Read The Fall of Berlin 1945 Online

Authors: Antony Beevor

Tags: #Europe, #Military, #Germany, #World War II, #History

The Fall of Berlin 1945

The Fall of Berlin 1945
Antony Beevor
author of STALINGRAD


1 Berlin in the New Year
2 The 'House of Cards' on the Vistula
3 Fire and Sword and 'Noble Fury'
4 The Great Winter Offensive
5 The Charge to the Oder
6 East and West
7 Clearing the Rear Areas
8 Pomerania and the Oder Bridgeheads
9 Objective Berlin
10 The Kamarilla and the General Staff
11 Preparing the Coup de Grace
12 Waiting for the Onslaught
13 Americans on the Elbe
14 Eve of Battle
15 Zhukov on the Reitwein Spur
16 Seelow and the Spree
17 The Führer's Last Birthday
18 The Flight of the Golden Pheasants
19 The Bombarded City
20 False Hopes
21 Fighting in the City
22 Fighting in the Forest
23 The Betrayal of the Will
24 Führerdammerung
25 Reich Chancellery and Reichstag
26 The End of the Battle
27 Vae Victis!
28 The Man on the White Horse


Greater Germany in 1945


The Invasion of East Prussia, January 1945

From the Vistula to the Oder, 12-31 January 1945

The Oder Bridgeheads, February 1945

The Encirclement of Berlin, 16-25 April 1945

The Seelow Heights, 1st Belorussian Front, 16-19 April 1945


Central Berlin in April-May 1945

The Withdrawal to the Elbe, 12th 9th Armies, 1-8 May 1945

'The Baltic Balcony' - Pomerania, February-March 1945

The Assault on Berlin and it's suburbs - 20 April 1945

Breakout of the 9th Army 26 April - 1 May 1945

The Reichstag and Reichchancellery - 28 April - 2 May 1945

The Attack from the Neisse, 1st Ukranian Front: 16-20 April 1945

The Western Front April-May 1945

The Western Front March-April 1945


All dates given in the book refer to 1945 unless otherwise stated.

Bund deutscher Mädel, League of German Girls, female equivalent of Hitler Youth.

Russian name for a German soldier. The plural was used for Germans in general.

Red Army soldier with frontline experience.

(or Iwan in German), an ordinary Soviet soldier. Term used by Red Army as well as Germans.

(German for 'a cauldron') a group of forces encircled by the enemy.

an ordinary German soldier with frontline experience. The equivalent of the Red Army

Soviet secret police under control of Lavrenty Beria. Military NKVD units - NKVD rifle divisions made up mostly of NKVD frontier guards regiments - were attached to each Soviet Front command. The NKVD chief with each Front was answerable only to Beria and Stalin, not to the military chain of command in the Red Army.

Oberkommando des Heeres, in theory the supreme headquarters of the German Army, but in the later stages of the war its most important role was operational command of the Eastern Front.

Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, the supreme headquarters of all the armed forces, Army, Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine, controlled by Hitler through Field Marshal Keitel and General Jodl. It directed operations on all fronts except for the Eastern Front.

political department
a political officer (
) was responsible for the political education of all soldiers. The political department of each Soviet army and Front came under the Main Political Administration of the Red Army (GlavPURRKA).

city and suburban railway, mostly on the surface, but some of it underground.

7th Department
an organization at each Soviet army headquarters whose main task was to demoralize the enemy. German Communists worked under Soviet officers, and also many German prisoners of war who had undergone 'anti-fascist' training in Soviet camps. They were known by the Germans as 'Seydlitz troops' after General von Seydlitz Kurzbach, who had surrendered at Stalingrad and helped form the so-called National Committee for a Free Germany, which was completely under NKVD control.

Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force Europe.

company or battalion, the Soviet copy of German
(penal) units. Disgraced officers, deserters and defaulters were condemned to these penal units, where they were in theory offered the chance to redeem 'their guilt with their blood'. This meant that they were used for the almost suicidal tasks, such as advancing first through a minefield.
units always had an escort ready to shoot any members who disobeyed orders.

the acronym for
smert shpionam
(death to spies), a name allegedly chosen by Stalin himself for the counter-intelligence organization attached to Red Army units and formations. Until April 1943, when Viktor Abakumov became its chief, it had been known as the 'special department' of the NKVD.

the Soviet supreme headquarters of the armed forces, directly under Stalin's control. The chief of staff in 1945 was General Antonov.

underground railway.

commander-in-chief, the term which Zhukov and other senior commanders used to refer to Stalin.


Army Group
A German 'Army Group' or a Red Army 'Front' represented a collection of armies under a single commander- in-chief. Depending on circumstances, strengths could vary enormously - anything from 250,000 to over a million men.

Each German army, usually varying in strength between 40,000 and over 100,000 men, has its name written in full in the text: e.g. Ninth Army or Third Panzer Army. Soviet armies, generally smaller, are written thus: 47th Army or 2nd Guards Tank Army. Most armies usually consisted of two or three corps. A Soviet tank army had in theory 620 tanks and 188 self-propelled assault guns.

A corps consisted of several divisions, usually between two and four. A Soviet tank corps, however, consisted of three tank brigades of sixty-five tanks each and was closer in size to a full-strength German panzer division.

Divisions varied greatly in size. A Soviet Rifle Division in theory should have mustered 11,780 men, but most had between 3,000 and 7,000 men. German Infantry Divisions were often even more understrength by 1945.

This formation, between a regiment and a division, was used more by the US Army and the British than by the Germans and Red Army, both of which had at least two or three regiments to a division. The Red Army, however, had three tank brigades to each tank corps.

This consisted of at least two or three battalions, with anything up to 700 men each, but often far fewer.

Each battalion consisted of at least three rifle companies — each one theoretically around eighty men strong - as well as support companies, with machine guns, mortars or anti-tank guns, and then transport and supply companies.

Military rank equivalents between the British Army, the US Army, the German Army and the Waffen SS can be found on in the annexe section to this book.


'History always emphasizes terminal events,' Albert Speer observed bitterly to his American interrogators just after the end of the war. He hated the idea that the early achievements of Hitler's regime would be obscured by its final collapse. Yet Speer, like other prominent Nazis, refused to recognize that few things reveal more about political leaders and their systems than the manner of their downfall. This is why the subject of National Socialism's final defeat is so fascinating, and also so important at a time when teenagers, especially in Germany, are finding much to admire in the Third Reich.

The Nazis' enemies had first been able to visualize their moment of vengeance just over two years before. On 1 February 1943, an angry Soviet colonel collared a group of emaciated German prisoners in the rubble of Stalingrad. 'That's how Berlin is going to look!' he yelled, pointing to the ruined buildings all around. When I read those words some six years ago, I sensed immediately what my next book had to be. Among the graffiti preserved on the Reichstag's walls in Berlin, one can still see the two cities linked by Russians exulting in their revenge, forcing the invaders from their furthest point of eastward advance right back to the heart of the Reich.

Hitler too remained obsessed with this decisive defeat. In November 1944, as the Red Army was grouping beyond the Reich's eastern frontiers, he pointed back to Stalingrad. Germany's reverses had all begun, he said in a major speech, 'with the breakthrough of Russian armies on the Romanian front on the Don in November 1942'. He blamed his hapless allies, under-armed and ignored on the vulnerable flanks either side of Stalingrad, not his own obsessive refusal to heed the warnings of danger. Hitler had learned nothing and had forgotten nothing.

That same speech demonstrated with terrible clarity the distorted logic in which the German people had allowed themselves to become ensnared. When published, it was entitled 'Capitulation Means Annihilation'. He warned that if the Bolshevists won, the fate of the German people was destruction, rape and slavery, with 'immense columns of men treading their way to the Siberian tundra'.

Hitler vehemently refused to acknowledge the consequences of his own actions, and the German people realized far too late that they were trapped by a terrifying confusion of cause and effect. Instead of eliminating Bolshevism, as he had claimed, Hitler had brought it to the very heart of Europe. His abominably cruel invasion of Russia had been carried out by a generation of German youth weaned on a demonically clever combination. Goebbels's propaganda did not simply dehumanize Jews, commissars and the whole Slav people, it made the German people fear and hate them. Hitler, in these gigantic crimes, had managed to manacle the nation to him and the approaching violence of the Red Army was the self-fulfilment of their leader's prophecy.

Stalin, while happy to make use of symbols when it suited him, was far more calculating. The Reich's capital was indeed the 'culmination of all the operations of our army in this war', but he had other vital interests. Not least of these was the plan formulated under Lavrenty Beria, Stalin's minister of state security, to strip atomic research establishments in Berlin of all their equipment and uranium before the Americans and British arrived. The work of the Manhattan Project carried out in Los Alamos was already well known in the Kremlin, thanks to the pro-Communist spy, Dr Klaus Fuchs. Soviet science was far behind, and Stalin and Beria were convinced that if they were to seize the German laboratories and scientists in Berlin before the Western Allies got there, then they too could produce an atom bomb like the Americans.

The scale of the human tragedy by the end of the war is beyond the imagination of everyone who did not live through it, but especially of those who have grown up in the demilitarized society of the post-Cold War age. Yet this moment of fate for millions of people still has much to teach us. One important lesson is that one should be extremely wary of any generalization concerning the conduct of individuals. Extremes of human suffering and even degradation can bring out the best as well as the worst in human nature. Human behaviour to a large extent mirrors the utter unpredictability of life or death. Many Soviet troops, especially in frontline formations, unlike those who came behind, often behaved with great kindness to German civilians. In a world of cruelty and horror where any conception of humanity had almost been destroyed by ideology, just a few acts of often unexpected kindness and self-sacrifice lighten what would otherwise be an almost unbearable story.

This book could not possibly have been researched without the help of many people. I am first of all deeply obliged to the directors and staff in numerous archives: Colonel Shuvashin and the staff of the Central Archive of the Ministry of Defence (TsAMO) at Podolsk; Dr Natalya Borisovna Volkova and her staff at the Russian State Archive for Literature and the Arts (RGALI); Dr Vladimir Kuzelenkov and Dr Vladimir Korotaev of the Russian State Military Archive (RGVA); Professor Kyrill Mikhailovich Andersen and Dr Oleg Vladimirovich Naumov at the Russian State Archive for Social-Political History (RGASPI); Dr Manfred Kehrig, Director of the Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv, Freiburg, and Frau Weibl; Dr Rolf-Dieter Müller and Hauptmann Luckszat at the MGFA in Potsdam; Professor Dr Eckhart Henning of the Archiv zur Geschichte der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft; Dr Wulf-Ekkehard Lucke at the Landesarchiv-Berlin; Frau Irina Renz of the Bibliothek für Zeitgeschichte in Stuttgart; Dr Lars Ericson and Per Clason at the Krigsarkivet in Stockholm; John E. Taylor, Wilbert Mahoney and Robin Cookson at National Archives II, College Park, Maryland; Dr Jeffrey Clarke at the United States Army Center of Military History.

Bengt von zur Mühlen, the founder of Chronos-Film, has been particularly generous with archival footage and taped interviews of participants. I am also greatly obliged to Gerald Ramm and to Dietmar Arnold of Berliner Unterwelten for their help.

I am truly grateful to all those who aided me so much during my travels with advice, introductions and hospitality: in Russia, Dr Galya and Dr Luba Vinogradova, Professor Anatoly Aleksandrovich Chernobayev, and Simon Smith and Sian Stickings; in Germany, William Durie, Staatssekretar a.D. Karl-Günther and Frau von Hase, and Andrew and Sally Gimson; in the United States, Susan Mary Alsop, Major General and Mrs Charles Vyvyan, Bruce Lee, Mr and Mrs Charles von Luttichau and Martin Blumenson.

It has been a great pleasure for me, as well as extremely useful for the book, to work in partnership with BBC Timewatch. I am deeply grateful to Laurence Rees, whose idea it was, to Dr Tilman Remme, in whose company I have most enjoyably learned a great deal, and to Detlef Siebert, who generously helped so much at an early stage with advice and interviewees. Others who have also provided introductions, information, help and advice include Anne Applebaum, Christopher Arkell, Claudia Bismarck, Leopold Graf von Bismarck, Sir Rodric Braithwaite, Professor Christopher Dandeker, Dr Engel of the Archiv der Freien Universitat, Professor John Erickson, Wolf Gebhardt, Jon Halliday, Nina Lobanov-Rostovsky, Dr Catherine Merridale, Professor Oleg Aleksandrovich Rzheshevsky, Professor Moshe Schein of the New York Methodist Hospital, Karl Schwarz, Simon Sebag-Montefiore, Gia Sulkhanishvili, Dr Galya Vinogradova and Ian Weston-Smith.

This book, quite literally, would never have been possible in the form it takes without the wonderful help I have had from Dr Luba Vinogradova in Russia and Angelica von Hase in Germany. It has been a privilege and a pleasure to work with them. I am also extremely grateful to Sarah Jackson for all her work on photographic research, to Bettina von Hase for supplementary archival research in Germany and to David List in England. Charlotte Salford very kindly translated the documents from the Krigsarkivet in Stockholm for me.

I am profoundly grateful to Professor Michael Burleigh, Professor Norman Davies and Dr Catherine Merridale for reading all or parts of the typescript and making very useful criticisms. Any mistakes which remain are, of course, entirely my responsibility.

I cannot thank Mark Le Fanu and the Society of Authors enough for recovering the websites, and from a cybersquatter. These can now be used to provide an 'author's cut' - a writer's answer to the director's cut - thus making available archival and other material for which there was no room in the published version of the book.

I owe, as always, a huge debt to my agent Andrew Nurnberg and to Eleo Gordon, my editor at Penguin, both of whom pushed an initially reluctant author down this route. Once again my wife, writing partner and editor of first resort, Artemis Cooper, has had to put up with constant absences and many extra burdens. I am eternally grateful.

Other books

Claim 2: Volume Two by Suzanne, Ashley
Coming Clean: A Memoir by Miller, Kimberly Rae
Faerykin by Gia Blue
Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff
Floralia by Farris, J. L.
Solaria - S1 by Heckrotte, Fran Copyright 2016 - 2023