

The Berlin operation began on April 16 after powerful artillery and air preparation. The first Byelorussian Front attacked the enemy on the Oder River and delivered its main attack from the bridgehead near Küstrin. At the same time the troops of the First Ukrainian Front began to force the Neisse River. Despite bitter enemy resistance, especially on the Zelow hills west of Küstrin, the Soviet troops broke through the enemy defense. The attempt of the Hitlerite command to win the battle for Berlin on the Oder and Neisse ended in collapse.

On April 20 the troops of the Second Byelorussian Front started an offensive in the direction of Stettin. They forced two branches of the Oder River and the area between them, and by the evening of April 25 they had broken through the main enemy defense zone south of Stettin. After breaking through the enemy defense, the troops of the First Byelorussian and First Ukrainian fronts, bypassing Berlin from the north and south, began to carry out a maneuver to cut off and surround the Berlin grouping. On April 24 the troops of the First Byelorussian and the First Ukrainian fronts joined on the southeastern outskirts of Berlin and cut the enemy grouping in two. As a result, the main forces of the Ninth Army and part of the forces of the Fourth Tank Army were cut off from Berlin and surrounded southeast of the city. On April 25 the troops of these fronts met in the region of Ketzin and closed the ring of encirclement west of Berlin. Thus, up to 200,000 German fascist troops found themselves surrounded southeast of Berlin, and 200,000 were surrounded in Berlin itself.

The liquidation of the grouping that was surrounded southeast of Berlin was completed on May 1 by the troops of the First Ukrainian and the First Byelorussian fronts. At the same time, troops of the First Ukrainian Front repelled a counterblow by General W. Wenck’s Twelfth Army, which had been transferred from the western front, near Beelitz, as well as a counterblow by an enemy grouping near Görlitz. The latter grouping had tried to break into the rear of the front and disrupt the First Ukrainian Front’s offensive on Berlin.

The destruction of the grouping surrounded in Berlin turned into a fierce battle. From April 21, when Soviet troops broke into Berlin, until May 2, bloody battles were fought in the streets of the city day and night. Every street and house had to be taken by storm, and there was hand-to-hand fighting in subway tunnels, sewer pipes, and underground connecting trenches. The enemy resisted stubbornly. On April 30 the troops of the Third Shock Army under Colonel General V. I. Kuznetsov began the battle for the Reichstag, which was stormed by the 171st Rifle Division under Colonel A. I. Negoda and the 150th Rifle Division under Major General V. M. Shatilov. On the evening of the same day the Reichstag was taken, and the Banner of Victory was raised over it by Sergeants M. A. Egorov and M. V. Kantariia.

Hitler committed suicide on April 30, leaving a testament on the composition of a new government under Admiral Dönitz. On May 1, the new government sent parliamentarians led by the chief of the general staff, General of the Infantry Krebs, with a proposal for temporary cessation of hostilities signed by Goebbels and Borman. The Soviet command’s reciprocal proposal for unconditional surrender was rejected. Then, in the evening of May 1, a powerful artillery blow was struck, and the attack was renewed. By the morning of May 2 the remnants of the Berlin garrison were split up into isolated groups and by 3:00 P.M. they surrendered, led by General Weidling, chief of the Berlin defense.

At the same time as the encircled groupings were being destroyed, Soviet troops were on the offensive in the west; on April 25 the troops of the First Ukrainian Front met with the advance units of the US First Army near Riesa and Iorgau. The troops of the First Byelorussian Front reached the Elbe River on May 7 in a wide front. At the same time, the troops of the Second Byelorussian Front attacked successfully in western Pomerania and Mecklenburg; on April 26 they captured the main enemy defense strong points on the west bank of the Oder River—Pölitz, Stettin, Gatow, and Schwedt. In rapid pursuit of the remnants of the defeated Third Tank Army, they reached the shore of the Baltic Sea on May 3. On May 4 they advanced to the line of Wismar, Schwerin, and the Elde River, where they came into contact with British troops. On May 4–5 the troops of this front cleared the islands of Wollin, Usedom, and Rügen of the enemy; on May 9 they landed on the Danish island Bornholm to accept the surrender of the German fascist troops.

In the course of the Berlin Operation, Soviet troops completely destroyed 70 infantry, 12 tank, and 11 motorized divisions and captured about 480,000 men. In the Berlin Operation more than 304,000 Soviet troops were killed, wounded, or missing, and 2,156 tanks and self-propelled guns, 1,220 guns and mortars, and 527 airplanes were lost. After completing the Berlin Operation the Soviet troops and the Allies finally crushed the German fascist war machine. On May 8 representatives of the German command, headed by Keitel, signed the act on the unconditional surrender of Germany.

REFERENCES

50 let Vooruzhennykh Sil SSSR. Moscow, 1968.
Istoriia Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny, 1941–1945, vol. 5. Moscow, 1964.
Konev, I. S. Sorok piatyi. Moscow, 1966.
Zhukov, G. K. Vos pominaniia i razmyshleniia. Moscow, 1969.
Vorob’ev, F. D., I. V. Parot’kin, and A. N. Shimanskii. Poslednii shturm. Moscow, 1970.

A. N. SHIMANSKII

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.