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Taking the Fortress at Poznan, Poland

Pictured: Colonel-General V. I. Chuikov, Poland, 1945.

In a previous blog entry, I focused on the supply chain situation leading up to the events at Poznan in western Poland. The Soviet advance on Germany was swift, and it was often difficult for the supply chain to match the pace. Taking Poznan was a strategic objective of the 1st Belorussian Front due to its proximity to the Polish-German border. During my time researching this battle of the Vistula-Oder Operation, I found varying accounts regarding the circumstances surrounding the 8th Guards Army taking of Poznan in February 1945. This blog entry is an attempt at reconciling these accounts. First, Marshal Chuikov wrote in his volume titled From Stalingrad to Berlin:

“Suddenly an order from the front, unexpected for us, followed by phone. In connection with the encirclement of the enemy troops in Poznan and the possible delay in the battles for the city, the commander of the front forces [Zhukov] ordered me to unite the actions of the 1st Guards Tank Army and the approaching units of the 69th Army and by the joint efforts of these troops by 25 January 1945, be sure to capture the city of Poznan.

Prior to this, Poznan was not included in the boundaries of the actions of the 8th Guards. The 69th Army was to attack Poznan. We did not expect that she was so far behind that we had to close our flank from the danger of a blow from Poznan, where a strong enemy garrison was concentrated. It was necessary to urgently turn the army around, which was by no means easy, given the inertia it had acquired in moving west along previously set directions.

I immediately contacted the headquarters of the 1st Guards Tank Army. It turned out that the tankers have already approached the banks of the Varta River and even captured a bridgehead. Therefore, they had already pierced with their blow, like a spear, the Varta defensive line. They even tried to break into Poznan on the move but were stopped in the eastern part of the city. The reconnaissance of the tankers claimed that it would not be easy to take Poznan. Wasn't that also the directive of the front? The liberation of Poznan grew into a complex military task.”

Author and historian Anthony Beevor wrote the following in his book titled The Fall of Berlin 1945, including impressions and recollections from journalist Vasily Grossman who was attached to the 8th Guards Army at the time:

“Poznan was not like Lodz. On reaching Poznan on 25 January, Katukov [Commander of the 1st Guards Tank Army] saw that it could not be captured off the march and pushed straight on as Zhukov had instructed. Poznan was left to Chuikov, closely following with the 8th Guards Army, to sort out. He was not pleased, and it seems only to have increased his dislike for Zhukov. […] ‘It really is amazing,’ Chuikov remarked sarcastically in one of his jibes against Zhukov, ‘when you consider our battle experience and our wonderful intelligence, that we failed to notice one little detail. We didn’t know there was a first-class fortress at Poznan. One of the strongest in Europe. We thought it was just a town which we could take off the march, and now we’re really in for it.’”

In Total War, Michael Jones shared statements from Anatoly Mereshko, who worked as an 8th Guards HQ staff member:

“’We were racing across Poland,’ Captain Anatoly Mereshko said, ‘and we had been allocated a clear line of advance—a corridor—that we would push forward along, without straying into the path of other armies. But Chuikov had already developed a habit of disobeying these instructions.’ Chuikov had ordered the 8th Guards Army to seize the Polish town of Lodz, although it was 6 kilometers inside the 69th Army’s own corridor…’”

Jones wrote that the liberation of Lodz was a successful offensive, and according to Mereshko, Vasily Ivanovich continued on the path he elected to take inside the 69th Army’s corridor to the fortress city of Poznan closer to the Polish/German border. Swift nighttime action might be undertaken to free the city of Poznan from the German occupiers. However, Chuikov and the 8th Guards Army were met with stubborn resistance. It was thought that 20,000 soldiers were in Poznan’s citadel and surrounding forts; in truth, there were over 40,000 (and probably closer to 60,000) German troops stationed there:

“To his credit, Chuikov […] reorganized his forces, deployed storm groups and assault forces in Poznan, and found the right tactical methods to combat the Germans. [Later,] Chuikov was criticized for creating a situation where two different Soviet forces—the 8th Guards and 69th Armies—were both fighting for the city without proper coordination and cooperation.”

Instead of seeing these as conflicting accounts, perhaps synthesis is a more appropriate response. All sources agree that Kolpachki’s 69th Army was lagging behind in their advance to Germany. Chuikov was an aggressive commander who pushed forward and moved quickly, much like General George Patton, Commander of the US 3rd Army. Since the 8th Guards were so far ahead of their slower neighbors—and Marshal Zhukov as the 1st Belorussian Front Commander knew this—it could have been a combination of Chuikov’s 8th Guards side-stepping into the 69th Army’s corridor ahead of them and Zhukov, seeing this to be the case, ordering Chuikov to take the city by default.

In defense of Chuikov’s actions to enter into the 69th Army’s corridor, he thought that it was important to protect the flank which should have been covered by the neighboring army, as he indicated in his memoirs. Either way, reconnaissance was lacking details on the sheer size of the German forces at the citadel. And, due to Chuikov’s strong leadership and ability to adapt quickly and fight without a template, the 8th Guards and 69th Armies eventually liberated the city of Poznan in time for the Red Army Day holiday on 23 February 1945. An official review of the actions at Poznan occurred, and though there were concerns about the initial failure to take Poznan due to a lack of coordination, Chuikov was praised for his ability to adapt quickly when faced with challenging circumstances.


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