Thursday, March 10, 2016

Alternative Operation Eclipse

An LPS bonus mini-game, On To Berlin is a 2-player game tactical / operational simulation of the hypothetical last battle of WW2, code-named Operation Eclipse. This is a variant of Fortress Berlin that assumes the Allies launched an airborne assault (3 US and 3 British divisions) on Berlin in March 1945. On To Berlin is not a complete game by itself as it requires ownership of Fortress Berlin.

It depends on WHEN the drop was done. Let's assume the Yalta accords go as per Original Time Line [OTL] but without any explicit talk re Berlin. 

Anglo-American armies smash across the Rhine in March but are hampered by the Pocket of the Ruhr (which OTL resisted till 17-18 April). On the 9th of April the first US troops of the 9th Army begin reaching the Elbe near Magdeburg. Historically, they stopped there. Let's say they stop there FOR THE MOMENT BEING. On the 15th of April the 101th and 82th US Airborne and the 6th British Airborne are dropped on Berlin's airports and western outskirts after devastating heavy bomber raids by some 1,300 planes. Their objective is the capture of Adolph Hitler and his staff, after which they are to retire westwards; meantime, the 9th Army attacks with full force across the Elbe with its armored forces, objective linking with the XVIIIth Army Corps dropped in and around Berlin. 

I therefore think of an operation to capture Hitler and his entourage, not to conquer Berlin Festung. I also think it would fail, though, because Hitler would have killed himself rather than being taken prisoner in the Reichskanzlei.

Ben Bova's Triumph deals with such an attack. I believe that he accurately portrays the fact that the majority of the Volkssturm and Wehrmacht forces would have surrendered to the US forces, while the SS and other elite regiments would have fought to the death.

The window of opportunity turned out to be very tight. The Soviet offensive started on April 16th and it would have been a logistical nightmare to have Americans AND Russians fighting the Germans in and around Berlin. 

The 9th Army reached the Elbe near Wolmirstadt on April 11th but faced resistance in front of Magdeburg from German 12th Army under Wenck who had recently taken up a defensive posture. In OTL, the crossing of the Elbe on April 12-13 wasn't straightforward and indeed one bridgehead had to be abandoned as the Americans came under sustained German fire. 

So, where to land the 101st Airborne? Brandenburg, some 20 miles west of Berlin or Potsdam, much nearer the German capital? Perhaps the experience of Market Garden would have installed some caution and Brandenburg was some 40 miles from the Elbe bridgehead - though over much more favourable country than Holland. 

If the 101st lands at Brandenburg in the early hours of April 15th 1945, they could capture the town and secure it. The 9th Army still faces hard fighting at Barby and elsewhere but can make it through to link with the paratroopers within 72 hours - April 18th. 

By then, the Soviet offensive has smashed through to the Seelow Heights and is overwhelming fanatical German opposition. Cautiously, the Americans advance toward the western outskirts of Berlin but meet resistance from SS forces at Potsdam on April 20th by which time advance Russian elements have reached the east of the city which is coming under Soviet artillery fire. 

With Koniev's troops outflanking the city to the south, the Americans take Potsdam and reach Spandau on April 22nd. A force of tanks moving toward Charlottenburg comes under Soviet artillery fire and 5 American tanks are destroyed. By now, the Americans are besieged by hordes of refugees fleeing the city but opt not to advance further than Spandau. On April 24th, Soviet and American troops meet at a number of points near the western outskirts of Berlin. By now, the Russians are well to the north and south of the city. 

Stalin invites the Americans to "join with your allies in destroying the lair of the fascist beast" on April 25th and the city is soon squeezed from all sides with thousands of refugees fleeing into the American lines. On April 27th, the Americans are at one end of Unter den Linden, the Russians at the other but it is the Russians who capture the Reichschancellery on April 28th 1945.

The German Commander in Berlin, Reymann, surrenders the city a day later. Earlier that day, Hitler commits suicide with Eva Braun. Goebbels is captured by the Russians but Bormann is captured by the Americans - both will eventually hang at Nuremberg.

The plans included more than the 101st--probably the 82nd and from what Stefano said the 6th British as well. This would give the western allies more power than only one division.

Overall it would have been a bad plan. Eisenhower supposedly argued against the proposed zone division lines, but once they were set he based his plans on them. 

At best, an airborne drop would have been a sacrifice of American and British troops to capture ground for the Soviets. More likely the mission would have been a more extreme version of Market-Garden; airborne troops sent to far behind enemy lines and used against too well defended a target. The casualties would have been horrendous (especially if the Red Army held back as it did at Warsaw and allowed the Germans time to destroy the paratroopers).

You, know, come to think of it, I'd probably drop the Polish Airborne to capture the big symbolic buildings. If not for the symbolism of how Germany started the war by invading Poland.
Anyway, here are some of the Units of the US that could have been used for a drop on Berlin: 

The 13th Airborne
17th Airborne
82nd Airborne
101st Airborne
The various Ranger Divisions
I'm sure the OSS could do something internally
Also, other allied troops:
Canada had two Parachute brigades
The Free Polish Parachute brigade
The British Airborne Units

The plan according to Cornelius Ryan’s the final battle was to drop the paras on the airfields. After securing those the allies could fly in tanks.

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