Background: By the time this article appeared, any German who was aware of the military situation knew that the war was over. The Russians were nearing Berlin, the British and Americans were charging through western Germany. Still, the article argues that Berlin can be defended, that it resembles a huge hedgehog with its spines pointed in every direction. Unlike earlier articles which promised miracle weapons to save the day, this article does not promise victory. It only claims that Berlin will be defended to the last. It hardly mentions Hitler. Compare this piece with Goebbels’s last lead article in Das Reich, which appeared in the 22 April 1945 issue.
The source: Hans-Ulrich Arntz, “Berlin, ein Riesenigel,” Das Reich, 18 March 1945.
Berlin: A Huge Hedgehog
by Hans-Ulrich Arntz
The war has come within reach of Berlin. It is just two hours by car from Alexanderplatz to the front line. The city with its millions is in the shadow of the front, within range of the battle with the East. It is in the rear echelon of the front lines. It was at the front of the air war, and now is at the front of the land war as well. The largest city on the continent is in readiness.
As danger neared, Berlin took its own security in hand. After a moment of fear, the city acted in a disciplined and calm manner, without losing nerve or succumbing to panic. It was hardened in the oven of the bombing war, which trained it to improvise as needed and to develop rapid initiative, which always enabled it to find ways to overcome the war’s damage. The stream of refugees from the east did not handicap it, but rather spurred it on to do all that was humanly possible. As enemy accounts, supposedly based on eyewitnesses, spoke of so-called hysteria and chaos, of the growing thunder of cannons from the East, of “Berliners fleeing from Berlin,” the great city went into action. It did not organize an “exodus,” rather resistance, and not with its head, but with shovels in the sands of Mark Brandenburg. A defensive wall of barricades, barriers, and ditches developed.
A look at the map shows the great extent of these preparations, its strengths and weaknesses. The military divided the city and its surroundings into defensive districts under the command of experienced veterans of the Eastern Front. The defensive fortifications were built by a staff of experienced engineering officers familiar with the battlefields of both wars, using the latest techniques.
The districts have comprehensive defensive fortifications, using natural barriers like lakes, hills, rivers, canals, and swamps. In more open areas, there are anti-tank barriers and ditches, along with strong points, resistance positions, artillery positions, and foxholes. The rail and road network can be destroyed at critical points. A tank warning system similar to the air raid alert system has been established to provide prompt news of enemy reconnaissance efforts or movements. The system is deep, and is designed for surprise attacks, frontal attacks by large forces, flank attacks or concentrated assaults, as well as paratroop landings. An attack will not find Berlin a large area to be surrounded, but rather a huge hedgehog with its spines pointing in every direction. The military command thus has the basis for a long and determined defense.
The network of defensive measures from the hinterlands to the city’s borders is continually being strengthened, steadily increasing in its defensive capabilities. There are defensive rings of various strengths. The outer ring alone is several hundred kilometers long. Another ring is a similar to a front line with no gaps. Following the principle of attrition, the enemy will have to throw increasing forces to gain every meter, destroying its force and bleeding blood and matériel. Its armored columns will be directed into pathways in which they can be destroyed by group and individual anti-tank commandos. The network of public transportation allows the rapid shifting of forces, and as enemy forces move from the edge of the city with its open battlefields to street-by-street and building-by-building battles, its forces will be devoured. Here the defender has all the advantages of his own ground, whereas the enemy is lost in a labyrinth of an unfamiliar sea of buildings. And the air war has prepared Berlin for close combat.
All of these factors make the defender the equal of the enemy, even with his superiority in men and matériel. The defensive forces will come from troops in Berlin, from the great reservoir of the Volkssturm[military units consisting of those too young or too old for regular military service], and from the shortening of the front.
The enormous number of positions in Berlin is being daily added to by its citizens, according to the old military truism: “It’s better to sweat than to bleed.” Behind its ramparts. Berlin is a military training ground. Its citizens are learning to use the Panzerfaust [an anti-tank weapon rather like a bazooka] and the machine gun. Berlin and its citizens are like a large army in an encampment facing a strong enemy.
The process of defending Berlin deeply affects daily life, which nonetheless remains basically intact. From the ruins of their homes, destroyed by carpet bombing, the Berliners find the material to build their defenses.
Reich Minister Dr. Goebbels, the Gauleiter of Berlin, is the soul of the defense. His seal is on the strength of heart, spirit, and hands. The “Conqueror of Berlin” won the capital for the new Reich through stubborn and unceasing struggle for every building and every street. Now he is in perpetual motion to build its defense.
His closest aides are Assistant Gauleiter Gerhard Schach, Dr. Petzke, the president of Berlin, and Mayor Steeg. Every day they consider food supplies and transportation, first aid to deal with air terror, distributing contributions from the populace, spreading out the population of the city, caring for women and children — and if necessary, self sufficiency in food and armaments.
The military side of the defense of the Reich capital is in the hands of Lieutenant General Ritter von Hauenschild, commander of the Berlin district, directly subordinate to the Führer and possessed of all the duties and rights of the commander of a fortress. He has experience in defending fixed positions. He was involved in the attacks on the Moscow defensive ring, and he was the 129th soldier to receive the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves after being heavily wounded in the defense of Stalingrad. The general is an expert in tank warfare. Their best use is in bold attacks. The best defense against that is not to lose one’s nerve, but to stand firm. From his own experience as a tank commander, he knows both the strengths and weaknesses of armored warfare. His robustness at 48, despite being wounded eight times in two wars, shows itself in the energy with which he attacks “useless busy work and senseless orders,” and in the way he liquidated bureaucracy.
He embodies the synthesis between the political man and the soldier. He knows that the military tasks he has today can only be solved through political leadership, with which he works comfortably. He is one of “Hitler’s young generals,” whom the enemy is glad to underestimate, but who often teach him the error of his ways.
There is every reason to believe that the steadfastness of the front will keep the “Battle of Berlin” outside its gates. But if it must reach Berlin, it will be fought to the last man, to the last bullet, to the last bayonet thrust, as its general has ordered. This will be the spirit of the defense, which will be executed with fanaticism and creativity, with every method of warfare, on, above, and below the earth.
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