Siege of Breslau
The Siege of Breslau, also known as the Battle of Breslau, was a three-month-long siege of the city of Breslau in Lower Silesia, Germany (now Wrocław, Poland), lasting to the end of World War II in Europe. From 13 February 1945 to 6 May 1945, German troops in Breslau were besieged by the Soviet forces which encircled the city as part of the Lower Silesian Offensive Operation. The German garrison's surrender on 6 May was followed by the surrender of all German forces two days after the battle.
In August 1944, Adolf Hitler declared the city of Breslau to be a fortress (Festung), ordering that it must be defended at all costs. He named Karl Hanke (Gauleiter of Silesia since 1941) to be the city's "Battle Commander" (Kampfkommandant).
On 19 January 1945, the civilian population was forced to leave (many thousands died in the bitter cold of the makeshift evacuation; many more arrived in Dresden to be bombed a few weeks later). The German Army, aided by the Home Guard (Volkssturm) and slave labourers, then turned the city into a military fortress: Breslau was to be capable of a lengthy defense against the advancing Soviets. A large area of the city center was demolished and turned into an airfield. Late in January, a regiment of Hitler Youth (Hitler-Jugend) was sent to reinforce the garrison of Festung Breslau. SS regiment "Besslein" (which included volunteers from France and the Netherlands) also took part.
On 2 February 1945, Hanke presented colors to the newly formed Home Guard units in Breslau. On the same day, Major General Hans von Ahlfen became the garrison commander of Fortress Breslau. Ahlfen, who commanded for only three weeks, had been personally selected by the Commander-in-Chief of Army Group Center (Heeresgruppe Mitte), Ferdinand Schörner.
On 2 March 1945, Infantry General Hermann Niehoff replaced Ahlfen as garrison commander. Niehoff held the position until the final surrender on 6 May 1945.
The city was besieged as part of the Lower Silesian Offensive Operation on 13 February 1945 by the 6th Army of the 1st Ukrainian Front commanded by Marshal Ivan Koniev, and the encirclement of Breslau was completed the following day. The 1st Ukrainian Front forces besieged the city with the 22nd and 74th Rifle Corps, and the 77th Fortified Region, as well as other smaller units. 50,000 German troops defended the city. The Siege of Breslau consisted of destructive house-to-house street fighting. The city was bombarded to ruin by artillery of the Soviet 6th Army, as well as the Soviet 2nd Air Army and the Soviet 18th Air Army, and the destruction caused by the German defenders.
On 15 February, the German Luftwaffe started an airlift to the besieged garrison. For 76 days, until 1 May, the Luftwaffe made more than 2,000 sorties with supplies and food. More than 1,638 short tons (1,486 t) of supplies were delivered. On 22 February, the 6th Army occupied three suburbs of Breslau, and during the next day, the 6th Army troops were in the southern precincts of the city itself. By 31 March there was heavy artillery fire into the north, south, and west of Breslau suburbs. On 4 May the clergy of Breslau — Pastor Hornig, Dr. Konrad, Bishop Ferche, and Canon Kramer — demanded that Niehoff surrender the town. Hanke ordered Niehoff not to have any further dealings with the clergy.
Local German communists called for an end to the resistance of the city in flyers. In a pamphlet titled the "Freiheits-Kämpfer" (English: Freedom fighters) it called for an end to the fighting and told the local population "not to be afraid of the Red Army who came as liberators". Seventeen of the members of the resistance group were executed on Gauleiter Hanke's orders.
On 6 May, after 82 days of siege and shortly before the unconditional surrender of Germany in World War II, General Niehoff surrendered Festung Breslau to the Soviets. During the siege, German forces lost 6,000 dead and 23,000 wounded defending Breslau, while Soviet losses were possibly as high as 60,000. Civilian deaths amounted to as many as 80,000. Breslau was the last major city in Germany to surrender, capitulating only two days before the end of the war in Europe. Gauleiter Hanke had fled to Prague by the time of the city's surrender and was killed soon after.
Not only because of Soviet aerial and artillery bombardment, but also as a result of the self-destructive actions of the SS and the NSDAP, 80 to 90 per cent of Breslau was destroyed . . . after the Soviet capture of the Gandauer airfield, the Wehrmacht destroyed many houses and three churches to build a provisional airstrip 200 to 400 meters wide and two kilometers long.
Breslau was transferred to Poland in the aftermath of the war and renamed Wrocław. Most of the German inhabitants in Wrocław fled or were forcibly expelled between 1945 and 1949 and moved to Allied Occupation Zones in Germany. A small German minority still remains in the city. The post-war Polish mayor of Wrocław, Bolesław Drobner, arrived in the city four days after the surrender, on 10 May, finding the city in ruins.
- Soviet General Staff Official Order of Battle for 1 March 1945
- Georg Tessin, Verbände und Truppen der deutschen Wehrmacht und Waffen-SS 1939 - 1945, Vol. 14, pp. 24-25, Osnabrück: Biblio Verlag, 1980
- HITLER'S FINAL FORTRESS - BRESLAU 1945 (2012) -- Richard Hargreaves
- Duffy, p. 254
- "Stalingrad an der Oder" [Stalingrad on the Oder]. zeit.de (in German). Die Zeit. 3 March 2005. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
- "Hitlers Gauleiter feierte Partys, bevor er floh" [Hitlers Gauleiter celebrates a party before he escaped]. welt.de (in German). Die Welt. 6 May 2015. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
- "Breslauer Apokalypse" [Breslau Apocalypse]. spiegel.de (in German). Der Spiegel. 25 January 2011. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
- Hargreaves 2015, p. 7.
- Duffy, p.265
- Michael Schwartz, Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Vol. 10/2, p. 586, München: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 2008