By Karl Bahm
Berlin 1945: the ultimate Reckoning
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Additional info for Berlin 1945. The Final Reckoning
The Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW: High Command of the Armed Forces) had expected the main thrust to be directed south to the Hungarian oilfields, or north to the Panzer units in Kurland. On the north, the remnants GOTTERDAMMERUNG of Army Group Centre - under the command of Colonel General Reinhardt and reinforced to a relatively healthy strength of 580,000 troops, with seven Panzer divisions - clung to the Baltic coast, including Kurland and the strategically and symbolically important city of Danzig (Gdansk).
During autumn 1944, the conscription age was amended to include boys between 15 and 18, and men between 50 and 60. This produced half a million more men for the Wehrmacht, most of whom IN BERLIN were placed in the 25 new Volksgrenadier and Volkspanzer divisions to supplement the regular army units in the West. The hopeless inexperience of these civil reserve units thrown into the bitter combat is illustrated by Speer's account of his visit to a Panzer unit stationed near Bitburg in September 1944.
With its broad avenues, imposing neo-classical architecture, and bawdy nightlife, it was the showcase for the eager, bustling modernism of the young German Reich. But now, after 314 air raids on the city by 21 March 1945 - 85 in the previous 11 weeks alone - much of the city was in rubble. Almost one half of all the housing in the city was in some way damaged, a third of it uninhabitable. The mutilated shell of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial 47 BERLIN Church now loomed grotesquely over the Klirfstendamm; the beautiful, world-famous Tiergarten (zoological gardens) was now an ugly eye-sore of burned trees, craters and demolished animal houses; the famous Brandenburg Gate, charred and pockmarked, straddled the Unter den Linden StrafSe which was lined with half-destroyed government buildings.