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World Battlefronts: BATTLE OF BERLIN: Dayosh Berlin!

4 minute read
TIME

Through the smoke of fires set by R.A.F. and U.S. bombers, overcrowded Berlin could see the lightning and hear the thunder of Marshal Georgy K. Zhukov’s First White Russian Army guns. They were trained, as Berlin knew, on the ancient fortress of Küstrin and five-times-stormed Frankfurt, the last two strongholds on the direct road to Berlin. Red Army soldiers, locked in a mighty tank and infantry battle in the “Oder quadrilateral” (the big bend in the river near Frankfurt), could see the pall of smoke that hung over Berlin.

On the entire eastern front, ablaze in various degrees from beleaguered Königsberg to southernmost Silesia, no single battle was more important than this. On its outcome might hang the immediate fate of Berlin—perhaps ultimately of Germany itself. Minefields, German armor, and heavy snows so thick that correspondents said they felt, rather than saw, the movement of endless hordes of Russian men and armor, could check but could not permanently halt the hate-filled Russian juggernaut (apparently neither could an unseasonable thaw). The Germans, too, felt the Russian fury as tons of shells bored holes in the grey, low-hanging clouds and burst in sprays of red-hot fragments. On a 140-mile front, north & south of the Küstrin-Frankfurt sector, Zhukov kept the skies alight with his massed artillery as he fought to reach the Oder.

Possible Pause? He might well pause to regroup before assaulting this formidable river barrier (the bridge across the Oder at Frankfurt is 900 feet long), after his steel-tipped surge of 225 miles in 23 days. Lieut. General Patton had raced across France, some 300 miles in six weeks, before he ran out of gasoline.

But Zhukov apparently had no thought of stopping one moment before the inexorable laws of military supply compelled him. This great human mass of soldiers on the move, as drab and endless as the Russian steppes, had been welded into an enormous, brutal force. Zhukov’s bedraggled, unshaven, grimy army, marching beside an incredible number of giant tanks, self-propelled guns, katusha mortars, and almost overburdened with submachine guns, rifles and grenades, had only one cry: Dayosh Berlin! (Give us Berlin!). With the quarry in sight, the cry took on new meaning.

War around the Clock. By leapfrogging units, Zhukov’s machine was fighting at a grinding, fanatical pitch around the clock. One correspondent likened Zhukov’s army to “a continuous moving wall crushing everything in its path.” Units of this human “wall” fought 24 hours, then rested 24 as replacements took over.

In seemingly endless columns, Zhukov moved up his men and his modern weapons. Supplies came in streams of trucks and wagons. Only a few miles behind the lines, supply dumps were established. If the need of fighting units was ammunition, it was forwarded to them. Rations might follow in a day or two. The Russian soldier quickly gets what he most urgently needs. The rest comes later.

Flanking Threats. Although Marshal Zhukov aimed his biggest spear at Berlin, his northern wing had pounded to within 20 miles of Berlin’s Baltic port of Stettin. That drive threatened to cut off 11,000 square miles of Germany’s northeastern province of Pomerania.

Meanwhile, between them General Chernyakhovsky and Marshal Rokossovsky had conquered nine-tenths of East Prussia and were increasing their threats to both Königsberg and Danzig. Farther south Marshal Konev, whose massive armies also constituted a potential threat to Berlin, fought to and over the Oder, both northeast and southwest of Breslau.

The great offensive’s casualty figures were still incomplete. Moscow set the first fortnight’s booty at 86,000 prisoners, 847 tanks, 8,868 guns and mortars, 16,449 machine guns. Radio Moscow later totted up its own score, claimed 450,000 Nazi dead in the first 20 days.

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