The War Comes To Berlin
World War II would bring about the destruction of cities all across the globe, causing horrendous civilian suffering. Lives were ruined, and nations went bankrupt. The capitals of the participants, the main geographic symbol of a war state, would all go through different experiences. In Asia, the former Chinese capital of Nanking was pillaged and raped by Japanese troops, while Tokyo was to be firebombed by Allied aircraft. In Europe, the Luftwaffe would spread death to Warsaw, Belgrade and London, which was also harassed by German wonder weapons later on in the war. Axis Rome was both bombed and battled over, causing significant damage to the city, while Soviet Moscow had barely escaped Nazi capture in 1941, but had been hit by several damaging air raids. Towards the end of 1943, Adolf Hitler's Berlin, the capital of fascist Germany, was to begin to undergo its own suffering.
A city learns to endure
By the beginning of September, 1943, Berlin had to yet to truly suffer the consequences of Hitler's war, now entering its fourth year. The first major Anglo-American air raids upon the capital had only just begun, using over 2,200 tons of explosives in the first two attacks. The combination of strong anti-aircraft batteries and its relative distance from Allied air bases had posed a bit of a threat to Allied pilots, delaying large scale attacks. Earlier, less powerful raids were viewed as entertainment by some Berliners, with crowds watching the show, and many dancing to them, such was the problem of boredom affecting the city. Big department stores and luxury restaurants had been closed early in the year, and film theaters were showing little more than Josef Göbbels' anti-Semitic propaganda, leaving concerts and plays as the main escape from city life.
The city braced itself well as the scope and intensity of the Allied raids increased with the commencement of the Royal Air Force's "Battle of Berlin," including by creating an excellent air raid command center, and treating many house roofs with material to retard possible fires. Berlin's inhabitants were also helped by its broad streets and the large amount of stone buildings, lessening the ability of Western Air Forces to wreck it, "from end to end" as Bomber Harris had predicted they could; however, the city still suffered considerable damage. During the gray winter months, the bombings continued, and in April, 1944, transportation in the city was largely cut off, but the city pressed on. Workers walked to work, mail continued to be delivered, and food shops remained open. A report from the security service of the SS (Sicherheitsdienst) reported that Berliners would withstand such hardships because, "there is nothing else to do".
With the increase in Allied raids, so too increased complaints and rumors among Berliners. They were not used to living under such conditions. Seeing such activities as threats to their rule, Nazi party members were granted the power to arrest anyone suspected of such crimes, and escort them to jail. In prison, many of these new convicts were often murdered, as the Nazis sought to fully use the power that they still possessed over their people. Such policies wouldn't cease until the Third Reich finally capitulated.
Foretellers of destruction
In the middle of 1944, as the Ostfront began to crumble under the weight of the Red Army's massive summer offensive, refugees began filtering into the capital. Thousands were arriving every day, by rail, wagon, and even by foot. Berliners, in an effort to ease these nomads' troubles, established soup kitchens on railroad platforms, all the while handing out clothing, most of which was formerly worn by the victims of the Nazi gas chambers. These refugees spread their stories, some real, others imagined, about the Red Army's gross ill-treatment of the conquered German population. Those in the capital aware of the Einsatzgruppen's massacres in the East, and the German concentration camp system, understood what was coming, and attempted to escape it. The typical Berliner, on the other hand, shrugged most refugee stories off as mere lunacy.
The storm nears
As the war continued, the battle front continued to close in on Germany. By the end of January, 1945, the German front in the east had collapsed, enabling George Zhukov's 1st Byelorussian Front to reach the Oder, less than 40 miles from the capital. Ivan Konev's 1st Ukranian front had charged into south western Poland, and by the beginning of March, had reached the river Neisse, holding the Soviet line immediately south of Zhukov. In early April, Rokossovky's 2nd Byelorussian also reached the Oder river line, following the collapse of Königsberg in East Prussia. With the Red Army pushing westward, more and more refugees were reaching the city. Allied bombing raids did not lessen, but only increased. Even with adequate air raid protection measures in place, whole city blocks were obliterated. Broad city streets were turned into winding, narrow paths, which sliced through massive piles of rubble. Buildings were turned windowless, and the soot from burning material could be seen everywhere. Room sized bomb craters dotted the city, and many houses were left without roofs. When the Allied raids finally ceased in late April, 1945, they left three billion cubic feet of debris laying on the roads, and practically destroyed one third of the houses in the city.
With the Soviet forces positioned so closely to Berlin, and with time running out before another offensive began, it was slowly hitting Adolf Hitler that he must prepare the city to be defended. He appointed Helmuth Reymann as the Commander of the Berlin Defense Area on March 6. Berlin was cut up into 8 defensive pie-slice shaped sectors, with a commander appointed for each, along with having a small ring around the government quarter in the capital. Reymann had few forces at his disposal, and the ones he did possess were often sent to the front, including many of his anti-aircraft batteries, and Reserve Army units, but there was another problem that plagued Reymann's mind. Inside the city, there were still millions of civilians.
Reymann had begged Hitler to, at the very least, evacuate the children that remained in the city, but the Nazi leader refused to acknowledge their very existence. On investigating further, Reymann was notified that there were hardly any evacuation plans prepared for civilians still living in the city, causing him to accept the fact that he would have to support millions of civilians during a fierce battle. When questioning Göbbels on how to feed such a large population, the Nazi propaganda minister only gave unreal solutions, such as having cattle brought into the battle zone. Some of the civilians wished to stay, to watch the destruction of the evil Nazi forces once and for all, but most wished to reach safety.
The Soviets plan their attack
On April 1, both Zhukov and Konev were summoned to Berlin and ordered to prepare a plan of attack upon the Nazi capital. The 49 year old Zhukov, known for his use of brute strength against the Germans, planned a massive artillery barrage leading up to the onslaught of Soviet infantry. Following a breakthrough by the infantry, Zhukov would then send in General-Colonel Katukov's 5th Guards Tank Army and Gen.-Col. Bogdanov's 2nd Guards Tank forces to charge to Berlin and cut the city off. The main springboard of Zhukov's offensive was to be the 30 mile long by 10 mile deep Küstrin bridgehead, manned by 8th Guards Army, and led by General Chuikov, the same commander who fought the Germans in the streets of Stalingrad. Konev, a year younger than Zhukov and generally considered better educated, had a more difficult task to reach the city. Konev would have to reposition his forces to support his planned dawn attack across the Neisse, following an immensely powerful artillery bombardment. Once bridgeheads were established, Konev would swing his tank forces northwestwards to cut off Berlin. Farther north, Rokossovsky would mostly act to protect Zhukov's flank, while pushing to the British lines.
Josef Stalin, upon the end of Konev's presentation, consented to both Marshals' plans, turning their plans into formal directives, but that wasn't the only important occurence that came out of the meeting. Following the presentations, it seems to have been recognized by all, but never mentioned during the meeting, that Zhukov would have the glory of taking the city. As he stared at the map portraying the current military situation and the organization of forces, Stalin began drawing the demarcation line that would separate the two's forces. The line that Stalin would draw ended abruptly 65 miles southeast of Berlin. Both Konev and Zhukov understood that the door had just been opened for the 1st Ukranian front commander to take the city. The next morning, both Soviet leaders flew out to their front headquarters to begin preparing for their offensives. Orders were issued, division commanders began planning, and the buildup of forces commenced, not stopping until mid-April. The race for the city was on.
Largely standing in the way of Zhukov's steamroller was General Theodore Busse's 9th Army, holding the line directly to the east of Berlin. This was the same formation that helped drive to the outskirts of Moscow in 1941, but now the army was defending its own capital, and few of its troops from the 1941 campaign remained. The veterans of Eastern front combat knew how fierce the fighting would become, but a lot of the new Volkksturm units would receive their baptism of a major Soviet artillery barrage in the coming weeks. All, however, were suffering from a waning morale. Officers were ordered to pick up the spirits of their soldiers, and did so be telling them the awful predictions of life under Soviet occupation, informing them of US President Roosevelt's death, and promising them that new war winning wonder weapons would appear shortly.
To Busse's left lay General Hasso von Manteuffel's 3rd Panzer Army, which held the coastal plain north of Berlin. Together, these forces formed Gen. Gotthard Heinrici's Army Group Vistula (AGV), a group which in total possessed less than 700 operable Panzers and self propelled guns, and had only 744 artillery weapons, with an additional 600 anti-aircraft guns from Germany's cities. Following the removal of several Panzer division to Prague from AGV on April 5, Heinrici was forced to transfer many units from 3rd Panzer to 9th Army. Von Manteuffel could handle such maneuvering for the moment, as his region was largely flooded by the Oder from the spring thaw, but consequences would be suffered once Zhukov broke through Busse's left wing. South of AGV, facing Konev on the Neisse river line, was General Graser's 4th Panzer Army, of Army Group Center. Graser's force was in little better strength position than either of Heinrici's two armies.
Once Heinrici took command of AGV on March 20, he had the troops begin preparing for the coming Soviet onslaught. He had his forces create 3 defensive lines, which reached back to the Nazi capital in some areas. He tried to focus his available resources on the crucial sandy plateau of the Seelow Heights, west of the Küstrin bridgehead, from which his artillery could knock out Soviet tanks at long distances, in low-lying areas. As the Germans dug in, they could hear the engines of the thousands of tanks and trucks bringing artillery to the front. The Soviets made little effort to disguise their intentions, but the Germans wouldn't know just how massive the buildup was until the guns began to roar.
On April 15, Heinrici was at his Army Group command post near Prenzlau. He was very busy trying to forecast the timing of the now inevitable Soviet offensive, and he was not one to be bothered, but former Minister of Armaments Albert Speer and Berlin Commandant Reymann arrived to talk with the Army Group Leader. Speer begged Heinrici and Reymann not to demolish the capital's numerous bridges, as millions of civilians depended on them, but neither of the two would promise anything, though Heinrici told Reymann to confer with him prior to demolishing bridges which carried electric, water, or gas lines within them. Following Speer's speech, Reymann began telling Heinrici that he did not know how he could hold the city with so few forces at his disposal. Heinrici responded by telling the Commandant of his hope to avoid a battle in the city altogether. Little else could be done to save the city.
As the visitors finally left later in the evening, Heinrici turned his attention back to a more pressing issue, anticipating the timing of the Soviet offensive. He scowered over intelligence reports, looked over interrogation transcripts of Russian prisoners, and communicated with his field commanders. As the afternoon turned to night, Heinrici paced around his office, deeply in thought. Finally, shortly after 8 pm, he made his decision. "I believe the attack will take place in the early hours tomorrow," he said. He sent out an immediate order to Busse's 9th Army: "Move back and take up positions on the second line of defense."
"The capital of Fascist Germany will be taken"- Zhukov's April 16 Order of the Day to his troops
In the early morning hours of April 16, Zhukov's artillery guns began to fire for 20 minutes straight, in which time they unloaded 500,000 shells, mortars and rockets. Following the ending of this massive bombardment, Soviet infantry rushed the largely vacant German lines, finishing off what was left of the German covering forces, which were acting as mere cannon fodder for 9th Army. By approximately 7 am, Berlin time, 3 hours after the beginning of 1st Byelorussian Front's attack, Red Army soldiers began reaching the 2nd German defensive line, manned by Busse's mainly unscathed 9th Army. From their 2nd line, which had many steep slopes and the plateaus, the Germans opened fire with what weapons they could, grinding Zhukov's offensive to a near halt.
Two hours after the beginning of Zhukov's attack, Konev's 1st Ukranian Front began an artillery bombardment that would last for nearly three hours. By the time his guns ceased firing, his forces had established 133 crossings over the Neisse, with tanks already moving across the western bank of the river. On more open terrain than Zhukov's forces, 1st Ukranian Front was more succesful in its efforts, gaining more ground quicker. In just a few days, as his forces pressed on into the German lines, he began separating the German 9th and 4th Panzer Armies, creating a void which the Germans could not fill.
As April 16 wore on, Zhukov was becoming more and more impatient. His forces had suffered heavy casualties in their frontal attacks upon German positions, and they were bogged down. Zhukov was also nervous about Konev's progress in the south. He had never predicted that anything like this would happen. Fearing that he would lose the race to the capital, at midday, Zhukov prematurely threw in his armored forces, pitting them against the elevated German positions, which were using their 88 mm flak guns. Hundreds of tank crews would pay for Zhukov's decision.
By the second day of the attack, April 17, Konev had broken though along an 18 mile front, threatening the rear of 9th Army. His engineers had set up highly capable bridges, able to support his drive. Zhukov's decision, which caused considerable chaos at the front with so many Soviet forces so crowded together, was finally beginning to pay off, as the German defense was slowly starting to crack around Seelow, at the unnecessary cost of thousands of Soviet lives. By the next day, April 18, 1st Byelorussian front finally breached through the German line along the Seelow Heights, after suffering an astonishing 30,000 casualties. The German defense, which had held up the Soviets for nearly 3 days under immense pressure, was almost completely unraveled.
"A new and heavy trial, perhaps the heaviest of all, is before us” - The Official Berlin Nazi Party Newspaper in its mid-April edition.
As the Soviet offensive began, Berliners began to realize that their time had come. Citizens in Berlin's eastern suburbs were awakened by the thunder of Soviet artillery as the attack began. The artillery was so powerful that it was able to knock pictures off walls in many of their homes. Labor gangs were put together in the city to prepare it for battle, setting up anti-tank ditches and digging trenches for the 50 panzers available in the city, but they were largely incomplete and ineffective. As the Soviets grew closer, Berliners began partying later into the night, drinking alcohol not for enjoyment, but for intoxication. Many virgins had sex, not out of love, but instead of the fear that they would remain virgins to the end. It was the beginning of the end.
On April 20, Hitler's birthday, Zhukov's artillery began smashing into the city, but it hardly phased those who were standing in line for food and other necessities. The last Allied air raid hit the city on April 21, knocking out the city's water, gas, sewage and much of the electricity. Without such services, nearby factories were forced to close, and it became a crime punishable by death to electrically cook your food. Excrement, unable to be flushed down the toilet, polluted the street with its stench.With everything going downhill, total strangers began to use a new greeting, urgint each other "Bleib übrig." German for survive.
Several days earlier, in the early morning hours of April 19, as the last RAF aircraft headed back to their bases, a large group of Anti-Nazi resistance members came out of their shelters to answer the Nazi's referendum question, which asked them whether they approved of Hitler's policies to hold the city till the end. The resisters hurried about the city, as daylight was approaching quickly. On nearly every shop window, the word "Nein!" was painted in big letters, signifying the biggest resistance the city gave to Hitler since 1933. Anti-Nazi leaflets were also posted throughout the city. Resentment towards Hitler was fostering.
By April 22, Hitler relieved Reymann of his command for his defeatism, and replaced him with newly promoted Major General Ernst Käther, the former Chief of Staff to the Chief Wehrmacht political commissar, but by the end of the day, Hitler personally took over command of the city's defense. As Hitler was switching up the command chain in the city, Konev had pushed into southern Berlin, beating Zhukov. The city streets now became battlefields.
The race for the city continues
Seeing that his forces were crumbling, Heinrici asked Hitler for permission to withdraw Busse's 9th Army to more favorable positions, but the Führer refused, ordering 9th Army to stay were it fought. Even with Hitler's order to the contrary, 9th Army began falling back under the Soviet weight, largely being pushed to the southwest, though its 56th Panzer Korps began heading back into Berlin. As it moved to escape 1st Belorussian front, Busse's Army was hit by Konev's 1st Ukranian front as it charged to Berlin from the south, largely encircling the force. On April 21, the right flank of 1st Belorussian front reached open ground, pushing on to the outskirts of the German capital, all the while creating a gap between 9th and 3rd Panzer Armies. In an effort to protect von Manteuffel's exposed southern flank, Heinrici had moved Felix Steiner's SS corps, originally part of 9th Army, to the north of Berlin.
Back in the Führer bunker in Berlin, in the center of the government district in city, imagining that the formations on his situation map paralleled the strength of the forces that he had launched the Blitzkrieg with, Hitler created an offensive that he believed would save Berlin. Steiner's newly moved force would push on into Zhukov's norther wing, reaching the area east of Berlin, while AGC's forces would begin rolling up Konev's 1st Ukranian front from the rear. In the center, General Walther Wenck's 12th Army, which was engaged on the Elbe facing the Western Allies, would turn around and push through Konev to reach Busse's encircled 9th Army. Once these forces linked up, they would then turn northward and reach the capital, saving it from destruction.
What Hitler refused to comprehend and take into consideration was the fact that the German units on his map were nowhere near up to their average strength, and that his rule outside of Berlin was almost nil. Few commanders, upon receiving the ludicrous order to take the offensive, actually followed through. Steiner had no intention of attacking with his weak force from the north, but only sought to move westward to surrender to the British. Hitler sent out Keitel and Jodl to have Steiner relieved of his command, and replaced by 41st Panzer Korps commander General Holste, but neither Steiner nor his replacement paid attention to Hitler's minions. As Keitel and Jodl went to von Manteuffel for his assistance in relieving Steiner, they found him directing traffic for his forces, as they were quickly pulling back from the Oder and heading westward, disobeying Hitler's orders to remain on the river. Keitel and Jodl immediately went into action, verbally reprimanding the commander, but they could not find anyone willing to arrest the 3rd Panzer Army commander. Ferdinand Schörner's Army Group Center was the only formation to heed Hitler's order to attack, and though they did achieve some initial success against Konev, they posed no serious threat to his drive on the capital. Konev only had to worry about the numerous canal and water obstacles as he entered the city.
On April 24, the commander of 56th Panzer Korps, General Weidling, was put in charge of Berlin's defenses. With this new responsibility, Weidling gave control of his force, which made up the backbone of the city's defense, to General Mummert, the leader of 56th Korps Münchberg Panzer Division. On the same day, Zhukov's and Konev's spearheads would make contact with each other in Potsdam, surrounding the Berlin and cutting off the land connection between it and 9th Army. General Wenck's 12th Army was making significant progress against the dispersed formations of 1st Ukranian front, pushing nearly to Potsdam on the 25 of April, right up against the Soviet ring around the capital and raising the hopes of the besieged population, but his proximity to Berlin was only incidental, as he was only focused on saving Busse's 9th Army, which was miraculously finding a way to trodge on westward through relentlessly attacking Soviet Armies, and the 40,000 civilians that were protected by it. On the same day, Rokossovky's 2nd Belorussian Front finally broke through what was left of 3rd Panzer Army's forces, and Soviet forces finally linked up with the Americans on the Elbe, cutting Germany into two. Little could save the Nazi regime.
Last minute reinforcements were flown into the surrounded capital, in hopes of saving it from imminent destruction. Admiral Dönitz sent in some of his submarine crews and radar technicians, while Himmler had a lost battalion of Latvian SS, 300 French SS fighters of the Charlemagne Division, and many Spanish SS members were flown in. Already available in the capital to be used for its defense was the weakened 56th Panzer Korps, the capital guard detachment of Grossdeutschland, some marine guard detachments, Hitler Youth fighters, Volkssturm units, and Himmler's 2,000 SS bodyguards under SS Generalmajor Wilhelm Möhnke. This cobbled together defensive unit, with only a few dozen Panzers and a moderate amount of artillery, was responsible for the defense of the capital of Hitler's Third Reich against 464,000 Soviet troops, 12,700 artillery guns, 1,500 tanks, and 21,000 Katyushas.
This Will Be The Spring Without End
Addapting to the heavy urban environment that they were now engaged in, Soviet forces were broken up into tactical assault groups, composed of infantry, armor, artillery, and flame-thrower units. Such tactics, though successful, did not prevent the Red Army from suffering casualty levels that even it had never seen before. In an effort to save now irreplaceable Soviet manpower, Zhukov sent his two tank armies into the city battle, a dangerous decision. Artillery and air power were more widely used to erase unyielding defenders from existence, causing total destruction in some areas of the city. Tempelhoff aerodome, a high priority for the Soviets which could use the airbase to support their operations logistically, and to prevent Hitler's possible escape, was completely destroyed before Chuikov's men finally conquered it early on April 26. Following this heated engagement, and seeing how his forces were quickly using up their ammunition stocks throughout the city, Zhukov gave his front nearly a day of rest, allowing his logistical units to bring up more artillery, ammo, and food. Later on in the evening, the Red Army would launch a heavy bombardment, using their newly received weapons, on the Nazis last strong points in the Government district, preparing the ground for the 5 Soviet armies that were pushing in. Using what was left of their fairly large Berlin reserve stock, including experimental prototype weapons, the Germans would launch a moderately powerful counter barrage, but nothing would stop the Soviets.
With his forces being demarcated out of the Berlin Government district, which possesed the prized Chancellory and Reichstag, Konev began withdrawing 1st Ukranian front from Berlin. Aiming in a new direction, Konev rather quickly took the area west and south of Berlin, as the remaining pockets of German resistance continued to break out and push towards Wenck's nearby 12th Army. As he was clearing up his new area of operations, Konev also had the task of halting the closest of Wenck's forces to the capital, which he successfully did between April 27-28. The rest of the glory in the fight over Berlin would go to Zhukov. Konev had lost the race, and the capital.
By the end of April 27, as the Red Army pressed on once again deeper into the city, the Nazi's defense was nearing its end. The cauldron remaining to be defended was a 10 mile strip, running east to west, with a depth of nearly 4 miles. The German units left to defend this area were being destroyed block by block, with their machine gun nests being stormed once they ran out of ammunition. Starved of fuel, the last few Panzers, acting as static gun positions, were destroyed by Soviet firepower. Stocks of Panzerfausts for the infantry, the deadly German tank killers, were about to run out. All attempts at airlifting supplies into the city had proven to be ineffective, and Wenck's army could push no closer to its Führer. The main reason the German soldiers continued to fight was the deadly SS flying court martials, which executed anyone accused of surrendering. All hope was gone.
In the final battle conference the Führer bunker witnessed, in the early evening hours of April 29, Weidling outlined all of these points to Hitler, painting the grim picture. As he began to wrap up his presentation, Weidling concluded with the stunning statement that all fighting in the capital must cease within the next 24 hours. Following a brief silent moment Möhnke, the commander of the vital SS bodyguard forces which did a great deal of fighting in the Government district, stated his agreement with Weidling. Responding to the idea that the Berlin garrison should attempt a breakout towards Wenck, like several other German pockets had done, Hitler ordered that the soldiers were to remain fighting in the city until their weapons ran out of ammunition, only at which time was it permissible for them to break out to the west in small groups. He forcibly forbade anyone from surrendering, seeking to stretch out Berlin's defense as long as was possible.
By April 30, the situation for the Germans had gone from bad to worse. Chuikov's 8th Guards Army, the spearhead for Zhukov's drive into the capital, had pushed to within several thousand feet of Hitler's bunker. The Reichstag was stormed, and after a few hours of fierce room to room fighting, the victory banner was symbolically raised over the building. Though victory was already claimed in the Reichstag, it would take nearly a full day to remove the remaining Nazi forces, with fighting taking a total of 8,000 lives from both sides.
Seeing his lifelong enemy approach ever more closely, Hitler knew his time had come. He had long ago decided to stay in Berlin, to help his prestige following his death, while boosting the German defense efforts, and he would now pay for his choice. There was little else that he wanted to be done. His final political testament had been spewed out the night before, in which he blamed the war fully on the Jews, and its loss entirely due to the betrayal of his wishes by traitors. He had recently been wed to his long time supporter, Eva Braun, and now the couple would end their lives together. A half hour after the Soviet troops raised their banner over the Reichstag, at around 3:30 pm, Adolf Hitler committed suicide with a 7.65mm Walther pistol shot to the head, while Braun took cyanide orally. Their bodies would soon be disposed of by the Führer's servants, to prevent them from following into Stalin's hands.
On May Day, Soviet forces were mostly tasked with clearing out the remaining Nazi forces left in the city, including in the Chancellory, room by room. The German defense in the Government district had collapsed and with it, so too had Weidling's patience. Knowing that the battle was long over, he immediately gave his units, who were all on the brink of total exhaustion, permission to break out to the west. Even Möhnke and his few remaining SS fighters broke out, bringing with them many top Nazi officials. Surprisingly, with Konev focusing 1st Ukranian Front on smashing Busse's Army, which somehow was still a cohesive unit that was fighting desperately westward, many of those who broke out succeeded in reaching Western Allied lines. Doing all he could to help his soldiers, Weidling tried to provide some cover for them by beginning surrender negotiations, which he would draw out until the last possible moment.
By the next day, May 2, what little leverage Weidling had to begin with had disappeared, and he, along with other Army commanders, surrendered Berlin and called for a ceasefire from his troops. The Soviet guns finally ceased pounding the city at 3pm, nearly 300 hours after the first shell hit the Nazi capital. The Red Army soldiers began their victory celebrations following the silence, while the Berlin civilians began picking up their destroyed city, being helped along by the establishment of civil government by Soviet units. Berliners went about covering the faces of the dead that littered the streets on their way to getting food from Red Army Field Kitchens. Little could be done about the many buildings that continued to burn, even with the cold spring rain pouring on the city.
To the south of Berlin, the remains of Busse's battered 9th Army was getting ever closer to 12th Army. By April 30, the two armies had made radio contact, and by the next day, the two forces finally linked up. Of Busse's original 200,000 man army which had earlier defended Berlin, only 30,000 remained to be saved, along with several thousand refugees who joined Busse's forces in hopes of escaping the Red Army. As fast as he could get it to do so, Wenck began withdrawing 12th Army to the southwest. Between the morning of May 5 and the night of May 6, those who were able to cross the Elbe river did so, and reached the safety that American lines offered. The war was over for them, and for everyone else in Europe two days later, as the Nazi regime finally accepted its defeat.
The Unclear Cost
The Battle of Berlin is one of the most difficult operations to estimate the number of losses and casualties for, as the Soviets do not have definitive timelines of their casualties, while the German record system was failing at this time. From the beginning of their offensive from the Oder river till the end of the war, the 3 Soviet fronts (1st Byelorussian, 2nd Byelorussian, and 1st Ukrainian) had suffered 352,475 men killed, wounded, or missing, according to the Russian Archives. The Red Army had also lost nearly 2,000 tanks or self-propelled guns, 2,108 artillery guns and mortars, and 917 aircraft. The Germans had suffered an estimated 100,000 civilian deaths from the urban fighting, while a total of 134,000 troops surrendered in Berlin on May 2. Actual combat deaths are guesstimated to be in the range of 150,000.
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