Berlin 1945. The Final Reckoning by Karl Bahm

World War Ii

By Karl Bahm

Berlin 1945: the ultimate Reckoning

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The sheer size of the city struck fear into every bomber crew that flew over her. Nicknamed simply 'the Big City' by flight crews, this was the third largest city in the world at the time, covering over 1400 km 2 (540 square miles). As Germany's capital and largest city, Berlin was naturally heavily defended; as the showcase for Hitler's grandiose 'Thousand-Year Reich', those defences were built on an equally grandiose, monumental scale. In 1940, Albert Speer, the state's chief architect and one of Hitler's closest personal advisors, had designed three massive, fortress-like buildings which became the centrepiece of the city's air defences.

Naturally if I can get a chance to take Berlin cheaply, I shall do so,' he added. So began an undeclared race to the German capital. As Marshals Konev and Zhukov were developing their plans for BerHn's conquest, the Allied troops in the West, unaware of the decision at the top levels which reduced Berlin's strategic importance, continued to battle their way forward. General Bradley's 12th Army Group, now with the US Ninth Army numbering nearly one million men, completed the encirclement of the Ruhr on 2 April, trapping Field Marshal Walter Model's Army Group B, with 325,000 men.

With its broad avenues, imposing neo-classical architecture, and bawdy nightlife, it was the showcase for the eager, bustling modernism of the young German Reich. But now, after 314 air raids on the city by 21 March 1945 - 85 in the previous 11 weeks alone - much of the city was in rubble. Almost one half of all the housing in the city was in some way damaged, a third of it uninhabitable. The mutilated shell of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial 47 BERLIN Church now loomed grotesquely over the Klirfstendamm; the beautiful, world-famous Tiergarten (zoological gardens) was now an ugly eye-sore of burned trees, craters and demolished animal houses; the famous Brandenburg Gate, charred and pockmarked, straddled the Unter den Linden StrafSe which was lined with half-destroyed government buildings.

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