A-Day, Monday, April 16, 1945
The battle for Berlin, the last offensive against Hitler’s Third Reich, began at precisely 4 A.M., Monday, April 16, 1945—or A-Day as it was called by the Western Allies. At that moment, less than thirty-eight miles east of the capital, red flares burst in the night skies above the swollen river Oder, triggering a stupefying artillery barrage and the opening of the Russian assault on the city.
At about that same time, elements of the U.S. Ninth Army were turning away from Berlin—heading back to the west to take up new positions along the river Elbe between Tangermünde and Barby. On April 14 General Eisenhower had decided to halt the Anglo-American drive across Germany. “Berlin,” he said, “is no longer a military objective.” When U.S. troops got the word, Berlin, for some of them, was only forty-five miles away.
As the attack began, Berliners waited in the bombed rubble of their city, numb and terrified, clinging to the only politics that now counted—the politics of survival. To eat had become more important than to love, to burrow more dignified than to fight, to endure more militarily correct than to win.
What follows is the story of the last battle—the assault and capture of Berlin. Although this book includes accounts of the fighting, it is not a military report. Rather, it is the story of ordinary people, both soldiers and civilians, who were caught up in the despair, frustration, terror and rape of the defeat and the victory.