Thursday, 25 July 2013

Hitler's Final Fortress: Breslau 1945 - Richard Hargreaves

The information presented was written by Chris Buckham; however, it was published in The Canadian Army Journal. Therefore, the material is reproduced here by the author with the permission of the journal. If you would like to republish this information or refer to excerpts please contact the Editor Canadian Army Journal ( Website for the Journal is:

Title: Hitler’s Final Fortress: Breslau 1945
Author: Richard Hargreaves
ISBN: 978-1-84884-515-2
Pages: 268
Illustrations: 44 B/W, 11 maps
Publisher: Pen and Sword Publishing

                Breslau has had a long and storied history that has, like many European cities, seen ebbs and flows in fortune. Following the First World War and the collapse of the German Empire, Breslau was plunged into an economic decline that saw vast numbers of people destitute and without hope. The rise of the Nazi’s in the late 20’s/early 30’s witnessed a corresponding resurgence in Breslau’s fortunes as Germany’s economy recovered. With recovery; however, came the control and infiltration of the Nazi regime into all aspects of Breslau’s life. The onslaught of war did not see a diminishment of Breslau’s fortune’s as its location precluded it being bombed or damaged (gaining the region the unofficial moniker “Luftschutzkeller Deutschlands” – Germany’s air raid shelter).

                All of this ended with a sudden brutality in January, 1945 as the massive Soviet armies under Marshall Konev drove west using all of the lessons of Blitzkrieg so painfully learned over the previous three and a half years. By 13 February, Breslau was declared a festung (fortress) by Hitler, had been bypassed by fast-moving Soviet forces and was now under siege. For three months, despite constant bombardment and gradual but inevitable constriction, Breslau held out, true to the orders of Hitler. The end was preordained however, and on May 6th Breslau surrendered. The Russians, furious at the long siege, inflicted a horrific, drunken revenge upon the population. This, sadly, was not the end of the suffering for the people of Breslau as, in a final act of tragedy; the population was evicted as the city and region were given to Poland as part of the peace treaty. Breslau, a city existing since 1241, paid the ultimate price and disappeared only to be reborn as the Polish city of Wroclaw.

                Hargreaves has blended a synopsis of the history of the region and city with an outstanding rendition of the siege and its aftermath. Drawing upon a plethora of first hand published and unpublished sources, he has skillfully blended a macro and micro view of the battlefield thereby providing the reader accounts of the conflict that add depth, context and a personal element to the narrative.

                 Hargreaves’ writing style is very lucid and engaging. He provides an expansive bibliography as well as extensive footnotes. The book has a number of small scale maps at the beginning of the narrative that enables the reader to follow the advance of the Soviet forces into the city. I would have enjoyed having a larger scale map showing the relative positions of the German and Soviet forces before the commencement of the final drive into the heart of Germany. Additionally, Hargreaves discusses tactics, motivations and weapons that were utilized by the combatants that are excellent in providing the readers with insight into both the capabilities and the morale of the opposing forces. He does draw attention to some little known efforts by the Soviets involving ‘underwater bridges’. These were bridges that were built below the surface of the rivers to hide them from the Germans. I would have liked to have seen footnoting around this point outlining where the ideas for this originated as it was both effective and unconventional.

                Overall, this book is an enjoyable and educational success. Hargreaves’ efforts should be included in any casual or serious historian’s library. It sheds light upon an aspect of the war in the east that few of us in the west are aware of. Even in the dying days of the war, when all was lost, the Germans continued to fight ferociously against the Soviet juggernaut. The price that the people of Breslau paid for this devotion was staggering. Well done and strongly recommended.

No comments:

Post a Comment