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.

[amazon_carousel widget_type=”ASINList” width=”600″ height=”200″ title=”Recommended Reading” market_place=”US” shuffle_products=”False” show_border=”False” asin=”0805056866,0700608990,0375714227,0712606955,081296859X,1906033129,0684803291,0142002801,0750926112,1848842309″ /]

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, anti-tank 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 during the Battle of Ber­lin on May 2, 1945, 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 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 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