Saturday, 19 March 2016

East Prussian Offensive: A Goal Secondary to Victory...Payback

Russian troops in Frauenburg.jpg

Soviet troops enter Frauenburg, East Prussia courtesy

"And many of those Soviet soldiers, having endured three years of German barbarity on their own soil, came westward with another goal, secondary to victory...payback." 

In January of 1945, the Red Army launched the East Prussian Campaign.  Yet, Hitler called the Red Army "the greatest bluff since Genghis Khan" and chose to concentrate on the Ardennes Offensive on the Western Front.  It was a grave error.

The Russians outnumbered the Germans by a ratio of 11:1.  The Red Army boasted seven army fronts, 1.5 million men and a battle zone that would stretch 500 miles.  However, the exhausted and undersupplied Germans could only mount a force of 800,000 men.

America's Lend Lease program (1941 to 1945) had provided the Russians with 18,000 aircraft, 11,000 railcars, 2,000 locomotives and almost half a million trucks, keeping the Red Army mobile in a country that spanned about 6,000 miles.  For the East Prussian Offensive, in the latter stages of the war, the Russians still boasted 528 tanks, mainly built in the Soviet Union, 5200 artillery guns and mortar, along with 2174 aircraft, a third of the Red Air Force.  The German enforcement, however, had been depleted to 108 tanks, 170 Luftwaffe aircraft and 4000 artillery guns and mortar.

East Prussia didn't stand a chance.  "With a handful of possessions and an earful of stories", East Prussian refugees streamed out of their hometowns, now occupied by the enemy.  Historian Max Hastings points out that the stories were so horrific that even Soviet leaders recoiled at their telling, recommending that the troops exercise a little more restraint, a request that fell on deaf ears.

Map showing Red Army assault on East Prussia circa 1945 courtesy  Heiligenbeil is located across the sea lagoon from Pillau which sits on the Baltic Sea.   

Just as the Germans had trapped the Allies in a pocket at Dunkirk in 1940, forcing the Allied leaders to draft Operation Dynamo to free the encircled forces, the Russians trapped the Germans in the Heiligenbeil Pocket in an effort to cut off East Prussia's capital, Koenigsberg,   Heiligenbeil was a town almost directly across the sea lagoon from Pillau where Admiral Donitz launched Operation Hannibal to free both German soldiers and civilians. (see

It was only a matter of time before the Germans would capitulate.  At the battle's end, over 46,000 German soldiers were taken prisoner of war by the Soviets to languish in labour camps.  Many perished while survivors were not released until 1951 to 1955.

German soldiers in Koenigsberg surrender after the Soviet army stormed it on April 9, 1945:


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