Having advanced westwards to the River Oder, 37 miles (60 km) from Berlin, the Red Army halted and made preparations for a coordinated attack on the city, while the western Allies began pounding it from the air. In March the Germans, under General Gotthard Heinrici, had established a number of defensive fortifications, including three major lines to the west of the Oder-Neisse Rivers. On 16 April the Soviets attacked from the south, east and north, engaging the Germans in a gruelling battle for control of the strategic Seelow Heights, which overlooked the most direct route westwards. Under Marshall Georgy Zukhov, the 1st Belorussian Front steadily degraded the defences for three days, linked up with Marshal Ivan Konev’s 1st Ukrainian Front advancing north, and encircled the German 9th Army to the south. Facing defeat, and preferring to surrender to the Americans, who were advancing from the west, the Germans tried to fight their way through the Soviet lines, now extending to the west of the city, and suffered terrible losses at the Battle of Halbe. Berlin’s defences crumbled, and the city now lay at the Soviets’ mercy.
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