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Among the troops of the Fifty-seventh Tank Corps under General Weidling, the unit now bearing the main burden of the fight, there was an administrative officer, a member of General Mummert’s Tank Division Müncheberg. This officer kept a diary. In it he wrote:
“April 24: Early morning. We are at the Tempelhof airport. Russian artillery is firing without letup. Our sector is Defense Sector D. The commander is over in the Air Ministry Building. We need infantry reinforcements, and we get motley emergency units. Behind the lines, civilians are still trying to get away right under the Russian artillery fire, dragging along some miserable bundle holding all they have left in the world. On and off, some of the wounded try to move to the rear. Most of them stay, though, because they are afraid of being picked up and hanged by flying courts-martial.
“The Russians burn their way into the houses with flame throwers. The screams of the women and children are terrible.
“Three o’clock in the afternoon, and we have barely a dozen tanks and around thirty armored cars. These are all the armored vehicles left around the government sector. The chain of command seems snarled up. We constantly get orders from the Chancellery to send tanks to some other danger spot in town, and they never come back. Only General Mummert’s toughness has kept us so far from being ‘expended.’ We have hardly any vehicles left to carry the wounded.
“Afternoon. Our artillery retreats to new positions. They have very little ammunition. The howling and explosions of the Stalin organs, the screaming of the wounded; the roaring of motors, and the rattle of machine guns. Clouds of smoke, and the stench of chlorine and fire.
Dead women in the street, killed while trying to get water. But also, here and there, women with bazookas, Silesian girls thirsting for revenge. News and rumors that Wenck is approaching Berlin, his artillery can already be heard in some of the southern suburbs. Another army is expected to come to our aid from the north. 8 P.M.: Russian tanks carrying infantry are driving on the airport. Heavy fighting.
“April 25: 5:30 A.M. New, massive tank attacks. We are forced to retreat. Orders from the Chancellery: our division is to move immediately to Alexanderplatz in the north. 9 A.M. Order canceled. 10 A.M.: Russian drive on the airport becomes irresistible. New defense line in the center of town.
Heavy street fighting—many civilian casualties. Dying animals. Women are fleeing from cellar to cellar. We are pushed northwest. New order to go north, as before. But the command situation is obviously in complete disorder, the Führer shelter must have false information, the positions we are supposed to take over are already in the hands of the Russians. We retreat again, under heavy Russian air attacks. Inscriptions on the house walls: ‘The hour before sunrise is the darkest,’ and ‘We retreat but we are winning.’ Deserters, hanged or shot. What we see on this march is unforgettable. Free Corps Mohnke: ‘Bring your own weapons, equipment, rations. Every German man is needed.’ Heavy fighting in the business district, inside the Stock Exchange. The first skirmishes in the subway tunnels, through which the Russians are trying to get back of our lines. The tunnels are packed with civilians.
“April 26: The night sky is fiery red. Heavy shelling. Otherwise a terrible silence. We are sniped at from many houses— probably foreign laborers. News that the commander of the city has been replaced. General Weidling takes over, General Mummert takes the tank forces. About 5:30 A.M. another grinding artillery barrage. The Russian attack. We have to retreat again, fighting for street after street. Three times during the forenoon we inquire: Where is Wenck? Wenck’s spearheads are said to be in Werder, twenty-two miles southwest of Berlin. Passes understanding. A dependable release from the Propaganda Ministry states that all the troops from the Elbe front are marching on Berlin. Around 11 A.M., L. comes from the; Propaganda Ministry, his eyes shining, with an even more dependable release directly from Secretary of State Naumann. Negotiations have been conducted with the Western powers. We will have to bring some sacrifices, but the Western powers will not stand by and let the Russians take Berlin. Our morale goes up enormously. L. reports as absolutely certain that we will not have to fight for more than twenty-four hours—at most forty-eight.
“An issue of Goebbels’ paper Der Angriff reaches us. An article in it confirms L.’s report: ‘The tactics of the Bolshevists show that they are realizing how soon Western reinforcements will be in Berlin. This is the battle that will decide our fate, and the fate of Europe. If we hold out, we shall bring about the decisive turn of the war.’
“But one thing puzzles me. The paper also says: ‘If we resist the onslaught of the Soviets here on the main defense line through the heart of Berlin, the fortunes of war will have been changed regardless of what the U.S.A. and England will do.’
“New command post in the subway tunnels under Anhalt railroad station. The- station looks like an armed camp. Women and children huddling in niches and corners and listening for the sounds of battle. Shells hit the roofs, cement is crumbling from the ceiling. Powder smell and smoke in the tunnels. Suddenly water splashes into our command post. Screams, cries, curses in the tunnel. People are fighting around the ladders that run through air shafts up to the street. Water comes rushing through the tunnels. The crowds get panicky, stumble and fall over rails and ties. Children and wounded are deserted, people are trampled to death. The water covers them. It rises three feet or more, then it slowly goes down. The panic lasts for hours. Many are drowned. Reason: somewhere, on somebody’s command, engineers have blasted the locks of one of the canals to flood the tunnels against the Russians who are trying to get through them. Late afternoon, we change position again. A terrible sight at the entrance of the subway station, one flight below street level: a heavy shell has pierced the roof, and men, women, soldiers, children, are literally squashed against the walls. At night, a short interval in the shooting.
“April 27: Continuous attack throughout the night. Increasing signs of dissolution. But that’s no use—one must not give up at the last moment, and then regret it for the rest of one’s life. K. brings information that American tank divisions are on their way to Berlin. In the Chancellery, they say, everybody is more certain of final victory than ever before. Hardly any communications among troops, excepting a few regular battalions equipped with radio posts. Telephone cables are shot to pieces. Physical conditions are indescribable. No rest, no relief. No regular food, hardly any bread. We get water from the tunnels and filter it. Nervous breakdowns. The wounded that are not simply torn apart are hardly taken in anywhere. The civilians in their cellars are afraid of them. Too many of them have been hanged as deserters. And the flying courts-martial drive the civilians out of cellars where they pick up deserters because they are accessories to the crime.
“These courts-martial appear in our sector particularly often today. Most of them are very young SS officers. Hardly a medal or decoration on them. Blind and fanatical. The hope of relief and the fear of the courts-martial bring our men back to the fighting pitch.
“General Mummert requests that no more courts-martial visit the sector. A division made up of the largest number of men with some of the highest decorations does not deserve to be persecuted by such babies. He is resolved to shoot down any court-martial that takes action in our sector.
“The whole large expanse of Potsdamer Platz in a waste of ruins. Masses of damaged vehicles, half-smashed trailers of the ambulances with the wounded still in them. Dead people everywhere, many of them frightfully cut up by tanks and trucks.
“At night, we try to reach the Propaganda Ministry for news about Wenck and the American divisions. Rumors that the Ninth Army is also on the way to Berlin. In the west, general peace treaties are being signed. Violent shelling of the center of town.
“We cannot hold our present position. Around four o’clock in the morning, we retreat through the subway tunnels. In the tunnels next to ours, the Russians march in the opposite direction to the positions we have just lost.”
Numerous units in the western suburbs tried to escape from the city in massive sallies. Civilians joined them everywhere. Women with children in their arms took part in their assaults and perished in the fire of the enemy. The officer of Division Müncheberg, whose diary was quoted earlier, was in one of these units. He wrote:
“May 1. We are La the Aquarium. Shell crater on shell crater every way I look. The streets are steaming. The smell of the dead is at times unbearable. Last night, one floor above us, some police officers and soldiers celebrated their farewell to life, in spite of the shelling. This morning, men and women were lying on the stairs in tight embrace and drunk. Through the shell holes in the streets one can look down into the subway tunnels. It looks as though the dead are lying down there several layers deep. Everyone in our command post is wounded more than once;
General Mummert carries his right arm in a sling. We look like walking skeletons. Our radio men are listening all the time—but there are no reports, no news. Just a rumor that Hitler has died in battle. Our hope is going down. All we talk about is not to be taken prisoners, to break out to the west somewhere, if Hitler is really dead. The civilians don’t have any hope either. Nobody mentions Wenck any more.
“Afternoon. We have to retreat. We put the wounded into the last armored car we have left. All told, the division now has five tanks and four field guns. Late in the afternoon, new rumors that Hitler is dead, that surrender is being discussed. That is all. The civilians want to know whether we will break out of Berlin. If we do, they want to join us. I won’t forget their faces.
“The Russians continue to advance underground and then come up from the subway tunnels somewhere behind our lines. In the intervals between the firing, we can hear the screaming of the civilians in the tunnels.
“Pressure is getting too heavy, we have to retreat again. In the cellars, the shrieking of the wounded. No more anesthetics. Every so often, women burst out of a cellar, their fists pressed over their ears, because they cannot stand the screaming of the wounded.
“May 2. No let-up. The ground shakes without a stop. Night fighters overhead; we hear their machine guns and their fragmentation bombs. Finally we make contact with a group left over from the 18th Armored Infantry. We ask whether they will join in a break. They say no, because they have no orders from above.
“We retreat again. We send our scouts to the west to find a path for a break. In the afternoon, Russian planes drop leaflets about capitulation. Soviet loud-speakers shout a proclamation from General Weidling that we should surrender— perhaps it is genuine, perhaps not. The anti-aircraft guns on the Zoo air-raid shelter are still firing. Some bedraggled civilians and infantry men who have got through from behind the Russian lines join us. They all are wounded, even the women. They are very quiet, barely a word about what they have seen on the other side. The 18th Armored Infantry sends word, part of them will join us now.
“May 3. At dawn we make an attack on a bridge leading to the west. It is under heavy Russian fire, can be crossed only at a run. The dead are lying all over it, and the wounded with no one to pick them up. Civilians of every age are trying to cross; they are shot down in rows. Our last armored cars and trucks are forcing their way across through piles of twisted human bodies. The bridge is flooded with blood.
“The rear guards fall apart. They want to go west, they don’t want to be killed at the last moment. The command crumbles. General Mummert is missing. Our losses are heavy. The wounded are left where they fall. More civilians join us.
“May 4. Behind us, Berlin in flames. Many other units must still be fighting. The sky is red, cut by bright flashes. Russian tanks all around us, and the incessant clatter of machine guns. We make some headway in close combat. We meet columns of refugees drifting about lost. They weep and ask for help. We are at the end ourselves. Our ammunition is giving out. The unit breaks up. We try to go on in small groups.”
This was the end of one division in the Battle of Berlin. All other units that tried to break out suffered the same fate. No more than a few men made good their escape.