Army Group Center / Heeresgruppe Mitte

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 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.

  • Active – 1941-45
  • Disbanded – 25 January 1945

Operational History

The commander in chief of the formation of the Army Group Centre on 22 June 1941 was Fedor von Bock.

Operation Barbarossa

On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany and its Axis allies launched their surprise offensive into the Soviet Union. Their armies, totaling over three million men, were to advance in three geographical directions. Army Group Centre’s initial strategic goal was to defeat the Soviet armies in Belarus and occupy Smolensk. To accomplish this, the army group planned for a rapid advance using Blitzkrieg operational methods for which purpose it commanded two panzer groups rather than one. 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 on its northern and southern flanks, the army group boundary for the later being the Pripyat River.

Bitter fighting in the Battle of Smolensk, as well as the Lötzen decision, delayed the German advance for two months. The advance of Army Group Centre was further delayed as Hitler ordered a postponement of the offensive against Moscow in order to conquer Ukraine first.

Operation Typhoon

The German strategic offensive, named Operation Typhoon (German: Unternehmen Taifun), called for two pincer offensives, one to the north of Moscow against the Kalinin Front by the 3rd and 4th Panzer Armies, simultaneously severing the Moscow–Leningrad railway, and another to the south of Moscow Oblast against the Western Front south of Tula, by the 2nd Panzer Army, while the 4th Army advanced directly towards Moscow from the west. According to Andrew Roberts, Hitler’s offensive towards the Soviet capital was nothing less than an ‘all-out attack’: “It is no exaggeration to state that the outcome of the Second World War hung in the balance during this massive attack”.

Initially, the Soviet forces conducted a strategic defense of the Moscow Oblast by constructing three defensive belts, deploying newly raised reserve armies, and bringing troops from the Siberian and Far Eastern Military Districts. As the German offensives were halted, a Soviet strategic counter-offensive and smaller-scale offensive operations forced the German armies back to the positions around the cities of Oryol, Vyazma, and Vitebsk, and nearly surrounded three German armies. It was a major setback for the Germans, the end of the idea of a fast German victory in the USSR. Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch was excused as commander of OKH, with Hitler appointing himself as Germany’s supreme military commander.

Rzhev Operations

The beginning of 1942 Army Group Centre suffered continuing attacks from Soviet forces around Rzhev. The German Ninth Army was able to repel these attacks and stabilize its front, despite continuing large-scale partisan activity in its rear areas. Meanwhile, the German strategic focus on the Eastern Front shifted to southwestern Russia, with the launching of Operation Blue in June. This operation, aimed at the oilfields in the southwestern 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 pockets 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.

The Campaign in Central Russia

Following the disaster of Stalingrad and poor results of the Voronezh defensive operations, the army high command expected another attack on Army Group Centre in early 1943. However, Hitler had decided to strike first. Before this strike could be launched, Operation Büffel was launched to forestall any possible Soviet spring offensives, by evacuating the Rzhev Salient to shorten the frontline.

Belarussian Anti-Partisan Campaign

The following major anti-partisan operations were conducted in the rear of Army Group Centre, alongside many smaller operations:

  • Operation Bamberg: conducted 26 March 1942 – 6 April 1942 by the 707th Infantry Division supported by a Slovakian regiment, south of Bobruisk. At least 5,000 possible partisans were killed and agricultural produce was confiscated.
  • Operation Fruhlingsfest: conducted 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.
  • Operation Kormoran: conducted 25 May 1944 – 17 June 1944 between Minsk and Borisov by German security units in the rear of Third Panzer Army. Around 7,500 deaths were recorded against the partisans.

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

1943

Armeegruppe Center participated in Operation Citadel then the Wotan Line Defensive Campaign.

Destruction of Army Group Centre

In the spring of 1944, Stavka started concentrating forces along the front line in central Russia for a summer offensive against Army Group Centre. The Red Army also carried out a masterful deception campaign (Maskirovka) to convince the Wehrmacht 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 offensive, code-named Operation Bagration, was launched on 22 June 1944. 185 Red Army divisions comprising 2.3 million soldiers and 4,000 tanks and assault guns smashed into the German positions on a front of 200 km. The 800,000-strong Army Group Centre was crushed. It is estimated that 300,000 – 550,000 Germans became casualties, including 100,000 – 150,000 became POWs. The Soviet forces raced forward, liberating Minsk on 3 July, the rest of Belorussia by mid-July, and reaching the Vistula and the Baltic States by early August. In terms of casualties, this was the greatest German defeat of the entire war.

Defensive Campaign in Poland and Slovakia

Discussion of the army group’s situation in January 1945 should note that the army groups in the east changed names later that month. The force known as Army Group Centre at the start of the Soviet Vistula-Oder Offensive on 12 January 1945 was renamed Army Group North less than two weeks after the offensive commenced. At the start of the Vistula-Oder Offensive, the Soviet forces facing Army Group Centre outnumbered the Germans on average by 2:1 in troops, 3:1 in artillery, and 5.5:1 in tanks and self-propelled artillery. The Soviet superiority in troop strength grows to almost 3:1 if 200,000 Volkssturm militia are not included in German personnel strength totals.

Defense 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. Army Group Centre fought in the defense of Slovakia and Bohemia-Moravia as well as sections of the German heartland.

Battle of Berlin

The last Soviet campaign of the war in the European theater, 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, the commander in chief as of 17 January 1945, 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.

Battle of Prague

Some of the Army Group Centre continued to resist until 11 May 1945, by which time the overwhelming force of the Soviet Armies sent to liberate Czechoslovakia in the Prague Offensive gave them no option but to surrender or be killed.

Surrender

By 7 May 1945, the day that German Chief-of-Staff General Alfred Jodl was negotiating the surrender of all German forces at SHAEF, the German Armed Forces High Command (AFHC) had not heard from Schörner since 2 May 1945. He had reported that he intended to fight his way west and surrender his army group to the Americans. On 8 May 1945, a colonel from the Allied Forces High Command 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 18 May 1945 he was arrested by the Americans.

Commanders

Commander Took office Left office Time in office
1
Fedor von Bock
Generalfeldmarschall
Fedor von Bock
(1880–1945)
22 June 1941 19 December 1941 −2 years, 186 days
2
Günther von Kluge
Generalfeldmarschall
Günther von Kluge
(1882–1944)
19 December 1941 12 October 1943 1 year, 297 days
3
Ernst Busch
Generalfeldmarschall
Ernst Busch
(1885–1945)
29 October 1943 28 June 1944 243 days
4
Georg von Küchler
Generalfeldmarschall
Georg von Küchler
(1881–1968)
28 June 1944 16 August 1944 49 days
5
Georg-Hans Reinhardt
Generaloberst
Georg-Hans Reinhardt
(1887–1963)
16 August 1944 17 January 1945 154 days
6
Ferdinand Schörner
Generaloberst
Ferdinand Schörner
(1892–1973)
17 January 1945 25 January 1945 8 days

Order of Battle

Formation

  1. Army Group HQ Troops.
    • 537. Signals Regiment.
    • 537. Signals Regiment – 2nd echelon.
  2. Panzer Group 2 – Guderian.
    • XXIV Panzer Corps – Geyr von Schweppenburg.
      • 1. Cavalry  Division.
      • 3. Panzer Division.
      • 4. Panzer Division.
      • 10. Motorized Division.
      • 267. Infantry Division.
    • XLVI Panzer Corps – von Vietinghoff.
      • 3. SS “Das Reich” Division.
      • 10. Panzer Division.
      • Infantry Regiment “Gross Deutschland”.
    • XLVII Panzer Corps – Lemelsen.
      • 17. Panzer Division.
      • 18. Panzer Division.
      • 29. Motorized Division.
      • 167. Infantry Division.
    • XII Army Corps – Schroth.
      • 31. Infantry Division.
      • 34. Infantry Division.
      • 45. Infantry Division.
      • 255. Infantry Division – Reserve.
  3. Panzer Group 3 – Hoth.
    • V Army Corps – Ruoff.
      • 5. Infantry Division.
      • 35. Infantry Division.
    • VI Army Corps – Förster.
      • 6. Infantry Division.
      • 26. Infantry Division.
    • XXXIX Panzer Corps – Schmidt.
      • 7. Panzer Division.
      • 20. Panzer Division.
      • 14. Motorized Division.
      • 20. Motorized Division.
    • LVII Panzer Corps – Kuntzen.
      • 12. Panzer Division.
      • 18. Panzer Division.
      • 19. Panzer Division.
  4. 4. Army – von Kluge.
    • VII Army Corps – Fahrmbacher.
      • 7. Infantry Division.
      • 23. Infantry Division.
      • 258. Infantry Division.
      • 268. Infantry Division.
      • 221. Security Division.
    • IX Army Corps – Geyer.
      • 137. Infantry Division.
      • 263. Infantry Division.
      • 292. Infantry Division.
    • XIII Army Corps – Felber.
      • 17. Infantry Division.
      • 78. Infantry Division.
    • XLIII Army Corps – Heinrici.
      • 131. Infantry Division.
      • 134. Infantry Division.
      • 252. Infantry Division.
      • 286. Infantry Division – Reserve.
  5. 9. Army – Strauss.
    • VIII Army Corps – Heitz.
      • 8. Infantry Division.
      • 28. Infantry Division.
      • 161. Infantry Division.
    • XX Army Corps – Materna.
      • 162. Infantry Division.
      • 256. Infantry Division.
    • XLII Army Corps – Kuntze.
      • 87. Infantry Division.
      • 102. Infantry Division.
      • 129. Infantry Division.
      • 403. Security Division – Reserve.

July 1941

  • 2. Panzer Group.
  • 3. Panzer Group.
  • 2. Army.
  • 4. Army.
  • 9. Army.

August 1941

  • Army Group Guderian (2 Panzer Group with additional units).
  • 3. Panzer Group.
  • 2. Army.
  • 9. Army.

September 1941

  • 2. Panzer Group.
  • 3. Panzer Group.
  • 2. Army.
  • 4. Army.
  • 9. Army.

October 1941

  • 2. Army – von Weichs.
    • LIII Army Corps – Weisenberger.
      • 56. Infantry Division.
      • 31. Infantry Division.
      • 167. Infantry Division.
    • LXIII Army Corps – Heinrici.
      • 52. Infantry Division.
      • 131. Infantry Division.
    • XIII Army Corps – Felber.
      • 260. Infantry Division.
      • 17. Infantry Division.
      • 112. Infantry Division – Reserve.
  • 2. Panzer Army – Guderian.
    • XXXIV Army Corps – Metz.
      • 45. Infantry Division.
      • 134. Infantry Division.
    • XXXV Army Corps – Kempfe.
      • 95. Infantry Division.
      • 296. Infantry Division.
      • 262. Infantry Division.
      • 293. Infantry Division.
  • XLVIII Panzer Corps – Kempff.
      • 9. Panzer Division.
      • 16. Motorised Division.
      • 25. Motorised Division.
  • XXIV Panzer Corps – Geyer von Schweppenburg.
      • 3. Panzer Division.
      • 4. Panzer Division.
      • 10. Motorised Division.
    • XLVII Panzer Corps – Lemelsen.
      • 17. Panzer Division.
      • 18. Panzer Division.
      • 29. Motorised Division.
  • 4th Army – von Kluge.
    • VII Army Corps – Fahrmbacher.
      • 197. Infantry Division.
      • 7. Infantry Division.
      • 23. Infantry Division.
      • 267. Infantry Division.
    • XX Army Corps – Materna.
      • 268. Infantry Division.
      • 15. Infantry Division.
      • 78. Infantry Division.
    • IX Army Corps – Geyer.
      • 137. Infantry Division.
      • 263. Infantry Division.
      • 183. Infantry Division.
      • 292. Infantry Division.
    • Panzer Group 4 – Hoepner – Subordinated to 4. Army.
      • XII Army Corps – Schroth.
        • 34. Infantry Division.
        • 98. Infantry Division.
      • XL Army Corps – Stumme.
        • 10. Panzer Division.
        • 2. Panzer Division.
        • 258. Infantry Division.
      • XLVI Panzer Corps – von Vietinghoff.
        • 5. Panzer Division.
        • 11. Panzer Division.
        • 252. Infantry Division.
      • LVII Panzer Corps – Kuntzen.
        • 20. Panzer Division.
        • SS “Das Reich” Motorised Division.
        • 3. Motorised Division.
  • 9th Army – Strauss.
    • XXVII Army Corps – Wager.
      • 255. Infantry Division.
      • 162. Infantry Division.
      • 86. Infantry Division.
    • V Army Corps – Ruoff.
      • 5. Infantry Division.
      • 35. Infantry Division.
      • 106. Infantry Division.
      • 129. Infantry Division.
    • VIII Army Corps – Heitz.
      • 8. Infantry Division.
      • 28. Infantry Division.
      • 87. Infantry Division.
    • XXIII Army Corps – Schubert.
      • 251. Infantry Division.
      • 102. Infantry Division.
      • 256. Infantry Division.
      • 206. Infantry Division.
      • 161.  Infantry Division – Reserve.
    • Panzer Group 3 – Hoth – Subordinated to 9. Army.
      • LVI Panzer Corps – Schaal.
        • 6. Panzer Division.
        • 7. Panzer Division.
        • 14. Motorised Division.
      • XLI Panzer Corps – Reinhardt.
        • 1. Panzer Division.
        • 36. Motorised Division.
      • VI Army Corps – Forster.
        • 110. Infantry Division.
        • 26. Infantry Division.
        • 6. Infantry Division.

November 1941

  • 2. Panzer Army.
  • 3. Panzer Group
  • 2. Army.
  • 4. Army.
  • 9. Army.

January 1942

  • 2. Panzer Army.
  • 3. Panzer Army.
  • 4. Panzer Army.
  • 2. Army.
  • 4. Army.
  • 9. Army.

February 1942

  • 2. Panzer Army.
  • 3. Panzer Army.
  • 4. Panzer Army.
  • 4. Army.
  • 9. Army.

May 1942

  • 2. Panzer Army.
  • 3. Panzer Army.
  • 4. Army.
  • 9. Army.

January 1943

  • 2. Panzer Army.
  • 3. Panzer Army.
  • 4. Army.
  • 9. Army.
  • LIX Army Korps.

February 1943

  • 2. Panzer Army.
  • 3. Panzer Army.
  • 4. Army.
  • 9. Army.

March 1943

  • 2. Panzer Army.
  • 3. Panzer Army.
  • 2. Army.
  • 4. Army.
  • 9. Army.

April 1943

  • 2. Panzer Army.
  • 3. Panzer Army.
  • 2. Army.
  • 4. Army.
  • 9. Army.
  • zur Verfügung – Reserves.

July 1943

  • 2. Panzer Army.
  • 3. Panzer Army.
  • 2. Army.
  • 4. Army.
  • 9. Army.

September 1943

  • 2. Panzer Army.
  • 3. Panzer Army.
  • 2. Army.
  • 4. Army.
  • 9. Army.

November 1943

  • 2. Panzer Army.
  • 3. Panzer Army.
  • 2. Army.
  • 4. Army.
  • 9. Army.
  • Befehlshaber der Streitkräfte im Osten des Landes.

January 1944

  • 2. Panzer Army.
  • 3. Panzer Army.
  • 2. Army.
  • 4. Army.
  • 9. Army.

July 1944

  • 3. Panzer Army.
  • 2. Army.
  • 4. Army.
  • 9. Army.
  • zur Verfügung – Reserves.

August 1944

  • 3. Panzer Army.
  • 2. Army.
  • 4. Army.
  • IV SS-Panzer Korps.

January 1945

  • 3. Panzer Army.
  • 2. Army.
  • 4. Army.

February 1945

  • 1. Panzer Army.
  • 4. Panzer Army.
  • 17. Army.

May 1945

  • 1. Panzer Army.
  • 4. Panzer Army.
  • 7. Army.
  • 17. Army.
  • Army Group Ostmark

May 1945 – Battle of Prague

  • 4. Panzer Army.
  • 7. Army.
  • 17. Army.
  • Army Group Ostmark

 

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