The Ultimate Cost of the German’s ‘Total War.’
In mid April of 1945 the final Russian push into the outskirts of Berlin began, the Russians fully intended to repay “in kind” Germany for their betrayal of the “Non-Aggression Pact” and the numerous atrocities committed on Russian soil. Meanwhile the American, British, and French forces worked solely to clear their side of the Elbe river, only 40 kilometers away as had been previously agreed upon by Roosevelt and Stalin (over the strongly stated but politically ineffectual complaints of Churchill) at the Yalta conference.
The German 9th and 12th Armies, both severely understrength due to combat losses, and also suffering from notable loss of combat effectiveness due to the only replacement troops available being untrained old men and young boys were the only defense Berlin had left to offer.
In a last ditch effort to turn the tide of the Russian advance the Germans attempted to withdraw the 12th Army from the lines facing the British and American Armies and ordered them to instead join the defense of Berlin. While this hopefully would have provided desperately needed reinforcements to the defense of Berlin it had a much deeper purpose in the minds of the German High Command. By withdrawing their opposition they hoped to lure the Anglo forces beyond the Elbe river and put them into armed confrontation with the Russian Armies.
No matter, It was too little too late, and the Anglo Armies did not take the bait and advance beyond the Elbe. The German 9th army trapped inside Berlin was virtually annihilated by the Russian forces and the 12th Army was unable to break through the siege surrounding Berlin despite repeated attempts that resulted in combat losses of close to 70% of their manpower.
The Russians finally took Berlin on May 2nd when the few remaining local forces “surrendered”, and they did make the Germans pay, over 300,000 civilian deaths, as many as two million acts of rape, some on girls as young as eight. The Russian soldiers exacted their revenge freely until finally after eight days of intentional utter lawlessness and depredation the officers began to exert order and control once again.
Berlin, once one the crown jewels of European cities now looked like this…
It is morally repugnant to me to argue that they were only reaping what they had sown, or to otherwise attempt to justify the devastation and starvation that Berlin’s civilian population was made to suffer through afterwards.
But…the fact that their leaders had already visited similar destruction and much worse upon multiple cities within Russia, Poland, and other Eastern European countries does in fact mitigate the Russians actions, at least in my personal opinion.
I really hate to simply say “they deserved it” as a justification, but in this case I think that perhaps the evidence is overwhelming that they did indeed deserve whatever they got as retribution. And that is without even going into the question of the Nazi’s one singular and stunningly abhorrent decision to exterminate the entire population of European Jews.