Soviet Tanks The IS-2 of the 75th Guards Heavy Tank Regiment of the 3rd Belorussian Front overcomes the rise in East Prussia. January 1945
The Agony of the Third Reich. 75 years ago, in January 1945, the East Prussian operation began. The Red Army defeated the powerful East Prussian Wehrmacht group, liberated the northern part of Poland and occupied East Prussia, the most important military-economic part of the Third Reich.
East Prussian fortress
East Prussia was historical fortress, strategic bridgehead of Germany in the Baltic. The Nazis used this region to attack Poland and the USSR in 1939 and 1941. When the Reich began to lose the war, East Prussia became a powerful stronghold for the defense of the Reich. Here, deeply echeloned defense lines and lines, fortified areas were prepared and improved in engineering terms.
The German Army Group Center (which was transformed into Army Group North from January 26, 1945), driven back to the Baltic Sea, defended on a vast front stretching over 550 km from the mouth of the Neman to the Vistula (north of Warsaw). It included the 2nd and 4th field, 3rd tank armies. There were 41 divisions in the army (including 3 tank and 3 motorized), 2 battle groups, many special forces, including militia battalions (Volkssturm). In total, Colonel General G. Reinhardt, commander of the Army Group Center, had 580 thousand soldiers and officers, plus 200 thousand militias, 8,2 thousand guns and mortars, 7 tanks and self-propelled guns, and more than 500 aircraft of the 6th air fleet Luftwaffe. The German Navy from the bases located in Prussia supported the Wehrmacht on the coastal flank.
German soldiers and officers, despite the heavy defeats of 1943-1944, retained their fighting spirit and high combat efficiency. The German generals were still high class. Marshal Konev recalled the strength of enemy resistance during this period as follows:
“Far from all Germans saw the sunset of the third empire, and the difficult situation did not make almost any changes to the nature of the actions of the Nazi soldier on the battlefield: he continued to fight as he did before, distinguishing himself, especially in defense, by stamina, sometimes reaching fanaticism. The organization of the army remained at its best, the divisions were manned, armed and equipped with everything or almost everything that was supposed to be their state. ”
In addition, many soldiers of the East Prussian Wehrmacht operational-strategic grouping were local natives and were determined to stand to death. The impact of Hitler’s propaganda was also affected, where various horrors of the “Russian occupation” were portrayed.
The German High Command tried with all its might to keep the East Prussian strategic bridgehead. It was necessary not only for the defense of the central part of the Reich, but also for a possible counterattack. The Hitler Headquarters planned under favorable circumstances to go on the offensive from East Prussia. The local group hung over the 2nd and 1st Belorussian fronts, which could be used for a flank attack, and the defeat of the main forces of the Red Army in the central, Warsaw-Berlin direction. Also from East Prussia it was possible to restore the land corridor with Army Group North, which was blocked on the Courland Peninsula by land from the Soviet Baltic fronts.
Volunteers of East Prussian battalions of the Volkssturm listen to the speech of SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler. October 1944
A sixteen-year-old Volkssturm fighter armed with a MP 40 submachine gun. East Prussia
Column of German tanks Pz.Kpfw. V “Panther” moves to the front in East Prussia. January 1945
The column of German infantry and self-propelled guns tank destroyer Jagdpanzer IV / 70 (V) are moving along the road to East Prussia. Part of the German infantry is armed with Panzerfaust grenade launchers. January 1945
Red Army Forces
The troops of the 3rd and 2nd Belorussian fronts were involved in the East Prussian operation with the support of the Baltic Fleet. The 3rd Belorussian Front (3rd BF), commanded by General Chernyakhovsky, came close to the borders of East Prussia from the east. In the area of Gumbinenna troops of this front occupied a wide ledge. On the northern flank of the East Prussian grouping were the troops of the 1st Baltic Front, General Baghramyan (43rd Army). On the southern flank - the troops of the 2nd Belorussian Front (2nd BF) under the command of Marshal Rokossovsky.
The Soviet armies were given the task of cutting off the enemy group in East Prussia from the rest of the Wehrmacht forces, pressing them to the sea, simultaneously delivering a powerful frontal strike from the east to Koenigsberg, dismembering and destroying German troops. The 3rd BF front was supposed to deliver the main blow north of the Masurian Lakes towards Königsberg. The 2nd BF was to develop an offensive along the southern border of East Prussia, bypassing the Masurian lakes and other fortified areas, breaking through to the Baltic coast, to Marienburg and Elbing. The 43rd Army in the north developed the offensive in the Tilsit direction. The Baltic Fleet, under the command of Admiral Tributs, was to support the advancing troops on its coastal flank. aviation and ship fire, as well as landing and assaults on enemy naval communications.
Our troops had an overwhelming superiority of forces and weapons over the enemy. The composition of the two Belarusian fronts totaled more than 1,6 million people, 21,5 thousand guns and mortars (76 mm caliber or more), 3,8 thousand tanks and self-propelled guns, more than 3 thousand aircraft.
The offensive of the Soviet armies
On January 13, 1945, the armies of the 3rd BF went on the offensive, and on January 14, the armies of the 2nd BF. The strike group of the 3rd BF at the first stage of the operation was to defeat the Tilsit-Insterburg group of the enemy. North of Gumbinenna, the 39th, 5th and 28th armies of Generals Ludnikov, Krylov and Luchinsky, the 1st and 2nd tank corps were struck. In the second echelon was the 11th Guards Army of General Galitsky. The 43rd Army of Beloborodov was advancing on the northern flank of the front attack group (on January 19 it was transferred from the 1st Baltic Front to the 3rd BF), striking Tilsit together with the 39th Army. On the southern flank of the front, the 2nd Guards Army of General Chanchibadze was advancing on Darkmen. From the air, ground forces were supported by the 1st and 3rd air armies of Generals Khryukin and Papivin.
The Germans were able to identify the preparation of the Russian troops for the offensive and took proactive measures. In addition, heavy fog reduced the effectiveness of artillery preparation and prevented effective aviation operations at the beginning of the operation. Given the power of the German defense in Prussia, where new engineering elements were combined with old fortifications, all this affected the pace of the Soviet offensive. The Germans retained the fire system and the command and control system, the infantry moved to the second and third positions and did not suffer noticeable losses. The Nazis fought desperately. Our troops had to gnaw through enemy defenses. Adverse weather conditions persisted for several days and the aircraft could not support the ground forces. Only on January 18, the troops of the 3rd BF broke through German defense in a strip up to 65 km and advanced to a depth of 30 - 40 km. On January 19, the 5th Guards Army advanced from the rear joined the offensive at the junction of the 39th and 11th armies. By this time, in connection with improving weather, our aviation also began to operate effectively.
On January 19, Chernyakhovsky’s troops occupied Tilsit, on January 21 - Gumbinenn, on the 22nd - Insterburg and Velau. Our troops reached the approaches to Koenigsberg. The Germans were severely defeated in the area of Tilsit and Insterburg. However, the troops of the 3rd BF did not manage to encircle and destroy the enemy group, and immediately begin to storm the Koenigsberg. The main forces of the 3rd Panzer and partly 4th Field Army, displaying strong and fierce resistance, moved to the lines of the Daima and Alla rivers, to the positions of the Heilsberg fortified area, to take up defense at new positions on the west bank of the rivers, and on the Zemland peninsula north of Konigsberg.
The 2nd Belorussian Front, under the leadership of Rokossovsky, at first had the task of breaking through to the northwest, carrying out close cooperation primarily with the 1st BF, which at the same time carried out the Wisla-Oder operation. Rokossovsky’s troops provided a neighbor from the northern flank and supported his breakthrough to the west. From the air, the troops of the front were supported by the 4th air army of Vershinin. January 14 - 16, Soviet armies broke into the enemy’s defenses. On January 17, Volsky’s 5th Guards Tank Army was introduced into the breach, with the goal of Marienburg. The 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps of General Oslikovsky was advancing on Allenstein.
On January 19, Soviet troops occupied Mlawa. On January 20, when Rokossovsky’s troops were already approaching the Vistula, the Soviet Headquarters ordered the front, the 3rd, 48th, 2nd, and 5th Guards Tank Army, to turn north and northeast to help the 3rd MU BF and accelerate the defeat of the East Prussian enemy group. The armies of the 2nd BF quickly developed an offensive in a northerly direction. On January 3, troops of the 20rd Army crossed the old Polish border and entered Prussian land. They with battle broke through the old German fortified line, erected even before the war. Parts of the 48th army, bypassing the fortified enemy posts, also successfully advanced. Oslikovsky’s cavalry broke into Allenstein on January 22 and, with the support of units of the 48th army of General Gusev, took the city. The defense of the Allenstein fortified area was broken.
On January 26, Volsky’s tank guards reached the Frishes-Huff Bay in the Tolkemito area. Soviet troops blocked Elbing. At the same time, units of the 2nd shock army of General Fedyuninsky went to Elbing and on the approaches to Marienburg, went to the Vistula River and captured the bridgehead on the west bank of the river. Units of the 48th Army also entered the Elbing and Marienburg area. Thus, most of the East Prussian group (the forces of Army Group Center, from January 26 - “North”), was cut off from the main forces of the German army in the Berlin direction and lost land communications with the central regions of the Reich.
On the southern flank of the front, the 65th and 70th armies of Generals Batov and Popov attacked at the junction of the two fronts, ensured their interaction and covered the neighbors who were fighting the Warsaw enemy grouping. During stubborn battles, these armies reached the line of the Lower Vistula and captured a bridgehead on the western bank of the river. On the northern flank, the 49th Army of General Grishin covered the front's strike force, moving to Ortelsburg.
A column of Soviet tanks T-34-85 of the 1st Guards Tank Corps with a landing on the road in East Prussia. January 1945
Column of Soviet tanks EC-2 on the road in East Prussia
A battery of Soviet 122 mm M-30 howitzers fires at an enemy in East Prussia. 3rd Belorussian Front
Broken German StuG IV assault gun on the streets of Allenstein. East Prussia
The continuation of the battle
The struggle for East Prussia did not end there. The Nazis had not yet surrendered and had fierce resistance, counterattack. The German command, in order to return land communications to the East Prussian group, prepared a strike from the Heilsberg region to the west, to Marienburg, and a counter strike from the Elbing region. On the night of January 27, 1945, a German group (6 infantry, 1 motorized, and 1 tank division) dealt a sudden blow to units of the 48th army. Our troops were forced to withdraw. During the 4-day battles, the Germans advanced westward 40-50 km. However, the Nazis failed to advance further. The Soviet command pulled in additional forces and the enemy was thrown back to their original positions.
In the meantime, the armies of the 3rd BF continued to break through to Koenigsberg. The 11th Guards and 39th Armies were aimed at assaulting the main stronghold of the enemy in Prussia. The Nazi resistance did not weaken and continued to increase as our troops approached Koenigsberg. The Germans desperately defended their stronghold. However, the Red Army continued the offensive. The 4th German army, in order not to fall into the "cauldron", retreated to the Masurian lakes and further west. Russian troops broke through the defenses of the German rearguards on the Masurian Canal and quickly crossed the Letzen fortified area left by the Germans. On January 26, our troops took Letzen, and developed an offensive on Rastenburg. Hitler that day replaced the commander of the East Prussian group, General Reinhardt, to Colonel General Rendulich. Army group “Center” changed its name to “North” (the army group surrounded in Latvia became known as “Courland”). A few days later, General Hossbach, the commander of the 4th Army, was also removed from his post and Mueller became his successor.
By January 30, Chernyakhovsky’s troops bypassed Koenigsberg from the north and south, and also occupied most of the Zemland Peninsula. The entire area of the Masurian Lakes was occupied on the southern flank of the front. The 4th field and 3rd tank armies of the enemy were doomed. They still fought stubborn battles, tried to hold on the coast in order to maintain supply, as well as to cover the escape routes along the Fischer-Nehrung spit and sea communications. Also, the Germans fought desperately for the capital of East Prussia, one of the most powerful fortresses on the planet. On January 1, troops of the 28st Baltic Front occupied Klaipeda, a major seaport and city, completing the liberation of Lithuania from the Nazis.
Thus, the East Prussian Wehrmacht group suffered a severe defeat and was divided into three isolated groups. The first group was located on the Zemland Peninsula (the Zemland task force — 4 divisions); the second was blocked in Königsberg (5 divisions and a garrison); the third was pressed to the sea in the area southwest of the East Prussian capital (20 divisions). The Nazis, despite the heavy defeat and loss, were not going to capitulate. The German command planned to release Königsberg, ensure its long-term defense, and unite all isolated groups. Also, the command of Army Group North hoped to restore land communications along the coastal Königsberg-Brandenburg road. The fierce battle continued.
The troops of the 10th Panzer Corps of the 5th Guards Tank Army of the 2nd Belorussian Front occupy the city of Mühlhausen. The city of Mühlhausen was liberated from the Nazi troops on January 24, 1945. Soldiers ride on self-propelled guns SU-76.
Tanks T-34-85 with a landing on the armor are conducting an offensive in East Prussia. 2nd Belorussian Front. February 1945
A column of German prisoners of war moves along a road in East Prussia