Soviet tankers of the 62nd guards heavy tank regiment in a street battle in Danzig. Mounted on tank IS-2 heavy machine gun DShK is used to destroy enemy soldiers armed with anti-tank grenade launchers
The Agony of the Third Reich. 75 years ago, on March 30, 1945, Soviet troops captured the city of Danzig (Gdansk). The troops of the 2nd Belorussian Front completed the rout of the Danzig group of the German army and captured the enemy’s stronghold on the Baltic Sea.
Exit of the Red Army to the Baltic
During the East Pomeranian operation (began on February 10, 1945), the Red Army reached the coast of the Baltic Sea and split the German Army Group "Wisla". The troops of the 2nd Belorussian Front under the command of K. K. Rokossovsky non-stop turned to the northeast and proceeded to liquidate the 2nd German army, which had lost ground contact with the main forces of the Wisla Army Group, and to cleanse the northeast from the Nazis parts of Pomerania.
The armies of Rokossovsky were to defeat the Germans in the region of Stolp, Gdynia and Danzig (Gdansk). Right wing troops advanced along the western bank of the river. Hanging on Danzig, left wing - on Stolp, Lauenburg and Gdynia. So that the 2nd BF could quickly complete the defeat of the enemy troops in East Pomerania (Slavic Pomerania), it was reinforced by the 1st Guards Tank Army of Katukov from the 1st Belorussian Front. The tank army attacked Gdynia. Also on the left wing was the 19th Soviet Army, reinforced by the 3rd Guards Tank Corps, aimed at Stolp, Lauenburg and Gdynia. Part of the 19th Army was involved in the liquidation of the enemy group in the Kolberg area, assisting the troops of the 1st Belorussian Front.
The 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps, which provided the left flank of the attack group of the 2nd BF from the west, gave the task, as the forces of the 1st BF advance to Kolberg, advance to the Baltic coast and gain a foothold on it. The 70th Army and the 8th Mechanized Corps advanced in the center. Soviet troops struck in the direction of Buttes - Gdynia. The 65th and 49th armies advanced in the northeast direction, on Danzig and Zoppot (Sopot). The 2nd strike army, reinforced by the 8th Guards Tank Corps, was moving on the right wing. The shock army advanced along the Vistula to Danzig.
The Nazis, despite a severe defeat, did not give up and continued to fiercely fight back. The 2nd German army under the leadership of Dietrich von Saucken had large forces: 2 tank and 5 army corps - the 7th and 46th tank corps, the 18th mountain jaeger, the 23rd and 27th army corps, in reserve were the 55th and 20th army corps. A total of 19 divisions (including two armored), three combat groups and a significant number of other units and subunits of a special, educational, militia character. The command of the most severe methods brought order to the retreating troops. The deserters were hanged.
The offensive of the Rokossovsky troops
March 6, 1945 the troops of Rokossovsky continued the offensive. On the flanks, the German defense was broken. On the right wing began the assault on Starograd, which was taken on the 7th. On the left flank, our troops took Schlave and Rügenwalde. Soviet troops launched an assault on Stolp. Entering the battle on the left flank of the 3rd Guards Tank Corps Panfilov finally broke the Nazi defenses. The Germans, having lost hope of holding a position, began to withdraw to the area of the Danzig-Gdynia fortified area. The retreat of the main forces was covered by strong rearguards, which held back our troops at the communications centers and destroyed roads. In some places, the Germans stopped at intermediate lines and offered strong resistance. It was especially difficult for the Soviet troops on the right wing, where the Germans had previously equipped fortifications.
On March 8, our tankmen and riflemen took the large industrial center and communications center Stolp - the second largest city in Pomerania after Stettin. On the same day, Soviet troops captured Stolpmünde with a quick strike, preventing the Nazis from organizing the defense of the coastal city. On the same day, the advanced units captured the crossing of the river. Lupov-Fliss. On March 9, the 1st Guards Tank Army launched an offensive. However, as the operation developed, the pace of movement of our troops fell. This was due to the reduction of the front line, the consolidation of the battle formations of the German army. The Germans retained their combat effectiveness until the very end of the war, skillfully and fiercely fought back.
On March 10, parts of Panfilov’s corps launched an assault on Lauenburg. However, the attempts of our tankers on the move to take the city failed. The Germans put up strong resistance, the battle dragged on. Only when in the afternoon rifle units of the 19th Army of Romanovsky approached, did the artillery and aviation, enemy resistance is broken. Our troops made their way into the city and took it. In the center, where the troops of the 49th Army of Grishin and the 1st Guards Panzer Corps were advancing, Soviet troops advanced slowly, overcoming the strong German defenses. On the right flank, the situation was even more difficult. Here our troops could not advance, they had to repel the strong counterattacks of the Nazis. The Germans used more armored vehicles. As a result of a stubborn counter battle, the 8th Guards Tank Corps of Popov, with the support of the infantry of the 2nd shock army Fedyuninsky, defeated the enemy's strong armored group.
On March 11, the left flank of the front took the city of Neustadt. The German garrison was defeated, about 1 thousand people were captured. By the end of March 13, the troops of the left wing of the 2nd BF reached the front edge of the Danzig-Gdynia fortified area. The Nazis cleared the coast of the Gulf of Putziger-Wieck, occupied the city of Putzig and closed the exit from the Spit Putziger-Nehrung (Hel), where the German 55th Army Corps was blocked. By the end of the 13th troops of the right flank of the 2nd BF were also able to break the enemy’s strong resistance, took their strong point Dirschau and went to Danzig. As a result, the armies of Rokossovsky advanced 35–100 km with battles and reached Danzig and Gdynia, where the main forces of the German group were blocked. The Nazis in this area could receive help by sea, and tried to hold these strongholds.
The corpses of dead soldiers and a wrecked German tank "Tiger II". Pomerania, March 1945
The dismemberment of the Danzig-Gdynia fortified area
The front command decided to strike the main blow between Danzig and Gdynia, on Soppot (Sopot) in order to dismember the enemy group and destroy it in parts. The main blow was delivered by units of the 70th and 49th armies, reinforced by two tank corps. After the capture of Sopp, both Soviet armies were to turn to Danzig. To prevent the German Navy from supporting the Danzig garrison, long-range artillery was advanced on the coast. Also, the battle with the enemy ships was to be conducted by the front aviation. The troops of the left flank of the front were to take Gdynia, the right flank - Danzig. A separate detachment was allocated for the occupation of Hel Spit.
The Germans prepared a strong defense in the area. Gdynia was defended by two defense lines, here they had pre-equipped long-term structures, artillery batteries, observation posts reinforced by a system of field fortifications, anti-tank and anti-personnel barriers. The city was protected by a solid defensive line within a radius of 12-15 km. The first defense line had two positions, which consisted of five lines of trenches with a total depth of 3-5 km. The second strip was located near the city itself and had three lines of trenches. The defense was strengthened by powerful air defense points. The Germans created them to protect ports and ships. In addition, there were long-term defensive structures that were built by the Poles. The city itself was prepared for street fighting. Large stone buildings turned into strongholds, which housed separate garrisons. They had their command posts and firing positions. Buildings and quarters were connected by means of communication, trenches, underground communications were also used. As a result, individual units could support each other, maneuver, move from one section to another. The streets were blocked by blockages, barricades, reinforced concrete hollows, iron hedgehogs, they were mined. Many buildings have been prepared for demolition.
At the junction of Gdynm and Danzig there was a defensive position with strong points and three lines of trenches. The Danzig fortified area had two defense lines. The first zone had a depth of 5 km and consisted of five lines of trenches. The second lane was 5–7 km from the city and flanked against the coast. It consisted of three positions. The outer defense belt had two new fortified areas, Bischofsberg and Hagelsberg, with capital reinforced concrete structures. From the southeast, the defense of Gdansk was strengthened by a system of old forts. There were also new forts. These fortifications had powerful firearms. The port city itself was also well prepared for street fighting. The Germans paid special attention to anti-tank defense: Russian tanks had to stop numerous ditches, rubble, barricades, gouges, positions of tank destroyers armed with Faustpatrons. Also, the defense was strengthened by stationary anti-aircraft and coastal batteries. To defend all these positions, the Germans had significant forces of well-armed and disciplined infantry (up to 25 thousand people), 180 artillery and mortar batteries, about 200 tanks and assault guns, and up to 100 aircraft. Also, German ships could support the city from the sea. Therefore, Danzig was considered one of the most powerful "fortresses" of the Reich. The German command hoped that the fortified city would detain the Russians for a long time.
The offensive of our troops began almost without a pause, on the morning of March 14, 1945 after a short artillery preparation. Fights went day and night. The German defense was literally gnawed. On some days there was no movement, or our troops advanced only a few hundred meters. Fights for individual strong points continued for several days. The Germans fiercely fought back, counterattack with the support of artillery, including coastal and naval, and aviation. For example, a height of 205,8, which had four lines of trenches and four long-term reinforced concrete structures, was stormed from March 14 to 18. The height was of great importance, since the battle formations of our troops were viewed from it to a great depth and the entire German defense right up to the Danzig Bay. An attempt to take the height on the move with parts of the 3rd Guards Tank Corps failed. On the second day of the assault, the second echelon was thrown into battle. However, on the second day, tankers and motorized rifles could not break through, the Nazis repelled all attacks. On the third day, they hit in three directions, during a stubborn battle captured two lines of trenches. The next day there was a battle for the third line, it was captured. On the morning of the 18th, after a short artillery attack, they were able to suppress enemy firing points and destroyed the pillboxes. Under their wreckage, the remains of the German garrison died.
On March 18, an operation of Soviet aviation was conducted to eliminate the enemy air group, which greatly interfered with our ground forces. Despite the bad weather, Soviet aircraft inflicted powerful blows at enemy airfields. Fighters blocked the enemy’s air bases to prevent German planes from flying into the air, and attack aircraft hit the enemy’s runways and aircraft. 64 enemy aircraft were destroyed. After that, German troops almost lost air support, which facilitated the assault on enemy positions.
By March 24, 1945, Soviet troops broke through two lines of trenches and reached the last. All day our artillery and aircraft worked on German positions. On the night of March 25, the Red Army failed the last German defensive line and broke into Soppot in the morning. The city was taken and the battle began on the outskirts of Danzig. Thus, the enemy group was divided into two parts.
Red Army soldiers on the shore of the Danzig (Gdansk) Bay during the attack on Sopot
Battery of Soviet 152-mm howitzers - guns mod. 1937 ML-20 fires on the enemy during the fighting for Danzig
Soviet soldiers on the IS-2 tank during the battles for Danzig
The assault on Gdynia
At the same time, our troops stormed Gdynia. A large group of German troops defended here, armed with about 100 tanks and assault guns, and about 80 artillery batteries. The garrison was also supported by coastal and naval guns. The Germans fought fiercely, constantly counterattacking. On March 13, Soviet troops broke through the front line of defense and launched an attack on the main enemy positions. However, after this, the pace of progress fell sharply. Only on March 17, our troops were able to break into enemy defenses and on the 23rd reached the last line of defense.
On March 24, Soviet troops fought for the villages closest to the city, for the suburbs, and began the assault on Gdynia itself. The tank army was withdrawn to the rear and soon returned to the 1st BF. The troops of the 19th Romanovsky army after a small regrouping continued the assault. At first, the battle went with the same intensity. The Germans fiercely resisted, fought for every strong point and home. Only by March 26, when our soldiers took 13 quarters, did the Nazis “break down”. Their individual units began to surrender or fled. The counterattacks of the Germans lost their former fury and they retreated at the first shots. On the night of March 27, German troops fled. Some Germans retreated to the so-called. Oxheftst bridgehead, which was prepared in advance in case of a possible departure from the city. Another part of the Gdynian garrison, throwing heavy weapon, equipment and supplies, hastily loaded onto transports. The German defense finally collapsed.
March 28, the Red Army occupied Gdynia. The remnants of the Nazi troops that retreated to the Oxheft bridgehead were destroyed a few days later. About 19 thousand people were captured. Our troops captured rich trophies, including 600 guns, more than 6 thousand cars, 20 ships, etc.
Burning building on the street of Danzig during the battle for the city
Soviet American-made tanks M4A2 (76) W "Sherman" with a landing during the battles for Danzig on Kartheuser-Strasse in the vicinity of the Church of St. Francis of Assisi. Right on the road, self-propelled guns ISU-122
Soviet self-propelled guns ISU-122 with a 12,7 mm DShK machine gun mounted on an armored cabin at the intersection of Shtiftsvinkel and Am Holtsraum streets in Danzig
Soviet gunners fire from a 122-mm howitzer A-19 on Danzig Street
The assault on Danzig
Simultaneously with the attack of Soppot and Gdynia, Soviet troops went to storm Danzig. Here the Nazis also fought desperately, constantly counterattacking. But after the fall of soppot positions and the separation of the Gdynia garrison, their resistance weakened. German troops began to lose one position after another. March 23, our troops reached the second line of defense of the enemy. Here the offensive was again delayed. Only by the end of March 26 the troops of the 2nd shock army of Fedyuninsky and the 65th army of Batov broke through the enemy’s defenses and went directly to the city. The battle for Emaus, the western suburb of Gdansk, began.
March 27 began a decisive assault on Danzig himself. On this day, units of the 59th and 60th Guards Tank Brigades of the 8th Guards Tank Corps reached the Neigarten area. In the afternoon, our troops occupied the central quarter of the suburb of Szydlic. Despite a hopeless situation, the Nazis fought fiercely. Especially heavy battles went for large buildings and buildings of enterprises. So, for two days our soldiers stormed the buildings of a chemical plant. A large role in the storming of the city was played by the Soviet Air Force. Aircraft attacked fortified positions, strongholds, forts, coastal batteries and ships. Artillery also played an important role in the capture of Danzig. On March 27, during the Katyush rifle, Lieutenant General Clemens Betzel, commander of the 4th Panzer Division, was killed.
The German defense began to fall apart. On the night of March 27-28, the Nazis began to leave the old part of Danzig, through Barn Island, beyond the Neye-Mottlau canal, hiding behind rearguards and firing positions. Part of the garrison during the battle did not receive an order to retreat beyond the canal. It was destroyed or surrendered, like units that defended forts on the heights of Bischofsberg and Hagelsberg. On March 28, Soviet troops cleared the Neigarten region of central Danzig from the Nazis and occupied Barn Island. Our infantry crossed the Neye-Mottlau canal and began the battle for the quarters on the east bank. On the night of the 29th, the Germans launched several counterattacks with the support of tanks in order to drop our troops into the canal. The Germans somewhat squeezed our infantry, but were unable to retake the line of the canal.
On the morning of March 29, motorized rifles crossed the Milhkannen bridge and started fighting in the Lower Town of eastern Danzig. By noon, a crossing was made for tanks in the area of the Mattenbuden bridge (it was destroyed by the Germans). The 59th tank brigade forced a canal and developed an offensive, breaking the enemy’s resistance. As a result of the 29th, Russian troops occupied most of the city. On March 30, the city and port were taken. The remains of the German garrison fled to the inaccessible area of the Vistula estuary, where they soon threw a white flag. About 10 thousand people were captured. As trophies, Soviet troops captured dozens of tanks and self-propelled guns, hundreds of guns and mortars, dozens of ships and submarines under repair and construction, and other military equipment.
As a result, the forces of Rokossovsky completely cleared the eastern part of Pomerania from the Nazis and liquidated the Danzig-Gdynian Wehrmacht group. The 2nd German army was completely defeated. Soviet troops captured the important ports of Gdynia and Gdansk. The Reich has lost another "fortress." The Soviet Union returned to Poland the ancient Slavic city of Gdansk and Pomerania. The troops of the 2nd Belorussian Front freed up and got the opportunity to act in the Berlin direction. The capabilities for basing the Soviet Air Force and Baltic Fleet were expanded. The blockade of enemy groups in East Prussia and Courland was strengthened. German combat potential weakened fleet.
The calculation of the Soviet 203-mm howitzer B-4 under the command of senior sergeant S. Shpin in the suburbs of Sopot Danzig fires on German troops in Danzig
The German tank PzKpfw VI Ausf.B "Tiger II" from the 503rd SS heavy tank battalion, which, as expected, fell into the funnel from the bomb, on the streets of Danzig. In the background, the Soviet truck US-6 Studebaker and the IS-2 tank
Anti-aircraft gunners of the 740 artillery regiment on M-17 armored personnel carriers on the street of the liberated Danzig