Saturday 8 March 2014

World of Tanks History Section: Fall of Berlin

In the middle of April of 1945, Germany was between a rock and a hard place. The Allies were in the west, and the unstoppable Red Army rolled in from the east. Germany lost massive amounts of people, most of its natural resources, the country's industry suffered heavily, important agricultural regions were lost. The Third Reich was in agony, but even in this condition, the German army remained a dangerous foe. Even though all hope for victory was long lost, the battle-weary soldiers fought for every last scrap of land.

The Germans' resistance was only partially explained through devotion to the Fuhrer's ideology. A far bigger reason was the expectation that the government will manage to make peace with the Allies, and make a bargain for favourable terms of surrender.

Hitler and his officials knew that the western nations were afraid that the USSR would hold great influence in Europe after the end of the war. And they were right. President Roosevelt, when writing policy on co-operation with the USSR, wrote "The United States must get Berlin. The Soviets can have lands to the east". The British Prime Minister Churchill was in agreement with Roosevelt, and also held the opinion that Allied forces should enter Berlin first. The capture of Berlin would have been a serious ideological victory for the Allies.

The Soviet government understood the current political situation. Berlin must be taken as soon as possible. The date of the offensive was set for April 16th.

Massive forces were readied for the offensive operation. Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front, Rokossovskiy's 2nd Belorussian Front, Konev's 1st Ukraininan Front. Ships of the Red Banner Navy Baltic Fleet and Dniepr Navy provided fire support. Approximately 7500 airplanes were ready for takeoff.

The German defensive was conducted by army groups "Vistula" and "Center". Air support was provided by the 4th and 6th air fleets, as well as the "Reich" air fleet. Hitler's defenders numbered over one million soldiers, 1500 tanks and SPGs, 3300 airplanes. The Germans also had an ace up their sleeve in the form of a heavily echeloned line of defense. Fortified regions on the Oder and Neisse rivers were up to 40 km deep. Berlin itself was turned into a fortress. Nearly every building was fortified, streets were barricaded, minefields and individual mines were scattered everywhere. A Berlin barricade was not just garbage piled across a road. It was a special structure made of wood and dirt up to 4 meters thick. The barricade could be collapsed by detonating special charges, completely blocking passage for tanks. 600 AA guns looked up at the sky. General Reymann was responsible for Berlin's defense until April 24th, when Hitler replaced him with Helmuth Weidling.

The main strike at Berlin was carried out by the 1st Belorussian Front. Its forces were concentrated in a foothold at the city of Kostrzyn. The German capital was only 60-70 km from there. In front of the foothold lay Seelow Heights, where the Germans established a powerful line of defense. In order to complete his task, Zhukov's forces had to break that line.

The 1st Ukrainian Front was to attack south of Berlin, and no later than 12 days into the operation, reach the river Beelitz-Wittenberg, and head to Dresden by the Elbe river. A variant of the plan would have the Front strike at Berlin from the south, if it was necessary.

The 2nd Belorussian Front was ordered to cross the Oder, destroy the Shtett group and cut the West Pomeranian group off from Berlin. The Front also had to cover the shore of the Baltic from Vistula to Altdamm.

On April 14th, Zhukov's forces began combat scouting from the Kostrzyn foothold. They managed to displace the 20th motorized division. Hitler was so enraged by this retreat that he ordered all of its men to be stripped of medals until they reclaim the lost territory. The Germans did not have time for this. The Soviet offensive was only 2 days away.

The Front put in significant effort the keep the attack a secret, but this was not 100% possible, simply due to the sheer amount of soldiers. Additionally, the Germans captured a Soviet prisoner, that revealed the day of the offensive. Knowing that an offensive would start with an artillery barrage, the Germans moved most of their forces to the second line of defense.

Nearly 9000 guns and mortars opened fire in the early morning of April 16th. The density of fire was about 270 guns per kilometer of front. In minutes, the first line of defense turned to dirt. The barrage lasted half an hour. At the same time, night bombers from the 4th and 16th air armies bombed enemy headquarters, artillery positions, and deep defensive lines. Infantry divisions followed, along with Katukov's 1st Guards Tank Army.

134 AA floodlights were brought to Seelow Heights to blind the Germans. Unfortunately, they did not have the desired effect; the light beams were stopped by dust and smoke in the air. Many commanders had to order the lights turned off on their section, and then turned on again, which caused confusion. Nevertheless, Soviet forces pushed forward. When the second line of defense was reached, the resistance increased drastically. Fierce battles broke out on the entire length of the front. The Red Army did not achieve overwhelming success that day. The German defenses were only penetrated by April 19th. Seelow Heights were captured, and the possibility of advancing to Berlin arose. On April 20th, long range artillery of the 3rd Shock Army opened fire on the German capital. On the next day, elements of the 1st Belorussian Front were already at the outskirts of Berlin.

The 1st Ukrainian Front had more success. The river Neisse was crossed on the first day. The offensive pushed 13 kilometers into German lines across a 26 kilometer front. Two days later, the German 4th tank army as displaced to the third line of defense. The Berlin group was in danger of being encircled from the south. The Germans sent in reserves to try and turn the tide of battle, but had no success. On the morning of April 18th, the 3rd and 4th Guards Tank Armies crossed the river Spree, and captured footholds south and north of Spremberg. The offensive was supported from the air by the 9th Guards Fighter Division, commanded by the famous Soviet fighter ace A. Pokryshkin.

The 2nd Belorussian Front was preparing to cross the Oder. On April 18-19th, the crossing was performed, and cut off elements of General von Manteuffel's 3rd Tank Army from Berlin.

On April 25th, Soviet forces closed a ring around Berlin. The last assault was coming. By modern estimates, 120 000 soldiers remained in Berlin, not counting Volkssturm militia. Approximately 3000 guns and 250 tanks accompanied them. The tanks were not only mobile fighting units. Many were inoperable, and were placed in strategic parts of the city, acting as bunkers. The city was separated into 9 defensive sectors. The closer to the center, the tougher the defenses.

April 25th is the official date of the start of the offensive, but battles raged on as soon as Soviet forces first approached Berlin, on April 21st. Assault squad tactics were frequently used. An assault squad consisted of a battalion or company of infantry, reinforced with tanks, SPGs, mortars, sappers, and sometimes even flamethrowers. These groups ate through the enemy defenses, slowly, house by house. When necessary, they would split up into smaller units.

Soviet aircraft delivered three massive strikes to objects in Berlin on April 25th and the night of April 26th. 2000 aircraft participated in the offensive. Six Soviet armies took Berlin from its desperate defenders, block by block. The 9th rifle corps of the 5th Shock Army distinguished themselves by taking 80 blocks in one day. The successes of the other units were not as stunning.

On April 27th, Soviet units fought at Spandau, on the northern borders of Tiergarten and Prentzlauberg. The 9th rifle corps reached Treptov. On the south side of Berlin, the 8th Guards Army and 1st Guards Tank Army reached the Landwehr-canal and crossed it. The 3rd Guards Tank Army was finishing off the 18th motorized division in Grünewald. The situation for Germans became more and more dire. They did not have enough water, the constant stress exhausted soldiers and militiamen, the amount of wounded grew day by day. Himmler's SS executed not only deserters, but civilians caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. These actions sometimes led to resistance from the Wehrmacht. General Mummert, commander of the Muncheberg tank division, ordered the SS to leave his positions, threatening them with execution.

German high command still spread rumours of a possible separate peace with the Western Allies. Few believed in it by this point. On April 30th, Soviet forces began storming the Reichstag, and that evening, the first of the assault flags of the 150th rifle division flew like a red fire on one of the columns. As battles progressed, flags appeared on the first floors. At night, two groups of soldiers managed to raise flags on the roof. The most well known flag was raised at 3 am above the cupola of the Reichstag by Junior Sergeant Meliton Kantaria, Sergeant Mihail Egorov, and Lieutenant Aleksey Berest. This was the only flag that remained after German artillery fired on the Reichstag.

On April 30th, Hitler committed suicide in his bunker at Wilhelmstrasse. One of history's most brutal dictators was rolled up in a carpet and burned in the garden of the Reich Chancellery. General Krebs, the head of the land forces, began negotiations with the Soviets that evening. A call was made to Stalin. He confirmed that the surrender must be unconditional. The Germans refused, and at 18:00 on May 1st, the attack on Berlin resumed. During one night, the defenses of the city were fragmented into several small remnants.

On May 2nd, General Weidling ordered the surrender of his 56 tank corps. He then signed an order to the rest of the garrison to put down their weapons and surrender. The order only reached most German units by the middle of the day. Over 100 000 men surrendered that evening. Berlin fell. The end of the Great Patriotic War was only a week away.

Original article available here.


  1. Sometime I wish D-Day failed so that Soviet Union could just continue roll westwards.

    1. Sometimes I wish you cancer.

  2. So much for ill wishes...

  3. There's another reason for the efficiency of German resistance, and that's the mere shortening of lines. The Soviet victories of 1944 which drove back the German paradoxically also had the effect of shortening the front and allowing for greater troop density per kilometer on the defensive, which allowed the Germans to have more prepared defense in depth.

  4. 1. Hitler's body was wrapped in a blanket, not a carpet...
    2. It is an extreme exaggeration to state that "nearly every building was fortified", as entire neighborhoods fell undefended...
    3. The Germans had nowhere near 1500 tanks and 3000 aircraft, let alone the necessary fuel!
    4. Weidling came back with approx. 60 tanks from the Oder, not anywhere near the 250 mentioned in the article...
    5. Berlin's citizens themselves joked about the worthless street barricades, this is common knowledge!