4th Guards Tank Army in the battles for Berlin and Prague
The origin of the army and its first battles
4th Guards Tank Army was formed for the second time on 18 March 1945 under the 1st Ukrainian Front, by order of the Headquarters of the Supreme Command of 17 March 1945, renaming the 4th Tank Army. Its commander was appointed colonel-general Dmitry Danilovich Lelushenko.
In addition to the command administration, the army included the 6th Guards Mechanized Corps, the 10th Guards Tank Corps, the 68th Guards Tank Brigade, and a number of other support units. As the Army was only reformed by renaming it, it immediately became involved in the ongoing Upper Silesian Front offensive operation. This operation began as early as 15 March 1945 and was aimed at eliminating the threat of a German attack from the flank of the 1st Ukrainian Front and capturing the Silesian industrial area. During this operation, the army participated in the encirclement and destruction of the Opole Group of German troops, the liquidation of which took place by 22 March. On 24 March, the 5th Guards Mechanized Corps was incorporated into the army as a reinforcement, which included 150 tanks in addition to artillery and motorized infantry.
Commander of the Army Colonel-General Lelyusenko in an interview with soldiers.
On Saturday, March 24, 1945, the 5th Guards Mechanized Corps attacked in the direction of Leobschütz - Troppau, but did not achieve much success and was only able to advance about 3-4 km. In connection with this, the army commander Lelushenko deployed the 6th Guards Mechanized Corps to fight in the direction of Stoiberwitz. This manoeuvre proved successful - the corps advanced 10 km deep into the enemy defences and created a direct threat of encircling the 1st SS Panzer Division "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler", which had until then hampered the advance of the 10th Guards Panzer Corps. Over the next three days, the army completed the encirclement of the German troops in the Biskau area and, in cooperation with the 60th Army, annihilated them.
The army left its combat sector in Upper Silesia on Tuesday, April 3, and handed it over to troops of the 60th Army. Army units then moved to the area of the German city of Forst, where they were to take part in the initial part of the Berlin offensive. The 4th Guards Panzer Army's role in the initial phase of the operation was to lead its troops into the breakthrough created by units of the 5th Guards Army. Subsequently, after the 5th Guards Army broke through the enemy's defenses on the Nisa and Spree rivers, the 4th Guards Panzer Army was to outflank the Soviet rifle formations and rapidly develop an offensive in the direction of the Spremberg, and on the sixth day of the operation to capture the towns of Dessau and Rathenow.
Before the Berlin operation, in addition to the three Guards and Mechanized Corps, the Army had in its composition: the 68th Independent Guards Tank Brigade, the 70th Self-Propelled Artillery Brigade, the 71st Guards Light Self-Propelled Brigade, the 6th Guards Anti-Aircraft Division, and other formations and units under the Army's command.
It was obvious to the Soviet high command that during the attack on Berlin, the enemy would fight ferociously, defending its capital and the last bastion of the regime, and would try to repel the Red Army's onslaught with all its forces and resources. Accordingly, the military council of the 4th Guards Tank Army planned in detail the rapid entry of its units into the breaches and the forcible crossings of water obstacles, especially the Spree River. The attack was planned for day and night hours by all forces of the army in close cooperation with the adjacent units and the air force of Colonel General S. A. Krasovsky. At the same time, an order was issued to the units not to engage in combat for individual defensive points that are of no operational importance, as this would unnecessarily tie up the forces necessary for the main objective of the operation - the defeat of large operational and strategic advances of the enemy.
In major military operations, it is usually the unit commanders who reap the greatest glory. But many times the unit staff, headed by the chief of staff, plays a more important role than the commander in the preparation of operations. It was no different, based on the memoirs of Army Commander Lelushenko, in the case of the 4th Guards Tank Army, whose staff was headed by an experienced staff officer, a graduate of the Military Academy of the General Staff, Major-General of Tank Troops K. I. Upman. Equally powerful was the staff's operations department, which at the time was headed by the comprehensively erudite colonel (after the war he attained the rank of army general) S. S. Maryakhin. The latter had the added advantage of having known Army Commander Lelushenko since the 1930s, when they jointly commanded tank units in the 1st Mechanized Brigade under the command of K. B. Kalinovsky.
After the aforementioned thorough preparation at the level of the army command, and of course especially at the level of the front command, the army units went on the offensive on Monday, 16 April 1945. The 4th Guards Panzer Army advanced successfully and successively captured the towns of Spremberg, Calau, Luckau, and Babelsberg to reach the approaches to the southwestern suburbs of Berlin on 21 April. The 63rd Guards Tank Brigade, operating as the vanguard of the 4th Guards Tank Army, defeated the German garrison at Babelsberg (south of the Berlin suburbs) and liberated seven thousand prisoners from a concentration camp. Prominent prisoners, such as former French Prime Minister Édouard Marie Herriot and his wife, were also interned in the camp. On Sunday, 22 April, the 5th Guards Mechanized Corps captured the towns of Beelitz, Treuenbritzen, and Jüterbog, where it seized an airfield with about 300 enemy aircraft. After reaching the Treuenbritzen-Beelitz line, the Mechanized Corps began fighting the advance troops of the German 12th Army under the command of General of Panzer Troops Wenck, which was trying to break through to Berlin. All enemy attacks were repulsed and the German troops were pushed back to their original positions. On 23 April, the 10th Guards Tank Corps crossed the Teltow Canal.
After entering the German capital from the south, the 4th Guards Panzer Army joined the troops of the 1st Belorussian Front and closed the encirclement of Berlin from the west. On the night of 25 April, the 35th Guards Mechanized Brigade captured the town of Ketzin, located 22 km (22 mi) west of Berlin, where it linked up with the 328th Rifle Division with the 65th Guards Tank Brigade of the 1st Belorussian Front, thus locking in the encirclement in the area.
Soviet Infantry and Tankers, Berlin, April 24, 1945.
The other tasks of the 4th Guards Tank Army in the ongoing operation were as follows:
- to prevent enemy troops from retreating from Berlin to the southwest,
- to prevent the German 12th Army from advancing towards the capital, as its task was to unblock the besieged Berlin with its two hundred thousand strong military garrison,
On Tuesday, May 1, units of the 5th Guards Mechanized Corps attacked in a westward direction, while units of the 6th Guards Mechanized Corps in turn attacked in an eastward direction to the east and southeast of the city. In close cooperation with units of the 13th Army (commanded by colonel-general Pukhov), troops of the German 12th Army, as well as remnants of the enemy 9th Army, were completely destroyed. Despite heavy losses of manpower and equipment, Soviet troops did not cease to exert enormous pressure on the enemy. Soldiers of the 10th Guards Tank Corps, along with other units, attacked the southwestern area of Berlin, pushing the enemy toward one of the city's symbols, the Brandenburg Gate.
On the morning of 2 May, German troops breaking out of the encirclement unexpectedly entered the area where the army headquarters was located. The repulse of the attack was personally commanded by the army commander Lelushenko, and by noon the attacking troops had been destroyed. At 3 p.m. the same day, the German Berlin garrison, led by General Weidling, surrendered.
Artillery General Helmuth Weidling (first from left) and officers of his staff after surrendering to Soviet troops.
But the war was far from over. A strong force of Army Group Centre, under the command of Field Marshal General Ferdinand Schörner, of nearly one million soldiers and officers, was stationed on the territory of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Their main objective was to avoid falling into Soviet captivity and to fight their way west. To eliminate their efforts, the Prague Offensive was developed by the Soviet command.
This last Soviet offensive operation in Europe also involved troops of the 4th Guards Tank Army, as part of the 1st Ukrainian Front. The very next day after the surrender of Berlin, on 3 May 1945, the army handed over its combat sector to the 69th Army of the 1st Belorussian Front and began to concentrate in the forests 35-50 km south of Berlin to prepare for an attack on Prague. The army was ordered to advance in the 13th Army's area of operations along the western banks of the Elbe and Vltava rivers in the direction of Teplice - Šanov - Prague.
On Saturday, May 5, Army troops crossed the Elbe River in the area of the German town of Torgau to go on the offensive on May 6, a day earlier than planned. The reason for the early start of the attack was the outbreak of the Prague Uprising. By the evening of 6 May, after covering a distance of 50 km, the army troops reached the Waldheim-Siebelen line. Its advance troops advanced as far as 65 km and captured an important railway junction - the town of Freiberg. On 7 May, the 4th Guards Tank Army advanced another 50-60 km, to the Frauenstein-Sayda line. Soon Soviet troops also occupied all the passes through the Ore Mountains. The 10th Guards Tank Corps liberated the Czech towns of Teplice and Šanov, and the 6th Guards Mechanized Corps the West Bohemian town of Duchcov.
On the night of May 8, the 10th Guards Mechanized Brigade under the command of Colonel V.N. Buslayev, operating as an advance detachment of the army, encountered a Žatec on a column of enemy vehicles moving from Jaroměř to Plzeň. The Soviets attacked the column on the run and, in cooperation with other units of the 5th Guards Mechanized Corps, dispersed it. Only after the fight did it turn out to be the moving headquarters of Army Group Centre, the destruction of which paralyzed the German command. Most German soldiers, including nine generals, surrendered to capture. The commander of the Army Group, Field Marshal General Schörner, managed to escape and, together with an aide who spoke Czech, disguised themselves in civilian clothes and surrendered to the Americans after five days of wandering.
Soldiers of the 16th Guards Mechanized Brigade under the command of G. M. Shcherbak invaded and liberated the town of Most, which was of great military-industrial importance, on the morning of 8 May. On the night of 9 May, the 63rd Guards Tank Brigade was one of the first to fight its way into Prague. At 04.00 in the morning, the entire 10th Guards Tank Corps entered the Czech capital and reached its northeastern, eastern and southeastern outskirts. The 6th Guards Mechanized Corps - to the southern and southwestern edges of the city, the 5th Guards Mechanized Corps - to its western edge. Along with these units, members of the 3rd Guards Tank Army, 3rd Guards Army and 13th Army entered the city.
Tankers of the 7th Guards Tank Corps on the streets of Prague, May 1945.
Last combat operations
After the liberation of Prague, under orders from the front command, the 4th Guards Tank Army advanced in an easterly and southeasterly direction, cutting off the defeated German troops' escape routes to the west. The 11th Guards Mechanized Brigade, operating in the direction of Pilsen, encountered the 2nd Infantry Division of the U.S. Army's 5th Army Corps 3rd Army in the Říčany area at 11:00 a.m. on 9 May 1945. The most terrible war in the history of mankind is over.
After the end of the war, the 4th Guards Tank Army was assigned to the Central Army Group with deployment in the Soviet zone of occupation. In 1946, the army was renamed the 4th Guards Mechanized Army and its subordinate corps were, as part of the Red Army's post-war downsizing, renamed divisions.
 For more information on the Soviet attack on Berlin - see the article Battle of Berlin
Ivlev, I.I.: Vsje tankovyje i mechanizirovannye armii SSSR i Rossii 1924-2021, Litres, Samizdat 2021 (Ivlev I. I.: All tank and mechanized armies of the USSR and Russia 1942-2021, Litres, Samizdat 2021)
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