|Russian army in Berlin in 1945. In the background is the Brandenburg Gate|
The battle for Berlin had cost the Soviets over 70,000 dead. Many of them had died because of the haste with which the campaign was conducted. 'Of our unit's 360 handsome young men who gathered at the Dnieper River, only 6 made it to Berlin,' says one Soviet veteran.
So what are the reasons for Stalin's hurry to reach Berlin? After all, he was happy to share the city with his western allies after the city's surrender. The traditional explanation is that it was a question of Soviet prestige and mistrust of the west. However, during his research, Beevor discovered a startling new document: 'It struck me so powerfully that the moment I started to read it I knew I had to look at a totally different aspect of Stalin's interest in Berlin.'
The document shows that Stalin was desperate to get his hands on the German nuclear research centre, the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in the southwest of Berlin - before the Americans got there. The Soviets knew through their spies of the American atomic bomb programme. Stalin's own nuclear programme, Operation Borodino, was lagging behind and Soviet scientists wanted to find out exactly what the Germans had come up with during the war.
As it turned out, the special NKVD troops dispatched to secure the German institute discovered three tons of uranium oxide, a material they were short of at the time. 'So the Soviets achieved their objective,' says Beevor, 'the uranium oxide they found in Berlin was enough to kick start Operation Borodino and allow them to start working on their first nuclear weapon.'