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Army Group Centre (German: Heeresgruppe Mitte) was the name of two distinct German strategic army groups that fought on the Eastern Front in World War II. The first Army Group Centre was created on 22 June 1941, as one of three German Army (Wehrmacht Heer) formations assigned to the invasion of the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa). On 25 January 1945, after it was encircled in the Königsberg pocket, Army Group Centre was renamed Army Group North (Heeresgruppe Nord), and Army Group A (Heeresgruppe A) became Army Group Centre. The latter formation retained its name until the end of the war in Europe.

Contents

Formation

Commander in chief on formation, June 1941 Fedor von Bock

Subordinated units

June 1941

  • Army Group HQ troops
537th Signals Regiment
537th Signals Regiment (2nd echelon)
1st Cav. Div., 3rd Pz, 4th Pz., 10th Mot.Div., 267th ID
SS "Das Reich" Div., 10th Pz. Inf. Reg. "Gross Deutschland"
17th Pz, 18th Pz, 29th Mot.Div., 167th ID
  • XII Army Corps (Schroth)
31st ID, 34th ID, 45th ID Reserve: 255th ID
  • VII Army Corps (Fahrmbacher)
7th ID, 23rd ID, 258th ID, 268th ID, 221st Sec.Div.
  • IX Army Corps (Geyer)
137th ID, 263rd ID, 292nd ID
  • XIII Army Corps (Felber)
17th ID, 78th ID
131st ID, 134th ID, 252nd ID Reserve: 286th ID
  • VIII Army Corps (Heitz)
8th ID, 28th ID, 161st ID
162nd ID, 256th ID
  • XLII Army Corps (Kuntze)
87th ID, 102nd ID, 129th ID Reserve: 403rd Sec.Div.
  • V Army Corps (Ruoff)
5th ID, 35th ID
6th ID, 26th ID
7th Pz, 20th Pz, 14th Mot.Div., 20th Mot.Div.
  • LVII Panzer Corps (Kuntzen)
12th Pz, 18th Pz, 19th Pz

Campaign and operational history

Operation Barbarossa

On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany and its Axis allies launched their surprise offensive into Soviet Union. Their armies, totaling over three million men, were to advance in three geographical directions. The Army Group Centre's initial strategic goal was to defeat the Soviet armies in Belarus, including occupation of Smolensk. To accomplish this, the Army Group planned for a rapid advance using Blitzkrieg operational methods for which purpose it commanded two rather than one Panzer Groups. A quick and decisive victory over the Soviet Union was expected by mid-November. The Army Group's other operational missions were to support the Army Groups to its northern and southern flanks, the Army Group boundary for the later being the Pripyat River.

Offensive Campaign in Belorussia

Army Group Centre was the strongest of the three German formations. Commanded by Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, it included the 4th and 9th Army, the 2nd and 3rd Panzer Groups and the 2nd Air Fleet. By mid-August 1941 it had crushed Soviet forces in huge encirclement battles: Battle of Białystok-Minsk and Battle of Smolensk. Once they had conquered the territories in the West of the Soviet Union, the Germans began their genocide regime, burning thousands of cities and villages, shooting and deporting hundreds of thousands of civilians. Soviet prisoners of war, 300,000 after the battle of Minsk alone, were either killed in concentration camps, or literally starved to death in prison camps, mostly nothing more than fields surrounded with barbed wire in the open.

July 1941
3rd Panzer Group, 9th Army, 4th Army, 2nd Panzer Group, z. Vfg. 2nd Army

August 1941
3rd Panzer Group, 9th Army, 2nd Army, Army Group of Guderian

September 1941
3rd Panzer Group, 9th Army, 4th Army, 2nd Panzer Group, 2nd Army

Early anti-partisan Campaign

In spite of terrible losses, Soviet resistance was fierce and self-sacrificing. A partisan movement disrupted German supply lines. Bitter fighting in the Battle of Smolensk delayed the German advance for two months due to the Lötzen decision. The advance of Army Group Centre was further delayed as Hitler ordered a postponement of the offensive against Moscow, and to conquer Ukraine first.

Moscow Campaign

Operation Typhoon

The German offensive against Moscow was resumed on 30 September 1941. The delays turned out to be fatal to the German forces fighting their way on the approaches to the Soviet capital. Autumn rains turned roads into mud. In November, an unusually harsh winter set in, catching the Germans ill-equipped for winter warfare. Meanwhile, Soviet resistance grew plainly desperate, as soldiers engaged in infantry combat against German tanks. Suffering tremendous losses, the Soviets finally stopped the German advance in late November 1941, when the advance elements of the German Army had the distant spires of the Moscow Kremlin in sight. The Soviet counter-offensive in the Battle of Moscow, which started on 6 December 1941, would mark the first decisive blow against the German invaders, and the failure of the German Blitzkrieg. Army Group Centre was driven back out of reach of Moscow by April 1942. It did however hold a narrow salient (the Rzhev Salient) which still threatened Moscow and would be the subject of numerous Soviet attacks in the coming year.

October 1941

  • LIII Army Corps (Weisenberger)
56th ID, 31st ID, 167th ID
  • LXIII Army Corps (Heinrici)
52nd ID, 131st ID
  • XIII Army Corps (Felber)
260th ID, 17th ID Reserve: 112th ID
  • XXXIV Army Corps (Metz)
45th ID, 134th ID
  • XXXV Army Corps (Kempfe)
95th ID, 296th ID, 262nd ID, 293rd ID
9th Pz, 16th Mot.Div., 25th Mot.Div.
  • XXIV Panzer Corps (Geyer von Schweppenburg)
3rd Pz, 4th Pz, 10th Mot.Div.
17th Pz, 18th Pz, 29th Mot.Div.
  • VII Army Corps (Fahrmbacher)
197th ID, 7th ID, 23rd ID, 267th ID
  • XX Army Corps (Materna)
268th ID, 15th, 78th ID
  • IX Army Corps (Geyer)
137th ID, 263rd ID, 183rd ID, 292nd ID
  • Panzer Group 4 (Hoepner), Subordinated to 4th Army
  • XII Army Corps (Schroth)
34th ID, 98th ID
  • XL Army Corps (Stumme)
10th Pz, 2ndPz, 258th ID
  • XLVI Panzer Corps (von Vietinghoff)
5th Bz, llth Pz, 252nd ID
  • LVII Panzer Corps (Kuntzen)
20th Pz, SS "Das Reich" Mot.Div., 3rd Mot.Div. [352]
255th ID, 162nd ID, 86th ID
  • V Army Corps (Ruoff)
5th ID, 35th ID, 106th ID, 129th ID
  • VIII Army Corps (Heitz)
8th ID, 28th ID, 87th ID
  • XXIII Army Corps (Schubert)
251st ID, 102nd ID, 256th ID, 206th ID Reserve: 161st ID
6th Pz, 7th Pz, 14th Mot.Div.
  • XLI Panzer Corps (Reinhardt)
1st Pz, 36th Mot.Div.
110th ID, 26th ID, 6th ID
November 1941
9th Army, 3rd Panzer Group, 4th Army, 2nd Panzer Army, 2nd Army

Commanders in chief 19 December 1941 Günther von Kluge

Russian Defensive Campaign

1942 for Army Group Centre opened with continuing attacks from Soviet forces around Rzhev. The German Ninth Army was able to repel these attacks and stabilise its front, despite continuing large-scale partisan activity in its rear areas. Meanwhile the German strategic focus on the Eastern Front shifted to southern Russia, with the launching of Operation Blue in June. This operation, aimed at the oilfields in the southern Caucasus, involved Army Group South alone, with the other German army groups giving up troops and equipment for the offensive.

Despite the focus on the south, Army Group Centre continued to see fierce fighting throughout the year. While the Soviet attacks in early 1942 had not driven the Germans back, they had resulted in several Red Army units being trapped behind German lines. Eliminating the pocket took until July, the same month in which the Soviets made another attempt to break through the army group's front; the attempt failed, but the front line was pushed back closer to Rzhev. The largest Soviet operation in the army group's sector that year, Operation Mars, took place in November. It was launched concurrently with Operation Uranus, the counteroffensive against the German assault on Stalingrad. The operation was repulsed with very heavy Soviet losses, although it did have the effect of pinning down German units that could have been sent to the fighting around Stalingrad.

January 1942
9th Army, 3rd Panzer Army, 4th Panzer Army, 4th Army, 2nd Panzer Army, 2nd Army
February 1942
3rd Panzer Army, 9th Army, 4th Panzer Army, 4th Army, 2nd Panzer Army
May 1942
9th Army, 3rd Panzer Army, 4th Army, 2nd Panzer Army

Operation Fridericus II
Battle of Voronezh (1942)

Campaign in Central Russia

Following the disaster of Stalingrad and poor results of the Voronezh defensive operations the OKH expected another attack on Army Group Centre in early 1943. However Hitler had decided to strike first. However, before this could be done Wehrmacht had to forestall possible Soviet offensives by carrying out their Operation Büffel — the planned evacuation of the Rzhev Salient to shorten their lines.

January 1943
LIX AK, 9th Army, 3rd Panzer Army, 4th Army, 2nd Panzer Army

Commanders in chief 12 October 1943 Ernst Busch

February 1943
3rd Panzer Army, 9th Army, 4th Army, 2nd Panzer Army

Belorussian anti-partisan Campaign

From early in 1942 there was an intensified movement to create armed resistance to the Wehrmacht in occupied territories, and particularly the very difficult terrain of the western Belorussian region. This effort was directed by the separate Stavka Head Quarters in Moscow, utilising partisan cells trained before the war, local party officials that escaped the Gestapo, and a considerable number of Red Army troops that evaded massive encirclements of 1941. By early 1943 this movement, though only loosely interrelated within the region, numbered an estimated 250,000 combat and combat support personnel, with sophisticated bases, long range communication equipment, and increasingly disruptive to Wehrmacht's rear services and lines of communication.

Combating these partisan groups and bands demanded constant security deployment for German troops required by the increasingly personnel-starved field forces, and increasingly police volunteer personnel from the occupied territories, particularly from the Ukraine and the occupied Baltic republics were used alongside special Waffen-SS and Wehrmacht units. The following major anti-partisan operations were conducted in the rear of Army Group Centre, alongside many smaller operations:

  • Operation Bamberg: conducted from 26 March 1942 – 6 April 1942 by the 707th Infantry Division supported by a Slovak regiment, south of Bobruisk. At least 5,000 people (including many civilians) were killed and agricultural produce was confiscated.[1]
  • Operation Fruhlingsfest: conducted from 17 April 1944 – 12 May 1944 in the area of Polotsk by units of Gruppe von Gottberg. Around 7,000 deaths were recorded at the hands of German forces.

Increasing coordination of the partisan activity resulted in the conducting of Operation Concert against the German forces.

Operation Citadel

In July and August 1943 the Soviets succeeded in stopping the German offensive Operation Citadel into the Kursk Salient and counterattacked towards Orel and Kharkov. In tandem with the offensive into Ukraine another offensive, the Smolensk Operation (Operation Suvarov), was launched against Army Group Centre between August and October 1943. The attacks made slow progress but were successful in recapturing Smolensk and the important rail junction at Nevel, forcing the German line back on a broad front, however the attack foundered on the strong German defensive works in the Vitebsk-Orsha-Mogilev area (the Ostwall defensive line).

March 1943
3rd Panzer Army, 9th Army, 4th Army, 2nd Panzer Army, 2nd Army
April 1943
3rd Panzer Army, 4th Army, 2nd Panzer Army, 2nd Army, z.Vfg. 9th Army
July 1943
3rd Panzer Army, 4th Army, 2nd Panzer Army, 9th Army, 2nd Army

Wotan Line defensive Campaign

Further Soviet offensives against Army Group Centre - the Gomel and Orsha Operations in November 1943 and the Vitebsk Operation in February 1944 were unsuccessful against the strong Ostwall defences. However, the Soviets did succeed in almost encircling the heavily fortified town of Vitebsk.

In comparison to the great Soviet victories in the Ukraine since Stalingrad, Soviet progress on the central front (roughly the area Minsk - Smolensk - Moscow) in the period early 1942-early 1944 had been disappointing. Soviet planners launched several offensives hoping for a grand encirclement and destruction of Army Group Centre yet had only succeeded in forcing the German line back on a broad front with heavy Soviet casualties. There were several reasons for this comparative lack of success - the terrain here was much more heavily forested and thus favoured the defender, German units in this area had had time to prepare comprehensive fortifications and the German leadership had been good, while Soviet leadership had been uninspired.

September 1943
3rd Panzer Army, 4th Army, 9th Army, 2nd Army
November 1943
3rd Panzer Army, 4th Army, 9th Army, 2nd Army, armed forces commander east country
January 1944
3rd Panzer Army, 4th Army, 9th Army, 2nd Army

Destruction of Army Group Centre

However, all this was to change in summer 1944. In spring 1944 the Soviet command started concentrating massive forces along the frontline in central Russia for a huge summer offensive against Army Group Centre. The Soviets also carried out a masterful deception campaign to convince the Germans that the main Soviet summer offensive would be launched further south, against Army Group North Ukraine. The German High Command was fooled and armored units were moved south out of Army Group Centre. The massive Soviet buildup opposite Army Group Centre was not detected.

The offensive, code-named Operation Bagration, was launched on 22 June 1944, the third anniversary of the German invasion and the beginning of the Great Patriotic War in 1941 (this was actually a coincidence, the attack had been unexpectedly delayed several days). 185 Soviet divisions comprising about 2.5 million soldiers and 6,000 tanks smashed into the German positions on a frontline of 1,000 km. The 500,000-strong German Army Group Centre was crushed. 350,000 Germans were killed or captured. Soviet forces raced forward, liberating Minsk and the rest of Byelorussia (Belarus) by the end of August, crossing the pre-war border and advancing into East Prussia and Poland by the end of the year. In terms of casualties this was the greatest German defeat of the entire war.

Commanders in chief 28 June 1944 Walter Model

July 1944
3rd Panzer Army, 4th Army, 2nd Army, z.Vfg. 9th Army

Commanders in chief 16 August 1944 Georg Hans Reinhardt

August 1944
3rd Panzer Army, 4th Army, 4th Army, 2nd Army, IV SS Panzer Corps

Defensive Campaign in Poland and Slovakia

The Soviet commanders, after their inaction during the Warsaw Uprising, took Warsaw in January 1945. Over three days, the Red Army, incorporating four army Fronts, began an offensive across the Narew River and from Warsaw. The Soviets outnumbered the Germans on average by 9:1 in troops, 9 or 10:1 in artillery and 10:1 in tanks and self-propelled artillery.

Defence of the Reich Campaign

On 25 January 1945 Hitler renamed three army groups. Army Group North became Army Group Courland; Army Group Centre became Army Group North and Army Group A became Army Group Centre.

Defence of Slovakia

Defence of Moravia

Defence of Bohemia

Battle of Berlin

The last Soviet campaign of the war, which led to the fall of Berlin and the end of the war in Europe with the surrender of all German forces to the Allies. The three Soviet Fronts involved in the campaign had altogether 2.5 million men, 6,250 tanks, 7,500 aircraft, 41,600 artillery pieces and mortars, 3,255 truck-mounted "Katyusha" rocket launchers (nicknamed 'Stalin Organs' by the Germans), and 95,383 motor vehicles. The campaign started with the battle of Oder-Neisse. Army Group Centre commanded by Ferdinand Schörner had a front that included the river Neisse. Before dawn on the morning of 16 April 1945 the 1st Ukrainian Front under the command of General Konev started the attack over the river Neisse with a short but massive bombardment by tens of thousands of artillery pieces.

Commanders in chief 17 January 1945 Ferdinand Schörner

January 1945
3rd Panzer Army, 4th Army, 2nd Army
February 1945
4th Panzer Army, 17th Army (Germany), 1st Panzer Army (Germany)
May 1945
7th Army (Germany), 4th Panzer Army, 17th Army, 1st Panzer Army
Army Group Ostmark

Battle of Prague

Some of Army Group Centre continued to resist until 11 May, by which time the overwhelming force of the Soviet Armies sent to occupy Czechoslovakia in the Prague Offensive gave them no option but to surrender or be killed.

May 1945
7th Army (Germany), 4th Panzer Army, 17th Army
Army Group Ostmark

Surrender

On 7 May, the day that German Chief-of-Staff General Alfred Jodl was negotiating surrender of all German forces at SHAEF, the last that the German Armed Forces High Command (AFHC) had heard from Schörner was on 2 May. He had reported that he intended to fight his way west and surrender his army group to the Americans. On 8 May, a colonel on the (AFHC), was escorted through the American lines to see Schörner. The colonel reported that Schörner had ordered the men under his operational command to observe the surrender but that he could not guarantee that he would be obeyed everywhere. Later that day Schörner deserted his command and flew to Austria where on the 18 May he was arrested by the Americans.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Gerlach, p. 885

Bibliography

  • Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg / hrsg. vom Militärgeschichtlichen Forschungsamt ; Bd. 8; Die Ostfront : 1943/44 ; der Krieg im Osten und an den Nebenfronten / mit Beitr. von Karl-Heinz Frieser, Bernd Wegner u.a., 1.Auflage, München 2007.
  • Gerlach, C. Kalkulierte Morde. Hamburg Edition, 2000
  • Hoth H. Panzer-Operationen. Heidelberg, Kurt Vowinckel Verlag, 1956

Further reading

External links


Army Group Centre (German: Heeresgruppe Mitte) was the name of two distinct German strategic army groups that fought on the Eastern Front in World War II. The first Army Group Centre was created on 22 June 1941, as one of three German Army (Wehrmacht Heer) formations assigned to the invasion of the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa). On 25 January 1945, after it was encircled in the Königsberg pocket, Army Group Centre was renamed Army Group North (Heeresgruppe Nord), and Army Group A (Heeresgruppe A) became Army Group Centre. The latter formation retained its name until the end of the war in Europe.

Contents

Formation

Commander in chief on formation, June 1941 Fedor von Bock

Subordinated units

June 1941

  • Army Group HQ troops
537th Signals Regiment
537th Signals Regiment (2nd echelon)
1st Cav. Div., 3rd Pz, 4th Pz., 10th Mot.Div., 267th ID
SS "Das Reich" Div., 10th Pz. Inf. Reg. "Gross Deutschland"
17th Pz, 18th Pz, 29th Mot.Div., 167th ID
  • XII Army Corps (Schroth)
31st ID, 34th ID, 45th ID Reserve: 255th ID
7th ID, 23rd ID, 258th ID, 268th ID, 221st Sec.Div.
  • IX Army Corps (Geyer)
137th ID, 263rd ID, 292nd ID
  • XIII Army Corps (Felber)
17th ID, 78th ID
131st ID, 134th ID, 252nd ID Reserve: 286th ID
  • VIII Army Corps (Heitz)
8th ID, 28th ID, 161st ID
162nd ID, 256th ID
  • XLII Army Corps (Kuntze)
87th ID, 102nd ID, 129th ID Reserve: 403rd Sec.Div.
  • V Army Corps (Ruoff)
5th ID, 35th ID
6th ID, 26th ID
7th Pz, 20th Pz, 14th Mot.Div., 20th Mot.Div.
  • LVII Panzer Corps (Kuntzen)
12th Pz, 18th Pz, 19th Pz

Campaign and operational history

Operation Barbarossa

On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany and its Axis allies launched their surprise offensive into Soviet Union. Their armies, totaling over three million men, were to advance in three geographical directions. The Army Group Centre's initial strategic goal was to defeat the Soviet armies in Belarus, including occupation of Smolensk. To accomplish this, the Army Group planned for a rapid advance using Blitzkrieg operational methods for which purpose it commanded two rather than one Panzer Groups. A quick and decisive victory over the Soviet Union was expected by mid-November. The Army Group's other operational missions were to support the Army Groups to its northern and southern flanks, the Army Group boundary for the later being the Pripyat River.

Offensive Campaign in Belorussia

Army Group Centre was the strongest of the three German formations. Commanded by Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, it included the 4th and 9th Army, the 2nd and 3rd Panzer Groups and the 2nd Air Fleet. By mid-August 1941 it had crushed Soviet forces in huge encirclement battles: Battle of Białystok-Minsk and Battle of Smolensk. Once they had conquered the territories in the West of the Soviet Union, the Germans began their genocide regime, burning thousands of cities and villages, shooting and deporting hundreds of thousands of civilians. Soviet prisoners of war, 300,000 after the battle of Minsk alone, were either killed in concentration camps, or literally starved to death in prison camps, mostly nothing more than fields surrounded with barbed wire in the open.

July 1941
3rd Panzer Group, 9th Army, 4th Army, 2nd Panzer Group, z. Vfg. 2nd Army

August 1941
3rd Panzer Group, 9th Army, 2nd Army, Army Group of Guderian

September 1941
3rd Panzer Group, 9th Army, 4th Army, 2nd Panzer Group, 2nd Army

Early anti-partisan Campaign

In spite of terrible losses, Soviet resistance was fierce and self-sacrificing. A partisan movement disrupted German supply lines. Bitter fighting in the Battle of Smolensk delayed the German advance for two months due to the Lötzen decision. The advance of Army Group Centre was further delayed as Hitler ordered a postponement of the offensive against Moscow, and to conquer Ukraine first.

Moscow Campaign

Operation Typhoon

The German offensive against Moscow was resumed on 30 September 1941. The delays turned out to be fatal to the German forces fighting their way on the approaches to the Soviet capital. Autumn rains turned roads into mud. In November, an unusually harsh winter set in, catching the Germans ill-equipped for winter warfare. Meanwhile, Soviet resistance grew plainly desperate, as soldiers engaged in infantry combat against German tanks. Suffering tremendous losses, the Soviets finally stopped the German advance in late November 1941, when the advance elements of the German Army had the distant spires of the Moscow Kremlin in sight.[citation needed] The Soviet counter-offensive in the Battle of Moscow, which started on 6 December 1941, would mark the first decisive blow against the German invaders, and the failure of the German Blitzkrieg. Army Group Centre was driven back out of reach of Moscow by April 1942. It did however hold a narrow salient (the Rzhev Salient) which still threatened Moscow and would be the subject of numerous Soviet attacks in the coming year.

October 1941

  • LIII Army Corps (Weisenberger)
56th ID, 31st ID, 167th ID
  • LXIII Army Corps (Heinrici)
52nd ID, 131st ID
  • XIII Army Corps (Felber)
260th ID, 17th ID Reserve: 112th ID
  • XXXIV Army Corps (Metz)
45th ID, 134th ID
  • XXXV Army Corps (Kempfe)
95th ID, 296th ID, 262nd ID, 293rd ID
9th Pz, 16th Mot.Div., 25th Mot.Div.
  • XXIV Panzer Corps (Geyer von Schweppenburg)
3rd Pz, 4th Pz, 10th Mot.Div.
17th Pz, 18th Pz, 29th Mot.Div.
  • VII Army Corps (Fahrmbacher)
197th ID, 7th ID, 23rd ID, 267th ID
  • XX Army Corps (Materna)
268th ID, 15th, 78th ID
  • IX Army Corps (Geyer)
137th ID, 263rd ID, 183rd ID, 292nd ID
  • Panzer Group 4 (Hoepner), Subordinated to 4th Army
  • XII Army Corps (Schroth)
34th ID, 98th ID
  • XL Army Corps (Stumme)
10th Pz, 2ndPz, 258th ID
  • XLVI Panzer Corps (von Vietinghoff)
5th Bz, llth Pz, 252nd ID
  • LVII Panzer Corps (Kuntzen)
20th Pz, SS "Das Reich" Mot.Div., 3rd Mot.Div. [352]
255th ID, 162nd ID, 86th ID
  • V Army Corps (Ruoff)
5th ID, 35th ID, 106th ID, 129th ID
  • VIII Army Corps (Heitz)
8th ID, 28th ID, 87th ID
  • XXIII Army Corps (Schubert)
251st ID, 102nd ID, 256th ID, 206th ID Reserve: 161st ID
6th Pz, 7th Pz, 14th Mot.Div.
  • XLI Panzer Corps (Reinhardt)
1st Pz, 36th Mot.Div.
110th ID, 26th ID, 6th ID
November 1941
9th Army, 3rd Panzer Group, 4th Army, 2nd Panzer Army, 2nd Army

Commanders in chief 19 December 1941 Günther von Kluge

  • for short time before Christmas 1941: Günther Blumentritt

Russian Defensive Campaign

1942 for Army Group Centre opened with continuing attacks from Soviet forces around Rzhev. The German Ninth Army was able to repel these attacks and stabilise its front, despite continuing large-scale partisan activity in its rear areas. Meanwhile the German strategic focus on the Eastern Front shifted to southern Russia, with the launching of Operation Blue in June. This operation, aimed at the oilfields in the southern Caucasus, involved Army Group South alone, with the other German army groups giving up troops and equipment for the offensive.

Despite the focus on the south, Army Group Centre continued to see fierce fighting throughout the year. While the Soviet attacks in early 1942 had not driven the Germans back, they had resulted in several Red Army units being trapped behind German lines. Eliminating the pocket took until July, the same month in which the Soviets made another attempt to break through the army group's front; the attempt failed, but the front line was pushed back closer to Rzhev. The largest Soviet operation in the army group's sector that year, Operation Mars, took place in November. It was launched concurrently with Operation Uranus, the counteroffensive against the German assault on Stalingrad. The operation was repulsed with very heavy Soviet losses, although it did have the effect of pinning down German units that could have been sent to the fighting around Stalingrad.

January 1942
9th Army, 3rd Panzer Army, 4th Panzer Army, 4th Army, 2nd Panzer Army, 2nd Army
February 1942
3rd Panzer Army, 9th Army, 4th Panzer Army, 4th Army, 2nd Panzer Army
May 1942
9th Army, 3rd Panzer Army, 4th Army, 2nd Panzer Army

Operation Fridericus II
Battle of Voronezh (1942)

Campaign in Central Russia

Following the disaster of Stalingrad and poor results of the Voronezh defensive operations the OKH expected another attack on Army Group Centre in early 1943. However Hitler had decided to strike first. However, before this could be done Wehrmacht had to forestall possible Soviet offensives by carrying out their Operation Büffel — the planned evacuation of the Rzhev Salient to shorten their lines.

January 1943
LIX AK, 9th Army, 3rd Panzer Army, 4th Army, 2nd Panzer Army

Commanders in chief 12 October 1943 Ernst Busch

February 1943
3rd Panzer Army, 9th Army, 4th Army, 2nd Panzer Army

Belorussian anti-partisan Campaign

From early in 1942 there was an intensified movement to create armed resistance to the Wehrmacht in occupied territories, and particularly the very difficult terrain of the western Belorussian region. This effort was directed by the separate Stavka Head Quarters in Moscow, utilising partisan cells trained before the war, local party officials that escaped the Gestapo, and a considerable number of Red Army troops that evaded massive encirclements of 1941. By early 1943 this movement, though only loosely interrelated within the region, numbered an estimated 250,000 combat and combat support personnel, with sophisticated bases, long range communication equipment, and increasingly disruptive to Wehrmacht's rear services and lines of communication.

Combating these partisan groups and bands demanded constant security deployment for German troops required by the increasingly personnel-starved field forces, and increasingly police volunteer personnel from the occupied territories, particularly from the Ukraine and the occupied Baltic republics were used alongside special Waffen-SS and Wehrmacht units. The following major anti-partisan operations were conducted in the rear of Army Group Centre, alongside many smaller operations:

  • Operation Bamberg: conducted from 26 March 1942 – 6 April 1942 by the 707th Infantry Division supported by a Slovak regiment, south of Bobruisk. At least 5,000 people (including many civilians) were killed and agricultural produce was confiscated.[1]
  • Operation Fruhlingsfest: conducted from 17 April 1944 – 12 May 1944 in the area of Polotsk by units of Gruppe von Gottberg. Around 7,000 deaths were recorded at the hands of German forces.

Increasing coordination of the partisan activity resulted in the conducting of Operation Concert against the German forces.

Operation Citadel

In July and August 1943 the Soviets succeeded in stopping the German offensive Operation Citadel into the Kursk Salient and counterattacked towards Orel and Kharkov. In tandem with the offensive into Ukraine another offensive, the Smolensk Operation (Operation Suvarov), was launched against Army Group Centre between August and October 1943. The attacks made slow progress but were successful in recapturing Smolensk and the important rail junction at Nevel, forcing the German line back on a broad front, however the attack foundered on the strong German defensive works in the Vitebsk-Orsha-Mogilev area (the Ostwall defensive line).

March 1943
3rd Panzer Army, 9th Army, 4th Army, 2nd Panzer Army, 2nd Army
April 1943
3rd Panzer Army, 4th Army, 2nd Panzer Army, 2nd Army, z.Vfg. 9th Army
July 1943
3rd Panzer Army, 4th Army, 2nd Panzer Army, 9th Army, 2nd Army

Wotan Line defensive Campaign

Further Soviet offensives against Army Group Centre - the Gomel and Orsha Operations in November 1943 and the Vitebsk Operation in February 1944 were unsuccessful against the strong Ostwall defences. However, the Soviets did succeed in almost encircling the heavily fortified town of Vitebsk.

In comparison to the great Soviet victories in the Ukraine since Stalingrad, Soviet progress on the central front (roughly the area Minsk - Smolensk - Moscow) in the period early 1942-early 1944 had been disappointing. Soviet planners launched several offensives hoping for a grand encirclement and destruction of Army Group Centre yet had only succeeded in forcing the German line back on a broad front with heavy Soviet casualties. There were several reasons for this comparative lack of success - the terrain here was much more heavily forested and thus favoured the defender, German units in this area had had time to prepare comprehensive fortifications and the German leadership had been good, while Soviet leadership had been uninspired.

September 1943
3rd Panzer Army, 4th Army, 9th Army, 2nd Army
November 1943
3rd Panzer Army, 4th Army, 9th Army, 2nd Army, armed forces commander east country
January 1944
3rd Panzer Army, 4th Army, 9th Army, 2nd Army

Destruction of Army Group Centre

However, all this was to change in summer 1944. In spring 1944 the Soviet command started concentrating massive forces along the frontline in central Russia for a huge summer offensive against Army Group Centre. The Soviets also carried out a masterful deception campaign to convince the Germans that the main Soviet summer offensive would be launched further south, against Army Group North Ukraine. The German High Command was fooled and armored units were moved south out of Army Group Centre. The massive Soviet buildup opposite Army Group Centre was not detected.

The offensive, code-named Operation Bagration, was launched on 22 June 1944, the third anniversary of the German invasion and the beginning of the German-Soviet War in 1941 (this was actually a coincidence, the attack had been unexpectedly delayed several days). 185 Soviet divisions comprising about 2.5 million soldiers and 6,000 tanks smashed into the German positions on a frontline of 1,000 km. The 500,000-strong German Army Group Centre was crushed. 350,000 Germans were killed or captured. Soviet forces raced forward, liberating Minsk and the rest of Byelorussia (Belarus) by the end of August, crossing the pre-war border and advancing into East Prussia and Poland by the end of the year. In terms of casualties this was the greatest German defeat of the entire war.

Commanders in chief 28 June 1944 Walter Model

July 1944
3rd Panzer Army, 4th Army, 2nd Army, z.Vfg. 9th Army

Commanders in chief 16 August 1944 Georg Hans Reinhardt

August 1944
3rd Panzer Army, 4th Army, 4th Army, 2nd Army, IV SS Panzer Corps

Defensive Campaign in Poland and Slovakia

The Soviet commanders, after their inaction during the Warsaw Uprising, took Warsaw in January 1945. Over three days, the Red Army, incorporating four army Fronts, began an offensive across the Narew River and from Warsaw. The Soviets outnumbered the Germans on average by 9:1 in troops, 9 or 10:1 in artillery and 10:1 in tanks and self-propelled artillery.

Defence of the Reich Campaign

On 25 January 1945 Hitler renamed three army groups. Army Group North became Army Group Courland; Army Group Centre became Army Group North and Army Group A became Army Group Centre.

Defence of Slovakia

Defence of Moravia

Defence of Bohemia

Battle of Berlin

The last Soviet campaign of the war, which led to the fall of Berlin and the end of the war in Europe with the surrender of all German forces to the Allies. The three Soviet Fronts involved in the campaign had altogether 2.5 million men, 6,250 tanks, 7,500 aircraft, 41,600 artillery pieces and mortars, 3,255 truck-mounted "Katyusha" rocket launchers (nicknamed 'Stalin Organs' by the Germans), and 95,383 motor vehicles. The campaign started with the battle of Oder-Neisse. Army Group Centre commanded by Ferdinand Schörner had a front that included the river Neisse. Before dawn on the morning of 16 April 1945 the 1st Ukrainian Front under the command of General Konev started the attack over the river Neisse with a short but massive bombardment by tens of thousands of artillery pieces.

Commanders in chief 17 January 1945 Ferdinand Schörner

January 1945
3rd Panzer Army, 4th Army, 2nd Army
February 1945
4th Panzer Army, 17th Army (Germany), 1st Panzer Army (Germany)
May 1945
7th Army (Germany), 4th Panzer Army, 17th Army, 1st Panzer Army
Army Group Ostmark

Battle of Prague

Some of Army Group Centre continued to resist until 11 May, by which time the overwhelming force of the Soviet Armies sent to occupy Czechoslovakia in the Prague Offensive gave them no option but to surrender or be killed.

May 1945
7th Army (Germany), 4th Panzer Army, 17th Army
Army Group Ostmark

Surrender

On 7 May, the day that German Chief-of-Staff General Alfred Jodl was negotiating surrender of all German forces at SHAEF, the last that the German Armed Forces High Command (AFHC) had heard from Schörner was on 2 May. He had reported that he intended to fight his way west and surrender his army group to the Americans. On 8 May, a colonel on the (AFHC), was escorted through the American lines to see Schörner. The colonel reported that Schörner had ordered the men under his operational command to observe the surrender but that he could not guarantee that he would be obeyed everywhere. Later that day Schörner deserted his command and flew to Austria where on the 18 May he was arrested by the Americans.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Gerlach, p. 885

Bibliography

  • Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg / hrsg. vom Militärgeschichtlichen Forschungsamt ; Bd. 8; Die Ostfront : 1943/44 ; der Krieg im Osten und an den Nebenfronten / mit Beitr. von Karl-Heinz Frieser, Bernd Wegner u.a., 1.Auflage, München 2007.
  • Gerlach, C. Kalkulierte Morde. Hamburg Edition, 2000
  • Hoth H. Panzer-Operationen. Heidelberg, Kurt Vowinckel Verlag, 1956

Further reading

External links








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