Silesian Offensive and the Siege of Breslau
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseLower Silesian Offensive
8 Feb-24 Feb 1945
ww2dbaseImmediately upon the successes achieved by the Vistula-Oder Offensive, on 8 Feb 1945 Soviet 1st Ukrainian Front, under Ivan Konev, launched the Lower Silesian Offensive into the Silesian region of Germany (now in Poland). Opposite the Soviet 1st Ukrainian Front was German Army Group Center (known as Army Group A prior to 25 Jan 1945) under Ferdinand SchÃ¶rner, which still wielded enough strength to threaten Soviet movements toward Berlin, Germany. In addition to the need to eliminate this threat on Soviet flanks, some historians argued that Joseph Stalin also interested in seeing an advance into Silesia to secure post-war territorial gains. When Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland) became surrounded by Soviet 3rd Guards Tank Army and Soviet 4th Tank Army on 15 Feb, Soviet advances in Silesia had been so rapid that only German 269th Infantry Division managed to successfully fall back, leaving thousands of troops in the pocket in a city that was still populated by 80,000 civilians. While the Germans continued to maintain pressure on Soviet 4th Tank Army for the following five days, the Soviets would eventually be able to strengthen the envelopment on Breslau, leading to Konev's announcement of a successful victory on 24 Feb.
ww2dbaseSiege of Breslau
15 Feb-6 May 1945
ww2dbaseBreslau was declared a Fortress City by Adolf Hitler in Aug 1944. The German forces garrisoned at Breslau fielded an impressive number of 200 artillery pieces, 7 tanks, and 8 self-propelled guns in early 1945, but this strength could easily turn into an illusion as the garrison had little ammunition, thus requiring major efforts of resupply by land and air in order to keep fighting. In Jan 1945, as Soviet troops neared, the Germans began evacuating civilians from the city; thousands of evacuees from Breslau would die in bitter cold before reaching their destinations. The Soviet encirclement attempts began on 13 Feb 1945, and by 15 Feb, Soviet 3rd Guards Tank Army and Soviet 4th Tank Army linked up and completed the effort. German Luftwaffe wing Kampfgeschwader (KG) 4 and its He 111 aircraft became the only way the city could receive supplies; the first KG 4 supply mission was a success, but subsequent flights were plagued by Soviet and US fighter interceptions and even downings by Breslau's own anti-aircraft guns due to mis-identification. While Konev's main forces moved on with the offensive campaign elsewhere in Silesia, units of Soviet 6th Army were left behind to lay siege on Breslau. Fighting between the two sides lasted until the end of the war, destroying about 80% to 90% of the city, much of it at the hands of Soviet artillery fire but part of the destruction was also done as the result of German sabotage. Although the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) was able to complete 2,000 sorties in the following three months to bring in supplies and evacuate the wounded, most of the 50,000 to 80,000 German troops found themselves fighting with minimal food and ammunition. German General of the Infantry Hermann Niehoff, commanding the Fortress City since 2 Mar 1945, finally surrendered on 6 May at the Villa Colonia at Kaiser-Friedrich-Strasse 14 (now named Rapacki Street); Hanke fled by air to Prague, Czechoslovakia on 5 May and would be killed a month later when he attempted to escape from captivity. According to Soviet sources, the Germans suffered 40,000 troops killed and 14,000 captured during the siege, while the Soviets suffered 6,000 killed; as many as 30,000 civilians might had been killed during the siege.
1-15 Mar 1945
ww2dbaseOn 1 Mar, SchÃ¶rner launched yet another counter-offensive in Silesia under the code name Operation Gemse, sending 56th Panzer Corps and 34th Panzer Corps under Walther Nehring toward Lauban, intending on pushing back the Soviet 3rd Guards Tank Army by enveloping its spearhead with a two-prong pincer movement. The counter-offensive achieved initial surprise, capturing Lauban on 3 Mar and encircling a large group of Soviets by the following day; the encircled group would be wiped out within four days in brutal fighting. On 9 Mar, SchÃ¶rner launched a new attack toward Striegau to the southeast, cutting off elements of Soviet 5th Guards Army in the night of 11 to 12 Mar. This German offensive would be ended by a new Soviet offensive to be launched on 15 Mar.
ww2dbaseUpper Silesian Offensive
15 Mar-31 Mar 1945
ww2dbaseWhile the Germans made gains during Operation Gemse, Konev placed great pressure on his generals to hold ground to ensure the Germans would not take any momentum away from him. He was able to shift Soviet 4th Tank Army southward in early Mar 1945, and on 15 Mar 4th Tank Army launched an offensive on the German lines; this offensive effectively marked the end of Operation Gemse before SchÃ¶rner could begin to attempt on lifting the siege of Breslau. 4th Tank Army broke through German lines west of Oppeln, Germany (now Opole, Poland) and advanced on Neustadt (now Prudnik, Poland) and Neisse (now Nysa, Poland); to the southeast, Soviet 59th Army and 60th Army attacked in concert to threaten German 11th Corps at Oppeln with encirclement. To prevent the encirclement, German units at Oppeln began falling back westward, but German 20th Grenadier (Estonian) Division would be cut off as Soviet 4th Tank Army and 59th Army linked up at Neustadt. German 20th Grenadier (Estonian) Division along with other units trapped at Oppeln were wiped out by 22 Mar. By the end of the month, Ratibor and Katscher (now Raciborz and Kietrz) were captured by the Soviets, and Konev announced the successful conclusion of the campaign.
ww2dbaseAfter taking the Silesian region, Konev's attention would be directed northwestward at Berlin, and thus the lines in this region would remain relatively static until the end of the European War.
John Weal, He 111 Kampfgeschwader on the Russian Front
Last Major Update: May 2013
Silesian Offensive and the Siege of Breslau Timeline
|19 Jan 1945Â||The Germans began evacuating civilians from Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland).|
|24 Jan 1945Â||Soviet 1st Ukrainian Front captured Gleiwitz, Germany (now Gliwice, Poland).|
|27 Jan 1945Â||Despite of the needed coal and industry there, the Germans began evacuating the Upper Silesia region as Soviet troops approached; this included the city of Katowice, Poland.|
|2 Feb 1945Â||Nazi German Gauleiter Karl Hanke announced the formation of new Volkssturm militia units at Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland). On the same day, Major General Hans von Ahlfen was named the commanding officer of the Fortress City of Breslau.|
|8 Feb 1945Â||Soviet 1st Ukrainian Front commenced the Lower Silesian Offensive at 0600 hours after a 55-minute artillery bombardment; by the end of the day, Soviet troops had penetrated German lines by as much as 60 kilometers at certain locations.|
|14 Feb 1945Â||German Panzerkorps "GroÃŸdeutschland" and German 24th Panzer Corps counterattacked near Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland), seeing some success against Soviet 4th Tank Army, but the Germans were unable halt the larger Soviet attempt to surround the city. Nearby, Soviet troops captured GroÃŸ-Rosen Concentration Camp in GroÃŸ-Rosen, Germany (now Rogoznica, Poland).|
|15 Feb 1945Â||Soviet 3rd Guards Tank Army and Soviet 4th Tank Army surrounded Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland).|
|19 Feb 1945Â||Soviet 52nd Army and Soviet 3rd Guards Tank Army secured the flanks of Soviet 4th Tank Army near Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland), thus ending the counter-offensive mounted by German Panzerkorps "GroÃŸdeutschland" and German XXIV Panzer Corps.|
|22 Feb 1945Â||Soviet 6th Army captured three suburban districts of Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland).|
|23 Feb 1945Â||Troops of Soviet 6th Army entered southern districts of Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland).|
|24 Feb 1945Â||Ivan Konev declared the Lower Silesian Offensive a success.|
|1 Mar 1945Â||German 56th Panzer Corps and 34th Panzer Corps commenced Operation Gemse in the Silesian region of Germany (now Poland), surprising Soviet 3rd Guards Tank Army.|
|2 Mar 1945Â||German General of the Infantry Hermann Niehoff was named the commanding officer of the Fortress City of Breslau.|
|3 Mar 1945Â||German 6th Volksgrenadier Division captured Lauban, Germany (now Poland).|
|4 Mar 1945Â||German troops encircled the spearhead of Soviet 3rd Guards Tank Army in Silesia, Germany (now Poland) during Operation Gemse.|
|8 Mar 1945Â||Soviet troops reached the suburbs of Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland).|
|9 Mar 1945Â||German troops launched an offensive toward Striegau, Germany (now Strzegom, Poland).|
|12 Mar 1945Â||German troops cut off elements of Soviet 5th Guards Army in Silesia, Germany (now Poland) before dawn.|
|15 Mar 1945Â||Soviet 4th Tank Army launched a main attack against the Germans in Silesia, Germany (now Poland).|
|22 Mar 1945Â||Soviet troops wiped out all German troops enveloped at Oppeln, Germany (now Opole, Poland).|
|31 Mar 1945Â||Soviet troops captured Ratibor and Katscher, Germany (now Raciborz and Kietrz, Poland).|
|20 Apr 1945Â||German General of the Infantry Hermann Niehoff distributed chocolate to the encircled troops defending Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland) in honor of Adolf Hitler's birthday.|
|27 Apr 1945Â||Before dawn, German Luftwaffe wing KG 4 flew its final supply mission to Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland) as 30 He 111 aircraft dropped 24 tons of ammunition to the German garrison in the city.|
|4 May 1945Â||Pastor Hornig, Dr. Konrad, Bishop Ferche, and Canon Kramer, the three leading religious leaders in Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland), unsuccessfully attempted to persuade German General of the Infantry Hermann Niehoff to surrender the city to the Soviets.|
|5 May 1945Â||Nazi German Gauleiter Karl Hanke escaped Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland) via a Storch aircraft.|
|6 May 1945Â||German General of the Infantry Hermann Niehoff surrendered Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland) to the Soviets, ending the 82-day siege.|
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