East Prussian Offensive


East Prussian Offensive

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=East Prussian Offensive
East Prussian Strategic Offensive Operation


caption=Soldiers of the German Fourth Army man positions on the East Prussian border immediately prior to the offensive
partof=the Eastern Front of World War II
place=East Prussia
date=January 13, 1945 – May 9, 1945
result=Soviet Victory
combatant1=
combatant2=flagicon|USSR Soviet Union
commander1=Georg-Hans Reinhardt
(Army Group Centre)
Friedrich Hossbach,
Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller
(Fourth Army)
Erhard Raus
(Third Panzer Army)
Walter Weiss,
Dietrich von Saucken
(Second Army)
commander2=Konstantin Rokossovsky
(2nd Belorussian Front)Ivan Chernyakhovsky,
Aleksandr Vasilevsky
(3rd Belorussian Front)
Hovhannes Bagramyan
(1st Baltic Front)
strength1=580.000 men
200.000 Volksturm
strength2=1,669,100See [http://www.soldat.ru/doc/casualties/book/chapter5_10_1.html Soldat.ru] - note that this covers "all" personnel of the 3rd and 2nd Belorussian Fronts, and the elements of 1st Baltic Front involved.]
casualties1=151,757 inc. 63,774 irrecoverable (German est., to 10 Feb only)Report from OKH for 3rd Panzer, 4th and 2nd Armies for 1 Jan - 10 Feb only; likely incomplete.]
casualties2=584,778 inc. 126,646 irrecoverable (Soviet est., for whole offensive)See Glantz, "When Titans Clashed". Figure for the whole period of the offensive.] |

The East Prussian Offensive, known officially to the Soviets as the East Prussian Strategic Offensive Operation, ( _ru. Восточно-Прусская стратегическая наступательная операция) was an offensive by the Red Army against the German "Wehrmacht" on the Eastern Front (World War II). It lasted from 13 January 1945 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 with a total victory for the Red Army.

The East Prussian operation is known to German historians as the "Second" East Prussian Offensive. The "First" East Prussian operation, known also as the Goldap-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 Operation ( _ru. Мемельская операция) of the 1st Baltic Front. The Soviet forces took heavy casualties while penetrating 30-60km into East Prussia and Poland, and the offensive was postponed until greater reserves could be gathered.

The East Prussian Offensive

The main thrust of the offensive was to be conducted by the 3rd Belorussian Front under Chernyakhovsky. His forces were tasked with driving westwards towards Königsberg, against the defensive positions of Third Panzer Army and Fourth Army, the northern armies of General Georg-Hans Reinhardt's Army Group Centre. [Beevor, pp.29]

From the north, on Chernyakhovksy's right flank, General Hovhannes Bagramyan's 1st Baltic Front would attack the positions of Third 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 German Second Army, thereby sealing off the whole of East Prussia. [Beevor, pp.27]

Opening of the offensive

The Soviet offensive began on 13 January with a heavy preparatory bombardment. The Red Army made steady progress, though at the cost of very high casualties, the defenders having the advantage of substantial fortifications in the Insterburg Gap east of Königsberg, and around Heilsberg. Over the next few days the Third Panzer Army of General Erhard Raus was largely destroyed or withdrew into Königsberg, while General Friedrich Hossbach's Fourth Army began to find itself outflanked.

Rokossovsky attacked across the Narew on 14 January; on 20 January he received orders to swing the axis of his advance northwards towards Elbing.Duffy, p.170] 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.Duffy, p.171] By 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 Fourth Army along with several divisions of Second Army which were now trapped in a pocket centred on East Prussia. On the same day, Hossbach began to pull his units back from the fortified town of Lotzen - a centre of the East Prussian defence system - and through a series of forced marches attempted to break out westwards.Duffy, p.172]

In the meantime, Chernyakhovsky had succeeded in rolling up the defences from the East, pushing the remnants of Third 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

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".Duffy, p.173] Raus and the staff of the destroyed Third Panzer Army were assigned to a new formation.The defending forces, in the meantime, were besieged in three pockets by Chernyakhovsky's armies:

*Some fifteen divisions of Fourth Army had become encircled on the shore of the Vistula Lagoon in what became known as the Heiligenbeil pocket. After bitter fighting, these units were finally overcome on March 29. [Beevor, pp.49]
*The remnants of Third Panzer Army, placed under Fourth Army's command, became isolated in the Siege of Königsberg. The city was finally taken by the Soviets, after massive casualties on both sides, on April 9. After this point the remaining German forces around the Bight of Danzig were reorganised into "Armee Ostpreußen" under the overall command of Dietrich von Saucken.
*The third group of German forces, the XXVIII Corps or "Armeeabteilung Samland" under General Hans Gollnick, occupied the Samland peninsula, where the port of Pillau was retained as the last effective evacuation point for the area. The last elements were cleared from Pillau on April 25 in the Zemland offensive operation.

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

ee also

* Evacuation of East Prussia
* Battle of Königsberg
* Prussian Nights
* Vistula-Oder Offensive
* Operation Hannibal, the evacuation effort by the "Kriegsmarine"
* East Pomeranian Offensive, the parallel Soviet offensives in Pomerania
* Strategic operations of the Red Army in World War II

Notes

References

*Duffy, Christopher. "Red Storm on the Reich: The Soviet March on Germany, 1945", Routledge, 1991, ISBN 0-415-22829-8
*Beevor, Antony. "Berlin: The Downfall 1945", Penguin Books, 2002, ISBN 0-670-88695-5
*David M. Glantz
** [http://www.strom.clemson.edu/publications/sg-war41-45.pdf The Soviet‐German War 1941–45] : Myths and Realities: A Survey Essay
**"When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler", Kansas University Press, 1995

Further reading

* [http://www.onwar.com/maps/wwii/eastfront2/eprussia45.htm Map of the Soviet Advance into East Prussia & Siege of Königsberg January 13 - May 9, 1945]
* Otto Lasch, the commander of "Festung Königsberg", wrote a book covering the siege, "So fiel Königsberg" ( _en. Thus fell Königsberg)(Motorbuch Verlag, 2002, ISBN 978-3613022072); originally published in 1958
* Russian authors Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Lev Kopelev wrote of their experiences in East Prussia during the offensive; the former in "Prussian Nights", the latter in his book "To Be Preserved Forever" (Lang-ru|Хранить вечно) (English translation by A. Austin, Lippincott, 1977, ISBN 978-0397011407)
* Alexander Vasilevsky covers his role in the offensive in his memoirs, translated as "A Lifelong Cause" (translation by J. Riordan, Progress, 1981)


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