After the breakthrough of the Red Army in Prussia, the Soviet command faced the problem of German fortified cities. It could be solved in two classical ways: by storm and blockade. The Allied forces, faced in Northern France with a similar problem, as a rule, blocked the German garrisons in fortified cities and fortified areas (UR), while they themselves continued to move forward. And in most cases, the blockade of the surrounded German garrisons was carried out by French units. For the Anglo-Americans, the blockade was facilitated by the fact that enemy garrisons were on the shores of the Atlantic and English Channel, where the allied fleet reigned supreme, disrupting any attempts to supply the besieged by the sea and providing tangible fire support to the blockade forces. Finally, the German garrisons themselves were few in number and unable to deliver serious blows to the rear of the allies.
The situation was completely different in the Soviet-German, or, as it is often called today, the Eastern Front, where large and strong groups of German troops were concentrated in fortified cities. Moreover, since strategic communications passed through these cities, it was either difficult or impossible to go around them, or unsafe. That is why the Soviet command in most cases made the decision to storm the fortress city. The only exceptions were coastal fortress cities, such as, for example, Libau, which capitulated 1945 in early May.
The large German cities in East Prussia are built in roughly the same way. The new city closely adjoins the old one and is separated from it by a strip of boulevards. The houses in the center and on the outskirts are stone, high-rise, with flat roofs. Wide straight streets cross large areas. The layout of the city (usually radial-circular or rectangular) facilitated the longitudinal shelling of the streets and the arrangement of various fortifications on them.
Parks, squares, gardens at individual buildings inside the new city favored the disguise of manpower and equipment of the defenders and were convenient areas of firing positions of artillery and mortars.
Brick and stone buildings with massive walls made it possible to create strong points in them with a multi-layered fire system, with well-covered and difficultly vulnerable firing points. The equipment of the firing points in the neighboring buildings and engineering structures in the adjacent streets turned such a strong point into a well-fortified hub of resistance.
The close arrangement of houses through the streets allowed, breaking through the walls of houses and fences between courtyards and gardens, secretly moving from one building to another, without going outside.
A few words should be said about Poznan fortress, which was built at the crossroads of strategic roads in the middle reaches of the Warta River. The fortress is located on the dominant heights, it is covered from the south by the Obra swamps and the Obras Canal, and from the northwest by the bend of the Warta River.
The fortress of Poznan is known from the end of the tenth century. And in the 1873 – 1883 years, a chain of forts was built around it. The length of the defensive line connecting the forts was 27 – 28 km. The remoteness of the forts from the fortress - from 3 to 5 km. Between the forts built fortifications. A citadel was built in the northern part of the city, adjacent to the Warta with its flank and representing an irregular hexagon.
By 1912, the fortress garrison consisted of 27 thousand people and 1350 guns, but after 1919, the citadel and the forts were abandoned. Only at the end of 1944, the Germans began to put them in order. And although, as the fortress of Poznan, became obsolete by the 1914 year, it could have become a tough nut to the Soviet troops in the 1945 year as well. Let's not forget that, unlike the armies of Germany, France and Austria-Hungary in 1914 – 1918, the Red Army couldn’t concentrate against a single 1945 – 300 fortress and howitzer 500 – 280 mm and 420 – 170 guns to the same 305 – 122 fortress mm The corps artillery - the X-NUMX-mm A-19 cannons and the 152-mm howitzer ML-20 cannons - were ineffective against the forts of Poznan.
It should also be added that in the 1944 year, the Germans placed dozens of firing points in the gaps between the forts, including armored towers, and for Poznan's air defense, 18 reinforced concrete platforms with anti-aircraft guns and reliable shelters for servants and ammunition were built. In addition, the enemy adapted to defense many of the brick buildings of the city, from which a circular view was provided. The windows of the basement and the ground floor were sealed with sandbags, leaving only loopholes for shooting and observation. In the premises of the upper floors were located machine-gunners, machine gunners and faustpatronschiki. Almost all areas and parks of the city were used to equip artillery positions.
Taking Poznań was assigned to 29-Guards and 91-th infantry corps, reinforced parts 29-th artillery breakthrough divisions, 5-th division of rocket artillery, 41-th cannon artillery and 11-th mortar crews and others. In total, the army, attracted for the assault, there were about 1400 guns, mortars and rocket artillery combat vehicles, including over 1200 caliber units from 76 mm and above.
Preliminary destruction of forts and artillery preparation were not carried out - the 27 artillery of January 1945 of the year opened fire simultaneously with the Soviet infantry that had risen to the attack. With three-five-minute fire raids, our gunners suppressed the enemy's manpower and fire weapons until the infantry passed between them and blocked them.
For action inside the forts and on the streets of the city, the Soviet command created special assault groups. One of these groups included: shooters and machine gunners - 41; 76 mm regimental guns - 1; 76 mm division guns - 3; 45 mm anti-tank guns - 1; 122 mm howitzers - 2; tanks T-34 - 2. At the same time, another assault group of the same rifle regiment included 25 riflemen and machine gunners, one 76-mm divisional gun and two 122-mm howitzers, as well as three tanks and self-propelled guns. The third assault group of this regiment already had 18 riflemen and machine gunners, one 76 mm regimental and eight 76 mm divisional cannons, as well as two 122 mm howitzers and one T-34 tank. A number of assault groups and detachments were reinforced with 152-mm howitzers-guns ML-20 and 203-mm howitzers B-4.
Marshal of the Soviet Union Vasily Chuikov later described the actions of artillery and assault groups during the assault on the forts of Poznan:
“The battle for the Fort Bonin was led by an assault group consisting of an incomplete rifle company, a company of 82-millimeter mortars, a company of sappers, a department of smoke detectors, two T-34 tanks and a battery of 152-mm guns.
After the artillery processing of the fort, the assault group, under the cover of a smoke screen, burst into the main entrance. She managed to get hold of two central gates and one of the dungeons, covering the approach to this gate. The enemy, having opened strong rifle-and-machine-gun fire from other casemates and also using faustpatrony and grenades, repulsed the attack.
We immediately understood the reasons for the failure. It turned out that the fort was stormed only from the main entrance, without chaining the enemy from other directions. This allowed him to concentrate all the forces and the whole fire in one place. In addition, practice has shown that the caliber of 152 guns of millimeter is insufficient for assault on forts.
The second attack began after the fort was treated with heavy cannon firing concrete shells. The assault group approached the enemy from three directions. Artillery and during the assault did not cease fire on embrasures and surviving firing points. After a short struggle, the enemy capitulated.
The advance of our troops was strongly hampered by a powerful pillbox. He was assigned to liquidate a group of sappers under the command of Senior Lieutenant Proskurin. Armed with grenades and explosives, the sappers crawled to the pillbox. They were covered by a rifle company that fired at enemy embrasures with anti-tank guns and light machine guns.
Proskurin and his subordinates quickly reached DotA, but his garrison summoned artillery and mortar fire. Our fighters did not flinch. Under a hail of fragments, sappers made their way to the firing point and laid 50 kilograms of explosives at the embrasure. The blast wave stunned the Nazis. Sappers broke into the pillbox. After a short bout, the enemy garrison was destroyed. ”
The garrison of Fort Grolman, who was in the center of the city and did not enter the outer chain of forts, put up stubborn resistance. His garrison conducted heavy fire, shooting through the near approaches, and with fire from the towers of the fortress held adjacent streets under fire. Soviet artillery was firing intensively at the fort from closed positions, but could not inflict significant damage on it. And then special assault groups were created that included 50 machine gunners and gunners, two 76-mm regimental, two 45-mm and eight 76-mm divisional guns, four 122-mm howitzers, three 152-mm howitzer guns, and one 203 -mm howitzer and six flamethrowers. The 20 fire of guns of various calibers, including large ones, was supposed to prepare the conditions for a successful assault by machine gunners on a powerful enemy stronghold.
On the night of February 2, all guns that assaulted the assault team were put into firing positions for direct fire at the northern edge of the park, which was located in 1945 and in front of the fort. Each gun received a specific task, which was set according to its fire capabilities. The artillery occupied and equipped firing positions at night, and during the withdrawal of the guns to the firing positions our infantry fired at the battlements and embrasures of the fort, covering the withdrawal of the guns.
The ML-152 20-mm guns were driven to the firing positions by tractor vehicles, and they were pulled up manually to the position by their own and neighboring gun-gun crews, and the B-203 4-mm howitzer was armed to an armed position, with on the gun carriage with the barrel, with the beginning of the shelling of the fort by other guns (it was installed in a previously prepared pit).
45-mm and 76-mm guns received the task of firing at the battlements of the fort with fragmentation grenades. 122-mm and 152-mm guns were tasked with destroying the towers of the fort in its upper part — they contained machine gunners and enemy machine gunners. In turn, the 203-mm howitzer had to make a breach in the wall of the fort, for which its firing position was prepared at a distance of 300 m from the walls of the fort. Flamethrowers, who were part of the assault group, were to light the fort at the end of the artillery preparation, sending streams of fire through the embrasures.
On the morning of February 2, 1945, at the signal of a senior artillery commander in charge of these 20 guns, they all opened fire on the fort. The shelling of the fort lasted 20 minutes. The 45-mm and 76-mm guns that were part of the assault group, each pointing at the embrasure indicated to him, hit the enemy's manpower inside the fort with fragmentation shells. The X-NUMX-mm B-203 howitzer, fired for direct fire, fired seven shots at the wall of the fort, making two breaks in the wall more than 4 square in size. m each.
At a signal from the senior artillery commander who was in the firing position, the fire of the guns was suddenly stopped. Flamethrowers advanced to the walls of the fort released several bursts of flamethrowers through the breaches in the wall and set fire to the fort. At that moment, the assault group's machine gunners went on the attack and soon seized all the premises of the fort.
As a result of the powerful shelling of 20 with guns of various calibers, the fort was significantly damaged and its fire weapons were suppressed. Flamethrowers and assault rifles of the assault group completed the destruction of manpower defending the fort's casemates.
Artillery in street battles
The assault on the well-fortified fortress city of Poznan gave the Red Army invaluable experience that was useful in the battles for Königsberg and Berlin. Photo RIA News
The experience of the Soviet command of artillery in street battles in Poznan is also very interesting. Take for example the 240-th Guards Rifle Regiment, which fought a fierce battle for the stronghold of the Germans, located on the territory of a meat processing plant. For his assault, a special group of 50 people was created, reinforced with a battery of 76-mm divisional guns, as well as two regimental 76-mm and two 45-mm guns.
The meat factory consisted of a large four-story building with a system of auxiliary buildings adjacent to the main building. The group of buildings was surrounded by a brick wall that reached the second floor of the central building. From the windows of the third and fourth floors the Germans fired at the approaches to the wall with rifle-and-machine-gun fire, and when our gunners tried to roll out the guns for firing direct fire they used faustpatrony.
Under cover of night, three guns were placed at a distance of 350 – 400 m from the building and were able to fire on the third and fourth floors of the building. One 76-mm regimental cannon was placed at the opposite corner of the building with the task of firing from the corner of the street on the upper floors of the meat-processing plant building. At the same time, an exciting subgroup consisting of a 25 man with two guns was selected from the assault team, who received the task of bypassing the meat processing plant on the right and, having done a breach in the belt around the wall using tola, rolled into it a gun that was supposed to immediately open fire on the central entrance (gate) enclosures. Another 76-mm regimental gun was supposed to cover with fire the action of the first gun.
The rest of the artillery of the assault group was on a signal to open fire on the windows of the third and fourth floors from the front simultaneously with the firing of infantry with the task to divert the enemy’s attention to themselves and to chain them with their actions. From the assault group 25, the people remained in the support subgroup, which was supposed to divert the enemy’s fire from the front wall windows with its fire and a demonstration of the assault.
At night, all guns were put on firing positions, barricaded with bricks, logs and other materials at hand. An exciting subgroup with two guns by dawn went around the building of the meat-processing plant and approached the place where the sappers laid barrels with tolya under the wall.
At the command of the commander of the assault group, the guns fired several volleys at the windows of the building and at the same time the sappers exploded the wall. An 3-mm divisional gun was immediately pushed into the resulting gap width of about 76. Inserting the gun directly into the gates of the central building, the gun commander opened fire with fragmentation grenades and a canister. The enemy, who did not expect such a blow from the rear, was stunned, which contributed to its rapid destruction. The ground floor garrison was completely destroyed. The calculation of the gun, hiding behind a shield, fired at the inner walls of the workshop.
The 76-mm regimental cannon, taking up a firing position in the breach of the wall done by sappers, fired several shots at the windows of the second and third floors of the rear wall, thus providing an exciting subgroup with the opportunity to break into the gates of the meat processing plant and quickly acquire the first floor of the main building. At the moment of the throw of the exciting subgroup 76-mm divisional gun, the fire stopped.
The enemy, feeling the danger of a strike from the rear by our assault group, sent part of his fire weapons to the windows of the rear wall, but at that time an exciting subgroup had already broken into the second floor and there began a battle with the garrison of the meat processing plant.
A subgroup of providing guns firing from the front on the upper floors of the building under cover of fire approached the wall and, with ceasefire, artillery burst into the side gates and into the meat factory yard on the east side. A fight started inside the building.
Throughout the day, the assault groups cleared the meat processing plant from the enemy, and with the help of the reinforcements from the same regiment that had arrived, by the evening completely seized the central building of the meat processing plant and the buildings adjacent to it.
At the same time, in the course of the battles for separate objects inside large settlements, which were a whole complex of buildings and various types of structures, in order to speed up the assault and reduce the loss of their strength, they practiced their continuous arson. For this purpose, flamethrowing units of backpack flamethrowers or flamethrowing tanks were included in the assault groups. We give one example.
In the battles for Poznan, the Germans, delaying the advance of the right flank of the 27 Guards Rifle Division, stubbornly defended one of the quarters of the city in which there was a large factory with a large number of corps. Repeated attempts to storm the factory buildings were not crowned with success, and then the division commander decided to destroy this enemy resistance node by successively setting fire to buildings from backpack flame throwers.
To solve this problem, six assault groups were created, consisting mainly of flamethrowers. Each group had no more than five shooters, ten sappers (including four flamethrowers, one sapper, and four sapper attack aircraft), as well as two 76-mm guns. A large number of assault groups — six — were determined by the assault plan: the assault object was divided into six “arson sites” and the groups were to be provided with personal fire weapons and the fire of guns that fired direct fire, the approach of flamethrowers to the sites of arson. Each gun commander was assigned specific tasks by the commander of the demining unit, who was part of the relevant assault group.
All assault groups launched an assault simultaneously. The sappers under the cover of the fire of guns and submachine gunners entered the factory buildings and within a few minutes lit eight factory buildings. After that, the Germans left the quarter they defended and partially surrendered.
During street fighting in a number of cities, our advancing infantry had to cause artillery fire on the same building in which it fought with the enemy. Sometimes the distance from our infantry to the enemy was only a few meters and was separated by a wall, room or staircase floor. Often, small groups of infantry at night managed to enter the building occupied by the enemy, and engage in a battle with him inside this building.
The smoke from the gaps, as well as the lime dust from the destroyed buildings, rising during an artillery bombardment, to some extent blinded the enemy entrenched in the building, so our infantry, taking advantage of this, overcame the space shelled by the enemy and penetrated the building.
STORM OF CITADELS
“After February 12, the main attention was focused on the Citadel, the center of defense of the Poznan garrison,” Marshal of the Soviet Union Vasily Chuikov later pointed out in his book The End of the Third Reich. - As our troops approached this center, the stubbornness of the resistance of the enemy increased. Some readers might think: why it was necessary to fight hard for the Citadel, it would not have been better to block it and take it out of sight. Next to the Citadel was a junction of railways, which was extremely necessary for the supply of supplies to all the troops of the front. Therefore, the storming of the Citadel continued until the complete elimination of the enemy in it. Up to this point, our troops mainly dealt with subunits and units, which, retreating from the banks of the Vistula, were detained in the fortifications of Poznan. They, despite solid fortifications, could not withstand the attacks of assault groups. But when our units, having mastered the outer forts, approached the Citadel, the resistance’s cruelty reached its limit. The besieged garrison of the serfs resisted with the fury of the doomed.
In the Citadel itself, about 12 of thousands of soldiers and officers, headed by two commandants, the former commandant, General Mattern, and the hardened Nazi general Connel, were sheltering.
The citadel was located on a hill, it dominated the city. Forts and ravelins were covered with a three-meter layer of earth.
The approaches to the inner forts and ravelins were covered with a wide and deep moat. This moat was shot by the flank fire from the casemates through the loopholes invisible to the attackers.
The walls of the ditch with a height of 5 – 8 meters were lined with bricks. Tanks could not overcome this obstacle. To help them pulled heavy guns. From a distance of three hundred meters they beat on the Citadel. But even 203-millimeter shells, hitting the walls, did not cause any special damage, and, falling into the mounds above the overlaps of the forts and casemates, they left only funnels, as if shoveling the already plowed ground. ”
The assault on the Citadel began on February 18. Under the cover of artillery fire, the infantrymen and sappers forced the ditch. By the evening of February 19, sappers began to build bridges on gantry pylons across a fortress moat of length 12,5. By dawn, the bridge was ready, but soon destroyed by enemy fire. The bridge was restored by the morning of February 21.
“Under the cover of a smoke screen, 14 cannons crossed the moat, some of them immediately opened fire with direct fire at enemy embrasures,” Vasiliy Chuykov later recalled. - The enemy has crossed one of the bridge gantry supports with a machine-gun burst, but it was quickly restored. The flamethrower servant Serviladze, under the cover of infantry fire, descended from the shaft and set fire to two houses near the redoubt No. 2 in the Citadel. After some time, about two hundred German soldiers and officers left the burning house and surrendered. Taking advantage of this, our infantry descended from the moat and entered the Citadel.
Returning after completing the task of filling the flamethrower, the corporal Serviladze met a wounded comrade. Taking it with a filled flamethrower, he returned to the Citadel and, entering the enemy in the rear, filled the redoubt's embrasure with a fiery jet, shooting through the moat and shaft. Redut for a long time was silent. In the meantime, the sappers made their way along the embankment of the ceiling and lowered small charges of explosives into the vents and chimneys of the casemates, destroying the nazis entrenched there.
At noon they began to build a thirty-ton bridge for tanks. It was built on cellular supports near the bridge for artillery. At first, things went fast. Parts identified people who moved to the place of construction timber. Local residents actively participated in this work. The installation of the supports was already completed, when the silent embrasures in the fortress wall had come to life. Anyone who showed up on the bridge fell wounded or killed. Again I had to resort to barrels of explosives and flamethrowers. It took a lot of time and effort to suppress the enemy firing points. The enemy divined our reception and installed a machine gun in one of the casemates, covering the approaches to the moat. Only after the strong smoke of the redoubt number 1 was it possible to dump a barrel of explosives into the ditch. But this explosion did not suppress all embrasures. Then our flamethrower tanks approached the edge of the moat, but the embrasures were located too low and therefore found themselves in the dead zone, the streams of flamethrowers and shells of tank guns did not fall into them. And again rescued wit our warriors. Climbing to the embrasures from safe directions, they threw boxes, barrels, logs in front of them, creating a blockage that grew in front of the embrasure, blinding and disarming the enemy. The bottom windows of the redoubt number 1 have already died out. Work sappers became calmer.
I was in a hurry to build a bridge, believing that only entering tanks into the Citadel would quickly complete the elimination of the enemy’s surrounded grouping. This task was assigned to the 261 Engineering Battalion. The battalion commander himself made reconnaissance and decided to blow up the earthen wall and the walls of the fortress moat, thus creating a ramp for the entry of tanks. At midnight, a powerful explosion. The outer wall of the moat and the shaft were destroyed to the ground. To reduce the steepness of the slopes, three additional explosions were carried out. In the 3 hours of the night of February 22, tanks and self-propelled artillery of the 259 Tank and 34 Heavy Tank Regiments entered the Citadel. Only then did the Hitlerites in groups from 20 to 200 begin to surrender ...
Fierce battles were fought at all sites. The Western District of the Citadel was blocked by the Guardsmen of the 27 Rifle Division, together with the tank crews of the 259 and 34 Tank Regiments. Deputy division commander, General M.I. Duca suggested that the garrison Ravelin surrender. Fascist officers refused, the garrison continued to resist. General Duca - the former commander of one of the formations of the Belarusian partisans - used his own partisan method against the enemy. On a slope to the main entrance to the ravelin, burning barrels of fuel oil rolled. The hot, suffocating smoke smoked the fascists out of their holes, and they crawled out with their hands up. ”
Actions against the forts and heavy street battles in Poznan gave the Red Army command invaluable experience that was successfully used during the storming of Koenigsberg and Berlin.