Battle of Königsberg
Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Königsberg
Urban warfareduring the Königsbergbattle.
partof=the Eastern Front,
East Prussian Offensiveof World War II
Königsberg, Germany (now: Kaliningrad, Russia)
date=Late January to Early April
Final assault 6 April – 9 April, 1945
casualties1=50,000 80,000 surrendered
The Battle of Königsberg, better known as the Königsberg Offensive Operation, was one of the last operations of the East Prussian Strategic Offensive operation during World War II. In four days of violent
urban warfare, Sovietforces of the 3rd Belorussian Frontcaptured the city of Königsberg(now Kaliningrad, Russia). The siege started in late January 1945 when the Soviets initially surrounded the city. There was heavy fighting for the overland connection between Königsberg and the port of Pillau, but by March 1945 Königsberg was hundreds of kilometres behind the main front line. The battle finished when the German garrison surrendered to the Soviets on 9 April after a three day assault made their position untenable.
The beginning: East Prussian Offensive
The East Prussian Offensive was planned by the Soviet
Stavkato prevent flank attacks on the armies rushing towards Berlin. Indeed, East Prussiaheld numerous troops that could be used for this. During initial Stavkaplanning, Joseph Stalinordered Marshal Konstantin Rokossovskyto annihilate the Wehrmacht forces trapped there.
On 13 January, 1945, almost 1,500,000 troops supported by several thousand tanks and aircraft of the 3rd Belorussian Front (11th Guards, 39th, 43rd, 50th, 1st Air, 3rd Air, 4th Air, and 15th Air Armies) entered East Prussia, which was transformed into a gigantic web of
fortifications, defensive lines and minefields. At first, the offensive was almost a failure. Red Armytroops only advanced 1.5 kilometers the first day, through only three defensive lines. In five days, taking heavy losses, Soviet troops advanced only 20 kilometers, but were still unable to break through German lines into the open.
Nevertheless, after quickly overcoming the initial difficulties, the Soviet advance gathered steam, and on 24 January Soviet advance forces reached the shores of the
Vistula Lagoon(part of the Baltic Sea), cutting off the German forces in East Prussia from a direct connection with Germany, forcing the Germans to supply the surrounded forces by sea.
On 25 January 1945, in a tacit acknowledgement that German forces in East Prussia and the
Courland Pocketwere far behind the new front line, Hitler renamed three army groups. Army Group Northbecame Army Group Courland; Army Group Centre(the army group surrounded in the Königsberg pocket) became Army Group North and Army Group Abecame Army Group Centre.
Those forces, now redesignated as Army Group North, were compressed by further Soviet attacks into three pockets: one around Königsberg, one on the adjacent Samland
peninsula, and one on the coast of the " Frisches Haff" to the south-west (the Heiligenbeil Pocket).
By late January 1945 the
3rd Belorussian Fronthad surrounded Königsberg on the landward side, severing the road down the Samland peninsula to the port of Pillau, and trapping the 3rd Panzer Army and approximately 200,000 civilians in the city. [Beevor, pp.25] The civilian provisions were so meagre that civilians were faced with three bleak alternatives:
# Remain in the city and starve - rations were cut during the siege to 180 grams of bread a day
# Cross the front lines and leave themselves at the mercies of the Soviets
# Cross the ice of the
Frisches Haffto Pillauin hope of finding a place on an evacuation ship
Hundreds chose to cross the front line, but about 2,000 women and children a day chose to cross the ice on foot to Pillau. On his return from a visit to
Berlin, Erich Kochthe Gauleiterof East Prussia chose to stay in the relative safety of Pillau to organise the evacuation rather than return to Königsberg. The first evacuation steamer from Pillau carrying 1,800 civilians and 1,200 casualties reached safety on the 29 January. [Beevor, pp. 49] Throughout February, there was desperate fighting as the Germans tried to maintain the narrow connection between Königsberg and Samland. For a time, Soviet troops were successful in severing that connection and cutting the city off completely.
However, on the 19 February the Third Panzer Army and the 4th Army, attacking from the direction of Pillau, managed to force open a corridor from Königsberg to Pillau.Beevor, pp.88-92] Led by a captured Soviet T-34 tank, this attack was spearheaded by the 1st Infantry Division from Königsberg, intended to link with General
Hans Gollnick's XXVIII Corps, which held parts of the Samland peninsula, including the vital port of Pillau. Capturing the town of Metgethen, the unit opened the way for the 5th Panzer Division to join with Gollnick's forces near the town of Gross Heydekrugthe next day. This action solidifying the German defense of the area until April, re-opening the land route from Königsberg to Pillau, through which supplies could be delivered by ship and the wounded and refugees could be evacuated. This month-long battle is sometimes called the First Siege of Königsberg. [ Christopher Duffy[http://books.google.com/books?ie=UTF8&vid=ISBN0306805057&id=UQYa09g0dNMC&pg=PA157&lpg=PA157&dq=konigsberg+1945&sig=XVCtgzdlLe-JfWnADwVOCL7GAvs "Red Storm on the Reich: The Soviet March on Germany, 1945"] ]
In March the situation had stabilized - by now, the main front line had moved hundreds of kilometers to the west, and capturing the city took a much lower priority for the Soviets. Even so, the garrison was intact and showed no signs of surrender. Eventually the Soviet command decided to capture the city by assault rather than a siege.
Preparing the assault
Assaulting Königsberg was not to be an easy task. Garrisoned inside the city were five full-strength divisions, for a total of 130,000 troops, along with impressive defensive positions constructed in 1888 that included fifteen
forts interconnected by tunnels with integrated accommodations for the troops, and designed to withstand the bombardment of super-guns being designed in that era following the Siege of Paris. The Germans still held a narrow land connection to the adjacent German pocket on the Samland peninsula. The capture of the city required that this desperately defended link be severed. The German troops on the peninsula, the so-called Samland group, could be expected to stage counter-attacks to prevent this from happening.
Königsberg was, according to
Winston Churchill, "a modernised heavily defended fortress".citation Three concentric rings of fortifications surrounded the city: the outer ring of defences reinforced by 12 forts outside the town, the middle ring in the outskirts and the inner city, a single fortress of anti-tank defences, barricades and landmines, along with several other forts.
In order to face such a defensive power, the Soviet command planned to heavily rely on aviation and
artillerysupport, with densities reaching 250 guns per kilometre in some areas. The German troops were also subjected to propaganda, explaining that their resistance was futile, and that the front line was far behind them — that they were trapped in a "pocket" and that it would be best to surrender. However, this propaganda had little to no effect.
After four days of preparatory artillery
bombardment, the assault started on 6 April, 1945. The assault was planned to be "star-like". Troops would attack from many points around the perimeter and meet in the center of the city, compartmentalising the remaining defenders into isolated groups incapable of mutual support. There were two main fronts: North (held by the 39th and 43rd Armies (which included the 208th Rifle Division) and South (11th Guards Army). The 50th army was stationed in the northeast part of the front, but took only a limited part in the operation.
Day One: 6 April 1945
In the southern part of the front, the attack started at dawn by intense artillery bombing, lasting three hours, followed by the first attack wave. The Soviet rifle divisions quickly went through the first defense line, because its defenders had been largely eliminated and the remainder were demoralized by several days of intense bombing. By noon, the Soviet leading regiments reached the second defensive line, where its progression was halted by a stronger opposition, forcing Soviet commanders to use their reserve forces. Three hours later, the second defense line was overrun in several places.
An especially bitter fight raged in the vicinity of the fort eight. Built at the end of the 19th century and modernized since, it had thick walls, considerable firepower and was surrounded by a deep
moat, making a frontal assault almost impossible. Despite heavy artillery fire, its defenders prevented any attempt to approach the walls. Only at dusk Soviet forces were able to reach the moat and start using explosives to try and breach the walls.
In the main attack axis at the north, the attack started at the same time. By noon, the first defense line had fallen and the second line was badly shaken and broken in several places. However, in the afternoon, the progress became increasingly slow, especially on the right flank, as German forces stationed in the western outskirts of the city (the so-called Samland Group) attempted several
The fort five, claimed to be the best fortification of the entire Königsberg position, formed a strong resistance. In front of such a situation, Soviet commanders decided to surround it and leave it behind, leaving the
rear guardtroops time to prepare a new assault.
At dusk, the battle stalled allowing both sides to consolidate their lines, regroup their forces and bring reserves to the front line. This first day had mixed results, since Soviet progress was not as good as expected. However, both city defenses and the defenders'
moralewere seriously shaken, and troops, including officers, began to surrender periodically.
During this first day of assault, bad weather prevented the Soviet troops from using
precision bombingwith as much effect as they would have liked. Additionally, even fortified, the terrain conquered by the Soviet troops during this day was not so densely populated as the central city would be, reducing problems associated with urban warfare.
Day Two: 7 April 1945
During the night the German troops attempted several counterattacks, using their last reserves. Despite the bitter engagements and heavy losses on both sides, the counterattacks were driven off. The worst part of the front was still the one facing the Samland group, where a dozen such counterattacks were attempted.
The better weather conditions allowed the
Red Armyto make a profitable use of daylight precision bombing. Several hundred bombers belonging to 1st, 3rd an 15th Air Armies, supported with Baltic Fleetaviation, bombarded the downtown and the Samland group's bridgeheads.
Meanwhile, fort eight, blocked by Soviet troops, was still a strong pocket of resistance. After several unsuccessful attacks, a more cunning plan was developed. Using both smoke screens to conceal their approach and flamethrowers to weaken the defense positions, several hundred men managed to cross the moat and enter the fortress, where bitter close combat began. Once the outer defenses were weakened, a massive frontal assault began. Finally, the assault succeeded and the remainder of the garrison surrendered.
During the day, the 11th Guards Army sought to reach the
Pregelriver, eliminating all resistance on the Southern side. However, their advance was slowed in the central area of the city, where every building had to be literally taken apart along with its defenders. A particularly bitter skirmish took place in the main railway stationand its platforms, where almost every railcar was transformed into a firing point, and Soviet troops had to use armour and gun support to advance, taking losses. Only by dusk was the territory completely neutralized, allowing the attackers to approach the third inner defence perimeter, protecting the entrance to the city centre itself.
In the north, fort five proved to be a strong pocket of resistance as well. Soviet
sappersfinally managed to place explosives at the base of the walls, breaching them and allowing for a direct assault. As with the assault on fort eight, bitter close combat began in the fort, lasting all night and ceasing only in the morning when the last troops surrendered.
At the end of the day, seeing that further resistance was pointless, General
Otto Laschradioed Adolf Hitler's headquartersand asked for permission to surrender. Hitler's answer was "fight to the last soldier".
Day Three: 8 April 1945
During the night, the Pregel was crossed by the 11th Guards Army and despite enemy fire by dawn a full bridgehead was established on the opposite bank. Continuing their advance northwards, they linked up with the northern troops, completing the encirclement and cutting off the Samland group from the city.
In the afternoon, Marshal
Aleksandr Vasilevskyonce again asked the defenders to surrender. This offer was refused and the German forces attempted to break out of the encirclement, attacking both from the city centre and the Samland bridgehead. The latter managed to advance several kilometres before being stopped. Although another attack was prepared, the Germans' lack of air defenses allowed Soviet Ilyushin Il-2 ground attack aircraftto destroy a large number of troops. During this campaign, Soviet aviation generally proved very effective.
By the end of the day, it was clear that any attempt by the Samland group to break out of the encirclement would be pointless. However, victory was nowhere near, as almost 40,000 men were garrisoned in the city centre, which was regularly subjected to heavy shelling.
Day Four: 9 April 1945
During the last day of the battle, the besieged German defenders were overwhelmed and the defence coordination fell apart. Having been comprehensively defeated, and in the realisation that further resistance was futile, Otto Lasch decided on his own initiative to send emissaries to negotiate the surrender. At 1800, the emissaries arrived at the Soviet lines, and a delegation was sent to Lasch's bunker. Shortly before midnight, the surrender was acknowledged.
Almost eighty percent of the city was destroyed, first by the Royal Air Force in August 1944, and then by Soviet shelling in April 1945. Almost all German residents who remained at the end of the war, an estimated 200,000 out of the city's prewar population of 316,000, were expelled from the city. Many people died of hunger during the war's closing stages and the shortages which followed. During this time, mass looting took place all over East Prussia; there were also many reports of Red Army soldiers raping German female civilians in this region.
After the war, following the transfer of
East Prussiato the Russian SFSR, Königsberg was renamed Kaliningrad, and was installed with predominantly Russian (and, to a lesser extent, Belarusian and Ukrainian) settlers from other areas of the Soviet Union. This area is now known as the Kaliningrad Oblast.
German World War II strongholds
East Prussian Offensive
Evacuation of East Prussia
*Beevor, Antony. "Berlin: The Downfall 1945", Penguin Books, 2002, ISBN 0-670-88695-5
* Galitzky, K.N. "(commander of 11th Guards Army)", Fighting for Eastern Prussia, Moscow, 1970.
* Shefov, Nikolai. "Russian fights", Lib. Military History, M. 2002 (Russian: "Bitvy Rossii" / Nikolai Shefov. Moskva : AST, 2002. SSEES R.XIII.1 SHE (see: [http://www.ssees.ac.uk/nbjan07.htm SSEES Library Recent Acquisitions: January 2007] )
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.
Look at other dictionaries:
Königsberg — Infobox Settlement official name = Königsberg in Preußen settlement type = City nickname = imagesize = image caption = Königsberg Castle before World War I image mapsize = map caption = mapsize1 = map caption1 = subdivision type = Former Country… … Wikipedia
Battle of Memel — Part of the Eastern Front of World War II Date October 5–22, 1944 (main offensive); January 28, 1945 (siege) Location Lithuania / … Wikipedia
Battle of Tannenberg (1914) — Infobox Military Conflict conflict = Battle of Tannenberg partof = the Eastern Front of World War I caption = date = 23 August 1914 ndash; 2 September 1914 place = near Allenstein, East Prussia result = Decisive German victory combatant1 =… … Wikipedia
Battle of Rufiji Delta — Infobox Military Conflict conflict=Battle of Rufiji Delta partof=World War I caption=Wreck of Königsberg date= October 1914 11 July 1915 place= Rufiji Delta, German East Africa (now Tanzania) result= British victory combatant1=flagicon|German… … Wikipedia
Königsberg class light cruiser (1905) — The Königsberg class was a group of four light cruisers built for the German Imperial Navy. The class was comprised of the lead ship, Königsberg , Stettin , Stuttgart , and Nürnberg . The ships were an improvement on the preceding Bremen class,… … Wikipedia
Battle of Friedland — Warbox conflict=Battle of Friedland partof=the War of the Fourth Coalition caption= A Charge of the Russian Leib Guard on 14 June 1807 , by Viktor Mazurovsky. campaign= date=June 14, 1807 place=Friedland, Prussia result= Decisive French victory… … Wikipedia
Battle of Stallupönen — Infobox Military Conflict conflict = Battle of Stallupönen partof = the Eastern Front of World War I caption = Eastern Front, August 17–23, 1914. date = August 17, 1914 place = Stallupönen, East Prussia (now Nesterov, Russia) result = German… … Wikipedia
Battle of Berlin — For the bombing campaign on Berlin by the RAF from November 1943 to March 1944, see Battle of Berlin (air). Infobox Military Conflict conflict = Battle of Berlin caption = Soviet soldiers raising the Soviet flag over the Reichstag after its… … Wikipedia
Battle of the Seelow Heights — Infobox Military Conflict conflict=Battle of the Seelow Heights caption=Soviet artillery bombarding German positions during the battle for Seelow Heights partof=World War II place=Seelow Heights, Germany date=April 16, 1945 ndash; April 19, 1945… … Wikipedia
Battle of Gross-Jägersdorf — Infobox Military Conflict conflict=Battle of Gross Jägersdorf partof=the Seven Years War caption= date=August 30, 1757 place= Gross Jägersdorf, East Prussia casus= territory= result=Russian victory combatant1=flagicon|Prussia|1750 Prussia… … Wikipedia