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Alternatives To Seelow Heights Assault


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Zhukov gets much criticism for carrying out a direct assault on the Seelow Heights. The story is well know, Heinrici expected the attack and the night before the offensive he retired most of the troops to the third line of defence, thus the Soviet bombardment was largely ineffectual. Stiff German resistance and difficult terrain led to high Soviet losses.

Having read a few books on the topic, I was wondering what other options did Zhukov have. Is he ultimately responsible? It was Stalin who decided on a simultaneous attack by both Koniev and Zhukov on 16th April.

Now we know that Koniev's advance was much more smooth because Hitler expected that its objective would be Prague. Would it have been better to let Koniev carry out the assault?

If we look at the disposition of the Soviet troops, Zhukov's First Belorussian Front is sandwiched between Rokossovsky Second Belorussian Front and Koniev's First Ukrainian Front.

 

eastern-front-ww2-maps-oder-to-elbe-apri

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At the operational level, Zhukov could have feinted an attack elsewhere to draw reserves away, and at the tactical level recon could have been much better, for starters, identifying the unsuitability of the ground, and that commitment of tanks was an error. But also remember that of all the front commanders, Zhukov was the less experienced, as he hadn't comanded a front since 1941, having been a coordinator and Stavka representative ever since, having other commanders under him doing the nitty gritty details.

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Not much maneuvering space there. Also do not forget part of the thing was Heinrici successfully guessing the day - had he got his timing off, first defensive line would get mauled by the arty barrage pretty badly I guess (still would be bloody though).

 

The decision to use searchlights to try to blind the defenders may have been a bad idea, maybe beteer solution would be area lighting like Monty used at Varsity, if the cloud cover allowed?

 

Other than that... Delaying the frontal assault a day to have Konev and Rokossovsky draw fire and reserves could throw off the defense, but then again the crossing would still be bloody affair.

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Zhukov gets much criticism for carrying out a direct assault on the Seelow Heights. The story is well know, Heinrici expected the attack and the night before the offensive he retired most of the troops to the third line of defence, thus the Soviet bombardment was largely ineffectual. Stiff German resistance and difficult terrain led to high Soviet losses.

 

Having read a few books on the topic, I was wondering what other options did Zhukov have. Is he ultimately responsible? It was Stalin who decided on a simultaneous attack by both Koniev and Zhukov on 16th April.

 

Now we know that Koniev's advance was much more smooth because Hitler expected that its objective would be Prague. Would it have been better to let Koniev carry out the assault?

 

If we look at the disposition of the Soviet troops, Zhukov's First Belorussian Front is sandwiched between Rokossovsky Second Belorussian Front and Koniev's First Ukrainian Front.

 

I've been looking around for a while and never found any book sources of information on this particular part in the campaign. Are there any available in English that cover this particular assault? Wikipedia has a fairly decent article on the topic but apart from that, the only mention it seems to get is mixed in with the whole road to Berlin really.

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I've been looking around for a while and never found any book sources of information on this particular part in the campaign. Are there any available in English that cover this particular assault? Wikipedia has a fairly decent article on the topic but apart from that, the only mention it seems to get is mixed in with the whole road to Berlin really.

 

 

 

The Last Battle by Cornelius Ryan lays it out fairly well.

Edited by DKTanker
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I've been looking around for a while and never found any book sources of information on this particular part in the campaign. Are there any available in English that cover this particular assault? Wikipedia has a fairly decent article on the topic but apart from that, the only mention it seems to get is mixed in with the whole road to Berlin really.

 

 

 

The Last Battle by Cornelius Ryan lays it out fairly well.

 

 

Plus his books always have interviews with people who were there...

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In terms of battle analysis the most detailed I have read is The Oder Front 1945, by Stephen Hamilton. Unlike most other books, it is written from the perspective of Army Group Weichsel/Heinrici, and not Hitler's bunker and his entourage.

 

He also has a second volume with documents, reports & personal accounts but I have not read it.

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The German positions should have been shelled and fixed with a modest force, but bypassed, the advance was quick enough to the north and south that the Germans would have had to pull back anyway. The counterargument is that the attack was required to fix the German 9th Army and stop them pulling back to Berlin, which is what happened, though it seems clear that if the assault did not happen directly, but the position was taken or fixed by envelopment by the forces slightly to the north which broke through rather easily, the same result would have been achieved at less loss, and maybe even quicker if some of the assaulting force and especially artillery was used to support those attacks, and/or harass the German partial retreat.

Aleksey Isaev has a body of work (only in Russian I think) that looks useful, defending Zhukov's plan, see eg: http://militera.lib.ru/research/isaev_av_zhukov/index.html

Edited by KV7
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The German positions should have been shelled and fixed with a modest force, but bypassed, the advance was quick enough to the north and south that the Germans would have had to pull back anyway. The counterargument is that the attack was required to fix the German 9th Army and stop them pulling back to Berlin, which is what happened, though it seems clear that if the assault did not happen directly, but the position was taken or fixed by envelopment by the forces slightly to the north which broke through rather easily, the same result would have been achieved at less loss, and maybe even quicker if some of the assaulting force and especially artillery was used to support those attacks, and/or harass the German partial retreat.

 

Aleksey Isaev has a body of work (only in Russian I think) that looks useful, defending Zhukov's plan, see eg: http://militera.lib.ru/research/isaev_av_zhukov/index.html

 

Don´t German had a history in WW2 of being a pain to deal with when encircled or bypassed?

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The German positions should have been shelled and fixed with a modest force, but bypassed, the advance was quick enough to the north and south that the Germans would have had to pull back anyway. The counterargument is that the attack was required to fix the German 9th Army and stop them pulling back to Berlin, which is what happened, though it seems clear that if the assault did not happen directly, but the position was taken or fixed by envelopment by the forces slightly to the north which broke through rather easily, the same result would have been achieved at less loss, and maybe even quicker if some of the assaulting force and especially artillery was used to support those attacks, and/or harass the German partial retreat.

 

Aleksey Isaev has a body of work (only in Russian I think) that looks useful, defending Zhukov's plan, see eg: http://militera.lib.ru/research/isaev_av_zhukov/index.html

 

Don´t German had a history in WW2 of being a pain to deal with when encircled or bypassed?

 

That late in the war it is much less of a problem, maybe having to reduce some mad division which refused to surrender once the war is over is not something that should have made any impact on proceedings.

 

In effect they did bypass and then block the main force, the issue is just if this blocking thrust should have moved through Seelow, or rather by wrapping around to the north and then blocking a little further to the west.

Edited by KV7
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Thanks for the book suggestions. At least in the case of The Order Front 1945, this appears to be a 2-part series so in theory should give good coverage of events at that time.

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Seelow Heights has always made me chuckle with the whole "Let's blind 'em with searchlights" thing. IIRC the Russians had issues advancing initially because the dust from the bombardment before the operation opened was still hanging in the air, which resulted in a nice, brightly-lit fog that they had to push through.

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Seelow Heights has always made me chuckle with the whole "Let's blind 'em with searchlights" thing. IIRC the Russians had issues advancing initially because the dust from the bombardment before the operation opened was still hanging in the air, which resulted in a nice, brightly-lit fog that they had to push through.

 

IIRC the idea wasn't to blind the defenders but to provide illumination for the advancing infantry. The dust clouds would always have been a "fog" but when illuminated from the Russian side, they served to blind the attackers and silouette them to the defenders.

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Looking at this a bit:

 

It seems to me that a supporting, preliminary and diversionary attack on the 33rd Army front and the bridgehead to the North of Kustrin would have drawn reserves away, but Zhukov may have felt the pressure from Stalin and the need to beat Konev and Rokossovsky. It was not like he could lose the battle anyway.

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I assume the Red Army had no resources to just carpet bomb the redoubt, the Eastern Front being a "flat war" as usual :(

 

I do believe that the defences on the top of the Seelowe Heights were hit by an aerial attack/bombardment at least according to this documentary: https://youtu.be/V56qrGGy8Uk not sure what kind of aircraft was used however. The documentary doesn't go into detail about tanks, aircraft and such which is a bit of a shame although its focusing on the wider picture rather than vehicle ID.

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At the operational level, Zhukov could have feinted an attack elsewhere to draw reserves away, and at the tactical level recon could have been much better, for starters, identifying the unsuitability of the ground, and that commitment of tanks was an error. But also remember that of all the front commanders, Zhukov was the less experienced, as he hadn't comanded a front since 1941, having been a coordinator and Stavka representative ever since, having other commanders under him doing the nitty gritty details.

IMHO not, as long as loosing tank crews is much less expensive in terms of number of lives lost than using infantry without tanks. Anyway, I have to support KV7’s advise in directing you to whole body of modern Russian literature about this topic, as Seelow Heights Assault is one of the most discussed topics.

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The immediate issue is do you get enough of Zhukov's forces to around Halbe in time to stop the 9th Army if you bypass Seelow. I cannot see why it could not be done, thought the required salient would be long and thin, if the forces around Seelow were not reduced on the way. Possibly the German forces at Seelow would have tried to retreat and link up with the 9th, which would have led to an engagement around Fürstenwald to stop them moving; as they retreated the 33rd Army could infill.

Edited by KV7
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At the operational level, Zhukov could have feinted an attack elsewhere to draw reserves away, and at the tactical level recon could have been much better, for starters, identifying the unsuitability of the ground, and that commitment of tanks was an error. But also remember that of all the front commanders, Zhukov was the less experienced, as he hadn't comanded a front since 1941, having been a coordinator and Stavka representative ever since, having other commanders under him doing the nitty gritty details.

IMHO not, as long as loosing tank crews is much less expensive in terms of number of lives lost than using infantry without tanks. Anyway, I have to support KV7’s advise in directing you to whole body of modern Russian literature about this topic, as Seelow Heights Assault is one of the most discussed topics.

 

 

But nothing in English?

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At the operational level, Zhukov could have feinted an attack elsewhere to draw reserves away, and at the tactical level recon could have been much better, for starters, identifying the unsuitability of the ground, and that commitment of tanks was an error. But also remember that of all the front commanders, Zhukov was the less experienced, as he hadn't comanded a front since 1941, having been a coordinator and Stavka representative ever since, having other commanders under him doing the nitty gritty details.

IMHO not, as long as loosing tank crews is much less expensive in terms of number of lives lost than using infantry without tanks. Anyway, I have to support KV7’s advise in directing you to whole body of modern Russian literature about this topic, as Seelow Heights Assault is one of the most discussed topics.

 

 

But nothing in English?

 

Someone really should start translating some of this work.

Edited by KV7
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