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Battle in Berlin
Part of the Battle of Berlin
Reichstag after the allied bombing of Berlin.jpg
The Reichstag after the battle
Date23 April – 2 May 1945
LocationBerlin, Germany
52°31′7″N 13°22′34″E / 52.51861°N 13.37611°E / 52.51861; 13.37611Coordinates: 52°31′7″N 13°22′34″E / 52.51861°N 13.37611°E / 52.51861; 13.37611
Result Soviet victory
  •  Nazi Germany
Commanders and leaders
Berlin Defence Area:
Inside the Berlin Defence Area approximately 45,000 soldiers, supplemented by the police force, Hitler Youth, and 40,000 Volkssturm.[lower-alpha 2] For the investment and assault on the Berlin Defence Area about 1,500,000 soldiers.[1]
Casualties and losses
  • 100,000 military dead
  • 175,000 civilians dead.[2]
75,000 dead, 300,000 wounded.[3]

The battle in Berlin was an end phase of the Battle of Berlin. While the Battle of Berlin encompassed the attack by three Soviet Army Groups to capture not only Berlin but the territory of Germany east of the River Elbe still under German control, the battle in Berlin details the fighting and German capitulation that took place within the city.

The outcome of the battle to capture the capital of the Third Reich was decided during the initial phases of the Battle of Berlin that took place outside the city. As the Soviets invested Berlin and the German forces placed to stop them were destroyed or forced back, and the city's fate was sealed. Nevertheless, there was much heavy fighting within the city as the Red Army fought its way, street by street, into the centre.

On 23 April 1945, the first Soviet ground forces started to penetrate the outer suburbs of Berlin. By 27 April, Berlin was completely cut off from the outside world. The battle in the city continued until 2 May 1945. On that date, the commander of the Berlin Defence Area, General Helmuth Weidling, surrendered to the commander of the Soviet 8th Guards Army, Lieutenant-General Vasily Chuikov. Chuikov was a constituent of Marshal Georgiy Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front.


Battle of the Oder-Neisse

The sector in which most of the fighting in the overall battle took place was the Seelow Heights, the last major defensive line outside Berlin. The Battle of the Seelow Heights was one of the last pitched battles of World War II. It was fought over four days, from 16 April until 19 April 1945. Close to one million Soviet soldiers and more than 20,000 tanks and artillery pieces were in action to break through the "Gates to Berlin" which was defended by about 100,000 German soldiers and 1,200 tanks and guns.[citation needed]

On 19 April, the fourth day, the 1st Belorussian Front broke through the final line of the Seelow Heights and nothing but broken German formations lay between them and Berlin. Marshal Ivan Konev's 1st Ukrainian Front having captured Forst the day before, was fanning out into open country. One powerful thrust was heading north-west towards Berlin while other armies headed west towards a section of United States Army front line south-west of the city who were on the Elbe.

By the end of 19 April the German eastern front line north of Frankfurt around Seelow and to the south around Forst had ceased to exist. These breakthroughs allowed the two Soviet fronts to envelop the German IX Army in a large pocket east of Frankfurt. Attempts by the IX Army to break out to the west would result in the Battle of Halbe.[4][5] The cost to the Soviet forces had been very high between 1 and 19 April, with over 2,807 tanks lost,[6] including at least 727 at the Seelow Heights.

Encirclement of Berlin

Main article Battle of Berlin#Encirclement of Berlin

On 20 April, Adolf Hitler's birthday, Soviet artillery of the 79 Rifle Corps of the 1st Belorussian Front first shelled Berlin. Thereafter, Soviet artillery continued the bombardment of Berlin and did not stop until the city surrendered. After the war, the Soviets pointed out that the weight of explosives delivered by their artillery during the battle was greater than the tonnage dropped by the Western Allied bombers on the city.[7][8] The 1st Belorussian Front advanced towards the east and north-east of the city.

The 1st Ukrainian Front had pushed through the last formations of the northern wing of General Ferdinand Schörner's Army Group Centre and had passed north of Juterbog, well over halfway to the American front line on the river Elbe at Magdeburg. To the north between Stettin and Schwedt, Konstantin Rokossovsky's 2nd Belorussian Front attacked the northern flank of General Gotthard Heinrici's Army Group Vistula, held by Hasso von Manteuffel's III Panzer Army.[5]

By 24 April, elements of the 1st Belorussian Front and the 1st Ukrainian Front had completed the encirclement of the city.[9]

The next day, 25 April, the 2nd Belorussian Front broke through III Panzer Army's line around the bridgehead south of Stettin and crossed the Rando Swamp. They were now free to move west towards the British 21st Army Group and north towards the Baltic port of Stralsund. The Soviet 58th Guards Division of Zhadov's 5th Guards Army made contact with the US 69th Infantry Division of the First Army near Torgau, Germany, on the Elbe River.[10] The Soviet investment of Berlin was consolidated with leading units probing and penetrating the S-Bahn defensive ring. By the end of 25 April, there was no prospect that the German defence of the city could do anything but temporally delay the capture of the capital by the Soviets as the decisive stages of the battle had already been fought and lost by the Germans fighting outside the city.[11]


On 20 April, Hitler ordered and the Wehrmacht initiated "Clausewitz", which called for the complete evacuation of all Wehrmacht and SS offices in Berlin; this essentially formalized Berlin's status as a frontline city.[12]

The forces available to Artillery General Helmuth Weidling for the city's defence included several severely depleted Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS divisions, in all about 45,000 men. These formations were supplemented by the police force, boys in the compulsory Hitler Youth, and the Volkssturm.[lower-alpha 3] Many of the 40,000 elderly men of the Volkssturm had been in the army as young men and some were veterans of World War I. Hitler appointed SS-Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke commander of the city's central government district. Mohnke's command post was in bunkers under the Reich Chancellery. The core group of his fighting men were the 800 members of the Leibstandarte (LSSAH) Guard Battalion (assigned to guard the Führer).[13] He had a total of over 2,000 men under his command.[lower-alpha 4]

Weidling organised the defences into eight sectors designated 'A' to 'H', each commanded by a colonel or a general, but most had no combat experience.[1] The XX Infantry Division was to the west of the city; the IX Parachute Division to the north; the Panzer Division Müncheberg (Werner Mummert) to the north-east; the XI SS Panzergrenadier Division Nordland (Joachim Ziegler) to the south-east; and to the east of Tempelhof Airport. The reserve, XVIII Panzergrenadier Division, was in Berlin's central district.[14]

Tactics and terrain

A Soviet combat group was a mixed arms unit of about eighty men in assault groups of six to eight soldiers, closely supported by field artillery. These were tactical units which were able to apply the tactics of house to house fighting that they had been forced to develop and refine at each Festungsstadt (fortress city) they had encountered from Stalingrad.[15]

Berlin apartment blocks

The German tactics used for urban warfare in Berlin were dictated by three considerations: the experience that they had gained during five years of war, the physical characteristics of the city, and the methods used by the Soviets. Most of the central districts of Berlin consist of city blocks with straight wide roads and contain several waterways, parks and large railway marshalling yards. It is a predominantly flat area, with some low hills such as the Kreuzberg, which is 66 m above sea level.[16][lower-alpha 5][lower-alpha 6][lower-alpha 7] Much of the housing stock consisted of apartments blocks built in the second half of the 19th century. Most of those, thanks to housing regulations and few elevators, were five stories high and built around a courtyard that could be reached from the street through a corridor large enough to accommodate a horse and cart or a small delivery truck. In many places, these apartment blocks were built around several courtyards, one behind the other, each reached through the outer courtyards by a ground level corridor similar to that between the first courtyard and the road. The larger, more expensive flats faced the street while the smaller, more modest dwellings were grouped around the inner courtyards.[17][lower-alpha 8]

A devastated street in the city centre, 3 July 1945

Just as the Soviets had learned a lot about urban warfare, so had the Germans. The Waffen-SS did not use makeshift barricades erected close to street corners, because these could be raked by artillery fire from guns firing over open sights further along the straight streets. Instead, they put snipers and machine guns on the upper floors and roofs because the Soviet tanks could not elevate their guns that high, and simultaneously they put men armed with panzerfausts in cellar windows to ambush tanks as they moved down the streets. These tactics were quickly adopted by the Hitler Youth and the First World War Volkssturm veterans.[18]

Initially Soviet tanks advanced down the middle of the streets, but to counter the German tactics, they altered their own and started to hug the sides of the streets (this allowed for supporting cross-fire from tanks either side of the wider thoroughfares).[19] The Soviets also mounted sub-machine gunners on the tanks who sprayed every doorway and window, but this meant the tank could not traverse its turret quickly. Another solution was to rely on heavy howitzers (152 mm and 203 mm) firing over open sights to blast defended buildings and to use anti-aircraft guns against the German gunners on the higher floors. Soviet combat groups started to move from house to house instead of directly down the streets. They moved through the apartments and cellars, blasting holes through the walls of adjacent buildings (making effective use of abandoned German panzerfausts), while others fought across the rooftops and through the attics. These enfilading tactics took the Germans lying in ambush for tanks in the flanks. Flamethrowers and grenades proved to be very effective, but as the Berlin civilian population had not been evacuated, these tactics inevitably killed many.[18]


Outer suburbs

With the decisive stages of the battle being fought outside the city, Berlin's fate was sealed, yet the resistance inside continued.[11] On 23 April, Hitler appointed German Artillery General (General der Artillerie) Helmuth Weidling commander of the Berlin Defence Area.[20] Only a day earlier, Hitler had ordered that Weidling be executed by firing squad. This was due to a misunderstanding concerning a retreat order issued by Weidling as commander of the LVI Panzer Corps. On 20 April, Weidling had been appointed commander of the LVI Panzer Corps. Weidling replaced Lieutenant-Colonel (Oberstleutnant) Ernst Kaether as commander of Berlin. Only one day earlier, Kaether had replaced Lieutenant-General (Generalleutnant) Helmuth Reymann, who had held the position for only about a month.

Soviet Katyusha multiple rocket launchers fire in Berlin, April 1945. This example is a BM-13N, 132 mm rocket launcher mounted on a Lend-Lease US Studebaker truck.

By 23 April some of Chuikov's rifle units had crossed the Spree and Dahme rivers south of Köpenick and by 24 April were advancing towards Britz and Neukölln. Accompanying them were the leading tanks of Colonel-General Mikhail Katukov's 1st Guards Tank Army. Sometime after midnight, a corps of Colonel-General Nikolai Berzarin's 5th Shock Army crossed the Spree close to Treptow Park. At dawn on 24 April the LVI Panzer Corps still under Weidling's direct command, counterattacked, but were severely mauled by the 5th Shock Army, which was able to continue its advance around mid-day.[21] Meanwhile, the first large Soviet probe into the city was put into operation. Katukov's 1st Guards Tank Army attacked across the Teltow Canal. At 06:20 a bombardment by 3,000 guns and heavy mortars began, (a staggering 650 pieces of artillery per kilometer of front). At 07:00 hours the first Soviet battalions were across, to be followed by tanks around 12:00, shortly after the first of the pontoon bridges were completed. By the evening Treptow Park was in Soviet hands and they had also reached the S-Bahn.[22]

While the fighting raged in the south-east of the city, between 320 and 330 French volunteers commanded by SS-Brigadeführer Gustav Krukenberg and organised as Sturmbataillon (assault battalion) "Charlemagne" were attached to XI SS Panzergrenadier Division Nordland. They moved from the SS training ground near Neustrelitz to the centre of Berlin through the western suburbs, which apart from unmanned barricades across the Havel and Spree were devoid of fortifications or defenders. Of all the reinforcements ordered to Berlin that day, only this Sturmbataillon arrived.[11][23]

The location of Neukölln

On 25 April, Krukenberg was appointed commander of Defence Sector C which included the Nordland Division, whose previous commander, Joachim Ziegler, was relieved of his command the same day. The arrival of the French SS men bolstered the Nordland Division whose Norge and Danmark regiments had been decimated in the fighting. Just midday as Krukenberg reached his command, the last German bridgehead south of the Teltow Canal was being abandoned. During the night Krukenberg informed General Hans Krebs, Chief of the General Staff of Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH) that within 24 hours the Nordland would have to fall back to the central sector Z (Z for Zentrum or Mitte).[24][lower-alpha 9]

Soviet combat groups of the 8th Guards Army and the 1st Guards Tank Army fought their way through the southern suburbs of Neukölln towards Tempelhof Airport which was located just inside the S-Bahn defensive ring. Defending Sector D was Panzer Division Müncheberg. This division, down to its last dozen tanks and thirty armoured personnel carriers (APC)s, had been promised replacements for battle losses but only stragglers and Volkssturm were available to fill the ranks. The Soviets advanced cautiously, using flamethrowers to overcome defensive positions. By dusk Soviet T-34 tanks had reached the airfield, only six kilometres (four miles) south of the Führerbunker, where they were checked by stiff German resistance. The Müncheberg Division managed to hold the line until the afternoon of the next day, but this was the last time they were able to check the Soviet advance for more than a few hours.[25][26]

On 26 April, with Neukölln heavily penetrated by Soviet combat groups, Krukenberg prepared fallback positions for Sector C defenders around Hermannplatz. He moved his headquarters into the opera house. The two understrength German divisions defending the south-east were now facing five Soviet armies. From east to west they were: the 5th Shock Army, advancing from Treptow Park; the 8th Guards Army and the 1st Guards Tank Army moving through Neukölln north (temporarily checked at Tempelhof Airport), and Colonel-General Pavel Rybalko's 3rd Guards Tank Army (part of Konev's 1st Ukrainian Front) advancing from Mariendorf. As the Nordland Division fell back towards Hermannplatz, the French SS and one-hundred Hitler Youth attached to their group destroyed 14 Soviet tanks with panzerfausts; one machine gun position by the Halensee bridge managed to hold up any Soviet advances in that area for 48 hours. The Nordlands' remaining armour, eight Tiger tanks and several assault guns, were ordered to take up positions in the Tiergarten, because although these two divisions of Weidling's LVI Panzer Corps could slow the Soviet advance, they could not stop it.[27] SS-Oberscharführer Schmidt recalled, "I was assigned as platoon leader of a 'dwindled company' which included a squad of Hungarian volunteers, Volkssturm men, Hitlerjungend, as well as members of the Heer [army]... Daily, the Russians advanced closer to the government quarter, which we were to defend. It became more and more difficult to hold the line 'under all circumstances'..."[28]

Hitler summoned Field Marshal Robert Ritter von Greim from Munich to Berlin to take over command of the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) from Hermann Göring. While flying over Berlin in a Fieseler Storch, von Greim was seriously wounded by Soviet anti-aircraft fire. Hanna Reitsch, his mistress and a crack test pilot, landed von Greim on an improvised air strip in the Tiergarten near the Brandenburg Gate.[29][30][31]

At Tempelhof Airport, the flak batteries conducted direct fire against advancing Soviet tanks until they were overrun.[32] On the following day, 27 April, 2,000 German women were rounded up and ordered to help clear Tempelhof Airport of debris so that the Red Army Air Force could start to use it.[33] Marshal Zhukov appointed Colonel-General Berzarin to start organising the German civil administration in the areas that they had captured. Bürgermeisters, like the directors of the Berlin utilities, were summoned to appear before Berzarin's staff.

Inner suburbs

As the Soviet armies of the 1st Belorussian Front and the 1st Ukrainian Front converged on the centre of the city there were many accidental 'friendly fire' incidents involving artillery shellings because the spotter planes and the artillery of the different Soviet Fronts were not coordinated and frequently mistook assault groups in other armies as enemy troops. Indeed, the rivalry between the Soviet armies to capture the city centre was becoming intense. A corps commander of the 1st Ukrainian Front joked with laconic humour, "Now we should be scared not of the enemy, but of our neighbour... There's nothing more depressing in Berlin than learning about the successes of your neighbour". Beevor has suggested that the rivalry went further than just jokes and says that Chuikov deliberately ordered the left flank of the 8th Guards Army (of 1st Belorussian Front) across the front of the 3rd Guards Tank Army (of the 1st Ukrainian Front), blocking its direct path to the Reichstag. As Chuikov did not inform Rybalko, commander of the 3rd Guards Tank Army, that the 8th was doing this, the troops ordered to carry out this manoeuvre suffered disproportionate casualties from friendly fire.[34]

Humboldthain Flak Tower in 2004

In the south-west, Rybalko's 3rd Guards Tank Army, (supported by Lieutenant-General Luchinsky's 28th Army) were advancing through the wooded park and suburbs of the Grunewald, attacking what remained of the XVIII Panzergrenadier Division on their eastern flank and entering Charlottenburg. In the south, Chuikov's 8th Guards Army and Katukov's 1st Guards Tank Army crossed the Landwehr Canal on 27 April, the last major obstacle between them and the Führerbunker next to the Reich Chancellery less than two kilometres away (a little over a mile). In the south-east, Berzarin's 5th Shock Army had bypassed the Friedrichshain flak tower and was now between Frankfurter Allee and the south bank of the Spree, where its IX Corps was fighting.[14][35]

By 27 April the Soviet Armies had penetrated the German's S-Bahn outer defensive ring from all directions. The Germans had been forced back into a pocket about twenty-five kilometres (fifteen miles) long from west to east and about three kiliometres (one and a half miles) wide at its narrowest, just west of the old city centre, near the Tiergarten. In the north-west, Lieutenant-General F.I. Perkohorovitch's 47th Army was now approaching Spandau, and was also heavily involved in a battle to capture Gatow airfield, which was defended by Volkssturm and Luftwaffe cadets using the feared 88 mm anti-aircraft guns in their anti-tank role. In the north, Colonel-General Semyon Bogdanov's 2nd Guards Tank Army was bogged down just south of Siemensstadt. Colonel-General Vasily Kuznetsov's 3rd Shock Army had bypassed the Humboldthain flak tower, (leaving it to follow-up forces) and had reached the north of the Tiergarten and Prenzlauerberg.[14][35]

On the morning of 27 April, the Soviets continued the assault with a heavy bombardment of the inner city. The 8th Guards Army and the 1st Guards Tank Army were ordered to take Belle-Alliance-Platz (Belle-Alliance being an alternative name for the Battle of Waterloo) that in a twist of history was defended by French SS soldiers of the Nordland Division. That night Weidling gave a battle situation report to Hitler, and presented him with a detailed breakout plan which would be spearheaded with just under forty tanks (all the combat-ready German tanks available in Berlin). Hitler rejected the plan, saying he would stay in the bunker and that Weidling would carry on with the defence.[36]

In sector Z (centre) Krukenberg Nordland divisional headquarters was now a carriage in the Stadtmitte U-Bahn station. The Nordland's armour was reduced to four captured Soviet APCs and two half-tracks, so Kruneberg's men's chief weapon was now the panzerfaust which were used for close quarters battle against both Soviet armour and in house to house fighting against Soviet combat groups.[37]

At dawn on 28 April, the youth divisions Clausewitz, Scharnhorst and Theodor Körner, attacked from the south-west in the direction of Berlin. They were part of Wenck's XX Corps and were made up of men from the officer training schools, making them some of the best units the Germans had left. They covered a distance of about 24 kilometres (15 mi), before being halted at the tip of Lake Schwielow south-west of Potsdam and still 32 kilometres (20 mi) from Berlin.[38] Later on the 28th, Hitler learned of Heinrich Himmler's contacts with Count Folke Bernadotte in Luebeck. Himmler had asked Bernadotte to convey a peace proposal to US General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Enraged at Himmler's duplicity, Hitler ordered von Greim and Reitsch to fly to Dönitz's headquarters at Ploen. Von Greim was ordered to arrest the "traitor" Himmler.[29]

By 28 April, the Müncheberg Division had been driven back to the Anhalter railway station less than one kilometre (half a mile) south of the Führerbunker. To slow the advancing Soviets, allegedly on Hitler's orders, the bulkheads under the Landwehr Canal were blown up. It caused panic in the U-Bahn tunnels under the Anhalter railway station in which some were trampled to death. But the water level only suddenly rose by about a metre (yard) and after that much more slowly. Initially it was thought that many thousands had drowned, but when the tunnels were pumped out in October 1945 it was found that most of the bodies were of people who had died of their wounds, not from drowning.[39][lower-alpha 10] In any event, the Soviets continued their advance with three T-34s, making it as far as Wilhelmstrasse U-Bahn station before being ambushed and destroyed by the Frenchmen of the Nordland Division.[40]

During 27 and 28 April, most of the formations of Konev's 1st Ukrainian Front that were engaged in the Battle in Berlin were ordered to disengage and proceed south to take part in the Prague Offensive (the last great offensive of the European theatre). This did not mitigate their resentment at being denied the honour of capturing the centre of Berlin, but left the 1st Belorussian Front under Marshal Zhukov to claim that honour for themselves alone.[41]

By 28 April, the Germans were now reduced to a strip less than five kilometres wide and fifteen in length, from Alexanderplatz in the east to Charlottenburg and the area around the Olympic Stadium (Berlin)|Olympic Stadium (Reichssportfeld) in the west. Generally, the Soviets avoided fighting their way into tunnels and bunkers (of which there were about 1,000 in the Berlin area); instead, they sealed them off and continued the advance. However, just over a kilometre to the north of the ''Reichstag'' the 3rd Shock Army did use heavy guns at point blank range to blast a hole in the walls of Moabit prison; after a breach was made and the prison stormed, the garrison there quickly surrendered. The 3rd Shock Army were in sight of the Victory Column in the Tiergarten and during the afternoon advanced towards the Moltke bridge over the Spree, just north of the Ministry of the Interior and a mere 600 metres (660 yards) from the Reichstag.[42] German demolition charges damaged the Moltke bridge but left it still passable to infantry. As dusk fell and under heavy artillery bombardment, the first Soviet troops crossed the bridge. By midnight, the Soviet 150th and 171st rifle divisions had secured the bridgehead against any counterattack the Germans could muster.[43]


On 28 April, Krebs made his last telephone call from the Führerbunker. He called Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel Chief of OKW (German Armed Forces High Command) in Fürstenberg. Krebs told Keitel that, if relief did not arrive within 48 hours, all would be lost. Keitel promised to exert the utmost pressure on Generals Walther Wenck, commander of XII Army, and Theodor Busse commander of the IX Army. Meanwhile, Martin Bormann wired to German Admiral Karl Dönitz: [the] "Reich Chancellery (Reichskanzlei) [is] a heap of rubble."[29] He went on to say that the foreign press was reporting fresh acts of treason and "that without exception Schörner, Wenck and the others must give evidence of their loyalty by the quickest relief of the Führer".[38] Bormann was the head of the Nazi Party Chancellery (Parteikanzlei) and Hitler's private secretary.

During the evening, von Greim and Reitsch flew out from Berlin in an Arado Ar 96 trainer. Von Greim was ordered to get the Luftwaffe to attack the Soviet forces that had just reached Potsdamerplatz and to make sure that Himmler was punished.[lower-alpha 11] Fearing that Hitler was escaping in the plane, troops of the Soviet 3rd Shock Army, which was fighting its way through the Tiergarten from the north, tried to shoot the Arado down. The Soviet troops failed in their efforts and the plane took off successfully.[39][44]

During the night of 28 April, Wenck reported to Keitel that his XII Army had been forced back along the entire front. This was particularly true of XX Corps that had been able to establish temporary contact with the Potsdam garrison. According to Wenck, no relief for Berlin by his army was now possible. This was even more so as support from the IX Army could no longer be expected.[45] Keitel gave Wenck permission to break off his attempt to relieve Berlin.[38]

At 0400 hours on 29 April, in the Führerbunker, General Wilhelm Burgdorf, Goebbels, Krebs, and Bormann witnessed and signed the last will and testament of Adolf Hitler. Hitler dictated the document to Traudl Junge, shortly after he had married Eva Braun.[46][lower-alpha 12]

The Moltke bridge around 1900

After Rokossovsky's 2nd Belorussian Front had broken out of their bridgehead, General Gotthard Heinrici disobeyed Hitler's direct orders and allowed von Manteuffel's request for a general withdrawal of the III Panzer Army. By 29 April, Army Group Vistula Headquarters staff could no longer contact the IX Army, so there was little in the way of coordination that Heinrici's staff could still to do. As Heinrici had disobeyed a direct order from Hitler (in allowing von Manteuffel to retreat), he was relieved of his command. However, von Manteuffel refused Keitel's request that he take over, and although ordered to report to Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW's or Armed Forces High Command) headquarters, Heinrici dallied and never arrived.[47] Keitel later recalled the incident in his memoirs and said that command passed to the senior army commander of the XXI Army, General Kurt von Tippelskirch.[48] Other sources claim that von Tippelskirch's appointment was temporary and only until the arrival of General Kurt Student,[49][50] but that Student was captured by the British and never arrived.[29] Whether von Tippelskirch or Student or both took command, the rapidly deteriorating situation that the Germans faced, meant that Army Group Vistula's coordination of the armies under its nominal command during the last few days of the war were of little significance.

In the early hours of 29 April, the 150th and 171st Rifle divisions started to fan out from the Moltke bridgehead into the surrounding streets and buildings. Initially the Soviets were unable to bring forward artillery, as the combat engineers had not had time to strengthen the bridge or build an alternative. The only form of heavy weaponry available to the assault troops were individual 'Katyusha' rockets lashed to short sections of railway lines. Major-General V. M. Shatilov's 150th Rifle Division had a particularly hard fight, capturing the heavily fortified Ministry of the Interior building. Lacking artillery, the men had to clear it room by room with grenades and sub-machine guns.[51]

In the south-east at dawn on 29 April, Colonel Antonov's 301st Rifle Division pressed on with its assault. After very heavy fighting, the formation managed to capture the Gestapo headquarters on Prinz-Albrechtstrasse, but a Waffen SS counter-attack forced the regiments of the division to withdraw from the structure. Still confined to the building, seven inmates who had been spared in the massacre of other prisoners on 23 April.[40] To the south-west Chuikov's 8th Guards Army attacked north across the Landwehr canal into the Tiergarten.[52]

The Nordland Division was now under Mohnke's central command. All the men were exhausted from days and nights of continuous fighting. The Frenchmen of the Nordland had proved particularly good at destroying tanks, of the 108 Soviet tanks knocked out in the central district, they had accounted for about half of them. That afternoon the last two Knight's Crosses of the Third Reich were awarded; one went to Eugéne Vaulôt, who had personally destroyed eight tanks, the other was awarded to SS-Sturmbannführer Friedrich Herzig, the commander of the 503 SS Heavy Panzer Battalion. Two other men received less prestigious awards for only knocking out five tanks each.[53]

During the evening of 29 April, at Weidling's headquarters in the Bendlerblock, now within metres of the front line, Weidling discussed with his divisional commanders, the possibility of breaking out to the south-west to link up with the XII Army, whose spearhead had reached the village of Ferch in Brandenburg on the banks of the Schwielowsee near Potsdam. The breakout was planned to start the next night at 22:00.[53] Late in the evening, Krebs contacted General Alfred Jodl (Supreme Army Command) by radio: "Request immediate report. Firstly of the whereabouts of Wenck's spearheads. Secondly of time intended to attack. Thirdly of the location of the IX Army. Fourthly of the precise place in which the IX Army will break through. Fifthly of the whereabouts of General Rudolf Holste's spearhead."[45] In the early morning of 30 April, Jodl replied to Krebs: "Firstly, Wenck's spearhead bogged down south of Schwielow Lake. Secondly, XII Army therefore unable to continue attack on Berlin. Thirdly, bulk of IX Army surrounded. Fourthly, Holste's Corps on the defensive."[45][54][55][56]

Battle for the Reichstag

By this time, several smaller Polish units had already taken part in the battle in Berlin (such as the 1st Polish Motorized Mortar Brigade, the 6th Polish Motorised Pontoon Battalion, and the 2nd Polish Howitzer Brigade)[57][58] Soviet forces were lacking infantry support, and armored units, without infantry support, were taking heavy casualties.[59][60] As of 30 April, the Soviet forces were joined by the Polish 1st Tadeusz Kościuszko Infantry Division after a request from the Soviet command for infantry reinforcements.[61][62] Originally, one infantry regiment was to support the 1st Mechanised Corps, and two, the 12th Guards Tank Corps; contrary to the original plan, two regiments (1st and 2nd) ended up supporting the 1st Corps, and only one (3rd) the 12th Corps.[63][64] The 3rd Polish Infantry Regiment was operating with the 66th Guards Tank Brigade of the 12th Guards Tank Corps.[59] The 1st Polish Infantry Regiment was split up into "combat teams" supporting the 19th and 35th Mechanized Brigades, with the 2nd Polish Infantry Regiment supporting the 219th Tank Brigade; all units of the Soviet 1st Mechanized Corps.[59] Upon arrival, the Polish forces found that the Soviet units had suffered tremendous losses; the 19th and 35th Mechanized Brigades sustained over 90% casualties, and thus the Polish 1st Infantry Regiment originally assigned to support them had to, in effect, take over their tasks.[59][65][66] The 66th Guards Tank Brigade of the 12th Corps that received the 3rd Polish Infantry Regiment for support had similarly taken heavy losses, having already lost 82 tanks due to insufficient infantry cover.[59][60]

Battle for the Reichstag

At 06:00 on 30 April the 150th Rifle Division had still not captured the upper floors of the Ministry of the Interior, but while the fighting was still going on, the 150th launched an attack from there across the 400 metres of Königsplatz towards the Reichstag. For the Soviets, the Reichstag was the symbol of the Third Reich (ironically, it was never restored by the Nazis after the fire); but it was of such significant value that the Soviets wanted to capture it before the May Day parade in Moscow. The assault was not an easy one. The Germans had dug a complicated network of trenches around the building and a collapsed tunnel had filled with water from the Spree forming a moat across Königsplatz. The initial infantry assault was decimated by cross fire from the Reichstag and the Kroll Opera House on the western side of Königsplatz. By now the Spree had been bridged and the Soviets were able to bring up tanks and artillery to support fresh assaults by the infantry, some of which were tasked with out-flanking the Opera House and attacking it from the north-west. By 10:00 the soldiers of the 150th had reached the moat, but accurate fire from 12.8 cm guns two kilometres away on the Berlin Zoo flak tower, prevented any further successful advance across the moat during daylight. Throughout the rest of the day, as ninety artillery pieces, some as large as the 203 mm howitzer, as well as Katyusha rocket launchers, bombarded the Reichstag and its defensive trenches, Colonel Negoda's 171st Rifle Division on the left flank of the 150th continued to capture the buildings of the diplomatic quarter to the north of Königsplatz.[67][68]

As the perimeter shrank and the surviving defenders fell back on the centre they became concentrated. By now there were about 10,000 soldiers in the city centre, who were being assaulted from all sides. One of the other main thrusts was along Wilhelmstrasse on which the Air Ministry, which was built of reinforced concrete, was situated. It was pounded by large concentrations of Soviet artillery. The remaining German Tiger tanks of the Hermann von Salza battalion took up positions in the east of the Tiergarten to defend the centre against the 3rd Shock Army (which although heavily engaged around the Reichstag was also flanking the area by advancing through the northern Tiergarten) and the 8th Guards Army advancing through the south of the Tiergarten. These Soviet forces had effectively cut the sausage shaped area held by the Germans in half and made an escape to the west for those German troops in the centre much more difficult.[69]

During the morning, Mohnke informed Hitler the centre would be able to hold for less than two days. Later that morning Weidling informed Hitler in person that the defenders, would probably exhaust their ammunition that night and again asked Hitler permission to break out. At about 13:00 Weidling who was back in his headquarters in the Bendlerblock, finally received Hitler's permission to attempt a breakout.[70] During the afternoon Hitler shot himself and Braun took cyanide. In accordance with Hitler's instructions, the bodies were burned in the garden of the Reich Chancellery.[71] In accordance with Hitler's last will and testament, Joseph Goebbels, the Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, became the new "Head of Government" and Chancellor of Germany (Reichskanzler). At 3:15 am, Reichskanzler Goebbels and Bormann sent a radio message to Admiral Karl Dönitz informing him of Hitler's death. Per Hitler's last wishes, Dönitz was appointed as the new "President of Germany" (Reichspräsident).

Starting from 16:00 on 30 April, the 1st Battalion of the Polish 1st Regiment (assigned to the region of 35th Mechanized Brigade) begun an assault on a barricade on Pestalozzistrasse, a major obstacle which made previous tank attacks in that direction suicidal.[72] The Polish 2nd and 3rd Regiments cleared the path through the barricades on Goethestrasse and Schillerstrasse for the tanks of the Soviet 19th Brigade.[73]

Because of the smoke, dusk came early to the centre of Berlin. At 18:00 hours, while Weidling and his staff finalized their breakout plans in the Bendlerblock, under cover of a heavy artillery barrage, three regiments of the Soviet 150th Rifle Division, closely supported by tanks, assaulted the Reichstag. All the windows were bricked up, but the soldiers managed to force the main doors and entered the main hall. The German garrison, of about 1,000 defenders—a mixture of sailors, SS and Hitler Youth—fired down on the Soviets from above, turning the main hall into a medieval style killing field. Suffering many casualties, the Soviets got beyond the main hall and started to work their way up through the building. The fire and subsequent wartime damage had turned the building's interior into a maze of rubble and debris amongst which the German defenders were strongly dug in.[74] The Soviet infantry were forced to clear them out. Fierce room-to-room fighting ensued.[75] As May Day approached Soviet troops reached the roof, but fighting continued inside. Moscow claimed that they hoisted the Red Flag on the top of the Reichstag at 22:50, however Beevor points out that this may have been an exaggeration as "Soviet propaganda was fixated with the idea of the Reichstag being captured by 1 May".[74] Whatever the truth, the fighting continued as there was still a large contingent of German soldiers down in the basement. The Germans were well stocked with food and ammunition and launched counter-attacks against the Red Army, leading to close fighting in and around the Reichstag.[75] Close combat raged throughout the night and the coming day of 1 May, until the evening when some German troops pulled out of the building and crossed the Friedrichstraße S-Bahn Station, where they moved into the ruins hours before the main breakout across the Spree.[76] About 300 of the last German combatants surrendered.[74] A further 200 defenders were dead and another 500 were already hors de combat, lying wounded in the basement, many before the final assault had started.[74]

Capture of Charlottenburg

The barricade at Pestalozzistrasse was taken on the morning of 1 May, allowing Soviet tanks of the 34th Brigade to advance and to reestablish contact with the 19th Mechanized Brigade supported by the 2nd and 3rd Battalion of the 1st Regiment, which pushed through the barricades at Goethestrasse and Schillerstrasse.[72] Further, heavily fortified German positions in and around the church at the Karl August-Platz were taken, allowing the Polish and Soviet units to advance along the Goethestrasse and Schillerstrasse.[73] In the meantime, the Polish 2nd Regiment, with its own artillery support, took the heavily fortified Berlin Institute of Technology that was situated in the triangle between Charlottenburgerstrasse, Hardenbergstrasse and Jebenstrasse.[77][78] With support by the Polish 3rd Infantry Regiment, the Soviet 66th Guards Tank Brigade (which had only 15 tanks) broke through Franklinstrasse and advanced towards the Berlin-Tiergarten station.[79] The stronghold of the Tiergarten (S-Bahn) station was then secured by the 3rd Infantry Regiment.[80] Thereafter, Polish and Soviet units took control of the Zoologischer Garten station and the railway line between them. By these actions, the Red Army had broken through the central Berlin west line of defence.[81]

End of the battle

At about 04:00 on 1 May, Krebs talked to Chuikov, commander of the Soviet 8th Guards Army.[82] Krebs returned empty-handed after refusing to agree to an unconditional surrender. Only Reichskanzler Goebbels now had the authority to agree to an unconditional surrender. In the late afternoon, Goebbels had his children poisoned. At about 20:00, Goebbels and his wife, Magda, left the bunker and close to the entrance bit on a cyanide ampoule and either shot themselves at the same time, or were given a coup de grâce immediately afterwards by the SS guard detailed to dispose of their bodies.[83] As promised by the Soviets, at 10:45 on 1 May they unleashed a "hurricane of fire" on the German pocket in the centre to force the Germans to surrender unconditionally.[69]

For a brief period after Hitler's suicide, Goebbels was Germany's Reichskanzler. On 1 May, after Goebbels' own suicide, for an equally brief period, Reichspräsident Admiral Karl Dönitz appointed Ludwig von Krosigk as Reichskanzler. The headquarters of the Dönitz government were located around Flensburg, along with Mürwik, near the Danish border. Accordingly, the Dönitz administration was referred to as the Flensburg government.

The commanders of two formidable Berlin fortresses agreed to surrender to the Soviets, so sparing both sides the losses involved in further bombardment and assault. The commander of the Zoo flak tower (that had proved impervious to direct hits from 203 mm howitzer shells) was asked to surrender on 30 April; after a long delay a message was sent back to the Soviets on 1 May informing them that the garrison would surrender to the Soviets at midnight that night. The reason for the delay was because the garrison intended to join in the attempt at a breakout. The other fortress was the Spandau Citadel of Trace italienne design which although several hundred years old presented a difficult structure to storm. After negotiations, the citadel's commander surrendered to Lieutenant-General F. I. Perkhorovitch's 47th Army just after 15:00 on 1 May.[84]


Weidendammer bridge in 2006

Weildling had given the order for the survivors to break out to the north-west starting at around 21:00 hours on 1 May. The breakout started later than planned at around 23:00 hours. The first group from the Reich Chancellery was led by Mohnke. Bormann, Werner Naumann, and remaining Führerbunker personnel followed. Burgdorf, who played a key role in the death of Erwin Rommel, along with Krebs, committed suicide.[45] Mohnke's group avoided the Weidendammer Bridge (over which the mass breakout took place) and crossed by a footbridge, but his group became split. A Tiger tank that spearheaded the first attempt to storm the Weidendammer Bridge was destroyed.[85][86] There followed two more attempts and on the third attempt, made around 1:00, Martin Bormann and SS doctor Ludwig Stumpfegger in another group from the Reich Chancellery managed to cross the Spree. They were reported to have died a short distance from the bridge, their bodies seen and identified by Arthur Axmann who followed the same route.[87][88]

Charlotten bridge. Rebuilt in 1926, it survived World War II.

Krukenberg and many of the survivors of the remnants of the Nordland Division crossed the Spree shortly before dawn but could not break through and were forced back into the centre. There they split up, some discarded their uniforms and tried to pass themselves off as civilians, but most were either killed or like Krukenberg, captured.[89] An attempt to break out northward along the Schönhauser Allee by German troops on the north-eastern side of the central defence area failed because the Soviets were now aware that breakout attempts were being made and were hurriedly putting cordons in place to stop them. The remnants of the Münchenberg Division (five tanks, four artillery pieces, and a handful of troops[90]), and the remnants of the 18th Panzer Grenadier and 9th Parachute divisions broke out of the centre westward through the Tiergarten. They were followed by thousands of stragglers and civilians.[91] Spandau was still in the hands of a Hitler Youth detachment, so an attempt was made to force a passage across the Charlottenbrücke (Charlotten bridge) over the Havel. Despite heavy shelling which killed many, German weight of numbers meant that they were able to drive the Soviet infantry back and many thousands crossed into Spandau. The armoured vehicles that crossed the bridge made for Staaken.[92]

Mohnke (and what was left of his group) could not break through the Soviet rings. Most were taken prisoner and some committed suicide. General Mohnke and the others who had been in the Führerbunker were interrogated by SMERSH.[93] Only a handful of survivors reached the Elbe and surrendered to the Western Allies. The majority were killed or captured by the Soviets. The number of German soldiers and civilians killed attempting the breakout is unknown.[94]


On the morning of 2 May the Soviets stormed the Reich Chancellery. In the official Soviet version, the battle was similar to that of the battle for the Reichstag. There was an assault over Wilhelmplatz and into the building with a howitzer to blast open the front doors and several battles within the building. Major Anna Nikulina, a political officer with Lieutenant-General I. P. Rossly's 9th Rifle Corps of the 5th Shock Army carried and unfurled the red flag on the roof. However, Beevor suggests that the official Soviet description is probably an exaggeration, as most of the German combat troops had left in the breakouts the night before, resistance must have been far less than that inside the Reichstag.[95]

At 01:00 hours the Soviets picked up radio message from the German LVI Corps requesting a cease-fire and stating that emissaries would come under a white flag to Potsdamer bridge. General Weidling surrendered with his staff at 06:00 hours. He was taken to see Lieutenant-General Chuikov at 8:23 am. Chuikov (who had commanded the successful defence of Stalingrad), asked: "You are the commander of the Berlin garrison?" Weidling replied: "Yes, I am the commander of the LVI Panzer Corps." Chuikov then asked: "Where is Krebs?" Weidling replied: "I saw him yesterday in the Reich Chancellery." Weidling then added: "I thought he would commit suicide."[45] In the discussions that followed, Weidling agreed to an unconditional surrender of the city of Berlin. He agreed to order the city's defenders to surrender to the Soviets. Under the direction of Chuikov and Soviet General Vasily Sokolovsky (Chief of staff of the 1st Ukrainian Front), Weidling put his order to surrender in writing.[45][96]

The 350-strong garrison of the Zoo flak tower finally left the building. There was sporadic fighting in a few isolated buildings where some SS still refused to surrender. The Soviets simply blasted any such building to rubble. Most Germans, soldiers and civilians, were grateful to receive food issued at Red Army soup kitchens. The Soviets went house to house and rounded up anyone in a uniform including firemen and railwaymen, a total of 180,000 and marched them eastwards as prisoners of war.[97]


Main article Battle of Berlin: Aftermath

The Red Army made a major effort to feed the residents of the city which began on Colonel-General Nikolai Berzarin's orders.[98] However, in many areas, vengeful Soviet troops (usually rear echelon units) looted, raped (an estimated 100,000), and murdered civilians for several weeks.[99]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Beevor 2002, p. 287.
  2. Antill 2005, p. 85.
  3. Kiederling 1987, pp. 38–40.
  4. Beevor 2002, pp. 217–233.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Ziemke 1969, p. 84.
  6. World War II Axis Military History Day-by-Day: April 20 April 1945
  7. Beevor 2002, pp. 255–256, 262.
  8. Antony Beevor, speaking as himself in a television documentary:"Revealed" Hitler's Secret Bunkers, directed by George Pagliero (2008)
  9. Ziemke 1969, pp. 92–94.
  10. Ziemke 1969, p. 94.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Ziemke 1969, p. 111.
  12. Fischer 2008, p. 42.
  13. Fischer 2008, pp. 42–43.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Map of the Battle of Berlin 26–28 April 1945 This map is copied from Ziemke 1969, p. 93, Battle For Berlin: End Of The Third Reich
  15. Beevor 2002, p. 317.
  16. Prakash & Kruse 2008, pp. 44–46.
  17. Ladd 1998, pp. 99–102.
  18. 18.0 18.1 Beevor 2002, pp. 316–319.
  19. Beevor 2012, p. 565.
  20. Beevor 2002, p. 286, states the appointment was 23 April; Hamilton 2008, p. 160, states "officially" it was the next morning of 24 April; Dollinger 1997, p. 228, gives 26 April for Weidling's appointment.
  21. Beevor 2002, pp. 259, 297.
  22. Beevor 2002, p. 297.
  23. Beevor 2002, pp. 291–292.
  24. Beevor 2002, pp. 291–292, 302–304.
  25. Beevor 2002, p. 303.
  26. Ziemke 1969, pp. 114–115.
  27. Beevor 2002, pp. 303–304, 319.
  28. Tiemann 1998, pp. 339, 340.
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 29.3 Dollinger 1997, p. 228.
  30. Beevor 2002, p. 322.
  31. Ziemke 1969, p. 98.
  32. Tiemann 1998, p. 339.
  33. Beevor 2002, p. 321.
  34. Beevor 2002, pp. 318–320.
  35. 35.0 35.1 Beevor 2002, pp. 323–324, 17, 318.
  36. Beevor 2002, pp. 319–320.
  37. Beevor 2002, p. 323.
  38. 38.0 38.1 38.2 Ziemke 1969, p. 119.
  39. 39.0 39.1 Ziemke 1969, p. 118.
  40. 40.0 40.1 Beevor 2002, p. 351.
  41. Beevor 2002, p. 340.
  42. Map of the Battle for Reichstag 29 April – 2 May 1945. This map is copied from Ziemke 1969, p. 121, Battle For Berlin: End Of The Third Reich
  43. Beevor 2002, pp. 340, 347–349.
  44. Beevor 2002, p. 342.
  45. 45.0 45.1 45.2 45.3 45.4 45.5 Dollinger 1997, p. 239.
  46. Beevor 2002, p. 343.
  47. Beevor 2002, p. 338.
  48. Exton, Brett. Some of the prisoners held at Special Camp 11: Generaloberst Gotthard Heinrici
  49. Exton, Brett, and Murphy, Richard. Some of the prisoners held at Special Camp 11: General der Infanterie Kurt von Tippelskirch
  50. Ziemke 1969, p. 128.
  51. Beevor 2002, p. 349.
  52. Beevor 2002, pp. 352–353.
  53. 53.0 53.1 Beevor 2002, p. 352.
  54. Ziemke 1969, p. 120.
  55. Beevor 2002, p. 357 last paragraph
  56. Dollinger 1997, p. 239, says Jodl replied, but Ziemke 1969, p. 120, and Beevor 2002, p. 537, say it was Keitel
  57. Le Tissier 2010, p. 29.
  58. Komornicki 1967, p. 146.
  59. 59.0 59.1 59.2 59.3 59.4 Le Tissier 2010, p. 173.
  60. 60.0 60.1 Komornicki 1967, pp. 220–221.
  61. Komornicki 1967, p. 151.
  62. Zbiniewicz 1988, p. 272.
  63. Komornicki 1967, p. 170.
  64. Komornicki 1967, p. 174.
  65. Komornicki 1967, p. 178.
  66. Komornicki 1967, p. 181.
  67. Beevor 2002, pp. 354–355.
  68. Mende et al. 2001, p. 651, for the size of the AAA
  69. 69.0 69.1 Beevor 2002, pp. 356–357.
  70. Beevor 2002, p. 358.
  71. MI5 staff 2012, "Preparations for death" and "Disposal of the bodies".
  72. 72.0 72.1 Komornicki 1967, pp. 182–184.
  73. 73.0 73.1 Komornicki 1967, pp. 190–197.
  74. 74.0 74.1 74.2 74.3 Beevor 2002, pp. 365–367, 372.
  75. 75.0 75.1 Hamilton 2008, p. 311.
  76. Hamilton 2008, p. 312.
  77. Komornicki 1967, pp. 200–209.
  78. Hamilton 2008, pp. 312–313.
  79. Komornicki 1967, pp. 212–219.
  80. Komornicki 1967, pp. 224–229.
  81. Komornicki 1967, p. 232.
  82. Dollinger 1997, p. 239, states 3am, and Beevor 2002, p. 367, 4am, for Krebs meeting with Chuikov
  83. Beevor 2002, pp. 380–381.
  84. Beevor 2002, pp. 372–375.
  85. Beevor 2002, p. 382.
  86. Weidendammer Brücke
  87. Beevor 2002, pp. 383, 389.
  88. Ziemke 1969, p. 126, says that Weildling gave no orders for a breakout.
  89. Beevor 2002, p. 383.
  90. Ziemke 1969, p. 125.
  91. Beevor 2002, p. 384.
  92. Beevor 2002, pp. 384, 385.
  93. Beevor 2002, pp. 388–389.
  94. Beevor 2002, pp. 384, 385, 388.
  95. Beevor 2002, p. 388.
  96. Beevor 2002, p. 386.
  97. Beevor 2002, pp. 287, 388–393.
  98. Beevor 2002, p. 409.
  99. Beevor, Antony; "They raped every German female from eight to 80" 1 May, The Guardian, 2002


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