The Battle for Berlin saw some of the fiercest and desperate fighting during the Second World war. The Germans were fighting desperately to stave off avenging Russians. The Russians were desperate to get to Berlin first. Also to get hold of the nuclear weapons that the Nazis had invented.
QUOTESThe not-so-handsome Soviet troops march on the streets of Berlin.
"Hitler's large-scale demands for the Mediterranean meant that...the plans for...an 'Eastern Wall' were overtaken by the increasingly rapid advance of the Red Army"
Lieutenant General Warlimont - (Speaking after the war)
From the BBC
The human cost of the battle for Berlin had been enormous. Millions of shells were fired into a city that was already devastated after two years of relentless bombing raids by British and American warplanes. Nearly a quarter of a million people died during the last three weeks of World War Two, almost as many as the United States lost during the entire war.
The German armed forces, the Wehrmacht, was a shadow of its former self. But its 300,000 German troops were determined to hold out against the vastly superior Red Army. The German resolve to fight was largely due to fear of Russian retributions. Since 1941, Nazi forces had laid waste to large parts of the Soviet Union. More than 23 million Soviet soldiers and civilians had died. Fuelled by Nazi propaganda, the Germans were terrified of what would happen if Berlin fell into Soviet hands.
QUOTESRussians soldiers wave their flag near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin
"The battle of Kursk... the forcing of the Dnieper... and the liberation of Kiev, left Hitlerite Germany facing catastrophe."
General Vasili I. Chuikov - Commander of the 8th Guards Army - (Speaking after the war)
'We started to fire at the masses,' says one former German machine gunner. 'They weren't human beings for us. It was a wall of attacking beasts who were trying to kill us. You yourself were no longer human.'
BATTLE OF HALBE (BBC)
Amongst the rubble of the city centre, Hitler was holding out in his underground bunker, cut off from the reality of the fighting above. During a staff conference on 22 April, Hitler came close to admitting defeat. But then his deputy, Martin Borman, insisted that there was still hope. 'Suddenly they were all busy making plans again,' a former Wehrmacht staff officer remembers.
'It was decided to fight the battle for Berlin and that Hitler would direct it personally.' Hitler's hopes lay with the 70,000 troops of General Wenck's 12th Army south west of the city. He ordered them to unite with General Busse's 9th Army, retreating from the Oder. They were then to launch a counter attack against the Red Army.But Hitler's final battle plan was pie in the sky. Advancing from the south, Marshall Konev's forces cut off and surrounded the Werhmacht's 9th Army in the forest south of Berlin, near the small town of Halbe. 'The massacre in that forest was appalling,' Beevor observed after a visit to the Halbe battlefield. 'There was absolutely no way of treating the wounded, they were just left screaming at the road side.'Over 50,000 soldiers and civilians died. Most of the dead were German, many of them SS. It was the Nazi forces' desperate last stand. One local witness remembers how the narrow paths leading through the forest were piled high with corpses. It took the local population months to clear the site. Even today, a thousand corpses are found each year in and around Berlin. Many of them are detected in the now silent forests of Halbe.Over 50,000 soldiers and civilians died. Most of the dead were German, many of them SS. It was the Nazi forces' desperate last stand. One local witness remembers how the narrow paths leading through the forest were piled high with corpses. It took the local population months to clear the site. Even today, a thousand corpses are found each year in and around Berlin. Many of them are detected in the now silent forests of Halbe.
RUSSIANS IN BERLIN (BBC)
Zukhov's and Konev's troops were punching their way into the German capital, sometimes accidentally firing at each other in their bid to win the race for Berlin. Ironically, the Soviets' use of tanks in the street fighting was not dissimilar to the tactics used so disastrously by the Germans in Stalingrad. Soviet T-34s were highly vulnerable to the Panzerfaust, the German bazooka, fired by soldiers hiding in destroyed buildings. It meant further unnecessary losses for the Red Army. But the 90,000 German defenders - mainly old people or members of the Hitler Youth - stood little chance against more than a million Red Army troops.
Already, the civilian population was bearing the brunt of the Red Army's revenge. Though the first wave of Soviet troops was generally considered to be disciplined, it was the second that indulged in orgies of rape and violence, fuelled by large stocks of alcohol found in the city.Based on contemporary hospital reports and on surging abortion rates in the following months, it is estimated that up to two million German women were raped during the last six months of World War Two, around 100,000 of them in Berlin. One woman remembered hiding in the loft of her apartment block, ready to jump out of the window if she was detected, whilst her best friend was being gang raped by Soviet soldiers in the apartment below.The authorities in Moscow traditionally deny German allegations of mass rape at the end of the war. But during his research, Beevor discovered internal Red Army documents that prove that the Soviet High Command was well aware that some of their soldiers were running out of control. Even more shocking is Beevor's discovery in the Red Army files that Red Army troops also raped Russian women after their release from Nazi slave labour camps in Germany.
The entire generation of young German men was wiped out by the end of the war. Only old men and women remained in Berlin as the Soviet troops poured in. Out of a population of 27,00,000; 20,00,000 were women.
"It is on this beautiful day that we celebrate the Fuhrers birthday and thank him for he is the only reason why Germany is still alive today"
Josef Goebbels - Ministry of Propaganda - 26th April 1945
WHY WAS STALIN IN A HURRY TO GET BERLIN?
Stalin was desperate to get his hands on the German nuclear research centre, the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in the southwest of Berlin - before the Americans got there. The Soviets knew through their spies of the American atomic bomb programme. Stalin's own nuclear programme, Operation Borodino, was lagging behind and Soviet scientists wanted to find out exactly what the Germans had come up with during the war.
As it turned out, the special NKVD troops despatched to secure the German institute discovered three tons of uranium oxide, a material they were short of at the time. 'So the Soviets achieved their objective,' says Beevor, 'the uranium oxide they found in Berlin was enough to kick start Operation Borodino and allow them to start working on their first nuclear weapon.'
After the battle, more than a hundred thousand German prisoners of war were marched to labour camps in the Soviet Union. Only now did the totality of their defeat sink in on the German people. The country lay in ruins and the population was close to starvation. In addition, confirmation of the Nazis' mass extermination of the European Jews meant that Germany faced a complete moral catastrophe.The battle for Berlin had brought to an end the bloodiest conflict in European history. 'There's no family in the Soviet Union, Poland or Germany where they didn't lose at least one close relative,' said Beevor in our final interview. 'In Britain, the suffering was real, but it simply cannot be compared to the scale of suffering in Central Europe.'
The French SS men confront the Soviet tanks on the streets of Berlin. There were no German soldiers left except for young boys so the 'Charlemagne battalion' of the French SS was sent to defend Berlin.
All the buildings in ruins with shell and bullet marks.
QUOTESBefore the war. Memory of the past. Hitler marches near the Kroll Theatre as the SS salute.
"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.
From the preface of The Fall of Berlin 1945 by Anthony Beevor
The grim reality in 1945. A plane had crashed into a five storeyed house. The last ditch fighting was desperate.
Back in April 1945, the battle was coming to a close. On 30 April, Hitler committed suicide - together with his mistress Eva Braun, only hours after they were married. Hitler had given strict orders for his body to be burned, so that his enemies wouldn't do what they had done to Mussolini, who was publicly displayed hanging upside down. 'And Hitler,' one former SS guard told us, 'could rely on the fact that the people he gave these orders to would carry them out.'
By 2 May, the Reichstag, the old German parliament, had fallen. Berlin surrendered to Marshall Zukhov, who received the honour of being the conqueror of Berlin. The battle for Berlin had cost the Soviets over 70,000 dead. Many of them had died because of the haste with which the campaign was conducted. 'Of our unit's 360 handsome young men who gathered at the Dnieper River, only 6 made it to Berlin,' says one Soviet veteran.