Army Group Centre

Army Group Centre (Heeresgruppe Mitte in German) was one of three German army formations assigned to the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, code-named Operation Barbarossa. In 1945 when the first Army Group Centre was pushed aside into the Königsberg pocket, Army Group A was renamed Army Group Centre on January 25 and it fought to the end of the war in Europe.

On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany and its Axis allies launched their surprise attack against the Soviet Union. Their armies, totalling over three million men, were to advance in three main geographical directions. Army Group North was to move through the Baltic region and capture the city of Leningrad. Army Group Centre was to defeat the Soviet armies in Belarus and to advance towards Moscow. Army Group South was to occupy Ukraine. Blitzkrieg tactics were to ensure a rapid advance and a quick and decisive victory over the Soviet Union by mid-November.

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 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.

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. The advance of Army Group Centre was further delayed as Hitler ordered a postponement of the offensive against Moscow, and to conquer Ukraine first. 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 Germans had the Moscow Kremlin in sight. The Soviet counter-offensive in the Battle of Moscow, which started on December 6, 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.

June 1942 saw the preparation of another German summer offensive. Instead of again striking at the heart of the Soviet Union, however, the German command turned to long-term economic warfare, seeking to capture Soviet industrial areas and oil fields in the South. Meanwhile, Army Group Centre was to consolidate its positions. The German advance to the Caucasus and the Volga culminated in the carnage of the Battle of Stalingrad. After months of bloody urban warfare in the ruined city, the Soviets surrounded the German forces inside Stalingrad in November 1942. That counter-offensive was co-ordinated with an offensive in the Moscow area, code-named Operation Mars, to distract German attention from the lower Volga. The Soviet counter-offensive at Stalingrad was a success, and the German forces trapped in the pocket finally surrendered on 2 February 1943. From that moment on, the Soviets would seize the strategic initiative. Having prevailed in the battle of Kursk, they pushed the Germans West in 1943, liberating Kiev in November 1943.

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 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. 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.

The following section needs a rewrite as it is a general eastern front one not specific to Army Group Centre.

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. After four days the Red Army broke out and started moving thirty to forty Kilometres a day, taking the Baltic states, Danzig, East Prussia, Poznan, and drawing up on a line sixty km east of Berlin along the Oder River.

On the 25th of January 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 North (old Army Group Centre), was driven into an ever smaller pocket around Königsberg in East Prussia. On April 9, 1945 Königsberg finally fell to the Red Army, remnants of units contined to resist on the Heiligenbeil & Danzig beachheads until the end of the war in Europe.

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'); and 95,383 motor vehicles. The campaign started with the battle of Oder-Neisse. Army Group Centre commanded by Ferdinand Schorner had a front that included the river Neisse. Before dawn on the morning of April 16 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...

On May 7 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 May 2. He had reported that he intended to fight his way west and surrender his army group to the Americans. On the May 8 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 observer 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 May 18 he was arrested by the Americans. Some of Army Group Centre continued to resist until May 11 by which time the overwelming force of the Soviet Armies sent to occupy Czechoslovakia in the Prague Offensive gave them no option but to surrender or be killed.

de:Heeresgruppe Mitte


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