The unexpected arrival of Soviet troops at the end of January 1945 at the ancient fortress and garrison town of Küstrin came as a tremendous shock to the German High Command—the Soviets were now only 50 miles from Berlin itself. The Red Army needed the vital road and rail bridges passing through Küstrin for their forthcoming assault on the capital, but flooding and their own high command’s strategic blunders resulted in a sixty-day siege by two Soviet armies which totally destroyed the town. The delay in the Soviet advance also gave the Germans time to consolidate the defenses shielding Berlin west of the Oder River. Despite Hitler’s orders to fight on to the last bullet, the Küstrin garrison commander and 1,000 of the defenders managed a dramatic breakout to the German lines.
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