The Seelow Heights form a low ridge that overlooks the Oderbruch, the western flood plain of the River Oder, about 40 miles east of Berlin. In April 1945, as the Soviets crossed the Oder, these hills were the last natural obstacle standing between the Red Army and the German capital. The heights were defended by Theodor Busse’s 9th Army, part of Army Group Vistula under Gotthard Heinrici. This 100,000-strong force faced Georgiy Zhukov’s 1st Belarussian Front, which had 11 armies and a total of around one million men.
The assault on the heights opened before dawn on April 16 with a massive artillery bombardment. Heinrici, however, had anticipated the timing of the attack and withdrawn from the first of the 3 defensive lines occupied by 9th Army, meaning that the bombardment fell largely on unoccupied positions. After 20 minutes, 143 searchlights were switched on and 5th Shock and 8th Guards Armies began moving forward. Zhukov’s aim had been to use the searchlights to blind the defenders and illuminate their positions, but the artillery bombardment had thrown so much dust and smoke into the air that the light was reflected back into the faces of the advancing Soviet troops, dazzling them and making them easy targets for the German gun crews. At noon, with the assault having made virtually no progress over the swampy ground below the heights, a furious Zhukov ordered 1st and 2nd Guards Tank Armies into the attack, but this merely created a massive traffic jam and added to the chaos, earning Zhukov a stiff rebuke when he phoned Stalin that night to report the progress, or lack thereof. By late evening, however, 8th Guards had managed to take a foothold in Seelow town.
The following morning, the preparatory artillery barrage was joined by air assaults, and the 4 armies were again launched into the attack and again ran into determined resistance from the 9th Army. By late, afternoon, however, Seelow had been taken and the defenders were forced to fall back. To the south, the 1st Ukrainian Front under Marshal Ivan Konev had been much more successful, crossing the River Neisse in force and punching through 4th Panzer Army’s defences, thereby threatening to outflank 9th Amy. The defences began to crumble under repeated Soviet attacks on the 18th, and 1st Belarussian finally broke through the final defensive line on the 19th, leaving the way to Berlin clear. The four days resulted in an estimated 30,000 Soviet and 12,000 German deaths.
The museum is constructed to resemble a field command post and contains a number of exhibits relating to the battle, mainly in the form of dioramas. A small cinema room shows a 30-minute documentary film in several languages, and audio guides describing the museum and grounds can be rented. It opens every day except Monday and admission is €3. A T-34/85, a Katyusha rocket launcher and a number of artillery pieces are displayed in front of the museum. The museum’s web site is in German only.
The cemetery is reached via a stairway at the side of the museum. It was first inaugurated in November 1945 and contains the remains of 198 Red Army soldiers. A searchlight of the type used in the initial assault on the heights stands in one corner of the cemetery.
The main memorial is a four-metre tall bronze statue of a Red Army infantryman holding a PPSh sub-machine gun and standing next to a stylized tank turret.
The Russian text on the pedestal reads “Eternal glory to the heroes who fell in battle against the fascist invaders for the freedom and independence of the Soviet Union.”
To get to Seelow from Berlin, take the NE26 train from Lichtenberg Bhf. to Seelow-Gusow, a journey time of about one hour. From here, Bus (No. 958) takes about 10 minutes to Seelow bus station, which is about 10-15 minutes walk from the museum. In the summer months, there is a direct train (No. OE60) from Lichtenberg Bhf. to Seelow Bhf., just a few minutes walk from the museum, but it is primarily aimed at tourists using the many walking and cycling trails in the area and is very slow and indirect, taking around 2 hours.