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R. A Forczyk
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The fall of Berlin 1945 has not received the type of in-depth, detailed and accurate historical writing that other Second World War campaigns have attracted. Even the better efforts, like books by Cornelius Ryan or Antony Beevor, are essentially journalistic accounts with limited military detail. To date, a good, focused military history of the Berlin campaign has not been written. Unfortunately, Osprey's Campaign #159 by Peter Antill is not that book either. Indeed, it is hard to assess Berlin 1945 as anything but a weak effort, entirely based upon easily-available secondary sources, with no attempt at analysis or original research. The author's narrative does not offer any new insights or information on the campaign, although it does provide a useful day-by-day summary framework.
The author's campaign chronology reveals an inability to retain focus on this subject, with many events included that occurred either decades before or decades after the actual campaign, such as "JFK's speech in Berlin in 1963" or the "renovation of the Bundestag in 1999." The chronology section, intended to highlight key dates andevents in the campaign, was wasted as a general history of 20th Century Germany. The sections on opposing commanders is adequate, although the capsule biographies provide little insight into the strengths and weaknesses of various leaders. The section on opposing plans seems to miss the fact that many of the best German forces still available were diverted to Hungary and that Hitler had not expected such a quick attack on Berlin. The section on opposing armies is little more than boilerplate material, with little discussion of how many men, guns, tanks, etc were available to defend Berlin. The changing nature of the Wehrmacht (ie less, but better-armed infantry and a greater reliance on small, but powerful armored units) is not discussed. Nor is there any real discussion of the hodgepodge of units that appeared around Berlin in the final weeks, such as the RAD Divisions - which the author mentions, but does not explain the acronym (Labor Service Divisions). Just what exactly was the "SS Anhalt Regiment" in Berlin? The German order of battle presented in this volume has some significant omissions, such as the 33rd SS Charlemagne `Division' and the 503rd SS Heavy Tank Battalion, both of which played major roles in Berlin. Furthermore, the author's tendency to constantly refer to this or that German unit as a `division' without any attempt at qualification offers a very inaccurate view of the battle, since many units like SS Nordland or the Muncheburg Panzer had never reached division size even before the battle and were little more than battlegroups. Even many of the Soviet units were so burnt out from casualties (over 300,000 in a few weeks) that many `rifle divisions' were more like `regiments.'
This volume includes four 2-D maps (Soviet offensive operations, January-February 1945; the encirclement of Berlin; squeezing the Berlin pocket; breakout of the 9th Army) and three 3-D BEVs (attack on the Seelow heights; into the center of Berlin; assault on the Reichstag). The three battle scenes are: the Seelow Heights; urban warfare in Berlin and the attack on the Reichstag. It is interesting that there are no civilians or Volksturm prominently depicted in any of the battle scenes, despite there noticeable presence on the Berlin battlefield. The veracity of the scene on the Seelow Heights is quite questionable, since it depicts the 9th Fallschirmjager as properly-equipped paratroopers, with perfect kit,' rather than the rag-bag, late-war formation that it actually was comprised. Noticeably, there is no photographic evidence to support this depiction of the German defenders. Furthermore, does anyone believe that lightly armed paratroopers could stop a Soviet Tank Army, even on marshy terrain, or survive one of the heaviest artillery barrages of the war? The really tough nut on the Seelow Heights was in fact several assault gun units, which racked up huge kill tallies and were relatively impervious to Soviet artillery. Looking at the battle scenes in this volume, a reader might conclude that the defenders of the Nazi capital were all well-uniformed Waffen SS and paratroopers, rather than the under-age Hitler Youth and over-age Volksturm (as well as many foreign nationals). While model builders might enjoy these battle depictions, they do not accurately convey the actual conditions in this battle.
The actual campaign narrative employs a day-by-day structure, which is a good approach for a short campaign like this, but descriptions like "the 5th Shock Army attacked the SS Nordland Division" really don't describe much. Furthermore, the intensity of the fighting in Berlin is muted in this account, due to the lack of first-person accounts or descriptions of small unit actions, except around the Reichstag. The author's account also tends to lean toward the Soviet-version of the battle, with scant mention of German counterattacks at Kustrin or inside Berlin. For example, the 503rd SS Heavy Tank Battalion's King Tigers launched a very powerful counterattack near the Reichstag in the last few days of the battle, destroying over thirty T-34 tanks outside the Reichstag, but there is no mention of such disruptions to the Soviet timetable. Indeed, the loss of over 2,000 Soviet tanks in this short campaign - far more than at Kursk - indicates that the Wehrmacht inflicted some painful rebuffs even in its death throes.
The aftermath section is a bit overblown for a volume this size, with too many events that occurred well after the campaign (while leaving out relevant items, like the major effort it required to demolish the three flak towers). The Battlefield today section also has little relevance to the campaign. The bibliography is particularly weak, including films, pulp history magazines, general histories and four other Osprey titles. It does not appear that any primary source material from either Germany or Russia were consulted and even the best secondary sources are absent.