Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Battle for Seelow Heights

1945: German 9th Army – Hitler’s Last Army

The 9th Army was a World War II field army. It was activated on 15 May 1940 with General Johannes Blaskowitz in command. It was the last “intact” army that Hitler had left defending the approaches to Berlin in the last days of the Third Reich.
The Soviets began their invasion of Germany on January 12, 1945 and forced the 9th Army to retreat all along the front until it was deployed westward to the river Oder. Three of the 9th Army’s formations were tasked with defending the Seelow Heights, which was the last defensible region before Berlin. To the north was the CI Army Corps, in the centre General Helmuth Weidling’s LVI Panzer Corps, and to south of the Heights was the XI SS Panzer Corps. In addition south of Frankfurt (which was defended by the Frankfurt Garrison) was the V SS Mountain Corps. In total the 9th Army was reduced to 100,000 men and 800 tanks and assault guns against which the Soviets had over 1,000,000 men and 10,000 tanks and assault guns.
The Battle of the Seelow Heights started on 16 April 1945 when Marshal Georgy Zhukov’s 1st Belorussian Front attacked across the Oder. The 9th Army was able to hold the line for about 3 days. After very heavy fighting Weidling’s LVI Panzer Corps was driven back towards Berlin. Most of the CI Army Corps divisions, now north of the salient created by the 1st Belorussian Front were reassigned along with LVI Panzer Corps to Army Detachment Steiner which was tasked with counter-attacking and pinching off the salient – one of Hitler’s impossible fantasies. In the end Weidling’s corps was driven back into Berlin and he was promoted to commander of the Berlin Defensive Area, reporting directly to Hitler. Theodor Busse and the rest of the 9th Army were driven into a pocket in the Spree Forest south of the Seelow Heights and west of Frankfurt.

Pressed from the East by the Russian Army's LAGG's and IL-2 aitcraft and from the West by the USAAF's Thunderbolts and Lightens; the Luftwaffe was tasked with the daunting task of slowing the astounding pace of advances by the mighty Red Army, at the bridge head near Seelow Heights. They intended to blow-up the bridges across the Oder near Seelow Heights. They intend to use their latest secret weapon: the Mistel to accomplish the task. But it is not going as easy as they first thought. 
From inside the pocket east of Frankfurt Busse organised a breakout to the west to join up with the 12th Army. The breakout, known as the Battle of Halbe proved to be very costly resulting in the destruction of the Ninth Army as a coherent force. Survivors that didn’t surrender to the Soviets during the breakout crossed the Elbe at Tangermünde and surrendered to the US Army.

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