Vistula–Oder Offensive

Delegation of German officers walking for negotiations

Delegation of German officers walking for negotiations

Operation Vistula-Oder (in Russian Висло-Одерская операция, Vislo-Oderskaj operacij in German Weichsel-Oder Operation) was a major strategic offensive waged by Red Army from 12 January 1945 , the final phase of World War II on the Eastern Front to overcome the German defenses on the ready line of the Vistula and Narew , and advance in a decisive way in the heart of Germany .

In ‘ August 1944 the German army had stopped with great difficulty the Soviets on the line of the Vistula river but had been unable to prevent the formation of dangerous bridgeheads west of the river in Sandomierz , Baranow and Magnuszew .  With the start of the new year, after concentrating powerful mechanized forces and large groupings of artillery and aviation, the Red Army was able to switch back to the attack and advance in depth until you reach the line of Oder 80 km from Berlin in the early days of February.  After this rapid and successful winter of advanced armored armies of Marshals Zhukov and Konev, in the months following the Soviet forces were engaged in fierce and prolonged fighting to destroy the German groupings remained isolated in East Prussia and Pomerania before launching the final attack against Berlin.

After the initial collapse and the heavy losses, the German High Command of the Wehrmacht was able to organize a defensive line on the Oder to cover the capital of the Reich , and extend the endurance of the encircled troops that cost heavy losses to the Soviets and prevented an immediate attack in Berlin .

Strategic situation on the Eastern front

The Soviet armies that had destroyed the Army Group Center and liberated Belarus in the summer of 1944 , during the Operation Bagration , were arrested in late July on the line of the Vistula and the Niemen and thanks to the influx of reserves to ‘tactical ability of Field Marshal Walter Model .  However, the losses suffered by the Wehrmacht were very heavy and the strategic situation was now clearly favorable to ‘ Red Army who had managed to win, despite the setback east of Warsaw valuable bridgeheads on the Vistula River in Sandomierz , Magnuszew , Pulawy and Baranow.  In addition, Stalin and the Stavka exploited the situation and they launched a series of offensives in the autumn after fierce fighting had led to ‘ occupation of the Baltic countries , the isolation of Army Group North in Courland , the liberation of the Balkans , at the entrance of the troops Soviet in Bucharest , Sofia and Belgrade , the invasion of Hungary where the Germans mounted a tenacious defense to protect Budapest .

While the Red Army reached these important policy successes as well as political, entering, after liberating the occupied territories, in the heart of eastern and south-eastern Europe, Stalin and his principal generals were already designing and planning the new offensive main to inflict decisive defeat to the Third Reich .  After a thorough evaluation by the staffs of all the possible areas of attack, it was decided in October 1944 to organize a new large concentration of forces in Poland to attack the line of the Vistula and advancing directly towards Germany .  The open ground of the plains Polish lent itself particularly to an offensive in mass with armored vehicles and therefore the Stavka began to study the necessary reinforcements of men and equipment and substantially reinforcing logistical support for an operation of such vast proportions.

The crucial meeting was held in Moscow in the presence of Stalin on 28 and 29 October 1944 the dictator decided, on the advice of Marshal Georgy Zhukov , to suspend certain partial seizures in progress and begin a systematic strengthening and reorganization of forces; was therefore decided to strengthen the main fronts involved in the planned offensive on the Vistula.  Stalin also assumed also the task of coordinating operations personally and abolished the function of the “representatives of the Stavka,” while the same named Marshal Zhukov at the helm of the 1st Belorussian Front which was to launch the main attack to Germany.  Marshal Ivan Konev held the command of the 1st Ukrainian Front, and Marshal Konstantin Rokossovskij , bitterly disappointed by the decision of Stalin, he earned the command of the 2nd Belorussian Front with the important task of attack in East Prussia , in coordination with the 3rd Belorussian Front of General Ivan Cerniakovskij , and at the same time keep in touch with the right flank of the army of Marshal Zhukov during the advance. The main offensive was initially scheduled for 15 – 20 January 1945, in the meantime would continue the offensive in Hungary with the aim of winning Budapest.

On 1 January 1945, the Third Reich waged three simultaneous offensives: the west in Alsace ( Operation Nordwind ), to the east in Hungary to unlock Budapest ( Operation Konrad ) and in the air ‘ operation Bodenplatte , the surprise air attack against the Allied airfields in the west; since Dec. 16 the Wehrmacht had launched the great battle of the bulge that had caused the initial failure of the American front and caused problems to General Dwight Eisenhower.  However, despite this unexpected military resurgence, the work of the fighting capacity of the German Army and also the stubbornness of Adolf Hitler , determined to fight to the last, the overall situation remained critical of Nazi Germany.  The chief of staff of the ‘ Oberkommando des Heeres , the General Heinz Guderian , it was very doubtful about the effectiveness of these velletarie offensive and feared since December, a collapse of the Eastern Front to the signs of an impending Soviet attack.

During a series of meeting at Hitler’s headquarters in the West (Adlerhost) on December 24, on 1 January and 9 January, the general had tried to illustrate the lack of resources and reserves furniture available in the front of the Vistota and, based also on detailed reports of General Reinhard Gehlen , had highlighted the need to strengthen the defenses in Poland, suspend attacks in the West and in Hungary, evacuate the bridgehead of Courland .  Hitler brusquely rejected all these proposals, criticized reports Gehlen, suggested a maneuver of deception Soviet Union, and declared himself convinced of the soundness of the Eastern Front, finally reiterating the need to maintain the initiative and continue the attacks in the west and Hungary, where they had just moved the two armored divisions of the 4th SS Panzer Corps-General Herbert Otto Gille , reclaimed from the Army Group Center.

Plans and preparations

The Red Army

Strengthening of Soviet forces and planning

The Soviet High Command proceeded to a massive strengthening of the army assigned to the decisive offensive on the axis Warsaw -direction Berlin, the 1st Belorussian Front of Marshal Zhukov and 1st Ukrainian Front of Marshal Konev amassed a total of 163 rifle divisions, 32,143 guns and heavy mortars, 6500/2 tanks and 4,772 aircraft, with 2,250,000 soldiers, the two sides would have had access to one-third of all formations of Soviet riflemen and 43% of the available armored vehicles, armed with ten (eight armed infantry and two armored armies), army aviation and other floaters 4-5 separate each edge.  In addition, fourteen other armed riflemen, an army battleship, two armies air, you’re moving bodies, with 1,670,000 soldiers, 28,000 guns, armored 3300/2 and 3,000 aircraft were assigned to the 2nd Belorussian Front of Marshal Rokossovskij and 3rd Front Belarusian General Cerniakovskij for the contemporary pincer attack in East Prussia.

The decisive planning meeting took place in the first half of November, while Stalin conferred individually with the commanders of the fronts at the end of December 1944 to establish the operational details of the offensive; Marshal Zhukov proposed on this occasion to direct the main attack of Łódź and then Poznań and Stalin agreed with this plan, while the Marshal Konev was assigned as the main objective Wroclaw.  Marshal Konev would not have had to concentrate only on the advanced of its armored forces towards the ‘ Oder in Wrocław, but with a part of its mobile forces, would have to get around from the north the important industrial region of Silesia and avrebbo had to encircle and conquer assault avoiding a prolonged struggle and destruction of the plants on the German side.  Stalin himself made ​​clear, during the final interview with the commander before the offensive, the importance of this mission, indicating strategic paper on the area of Silesia Marshal Konev and turning to one word: Zoloto, “Gold”.

Marshal Zhukov adopted a complex combined plan which provided for a concentration major in the narrow bridgehead Magnuszew where they were piled the 8th Army Guard, the 5th Army assault, the 61th Army and the reserves mechanized of the 1st and 2nd Army Armored Guard and the 2nd Cavalry Corps of the Guard in the bridgehead Marshal, to achieve a decisive success, concentrated 50% of the riflemen and 70% of armored vehicles with a local superiority of 10:1 compared to the German defenses .  A second attack would be brought to the north by the 47th Army and 1st Army Polish that they circumvented Warsaw from the north, and finally Marshal planned a third secondary attack from the bridgehead Pulawy with the 69th Army, the 33rd Army and two floaters. Marshal Konev studied a more simple: in the large bridgehead Sandomierz were grouped in the 13th Army, the 52nd Army, the 5th Army Guard and two floaters for a direct attack, supported north from the 3rd Army Guard and south of the 60th Army.  To deceive the enemy, Marshal amassed over 400 tanks fictitious in the southern sector of the bridgehead to simulate an attack on Krakow ; reserves mechanized of the 3rd and 4th Panzer Army were instead concentrated in the north to advance towards the north-west of Kielce in coordination with the 1st Belorussian Front.

Recent decisions of Stalin

Stalin was aware of the importance of the offensive on the Vistula and aimed to reach and conquer Berlin , anticipating the Western Allies and ending victoriously in the capital of the enemy’s long and bloody war on the Eastern Front.  The dictator, however, was also aware of the difficulties of the latter year and expected a tough enemy resistance on the access routes to the capital and in the Prussian territories.  To Marshal Zhukov said explicitly: “I think it will be a tough fight”.  In addition, Stalin, always suspicious, it remained doubtful about the true intentions of the Anglo-Americans (especially Winston Churchill ), they feared an attempt to anticipate the Soviet advance on Berlin, German attempts to divide assumed, with political and diplomatic maneuvers, the coalition anti-Hitler, and finally also took into account the possibility that the Wehrmacht resistance ceased on the Western Front and concentrated all his remaining forces to the east to prevent at all costs the invasion of East Germany by the Red Army.

On January 6 Stalin had received an important letter of Prime Minister Churchill.  After describing the situation on the Western Front, where he was still in progress the battle of the bulge, defined as “very hard”, and after speaking of “disturbing situation”, the British politician asked to know the intentions of Soviet operational, heralded the arrival in Moscow of Air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur Tedder , General Eisenhower’s deputy, to meet the political and military leaders and called for a “great Russian offensive along the Vistula or elsewhere, in January”.  Stalin replied immediately 7 January extraordinarily friendly tone in ensuring that the Red Army would advance its programs and launched a major offensive as soon as possible in an important sector of the front “without worrying about the prohibitive weather conditions” to alleviate the plight of the allies Western on the west front.  Marshal Konev was in fact reached by telephone by General Alexei Antonov , deputy chief of general staff, and urged to start his offensive, scheduled for January 20 , since January 12 , despite the difficult logistical problems and the use of artillery and aviation because of the time.  This early start of the great offensive reinforced the view of Western politicians to Stalin and also allowed the Soviets to anticipate the possible arrival of German reserves to the east.  Finally the attack, launched in cold weather and low clouds, was favored over frozen ground, hard and dry, which allowed the rapid movements of the Red Army armored units.

The Wehrmacht

The German forces deployed in Poland and East Prussia were vastly outnumbered and material in front of the cocnentrazione of the Red Army forces, despite the optimistic assurances of Hitler, General Guderian felt totally inadequate reserves available furniture, sun went down to thirteen armored divisions or Panzergrenadier after departure to Hungary of the 4th Panzer-SS.  In total, the Army Group Centre of General Georg-Hans Reinhardt , in charge of defending East Prussia, and Army Group A of General Josef Harpe , deployed on the Vistula and in Silesia, possessed 99 divisions divided into seven armies.  General Reinhardt, who would have suffered the attack of the 2nd and 3rd Belorussian Front lined up, on a defensive partly fortified, the 4th Army, the 2nd Army and the 3rd Panzerarmee with a power reserve of seven divisions mechanized or armored, while General Harpe was blocking the dangerous field of bridgeheads on the Vistula River that would have been attacked by Marshals Zhukov and Konev, with the 9th Army, the 4th Panzerarmee and the 17th Army, while in the south was deployed to the 1st Panzerarmee.  The reserves of Army Group A consisted of only six armored divisions.  In practice, the General Harpe would have to face the main attack with only 440,000 Soviet soldiers, 4,100 guns and 800 armored vehicles.

At the level of the high command was deemed most threatened by possible enemy attacks especially the Baltic-Prussian sector and the region south of Krakow, and was considered less dangerous the situation in the bridgeheads on the Vistula.  In addition, Hitler kept his skepticism about the possibilities offensive of the Red Army, prescribed defense to the bitter end without folding and imposed to maintain very close the two lines of combat (Grosskampflinie and Hauptkampflinie) which in practice would be targeted both with heavy Soviet artillery losses for the German infantry.  Finally the Führer decided to maintain the advanced position even in operating reserves battleships to be used for any counter.

The offensive

“Our tanks run to Berlin fastest train …”

(Statement of Colonel Iosif I. Gusakovskij, commander of the 44th Armoured Brigade of the Guards, belonging to the 1st Belorussian Front of Marshal Zhukov)

Offensive Marshal Konev

On January 12 , at 05.00 am, Marshal Konev began the offensive from the great Sandomierz bridgehead with an initial fifteen-minute artillery bombardment that was followed, after the raids of battagliani preliminary reconnaissance Soviet and strafbats (battalions criminal) in the first and second German line, a second bombing more powerful than 107 minutes that had destructive effects on the defensive lines enemy by causing the heel and confusion among the troops of the 4th Panzerarmee of General Fritz Gräser-Hubert.  The artillery fire devastated the lines of the 48th Panzer Corps German, consisting of three infantry divisions – 68 th, 168 th and 304 th – and two groups of destroyer heavy, hit command posts and inflicted damage also to the operational reserves deployed , on Hitler’s orders, in the immediate rear of the German main line of resistance (the Hauptkampflinie).  While, due to poor visibility, had to be canceled the planned intervention in the mass of the Soviet Air Force, the artillery of the 1st Ukrainian Front effected a third bombing of fifteen minutes it took him by surprise the German defensive lines waiting for the attack of infantry.

At 14.00, after the initial advanced platoons of Soviet avant-garde of the 13th Army, the 5th Army Guard and the 52nd Army, backed by tanks accompanying the two armies went on the offensive armored Guard Marshal Konev: the 3rd Armored Guard Army General Pavel Rybalko (922/2 armored) and the 4th Armored Army General Dmitry Leljušenko (680 tanks and self-propelled), which met little resistance.  Right from 12.30 General Pukhov, commander of the 13th Army, in charge of the initial breakthrough, he had communicated the favorable results achieved and at 13:50 the Marshal Konev personally gave orders to General Leljušenko starting to move in with his chariots.  Despite the bad weather conditions, the crews of Soviet tanks, experienced and motivated, advanced rapidly, well camouflaged in the snow and preceded by two regiments of heavy tanks Guard equipped with tanks Stalin II.  After midday had finally occurred even Soviet aircraft who performed 460 sorties and coordinarono effectively their actions with ground forces, thanks to the presence of advanced air traffic controllers in the columns of the wagons.

At the end of the day the armies of Marshal Konev had already traveled about 20 kilometers inside the main defenses of the 4. Panzerarmee, the 48th Panzer Corps had collapsed, and had been breached 40 km wide, where they were breaking the tanks General Leljušenko that in the evening they reached the banks of the River Nida , followed by the forces of the 13th Army of General Pukhov.  After going through with little difficulty the river, the general Leljušenko was able to march right away with the 4th Army battleship to the city of Kielce where they were grouped mobile reserves German the 24th Panzer Corps (16. and 17. Panzer Division, reinforced by 20. Panzergrenadier-Division and a battalion of heavy tanks Tiger II , with about 360 panzer the command of General Walther Nehring).  Positioned too close to the first lines, these reserve formations had already been weakened by the preliminary bombing Soviet and hurriedly had to intervene to try to curb the powerful advance of Soviet tanks.

On 13 and 14 January raged fierce clashes of wagons south of Kielce , while the 25th Corps wagons contained, to the east of the city, 20.  Panzergrenadier-Division, the two bodies of the 4th Army mechanized Soviet armored collided head-on with the Panzer-Division approaching.  More powerful, with many more resources and effectively led by General Dmitry Leljušenko (experienced commander of war with armored vehicles) the Soviet tank crews had the better: the powerful 6th Mechanized Corps Guard overran the 16.  Panzer-Division and continued to advance equally, the battalion of Tiger tanks suffered an ambush in heavy Stalin II, while the 10th Corps wagons Guard faced and rejected 17  Panzer-Division.  The Germans lost over 180 tanks and had to fall back quickly to avoid being surrounded, and was reduced to a “pocket mobile” westward retreating in the middle of the Soviet mechanized columns on the march towards the Oder.  Kielce, completely cut off by the advance of Soviet armored columns to the west, was captured on January 15 by the Soviet infantry, after fierce fighting with the German garrison, and Marshal Konev could then, after the capture of this strategic center covering his right side, proceed forward in the open field with his mobile forces without meeting any resistance ordered by the enemy.

While the 4th Army Armored and the 13th Army engaged and sconfiggevano the mobile reserves the German area of ​​Kielce, the 3rd Army Armored Guard of General Pavel Rybalko, the 5th Army Guard of General Zadov and the 52nd Army of General Koroteev entered turn into action on the left side and, after repelling enemy counterattacks in Chmielnik , advanced toward the west.  The army of General Rybalko battleship crossed both the Pilica Nida that by January 15, and marched immediately with the elements of the tip of the 54th Armoured Brigade of the Guards of the 7th Corps wagons Guard to Częstochowa.  In addition, the Marshal Konev expanded again in front of the attack and did interveniere his armies left, the 60th Army of General Kurockin and the 59th Army of General Korovnikov, which, reinforced by the 4th Corps wagons Guard of General Pavel Polubojarov marched in the direction of Krakow , the capital of the General Government.

The march of 4th Panzer Army and the 13th Army west of Kielce, and the advance of the 3rd Army battleship and the 5th Army Guard in the direction of Częstochowa, put in serious danger of encirclement of the 42nd Army Corps German who then began to replicate the movement degenerated into a route, departments were disrupted by Soviet tanks, the command post was knocked down and the commander, General Recknagel was captured by Polish partisans.  After the collapse of the defenses on the Vistula 4. Panzerarmee, finally the German High Command gave the order to retreat to his forces concentrated in the south of Wisloka that the January 16 abandoned their positions pursued by the 38th Army of General Moskalenko (part of the 4th Ukrainian Front of General Petrov) and the 21 th of General Gusev.  The maneuver was successful and these German forces retreated south of Krakow in the Myślenice.

On January 17 the armies of the 1st Ukrainian Front of Marshal Konev completed the maneuver of Częstochowa and liberated the city, supported by the departments of the 5th Army Guard and the 52nd Army, the armored corps of General Rybalko broke into the settlement that was reached first by the 54th Armoured Brigade of the Guards of the greater SVChorjakov.  The January 19 ended the siege and conquest instead of Krakow, abandoned without a fight by German forces to avoid being cut off.  The 59th Army went around the city from the north and north-west to occupy the bridges over the Vistula, while Marshal Konev pushed the 60th Army to the south and south-east of the city and ordered the 4th Corps Armored Guard to get around Krakow from the west.  Within a week, the Marshal had concluded with a landslide victory the battle for the Małopolska (“Little Poland”): the ramparts of Kielce and Krakow had been conquered, the defenses of 4. Panzerarmee had collapsed, the German reserves were withdrawn, the 17th Army of General Friedrich Schulz was retreating towards the south-west.  The way was open for the Oder Guard armored armies of the 1st Ukrainian Front and the industrial region of Silesia was threatened from the north and east.

Offensive of Marshal Zhukov

On 14 January the 1st Belorussian Front of Marshal Zhukov went to the attack against the positions of the 9th German Army of General von Smilo Lüttwitz south of Warsaw, the main offensive was unleashed starting from the bridgehead Magnuszew by the 8th Army Guard of General Vasily Čujkov (the old 62nd Army veteran of Stalingrad ), the 5th Army’s assault Berzarin general and the 61th Army of General Belov.  Having amassed in this area narrowed more than 50% of its riflemen, and 70% of artillery and armored units, Marshal Zhukov possessed an overwhelming superiority in men and equipment, and attacked immediately met with decisive results.  Preceded by artillery fire 25 minutes, exploring the departments of fusiliers (22 reinforced battalions and 25 companies) were able to break through at 10.00 the weak German defenses, Marshal then decided to give up the second barrage originally planned, and before evening Soviet units were already within 12 km of the main German position, after having destroyed two enemy infantry divisions.  The situation was even more favorable evolution thanks to successful surprise attack of 26 º Body Guard Fusiliers (part of the 5th Army assault) who conquered a bridge over the river Pilica in Warka and allowed him to take action in advance of the bodies armored and mechanized Army’s 2nd Armored Guard of General Semyon Bogdanov , endowed of 873 armored vehicles.  The armored brigade of the head of the 2nd Army Armored Guard, the 47th Armoured Brigade of the Guard (part of the 9th Corps wagons Guard ) marched rapidly towards the important center of Sochaczew west of Warsaw and overcame all resistance dispersing the German units on the run.

Even the secondary attack from the bridgehead Pulawy was successful: the 69th Army of General Kolpackij and the 33rd Army of General Zvetaev moved forward 22 kilometers within the first day and defeated two divisions of German infantry and the two moving bodies assigned to this industry went into action at 14.00, l ‘ 11th Corps wagons marched in the direction of Radom and, along with the 9th Corps wagons, walked around the German forces of the 56th Panzer Corps.  Finally on January 15 began, with an artillery bombardment of 55 minutes, the encirclement maneuver of Warsaw, north of the city attacked over the Vistula the 47th Army of General Perkhorovič, while to the south, starting from the breakthrough the bridgehead Magnuszew, advanced the 1st Polish Army of General Poplavski, supported by a part of the 61th Army, the 2nd Armored Army Guard marching on Sochaczew and the 2nd Cavalry Corps of the Guard.  The 47th, the 61th and the 2nd Army Armored Guard operated a successful pincer movement in the salient natural determined by the confluence of Pilica the Vistula (which bends sharply to the left in the north of capiatale Polish), threatening to encircle the German garrison in Warsaw.

In the meantime, the German defenses were collapsing on Pilica, attacked, after a new barrage of artillery of 40 minutes, from the 5th Army assault and the 8th Army Guard; armored units of Marshal Zhukov threw themselves into the breach, pointing towards the west: the 1st Armored Army Guard general expert Mikhail Katukov (equipped with armored 752/2), in particular, managed to make a breakthrough in depth, surpassed Ford the Pilica, partly frozen, and immediately pointed in the direction of Lodz .  The tanks of the tip of Colonel IIGusakovskij, the 44th Armoured Brigade of the Guards of the 11th Corps wagons Guard of General AKBabajanian, prompted by Marshal Zhukov to cross the river at all costs, they crossed the Pilica directly, moving into the river bed and the shattering the ice .

On January 15, the 40th Panzer Corps of General Heinrici Sigfried (19. and 25. Panzer-Division) tried to stop the Soviet advance, but fighting back in an uncoordinated fashion of divergent directions, the attempt ended in failure with the 19.  Panzer-Division was repulsed with loss by fire of antitank units of the 69th Army and the 8th Army Guard, while the 25.  Panzer-Division was caught in the 5th Army assault and did not progress.  Marshal Zhukov accelerated the passage of his armored brigades over the Pilica to address the German reserves, so the January 16 the panzer Germans launched a series of attacks against the dangerous beachhead Pilica constituted by the 44th Armoured Brigade of the Guards, but Colonel Gusakovskij, strengthened by the arrival of another formation of 11 º wagons Guard Corps, the 45th Armoured Brigade of the Guards, rejected all attempts and inflicted heavy losses on the enemy mechanized units of 25.  Panzer-Division.  The bodies of Soviet armored generals Bogdanov and Katukov, after rejecting these desperate counterattacks, they could then resume their advance in depth; Sochaczew was reached and conquered the January 17th , after a march of 90 kilometers in 24 hours, from 9 º Body Guard carts, cutting off the retreat of German forces in Warsaw.

On the same day fell Warsaw from the north threatened by the advance of the 47th Army and from the south by the march of the 61st Army, the German garrison began to retreat hastily, despite Hitler’s orders to transform the ruins of the Polish capital in an impregnable fortress.  The Germans withdrew from the night of January 17 after fire and destroyed the last remnants of the city, the liberation of Warsaw was entrusted by the 1st Belorussian Front to the Polish troops of the 1st Army, and as the 6th Division crossed the Vistula near the suburb of Prague, the Polish 2nd Division entered the city from the north and rejected the latest German rearguard.  At noon of January 17, Warsaw was completely freed.

Reactions and attempts to resist German

On January 13, Hitler, always laid down in its Headquarters Adlerhost, near Giessen , he decided, after hearing the first news of the Soviet offensive on the Vistula, a first transfer of two infantry divisions from the Western Front.  The next day, alarmed by reports from Army Group A, ordered the Army Group Center, which is also under attack in the 2nd and 3rd Belorussian Front, transfer immediately to the south of the Panzerkorps “Grossdeutschland” the general Dietrich von Saucken , consisting of the Panzergrenadier-Division Brandenburg and the Hermann Göring Panzer Division , to strengthen the field of Kielce and fight on the side of the Soviet tank armies in advanced.  On January 15 the Führer also decided the transfer from the 20.  Panzer-Division and 8.  Panzer Division , belonging to the Army Group South , north to reinforce the 17th Army and defend Silesia.

The second and third day of the offensive Soviet, General Guderian, extremely worried about the situation, sent from his corporate headquarters in Zossen communications alarmed to Hitler, asking you to send massive reinforcements from the western front to avoid a catastrophe on the Vistula and supporting the need to suspend offensive operations being useless in Alsace and in Hungary.  Hitler, on the night of 15 January, he returned to Berlin to settle in the underground bunker where he would remain until his suicide on April 30 , 1945, refused the proposals of General Guderian and reaffirmed the need to maintain the initiative, and finally, after new more and more negative news, the Führer finally decided to suspend the offensive in the west and to transfer the entire 6th Panzerarmee-SS General Josef Dietrich (with four SS-Panzer-Division) from the front of the Ardennes to the east.  But General Guderian learned with surprise that these mobile forces would be directed not to Poland to try to block the Soviet offensive in Hungary but for a new strategic offensive in this area.  Unnecessarily General Guderian protested against this decision and pointed out that because of the difficulties of a rail transfer to the Danube would have required many crucial weeks.

On 16 January Hitler deposed General Josef Harpe and appointed to the command of Army Group A, the combative general Ferdinand Schörner , transferred from Army Group North, which was isolated in Courland , where he was replaced by General Lothar Rendulic ; relying on ‘ intervention of the Panzerkorps “Grossdeutschland, Hitler was still hoping to stop the Soviet advance and ordered General Schörner to resist to the bitter end. The news of the fall of Warsaw on January 17, surrendered without a fight despite the orders, unleashed the wrath of Hitler who deposed various commanders, General von Lüttwitz replaced with General Theodor Busse in command of the 9th Army and arrested by the Gestapo some officers of the General Staff. Even the request of General Guderian to evacuate Army Group North from Courland to reinforce the defense of the Reich was abruptly dismissed by Hitler.

The hasty transfer of the two mechanized divisions of the Panzerkorps “Grossdeutschland” proved a serious mistake: these formations still fully efficient, withdrawn from the front of East Prussia, were diverted by rail south but fell between the columns of Soviet tanks in advanced towards Łódź Marshal Zhukov and not only could not intervene in time to defend Kielce (fall already January 15), but had to beat a retreat, in turn, to avoid destruction.  Moreover, the lack of these reserve units weakened the deployment of Army Group Centre and facilitated the breakthrough of Marshal Konstantin Rokossovskij in East Prussia.

With a military situation increasingly critical and extreme weather conditions and heavy snow, were also beginning the first movements of evacuation of the German civilian population from the territories threatened by the advance of the Red Army.  Despite the reassurances of the Deputy Minister of Propaganda Alfred Naumann, during a meeting in Posen on January 15 with the German leaders of the regions adjoining the Warthegau still had assured the solidity of the defenses of the Vistula and promised a new victorious march to the east, the sudden arrival of Russian tanks and catastrophic news caused the panic.  The civilian population, afraid of terrible vengeance on the part of Soviet troops and impressed by the apocalyptic predictions of German propaganda on the future of Germany in case of defeat, fled in confusion and disorganization in their homes to march, on foot or by horse-drawn carts modest to the west.

Soviet attack in East Prussia

On 13 and 14 January also the 2nd Belorussian Front of Marshal Konstantin Rokossovskij and the 3rd Belorussian Front of General Ivan had passed Cerniakovskij attack in East Prussia against the strong defensive positions of Army Group Centre of General Georg-Hans Reinhardt .  The German defenses exploited the characteristics of the marshland and criss-crossed by numerous rivers, leaned to the old-Prussian imperial era fortifications and possessed high reserves mechanized, including the three armored divisions of the Panzerkorps “Grossdeutschland”.  In addition, the German troops committed to defending the national territory, gave proof of the combativeness and tenacity, creating hardships, as predicted by Stalin himself, the Soviet offensive.

The general Cerniakovskij attacked on January 13 with four armies in the forefront, supported by two armored corps, and with the 11th Army Guard of reinforcement for the exploitation of success, but the offensive directed towards Insterberg and Königsberg at the junction of 4th Army German and 3rd Panzerarmee, turned into a slow and expensive advanced within the system fortified enemy.  The main lines of the German gave on January 18, but the Germans continued to fall back in an orderly fashion towards the outer defenses of the Prussian capital and towards the fortress of Heilsberg.

The 2nd Belorussian Front of Marshal Rokossovskij, faced with the difficult mission to attack the defenses of East Prussia from the south, had a considerable initial difficulties: the five armed riflemen responsible, with the reinforcement of three mobile bodies, to make the breakthrough on Narew towards Mława and Marienburg was delayed by the German defenses and counter the first day by powerful Panzergrenadier-Division “Grossdeutschland” , the 3rd Soviet Army General Gorbatov had to fight hard to fend off repeated attacks of German tanks.  The situation improved the Soviet Jan. 16 : The German reserves are indebilirono for departure towards the Vistula the other two divisions of the Panzerkorps “Grossdeutschland” (“Hermann Göring” and “Brandenburg”) and intervention in support of the other armored corps of the 5th Army Armored Guard of General VTVolskij him to make the breakthrough in the direction of Marienburg.

In the following days the armies of the 2nd and 3rd Belorussian Front continued to advance at the cost of heavy losses due to the fierce resistance of the German forces of Army Group Centre, and the January 19 fell Tannenberg , while only 27 January tanks General Volskij reached the Baltic coast in Elbing isolating the 4th Army and the 3rd Panzerarmee in East Prussia.  In fact, the hardest stage of the fighting in this region had yet to begin, the Germans would have organized a new fortified perimeter and tried to fight back west to get reacquainted in Pomerania with the main forces, putting pressure on the Soviets and complicating the task of Marshal Rokossovskij.

Red Army advance up to the Oder

On January 17, Stalin and the Stavka branched off the new operational guidelines to their commanders in the field, in spite of the very favorable news and signs of a collapse enemy, the Soviet high command issued provisions prudent and cautious.  Marshal Konev was to march on Wroclaw and reach the Oder by January 30 , while with his armies of the left side would have to work around the coalfield Dąbrowa ; instead to Marshal Zhukov was awarded the aim of achieving Posen (Poznań) and establish themselves on the line Posen- Bydgoszcz within 2 – 4 February.

In fact, the situation was much more favorable and marshals Zhukov and Konev were in advance of this roadmap.  The defenses of the German Army Group A were in decay, survivors infantry fell back on foot in the confusion, the armored reserves the 24th Panzer Corps of General Nehring retreated westward in a “pocket mobile” surrounded by the Soviet armored units, while Panzer divisions of the “Grossdeutschland” of General von Saucken in transfer by rail from East Prussia, went into action immediately disorderly, and risked being isolated and destroyed.  The first trains were stopped in Łódź on 16 January and soon found themselves struggling with the avant-garde enemy battleships, some units of the “Hermann Göring” went into battle against the 11th Corps armored units of the 8th Army Guard, while in the days following other convoys Panzerkorps “Grossdeutschland” were attacked and dispersed by the armored corps of the 2nd Armored Army Guard of General Bogdanov north of Łódź.

Only a part of the “Hermann Göring” and “Brandenburg” was able to line up south of Łódź and to organize, together with the remains of the 40th Panzer Corps a precarious defensive line to protect the retreat of some German units and promote the salvation of the 24th Panzer Corps of General Nehring.  On January 22 the “pocket mobile” of General Nehring taken fortuitously contact with the departments of the Panzerkorps “Grossdeutschland” in Sieradz , on the River Warta and in the days following the two “pockets furniture” of General von Saucken Nehring and retreated hastily towards the Oder , always threatened with destruction by the Soviet armored columns that surrounded them.

Since January 20 the breakthrough full German front on the Vistula was a fait accompli, a gap of 350 km was opened in the German lines and armored armies Guard marshals Zhukov and Konev advancing rapidly westward, meeting sporadic resistance, attacking and walk past the columns in the route of the German infantry.  The tanks of the 1st Army Armored Guard of General Katukov (led by the 44th Armoured Brigade of the Guards colonel’s Gusakovskij) moved forward at full speed even during the night, startled and dispersing departments backline Germans, despite the fatigue, the crews Soviets of tanks continued to advance, which is strongly motivated by signs of dissolution of enemy resistance.  The Soviet armored vehicles proved capable of overcoming the difficulties of the terrain and the ability of the mechanics allowed him to resolve technical failures and continue the march even without the logistical support of the departments remained far behind, even ground-attack aircraft IL-2 Sturmovik gave their contribution by supporting the advance of mechanized units.  The four Soviet tank armies were in fact in action almost isolated, about 60-90 kilometers ahead of the departments of riflemen and logistics units, requiring these departments furniture of 750 tonnes of fuel per day, the supply difficulties were considerable, and were overcome by to large reserves prepared in the rear, the organization of convoys special motorized transport of ammunition with columns of about 600 trucks each for three of the four armored armies, taking advantage of local resources and seizing of deposits Germans who allowed him to use, after thorough checks and laboratory tests, the fuel captured from the enemy.

At this stage showed great offensive capability, as well as armed Soviet armored, also the 8th Army Guard, marching in close contact with the 1st Army battleship of the Guard were just the departments of General Čuikov that the January 19 occupied by surprise Łódź .  The general, in the absence of superior orders, decided to attack the important initiative of the city, completely defenseless organized and where there were no warning signs.  The attack was completely successful, Łódź was released intact in collaboration with armored units and the Germans withdrew to the south-west although the 8th Army Guard in danger of being attacked by mistake by the Soviet air units, totally unaware of the position reached by the ground unit.

Further north, in spite of the German attempt to reconstruct a line of barrier along the river Bzura and Rawa , the armored formations of the 2nd Army Armored Guard, reinforced with the 1st Corps mechanized General Semyon Krivošein , continued to advance with great rapidity towards west and north-west and occupied Kutno and Gostynin .  Without stopping, the tanks of General Bogdanov broke even the German defenses on the frozen river Netze , the 12th Corps wagons Guard took Inowroclaw on January 21 , while the 9th Corps wagons Guard of General NDVenedeev crossed on the ice lakes of the region of Netze , marched to Szamocin and Schneidemühl and simultaneously occupied by surprise on January 23 Bydgoszcz (Bromberg), just 40 miles from the border of Germany.

Simultaneously also the Marshal Konev had continued its advance, as of January 17, directed a part of his forces to the Oder in Wrocław and organized a complex maneuver to encircle and quickly conquer the important industrial region of Silesia preventing its destruction, as required by Stalin.  To this end, the General Rybalko effected the difficult conversion from north to south of the Army’s 3rd Armored Guard in order to descend along the east bank of the Oder in the direction of Katowice , in the maneuver were also engaged in the north and north-west the 21th Army of General Gusev, reinforced with 31 º Body chariots, and the 1st Cavalry Corps of the Guard, the 59th Army of General Korovnikov, the 4th Corps wagons of the Guard, and the 60th Army of General Kurochkin wandered Silesia from the south.  Further north on January 20 wagons Rybalko, even before turning to the south, reached the frontier of the Reich Namslau , while the 23 January , the 13th Army of General Pukhov came to the German border in Militsch.

They were mobile units of General Leljušenko, commander of the 4th Army battleship, which came first to the Oder, after destroying the German armored reserves in Kielce; mechanized brigades of the 6th Mechanized Corps of the Guard of General Puškarev moved forward in front of the riflemen of General Pukhov, conquered the January 22 Rawicz and on the night of 22 – 23 January atrraversarono surprise of the river, establishing bridgeheads in Keben and Steinau , at the same time also the 5th Army Guard of General Zadov exceeded the Oder in Opole , organizing a third bridgehead.

To the north continued the march of the 1st Belorussian Front of Marshal Zhukov, hampered only by a feeble resistance, the 1st Armored Guard Army overcame the fortified line of Międzyrzecz and continued towards the Oder of Küstrin , while on the right side of the front lined the 3rd Army assault, the 47th and 61st Army, the 2nd Cavalry Corps and the 1st Polish Army to deal with any threats from Pomerania.  The general Čuikov instead, advancing with the 8th Army Guard next to wagons of General Katukov, he found himself faced with the difficult mission to conquer assault Posen (Poznań), a task that proved impossible now, as General informed the Marshal Zhukov, the face of strong German garrison (60,000 soldiers) holed up in the fortress according to the orders of Hitler.

In spite of continuous victories and apparently very favorable situation, the development of the operations presented some risks to the Soviets because of the difficulties in East Prussia.  On the night of January 25 Stalin played an important telephone conversation with Marshal Zhukov.  Stalin appeared concerned about the situation on the right flank exposed the 1st Belorussian Front and to delay the advance of Marshal Rokossovskij; dictator prospected the possibility of a stop to wait for the forces of Marshal Rokossovskij and maintain compact deployment Oder.  Marshal Zhukov insisted instead to have a permit to continue to move forward immediately to the Oder and Stalin for the moment not only said ending the conversation with an invitation to the marshal to “think about it”.

Conquest of Silesia and stop on the line of the Oder

The situation created on the front of East Prussia was eventually decisive consequences on the developments on the line of the Oder and would have resulted in radical decisions by Stalin and the Stavka, as was highlighted in the initial planning Marshal Rokossovskij, due to operational errors and poor coordination of movements of the 1st and 2nd Belorussian Front was to create a dangerous situation on the flanks discovered these two groupings.  In the absence of a coordination structure and clear guidelines above, while the Marshal Zhukov had advanced towards the west-north-west to the Oder, Marshal Rokossovskij had been forced to maintain contact with the forces of General Cerniakovskij on his right and to counter the maneuvers of Army Group Centre, to focus towards the north and north-east, creating a widening gap in Pomerania, still occupied by the enemy forces, and being stepped up with reinforcements coming from Courland and other fronts.

In addition, the forces of the 2nd Belorussian Front of Marshal Rokossovskij were put in difficulty by the attempt of General Reinhardt, commander of Army Group Center, to escape encirclement in East Prussia and, contradicting the orders of Hitler resistance to the bitter end on the spot , open a passage to the west in the direction of Gdansk .  On January 26th in fact the general Hossbach, at the head of the 4th Army, launched a dangerous attack with the 26th Army Corps that took him by surprise some Soviet units, the Germans made ​​their way westward in the midst of snowstorms and came up to 20 kilometers from Elbing where he still resisted the forces of the 2nd German Army deployed in Pomerania.

The situation was dramatic new developments as a result of the direct intervention of Hitler who, alerted by the Gauleiter of East Prussia, Erich Koch on maneuvers Reinhardt and Hossbach that seemed to herald an evacuation of German territory and an abandonment of the people, he removed the two sharply generals, who were replaced respectively by General Lothar Rendulic and Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller , and forced them to retreat and abandon attempts to resume all-out defense of the Prussian territory.  In this way, the 4th Army flowed eastward and focused, along with the divisions of the 3rd Panzerarmee in a bridgehead between Königsberg and Heiligebeil, while hundreds of thousands of German refugees trying to find escape, after abbandoanto their homes in front of the advanced by the Soviets, on the Baltic coast waiting for the ships of the Kriegsmarine.

While pursuing the uphill battle in East Prussia, Marshal Zhukov continued, despite the doubts of Stalin, to push forward its armored units tip: the chariots of the General Bogdanov crossed the 26 January the German border, while the 1st Army battleship Guard general Katukov overcame the weak barriers and enemies on the Netze sull’Obra and went to Frankfurt an der Oder .  The general Čuikov however, after passing the fortress of Posen solidly defended by strong German garrison, crossed the Warte .  The Jan. 29 units of riflemen head of the 5th Army’s assault general Berzarin were the first Soviet troops of the 1st Belorussian Front to reach and exceed the Oder: small bridgeheads were conquered by surprise Kienitz , Neuendorf and Refeld.  At 10:00 am on January 31 arrived Oder wagons of the 219 th Armored Brigade of Colonel Evsei G.Vainrub , head element of the 1st Mechanized Corps of the 2nd Army Armored Guard of General Bogdanov, and the next day other brigades of mechanized lined up on the east bank of the river in the eastern suburbs of Küstrin.

On the afternoon of February 1, came on the river before the 20th Mechanized Brigade of the Guards of 8th Corps mechanized Guard (part of the 1st Army Armored Guard of General Katukov) and then the 40th Armoured Brigade of the Guards, and the 1st Armoured Brigade of the Guards , short of ammunition and fuel, had to stop on the old battlefield of Kunersdorff.  Instead, it was the colonel Gusakovskij at the head of his tanks (44th Armoured Brigade of the Guards Corps 11 º wagons of the Guard) that reached the area of Frankfurt an der Oder on February 2 and crossed the river reaching 80 kilometers from Berlin.  Always Feb. 2 General Čuikov made his first attempt to cross the river in the southern suburbs of Küstrin with the 4th Corps of Riflemen Guard but found himself in trouble because of the lack of equipment as a bridge, the thin layer of ice and unexpected actions of the fighter-bombers of the Luftwaffe that inflicted losses and damages.  With the help of anti-aircraft guns on February 3 General Čuikov managed to repel the attacks and to establish a small bridgehead in the absence of equipment, could not reinforced with armored vehicles and cannons .

In the last week of January, the Marshal Konev completed with great success its operations on the line of the Oder, to the south of the positions reached by the 1st Belorussian Front, and in Silesia.  On the line of the Oder venneron established after hard fighting two large bridgeheads in the region of Steinau by the 4th Armored Army of General Leljušenko and the 3rd Army Guard of General Gordov, and Brieg , between Wroclaw and Opole, by of units of the 21th Army of General Gusev, reinforced by units of the 5th Army Guard and the 13th and 52nd Army.  In Silesia Marshal Konev was able to perform the mission request by Stalin and take up valuable industrial basin preventing its destruction by the Germans, and some units of the 21th Army attacked forntalmente and conquered Gleiwitz , while General Pavel Rybalko managed to redirect its 3rd Army Armored Guard verse.  The Soviet tanks advanced rapidly summarily camouflaged with white curtains caught in a nearby textile factory.  Guided by the 55th and 51st Armored Brigade of the Guards, the 7th Corps wagons Guard and the 6th Corps wagons Guard reached the Oder south of Opole on 24 January , the General Rybalko then veered to the south-east to cut off the German troops in Silesia, organizing a band peak with its reserves of the 9th Mechanized Corps.

In the meantime, while the 21th Army of General Gusev, after the capture of Gleiwitz, conquering even Katowice and Bytom, in the southern sector the 59th and the 60th Army moved forward in turn to close the pincer movement and encircle the entire grouping German in Silesia consisting of the 17th Army, including two Panzer-Division, employed by the Army Group A passed to the command of the tenacious and tough general Schörner.  The January 27 these armies reached Rybnik on which they were also directing the tanks of General Rybalko from the north-west.  That same day the soldiers of the 60th Army of General Kurochkin liberated the camp of concentration and extermination camp at Auschwitz where they found few survivors and the gruesome remains of the annihilation of a million Jews by the Nazi machine diistruzione.

 

The general Schörner, unable to stop the enemy and fearing an encirclement of his troops, was able to convince Hitler of the gravity of the situation, and the Führer surprisingly authorized the withdrawal from Silesia without a fight and then the industrial region fell into Soviet hands almost intact.  According to the plans of Marshal Konev, the 3rd Armored Army Guard and the 60th Army congiusero and is only a part of the German troops managed to escape encirclement and fall back towards the south-west.

At the same time the conquest of Silesia Marshal Konev potentiated its right side in contact with the forces of the 1st Belorussian Front to form a solid starting point for the march on Berlin an der Oder, violent clashes were prolonged in the bridgehead where Steinau the units of the 13th Army and the 3rd Army Guard had to reject a number of counter-attacks of 24 º and 42 º Panzer Corps, newly arrived in this area after their long and grueling withdrawal.  In the last week of January, in fact, the “pockets furniture” of General Nehring and von Saucken, they contained the remains of the 24th Panzer and Panzer Corps Grossdeutschland, managed to escape the enemy and, after picking up along the way many groups disbanded Germans returned in the main lines of the Wehrmacht over the Oder at the end of an exhausting march in the snow completely isolated.  These departments that had maintained the cohesion and kept some of their equipment, were immediately used by the German High Command to block the line of the Oder.

Along the Oder Marshal Konev’s armies managed to defend the bridgehead Steinau and to consolidate the south of Wroclaw , but ran out of fuel and equipment, began to give signs of weakening, while the Germans manennero the possession of Glogau and above all organized in Wroclaw, under the command of hard Gauleiter Karl Hanke , a solid defensive position which, although surrounded, repulsed all attacks.

The decision of Stalin

In the face of the evolution of the disastrous operations, the collapse of the line of the Vistula and the increasingly difficult situation of Army Group Center in East Prussia, Hitler and General Guderian, Chief of Staff of the OKH, improvised, in the second half the month of January, a series of emergency measures to stop the Soviet advance and protect the capital Berlin and East Germany.  At first actually Hitler continued to be interested also in the situation in Hungary and confirmed the new offensive of the 4th Panzer-SS (with two armored divisions Waffen-SS ) on Budapest ( Operation Konrad ), which began on January 18 while he was shaking his front of the Vistula, at first put in difficulty the Soviets.  In addition, Hitler also confirmed, against the advice of General Guderian, the transfer of the 6th Panzerarmee-SS (with four armored divisions Waffen-SS) from the Ardennes on the Danube.

On 22 January Hitler and the OKW finally availed of the transfer of large forces of the Western Front to the Oder on which the armies were marching Soviet armored: the headquarters of the 39th Panzer Corps, the 21.  Panzer-Division, the two mechanized brigades of the Führer (Hitler Begleit Brigade and Führer Grenadier Brigade), the 25th Panzergrenadier-Division, two divisions of infantry and a body of heavy artillery were withdrawn and sent urgently to the east from the west and soon after also 10.  SS-Panzer-Division “Frundsberg” , which engaged in Alsace had just inflicted a defeat on the 12th Armoured Division American Herrlisheim , would be withdrawn and sent Oder.

At the same time the German high command began to evacuate by sea a part of the German forces of Army Group North isolated in Courland : left some divisions of infantry, 4.  Panzer-Division (which was transported in East Prussia) and the two divisions of the Waffen-SS 3rd SS-Panzer Corps of General Felix Steiner who were transferred in Pomerania, and other infantry battalions were coming from Denmark.  On January 24 they proceeded to a global reorganization of the deployment of the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front, was then formed a new armed group to defend the line of the Oder, the Army Group Vistula, made ​​with the remains of the 9th Army of the general Busse, reinforced by divisions from the west, and from the headquarters of the 3rd Panzerarmee withdrawn from East Prussia and boosted with the forces from the Baltic.  Departments improvised Volkssturm and Hitlerjugend were deployed in defensive positions, while also a part of the ‘ anti-aircraft artillery heavy in Berlin was transferred Oder to counter anti-tank armored forces as a function of the Red

In addition, they proceeded to rename the army groups on the Eastern Front: Army Group North, isolated in the Baltic, became the Army Group Courland under the command of General Hilpert, Army Group Center of General Rendulic barricaded in Prussia Eastern, became Army Group North, while Army Group A of the General Schörner in defense of Saxony and Bohemia , took the name of Army Group Center.  A strong contrast arose, however, between Hitler and the General Guderian about the choice of the new commander of Army Group Vistula, contrary to the Chief of Staff of the OKH that he wanted to assign the command to General Maximilian von Weichs , Hitler gave the leadership of the group of armies to Heinrich Himmler , head of the SS and Head of Ersatzheer (reserve forces) but no specific military preparedness.  General Guderian also proposed radical measures to strengthen the defense of Germany: evacuation of Norway and Italy and to abandon the bridgehead in Courland, but Hitler decided to advocate for political and military reasons residues occupied territories, abruptly rejected all these demands.

In the last week of January Marshal Zhukov and Marshal Konev, still optimistic about general developments of the situation, began to plan the continuation of the offensive towards Berlin, just 80 km from the Soviet bridgehead south of Küstrin.  In this phase, the considerations of the two generals were basically also shared by headquarters in Moscow, the January 19 the Stavka on paper studied the direct attack on the German capital, and on 27 and 29 January Stalin approved the projects presented by the 1st offensive Belorussian Front and the 1st Ukrainian Front. The plans of Marshal Zhukov predicted, after a brief period of concentration and reorganization, to attack en masse the Oder line 1 or February 2 and converging on Berlin from the north-west and north-east with the 2nd Army Armored Guard and Army 1st Armored Guard.  In turn, the Marshal Konev was bypassed and conquered the fortress of Wroclaw by February 5 and then to the river Elbe on 25 or 26 February , in a second step, the armies of the right flank would have coordinated their actions with the 1st Belorussian Front for the attack on Berlin while the forces of the left side would march on Dresden.

In reality, the situation was becoming progressively more confused and the Stavka was beginning to show nervousness in the face of increasing difficulty: the armies of Marshals Zhukov and Konev had reached positions for more than 600 kilometers from the starting points were rising and big logistical problems for supplies fuel and ammunition, the armored columns arrived Oder were reduced in number due to mechanical wear of the media.  Furthermore, the same Marshal Zhukov on January 31 became alarmed her hips discovered and urged the Stavka to better coordinate operations especially pushing the marshal Rokossovskij to align with his positions.  In fact, the huge gap between the right of the 1st Belorussian Front and the left of the 2nd Belorussian Front in action in East Prussia at the time was unbridgeable and Marshal Zhukov had then diverted the 47th Army to search for the connection with the marshal Rokossovskij.

In addition, the 1st Belorussian Front had to use a portion of its forces to invest and encircle the many German garrisons left behind in the “strongholds” of the Führer: the 1st Army Polish, the 3rd Army assault and the 61th Army left a part of their Schneidermühl forces and other strongholds, the 5th Army assault was engaged in the siege of Küstrin, while the 8th Army Guard of General Čuikov and the 69th Army took them some departments against the fortress of Poznan.  Consequently Oder Marshal Zhukov had at his disposal only elements of four armed riflemen and two armored armies weakened, and the same 8th Army Guard had fallen to 50% of its forces, lacked ammunition and artillery, and air support was much reduced because of logistical difficulties.  The Luftwaffe was instead concentrating all his forces to attack the Soviet spearheads Oder.  They were finally clear signs of continued strength of the German defenses on both the “director of Berlin” is in the Eastern Pomerania where it threatened the right flank of the 1st Belorussian Front.

Despite these problems, Marshal Zhukov sent out at the end of January a orientirovka – a general description of the tasks assigned to the various armies of his face – which, after having correctly identified the arrival of the German divisions reinforced by the Western Front, also foresaw an attack immediate Berlin with the aim of winning by 15 – 16 February.  Soon optimistic these projects would have been completely sidelined by the decisions of Stalin.  The dictator from February 2 was engaged in Yalta in the decisive conference with his Anglo-American allies and he also had to consider the implications of high international politics of the operations of the Red Army.  In a difficult and complex international situation, with basic agreements concluded on matters of great importance for the Post-War world, Stalin, concerned by strategic considerations related to the logistical difficulties of his armies and signs of a strengthening German, he preferred to not to take risks and stop the offensive line of the Oder, suspending immediate attack on Berlin.

The general Čujkov, in his memoirs, has criticized this decision emphasizing the lost opportunity in front of the German defenses are not yet consolidated.  In addition, the Decision of the historical Stalin was considered correct; Stalin was probably also influenced by political considerations, not wanting to risk a defeat the dictator at the gates of Berlin, having just won an overwhelming and impressive strategic victory.  An upside down or on the Oder in Pomerania, yet regarded possible view of the ability of the Wehrmacht to launch dangerous counter-attacks like in the Ardennes, Alsace and Hungary, could weaken the bargaining position of Stalin during the negotiations of Yalta.

Fights in Prussia and Pomerania

Attempt to German counter

In the first week of February, while Stalin and the Soviet high command took the decision to stop the offensive Oder, General Guderian in turn proposed to Hitler a counteroffensive from Pomerania to lighten the situation and embarrass the the right flank found the 1st Belorussian Front.  After a series of contrasts between the Führer and the Chief of Staff of the OKH on the objectives of the operation and the choice of the commander in charge, the February 16 General Walther Wenck swung the ‘ Operation Solstice: After some success, and the recapture of Stargard , as early as February 17, General Wenck was wounded and replaced by General Hans Krebs .  The German troops were unable to stop the Soviet counterattack and were driven back over the starting positions.  The attack ended in failure but confirmed the apprehensions of the command forcing the Soviet Marshal Zhukov to transfer a portion of his forces to the north to strengthen the field of Pomeranian abandoning any project of immediate attack in Berlin.

In this phase, then the mass of the armored armies of the 1st Belorussian Front was grouped on the right side to collaborate with the 2nd Belorussian Front and defeat the German forces in East Prussia and Pomerania, while Marshal Konev he completed a series of transactions for align his armies to the left flank of Marshal Zhukov and reach the line of the river Neisse.  After prolonged and costly fighting against the forces of Army Group Centre of General Schörner, the Soviets were able to advance to the Neisse.

Battles to the bitter end in Germany

On February 24 the marshals Zhukov and Rokossovskij, after a complex redeployment of forces, launched their offensive in Eastern Pomerania against the weak German forces of the 3rd Panzerarmee and the 2nd Army.  The power of the Soviet units led to the breakthrough of the German lines, despite stiff resistance: the 28 February the 1st Belorussian Front reached the Baltic by isolating a part of the enemy forces, the battle went very harsh for weeks, while the Kriegsmarine intervened to support with the guns of the German troops and evacuate thousands of refugees fleeing civilians. Gdynia was conquered only on March 28 and Gdansk on 30 March, 50,000 men of the 3rd Panzerarmee managed to replicate the ‘ March 11th on ‘ island of Wollin , while the remains of the 2nd Army, passed to the command of General von Saucken, would stand on the peninsula of Hela until 9 May 1945.

Even harder and prolonged were the battles in East Prussia, in this region the German soldiers fought with great tenacity exploiting the difficulties of woodland and marshland and the solid Prussian fortresses; thousands of German civilians abandoned their homes to escape feared the revenge of the Red Army, the ships of the Kriegmarine executed several successful evacuation operations bringing rescued 300,000 soldiers and 962,000 civilians. The Marshal Aleksandr Vasilevsky took command of the 3rd Belorussian Front in place of the general Cerniakovskij, who was killed on the field on February 18, and led the final battle characterized by a slow advance, by the heavy losses and the use of heavy firepower of artillery to destroy the centers of German resistance.  On March 25 the Soviet forces reached the Vistula Lagoon and divided the forces of German 4th Army in two bags, one around Königsberg, other in-Braunsberg Heiligenbeil. The latter surrendered on March 30, while Konigsberg was attacked in force on 6 April and surrendered on April 9, the last German units barricaded themselves until the end of the peninsula of Samland .  This was costly and time consuming operations, the Red Army suffered the loss of nearly 600,000 dead soldiers just to conquer territories Pomeranian and Prussian.

Meanwhile, the latest castles in Germany had fallen into the hands of the Soviets: 24 February Poznań surrendered after a stubborn resistance; Schneidermühl and Deutsche Krone were conquered, while the fortress of Glogau, invested the February 13 , capitulated on April 2, only 6 May was instead conquered Wroclaw.

Budget

“What a terrible war.  How many lives of our people is taken away … ”

(Words directed by Stalin to Marshal Zhukov during an interview in Moscow the first week of March 1945)

Since January 17 the British Prime Minister Churchill had sent a congratulatory message to Stalin, ringranziandolo “from the bottom of my heart” for having launched in advance of the great offensive on the Vistula, after his solicitation of January 6, and speaking in glowing terms of ‘ “enormous attack on the eastern front”, the Soviet dictator in an order of the special day in February, emphasized the decisive role of the Soviet victory that he had “hampered the German offensive in the West in the winter … and allowed the armies of our allies to launch, in turn, an offensive against the Germans “.

The thirtieth day of the offensive, February 10 , the Soviet high command announced that since the beginning of the offensive on the Vistula, the Germans had suffered the loss of 295,000 dead, 15,000 guns, 34,000 vehicles, armored 2955/2, 552 aircraft; i Russians also reckoned to have captured 86,000 prisoners.  These statistics have been questioned by some sources, it seems, however, that the German armies engaged against the fronts of Marshals Zhukov and Konev losses suffered at least 300,000 by February 4, 1945, in less than a month, German divisions operating on the Eastern front went down, because of losses from 164 to 135.

The Vistula-Oder operation was one of the largest and most powerful operations offensives launched by the Red Army and obtained important strategic results, inflicting heavy losses to the remaining German forces on the Eastern front, forcing Hitler and the German High Command to abandon all further projects offensive ‘ west and improvise a final defensive line at the gates of Berlin, affecting ultimately also for the political-geographic post-war.  The Red Army occupied the whole of Poland where he settled progressively the structure of communist power, ousting the authorities of the Polish government in London and reached the Oder-Neisse line on which Stalin intended to anchor the new East German border.  From the political point of view and the great propaganda victory gave important advantages to the Soviet dictator in negotiations with its Western allies, providing a clear demonstration of the power of the military forces of the Soviet Union.  From the strategic point of view, however, the most ambitious goals were not achieved and the German capital was conquered not already in February.

The extension of enemy resistance in East Prussia, Pomerania, Silesia and cost Oder months of hard battles with heavy losses and disorganized Soviet deployment.  In addition, the delay imposed dall’accanita German resistance threatened to cause a political disaster for Stalin in the last months of the war were multiplied signals of possible attempts of the German secret negotiations with the Western Allies and the strength of the Wehrmacht in the west collapsed, allowing Anglo-Saxon to advance with ease in the heart of Germany and reach the 12 April the river Elbe.  Stalin was compelled to accelerate the most of his final attack in Berlin, the last offensive was then organized in a hurry in just fifteen days from 1 April and was carried out in mass with tactical errors that cost other losses even if they allowed the Red Army to conquer the capital of Hitler and to achieve the policy objective final anticipating the Western allies.

Violence against civilians and exodus of the German population

The great Soviet advance in winter 1945 and the prolonged fighting in East Prussia and Pomerania caused panic among the German population of ancient settlement and among the Germans “ethnic” recently moved in some regions that were targeted by the Nazi regime the “Germanization” .  Aware of the danger posed by revenge and reprisals of goods and people of Red Army soldiers on the way, the civilians fled in mass disorganization in their homes and marched on foot or with modest means in a winter climate with very cold temperatures.  It has been estimated that about eight million Germans fled to the West until May 1945, in part due to transport by sea organized by the Kriegsmarine.

Soviet soldiers, already in October 1944 had indulged in violence and devastation just arrived on German soil, they repeated this behavior during the great winter advanced: destruction occurred, summary killings, bombings on civilians, vengeance, violence, mass rapes .  Eager to avenge the huge number of civilian deaths and destruction suffered because of the long and devastating German occupation of the western regions of the Soviet Union and exacerbated by continued losses in heavy fighting, the soldiers of the Red Army, encouraged also by the propaganda to prove ruthless with the enemy, you bloody revenge.  Occurred numerous incidents of atrocities, cruelty and looting.  Stalin himself, aware of the behavior of his soldiers, proved to be benevolent and realistic in an interview with Milovan Djilas , including their desire for plunder and revenge.

The violence was so widespread, particularly among second-line troops recruited in the Asian Soviet republics, that there were fears of disorganization and deterioration of discipline in the wards.  Stalin and the Soviet leadership finally intervened to curb violence, concerned about the cohesion of the troops, and the impact on the attitude of the German people against the Soviet units destined to occupy Eastern Germany.

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