The Vistula-Oder Offensive: The Soviet Destruction of German Army Group A (Casemate Illustrated)
“The book is replete with maps, photographs, profiles of commanders and weapons, and illustrations that help explain the brutal combat in a region that another historian has called the ‘bloodlands’ of Europe.”
Casemate Illustrated continues its publication of concise military histories with Ian Baxter’s The Vistula-Oder Offensive, which describes some crucial Second World War battles on Europe’s eastern front during summer 1944 through early 1945 that set the stage for the final Soviet offensive against the German capital of Berlin. The book is replete with maps, photographs, profiles of commanders and weapons, and illustrations that help explain the brutal combat in a region that another historian has called the “bloodlands” of Europe.
Baxter, the author of numerous short military histories, especially dealing with Germany in the 20th century, presents the orders of battle on both sides, the key commanders, the war plans of the Soviet Stavka and the Nazi regime, and the sequence of Soviet military offensives in Ukraine, Poland, and East Prussia that doomed Hitler’s Reich.
The Soviet offensives succeeded, Baxter notes, due to many factors including massive superiority in soldiers and weapons, Soviet deception efforts, Germany’s vulnerability due to fighting on two fronts, effective Soviet generals such as Georgy Zhukov, and Hitler’s stubborn resistance to retreating to stronger defensive positions along the front.
Stalin ordered the Soviet offensives to begin on June 22, 1944, the anniversary of the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. The Soviets, writes Baxter, “hurled more than 2.5 million troops, 4,000 tanks, 25,000 artillery pieces and mortars, and 5,300 aircraft” in an operation code-named Bagration. It eventually led to the near destruction of Germany’s Army Group Center. That was followed by the Stanislav and Lvov Offensive in mid- to late-July 1944, the Sandomierz Offensive in late July and August 1944, and eventually the Vistula-Oder Offensive in early 1945.
The fighting was fierce on both sides, resulting in enormous casualties. Baxter describes the Soviet offensive as virtually irresistible, while noting that in many places along the front German forces were “overstretched, underarmed, and undermanned.” Hitler at one point became so desperate that he appointed SS leader Heinrich Himmler—who had no military experience—to command German troops defending the Vistula River.
In the end, sheer numbers won out. Baxter notes that the Soviets benefited from the largesse of the American Lend-Lease and British assistance, while also ramping up their own production of tanks, planes, and artillery. This was a battle of attrition that Germany could not win. Soviet forces eventually took the Vistula and Oder Rivers, which opened the gateway to Berlin. Meanwhile, American and British forces were piercing the Siegfried Line and invading Hitler’s Reich in the west.