Battle of the Seelow Heights

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Battle of Seelow Heights
Part of the Eastern Front of World War II
Date 16–19 April 1945
Location Seelow Heights, Germany
52°32′5″N 14°23′45″E / 52.53472°N 14.39583°E / 52.53472; 14.39583Coordinates: 52°32′5″N 14°23′45″E / 52.53472°N 14.39583°E / 52.53472; 14.39583
Result Soviet victory
Belligerents
 Soviet Union
Poland Poland
 Nazi Germany
Commanders and leaders
Soviet Union Georgy Zhukov Nazi Germany Gotthard Heinrici
Strength
1,000,000
3,059 tanks
16,934 guns and mortars
112,143
587 tanks
2,625 guns
Casualties and losses
Estimate based on archival data (1st Belorussian Front):
5,000-6,000 killed out of about 20,000 total casualties[1]

Other estimates: 30,000 killed[2][3]

12,000 were killed[2]

The Battle of the Seelow Heights (German: Schlacht um die "Seelower Höhen") was part of the Seelow-Berlin Offensive Operation (16 April-2 May 1945), one of the last assaults on large entrenched defensive positions of World War II. It was fought over three days, from 16–19 April 1945. Close to one million Soviet soldiers of the 1st Belorussian Front (including 78,556 soldiers of the Polish 1st Army), commanded by Marshal Georgi Zhukov, attacked the position known as the "Gates of Berlin". They were opposed by about 110,000 soldiers of the German 9th Army,[4] commanded by General Theodor Busse, as part of the Army Group Vistula.

This battle is often incorporated into the Battle of the Oder-Neisse. Seelow Heights was where the most bitter fighting in the overall battle took place, but it was only one of several crossing points along the Oder and Neisse rivers where the Soviets attacked. The Battle of the Oder-Neisse was itself only the opening phase of the Battle of Berlin.

The result was the encirclement of the German 9th Army and the Battle of Halbe.

Buildup[edit]

On 9 April 1945, Königsberg in East Prussia fell to the Soviet Army. This freed the 2nd Belorussian Front under Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky to move to the east bank of the Oder. During the first two weeks of April, the Soviets performed their fastest front redeployment of the war. The 2nd Belorussian Front relieved the 1st Belorussian Front along the lower Oder between Schwedt and the Baltic Sea. This allowed the 1st Belorussian Front to concentrate in the southern half of its former front, opposite the Seelow Heights. To the south, the 1st Ukrainian Front under Marshal Ivan Konev shifted its main force from Upper Silesia north-west to the Neisse river.

The three Soviet fronts together had 2.5 million men, 6,250 tanks, 7,500 aircraft, 41,600 artillery pieces and mortars, 3,255 truck-mounted Katyusha rocket launchers, and 95,383 motor vehicles.[5]

The 1st Belorussian Front had nine regular and two tank armies consisting of 77 rifle divisions, two cavalry, five tank and two mechanized corps, eight artillery and one guards mortars divisions, and a mixture of other artillery and rocket launcher brigades. The front had 3,059 tanks and self-propelled guns and 18,934 artillery pieces and mortars.[6] Eight of the 11 armies were posted along the Oder. In the north, the 61st Army and the 1st Polish Army held the river line from Schwedt to its meeting with the Finow Canal. On the Soviet bridgehead at Küstrin, the 47th Army, 3rd and 5th Shock Armies, and 8th Guards Army were concentrated for the attack. The 69th Army and 33rd Army covered the river line south to Guben. The 1st Guards and 2nd Guards Tank Armies and the 3rd Army were in reserve. The 5th Shock and 8th Guards were posted directly opposite the strongest part of the defences, where the Berlin Autobahn passed through the Heights.[7]

The German 9th Army held the front from about the Finow Canal to Guben, an area which included the Seelow Heights. It had 14 divisions, the "Fortress" (Festung) Frankfurt, 587 tanks (512 operable, 55 in repair, 20 in transit), 2,625 artillery pieces (including 695 anti-aircraft guns).[8] Further south, the front was held by the 4th Panzerarmee, which opposed the 1st Ukrainian Front.

General Gotthard Heinrici replaced Heinrich Himmler as commander of Army Group Vistula on 20 March. He correctly predicted that the main Soviet thrust would be made over the Oder river and along the main east-west autobahn at Seelow Heights. He decided to defend the riverbank with only a light skirmishing screen, but to strongly fortify the Seelow Heights, which rise about 48 m (157 ft) above the Oder and overlook the river where the autobahn crossed it. He thinned out the line in other areas to put more men at the Heights. The Oder's floodplain was already saturated by the spring thaw, but German engineers also released water from a reservoir upstream, which turned the plain into a swamp. Behind the Heights, they built three lines of defenses, spreading back toward Berlin. The last was the Wotan Line, 10–15 mi (16–24 km) behind the front line. These lines consisted of anti-tank ditches, anti-tank gun emplacements, and an extensive network of trenches and bunkers.[9][10]

Battle[edit]

In the early hours of 16 April, the offensive began with a massive bombardment by thousands of artillery pieces and Katyushas. Well before dawn, the 1st Belorussian Front attacked across the Oder and the 1st Ukrainian Front attacked across the Neisse. The 1st Belorussian Front was the stronger force, but it had the more difficult assignment since it was facing the bulk of the German forces.[11][12]

The initial assault by the 1st Belorussian Front turned into a disaster for them. Heinrici and Busse had anticipated the attack and withdrawn their defenders from the first line of trenches just before the Soviet artillery would have obliterated them. The swampy ground proved to be a great hindrance, and a German counter-barrage caused heavy Soviet casualties. Frustrated by the slow advance, Zhukov threw in his reserves, which according to his earlier plan were to be held back until the expected breakthrough. By early evening, an advance of 4–6 km (2.5–3.7 mi) had been achieved (the 77th Rifle Corps from the 3rd Shock Army had advanced 8 km (5.0 mi)), but the second German defensive line remained intact. Zhukov was forced to report that his battle was not going as planned. However, in the south the attack by Konev's 1st Ukrainian Front was going according to plan. To spur Zhukov on, Stalin told him that he would let Konev direct his tank armies north, toward the great prize of Berlin.[13][14]

Losses of 16 April:[15]

Armies 1st Guards Tank 2nd Guards Tank 61st 47th 3rd Shock 5th Shock 8th Guards 69th 33rd
Killed 26 ? 94 169 158 369 ? 312 ?
Wounded 117 ? 204 977 483 1,298 ? 1,417 ?

Armor losses: 71 tanks and SPGs knocked out, 77 damaged, 40 by other causes (breakdowns, getting stuck, etc.).

On the second day, the 1st Belorussian Front's troops continued to advance in accordance with the initial plan. By nightfall on 17 April, the German second defensive line (Stein Stellung) was broken by the 5th Shock Army and 2nd Guards Tank Army. The right flank of the 4th Guards Rifle Corps of the 8th Guards Army—together with the 11th Tank Corps of the 1st Guards Tank Army—had taken advantage of the success of their comrades who had broken through the second defensive line. The 47th and the 3rd Shock Armies progressed another 4–8 km (2.5–5.0 mi).

Losses of 17 April:[16]

Armies 1st Guards Tank 2nd Guards Tank 61st 47th 3rd Shock 5th Shock 8th Guards 69th 33rd
Killed 38 ? 119 210 113 615 ? 308 ?
Wounded 175 ? 284 1,251 417 2,034 ? 1,276 ?

Armor losses: 79 tanks and SPGs knocked out, 85 damaged, 15 from other causes.

To the south however, the 1st Ukrainian Front was pushing back the 4th Panzer Army; the left flank of Army Group Center under Ferdinand Schörner was beginning to crumble. Schörner kept his two reserve panzer divisions in the south covering his center, instead of using them to shore up the 4th Panzer Division. This was the turning point in the battle, because the positions of both Army Group Vistula and the center and right sectors of Army Group Center were becoming untenable. Unless they fell back in line with the 4th Panzer Division, they faced envelopment.

In effect, Konev's successful attack on Schörner's poor defenses to the south of Seelow Heights was unhinging Heinrici's brilliant defense.

On 18 April, both Soviet fronts advanced with heavy losses. The Seelow Heights was bypassed from the north, during which Soviet troops met counterattacks by German reserves (11th SS Panzergrenadier Division Nordland, 23rd SS Panzergrenadier Division Nederland and SS-Panzer Abteilung 103 (503rd). By nightfall, an advance of 3–5 km (1.9–3.1 mi) on the right flank and 3–8 km (1.9–5.0 mi) in the center had been achieved, and the 1st Belorussian Front had reached the third and final German line of defense.

Losses of 18 April:[17]

Armies 1st Guards Tank 2nd Guards Tank 61st 47th 3rd Shock 5th Shock 8th Guards 69th 33rd
Killed 90 ? 95 156 119 ? ? 88 ?
Wounded 355 ? 365 625 416 ? ? 297 ?

Armor losses: 65 tanks and SPGs knocked out, 86 damaged, 13 from other causes.

On 19 April, the 1st Belorussian Front broke through the final line of the Seelow Heights and nothing but broken German formations lay between them and Berlin. The remnants of the 9th Army and the 4th Panzer Army were enveloped by the 1st Belorussian Front and by elements of the 1st Ukrainian Front which had broken through and turned north. Other armies of the 1st Ukrainian Front raced west toward the Americans. By the close of 19 April, the German Eastern Front line had ceased to exist. All that remained were pockets of resistance.[18]

Losses of 19 April:[19]

Armies 1st Guards Tank 2nd Guards Tank 61st 47th 3rd Shock 5th Shock 8th Guards 69th 33rd
Killed 135 ? 86 287 166 ? ? 204 ?
Wounded 678 ? 363 1,112 594 ? ? 652 ?

Armor losses: 105 tanks and SPGs knocked out, 76 damaged, 8 from other causes.

Total losses of 1GTA, 47A, 61A, 69A, and 3SA 16–19 April: 3957 killed, 15590 wounded.

Losses of the 33rd Army 15–20 April: 1,687 killed, 7,213 wounded, 128 missing, 13 non-battle, 206 disease.[20]

Losses of the 5th Shock Army 11–30 April: 3,628 killed, 13,702 wounded, 60 missing, 476 from other causes.[21]

Losses of the 8th Guards Army 16–20 April: 12-13,000 total casualties.[22]

Losses of the 2nd Guards Tank Army (only three corps without army troops) 16–21 April: 265 killed, 1,530 wounded.[23]

Aftermath[edit]

Statue at Seelow Heights.

The defensive line on the Seelow Heights was the last major defensive line outside Berlin. Gen. Heinrici had said before the battle that the Seelow Heights could be held for only three or four days without reinforcements, which he did not have. From 19 April, the road to Berlin—90 km (56 mi) to the west—lay open. By 23 April, Berlin was fully encircled and the Battle of Berlin entered its last stage. Within two weeks, Adolf Hitler was dead and the war in Europe was effectively over.

After the war, Zhukov's critics asserted that he should have stopped the 1st Belorussian Front's attack via the direct line to Berlin along the autobahn and instead made use of the 1st Ukrainian Front's breakthrough over the Neisse. This would have bypassed the strong German defences at Seelow Heights, and avoided many casualties and the delay in the Berlin advance. However, the 1st Belorussian Front was drawn up on a very narrow front, so such a maneuver may not have been possible. The other front commanders could and did bypass the main defenses.

In popular culture[edit]

In Call of Duty: World at War, the player plays as Soviet soldier who has been captured by the Wehrmacht and about to be executed until Red Army troops arrive and kill the German captors. Together, they and other Soviet fighters jointly charge on a German supply and personnel base and clear it of all enemy troops. The player then takes control of a Soviet T-34-85 as a tank commander, having received objectives to destroy enemy Flak 88's, bunkers, a radio tower and finally clearing the train station that will lead them to Berlin.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Isaev 2010.
  2. ^ a b Hastings 2005, p. 468.
  3. ^ Beevor 2003, p. 283.
  4. ^ Le Tissier 1996, p. 273.
  5. ^ Ziemke 1968, p. 71.
  6. ^ author-needed 2007, pp. 170,171,550.
  7. ^ Goodenough 1982, p. 116.
  8. ^ Isaev 2007, pp. 293–295.
  9. ^ Ziemke 1968, p. 76.
  10. ^ Zuljan 2003.
  11. ^ Beevor 2002, p. 217.
  12. ^ Ziemke 1968, p. 81.
  13. ^ Beevor 2002, pp. 217–233.
  14. ^ Ziemke 1968, p. 82.
  15. ^ Isaev 2007, p. 400.
  16. ^ Isaev 2007, p. 415.
  17. ^ Isaev 2007, p. 426.
  18. ^ Ziemke 1968, p. 84.
  19. ^ Isaev 2007, pp. 438,439.
  20. ^ Isaev 2007, p. 438.
  21. ^ Isaev 2007, p. 673.
  22. ^ Isaev 2007, p. 665.
  23. ^ Isaev 2007, p. 456.

References[edit]

  • Goncharov, Vladislav (2007). Bitva za Berlin: Zavershayuschee srazhenie Velikoy Otechestvennoy Voiny [Battle for Berlin: The Final Battle of the Great Patriotic War] (in Russian). Moscow: AST. pp. 170, 171, 550. ISBN 978-5-17-039116-5. 
  • Beevor, Antony (2002). The Fall of Berlin, 1945. New York: Viking Penguin,. p. 217. ISBN 0-670-03041-4. 
  • Beevor, Antony (2003). Berlin - Slutstriden. Lund: Historisk Media. ISBN 91-85057-01-0. 
  • Isaev, Aleksey (2007). Berlin 45-go: Srazheniya v logove zverya [Berlin of 45: Battles in the Beast's Den] (in Russian). Moscow: Yauza, Eksmo. ISBN 978-5-699-20927-9. 
  • Isaev, Aleksey (26 July 2010). Seelow Heights (in Russian). Interview with Vitaly Dymarsky. Price of Victory. Echo of Moscow. Moscow. Retrieved 1 December 2012. 
  • Hastings, Max (2005). Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945. Vintage. ISBN 978-0-375-71422-7 Check |isbn= value (help). 
  • Goodenough, Simon (1982). War Maps. Macdonald. p. 116. ISBN 0-312-85584-2. 
  • Le Tissier, Tony (1996). Zhukov at the Oder. New York: Praeger. p. 273. ISBN 978-0-275-95230-3. 
  • Ziemke, Earl F. (1968). The Battle for Berlin: End of the Third Reich. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-356-02960-3. 
  • Zuljan, Ralph (1 July 2003) [1999]. "Battle for the Seelow Heights - Part II".  Originally published in "World War II" at Suite101.com on 1 May 1999. Revised edition published in "Articles on War" at OnWar.com on 1 July 2003.
  • Welsh, William, WWII History Battle of Seelow Heights

External links[edit]