Fort No. 5 (originally called Fort König Friedrich-Wilhelm III) was one of a ring of 12 defensive fortresses that were constructed around the East Prussian capital Königsberg between 1872 and 1890 and updated several times up to World War I. In the Second World War, Königsberg remained relatively unaffected, apart few some isolated and largely ineffective raids by the Soviet Air Force, until late August 1944, when two massive RAF air raids devastated the centre of the city. On January 13, 1945, the Red Army launched it East Prussian offensive, and by January 24 the 3rd Belarussian Front had reached the Baltic Coast near Elbing (now Elbląg, Poland), severing Königsberg and the surrounding region from the rest of Germany. By the end of the month, the city had also been cut off from the port of Pillau (now Baltiysk), but on February 19, simultaneous attacks from Königsberg and Pillau restored a corridor, allowing supplies to reach Königsberg and refugees to flee. There was a lull during March, partly because the front had moved so far west that Königsberg had lost much of its strategic significance.
After 5 days of artillery bombardment, the final operation to capture the city began on April 6, with 39th and 43rd Armies attacking from the North and 11th Guards from the south. The defensive lines were penetrated in many places, and the Soviets closed into the city from all sides. Resistance at Fort No. 5 was fierce, but on the night of April 7/8, sappers were able to breach the walls, and infantry from the 126th and 235th Rifle Divisions of 43rd Army were able storm the fort, whose garrison surrendered on the morning of April 8. Königsberg’s commander, Otto Lasch, surrendered the city the next morning. Fifteen soldiers were awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union for their part in the storming of Fort No. 5, a remarkably high number for such a seemingly minor operation.
The fort was opened as a museum in 1979, although only a small section at the front has been renovated. Among the exhibits recounting the assault on the fort, one room holds temporary exhibits (when I visited in September 2011, it had an exhibit on the White Rose and other German resistance groups). A number of memorial stones are dotted along the path around the moat, and a few artillery pieces are placed in front of the entrance.
The fort is located at the city boundary on the northern edge of Kaliningrad, on the main road to Zelenogradsk and the airport (look for the marker above, which marks the city limit – the fort is right beside it). To get there, take trolleybus no. 1 from the city centre. The museum is open every day except Monday, from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.
More in Kaliningrad:
- Baltic Fleet Memorial
- Monument to the 1,200 Guardsmen
- Bunker Museum
- Storming of Königsberg Monument
- 11th Guards Rifle Division Monument
- Normandie-Niemen Memorial
- Memorial to the Pilots of the Baltic Fleet