In 1945 Breslau held out for longer than any other German city. The siege began on 13 February when the Soviets first encircled the city the city finally surrendered on 6 May, four days after the fall of Berlin. Hargreaves does an excellent job of putting the siege in its wider context. The city isn't encircled until page 116, and the siege takes up the next hundred pages or so. We start with a brief history of Breslau, with more detail as we approach the Nazi years. This is followed by an account of the campaign that brought the Red Army to the Oder, the battles that were fought around Breslau and the experiences of the city's inhabitants and the Soviet noose tightened around them. This included a ghastly 'death march' which took place during a chaotic attempt to evacuate the city's women and children.
The siege itself is covered in great detail, with eyewitness accounts from the civilian inhabitants, the German defenders (from experienced troops to newly recruited novices) and the Red Army attackers. Both sides suffered during the fighting, but life within 'Fortress Breslau' was particularly terrible, and the first-hand accounts of civilian life and the experiences of the city's defenders make this very clear. Their situation was made worse by a realisation their suffering was almost certainly in vain with only a few of the more dedicated Nazis believing that the war could still be won.
The suffering continued after the fighting was over. Breslau suffered a similar sack to other German cities taken by the Red Army, but even after this phase ended the suffering continued. Stalin had decided to move Poland to the west, keeping those parts of eastern Poland he gained as an ally of Nazi Germany and giving the new Poland parts of eastern Germany. German Breslau was to become Polish Wroclaw. The German civilian population was deported in terrible conditions, and were replaced with a new Polish population many of whom had been deported from their own homes further east. The new Polish city was then neglected for a decade after the war, and life only began to improve in the late 1950s.
This is a superb study of a bitter siege, giving a very clear image of the dreadful nature of the war on the Eastern Front and the cost suffered by the civilian population as the war flowed around them.
1 - The Happy Fusion
2 - The Bridgehead
3 - God Has Washed His Hands of this World
4 - The Reckoning Has Begun
5 - In Defiance of Death and the Devil
6 - The Breslau Method
7 - The Old Breslau Is No More
8 - Any Further Sacrifice Is a Crime
9 - The Land of the Dead
10 - Quiet Flows the Oder
Author: Richard Hargreaves
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military