10 Interesting Facts On The Race To Berlin

10 Interesting Facts On The Race To Berlin

Maria - July 20, 2016

Early 1945, the victory over Germany was in sight. With the primary objective of the Second World War ostensibly being to capture Hitler and topple his administration, this victory would mark the end of WWII.

Russia’s Joseph Stalin set his two Marshals Georgy Zhukov and Ivan Konev in a race to capture Berlin. This race was termed and is known to date as the Race to Berlin. The two Marshals took up the challenge, each with the primary objective of being the first to enter Berlin and assume control over it during the final days of the Second World War.

Each one of the two Marshals Georgy Zhukov and Ivan Konev had support from external forces even though the race was primarily their own. Marshal Georgy Zhukov had the support of the Rokossovsky’s Second Belorussian Front. Marshal Ivan Konev, on the other hand, was supported by the Fourth Ukrainian Front of Yeremenko.

The two military men and their separate armies and supporting frontiers made powerful units pitted against one another. The objective here was to ensure the men drove their troops the fastest they could into a swift victory. The war eventually climaxed in the grisly Berlin Strategic Offensive Operation.

While this advance on Berlin marked the final phase of WWII, it actually served as the first clear display of tensions between the Eastern Bloc comprising of the countries allied to the Soviet Union and the Western allies consisting of countries allied to the United States. It is from these tensions that Cold War soon broke out.

10. Tensions Between the Allied Nations

10 Interesting Facts On The Race To Berlin

When the Soviet Union made their advance to capture the German capital of Berlin, their move was virtually unopposed by their Western allies. The countries allied to the United States sustained an effort to avoid diplomatic issues by following the US Army General Dwight Eisenhower’s directive to march south of Germany.

This attempt would naturally conceal any differences between the Soviet Union and the Western allies. Yet, the matter of fact is, there had always been tension between these two groups brought together by a common enemy – Hitler. The alliance between these Western powers: the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union was marked by inherent differences in ideology. Britain and America were pro-conservative capitalism and favored democratic politics. This put them directly at the opposite ends with the Communist dictatorship that characterized the east; the Soviet Union, in particular, an ideology they fervently opposed.

These differences did not start with the war, rather, they existed long before any of the two world wars materialized. Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, had actively opposed Communist activities right from the early days of the USSR. He had even taken a leading position in the 1919 attempts to dissolve the nascent Communist state. His anti-Communist stand was so strong that he considered re-arming Germany as soon as Hitler was overthrown so as to oppose Russia. In the meantime, Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union retained his ambitions to expand the influence of not just the USSR but its Communist ideology as well.

9. Agreement on How to Seize Berlin

10 Interesting Facts On The Race To Berlin

It was equally important for the Western Bloc to capture the German capital of Berlin as it was to the Eastern Bloc. The achievement would have a huge political and symbolic importance to either of the groups. While Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union wanted his forces to carry out the exercise, Winston Churchill had the intention of stopping them.

Regardless of these differences, America’s General Eisenhower led the Capitalists to recognize they had more to gain by allowing Stalin to carry on with the plan; and they agreed to cooperate with him. The two groups, therefore, agreed on how they would execute the mission and settled on where their forces would converge near Dresden. The Soviet Union planned to put the attack on hold until May.

An earlier agreement with the Soviet was to let them have Berlin. If the US and its allies marched into this German capital, they would still hand it over to the Soviets in honor of their earlier agreement. According to General Eisenhower, Berlin was a political objective and not a military one as it was not worth the casualties that would come with it.

8. America’s Part in the Race

10 Interesting Facts On The Race To Berlin

Through the most important part of the Second World War, much of the Allied resources had been put mostly into supporting Britain. During the final months of the war, however, these resources now went into supporting American troops. In deciding how Berlin would be captured, Britain’s General Montgomery was for the idea of a quick advance on Berlin. He had the most impetus, but Dwight Eisenhower rejected this proposal.

He stopped the forces under his command on 15 April right at the Elbe when they were almost set to attacking Berlin, with virtually just one obstruction between them and the target city, the German 12th Army under General Wenck. The section of the army under Lieutenant-General Simpson’s command crossed the Elbe. But that was the farthest they went as Eisenhower ordered Commander Simpson to put his advance on hold until they had met up with the Soviet troops at Dresden.

Marshal Zhukov’s assault started the following day. And while historians have taken a supportive or condemning stand on this decision, one thing remains true: Eisenhower had no doubt this was the best decision.

7. Russia’s Advances

10 Interesting Facts On The Race To Berlin

If not for the order given by Dwight Eisenhower to have the Allied forces under his command stop at the Elbe, some sources have argued that there was sufficient chance for the US and Britain troops to reach Berlin before the Soviets from the east. In fact, many Germans were either willing to or already surrendering to the US forces from the west. They fought hard to surrender to anyone but not the Soviets.

In the turn of events, Stalin believed that the Allied agreement was nothing but a trick. So he immediately ordered his two field marshals, Ivan Konev and Georgy Zhukov to advance on Berlin against each other in the contest dubbed the Race to Berlin. With support from two different frontiers, both the field marshals came up with plans for the attack. Georgy Zhukov was, however, closer to Berlin and was therefore given the order to make the leading assault.

Even though the competition gave the two marshals reason to drive their men as fast as they possibly could to get to Berlin, Stalin’s actual plan was to get hold of the city before the allies on the western front did. Stalin upheld the competition between the two field marshals and gave Ivan Konev permission also to launch an attack, essentially for political reasons.

Overally, the Race to Berlin was not just limited to the Soviet camp between two marshals pitted against each other. It was also a race against the Allies in the west. On April 16, 1945, the Soviet forces launched the attack on Berlin.

6. Meeting at the Elbe

10 Interesting Facts On The Race To Berlin

The 1945 day when the Russian and American troops linked up at the German river of Elbe have reminisced with fond memories as one that brought the end of World War II a step closer. Russians joined hands with the Americans, creating a piece of history that has since been shared in most resources. Statements were simultaneously sent out to London, Washington, and Moscow that evening which reaffirmed the three Allied powers’ determination to see the annihilation of the Third Reich through.

General Simpson was in charge of the American troops at the Elbe, and the Soviet troops were under their two respective field marshals Konev and Zhukov. This show was partly supposed to solidify the part of the Allied agreement meant to prevent the American troops from advancing into Berlin.

Many sources have argued that the Americans would have had an easier time with far less resistance advancing into the ill-fated Berlin. Correctly so, because the Germans viewed the Communist Russia with a deep-seated suspicion that surrendering to them was the last thing they’d have wanted to do. There were so many atrocities on the Eastern Front that made this suspicion even much grimmer.

5. Germans’ Desperate Defense

10 Interesting Facts On The Race To Berlin

After the meeting between the allied forces where both the US President Harry Truman and Britain’s Winston Churchill gave their consenting speeches, the war still ahead was restored. The forces under Marshal Joseph Stalin made their advances into the city of Berlin. The Soviet leader reaffirmed their task and duty as being to complete the destruction of the enemy (Hitler’s administration) and force him (Hitler) and his men to lay down their arms and unconditionally surrender.

Germans were apparently unprepared to surrender to the Communist adversary. So they prepared to defend the capital despite the inevitable defeat that was coming to them. In their final and ostensibly desperate attempts to defend themselves, Hitler replaced Himmler, who was head of the Vistula army group and brought Colonel-General Heinrici into that position. Heinrici was an expert in defensive combat. Whether he was convinced that this move would amount to much remains debatable.

As the new head, Heinrici pulled his men outside Berlin, back so that Georgy Zhukov’s assault would not get them. He then dug the men in on Seelow Heights, an attempt that blocked the main road to the city.

The Germans were stopped regardless. A furious Joseph Stalin then ordered Marshal Koniev to advance on the capital. Berlin was captured in a pincer movement between the two Soviet field marshals Zhukov and Koniev.

4. Raising the Flag of Victory

10 Interesting Facts On The Race To Berlin

The Race to Berlin was clearly a controversial one from within the Soviet armies. Koniev and Zhukov’s forces were supposed to be pitted against each other to establish a clear victor between them. Yet Stalin retained the top command and decided when individual groups would make their advances. This made the whole idea of competition much less objective, as it turned out during the time of raising the flag.

Despite recognizing the main objective as having been to defeat the enemy, making any viable sacrifice worth taking, the competition between the Koniev and Zhukov continued even after the Soviets had won the race.

Stalin, however, ordered Koniev to stop his men, giving the honor of raising the Red Flag over the Reichstag to Zhukov instead. Koniev had to abide by this order even though he must have felt more deserving of the honor, having come from behind his competitor Zhukov to take the lead in the race. He was later promoted by Stalin though, while Zhukov was banished by the Soviet dictator seeing him as a political threat. Zhukov had gained so much popularity and reputation across the region.

3. Fortress Berlin

10 Interesting Facts On The Race To Berlin

Towards the end of the Second World War, a lot of top Nazi officials like Goring, Speer and Himmler had fled the city. The capital remained vulnerable in terms of military defense even though Hitler remained pigheaded. He created various military factions that were ill trained. These were the 90,000 members of the Hitler Youth (Children) and the Volkssturm (Old men). They were no match for the Allied troops and had pulled back to assume defensive positions by the time the Allied forces met at River Elbe on 25th of April, 1945.

Their only mission now was to help protect the city, which propaganda minister Goebbels dubbed as “Fortress Berlin”. Even Himmler, Hitler’s last and best defense military expert fled the city after being sacked for having reached out to the Western Bloc allied countries. He had approached Britain and the United States of America to try and forge a peace agreement. Hitler was desperate and even dismissed Göring for trying to take over command.

He ultimately committed suicide on April 30 along with a few close allies when he saw his fortress collapsing around him.

2. Slaughter and Surrender

10 Interesting Facts On The Race To Berlin

Throughout history, soldiers have often gone on a rampage causing great harm to innocents on their wake. The end of the Second World War was not marked any differently. With an estimated 200,000 Germans dead and about 150,000 Russian troops dead too during the fall of Berlin, the surviving Soviet soldiers launched a bloodbath across the capital.

The ongoing negotiations for Germany’s surrender did not deter the troops from looting, drinking and taking it out on the innocent city dwellers of the time. Sources estimate that the soldiers raped about 100,000 women, and shot many of them afterward. To escape this fate, 215 women committed suicide in one region alone.

1. Dividing the City

10 Interesting Facts On The Race To Berlin

When the war was finally over, it was time to determine the fate of the fallen city. An earlier agreement at the February Yalta conference had been that the allies would divide the city between them. So the fact that the Soviets had been responsible for the victory over the German capital would not mean it was to be completely theirs. Britain, America, and France soon brought together their respective areas under a common leadership as the West Berlin. This was an island off the western region in the middle of the sea of East Germany controlled by the Soviets.

With Russia having won the first battle in the race to Berlin and bringing World War II to its end, the cold war soon broke out. Berlin would soon start playing a central role in the Cold War. It was also central to the ending of this strategic and ideological conflict between these world superpowers upon the fall of its Wall.

Mikhail Gorbachev came to power and thanks to his introduction of the values of compromise to dilute the initial ideological hard lines taken by his predecessor; the cold war was brought to a conclusive end. Today this event is popularly referred to as the fall of the Berlin Wall; the destroying of the Iron Curtain; or simply as the end of the Cold War.