The Vistula-Oder offensive was a Red Army offensive on the Eastern Front of World War 2. During this offensive the Soviets captured the Polish capital, Warsaw from German hands. The Red Army advanced 480 km from the river Vistula to the river Oder, deep into German territory. The Russians stopped the offensive after two weeks, in order to regroup, only 70 km from Berlin.
The major emphasis of Soviet military planning for their offensive was on the Central front. They were looking toward a crushing of the German armies from East Prussia to the Carpathians with a rapid follow-up drive to Berlin which was inside the occupation zone allocated to the Soviet Union. The Soviet plan contemplated accomplishing this victory drive to the Elbe river in a first phase of fifteen days. The major thrust would be out of the bridgeheads over the Vistula south of Warsaw. There was a secondary push out of the bridgeheads over the Narev river north of Warsaw.
A few days into the great Soviet offensive in the east, Guderian challenged Hitler aggressively over his refusal to evacuate the German army in Courland, which had been completely cut off in the Baltic. This decision, as well as previous disastrous ones made by Hitler, caused Guderian to lose his temper. This breach of discipline at the highest level of the Wehrmacht was a clear sign of the deteriorating situation on the German side.
The German reserves had largely been sent to Hungary. On the main front practically everything the Germans had was within Red Army artillery range. The great assaults, launched out of the Vistula and Narew bridgeheads, quite literally crushed the German forces before them. Portions of the German front were surrounded as Red Army armored formations cut in behind them. Elsewhere the disorganized remnants of German divisions—preceded by rear area services and administrations — flooded back toward the Reich. As the weather cleared, the Red Air Force held effective control of the skies.
The Germans moved some reinforcements from the Western Front eastwards. They scraped together others, but the main effort to shore up the collapsing front was of a different sort. Hitler sent two of his experts at holding fast by having lots of Germans shot, Ferdinand Schörner and Lothar Rendulic, to take over critical sectors. Himmler was to head up a new, largely fictional, Army Group named "Vistula." None of this substantially slowed down the Red Army. Practically all of pre-war Poland had been taken from Germany and was now under Soviet control. A large portion of the Silesian industrial and mining area had fallen to Ivan Konev's First Ukrainian Front.
By now the Soviet armies were fighting on German territory. Three and a half years of German occupation, of deprivation and destruction, of aggression and annihilation, had provoked murderous rage among Soviet troops. Egged on by Stalin’s propagandist Ilya Ehrenburg, Soviet troops unleashed a reign of terror over German territory, marked by mass rapes, the brutal murders of tens of thousands of civilians, looting, and wanton destruction.
Here and there surrounded islands of resistance held out—the city of Breslau until May—but it was obvious that these were all certain to fall. While Soviet troops encircled Breslau, the defenders were positioned and equipped for a prolonged siege.
Zhukov's bulge to the Oder river east of Berlin was not wide enough to provide a basis for the second phase of the planned Soviet offensive. Most of February, as the winter weather allowed, was a time when the Red Army pushed forward in East Prussia, Pomerania, and northern Silesia on the flanks of the line reached at the end of January. A small German counter-offensive at Stargard appears to have shaken the self-confidence of the Soviet high command. As a result, the decision was made that the second phase of the great offensive into central Germany would require a full preparation.
Hitler’s dispositions continued to make Germany’s strategic situation worse. Guderian recalled after the war that the Führer had refused his advice to bring the bulk of the Wehrmacht stationed in Poland back from the front line to more defensible positions further back at the defensive line, out of range of Russian artillery. Disastrously, Hitler’s orders meant that the new defensive lines were badly hit by the Soviet guns, wrecking hopes for a classic German counter-attack to develop. In Pomerania, German forces were defeated in March.
The situation in Hungary was altering slowly but steadily in favor of the Russians. Budapest had been cut off after Hitler refused permission for the German Army to withdraw in time. The huge city was now besieged, but the Red Army halted in the face of German and Hungarian resistance and the exhaustion of its own offensive power. A series of German attacks drove toward the Hungarian capital, but failed to break through and reach the isolated garrison. In the end the defenders of Budapest were crushed by the Red Army.
In the spring the Germans launched another offensive aimed at lake Balaton. The goal of the offensive was to secure the Hungarian oil fields, vital to the German war effort. When this offensive failed the Russians were in a position to drive the Germans out of Hungary and strike at Vienna, the Austrian capital.
Hitler had found a new scapegoat to blame for the coming victory of the Russians: it was all the fault of the German Volk itself. By that stage he positively invited the retribution that the Aryan race was about to undergo at the hands of the Russians, believing that it had been the people’s weakness as human beings that had led to the disaster, rather than his own strategic errors. Mere survival by then was, for Hitler, Darwinian a priori proof of Untermensch status. The utter destruction of Germany was preferable to her domination by Stalin. Fortunately this order was not carried out by Albert Speer at all, and by Nazi officials only sparingly.
The Sixth Panzer Army halted the Russian advance down the Hungarian valleys into Austria for as long as its fuel could last out. Finally Vienna fell to Malinovsky’s 2nd Ukrainian Front. Hitler’s headquarters had by then adopted a policy of lying to army group commanders, as General Dr Lothar Rendulic, the last commander of Army Group South, discovered when he received orders to hold Vienna at all costs.
It was extraordinary, considering that the war’s outcome had not been in doubt since the destruction of Army Group Centre in the summer of 1944, that the Wehrmacht continued to operate as an efficient, disciplined fighting force well into the spring of 1945. For example General Schörner’s forces were still fighting on the Oder in April. Up north, in the Baltic area, the Germans fought in Courland until May.
During May three Soviet fronts (which included Polish, Romanian, and Czechoslovakian units), 2,000,000 men in strength, reached the outskirts of Prague in the puppet state of Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Inside the city, 900,000 German troops under Field Marshal Ferdinand Schörner defended against not only the oncoming Soviet attack from the outside but also a general uprising that had already begun. After Germany surrendered a colonel attached to the High Command was escorted by American troops to deliver word of the surrender to Schörner at Prague.