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
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
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
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!)
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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