World War II: Battle of Berlin

The Soviets Attack and Capture the German Capital City

Battle of Berlin
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The Battle of Berlin was a sustained and ultimately successful attack on the German city by the Allied forces of the Soviet Union from April 16 to May 2, 1945, during World War II.

Armies & Commanders

Allies: Soviet Union

  • Marshal Georgy Zhukov
  • Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky
  • Marshal Ivan Konev
  • Gen. Vasily Chuikov
  • 2.5 million men

Axis: Germany

  • Gen. Gotthard Heinrici
  • Gen. Kurt von Tippelskirch
  • Field Marshal Ferdinand Schörner
  • Lt. Gen. Hellmuth Reymann
  • Gen. Helmuth Weidling
  • Maj. Gen. Erich Bärenfänger
  • 766,750 men


Having driven across Poland and into Germany, Soviet forces began planning for an offensive against Berlin. Though supported by American and British aircraft, the campaign would be entirely conducted by the Red Army on the ground.

American Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower saw no reason to sustain losses for an objective that would ultimately fall into the Soviet occupation zone after the war. And Soviet leader Joseph Stalin may have been rushed to beat the rest of the Allies to Berlin so he could obtain German nuclear secrets, some historians believe.

For the offensive, the Red Army massed Marshal Georgy Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front to the east of Berlin with Marshal Konstantin Rokossovky's 2nd Belorussian Front to the north and Marshal Ivan Konev's 1st Ukrainian Front to the south.

Opposing the Soviets was Gen. Gotthard Heinrici's Army Group Vistula supported by Army Group Centre to the south. One of Germany's premier defensive generals, Heinrici elected not to defend along the Oder River and instead heavily fortified the Seelow Heights east of Berlin. This position was supported by successive lines of defenses extending back to the city as well as by inundating the Oder's floodplain by opening reservoirs.

Defense of the capital proper was tasked to Lt. Gen. Helmuth Reymann. Though their forces looked strong on paper, Heinrici and Reymann's divisions were badly depleted.

The Attack Begins

Moving forward on April 16, Zhukov's men assaulted the Seelow Heights. In one of the last major pitched battles of World War II in Europe, the Soviets captured the position after four days of fighting but sustained over 30,000 killed.

To the south, Konev's command captured Forst and broke into open country south of Berlin. While part of Konev's forces swung north toward Berlin, another pressed west to unite with advancing American troops. These breakthroughs saw Soviet troops nearly envelop the German 9th Army.

Pushing westward, the 1st Belorussian Front approached Berlin from the east and northeast. On April 21, its artillery began shelling the city.

Encircling the City

As Zhukov drove on the city, the 1st Ukrainian Front continued to make gains to the south. Driving back the northern part of the Army Group Center, Konev compelled that command to retreat toward Czechoslovakia.

Pushing forward north of Juterbog on April 21, his troops passed south of Berlin. Both of these advances were supported by Rokossovsky to the north who was advancing against the northern part of Army Group Vistula.

In Berlin, German leader Adolf Hitler began to despair and concluded that the war was lost. In an effort to rescue the situation, the 12th Army was ordered east on April 22 in the hope it could unite with the 9th Army.

The Germans then intended for the combined force to aid in defending the city. The next day, Konev's front completed the encirclement of the 9th Army while also engaging the lead elements of the 12th.

Unhappy with Reymann's performance, Hitler replaced him with Gen. Helmuth Weidling. On April 24, elements of Zhukov and Konev's fronts met west of Berlin completing the encirclement of the city. Consolidating this position, they began probing the city's defenses. While Rokossovsky continued to advance in the north, part of Konev's front met the American 1st Army at Torgau on April 25.

Outside the City

With Army Group Centre disengaging, Konev faced two separate German forces in the form of the 9th Army which was trapped around Halbe and the 12th Army which was attempting to break into Berlin.

As the battle progressed, the 9th Army attempted to break out and was partially successful with around 25,000 men reaching the 12th Army's lines. On April 28/29, Heinrici was to be replaced by Gen. Kurt Student. Until Student could arrive (he never did), command was given to Gen. Kurt von Tippelskirch.

Attacking northeast, Gen. Walther Wenck's 12th Army had some success before being halted 20 miles from the city at Lake Schwielow. Unable to advance and coming under attack, Wenck retreated toward the Elbe and U.S. forces.

The Final Battle

Within Berlin, Weidling possessed around 45,000 fighters composed of Wehrmacht, SS, Hitler Youth, and Volkssturm militia. The Volkssturm was made up of males aged 16 to 60 who were not previously signed up for military service. It was formed in the waning years of the war. Not only were the Germans vastly outnumbered, but they also were outmatched by training with many of their forces.

Initial Soviet assaults on Berlin began on April 23, a day before the city was encircled. Striking from the southeast, they met heavy resistance but reached the Berlin S-Bahn railway near Teltow Canal by the following evening.

On April 26, Lt. Gen. Vasily Chuikov's 8th Guards Army advanced from the south and attacked Tempelhof Airport. By the next day, Soviet forces were pushing into the city along multiple lines from the south, southeast, and north.

Early on April 29, Soviet troops crossed Moltke Bridge and began attacks on the Interior Ministry. These were slowed by a lack of artillery support.

After capturing Gestapo headquarters later that day, the Soviets pressed on to the Reichstag. Assaulting the iconic building the next day, they succeeded infamously hoisting a flag over it after hours of brutal fighting.

A further two days were needed to completely clear the Germans from the building. Meeting with Hitler early on April 30, Weidling informed him that the defenders would soon run out of ammunition.

Seeing no other option, Hitler authorized Weidling to attempt a breakout. Unwilling to leave the city and with the Soviets nearing, Hitler and Eva Braun, who were married on April 29, remained in the Führerbunker and then committed suicide later in the day.

With Hitler's death, Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz became president while Joseph Goebbels, who was in Berlin, became chancellor.

On May 1, the city's remaining 10,000 defenders were forced into a shrinking area in the city center. Though Gen. Hans Krebs, Chief of the General Staff, opened surrender talks with Chuikov, he was prevented from coming to terms by Goebbels who wished to continue the fight. This ceased to be an issue later in the day when Goebbels committed suicide.

Though the way was clear to surrender, Krebs elected to wait until the following morning so that a breakout could be attempted that night. Moving forward, the Germans sought to escape along three different routes. Only those who passed through the Tiergarten had success penetrating the Soviet lines, though few successfully reached American lines.

Early on May 2, Soviet forces captured the Reich Chancellery. At 6 a.m., Weidling surrendered with his staff. Taken to Chuikov, he promptly ordered all remaining German forces in Berlin to surrender.

Battle of Berlin Aftermath

The Battle of Berlin effectively ended fighting on the Eastern Front and in Europe as a whole. With Hitler's death and complete military defeat, Germany unconditionally surrendered on May 7.

Taking possession of Berlin, the Soviets worked to restore services and distribute food to the city's inhabitants. These efforts at humanitarian aid were somewhat marred by some Soviet units that plundered the city and assaulted the populace.

In the fighting for Berlin, the Soviets lost 81,116 killed/missing and 280,251 wounded. German casualties are a matter of debate with early Soviet estimates being as high as 458,080 killed and 479,298 captured. Civilian losses may have been as high as 125,000.

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Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: Battle of Berlin." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Hickman, Kennedy. (2023, April 5). World War II: Battle of Berlin. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: Battle of Berlin." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 28, 2023).