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World War II: Battle of Berlin

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World War II: Battle of Berlin

Soviet soldiers Mikhail Yegorov and Meliton Kantaria of the 756th Rifle Regiment raising the Soviet flag over the Reichstag during the Battle of Berlin on April 30, 1945.

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Battle of Berlin - Conflict & Dates:

The Battle of Berlin was fought April 16-May 2, 1945, during World War II (1939-1945).

Armies & Commanders

Soviet Union

  • Marshal Georgy Zhukov
  • Marshal Konstantin Rokossovky
  • Marshal Ivan Konev
  • General Vasily Chuikov
  • apprx. 2,500,000 men

    Germany

  • General Gotthard Heinrici
  • General Kurt von Tippelskirch
  • Field Marshal Ferdinand Schörner
  • Lieutenant General Hellmuth Reymann
  • General Helmuth Weidling
  • Major General Erich Bärenfänger
  • approx. 766,750 men

  • Battle of Berlin - Background:

    Having driven across Poland and into Germany, Soviet forces began planning for an offensive against Berlin. Though supported by American and British aircraft, the campaign would be entirely conducted by the Red Army on the ground as General Dwight D. Eisenhower saw no reason to sustain losses for an objective that would ultimately fall into the Soviet occupation zone after the war. For the offensive, the Red Army massed Marshal Georgy Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front to the east of Berlin with Marshal Konstantin Rokossovky's 2nd Belorussian Front to the north and Marshal Ivan Konev's 1st Ukrainian Front to the south.

    Opposing the Soviets was General Gotthard Heinrici's Army Group Vistula supported by Army Group Centre to the south. One of Germany's premier defensive generals, Heinrici elected not to defend along the Oder River and instead heavily fortified the Seelow Heights east of Berlin. This position was supported by successive lines of defenses extending back to the city as well as by inundating the Oder's flood plain by opening reservoirs. Defense of the capital proper was tasked to Lieutenant General Helmuth Reymann. Though their forces looked strong on paper, Heinrici and Reymann's divisions were badly depleted.

    Battle of Berlin - The Attack Begins:

    Moving forward on April 16, Zhukov's men assaulted the Seelow Heights. In four days of heavy fighting, the Soviets captured the position, but sustained over 30,000 killed. To the south, Konev's command captured Forst and broke into open country south of Berlin. While part of his forces swung north towards Berlin, another pressed west to unite with advancing American troops. These breakthroughs saw Soviet troops nearly envelop the German 9th Army. Pushing westward, 1st Belorussian Front approached Berlin from the east and northeast. On April 21, its artillery began shelling the city.

    Battle of Berlin - Encircling the City:

    As Zhukov drove on the city, 1st Ukrainian Front continued to make gains to the south. Driving back the northern part of Army Group Center, Konev compelled that command to retreat towards Czechoslovakia. Pushing forward north of Juterbog on the 21st, his troops passed south of Berlin. Both of these advances were supported by Rokossovky to the north who was advancing against the northern part of Army Group Vistula. In Berlin, Adolf Hitler began to despair and concluded that the war was lost. In an effort to rescue the situation, the 12th Army was ordered east on the 22nd in the hope it could unite with 9th Army.

    The Germans then intended for the combined force to aid in defending the city. The next day, Konev's front completed the encirclement of 9th Army while also engaging the lead elements of the 12th. Unhappy with Reymann's performance, Hitler replaced him with General Helmuth Weidling. On April 24, elements of Zhukov and Konev's fronts met west of Berlin completing the encirclement of the city. Consolidating this position, they began probing the city's defenses. While Rokossovsky continued to advance in the north, part of Konev's front met the American First Army at Torgau on April 25.

    Battle of Berlin - Outside of the City:

    With Army Group Centre disengaging, Konev faced two separate German forces in the form of 9th Army which was trapped around Halbe and 12th Army which was attempting to break into Berlin. As the battle progressed, 9th Army attempted to breakout and was partially successful with around 25,000 men reaching 12th Army's lines. On April 28/29, Heinrici was replaced by General Kurt von Tippelskirch. Attacking northeast, General Walther Wenck's 12th Army had some success before being halted 20 miles from the city at Lake Schwielow. Unable to advance and coming under attack, Wenck retreated towards the Elbe and US forces.

    Battle of Berlin - The Final Battle:

    Within Berlin, Weidling possessed around 45,000 men composed of Wehrmacht, SS, Hitler Youth, and Volkssturm militia. Initial Soviet assaults on Berlin began on April 23, a day before the city was encircled. Striking from the southeast, they met heavy resistance but reached the Berlin S-Bahn railway near Teltow Canal by the following evening. On April 26, Lieutenant General Vasily Chuikov's 8th Guards Army advanced from the south and attacked Tempelhof Airport. By the next day, Soviet forces were pushing into the city along multiple lines from the south, southeast, and north.

    Early on April 29, Soviet troops crossed Moltke Bridge and began attacks on the Interior Ministry. These were slowed by a lack of artillery support. After capturing Gestapo headquarters later that day, the Soviets pressed on to the Reichstag. Assaulting the iconic building the next day, they succeeded in famously hoisting a flag over it after hours of brutal fighting. A further two days were needed to completely clear the Germans from the building. Meeting with Hitler early on April 30, Weidling informed him that the defenders would soon run out of ammunition.

    Seeing no other option, Hitler authorized Weidling to attempt a breakout. Unwilling to leave the city and with the Soviets nearing, Hitler and Eva Braun, who were married on April 29, remained in the Führerbunker and then committed suicide later in the day. With Hitler's death, Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz became president while Joseph Goebbels, who was in Berlin, became chancellor. On May 1, the city's remaining 10,000 defenders were forced into a shrinking area in the city center. Though General Hans Krebs, Chief of the General Staff, opened surrender talks with Chuikov, he was prevented from coming to terms by Goebbels who wished to continue the fight. This ceased to be an issue later in the day when Goebbels committed suicide.

    Though the way was clear to surrender, Krebs elected to wait until the following morning so that a breakout could attempted that night. Moving forward, the Germans sought to escape along three different routes. Only those who passed through the Tiergarten had success penetrating the Soviet lines, though few successfully reached American lines. Early on May 2, Soviet forces captured the Reich Chancellery. At 6:00 AM, Weidling surrendered with his staff. Taken to Chuikov, he promptly ordered all remaining German forces in Berlin to surrender.

    Battle of Berlin - Aftermath

    The Battle of Berlin effectively ended fighting on the Eastern Front and in Europe as a whole. With Hitler's death and complete military defeat, Germany unconditionally surrendered on May 7. Taking possession of Berlin, the Soviets worked to restore services and distribute food to the city's inhabitants. These efforts at humanitarian aid were somewhat marred by some Soviet units which plundered the city and assaulted the populace. In the fighting for Berlin, the Soviets lost 81,116 killed/missing and 280,251 wounded. German casualties are a matter of debate with early Soviet estimates being as high as 458,080 killed and 479,298 captured. Civilian losses may have been as high as 125,000.

    Selected Sources

  • BBC: Battle of Berlin
  • History of War: Battle of Berlin
  • World War II Database: Battle of Berlin

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