Army Group Centre (German: Heeresgruppe Mitte) was the name of two distinct strategic German 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.
|Army Group Centre|
|Disbanded||25 January 1945|
|Fedor von Bock|
The commander in chief on the formation of the Army Group Centre (22 June 1941) was Fedor von Bock.
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.
1942 opened for Army Group Centre 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 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.
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.
The commander in chief as of 12 October 1943 was Ernst Busch.
The following major anti-partisan operations were conducted in the rear of Army Group Centre, alongside many smaller operations:
Increasing coordination of the partisan activity resulted in the conducting of Operation Concert against the German forces.
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.
The commander in chief of Army Group Centre as of 28 June 1944 was Walter Model.
The commander in chief as of 16 August 1944 was Georg Hans Reinhardt.
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.
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 defence of Slovakia and Bohemia-Moravia as well as sections of the German heartland.
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.
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.
By 7 May 1945, the day that German Chief-of-Staff General Alfred Jodl was negotiating 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.
|№||Commander||Took office||Left office||Time in office|
Fedor von Bock
|22 June 1941||19 December 1941||180 days|
Günther von Kluge
|19 December 1941||12 October 1943||1 year, 297 days|
|29 October 1943||28 June 1944||243 days|
|28 June 1944||16 August 1944||49 days|
|16 August 1944||17 January 1945||154 days|
|17 January 1945||25 January 1945||8 days|
The 203rd Security Division, was a rear-security division in the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany. The unit was deployed in German-occupied areas of the Soviet Union, in the Army Group Centre Rear Area and was responsible for large-scale war crimes and atrocities.221st Security Division (Wehrmacht)
The 221st Security Division was a rear-area security division in the Wehrmacht during World War II. Commanded by General Johann Pflugbeil, the unit was deployed in German-occupied areas of the Soviet Union, in the Army Group Centre Rear Area, for security and Bandenbekämpfung ("anti-bandit") duties. It was responsible for large-scale war crimes and atrocities including the deaths of thousands of Soviet civilians.286th Security Division (Wehrmacht)
The 286th Security Division (286. Sicherungs-Division) was a rear-security division in the Wehrmacht during World War II. The unit was deployed in German-occupied areas of the Soviet Union, in the Army Group Centre Rear Area. It was responsible for large-scale war crimes and atrocities including the deaths of thousands of Soviet civilians.31st Infantry Division (Wehrmacht)
The 31st Infantry Division (German: 31. Infanterie-Division) was a German infantry division of the Army during World War II. It participated in the invasion of Poland in 1939 then the invasion of France and the Low Countries in 1940. As part of Panzergruppe 2. of Army Group Centre, it was involved in the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. After hard fighting throughout 1941 and 1942 it joined the 9th Army and fought in the Battle of Kursk in July and August 1943. Along with the rest of the 9th Army, the division conducted a fighting withdrawal for the remainder of 1943, during which it sustained heavy casualties. In the early stages of the Soviet Operation Bagration of June to August 1944, the 31st Infantry Division was destroyed, a fate which subsequently befell most of Army Group Centre. The division was officially disbanded on 18 July 1944.
The division was initially re-formed on 21 July 1944 as the 31st Grenadier Division, but was soon re-designated as the 31st Volksgrenadier Division and returned to the front line in September 1944 as part of Army Group North. Army Group North was subsequently re-designated Army Group Courland in October 1944 when it was cut off from the rest of the German Army on the Courland Peninsula in northwestern Latvia. Army Group Courland remained encircled for the rest of the war, but several divisions, including the 31st Volksgrenadier Division were evacuated by sea to Germany in January 1945. The division joined the newly formed Army Group Vistula and fought in the Danzig area before being captured by the Red Army in May 1945. Twenty-three awards of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross were made to members serving with the division, along with two awards of the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross. Two of its commanders were killed in action.Army Group A
Army Group A (Heeresgruppe A) was the name of several German Army Groups during World War II. During the Battle of France, the army group named Army Group A was composed of 45½ divisions, including 7 armored panzer divisions. It was responsible for breaking through the heavily-forested Ardennes region. The operation, which was part of Fall Gelb (Case Yellow), was resoundingly successful for the Germans, as the army group outflanked the best troops of France and its allies, eventually leading to France's surrender.In 1942, Army Group South on the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union was split into Army Group A and Army Group B, and Army Group A was responsible for the invasion into the Caucasus. In 1945, months before the fall of Nazi Germany, Army Group A was renamed Army Group Centre.Army Group Centre Rear Area
Army Group Centre Rear Area (German: Rückwärtiges Heeresgebiet Mitte) was one of the three Army Group Rear Area Commands, established during the 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union. Initially commanded by General Max von Schenckendorff, it was an area of military jurisdiction behind Wehrmacht's Army Group Centre.
The Group Centre Rear Area's outward function was to provide security behind the fighting troops. It was also a site of mass murder during The Holocaust and other crimes against humanity targeting the civilian population. In the words of historian Michael Parrish, the army commander "presided over an empire of terror and brutality".Army Group North
Army Group North (German: Heeresgruppe Nord) was a German strategic echelon formation, commanding a grouping of field armies during World War II. The German Army Group was subordinated to the Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH), the German army high command, and coordinated the operations of attached separate army corps, reserve formations, rear services and logistics, including the Army Group North Rear Area.Army Group Vistula
Army Group Vistula was an Army Group of the Wehrmacht, formed on 24 January 1945. It was put together from elements of Army Group A (shattered in the Soviet Vistula-Oder Offensive), Army Group Centre (similarly largely destroyed in the East Prussian Offensive), and a variety of new or ad hoc formations. It was formed to protect Berlin from the Soviet armies advancing from the Vistula River.Ernst Busch (field marshal)
Ernst Bernhard Wilhelm Busch (6 July 1885 – 17 July 1945) was a German field marshal during World War II who commanded the 16th Army and later Army Group Centre.
During World War I, Busch served as an infantry officer and was retained in the postwar army of the Weimar Republic. He steadily rose in seniority and by 1936 was a general and commander of the 23rd Infantry Division. During the invasion of Poland, he commanded VIII Army Corps. In 1940, he was appointed commander of the 16th Army; he led it during the 1940 Battle of France and Operation Barbarossa, the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union.
By October 1943, Busch was a field marshal and commander of Army Group Centre. He was dismissed in June 1944 after the collapse of his command during the Red Army's Operation Bagration. He was later the commander of Army Group Northwest in the final months of the war and died as a prisoner of war in England.Georg-Hans Reinhardt
Georg-Hans Reinhardt (1 March 1887 – 23 November 1963) was a German general and war criminal during World War II. He commanded the 3rd Panzer Army from 1941 to 1944, and Army Group Centre in 1944 and 1945, reaching the rank of colonel general (Generaloberst).
Following the war, Reinhardt was tried in the High Command Trial, as part of the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials. He was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity and sentenced to 15 years. He was released in 1952.Günther von Kluge
Günther von Kluge (30 October 1882 – 19 August 1944) was a German field marshal during World War II who held commands on both the Eastern and Western Fronts. He commanded the 4th Army of the Wehrmacht during the invasion of Poland in 1939 and the Battle of France in 1940, earning a promotion to Generalfeldmarschall. Kluge went on to command the 4th Army in Operation Barbarossa (the invasion of the Soviet Union) and the Battle for Moscow in 1941.
Amid the crisis of the Soviet counter-offensive in December 1941, Kluge was promoted to command Army Group Centre replacing Field Marshal Fedor von Bock. Several members of the German military resistance to Adolf Hitler served on his staff, including Henning von Tresckow. Kluge was aware of the plotters' activities but refused to offer his support, perhaps thanks to Hitler's scheme of the bribery of senior Wehrmacht officers. His command on the Eastern Front lasted until October 1943 when Kluge was badly injured in a car accident.
Following a lengthy recuperation, Kluge was appointed OB West (Supreme Commander West) in occupied France in July 1944, after his predecessor, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, was dismissed for defeatism. His forces were unable to stop the momentum of the Allied invasion of Normandy, and he began to realise that the war in the West was lost. Although Kluge was not an active conspirator in the 20 July plot, in the aftermath of the failed coup he committed suicide on 19 August 1944, after having been recalled to Berlin for a meeting with Hitler. Kluge was replaced by Field Marshal Walter Model.Lvov–Sandomierz Offensive
The Lvov–Sandomierz Offensive or Lvov-Sandomierz Strategic Offensive Operation (Russian: Львовско-Сандомирская стратегическая наступательная операция) was a major Red Army operation to force the German troops from Ukraine and Eastern Poland. Launched in mid-July 1944, the Red Army achieved its set objectives by the end of August.
The offensive was composed of three smaller operations:
Lvov Offensive Operation (13 July 1944 – 27 July 1944)
Stanislav Offensive Operation (13 July 1944 – 27 July 1944)
Sandomierz Offensive Operation (28 July 1944 – 29 August 1944)The Lvov–Sandomierz Offensive is generally overshadowed by the overwhelming successes of the concurrently conducted Operation Bagration that led to the destruction of Army Group Centre. However, most of the Red Army and Red Air Force resources were allocated, not to Bagration's Belorussian operations, but the Lviv-Sandomierz operations. The campaign was conducted as Maskirovka. By concentrating in southern Poland and Ukraine, the Soviets drew German mobile reserves southward, leaving Army Group Centre vulnerable to a concentrated assault. When the Soviets launched their Bagration offensive against Army Group Center, it would create a crisis in the eastern German front, which would then force the powerful German Panzer forces back to the central front, leaving the Soviets free to then pursue their objectives in seizing the western Ukraine, Vistula bridgeheads, and gaining a foothold in Romania.Max von Schenckendorff
Max von Schenckendorff (24 February 1875 – 6 July 1943) was a general in the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany during World War II. He was the commander of Army Group Rear Area behind Army Group Centre from March 1941 until his death. He is best known for organising the Mogilev conference, in which Wehrmacht and SS officers discussed "bandit fighting" tactics, meaning the mass murder of Jews and other real or perceived enemies. The conference resulted in an intensification of the genocide that was already taking place in Army Group Centre Rear Area.Mogilev Conference
The Mogilev Conference was a September 1941 Wehrmacht training event aimed at improving security in the rear of Army Group Centre during Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union. The event was organised by General Max von Schenckendorff, commander of Army Group Centre Rear Area, in cooperation with the officials of the security and intelligence services of Nazi Germany—SS and the Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service; SD)—operating in the same area. Ostensibly an "anti-partisan" training conference, the event marked an escalation of violence against Jews and other civilians in the area of Schenckendorff's command.Operation Bagration
Operation Bagration (; Russian: Операция Багратио́н, Operatsiya Bagration) was the codename for the Soviet 1944 Belorussian Strategic Offensive Operation, (Russian: Белорусская наступательная операция «Багратион», Belorusskaya nastupatelnaya Operatsiya Bagration) a military campaign fought between 23 June and 19 August 1944 in Soviet Byelorussia in the Eastern Front of World War II. The Soviet Union inflicted the biggest defeat in German military history by destroying 28 out of 34 divisions of Army Group Centre and completely shattered the German front line.
On 23 June 1944, the Red Army attacked Army Group Centre in Byelorussia, with the objective of encircling and destroying its main component armies. By 28 June, the German Fourth Army had been destroyed, along with most of the Third Panzer and Ninth Armies. The Red Army exploited the collapse of the German front line to encircle German formations in the vicinity of Minsk in the Minsk Offensive and destroy them, with Minsk liberated on 4 July. With the end of effective German resistance in Byelorussia, the Soviet offensive continued further to Lithuania, Poland and Romania over the course of July and August.
The Red Army successfully used the Soviet deep battle and maskirovka (deception) strategies for the first time to a full extent, albeit with continuing heavy losses. Operation Bagration diverted German mobile reserves to the central sectors, removing them from the Lublin-Brest and Lvov–Sandomierz areas, enabling the Soviets to undertake the Lvov–Sandomierz Offensive and Lublin–Brest Offensive. This allowed the Red Army to reach the Vistula river and Warsaw, which in turn put Soviet forces within striking distance of Berlin, conforming to the concept of Soviet deep operations—striking deep into the enemy's strategic depths.Operation Doppelkopf
Operation Doppelkopf (German: Unternehmen Doppelkopf) and the following Operation Cäsar were German counter-offensives on the Eastern Front in the late summer of 1944 in the aftermath of the major Soviet advance in Operation Bagration with the aim of restoring a coherent front between Army Group North and Army Group Centre. The operation's codename was a reference to the German card game Doppelkopf.Police Regiment Centre
The Police Regiment Centre (Polizei-Regiment Mitte) was a formation of the Order Police (uniformed police) during the Nazi era. During Operation Barbarossa, it was subordinated to the Schutzstaffel (SS) and deployed in German-occupied areas, specifically the Army Group Centre Rear Area, of the Soviet Union. In mid-1942, its three constituent battalions were reassigned and the unit was redesignated as the 13th Police Regiment.
Alongside detachments from the Einsatzgruppen and the SS Cavalry Brigade, it perpetrated mass murders and was responsible for large-scale crimes against humanity targeting civilian populations. The scope of the regiment's operations was known to the British intelligence since July 1941 but, for reasons of national security, information pertaining to their activities was not released until 1993.Prague Offensive
The Prague Offensive (Russian: Пражская стратегическая наступательная операция Prague Strategic Offensive) was the last major military operation of World War II in Europe. The offensive was fought on the Eastern Front from 6 May to 11 May 1945. Fought concurrently with the Prague uprising, the offensive was one of the last engagements of World War II in Europe and continued after Nazi Germany's unconditional capitulation on 8 May.
The city of Prague was ultimately liberated by the USSR during the Prague Offensive. All of the German troops of Army Group Centre (Heeresgruppe Mitte) and many of Army Group Ostmark (formerly known as Army Group South) were killed or captured, or fell into the hands of the Allies after the capitulation.Wolfgang Birkner
Wolfgang Birkner (27 October 1913 – 24 March 1945) was a German SS functionary with the rank of SS-Hauptsturmführer, and the Holocaust perpetrator in World War II. Birkner served as the KdS Warschau (Komandeur der Sicherheitspolizei) in Warsaw following the German invasion of Poland in 1939.
After the German attack on the Soviet forces in eastern Poland during Operation Barbarossa, Birkner and his Einsatzkommando were deployed in the newly-formed Bezirk Bialystok district in the Army Group Centre Rear Area due to reports of alleged Soviet guerrilla activity. Birkner arrived in Białystok from the General Government on 30 June 1941, sent in by the SS Police commander Eberhard Schöngarth on orders from the Reich Main Security Office. As veteran of Einsatzgruppe IV from the Polish Campaign of 1939, Birkner was a specialist in rear security operations.
Army Groups of the German Army
|Army Group Rear Area|
|Police and SS Detachments|
|War crimes trials|