Chapter 1: Königsberg as ‘Festung’
What effect did the strategy of designating Fortress cities have on Königsberg?
Chapter 2: No safety in numbers
What were the tactics that proved decisive during the battle of Königsberg?
Chapter 3: Politics and Patriotism on the East Prussian battlefield
How did the mindset of the belligerents influence the battle of Königsberg?
On January 13 the East Prussian offensive (Vostotsno-Prusskoi operatsii) commenced from its starting points at the borders of the province. The goal of the campaign had been the occupation of East Prussia, which was considered as the ‘cradle of militarism and fascism’.1 The combined operations, of which the offensive was a part, brought the Soviet frontline from the Vistula river to 70 kilometres from Berlin within weeks.
Nonetheless, this frontline was discontinuous due to a series of ‘pockets’. One of these pockets consisted of the Fortress city Königsberg and its surroundings. The outskirts had been reached by the Soviets on 27 January, but the city had remained in German hands. Therefore, Königsberg was hailed in newspapers throughout Germany for its heroic defence against the Slavs and a telegraph send from the Fortress to another Fortress, Breslau, even made it to the national radio, causing great turmoil among the High Command of the city.2 The city was presented as one of the most successful ‘ Wellenbrecher ’ (breakwaters) against the Soviets, its garrison as tough, patriotic and persistent.3
Behind the scenes the situation proved more complex. The city was packed tight with large numbers of refugees, the living conditions grew tougher each day and Gauleiter Erich Koch, despite having fled the city, regularly interfered with the cities defence.4 In late- February, after a successful break-out which restored the connection with the west, the city was able to tackle the former two problems. As for Koch: he even tried to increase his influ- ence after the reconnection, hampering the defence even further. Nevertheless, the city held out till early April, when it was finally stormed by the Armies of the Third Belorussian Front.
Despite that there are innumerable works on the Eastern Front, there are few works dedicated to Festung Königsberg. The ones that do exist barely describe how the situation (i.e. siege) around Königsberg came into being or how the city managed to stay in German hands for over two months. Christopher Duffy’s volume Red storm on the Reich (1991) was the first real attempt, although he mostly merely copied the views given by Festungskommandant Otto Lasch and barely endeavours any further, despite having some good Soviet accounts at his disposal. Isabel Denny’s book The fall of Hitler ’ s Fortress city: The battle for Königsberg 1945 (2007) barely deserves mentioning: not only does she ignore all Soviet sources, she even fails to include Festungskommandant Otto Lasch’s account, which is by far the most important for gaining a coherent view of the battle.5 About the same can be said for Pritt Buttlar’s Battleground Prussia (2010) , who also fails to include any Soviet sources, but rather copies entire pages from German commanders and civilians. Even though their quality is rather poor, these books make clear that there is still an ongoing interest in the area. The focus so far has been on the already better-known cities, such as Antony Beevor’s Stalingrad (1998) and The Fall of Berlin 1945 (2002) which made him one of the best-known World War Two historians of the moment. After these two books, historians Max Hastings with Armageddon (2004) and recently even Ian Kershaw with The End (2011) followed suit. They both focus on the last year of the war and dedicated chapters to Königsberg and the East Prussian campaign. In their works they did not elaborate on the specific character and function Königsberg had, but rather merely described the events which occurred in and around the city as a part of a broader history.
Little attention so far has been paid to the role that Festung Königsberg played within the German defence. In the introduction of the Kriegstagebuch des Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (1961) the German historian Percy Schramm’s presented Hitler’s Festungs - directives as a doctrine6, but naming Hitler’s defensive strategy as such gives the situation of those days too much credit, as the defence of the cities was so ad hoc, that this is out of the question. Yet, despite the fact that this work will focus solely on Königsberg, the city was not the only one to defy the Soviet army for a longer amount of time. Hitler’s Festungs- strategy changed the outcome and approach of numerous battles, but has been overlooked due to its unsuccessfulness in general. Its failure is largely taken for granted and its successes are dismissed as exceptions. But these exceptions are rather numerous, and therefore the strategy deserves another assessment. Therefore, this work will not only provide an insight of Königsberg, but can also serve to clarify previously undiscussed factors that enabled the defence of the different Fortress cities.
The location of Königsberg in the far East of the Reich, its possession of a harbour, its portrayal as the embodiment of Prussian militarism and its early encirclement are all unique features. Yet, the role of the Party and the Army and the availability of large, often previously undiscovered, reserves that helped prolonging the resistance are just some of the examples that can be found in other fortress cities as well. Perhaps in a totalitarian state subject to ‘Gleichschaltung’ these similarities do not come as too much of a surprise, although they are certainly not a given. Distinguishing its uniqueness, yet providing a framework to evaluate other Fortress cities, will be challenging task which this work has to achieve.
In order to achieve my proposed results the dissertation is divided in three chapters of which the content will range from a broad to a narrow view. In the first chapter attention will be paid to the role of Königsberg within Germany’s defensive strategy. As one of the many Fortress city, its coming into being will show similarities with other ones and will give an insight in the mindset of the German High Command. Having determined its role within the strategy, we have to look at how the different pursued tactics that shaped and altered the outcome of the battle for Königsberg, which happens in the second chapter. Which tactics proved decisive will become evident during the research. In the third chapter the mindset of the defenders and attackers needs to be addressed, as the men in the field eventually decide the outcome of any battle. Lastly, the conclusion will try to link the findings of Königsberg to other fortress cities in Eastern Germany.
Obviously, there were also factors and circumstances that imperilled the prolonging of the battle for Königsberg. As these actions are equally important in order to understand the situation of those days, they will also be discussed within the relevant chapter.
The core of my dissertation will therefore consist of three types of recourses. Firstly, the German accounts, mainly written in the 1950’s by the commanders and civilians of Königsberg. Being written at an early point and in German, their views proved dominant within the historiography and therefore serve as a good starting point. They give a comprehensive exposition on the decision-making of the German High Command in the city and provide an inside view of the city’s strengths and weaknesses.
Secondly the Soviet accounts, mainly written in and around the 1970’s, will be addressed. Besides showing the decisions made on the other side of the Front-line, these accounts serve the purpose of nuancing or altering the German view. This is necessary, as the German commanders have allowed themselves to reach conclusions on behalf of the Soviets, which more often than not, proved incorrect.
Both parts will be supplemented with German archival records, retrieved during my research in Duisburg (Archiv Stadt Königsberg), Bayreuth, (Bundesarchiv, Lastenausgleichsarchiv) and Freiburg (Bundesarchiv, Milit ä rarchiv). A recent volume on the German preparation of the Soviet onslaught, Alastair Noble’s Nazi Rule and the Soviet Offensive in Eastern Germany, 1944-1945 (2010) has served as an excellent ‘prequel’, as it ends where this dissertation starts, and it brought me on the path of some of these sources. Lastly, a small but important place within the chapters will be reserved for the previous findings of historians whose conclusions shaped the current historiography.
In summary, connecting the strategic, tactical and personal considerations that affected Festung Königsberg, it should be possible to construct a concise, yet coherent view of the subsequent events in the period between late January and early April 1945. These three pillars combined will provide the body of my research. Eventually, this work will not only serve as an explanation as to why Königsberg held out for over two months; as many of this thesis’ sources have been previously unused or have been used without proper annotation, this work will serve as a properly annotated guide to a further study of the subject.
Therefore this paper will allow the reader to gain an alternative perspective of the situation of those days and will place Festung Königsberg within the broader framework of the last stage of the war on the Eastern Front. The Russo-German Weltanschauungskrieg is one of the most savage ever fought and in many ways, Königsberg proved to be somewhat of its ‘grand finale’. The developments the belligerents went through during the war are reflected in the battles that were fought for the city, and as such Königsberg will prove a perfect test case.
Königsberg as ‘Festung’
What effect did the strategy of designating Fortress cities have on Königsberg?
For over two months, from late January until early April 1945, Königsberg and its surroundings were subjected to a siege. When the final attack commenced, the city was 400 kilometres behind the main front line. This was due to Hitler’s defensive strategy of designating cities as ‘ Festungen ’ (fortresses),7 in which Königsberg played an important part as it was one of those. Hitler’s Festung -strategy shaped and influenced the battle of Königsberg, as this strategy set out the rules to which the German and Soviet commanders had to adjust.
Despite the fact that Königsberg held out very long, the validity of Hitler’s defensive strategy is still questioned and criticized, the agitators mainly being his former Generals. On trial at Nürnberg Alfred Jodl, Hitler’s wartime Chef des Wehrmachtf ü hrungs-stabes tried to shift the blame of his war crimes by saying ‘ Not a general, but only a statesman can be a strategist. ’8 This shift of responsibility is also found in the oft-quoted post-war accounts of these Generals9, who claimed that lost battles and the high number of civilian casualties could have been averted, if not for the strategy of the ‘dilettante corporal’.
Even today our view of the strategy on the Eastern Front is mainly shaped by these memoirs. Soviet Army Commander K.N. Galitzky calls this view a “shameless falsification (…) in order to justify their [the German military’s] failure.”10 With the memoirs of Soviet Generals now at our disposal, it is possible to analyze the role of Königsberg in the overall strategies more thoroughly, without the need to rely solely on German interpretations.
Naming this strategy as Hitler’s is not mere rhetoric; Hitler assumed his role as ‘OBdH’ (Oberbefehlshaber des Heeres or Supreme Commander of the Army) in late 1941 and was therefore ultimately responsible for the defensive ‘Festung’-strategy which came into being on March 8th 1944.11 The early Festung-strategy in Russia was unsuccessful, but the Festungen in Germany itself proved more resilient. The idea of ‘ Feste Pl ä tze ’ was to replace that of a prepared defensive line a safe distance behind the front. When the latter idea was suggested by high ranking commanders (such as General von Manstein) Hitler could become furious, accusing them of defeatism.12 Thus, when in the 1950’s the Generals stated that they had to bend to Hitler’s will, this was by no means unfounded. Already during the war, friend and foe criticised the strategy, as it required an army with great mobility and large reserves; two qualities which the German army did not possess anymore in the last part of the war. This made the German defensive operations - in the words of the U.S. military handbook - increasingly passive,13 and therefore the Generals often put this strategy aside, by ‘reinterpreting’ terms such as ‘operational freedom’ and ‘own initiative’. Problems arose when this started to occur on such a scale that the initial strategy became increasingly incoherent. This eventually led to the directive of 19 January 1945, when Hitler ordered all commanders down to division-level to get his consent for every move they made.14 This was an unprecedented decision, which made the lack of trust which Hitler had in his own military painfully clear. Yet, the Commanders owed much of this mistrust to themselves: in many battles - and the battle of Königsberg was no exception - they tried unauthorized to ‘outsmart’ Hitler, which was bound to affect his view of his generals and often brought him to the point of rage.15
There is a fine line between using one’s own initiative and being insubordinate. As we will see, this line was crossed regularly in the last stage of the war. In their post-war accounts many German generals tried to clear their consciences by creating something of an apologetic triangle, composed of ‘Hitler’s military ignorance - commanders’ restrictions - superior enemy numbers’, to explain their motivations.
Perhaps the best-known act of defiance against Hitler’s strategy occurred in the second week of the East Prussian offensive: the attempted break-out to the West by the Fourth Army, under the command of General Hossbach.16 By 20 January 1945 two Armies on his flanks were pushed back to the west by the Soviet assault, leaving his Army’s flanks exposed. As Hitler did not give him permission to fall back to the west as well, Hossbach decided to do so on his own initiative, only notifying his direct superior Reinhardt - not the High Command - ‘in order to save the population’.17 This decision meant that the area around Königsberg and the Samland peninsula had to be sacrificed.18 Earlier Königsberg had been designated a fortress and so had Festung Lötzen which was also situated in that area that was to be given up: two key elements in the defence of the province. When Hitler found out about the attempt, Hossbach and Reinhardt, together with parts of their Staff, were fired on the spot: his Fortress-strategy was to be followed.19 In their place came two Generals that were willing to follow his orders: General Rendulic and General Muller.20 Especially the latter was an odd choice as he had never held a Higher Command function before.
This example makes clear to what extent the unwillingness to follow Hitler’s orders was embedded in the top-ranks of the Army. This action was by no means a tactical solution to a strategic problem; it was a completely different (and truly unauthorized) strategy. In a report to the General Staff named Der Wert von Festungen im gegenw ü rtigen Stadium des Krieges21 (the value of Fortresses in the current stadium of the war) published on 6 April 1945 the Fortress-strategy up to that point was assessed. The cause of the fall of previous fortresses was presented as a recurrent tactical error, rather than a strategic one, mainly caused by the Wehrmacht, which forbade divisions to stay put in these fortresses, instead pursuing their own plans. Hossbach’s ‘betrayal’ fitted like a glove into this assessment, which was made about two months after his attempted break-out of late January.
In late January 1945 ‘ Festung Königsberg ’ also took its shape: the troops that just days earlier had prepared to go to the west now had to march on Königsberg and take up positions there. The city been designated a Fortress earlier22, but only after Rendulic’ assumption of command was this given substance to. On January 28 Rendulic took the effort to personally inform General Otto Lasch of the decision that Hitler had made: Lasch was appointed as the city’s new Festungskommandant and was given full powers to built up a defence,23 although Lasch had serious doubt whether the city would hold for another two days, and continued to doubt its strength throughout the siege.24 But the city did hold. In the weeks to follow civilians and soldiers alike worked hard and the defence of the city was steadily improved. Once the city had become a real Fortress, it remained high on Hitler’s priority list, and Hitler assured the steady supply of goods to it.25
Jürgen Thorwald, Es begann an der Weichsel - Das Ende an der Elbe (München, Knaur Zeitgeschichte, 1979) 121. General Müller told his subordinates: “ I ’ m a good non-commissioned officer and I can follow orders. But I don ’ t understand strategy and tactics. Just tell me, what to do …”
Hitler’s decision to stay put at all costs was crucial and logical within the strategy. It enabled about two million civilians to flee to the West in the two months to follow,26 ‘during “Operation ‘Hannibal”, which dwarfed the evacuation of Dunkirk, although it is unlikely that Hitler was thinking about civilians when he made the decision. The Soviet advance to the Samland and on Königsberg came to a complete halt and casualty-rates in and around the city dropped, except for the 120 civilians and soldiers that committed suicide due to the encirclement.27
When the Soviet Armies reached Königsberg they faced - in the words of 11th Guard Army’s Commander Kuzma Galitsky - a first-class fortress fortified with dozens of heavy batteries.28 Indeed, in the south, along the river Frisching, his Army encountered a stubborn defence, prepared in the months before,29 and the batteries he described consisted of the Festungs-Pak brought in only a month earlier: a direct result of Hitler’s strategy.30 But naming the Fortress ‘first class’ seems somewhat far-fetched, because at the time there were only few troops in the city, many being disorganized and not particularly aware of the city’s ‘privileged’ designation, which was shown by the many warehouses that went up in flames in those days.31 Despite the chaotic situation in those days the security garrisons that were in the city succeeded in their most basic task: the prevention of a coup de main.32 This was no good fortune or coincidence: their presence was decreed in the directive of March 8 as well.33
Howard Grier, Hitler, Dönitz and the Baltic sea: the Third Reich's last hope, 1944-1945, (Annapolis, Naval Institute Press, 2007), 121. Admiral Dönitz even tried to surpass Hitler in his efforts to supply Königsberg With most of the army units in disarray or still on their way, these units, despite being small in number, proved yet again that the Festung-strategy made a difference in these days, although they would not have been able to withstand the Soviet advance on the city on their own. Then again, as the next chapter will show, this was not considered their task, but the task of the units that were being brought in.34
The Soviets, having prepared to be confronted with a number of fortified cities and areas, had already devised a strategy in late 1944 in which a stubborn defence of some of the Festungen was taken into account. Marshall Vasilevsky stated in his post-war recollections that the strategy for the East Prussian campaign was ‘ to cut off Heeresgruppe Mitte [which was] defending East Prussia, from the rest of the fascist forces, press them to the sea in order to dismember and destroy them. ’35 This plan left room for initially merely containing some of the Festungen, of which the garrisons could be destroyed at a later stage, which is what eventually happened. Königsberg was by no means the only city that suffered this faith.
Earlier it had happened to Memel and Kurland in the north, it happened simultaneously in the Samland- and the Heiligenbeil-pockets; and in a later stage of the war it happened to a number of cities, further to the west.36
In East Prussia, this approach was used regularly by the Soviet High Command: as the destruction of the forces there was considered a secondary objective (the primary objective being the advance on Berlin) only smaller numbers of reinforcements were sent there to complete the task. Furthermore, the quality of these new troops - according to a German intelligence report of the early days of the siege - was doubtful.37
1 Kuzma Galitsky, V bojah za Vostochnuju Prussiju: Zapiski komanduju ŝ ego 11-j gvardejskoj armiej, (Moscow, Naika, 1970), 283
2 Bundesarchiv Ost-Dokumentation [hereafter BArch Ost-Dok.] 8/591: Gunter Heysing, Oberleutnant, Kriegsberichter, p55
3 BArch Ost-Dok. 10/890: Page 2 of newspaper ‘ Die Festung Königsberg ’, 30 January 1945
4 Ian Kershaw, The End, Hitler ’ s Germany, 1944-45 (London, Allen Lane 2011), 104
5 Furthermore, of the 12 chapters of her book, only 3 focus on the actual battle, the other 9 are entirely unrelated to the title of the book. The poor quality of this book, on the other hand, made me decide to at least try to make a better attempt and take up a Masters course. For this, I thank her.
Percy Schramm , Kriegstagebuch des OKW, Band IV: 1. Januar 1944- 22. Mai 1945 (Frankfurt am Main, Bernard & Graefe ,1961) , 53
7 Hugh Trevor-Roper, Hitler ’ s War Directives 1939-1945 (London, Sidgwick and Jackson, 1964), pp159- 163, 167-173, 202-213
8 Percy Schramm , Kriegstagebuch des OKW, Band IV: 1. Januar 1944- 22. Mai 1945 (Frankfurt am Main, Bernard & Graefe ,1961), 1716 Jodl was ‘Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Command’
9 See for example: Guderian’s Erinnerungen eines Soldaten (1950) and Manstein’s Verlorene Siege (1955) Focussing on East Prussia and Königsberg are Hossbach’s Die Schlacht um Ostpreu ß en (1951) and Lasch’s So fiel Königsberg (1958; relatively late, due to being a POW until 1955)
10 Galitsky, V bojah za Vostochnuju Prussiju , 354 8
11 Trevor-Roper, Hitler ’ s War Directives 1939-1945, 159
12 Albert Moll, Der Deutsche Festungsbau von der Memel zum Atlantik 1900-1945 (Utting, Dörfler, 2002), 105 13 U.S. War Department "Handbook On German Military Forces" (Mar'45) SECTION V. DEFENSIVE, accessed July 19, 2012, http://etloh.8m.com/strategy/defense.html
14 Bundesarchiv Oberkommando des Heeres/ Generalstab des Heeres [Hereafter BArch RH2] 331a, p 149
15 Kurt Dieckert and Horst Grossman, Der Kampf um Ostpreussen. Der umfassende Dokumentarbericht. (Stuttgard: Motorbuch Verlag, 1998), 114 Werner Haupt, Als die Rote Armee nach Deutschland kam (Friedberg, Podzun-Pallas-Verlag, 1981), 18
16 Friedrich Hossbach, Die Schlacht um Ostpreu ß en: Aus den K ä mpfen der deutschen 4. Armee um Ostpreussen in der Zeit vom 19.7.1944 - 30.1.1945 (Überlingen, Otto Dikreiter Verlag, 1951), 57-70
17 Friedrich Hossbach, Die Schlacht um Ostpreu ß en, 57-58 Commander of Heeresgruppe Mitte, General Reinhardt, had already proposed similar suggestions to the High Command.
18 Dieckert and Grossman, Der Kampf um Ostpreussen, 112
19 Haupt, Als die Rote Armee nach Deutschland kam, 19: One of the first telegraphs Rendulic send out leaves little doubt: “The attack tot he West has to stop immediately! Panzer - and Panzergrenadier- divisions will move towards the Third Panzer Army in Königsberg. The Fourth Army will defend itself, where it is!”
20 Heinz Guderian, Panzer leader, ( 1950 Reprint Michael Joseph Ltd, 1970), 401 10 Jürgen Thorwald, Es begann an der Weichsel – Das Ende an der Elbe (München, Knaur Zeitgeschichte, 1979) 121. General Müller told his subordinates: “I’m a good non-commissioned officer and I can follow orders. But I don’t understand strategy and tactics. Just tell me, what to do…”
21 BArch RH 2-335, p203-206
22 BArch RH 2-316, p108 The exact date is unknown, but on 12 November a memorandum is send out that talks of Festung Königsberg, the first time that the city is referred to as such.
23 BArch RH2-332, p14
24 Otto Lasch, So fiel Königsberg (Stuttgard, Motorbuch Verlag, 1977) , 57, 79, 84-85
25 BArch RH 2-333, p34 BArch RH 2-335, p 163: „Der Führer befiehlt: Bevorratung der Festung Königsberg mit Munition so viel wie nur irgend möglich!“
26 Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, Nemesis at Potsdam, the Anglo-Americans and the expulsion of the Germans : background, execution, consequences (London Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979), 72-75
27 BArch Ost-Dok. 10/888: Einsatz der 1. Ostpreußischen Infanteriedivision, p 32
28 Galitsky, V bojah za Vostochnuju Prussiju, 293
29 BArch Ost-Dok. 10/890: Major der Reserve Kurt Dieckert: Die Einschließung und Belagerung von Königsberg, p 25. In this post-war assessment, one oft he biggest critics of the Festungs-strategy Major Dieckert admits that “ despite the unconvincing and outdated fortification works, the city did could be considered as a Festung ”
30 BArch RH 2-316, p 108 The paper is signed by no less than Chef d. Gen. Stab. Generaloberst Guderian. Pak means Panzer-Abwehr- Kanone
31 BArch Ost-Dok 8/510, p 26
32 BArch RH2-335, p203-6 Memo: „Der Wert von Festigungen im gegenwürtigen Stadium des Krieges“
33 Trevor-Roper, Hitler ’ s war directives 1939-1945, 161
34 Trevor-Roper, Hitler’s war directives 1939-1945, 161
35 Alexander Vasilevsky, Delo vsej ž izni (Moscow, Politizdat, 1978), 448. As Marshall Vasilevski wrote his accounts within the rubric of ‘ partiinost ’ (party-spirit), little else than the official line could be suspected. The next chapter will go into depth about the implementation and will confirm that this is indeed consistent with other (German) accounts.
36 Among these cities were Posen, Thorn, Glogau, Danzig, Gotenhafen and Breslau, which all held out for a long time
37 BArch Ost-Dok. 10/888, p 33
- Quote paper
- Bastiaan Willems (Author), 2012, Festung Königsberg between January and April 1945 - "Uns geht die Sonne nicht unter", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/210972