10 of the Bloodiest Battles of World War II


The Battle of Berlin

In the early spring of 1945, the Soviet Army streamed toward Berlin, where Adolph Hitler was dug in amid the ramshackle remains of his once-great Third Reich. A trapped animal has two options -- play dead or fight -- and Hitler chose the second. Fueled by German propaganda that highlighted the wake of destruction left by Soviet troops on their march through Prussia, the German people felt their only option was to fight to the death alongside their megalomaniacal leader.

As Soviet troops encircled the city, Hitler readied Wehrmacht (defensive forces), Volkssturm (militia), Waffen-SS (elite police force), and thousands of Hitler Youth (boys age 14 to 18) for a desperate last stand. In all, there were 300,000 German troops. The Soviet forces, on the other hand, numbered in the millions [source: BBC].

On April 20th, 1945 the Soviet shelling began. If softening the target was the Soviet objective, they could take heart in knowing the target was already plenty soft: Years of allied bombing had left the German city of Berlin looking more like the idiomatic cheese from Switzerland. And so, only a couple days after shelling started, it effectively stopped as Soviet troops took the city.

Hitler and many of his followers committed suicide, and the Battle of Berlin officially ended on May 2, 1945. However, the fear of surrendering to the Soviets was so strong that the Germans continued fighting in hopes of breaking through the Soviet siege in order to surrender to Western forces instead of the USSR.

The cost to the Soviets was more than 70,000 men (many believe that number could have been fewer had Russian generals not been so eager to capture Berlin before the United States) [source: BBC]. Nearly 250,000 Germans died.