Sunday, May 24, 2020

Battle of Berlin (Summary)

The Battle of Berlin was the last major World War II battle in the European Theater of Operations. It was fought between the depleted German forces and the Red Army from April 16, 1945, to May 2, 1945, in Berlin, Germany. It was one of the bloodiest battles in history as approximately 350,000 men on both sides were killed and the capital of Germany lay in ruins. It was also the second, most fiercely fought urban military encounter right after the Battle of Stalingrad.

Summary

After a four-day battle at the Seelow Heights, from April 16 to April 19, 1945, the Soviet forces of the 1st Belorussian Front, under Zhukov, were able to cross the Oder River and head towards Berlin. Meanwhile the Red Army's 2nd Belorussian Front, under the command of General Konstantin Rokossovsky, had breached the German lines in Pomerania, on February 24, 1945, rapidly advancing westward as fast as 25 kilometers a day, through Pomerania and Western Prussia, temporarily halting on a line 60 kilometers east of Berlin along the Oder River.

Map Battle of the Oder or Seelow Heights
The first German defensive preparations to protect Berlin had begun on March 20, when the newly appointed commander of the Army Group Vistula, General Gotthard Heinrici, correctly anticipated that the main Soviet thrust would be made over the Oder River. Before the main battle in Berlin was initiated, the Soviets had managed to encircle the city after the fierce battles of the Seelow Heights and Halbe.

The Battle of Berlin began on April 16, 1945, when two Soviet fronts (army groups), the 2nd Belorussian Front, and the 1st Belorussian Front of Georgy Zhukov, attacked Berlin from the east and south, while a third overran the German units deployed north of Berlin. Before the attack, the 1st Belorussian Front led by Marshal Georgy Zhukov had shelled Berlin's city center, while Marshal Ivan Konev's 1st Ukrainian Front had pushed north from the south through the last formations of Army Group Center, facing the decimated elements of 4th Panzer Army.

The German defenses were mainly led by Helmuth Weidling and consisted of several depleted, badly equipped, and disorganized Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS divisions, as well as many Volkssturm and Hitler Youth members. Within the next days, the Soviets advanced through the city, suffering heavy losses as they slowly made their way through the city rubble amidst a dense rain of German bullets and mortar shells. Having reached the city center, the Soviet units conquered the Reichstag on April 30, after ferocious fighting.

During the early hours morning of April 30, General Helmuth Otto Weidling, on Hitler's authorization, attempted a breakout through the encircling Red Army lines, but the counter-attack war short-lived and ground to a halt. That afternoon, Hitler and Braun committed suicide and their bodies were cremated not far from their bunker. In accordance to Hitler's last will and testament, Admiral Karl Dönitz became the "President of Germany" (Reichspräsident) in the new Flensburg government, and Joseph Goebbels became the new Chancellor of Germany (Reichskanzler).

Before the battle was over, many of Adolf Hitler's followers committed suicide, too. The city's defenders finally surrendered on May 2. Nevertheless, Waffen-SS units kept fighting tenaciously to the north west, west and south-west of the city until the end of the war in Europe on May 8. More German units fought westward so that they could surrender to the Western Allies rather than to the Soviets.
Map of Battle of Berlin



Battle of Berlin fighting (original footage)

German Invasion of France (WW2)

The German invasion of France in World War II is known in military history as the Battle of France. It took place from May 10 to June 25, 1940, in France, Holland, and Belgium. Just as the German Polish Campaign, which had been accomplished the year before, it was carried out quickly and efficiently, using the new lightning war tactics, where the German Army's armored divisions and the Luftwaffe dive bombers played a key role to achieve a total victory. These German powerful military units invaded and conquered France through two military operations; Fall Gelb (Case Yellow) and Fall Rot (Case Red).

Fall Gelb

Approved by Adolf Hitler on February 17, 1940, Fall Gelb called for a main and powerful invasion thrust into French territory through the Ardennes forests (southern Belgium and Northeastern France), fording the Meuse River at Sedan, with a secondary diversionary military attack carried out through Holland and Belgium to lure and engage most of the British and French forces, while the main German invasion force would advance through the Ardennes. It had been devised by General Franz Halder and Erich von Manstein, with the former making the initial plan, and the latter modifying the original invasion plan; this is the reason it is also known as the Manstein's Plan. Fall Gelb would be set in motion on May 10, with the diversionary attack on Holland and Belgium.

Fall Rot

This military plan was the German invasion of France through and bypassing the Maginot Line, which was the French fortified line of defense along the German border. It was the second stage of the conquest of France as it began on June 5, 1940.

German Invading Forces

To attack France, the Wehrmacht organized the invading force into three Army Groups; Army Group A (under Gerd von Rundstedt) was made up of the 4th Army (Günther von Kluge), the 12th Army (Wilhelm List), and the 16th Army (Ernst Busch), totaling 45 divisions, which included 7 armored and 3 motorized; Army Group B (Fedor von Bock) was composed of the 18th Army (Georg von Küchler) and the 6th Army (Walter von Reichenau), amounting to 29 divisions, with 3 armored and 2 motorized; meanwhile Army Group C (led by Wilhelm von Leeb) was formed by the 1st and 7th Army, with 18 divisions. The total German ground troops amounted to 3 million men.

Rundstedt's AGA would carry out Fall Gelb's main offensive through the Ardennes forests, while AGB would accomplish the diversionary attack in the north through Holland and Belgium. Meanwhile, south of the Ardennes, von Leeb's AGC would execute Fall Rot, attacking France through the Maginot Line.

Map of the Battle of France, showing the directions of the German thrusts into Dutch, Belgian, and French territory and the defensive positions of the Allied forces


Allied Defense Forces

To defend the French territory against Germany, the Allied forces were organized around three Army Groups; Army Group 1, which was composed of the French 7th Army, the BEF, the French 1st Army, the French 9th Army, and the French 2nd Army; meanwhile Army Group 2 and Army Group 3 had been deployed further south, reinforcing the Maginot Line. Army Group 1's 1st and 9th Army would suffer the brunt of the German Army Group A's attack into France.

Summary

Preceded by Luftwaffe's air raids against Dutch and Belgian military installations and communication facilities, the Battle of France was set in motion on May 10, 1940, when AGB's German paratroopers from the 7th airborne division landed deep in Belgian territory, seizing key Belgian bridges on the Albert Canal and destroying the Eben Emael fortresses, thus clearing the way for AGB's ground units, which were already pouring into Belgium and Holland. German airborne troops also captured the Hague in Holland on the same day. On May 14, Rotterdam was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe aircraft, forcing the Dutch government to surrender, while spearhead elements of AGB's 18th Army poured deep into Holland, taking towns, bridges and airports, forcing the French 7th Army to fall back into Belgium.

German airborne troops (Fallschirmjaeger) took the enemy strongest points by surprise


Further south, in the Ardennes forests, spearhead armored units of AGA's 12th Army, under Heinz Guderian, pushed westwards, bypassing Sedan and crossing the Meuse River on May 13 as they made their way deep into French territory, while 4th Army's elements took Dinant and got across the same river. On May 14, many Allied infantry units of the French 9th and 2nd Army began retreating in disarray. Guderian's XIX Corps's armored units advance was relentless, especially Rommel's 7th Armored Division, and by May 18 these German armored divisions had captured St Quintin and Cambrai, while von Reichenau's 6th Army had already taken Brussels in Belgium.

Bypassing Paris, the AGA's armored and mechanized infantry units continued their advance westwards. Then, on May 21, they swerved north, reaching the French port of Calais, constituting the southern jaw of the Wehrmacht pincers that encircled the French 1st Army, the British Expeditionary Force, and the Belgian Army. These Allied troops had only one way out, the French North Sea coast at Dunkirk. The German AGB's divisions formed the northern jaw of the pincers. Thus, thousands of Allied troops were routed as they retreated to the beaches of Dunkirk where they were strafed and bombed by Luftwaffe ground attack aircraft. Then the British Royal Navy initiated Operation Dynamo, which was the evacuation of British and French troops across the Channel from continental Europe onto the British Isles. This was possible due to a miscalculation of Gerd von Rundstedt, the commander of Army Group A, who had ordered the German armored divisions to stop.

Below, Map of the invasion of France after the defeat of the French Army Group I and the BEF



While the surviving BEF and French Army units were being evacuated from Dunkirk, the German Army Group B's units swung south, moving towards Paris. The Wehrmacht 18th Army's infantry divisions poured into the French capital on June 14 as the French war cabinet appointed Marshal Henri Philippe Petain Prime Minister of France, who surrendered and signed the Armistice with Germany on June 22, 1940, on the same railway coach on which World War I armistice had been signed on November 11, 1918. It was Germany's revenge.

Meanwhile, German Army Group C's infantry sappers regiments and artillery units had initiated Operation Fall Rot as they tore holes in the Maginot line, making their way into France. Together with Army Group A's units, which swerved south and bypassed the Maginot line, encircled large number of French troops.
Below, a German 18th Army's infantry regiment parading in Paris


Battle of France (footage)

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Wehrmacht (Third Reich Armed Forces)

Created in 1935, the Wehrmacht was the name of the German armed forces during the Third Reich, under Adolf Hitler. It succeeded the Reichswehr, which was the armed services during the Weimar Republic. In 1933, when Hitler became Chancellor of the Reich, the German armed forces were made up of only 98,000 men, because the Treaty of Versailles forbade Germany to have more than 100,000 armed men. However, by September 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, Adolf Hitler had 2,900,000 troops at his disposal.

The Wehrmacht was divided into three branches; the Army (Heer), the Navy (Kriegsmarine), and the Air Force (Luftwaffe). The Army was the strongest branch, with 70% of men and resources, and was under the Oberkommando des Heeres (German Army's High Command), whose commander in chief was Walther von Brauchitsch until 1941, when Hitler took over. However, to implement the Blitzkrieg (Lightning War), the Wehrmacht depended on the Luftwaffe for air support when launching a fast offensive. The Waffen-SS, which was the SS's combat arm, was not part of the Wehrmacht, for it was an independent armed force whose members were highly trained but also politically motivated.


Below, infantry unit of the Wehrmacht in France in May, 1940



The Wehrmacht in action (real WW2 footage)

Polish Campaign (Fall Weiss)

The Polish campaign was the German and Soviet invasion of Poland, which triggered World War II. It took place from September 1 to October 6, 1939, ending with the division and annexation of the Polish territory to Germany and Russia. The German military campaign was fast, being carried out with sweeping pincers movement that encircled huge number of enemy troops. This new military tactic would be called "Blitzkrieg" (lightning war). Thus, this quick victory was made possible thanks to the use of independent armor divisions of the Wehrmacht, which were massively used to punch holes in the enemy lines. They had air support provided by the Luftwaffe dive bombers, such as the Junkers Ju 87, Stuka. This aircraft was so precise and lethal that can be called the "flying artillery", which was more effective than the army's howitzers.

Rationale for invading Poland

Germany had lost a lot of territory in the east and the seaport city of Danzig at the end of WW1. It was arbitrarily taken away from her by the Allies through the infamous Treaty of Versailles, signed in 1919, to create the Polish State, granting this new nation access to the Baltic Sea. This was known as the Polish corridor. To recover it and that coastal city, first Adolf Hitler ensured the success of the military operation by signing a non-aggression pact with Joseph Stalin on August 23, 1939, one week before the beginning of the campaign. This treaty stipulated that Poland would be split up in two and annexed both to Germany and the Soviet Union.

German operation code nameFall Weiss (Case White)

German military deployment

To attack Poland, the Wehrmacht deployed its military units in two army groups: 1) Army Group North, under General Fedor von Bock, which would invade Poland in two columns, one from Northeast Germany and the other from East Prussia; 2) Army Group South, commanded by General Gerd von Rundstedt, would also attack in two sweeping thrusts, one from Southeast Germany, and the other from Czechoslovakia, which had just been annexed to Germany.



Summary

The German invasion began in the early hours of September 1,1939, at 04:55 hours, with the 10th Army from Army Group South (AGS) crossing the border near the Polish town of Mokra. Spearheaded by the 4th and 1st Panzer Divisions, the Wehrmacht's forces quickly pushed eastwards, defeating the Polish 7th Infantry Division and the Volhynian Cavalry Brigade.

By September 20, supported by the Luftwaffe dive bombers and fighters aircraft, the 10th and 8th Army had converged around Warsaw with the 4th Army of Army Group North (AGN). Meanwhile, the 14th Army from AGS and the 3rd Army from AGN met at Brest-Litovsk, closing the jaws of the big pincers.

On September 17, the Red Army began the Russian invasion of Poland from the East, with the Belarussian and the Ukranian fronts (armies) advancing westwards. By September 22, the Polish Army had already been broken up by the German forces. The rest of the campaign consisted of mopping up operations. The last Polish Army division surrendered took place on October 6, 1939, to the Soviet forces.


German infantry troops in Poland in September 1939



Fall Weiss and the Blitzkrieg in Poland (original footage)

Blitzkrieg (Lightning War)

The Blitzkrieg, or lightning war, is a mobile tactical maneuver designed to encircle and trap large numbers of enemy troops from two flanks or from all sides to wipe them off the battlefield after sudden and surprise attacks by land and by air, getting behind enemy lines as they get cup up in pockets.

In order to achieve encirclement and a quick victory, it is necessary to possess large number of reliable tanks, fitted with powerful guns, using them massively together as independent armored units to breach the enemy lines, tearing gaps through which more armored units or mechanized infantry can pour into enemy-held territory, deep behind their vanguard positions and then proceed to bypass the scattered and isolated enemy units to outflank and surround them.

For these armored units to be effective and efficient, they must have the air support of ground attack aircraft that act as flying artillery pieces, which are the surprise and shock elements of the lightning war, destroying communication centers, infrastructure, and command posts, blinding the enemy and causing chaos and confusion. But, to be able to provide sustained air support to mobile ground troops, it is necessary to gain air superiority, which is the full control of the skies over which the battle is taking place. Today anti-radiation missiles are used to knock out tracking radars from air defense systems, for example.

The Blitzkrieg tactic was used for the first time in September 1939, by the Wehrmacht during the German invasion of Poland, which triggered World War II. At that time, the German Army used the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive bomber as the flying artillery that provided the air support for the Wehrmacht armored divisions and motorized infantry units. During the Battle of France, in 1940, the Germans introduced yet another element to their Blitzkrieg; airborne troops, who carried out vertical envelopment by dropping behind enemy lines both in Belgium and Holland to capture enemy airports, key bridges and fortresses long before the ground troops arrived. Thanks to lightning war, the German Army successfully conquered Poland and France, and carried out Operation Barbarossa, which was the invasion of the Soviet Union.


Below, Junkers Ju 87, 'Stuka', in the skies over France


The idea of using independent armored units to provide concentrated gun fire on one point in the enemy line was first introduced by the German Army's officer Heinz Guderian in a book he published in the 1930s; "Achtung! Panzer!". In that decade, the development of the dive bomber, a maneuverable and fast monoplane, was key to give the Wehrmacht armored divisions precise and concentrated air-to-ground fire support. Aside from the Junkers Ju 87, the German Luftwaffe also used the Messerschmitt Me 210 ground attack aircraft that operated in unison with the fast moving ground forces.


A German armored unit in France in WW2


The Blitkrieg (WW2 footage)

2nd Battle of Rostov (Summary)

The Second Battle of Rostov was a WW2 military clash between vanguard elements of German Army Group A, and the Red Army. It was fought in the Soviet town of Rostov, from July 19 to July 23, 1942, during Operation Fall Blau. This Russian city, located on the Don River, was in the middle of the way of the main Wehrmacht thrust towards the Baku oil fields in the Caucasus. The German spearhead unit that recaptured and secured Rostov was the 1st Panzer Army, under Paul Ewald von Kleist. The town would be in German hands for 7 months, until February 1943.

The First Battle of Rostov had taken place in the summer of 1941, during Operation Barbarossa, but the Red Army managed to recover the city, which was retaken by the Germans during Operation Fall Blau (Case Blue) in July 1942.


Maps of the Battle of Rostov

Map showing the exact location of Rostov and Stalingrad


Battle of Rostov (Operation Case Blue)

Ruhr Pocket (Summary)

The Battle of the Ruhr Pocket was a World War II military engagement fought between the Allied forces and elements of the Wehrmacht, from March 30 to April 18th, 1945, in Germany Ruhr region. The Ruhr Pocket was a classic encirclement battle with the US 9th Army forming the northern jaw of the pincers and the 1st Army the southern jaw. Defending their country and territory were fragments of the German Army Group B, SS Hitlerjugend units, and Volkssturm militia units composed of old men, who veterans of World War I.

When the Allies armies crossed the Rhine River, the most important objective was the Ruhr area, which was one of the most industrialized region of Germany. The US 1st Army was part of the US 12th Army Group and had cross the Rhine at the German town of Remagen. Then, it had advanced northeast to make the sourthern arm of the pincers. The US 9th Army was part of British 21st Army Group and had crossed the Rhine at Wesel from Holland, heading south to form the northern arm of the pincers. The burden of the US attack would be carried by the US 75th Infantry Division (XVI Corps, 9th Army). Although spearhead units of the two jaws met on April 1, the 75th Infantry Division initiated the attack on April 4, near Waltrop. By April 11th, this American division reached the Ruhr near Witten and took two bridges, isolating the town of Dortmund by April 15th. By April 18th, the Ruhr Pocket was eliminated with 3,700 German prisoners captured by the 75th Division.

An account of the Ruhr Pocket (video)

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