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The Last Battles of the Reich, April 1945
Two battles predated the Fall of Berlin in 1945, both occurring in April. The first, was the race to Berlin. The Russians were along the Oder River and far enough to where Operation Berlin would begin on April 15. The Americans were much farther and opposed by the German 12th Army, which was threadbare.By early April, the US 1st and 9th Armies and finished dealing with the German Army Group B. Both were ordered to race for Berlin before the Russians. Both were instructed to first reach the Elbe (close to Berlin) and establish bridgeheads to prepare for the last thrust. General Eisenhower, at this point in time, had decided to take the city before the Russians or at least to its outskirts. Thus, the first US troops to arrive at the Elbe, south of Magdeburg, was CCB\2nd Armor Division. They quickly jump over at Barby and held. Following in stolen trucks and buses, was the US 83rd division. Together, these men held the bridgehead for five days. Not far behind were the US 30th Division and all of 2nd Armor. The German 12th Army, although comprised of mostly training units, their artillery fire was precise enough to destroy the pontoon bridge. The last of the German jet bombers attacked. These were from Burg and consisted of 4 Ar 234 bombers and 15 Me 262 jet fighters. They also sent commando teams armed with 20 torpedoes to blow the bridge. Meanwhile, the US 1st Army had a tougher time near Halle, Leipzig and Dessau against fanatical Nazis and the Hutton Division which managed to destroy 40 AFVs. It was tedious for the US 3rd Armor and 104 Divisions. Despite it, another bridgehead went across at Dessau. By this time, April 15+, the Russians had launched their offensive and many of their units were at Berlin outskirts. Now, Eisenhower changed his mind and told the US forces to halt further advances, allowing the Russians to take and rape Berlin. Had Eisenhower not changed his mind, the US 2nd Armor, 30th and 83rd Divisions were not more than 30 min from Berlin. In hindsight, American forces could have been first to enter Berlin, yet, Eisenhower was cautious and grew more so when American forces stalled south of Barby. That resistance was temporary but enough to change history.
The very last battle of WW2 happened after the Russians were in Berlin. It began on April 28 and ended May 1. The blight of the German 9th Army and its 50,000 men was more of a concern to the Germans than the Russians. For the 9th Army, they knew what was in store for them if the Russians captured them. Only 30 miles away were the Americans and a much more humane POW treatment. A decision was made to breakout of the pocket through the Russian rearguards. Thus, the 11th Panzer SS Corps, 5th SS and 5th Corps began their slow advanced across no man's land-an area with spotty rearguard units. Holding the Americans was the German 12th Army. The task was a true "fog of war" in the chaos and smoke from battle in the area. The Russians had presumed that 12th Army would attack towards 9th Army, which it had no intention of doing. As the remnants of 9th Army made advanced, fuel was a critical issue and units moved at night or through wooded areas to keep out of sight of Russian aircraft. As the unit moved across, more and more Russian units were encountered producing serious battles of survival. In the end, some 20,000 men escaped into American hands on May 1. The last of the German King Tiger tanks from SS 561 bn had found their last battles.