The Siege of Küstrin, 1945: Gateway to Berlin
by Tony Le Tissier, Pen and Sword Books, Barnsley, England, 2009, $28.88
On Jan. 12, 1945, the 1st Ukrainian Front under Marshal Ivan Konev, followed on the 13th by Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky’s 2nd Belarusian Front and on 14th by Marshal Georgy Zhukov’s 1st Belarusian Front, embarked on the great offensive that would advance the Red Army to the banks of the Oder River. Soviet progress, however, was to run afoul of two stumbling blocks along the way: the city of Posen and the historic city of Küstrin.
Küstrin occupied a central position in front of the German capital of Berlin. Five large and three smaller railway and road bridges spanned the Oder there, and the Warta and Vorflut canals ran around and through the city. On January 25, Küstrin was declared a fortress, under the command of 50-yearold Maj. Gen. Adolf Raegener, holder of the Knight’s Cross and a soldier since World War I.
In The Siege of Küstrin, Tony Le Tissier, historical researcher and much-published expert on the Battle of Berlin, describes the efforts of Raegener and his garrison of some 9,000 Volkssturm, Waffen SS and Wehrmacht soldiers to hold off superior Soviet forces. The fortress city held out for 60 days until down to the last of their ammunition, when the remnants, under Raegener and Kreisleiter Hermann Körner, managed to break out of the Soviet circle and reach the German bank of the Oder. There the survivors faced fresh problems, since their breakout disobeyed Adolf Hitler’s standing order for Küstrin to fight to the death.
The Siege of Küstrin is filled with narratives of the soldiers who fought during the battle. The fall of Küstrin allowed the Soviets to bring up captured German siege artillery from the Crimea and fire half-ton shells from the marshalling yards of Schlesischer Station into the heart of Berlin. Küstrin’s stubborn defense disrupted Zhukov’s schedule for the capture of Germany’s capital.
Originally published in the March 2010 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here.