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Unternehmen Hindenburg (The Warsaw Wall)

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Unternehmen Hindenburg
Part of World War II
Date December 16, 1944-March 7, 1945
Place Soviet Union
Result Overall tactical German failure; Strategic Soviet defeat
Belligerents
Nazi Germany Soviet Union
Commanders and leaders
Walter Model

George Lindemann

Georgy Zhukov

Vasily Chuikov

Strength
Germany:
  • 1,430,000 men
  • 2,107 tanks
  • 1,200 aircraft
Soviet Union:
  • 2,900,000 men
  • 3,400 tanks
  • 2,000 aircraft
Casualties and losses
Germany:

320,740 killed
412,144 wounded
120,000 captured

Soviet Union:

800,000 killed
400,000 wounded

Civilian casualties:
90,000-150,000 killed


Unternehmen Hindenburg was the last German offensive of the World War II, launched toward the East, in an attempt to knock down the Soviet Army while it was just on its recovery and advancing east.

Background

By the December of 1944, the war in the East was by all means going horribly for the Germans, and a large force of German soldiers was needed if the Soviet Union was to be defeated, as the Soviets were on the offensive in the south. Adolf Hitler ordered all of the troops that could be gathered to make a straight shot through the spread-out Soviet lines, and do all they could to capture the Soviet capital, Moscow, and put the Soviet Union down on its knees. Walter Model, one of Hitler's most well-known field marshals, is put in command of the Army Group to be sent to take the Soviet Army down. In all, almost one-and-a-half million men were gathered from the German
Unternehmen Hindenburg

Unternehmen Hindenburg

reserves and from the Eastern Front to launch the offensive, along with over 2000 tanks, and 1200 aircraft, these numbers made Hitler confident that the offensive might just work. Hitler just needed to think, when should the offensive begin, and he made a decision by the beginning of December, just when the Soviets would expect it least: in the winter.

By November 14, all strategic and logistics were ready, and within one month, all units and soldiers were in place, and Hitler told Model to begin the offensive. On December 16, Model launched his offensive, the one that may just have been the decisive battle of the war in Eastern Europe.

The Early Offensive: December 16, 1944-January 3, 1945

Friedrich Hoßbach, commander of the German 4th Army, surged forward as the surprised Russians tried their best to stop the German advance. After just the just the first day, the 4th Army had broken into Belorussia, and was on their way to their first major objective, Minsk, but getting their would not be easy, stationed in between their advancing soldiers and their objective was the Russian's First Belorussian Front. Their commander, Georgy Zhukov, wasn't a good defensive commander, but was still forced into the position of commandeering a defense against General Hoßbach's Army. Zhukov's suffered some small defeats leading up to the defense of Minsk, but was sure that the German's would attempt a blitzkrieg-type maneuver. However, the Nazi's had developed a new type of battle plan, instead of blitzkrieg, they would attack Minsk, withdraw, believing Zhukov's offensive attitude toward battle would force him to pursue. However, then the Russians would be surrounded by a larger force of German soldiers, lying in wait for their withdrawal. Then the Russian could easily be put into a retreat, but things went horrible wrong.

Zhukov was not put in command of Minsk's defense, but instead his protege, Vasily Chuikov, who was a much better defensive commander. His strategy of hugging the enemy prevented the German's from leaving the city, as per their original plan. Hoßbach's revised his plan, and instead decided to pull his forces out of the city, after his tanks succeeded in doing so, he had the city demolished. Luftwaffe bombers flew day and night missions, destroying the city, as it had been surrounded by the German Army. V1 and V2 rocket sites built for attacking on the Eastern Front were used to take out wide scale targets, and artillery guns pounded out shells day and night to destroy Minsk. In the end of the battle, 45,000 Soviet soldiers had died, while 110,000 civilians were killed in the onslaught. But the German's strategy had worked, and Hitler ordered Model to adopt a strategy of city-wide destruction, if it was necessary to take a city, or destroy the Soviet's effort.

With this new strategy, the Nazis surged forward into Russia, and over the next two weeks, city after city, and town after town, fell to the Wehrmacht. And as the Russians desperately needed a break, they thought they would find it Riga, where the German's were planning to use as a point to cut off the Soviet forces attempting to counterattack from the north.

The Offensive Drags On: January 4, 1945-January 29, 1945

By the beginning of January, 1945, the Germans had advanced over two hundred miles into the Soviet Union, had taken Minsk, and had developed a strategy of city-wide destruction. The Russians were now attempting to counterattack from the north, and the German 3rd Army, under Field Marshal Georg von Küchler, was advancing up to stop them, and to capture Riga. The 3rd Army had arrived outside the city by January 4, but the Russians, whose garrison had been defeated earlier by the 3rd Army in December, 1944, had yet to arrive to defend the city. The Germans held the city 5 days before the Russians arrived, and planned to deceive the Russians by dressing up 2,400 soldiers in Russian uniforms to make them believe the city was still under German control, and they even went as far as to make it look like the city was defended by 12 T-34's, actually dressed up Tiger I's. The Russians believed the façade, and the Germans put their next part of the plan into effect.

The Germans sent 20,000 German soldiers to make a fake attack on the city, but when the Russian left to attack the "advancing Germans" the Germans, who had hidden a majority of their forces to the south of the city, attacked in full force, and outmaneuvered the Russians, forcing a massive surrender. The city was captured and the Russians lost Riga, and this put German morale in the South at an all-time high. Using this high sense of morale, Hoßbach sent his 4th Army deeper into Russia, and captured a majority of Belorussia, constantly defeating Chuikov, bringing the general to disgrace. Chuikov was told if he faced another defeat, he would be dismissed, and he felt his only chance to redeem himself would be at Orsha, the last major Russian holdout in Belorussia. The Russian general prepared to defend the city against whatever the Germans could throw at him and his army.

The Germans surrounded the city, bypassed almost every main Russian outpost outside the city, and were one day away from destroying the city. The Germans planned to destroy it until they were surprised by an attack from the south, which threatened to break their encirclement of the city. The Germans lost 12,000 men fighting off the attack, but managed to continue their stranglehold on the city, eventually pushing into the city by the 20 of January, and surrounding Chuikov in his headquarters, rather than wait for his capture, and likely execution, Chuikov committed suicide, and the news of this sent shock waves through both the German and Soviet Army. Zhukov, with his apprentice dead, and his front humiliated, was forced to resign by Stalin, and leave for a return to civilian life in the Kazakh SSR, far from his conquered home in the west. The 2nd Belorussian Front, under Konstantin Rokossovksy, was sent to stop the 4th Army's advance toward Moscow.

Rokossovsky split his forces into three separate groups for a pincer movement, he planned to send one force to engage the Germans at Smolensk, retreat, and then the weakened Germans would be crushed between his two pincers. But the Battle of Smolensk also went wrong for the Russians, as the Germans, who had won the city, had high morale and fought off the first major units that attempted to flank them, and then when the entire pincers came, the German 2nd Paner Army, under Heinz Guderian attacked the western pincer en route to the attack, and drove them back, losing the Russians the battle. Stalin, by this point very paranoid and angered by the losses his generals have made, immediately forces Rokossovsky's resignation after he hears of his defeat, and ordered Nikandr Chibisov to take command of the fighting as the new Marshal of the 2nd Belorussian Front. By late January, Nikandr had written up a battle plan too, if not defeat the Germans, at least halt their advance to Moscow.

The Germans Face Defeat: January 30, 1945-February 15, 1945

With all of his preparations in place, Nikandr Chibisov made Mozhelsk the perfect cut-off point for the German advance, his plan was to use obe million men under his command in an attrition battle against the Germans. Even if the battle was inconclusive, he believed the German advance would be stalled, and from there, he could cut them off from behind, hoping to turn the German's deep advances against them. By the beginning of the battle, things went well, the Germans bogged down in the city, most of his forces were in position to cut them off from behind, and his sub-commanders assured him no other German reinforcements were in the area. But as his forces bogged down the Germans, a bigger threat came from above, German fighters had begun to enter the skies over Mozhelsk, and among them was the much feared Messerschmitt Me 262, which clearly outpaced the Soviets best, the Yak-3. The Germans gained air superiority, and their bombers took out many Soviet tanks and artillery positions, putting Chibisov's plan into a serious risk of failing. And an even greater threat came when it was reported that the Soviet forces in Southeastern Europe, after news of failures in Russia, were returning home, and the Germans were pursuing them back to the Ukraine and Southern Russia.

Chibisov was ordered by Stalin to drive straight out of the city, and destroy it, as the Germans had done earlier in the campaign. However, Chibisov refused to risk civilian, especially Russian civilian, lives to defeat the Germans, only further deepening Stalin's rage, and his paranoia. Chibisov was dismissed, and replaced with a commander Stalin believed could do the job better, Ivan Konev, but Konev wanted to simply put more troops into the battle, and take them out of Moscow to do so. Stalin willingly gave him 120,000 troops from Moscow to act as fillers for men who had died in the battle, but Konev though that wasn't enough. Although he knew he would need more men, he didn't want to risk being forced to resign, and so he simply fought with what he received. Ultimately, when things started looking grim, he ordered a retreat, and was court martialed by Aleksandr Vasilevsky, the commander of Moscow's defenses, for doing so.

Now Vasilevsky and his 1st Home Guard Front were all that stood between the Germans and Moscow, and he needed to defeat the Germans at Moscow, or Russia would done, and the USSR would capitulate for sure. 1,115,000 German soldiers advanced on Moscow's outskirts, where they met fierce resistance to their advances, although the Germans were in high morale, they were exhausted from months of fighting needed an easy victory, which they believed they could achieve at Moscow. They were told by their commanders that most of the enemy defending Moscow was simply armed civilians, and that all of the Russian tanks were old reserve ones, no match for their Tigers and Panthers. The Germans fought the Russians for almost two weeks, until they were able to actually advance into Moscow, itself, but were sure it was the final push to victory. However, they faced fierce Russian resistance in Moscow, and their planes were being shot down out of the sky, not by superior technology, but by sheer weight of numbers. The Germans faced defeat in the face, and their offensive began to collapse upon itself.

The Offensive Ends: February 16, 1945-March 7, 1945

By mid-February, the Germans had retreated from Moscow, they were continuously on the run from Russian soldiers, now confident victory was theirs, and their soldiers to the south and to the north were surrendering. The Soviet Army finally had won, and their campaign to destroy the invading Germans, once and for all, had begun. The German supply lines collapsed, their tanks weren't fast enough to escape the rapid Russian onslaught, and only more Germans soldiers were captured or killed. No more confidence was left in the Germans, and Hitler began to worry the Russians would soon be counterattacking into Germany, ultimately, he made a final decision, he ordered all of his troops to stop fighting, and return home. The German Army finally exited Russia for good by early March, 1945.

Stalin ordered his highest commander, Vasilevsky, to attack Germany and the parts of Eastern Europe it had re-occupied, but Vasilevsky told Stalin it couldn't be done. His soldiers were exhausted, his tanks and planes depleted of fuel, and his officer corps severely shattered by Stalin's decisions. Stalin accepted this, and saw nothing could be done but wait.

Aftermath

With the Germans defeated, Stalin saw a chance to attack the Germans in their own territory by mid-April, and ordered Poland to be invaded. His army was successful in this, and the Soviet Army met the Allied armies at Warsaw, where they agreed the war in Europe had come to an end. The Russian Army was battered, their leaders battered mentally by the war, but their side had still come out on top, and their government, piece by piece, began to return to normal.

But when tensions began to rise between the democratic west, and the Communist east, the Cold War eventually began.

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