The Battle of the Seelow Heights, Schlacht um die Seelower Höhen, was part of the Seelow-Berlin Offensive Operation (16 April-2 May 1945). A pitched battle, it was one of the last assaults on large entrenched positions of the World War II. It was fought over three days, from 16–19 April 1945. Close to one million Soviet soldiers of the 1st Belorussian Front, under (including 78,556 soldiers of the Polish 1st Army under Lieutenant General Zygmunt Berling
, commanded by Marshal Marshal Georgi Zhukow, attacked the position known as the “Gates of Berlin”. They were opposed by about 110,000 soldiers of the German 9th Army , commanded by General Theodor Busse, as part of the Army Group Vistula. Zygmunt Berling died age 84 on 11-07-1980.
This battle is often incorporated into the Battle of the Oder-Neisse . The Seelow Heights was where some of the most bitter fighting in the overall battle took place, but it was only one of several crossing points along the Oder and Neisse rivers where the Soviets attacked. The Battle of the Oder-Neisse was itself only the opening phase of the Battle of Berlin.The result was the encirclement of the German 9th Army and the Battle of Halbe.
In the early hours of 16 April, the offensive began with a massive bombardment by thousands of artillery pieces and Katyushas. Well before dawn, the 1st Belorussian Front attacked across the Oder and the 1st Ukrainian Front attacked across the Neisse. The 1st Belorussian Front was the stronger force, but it had the more difficult assignment since it was facing the bulk of the German forces.
The assault by the 1st Belorussian Front started with an intense artillery bombardment. According to Beevor and Ziemke, Gotthard Heinrici and Busse had anticipated the attack and withdrew their defenders from the first line of trenches just before the Soviet artillery would have obliterated them.
The swampy ground proved to be a great hindrance, and a German counter-barrage caused heavy Soviet casualties. Frustrated by the slow advance, Zhukov threw in his reserves, which according to his earlier plan were to be held back until the expected breakthrough. By early evening, an advance of 4–6 km (2.5–3.7 mi) had been achieved (the 77th Rifle Corps from the 3rd Shock Army, under General Major Nikolay Pavlovich Simonyak had advanced 8 km (5.0 mi)), but the second German defensive line remained intact. Zhukov was forced to report that his battle was not going as planned. However, in the south the attack by Konev’s 1st Ukrainian Front was going according to plan. To spur Zhukov on, Stalin told him that he let Konev direct his tank armies north towards Berlin. Nikolay Pavlovich Simonyak died age 55 on 19-04-1986 in Leningrad.
On the second day, the 1st Belorussian Front’s troops continued to advance in accordance with the initial plan. By nightfall on 17 April, the German second defensive line (Stein Stellung) was broken by the 5th Shock Army and 2nd Guards Tank Army . The right flank of the 4th Guards Rifle Corps of the 8th Guards Army, under Marshal Vasily Chuikov, together with the 11th Tank Corps of the 1st Guards Tank Army, had taken advantage of the success of their comrades and also advanced. The 47th and the 3rd shock armies progressed another 4–8 km (2.5–5.0 mi).
To the south however, the 1st Ukrainian Front was pushing back the 4th Panzer Army under General der Panzertruppe Fritz Hubert Graser ; the left flank of Army Gruop Centre under Ferdinand Schörner was beginning to crumble. Schörner kept his two reserve panzer divisions in the south covering his centre, instead of using them to shore up the 4th Panzer Army. This was the turning point in the Berlin Offensive, because the positions of both Army Group Vistula and the centre and right sectors of Army Group Centre were becoming untenable. Unless they fell back in line with the 4th Panzer Army, they faced envelopment. In effect, Ivan Konev‘s successful attack on Ferdinand Schörner‘s relatively poor defenses to the south of Seelow Heights was unhinging Heinrici’s defence.
On 18 April, both Soviet fronts advanced with heavy losses. The Seelow Heights was bypassed from the north, during which Soviet troops met counterattacks by German reserves: 11th SS Panzergrenadier Division Nordland, 23rd SS Panzergrenadier Division Nederland and SS-Panzer Abteilung 103 (503rd). By nightfall, an advance of 3–5 km (1.9–3.1 mi) on the right flank and 3–8 km (1.9–5.0 mi) in the centre had been achieved, and the 1st Belorussian Front had reached the third and final German line of defence.
On 19 April, the 1st Belorussian Front eventually broke through the final defensive line of the Seelow Heights and now nothing but broken German formations lay between them and Berlin. The remnants of the 9th Army and the 4th Panzer Army were enveloped by the 1st Belorussian Front and by elements of the 1st Ukrainian Front which had broken through and turned north. Other armies of the 1st Ukrainian Front raced west towards the Americans. By the close of 19 April, the German Eastern Front line had effectively ceased to exist. All that remained were pockets of resistance.
Estimates of Soviet casualties during the assault on the Seelow Heights vary from under 10,000 to over 30,000 killed.