At all times the seizure of enemy’s capital has been considered an act of special honor and valor, a sign of compete victory. All members of anti-Hitler’s coalition – the USSR, the United States and Great Britain – had certain political motivations. The one who seized the capital had more political clout when it came to defining the fate of defeated enemy. Winston Churchill had no doubt the Red Army would liberate Austria and Vienna. On April 1, he sent a telegram to President Roosevelt. It read,"If they the Russians) also take Berlin, will not their impression that they have been the overwhelming contributor to our common victory be unduly imprinted in their minds, and may not this lead into a mood which will raise grave and formidable difficulties in the future? “I further consider that from a political standpoint we should march as far into Germany as possible," Churchill wired Roosevelt, “land that should Berlin be within our grasp, we should certainly take it."
One day before this, the restless and worried British Prime Minister had telegraphed Gen. Ismay, Military Secretary of the British Cabinet: "It seems that General Eisenhower may be wrong in opposing Berlin to be largely devoid of military and political importance. The idea of neglecting Berlin leaving it to the Russians to take at a later date does not appear to me to be correct!” Washington believed that the political gain would be significant if the US captured Berlin. In the autumn of 1945 Roosevelt said the US military was to enter Berlin first. In the spring of 1945 General Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower thought it was more expedient to strike in the direction of Leipzig and Dresden and encircle the German troops deployed near the Ruhr. The US General took into consideration the fact that the Soviet troops had only 35 miles to go to Berlin while the allied forces had to cover the distance of 250 miles (at that the Red Army had to face the most capable forces of Germany).
No matter Churchill tried hard to make Roosevelt change the direction of advance from Leipzig to Berlin, the Combined Chiefs of Staff supportedEisenhower.
Moscowwanted to be ahead of the allies. The Soviet leaders understood well that the seizure of fascist capital would bring in political dividends. Besides, Moscow was aware of the fact that separate talks were held between Americans and Hitlerites. There was a possibility of collusion behind the Soviet Union’s back. The Germans could stop hostilities at the Western Front and send the forces to join the fight against the Soviet military. In general the plans became final as far back as in November 1944. In early April, 1945 the High Command considered the details of the planned actions. The mission was assigned to the 1st Belorussian (Marshall G. Zhukov), 2d Belorussian (Marshall K. Rokossovsky) and the 1st Ukrainian (Marshall I. Konev), 20 combined arms armies, four tank armies, four air armies, nine separate tank and mechanized corps, elements of Baltic Fleet and Dnepr Flotilla. The overall strength was around 2 million men.
Berlinwas surrounded by strong defenses and the most combat capable forces – Vistula and Centre army groups – comprising at least 90 infantry divisions. The overall strength was around 1 million men. There were three powerful defense lines. The first one included the Seelow Heights – a natural defense position with slippy slopes saturated with long-term fortifications.
In the West Germans had the forces with the capability equal to 26 full divisions against 91 fully manned divisions of Anglo-American forces enjoying air superiority.
Late March Zhukov and Konev were summoned to the High Command staff. Stalin asked them if they could get ahead of allies. They said yes. The 1st Belorussian Front was ordered to get around Berlin to strike it from the north. The 1st Ukrainian Front did it from the south to encircle the enemy. The 2d Belorussian Front was to support the 1st Belorussian Front in the north.
The Berlin operation was launched on April 16. The 1st Belorussian Front slowed down its advance at the Seelow Heights. Zhukov had to use reinforcements (the 1st Tank Army led by General M. Katukhov and the 2d Army led by General S. Bogdanov). The advance continued for two days to the outskirts of the city as the offensive in the north was taking place.
The 1st Ukrainian Front advanced faster. Marshall Konev told the commanders of the 3d tank (P. Rybalko) and the 4th tank (General D. Lelushenko) armies to avoid time consuming frontal battles and go around urban areas. The Front was the first to send a telegram to Moscow informing of success. Late on April 22 the forward elements of 3d Tank Guards Army reached the southern part of Berlin and joined the fight for the control over Teltowkanal (Lankwitz).
On April 25, the Soviet forces advancing from the north-west and south-east got united near Potsdam with the Berlin garrison encircled. The very same day Soviet and American forces met at Elbe (Torgau).
Since April 26 to May 2 the 1st Belorussian and the 1st Ukrainian fronts were eliminating the encircled forces. The fight for the city became a war of attrition. Hitler did not spare effort to resist the Soviet forces advance. They had to literally bite their way through. As a result of the strikes delivered from the north and the south the enemy was locked in a narrow space (2-4 km wide stretching around 20 km from the west to the east). Late on April 28 the enemy’s forces were broken into three parts.
The Reichstag and the Imperial Chancellery were among the objectives to seize. The 3d Strike Army was the first to reach the building of parliament. The 79th Rifle Corps broke through to reach the river of Spree and seize the bridge on April 29. 500 meters were left to the Reichstag building. It was the most difficult part of the way. The square before the building was guarded by the best SS units and a battalion of Volkssturm – totally around 5 thousand men. There were three lines of trenches protected by barbed wire, an anti-tank trench and 15 reinforced concrete pillboxes. The advancing forces made three more attacks to seize the objective. Even after Reichstag changed hands, the fighting in the city continued.
Zhukov was brave enough to tell Stalin that he failed to take Berlin by May 1. He needed time to regroup. But Stalin took it in good part. He said the 1st of May was a great holiday to mark. It made no difference if the control over Berlin were established on May 2 or May 3. Stalin wanted the final storm to be well-prepared to save human lives. The Berlin garrison capitulated on May 2. But he war continued…