The battle resulted in a hard won victory for the Soviets and it opened the gateway to Berlin. Seelow Heights was very strategic for the Soviets because it laid only 56.3 kilometers from Berlin thus allowing the Soviets to encircle/capture the city. It was the one of the last, extremely large battles on the Eastern Front.
Planning and Preparation
By this time, the German situation was at its worst. The Russians had established bridgeheads across the Oder and were now at the Seelow Heights, dubbed as the "Gates of Berlin" because it was the last cohorent line of defence before Berlin itself. On March 20, 1945, Heinrich Himmler was replaced by Gotthard Heinrici as commander of Army Group Vistula. He predicted that the Soviets would attack over the Oder and at the Seelow Heights.
The Heights was therefore defended by the Ninth Army of Theodor Busse with 112,143 men, 587 tanks and 2,625 guns. He depleted the men at the other parts of the line and turned the Oder floodplain into a swamp by releasing water from a dam to strengthen the Heights. They also made three defensive lines filled with anti-tank guns and ditches, bunkers, and trenches spreading back to Berlin. The reserves were the 11th SS Panzergrenadierdivision Nordland and 23rd SS Panzergrenadier division Nederland designated to counter any breakthrough.
The Soviets were able to muster and field around 2.5 million men, 7,500 aircraft, 6,250 tanks, 41,600 artillery pieces not including the near 3,255 truck-mounted Katyusha rockets, and 95,383 motor vehicles for the Berlin Operation. It vastly outnumbered the Germans in men and equipment and by this point in the war, much of the men in the Red Army even matched the Germans in combat experience.
The battle for Seelow Heights began when thousands of artillery pieces all opened fire upon German lines protecting the Soviet infantry advance. Though it was then discovered that the artillery had fired upon unoccupied fortifications and when the German infantry returned to their positions after the initial bombardments, they laid heavy fire upon the Soviet troops.
Coupled with the terrible conditions caused by the flooding of the area, the infantry were mowed down in droves. Then, the Soviets decided to deploy their vast tank armies that were instead forced to be used along main roads as well as the infantry creating a back up of men and supplies. Even with air support, the German resistance was stiff and the advance proceeded slowly with minor advances made on the first day.
Much the same, by the second day the German frontlines still held and Soviet frontline troops proceeded to make minor advances once more. Though, towards the south, Soviet troops commanded by Ivan Konev proceeded in breaking through German lines with great success.
Though, at this time German troops all along the front were thinning and by April 19th, almost all German troops had either been killed, wounded, retreated, or captured. The area was secured and a Soviet victory was won, but at a great cost. In total, around 12,000 Germans had been killed to more than double that by the Soviets.
- Ziemke, Earl. The Battle for Berlin: End of the Third Reich. Ballantine Books (1968), Page 71
- Bishop, Chris. German Panzers in World War II. Zenith Press (2008), Page 181