BERLIN APRIL 1945 I

It has been pointed out that the defense forces originally planned for were wholly inadequate and that it was necessary to bring in frontline troops to defend the sprawling city. Planned operations went hand in hand with improvisation. The organizational difficulties which resulted can be seen from a study of the chain of command.

An attempt will be made to indicate what forces were actually at hand. While complete data is lacking; probably not a single post included any units at full strength.

In addition to permanent local troops and the LVI Panzer Corps, a number of improvised forces and alert units were organized in Berlin proper. Units were also poured into Berlin at, the last minute by the Army, Luftwaffe, Navy, Party, SS, Police, and Labor Service. These troops were carried in by train, motor vehicle, transport plane, or moved in on foot. Some forces either did not reach Berlin, or else arrived only in small numbers. Others passed through the city on their way to the forward defense position, while still others remained outside the city and were later forced to withdraw. Many groups moved quietly out of Berlin to the west. In addition to the divisions of the LVI Panzer Corps, remnants of other front-line units were swept into Berlin.

The troops listed here do not constitute forces of any considerable size, but do represent a large number of different unit designations. If it were possible to draw up a complete list of all units involved, a false picture of the situation would result from the discrepancy between actual and authorized strength. Consideration must also be given to actual combat value. Nevertheless, it is hoped that the following survey of units making up the defense forces provides a useful over-all estimate.

THE PERMANENT LOCAL FORGES

1. Staff of the Commander of the Berlin Defense Area. This staff was set up at the beginning of February 1945 by Deputy Headquarters, III Corps, in the III Wehrkreis Building on Hohenzollerndamm. Mention has already been made of the successive occupants of the post of commander.

The staff was constituted as follows:

Chief of Staff: Colonel (GSC) Refior

Chief of Operational Major (GSC) Sprotte

Chief Supply Officer: Major Weiss

Artillery Commander: Lt. Colonel Platho

Signal Commandert: Lt. Colonel Fricke

Engineer Commander: Colonel (GSC) Lobeck

On 25 April, as the Russians were approaching the Hohenzollerndamm, the staff moved to the bunker on Bendlerstrasse. The Artillery Commander had established his command post in the flak control tower near the Zoo.

2. The, Volkssturm. Numerically, the Volksturm was by far the strongest component of the defense forces. Generalleutnant Reymann listed its strength at 92 battalions (60,000 men), of which about 30 battalions, according to his report, were moved into the forward defense position. Remnants of these forces may have been swept back into Berlin.

a. Formation and Organization. The Volkssturm was set up in the fall of 1944 under Party auspices by the Reich Defense Commissioner, and was not a component part of the Army. Its mission was to protect rear areas against minor enemy infiltrations or breakthroughs and against parachute troops, to serve as security forces for the manning of rear positions, and to engage in the building of fortifications. Originally Volkssturm troops were not to be committed at the front within the framework of the Army. Their mission could be compared to that of the British Home Guards.

Once the enemy had set foot on Reich territory, the emergency situation at the front made it necessary to utilize the Volkssturm in the front lines in ever increasing numbers, though it was by no means fit for such service. With frontline commitment, difficulties resulting from divided authority immediately arose. Undoubtedly the Volkssturm should have been organized as a component part of the Army, a plan for which Generaloberst Guderian had tried vainly to secure approval.

In Berlin the Volkssturm was divided into two categories, designated Volkssturm I and Volkssturm II; Volkssturm I had only a few weapons while Volkssturm II had none at all. Volkssturm II was intended as a manpower reserve for Volkssturm I. The use of these forces in Berlin was planned so that Volkssturm I would occupy a forward position – for instance, along the city perimeter – while Volkssturm II would be close behind along a second position to serve as a security force and as a reserve for replacing casualties. This plan was actually followed in some sectors.

The Volkssturm was composed of men who could bear arms in emergency, but who were not physically fit for active duty. They ranged in age to sixty years and over, the majority being in upper age brackets. Among members of the Volkssturm were men who had had no service and veterans of World War I. These latter often distinguished themselves by their sense of duty. The Volkssturm was broken down into companies and battalions. Unit commanders were appointed by the Party; hence they were partly Party functionaries and partly reserve officers. In one instance a staff officer who had been dismissed by Hitler found himself a private under a commander who had never before held a military rank.

The Volkssturm was organized on a local basis; all the male inhabitants of a locality or section of a city were grouped in one battalion. When not actually fighting, the men pursued their normal occupation during the day, lived with their families, and took their meals at home.

The strength of the companies and battalions depended on the number of eligible inhabitants in each locality; in Berlin each battalion comprised between 600 and 1,500 men.

b. Training. Before being assigned to duty Volkssturm members received training on weekends or in the evenings from about 1700 to 1900 hours unless they were employed in building fortifications. Training was given in the use of rifles and machine guns, wherever such weapons were available. Only in a few isolated instances did any practice firing take place. The commanders received instruction and were familiarized with their local combat duties. Three-day courses in SA training camps were also offered. The degree of training varied greatly but was generally insufficient.

c. Equipment and Weapons. Members of the Volkssturm wore civilian clothes with arm bands. Their weapons were as varied as they were inadequate. Troops of Volkssturm were issued rifles, and to some extent also machine guns. These included many European models, among them Czech, Belgian, and Italian. A very few battalions were equipped with German rifles. The supply of ammunition amounted in many cases to five rounds per rifle; in some cases, however, the ammunition on hand did not fit any rifle. No heavy weapons and only a small number of Panzerfaust were available. Apart from the aforementioned thirty battalions, which were relatively well armed, the bulk of the Volkssturm was practically defenseless. None of the Volkssturm units were issued signal equipment.

Rations for the Volkssturm were provided by the population even during the fighting, but these were usually inadequate. The Volkssturm troops had no field kitchens or ration supply vehicles of their own, so that outside of their own home area they found themselves without rations.

d. Combat value. Against the well-equipped and battle-tried troops of the Red Army, the combat value of the battalions remaining in Berlin was almost nil, in spite of the will that was frequently present. This does not mean that detachments of Volkssturm men did not in many instances put up a gallant fight. When it came time for serious fighting, however, the bulk of the Volkssturm simply stayed at home. In some cases entire unarmed battalions were dismissed by clear-sighted military commanders. However, in places where the Russians attacked either feebly or not at all Volkssturm units were able to occupy a sector or delay the enemy advance for some days.

3. Local Defense Forces. Schools, Replacement Units, and Plant Protection Troops.

a. Local Defense Forces. At the beginning of January Berlin organized a number of local defense battalions, composed of men subject to military service who were not fit for front-line duty. They were armed with rifles and a few machine guns, mostly captured weapons, and were issued a small amount of ammunition. Their mission was to guard bridges, railroad stations, military camps, and war prisoners.

Some of these battalions were shifted at the beginning of February to the Oder front, while others moved the prisoners of war who had been put to work in and around Berlin toward the west. Only a small number of companies and battalions fought in Berlin. Their combat value was very slight.

b. Schools. An ordnance technician school and an ordnance officer candidate school were located in Berlin, Courses had been discontinued and the permanent staffs assigned to the southern perimeter of the city. The permanent staffs of the schools in the surrounding area – at Zossen, Wuensdorf, Doeberitz, Gatow, and other districts – were for the most part assigned to combat duty outside Berlin.

c. Replacement Troops. The replacement troops of the Army had all been used in February to build up the fresh contingents which were thrown into the Oder line. At the beginning of April, however, a fairly large number of replacement troops from the Luftwaffe were placed at the disposal of Army Group Vistula. Because they lacked training in ground fighting and were inadequately armed, the latter assigned them to rear positions and to the forward defense position. Their combat value was negligible.

d. Plant Protection Troops. The large industrial firms and the postal and railway systems each had at their disposal a few companies of plant protection troops, armed with rifles. They were consolidated into battalions and assigned to the battle lines, where they had little combat value.

4. Alert Units. Personnel of the military agencies and staffs were organized into “alert companies.” This designation was also given to unit’s composed of convalescents and numerous stragglers, which were set up by the military police and the straggler interception patrols. These soldiers were poorly armed, and their fighting spirit was low. The stragglers, especially, could only be held together by the application of rigorous punitive measures.

Toward the end of the battle thousands of soldiers unwilling to fight were found in cellars and bunkers. Again it was shown that it is not the anonymous soldier who fights battles, but the soldier who preserves his identity through close association with his comrades and superiors.

5. Waffen-SS. The SS units thrown into Berlin were organized under SS Brigadefuehrer Mohnke into a well-armed force of high combat value and good morale. The brigade, comprising several thousand men, was assigned to the government sector.

6. Permanent Local Artillery Forces. When Lt. Colonel Platho assumed his duties as Artillery Commander of the Defense Area on 19 March 1945 he found seven light batteries and seven heavy batteries of artillery on hand. All the guns were of foreign manufacture. Between 100 and 120 rounds of ammunition per battery were available. At first there were no prime movers or vehicles, but later two prime movers were located.

Among the battery commander’s there were three paymaster officials, who were not even from the artillery, but had merely completed a short artillery course in which each had fired a gun once. The gun crews were made up of soldiers from all branches of the service, few of whom were artillerymen, and of members of the Volkssturm. There was no battalion or regimental staff.

A telephone line between the observation point and the batteries was operated by antiaircraft artillery women auxiliaries. Orders were transmitted by telephone through the use of the communications facilities of the nearby flak positions. There was no other telephone equipment and not a single radio set.

The first firing of live ammunition ordered by Lt. Colonel Platho was discontinued because it endangered the observation post.

In the short time available the artillery commander Increased the number of batteries to twenty by making use of the dismantled training guns found in the Ordnance, Technician and Ordnance Officer Candidate Schools. A few artillery officers were made available and were assigned either to the batteries or as liaison officers to the sector command headquarters, in place of the missing battalion staffs. Crews of the German-made guns consisted of former search-light operators who had never fired artillery. Ammunition for the German guns was no more plentiful than for those of foreign manufacture.

In addition to the artillery, e few rocket projectors were set up along the most important avenues of approach. While they were fired with good psychological effect, each projector had only enough ammunition for one salvo.

7. Antitank Defenses. One relatively battle-worthy unit was a tank demolition battalion composed of three companies and equipped with Volkswagens, each of which was fitted with a rack for six antitank rockets. It could not be determined whether this battalion was employed in Berlin or whether it was moved out to the forward defense position.

The other antitank defenses consisted of the antiaircraft installations that were committed to ground action and the various means of close-range antitank combat.

8. Antiaircraft Artillery. The 1st Flak Division, under Generalmajor Sydow, was stationed in Berlin. Combat headquarters were located at the antiaircraft control post near the Zoo.

There were four antiaircraft artillery regiments with four or five battalions (20-mm and 128-mm guns). A few batteries with older guns of German and foreign make were used as barrage batteries. Before the start of the fighting a searchlight regiment was dispersed throughout the city.

The air defenses centered around the three flak towers, located near the Zoo, in Friedrichfshain, and in Humboldthain respectively. The batteries in the towers consisted of eight 128-ran guns each. On the terrace of each tower were placed twelve 20/37-mm guns. Ammunition was adequate.

During the fighting the flak towers formed vital centers for the artillery defenses. The towers were connected by underground telephone cables.

The other antiaircraft batteries were to be deployed along the city perimeter position. This plan failed in many instances because the guns were mounted fast in concrete. Furthermore, the Berlin antiaircraft units were not trained for ground action. In one instance, witnessed by General Reymann, practice fire aimed at targets on the Mueggelsee did not even hit the lake.

Accordingly, the combat value of the antiaircraft units distributed along the city perimeter was slight. In many instances they were quickly overcome by the Russian tanks and artillery. One antiaircraft group, consisting of two battalions deployed around Tempelhof Airfield and to the south of It kept the enemy engaged for two days. When the Russians broke through on either side, the guns that were still serviceable were blown up and the remnants of the gun crews were thrown into action as infantry.

9. The Hitler Youth. Besides participating in the fighting as flak auxiliaries and in small groups attached to the regular troops and the Volkssturm, the Hitler Youth were organized into their own battalions. Some battalions were combined to form the Axmann Brigade and were engaged in antitank operations east of the forward defense position. They were armed with rifles and Panzerfaust.

The total strength of the Hitler Youth in Berlin is not known. In the western part of the city some battalions were fighting under the Reich Youth Leader in the radio tower sector and near Pichelsdorf, where they held a bridgehead. Enthusiastic fighting spirit only partly made up for lack of weapons and training.

THE LVI PANZER CORPS

The LVI Panzer Corps, commanded by General der Artillerie Weidling, was moved to Berlin on 24 April 1945. The corps chief of staff was Colonel (GSC) von Duffing. Other staff officers included Major (GSC) Knabe, Chief of Operations; Major (GSC) Wagner, Chief Supply Officer; and Colonel Woehlennann, commander of the corps artillery.

The following troop units were brought into Berlin under the corps command:

1. The 20th Panzer Grenadier Division. This division had suffered heavy casualties in the battle on the Oder. Its strength and combat value were very low.

2. Panzer Division “Muencheberg” (Commander: Generalmajor Mummert). Reorganized in Doeberitz in spring under the designation Panzer Division “Doeberitz,” this division was later renamed because of confusion with Infantry Division “Doeberitz”. Following severe fighting west of the Oder, the division arrived in Berlin with only about half its authorized strength and not more than twenty tanks. It was battle-weary but still fit for action.

3. The 18th Panzer Grenadier Division (Commander: Ganeralmajor Rauch). Rehabilitated in spring of 1945, this division was about equal to Panzer Division “Muencheberg” in strength and combat value.

4. SS Panzer Grenadier Division “Nordland” (Commanders SS Gruppenfuehrer Ziegler).

Complemented with volunteers from Scandinavia. It was inferior in strength and combat value to Panzer Division “Muencheberg”.

5. The 408th Volks Artillerie Corps. This unit was composed of four light artillery battallions, two heavy artillery battalions with Russian 152-mm guns, and one howitzer battalion with four howitzers. About 60 percent of the artillery pieces were brought to Berlin with almost no ammunition.

6. Remnants of other combat units, including the 9th Parachute Division and SS Panzer Grenadier Division “Nederland”. These units were all low in fighting strength and combat value.

LUFTWAFFE

During the first days of the fighting in and around Berlin, units of the German Luftwaffe went into action a number of times in formations of from forty to sixty aircraft. They took part in the operations in accordance with direct instructions from the Chief of the Luftwaffe General Staff.

 SUMMARY

1. Fighting Power. Numerically, a rough survey of all troops available after the encirclement of the city gives the following picture: The LVI Panzer Corps was equal to about two divisions, the Waffen SS forces to about half a division, and all other forces in the city to from two to three divisions a total of about four to five divisions.

The city contained an estimated 60,000 soldiers and from fifty to sixty tanks.

There is no data from which to estimate the number of casualties sustained; they were high owing to the nature of street fighting.

The “other forces” estimated above as corresponding to between two and three divisions were largely splinter units of various types. Volkssturm companies, alert units, members of the Hitler Youth, parties of stragglers from the front, and SS units were to be found side by side and intermingled, without any over-all organization. A Latvian battalion in this category immediately went over to the enemy. The adjacent unit was often completely unknown and just as often unreliable. As a result the Russians repeatedly reached positions to the rear of valiantly fighting units. There were no command communications channels. Messengers often took hours to proceed a few hundred meters through the nibble-strewn streets. There were no heavy weapons, and only here and there a single assault gun or antiaircraft installation. The procurements of ammunition and rations depended on chance and the ingenuity of the unit commander.

2. Fighting Spirit. Fighting spirit was sustained by fear of the Russians and by the hope, cleverly nurtured by Goebbel’s propaganda machine, for a shift in front by the Western Allies and for the launching of German relief attacks. On the other hand, the excessive hardships, the prolongation of the uninterrupted fighting, and the desperate over-all situation produced fatigue and lethargy among the troops. The nervous strain exceeded the limit of endurance.

Toward the end of the battle the man who still held a weapon in his hand did so either from a sense of duty or with the courage of despair. A great many examples of heroic resistance were shown by troops of all types — regular army, SS, Volksstunn, Hitler Youth, and others. The number of those who regarded surrender as treason and those who as fanatical Nazis actually continued fighting was by no means small. Thus it was that, when the capitulation was announced, parlementaires as well as Colonel Woehlermann and other officers were threatened with death.

The conduct of the civilian population on the whole was exemplary. However, a few veterans of the battle reported that in the eastern sector of the city, where there have always been a large number of Communists, some elements of the population fraternized with the Russians and even took up arms to fight on the Russian side.

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