Army Group Courland
Army Group Courland (German: Heeresgruppe Kurland) was a German Army Group on the Eastern Front which was created from remnants of the Army Group North, isolated in the Courland Peninsula by the advancing Soviet Army forces during the 1944 Baltic Offensive of the Second World War. The army group remained isolated until the end of World War II in Europe. All units of the Army Group were ordered to surrender by the capitulated Wehrmacht command on 8 May 1945.
At the time agreed for all German armed forces to end hostilities (see the German Instrument of Surrender, 1945), the Sixteenth and Eighteenth armies of Army Group Courland, commanded by General (of Infantry) Carl Hilpert, ended hostilities at 23:00 on 8 May 1945 surrendering to Leonid Govorov commander of the Leningrad Front. By the evening of 9 May 1945 189,000 German troops, including 42 officers in the rank of general, in the Courland Pocket had surrendered.
As a result, what was then known as Army Group North was cut off in Latvia from the rest of the German Army, and was to stay cut off for the remainder of the war. Approximately 200,000 German troops in 26 divisions were in what was to become known as the Courland Pocket. Army Group Courland remained in existence until the end of the war in Europe.
Army Group Courland was created on 25 January 1945, when German dictator Adolf Hitler renamed Army Group North, Army Group Center, and Army Group A. Hitler's name changes meant that Army Group North became Army Group Courland (Heeresgruppe Kurland), Army Group Center became Army Group North (Heeresgruppe Nord) and Army Group A became Army Group Center (Heeresgruppe Mitte).
Army Group Courland consisted of the German Sixteenth Army and the German Eighteenth Army. The two armies had been sent to Courland partly to protect training grounds for the remaining Nazi U-boat forces.
Bypassed by the main Soviet thrusts, Army Group Courland remained relatively intact. Even towards the end of the war, the army was able to field between twenty-four to thirty-one divisions, with the exact number of divisions depending on how many of the associated or understrength divisions are counted. Even so, with its back to the Baltic Sea, it also remained largely cut off from re-supply, and was unable to break out or evacuate.
Army Group Courland fought six major battles in the Courland Pocket between 15 October 1944, and 4 April 1945. The dates for the six battles were as follows:
- From 15 October 1944, to 22 October 1944
- From 27 October 1944 to 25 November 1944
- From 23 December 1944 to 31 December 1944
- From 23 January 1945 to 3 February 1945
- From 12 February 1945 to 19 February 1945
- From 17 March 1945 to 4 April 1945
On 7 May 1945, German Head of State (Staatsoberhaupt) and President (Reichspräsident) Karl Dönitz ordered Colonel-General Carl Hilpert, to surrender Army Group Courland. Hilpert was the army group's last commander-in-chief. Hilpert surrendered himself, his personal staff, and three divisions of the XXXVIII Corps to Marshal of the Soviet Union Leonid Govorov. Hilpert sent the following message to his troops: "To all ranks! Marshal Govorod (sic) has agreed to a cease-fire beginning at 14:00 hours on 8 May. Troops to be informed immediately. White flags to be displayed. Commander expects loyal implemenation of order, on which the fate of all Courland troops depends."
On 8 May, a General Rauser (Chief of Logistics of the Army Group) succeeded in obtaining better surrender terms from the Soviets. On 9 May, the Soviet commission in Peilei started to interrogate the captive staff of Army Group Courland. The Soviets began a general round-up of all remaining German troops in the Courland Pocket. By end of the 11 May the troops of the Lenigrad Front had secured the Courland peninsula, reaching the coast of the Riga Bay and the Baltic Sea.
From 9 May to 12 May 140,408 men and non-commissioned officers, 5,083 officers and 28 generals in the Courland Pocket, surrendered. The equipment captured in the same period consisted of 75 aircraft; 307 tanks and self-propelled guns; 1,427 guns; 557 mortars; 3,879 machineguns; 52,887 rifles and submachine-guns; 219 armored personnel carriers; 310 radio stations; 4,281 motor vehicles; 240 tractors, 3,442 carts loaded with military cargoes, 14,056 horses.
On 23 May, the Soviet round-up of the German troops in the Courland Pocket was completed. A total of about 180,000 German troops were taken into captivity. Captive German officers were turned over to the NKVD. The bulk of the captives were taken to camps in Valdai Hills.
After the surrender, some elements of Army Group Courland briefly attempted to reform itself as a Freikorps. This was an act reminiscent of similar actions taken at the end of World War I, but atypical for the end of World War II. The formation of a Freikorps was prevented by the Soviets, who were obviously unwilling to allow such an action by a beaten foe. In addition, the Soviets did not intend for Germans to remain settled in the Courland area after the war.
After the surrender, a number of German, Estonian and, Latvian soldiers evaded Soviet capture. Many of these ex-soldiers joined the Forest Brothers resistance organization, Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian nationalist partisans and German soldiers of the Heer and Waffen-SS who waged guerrilla warfare against the Soviets to gain independence for the Soviet-occupied Baltic states.
- 15 January to 27 January 1945 - Commander-in-Chief Lothar Rendulic
- 27 January to 10 March 1945 - Commander-in-Chief Heinrich von Vietinghoff - Von Vietinghoff surrendered to the Allies in Italy. He was briefly imprisoned and was released in 1946. He died in 1952.
- 10 March to 25 March 1945 - Commander-in-Chief Lothar Rendulic (again) - Rendulic surrendered to the Allies near Prague. He was tried, sentenced, and convicted of war crimes in 1948, serving ten years of a twenty year sentence. He was released from prison in 1951, and died in 1971.
- 25 March to 8 May 1945 - Commander-in-Chief Carl Hilpert
Senior officers at capitulation
- General of Infantry Carl Hilpert, Commander of Army Group Courland;
- Lieutenant-General Friedrich Foertsch, Chief of Staff of the German Army Group Courland;
- Major-General Rauser, Chief of Logistics of the Army Group Courland;
- Lieutenant-General Keler, chief of the veterinary service of the Army Group Courland;
- Lieutenant-General Volckamer von Kirchensittenbach, Commander of the Sixteenth Army;
- Lieutenant-General Ehrenfried-Oskar Boege, Commander of the Eighteenth Army;
- Lieutenant-General Usinger, Commander of the I Army Corps;
- Lieutenant-General Gause, Commander of the II Army Corps;
- General of Artillery Thomaschki, Commander of the X Army Corps;
- Lieutenant-General Weber, Commander of the XVI Army Corps;
- General of Artillery Herzog, Commander of the XXXVIII Army Corps;
- Major-General Schultz, Commander of the 24th Infantry Division;
- Major-General Henze, Commander of the 30th Infantry Division;
- Lieutenant-General Benzeweni, Commander of the 81st Infantry Division;
- Lieutenant-General Strachwitz, Commander of the 87th Infantry Division;
- Major-General Schatz, Commander of the 122nd Infantry Division;
- Major-General Haehling, Commander of the 126th Infantry Division;
- Major-General Demme, Commander of the 132nd Infantry Division;
- Major-General Gise, Commander of the 205th Infantry Division;
- Major-General Bauer;
- Major-General Risse, Commander of the 225th Infantry Division;
- Major-General Hoeman, Commander of the 263rd Infantry Division;
- Major-General Ebert, Commander of the 300th Infantry Division;
- Lieutenant-General Mennel, Commander of the 329th Infantry Division;
- Lieutenant-General Neuman, Commander of the 563rd Infantry Division;
- Major-General Bart, Commander of a combat group of the 21st Airfield Division;
- Lieutenant-General Band, Commander of the Courland Fortified Area;
- SS- Grupenfuhrer Streckenbach of the 19th Latvian Division
- Major-General Muller, commandant of the city of Libava.
- May 09th 1945 (From the Soviet Information Bureau) part of the Russian News and Information Agency Novosti 60 anniversary of surrender project
- Dollinger, Hans. The Decline and Fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number 67-27047
- Willmott, H.P. et al. World War II, Dorling Kindersley Publishers Ltd, 2004
- May 9th 1945 (From the Soviet Information Bureau) part of the RIA Novosti 60 anniversary of surrender project
- World War II - Willmott, H.P. et al., Dorling Kindersley Publishers Ltd, 2004
- May 12th, 1945 (From the Soviet Information Bureau Our Victory) part of the RIA Novosti 60 anniversary of surrender project notes that Hilpert was commander of the XXXVIII Corps, it explains why only 3 divisions surrenderd with him
- The Decline and Fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan - Hans Dollinger, Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number 67-27047, Page 278
- May 11th, 1945 (From the Soviet Information Bureau Our Victory) part of the RIA Novosti 60 anniversary of surrender project
- May 12th, 1945 (From the Soviet Information Bureau Our Victory) part of the RIA Novosti 60 anniversary of surrender project
- SS Obergruppenfuhrer von Pfeffer-Wildenbrauch of the 6th Army Corps