Battle of Hamburg (1945)

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Battle of Hamburg
Part of the Invasion of Germany during World War II
Hamburg Liberation 04.jpg
A British tank in the city centre after the battle.
Date 18 April – 3 May 1945
Location Hamburg, Germany
Result Allied Victory
Belligerents
 United Kingdom  Nazi Germany
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Miles Dempsey
United Kingdom Evelyn Barker
United Kingdom Lewis Lyne
Nazi Germany Kurt Student
Nazi Germany Alwin Wolz (POW)
Units involved
VIII Corps
XII Corps (elements)
1st Parachute Army (elements)
Strength
3 Divisions
~10,000 troops
2 Divisions (Understrength)
~3,000 troops
Casualties and losses
Heavy

The Battle of Hamburg was one of the last battles of World War II, where the remaining troops of the German 1st Parachute Army fought the British VIII Corps for the control of Hamburg, between 18 April and 3 May 1945. British troops were met with fierce resistance inside the city as Hamburg was the last significant remaining pocket of resistance in the north. Once the British had captured the city, they continued their advance north-east and sealed off the remnants of the 1st Parachute Army and Army Group Northwest in the Jutland peninsula.

Background[edit]

After the Western Allies crossed the River Rhine, the German armies in the west began to fall apart. Army Group B, under the command of Walter Model, was the last effective German defence in the west. However the Army Group, consisting of three armies, were encircled and captured by the 1st and 9th American armies, thus ending effective German resistance in the west. After the defeat of Army Group B, the Germans were only able to organize resistance in a few cities and were not able to communicate with each other very well. The Allied armies started a general advance across Germany, with the Americans pushing the centre and the British holding their northern flank. The main British thrust came from the 2nd Army, under the command of Miles Dempsey. The army's objective was to advance across northern Germany and push onto Berlin. The British came across little resistance, compared to the Americans further south and advanced at a steady and fast pace. The 1st Parachute Army and the newly formed Army Group Northwest, were the last German forces in the north. As the British continued their advance, the German high command in Berlin, which was under siege by the Red Army, refused to send reinforcements. The Germans managed to resist the British in Bremen for a week; the surviving troops retreated to the Jutland peninsula.[1] The last remaining defence was the city of Hamburg and the Germans sought to make a final stand there. After capturing Soltau, the 7th Armoured Division of the VIII Corps was poised to assault the city.

Battle[edit]

Preliminary moves[edit]

The British advance towards Hamburg was spearheaded by the 7th Armoured Division, attacking Harburg and advancing to the River Elbe across from Hamburg, with the 15th Division assaulting the town of Uelzen to the south of the city. Elements of the XII Corps attacked Hamburg itself from the northwest. On their way to Harburg, the 7th Division captured Welle and Tostedt on 18 April and advanced into Hollenstedt the next day. By this time, the Germans had built up defenses in Harburg as the British moved closer. On 20 April, the division captured Daerstorf, eight miles west of the city. The RHA Forward Observation Officers (FOOs), reached the Elbe and began to direct fire upon troops and trains on the other side of the river. On the same day, the 131st Infantry Brigade took Vahrendorf just two miles south of Harburg. The Division halted the advance for five days just short of Hamburg; it set up a perimeter and prepared for its assault on the city. However on 26 April, the 12th SS Regiment, supported by troops of the Hitler Youth, sailors and policemen, counter-attacked at Vahrendorf. They were supported by 88mm guns and 75mm howitzers and reached the town centre, but were pushed back once British tanks arrived. The battle continued until the next day, when the Germans retreated back to Harburg, leaving 60 dead and losing 70 men as prisoners.[2]

Entering the city[edit]

On 28 April the British began their assault on the city. The 5th Royal Tank Regiment, 9th Durham Light Infantry and 1st Rifle Brigade captured Jesteburg and Hittfeld, where the autobahn was. Nevertheless the Germans blew up parts of the autobahn, slowing the British advance. Once the British entered Harburg, they were met with fierce resistance and house to house combat as the Germans would not surrender. By this time the troops of the 1st Parachute Army were a mix of SS, paratroopers, Volkssturm, along with regular Wehrmacht soldiers, supported by sailors, police, firemen and Hitler Youth. As the advance through the city continued, German resistance grew fiercer; they were desperately fighting to re-cross the autobahn back into Hamburg. Later that day, the first British troops crossed the Elbe into Hamburg itself. 88 mm guns were spread around the city but became ineffective as the battle progressed. Many German units including a tank destroyer battalion, a Hungarian SS unit and many Panzerfaust troops were still located in the woods south of Harburg, as the British had bypassed the area and were now mopping it up. The 53rd Division, supported by the 1st Royal Tank Regiment assaulted the woods and captured all remaining German troops, a total of 2,000 men. As the battle continued, the German defences started to disintegrate. On 30 April, Hitler committed suicide in Berlin and Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, who was commanding forces in the north, ordered General Alwin Wolz to discuss surrendering the city to the British. Wolz, along with a small German delegation, arrived at Division HQ on 2 May and formally surrendered Hamburg on the 3rd. The same day the 7th Division entered the devastated city.[2]

Aftermath[edit]

Hamburg was the last remaining defence for the Germans in the north. After the battle, the surviving troops of the 1st Parachute Army along with Army Group Northwest retreated into the Jutland Peninsula. Most of them retreated to Kiel, where they met soldiers of the ailing Army Group Vistula, who were fleeing from the Soviets on the Eastern Front. The 7th Armoured Division advanced unopposed to Lübeck, where news of the German surrender came on 4 May.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Paterson, Ian A. (30 July 2012), Engagements - 1945: Teutoberger, retrieved January 2013 .[better source needed]
  2. ^ a b Paterson, Ian A. (30 July 2012), The Final Push to Hamburg Engagements - 1945: Hamburg The Final Push to Hamburg, retrieved January 2013 .[better source needed]