Cinderella Hitler declares defeat

Around three o'clock on April 22nd, Hitler had a fit of rage in Foringjabyrgin. But the German generals are no longer listening. No one wants to save Berlin. Instead, they…

Around three o’clock on April 22nd, Hitler had a fit of rage in Foringjabyrgin. But the German generals are no longer listening. No one wants to save Berlin. Instead, they flee the Red Army.

The light from a nearly full moon makes it easier for people to see the tracks in the snow. This trail is left by German farmers who have crossed the ice on the Oder River to look for firewood on the east bank.

This trail is now being followed by Soviet soldiers, thus cutting through awake and thin ice. Then all you have to do is to swing yourself onto the river bank. Apparently, the Germans have not realized that the leading units of the Red Army have come this far.

Early in the morning on January 31st, Soviet forces, under the command of Colonel Khariton Esipenko, capture the small town of Klenitz.

Only the baker and the apprentice baker are up, but the conductor and other employees of the German railway train with anti-aircraft guns are still fast asleep.

Red Army mechanics had to go down into the icy water to fasten the bridge sections together.

As soon as the station commander at the track station has put on his clothes, he solemnly walks up to Colonel Esipenkos.

“Do you intend to allow the departure of the train to Berlin?” asks this official. It’s bad enough to see Soviet soldiers on the streets, but to a railway official it’s a trifle compared to trains not running on schedule.

“Unfortunately, Mr. station manager. But that can’t happen,” replies the colonel. “There will be a short break in rail service to Berlin – until the end of the war, let’s say.”

Later that day, the Red Army also reaches west across the Oder a little further south, and with that the Soviets have gained a foothold in two places on the west bank of the river, which was supposed to create an unwinnable front for the Germans.

Hitler’s capital is now only 67 km away and thus the stage is set for the death war of the Third Reich. It is now the first time that German generals consider whether it is acceptable for them to sacrifice their men in battles that can only end in one way.

The bloody aftermath of a conspiracy

High-ranking officers in the German army had long looked at the situation with evil eyes, and many silently cursed the Commander’s orders, as they were increasingly inconsistent with reality.

They obeyed anyway, as opposition could be life-threatening in Nazi Germany:

The commander had neither forgotten nor forgiven the plot in July 1944 when von Stauffenberg tried to blow him up in the Wolf Fortress.

“You shall see that next to Berlin awaits Russia the greatest defeat in their history.”
Adolf Hitler, while still thinking that SS General Felix Steiner will save Berlin.

Miraculously, Hitler escaped the explosion with minor injuries. The real victims of the conspiracy were instead the highest officers of the German army:

Before the incident, the generals had enjoyed a certain degree of freedom when it came to carrying out the commander’s orders on the battlefield. But with von Stauffenberg’s bomb, confidence was blown.

“The circle around these traitors is very narrow,” Hitler asserted in a radio address after the plot. “This is a small group of criminals who will now be exterminated without any mercy.”

Although the Commander left it unsaid, he no longer trusted his commanders and the Gestapo combed their ranks in search of accomplices. Others understood the message:

Henceforth, every command of the Commander was to be carried out to the smallest detail. Anything else would have very bad consequences.

But in the spring of 1945, the Germans needed a general who was able to play his hand and thus get the most out of the army, which had now lost most of its strength.

The 58-year-old Gotthard Heinrici was chosen, even if Hitler had limited faith in this religious general who regularly held religious services for his soldiers. But Heinrici was well versed in defensive warfare and was now put in charge of the Weichsel Army which was defending along the Oder River.

The Red Army built bridges on floating containers for transport across the Oder River.

During this, the Red Army amassed a massive force in the two places west of the river, where it had gained a foothold. To get the last leg to Berlin, however, the tanks first had to cross the Seelow ridge, where the German army had dug trenches.

Street battles were also set up inside the capital itself. They were to be manned with soldiers from the Weichsel Army if the Russians managed to break through the defensive line at Seelow.

Therefore, a delegation went east to the front to discuss a joint defense plan.

“It would be best to fry the madmen in Berlin out of their own fat,” Heinricis’ second-in-command told the delegation.

She was sent on to Seelow, where the officers of the 9th Army welcomed her with Nazi slogans:

“9. the army will be at the Oder. If things go wrong, we will fall here but we will not retreat.” These words did not sound convincing, but they were as if cut from one of Hitler’s speeches so that no one dared to object.

General Heinrici intended to hold the high ground as long as possible, but it seems that he has immediately begun to consider how hard he should try to defend himself in the futility and in order to maintain Hitler and the Nazi regime.

Pilots on suicide missions

The Luftwaffe used every means to destroy the bridges over the Oder river. Kamikaze flights were to cut Red Army transport routes.

As time went on, the Luftwaffe developed more and more capable methods of targeting very important targets. Flying bombs were among the methods:

A fighter jet was attached on top of a fully loaded bomber.

This clunky weapon was manned by pilots from Kampfgescwader 200, but the squadron’s pilots had agreed to undertake a mission where human survival was unlikely.

On 27 April, seven such vehicles targeted the bridges over the Oder River on the Eastern Front, but failed to cause significant damage.

In the previous week, a squadron had attempted outright suicide attacks or “kamikaze flights”:

The pilots got into fighter planes, loaded with explosives. Then it was reported that the force had managed to destroy 17 bridges.

Apparently, only one railway bridge was temporarily damaged. These actions cost the lives of 35 pilots.

Expensive forward channel

The attack on Seelow began early in the morning of April 16. A hail of bullets from 15,000 cannons pounded the German defenses.


“The whole Oder valley shook,” said a young German officer. “It was as if the earth stretched to the sky in one mighty wall.


Everything loose jumped and bounced all around us. None of us had ever experienced anything like this before or even thought it could happen.”


Then the cannons fell silent, and a huge wave of 700,000 brown-clad soldiers rushed forward with a war cry on their lips: “To Berlin!”


Heinrici and Theodor Busse, who was in command of the 9th Army, had secretly withdrawn the German troops from the front line.


The Red Army fire therefore caused limited damage to the Germans, but when the Soviet forces then advanced across the fragmented country, they came under heavy German fire.


At the same time, the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) focused its last efforts on the bridges over the Oder, which formed the lifeblood of the Soviet advance. A few pilots even sacrificed themselves in Japanese-style “kamikaze” attacks.


The Germans’ triumphant declarations of 17 blown-up bridges were greatly exaggerated. According to Soviet sources, only one bridge was weakened.


Nothing could stop the Red Army from advancing over the Seelow ridge and beyond. After three days of intense fighting, in which 30,000 Soviet soldiers fell, the road to Berlin was open.


The advance at Seelow cleaved Heinricis’s army in the center.


He himself was now north of the pass in the defensive line, while General Busse and the rest of the 9th Army retreated to the south. Part of the soldiers belonged to the SS division Nordland, which included many volunteers from Denmark and Norway.


On April 20, Busse announced over the radio that he intended to form a new defensive line in the Spreewald, southeast of Berlin.


Rather, Heinrici urged him to retreat before the Red Army could corner him from Berlin. The danger was that the 9th Army would be surrounded, but Busse did not dare retreat to Berlin.


He had once had to endure scolding in the Foringjabyrgin, and Hitler’s second temper tantrum could have proved life-threatening for him at best.


Heinrici now assessed the situation so that the 9th Army was lost. He was forced to concentrate on the front line north of Berlin where Soviet tanks were also advancing.


To fend off that threat, he began gathering reserves under SS-Obergruppenanführer (general) Felix Steiner, but Hitler discovered this and made his own plans for those troops.


Steiner seemed downright heaven-sent in a time of need. In the 1940s, he had been involved in founding the military arm of the SS, the Waffen-SS.


The commander trusted him much more than the leaders of the army, whom he suspected of being Greek and who were not able to create a victory from his plans.


Gotthard Heinrich

Rank: Colonel General, supreme commander of the remnants of the Veichsel Army.

Location: At Prenzlau, north of Berlin

Felix Steiner

Rank: SS General, Commander of the Steiner Division.

Location: At Oranienburg, north of Berlin.

Military: Just a few thousand.

Walther Wenck

Rank: General, commander of the 12th Army

Location: On the Elbe, west of Berlin.

Military force: Up to 100,000 people

Theodore Busse

Rank: General, commander of the 9th Army

Situation: Surrounded in Halbe, south of Berlin.

Military force: 80,000 people

A suicide mission

On April 22, Hitler ordered Steiner to attack the Soviet forces north of Berlin.


This long forward arm of the enemy was weak, and Hitler insisted that Steiner’s division could easily break through and reach Berlin.


Hitler misused the term “division” in the context, as Steiner’s men were relatively few.


“It is absolutely forbidden to retreat to the west,” was Hitler’s order. “You, Steiner, are responsible for the execution of this order.


The fate of the state capital depends on the success of this mission.”


On a map, the plan looked reasonable, and Hitler was extremely pleased with himself. The military commanders who were with him in Foringjabyrgin had not seen him so optimistic for a long time.


“You will see that next to Berlin awaits Russia the greatest defeat in its history,” predicted Hitler.


But in fact, it was he himself who had one of the worst disappointments of his life coming up. The Red Army was now able to pump their forces around Seelow unimpeded, and Steiner’s best troops were already engaged in combat.


Except for those men, his regiment existed only on paper.


“I have almost no artillery, only a few tanks and very few anti-aircraft guns,” he informed Heinrici sullenly.


For the attack, he actually had only two thousand lightly armed SS soldiers and completely untrained airmen. Steiner refused to send these men to open death.


The bitter truth

In Foringjabyrgin, life went on as usual on April 22.


Hitler got up late as usual, but then hours passed in meetings and the staff worked together to prevent Heinrici from talking to Hitler on the phone.


The moment of truth finally arrived at 15, when Hitler held a meeting with the highest commanders of the army.


Now Wilhelm Keitel and other yes-men in the Commander’s Barracks were forced to admit that SS General Felix Steiner had not carried out the order. Hitler was furious.


“He was jumping up and down and yelling and screaming,” said one senior officer. “He was either off-white or fiery red in the front and was shaking all over.”


His voice broke again and again as he screamed words like betrayal, cowardice, treason and disobedience.”


In the end, Hitler swore to stay in Berlin and fight there. Everyone else could drop out if they wanted. Finally, he dropped into a chair and mumbled:


“This is over! The war is lost! I’m going to shoot myself!”


Before, generals had been stripped of their posts in shame for letting such things out, but now people heard these words from the lips of the Commander himself! Desperately, Keitel and his men began to look for something that could cheer up the Commander.


And on the map they spotted the 12th Army under Walther Wenck which was supposed to hold the Americans west of the Elbe.


There was no indication that the Americans intended to make an attempt to attack east across the river, so it was conceivable that Wenck would lead the army to Berlin and come to the capital’s rescue!


The idea jolted Hitler out of submission and a new plan took shape on the map.


The last man standing shall win

Hitler had long held a high regard for the tank commander Walther Wenck, who at the age of only 44 had been dubbed the youngest general in the German army.


Now he was given a new role as the savior of the Third Reich.


“To the soldiers of Wenck’s army!” Hitler began his address on April 23. Despite the silence of the words, the order was not intended for Wenck’s soldiers, but was meant to inspire the inner-crowded inhabitants of Berlin.


“The commander has called you and you have responded to the call as in the victorious times. Berlin is waiting for you,” said this directive.


Wenck hadn’t moved a span from his ass yet though, because it takes time to turn an entire army 180 degrees without any fuel. It wasn’t until late the next day that the soldiers finally got movement.


Hitler had ordered that Wenck should march with his army to Berlin and join Busse and the 9th Army on the way.


When Steiner finally launched his attack from the north, the Soviet advance would be broken back again. This is how Hitler envisioned it.


“He was jumping up and down and yelling and screaming,” said one senior officer. “He was either off-white or fiery red in the front and was shaking all over.”


The soldiers of Wenck’s 12th Army were ready to follow their commander “Papi Wenck” to hell and back if he so desired. And that was exactly what he had in mind.


“Boys, you have to go through the baptism of fire one more time,” Wenck told his men. “But it’s no longer about Berlin and it’s no longer about the Third Reich!”


The general had made his own secret plan: He knew the war was lost and preferred to end up in an American concentration camp.


But first, Wenck thought of opening an escape route for General Busse, who was in danger.


Busse had ignored Heinricis’s advice, but had obeyed the commander and formed a new line of defense south-east of Berlin, with the result that his 80,000-strong force was now surrounded.


On April 25, Busse received an order from Hitler. He was to break out of the siege, join Wenck’s 12th Army, and then come to the rescue of the capital.


A few days earlier this might have been possible, but now the soldiers had to fight for every meter on their way.


Busse decided not to obey any more orders from Hitler. Now his only goal was to get the 9th Army to Elba and the Americans.


His troops were under strict orders not to waste their efforts in helping the hundreds of thousands of civilians who had taken refuge with the 9th Army to escape the rumored horrors of falling into Russian hands.


“But the women?” one of the soldiers objected. “Should we just leave them for the Reds to rape and kill?”


“We can’t help them.”


The radio is off

All discipline was thrown into the wind when the 9th Army began its offensive out of the army to the west.


Boundaries between units such as regiments or regiments were erased, but the soldiers fought their way in small groups that sometimes joined forces in battle.


Armored Sergeant Wolfgang Faust described a group of soldiers preparing to bypass a Soviet stronghold in the dark.


In addition to two tanks from his platoon, there was one SS armored car and two cannons.


In the infantry around them were nothing more than paratroopers, civilians from the Volkssturm, and a few long-weary soldiers who had to be driven forward.


“They took one of the unwilling – a boy of about 18 – and executed him with a shot to the head. Only then did the others bite their teeth and prepare for battle.


Under the cover of darkness, the Germans managed to bypass or jump over the fortification, but immediately afterwards they scattered again.


As the 9th Army lurched westward, desperate radio commands came from Berlin.


Together with 100,000 soldiers, nearly half a million refugees crossed the Elbe at Tangenmünde. Most of these people were then driven back to the Soviet occupation zone in accordance with the agreements that the Allies had made among themselves.

Busse had stopped answering the radio, but the command’s surveillance planes had discovered that his army was heading directly west—not toward Berlin.

“The commander expects the armies to do their duty!” So sounded the bitter message from the Commander’s Barracks in Berlin.

“History will remember with contempt any man who, under these circumstances, does not do his utmost to save the fatherland and the Commander.”

But this blew Busse’s ears like nothing else.

While Wenck tried to escape as many soldiers and civilians as possible south of Berlin, Heinricis’ army was on its way to meet the British forces in the north.

Hitler was unsuspecting of the fraud because Heinrici was now caught sending him false messages that he still held his position.

“I can no longer take the responsibility of carrying out these insane suicide orders,” explained Heinrici. “Not so much as one more German soldier will be sacrificed for no reason.”

I am responsible to my men, the nation and higher powers than Hitler.”

The betrayal was not discovered until April 28, when the head of the Military Council himself, Keitel, appeared furious at Heinricis’ camp.

His closest colleagues feared for his life and waited in hiding with machine guns in their hands during the meeting.

If things went wrong, they were ready to shoot Keitel and his men to shreds.

As a warning to the public, signs were hung around the necks of those executed: “I worked with the Bolsheviks!”.

The SS issued many thousands of death sentences

In 1945, Hitler became increasingly desperate and used every means to force the German soldiers to fight on.

He had guards posted on all roads from the front and they were to arrest anyone who went in the wrong direction without good reason.

“Military justice should apply the most severe punishments based on the principle that those who fear an honorable death in battle deserve the death of a coward,” said the commander’s directive.

In March 1945, he ordered a “speed trial” with three army officers as judges, clerks to handle the paperwork, and then a firing squad.

Convicted had no right of appeal. When the German army began to collapse in April, the hard Nazis themselves began to execute anyone who did not show the right fighting spirit.

15,000 German soldiers were executed as deserters and another 50,000 were sentenced to death for minor oversights, such as disobedience.

Hitler committed suicide

But Keitel contented himself with stripping Heinric of the rank of general and ordering him to appear at the Command Barracks the next day to explain his case to Hitler.

In the barracks, the Commander restlessly paced back and forth, waiting for the 12th Army:

“What happened to Wenck?” he asked.

The next day, Heinrici got into his car but did not head for Berlin. He wanted to get to Schleswig-Holstein, but his soldiers surrendered to the British.

Hitler committed suicide on April 30, but the war continued. The remnants of the 9th Army marched on until the vanguard spotted the familiar helmets and tanks in front of them on 1 May.

“We came upon German soldiers,” said Panzer Sergeant Wolfgang Faust. “They signaled us to move on and said the 12th Army was close behind.

It is not known how many soldiers Busse had left. Historians have guessed anywhere from 5,000 to 25,000. But these soldiers reached the 12th Army and then to Elba.

Transfers across the ill-fated bridge overhangs began on May 4, and according to Wenck’s calculations, more than 100,000 troops and 400,000 civilians made it west across the river where the troops surrendered to the Americans.

SS General Steiner surrendered to the British.

The revolt of the generals had succeeded. In the last moments of the war, they had managed to save their soldiers from Stalin’s wrath. However, the uprising came too late.

Due to the obedience of German generals, millions of German soldiers lost their lives and the rain of Allied bombs had left the country in ruins.

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