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Sukhoi Su-25


In early 1968, the Soviet Ministry of Defense decided to create specialised "shturmovik" armoured assault aircraft, in order to provide direct air support for the Russian Ground Forces. The idea of creating this specialised attack aircraft, was formed after analysing the experience using "shturmovoi" (attack) aviation during World War II and in local wars in 1950s and 1960s.[1]

The Soviet fighters fighter-bombers which were in service at this time (Su-7, Su-17, MiG-21, MiG-23 and MiG-27) did not meet the requirements for close air support of the army.[1] This was because they did not have the essential armour plating in the cockpit to protect the pilot and vital equipment from ground fire and missile hits, plus their extremely high flight speeds, which led to the inability of the pilot to maintain visual contact with the target. Being already in touch with these problems, a group of leading specialists in the design bureau led by Pavel Sukhoi discussed the idea of creating such an aircraft and then submitted their thoughts to Sukhoi regarding the expediency of beginning preliminary design work. Pavel Sukhoi approved the plan, and in comparatively short period of time, the preliminary design work was completed jointly with leading institutes of the Ministry of the Aviation Industry and the Ministry of Defense.[2]

In March 1969, a competition was announced by the Soviet Air Force, calling for designs for a new battlefield close-support aircraft. Participants in the competition were Sukhoi Design Bureau and the Design Bureaux of Yakovlev, Ilyushin and Mikoyan.[3] Sukhoi finally camed out with the "T-8" design in late-1968, and in January 1972, the work at the first two prototypes (T8-1 and T8-2) commenced. The T8-1 was the first airframe to be assembled, completion of which was made just before one of the major national holidays - on 9 May 1974. However, the T8-1 made its first flight on 22nd February with Vladimir Ilyushin on board, after long series of tests were completed. The Su-25 surpassed its main competitor, the Ilyushin Il-102, and the series production of it was announced by the Ministry of Defense.[4]

During flight-testing phases of the T8-1 and T8-2 prototypes, the Sukhoi Desing Bureau's management proposed that the series production of the Su-25 should start at Factory No.31, the major manufacturing base for the MiG-21UM "Mongol-B" trainer, in Tbilisi, Soviet Republic of Georgia. After negociations and completion of all stages of the state trials, the series production at Tbilisi started in 1978.[5]

  • final version


The Su-25 has a normal aerodynamic layout with a shoulder-mounted trapezoidal wing and a conventional tailplane and rudder. The mass of materials used in the construction of the airframe is made up of the following metals: aluminium-60%; steel-19%; titanium-13,5%; magnesium alloy-2% and other materials-5,5%. [6]


The cockpit also has a 6 mm (0,24in) thick steel headrest, mounted on the rear bulkhead. The titanium sheets of the cockpit armour are welded, with transit ports located in the walls. Guide rails for the ejection seat are mounted on the rear wall of the cockpit. The pilot sits on a Zvezda K-36 ejection seat, and has standard flight instruments.[6]

The cannon is located in a compartment underneath the cockpit and is mounted on a load-bearing beam, attached to the cockpit floor and the forward fuselage support structure. The area behind the cockpit, located between the cockpit itself and the forward fuel tank, is a dust - and gas-filtered avionics compartment. On the left-hand side of the cockpit, towards the rear, there is a built-in ladder for access to the cockpit, the upper part of the engine nacelles and the wing.[6]

Wings and fuselage

All versions of the Su-25 have an metal cantilever wing of moderate sweep and high aspect ratio, equipped with high-lift devices. The wing consists of two cantilever sections, attached to a central torsion box forming a single unit with the fuselage. At the tips of each wing, there are separate fairings which house the airbrakes. Each wing has five hardpoints for weapons carriage, with the attachment points mounted on load-bearing ribs and spars.[7] Also, each wing has a five-section leading-edge slat, a two-section flap and an aileron. The flaps are mounted on brackets on the rear spar on steel sliders and rollers. The ailerons are of trapeizodal shape and are located near the wingtip.[8] The fuselage of the Su-25 has an ellipsoidal section and is of semi-monocoque, stressed skin construction, whose primary structure consists of a longitudinal load-bearing framework of longerons, beams and stringers, and a transverse load-bearing assembly of frames.[6] The horizontal tailplane is a one-piece unit and is attached at two mounting points to load-bearing frame.[9]


Early Su-25 aircraft were equipped with two R95Sh non-afterburning turbojets, which were installed in separate compartments on either side of the rear fuselage. Cooling of the engines, sub-assmblies and surounding fuselage structure from local heating is provided by air from the cooling air intakes. A drainage system ensures that oil, hydraulic fluid residues and fuel can be collected after the engines are shut-down after flight, or in the event of an unsuccessful start. The engine control systems permits autonomous operation of each engine. [10]


The avionics installed on the Su-25 consists of the following:[11]

  • a weapons-aiming system which providestargeting data for attacks on ground targets, using rockets, bombs and cannon armament, as well as targeting of aircraft and helicopters in visual flight conditions;
  • a navigation complex which permits flight in day and night conditions, both in VMC and IMC, and which inputs flight data into the weapons-aiming system and the aircraft's flight instruments;
  • radio for air-to-ground and air-to-air communications;
  • weapons control system;
  • a self-defence suite, incorporating infra-red flare and chaff dispensers, capable of launching about 250 flares and dipole chaff, plus an radar warning receiver.
  • final version


Romanian Armed Forces

Romanian troops in Afghanistan

The Land Forces, Air Force and Naval Forces are collectively known as the Romanian Armed Forces. The current Commander-in-chief is Admiral Gheorghe Marin, being managed by the Minister of National Defense, while the president is the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces during wartime.

The total defence spending currently accounts for 2.05% of total national GDP, which represents aproximately 2,9 billion dollars (ranked 39th). However, the Romanian Armed Forces will spend about 11 billion dollars in the next five years, for modernization and acquirement of new equipment. [12]

90,000 men and women currently comprise the Armed Forces, 75,000 of them being military personnel and the other 15,000 civilians. The Land Forces have a reported strength of 45,800, the Air Force a strength of 13,250 and the 6,800-strong Naval Forces, while the remaining other 8,800 serve in other fields.[13]

The Land Forces completely overhauled their equipment in the past few years, and today they are modern army, with multiple NATO capabilities. They are often participating to peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, together with the other NATO countries. The Air Force currently operates modernized Soviet MiG-21LanceR fighters, which are becoming obsolete and due to be replaced by new advanced 4.5 generation European jet fighters, such as Eurofighter Typhoon or JAS 39 Gripen.[14] Also, the Air Force ordered 7 new C-27J Spartan tactical airlift aircraft, in order to replace the bulk of the old transport force.[15] Two modernized ex-Royal Navy Type 22 frigates were acquired by the Naval Forces in 2004 and a further four modern missile corvettes will be commissioned in the next few years. Three native-made IAR 330 Puma NAVAL helicopters were also ordered by the Naval Forces, and should be commissioned until late-2008.

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Siege of Malta (1940)

2007 Romanian Air Force IAR-330 SOCAT crash

2007 Romanian Air Force IAR-330 Puma SOCAT crash
Occurrence summary
Date November 7, 2007
Summary unknown yet
Site Near Piteşti, Romania
Crew 3
Fatalities 3
Survivors none
Aircraft type IAR 330 Puma SOCAT
Operator Romanian Air Force
Registration ??

On 7 November 2007, a Romanian Air Force IAR-330 SOCAT attack helicopter belonging to the 90th Airlift Base crashed in Ungheni, 30 km south of Piteşti, Argeş county, Romania. Immediatly after the crash, the aircraft caught fire. All three crew members aboard were killed, including Commander Nicolae Bucur, who was one of the most experienced pilots of the Romanian Air Force, with over 2,700 flying hours. The other two victims were Lt. Ionel Craiu, pilot and Alexandru Adrian Ticea, mechanic.[16]

The helicopter was unarmed, performing a night training flight at the moment of the crash. Eye-witnesses declared that smoke came out from the helicopter before the crash. On November 8, the flight recorder of the aircraft was recovered and officials declared that further informations and conclusions will be available after 30 days.[17]

Emergency response

Approximately 10 minutes after the crash, the first firefighters detachment from the Inspectorate for Emergency situations arrived at the scene and was confronted with 15 meters-tall flames. Paramedics arrived almost at the same time, but where unable to intervene because of the heavy fire. Also, the 90th Airlift Base assigned two additional helicopters for search and rescue. The fire was stopped after one hour and the forensics officers started their search.[18]


  1. ^ a b Yefim Gordon and Alan Dawes, p.6-7.
  2. ^ Yefim Gordon and Alan Dawes, p.8.
  3. ^ Yefim Gordon and Alan Dawes, p.11.
  4. ^ Yefim Gordon and Alan Dawes, p.23-41
  5. ^ Yefim Gordon and Alan Dawes, p.42-45.
  6. ^ a b c d Yefim Gordon and Alan Dawes, p.73-75.
  7. ^ Yefim Gordon and Alan Dawes, p.77.
  8. ^ Yefim Gordon and Alan Dawes, p.79.
  9. ^ Yefim Gordon and Alan Dawes, p.80.
  10. ^ Yefim Gordon and Alan Dawes, p.81-82.
  11. ^ Yefim Gordon and Alan Dawes, p.84-85.
  12. ^ (in Romanian)MoND Budget as of 2007, Ziarul Financiar, October 30, 2006
  13. ^ (in Romanian) Ministry of National Defense. Press conference
  14. ^ (in Romanian)SUA şi UE se intrec să ne doboare MiG-urile (Replacement of the MiG-21), from Cotidianul, January 2007
  15. ^ "Spartan Order", Aviation Week & Space Technology, December 11, 2006.
  16. ^ "Elicopter prăbuşit într-o localitate din Argeş: trei victime", at, November 8, 2007
  17. ^ Helicopter crashed near Pitesti killing three people aboard, Antena 3, November 7, 2007.
  18. ^ Helicopter crashed in Argeş County, Mediafax, November 7, 2007.

Evacuation of East Prussia



Nazi propaganda photograph, bodies of two German women and three children killed by the Soviets in Metgethen, East Prussia.

The Soviet army initiated an offensive into East Prussia on October 1944, but after two weeks it was temporarily driven back. After that, the German Ministry of Propaganda reported that war crimes had taken place in East Prussian villages, in particular in Nemmersdorf, where the entire population was raped and killed by the Soviets.[1] Since the Nazi war effort had largely stripped the civil population of able-bodied men for service in the military, the victims of the atrocity were primarily old men, women, and children. Upon the Soviet withdrawal from the area, German authorities sent in film crews to document what had happened, and invited allegedly neutral observers as further witnesses. A documentary film from the footage obtained during this effort was put together and shown in cinemas in East Prussia, with the intention of hardening civilian and military resolve in resisting the Soviets. [2] Nazi propaganda on the atrocities at Nemmersdorf, as well as on other crimes committed in East Prussia, convinced the remaining civilians that they should not get caught by the advancing enemy.[3]


Since many Soviet soldiers had lost family and friends at the hands of the Germans (circa 17 million Soviet civilians died in World War II, more than in any other country[4]), they often felt a desire to take vengeance. Murders of prisoners of war and German civilians are known even from cases at Soviet military tribunals (who were not known for prosecuting such matters). Also, when Soviet troops moved into Prussia, a significant number of enslaved Ostarbeiter ("Eastern workers") were freed, and knowledge of those workers' suffering further worsened the attitude of Soviet soldiers towards Prussians. [5]

Some Soviet writers disapproved of the vengeance of Soviet soldiers against Germans. Lev Kopelev, who took part in the invasion of East Prussia, sharply criticized the atrocities against the German civilian population and was arrested in 1945, then sentenced to a ten-year term in the Gulag for "fostering bourgeois humanism" and for "compassion towards the enemy".[6] Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn also served in East Prussia in 1945 and was arrested for criticising Joseph Stalin and Soviet crimes in private correspondence with a friend. Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to an eight-year term in a labour camp.[7]


The evacuation plans for East Prussia were ready in second half of 1944. They consisted of both general plans and specific instructions for each individual town. The plans encompassed not only people but also industry and livestock. [8]

East Prussia (in red), is located 340km east of the current Polish-German border.

Initially, Erich Koch, the Gauleiter of East Prussia, did not agree with the evacuation of the civilians (until 20th January 1945), and ordered that every citizen trying to flee the region without permission, would be instantly shot. However, between January 20th and March 1945, almost 8,5 millions of Germans civilians left their homes in East Prussia.[9] Most of the refugees were women and children heading to the Neisse region, of south Berlin, carrying goods on improvised means of transport, such as wooden waggoons and carts, as all the mothorized vehicles and fuel were confiscated by the Wehrmacht. A part of the fleeing population trekked across the frozen Curonian Lagoon, where many wagoons broke through the unstable ice covering the brackish water. As part of Germany's failing military effort, horses and caretakers from the Wehrmacht's Trakehner stud farms evacuated with the wagoon trains. The evacuation was severely hampered by masses of retreating Wehrmacht units who clogged roads and bridges on the way west, as well as by Allied bomber and fighter aircraft. The remaining mens received interdiction to leave East Prussia and were immediately incorporated into the Volkssturm. However, ones being incorporated, Volksstrum members used to hide and build-up defenses in the woods, as they were afraid of the cruelty of Soviet soldiers.[10] Refugees trains leaving East Prussia were also extremely crowded, and due to the very low temperature, the children were often freezing to death during the journey. At the end of January, between 40,000 and 50,000 refugees from eastern Reich territories were arriving in Berlin by train every day.[11]

Military historian Antony Beevor wrote in Berlin the Downfall, that:[12]

Martin Bormann, the Reichsleiter of the National Socialist Party, whose Gauleiters had in most cases stopped the evacuation of women and children until it was too late, never mentions in his diary those fleeing in panic from the eastern regions. The incompetence with which they handled the refugee crisis is chilling, yet in the case of the Nazi hierarchy it is often hard to tell where irresponsibility ended and inhumanity began.

Operation Hannibal

Operation Hannibal was a military operation which started on January 21st, 1945, at the orders of Admiral Karl Dönitz, involving the withdrawal of German troops and civilians from East Prussia. The flood of refugees turned the operation into one of the largest emergency evacuations by sea in history - over a period of 15 weeks, somewhere between 494 and 1,080 merchant vessels of all types and numerous naval craft, including Germany's largest remaining naval units, would transport over two million refugees and soldiers across the Baltic Sea to Germany.[13]

The biggest naval humanitary disaster occured during this operation, when cruiser Wilhelm Gustloff was hit by three torpedoes from the Soviet submarine S-13 in the Baltic Sea on the night of January 30 1945. She sank in under 45 minutes, taking possibly as many as 5,300.[14][15] or 7,400[16] people with her. The survivors were rescued by Kriegsmarine vessels led by cruiser Admiral Hipper.[16] Also, on 14th February, hospital ship SS General von Steuben left Pillau with 2,680 refugees onboard; it was hit by torpedoes just afterwards the departure, killing almost all people aboard.[17]


File:Battle Of Königsberg Begin 1.png
Soviet assault on Königsberg from 6 to 9 April 1945.

On January 24th, 1945, the 3rd Belorussian Front led by General Chernyakhovsky, surounded the capital city of East Prussia, Königsberg. The 3rd Panzer Army and around 200,000 civilians were trapped inside the city.[18] In response to this, General Georg-Hans Reinhardt, commander of the Army Group Center, warned Hitler regarding the imminent Soviet threat, but the Fuhrer refused to listen him. Due to the very fast approach of the 2nd Belorussian Front, led by General Rokossovsky, Nazi authorities in Königsberg decided to send trains full of refugees to Allenstein, without knowing that the town was already captured by the Soviet 3rd Mechanised Corps.[19]

During the heavy Soviet assault, the Frische Nehrung spit, became the last way of escape to the west. However, civilians which tried to escape through the spit, were often intercepted and killed by Soviet tanks and patrols.[20] 2,000 civilians left Königsberg every day and tried to reach the already crowded town of Pillau. According to a NKVD report received by Lavrentiy Beria, the German civilians who left Königsberg and reached the Reich's territories, were not treated by far well, receiving only 180 grams of bread per day.[21] The final Soviet assault on Königsberg started on 2 April with heavy bombardment of the town. The land route to Pillau was once again severed and those civilians who were still in the city died in their thousands. Eventually, the Nazi garrison surrendered on April 9. As Beevor wrote, "the rape of women and girls went unchecked in the ruined city"[22]


The mass rapes made by the Soviets in Königsberg, led to a severe psychological damage to the German population in East Prussia. Even Soviet women liberated by Soviet troops from German territories were often raped by drunk Soviet soldiers. This acts of violence was a result of the Nazi propaganda and crimes purported by Germans at the time of the invasion of the Soviet Union.[23] War reporter Vasily Grossman said that the rear-guard units of the advancing Soviet armies were usually responsible for the large number of crimes comitted by the Red Army personnel. Even if the Soviet authorities where informed regarding these atrocities they didn't take any measures to stop it; actually they became quite annoyed by the fact that German civilians managed to escape, as major cities and rural areas were completely abandoned, at the moment the Soviet forces occupied them.[24] The wealthy civilians from East Prussia were often shot by the Soviet soldiers, their goods stolen and their houses set on fire as a result of the Soviet propaganda encouraging the eradication of aristocracy.[25]


The Red Army eliminated all pockets of resistance and took control of East Prussia in May 1945. The exact number of civilian victims has never been determined but is estimated to be at least 300,000, with most of them dying under miserable conditions. However, most of the German inhabitants, which at that point consisted mainly of children, women, and old men, did escape the Red Army as part of the largest exodus of people in human history.[26] As Antony Beevor also said:

  • final version;
  1. ^ Beevor, pp.40
  2. ^ Beevor, pp.72
  3. ^ Beevor, pp.185
  4. ^ G. I. Krivosheev. Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses. Greenhill 1997 ISBN 1-85367-280-7
  5. ^ Beevor, pp.75-82
  6. ^ Beevor, pp.73
  7. ^ Beevor, pp.176
  8. ^ Nitschke, pp.43
  9. ^ Beevor, pp.83
  10. ^ Beevor, pp.96
  11. ^ Beevor, pp.98
  12. ^ Beevor, pp.75
  13. ^ Williams, David, Wartime Disasters at Sea, Patrick Stephens Limited, Nr Yeovil, UK, 1997, p.225 (figure of 494 merchant vessels); Brustat-Naval, Fritz, Unternehmen Rettung, Koehlers Verlagsgeschellshaft, Herford, Germany, 1985, p.240 (figure of 790 vessels of all types); Koburger, Charles W., Steel Ships, Iron Crosses, and Refugees, Praeger Publishers, NY, 1989, p.92 (figure of 1,080 merchant vessels).
  14. ^ Irwin J. Kappes states 5,348. He does not cite his sources but recommends: A. V. Sellwood, The Damned Don't Drown: The Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff (a fiction title about the tragedy); and Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, A Terrible Revenge: The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans 1944-1950.
  15. ^ Jason Pipes, citing Heinz Schon (no page number) claims the loss of life was 9,343
  16. ^ a b Beevor, pp.101
  17. ^ Beevor, pp.147
  18. ^ Beevor, pp.68
  19. ^ Beevor, pp.73
  20. ^ Beevor, pp.84
  21. ^ Beevor, pp.152
  22. ^ Beevor, pp.118
  23. ^ Beevor, pp.75
  24. ^ Beevor, pp.83
  25. ^ Beevor, pp.109
  26. ^ Beevor, Antony, Berlin: The Downfall 1945, Penguin Books (2002). ISBN 0-670-88695-5

Michael the Brave


Michael the Brave (born under Pătraşcu family name) (Romanian: Mihai Viteazul, Hungarian: Vitéz Mihály) (1558-9 August 1601) was the Prince of Wallachia (1593-1601), of Transylvania (1599-1600), and of Moldavia (1600). During his reign, which coincided with the Long War, these three principalities forming the territory of present-day Romania and Moldova were united for the first time under a single Romanian ruler, though the unification lasted for less than six months. He is regarded as one of Romania's greatest national heroes.

Michael's reign started in late 1593, two years before the war with Ottomans started, in which the Prince fought the most important battle of his entire reign, the Battle of Călugăreni. Even if the Wallachians came victorious in it, Michael was forced to retreat with his troops and wait for aid from his allies, in order to continue the war. However, the war continued and a peace finnaly emerged in January 1597, but it last only for one and a half years. A peace was again reached in late 1599, when Michael was unable to continue the war due to lack of support from his allies.

In 1600 Michael won the Battle of Şelimbăr and soon entered Alba Iulia, becoming the Prince of Transylvania. Few months later, Michael's troops invaded Moldavia and reached its capital, Suceava. The Moldavian leader Ieremia Movilă fleed in Poland and Michael was declared Prince of Moldavia. As he received insufficient support from his allies, Michael couldn't keep the control of all the three provinces and boyar uprisings emerged especially in Transylvania. Michael, allied with the Austrian General Giorgio Basta, defeated the uprising Hungarian nobility at Gurăslău. Immediately after this, Basta ordered the assassination of Michael, which took place on 9 August 1601.

Cold War

"Containment" through the Korean War (1947–53)

By 1947, Truman's advisors were worried that time was running out to counter the influence of the Soviet Union, as Stalin was seeking to weaken the position of the US in a period of post-war confusion and collapse, by encouraging the rivalries among capitalists in order to bring about a new war.[1] Further-on, the USSR was setting-up puppet communist regimes in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, as well as East Germany, and maintained a military presence in most of these countries.[2] However, the regimes Stalin installed in Eastern Europe lacked the legitimacy their capitalist counterparts sustained by west would quickly gain.[3] For example, Stalin advised the Polish communist leader Wladyslaw Gomulka that "with a good agitation and a proper attitude, you may win a considerable number of votes.[4]

The event which spurred Truman on to announce formally the American adoption of "containment" policy[5] was the British government's announcement in February 1947 that it could no longer afford to finance the Greek monarchical military regime in its civil war against communist-led insurgents. Rather than view this war as a civil conflict revolving around domestic issues, US policymakers accused the Soviet Union of conspiracy against the Greek royalists in an effort to "expand" their influence into the Middle East, Asia, and Africa;[6] however, the insurgents were helped by Josip Broz Tito's Yugoslavia, not Moscow.[7] In March 1947 the US administration unveiled the "Truman Doctrine". Truman rallied Americans in his famous "Truman Doctrine" speech to spend $400,000,000 on intervention in the civil war in Greece, painting the conflict as a contest between "free" peoples and "totalitarian" regimes:

It must be the policy of the United States, to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures. ... [W]e must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.[8]

President Truman signs the National Security Act Amendment of 1949 with guests in the Oval Office.
Map of Cold-War era Europe and the Near East showing countries that received Marshall Plan aid. The red columns show the relative amount of total aid per nation.

For US policymakers, threats to Europe's balance of power were not necessarily military ones, but a political and economic challenge.[2] George Kennan helped to summarise the problem at the State Department Planning Staff in May 1947: "Communist activities" were not "the root of the difficulties of Western Europe" but rather "the disruptive effects of the war on the economic, political, and social structure of Europe".[9] According to this view, the Communist parties financed by the Soviet Union were "exploiting the European crisis" to gain power.[9] In June, following the recommendations of the State Department Planning Staff, the Truman Doctrine was complemented by the Marshall Plan, a pledge of economic assistance aimed at rebuilding the Western political-economic system and countering perceived threats to Europe's balance of power, such as communist parties attempting to seize power through free elections or popular revolutions, in countries such as France and Italy.[10]

In July, Truman rescinded, on "national security grounds",[11] the punitive Morgenthau plan JCS 1067, which had directed the US forces of occupation in Germany to "take no steps looking toward the economic rehabilitation of Germany". It was replaced by JCS 1779, which stressed instead that "[a]n orderly, prosperous Europe requires the economic contributions of a stable and productive Germany".[12] The National Security Act of 1947, signed by Truman on July 26, created a unified Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the National Security Council. These would become the main bureaucracies for US policy in the Cold War.[13]

European economic alliances
European military alliances

The twin policies of the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan led to billions in economic and military aid to Western Europe, and Greece and Turkey. With US assistance, the Greek military won its civil war,[13] and the Italian Christian Democrats defeated the powerful Communist-Socialist alliance in the elections of 1948.[14]

In retaliation for Western efforts to reunite West Germany, Stalin built blockades in order to block western access to West Berlin, but Truman maintained supply lines to the enclave by flying supplies in over the blockade from 1948 to '49. Meanwhile, the NKVD, led by Lavrentiy Beria, supervised the establishment of Soviet-style systems of secret police in the Eastern European states, which were supposed to crush any anti-communist resistance.[15] When the slightest attempts of independence emerged among East European satellites, Stalin's strategy was to deal with those responsible in the same manner he had handled his prewar rivals within the Soviet Union: they were removed from power, put on trial, imprisoned, and in several instances executed.[16]

The US formally allied itself to the Western European states in the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949, establishing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).[17] Stalin responded by establishing the Warsaw Pact, a military alliance set up as a counterweight to NATO, and by tying together the economies of the Eastern bloc in a Soviet-led version of the Marshall Plan, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON). Thus, Stalin approved a plan by Czechoslovak communists to seize power in the only Eastern European state that had retained a democratic government, and exploding the first Soviet atomic device in August 1949.[7] Additionally, the US led the re-establishment of West Germany from the three Western zones of occupation in 1949.[18] To counter this Western reorganisation of Germany, the Soviet Union proclaimed its zone of occupation in Germany the "German Democratic Republic" in 1949.[18] In the early 1950s, the US worked for the rearmament of West Germany and, in 1955, its full membership to NATO.[18] Meanwhile, in May 1953, Lavrentiy Beria, appointed First Deputy Prime-minister of the Soviet Union, made an unsuccessful proposal to allow the reunification of Germany to prevent West Germany's incorporation into NATO.[19]

In 1949, Mao's Red Army defeated the US-backed Kuomintang regime in China. As Stalin was quite slow to support the Chinese communist revolution, he was surprised at its success,[20] and shortly afterwards, the Soviet Union created an alliance with the newly formed People's Republic of China.[21] Confronted with the Chinese Revolution and the end of the US atomic monopoly in 1949, the Truman administration quickly moved to escalate and expand the containment policy.[7] In a secret 1950 document, NSC-68,[22] Truman administration officials proposed to reinforce pro-Western alliance systems and quadruple spending on defence.[7]

US officials moved thereafter to expand "containment" into Asia, Africa, and Latin America, in order to counter revolutionary nationalist movements, often led by Communist parties financed by the USSR, were fighting against the restoration of Europe's colonial empires in South-East Asia. In the early 1950s, The US formalized a series of alliances with Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and the Philippines, thereby guaranteeing the United States a number of long-term military bases.[18]

One of the most significant impacts of containment was the Korean War. The US and Soviet Union had been fighting proxy wars as just mentioned, on a small scale, and without US troops; but to Stalin's surprise, Truman committed US forces to drive back the North Koreans, who had invaded South Korea.[7] Among other effects, the war galvanised NATO to develop a military structure,[23] as all communist countries were suspected of acting together. Public opinion in countries such as Great Britain, usual allies of the US, was divided for and against the war. British Attorney General Sir Hartley Shawcross repudiated the sentiment of those opposed when he said:

"I know there are some who think that the horror and devastation of a world war now would be so frightful, whoever won, and the damage to civilization so lasting, that it would be better to submit to Communist domination. I understand that view – but I reject it".[24]

Even if the Chinese and North Koreans were exhausted by the war and were ready to end it by late 1952, Stalin insisted that they should continue fighting, and a cease-fire was approved only after Stalin's death in July 1953.[18]

  1. ^ Gaddis 2005, p. 27
  2. ^ a b Cite error: The named reference Schmitz was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  3. ^ Gaddis 2005, p. 24
  4. ^ Gaddis 2005, p. 100
  5. ^ Gaddis 2005, pp. 28–29
  6. ^ Gaddis 2005, p. 38
  7. ^ a b c d e Cite error: The named reference LaFeber_1991 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  8. ^ Gaddis 2005, p. 31
  9. ^ a b Kennan, pp. 335–336
  10. ^ Gaddis 1990, p. 186
  11. ^ Cite error: The named reference Jennings was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  12. ^ "Pas de Pagaille!". Time Magazine. July 28, 1947. Retrieved 2008-05-28.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  13. ^ a b Karabell, Zachary (1999), p. 916
  14. ^ Gaddis 2005, p. 162
  15. ^ Gaddis 2005, p. 34
  16. ^ Gaddis, p. 100
  17. ^ Gaddis 2005, p. 34
  18. ^ a b c d e Cite error: The named reference Byrd was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  19. ^ Gaddis 2005, p. 105
  20. ^ Gaddis 2005, p. 109
  21. ^ Gaddis 2005, p. 39
  22. ^ Gaddis 2005, p. 164
  23. ^ Isby, David C.; Kamps, Charles Jr; Armies of NATO's Central Front, Jane's Publishing Company Ltd 1985, pp. 13–14
  24. ^ Column by Ernest Borneman, Harper's Magazine, May 1951

Battle of Berlin

For the bombing campaign on Berlin by the RAF from November 1943 to March 1944, see Battle of Berlin (air).
Battle of Berlin
Part of the Eastern Front of World War II
Soviet soldiers raising the Soviet flag over the Reichstag after its capture.
Date April 16May 2 1945
Location Berlin, Germany
Result Decisive Soviet victory

 Soviet Union

Flag of Poland.svg Poland
Germany Germany
Commanders and leaders

1st Belorussian FrontSoviet Union Georgy Zhukov

2nd Belorussian FrontSoviet Union Konstantin Rokossovsky

1st Ukrainian Front

Soviet Union Ivan Konev

Army Group VistulaGermany Gotthard Heinrici then Germany Kurt von Tippelskirch[nb 1]

Army Group Centre

Germany Ferdinand Schörner

Berlin Defence Area –

Germany Hellmuth Reymann then

Germany Helmuth Weidling (POW)[nb 2]
Total strength
2,500,000 soldiers,
6,250 tanks,
7,500 aircraft,
41,600 artillery pieces.[1][2]
For the investment and assault on the Berlin Defence Area about 1,500,000 soldiers.[3]
Total strength
766,750 soldiers,
1,519 AFVs,[4]
2,224 aircraft[5]
9,303 artillery pieces[6][nb 3]
In the Berlin Defence Area approximately 45,000 soldiers, supplemented by the police force, Hitler Youth, and 40,000 Volkssturm.[3][nb 4]
Casualties and losses
Archival research
81,116 dead or missing[7] (including 2,825 Polish[7])
280,251 sick or wounded
Total casualties 361,367 men
1,997 tanks,
2,108 artillery pieces,
917 aircraft[8]
Initial Soviet estimate
458,080 killed,
479,298 captured[9]
Berlin Defence Area:
22,000 civilian dead,
about 22,000 military dead[10]

The Battle of Berlin was one of the final battles[nb 5] of the European Theatre of World War II. In what was known to the Soviets as the "Berlin Strategic Offensive Operation", two Soviet Fronts (army groups) attacked Berlin from the east and south, while a third overran German forces positioned north of Berlin. The battle of Berlin lasted from late April 20 1945 until 2 May and was one of the bloodiest battles in history.

The first defensive preparations at the outskirts of the city were made on March 20, when the newly-appointed commander of the Army Group Vistula, General Gotthard Heinrici, correctly anticipated that the main Soviet thrust would be made over the Oder River. However, after few battles in the surroundings of Berlin, the Soviet forces were approaching the city. During 20 April 1945 the 1st Belorussian Front led by Marshal Georgy Zhukov started shelling Berlin's city centre, while Konev's 1st Ukrainian Front had pushed in the north through the last formations of Army Group Centre. The German defenses were mainly led by Helmuth Weidling and consisted of several depleted, badly equipped and disorganized Wehrmacht or Waffen-SS divisions, as well as many Volksturm and Hitler Youth members. Within the next days, the Soviets were rapidly advancing through the city and were reaching the city centre, conquering the Reichstag on April 30 after fierce fighting.

Before the battle was over, German dictator Adolf Hitler and many of his followers committed suicide. The city's defenders finally surrendered on May 2. However, fighting continued to the north-west, west and south-west of the city until the end of the war in Europe on May 8 (May 9 in the USSR) as German units fought westward so that they could surrender to the Western Allies rather than to the Soviets.


Starting on January 12, 1945, the Red Army began the Vistula-Oder offensive across the Narew River and from Warsaw — a three-day operation on a broad front which incorporated four army Fronts.[11] On the fourth day, the Red Army broke out and started moving west, up to thirty to forty kilometres per day, taking the Baltic states, Gdańsk, East Prussia, and Poznań, drawing up on a line sixty kilometres east of Berlin, along the Oder River.[12]

The newly created Army Group Vistula, under the command of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, attempted a counter-attack but failed by February 24.[13] The Red Army then drove on to Pomerania, clearing the right bank of the Oder River, thereby reaching into Silesia.[12]

In the south the Battle of Budapest raged. Three German attempts to relieve the encircled Hungarian capital city failed and Budapest fell to the Soviets on February 13. The Germans counter-attacked again, Adolf Hitler insisting on the impossible task of regaining the Danube River.[14] By March 16, the Germans' Lake Balaton Offensive had failed and within twenty-four hours, the Red Army's counter-attack took back everything the Germans had gained in ten days. On March 30, the Soviets entered Austria and, during the Vienna Offensive, they finally captured Vienna on April 13.[15]

By this time, it was clear that the final defeat of the Third Reich was only a few weeks away. Between June and September 1944 the Wehrmacht had lost more than a million man, lacking fuel and armament needed in order to operate effectively.[16] Adolf Hitler decided to remain in the city, against the wishes of his advisers. On April 12, Hitler heard the news that the American President Franklin D. Roosevelt had died.[17] This briefly raised false hopes in the Führerbunker that there might yet be a falling out among the Allies, and that Berlin would be saved at the last moment as had happened once before when Berlin was threatened (see The miracle of the House of Brandenburg).[18]

The Western Allies had tentative plans to drop paratroopers to occupy Berlin in case of a sudden German collapse. Those plans had been drawn up in memory of the sudden unexpected collapse at the end of World War I, so that important prisoners and documents could be captured rather than lost. No plans were made to seize the city by a ground operation.[19] U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower saw no need to suffer casualties in attacking a city that would be in the Soviet sphere of influence after the war. General Eisenhower also worried about western troops colliding with Soviet troops resulting in many casualties from friendly fire, since the Red Army, were much closer to Berlin than the Western armies[20] The major Western Allied contribution to the battle was the strategic bombing of Berlin during 1945. During 1945 USAAF launched a number of very large daytime raids on Berlin and for 36 nights in succession scores of RAF Mosquitos bombed the German capital, ending on the night of 20/21 April 1945 just before the Soviets entered the city.[21]


The Soviet offensive into central Germany — what later became East Germany — had two objectives. Stalin did not believe the Western Allies would hand over territory occupied by them in the post-war Soviet zone, so he began the offensive on a broad front and moved rapidly to meet the Western Allies as far west as possible.[22] But the overriding objective was to capture Berlin. The two were complementary because possession of the zone could not be won quickly unless Berlin was taken. Another consideration was that Berlin itself held useful post-war strategic assets, including Adolf Hitler and the German atomic bomb programme.[23] By March 6, Hitler appointed Lieutenant General Helmuth Reymann as the commander of the Berlin Defence Area replacing Lieutenant General Bruno Ritter von Hauenschild.[24]

On 20 March, General Gotthard Heinrici was appointed Commander-in-Chief of Army Group Vistula replacing Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler. Heinrici was one of the best defensive tacticians in the German army. He immediately started to lay defensive plans. Heinrici correctly assessed that the main Soviet thrust would be made over the Oder River and along the main east-west Autobahn.[25] He decided not to try to defend the banks of the Oder with anything more than a light skirmishing screen. Instead, Heinrici arranged for engineers to fortify the Seelow Heights which overlooked the Oder River at the point where the Autobahn crossed it. This was some 17 kilometers west of the Oder and 90 kilometers east of Berlin. Heinrici thinned out the line in other areas to increase the manpower available to defend the heights. German engineers turned the Oder's flood plain, already saturated by the spring thaw, into a swamp by releasing the waters in a reservoir upstream. Behind this the engineers built three belts of defensive emplacements. These emplacements reached back towards the outskirts of Berlin (the lines nearer to Berlin were called the Wotan position). These lines consisted of anti-tank ditches, anti-tank gun emplacements, and an extensive network of trenches and bunkers.[26]

On 9 April, after a long resistance Königsberg in East Prussia finally fell to the Red Army.[27] This freed up Marshal Rokossovsky's 2nd Belorussian Front to move west to the east bank of the Oder river.[27] Marshal Georgy Zhukov concentrated his 1st Belorussian Front which had been deployed along the Oder river from Frankfurt in the south to the Baltic, into an area in front of the Seelow Heights.[28] The 2nd Belorussian Front moved into the positions being vacated by the 1st Belorussian Front north of the Seelow Heights. While this redeployment was in progress, gaps were left in the lines and the remnants of General Dietrich von Saucken's German II Army, which had been bottled up in a pocket near Danzig, managed to escape into the Vistula Delta. To the south, Marshal Konev shifted the main weight of the 1st Ukrainian Front out of Upper Silesia north-west to the Neisse River.[29] The three Soviet Fronts had altogether 2.5 million men (including 78,556 soldiers of the 1st Polish Army), 6,250 tanks, 7,500 aircraft, 41,600 artillery pieces and mortars, 3,255 truck-mounted Katyusha rocket launchers (nicknamed 'Stalin's Pipe Organs'), and 95,383 motor vehicles, many manufactured in the USA.[29]

Battle of the Oder-Neisse

File:Soviet artillery firing on berlin april 1945.jpg
Soviet artillery bombarding German positions during the battle for Seelow Heights

The sector in which most of the fighting in the overall battle took place was the Seelow Heights, the last major defensive line outside Berlin. The Battle of the Seelow Heights, fought over four days from April 16 until April 19, was one of the last pitched battles of World War II, given that it required a commitment of almost one million Red Army troops and more than 20,000 tanks and artillery pieces were in action to break through the "Gates to Berlin" which was defended by about 100,000 German soldiers and 1,200 tanks and guns.[30] However, the Soviet forces led by Zhukov won the battle, having suffered about 30,000 cassualties, while the Germans lost only 12,000 personnel.[31]

During April 19, the fourth day, 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 1st Ukrainian Front, having captured Forst the day before, was fanning out into open country. One powerful thrust by Gordov's 3rd Guards Army and Rybalko's 3rd and Lelyushenko's 4th guards tank armies were heading north east towards Berlin while other armies headed west towards a section of United States Army front line south west of Berlin on the Elbe.[32] In doing so, the Soviet forces were driving a wedge between the German Army Group Vistula in the north and Army Group Centre in the south.[32] By the end of the day, the German eastern front line north of Frankfurt around Seelow and to the south around Forst had ceased to exist. These breakthroughs allowed the two Soviet Fronts to envelop the German IX Army in a large pocket west of Frankfurt. Attempts by the IX Army to break out to the west would result in the Battle of Halbe.[33] The cost to the Soviet forces had been very high between 1 April and 19 April, with over 2,807 tanks lost, including at least 727 at the Seelow Heights.[34]

Encirclement of Berlin

March 20, 1945, photo of Adolf Hitler meeting with the Hitler Youth before the battle [35]

On 20 April, Hitler's birthday, Soviet artillery of the 1st Belorussian Front began to shell the centre of Berlin and did not stop until the end of the battle. Meanwhile, the 1st Ukrainian Front had pushed through the last formations of the northern wing of Army Group Centre and had passed north of Juterbog well over halfway to the American front lines on the river Elbe at Magdeburg.[36] To the north between Stettin and Schwedt, 2nd Belorussian Front attacked the northern flank of Army Group Vistula, held by Hasso von Manteuffel's III Panzer Army.[34] During the next day, the Bogdanov's 2nd Guards Tank Army advanced nearly 50 km north of Berlin and then attacked south west of Werneuchen. Other Soviet units reached the outer defence ring. The Soviet plan was to encircle Berlin first and then envelop the IX Army.[37]

The command of the V Corps trapped with the IX Army north of Forst, passed from IV Panzer Army to the IX Army. The corps was still holding onto the Berlin-Cottbus highway front line. When the old southern flank of IV Panzer Army had some local successes counter attacking north against 1st Ukrainian Front, Hitler gave orders which showed that his grasp of military reality had gone and ordered IX Army to hold Cottbus and set up a front facing west.[38] Then they were to attack into the Soviet columns advancing north. This would allow them to form the northern pincer which would meet with the IV Panzer Army coming from the south and envelop the 1st Ukrainian Front before destroying it. They were to anticipate an attack south by the III Panzer Army and to be ready to be the southern arm of a pincer attack which would envelop 1st Belorussian Front which would be destroyed by SS-General Felix Steiner's Army Detachment advancing from north of Berlin.[39] Later in the day, when Steiner made it plain that he did not have the divisions to do this, Heinrici made it clear to Hitler's staff that unless the IX Army retreated immediately it was about to be enveloped by the Soviets and he stressed it was already too late for it to move north-west to Berlin and would have to retreat west.[39] Heinrici went on to say that if Hitler did not allow it to move west he would ask to be relieved of his command.[40]

On April 22, at his afternoon situation conference Hitler fell into a tearful rage when he realised that his plans of the day before were not going to be realised. He declared that the war was lost, he blamed the generals and announced that he would stay on in Berlin until the end and then kill himself. In an attempt to coax Hitler out of his rage, General Alfred Jodl speculated that the XII Army, under the command of General Walther Wenck, that was facing the Americans, could move to Berlin because the Americans, already on the Elbe River, were unlikely to move further east. Hitler immediately grasped the idea and within hours Wenck was ordered to disengage from the Americans and move the XII Army north-east to support Berlin.[39] It was then realised that, if the IX Army moved west, it could link up with the XII Army. In the evening Heinrici was given permission to make the link up.[41]

Away from the map room in the Berlin Führerbunker with its imaginary attacks of phantom divisions, the Soviets were getting on with winning the war. 2nd Belorussian Front had established a bridgehead on the east bank of the Oder over 15 km deep and was heavily engaged with the III Panzer Army. The IX Army had lost Cottbus and was being pressed from the east. A Soviet tank spearhead was on the Havel river to the east of Berlin and another had at one point penetrated the inner defensive ring of Berlin.[42]

A Soviet war correspondent gave this account, in the zealous style of World War Two Russian journalism, of an important event that day—the capital was now within range of field artillery:[43]

On the walls of the houses we saw Goebbel's appeals, hurriedly scrawled in white paint: 'Every German will defend his capital. We shall stop the Red hordes at the walls of our Berlin.' Just try and stop them!
Steel pillboxes, barricades, mines, traps, suicide squads with grenades clutched in their hands—all are swept aside before the tidal wave.
Drizzling rain began to fall. Near Bisdorf I saw batteries preparing to open fire.
'What are the targets?' I asked the battery commander.
Centre of Berlin, Spree bridges, and the northern and Stettin railway stations,' he answered.
Then came the tremendous words of command: 'Open fire at the capital of Fascist Germany.'

I noted the time. It was exactly 8:30 a.m. on 22 April. Ninety-six shells fell in the centre of Berlin in the course of a few minutes.

On 23 April, the Soviet 1st Belorussian Front and 1st Ukrainian Front continued to tighten the encirclement, including severing the last link that the German IX Army had with the city. Elements of 1st Ukrainian Front continued to move westward and started to engage the German XII Army moving towards Berlin. On this same day, Hitler appointed General Helmuth Weidling as the commander of the Berlin Defence Area replacing Lieutenant General Reymann.[44] Meanwhile, by April 24 elements of 1st Belorussian Front and 1st Ukrainian Front had completed the encirclement of the city.[45] Within the next day, 25 April, the Soviet investment of Berlin was consolidated with leading Soviet units probing and penetrating the S-Bahn defensive ring. By the end of the day there was no prospect that the German defence of the city could do anything but temporarily delay the capture of the city by the Soviets as the decisive stages of the battle had already been fought and lost by the Germans outside the city.[46]

Battle in Berlin

The forces available to Weidling for the city's defence included several severely depleted Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS divisions, in all about 45,000 men. These divisions were supplemented by the police force, boys in the compulsory Hitler Youth, and the Volkssturm. Many of the 40,000 elderly men of the Volkssturm had been in the army as young men and some were veterans of World War I. The commander of the central district, SS Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke, who had been appointed to this position by Hitler, had over 2,000 men under his command.[3][nb 6] Weidling organized the defences into eight sectors designated 'A' through to 'H' each one commanded by a colonel or a general, but most had no combat experience.[3] To the west of the city was the XX Infantry Division. To the north of the city was the IX Parachute Division. To the north-east of the city was the Panzer Division Müncheberg. To the south-east of the city and to the east of Tempelhof Airport was the XI SS Panzergrenadier Division Nordland. The reserve, XVIII Panzergrenadier Division, was in Berlin's central district.[47]

Berlin's fate was sealed, given that the decisive stages of the battle were fought outside the city, but the resistance inside continued.[46] On 23 April Berzarin's 5th Shock Army and Katukov's 1st Guards Tank Army assaulted Berlin from the south east and after overcoming a counter attack by the German LVI Panzer Corps had by the evening of the 24 April reached the Berlin S-Bahn ring railway on the north side of the Teltow Canal. During the same period, of all the German forces ordered to reinforce the inner defences of the city by Hitler, only a small contingent of French SS volunteers under the command of Brigadeführer Gustav Krukenberg arrived in Berlin.[48] During 25 April, Krukenberg was appointed as the commander of Defence Sector C, the sector under the most pressure from the Soviet assault on the city[49]

On 26 April German General der Artillerie Helmuth Weidling was appointed commander of the Berlin Defence Area.[50] Chuikov's 8th Guards Army and the 1st Guards Tank Army fought their way through the southern suburbs and attacked Tempelhof Airport, just inside the S-Bahn defensive ring, where they met stiff resistance from the Müncheberg Division.[51] But by the 27 April the two understrength Müncheberg Norland divisions defending the south east, now facing five Soviet armies, – from east to west they were the 5th Shock Army, the 8th Guards Army, the 1st Guards Tank Army and Rybalko's 3rd Guards Tank Army (part of the 1st Ukrainian Front), were forced back towards the centre taking up new defensive positions around Hermannplatz. Krukenberg soonly informed General Hans Krebs Chief of the General Staff of (OKH) that within 24 hours the Nordland would have to fall back to the centre sector Z (for Zentrum).[52] The Soviet advance to the city centre was along these main axes: from the south east, along the Frankfurter Allee (ending and stopped at the Alexanderplatz); from the south along Sonnen Allee ending north of the Belle Alliance Platz, from the south ending near the Potsdamer Platz and from the north ending near the Reichstag.[53] The Reichstag, the Moltke bridge, Alexanderplatz, and the Havel bridges at Spandau were the places where the fighting was heaviest, with house-to-house and hand-to-hand combat. The foreign contingents of the SS fought particularly hard, because they were ideologically motivated and they believed that they would not live if captured.[54]

Battle for the Reichstag

In the early hours of the 29 April the Soviet 3rd Shock Army crossed the Moltke bridge and started to fan out into the surrounding streets and buildings. The initial assaults on buildings, including the Ministry of the Interior, were hampered by the lack of supporting artillery. It was not until the damaged bridges were repaired that artillery could be moved up in support.[55] At 04:00 hours, in the Führerbunker, Hitler signed his last will and testament and, shortly afterwards, married Eva Braun.[56] At dawn the Soviets pressed on with their assault in the south east. After very heavy fighting they managed to capture the Gestapo headquarters on Prinz-Albrechtstrasse, but a Waffen SS counter-attack forced the Soviets to withdraw from the building.[57] To the south west the 8th Guards Army attacked north across the Landwehr canal into the Tiergarten.[58]

By the next day, 30 April, the Soviets had solved their bridging problems and with artillery support at 06:00 they launched an attack on the Reichstag, but because of German entrenchments and support from 88 mm guns two kilometres away on the Berlin Zoo flak tower it was not until that evening that the Soviets were able to enter the building. The Reichstag had not been in use since 1934 when it burned and the insides resembled a rubble heap more than a government building. The German troops inside had made excellent use of this and lay heavily entrenched waiting. Fierce room-to-room fighting ensued and it was not until two days later that the Red Army controlled the building entirely. The famous photo of the two soldiers planting the flag on the roof of the building is a re-enactment photo taken the day after the building was taken.[59] However another flag was planted earlier by two different soldiers during the fight itself which was immediately flown to Moscow.[59]

Battle for the centre

Front lines May 1

During the morning of 30 April, Weidling informed Hitler in person that the defenders would probably exhaust their ammunition through the night. Hitler gave him the permission to attempt a breakout through the encircling Red Army lines.[60] That afternoon, Hitler and Braun committed suicide and their bodies were cremated not far from the bunker.[61] In accordance to Hitler's last will and testament, Admiral Karl Dönitz became the "President of Germany" (Reichspräsident) in the new Flensburg government, and Joseph Goebbels became the new Chancellor of Germany (Reichskanzler).[62]

As the perimeter shrank and the surviving defenders fell back, they became concentrated into a small area in the city centre. By now there were about 10,000 German soldiers in the city centre, which was being assaulted from all sides. One of the other main thrusts was along Wilhelmstrasse on which the Air Ministry, built of reinforced concrete, was pounded by large concentrations of Soviet artillery. The remaining German Tiger tanks of the Hermann von Salza battalion took up positions in the east of the Tiergarten to defend the centre against Kutznetsov's 3rd Shock Army (which although heavily engaged around the Reichstag was also flanking the area by advancing through the northern Tiergarten) and the 8th Guards Army advancing through the south of the Tiergarten.[63] These Soviet forces had effectively cut the sausage shaped area held by the Germans in half and made any escape attempt to the west for German troops in the centre much more difficult.[64]

During the early morning of 1 May, Krebs talked to General Chuikov, commander of the Soviet 8th Guards Army, informing him of Hitler's death and a willingness to negotiate a city wide surrender.[65] However, they could not agree on terms because of Soviet insistence on unconditional surrender and Krebs' claim that he lacked authorisation to agree to that.[66] In the afternoon Goebbels (who was against surrender) and his family killed themselves. Goebbels's suicide removed the last impediment preventing Weidling's being able to accept the terms of unconditional surrender of his garrison, but he chose to delay the surrender until the next morning to give some time until dark for the planned breakout.[67]

Breakout and surrender

On the night of 1/2 May, most of the remnants of the Berlin garrison attempted to break out of the city centre in three different directions. Only those that went west through the Tiergarten and crossed the Charlottenbrücke (a bridge over the Havel) into Spandau succeeded in breaching Soviet lines.[68] However, only a handful of those who survived the initial breakout made it to the lines of the Western Allies — most were either killed or captured by the Soviets.[69] Early in the morning of 2 May, the Soviets captured the Reich Chancellery. The military historian Antony Beevor points out that as most of the German combat troops had left the area in the breakouts the night before, the resistance must have been far less than it had been inside the Reichstag.[70] General Weidling finally surrendered with his staff at 06:00 hours. He was taken to see General Vasily Chuikov at 08:23. Weidling agreed to order the city's defenders to surrender to the Soviets.[71] Under General Chuikov's and Vasily Sokolovsky's direction, Weidling put his order to surrender in writing.[72]

The 350-strong garrison of the Zoo flak tower finally left the building. While there was sporadic fighting in a few isolated buildings where some SS troops still refused to surrender, the Soviets simply reduced such buildings to rubble.[73] Beevor suggests that most Germans, both soldiers and civilians, were grateful to receive food issued at Red Army soup kitchens. The Soviets went house to house and rounded up anyone in a uniform including firemen and railway-men and marched them all eastward as prisoners of war.[74]

Battle outside Berlin

At some point on 28 April or 29 April, General Gotthard Heinrici, Commander-in-Chief of Army Group Vistula, was relieved of his command after disobeying Hitler's direct orders to hold Berlin at all costs and never order a retreat, and was replaced by General Kurt Student.[75] General Kurt von Tippelskirch was named as Heinrici's interim replacement until Student could arrive and assume control.[76] There remains some confusion as to who was actually in command as some references say that Student was captured by the British and never arrived.[50] Regardless of whether von Tippelskirch or Student was in command of Army Group Vistula, the rapidly deteriorating situation that the Germans faced meant that Army Group Vistula coordination of the armies under its nominal command during the last few days of the war was of little significance.[77]

On the evening of 29 April, Krebs contacted General Alfred Jodl (Supreme Army Command) by radio:[72]

Request immediate report. Firstly of the whereabouts of Wenck's spearheads. Secondly of time intended to attack. Thirdly of the location of the IX Army. Fourthly of the precise place in which the IX Army will break through. Fifthly of the whereabouts of General Rudolf Holste's spearhead.

In the early morning of 30 April, Jodl replied to Krebs:[72]

Firstly, Wenck's spearhead bogged down south of Schwielow Lake. Secondly, XII Army therefore unable to continue attack on Berlin. Thirdly, bulk of IX Army surrounded. Fourthly, Holste's Corps on the defensive.


While the 1st Belorussian Front and the 1st Ukrainian Front encircled Berlin, and started the battle for the city itself, Rokossovsky's 2nd Belorussian Front started his offensive to the north of Berlin. On the 20 April between Stettin and Schwedt, Rokossovsky's 2nd Belorussian Front attacked the northern flank of Army Group Vistula, held by the III Panzer Army.[34] By 22 April, the 2nd Belorussian Front had established a bridgehead on the east bank of the Oder that was over 15 km deep and was heavily engaged with the III Panzer Army.[42] On 25 April, the 2nd Belorussian Front broke through III Panzer Army's line around the bridgehead south of Stettin, crossed the Randowbruch Swamp, and were now free to move west towards Montgomery's British 21st Army Group and north towards the Baltic port of Stralsund.[78]

The German III Panzer Army and the German XXI Army situated to the north of Berlin retreated westwards under relentless pressure from Rokossovsky's 2nd Belorussian Front, and was eventually pushed into a pocket 20 miles (32 km) wide that stretched from the Elbe to the coast. To their west was the British 21st Army Group (which on May 1 broke out of its Elbe bridgehead and had raced to the coast capturing Wismar and Lübeck), to their east Rokossovsky's 2nd Belorussian Front and to the south was the Ninth United States Army which had penetrated as far east as Ludwigslust and Schwerin.[79]


2nd Lt. William Robertson, US Army and Lt. Alexander Sylvashko, Soviet Army, shown in front of sign East Meets West symbolizing the historic meeting of the Soviet and American Armies, near Torgau, Germany.

The successes of the 1st Ukrainian Front during the first nine days of the battle meant that by 25 April, they were in occupying large swaths of the area south and south west of Berlin. Their spearheads had met elements of the 1st Belorussian Front west of Berlin, completing the investment of the city. Meanwhile, the 1st Ukrainian Front's 58th Guards Division of the 5th Guards Army made contact with the US 69th Infantry Division of the First Army near Torgau, on the Elbe River.[78] These manoeuvres had broken the German forces south of Berlin into three parts. The German IX army was surrounded in the Halbe pocket. Wenck's XII Army, obeying Hitler's command of the 22 April, was attempting to force its way into Berlin from the south west but met stiff resistance from units of the 1st Ukrainian Front in the area of Potsdam. Schörner's Army Group Centre was forced to withdraw from the Battle of Berlin, along its lines of communications towards Czechoslovakia.[80]

Between 24 April and 1 May, the German IX Army fought a desperate action to break out of the pocket in an attempt to link up with the German XII Army. Hitler assumed that after a successful breakout from the pocket, the IX Army could combine forces with the XII Army and would be able to relieve Berlin.[81] However there is no evidence to suggest that Generals Heinrici, Busse or Wenck thought that this was even remotely strategically feasible, but Hitler's agreement to allow the IX Army to break through Soviet lines did provide a window of opportunity through which sizable numbers of German troops were able to escape west and surrender to the United States Army.[82]

At dawn on 28 April, the youth divisions Clausewitz, Scharnhorst and Theodor Körner, attacked from the south west toward the direction of Berlin. They were part of Wenck's XX Corps and were made up of men from the officer training schools, making them some of the best units the Germans had in reserve. They covered a distance of about 24 kilometres (15 miles), before being halted at the tip of Lake Schwielow, south-west of Potsdam and still 32 kilometres (20 miles) from Berlin.[83] During the night, General Wenck reported to the German Supreme Army Command in Fuerstenberg that his XII Army had been forced back along the entire front. According to Wenck, no attack on Berlin was now possible. This was even more so as support from the IX Army could no longer be expected at this point.[72] In the meantime, about 25,000 German soldiers of the IX Army along with several thousand civilians succeeded in reaching the lines of the XII Army after breaking out of the Halbe pocket. The casualties on both sides were very high. About 20,000 soldiers of the Red Army also died trying to stop the breakout; most are buried at a cemetery next to the Mark-Zossen road. These are the known dead, but the remains of more who died in the battle are found every year so the total of those who died will never be known. Nobody knows how many civilians died but it could have been as high as 10,000.[36]

Having failed to break through to Berlin, Wenck's XII army made a fighting retreat back towards the Elbe and American lines after providing the IX Army survivors with surplus transport.[84] By 6 May many German Army units and individuals had crossed the Elbe and surrendered to the US Ninth Army.[77] Meanwhile, the XII's bridgehead with its headquarters in the park of Schönhausen, had come under under heavy Soviet artillery bombardment and had been compressed into an area eight by two kilometres (five by one and a quarter miles)[85]


On the night of 2/3 May, General Hasso von Manteuffel, commander of the III Panzer Army along with General Kurt von Tippelskirch, commander of the XXI Army, surrendered to the US Army.[77] Von Saucken's II Army, that had been fighting north east of Berlin in the Vistula Delta, surrendered to the Soviets on 9 May.[79] On the morning of 7 May, the perimeter of Wenck's XII Army's bridgehead began to collapse. Wenck crossed the Elbe under small arms fire that afternoon and surrendered to the American Ninth Army.[85]


c1,100,000 Soviet personnel were awarded the medal for the capture of Berlin from 9th June 1945.
A devastated street in the city centre, 3 July, 1945
German women doing their washing at a cold water hydrant in a Berlin street, a knocked out German scout car stands beside them, 3 July 1945.

According to Grigoriy Krivosheev's work based on declassified archival data, Soviet forces sustained 81,116 dead for the entire operation,[7] which included the Battles of Seelow Heights and the Halbe; some earlier Western estimates are much higher.[6] Another 280,251 were reported wounded or sick during the operational period. Included in that total are Polish forces, which lost 2,825 killed or missing and 6,067 wounded in the operation.[7] The operation also cost the Soviets about 2,000 armored vehicles, though the number of irrevocable losses (write-offs) is not known. Initial Soviet estimates based on kill claims placed German losses at 458,080 killed and 479,298 captured. The number of civilian casualties is unknown.[86]

The Red Army made a major effort to feed the residents of the city.[87] However, in many areas of the city, vengeful Soviet troops (often rear echelon units[88]) looted, raped an estimated 100,000 women and murdered civilians for several weeks (see Red Army atrocities).[89] In the preceding months, as the Red Army began its offensives into Germany proper, STAVKA recognized the potential for lapses in discipline involving vengeful troops and had been able to check such behavior to a certain extent. Marshal Konev, in a January 27 order near the conclusion of the Vistula-Oder Offensive supplied a long list of commanders to be reassigned to penal battalions for looting, drunkenness, and excesses against civilians.[90] The initial chaos in the aftermath of Berlin, however, was far too widespread to be deterred or controlled. Some Soviet officers resorted to punishing or even shooting offending troops on the spot in the streets.[91] After the summer of 1945, Soviet authorities regained discipline over their troops, and Soviet soldiers caught raping were usually officially punished to various degrees.[92] However, Berlin had been suffering food shortages for many months, caused by Allied strategic bombing and exacerbated by the final military assault on the city.[93] Despite serious Soviet efforts to supply food and rebuild the city, as starvation remained a problem.[94] Almost all the transport in and out of the city had been rendered inoperative, and bombed-out sewers had contaminated the city's water supplies.[94] In June of 1945, one month after the surrender, when the Americans arrived in their sector of Berlin they found that average calorie intake of Berliners was low as they were getting only 64 percent of a 1,240-calorie daily ration.[95] Varying degrees of rape particularly in the Soviet occupation zone, became ways through which some women managed to secure the necessities of day-to-day life.[95][nb 7] Some rapes continued until the winter of 1947–48, when the Soviet occupation authorities finally eliminated the problem by confining the Soviet troops to strictly guarded posts and camps.[96]

See also


  1. ^ Heinrici was replaced by General Kurt Student on 28 April. General Kurt von Tippelskirch was named as Heinrici's interim replacement until Student could arrive and assume control. Student was captured by the British and never arrived.
  2. ^ Weidling replaced Oberstleutnant Ernst Kaether as commander of Berlin who only held the post for one day having taken command from Reymann.
  3. ^ Initial Soviet planning estimates had placed the total strength at 1 million men, but this was an overestimate (Glantz, p. 258)
  4. ^ A large number of the 45,000 were troops of the LVI Panzer Corps that were at the start of the battle part of the German IX Army on the Seelow Heights
  5. ^ The last major battle was the Prague Offensive on May 6May 11, 1945, when the Soviet Army with the help of Polish, Romanian, and Czechoslovak forces defeated the parts of Army Group Centre which continued to resist in Czechoslovakia. The operation involved about 3,000,000 personnel from both sides. The last actual battle in Europe was the Georgian Uprising of Texel (April 5May 20, 1945). See The end of World War II in Europe for details on these final days of the war.
  6. ^ The Soviets later estimated the number as 180,000, but this was from the number of prisoners that they took, and included many unarmed men in uniform, such as railway officials and members of the Reich Labour Service.(Beevor, p. 287)
  7. ^ In the year following the end of the war in Europe, most of the abortions that were granted were for the reason of rape by Soviet troops, though some women also claimed rape by American and French soldiers and foreign workers. According to Grossman, there were no abortion claims resulting from of rape by Germans. This would suggest that to some extent the claim of rape was an easy way to get an abortion approved by the medical commission.(Mueller, pp. 42–66)
  1. ^ Ziemke, p. 71
  2. ^ Murray, p. 482
  3. ^ a b c d Beevor, p. 287
  4. ^ Wagner, p. 346
  5. ^ Bergstrom, p. 117.
  6. ^ a b Glantz, p. 373
  7. ^ a b c d Khrivosheev, pp. 219–220.
  8. ^ Krivosheeva, pp. 219–220
  9. ^ Glantz, p. 271
  10. ^ Antill, p. 85
  11. ^ Duffy, pp. 24–25
  12. ^ a b Hastings, p. 295
  13. ^ Duffy, pp. 176–188
  14. ^ Beevor, p. 9
  15. ^ Beevor, p. 196
  16. ^ Williams, p. 213
  17. ^ Bullock, p. 753
  18. ^ Bullock, pp. 778–781
  19. ^ Beevor, p. 194
  20. ^ Ryan, p. 135
  21. ^ History of the de Havilland Mosquito, Royal Australian Air Force. Retrieved on September 13 2008.
  22. ^ Beevor, p. 138
  23. ^ Beevor, pp. 325
  24. ^ Beevor, p. 198
  25. ^ Williams, p. 292
  26. ^ Ziemke, p. 76
  27. ^ a b Williams, p. 293
  28. ^ Williams, p. 322
  29. ^ a b Ziemke, p. 71
  30. ^ Beevor, pp. 270–271
  31. ^ Beevor, p. 274
  32. ^ a b Beevor, pp. 312–314
  33. ^ Beevor, pp. 217–233
  34. ^ a b c Ziemke, p. 84
  35. ^ see Entry German Magazine "Der Spiegel": (translation): "Hitler decorates child soldiers: This photo belongs to the most well known pieces of modern historiographical photography. Published numerous times, unfortunately it is also very often false dated. Allegedly Hitler is awarding the teenagers the iron cross on his birthday, April 20 1945. This seems a typical case of repeated plagiarism: a false date is published in one source - several authors repeat the mistake, which gets a notable dynamic. The true date is the march 20 1945, unambiguously accounted by the German Newsreel (Die Deutsche Wochenschau) from march 22 1945, where the scene was published first time."
  36. ^ a b Beevor, p. 337
  37. ^ Ziemke, p. 88
  38. ^ Beevor, p. 345
  39. ^ a b c Beevor, p. 310–312
  40. ^ Ziemke, pp. 87–88
  41. ^ Ziemke, p. 89
  42. ^ a b Ziemke, p. 92
  43. ^ Lewis, p. 465
  44. ^ Beevor, p. 294
  45. ^ Ziemke, pp. 92–94
  46. ^ a b Ziemke, p. 111
  47. ^ Ziemke, p. 93
  48. ^ Beevor, pp. 259, 297
  49. ^ Beevor, pp. 291–292, 302
  50. ^ a b Dollinger, p. 228
  51. ^ Beevor, pp. 259, 297
  52. ^ Beevor, pp. 303–304
  53. ^ Beevor, p. 340
  54. ^ Beevor, pp. 257–258
  55. ^ Beevor, p. 349
  56. ^ Beevor, p. 343
  57. ^ Beevor, p.351
  58. ^ Beevor, pp.352 –353
  59. ^ a b Iconic Red Army Reichstag Photo Faked, Spiegel Online, May 7 2008. Retrieved on September 13 2008.
  60. ^ Beevor, p. 358
  61. ^ Bullock, pp. 799–800
  62. ^ Williams, pp. 324–325
  63. ^ Beevor, p. 352
  64. ^ Beevor, pp. 356–357
  65. ^ Beevor, p. 367
  66. ^ Dollinger, p. 239
  67. ^ Beevor, pp. 380–381
  68. ^ Beevor, p. 383–389
  69. ^ Ziemke, pp. 125–126
  70. ^ Beevor, p. 388
  71. ^ Beevor, p. 386
  72. ^ a b c d Dollinger, p. 239
  73. ^ Beevor, p. 409
  74. ^ Beevor, pp. 388–393
  75. ^ Beevor, p. 338
  76. ^ Exton, Brett. Some of the prisoners held at Special Camp 11: Generaloberst Gotthard Heinrici. Retrieved on September 13 2008.
  77. ^ a b c Ziemke, p. 128
  78. ^ a b Ziemke, p. 94
  79. ^ a b Ziemke, p. 129
  80. ^ Beevor, p. 443
  81. ^ Le Tissier, p. 89–90
  82. ^ Beevor, p. 330
  83. ^ Ziemke, p. 119
  84. ^ Beevor, p. 395
  85. ^ a b Beevor, p. 397
  86. ^ Glantz, p. 271
  87. ^ Beevor, p. 409
  88. ^ Beevor, pp. 326–327
  89. ^ Beevor, Antony. They raped every German female from eight to 8, The Guardian, May 1 2002. Retrieved on September 13 2008.
  90. ^ Duffy, p. 275
  91. ^ Moeller, pp. 42–63
  92. ^ Naimark, p. 92
  93. ^ Kuby, p. 159
  94. ^ a b White, p. 126
  95. ^ a b Ziemke, pp. 149–153
  96. ^ Naimark, p. 79


    • final version

Operation Epsom

Operation Epsom
Part of Operation Overlord, Battle of Normandy
An ammunition carrier of the 11th Armoured Division explodes after it was hit by a mortar round during Operation Epsom on 26 June 1944
Date June 26June 30, 1944
Location Normandy, France
Result Indecisive
 United Kingdom  Germany
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Miles Dempsey
United Kingdom Richard O'Connor
Germany Paul Hausser
15th Infantry Division
43rd Infantry Division
49th Infantry Division
11th Armoured Division
8th Armoured Brigade
II SS Panzer Corps
1st SS Division
12th SS Panzer Division
Casualties and losses
4,020[1]–4,078 casualties[2]

Over 3000 casualties[3]

126 tanks knocked out (including 41 Panthers and 25 Tigers)[4]

Operation Epsom was a British offensive within the Battle of Normandy during World War II, that took place between June 26 to June 30 1944. The attack intended to outflank and seize the city of Caen in France, controlled by the Germans.

The British main offensive consisted of three infantry divisions, one armoured division and one armoured brigade, supported by a heavy artillery barrage. Bad weather conditions hold the Allied aviation on the ground, a major disadvantage besides the attackers. In some points, the British forces were held by the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend, mainly consisting of young grenadiers and reservists. During June 27, British troops manage to seize two bridges over the river Odon and conquer the Hill 112, a point of high strategic importance.

During the next days, new German Panzer troops were arriving from the Eastern front and were preparing a major counter-offensive, the purpose of which was to drive back all British troops. The attack begun on June 29 and by the evening of the next day, the Hill 112 was again in German hands. The British forces suffered heavy infantry casualties and were forced to withdraw on the north bank of the Odon. Even if the Germans achieved a defensive success, they were forced to abandon their offensive plans and tied most of their armoured units to a defensive role.

Situation and Plans

The Allies originally intended Caen to be captured on the first day of the invasion of Normandy.[5] When the first attack failed, the sector of front north of the city saw the heaviest fighting, given that the 7th Armoured Division almost collapsed and was retreating while fighting with the Panzer-Lehr Division led by General Fritz Bayerlein.[6] Planning of a second British offensive from east and west begun, but in the end was decided that the bridgehead to the east of Caen was to small for an attack by an entire armoured and infantry corps.[7]

The Allied buildup in the Normandy beachhead was delayed by a storm which lasted from June 19 to June 22. The Germans were able to take advantage of the weather which grounded Allied aircraft, and were preparing their defensive lines by stregthening infantry positions with minefields and posting approximately 70 88 mm guns in the hedgerows and woods.[8] From ULTRA interceptions, General Bernard Montgomery knew this and planned to forestall them with an attack by the newly arrived VIII Corps, at a strength of 60,244 men, under the command of Lieutenant-General Richard O'Connor.[9]

The Operation

The offensive finally began on June 25 west of Caen and was intended to cross the River Odon and River Orne southwest of the city, outflanking and surrounding its defenders.[8] A preliminary attack, Operation Martlet, was launched on that day by the 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division and 8th Armoured Brigade of XXX Corps, to secure ground on the flank of the intended advance. The attack gained some ground but the weather was still foul and the attackers were hampered by muddy ground and lack of air support.[8] Further on, some dominating terrain on the right flank of the intended attack by VIII Corps was still in German hands.[10]

Nevertheless, to be certain of anticipating any German attack the main offensive was launched on June 26, with a heavy barrage from 700 artillery and naval guns.[11] Brigadeführer Kurt Meyer's grenadiers and reserves of the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend, managed to hold, although with heavy cassualties, the 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division and the 11th Armoured Division which were gaining few miles on their left flank.[12] Further to their left, the 43rd Wessex Infantry Division also managed to gain ground.[13]

On the morning of the June 27, 600 men of the 2nd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders surprized the enemy and seized two bridges over the Odon. Tanks of the 11th Armoured Division passed the slopes of a long low ridge to the south-east and captured Hill 112.[14] This deep penetration alarmed the German command and during the next days, the fightings were concentrating around this hill as the Germans made repeated efforts to push the British back over the Odon. Even if the German command was in some disarray, as General Dollmann, commanding the German Seventh Army died of a heart attack and Field Marshals Rommel and von Rundstedt were en route to a conference with Adolf Hitler, the II SS Panzer Corps consisting of the veteran 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions, arrived from the Russian front, and together with the 1st SS Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler were preparing to launch a major counter-offensive.[15]

Map showing operations close to Caen.

The weather was improving, and Allied aircraft harassed Hausser's units as they moved into position. The attack was launched against the Scottish division's right flank on the evening of June 29. Although the attackers were hit hard by British aircraft, artillery and anti-tank fire, by the end of the day the 15th Scottish Division had taken more than 2,300 casualties.[16] Although some German tanks reached two miles into the British lines, the attack was held by nightfall. Nevertheless, the British salient was cramped and under fire from several sides, being unable to introduce fresh units.[17] On 30 June, a bright summer's day, Allied fighters-bombers were hunting German armour approaching positions of the 11th Armoured Division, causing heavy cassualties.[18] However, during the evening the German succeeded in recapturing Hill 112 pulling the British troops on the north bank of the Odon, and the operation was called off.[19]

Results and Aftermath

The Germans scored a defensive success in containing the Allied offensive, while the British suffered more than 4,000 infantry casualties during the entire operation.[1] On the other hand, the Germans had been forced to commit their armored units piecemeal and counter-attack at a disadvantage. The armor units lost more than 120 tanks and were disrupted and worn down.[17] Because there were few infantry units available the armor was forced to remain in the front line rather than pulling back to rest and refit.[4]

Using information from ULTRA, and the fortuitous capture of a set of German orders, Montgomery had been able to force the Germans to react to Allied moves.[9] As the German armored units were forming up to attack the salient across the River Odon, the British 11th Armoured Division was being withdrawn into reserve, ready for fresh attacks while the Germans were still trying to contain the last Allied offensive.[18]

A few days after Epsom ended, Operation Charnwood finally captured the entire city of Caen in a frontal offensive.[20]


  1. ^ a b Clark, p. 109
  2. ^ Montgomery, pp. 37, 40, 44, 53, 55 & 59
  3. ^ Clark, pp.107–109
  4. ^ a b Montgomery, p. 59
  5. ^ Williams, p. 24
  6. ^ Williams, p. 108
  7. ^ Williams, p. 113
  8. ^ a b c Williams, p. 114
  9. ^ a b Montgomery, p. 27
  10. ^ Williams, pp. 115–116
  11. ^ Williams, p. 117
  12. ^ Williams, p. 118
  13. ^ Williams, p. 119
  14. ^ Williams, p. 120
  15. ^ Williams, p. 121
  16. ^ Williams, p. 122
  17. ^ a b Williams, p. 123
  18. ^ a b Williams, p. 124
  19. ^ Reynolds, p.174
  20. ^ Williams, p. 131


  • final version

Operation Cobra

Operation Cobra
Part of Operation Overlord, Battle of Normandy
Date July 25July 31, 1944
Location Saint-Lô, Normandy, France
Result Decisive Allied victory
 United States  Germany
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Bernard Montgomery
United States Omar Bradley
United States George S. Patton
Germany Paul Hausser
8 infantry divisions,
4 armored divisions
2 infantry divisions,
11 infantry battlegroups,
2 Panzer Divisions,
1 Panzergrenadier Division
Casualties and losses
1.800 KIA/WIA 3.200 KIA,
12.800 POW

Operation Cobra was the codename for the World War II operation planned by United States Army General Omar Bradley to break out from the Normandy area after the previous month's D-Day landings.

The operation started on 25 July 1944, after being several times delayed by poor weather conditions, with a heavy bombardment by the Allied aviation. The bombardment, as well as the lack of men and materiel, caused an impossibility for the Germans to form a successive line of defensive positions, while important German armoured units were drawn away the front of Cobra as a result of the British Operation Goodwood. The advancing units of the US First Army became quite surprised when received fierce unexpected enemy artillery fire, from re-organized German battlegroups formed by remnants of the decimated major units.

On 26 July, veteran units of the VII Corps, as well as Major General Troy H. Middleton's VIII Corps entered the battle and started eliminating German remaining strongpoints. By 27 July, most German resistance was defeated and US troops were advancing rapidly, and isolating the Cotentin peninsula. German reinforcements were gathered by Marshal Günther von Kluge and employed in the bloodiest phase of the battle, counter-attacking desperately. However, such counter-attacks undertaken by exhausted German units were stopped by Allied tactical aviation and further pushed back.

By 31 July, XIX Corps destroyed the last German resisting forces and the First Army was finally freed from the bocage. Afterwards Operation Cobra, the German forces in Normandy were in dissaray and by 8 August the Americans would capture the city of Le Mans. Cobra represented a great success that transformed the high-intensity infantry combat of Normandy into the highly mobile race across France. It led directly to the creation of the Falaise pocket and the loss of the German position in northwestern France.


While the Allies were attempting to build-up a strong bridgehead in Normandy, in order to properly supply advancing American and British troops, the historic town of Caen represented the main objective of the British forces assaulting Sword Beach on D-Day.[1] However, the German defenses were strongest in this sector, and most of the German reinforcements sent to Normandy were committed to the defense of the city.[2] American troops landing on Omaha beach, defended by the best German coastal division, the 352nd Infantry, suffered heavy casualties and were advancing extremely slowly, while at Utah beach resistance was slight.[3]

The capture of Caen on 6 June was considered, while "ambitious", the most important objective assigned to Lieutenant-General Crockers's I Corps.[nb 1] Meanwhile, the Germans were sending their 21st Panzer Division, as well as their armoured reserves consisting of the 1st Panzer SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, 12th Panzer SS Hitlerjugend and Panzer Lehr Division, against the landing Allied forces.[3] Despite of heavy Allied bombardment of Caen and positions to the south, an attempt by the Second Army to outflank the city via Villers Bocage failed on 10-12 June, while a second attempt, designated Operation Epsom was also checked.[3] A few days later the British Second Army launched a new offensive, codenamed Operation Charnwood, which managed to capture the northern part of the city in a frontal assault.[6] Between 18–20 July Operations Atlantic and Goodwood captured the remainder of the city.[7] These British operations, had the effect of holding and attracting German armour at the eastern end of the lodgement area,[3] and then secure a frontline from Caumont-l'Éventé to the south-east of Caen in order to secure airfields and protect the left flank of the United States First Army while it captured Cherbourg.[8] However, bad weather conditions significantly delayed in several times the Allied advance and build-up.[9] Most of the convoys of landing craft and ships already at sea were driven back to ports in Britain; towed barges and other loads (including 2.5 miles (4.0 km) of floating roadways for the Mulberry harbours) were lost; and no less than 800 craft were left stranded on the Normandy beaches until the next spring tides in July.[10]


German dispositions, night of 24-25 July 1944

Montgomery's original plan for the Normandy campaign envisioned strong offensive efforts both in the eastern and western sectors, ultimately resulting in United States forces on the west of the theater 'wheeling round' to the Loire.[11] The attempt to press forward on the American front in preparation for the long hoped-for break-out had stalled before the town of Saint-Lô.[12] During a meeting of the Allied army commanders, Bradley admitted that progres on the western flank was very slow.[12] The directive that emerged from this meeting made clear that the overall strategy was to draw the main enemy forces in the battle on the eastern flank, so the western flank would proceed easier.[12] General Dempsey, commander of the British 2nd Army was instructed to supply supporting attacks in order to attract as many German forces as possible.[12] This led, in part, to Operation Goodwood, which scope was to capture Caen and protect the left flank of the United States First Army.[13] Moreover, Eisenhower ensured that Allied air forces would support Cobra with tactical forces as well as medium and heavy bomber units.[12]

Operation's Cobra town for town layout, according to Montgomery's official biographer, was to capture Saint-Lô and then Coutances, then thrust southwards from Caumont towards Vire and Mortain and from St. Lô towards Villedieu and Avranches, while continuously exert pressure towards La Haye-du-Puits and Volognes, and afterwards capture Cherbourg.[14] On July 12, Bradley briefed his subordinate commanders, and presented his Cobra plan, which consisted of three phases. In the first phase, the offensive would be conducted by the 9th and 30th infantry divisions, followed by 1st Infantry and 2nd Armoured divisions, which were tasked to attack and penetrate into the German position until resistance weakened.[15] During the second phase, at the critical point when resistance was collapsing in the immediate area, the exploitation force consisting of 5–6 divisions would breakthrough and turn right.[15] If these two first phases were successful, German resistance would be untenable and in the third phase, Allied forces would have easy going to the southwest end of the bocage and take the entire Cotentin peninsula.[15]

In contrast to the usual American preference for broad front offensives, Cobra was to be a narrow, concentrated attack on a 7,000-yard front, preeceded by a massive aviation bombardment.[16] The fighter-bombers would concentrate on hiting forward German defences in a 250-yard belt immediatly south of the road, while General Spaatz's heavy bombers would bomb to a depth of 2,500 yards behind the German defensive lines, accompanied by the fire of 1,000 artillery guns.[16] It was expected that the combination of physical destruction and shock value in this short, intense bombardment would greatly weaken the German defense. The Americans' main surprise weapon for Cobra was the Rhino tank, a modified variant of the M4 Sherman fitted with hedgerow-breaching tusks, capable of battering a path through the Norman hedgerows.[15] Henceforth, while the German tanks remained restricted to the roads, the Shermans possessed the advantage to outflank them across country.[15]

Over 1,300 M4 medium tanks, 690 M5A1 light tanks, and 280 M10 tank destroyers were available in these units, along with hundreds of tubes of divisional and corps artillery. Approximately 140,000 rounds of artillery ammunition of all calibers was allocated to the operation. The VII Corps attack front was only 7,000 yards wide.

Operation Goodwood

Welsh Soldiers in action near Cagny 19 July 1944

The offensive begun with the largest air bombardment in support of ground forces yet launched, more than a thousand aircraft dropping 6,000 tons of high explosive and fragmentation bombs from low altitude.[17] The German positions to the east of Caen were bombarded from 400 guns and many of the villages were reduced to rubble, disrupting the German defenses.[17] However, the German artillery on the Bourguebus Ridge was not hit by the bombardment and was outside the range of British artillery.[18] By chance, the defenders at Cagny and Emieville were largely unscathed, given that these sites had clear fields of fire into the path of the British advance.[19]

Unlike Cobra, Goodwood relied on a massive tank offensive rather than breaching the enemy front with infantry, being the largest tank battle that the British Army has ever fought.[20] During Goodwood the British army lost a total of 4,837 men killed, wounded or taken prisoner, this is broken down between I Corps who received 3,817 casualties and VIII Corps who had 1,020 casualties inflicted upon them.[21], while the armoured units had a total of 140 tanks knocked out and a further 174 tanks damaged in various degrees.[22] However, the operation secured Caen and caused the Germans to commit most of their armor to the eastern part of the theater, so that one and a half Panzer divisions faced the American armies against six and a half further east, far away from the intended attack frontage for Cobra. The Americans correctly estimated that no German counterattack would occur in the first few days after the Cobra attack, and that if attacks occurred after that date they would consist of no more than battalion-sized operations.[23]

Preliminary attacks

In the days leading up to the attack, to clear the way for Operation Cobra, General Collins together with Bradley had conceived a plan to push forward to Saint-Lô-Periers road, in which VII and VIII Corps were securing jumping-off positions.[14] On 18 July, at a cost of 5,000 casualties, the American 29th and 35th Infantry Divisions managed to gain the vital heights of St. Lô, by driving back Eugen Meindl's elite II Parachute Corps.[14] Meindl's paratroopers together with the German 352nd Infantry Division, which worried Allied planners so much, were now in ruins and the stage for the main offensive was set.[14]

Bradley's decision to postpone the launching of Cobra for some days due to the same bad weather conditions that sealed the fate of Operation Goodwood worried Montgomery, as Goodwood had been launched in support of a break-out attempt that had not been made.[24][25] On 24 July, the order was given and 1,600 Allied aircraft had already taken off for the preliminary air bombardment when the weather closed again, but due to bombing through the overcast atmosphere more than 25 Americans were killed and 130 wounded by friendly fire - some enraged American soldiers opened fire at their own aircraft, a not uncommon practice among Allied armies in Normandy when suffering from friendly fire.[24]


Initial attack and breakthrough July 25–27

Operation Cobra 25–29 July 1944

After several delays caused by poor weather conditions, the offensive finally started on 25 July at 09:38 a.m. when about 600 Allied fighter-bombers attacked strongpoints and enemy artillery situated on 275 metres-wide strip of ground.[26] During the next hour, 1,800 heavy bombers of Eighth Air Force bombarded a rectangle of ground 5,500 metres wide and 2,000 deep on the St. Lô-Periers road, succeded by a third and final attack by medium bombers.[27] A total of approximately 3,000 Allied aircraft had carpet-bombed a narrow strip of front, in which the German Panzer-Lehr Division suffered the brunt of the attack.[28] Despite desperate efforts by the Allied ground troops to identify their positions, the wild bombing by 8th Air Force killed 111 Americans, including Lieutenant-General Lesley McNair - the man sent by the US War Office to observe the attack, and wounded 490, by friendly fire.[29] Bradley had specifically requested previously that the aircraft approach the target area by flying parallel to the front in order to minimize the risk of friendly fire, but most of the airmen did not respect his request and the bombers approached perpendicular to the front line.[27]

At 11:00 a.m. US infantry began to pass through the blasted strip, advancing from crater to crater beyond what had been the German outposts.[29] Even if no opposition was expected by the Americans, the last remnants of Bayerlein's Panzer Lehr Division were organized together and prepared to meet the advancing US troops.[30] To the west of the Panzer Lehr, the German 5th Parachute Division escaped almost intact of the bombing and began to hold the American advance. Collins' VII Corps were quite disheartened to meet fierce enemy artillery fire, which they expected supressed by the bombing.[31] Several American units found themselves entangled in fights against stroingpoints held by a mix of a handful of German tanks, supporting infantry and 88mm guns.[31] In spite of its overwhelming superiority, VII Corps did not manage to make more than two kilometres during the rest of the day.[30] At the end of the day, even if the results were not so pleasant General Collins found cause for encouragement. While the Germans were fiercely holding their positions, they did not seem to form a continuous defensive line, so they could be easily outflanked or bypassed.[31] Despite the fact that they had been previously warned regarding an impending American attack, the Germans were unable to form a succession of meticulously-prepared defensive positions such as those met by the Allies at Bourgebus Ridge within Operation Goodwood, this being a tribute to the British and Canadian efforts upon the eastern flank, which draw the 9th SS Division away from Cobra.[32]

On the morning of 26 July, the American 2nd Armoured and the veteran 1st Infantry Division joined the attack.[30] The advance of these carefully-trained units had been dramatically rapid and at 3:00 a.m. in the next morning, they reached the first objective of Cobra, a road junction north of Le Mesnil-Herman.[33] During 26 July, VIII Corps commanded by Major General Troy H. Middleton also entered the battle and its 8th and 90th Divisions were leading the attack, as their position possessed clear paths in front through the floods and swamps.[34] Both units initially dissapointed 1st Army by failing to gain significant ground, but by the next morning first light revealed that the Germans had retreated, compelled by their crumbling left flank, leaving only immense minefields to delay the advance of VIII Corps.[34] By noon on 27th July, 9th Division of VII Corps was also clear of any organized German resistance and advancing rapidly.[33]

Breakout and advance 28 July–31 July

First Army's breakout on 28 July.

On 28 July the full weight of VII and VIII Corps were quickly advancing as the German defensive was collapsing. However, Middleton's 4th Armored Division managed to capture Coutances despite stiffening resistance met east of the town.[34] The offensive entered a new and bloodier phase, as the American advancing columns through unfamiliar country were attacked by German elements of 2nd SS Panzer, 17th SS Panzergrenadiers and 353rd Infantry Division seeking to break free and escape entrapment.[35] An exhausted and demoralised Bayerlein reported that the Panzer Lehr Division was "finally anihilated", its armour being completely wiped out, personnel either casualties or missing and all headquarters records lost.[36] Meanwhile, Marshal von Kluge was at last gathering reinforcements, and elements of the 2nd and 116th Panzer Divisions started moving west. Remnants of the already existing German forces in the area conducted a desperate counter-attack against the American 4th Armoured Division, but the counter-attack proved to be a disaster and the Germans were leaving their vehicles and fleeing on foot.[35] The US XIX Corps led by Major General Charles H. Corlett also entered the battle during 28 July, left of VII Corps' positions and encountered the first German reinforcements consisting of elements of 2nd Panzer, and later 116th Panzer Division, between 28 and 31 July, in what would be the fiercest fightings since Cobra began.[37] Colonel Heinz Günther Guderian, 116th Division's senior staff officer, became extremely frustrated when ordered to concentrate his division amid high-level Allied fighter-bomber activity, without receiving direct support from 2nd Panzer as promised.[38] Guderian confessed that without proper artillery and armoured support, his panzergrenadiers could not conduct a successfull counter-attack against the Americans.[39]

On the night of 29 July, elements of US 2nd Armoured Division found themselves fighting for their lives against a column from 2nd SS Panzer and 17th SS Division who crossed through their lines in the darkness near Saint-Denis-le-Gast.[35] Other US elements of the same unit were attacked near Cambry and fought for six hours. However, commanders of the First Army knew that they were currently dominating the battlefield and such German assaults are just minor desperate attempts, rather than a genuine threat to the American front.[35] Further to the west, as von Kluge's exhausted men recoiled east, VIII Corps launched Operation Bluecoat on 30 July, and was advancing southwards along the coast, managing to secure Avranches - the gateway to Brittany and southern Normandy.[36] By 31 July, divisions of XIX Corps threw back the last German counter-attacking forces after fierce fighting, inflicting heavy losses of men and tanks.[38] Overall, the American advance was now relentless and the First Army was finally freed from the bocage.[36]


By 1 August, the long-scheduled shift in the American command structure took effect: Lieutenant-General Courtney Hodges assumed command of First Army, Patton's Third Army became operational, and Bradley was promoted as overall commander of the American forces, now designated 12th Army Group.[40] At the time US Third Army was officially borned, its commander, General Patton declared in an encouraging way:[41]

So let us do real fighting, boring in and gouging, biting. Let's take a chance now that we have the ball. Let's forget those fine firm bases in the dreaery shell raked spaces, Let's shoot the works and win!

Afterwards Operation Cobra, the German army in Normandy had been reduced to such a poor condition that only few SS fanatics still entertained hopes of avoidind defeat, as any prospect of reinforcements to replace the huge casualties vanished in the wake of the Soviet summer offensive against Army Group Centre.[42] The American advance through enemy land had been extraordinary fast, and by 8 August the city of Le Mans, the former headquarters of the German 7th Army fell in the hands of the Americans.[43] Two of Patton's three Corps rapidly passed through Avranches, and swept across the bridge at Pontaubault into Brittany.[44]

Instead of ordering remnant German forces in Normandy to withdraw to the Seine, Hitler ordered von Kluge to launch an armoured thrust towards Avranches with at least four divisions, to "annihilate" the enemy and make contact with the west coast of the Cotentin peninsula.[45] German commanders immediately protested, as such an operation was impossible, given that German units were so exhausted and decimated by the Allied advances.[45] However, these protests were not taken into consideration and the counter-offensive, codenamed Operation Lüttich commenced on 7th August around Mortain.[46] The panzer divisions initially commited to the thrust were the 2nd, 1st SS and 2nd SS Divisions, attacked with only 75 Mk IV tanks, 70 Mk Vs and 32 self-propelled guns.[47] The German offensive was soon stopped mostly due to Allied fighter-bombers bombarding advancing German forces.[48] After von Kluge's divisions were destroyed by the Americans, the entire Normandy front was collapsing, a fact anticipated by the Allied command, as Bradley declared: "This is an opportunity that comes to a commander not more than once in a century. We're about to destroy an entire hostile army and go all the way from here to the German border".[49]

By 19 August, American advancing forces from the south made contact with the Polish 1st Armoured Division, and first American units crossed the Seine at Mantes Gassicourt, while German units were fleeing towards the east by any means they could find.[50] By 21 August, the Falaise Pocket was finally closed by joint Allied forces, effectively ending the Battle of Normandy with a decisive Allied victory.[51] The Allies were now advancing freely hundreds of kilometres through undefended territory and by 25 August all four Allied armies (1st Canadian, 2nd British, 1st US, and 3rd US) involved in the Normandy campaign were on the river Seine.[52]


  1. ^ "The quick capture of that key city [Caen] and the neighbourhood of Carpiquet was the most ambitious, the most difficult and the most important task of Lieutenant-General J.T. Crocker's I Corps".[4] Wilmot states "The objectives given to Crocker's seaborne divisions were decidedly ambitious, since his troops were to land last, on the most exposed beaches, with the farthest to go, against what was potentially the greatest opposition."[5]
  1. ^ Van der Vat, p. 110
  2. ^ Bercuson, p. 215
  3. ^ a b c d Keegan, p. 135
  4. ^ Ellis, p. 171
  5. ^ Wilmot, p. 272
  6. ^ Williams, p. 131
  7. ^ Trew, p.48
  8. ^ Ellis, p. 78
  9. ^ Williams, p. 114
  10. ^ Wilmot, p. 322
  11. ^ Williams, p. 24
  12. ^ a b c d e Williams, p. 163
  13. ^ Ellis, p. 78
  14. ^ a b c d Hastings, p. 249
  15. ^ a b c d e Hastings, p. 252
  16. ^ a b Hastings, pp. 249–250
  17. ^ a b Williams, p. 161
  18. ^ Williams, p. 165
  19. ^ Williams, p. 167
  20. ^ Van-Der-Vat, p. 158
  21. ^ Wilmot, p. 362
  22. ^ Trew, pp. 97–98
  23. ^ Williams, p. 185
  24. ^ a b Hastings, p. 253
  25. ^ Williams, p. 174
  26. ^ Williams, p. 180
  27. ^ a b Hastings, p. 254
  28. ^ Williams, p. 181
  29. ^ a b Williams, p. 182
  30. ^ a b c Williams, p. 183
  31. ^ a b c Hastings, p. 255
  32. ^ Hastings, p. 256
  33. ^ a b Hastings, p. 257
  34. ^ a b c Hastings, p. 258
  35. ^ a b c d Hastings, p. 260
  36. ^ a b c Williams, p. 185
  37. ^ Hastings, p. 261
  38. ^ a b Hastings, p. 262
  39. ^ Hastings, p. 263
  40. ^ Hastings, p. 266
  41. ^ Williams, p. 186
  42. ^ Hastings, p. 277
  43. ^ Williams, p. 194
  44. ^ Hastings, p. 280
  45. ^ a b Williams, p. 196
  46. ^ Hastings, p. 283
  47. ^ Hastings, p. 285
  48. ^ Hastings, p. 286
  49. ^ Williams, p. 197
  50. ^ Williams, p. 203
  51. ^ Bercuson, p. 232
  52. ^ Williams, p. 204


  • Bercuson, David (2004). Maple Leaf Against the Axis. Red Deer Press. ISBN 0-88995-305-8.  Unknown parameter |origdate= ignored (|orig-year= suggested) (help)
  • Ellis, Major L.F. (2004). Victory in the West Volume I: The Battle of Normandy. History of the Second World War, United Kingdom Military Series, Official Campaign History. Naval & Military Press Ltd. ISBN 1-84574-058-0.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help); Unknown parameter |origdate= ignored (|orig-year= suggested) (help)
  • Hastings, Max (2006). Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy. Vintage Books USA; Reprint edition. ISBN 0-30727-571-X.  Unknown parameter |origdate= ignored (|orig-year= suggested) (help)
  • Keegan, John (2006). Atlas of World War II. Collins. ISBN 0060890770. 
  • Trew, Simon. Battle for Caen. Battle Zone Normandy. The History Press Ltd. ISBN 0-75093-010-1.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help); Unknown parameter |origdate= ignored (|orig-year= suggested) (help)
  • Van Der Vat Da, Dan (2003). D-Day; The Greatest Invasion, A People's History. Madison Press Limited. ISBN 1-55192-586-9. 
  • Williams, Andrew (2004). D-Day to Berlin. Hodder. ISBN 0340833971. 
  • Wilmot, Chester (1997). The Struggle For Europe. Wordsworth Editions Ltd. ISBN 1-85326-677-9.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help); Unknown parameter |origdate= ignored (|orig-year= suggested) (help)

Falaise pocket

Falaise pocket
Part of Operation Overlord, Battle of Normandy
Falaise Pocket map.jpg
A map showing the course of the battle
Date August 12–21, 1944
Location Normandy, France
Result Allied victory
 Free French
Poland Polish forces
 United Kingdom
 United States
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Bernard Montgomery
United States Omar Bradley
CanadaHarry Crerar
United Kingdom Miles Dempsey
United States George Patton
Nazi Germany Günther von Kluge
Nazi Germany Walter Model
10 Armd Divs + Inf. Divs total 350,000 men ~10 Pz. Divs + Inf. Divs total 150,000 men
Casualties and losses
Canadian: ~5,500 casualties
Polish: 1,441 casualties
Total casualties unavailable
~10,000 killed,
Thousands wounded,
40,000-50,000 captured

During August 1944, the Falaise pocket[nb 1] was the area between the four towns of Trun, Argentan, Vimoutiers and Chambois near Falaise in France, in which Allied forces tried to encircle and destroy the German Seventh Army and Fifth Panzer Army as part of the larger Battle of Normandy, during World War II.

After Operation Cobra, the Allied successfull break-out offensive, Allied forces were advancing rapidly through Normandy facing light resistance. The German army in the area had been reduced to a very ppor condition and was unable to receive any reinforcements. On 7 August, despite the protests from Günther von Kluge—the overall commander of German Armed Forces (Wehrmacht) on the Western Front, Adolf Hitler ordered Operation Lüttich to begin, a counterattack conducted by remnants of four insufficiently equipped panzer divisions. As expected by the Allied commanders, the operation failed leaving German troops in dissaray.

Following this failed German counterattack, the first Allied attempt to capture Falaise, codenamed Operation Totalize and conducted by II Canadian Corps, also failed by 13 August. On 14 August, the main Allied attempt to close the Falaise pocket, Operation Tractable, commenced, but was making slow progress until 18 August. Hill 262, a crucial position for closing the Falaise pocket, saw fierce fighting from 19 until 21 August, as the Polish forces were holding remnants of several German divisions which were counterattacking desperately in order to allow the evacuation of the Seventh Army from the gap. However, at a cost of heavy casualties, the Polish defenders managed to hold Hill 262 until the Germans became exhausted and unable to attack anymore. By the evening of 21 August, Allied forces rendez-voused each other in key points, effectively closing the Falaise pocket with over 50,000 Germans inside it.

The closure of the Falaise pocket represented the end of the Battle of Normandy and a decisive defeat for Nazy Germany. Two days after this, Paris was liberated and Operation Overlord finally ended.


While the Allies were attempting to build-up a strong bridgehead in Normandy, in order to support and supply the advancing troops, the immediate main objectives of D-Day were the deep water port of Cherbourg in the west and the historic town of Caen in the east.[2] After few failed attempts of capturing Caen, by 20 July, Operations Atlantic and Goodwood finally captured the remainder of the city,[3] while Cherbourg fell in the hands of US forces three weeks earlier, on 27 June.[4] However, weather conditions constrained Allied over-the-beach supply operations;[5] thus, the Allied advance was delayed.[6]

On July 25 the Americans launched their breakout offensive, Operation Cobra.[7] This gained immediate success.[8] By the end of the third day of Operation Cobra, American forces had advanced 15 miles (24 km) south of the Cobra start line at several points.[9] On July 30 American forces captured Avranches, at the base of the Cotentin peninsula.[10] The German left flank was now open and within 24 hours, Patton's VIII Corps swept across the bridge at Pontaubault into Brittany and began advancing south and west through open country almost without opposition.[11][12]

Afterwards Operation Cobra, the German army in Normandy had been reduced to such a poor condition that only a few SS fanatics still entertained hopes of avoiding defeat, as any prospect of reinforcements to replace the huge casualties vanished in the wake of the Soviet summer offensive against Army Group Centre.[13] The US advance through enemy land had been extraordinarily fast, and by 8 August the city of Le Mans, the former headquarters of the German 7th Army fell into the hands of the Americans.[14]

Instead of ordering remaining German forces in Normandy to withdraw to the Seine, Adolf Hitler sent a directive Günther von Kluge ordering "an immediate counterattack between Mortain and Avranches",[15] to "annihilate" the enemy and make contact with the west coast of the Cotentin peninsula.[16] Hitler had demanded that eight of the nine Panzer divisions in Normandy be used in the attack, but only four (one of them incomplete) could be relieved from their defensive tasks and assembled in time.[17] German commanders immediately protested, as such an operation was impossible, given that German units were so exhausted by the Allied advances.[16] However, these protests were not taken into consideration and the counter-offensive, codenamed Operation Lüttich commenced on 7 August around Mortain.[18] The panzer divisions initially commited to the thrust were the 2nd, 1st SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler and 2nd SS Das Reich Divisions. They attacked with only 75 Panzer IVs, 70 Panthers and 32 self-propelled guns.[19] With the aid of air support and advance warning thanks to ULTRA, the Germans had been repelled by 8 August, although fighting would continue until 13 August.[20][21] After von Kluge's divisions were destroyed by the US First Army, the entire Normandy front was collapsing, a fact anticipated by the Allied command,[22] as Bradley declared: "This is an opportunity that comes to a commander not more than once in a century. We're about to destroy an entire hostile army and go all the way from here to the German border".[22]

Operation Totalize

Following these failed German offensives, the town of Falaise became a major Allied objective, as its capture would cut off virtually all of Field Marshal Walter Model's Army Group B.[23] To achieve this, General Harry Crerar, commanding the newly inaugurated First Canadian Army, and Lieutenant-General Guy Simonds of II Canadian Corps, planned an Anglo-Canadian offensive code-named Operation Totalize. This offensive was designed to break through the defenses in the Anglo-Canadian sector of the front and would rely on an innovative night attack using heavy-bombers and Kangaroo APCs to achieve a breakthrough of German defenses.[24] Despite initial gains on Verrières Ridge and near Cintheaux, the offensive stalled on August 9, due to strong German counterattacks as well as poor Canadian unit leadership and fighting power,[25] resulting in heavy casualties for the Canadian and Polish Armoured Divisions.[26] By August 10, Anglo-Canadian forces had reached Hill 195, north of Falaise; however, they had been unable to capture the town itself.[26]


Initial thrust

Beyond a limited operation by 2nd Canadian Infantry Division down the Laize valley on 12 and 13 August, these days were passed in preparation for another major attack on Falaise, codenamed Operation Tractable.[27] Tractable commenced at 11:42 a.m. on the morning of 14 August covered by a smokescreen laid down by their artillery,[28] substituing the darkness of Operation Totalize.[27] Throughout the day, continual attacks by the 4th Canadian and Polish 1st Armoured Divisions managed to force a crossing of the Laison River. Limited access to the crossing points over the Dives River, however, allowed for counterattacks by the German 102nd SS Heavy Panzer Battalion.[28] Mainly due to navigation difficulties and short bombing by the RAF Bomber Command the first day's progress was slower than expected.[29]

By 15 August, the renewed advance still made quite poor progress.[29] The 2nd and 3rd Canadian Infantry Divisions, with the support of the 2nd Canadian (Armoured) Brigade, continued their drive south towards Falaise.[30] After harsh fighting and several German counter-attacks, the 4th Armoured Division captured Soulangy, but the overall gains made were minimal as strong German resistance prevented an outright breakthrough to Trun.[31] On 16 August, the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division broke into Falaise itself, encountering minor opposition from Waffen SS units and scattered pockets of German infantry, and secured the town by 17 August.[32]

Closing the gap

For the Allies, time was a critical factor in blocking the German army's escape. However, by 17 August, the American were held by German defenders at Argentan, while the Canadians were advancing south towards Trun extremely slow.[33] Allied fighter-bombers were flying about 3,000 sorties a day throughout this period, inflicting massive losses to the Germans, but often accidentally bombing their own troops due to problems with the ground-identification. Meanwhile, the Polish 1st Armoured Division was divided into four battlegroups and ordered to advance past Trun and liberate Chambois.[33] By 18 August, an assault by the 4th Canadian Armoured Division secured Trun,[34] while the second armoured battlegroup maneuvered southeast, capturing Champeaux and anchoring future attacks against Chambois across a six-mile front.[35] In the next day, all four Polish battlegroups, reinforced by the 4th Canadian Division, were attacking Chambois and managed to secure the town by the evening.[36]

Field Marshal Model was aware of the need to keep the pocket open, and on the morning of 20 August ordered elements of the 2nd and 9th SS Panzer Division to fight westwards upon Polish positions on Hill 262,[37] in order to allow the retreat of the Seventh Army.[36] At approximately noon, several units of the 10th SS, 12th SS, and 116th Panzer Divisions managed to break through the weakened Polish positions, while the 9th SS Panzer Division was preventing Canadian troops from reinforcing Polish forces.[38] Due to this counterattack, by mid afternoon, about 10,000 German troops managed to escape through the corridor.[39]

Despite being overwhelmed by strong counterattacks, Polish forces continued to hold the high ground on Mont Ormel (referred to as "The Mace" by the Polish), exacting a deadly toll on passing German forces through the use of well-coordinated artillery fire.[40] Irritated by the presence of these units, which were exacting a heavy toll on his men, General Paul Hausser—commanding the 2nd SS Panzer Division—ordered the positions to be "eliminated".[39] Although substantial forces, including the 352nd Infantry Division and several battlegroups from the 2nd SS Panzer Division, inflicted heavy casualties on the 8th and 9th Battalions of the Polish 1st Armoured Division, the counterattack was ultimately fought off. The battle had cost the Poles almost all of their ammunition, leaving them in a precarious position.[40] Soonly, the exhausted Polish troops, with ammunition supplies at extremely low levels, were forced to watch as the remnants of the XLVII Panzer Corps escaped the pocket. After the brutality of the combat that had occurred during the day, night was welcomed by both German and Polish forces surrounding Mont Ormel. Fighting was sporadic, as both sides avoided contact with one another. Frequent Polish artillery strikes interrupted German attempts to retreat from the sector.[40]

By the morning of 21 August, German attacks on the position had resumed. Although not as coordinated as on the day before,[41] the attack still managed to reach the last of the Polish defenders on Mont Ormel. As the remaining Polish forces repelled the assault, their tanks were forced to use the last of their ammunition.[41] At approximately 12:00, the last SS remnants launched a final assault on the positions of the 9th Battalion. Polish forces defeated them at point-blank range. There would be no further attacks; the two battlegroups of the Polish 1st Armoured Division had survived the onslaught, despite being completely surrounded by German forces for three days. Polish casualties for the Battle of Mont Ormel were 325 killed, 1,002 wounded, and 114 missing—approximately 20% of the division's combat strength.[38] Within an hour, The Canadian Grenadier Guards managed to link up with what remained of Stefanowicz's men.[31] By late afternoon, the remainder of the 2nd and 9th SS Panzer Divisions had begun their retreat to the Seine River.[42]

By evening of 21 August, the Falaise pocket could properly considered closed, as tanks of the Canadian 4th Armoured Division linked with Polish forces at Coudehard, while the Canadian 3rd and 4th Infantry Divisions secured St. Lambert and the northern passage to Chambois.[43]


Destroyed vehicles and dead Germans lie on a road near Chambois, their retreating convoy was destroyed by allied air attack and artillery

On 22 August, it was concluded that the Falaise pocket had been permanently closed, and all German forces west of the Allied lines were dead or in captivity.[44] Although perhaps 100,000 German troops succeeded in escaping the Allies because of the delay in closing the gap (many of them wounded), but they left behind 40,000-50,000 prisoners and over 10,000 dead.[45] 344 tanks and self-propelled guns, 2,447 soft-skinned vehicles and 252 guns were counted abandoned or destroyed in the northern sector of the pocket alone.[43] In the fighting around Hill 262 alone, German casualties totaled 2,000 killed, 5,000 taken prisoner, in addition to 55 tanks, 44 guns and 152 armoured vehicles.[46] The formidable 12th SS Panzer Division had lost 94% of its armour, nearly all of its field-guns, and 70% of its vehicles.[42] Composed of close to 20,000 men and 150 tanks before the campaign, it had been reduced to 300 men and 10 tanks.[42] Several German formations, notably remnants from the 2nd and 12th SS Panzer Divisions, had managed to escape eastward to the Seine River, albeit without most of their equipment, and further inflicting problems to the Americans during the Ardennes Offensive.[47]

After the closure of the Falaise pocket, the Battle of Normandy was over and the Germans had been decisively defeated.[45] Hitler's personal involvement in the battle had been damaging from the first, considering his responsibility for the impossible offensive at Mortain and refusal to withdrawn when his armies were threatened with annihilation.[48] More than 40 German divisions were destroyed during the Battle of Normandy, while 450,000 men had been lost of whom 240,000 were killed or wounded.[48] The Allies had achieved this at a cost of 209,672 casualties, 36,976 killed.[43] Operation Overlord finally reached an effective end by 25 August, with the Liberation of Paris.[49]


  1. ^ Less common names for the pocket are the Chambois pocket, Falaise-Chambois pocket or Argentan-Falaise pocket. The gap through which the Germans escaped envelopment is often referred to as the Falaise gap.[1]
  1. ^ Keegan, p. 136
  2. ^ Van der Vat, p. 110
  3. ^ Trew, p.48
  4. ^ Hastings, p. 165
  5. ^ Greiss, p. 308–310
  6. ^ Williams, p. 114
  7. ^ Wilmot, pp. 390-392
  8. ^ Hastings, p.257
  9. ^ Wilmot, p. 393
  10. ^ Williams, p. 185
  11. ^ Wilmot, p. 394
  12. ^ Hastings, p. 280
  13. ^ Hastings, p. 277
  14. ^ Williams, p. 194
  15. ^ D'Este, p. 414
  16. ^ a b Williams, p. 196
  17. ^ Wilmot, p.401
  18. ^ Hastings, p. 283
  19. ^ Hastings, p. 285
  20. ^ Messenger, pp. 213–217
  21. ^ Hastings, p. 286
  22. ^ a b Williams, p. 197
  23. ^ D'Este, p. 404
  24. ^ Zuehlke, p. 168
  25. ^ Hastings, p. 301
  26. ^ a b Bercuson, p. 230
  27. ^ a b Hastings, p. 301
  28. ^ a b Bercuson, p. 231
  29. ^ a b Hastings, p. 302
  30. ^ Van Der Vat, p. 169
  31. ^ a b Bercuson, p. 232
  32. ^ Copp, p. 104
  33. ^ a b Hastings, p. 303
  34. ^ Zuehlke, p. 169
  35. ^ Jarymowycz, p. 192
  36. ^ a b Hastings, p. 304
  37. ^ Jarymowycz, p. 195
  38. ^ a b Jarymowycz, p. 196
  39. ^ a b Van Der Vat, p. 168
  40. ^ a b c D'Este, p. 458
  41. ^ a b "The End of the German 7th Army". Memorial Mont-Ormel. Retrieved 2008-06-13. 
  42. ^ a b c Bercuson, p. 233
  43. ^ a b c Hastings, p. 313
  44. ^ Hastings, p. 306
  45. ^ a b Williams, p. 204
  46. ^ McGilvray, p. 54
  47. ^ Hastings, p. 314
  48. ^ a b Williams, p. 205
  49. ^ Hastings, p. 319


  • Bercuson, David (2004). Maple Leaf Against the Axis. Red Deer Press. ISBN 0-88995-305-8.  Unknown parameter |origdate= ignored (|orig-year= suggested) (help)
  • Copp (2006). Cinderella Army: The Canadians in Northwest Europe, 1944-1945. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0802039251.  Unknown parameter |frist= ignored (|first= suggested) (help)
  • D'Este, Carlo. Decision in Normandy. Konecky & Konecky. ISBN 1-56852-260-6. 
  • Griess, Thomas (2002). The Second World War: Europe and the Mediterranean; Department of History, United States Military Academy, West Point, New York. SquareOne. ISBN 0-7570-0160-2. 
  • Hastings, Max (2006). Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy. Vintage Books USA; Reprint edition. ISBN 0-30727-571-X.  Unknown parameter |origdate= ignored (|orig-year= suggested) (help)
  • Jarymowycz, Roman (2001). Tank Tactics; from Normandy to Lorraine. Lynne Rienner. ISBN 1555879500. 
  • Keegan, John (2006). Atlas of World War II. Collins. ISBN 0060890770. 
  • Messenger, Charles (1999). The Illustrated Book of World War II. San Diego, CA: Thunder Bay Publishing. ISBN 1571452176. 
  • Williams, Andrew (2004). D-Day to Berlin. Hodder. ISBN 0340833971. 
  • Trew, Simon (2004). Battle for Caen. Battle Zone Normandy. The History Press Ltd. ISBN 0-75093-010-1.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help)
  • Van Der Vat, Dan (2003). D-Day; The Greatest Invasion, A People's History. Madison Press Limited. ISBN 1-55192-586-9. 
  • Wilmot, Chester (1997). The Struggle For Europe. Wordsworth Editions Ltd. ISBN 1-85326-677-9.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help); Unknown parameter |origdate= ignored (|orig-year= suggested) (help)
  • Zuehlke, Mark (2001). The Canadian Military Atlas: Canada's Battlefields from the French and Indian Wars to Kosovo. Stoddart. ISBN 0-77373-289-6.