The Battle of the Seelow Heights began on the Eastern Front. It was one of the last assaults of the Second World War. It was fought over three days. Close to one million Soviet soldiers of the 1st Belorussian Front (including 78,556 soldiers of the Polish 1st Army), commanded by Marshal Georgi Zhukov, attacked the position known as the "Gates of Berlin". They were opposed by about 110,000 soldiers of the German 9th Army, commanded by General Theodor Busse, as part of the Army Group Vistula. The Seelow Heights was where some of the most bitter fighting in the overall battle took place, but it was only one of several crossing points along the Oder and Neisse rivers where the Soviets attacked. The Battle of the Oder-Neisse was itself only the opening phase of the Battle of Berlin.
The Battle of Berlin began on this day in 1945. It was the final major offensive in World War II European theatre. Two Soviet fronts attacked Berlin from the east and south, while a third broke through German forces entrenched north of Berlin. After the successful battles of Seelow Heights and Halbe, the Red Army Army encircled Berlin. Then on April 20, 1945, the 1st Belorussian Front led by Marshal Georgy Zhukov, advancing from the east and north, launched ferocious shelling of Berlin's city centre. Meanwhile Marshal Ivan Konev's 1st Ukrainian Front broke through Army Group Centre and advanced towards the southern suburbs of Berlin. Gradually, the Red Army took control of the entire city. The three Soviet fronts combined had a total of 2.5 million men (including 78,556 soldiers of the 1st Polish Army), 6,250 tanks, 7,500 aircraft, 41,600 artillery pieces and mortars, 3,255 truck-mounted Katyusha rocket launchers (nicknamed 'Stalin's Pipe Organs'), and 95,383 motor vehicles.
The German transport ship MV Goya was sunk in the Baltic Sea by Soviet submarine L-3 with the loss of over 6,000 lives. The Goya was originally a Norwegian ship but was confiscated by the Nazis upon the invasion of Norway in 1940. On April 16, 1945, Goya was sailing from Gotenhafen (Gdynia) as part of a convoy during Operation Hannibal, serving as both an evacuation ship and Wehrmacht troop transport, moving people from the eastern and southern Baltic to the west. The ship which was meant to accommodate only 850 crew members but was overcrowded with more than 7,000 eastern European refugees, including 200 men of the 25th Panzer Regiment (part of 7th Panzer Division). Exactly 4 minutes before midnight, Captain Vladimir Konovalov, commander of L-3, gave the order to fire a spread of four torpedoes. Two torpedoes hit Goya; one struck amidships, the second exploded in the stern. The Goya was consumed in an immense plume of fire with smoke billowing into the sky. The attack was so immense that the ship's masts collapsed on top of the refugees sleeping on the top deck. Moments later, the ship broke in two and it sank in less than four minutes, killing all on board.
German submarines were sunk: U-78 was sunk after being attacked by Soviet land-based artillery while she was docked near the electricity supply pier in the German port of Pillau in East Prussia; U-880 was sunk by USS Frost and USS Stanton. The Allied ships chased the submerged sub for several hours and finally attacked her with hedgehogs, sinking her. There were no survivors; U-1274 was sunk in the North Sea by depth charges from British destroyer HMS Viceroy.
Harry S. Truman addressed Congress for the first time as president, in a speech broadcast over the major networks. "With great humility I call upon all Americans to help me keep our nation united in defense of those ideals which have been so eloquently proclaimed by Franklin Roosevelt," Truman said. "I want in turn to assure my fellow Americans and all of those who love peace and liberty throughout the world that I will support and defend those ideals with all my strength and all my heart. That is my duty and I shall not shirk it. So that there can be no possible misunderstanding, both Germany and Japan can be certain, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that America will continue the fight for freedom until no vestige of resistance remains!"
Rudolf Hess was condemned to hang by Polish authorities on April 2, 1947. The sentence was carried out on this day in 1947. He was hanged next to the crematorium of the former Auschwitz I concentration camp on a short drop gallows constructed especially for him. (Note: The short drop method ensured that Hoss died a slow, and painful strangulation, and it probably took between ten and twenty minutes for him to die. The message on the board that marks the site read as follows, "This is where the camp Gestapo was located. Prisoners suspected of involvement in the camp's underground resistance movement or of preparing to escape were interrogated here. Many prisoners died as a result of being beaten or tortured. The first commandant of Auschwitz, SS-Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Höss, who was tried and sentenced to death after the war by the Polish Supreme National Tribunal, was hanged here on 16 April 1947."
European Commission: Signing of the Treaty of Accession was the agreement between the member states of the European Union and ten countries (Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia), concerning these countries' accession into the EU. The Treaty changed a number of points which were originally laid down in the Treaty of Nice. It was
signed on April 16, 2003 in Athens, Greece and it entered into force on May 1, 2004, resulting in an enlargement of the European Union consisting of 10 states.