The Battles for Berlin

Unbelievable that it’s May already…but I’m so excited to start the historical theme for this month – Victory in Europe: 1945 I’ve got all the Friday posts for the month planned as we remember World War II drawing to a close 70 years ago. (And before you Civil War history buffs go into mourning, don’t worry Back to Gettysburg on Tuesday continues…)

Ruins of the Reichstag in Berlin after the battle, 1945

Ruins of the Reichstag in Berlin after the battle, 1945

Next Friday will actually be the anniversary of VE Day (that’s abbreviation for Victory in Europe), but do you know what was happening today 70 years ago? Battle of Berlin.

No, I didn’t misspell the title of my blog post by adding an extra “s.” After reading and referencing several in-depth sources on this military situation, I’ve decided to address the Battles for Berlin. There was the military fight, but there were several other conflicts occurring simultaneously, so let’s dig deeper into the history and find out a little more of what was really happening.

1. Morale Conflict

The Nazi Party had never had any trouble lying to the German people, and in 1945 the lies continued. However, this time, there was a serious conflict. The radio broadcasts claimed victories, but, in the winter and spring, with Allied bombers attacking Berlin everyday, German troops retreating, and little food left in Berlin, there was serious cause for doubt.

The more insightful were very suspicious; the blind-believers consumed the propaganda. Perhaps one of the most obvious examples of the conflicting feelings was the change in forms of greetings; no longer were people greeting each other with the famous honorary salutation to Hitler. Now, the greeting was “Bleib ubrig” which translates to “Survive.”

2. Leadership Conflict

Always suspicious, Adolf Hitler’s paranoid fears reached an all-time high as Allied troops closed in on Berlin. Formerly trusted advisors, political leaders, and generals were raged at, accused of treason, arrested, and sometimes executed.

The German generals realized the increasing hopelessness of the situation. By the last weeks of April, some were willing to ask the Allies for terms of surrender. A couple actually dared to send the request, believing there was little purpose in prolonging the fight and killing more people. Hitler found out and…well…retribution was swift.

Out of touch with reality and descending into some form of madness, Hitler cowered in his bunker, firmly believing his Reich would again rise and conquer the world. Thus, casualties mounted, and the generals fought on, waiting for the day Hitler would be out of the way.

3. Moral Conflict

Young German Soldier receives honor Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J31305 / CC-BY-SA

Young German Soldier receives honor
Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J31305 / CC-BY-SA

How was there a moral conflict? you’re wondering. I know, it seems hard to understand, especially when Hitler and his political party were capable of such horrible atrocities. However, the moral conflict wasn’t with them. They called out a German militia of young boys and elderly men and gave orders for this “militia” to be sent into the jaws of the advancing Russian army.

However, some of the military commanders had serious doubts as to the effectiveness of these “militias” and furthermore, they felt terrible about sending 14 and 70 year olds to bloody battlefield deaths. Sadly, if those military leaders had openly protested, they would have been shot for not following orders…so they obeyed and wrote their regret and guilt in their journals.

4. Allied Conflict

Transitioning our perspective away from the Germans and Berlin, we’ll focus on the Allied Forces in Europe. The most powerful were United States, England, and Russia. And there is the problem.

Russia – properly called the Soviet Union at this time in history – was Communist while the United States and England were Capitalist. (In case, you don’t know, these are two very different economic and political forms based on vastly different ideologies.) Thus, there were mini-conflicts within the Allied Powers.

To summarize, Stalin wanted to take Berlin. Churchill (British leader) really didn’t want the Soviets to take Berlin because he was afraid they might not give all that territory back (he was right). General Eisenhower – American and the supreme commander of all Allied Forces – was in a difficult situation and eventually decided to allow the Russians the “pleasure” of taking Berlin.

But the political/military under-surface conflict continued to simmer. Stalin (Soviet leader) would not communicate clearly with Eisenhower. Stalin would also not give his generals clear commands, using their rivalries to compound the situation. Ugh…headache.

5. Military Conflict (Summary)

Starting in January 1945, the Russian armies launched an offensive movement toward the heart of Germany. Tanks blasted the way forward and infantry followed, pushing the German troops steadily backward. Arching through the east and north of Germany, they closed on Berlin, the German capital.

From the West, Eisenhower and the Western Allies also advanced and cut off German retreat via the west and south. (Since the Russian actually took Berlin, we’ll focus on them this week, more is coming on the American troops later in the month.)

Soviet Army captures Berlin, 1945 Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R77767 / CC-BY-SA

Soviet Army captures Berlin, 1945
Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R77767 / CC-BY-SA

By the end of April, the Soviets were shelling Berlin and shortly thereafter the attack began. The fighting raged from street to street and bunker to bunker. Fierce fighting was followed by brutal prisoner treatment, looting, and harming the civilians. On May 2, 1945, the city unconditionally surrendered to the Russian Army.

Hitler was dead and the German commanders were free to ask for surrender terms for the entire country. Six days after the surrender of Berlin, the entire world would be celebrating because… (Come back next week for the rest of the story!)

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Had you considered some of the other conflicts mentioned here? Can you think of any others you would add to the list?

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About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, historian, living history enthusiast, and historical fiction writer. When sharing history, I try to keep the facts interesting and understandable. History is about real people, real actions, real effects and it should inspire us today.
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5 Responses to The Battles for Berlin

  1. Chris Kolakowski says:

    Good summary – there was a lot swirling around Berlin in April 1945, to say nothing of the odyssey of the Ninth and Twelfth Armies south of the city. The final madness of the Third Reich.

    The best of the most recent books on Berlin is Antony Beevor’s BERLIN 1945. I’m also fond of Cornelius Ryan’s THE LAST BATTLE and John Toland’s THE LAST 100 DAYS.

    • Antony Beevor’s book Fall of Berlin was one of the sources I consulted! I thought it was a good historical text, but hardly “enjoyable” reading – some sections are graphic and harsh. Thanks for the suggestion of the other books. Right now I’m reading “Given Up For Dead” by Flint Whitlock as part of the preparation for writing about the reality of the war’s end and liberation in a couple of weeks; so far the book has been very good.

      • Chris Kolakowski says:

        Beevor pulls no punches – you’re right that it is hard reading in places. Then again, the story is harsh.

        If you’re looking at that topic, I’d suggest Richard Bessel’s GERMANY 1945 – outstanding discussion of that subject and year in all facets (including the shifting borders). It’s not easy reading in places either, but an important book.

      • Thanks for the recommendation. Berlin/End of WWII/Cold War is definitely a topic I’d like to investigate. There’s not a lot suitable for children in this topic, and I think a well-researched story might be a good addition to the libraries…in twenty years when all my idea for American Civil War stories have been written, LOL.

  2. Pingback: 6 Things to Know About VE Day | Gazette665

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