World War II Day by Day World War II was the single most devastating and horrific event in the history of the world, causing the death of some 70 million people, reshaping the political map of the twentieth century and ushering in a new era of world history. Every day The Daily Chronicles brings you a new story from the annals of World War II with a vision to preserve the memory of those who suffered in the greatest military conflict the world has ever seen.

HITLER APPEALS TO ARMY TO SAVE CAPITAL

Berlin, Germany · April 23, 1945

On this date in 1945, with most land com­muni­ca­tions and elec­trical power lines down, Adolf Hitler broad­cast on Greater Ger­man Radio the order to save his capi­tal. The order called for Wehr­macht forces op­posing the Amer­i­cans at the Elbe River to with­draw and move north to res­cue Ber­lin, now within range of in­ces­sant Soviet artil­lery and Katyu­sha truck-mounted rocket fire. Two days later Hitler assured Gen. Hel­muth Weid­ling, com­mand­ing the defense of Berl­in, that rein­force­ments from Gen. Walter Wenck’s 12th Army and Gen. Theodor Busse’s 9th Army would deliver a crushing blow to the Bol­she­vik enemy. It was all fan­tasy and Wenck and Busse knew that. The night before Field Marshal Wil­helm Kei­tel had left his re­clu­sive Fuehrer in their claus­tro­phobic under­ground bun­ker and sur­prised Wenck at his head­quarters east of Ber­lin, telling the gen­eral that he and Busse must lift the siege and “save Hitler.” To the agi­tated and irra­tional Keitel, Wenck merely said okay. Wenck and Busse had no­where near the re­sources to ac­com­plish any­thing but gather up the remains of their forces and, along with thou­sands of Ger­man civil­ians, retreat across the Elbe River and sur­ren­der to the Amer­i­cans, which they did on May 7, 1945. Mean­while, back in Berlin, the num­ber of troops avail­able to poor Weid­ling totaled around 80,000, barely enough to man the outer defense peri­meter. More­over about half of the capi­tal’s de­fenders con­sisted of the Volks­sturm (home guard), a mot­ley, some­times dra­gooned cadre of teen­agers and the elderly, many of whom lacked wea­pons and even basic training. The remainder con­sisted of ex­hausted and demor­alized vete­rans of com­bat on the East­ern Front. Ranged against these make­shift forma­tions were 1.5 million battle-hardened and well-equipped Soviet sol­diers. On April 26 the capi­tal’s defenders with­drew to with­in a few miles of Hitler’s bunker. The next day the Ger­man defense area shrunk to less than 30 sq. miles. Hitler’s bun­ker was prac­ti­cally within spitting dis­tance of the Soviets. On the night of April 29–30, a fran­tic Hitler, still hoping to be rescued, demanded Keitel tell him where Armee Wenck was. In his cramped study hours later Hitler put a bullet through his right tem­ple. His wife Eva lay slumped on the small couch to his left, a sui­cide too. Above ground nothing remained of their Thousand Year Reich.

There are literally dozens of books that describe the last days of Hitler, his fana­ti­cal, never-say-die cro­nies, and his cap­ital. One of the best I’ve read is Roger Moor­house’s Berlin at War. His book bril­liantly re­counts the trag­e­dy of every­day citi­zens of the his­toric city, who typ­i­cally were no ad­mirers of the Nazis, yet because they lived in the epi­center of Nazism suf­fered every sort of priva­tion and even death, all for the self-delusion of glory and power that char­act­er­ized a de­spicable regime.—Norm Haskett




Scenes of Devastation from the Battle in Berlin, April 23–May 2, 1945

Reichstag building, Berlin 1945 German defender at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate

Left: The German Reichstag shows the scars of battle. Forces defending the Nazi sym­bol of power in­cluded naval, SS, and Hitler Youth per­son­nel. Many defenders held out in the building’s upper floors and cellars. It took several hours of vicious room-to-room fighting before Red Army per­son­nel secured the building.

Right: A dead NCO lies close to the Branden­burg Gate while smoke rises from the near­by Reichs­tag. The badge on his sleeve in­di­cates member­ship in an un­iden­ti­fied forma­tion numbered 185. Death, devas­ta­tion, and smoke cast a pall over the Reich capi­tal that lasted for weeks.

Soviet 203mm howitzer, Berlin 1945 Berlin moonscape

Left: The caliber of the guns that the Red Army brought to bear on Ber­lin’s streets in­creased rapidly. Cap­able of firing one shell every two minutes, 203mm howi­tzers like this one had a range of 10 miles and a crew of 15.

Right: An aerial photo of Berlin shows the legacy of de­struc­tion left by the war. By April 1945 Ber­lin had become a moon­scape of ruined buildings and cratered streets.

Unter den Linden, 1945 Clearing debris on a Berlin street

Left: Berlin’s premier street Unter den Linden in 1945 pre­sented a grim con­trast with the street’s pre­war splen­dor. View is to the east.

Right: Berliners had learned to clear streets fol­lowing Allied bombing raids in the early days of the war. During the Bat­tle of Berlin, many streets and side­walks were turned into rubble-fields and thou­sands of citi­zens were con­scripted after­wards to make them passable.

Berlin 1945: A Cavalcade of Photos from German and Soviet Archives