The Red Army started the East Prussian Offensive on the 13th of January 1945 and the operation was going on for 3 months. Soviet forces assaulting “the lair of the beast” had to breach heavily fortified defensive positions of the enemy that was fighting fiercely. IKBFU Centre of Historical Memory Head Specialist Albert Adylov told about this operation.
— How important East Prussia was for the Third Reich and for the offending Red Army?
— It might sound strange, but the territory had the same meaning for both parties as it was the first German territory that faced the consequences of the war they had started. Hence, the fascists did everything they could to prevent “the Bolsheviks” from conquering the territory, while the Red Army soldiers had very high morale as they were bringing retribution on these lands.
— Could you describe what was so special about the East Prussian Offensive and why was it important within the general course of the Red Army in 1945?
— It is safe to say that this was just a regular operation of the Red Army in this period of the War. Unlike the great battles of 1941-1943 such as the Battle of Moscow, the Battle of Stalingrad, the Battle of Kursk, or the Battle of the Dnieper that had a very specific time and date or Stalin’s ten blows in 1944 with one offensive starting immediately after the other, the Red Army in the winter of 1945 was capable of conducting several assault operations at once. The East Prussian Offensive was carried out simultaneously with the Liberation of Poland and Hungary even though the latter was more important strategically. East Prussian Offensive, apart from the aforementioned psychological effect brought practical results: thanks to it we live on this land today.
Red Army soldiers salute after reaching Frisches Haff (Present-day Kaliningrad Bay)
— What was the strength of the belligerents? Which side was dominating in terms of infantry and machinery?
— The Red Army was obviously dominating in all aspects. But that is how offensives are conducted as it is important to concentrate a number of forces larger than what an enemy has because defenders regularly use fortified positions. Waging a war is not the same thing as taking part in a sports competition, in which contestants are obliged to be as equal as possible. Consequently, it is important to dominate the enemy both in numbers and in skill, so it is irrelevant to compare Alexander Suvorov's battles with the late Ottoman Empire with the Red Army fighting Nazi Germany. Hitler’s forces were experiences soldiers with top-tier weaponry and until the events, prior to the Offensive, they were rightfully considered the best military force in the world. And the High Command of the Red Army was fully aware of the enemy’s reputation and took all possible efforts to prepare for the attack.
— Right before the Offensive the German mass media were distributing reports of Soviet soldiers allegedly killing civilians on territories taken by the Red Army. The Germans were especially shocked by the story of the so-called “Nemmersdorf (present-day Mayakovskoye town) Massacre”. In your opinion, was it the real cause of violence on behalf of Soviet troops or was it just another piece of Nazi propaganda?
— Naturally, there were unwanted acts against civilians and those acts happen in all wars with all armies all over history. And all armies do their best to counter such acts, not because of mercy to unarmed civilians but simply because of necessity to the army in order. A soldier who violated discipline once is highly likely to commit another act of insubordination, e.g. to disobey an order. The Red Army was no exception here, as those who committed crimes against unarmed civilians were facing military trial and severe punishment, up to capital punishment and there are many historical facts proving it. While all this ranting about “mass rapes of 1944-1945” have no evidence and are used just like any other propaganda tool in the disinformation war against our country. And the Nemmersdorf incident was many times proved to be a fraud, and it there are German POWs witnessing the setup. The village was in the middle of a battle and there were some civilians who got killed in it. Later, when the Red Army withdrew from the village, the remaining Nazi forces displayed the civilian corpses as if the civilians were executed by the Soviet soldiers. Unfortunately, modern German mass-media never seize to discuss this event, but, again, there is nothing conceding the fault of the Red Army.
— It is often mentioned in various scientific journals that the territory of East Prussia was transformed into a huge fortification point with many defensive positions that were extremely hard to capture. Is it really so?
— Yes, it was a deeply fortified area consisting of several defensive lines. However, judging by the real facts, the fortification lines were, oddly enough, easier to capture than, for example, improvised city quarters adapted to defense. There is a lot of twisted public opinion about Königsberg forts and their "impregnability": on the one hand, they were hopelessly outdated fortification constructions, on the other - some of them, like fort № 5, our forces had to take with incredible efforts. And there were forts that surrendered without a fight. Ultimately, it all comes down to the human factor - the steadfastness of defenders and attackers. That it was very difficult to conquer the area is testified by almost 130 thousand Soviet soldiers, who died here.
— Thanks to what the Soviet forces were able to break the heavily fortified defense lines and what was the key factor in the whole conquest of East Prussia?
— We may be sure to say that the key factor was a combination of the Soviet commanders’ skill, the combat experience of the soldiers, weaponry of the highest quality, and, the most important – moral high superiority. Yes, one might say that Hitler’s soldiers were defending their homes, but imagine a gangster and a murderer who broke into an honest family’s home but got cornered in “their house” thanks to the resilience of the house dwellers. This was best illustrated by the Supreme Commander of the USSR Forces: “Our course is just, we will be victorious”. And the fact that the Soviet soldiers were morally right played the main role in the East Prussian Offensive.
— What were the most brutal battles of the Offensive?
— The very beginning of the operation was characterized by the bloodiest battles: such as the one near Pilkallen (present-day Dobrovolsk) or the battle of the Insterburg Center (present-day Chernyakhovsk). Equally hard it was for the Red Army to capture Zinten (present-day Kornevo), And unlike Chernyakhovsk that was rebuilt after the war and is an industrial city today, besting former Insterburg in terms of population, towns Dobrovolsk and Kornevo were turned into villages as winter 1945 changed their destiny.
Soviet Combat Engineers in the center of Insterburg. 3rd Belorussian Front
— Do we know everything about the East Prussian Offensive?
— No, we do not. There are many new discoveries to make. Thankfully, we have many books and memoirs, both Soviet and German on the operation. So there is still a lot of work.