Soviet Forces Begin Shelling of Berlin
The amount of equipment deployed for the Berlin operation was so huge I simply cannot describe it and I was there.........”— Alex Popov, 5th Shock Army 1945.
On 20 April, Hitler's birthday, Soviet artillery of 1st Belorussian Front began to shell the centre of Berlin and did not stop until the city surrendered (the weight of ordnance delivered by Soviet artillery during the battle was greater than the tonnage dropped by the Western Allied bombers on the city). While the 1st Belorussian Front advanced towards the east and north-east of the City, the 1st Ukrainian Front had pushed through the last formations of the northern wing of Army Group Centre and had passed north of Juterbog well over halfway to the American front lines on the river Elbe at Magdeburg. To the north between Stettin and Schwedt, 2nd Belorussian Front attacked the northern flank of Army Group Vistula, held by Hasso von Manteuffel's III Panzer Army. During the next day, the Bogdanov's 2nd Guards Tank Army advanced nearly 50 km north of Berlin and then attacked south west of Werneuchen. The Soviet plan was to encircle Berlin first and then envelop the IX Army.
The command of the V Corps trapped with the IX Army north of Forst, passed from IV Panzer Army to the IX Army. The corps was still holding onto the Berlin-Cottbus highway front line. When the old southern flank of IV Panzer Army had some local successes counter attacking north against 1st Ukrainian Front, Hitler gave orders which showed that his grasp of military reality had gone and ordered IX Army to hold Cottbus and set up a front facing west. Then they were to attack into the Soviet columns advancing north. This would allow them to form the northern pincer which would meet with the IV Panzer Army coming from the south and envelop the 1st Ukrainian Front before destroying it. They were to anticipate an attack south by the III Panzer Army and to be ready to be the southern arm of a pincer attack which would envelop 1st Belorussian Front which would be destroyed by SS-General Felix Steiner's Army Detachment advancing from north of Berlin. Later in the day, when Steiner made it plain that he did not have the divisions to do this, Heinrici made it clear to Hitler's staff that unless the IX Army retreated immediately it was about to be enveloped by the Soviets and he stressed it was already too late for it to move north-west to Berlin and would have to retreat west. Heinrici went on to say that if Hitler did not allow it to move west he would ask to be relieved of his command.
On 22 April, at his afternoon situation conference Hitler fell into a tearful rage when he realised that his plans of the day before were not going to be realised. He declared that the war was lost, he blamed the generals and announced that he would stay on in Berlin until the end and then kill himself. In an attempt to coax Hitler out of his rage, General Alfred Jodl speculated that the XII Army, under the command of General Walther Wenck, that was facing the Americans, could move to Berlin because the Americans, already on the Elbe River, were unlikely to move further east. This assumption was based on his viewing of the captured Eclipse documents, which organized the partition of Germany among the Allies. Hitler immediately grasped the idea and within hours Wenck was ordered to disengage from the Americans and move the XII Army north-east to support Berlin. It was then realised that, if the IX Army moved west, it could link up with the XII Army. In the evening Heinrici was given permission to make the link up.
Elsewhere, the 2nd Belorussian Front had established a bridgehead on the west bank of the Oder over 15 km deep and was heavily engaged with the III Panzer Army. The IX Army had lost Cottbus and was being pressed from the east. A Soviet tank spearhead was on the Havel river to the east of Berlin and another had at one point penetrated the inner defensive ring of Berlin.
A Soviet war correspondent gave this account, in the style of World War Two Russian journalism, of an important event that day—the capital was now within range of field artillery:
On the walls of the houses we saw Goebbels' appeals, hurriedly scrawled in white paint: 'Every German will defend his capital. We shall stop the Red hordes at the walls of our Berlin.' Just try and stop them!
Steel pillboxes, barricades, mines, traps, suicide squads with grenades clutched in their hands—all are swept aside before the tidal wave.
Drizzling rain began to fall. Near Bisdorf I saw batteries preparing to open fire.
'What are the targets?' I asked the battery commander.
Centre of Berlin, Spree bridges, and the northern and Stettin railway stations,' he answered.
Then came the tremendous words of command: 'Open fire at the capital of Fascist Germany.'
I noted the time. It was exactly 8:30 a.m. on 22 April. Ninety-six shells fell in the centre of Berlin in the course of a few minutes.
On 23 April, the Soviet 1st Belorussian Front and 1st Ukrainian Front continued to tighten the encirclement, including severing the last link that the German IX Army had with the city. Elements of 1st Ukrainian Front continued to move westward and started to engage the German XII Army moving towards Berlin. On this same day, Hitler appointed General Helmuth Weidling as the commander of the Berlin Defence Area replacing Lieutenant General Reymann. Meanwhile, by 24 April elements of 1st Belorussian Front and 1st Ukrainian Front had completed the encirclement of the city. Within the next day, 25 April, the Soviet investment of Berlin was consolidated with leading Soviet units probing and penetrating the S-Bahn defensive ring. By the end of the day there was no prospect that the German defence of the city could do anything but temporarily delay the capture of the city by the Soviets as the decisive stages of the battle had already been fought and lost by the Germans outside the city.