Battle of Poznań (1945)


Battle of Poznań (1945)

Warbox
conflict=Battle of Poznań
partof=Vistula-Oder Offensive, Eastern Front of the World War II


caption=
date=24 January 1945-23 February 1945
place=Poznań and nearby area, Poland
result=Decisive Allied victory
combatant1=flagicon|Soviet Union|size=25px1st Guards Tank Army
flagicon|Soviet Union|size=25px8th Guards Army
flagicon|Poland|size=25px"cytadelowcy"
combatant2=flagicon|Nazi Germany|size=25pxGarrison of "Festung Posen"
flagicon|Nazi Germany|size=25pxelements of 9th Army
flagicon|Nazi Germany|size=25px"Volkssturm"
flagicon|Hungary|size=25pxHungarian battalion
commander1=flagicon|Soviet Union|size=25pxMikhail Katukov
flagicon|Soviet Union|size=25pxVasily Chuikov
commander2=flagicon|Nazi Germany|size=25pxErnst Mattern
flagicon|Nazi Germany|size=25pxErnst Gonell
strength1=100,000 Soviet troops
5,000 Polish troops
strength2=15,700 fortress garrison troops
22,600 regular field troops
11,600 auxiliary troops
8,000 Volkssturm
1,100 Hungarian troops and mobilised Polish citizens
25,000 SS and Police troops
casualties1=10,000 KIA of Soviet troops
700 KIA of Polish troops
casualties2=6,000 KIA of German troops
100 KIA Hungarian troops
23,000 POW

The Battle of Poznań during World War II in 1945 was a massive assault by the Soviet Union's Red Army that had as its objective the elimination of the German garrison in the fortification city of Poznań, occupied Poland. The defeat of the German garrison required almost an entire month of painstaking reduction of fortified positions, intense urban combat, and a final assault on the city's citadel by the Red Army, complete with medieval touches.

Background

By 1945, the Red Army advances on the Eastern Front had thrown the Germans out of eastern Poland and pushed to the Vistula River. The Red Army launched the Vistula-Oder Offensive on January 12, 1945, inflicted a huge defeat on the defending German forces and rapidly drove into western Poland and eastern Germany.

As the Soviet forces approached certain cities, Hitler declared the cities to be "Festungen" (fortifications) and ordered their garrisons to mount last-ditch stands. Hitler hoped the "Festung" cities could hold out behind Soviet lines and interfere with the efficient movement of supplies and maintenance of lines of communication. In January 1945, Poznań was declared a "Festung". Poznań was not only a fortress in name: the city was ringed with nine massively-built forts and a citadel in the city center crowned a local promentory. Defending the city were 40,000 German troops from a great variety of units including Volkssturm, Luftwaffe ground forces, police, and highly motivated officer candidates. [Duffy, p. 102. Some of the larger German units were the Fifth Infantry Officer Candidate School, Assault Gun Replacement Battalion 500, five "Landesschützen" battalions, one "Volkssturm" Battalion, Air Force Replacement Battalions I and IV, Fortress Antitank Battalion 102, Police Regiment Schallert, Kampfgruppe Lenzer, and six batteries of fortress artillery.] Facing them would be experienced Guards Rifle troops of General V. I Chuikov's 8th Guards Army - the victors of Stalingrad.

Description of the forts

The fortifications had been built in the 19th Century by the Prussians. General Chuikov described the forts as

. . . underground structures each with several storeys, the whole projecting above the surrounding terrain. Only a mound was visible above ground -- the layer of earth covering the rest. Each fort was ringed by a ditch ten metres wide and eight metres deep, with walls revetted with brickwork. Across the ditch was a bridge, leading to one of the upper storeys. Among the forts, to the rear, there were one-storey brick bunkers. These were clad in concrete almost a full metre thick, and were used as stores. The upper works of the forts were sufficiently strong to provide reliable protection against heavy artillery fire. . . . the enemy would be able to direct fire of all kinds against us both on the approaches to the forts and within them, on the rampart. The embrasures were such that flanking fire from rifles and machine-guns could be directed from them. [Chuikov, pp. 98-99]

The city encircled

Poznań lay on the main route between Warsaw and Berlin, and in German hands, was a serious obstacle to Soviet resupply efforts between Poznań and Berlin. Thus, the Red Army would have to clear the city of German troops before the final assaults designed to capture Berlin and end the war could begin.

On January 21, 1945 the Soviet 1st Guards Tank Army forced a crossing of the Warta River north of the city, but by 24 January these bridgeheads had been abandoned in favor of better bridgeheads south of Poznań. Meanwhile, Red Army tank units had swept north and south of the city, capturing hundreds of German aircraft in the process. [Duffy, p. 101.] Moving further west, the Soviet tank units left the capture of the city to other Red Army forces.

By January 25, the Soviet 8th Guards Army had arrived and began a systematic reduction of the fortress. The following day, two of Poznań's forts in the south fell to a hasty assault conducted by the 27th and 74th Guards Rifle Divisions. This initial success allowed Chuikov's troops to penetrate the ring of forts and attack other forts from inside the city.

On January 28, the German high command relieved "Generalmajor" Ernst Mattern as the fortress commander and replaced him with a dedicated Nazi, "Generalmajor" Ernst Gonell. Gonell imposed draconian discipline on the German garrison. In some instances, German troops attempting to surrender were shot by their own side.

Ultimately, the reduction of "Festung Posen" would consume the efforts of four divisions from Chuikov's army and two divisions of Colonel-General V. Ia. Kolpakchi's 69th Army. The 117th and 312th Rifle Divisions of the 91st Rifle Corps (69th Army) were deployed on the east side of the city. To the north, the 39th Guards Rifle Division of Chuikov's 28th Guards Rifle Corps, and to the south, Chuikov's 29th Guards Rifle Corps composed of the 27th, 74th, and 82nd Guards Rifle Divisions were arrayed against the "Festung". [Chuikov, pp. 97-98, and Baumann, p. 269.] By the southwestern suburb of Junikowo, the 11th Guards Tank Corps took up positions to block any German attempt at retreat.

The liberation of Poznań

In bitter combat that saw the outlying forts reduced and city blocks seized, the Soviets succeeded in pushing the German defenders towards the city center and the citadel. By the beginning of February 1945, most of the city had been liberated, and by February 12th, the Germans held only the imposing citadel.

"Generalmajor" Gonell had previously believed that other German forces would attack and relieve his besieged forces, but by February 15 came to the realization that this was not going to happen. Incensed, he ordered his troops that were east of the Warta River to attempt to break out, and some 2,000 German troops managed to infiltrate through Red Army lines and head west on the following night.

Arrayed against the citadel was the 29th Guards Rifle Corps, with the 27th Guards Rifle Division on the north, the 82nd Guards Rifle Division on the southwest, and the 74th Guards Rifle Division on the southeast. The final Soviet assault on the citadel started on February 18. Before the Red Army troops lay a deep ditch matched by a steep rampart on the far side. In an odd echo of medieval warfare, the Soviet forces used ladders to cross this obstacle, but found themselves swept by fire from the citadel's redoubts. These redoubts took the better part of three days to neutralize; one silenced by flamethrowers and explosives, the other's line of fire blocked by debris thrown in front of the firing ports by exasperated Soviet troops.

Having built an assault bridge, Red Army tanks and assault guns crossed into the main grounds of the citadel early on February 22, commencing the final struggle for the old fortress. At this point, "Generalmajor" Gonell gave his troops permission to attempt to escape, but it was too late. Gonell refused to be captured and committed suicide by lying down on a flag and shooting himself in the head.

That evening, "Generalmajor" Mattern, once again in charge of the German forces, surrendered the remaining 12,000 German troops to General Chuikov. [Duffy, p. 250.]

Aftermath

The Germans held out in Poznań for almost a month. Doubtlessly, their possession of the city complicated Soviet resupply efforts, but other influences had also convinced the Stavka to pause the Red Army advance at the Oder River instead of attempting to push on to Berlin in February 1945.

The battle left over half (90% in the city center) of Poznań severely damaged by artillery fire and the effects of infantry combat in the city blocks. The battle definitively reduced the old Prussian fortress system which today stands mostly as monuments to an earlier military era. Finally, the outcome of the battle simplified Soviet resupply efforts between Warsaw and the Oder River.

Over 5,000 German troops who fell in the battle are buried at Milostowo cemetery. The Soviets are estimated to have lost over 12,000 men by the battle's midpoint around February 3, 1945.

Today, the Poznań citadel is the site of a memorial to the Red Army, military cemeteries, and a museum dedicated to the memory of the 1945 battle.

Footnotes

Article Sources

* Baumann, Günther. "Posen '45", Düsseldorf: Hilfsgemeinschaft ehemaliger Posenkämpfer, 1995.
*Szumowski, Zbigniew. "Boje o Poznań 1945", Poznań: Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, 1985. ISBN 83-210-0578-0
* Chuikov, Vasily. "The Fall of Berlin", New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1968.
* Duffy, Christopher. "Red Storm on the Reich", New York: Athenum Press, 1991. ISBN 0-689-12092-3.


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