Column tanks IS-2 on the march in Eastern Pomerania. 1st Belorussian Front, March 1945
The Agony of the Third Reich. 75 years ago, on February 10, 1945, the East Pomeranian strategic operation began. The Soviet armies of Rokossovsky and Zhukov defeated the German army group Vistula, liberated the ancient Slavic lands, took Danzig and occupied the Baltic coast. The threat of a German strike from East Pomerania was eliminated, the Red Army began a regrouping to the Berlin direction.
Threat from the north
The offensive of the Red Army, which began in January and early February 1945, led to the withdrawal of our troops on the Oder River and the seizure of bridgeheads on its western shore. At this line, from where it was already possible to go to Berlin, Soviet troops stopped.
To continue the offensive in the Berlin direction, it was necessary to solve several important tasks. The 1st Belorussian Front, commanded by Zhukov, which broke through closest to Berlin, fought part of its forces against the blocked enemy garrisons of Poznan, Küstrin, Schneidemül and other strong points of the Wehrmacht. Significant forces of the 1st BF had in early February 1945 to turn to the northern flank, to the East Pomeranian direction. There, the Wehrmacht concentrated large forces to strike the flank and rear of the Berlin Red Army group. The right flank of the 1st BF stretched for hundreds of kilometers, between the troops of the 1st and 2nd Belorussian fronts, a huge and undisguised gap was formed, and the Nazis could use it.
The German army until the end of the war retained high combat efficiency, inflicted powerful blows and fiercely, skillfully fought. At the same time, the German command at the junction of the 1st Belorussian and 1st Ukrainian fronts was going to deliver a strong blow to the north from the Glogau - Guben line in Silesia. That is, the Germans planned counter-strikes from the north and south to cut off the Soviet armies that had pulled ahead in the Berlin direction, and to destroy them. Even the partial success of the operation led to a protracted war, averted the threat of an assault on Berlin.
The German command tried to strengthen the position of the 9th army under the command of T. Busse, defending in the Berlin direction. It was strengthened by reserves, replenishment and officer schools. The Nazis were able to quickly strengthen the defense on the Oder. On January 24, 1945, the Wisla Army Group was formed to defend the Berlin direction under the command of the SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler. Its composition included the 2nd and 9th field armies. The 2nd German army under the command of W. Weiss (from March 12 - von Saucken) was located in Eastern Pomerania, and acted against the right wing of the 1st BF and the left wing of the 2nd BF. By February 10, the 11th German Army (11th SS Panzer Army) was formed, operating west of the 2nd Army. Also in the Stettin area was the 3rd Panzer Army of E. Routh (from March - von Mantoifel), which could operate both in Berlin and the East Pomeranian direction.
German troops had high mobility: in Germany there was an extensive network of railways and highways. Also, for the transfer of troops used sea lanes and ports in the Baltic. A number of units were transferred from Courland to East Pomerania to strengthen the Wisla Army Group. Also German aviation had a developed network of airfields near the front (Berlin concrete strips), which made it possible to concentrate forces and create a temporary advantage in the air. On some days, the Germans dominated the air.
Volkssturm militia during the oath ceremony in Danzig. Two militias are armed with Panzerschreck anti-tank grenade launchers, the leftmost one is equipped with a MG-42 machine gun
German troops on the march in Pomerania. To the left in the background is the StuG III SPG. March 1945
German easel 88-mm anti-tank grenade launchers "Pupchen" (Raketenwerfer 43 "Puppchen"), captured by the Red Army in one of the cities of Pomerania. 1st Belorussian Front. 1945
The German tank PzKpfw VI Ausf.B "Tiger" II from the 503rd SS heavy tank battalion, presumably failed in the crater from the bomb, on the streets of Gdansk. 2nd Belorussian Front. In the background, the Soviet Studebaker truck US-6 and the IS-2 tank. March 1945
The need to suspend the attack on Berlin
At this time, when the Third Reich mobilized all forces and means for the defense of the metropolitan area, the Soviet armies in the main direction experienced objective difficulties. The troops of the 1st BF and 1st UV suffered serious losses in previous battles. The number of rifle divisions by the beginning of February was reduced to 5,5 thousand people. Equipment and tanks were knocked out. Due to the high pace of the Vistula-Oder operation, the rear areas fell behind, and the supply of troops with ammunition, fuel and other means deteriorated significantly. Oder airfields were spoiled by rains (they were unpaved). I had to take urgent measures to strengthen air defense.
As a result, the balance of forces in the Berlin direction, especially on the northern flank, temporarily changed in favor of the Wehrmacht. In these conditions, it was impossible to storm Berlin. A poorly prepared assault on the German capital could lead to dire consequences: failure of the operation, huge losses, loss of time. And the political situation was difficult. The Nazis could open a front in the West and send Anglo-American troops into Berlin.
Therefore, the supreme Soviet command decided from the beginning to remove the threat from the flanks of the Berlin Red Army group. To this end, offensive operations were carried out in Eastern Pomerania and Silesia, and the destruction of the East Prussian Wehrmacht was completed. At the same time preparations were underway for an attack on Berlin, a struggle for bridgeheads on the Oder.
The defeat of the East Pomeranian group
On February 10, 1945, the 2nd Belorussian Front under the command of Rokossovsky went on the offensive against the East Pomeranian Wehrmacht group. The armies of the 2nd BF were redirected from the East Prussian direction to the East Pomeranian. But four front armies (the 50th, 3rd, 48th and 5th Guards Tank) were transferred to the 3rd Belorussian Front. Those remaining in the 2nd BF were weakened by previous battles, and the 19th Army and 3rd Tank Corps transferred to Rokossovsky from the Headquarters reserve were still on the march. Therefore, the progress of our troops was slow. Wooded area contributed to the defending Nazis. By February 19, the Soviet armies pressed the enemy 15–40 km away and were forced to stop.
It became obvious that the forces of one 2nd BF did not defeat the enemy. The Soviet Headquarters decided to draw part of the forces of Zhukov and the Baltic Fleet into the operation. In the meantime, the Nazis tried to seize the initiative. On February 17, 1945, the Germans launched a strong counterattack from the Stargard region against the troops of the northern wing of the 1st BF. Our troops squeezed 10 km. A fierce battle broke out over the ancient Slavic lands. Zhukov’s armies repelled enemy attacks, and on March 1, struck southeast of Stargard on Kohlberg. Earlier, on February 24, the troops of Rokossovsky from the Linde region on Köslin (Kezlin) delivered a strong blow to the Nazis. The Soviet armies split the enemy group and on March 5 reached the Baltic coast in the area of Köslin, Kolberg and Treptov. Kohlberg was under siege. The German East Pomeranian group was cut into pieces. The 2nd German army was defeated and driven back into the northeastern part of the region. The 11th German army was defeated and fragmented, rolled back to Oder. The threat to the flank of the 1st BF was eliminated.
After reaching the Baltic, the armies of Rokossovsky turned eastward in order to finish off the 2nd German army, which had lost its land connection with the rest of the German group, to clear the northeastern part of Pomerania, with the old Polish cities of Gdynia and Gdansk (Danzig). To quickly solve this problem, the 2nd BF was reinforced by the 2nd Guards Tank Army of Katukov from the 1st BF. The tank guards were to go to Gdynia. Zhukov’s troops advanced westward, reaching the lower part of the Oder (from the mouth to Zeden) in order to defeat the 11th German army and occupy the western part of Pomerania. After that, the right wing of the 1st BF again aimed at the Berlin direction. Tank formations were withdrawn to the rear to replenish and prepare for the decisive battle for Berlin.
The German command, despite the defeat and heavy losses, continued to offer strong resistance. The 2nd Army still had large forces (19 divisions, including 2 armored), mobilized all who could, all rear, special units and subunits, militias. The discipline in the troops was restored and maintained by brutal methods. The 11th Army was in worse condition, defeated and fragmented. Therefore, in the west, the Nazis focused on the defense of individual settlements, which they turned into strong defense nodes. The speed of the Soviet offensive did not allow the Germans to use parts of the 3rd Panzer Army to strengthen the defense in Pomerania. Therefore, units of the 11th Army were assigned to the Oder in order to put in order and organize a new line of defense. The main attention was paid to protecting the large industrial center of Stettin, so we decided to keep Altdamm.
On the morning of March 6, Rokossovsky’s troops resumed the offensive. In the very first days, the German defense was hacked. On March 8, our troops took the large industrial center of Stolp - the second largest city of Pomerania after Stettin. Also, a sudden attack took Stolpmünde. The Germans, hiding behind the rearguards, and repulsing at intermediate lines (especially strong fortifications were on the right flank of the 2nd BF), sent troops to the strong positions of the Gdynia-Gdansk fortified area. As the Nazis retreated, their battle formations became denser and resistance increased significantly. The pace of movement of Soviet troops decreased. March 13, our troops went to the area of Gdynia and Gdansk, where the Nazis fought fiercely until the end of March. On March 26, Soviet soldiers captured Gdynia; on March 30, Gdansk. After the liquidation of the forces of the 2nd German Army, the Rokossovsky troops began a regrouping from the Gdansk region to the lower reaches of the Oder towards Stettin and Rostock.
Zhukov’s troops finished off the enemy’s encircled enemy group south of Schiffelbein. It was not possible to completely destroy the semicircular group of Nazis in the Treptov area. The Germans were able to escape to their own, although they suffered more losses. Also failed to immediately eliminate the enemy garrison of Kohlberg. Poles came here who did not have the experience of urban fighting. Only on March 18, Kohlberg was taken. Heavy fighting went on the Stettin direction. Here the Germans had a strong defense, which was reinforced by natural obstacles (water barriers), fought desperately. Here Zhukov had to suspend the offensive, regroup troops, pull up additional artillery and aviation forces. During a fierce battle, our troops broke the fierce resistance of the enemy and took Altdamm on March 20. The remnants of the Nazis retreated to the right bank of the Oder. As a result, our troops completely cleared the western part of Eastern Pomerania from the enemy. The entire eastern shore of the Oder was in the hands of the Red Army. Zhukov’s troops could now focus on preparing the Berlin operation.
Soviet IL-2 attack aircraft strike at the enemy in Pomerania. February 1945
Soviet heavy tank IS-2 on the street of Stargard in Eastern Pomerania. A vehicle from the 11th separate guards heavy tank brigade of the 61st Army of the 1st Belorussian Front. On this machine there is no anti-aircraft machine-gun mount DShK and to combat the “Faustniki” a standard DT machine gun was used on the bipod
The artillery calculation of the 76,2 mm ZIS-3 divisional gun of the 1942 model, under the command of foreman Nurmukhamedov, is fighting in Pomerania. The fighter in the foreground (most likely the loader’s assistant) is holding a UBR-354P unitary cartridge with a 53-BR-350P projectile (armor-piercing armor-piercing projectile tracer of the “reel” type)
The column of Soviet self-propelled guns SU-76M is part of a settlement in Northern Pomerania. March 1945
The liberation of the ancient Slavic lands
This battle was of great historical and military strategic importance. Russian troops liberated the Slavic Pomerania, occupied at different times by the Germans. Russia gave these lands to Poland.
The troops of Rokossovsky and Zhukov defeated 21 enemy divisions and 8 brigades, eliminated the threat of a Wehrmacht attack from East Pomerania on the flank and rear of the Red Army grouping aimed at Berlin. With the fall of Gdynia and Danzig, other ports in the Baltic, the Germans lost touch with the besieged Königsberg and the group in Courland. The Reich has lost an important coastal region, shipyards, ports, industrial centers. The Baltic basing system has been expanded fleet. With the defeat of the East Pomeranian group, the Soviet army was able to concentrate on the Berlin operation.
More details about the liberation of Eastern Pomerania are described in articles on VO: East Pomeranian operation; The offensive of the troops of the 2 of the Byelorussian Front: assault on Elbing and Graudents. Defeat of the Shneidemul Group; The defeat of the army group "Wisla"; The victorious conclusion of the East Pomeranian operation. Assault on Gdynia, Danzig and Kohlberg.
Soviet soldiers on the IS-2 tank during the battles for Danzig. March 1945
The soldiers with captured German disposable grenade launchers "Panzerfaust" (Panzerfaust) on the street Danzig. March 1945
Soviet tanks American-made M4A2 (76) W "Sherman" with a landing during the battles for Danzig
Battery of Soviet 152 mm howitzer guns arr. 1937 ML-20 fires on the enemy during the fighting for Danzig. March 29, 1945
Soviet self-propelled guns ISU-122 on Am Holtsraum street in Danzig
Red Army machine gunners walk past a destroyed building on the street taken by Danzig. March 30, 1945