BATTLE OF BERLIN
16 APRIL - 2 MAY 1945

The Battle of Berlin, which ended with the conquest of the Third Reich's capital by the Soviets, was not a mere formality for the Red Army but a bloody clash.

Reaching the Oder Before the Battle of Berlin

The Soviets launched in January 1945 an offensive in Poland, reaching up at the Oder river until mid-April. Following the Allied bombings, Berlin was a sea of ruins, where a large proportion of the citizens who had survived, were living in cellars.

The Red Army had in 1945 an overwhelming numerical superiority in men and equipment, plus tactical and operational experience gained in the previous years. The winner issue was just a matter of time and costs. The Wehrmacht had only a few armored, mechanized and infantry divisions for defending Berlin. There were also the fanatical SS troops, with a large number of foreign volunteers who had enlisted to fight against the Bolshevism; the Volkssturm, which included mostly the Hitlerjugend's teenagers and older men up to 60 years; and the last division of the Luftwaffe.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J31398 / [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

Battle of the Seelow Heights

The Battle of Berlin started on 19 April 1945 when the Red Army launched its offensive on the German capital.

  • in the northern sector there was the 2nd Belorussian Front, commanded by Marshal Rokkosovski;
  • in the center there was the 1st Belorussian Front under Marshal Zhukov;
  • in the southern sector was the 1st Ukrainian Front commanded by Marshal Konev

Two Polish armies were also included in the Soviet order of battle.

By Lonio17 / Orionist [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Germans had built several defensive lines outside of Berlin, hoping to stop the Soviet onslaught. The heaviest fighting until the entry into the city took place at Seelow Heights, a range of fortified hills about 50 miles (80 km) from Berlin, where the Germans had fielded artillery, mortars, dug in tanks and machine gun nests.

The Germans had also fortified the plain in front of the hills but, anticipating the Soviet attack, had withdrawn the bulk of their forces from the advanced lines, so that the terrible Soviet artillery barrage preceding the assault hit nothing but empty trenches. When the Soviet tanks and infantry attacked, the plain became a true field of death under the German fire from the Seelow Heights. The Soviets prevailed but at the cost of significant losses, only after the Soviet aircraft destroyed the German artillery on the heights.

Capturing the Reichstag

Fighting inside the city began about a week after the onset of the Soviet offensive. Many German units, SS and Hitlerjugend in particular, opposed a fierce resistance so that the Soviet advance occurred slowly. The German portable antitank weapons - Panzerfaust and Panzerschreck - proved effective in the urban environment. The Soviet tactics were to use assault groups consisting of infantry, armor, engineers, artillery and flamethrowers, backed by shattering barrages of heavy artillery and Katyusha multiple rocket launchers.

On April 30, when the Battle of Berlin was almost over, Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his bunker in order not to be captured alive. Two days later, the Soviets succeeded to capture the Reichstag - symbol building of the Nazi power - and then the forces defending Berlin capitulated, some trying to escape to the west, hoping to be captured by the Western Allies. After more than five years, the war was finally over in Europe.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R77767 / [CC-BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

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