The Battle of Berlin was the final major offensive of World War II in Europe and brought the reign of Nazi Germany to an end. In just 16 days, a 2.5-million-strong Soviet Army made a relentless march across the German capital and surrounding areas, taking nearly half a million Nazi prisoners. As the city fell, dictator Adolf Hitler and several of his highest-ranking officials committed suicide to avoid facing up to their countless crimes. Sabaton’s Attero Dominatus, from the album of the same name, is about this vast and intense battle. Germany had begun preparing a defence of Berlin in March 1945 as Soviet forces were seen to be drawing closer to the capital, advancing up to 40km per day in some cases.
The Red Army had begun their offensive from Warsaw with four main fronts pushing westward, capturing significant territories including East Prussia and Danzig to the north and Budapest in the South. German counterattacks failed, including one led by prominent Nazi Heinrich Himmler and another that took 10 days to capture a key territory on the Danube River only to lose it again to the Red Army in just 24 hours.
On 20 March, General Gotthard Heinrici – one of the German Army’s best defensive tacticians – was appointed Commander-in-Chief of Army Group Vistula, replacing Heinrich Himmler and becoming entrusted with preparations for Berlin’s defence. He identified that the Soviets’ main attack would be over the Oder river and made fortifications at key points on it, as well as draining a reservoir into the river’s flood plain to create a swamp and installing a number of anti-tank guns and trenches. But these careful preparations could never withstand the might of the three Soviet fronts that eventually assembled on the outskirts of Berlin: 2.5 million men, 6,250 tanks, 7,500 aircraft, 41,600 artillery pieces and 3,255 of the truck-mounted rocket launchers nicknamed “Stalin’s Pipe Organs”.
The USSR would be the main aggressor in the battle, although the Western Allies provided some support in the form of aircraft bombing raids that ended just as the Red Army passed the city limits. Just before that point, from 16 to 19 April, one of the very last pitched battles of the bloodiest war in human history would take place – the Battle of the Seelow Heights. This was the area overlooking the Oder where Gotthard Heinrici had concentrated his best fortifications, and would later become known as the “Gates of Berlin”. Almost a million Soviet soldiers and 20,000 tanks and heavy guns were used.
The Germans, outnumbered 10:1, mounted an impressive defence and there were more Soviet casualties than German. But they were ultimately no match for Marshal Gregory Zhukov and his 1st Belorussian Front, who left nothing but a trail of broken fortifications in their wake. On 20 April – Adolf Hitler’s 56th birthday – the Soviets entered Berlin. Marshal Zhukov’s Front began shelling the city centre while a second front, the 1st Ukrainian Front led by Marshal Ivan Konev, advanced into the southern suburbs. Battles continued to rage around the outskirts of the city, as the Soviets put into action their plan to encircle Berlin and trap the German IX Army. At this time, Hitler gave a bizarre order that the remaining divisions on the outskirts of Berlin should attempt to create a number of pincer attacks that would destroy first the 1st Ukrainian Front and then the 1st Belorussian Front. His generals tried to explain that