Stettin-Rostock Offensive Operation

The 'Stettin-Rostock Offensive Operation' was one of the last Soviet undertakings in the European theatre in World War II, and was a sub-operation of the 'Berlin Strategic Offensive Operation' designed to clear the Stettiner Haff area of Germany’s northern coast on the Baltic Sea (20 April/5 May 1945).

At the end of their 'East Pomeranian Strategic Offensive Operation', which was completed on 6 March 1945, some formations and units of Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Konstantin K. Rokossovsky’s 2nd Belorussian Front began to move west to replace the troops of Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Georgi K. Zhukov’s 1st Belorussian Front on the 'Kolberg line', the Oder river estuary and farther along the eastern bank of this river as far as Schwedt. It was proposed to have the main grouping of three Soviet armies in the Altdam area of the Schwedt sector .

On 10 April, Rokossovsky undertook a reconnaissance of the area of ​​the future offensive. It became clear that the flood plain between the two branches of the Oder river was flooded, constituting a continuous body of water 3.1 miles (5 km) wide that was nonetheless unsuitable for boat operations as a result of the flooded area’s shallow water. It was decided to cross the river over the widest possible area with three armies at once using the remains of dilapidated dams.

Between 13 and 17 April, elements of the 2nd Belorussian Front replaced parts of the 1st Belorussian Front and began to prepare their offensive. From north to south, the 2nd Belorussian Front deployed General Leytenant Vladimir Z. Romanovsky’s 19th Army on the coast to move westward onto the peninsula directly to the east of the island of Usedom, General Polkovnik Ivan I. Fedyuninsky’s 2nd Shock Army to take Stettin and advance via Friedland to Stransund on the cost to the west of Usedom, and General Polkovnik Pavel I. Batov’s 65th Army, General Polkovnik Vasili S. Popov’s 70th Army and General Polkovnik Ivan T. Grishin’s 49th Army to to operate as a shock group and take the area immediately to the south of Stettin before advancing to the west and north-west in order to seize Ribnitz, Wismar, and both Ludwigslust and Lenzen on the Elbe river respectively.

The Soviet troops were opposed by elements of Generaloberst Gotthard Heinrici’s (from 29 April Generaloberst Kurt Student’s) Heeresgruppe 'Weichsel' under the operational command of General Kurt von Tippelskirch. These elements were General Freilich’s Korpsgruppe 'Swinemünde', General Hasso-Eccard von Manteuffel’s 3rd Panzerarmee and the Armeeabteilung 'Steiner'. This last had been commanded by SS-Obergruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS Felix Steiner to 5 March, an unknown officer to 2 April and General Otto Hitzfeld to 8 April, and finally General Walther Lucht to 23 April.

On the night of 16/17 April, separate Soviet units captured the dams of the Oder river flood plain, and in the subsequent days, large numbers of men were gradually transferred into the area.

Right through the night of 19/20 April, Soviet aircraft bombed the German defences. As a deception, preparations were made to force the Oder river in the rea to north of Stettin. On the morning of 20 April, the troops of the three shock armies began the crossing. The 65th Army was the first to seize a bridgehead on the western bank, where troops were immediately lifted by ferries to begin the requirement major grouping. From 09.00 the weather improved sharply, which made it possible for Soviet tactical warplanes to join the battle. By 13.00, two 16-ton ferries were operating on the crossings of the 65th Army.

After assessing the situation, Rokossovsky decided to use one of the 65th Army’s crossings to transfer the 2nd Shock Army to the western bank of the Oder river, and thereby open the way for the bypassing of Stettin to the south and west.

The 70th Army also managed to seize the bridgehead, but the 49th Army did not achieve success: the reconnaissance had mistaken one of the many channels for the western branch of the Oder river, and the entire artillery preparation in this area fell on empty space, leaving the German defence unsuppressed.

On 21 April, the Soviet troops continued to expand their bridgeheads. The 49th Army also managed to pass small units onto the western bank of the Oder river, but it was obvious that they had no realistic prospect of significant success. Rokossovsky decided to try to pin as much as possible of the German strength in these sectors, and strike the main blow on the right flank from the 65th Army’s bridgehead immediately to the south of Stettin. By 25 April, elements of the 65th and 70th Armies had advanced up to 5 miles (8 km).

On 25 April, Soviet troops, repelling a number of German counterattacks, launched an offensive with three corps of the 65th Army, and by evening of the same day these had broken through the German defences along a 12.5-mile (20-km) front, in the process defeating both the first-line German defenders and the reserve forces which had been transferred into the area.

The tasks of the Soviet armies were now as follows: the 65th Army, with the I Guards Tank Corps, was to strike out to the north-west and crush all the German forces operating to the north-east of the Stettin, Neubrandenburg and Rostock back to the coast; the 2nd Shock Army was to press forward with two corps in the general direction of Anklam and Stralsund while the other part of its forces cleared the islands of Usedom and Rügen; the 70th Army, with the III Guards Tank Corps, was to advance in the general direction of Neustrelitz, Waren, Krakow and Wismar; the 49th Army, with the VIII Mechanised Corps and the III Guards Cavalry Corps, was to advance directly to the west to reach the Elbe river; and the 19th Army was to advance westward along the coast of the Baltic Sea to Swinemünde and Greifswald.

On 26 April, the troops of the 65th Army stormed Stettin, to which Rokossovsky immediately transferred his headquarters, broke through the German defences on the Randov river and made with all possible speed to the north-west. On 27 April the offensive continued. The 2nd Shock Army, having cleared the island of Gristov, neated Swinemünde with its right flank, used its main strength, operating along the southern coast of the Stettiner Haff, to advance in the direction of Anklam and Stralsund. On the way, these elements destroyed remnants of Stettin’s garrison that had retreated in a northern direction, and also units of Oberst Werner von Boltenstern’s 4th (preussische) Infanterieregiment, which was defending to the north of Stettin.

On 3 May, in the area to the south-west of Wismar, the III Guards Tank Corps made initial contact with units of Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey’s British 2nd Army advancing to the north-east.

On 4 May, formations of the 70th and 49th armies, the VIII Mechanised Corps and the III Guards Cavalry Corps also reached the boundary line which had been pre-established with the Western Allies. Parts of the 19th Army and the 2nd Shock Army fought for another day as they cleared the islands of Wallin, Usedom and Rugen.

Two divisions of the 19th Army landed on the German-occupied Danish island of Bornholm.

As a result of the 'Stettin-Rostock Offensive Operation', the 3rd Panzerarmee was unable to take part in the battle for Berlin, and the arrival of Soviet troops in the ports of the Baltic Sea prevented the Germans from all possibility of transferring troops from Kurland by sea to aid the defence of Germany.