On April 25, 1945 “[t]he 1st Belarussian Front [Zhukov] … linked up with the 1st Ukrainian Front [Koniev] troops northwest of Potsdam, having completed the encirclement of Berlin.” The lid on the kessel was slammed closed. The same day, the desperate and hopeless relief attack by III Panzerkorps under Steiner, which Hitler was dreaming would save him, ground to a halt 50 miles from Berlin. The days of successful German offensives were long over.
The final offensive had begun on 16 April. “Zhukov’s 1st Byelorussian Front attacked at 05.00 on the 16th April and Koniev’s 1st Ukrainian Front at 06.15.” Stalin had set the two commanders in a race to Berlin. The Soviets had ten thousand cannon, one for every four meters of front, 6,300 tanks and 8,500 aircraft committed to the attack. Still, because the Soviets had failed to correctly identify the dug-in and camouflaged defensive line along the Seelowe heights, the Germans were able, for a time, to halt the juggernaut. The end was not in doubt, because the Soviets were willing to pay the blood-price to take Berlin street by street, house by house, room by room. The Soviets lost 300,000 men in the battle, roughly what the United States lost in the entire war. Upon winning, the Red Army troops subjected the conquered population to a reign of rape and brutality reminiscent of the Mongols — and similar to what the Germans had inflicted on the Soviet peoples when the boot was on the other foot.
Meanwhile, on the same day, April 25, 1945 American troops from Ninth Army and the Soviet 1st Ukrainian Front famously joined hands at Torgau on the Elbe, 100 miles Southwest of Berlin. Germany was being carved into pieces.
And on April 25 German U-boats sink 5 Allied supply ships in the English Channel.
The Germans did not give up when they were clearly beaten. They kept killing people long after there was any hope of victory. They did not do a rational cost-benefit analysis. They were good at fighting, it was what they knew how to do, and they believed their own racist lies about their supposed superiority. The only way they could be stopped was by battering them to the ground, so that anyone who was conscious would see it was over, so that they were so crushed that they were rendered physically incapable of killing anymore. That is what it took to achieve victory. No half-measures would have worked with these people. That is how it is sometimes.
As to the Soviets, we can and should recognize and respect the extraordinary achievement of the soldiers of the Red Army, without unduly glorifying them, without making excuses for their crimes, and with no illusions about the evil of the regime they served and saved. There is too little recognition of what they accomplished, in the face of a murderous, even psychotic enemy, ruled by a regime almost as bad. We in the West should be grateful that they did so much of the hard work to defeat the Third Reich, a fact the Cold War and a history seen through Western and German eyes did too much to obscure. Recent scholarship, especially that of David M. Glantz (e.g. here and books available on Amazon) and the appearance of memoirs (e.g. here, and this and this) are doing much to change this, to create a more balanced view, and to fill in the details of a vast and too little understood part of the Second World War.