Forward SHAEF HQ, Reims, France · April 12, 1945

On this date in 1945 President Frank­lin D. Roose­velt died in Warm Springs, Georgia, and Harry S. Tru­man became the thirty-third pre­si­dent of the United States. That same day the Supreme Com­man­der of the Allied Expedi­tionary Force, Gen. Dwight D. Eisen­hower, informed his staff that neither Amer­i­can nor Brit­ish forces would try to cap­ture Berlin, the epi­center of Adolf Hitler’s rapidly dis­appearing Thou­sand Year Reich. That task would be left to the Red Army, which by now con­trolled most of Cen­tral and East­ern Europe. For Eisen­hower it was a purely prag­ma­tic deci­sion, to say nothing of the poli­ti­cal deci­sion reached by Roose­velt, Brit­ish Prime Minis­ter Winston Chur­chill, and Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin at the Yalta Con­fer­ence in Febru­ary 1945, which placed Berlin within the Soviet zone of post­war-occupied Germany.

The Red Army of 1.5 mil­lion men, with many thou­sands of heavy wea­pons, was roughly 40 miles east of the Ger­man capital, while U.S. forces were 120 miles to the west. In the wake of the Battle of the Bulge (mid-Decem­ber 1944 to mid-Janu­ary 1945), the March breach of the Rhine River at nu­mer­ous points, and the West­ern Allies’ en­circle­ment of 300,000 troops of Field Marshal Walther Model’s Army Group B in the Ruhr pocket, it was clear that the Nazis had lost the war, their cause ul­ti­mately hope­less. (After dis­solving his army and dis­charging his youngest and oldest mem­bers, Model com­mitted sui­cide as a matter of honor on April 12, 1945.)

Yet ele­ments of the Ger­man Army con­tinued to fight tena­ciously on their home turf. “Sieg oder Sibirien” (“Victory or Siberia”) was their battle cry as the Red Army closed in. Gen. Omar Bradley, com­manding the Twelfth Army Group, believed taking the Nazi capi­tal would cost him 100,000 men. It turned out that the Battle of Berlin (April 16 to May 2, 1945) cost Soviet troops an esti­mated 81,000-plus dead or missing out of 360,000 Soviet and Polish troops killed in Ger­many alone. The blood price was high because Stalin had ordered two army com­manders—Marshal Georgy Zhukov of the First Belo­russian Front and Marshal Ivan Konev of the First Ukrai­nian Front—to com­pete in a race to be first to reach the city the Nazis were pre­pared to defend with special ferocity.

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Soviet Assault on Berlin, Mid-April Through Early May 1945

Soviet artillery, Seelow Heights, April 1945Volkssturm learning to use Panzerfaust, March 1945

Left: Soviet artillery bombarding German posi­tions during the Battle for See­low Heights, April 16–19, 1945. The battle to break through the so-called “Gates to Ber­lin,” just over 50 miles east of the Ger­man capi­tal, cost the Soviets about 30,000 casual­ties, 18,000 more than the Germans lost.

Right: Ranged against the Soviets, who were assembling on the edges of Ber­lin, was a mot­ley crew of boys and elderly men com­prising the Volks­sturm (home guard). Here soldiers of the Volks­sturm are being trained to use the Panzer­faust, a small, dis­pos­able pre­loaded launch tube that fired a high-explosive, antitank warhead. Photo taken March 21, 1945.

Reichstag, June 1945Soviet flag over Reichstag

Left: The German parliament building, the Reichstag, following its destruction. Photo taken in June 1945.

Right: “Raising the Red Flag over the Reichstag” is a his­toric photo­graph taken on May 2, 1945, during the Battle of Ber­lin by Red Army photo­grapher Yevgeny Khaldei. This photo­graph, like that taken by Associ­ated Press photo­grapher Joe Rosen­thal of the flag-raising atop Mt. Suri­bachi on the contested Pacific island of Iwo Jima, came to be regarded as one of the most significant and recognizable images of the war.

Hotel Adlon on Unter den LindenUnter den Linden street scene, July 1945

Left: Soviet soldiers hoist the Red flag on the bal­cony of the once pres­tigious Hotel Adlon on Unter den Linden. Located in the heart of the govern­ment quar­ter, the Adlon was only blocks from Joseph Goebbels’ Pro­pa­gan­da Minis­try and Hitler’s Reich Chancellery and underground Fuehrerbunker.

Right: A devastated street in the city cen­ter just off Unter den Linden, July 3, 1945. Post­war sta­tisti­cians cal­cu­lated that for every in­habi­tant of Berlin there were nearly thirty-nine cubic yards of rubble. Nearly two-thirds of the rubble was caused by the Red Army, which expended 40,000 tons of ex­plo­sives in arti­llery and rocket bom­bard­ment in a mere two weeks in April and early May 1945.

Battle of Seelow Heights, April 16–19, 1945