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WW II: The Last Desperate Attempt to Save Berlin From Russian Troops Operation Potsdam

A senior air warrior, graduate from the Staff College and a PG in military studies. He is qualified to write on war and allied matters.


The beginning

In April 1945, the German front was in a state of flux. No longer were the German armies on the offensive to capture territory but they were now on the defensive and there main aim was to try and save Hitler and hold the Russians until they could surrender to the Americans.

On 16 April 1945, the Red Army under the command of Marshal Zhukov had launched their final offensive to capture the German capital Berlin. It was a bloody attack and the Russian suffered heavy casualties as they were fighting against entrenched defenders. The Russians aimed to encircle the city and then enter and decimate the defenders.

At this critical moment, Adolf Hitler decided to stay in Berlin and carry out the defence of the city under his command. Hitler had one aim to break the stranglehold of the Russian army and push them back. It was no easy task but even at that stage, he had a semblance of hope that the Americans and Russians would fight amongst themselves if he could hold the Russians at bay.

The Russians were however able to smash the German defenses and remnants of the German army ran inside the city. Hitler was looking for a desperate measure to rally the German army and mount an offensive to throw the Russians back.

Hitler was apprised that the 12th Army was on the river Elbe with its primary aim to hold the offensive of the American army. Hitler ordered that the 12th Army move out from its defensive position leaving only a skeleton force to face the Americans. He ordered the 12th Army to break the Russian stranglehold and join up with the 9th Army and together both the armies would mount an offensive against the Red army. On paper, it looked like a good plan but in practice, Hitler was not aware of the firepower and the preponderance of troops of the Russian army

The dice was now cast and the decision was taken. Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel the chief of the OKW proceeded to the headquarters of the 12th Army at Magdeburg and met the commander General Walther Wenck. The meeting took place at 2 AM, 37 miles from Berlin, and General Wenk was instructed to withdraw from his present position. He was ordered to move towards Berlin and relieve the city and then mount a counteroffensive against the Russians.

The instructions to General Wenk were to link up with the 9th Army. It was emphasized to him that he was the only man who could save Berlin and Hitler.


The Battle

Field Marshal Keitel perhaps thought that General Wenk would implicitly obey the order. The General listened to Keitel and once he had gone away he called his chief of staff Colonel Walter Guenther and told him that it would be suicide to move towards Berlin en masse. He told him the 12th Army was too weak and it would be suicidal to go and fall into the hands of the Russians. He instructed that the positions on the river Elbe be held so that an escape route remained open to the Americans.

He told his chief of staff that they would try and get as close to Berlin as possible and try and link up with the ninth army but it could not be at the expense of giving up the corridor to go and surrender to the Americans.

Wenk ordered that part of the 12th army would proceed towards Potsdam where 20,000 German soldiers were still holding out. His plan was to capture Potsdam and then move closer towards Berlin. At the same time, the 9th Army would be instructed to try to break out from its encirclement and try and join up with the 12th Army and clear a route for an escape and surrender to the Americans.

For the attack on Potsdam 3 divisions were got ready and the command of the main thrust was given to General Karl Erich Kohler. He was aided by two other divisions. They had a semblance of Panzers and anti-tank weapons. The second division was commanded by Generalleutnant Gerhard Engel an experienced officer and holder of the Knights cross.

Included in the attack in the center was another division that was made up of about 80% cadets, Air Force personal, non-combatant personnel, and command was given to Generalleutnant Henrich Getz.

The assault would be supported by plenty of artillery fire because Beck had a lot of field guns and artillery. The offensive opened on 24 April. The assault began under cover of heavy artillery fire.

The assault ran into the Soviet 5th mechanized division which was taken by surprise and the fanatical nature of the attack. On the 25th the third offensive was launched and this time the Germans fought as they had fought during the early part of the Russian campaign. The 6th mechanized division of the Red Army was decimated. The offensive was a success and entire units were captured including depots and repair shops. There was panic in the Russian camp. By the end of the day, the German troops had reached a resort that had been occupied by the Russians and was just 15 miles from Berlin.

The German forces continued their offensive towards Potsdam but by now the Russians had regrouped and brought in air support. The German offensive ground to a halt. On 28 April General Wenk sent a message to Field Marshal Keitel that the offensive was being called off.

This was the last nail in the coffin of the Nazi Empire and Hitler on that day realized that it was all over bar the shouting. The 9th army which was supposed to break out towards Berlin did not do so and concentrated on moving towards the Americans. General Wenk also surrendered to the Americans and was taken into custody.

The finale

General Walther Wenck did his best in the given circumstances. Hitler relied too much on him and he was hoping that the 12th and the ninth army would join up together and throw the Russians back. As per his logic, he thought it would give him some time to try and secure an armistice with the west.

The operation by General Wenck's 12th Army was his last hope. Once general Wenck conveyed the result of the offensive late on 28th April, Adolf Hitler shot himself dead on 30 April 1945. The failure of the 12th army and the ninth army was the straw that broke the camel's back and Hitler knew the game was over.


MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 10, 2020:

Yes it was the venue of a meeting between the big three at the end of the war

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 30, 2020:

I have seen both movies. The Longest day was perhaps the best war movie made

tom on September 29, 2020:

cornelius ryan wrote the last battle about berlin battle.soviet war movie battle of berlin 1949,ryan wrotea bridge too farand the longest day

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 20, 2020:

Flourish, the Americans were not interested in prosecuting many generals because they thought they would help them against Stalin who at that time but breathing fire in eastern Europe. Despite assurance, Wenck did not help the Americans.

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 20, 2020:

Given what he was involved with, I wonder why the Americans released him so quickly and whether there was any sense of consistency from detainee to detainee. Seems a little iffy.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 19, 2020:

Thank you Colonel. Gen Wenck after a brief period of detention was released by the Americans and became a successful business executive. Quite a transformation from soldiering to the corporate world.

Col A Batra on September 19, 2020:

A very interesting post. General Benck was the youngest general in the German army and was specially selected for the defense of Berlin but he was a pragmatist and not a blind follower of Hitler. He thus did not give up his positions on the Elbe. Even if Benck had gone all hog at Berlin he would still have failed. He lived on till 1982 when he died in a car accident.

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