75 years ago, the Vistula-Oder offensive began, one of the most successful and large-scale offensives of the Red Army during the Great Patriotic War. Soviet troops liberated a significant part of Poland west of the Vistula, seized a bridgehead on the Oder and found themselves 60 kilometers from Berlin.
The situation on the eve of the offensive
By the beginning of 1945, the military-political situation in the world and in Europe had developed in favor of the countries of the anti-Hitler coalition. The grandiose victories of the Soviet Union over the German bloc in 1944 had a decisive influence on the further development of World War II. The Third Reich was left without allies. Italy, Romania, Bulgaria and Finland withdrew from the Hitlerite bloc and entered the war with Germany. The allies retained the strategic initiative. Since the summer of 1944, Berlin has been fighting on two fronts. The Red Army was advancing from the east, the Americans, British and French from the west.
In the West, the allied forces cleared France, Belgium, Luxembourg and part of Holland from the Nazis. The line of the Western Front ran from the mouth of the Meuse River in Holland and further along the Franco-German border to Switzerland. The Allies had complete superiority in forces here: 87 fully equipped divisions, 6,500 tanks and over 10,000 aircraft against the German 74 weak divisions and 3 brigades, about 1,600 tanks and self-propelled guns, 1,750 aircraft. The superiority of the allies in manpower and means was: in manpower - 2 times, in the number of tanks - 4, combat aircraft - 6 times. And this superiority was constantly growing. In addition, the German high command kept the most combat formations on the Russian front. On the Italian front, the Allied forces were stopped by the Germans at the Ravenna-Pisa line. Here 21 divisions and 9 brigades operated against 31 divisions and 1 brigade of the Germans. Also, the Germans held 10 divisions and 4 brigades in the Balkans, against the People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia.
In total, Berlin held about a third of its forces in the West. The main forces and means were still fighting in the East, against the Russian armies. The Eastern Front remained the main front of the World War. The Anglo-American high command, after a forced halt in the offensive, was going to resume movement and quickly break through into the depths of Germany. The Allies planned to preempt the Russians in Berlin and in advancing in parts of Central Europe. In this, England and the United States were facilitated by the strategy of the leadership of the Third Reich, which continued to keep its main forces and means on the Russian front.
Agony of the Third Reich
The situation in Germany was disastrous. In gigantic battles in the East, the Germans were defeated, suffered irreparable losses in manpower and equipment. The main strategic groupings of the Germans on the Eastern Front were defeated, the strategic reserves of the Wehrmacht were depleted. The German armed forces could no longer receive reinforcements regularly and fully. Berlin's strategic defense plan collapsed. The Red Army continued its victorious offensive. The military-economic potential of the German Empire sharply decreased. The Germans lost almost all the previously captured territories and resources of the satellite countries. Germany was deprived of sources of strategic raw materials and food. The German military industry still produced a large number of weapons and equipment, but already at the end of 1944.military production declined sharply and at the beginning of 1945 continued its decline.
However, Germany still remained a strong adversary. The German people, although they lost hope of victory, were loyal to Hitler, retained the illusion of an "honorable peace" if they "survive" in the East. The German armed forces numbered 7.5 million people, the Wehrmacht included 299 divisions (including 33 tank and 13 motorized) and 31 brigades. German troops retained high combat effectiveness, could deliver strong and skillful counterstrikes. He was a strong, experienced and cruel adversary to be reckoned with. The military factories were hidden under the ground and in the rocks (from the attacks of the allied aviation) and she continued to supply the troops with weapons and ammunition. The technical potential of the Reich was high; until the end of the war, the Germans continued to improve their aircraft, produce new heavy tanks, guns and submarines. The Germans created new long-range weapons - jet aircraft, FAU-1 cruise missiles, and FAU-2 ballistic missiles. The infantry was armed with Faust cartridges - the first anti-tank grenade launchers, very dangerous in close and urban combat. At the same time, during the 1944 campaign, the length of the Soviet-German front was significantly reduced. This allowed the German command to compact the battle formations.
The military-political leadership of the Third Reich was not going to lay down arms. Hitler continued to stake on a split in the anti-Hitler coalition. The alliance of the imperialist powers (Britain and the USA) with Soviet Russia was unnatural. At the beginning of the world war, the Anglo-Saxons relied on the destruction of the USSR by Hitler, and then they were going to finish off weakened Germany, crush Japan and establish their own world order. Therefore, the West with all its might delayed the opening of the second front, so that the Russians and the Germans bled each other as much as possible. However, these plans failed. The Red Army crushed the Wehrmacht and the Russians began to liberate Europe. If the Allies had not landed in France, the Russians could well have entered Paris again. Now England and the United States sought to get ahead of the Russians in Berlin, and to occupy as much territory as possible in Europe. But the contradictions between the democracies of the West and the USSR did not go away. At any moment a new world war could break out - the Third.
Therefore, Hitler and his entourage tried with all their might to drag out the war, turning Germany into a besieged fortress. They hoped that the Anglo-Saxons and the Russians were about to cling to each other, and the Reich would be able to avoid complete defeat. Secret negotiations were conducted with the Westerners. Part of Hitler's entourage was ready to either remove or surrender the Fuhrer in order to come to an agreement with the West. To preserve the morale of the Wehrmacht and somehow support the population's faith in the Fuhrer, German propaganda talked about the "miracle weapon" that would soon appear and crush the enemies of the Reich. The German "gloomy genius" did indeed develop atomic weapons, but the Nazis did not manage to create them. At the same time, total mobilizations continued, a militia (Volkssturm) was formed, old men and young men were thrown into battle.
The basis of the military plans was a tough defense. It was obvious to the German generals that from the standpoint of grand strategy, the war was lost. The only hope is to keep your lair. The main danger came from the Russians. It was impossible to come to an agreement with Moscow after the blood was shed. Therefore, in the East, they planned to fight to the death. On the Russian front were the main forces and the best divisions. The front line only in East Prussia was held on German soil. Also in Northern Latvia, Army Group North (34 divisions) was blocked. The Germans still held their defenses in Poland, Hungary, Austria and Czechoslovakia. This was a huge strategic foreground of the Wehrmacht, where Berlin hoped to keep the Russians away from the vital centers of the Third Reich. In addition, these countries had vital resources for the Reich, industrial and rural potential needed to continue the war. Considering all this, the German high command decided to hold the existing lines, and in Hungary to inflict powerful counterattacks. In order to create a solid defense, the reinforced construction of fortifications was carried out, the cities were turned into fortresses, and they were preparing for a circular defense. In particular, seven defensive lines up to 500 km deep (between the Vistula and the Oder) were erected in the central, Berlin direction. A powerful line of defense was in East Prussia, built on the former German-Polish and southern borders of the Reich.
But Berlin still hoped to find a common language with the West, using the slogan of the "red threat" - "The Russians are coming!" It was necessary to show Britain and the United States their strength, their need for a future struggle against Soviet Russia. Taking advantage of the temporary lull on the fronts, Berlin organized a powerful blow on the Western Front, in the Ardennes. On December 16, 1944, the three German armies of Army Group B launched an offensive in the northern sector of the Western Front. The Germans showed the Allies how much a pound of dashing. The situation was critical. There was even a fear that the Nazis would break through to the English Channel and arrange a second Dunkirk for the Allies. Only the lack of strong reserves did not allow the Germans to develop their first success. Berlin showed the Anglo-Saxons its power, but at the same time did not strike with full force (for this it would have to weaken the armies in the East). Thus, the German leadership demonstrated the strength of the Reich, hoping for a separate peace with the West, after which it would be possible to turn bayonets together against Russia.
In the future, the German high command was no longer able to organize powerful strikes in the West. This was due to events in the East. In December 1944, Soviet troops surrounded a powerful Budapest enemy grouping (180 thousand people), which forced the Germans to transfer forces from the Western Front to the Eastern. At the same time, Hitler's Headquarters learned that the Red Army was preparing an offensive on the Vistula, in the main direction of Berlin, and in Prussia. The German High Command began to prepare the transfer of the 6th SS Panzer Army and other units from the West to the East.
At the same time, the Hitlerite elite made a mistake in assessing the forces of the Red Army and the direction of the main attack. The Germans expected the Russians to resume their offensive in the winter of 1945. However, given the severity and bloodshed of the battles of 1944, Berlin believed that the Russians would not be able to attack along the entire length of the front. At Hitler's headquarters, it was believed that the Russians would strike the main blow again in the southern strategic direction.
During the 1945 campaign, the Red Army was preparing to finish off the Third Reich and complete the liberation of the countries of Europe enslaved by the Nazis. By the beginning of 1945, the military-economic power of the Union had increased even more. The economy developed along an ascending line, the most difficult tests in the development of the Soviet rear remained in the past. The economy was restored in the liberated regions of the country, metal smelting, coal mining, and power generation increased. Mechanical engineering has achieved particular success. In the most difficult and terrible conditions, the Soviet socialist system showed its effectiveness and enormous potential, defeating the Hitlerite "European Union".
The troops were provided with everything they needed. In service were modernized combat aircraft, tanks, self-propelled guns, etc. The growth of the country's economy led to an increase in the power of the Red Army, a sharp increase in its motorization and equipment with technical and engineering means. So, in comparison with the beginning of 1944, the saturation of military equipment increased: for tanks - more than 2 times, for aircraft - 1, 7 times. At the same time, the troops had a high fighting spirit. We smashed the enemy, liberated our land, went to storm the German strongholds. The level of combat skill of both private and command personnel has significantly increased.
In early November 1944, the Soviet Headquarters decided to temporarily switch to the defense of the troops of the 2nd and 1st Belorussian and 1st Ukrainian fronts, operating against the main strategic grouping of the Wehrmacht - the Warsaw-Berlin direction. For development on this offensive, careful preparation was required, the creation of the necessary superiority of forces and means. At the same time, the development of an offensive was planned in the southern direction, in the zone of the 3rd, 2nd and 4th Ukrainian fronts. The defeat of the German grouping in the Budapest area was to lead to a weakening of the enemy's defense in the central sector of the Soviet-German front.
As a result, it was decided at the first stage to intensify actions on the flanks, in the south - in Hungary, then in Austria, and in the north - in East Prussia. The offensive operations unfolded in November-December on the flanks of the front led to the fact that the Germans began to throw their reserves there and weakened the troops in the main, Berlin direction. In the second stage of the campaign, it was planned to deliver powerful blows along the entire front, defeating enemy groups in East Prussia, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria and Germany, taking the main centers of life, Berlin, and forcing them to surrender.
Forces of the parties
Initially, the start of the operation in the main direction was planned for January 20, 1945. But the start date of the operation was postponed to January 12 due to the problems of the Anglo-American troops in the West. On January 6, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed Joseph Stalin. He asked Moscow to start a major operation in the coming days in order to force the Germans to transfer part of their forces from the Western to the Eastern Front. The Soviet Headquarters decided to support the allies, since the offensive was already being prepared.
Fulfilling the order of the Supreme Command Headquarters (SVGK), the troops of the 1st Belorussian and 1st Ukrainian fronts under the command of Marshals Zhukov and Konev launched an offensive from the Vistula line. Soviet troops had a great advantage over the enemy in manpower and equipment. The two Soviet fronts had over 2, 2 million men, 34, 5 thousand guns and mortars, about 6, 5 thousand tanks and self-propelled guns, about 4, 8 thousand aircraft.
The Soviet troops on the territory of Poland were opposed by the German Army Group "A" (from January 26 - "Center"), which united the 9th and 4th Panzer armies, as well as the main forces of the 17th Army. They had 30 divisions, 2 brigades and several dozen separate battalions (city garrisons). A total of about 800 thousand people, about 5 thousand guns and mortars, over 1, 1 thousand tanks. The Germans prepared seven defensive lines between the Vistula and Oder, up to 500 km deep. The strongest was the first - the Vistula defensive line, which consisted of four zones with a total depth of 30 to 70 km. Best of all, the Germans fortified areas in the areas of the Magnushevsky, Pulawsky and Sandomierz bridgeheads. Subsequent defensive lines consisted of one or two lines of trenches and separate strongholds. The sixth defensive line ran along the old German-Polish border, and had a number of fortified areas.
The 1st Ukrainian Front (UF) went on the offensive on January 12, 1945, the 1st Belorussian Front (BF) - on January 14. Having broken through the enemy's main line of defense on the Vistula line, the shock groups of the two fronts began to rapidly push their way to the west. Konev's troops, which operated from the Sandomierz bridgehead in the direction of Breslau (Wroclaw), in the first four days advanced 100 km in depth and occupied Kielce. The 4th Panzer, 13th Guards and 13th Armies of Generals Lelushenko, Gordov and Pukhov were especially successful. On January 17, the troops of the 3rd Guards Tank, 5th Guards and 52nd Armies of Rybalko, Zhadov and Koroteev took the large Polish city of Czestochow.
A feature of the operation was that the offensive of the Soviet armies was so rapid that rather large enemy groups and garrisons remained in the rear of the Red Army. The advanced units rushed forward, not being distracted by the creation of a tight ring of encirclement, the second echelons were engaged in the surrounded enemy. That is, in some respects, the situation of 1941 was repeated. Only now the Russians were advancing quickly, and the Germans were falling into the "cauldrons". Thanks to the high rates of the offensive, our troops quickly overcame the intermediate defensive zone along the Nida River and crossed the Pilitsa and Varta rivers on the move. Our troops reached the borders of these rivers even before the retreating Nazis, who were moving in parallel. By the end of January 17, 1945, the breakthrough of the enemy defense was carried out along the front by 250 km and in depth by 120 - 140 km. In the course of these battles, the main forces of the 4th Panzer Army and the 24th Tank Reserve Corps were defeated, and the 17th Army suffered heavy losses.
The troops of the 1st BF delivered the main blow from the Magnuszewski bridgehead in the general direction to Poznan and simultaneously from the Pulawski bridgehead to Radom and Lodz. On the right flank of the front there was an offensive against the Warsaw grouping of the Wehrmacht. On the third day of the offensive, the 69th Army of Kolpakchi and the 11th Panzer Corps liberated Radom. During the battles on January 14-17, the troops of the 47th and 61st armies of Perkhorovich and Belov, the 2nd Guards Tank Army of Bogdanov (she developed an offensive in the enemy's rear), the 1st Army The troops of the Polish General Poplavsky liberated Warsaw. On January 18, Zhukov's troops completed the defeat of the German troops encircled west of Warsaw. On January 19, our troops liberated Lodz, on January 23 - Bydgoszcz. As a result, the Soviet armies quickly advanced to the borders of Germany, to the Oder line. The breakthrough of the troops of Konev and Zhukov was facilitated by the simultaneous offensive of the 2nd and 3rd Belorussian fronts in northwestern Poland and East Prussia, and the 4th Ukrainian front in the southern regions of Poland.
The troops of the 1st UV on January 19, with the forces of the 3rd Guards Tank, 5th Guards and 52nd Armies, reached Breslau. Here stubborn battles began with the German garrison. On the same day, the troops of the left wing of the front - the 60th and 59th armies of Kurochkin and Korovnikov - liberated Krakow, the ancient Polish capital. Our troops occupied the Silesian industrial region, one of the vital centers of the German Empire. Southern Poland was cleared of the Nazis. By the end of January - beginning of February, Soviet troops reached the Oder on a wide front, capturing bridgeheads in the regions of Breslau, Ratibor and Oppeln.
The troops of the 1st BF continued to develop the offensive. They surrounded the Poznan and Schneidümel groups of the Wehrmacht, and on January 29 they entered German territory. Soviet troops crossed the Oder and seized bridgeheads in the Küstrin and Frankfurt areas.
In early February 1945, the operation was completed. Having deployed in a strip of up to 500 km, our troops advanced 500 - 600 km in depth. The Russians liberated most of Poland. The troops of the 1st BF were only 60 km from Berlin, and the 1st UV reached the Oder in its return and middle reaches, threatening the enemy in the Berlin and Dresden directions.
The Germans were stunned by the swiftness of the Russian breakthrough. General of the Wehrmacht tank forces von Mellenthin noted: “The Russian offensive beyond the Vistula developed with unprecedented strength and swiftness, it is impossible to describe everything that happened between the Vistula and the Oder in the first months of 1945. Europe has not known anything like it since the fall of the Roman Empire."
During the offensive, 35 German divisions were destroyed, and 25 divisions lost 50 - 70% of their personnel. A huge wedge was driven into the strategic front of the Wehrmacht, the tip of which was in the Kustrin region. To close the gap, the German command had to withdraw over 20 divisions from other sectors of the front and from the West. The Wehrmacht offensive on the Western Front was completely stopped, troops and equipment were transferred to the East. This victory was of great importance for the outcome of the entire 1945 campaign.