Battle of the Seelow Heights

Battle of the Seelow Heights

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{{Campaignbox Axis-Soviet War}} {{Campaignbox Battle of Berlin}} The '''Battle of the Seelow Heights''' ({{lang-de|Schlacht um die "Seelower Höhen"}}), was a part of the Seelow-Berlin Offensive Operation (16 April-2 May 1945); one of the last assaults on large [[Field entrenchment|entrenched defensive positions]] of [[World War II]]. It was fought over three days, from 16–19 April 1945. Close to one million [[Soviet Union|Soviet]] soldiers of the 1st Belorussian Front (including 78,556 soldiers of the [[First Polish Army (1944-1945)|Polish 1st Army]]), commanded by Marshal [[Georgi Zhukov]], attacked the position known as "Gates of Berlin". They were opposed by about 110,000 German soldiers of the [[German Ninth Army|9. ''Armee'']],{{sfn|Le Tissier|1996|p=273}} commanded by [[General (Germany)|''General'']] [[Theodor Busse]], as part of [[Army Group Vistula]]. This battle is often incorporated into the ''[[Battle of the Oder-Neisse]]''. [[Seelow Heights]] was where the most bitter fighting in the overall battle took place, but it was only one of several crossing points along the [[Oder]] and [[Lusatian Neisse|Neisse]] rivers where the Soviets attacked. The ''Battle of the Oder-Neisse'' was itself only the opening phase of the ''[[Battle of Berlin]]''. The result was the encirclement of the 9. ''Armee'' and the ''[[Battle of Halbe]]''. ==Buildup== On 9 April 1945, [[Königsberg]] in [[East Prussia]] fell to the Soviet Army. This freed up [[2nd Belorussian Front]] under Marshal [[Konstantin Rokossovsky|Marshal Rokossovsky]] to move to the east bank of the Oder. During the first two weeks of April, the Soviets performed their fastest Front redeployment of the war. 2nd Belorussian Front relieved [[1st Belorussian Front]] along the lower Oder, from [[Schwedt]] to the [[Baltic Sea]]. This allowed 1st Belorussian Front to concentrate in the southern half of its former front, opposite the Seelow Heights. To the south, [[1st Ukrainian Front]], under Marshal [[Ivan Konev]]) shifted its main force from [[Upper Silesia]] north-west to the [[Lusatian Neisse|Neisse]]. The three Soviet Fronts together had 2.5 million men, 6,250 tanks, 7,500 aircraft, 41,600 [[artillery]] pieces and [[Mortar (weapon)|mortar]]s, 3,255 truck-mounted [[Katyusha rocket launcher|''Katyusha'']] [[rocket launcher]]s, and 95,383 motor vehicles.{{sfn|Ziemke|1968|p=71}} The 1st Belorussian Front had nine regular and two tank armies consisting of 77 rifle divisions, two cavalry, five tank and two mechanized corps, eight artillery and one guards mortars divisions, and a mixture of more artillery and rocket launcher brigades. The Front had 3,059 tanks and self-propelled guns, and 18,934 artillery pieces and mortars.{{sfn|author-needed|2007|pp=170,171,550}} Eight of the 11 armies were posted along the Oder. In the north, 61st Army and 1st Polish Army held the river line from Schwedt to the meeting with the [[Finow Canal]]. On the Soviet bridgehead at [[Küstrin]], 47th Army, 3rd and 5th Shock Armies, and 8th Guards Army were concentrated for the attack. The 69th Army and 33rd Army covered the river line south to [[Guben]]. The 1st and 2nd Guards Tank Armies and the 3rd Army were in reserve. The 5th Shock and 8th Guards were posted directly opposite the strongest part of the defences, where the Berlin autobahn passed through the Heights.{{sfn|Goodenough|1982|p=116}} The German 9. ''Armee'' held the front from about the Finow Canal to Guben, which included the Seelow Heights. It had 14 divisions and Fortress (''festung'') [[Frankfurt (Oder)|Frankfurt]], 587 tanks (512 operable, 55 in repair, 20 in transit), 2,625 artillery pieces (including 695 anti-aircraft guns.{{sfn|Isaev|2007|pp=293-295}} Further south the front was held by the [[Fourth Panzer Army|4. ''Panzerarmee'']], opposing the 1st Ukrainian Front. [[General (Germany)|''General'']] [[Gotthard Heinrici]] replaced [[Heinrich Himmler]] as commander of Army Group Vistula on 20 March. He correctly predicted that the main Soviet thrust would be made over the Oder river and along the main east-west autobahn — at Seelow Heights. He decided to defend the riverbank with only a light skirmishing screen. Instead he fortified the Seelow Heights, which rise about {{convert|48|m|ft|abbr=on}} above the Oder and overlook the river where the autobahn crossed it. He thinned out the line in other areas to put more men at the Heights. The Oder's flood plain was saturated by the spring thaw; German engineers released water from a reservoir upstream, which turned the plain into a swamp. Behind this, they built three lines of defenses, spreading back toward Berlin. The last line of defense was the ''Wotan'' Line, {{convert|10|-|15|mi|km|abbr=on}} behind the front line. These lines consisted of anti-tank ditches, anti-tank gun emplacements, and an extensive network of trenches and bunkers.{{sfn|Ziemke|1968|p=76}}{{sfn|Zuljan|2003}} ==Battle== In the early hours of 16 April, the offensive began with a massive bombardment by thousands of artillery pieces and ''Katyusha''s. Well before dawn, the 1st Belorussian Front attacked across the Oder and the 1st Ukrainian Front attacked across the [[Lusatian Neisse|Neisse]]. The 1st Belorussian Front was the stronger force, but it had the more difficult assignment since it was facing the bulk of the German forces.{{sfn|Beevor|2002|p=217}}{{sfn|Ziemke|1968|p=81}} The initial assault by the 1st Belorussian Front turned into a disaster for them. Heinrici and Busse anticipated the attack and withdrew their defenders from the first line of trenches just before the Soviet artillery would have obliterated them. The swampy ground proved to be a great hindrance, and under a German counter-barrage, Soviet casualties were heavy. Frustrated by the slow advance, Zhukov threw in his reserves, which according to his earlier plan were to be held back until the expected breakthrough. By early evening, an advance of {{convert|4|-|6|km|mi|abbr=on}} had been achieved (the 77th Rifle Corps from the 3rd Shock Army had advanced {{convert|8|km|mi|abbr=on}}), but the second German defensive line remained intact. Zhukov was forced to report that his battle was not going as planned. However, in the south the attack by Konev's 1st Ukrainian Front was going according to plan. To spur Zhukov on, Stalin told him that he would let Konev direct his tank armies north, toward the great prize of Berlin.{{sfn|Beevor|2002|pp=217-233}}{{sfn|Ziemke|1968|p=82}} Losses of 16 April:{{sfn|Isaev|2007|p=400}} {|class="wikitable" border="1" |- !Armies !1st Guards Tank !2nd Guards Tank !61st !47th !3rd Shock !5th Shock !8th Guards !69th !33rd |- |Killed |26 |? |94 |169 |158 |369 |? |312 |? |- |Wounded |117 |? |204 |977 |483 |1,298 |? |1,417 |? |} Armor losses: 71 tanks and SPGs knocked out, 77 damaged, 40 by other causes (break down, got stuck etc.). On the second day, the 1st Belorussian Front's troops continued to advance in accordance with the initial plan. By nightfall on 17 April, the German second defensive line (''Stein Stellung'') was broken by the 5th Shock Army and 2nd Guards Tank Army. The right-flank of the 4th Guards Rifle Corps of the 8th Guards Army—together with the 11th Tank Corps of the 1st Guards Tank Army—had taken advantage of the success of their comrades who had broken through the second defensive line. The progress of the 47th and the 3rd Shock Armies was another {{convert|4|-|8|km|mi|abbr=on}}. Losses of 17 April:{{sfn|Isaev|2007|p=415}} {|class="wikitable" border="1" |- !Armies !1st Guards Tank !2nd Guards Tank !61st !47th !3rd Shock !5th Shock !8th Guards !69th !33rd |- |Killed |38 |? |119 |210 |113 |615 |? |308 |? |- |Wounded |175 |? |284 |1,251 |417 |2 034 |? |1,276 |? |} Armor losses: 79 tanks and SPGs knocked out, 85 damaged, 15 by other causes. To the south, however, 1st Ukrainian Front was pushing back the 4. ''Panzerarmee'', the left flank of [[Army Group Center]] under [[Ferdinand Schörner]]. Schörner kept his two reserve ''[[panzer]]'' divisions in the south covering his center, instead of using them to shore up 4. ''Panzer''. This was the turning point in the battle, because the positions of both Army Group Vistula and the center and right sectors of Army Group Center were becoming untenable. Unless they fell back in line with Fourth Panzer, they faced envelopment. In effect, Konev's successful attack on Schörner's poor defense, to the south of Seelow Heights, were unhinging Heinrici's brilliant defense. On 18 April, a development of the success reached on a border of the 5th Shock and 8th Guards Armies was a task of the main shock grouping. The Seelow Heights was bypassed from the north, during which Soviet troops met counter attacks from German reserves (11. SS ''Panzergrenadierdivision Nordland'' and 23. SS ''Panzergrenadierdivision Nederland''). By nightfall, an advance of {{convert|3|-|5|km|mi|abbr=on}} on the right flank and {{convert|3|-|8|km|mi|abbr=on}} in the center had been achieved, and the 1st Belorussian Front had reached the third and final German line of defense. Losses of 18 April:{{sfn|Isaev|2007|p=426}} {|class="wikitable" border="1" |- !Armies !1st Guards Tank !2nd Guards Tank !61st !47th !3rd Shock !5th Shock !8th Guards !69th !33rd |- |Killed |90 |? |95 |156 |119 |? |? |88 |? |- |Wounded |355 |? |365 |625 |416 |? |? |297 |? |} Armor losses: 65 tanks and SPGs knocked out, 86 damaged, 13 by other causes. On 19 April, 1st Belorussian Front broke through the final line of the Seelow Heights, and nothing but broken German formations lay between them and Berlin. The remnants of 9. ''Armee'' and 4. ''Panzerarmee'' were enveloped by 1st Belorussian Front and elements of 1st Ukrainian Front which had broken through and turned north. Other armies of 1st Ukrainian Front raced west toward the Americans. By the end of the 19th, the German eastern front line had ceased to exist. All that remained were pockets of resistance.{{sfn|Ziemke|1968|p=84}} Losses of 19 April:{{sfn|Isaev|2007|pp=438,439}} {|class="wikitable" border="1" |- !Armies !1st Guards Tank !2nd Guards Tank !61st !47th !3rd Shock !5th Shock !8th Guards !69th !33rd |- |Killed |135 |? |86 |287 |166 |? |? |204 |? |- |Wounded |678 |? |363 |1,112 |594 |? |? |652 |? |} Armor losses: 105 tanks and SPGs knocked out, 76 damaged, 8 by other causes. Total losses of 1GTA, 47A, 61A, 69A, and 3SA 16–19 April: 3957 killed, 15590 wounded. Losses of 33rd Army 15–20 April: 1,687 killed, 7,213 wounded, 128 missing, 13 non-battle, 206 diseased.{{sfn|Isaev|2007|p=438}} Losses of 5th Shock Army 11–30 April: 3,628 killed, 13,702 wounded, 60 missing, 476 by other causes.{{sfn|Isaev|2007|p=673}} Losses of 8th Guards Army 16–20 April: 12-13,000 total casualties.{{sfn|Isaev|2007|p=665}} Losses of 2nd Guards Tank Army (only three Corps without army troops) 16–21 April: 265 killed, 1,530 wounded.{{sfn|Isaev|2007|p=456}} ==Aftermath== {{unreferenced section|date=January 2011}} [[Image:Kriegerdenkmal-Seelower-Hoehe-k.jpg|thumb|right|Statue at Seelow Heights.]] The defensive line on the Seelow Heights was the last major defensive line outside Berlin. Gen. Heinrici had said before the battle that the Seelow Heights could be held for only three or four days without reinforcements, which he did not have. From 19 April, the road to Berlin—{{convert|90|km|mi|abbr=on}} to the west—lay open. By 23 April, Berlin was fully encircled and the [[Battle of Berlin#The battle of Berlin|Battle for Berlin]] entered its last stage. Within two weeks, [[Adolf Hitler]] was dead and the [[End of World War II in Europe|war in Europe was effectively over]]. After the war, Zhukov's critics asserted that he should have stopped 1st Belorussian Front's attack by the direct line to Berlin along the autobahn, and moved by way of 1st Ukrainian Front's breakthrough over the Neisse. This would have bypassed the strong German defences at Seelow Heights, and avoided many casualties and the delay in the Berlin advance. However, 1st Belorussian Front was drawn up on a very narrow front, so such a maneuver may not have been possible. The other Front commanders could and did bypass the main defenses. ==See also== {{Commons category|Gedenkstätte_Seelower_Höhen|Seelow Heights War Memorial}} *[[Eastern Front (World War II)]] *[[Battle of Halbe]] ==External links== *[http://www.historynet.com/magazines/world_war_2/3421606.html?page=1&c=y Battle of the Seelow Heights] on The History Net {{Coord missing}} {{Use dmy dates|date=September 2010}} {{DEFAULTSORT:Seelow Heights}}