|Country Nazi Germany|
Last commander Carl Hilpert
Notable commanders Lothar Rendulic
|Disbanded 8 May 1945|
Chief-of-Staff Friedrich Foertsch
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.
The aggregation of troops that became named Army Group Courland was created when the Red Army reached the Baltic Sea near the Memel river on Tuesday, 10 October 1944.
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.
A number of German, Estonian and, Latvian soldiers evaded Soviet capture. Approximately 4000 Latvian soldiers went to the forests and formed partisan organizations to continue their fight against the Soviets and to gain independence for the Soviet-occupied Latvia.