Nothing Quite Says It’s Over Than Your Enemy’s Flag On Your Capitol.
By the Spring of 1945, the Germans were not just on the run in most theaters of operation, they were running as fast as they could. The game afoot was for the Allied forces in Western Europe, most prominently, the United States Armed Forces, the British Armed Forces, and the Free French, to push eastward and finally penetrate the German border and wage war upon the Wehrmacht inside their last redoubts. The Germans fought back vigorously and made the Allies pay for every inch. But the advance would go on inevitably.
Montgomery was sniffing around for two good places to insert a two-pronged attack on the Germans across the Rhine. To the south, Bradley and Patton’s Third Army were also reconnoitering the area for paths into Germany. On March 3rd, 1945 the US crossed the Rhine and attacked Cologne. Resistance was fierce. Not only did the Americans run into sporadic heavy machine gun fire and heavy artillery, Hitler ordered all the bridges destroyed. Bradley sent patrols that found the bridge at Remagen, one that the Germans had rigged to explode but could bot bring it down in time.
The Allies made a dash for the bridge and even after a charge went off, the bridge held long enough for a significant force to move across. Soldiers ran over the bridge with knives and cut every single electrical chord they could find. It paid off when two divisions made it over. The capture of the bridge infuriated Hitler. He had seven junior officers demoted and three shot. He fired Von Rundstedt, the second time in four months he had sacked this famed Prussian officer. He replaced Von Rundsted with Von Kesselring, a commander who was known for his masterful defensive set piece battles.
The bridge itself was the target of several Luftwaffe raids but only a charge that went off on its own some weeks later finally brought it down in a tremendous explosion. The brisance accompanied dozens of surprised Allied troops killed them instantly, while others plunged into the river.
The Wermacht was fighting desperately in what must have looked like a bridge too far for the entire German people. Only the most devout Nazi acolytes were allowed to opine and so everyone else had to bear up and fight whilst inexorably heading back to Germany.
Meanwhile in the north, 200 Lancaster bombers cleared the path for an airdrop of 17,000 troops from the 17th US division and the British 6th Airborne. The Allies took huge casualties as many of the parachuting troops were spotted by nimble and motivated German infantry that ran them down and shot them floating from the sky Gliders crashed in large numbers and killed many soldiers as well. But the march into Germany would not be stopped. Soon Frankfurt was surrounded and taken.
During the prior sixth months the German soldiers, many of them by now had been fighting for upwards of a thousand days, could find no solace in any news. The end was near for the Wehrmacht in western Europe and it seemed only nearer when the Russians made a push for the Polish border with Germany. Germans senior citizens and children were rushed to the border to defend it. The Volksturm, the People’s Guard, would stop the Russians with World War I Mauser 98Ks and Panzerfausts, the world’s first anti-armor RPG. The typically admantine German army was now cracking. The aureate and complex German war machines were giving way to simpler, banausic Russian technologies coming from the east. Perhaps there was no Fahrfagnugen in a T-34. But there were thousands of them.
The Russian Build up took weeks and the actual push was preceded in typical fashion, with a massive Russian artillery bombardment. This one on January 12, 1945 was a doozy. The artillery barrage line was 300 miles long. The push afterwards happened so fast that the Soviets isolated pockets of Nazi resistance in Posnan and Breslaw. Zhukov pushed the Red Guard through this line in 14 days of nonstop fighting. Reserve divisions mopped up the remaining resistance.
By now all of Hitler’s generals were losing. Even Model and Manstein were losing. Hitler fired and rehired generals the way the NFL shuffles around back up free agent Quarterbacks. So in 1945, Hitler asked Himmler to command the forces to the west of Germany to defend the Reich. Consider that Hitler was so suspicious of his other generals that he would ask Himmler, who had virtually no combat experience at all, to command.
Even when the Red Guard ripped through Himmler’s forces trying to keep Russia out of Poland, Himmler kept his job. In another notoriously bad decision, Hitler refused to allow 200,000 German troops to escape the Courland Peninsula in Latvia. So he essentially took ten divisions out of combat and left them there until the end of the war.
Now the Red Army was building up a force to topple Berlin. Of course by now the German citizenry was panicking and over 5 million Germans left before the Russians got there. Even when German passenger ships like the Wilhelm Gustloft were packed to the gills with retreating German citizens, Russian submarines in the Baltic Sea sank 24 of them. There would be no mercy for the Germans coming from the Russians.
In yet another series of bad calls, Guderian finally convinced Hitler to allow him to aggregate what units of the 6th Panzer division there were left to defend Berlin. Hitler allowed him to gather them together but sent them to Hungary to defend the Lake Balaton oil fields. The Russian Army vastly outnumbered the 6th Panzer. In fact, by the end of the that ill fated maneuver on of the German commanders was quoted as saying “there is a reason why are called the 6th Panzer division. We have 6 Panzers left.”
Guderian was ambushed by the Red Guard and the worst snow in Hungary in years. A sudden thaw turned roads into mud and the Germans were struggling to stop the Germans. They were driven all the way back to Vienna and by April 10, 1945 they were driven back out.
Now, with no one between the Russians and the German capital, the race for Berlin was on.
Source: History Channel, Wikipedia, Me