East Prussian Offensive

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East Prussian Offensive
Part of the Eastern Front of World War II
4tharmy.jpg
Soldiers of the German 4th Army man positions on the East Prussian border immediately before the offensive
Date13 January – 25 April 1945
Location
Result Soviet victory
Belligerents
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg  Germany Flag of the Soviet Union (1936-1955).svg  Soviet Union
Commanders and leaders
Georg-Hans Reinhardt
Friedrich Hossbach
Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller
Erhard Raus
Walter Weiss
Dietrich von Saucken
Konstantin Rokossovsky
Ivan Chernyakhovsky  
Aleksandr Vasilevsky
Hovhannes Bagramyan
Strength
580,000 men
200,000 Volkssturm troopers. 700 tanks, 8200 guns and 700 aircraft
1,669,100 men [1] , 3000 tanks, 25000 guns, 3000 aircraft
Casualties and losses
Unknown killed or wounded
220,000 captured [2]
126,464 dead or missing
458,314 wounded and sick [3]

The East Prussian Offensive [4] was a strategic offensive by the Soviet Red Army against the German Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front (World War II). It lasted from 13 January to 25 April 1945, though some German units did not surrender until 9 May. The Battle of Königsberg was a major part of the offensive, which ended in victory for the Red Army.

Soviet Union 1922–1991 country in Europe and Asia

The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a socialist state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centres were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometres east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometres north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.

Red Army 1917–1946 ground and air warfare branch of the Soviet Unions military

The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army, frequently shortened to Red Army was the army and the air force of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, and, after 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The army was established immediately after the 1917 October Revolution. The Bolsheviks raised an army to oppose the military confederations of their adversaries during the Russian Civil War. Beginning in February 1946, the Red Army, along with the Soviet Navy, embodied the main component of the Soviet Armed Forces; taking the official name of "Soviet Army", until its dissolution in December 1991. The former official name Red Army continued to be used as a nickname by both sides throughout the Cold War.

Nazi Germany The German state from 1933 to 1945, under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler

Nazi Germany is the common English name for Germany between 1933 and 1945, when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party (NSDAP) controlled the country through a dictatorship. Under Hitler's rule, Germany was transformed into a totalitarian state where nearly all aspects of life were controlled by the government. The official name of the state was Deutsches Reich until 1943 and Großdeutsches Reich from 1943 to 1945. Nazi Germany is also known as the Third Reich, meaning "Third Realm" or "Third Empire", the first two being the Holy Roman Empire (800–1806) and the German Empire (1871–1918). The Nazi regime ended after the Allies defeated Germany in May 1945, ending World War II in Europe.

Contents

The East Prussian Offensive is known to German historians as the Second East Prussian Offensive. The First East Prussian Offensive (also known as the Gumbinnen Operation), took place from 16–27 October 1944, and was carried out by the 3rd Belorussian Front under General I.D. Chernyakhovsky as part of the Memel Offensive [5] of the 1st Baltic Front. The Soviet forces took heavy casualties while penetrating 30–60 km (19–37 mi) into east-northern part of Poland, and the offensive was postponed until greater reserves could be gathered.

Gumbinnen Operation

The Gumbinnen Operation, also known as the Goldap Operation, was a Soviet offensive on the Eastern Front late in 1944, in which forces of the 3rd Belorussian Front attempted to penetrate the borders of East Prussia.

3rd Belorussian Front Front of the Red Army during the Second World War

The 3rd Belorussian Front was a Front of the Red Army during the Second World War.

Ivan Chernyakhovsky Soviet military commander (1907-1945)

Ivan Danilovich Chernyakhovsky was the youngest ever Soviet general of the army. For his leadership during World War II he was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union twice. He died from wounds received outside Königsberg at age 38 while in command of the 3rd Belorussian Front.

The East Prussian Offensive

The main thrust of the offensive was to be conducted by the 3rd Belorussian Front under Ivan Chernyakhovsky. His forces were tasked with driving westwards towards Königsberg, against the defensive positions of the 3rd Panzer Army and 4th Army, the northern armies of General Georg-Hans Reinhardt's Army Group Centre. [6]

3rd Panzer Army

The 3rd Panzer Army was a German armoured formation during World War II, formed from the 3rd Panzer Group on 1 January 1942.

4th Army (Wehrmacht) field army of the Wehrmacht during World War II

The 4th Army was a field army of the Wehrmacht during World War II.

Georg-Hans Reinhardt German general and war criminal

Georg-Hans Reinhardt was a German general and war criminal during World War II. He commanded the 3rd Panzer Army from 1941 to 1944, and Army Group Centre in 1944 and 1945, reaching the rank of colonel general (Generaloberst).

From the north, on Chernyakhovsky's right flank, General Hovhannes Bagramyan's 1st Baltic Front would attack the positions of the 3rd Panzer Army on the Neman, as well as crushing its small bridgehead at Memel. Chernyakhovsky's left flank would be supported by the 2nd Belorussian Front of Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky, which was initially ordered to push north-west to the Vistula, through the lines of the 2nd Army, thereby sealing off the whole of East Prussia. [7]

1st Baltic Front front of the Soviet Union army during the Second World War

The First Baltic Front was a major formation of the Red Army during the Second World War. It was commanded by Army General Andrey Yeryomenko, succeeded by Army General Bagramyan. It was formed by renaming the Kalinin Front in October 12, 1943, and took part in several important military operations, most notably Bagration in the summer of 1944. The 1st Baltic Front also assisted in lifting the Siege of Leningrad on January 27, 1944, as well as in Operation Samland, at that time known as the Samland Group, captured Königsberg in April 1945.

Neman Eastern European river

The Neman, Nemunas, Nyoman, Niemen or Memel, is a major Eastern European river. It rises in Belarus and flows through Lithuania before draining into the Curonian Lagoon, and then into the Baltic Sea at Rusnė Island. It begins at the confluence of two smaller tributaries, about 15 kilometers (9 mi) southwest of the town of Uzda in central Belarus, and about 55 km (34 mi) southwest of Minsk. In its lower reaches it forms the border between Lithuania and Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast. It also, very briefly, forms part of the Belarus–Lithuania border. The largest river in Lithuania, and the third-largest in Belarus, the Neman is navigable for most of its 900 km (560 mi) length.

Klaipėda City in Lithuania Minor, Lithuania

Klaipėda is a city in Lithuania on the Baltic Sea coast. It is the third largest city in Lithuania and the capital of Klaipėda County.

Opening of the offensive

Volkssturm militiamen in Konigsberg during the offensive Bundesarchiv Bild 183-J28805, Ostpreussen, Volkssturmmanner an MG.jpg
Volkssturm militiamen in Königsberg during the offensive

The Soviet offensive began on 13 January with a heavy preparatory bombardment. At first, the Red Army made disappointing progress; the 3rd Belorussian Front gained just 1.5 km on the first day. Over the next five days, the Soviets managed to advance only a further 20 km, at the cost of very high casualties. Eventually, after almost two weeks of severe fighting, the Red Army began making steady progress, although again, this came at the price of high losses; the defenders having the advantage of substantial fortifications in the Insterburg Gap east of Königsberg, and around Heilsberg. Over the next few days, the 3rd Panzer Army of General Erhard Raus was largely destroyed or withdrew into Königsberg, while General Friedrich Hossbach′s 4th Army began to find itself outflanked.

Chernyakhovsk Town in Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia

Chernyakhovsk – known prior to 1946 by its German name of Insterburg – is a town in the Kaliningrad Oblast of Russia, where it is the administrative center of Chernyakhovsky District. Located at the confluence of the Instruch and Angrapa Rivers, which unite to become the Pregolya River below Chernyakhovsk, the town had a population in 2017 of 36,423.

Lidzbark Warmiński Place in Warmian-Masurian, Poland

Lidzbark Warmiński is a town in the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship in Poland. It is the capital of Lidzbark County.

Erhard Raus German general

Erhard Raus was a general in the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany during World War II. He commanded the 6th Panzer Division during the early years of the war on the Eastern Front before taking army and army group commands. Raus was one of three former Austrians who rose to the rank of Generaloberst within the German Wehrmacht. The other two were Alexander Löhr and Lothar Rendulic.

Against fierce resistance, Rokossovsky attacked across the Narew on 14 January; on 20 January, he received orders to swing the axis of his advance northward toward Elbing. [8] This sudden change of direction caught Reinhardt and Hossbach by surprise; on Rokossovsky's right flank, the 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps captured the major town of Allenstein on 22 January, threatening the rear of Hossbach's formation. [9] On 24 January, Rokossovsky's leading tank units had reached the shore of the Vistula Lagoon, severing land communications with the rest of German armed forces for the entire 4th Army along with several divisions of the 2nd Army which were now trapped in a pocket centered on East Prussia. On the same day, Hossbach began to pull his units back from the fortified town of Lötzen—a center of the East Prussian defence system—and through a series of forced marches attempted to break out westward. [10]

Narew river

The Narew, in western Belarus and north-eastern Poland, is a right tributary of the Vistula River. The Narew is one of Europe's few braided rivers, the term relating to the twisted channels resembling braided hair.

Elbląg Place in Warmian-Masurian, Poland

Elbląg is a city in northern Poland on the eastern edge of the Żuławy region with 120,142 inhabitants. It is the capital of Elbląg County and has been assigned to the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship. Previously it was the capital of Elbląg Voivodeship (1975–1998) and a county seat within Gdańsk Voivodeship (1945–1975).

Olsztyn Place in Warmian-Masurian, Poland

Olsztyn is a city on the Łyna River in northeastern Poland. Olsztyn is the capital of the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship, and is a city with county rights. The population of the city was estimated at 172,362 residents in 2018.

In the meantime, Chernyakhovsky had succeeded in rolling up the defences from the East, pushing the remnants of the 3rd Panzer Army into Königsberg and Samland. On 28 January, Bagramyan's forces captured Memel; the remnants of the three divisions defending the town were evacuated and redeployed in Samland to reinforce the defence there.

The Siege of Königsberg and the Heiligenbeil pocket

Soviet assault on Konigsberg from 6-9 April 1945. Battle Of Konigsberg Begin.png
Soviet assault on Königsberg from 6–9 April 1945.

With the remnants of Army Group Centre effectively contained, Soviet forces could concentrate on reducing the German forces in Pomerania and eliminating any possible threat to the northern flank of their eventual advance on Berlin. Reinhardt and Hossbach—who had attempted to break out of East Prussia and save their troops—were relieved of command, and the Army Group (redesignated Army Group North) was placed under the command of General Lothar Rendulic. Reinhardt gave up his command with the words "There is nothing more to say". [11] Raus and the staff of the destroyed 3rd Panzer Army were assigned to a new formation. The defending forces, in the meantime, were besieged in three pockets by Chernyakhovsky's armies:

Even after this time, German forces continued to resist on the Vistula Spit, the long sandbar enclosing the Vistula Lagoon, until the end of the war.

See also

Notes

  1. This covers all personnel of the 3rd and 2nd Belorussian Fronts, and the elements of 1st Baltic Front involved (Glantz & House 1995, p. 300).
  2. Владимирович, Пигарев Ростислав. "Восточно-Прусская стратегическая наступательная операция (13.01—25.04.1945)". geroiros.narod.ru.
  3. Glantz & House 1995, p. 300.
  4. Russian : Восточно-Прусская стратегическая наступательная операция
  5. Russian : Мемельская операция)
  6. Beevor 2002, p. 29.
  7. Beevor 2002, p. 27.
  8. Duffy 1991, p. 170.
  9. Duffy 1991, p. 171.
  10. Duffy 1991, p. 172.
  11. Duffy 1991, p. 173.
  12. Beevor 2002, p. 49.

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References

Further reading

Memoirs: