The Battle of Berlin.
Almost three-quarters of a century ago, the German Army had been pushed back to Berlin. Six years of war culminated in fierce fighting through the streets of Berlin. Adolf Hitler claimed his Third Reich would last for a thousand years, yet by the end of the battle his army was depleted, and his right-hand men had begun to abandon him.
The battle, which was predominantly between German and Soviet Union soldiers, was the last stand of the Nazi regime. Yet the swift advancement of the Allies on both the Eastern and Western Front meant that by the time the Battle of Berlin began, the war was coming to a gradual and bloody end.
A battle which resulted in Germany’s surrender came at a significant human cost. Over three-quarters of a million people, soldiers and civilians were either killed or wounded. Society within Berlin was almost destroyed. Destruction of the city began on the 19th April 1945. The Soviet Union began shelling the city in preparation for the tank and infantry assault. Six days later, led by General Zhukov, the first Russian soldiers broke through to the Berlin suburbs. Day by day, more and more of outer-Berlin fell into Soviet hands.
The counter-attack which was desperately needed by the Germans came from the 12th army, commanded by General Wenck, on April 27th. Yet the sheer number of Soviet soldiers, the lack of resources at Wenck’s disposal and tactical bombing from the Royal Air Force to delay the German reinforcements ultimately made sure that the counter-attack had no real impact. Wenck was halted and the Soviet forces were just 15 miles from the centre of the city. By early May, the Third Reich and everything which Nazism stood for was on the brink of total collapse.
In the meantime, Hitler was deep in his bunker underneath the streets where his people were being slaughtered by an invading force. One of his final acts as German leader was to send members of the Hitler youth out onto the bombed-out streets of Berlin. Many of these would fall during the dying days of the Third Reich.
The people who had followed him, often so loyally, for many years had been left to die by Hitler at the hands of the Soviet Union. When British and American troops made their way into the city from the west, Berlin was surrounded by the Allied forces. The Reichstag lay in ruins, as did the Nazi regime.
It had taken the Allies almost five years to regain a foothold in continental Europe, with Britain and France suffering greatly in the process. Millions of lives were lost in the struggle to crush fascism and the slaughter had been taken to the streets of a city previously considered impregnable by Allied command.
Berliners were, like at the end of the First World War, left with their governments in ruin. Thousands of people lay dead in Berlin, over a million were without power and clean water, yet for many, the worst was yet to come. Although the Second World War was over, the fear an all-new type of warfare was beginning to grip the continent.
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