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The Courland Pocket 1944-45 FULL BATTLESTORM History Documentary

The Courland Pocket 1944-45 FULL BATTLESTORM History Documentary

A country torn to pieces. A people divided
into groups, forced to fight their own brothers. Lives caught in between the claws of two great
ideological enemies. And an army in retreat, as another advances. Army Group North becomes trapped in the Courland
Pocket in Latvia. People say that the trap could have been avoided. People say they should
have evacuated them. And people say that Hitler is to blame – it was his ‘fortress’ and
‘stand fast’ mentalities that resulted in the waste of an entire army group in Courland.
His generals call him ‘mad’ for ordering his men to stand fast and fight to the death
when he has so little manpower. And Courland – a siege larger than that of Stalingrad – is
a great example of this. Or is it? How did Army Group North become trapped? Was
this avoidable? Why didn’t they evacuate them? Who is to blame for this? And why didn’t
the Soviets destroy the pocket? Were they capable of destroying the pocket? Did they
try to? In this series, we will attempt to answer all these questions. Filthy detailed.
Super accurate. History. This is BATTLESTORM, the story for the Courland Pocket 1944 to
45. In this video series we will look at the Soviet
offensives of 1944 that resulted in the Courland Pocket, and the six battles in Courland that
took place from October 1944 to May 1945. Timestamps to various parts of the video,
and links to other related videos (including my Operation Market Garden and battles in
the North African Campaign series), will be in the description. Sources, as well as additional
notes, will be in the Pinned Comment of the comment section below, not in the description
because there’s a character limit. Don’t forget to subscribe if you haven’t done
so already, and enjoy the video. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that,
by 1944 and 45, the war was lost for Germany. The Western Allies had defeated Germany in
the Mediterranean, Italy, the Atlantic, and had landed in Normandy in June of 1944. The
Germans had failed to gain victory during Barbarossa in 1941, locking them into a long-attritional
war. In 1942, the Germans had launched Fall Blau, in a desperate attempt to secure the
Caucasus oil fields, which would provide them with enough oil to continue the war, whilst
reducing Soviet supplies. This culminated in the Battle of Stalingrad, which was a crushing
defeat of the German 6th Army. In 1943, the Wehrmacht was so crippled by oil shortages
that they were forced to launch a limited operation against the Soviets – no grand Barbarossa
or Fall Blau movements – just a small operation at Kursk. In this case, they failed to even
break through to the operational depths. The Soviet counter-offensives in 1943 and early
1944 were not reversible, and, unlike before Kursk, the Germans were now unable to sufficiently
replace their manpower or equipment losses. The German Army wasn’t out, but it was certainly
on the backfoot, and there weren’t any obvious ways now to claw out a victory. Most people looking at this era of the war
will ask this question – why did Germany keep fighting? Why didn’t Germany surrender? Well, there are a few reasons. It was believed
at the time (although it wasn’t true) that the German Army in World War 1 hadn’t actually
been defeated, but had been stabbed in the back. Hitler and the vast majority of the
generals in this second war refused to contemplate the idea of surrendering before being totally
defeated. Therefore, there would be no shameful capitulation like that this time – they would
fight to the bitter end. Plus, the Allies and Soviets had agreed on unconditional surrender,
meaning that there would be no negotiations at all. A surrender would be entirely on their
terms and no doubt disfavorable and humiliating to the Germans. The Germans had also committed numerous atrocities
across Europe (especially in the East), resulting in millions of dead. If they surrendered,
surely the Soviets would take revenge upon them. So there was no logical reason to give
in. And, perhaps, not all doors were closed. The
always optimistic Admiral Dönitz was adamant that a wave of new U-boats could do the damage
needed to turn the tide in the Atlantic. These new submarines were faster, more advanced,
and were the first actual submarines deployed by the Kriegsmarine. They didn’t have to
surface at all thanks to the new snorkel, adopted from the Dutch, which allowed them
to recharge their batteries underwater. In the older designs, the U-boats had to surface
to let the exhaust fumes out as their engines recharged the batteries – so they were technically
just boats. And with these new submarines, they could potentially do a lot of damage
to the Western Allies. Hitler liked Dönitz’ optimism, which explains
why he favoured him at this stage. Heinz Guderian also remained optimistic of victory, which
is why he becomes Chief of the General Staff of the Army in mid-1944 – replacing Zeitzler.
Hitler was trying to choose generals that would keep fighting – those who still had
belief in victory. You can’t win a war if you don’t believe in victory – at least,
that’s how the logic went. Guderian tries to paint Hitler as a madman in his memoirs,
but there’s little evidence that he thought that at the time. Guderian believed in victory
– that is why he was chosen. Hitler also had the V-1 and V-2 rockets. Since
the Luftwaffe was no longer capable of taking off, and German cities were being bombed,
it was time to take revenge on Britain by firing missiles at them. The slower V-1s could
be shot down, but the Allies could do nothing against the V-2 rocket, which came in faster
than the speed of sound and gave no warning before impact. It was hoped that these miracle
weapons would cause a morale crisis for the Western Allies. This is why Hitler hoped to counterattack
the Western Allies, turn the tide, then concentrate on the Soviets. A plan came to light in September
1944 for what would become known as the Ardennes Offensive – an attack in much the same way
that the Germans had attacked the French and British in 1940. Clearly, Hitler was clutching at straws. The
fact that he was ordering his men to “stand fast” against impossible odds, and that
he had ordered troops to create “fortress” towns and cities – willingly allowing his
men to be surrounded and cut off by the Soviets – have led some to conclude that Hitler’s
meddling was making the situation worse. There’s also a question of the Führer’s mental
state – although both of these points are certainly up for debate. In the west, the fortress towns actually played
to the German advantage. Blocking the coast prevented supplies reaching the western Allies
– which forced them to drive supplies by truck over huge distances in order to keep their
armies in the field. This actually stopped them for months. So there’s an argument
to be made for the fortress towns in the west. But in the East, the Soviets were not reliant
on ports to supply their forces. They were using trains, trucks and horses. Holding onto
random towns and villages in the middle of nowhere did little to the overall logistical
situation, although it did slow them down a little bit. Hitler’s reasoning was that
a smaller German force could tie down large numbers of Soviet forces. This would slow
down the Red Army, giving the Germans time to build defences, replenish their forces,
and find victory somehow. The problem of course is that the Red Army had enough troops to
both cover the pockets and keep going. Plus, once supplies ran out, the pocket would surrender,
and this happened pretty quickly in most cases. So the time gained was little, and the manpower
and resources wasted in holding the pocket was greater than the gains. But desperate
times called for desperate measures and this was desperate times for National Socialist
Germany. It has been argued that this is what led to
the creation of the Courland Pocket. It was a way of tying down huge numbers of Soviet
forces, preventing them from being used on the dash to Berlin. But is this really the
case? We’ll come back to this question later in the series, but it’s good to have this
idea in the back of your mind as we watch the fighting unfold. Either way, the German Army was resorting
to desperate tactics in order to stem the Red Army tide. What’s interesting is that,
earlier in the war, when Kurt Zeitzler becomes Chief of the Army General Staff in September
1942, he implemented Fundamental Order No. 1 – a policy of stripping down the number
of staff officers in the higher formations in the army. In part, this was an effort to
become more efficient and provide experienced staff officers for the front line units – since
they were severely lacking experienced officers. But it also increased the pressure on what
had already been small staff sections, and reduced the number of officers working in
intelligence or logistics, causing even more problems at the front as a result. The German
Army of World War II was not known for its logistical capabilities – in fact, logistics
was probably the skill it lacked the most. So this reduction was doubly painful. And,
because of this reorganization, 16 or 17 separate branches now reported directly to the Chief
of the General Staff, which was too much for him to handle. By mid-1944, Zeitzler was on
his last legs as a result of the stress, as were his staff officers. A change had taken place in the way the army
handled officer promotion. Unlike in the early war, where officers were promoted based on
the time they’d served in the army, the idea now was that officers should be promoted
based on their performance at the front. This was because there was a lack of officers in
general for the expanding army, and so rapid promotions were necessary. Character and effectiveness was now all that mattered in order for a soldier to become an officer. And that character was
based mainly upon National Socialist teachings. Any officer who wanted to get ahead now had
to prove that he was a good National Socialist. The problem was that the new officers had
little knowledge of the workings of their new commands, and didn’t have time to learn
them before they were soon promoted again. As the war progressed, this problem became
an epidemic within the army, with fewer and fewer officers able to fulfil their role. In fact, by late 1941, let alone later, officers
in the lower ranks were constantly asking questions and giving tasks to those above.
They were new to their role and inexperienced. They would skip ranks if needed – and this
habit was actually encouraged by the top ranks, by people like Keitel and Hitler. As the war
progressed, and even more newer officers rose up the ranks, this tendency got worse and
worse. The reality was that the entire staff organization – from top to bottom – was massively
overburdened, with lower ranks going straight to the top in order to get answers. While Hitler did meddle in the decisions of
his officers – they wanted him too. In some cases, they needed him too. The officer corps
simply couldn’t cope, forcing more and more decisions to go higher and higher, until…
Hitler. And coupled with the fact that Hitler didn’t want his men to withdraw for no reason,
this relationship ‘benefited’ both sides. On the 19th of January 1945, Hitler ordered
that all commanders down to division level should report any planned movement or action
to him so that he could have a say in the decision. Sure, it looks as though Hitler
was meddling – and maybe he was – but this order wouldn’t have been necessary if those
officers weren’t as inexperienced and overburdened as they were. But wait a second, why was there such a need
for officers? Wasn’t the army getting smaller as the war progressed? Surely this would lead
to a decline in the number of required officers… right? Up until Kursk in mid-1943, the army
was actually expanding in size, not decreasing. This required more officers. And, while the
army started to decline in late-1943 (after Kursk), there is something important to note.
On a whole, German divisions were getting smaller, and there were more divisions. This
meant that there were more individual units overall (like battalions). Now the battalions
required less men per unit, but still need the same amount of staff officers overall
to run them. So there were more weaker battalions, more weaker regiments, more weaker divisions
– requiring less manpower overall – but needing more staff. Needing more officers. And Germany
was out of officers. Now this might seem contradictory at first,
but in theory, smaller divisions are actually better and more mobile than larger – bulkier
divisions. Smaller divisions are more flexible – which is great for a mobile Blitzkrieg or
Bewegungskrieg war of movement. The Italians realised this before the war, deciding to
create binary divisions – divisions with just two infantry regiments rather than three.
Unfortunately, while this is perhaps correct, it requires more officers to fill those ranks.
The Italians didn’t have enough good officers (and few trucks to make these smaller divisions
faster), which is why they struggled against the British. And as the war progressed, the
Germans were trying to create more smaller or binary divisions. By 1944, the German divisions
were operating in divisional groups, often the size of regiments. Perhaps this was down
to the lack of officers? Yes they had a large number of experienced officers within the
officer corps, but they also had a much larger number of inexperienced officers as well. Part of the reason that the Germans could
reduce the size of their divisions was because Soviet divisions were smaller than theirs.
The Red Army actually had this problem throughout the war – smaller divisions, but requiring
more officers. This was why they got rid of the corps-level of command in the early-war
period and only put it back in later. This reduced the number of officers at corps level,
freeing them up to go to the bottom level. But of course, this led to organizational
problems, which is why, in the early war period, the Soviets were less flexible in their operations.
The Red Army by 1944 though had large numbers of experienced staff officers, and the corps
level was reintroduced. Their army – while still far from perfect – was far more organized
and efficient than it had been in the early part of the war. By 1944, most Soviet Rifle Divisions had an
effective strength of just 2,000 men or less. This was very very small – since divisions
in the early-war had been over 10,000 men strong. Though they were severely battered,
the German divisions still outnumbered the Soviet divisions in terms of manpower. So
when you hear of ten Soviet divisions going up against two German divisions – actually
they don’t outnumber them five to one – as the number of divisions suggests – but perhaps
two or three to one. Still outnumbered, but not by the “waves” of troops as often
described in the German books. For example, at one point 1st Shock Army sends 13 divisions
vs three German divisions. But if we do some rough math, 2,000 men times 13 equals only
26,000 men. The reality was that the German divisions at this stage had somewhere in the
region of five to seven thousand men each, which puts the number roughly between fifteen-thousand
and twenty-one-thousand. So certainly outnumbered, but not by three or four to one as the division
numbers alone suggests. This principle applies to many of the Soviet
units. During the Courland Pocket, the Germans have two armies, but tie down six Soviet armies.
What we see though is that both sides are roughly equal in strength (with the Germans
in good defensive terrain), which again suggests that the Soviets don’t outnumber them several
times over. There’s a two or three to one advantage at times during the Summer and Autumn
Offensives, but that ratio decreases once the Germans are trapped in Courland, since
the Soviets are racing for Berlin – not Courland. The reason for this is the often overlooked
or ignored fact that the Soviets are also scraping the barrel in 1944 and 1945. Their
country has been devastated by the Axis onslaught, and National Socialist occupation – as well
as the previous failures of their own economic policies. In 1942, approximately 62,400,000
people of the Soviet Union were under German occupation. This left 104,600,000 to fight
against a combined Axis population of 147,800,000. Yes, in 1942, the Soviet population was outnumbered
by their enemy. They had to strip the Soviet economy to incredibly thin levels just to
find the manpower to recruit for the army. In 1945, collective farms were operating at
just 71% of their 1941 work staff. And the percentage of women working in these farms
had increased from 56% in 1940 to 73% in 1943. Similar numbers applied to the Gulags – which
were providing substantial raw materials for the Soviet war effort. It’s only really
in mid-1944 that this lost-portion of the Soviet population comes back under Soviet
control, but even then they’re desperate for manpower. This is why they force local
Latvians, Estonians and Lithuanians into their ranks – they’re short on manpower. That said, in the July of 1943, the Soviets
as a whole have 6.7 million men in arms, while the Axis have 4 million. Approximately, a
ratio of 2 to 1 of Soviets vs the Germans alone. But by the May of 1944, the Soviets
have 6,750,000 men on the Axis-Soviet Front, while the Axis have 3,313,000 (of which 2,520,000
are German). On a whole, German forces are outnumbered two or three to one, while total
Axis are outnumbered two to one. But by the time we get to November 1944, when the Courland
Pocket is formed, Axis forces are reduced to 2,200,000, while the Soviets increase their
numbers (mainly due to an influx of 700,000 allies troops) to 7,200,000. Now the Axis
are outnumbered roughly 3.5 to one. Clearly, as a result of the successful Soviet Summer
offensive – Operation Bagration – the Germans are in trouble by this point. But it’s worth noting that in 1944 and 1945
the bulk of the Soviet manpower is aimed at the central and southern fronts, not in the
north – which is where we’ll be focusing. Therefore it’s probably best to imagine
a rough manpower ratio of about two to one facing Army Group North, although that certainly
fluctuates. But the point I want to emphasize is that counting the number of divisions is
not the best way to judge by how much the Germans are outnumbered, and in order to discourage
this, I’m going to reduce the size of the Soviet unit cards in this series compared
to the Germans to give you a more accurate reflection of the strength of their units. Either way, we can clearly see that by 1944
the German Wehrmacht was in serious decline. Post-Kursk reserves of manpower were at critically
low levels, and frontline infantry divisions were forced to fight in kampfgruppen (battle
groups) at the strength of regiments. Material equipment was in decline too. Typically, only
a third of German anti-tank units had tank destroyers or high-calibre guns, and tanks
became a scarce commodity. In contrast, by 1944, the Red Army had transformed
from it’s early-war shell into a veteran well-oiled machine. And it was using Blitzkrieg
(or, to be accurate, Deep Operation Doctrine, which was similar) which it could only do
because half the trucks in the Red Army were provided by Lend Lease. “These trucks solved one of the Red Army’s
greatest deficiencies: the inability to resupply and sustain mobile forces once they had penetrated
into German rear areas. Without the trucks, each Soviet offensive from 1943 to 1945 would
have come to a halt after a shallower penetration, allowing the Germans time to reconstruct their
defenses and forcing the Red Army to mount yet another deliberate breakthrough attack.” The Soviets were less thrilled by other Lend
Lease equipment, such as tanks and planes – although 63.5% of the Soviet air defence
force throughout the war ended up being stocked by western fighters. But it was clear that
by 1943 onwards, the shortchanged Soviet formations of the early war were now receiving significantly
more equipment, in terms of tanks, anti-tank guns, radios, trucks and plentiful numbers
of artillery pieces. Soviet rifle armies were now combined-arms armies. And after 1943,
Tank Armies were being used to strike into the rear of the German lines up to 500 kilometers
in depth. These new formations had one or two tank and one mechanized corps, and a separate
tank brigade or regiment, plus various motorcycle reconnaissance, anti-tank, anti-aircraft,
artillery, rocket-launcher, signals, maintenance, and transportation units. This was no longer
the early days of the war – the Red Army dominated the battlefield. To counter these Tank Armies, the Germans
created Heavy Panzer BATTALIONS? Yes, battalions. The Germans would use battalions and panzer
divisions to counter Soviet Tank Armies. On a whole, Panzer 4s and Panthers were employed
in the regular panzer divisions, while the Tigers were used in heavy tank battalions.
StuGs were employed in their own Sturmgeschütz Battalions as well. The original concept of the heavy tank battalions
was that they would be used on the offensive to break through the enemy’s tactical defensive
lines. But, the tide of war had turned, so the heavy tank battalions were often employed
on the defensive, or as a counter-attacking force, against the Soviet Tank Armies. In
these roles, they were generally quite effective on the tactical level, and could destroy large
numbers of enemy vehicles. However, there were problems. Due to shortages,
there was a lack of infantry, artillery, minesweepers and armoured recovery vehicles to support
them. And since lone tanks are vulnerable to enemy infantry, mines and anti-tank guns
etc, this resulted in heavy tank casualties and rendered the heavy tank battalions less
effective than they could have otherwise have been. Production costs were also high. Few
tanks reached the front, and those that did were deployed in small numbers. They also
had massive mechanical reliability issues, were a logistical nightmare, and had a short
radius of action. So while they may have earned some tactical victories, they made very little
impact on the operational or strategic levels. Worse, the Soviets simply countered them with
heavy guns, or bypassed the heavy tank battalions entirely to strike off into the rear of the
German lines. Overall, while they seem impressive, they really weren’t that effective at stopping
the enemy. Now what’s interesting is that the Germans
did actually have a reasonable number of spare tanks at this stage. The problem was that
many of them were awaiting repair, and they didn’t have the spare parts to actually
fix them. In the June of 1944, 17% of all the panzers that Army Group Centre had, were
out of action because they needed repair. While I don’t have the numbers for Army
Group North, it’s reasonable to assume that they had similar percentages of armoured vehicles
out of action due to mechanical issues. And those tanks that they did have suffered
heavily from a chronic lack of fuel brought about by Germany’s failure to capture the
Caucasus oil fields in 1942, not helped by the Allied bombing campaign against the Oil
Refineries in Germany during mid-1944. The same applies to the Luftwaffe. By mid-to-late
1944, the Luftwaffe was effectively grounded by a lack of fuel and spare parts. Those that
did continue were concentrated in the Reich itself in order to try offset Western Allied
bombers. This is where 75% of all 88mm Flak guns ended up – the Reich – to try stem the
tide in the air. Now front line units found themselves without air-power; something they’d
relied upon quite heavily in the early-war period, and with less air or anti-tank protection
due to the recall of 88mm guns. Effectively, the same problems that had plagued the Red
Army in the early war period now plagued the German Army. And just like the early-war Red
Army, the Germans didn’t have the capability to resist. Perhaps this explains why Germany was relying
on heavy tanks to take on the enemy tanks. It seems that the Germans were trying to make
up for the lack of 88mm guns in their anti-tank gun forces by mounting those guns on the heavier
tanks. Was this a good solution to the problem though? If we consider that in 1942, T-34s made up
51% of all Soviet tank production, and that by 1943 to 44, the percentage had increased
to 79%. Most tanks that the Germans would face in this period would be T-34s of various
models. T-34-85s outgunned and out-armoured the Panzer IVs, but they were in trouble when
faced with a Panther, Tiger or Tiger II. The Tiger I’s could be defeated if the T-34s
got within 500 yards – which would be lucky since the Tigers’ 88mm gun could defeat
them from thousands of yards away. Similarly, a Panther could knock out a T-34-85 from the
front at 1200 meters away, while the Panther or Tiger II’s sloped frontal armour were
(with an exception of a lucky hit on the flat turret face of the Panther) impossible to
defeat from the front using a T-34. Only heavy guns, such as the 122mm guns on the ISU-122
tank destroyer, could hope to penetrate a Panther or Tiger II from the front. But, of course, the weaker side and rear armour
of the German tanks could be taken out at long ranges. So, the German advantage in heavy-armour
and firepower was much like the German tank advantages in the early war. The Germans tried
to destroy Soviet tanks at a distance before they got close enough to take them on, and
the Soviets tried to outflank and get close to the German panzers. But we know that the
Courland Pocket prevented any major outflanking maneuver, and because of the marshes and forests
in the area, the Soviets were funnelled into killing zones, which naturally favoured the
armour and firepower of the German tanks. Prior to this point though, the open spaces
favoured the Soviets, since it allowed them to get around the sides of the German tanks.
This helps explain why the fighting flowed prior to, and then became a stalemate in,
the Courland Pocket. However, there’s something we need to note.
Using tanks to take on tanks is not the purpose of a tank. An anti-tank gun can take out a
tank just as well as a tank, and can be hidden easily, and are easier to produce. If one
gets taken out, it’s no big deal because they’re cheap to make. Tanks on the other
hand are expensive to make. Losing one of them costs you a ton of precious resources.
In the period of 1942 to 1944, the Germans only built 1,350 Tiger I’s. In 1943 alone,
the Soviet Union produced 1,300 heavy self-propelled guns (SUs with 152mm guns), plus 800 medium
self-propelled guns with 122mm guns, and 2,300 light self-propelled guns with 76mm or smaller
guns. The heavy 152mm and 122mm guns would have no problem tackling a Tiger tank. And
we’ve not even talked about the production of the T-34, which dwarfed all German tank
production of the entire war combined. So while armour can help, there’s always a
bigger gun, and losing an expensive tank to cheaper weapons really doesn’t justify the
cost. In the early war, the Germans had used a combination
of anti-tank guns, mines, anti-tank rifles, Stukas, explosives, and tanks to overwhelm
the lone enemy tanks that wandered into range. This was combined arms warfare. The Germans
had learnt this lesson in the early war period – yet seemed to have forgotten this by 1944.
Now they were using tanks to take on enemy tanks directly, which, while that is fine,
it’s simply not efficient. Sure, they had replaced anti-tank rifles with panzerfausts
and panzerschrecks, which were more capable, even if the user had to get pretty close to
the target tank in order to use the weapon. But the idea of using tanks to take out enemy
tanks is the main issue. While your tank is doing that, it’s not riding off encircling
units and destroying the enemy’s rear areas. You’ve abandoned the idea of the war of
movement (Bewegungskrieg), and have replaced this with the war of position (Stellungskrieg).
Let’s sit there and lob shells at each other until one side wins. It’s now a war of attrition
– a war that Germany cannot hope to win. Perhaps this was all a result of the oil crisis.
The fuel costs of driving off into the sunrise are massive. But having a tank sit there and
fire its gun doesn’t cost so much. Perhaps it was a necessity for the Germans. Either
way, the initiative had been lost by the Axis, and gained by the Soviets. Overall, it’s
hard to escape the conclusion that the German Army was on its last legs – making it’s
last stand. And while the Soviet Red Army was also scraping the barrel, it was armed
and ready for the fight to Berlin… stopping to recapture the Baltic States on the way. Next episode, we’ll take a look at the Baltic
States themselves, and see what fate befell them during this war. That will put the whole
thing into context, prior to the fighting itself. Thank you to my Patrons, you made
this series possible, because you’re awesome. Please consider supporting me so that I can
create the best historical documentaries ever – links in the description. Thanks for watching,
and supporting, bye for now. There is going to be a focus on the military
fighting throughout this series, starting next episode, but it’s worth explaining
the context of the Baltic States in World War Two, so that we have a clear idea of the
area the Axis and Soviets are fighting over, and understand what motivated some of the
Baltic units that were fighting on either side. Many of the books in English (some translated
from German) like to emphasise the Soviet atrocities that took place during the fighting,
and don’t mention the German atrocities, even though there were many. They also don’t
explain the context of the Baltic States in this period very well, giving an impression
that everyone was pro-German. Ultimately, they’re trying to justify the Wehrmacht
and National Socialism and whitewash them of their crimes. Many of the books were written
during the Cold War, some by Germans, and they’re playing on the anti-Marxist mentality
that the west has. So let’s try and strike a balance in the narrative between the two
ideologies. Now it is natural for human beings to favour
one side or another – team A vs team B – but as you watch this series, remember this isn’t
a football game. We shouldn’t cheer either side on the Axis-Soviet Front. Keeping the
fate of the Baltic States in the back of your mind, as but one example of the horrors therein,
will ensure that you view the Axis and Soviets with equal disgust. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania share a similar,
tragic story. Essentially, they were all dominated by foreign powers for around 700 hundred years.
Then on the 16th of February 1918, Lithuania became independent from Germany – although
wouldn’t be freed from German rule until the November time. On the 18th of November
1918, Latvia declared her independence from Russia. And Estonia did the same on the 24th.
Latvia and Estonia won the following wars of independence and became democratic republics,
along with Lithuania. Skipping forward to 1939, all three states
had lost their democratic status, and were replaced by dictatorships, mainly due to the
economic or political crises of the interwar period. In all three cases, anti-Bolshevik
and anti-Soviet sentiments led directly or indirectly to those dictatorships. Then at 0200 hours on the 24th of August 1939,
barely twenty years after their independence, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed. This
carved up the Baltic nations between National Socialist Germany to the west, and the Union
of Soviet Socialist Republics (the USSR, or Soviet Union) to the east. In order to protect
Leningrad from potential threats, the pact secretly assigned the Baltic states to the
Soviet sphere of influence. “In the event of a territorial and political
rearrangement of the regions making up the Baltic States (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania)
the northern frontier of Lithuania will simultaneously serve as the frontier of the spheres of interest
of Germany and the USSR. In this, Lithuania’s interest in connection with the Vilnius District
is recognised by both parties.” Hitler invades Poland on the 1st of September
1939, and Stalin does the same on the 17th. But the Western Allies only declare war on
Germany, not the Soviet Union. This gives the Soviets a free hand on their secret claims.
Hitler had also called for all Volksdeutsche – the German people outside of Germany – to
come “Heims ins Reich” (Home to the Reich). 60,000 Volksdeutsche in the Baltic States
did move to Germany during this period, as did some Jews, who apparently feared the Soviet
Union more than the National Socialists. On the 18th of September 1939, a Polish submarine
called the Orsel, which had docked in Estonia, now decided to flee to Britain. Stalin used
this as proof that the Estonians were not neutral, and gathered 160,000 troops on the
Estonian border. On the 28th of September 1939, Estonia had no choice but to sign an
agreement allowing 25,000 Soviet troops into their territory. This was bad, since the entire
Estonian army was just 16,000 men strong at this time. Then on the 4th of October 1939 Latvia met
a similar fate, as Moscow forced Latvian politicians to accept 30,000 Soviet troops into their
territory. The Lithuanians were forced to give Memel to the Germans, and found the rest of
their country occupied by Soviet troops as well. Fearing total annexation by the Soviets,
the Lithuanian president, Antanas Smetona, actually offered his country as a protectorate
to the Germans. But it was no use. Soviet troops in the Baltic countries were
ordered to keep a low profile at first. But by the summer of 1940, the situation had changed.
On the 14th of June, Molotov demands the dissolution of the Lithuanian government in order to set
up a pro-Soviet government in its place. The Lithuanians bowed to Soviet pressure on the
15th. Similar ultimatums to Estonia and Latvia were delivered on the 16th. They all considered
resistance, but without outside support, they knew they’d stand little chance. On the
17th of June 1940, as the west was distracted by the Fall of France, the first Soviet troops
occupied Latvia and Estonia and took control of everything – the government and the economy. Social ownership and control of the means
of production had arrived in the Baltics. And in order to make it seem that this was
a legitimate act – as though the Baltic peoples wanted this to happen – the Soviets called
elections in the three Baltic States. Voter turnout was remarkable – with one precinct
in Lithuania achieving 122 percent of voter turnout. Obviously it was all totally above
board. So enthusiastic were the people to have everything they owned taken off them
and their countries dissolved, that the results of the elections were announced in Moscow
before the vote had even finished. Once the “people’s parliaments” were elected,
they voted themselves out of existence. The three Baltic states were now assimilated into
the Soviet Union, each becoming Soviet Borg republics. For some reason, the Baltic people weren’t
happy. Some even took to the forests to fight against the Soviets. Others sung patriotic
songs in defiance. But resistance is futile. Patriotic songs would do little when your
property is seized, and you’re killed or deported to the Gulag slave labour camps in
the east. This is what happened to the Baltic peoples over the next 12 months – a period
known in Latvia as ‘The Year of Terror’. “Civilians branded ‘bourgeois nationalists’
or opposed to the Soviet takeover were deported to the USSR, with 15,000 people sent to Siberia
on the night of 13-14 June 1941 in wooden cattle wagons. The majority would not return.” People were arbitrarily separated into social
groups – those deemed to be the owner class, or anyone who might be a threat to the Marxist-Socialist-state, were to be either killed or enslaved. 60,000 Estonians, 35,000 Latvians, and 34,000 Lithuanians
would ‘disappear’ and the majority would die on the journey to, or in, the Gulag. It
was the same in Poland, where 1.5 million Poles would be enslaved and sent east. The
infants, the sick, and the elderly were hit the hardest by poor conditions, poor rations,
cold and disease. More round-ups were planned in the future. Fear gripped the entire Eastern
population. The police were disbanded and replaced with communist militias. Individuals
were banned from owning anything and businesses were seized to be controlled by central administrations.
Youth and student organizations were dissolved, and new state-run organizations took their
place. Books were burned. The culture and life of the Baltic peoples was suppressed. The workers did receive large pay rises, but
since production didn’t increase, this only led to massive inflation. And now that trade
wasn’t allowed with the west, and there wasn’t any incentive to work (which hurt
production levels further), there were fewer goods in the shops, leading to fewer things
to buy. Money is worthless if you can’t buy anything with it. So, despite wage increases,
the Baltic peoples soon became worse off than they were before the occupation. Ironically, while a higher percentage of Jews
in the Baltics were deported than the rest of the population, the Jews were seen as non-national
– international – and thus pro-Soviet (since Marxist Socialism is international-socialism)
and thus were blamed for the situation that the rest of the Baltic peoples were now in. Some Jewish workers did take jobs in the Soviet-imposed administration. But, while they were the minority
in that administration, the number of Jews in the administration formed a larger proportion
than the Latvian or Lithuanian populations. So there was resentment from the rest of the
Baltic peoples as it appeared to them that the Jews were being favoured more than them
by the socialist government. Latvians and Lithuanians who had also joined the Soviet
administration wanted to distance themselves from their collaboration, and so they blamed
the Jews to divert attention from their own failings. As a result, anti-Semitism actually
increased in Lithuania and Latvia because of the Soviet occupation, which explains why
Lithuanians and Latvians initially assisted the National Socialists when they launched
Operation Barbarossa on the 22nd of June 1941. Crushing all opposition, the Germans reached
Latvian territory by the end of the first day. By July 1941 the Germans had taken Riga.
Lithuanians and Latvians celebrated the arrival of the Germans as liberators. But, not all
of them. Instead of showering their liberators with flowers, the Jewish communities locked
themselves into their homes and drew their curtains. When German troops marched into the Lithuanian
capital, Kaunas, a Lithuanian Provisional Government had already taken control in the
vacuum of the Soviet collapse. They were now trying to recreate an administration, and
were looking forward to Lithuanian independence. But the National Socialists would have none
of that. As Hitler makes clear in Mein Kampf and in his second book – they wanted territory,
resources, and slaves for their People’s State, not free independent states. The Germans
effectively blocked this Provisional Government from implementing policies, and disbanded
them after six weeks. Instead, the National Socialists established ‘General District
Lithuania’ and ruled over the country with an iron fist. Similar events happened in Latvia and Estonia.
The National Socialists were not interested in allowing any concept of nationalism to
form in the Baltic states. Self-government was not even on the cards, despite many Lithuanians,
Latvians and Estonians hoping it would be. Einsatzgruppe A and various security units
(including security divisions 207 and 281, who we will be seeing later) accompanied the
forward German Army units into the capital cities. They set up volunteer detachments
of local Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians to round up and deal with the Jews. And so the killings began. Stahlecker’s
Einsatzgruppe A shot at least 200 civilians in cold blood in Garsden, Lithuania, although
the number may be as high as 800. Their crime was being a Jew. German police encouraged
Lithuanians to take up arms against their Jewish neighbours. Yes, neighbours were now
arbitrarily separated into different social groups again, this time on racial grounds
rather than class. In the capital, Kaunas, 1,500 Jews were murdered and synagogues were
burned in an orgy of violence on the 25th to 26th of June 1941. On the 4th of July,
Einsatzgruppe A shot another 500 Jews in Kaunas as well. And another 2,514 on the 6th of July.
One source states that Einsatzgruppe A alone ran up a total of 138,000 Jews killed by February
of 1942. Ghettos were set up in places like Kaunas
and Riga. The town of Jelgava was an important railway hub which we’ll see throughout this
series. It was also where Einsatzgruppe A murdered 1,550 Jews. In Riga, 400 Jews were
killed as well. And the port of Liepāja also saw more shootings on the 29th of June and
the 3rd of July. The number of murders just keeps going up. In 1942, Salaspils Concentration Camp was
set up southeast of Riga. Malnutrition, illness and death in the camp cost the lives of 250-650
children. There was also a total of 2,000 dead out of 21,000 prisoners between May of
1942 and September of 1944. 1,000 of these deaths were Jewish. 4,000 were then transferred
to Poland and Germany where many were killed. I should point out that the Soviets later
exaggerated the deaths to 100,000 and told of medical experiments on children, which
were untrue, however there was great suffering and death in the camp. So yes, in time, the initial joy of being
freed from Soviet occupation disappeared in Latvia. The Nazis pulled down Latvian flags,
outlawed the national anthem, disbanded their attempt at self-governance, and murdered Jews.
15,900 Latvians alone were then sent to Germany as forced labourers. It was a new reign of
terror similar to that which the Soviets wrought upon their county. Now, by the time 1944 rolls around, it looked
as though the Germans would be pushed back, and the Soviets would conquer the states once
more. This problem divided society. Some welcomed the Soviets back, while others were afraid
of Soviet rule. Most hated both, but it was like trying to decide the lesser of two evils.
With the hope that Hitler may still grant them independence – even though they had never
been promised it – some fought with the Estonian and Latvian Legions; Waffen SS divisions made
up of Estonians and Latvians. Others, including Lithuanians, joined police and auxiliary forces.
When the Soviets rolled back into the Baltics, many were then forcefully recruited into the
Red Army. During the course of this series, we will see how Latvians fought Latvians at
Courland. It’s worth noting that animosity exists
because some fought for the Germans and others fought for the Soviets. As Hunt points out
in the book “Blood in the Forest”, Russians and Germans still to this day think that if
you point out that the Latvian Legionaries were just fighting for an independent Latvia,
they’ll accuse you of “glorifying Nazis”. Clearly emotions still run wild. So who is
right and who is wrong here? Well what’s interesting is that it is often said that
they were volunteers – willing to fight for the Germans. But is that really the case? “Legally, these were deemed volunteer units,
but in fact the Germans used the conscription laws of the defunct Latvian Republic as a
pretext to compel young men to choose either labor or military service.” I guess we’re glorifying National Socialists
and Marxist-Socialists by saying the Baltic States were caught between two evil regimes
and were forced to fight for one state or the other. No. While it is very much up for
debate, it appears as though these soldiers fought in hope of freeing their own countries
– and this was recognized at the time by the Western Allies at least. All they wanted was
independence – a notion which had been crushed by both totalitarian ideologies. Unfortunately,
they weren’t going to get it from either side. But they didn’t know this at the time.
It’s also worth noting that, with the exception of the Arājs Battalion, the rest of the Latvian
SS didn’t kill Jews. Does that mean we’re glorifying Nazis by stating this? As Hunt
makes clear, no, not in the slightest. Socialists may see the world in groups and find people
guilty by association – because they were the same class, or gender, or race – but the
reality is that people are individuals. Individuals should not be found guilty just because someone
else was found guilty – because they were part of the same social group – that makes
no sense. This would be like saying “all Jews are bad”, or “all bourgeoisie are
bad”, or “all men are bad”, which would be incorrect. So judging everyone who fought
for the National Socialists or the Marxist Socialists, and calling them all evil, would
be wrong. Only those that actually committed or encouraged the crimes are guilty. This
might be an uncomfortable truth for some, but the evidence – and reality – is clear.
The Baltic States were caught between two evil regimes, two evil ideologies, two evil
empires. This wasn’t their war, but they were forced to fight within it. This is the
tragedy of the Baltic States. In the next episode, we’ll get into the
fighting itself, looking at the period between the Soviet summer offensives and the end of
August 1944. This will show the events prior to Army Group North falling back into the
Courland Pocket. We’ll be looking at the Soviet advance to the Gulf of Riga, which
traps Army Group North in Estonia and northern Latvia. And Operation Doppelkopf – the German
panzer counter-attack designed to free Army Group North from that trap. Operation Doppelkopf
is a very interesting battle in itself, especially for the year 1944, since it used 5 panzer
divisions, one panzergrenadier division, and more panzer and Sturmgeschutz units as well.
That’s a huge force of armour and motorized units all in one operation, which somehow
didn’t guarantee success. Yes, the elite divisions of the German Army were massed together,
but the Red Army is ready for them. The National Socialists are on the run. Can they weather
the Soviet summer storm? Thank you to my Patrons for supporting me – you’ve made this series
possible. And thank you all for watching, by for now. The Axis-Soviet Front is heating up in this
episode as the Red Army launches their Belorussian Strategic Offensive Operation – Operation
Bagration. While not directly attacking the two armies of Army Group North, this offensive
would rip open their southern flank, forcing the Germans to mount a counter-attack in order
to save Army Group North. This counterattack was Operation Doppelkopf – a little-known
but decisively important operation on the Axis-Soviet Front in World War Two – without
which, Army Group North could not have withdrawn into Courland. Let’s watch the fighting
unfold in episode three of Battlestorm: The Courland Pocket 1944 to 45. 22nd of June 1944. 1,666,000 Soviet troops,
supported by 32,000 artillery guns and mortars, 5,700 tanks and 7,800 aircraft advanced. Operation
Bagration had begun. The Germans had just 800,000 men, 9,500 artillery pieces, 533 tanks
and 839 aircraft – and were slaughtered. The fall of Minsk resulted in close to 100,000
German losses alone. By the 4th of July, 300,000 Germans had fallen, and another 100,000 would
perish in the following weeks. The Germans lost 28 complete divisions and a quarter of
their entire manpower on the Eastern Front. On the 17th of July 1944, the Soviets marched
57,000 German prisoners through the main streets of Moscow to celebrate their victory in Belorussia.
Army Group Centre was crushed. And it appeared as though Army Group North would be next. In the wake of this total disaster, and with
similar events going on in the west, there was an assassination attempt on Hitler’s
life on the 20th of July 1944. It failed, and the conspiracy was crushed, but several
generals were now replaced. Guderian became the Chief of Staff of the OKH, and he in turn
appointed Schörner as Army Group North’s commander on the 23rd of July 1944. A veteran of the Munich Beer Hall Putsch and
one of the men who had turned the Waffen-SS into a serious fighting force, Schörner was
extremely loyal to Hitler, and would follow his Führer’s orders to the letter. This
was why ‘Bloody Ferdinand’ as he was known by the troops, was chosen to command Army
Group North. “Schörner… viewed terrorizing the men
underneath him as a legitimate tool of National Socialist command, executed thousands of his
own soldiers to keep the others in line, and would remain with his command until the end
of the war.” Schörner certainly had his work cut out for
him. While Army Group North had approximately 640,000 men in July 1944, it was under heavy
attack, and was being outflanked. 3rd Baltic Front struck the right-wing of 18th Army,
taking Pskov and Ostov by the 23rd of July. On the 24th of July, Leningrad Front’s 2nd
Shock Army mounted an amphibious assault across the Narva River, while 8th Army attacked across
the river to the south of the city. 2nd Shock managed to surprise 3rd SS Panzer Corps, taking
Narva itself on the 26th of July. Not only were these military disasters, but
they were political ones too. The Finnish knew that if the Baltic coast was taken by
the Soviets, the vital sea routes to Germany that supplied the Finns with food and almost
all of their military equipment and supplies, would be cut. The fall of Pskov and Narva
made them rethink their whole strategic position. But it wasn’t just these cities that fell.
On the 28th of July, the Soviet 43rd Army attacked into Jelgava. Jelgava was an important
supply depot and training base for the Germans. If Jelgava fell, there would be no chance
of relief from the west, and the Soviets would have cut Army Group North off in the Baltic.
It was also where the Western gauge railway lines met with the wider Russian rails in
the city. This is why the Soviets targeted the railway station with their bombers. “A train carrying 430 refugees from Vidzeme
and Latgale in the east was caught in a bombing raid alongside a military train carrying fuel
and munitions. The ammunition train exploded, causing a massive fireball which engulfed
the refugees, killing them all.” In heavy fighting, 43rd Army took the railway
bridge, but weren’t able to take the railway station. The Germans and Latvians fought on
desperately in Jelgava throughout July, trying to keep the town in their possession, and
biding time. Time was what the Führer needed. On the 29th
of July, Hitler recalled the 122nd Infantry Division from Finland, and ordered it to go
to Army Group North. Mannerheim requested that it go through Hanko rather than Helsinki,
otherwise it may alarm the public. And Mannerheim – Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish Defense
Forces, and previous state regent – was now thinking of his own people. On the 28th of
July, a secret meeting was held at Mannerheim’s country house in Sairaala. In this meeting,
the Finnish leaders decided that President Ryti should resign. It seems that the Finns
had decided the course their country would take. That course would not be with Germany. To the left of 3rd Baltic Front, Eremenko’s
2nd Baltic Front also pushed westwards against 16th Army. Eremenko had captured Daugavpils
and Rezekne by the 30th of July. Eremenko was a veteran of the Stalingrad Campaign,
having been the front commander that Chuikov reported to. He was also known as the “Russian
Guderian”, because he had commanded a mechanized corps during the invasion of Eastern Poland.
He was a tough and experienced fighter – just the commander needed to retake the Baltics. 3rd Baltic Front was deep into southeastern
Estonia and eastern Latvia by the 31st of July. Also by this point, Soviet forces were
just 7 miles from the city of Warsaw in Poland, and Third Panzer Army had been heavily beaten
and pushed back between Kaunas and Mariampol. Frustrated by the failure to take Jelgava,
Bagramian ordered his men to take the city at all costs. Bagramian was a cavalryman,
and an Armenian. He had plenty of experience under his belt by this point, having been
on the front lines since almost the start of the war. As an artillery bombardment struck
Jelgava on the 31st of July, Bagramian’s units – 51st Army, spearheaded by Obukhov’s
3rd Guards Mechanized Corps – managed to bypass the city and moved on to the Gulf of Riga
in the Klapkalnciems area. “On Stalin’s insistence, bottles of sea
water were sent back as proof the tanks had reached the coast.” The Soviets had cut off Army Group North in
the northern Baltic States. This meant that 38 German infantry divisions and one panzer
division were now trapped in a huge pocket, and they were in serious trouble. This was
the first time in the war that an entire Army Group had been cut off, and it came at probably
the worst time – after the destruction of much of Army Group Centre. And as if this wasn’t bad enough, the Leningrad
Front attacked again on the 3rd of August, striking towards Tallinn – capital of Estonia.
Frustratingly for the Soviets, German and Estonian forces in the hilltops around the
village of Sinimae, managed to halt this attack. And, on the Soviet side, it was clear that
Bagramian’s men could go no further. They had gone over 350 miles since the 22nd of
June, and had stretched their supply lines to the limit. They would not be able to advance,
despite the fact that the Germans now had little to oppose them. However, it seems that Army Group North’s
commander was preoccupied with bigger events. Schörner visited Mannerheim on the 3rd of
August to reassure him that the Baltic would be held and that the connection between Army
Group Centre and Army Group North would be reestablished. But Mannerheim could clearly
see that the situation was grave. 5th Guards Tank Army now stood on the Baltic coast west
of Riga, the Lufthansa had suspended commercial flights between Germany and Finland, and direct
telephone lines had been broken between the two countries. Events on the front, and in
Finland, were clearly slipping beyond Germany’s grasp. The bloody Jelgava-fighting carried on for
several more days, with lots of back-and-forth action – only falling to the Soviets on the
6th of August. “Huge artillery bombardments, heavy bombing
and street-to-street fighting cleared the defenders by early August but left Jelgava
like a Latvian Stalingrad – a city in ruins.” On the 10th of August, 2nd and 3rd Baltic
Fronts launched heavy assaults against 18th Army below Pskov Lake and north of the Dvina.
There was no reserves, and Schörner was not amused – “Generalleutnant Chales de Beaulieu is to
be told that he is to restore his own and his division’s honor by a courageous deed
or I will chase him out in disgrace. Furthermore, he is to report by 2100 which commanders he
has had shot or is having shot for cowardice.” But even this encouragement was not enough.
By the 13th of August, Eremenko’s 2nd Baltic Front had reached and taken Jekabpils and
Madona. And on the 17th of August, Keitel – Chief of the Armed Forces High Command – visited
Helsinki to present an oak leaf cluster to Mannerheim and a Knight’s Cross of the Iron
Cross for his chief of staff. But this didn’t persuade Mannerheim, who told Keitel that
the Ryti-Ribbentrop agreement – a promise from Ryti to Hitler than the Finns would not
reach a separate peace with the Soviets – was nullified by Ryti’s resignation. Keitel
refused to accept the statement, but could do nothing to stop the FInns now. Perhaps even more shocking for the Germans
was, on the same day – 17th of August 1944 – the fact that Soviet troops hard reached
German soil for the first time northwest of Vilkaviškis. After three years of bloodshed,
the fight was finally coming home, and Germany was running out of allies and running out
of time. Clearly the situation for the Germans was
getting out of hand. So, in mid-August, the Germans assembled a force to launch a counterattack
towards Riga, hoping to free Army Group North from its trap. This was Operation Doppelkopf
– Operation Double Head – which began on the 16th of August. The name comes from a card
game that was popular with German troops at the time. Third Panzer Army, commanded by
Erhard Raus (who had just taken command the day after the operation began and had no sway
over the planning of the operation) would strike the Soviet left flank. German intelligence suggested that the Red
Army was exhausted after its drive, and they were down in both manpower and equipment.
The aim then for Operation Doppelkopf was to use no fewer than 5 panzer divisions and
one panzergrenadier division, and drive to Siauliai. But, while 3rd Panzer Army wanted
the attack to start on the 17th of August, Army Group North was pressing for the attack
to start earlier – simply because they were in a desperate situation. Otto von Knobelsdorff’s 40th Panzer Corps,
with the Grossdeutschland Division, 14th Panzer Division, and 7th Panzer Division were reinforced
and would strike at 2nd Guards Army to the south. 14th Panzer Division – a unit which
had been destroyed at Stalingrad, but rebuilt in 1943 – had 73 Panther tanks, and 124 Panzer
Mark IVs and StuGs, and was supported by 20 Tiger tanks from Gilbert’s 510th Heavy Tank
Battalion. In addition, von Saucken’s also reinforced 39th Panzer Corps, with 12th, 4th
and 5th Panzer Divisions, would strike at 51st Army’s southwestern flank from the
north-east of Telsiai, aiming for Jelgava. On the Soviet side, 1st Guards Rifle Corps
took over positions at the Gulf of Riga, allowing 3rd Mechanized Corps to fall back to the area
south of Jelgava. Below them was Chanchibadze’s 2nd Guards Army, and Solomatin’s 5th Guards
Tank Army – both of which were weakened by their previous efforts. The Red Army high
command – the Stavka – suspected that the Germans were preparing an assault, and ordered
the 4th Shock, 43rd Army and 6th Guards Armies to attack towards Riga. This would tie down
the German 16th Army, and prevent them from sallying out of their pocket to meet with
the relieving force. The trident-like spearhead of the German attack
struck out on the foggy morning of the 16th of August – earlier than 3rd Panzer Army had
wanted. German forces were spread out, so there was no concentration point – no Schwerpunkt.
The attack was also advancing through forested terrain, and, despite reinforcements, the
units were noticeably understrength. Still the Germans had to try. “Blitzkrieg had lost its magic. General
Bagramian, commanding the 1st Baltic Front, reacted promptly by establishing a deep defensive
system in the path of the German advance. Most Soviet units were now lavishly supported
by a mixture of towed and self-propelled antitank guns, both of which were a match for German
armour.” 7th Panzer Division of 40th Panzer Corps managed
to take the town of Kelme, but had gone barely 40 kilometers before their attack wore out
against heavy resistance to the northeast. They suffered a heavy blow when a half-track
carrying several officers of their 6th Panzergrenadier Regiment was hit by a Soviet artillery round
– killing them all. 14th Panzer Division reached the Ventos canal, suffering heavy casualties
in the process. While they did take out 15 Soviet tanks, 108th Panzergrenadier Regiment
lost their commander, and then their replacement commander as well. 36th Panzer Regiment reached
the town of Akmene, but were compelled to dig in in the face of Pavlenkov’s 1187th
Artillery Regiment. The Grossdeutschland Division also struggled to reach Kuršėnai in the
face of the 126th Rifle Division. But 39th Panzer Corps was having an even worse
time – 5th Panzer Division had gone barely 20 kilometers, reaching Gaudikiai, and being
stopped by Soviet anti-tank defences. 4th Panzer Division’s attack started later than
planned due to delays in resupplying their 32 Panzer 4s and 15 Panther tanks. Forming
Kampfgruppe Christern – mainly from Obert Christern’s 35th Panzer Regiment – they
managed to reach the Vegeriai area on the 17th, before being stopped by a concealed
line of Soviet anti-tank guns. With the tanks stopped, 4th Panzer Division’s panzergrenadiers
now tried to get ahead. They also stalled in front of the Soviet defences, and then
got counterattacked by Soviet tanks, which managed to outflank the panzergrenadiers.
The 12th Panzer Division, which had also arrived late, barely made 10 kilometers, but did go
further than the others. Bagramian moved his reserves – 1st Tank Corps
and 103rd Rifle Corps – to the Siauliai area, and sent several anti-tank battalions to the
front. On the 18th, 12th Panzer Division crawled its way to the high-ground south of Auce.
But, having barely reached the area, the panzers were greeted by the 3rd Guards Mechanized
Corps and their attack stalled. The Grossdeutschland continued to push forwards, supported by 14th
Panzer Division. But these attacks ground to a halt in front of 1st Tank Corps. On the 19th, 3rd Guards Mechanized Corps was
pulled back into reserve positions – since Bagramian was confident the other forces could
deal with this German attack. The German attack stalled completely on the 20th of August. But, having arrived late, an ad-hoc formation
known as Panzerverbände von Strachwitz now advanced towards Tukums. The leader of this
formation was the never-forgettable Hyacinth Graf Strachwitz von Groß-Zauche und Camminetz,
who had a very eventful career and had taken part in the fighting at Kalach near Stalingrad.
Panzerverbände von Strachwitz was spearheaded by the 101st Panzer Brigade, which was, in
reality, the remnants of the 18th Panzergrenadier Division. This was reinforced by two extra
SS infantry companies, and more units like Panzer Brigade Groß. And the Soviets had
reacted to the other German units, leaving the front ahead of Strachwitz somewhat weak.
The 417th Rifle Division held Tukums, while 267th Rifle Division held the area to the
south. Behind them was the 346th Rifle Division facing the opposite direction. And so, with supporting gunfire from the Prinz
Eugen and several destroyers, Dzukste fell quickly to Strachwitz’s men. Soviet tank
forces in Tukums came under heavy fire from the ships – and they lost 40 of their tanks.
This allowed Strachwitz to take Tukums and push through the Soviet lines to reach Jūrmala.
Here they met up with elements of 16th Army. There was now a corridor, about 30 kilometers
wide, between the two German army groups, and Bubli’s 1164th Rifle Regiment (from
346th Rifle Division) was trapped in a pocket on the coast. Of course, the Germans claim to have taken
out many enemy tanks, and the German authors are quick to chest-pound. For example, Kurowski
says 35th Panzer Regiment destroyed 27 enemy tanks and two assault guns on the 19th of
August – all without losing a single German tank. And they destroyed 240 tanks in all
of August. This makes the Germans sound amazing! But, if they were that good, why did the attack
stall? Kurowski’s quick to list the number of enemy
tanks claimed to have been destroyed by the Germans, but then doesn’t list the number
of panzers that were taken out in these actions, nor any of the German casualties at all – implying
to the reader that the Germans were invincible, and that their tanks were so superior to the
Soviets. That was not the case. As Buttar points out, the German attacks were costly
in both men and material. For example, the 4th Panzer Division’s 106th Panzergrenadier
Regiment lost its commander, one of its battalion commanders, and the replacement battalion
commander. Strachwitz had reached 16th Army with only 9 operational Panther tanks left
– the rest had broken down. In addition, 14th Panzer Division’s reports make it clear
that, after just 6 days of combat, the unit was exhausted. Their vehicles were either
broken down or worn out – “The new Panther tanks were especially vulnerable
to engine, drive gear, and transmission problems, whereas the Panzer Mark IV’s and assault
guns experienced extreme wear on their steering columns and brakes.” The reality was that several panzer divisions
– the best formations the Germans had to offer at this stage – had been stopped by fierce
Soviet resistance. “For us this was an entirely new type of
war, these tough struggles in the tightest of spaces, the bitterly conducted fighting
for every metre of ground. We had to break up the enemy’s positions step by step. It
was no impulsive surge forward, rather a painstakingly led fight in a restricted space. Coming out
of the spaces of Russia, we only got use to this new war slowly.” According to Raus, Hitler now intervened,
and ordered an attack from the Kelme area against Jelgava. Raus apparently thought that
the distances were too great, so decided to ignore Hitler’s orders. Yes, ignore Hitler.
You don’t hear that very often in the literature. And did Raus get executed for it? No. Because
this isn’t exactly what happened. Discussions had been going on for a couple of days within
the 3rd Panzer Army about resuming the advance, and it was Heinz Guderian, chief of staff
at the OKH, who intervened and was most optimistic about a breakthrough to Jelgava. Raus and
Saucken exchanged views over the radio and decided that they would shift forces to the
north and attack towards Jelgava from there. Raus conveyed his opinions to Reinhardt, commander
of Army Group Centre, who agreed. Hitler may have got involved, but it’s clear that an
attack was being formulated anyway. And yet, let’s blame that madman Hitler, because
that narrative is easier than admitting that the Germans and their generals weren’t capable
of achieving any results now, even if they wanted to. And we’ll no doubt have National Socialists
in the comment section complaining that I’m anti-German for point this out. No, I just
don’t like it when narratives are twisted to suit an agenda, and this is a clear example
of an agenda twisting the narrative to paint the German generals as gods and Hitler as
the root of all their problems. Not on my watch. Anyway, Raus withdrew his men back, abandoning
the area that Manteuffel’s Grossdeutschland Division had bitterly taken over the past
few days. He moved them to the Auce area, north of 4th and 5th Panzer Divisions (who
were still trying to claw their way forwards). 12th Panzer Division was driven back by 51st
Army, and then also pulled out of the line and was sent to the Auce area. 2nd Guards
Army spotted the moves and advanced 7 miles into the area that Grossdeutschland had occupied.
Of course, this was a ruse. Behind this position was all the German divisions, now preparing
for an offensive towards the heights and town of Dobele. “This deception proved so successful that
the Russians completely missed the new strategic concentration… Never did the enemy suspect
that he might be attacked at the same point that we had voluntarily evacuated a short
time before.” Raus attacked at midday on the 23rd of August.
While Manteuffel’s spearhead had penetrated the Soviet second line by the evening, 4th
Panzer Division’s attack quickly stalled on the western edge of Auce. But, in order
to free 5th Panzer Division for this attack, the 201st Security Division had moved into
the Kruopiai area. This allowed the 1st Tank Corps and the 103rd Rifle Corps – who had
come out of their reserve positions – to counterattack and take the town off the Germans. 5th Panzer
Division was sent in to stabilize the situation, preventing it from being redeployed for Raus’
attack. Despite this, 4th Panzer Division managed
to take Auce by 0800 hours on the 24th of August. They continued towards Bene, but were
slowed by Soviet resistance. To the north, Manteuffel continued his advance, reaching
the area northeast of Bene. But Saucken was worried about the gap between the Grossdeutschland
and 4th Panzer Division. So, in the afternoon, Raus steadied Saucken’s nerve and ordered
that the attack continue regardless, and pulled the 14th Panzer Division out of the line in
order to reinforce this attack at a future date. On the 25th, Manteuffel took the Dobele heights,
a few miles southwest of the town. And on the 26th, he met with elements of the 81st
Infantry Division (part of Kleffel’s Corps from 16th Army), which had been moved from
the Riga area to the area north of Dobele. But 4th and 12th Panzer Divisions struggled
to make much headway, and on the 27th, their attacks ground to a halt. Betzel, 4th Panzer
Division’s commander, urged Saucken to call off the attack because his men were completely
exhausted. And Saucken did call off the attack that evening. Having cut their way through to Schörner’s
army group, the emphasis now was to reinforce the nearby escape routes in order to keep
them open, and prepare for an evacuation. As a result, 14th Panzer Division was sent
east, and was now deployed behind the seam between 16th and 18th Armies as a reserve.
The 731st Anti-tank Battalion was sent to the 16th Army, while three battalions of the
563rd Volksgrenadier Division and the 10th Special Purpose Luftwaffe Fighter Battalion
were flown into the Baltics by air transport to protect the harbor at Pärnu. These reinforcements
– and especially their placement – suggests that someone, somewhere, seems to have made
the decision to withdraw Army Group North at this time. But either way, Operation Doppelkopf was over,
and the results were mixed. Technically, the German armour had failed to reach the Jelgava
area – which was the main objective – but they had tied down enough Soviet forces to
allow Strachwitz to achieve a breakthrough to Army Group North along the coast. So, overall
we could say Operation Doppelkopf was a limited German success. And this is interesting because
they had deployed a lot of top quality panzer divisions, plus one panzergrenadier division,
and hadn’t achieved a breakthrough. As Buttar points out, in any other time during the war,
this many mobile German divisions would have guaranteed success. Yet, this wasn’t the
case here. And it’s not as though these divisions hadn’t been reinforced – they
had. New Panthers, Tigers and other weaponry had been sent to boost the divisions, and
replacement personnel had arrived as well. So, what caused this failure to breakthrough?
Well, for starters, it seems that the equipment wasn’t reliable. Panthers broke down constantly,
and spare parts to fix them weren’t available. The replacement personnel were also of lower
quality than they had been in previous years – with training times slashed in order to
get them to the front as soon as possible. But Soviet resistance had also been significantly
stronger than in previous years. Despite their ranks being depleted, they stood their ground
and resisted bitterly. Soviet anti-tank guns, infantry and tanks took a huge toll on the
German machines – with Bagramian claiming 380 German tanks destroyed in the operation.
Kill claims are always exaggerated on both sides, and this isn’t an exception. However,
much like we’ve seen in previous battles, the way the Germans recorded their operational
tank numbers allowed them to hide the number of tanks taken out in the action. So we don’t
actually know how many German tanks were knocked out, repaired, then sent back into action
to be knocked out again. What we do know is that they had 281 operational panzers and
assault guns at the start of the operation, and that they got reinforcements during the
fighting. But there’s no stated numbers for German nor Soviet losses, so it’s really
impossible to calculate how many tanks were taken out. Overall, Doppelkopf is a little-known
battle on the Eastern Front, and not much has been written on it – even though it was
vitally important. Perhaps the German generals were embarrassed to talk about it due to the
fact it quite clearly shows that, even when they’re left to their own devices, the German
generals couldn’t get Blitzkrieg to work any more. Either way, contact with Army Group
North had been reestablished. Now the Germans had a choice – stand their ground, or get
out of the trap. We will find out what they’ll do next time. Thanks for watching, and supporting,
bye for now. While the route to Army Group North was being
re-established during Operation Doppelkopf (covered in the previous episode), Soviet
pressure on the German armies within the northern Baltics was kept up. The question though is
– would the Germans be able to retreat in time? Or, were they even attempting to retreat
at all? In this episode we’ll see the Soviets strike at the German lines over and over,
and a force of Swedes, Estonians, Norwegians, and Belgians fighting to establish a line
in the Tartu area. And we’ll also see the Germans mount another operation towards Jelgave,
similar to Operation Doppelkopf. This time, it’s Operation Cäsar, and Raus had properly
planned and prepared for it. Hundreds of panzers were about to strike 1st Baltic Front. Let’s
see how they get on. Throughout 1944, the Soviets had tried to
batter their way through the German defences at Narva. This hadn’t gone so well. Now
though, with the southern flank of Army Group North exposed after Operation Bagration, they
had a chance to advance south of Lake Peipus and bypass the Narva positions. At this point, Maslennikov’s 3rd Baltic
Front enjoyed a manpower and material advantage over their opposite German forces, since the
Germans had been compelled to transfer forces south to aid Army Group Centre in its desperate
situation. The remaining forces south of Lake Peipus in 18th Army were a mix of German divisions
and Estonian militia units – not good. On the 10th of August 1944, 67th Army struck
Gollnick’s 28th Army Corps; liberating Pechory on the 11th. 1st Guards Army moved towards
Voru, which they took on the 13th. Schörner reacted by ordering Army Detachment
Narva to now cover the Tartu area. 18th Army could then move its forces to the area south
of Lake Võrtsjärv and establish a more compact defensive line. Elements of 3rd SS Panzer
Corps, as well as other reinforcements, were sent to the Tartu front from Army Detachment
Narva. They formed “Kampfgruppe Wagner”, led by the 4th Nederland SS Panzergrenadier
Brigade’s commander, which was part of the Nordland Division. In part, Kampfgruppe Wagner
consisted of the Nederland Brigade, a battalion-sized kampfgruppe from the Wallonien 5th SS Volunteer
Assault Brigade, and the 23rd Infantry Regiment from the 11th Infantry Division. Estonian
self-defence units were absorbed into these units in order to bolster their manpower levels.
The 207th Security Division covered the area south from Mehikoorma to the Võhandu river,
whilst Kampfgruppe Wagner covered the rest of the river down to 28th Army Corp’s positions. On the 16th, the Soviet 191st Rifle Division,
supported by elements of the 128th, conducted an amphibious assault over Lake Peipus; landing
at Mehikoorma. Estonian self-defence units in the area were quickly overwhelmed, and a bridgehead was secured. 11th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion (of the Nordland Division) was sent
from the Narva area to try stem the tide. This they failed to do, and the Soviet bridgehead
expanded, until the 86th Rifle Division (from 67th Army) arrived and linked up with them
on the 17th of August. 11th SS Recon Battalion gradually fell back to the Ignase area, which
it stubbornly held onto throughout the 19th and 20th of August. Similarly, a battalion
from 11th Infantry Division, plus some Estonians, were forced back to the Melliste area. 1st
Estonian Battalion (of 45th SS Grenadier Regiment from the Estonian 20th SS Grenadier Division)
fought in and around the village of Nõo. The 11th SS Reconnaissance Battalion reinforced
the Estonians at Nõo on the 21st, but the Soviet 282nd Rifle Division, accompanied by
Soviet tanks, outflanked them and broke through to the south. This separated 18th Army and Army Detachment Narva from one another. But don’t worry, Panzerverbande von Strachwitz
had just arrived in 18th Army’s area. Panzerverbande von Strachwitz had moved east after it’s
successful breakthrough and linkup with Army Group North during Operation Doppelkopf, covered
in the previous episode. Now it counterattacked in a northeasterly direction, heading through
Elva towards the village of Nõo. However, Strachwitz himself was involved in a car accident
as he was driving. Two of the people in the car were killed, and Strachwitz was out for
the count as a result of serious injuries. Even so, the Panzerverbande advanced to the
Tamsa area before being brought to a halt by stubborn Soviet resistance on the 24th
of August. Worse, 1st Guards Army had moved around and above the panzer thrust, and reached
the southern edge of Lake Võrtsjärv. They were threatening to race to the Baltic Sea
and cut off Army Detachment Narva in the north. The Germans had no choice but to pull back
the Panzerverbande in order to form a defence against such a move. As a result, Axis units
in the Tartu area were ordered to fall back across the Emajõgi River to form a more coherent
defence. Therefore, on the 25th of August, 67th Army
launched an attack against Tartu. Despite support from the 393rd Sturmgeschütz Brigade
the German infantry were slowly pushed out of the town over the next few days. With the
street-fighting going on, Red Army riflemen established small bridgeheads across the river
on either side of Tartu. Hasse’s 2nd Army Corps desperately tried to form a line. The
11th SS Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion once again plugged gaps and did all it could to
prevent the Soviets from breaking through further north. And Léon Degrelle’s SS-Sturmbrigade
Wallonien (the Belgian Legion) hugged another Soviet bridgehead. Meanwhile, events in Finland were also slipping
beyond German control. The Finns sent out peace feelers to the Soviets on the 25th of
August, telling them that the Ryti-Ribbentrop agreement was nullified. The Finns informed
the Germans the next day, on the 26th of August. The Soviets replied on the 29th of August
and told the Finns that they would accept a peace deal if they could remove German troops
from their territory by the 15th of September. The Finnish leaders contemplated these demands. As this was going on, 67th Army finally captured
all of Tartu on the 28th of August, but was halted by a strong German counter attack.
To the south, 1st Shock Army had reached the outskirts of Valga. But at this point, Soviet
attacks died down for some time. The 900 men of Bubli’s 1164th Rifle Regiment
(from the 346th Rifle Division) trapped in their pocket on the coast, radioed on the
2nd of September that they were going to breakout. On the 5th, 700 of these men managed to infiltrate
through German lines and make it back. But overall, the Soviet summer offensives had
come to a halt and, while Army Group North had not been the centre of attention, by the
end of August, Army Group North alone had lost 1,960 officers and 68,606 men killed,
wounded, or missing in August. “The heavy fighting in July and August along
Army Group North’s entire front left the force a mere shell of its former self.” In August, Vasilevsky – another veteran of
the Stalingrad Campaign and one of Stalin’s two most trusted generals (the other being
Zhukov) – had taken over planning for the next Soviet offensive. Vasilevsky was one
of the Stavka representatives, and helped conduct operations between Soviet army fronts
in certain areas. He had a sharp intellect, and not only played a crucial role on the
Axis-Soviet Front, but would later go on to conduct the Manchurian Strategic Offensive
Operation, leading Glantz to conclude – “As the Soviet Union’s premier General
Staff officer, no one contributed more than Vasilevsky to the defeat of Nazi Germany and
Imperial Japan.” On the 29th of August, the Stavka ordered
the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Baltic Fronts to prepare an attack to destroy Army Group North and
capture Riga itself. Govorov sent 2nd Shock Army down from the Narva area to the area
south of Tartu. And between the Gulf of Finland and Riga, the Soviets were organizing 125
rifle divisions, 5 tank corps, 1 mechanized corps, and 7 fortifications brigades for their
offensive. The Germans reported the Soviet buildup to
be 900,000 men but they actually underestimated. The Soviets had a combined force of 1,215,000
men, 27,373 guns and mortars, 2,341 tanks and self-propelled guns, and 3,056 aircraft.
In contrast, on the 1st of September 1944, the strength of Army Group North was 571,579
soldiers and 42,833 volunteers. 614,412 men in total.
Army Group North would therefore be outnumbered three to one in manpower and far more in weaponry. “The results were predictable.” The Germans didn’t have much to reinforce
the front with. Units sent to man the Tartu line included two Estonian battalions – one
of which was an Estonian police battalion and the other being 3rd Estonian Battalion from the 200th Infantry Regiment – which had been part
of a Finnish regiment. With these reinforcements, Axis forces mounted a counterattack towards
Tartu on the 30th of August. This attack would continue until the 6th of September, but wouldn’t
actually reach the city. During this attack, 16th Army’s commander, Paul Laux, was shot
down in his plane, and was replaced by General Carl Hilpert. And to make things worse for the Germans,
on the 2nd of September, the Finnish government accepted the Soviet peace agreement. A ceasefire
was called on the 4th to 5th of September 1944. This removed one of the excuses Hitler
used for holding onto the Baltic States, and really made defending Estonia pointless, especially
given the over-extended position Army Group North was in. This was perhaps why, on the
9th of September, Army Group North transferred a number of units to the island of Saaremaa,
suggesting that someone somewhere had made the decision to withdraw from Estonia. Estonian Naval Captain Mulsow, was made the naval commandant of the Baltic islands. And Lieutenant General
Schirmer (the commander of 23rd Infantry Division) was made the Wehrmacht Commander of the islands
as well. “When the Estonians on Osel [Saaremaa] wanted
to raise their national flag there were several minor incidents with the German troops. They
were quickly brought under control.” It does seem curious as to why Army Group
North did not retreat at this time. The Tukums-Riga corridor was open, and there doesn’t appear
to be any reason to stay in the Baltic area now that Finland had removed herself from
the war. Strategically Army Group North’s entire position was precarious to say the
least. So, the question is – was Army Group North trying to get away and failed to do
so, or were they stubbornly holding onto every inch of ground? If they were trying to get
away, and didn’t, then that would suggest that they only held onto Courland because
they had no choice at this point. But if they weren’t trying to retreat, then this implies
that Hitler (with his stand fast orders) doomed Army Group North to its fate. And this is
the reason given in most of the books – that there weren’t any orders to withdraw and
Hitler wanted to stand fast. But is this really the case? Interestingly,
throughout most of the German books, you get the same message repeated over and over – Hitler
forbade retreats; Hitler was a madman; look Hitler’s not allowing another retreat. Every
time Hitler forbids a retreat, they jump down his throat, and sometimes with little or no
explanation. And yes, those same books are strangely silent on why Army Group North didn’t
retreat at this time. No explanation is given as to why Army Group North didn’t fall back
while it has the chance to do so. And worse, most of the books – especially the German
ones – don’t state that preparations were being made for a withdrawal from Estonia.
They leave clues that preparations were being made, but don’t make it clear to the reader
what was going on – I only grasped that a retreat was happening by reading multiple
books on the subject. And some of the books (like Zeimke’s “Stalingrad to Berlin”)
even go as far as to say that Schörner didn’t see the point in holding Estonia or northern
Latvia. But since withdrawals were generally not permitted by Hitler, Schörner had to
prepare “Map Exercise Aster” – the planned withdraw of the 18th Army and Army Detachment
Narva – and he had to call it a “Map Exercise” because Hitler wouldn’t allow retreats. Well, there is one exception. Shout-out to
Buttar’s “Between Giants”, which is a great book on this entire era, so is highly
recommended reading. As Buttar explains: on the 10th of September, Felix Steiner, commander
of 3rd SS Panzer Corps, visited Hitler at his headquarters. Hitler told Steiner that
they were going to retreat from Estonia. Yes, Hitler wanted to withdraw from Estonia – even
though this isn’t mentioned in any of the pro-German books, and this directly contradicts
the idea that Schörner had to hide the plan of the withdrawal behind a “Map Exercise”.
Now, Hitler still hoped to hold onto the part of Estonia around the Tallinn area with Steiner’s
corps, partly because of the oil there, and partly because this would show Sweden that
they still meant business. But having made his way back to the front, Steiner decided
to ignore Hitler’s wishes. Yes, another officer ignoring Hitler’s orders. Instead
Steiner started to prepare for a full-withdrawal from Estonia, which he discussed with Schörner,
and members of the Estonian military. Details like this are often left out of the
narrative by authors with pro-German sympathies; painting a picture that Hitler – the madman
– never allowed retreats. Well, it seems that the Führer did allow retreats – but you just
don’t hear about them. Hitler allowing retreats simply doesn’t fit with the narrative of
the poor-old invincible German Wehrmacht generals. By not giving you all the information, readers
can be tricked into false conclusions. Such is the danger of distorted history, and the
necessity of good historical revision. So, this now gives us a different perspective
on this period of the war. Hitler had approved a retreat from Estonia on, or even before,
the 10th of September 1944. And yet, no retreat took place at this time. Why? There could
be a few possibilities. They could have been preparing for a withdraw, but hadn’t finished
preparing yet. The problem with this explanation is that four days passed between Steiner and
Hitler’s meeting where approval had already been given, and the next Soviet offensive.
That’s a long time. Plus, units were also moving into the area that the Germans were
planning on withdrawing from. On the 12th, 14th Panzer Division was also moved through
Riga to the Ergli area. They dug in on the Riga-Vecumi road, and would act as a reserve
to counterattack attacks in that area. This suggests that the Germans wanted to conduct
an orderly, phased withdrawal, rather than a hasty or disorganized flight. Such a move
would take time to prepare, and reinforcements would be needed in order to ensure the safe
passage of troops from as far north as Narva. This explanation, whilst slightly more complicated
than “Hitler is to blame”, makes much more sense, and explains why, the morning
after the Soviet attack began (the 15th of September), Schörner rang Hitler’s headquarters
asking permission to put Map Exercise Aster into practice. This was despite the political
considerations, and the fact that the Soviets hadn’t actually penetrated into the operational
depths yet. Plus, how did Hitler know what Map Exercise Aster was if it was kept secret
from him? Again, all this suggests that this was the German intention all along – to conduct
an orderly retreat from Estonia, perhaps even after the Soviets had begun their attack. On the 11th of September, Army Group Centre’s
commander, Reinhardt, asked Raus if another attack might be possible, in order to help
decrease pressure on 16th Army. Raus replied that he had 420 panzers and assault guns available
(which was more than he’d had during Operation Doppelkopf) and recommended a limited attack
north of Bene. The idea was simply to tie down and destroy as many Soviet forces as
possible. Discussion went back and forth about where to mount the attack, but ultimately
Bene was decided on to be the best place. The OKH wanted the attack to start immediately,
but Raus refused, insisting that Doppelkopf had failed because his forces hadn’t had
time to concentrate. Therefore, the date of this new operation – Operation Cäsar – was
set to start on the 16th of September 1944. Also on the 11th, Bagramian’s forces secured
a bridgehead over the Mēmele River, south of Riga, in preparation for another attack
towards the capital. And, on the 14th of September 1944, the three Baltic Fronts attacked. At
0400 hours, a one and a half hour artillery bombardment struck the area between Lake Peipus
and Šiauliai. German counter-fire was too little to make a dent. Eremenko’s 2nd Baltic Front (with 22nd Army,
3rd Shock Army, and 10th Guards Army) attacked westwards towards Madona, again aiming towards
Riga. West of Madona, 18th Army’s 10th Army Corps defended Ergli, supported by 14th Panzer
Division, which was thrown in to halt the onslaught. The corps held until evening, when
it surrendered its first trench line. Somehow it had prevented a breakthrough on the first
day, but only just. Maslennikov’s 3rd Baltic Front also attacked
south of Lake Virts against 18th Army. Soviet forces penetrated the 30th Infantry Division’s
lines, and forced the 31st and 227th Infantry Division’s to fall back. Due to bad weather, Bagramian’s 1st Baltic
Front was a little late to start, and only got going in the afternoon. Aiming for Riga,
the 18 rifle divisions and 2 tank brigades of 43rd Army and 4th Shock Army struck the
German 1st Army Corps in the Bauska area. The Germans had just four divisions there
– the 58th, 215th, and 290th Infantry Divisions, plus the 281st Security Division. Most of
the attack – in 43rd Army’s sector – hit the 215th and
290th Infantry Divisions, both of which collapsed under the pressure. Soviet IL 2s and artillery
continued to pound the German positions all day, allowing Soviet tanks and infantry to
breakthrough the main line. 16th Army committed it’s reserve, which
was Colonel von Lauchert’s 101st Panzer Brigade. It counterattacked at Bauske at 1500
hours and went straight into 3rd Guards Mechanized Corps. The panzers hardly made a dent and
the Soviets quickly captured Bauska. Ignoring this counterthrust, 1st Baltic Front pushed
the German 16th Army back, and 43rd Army and 4th Shock Army achieved deep penetrations
along the roads towards Riga. On the 15th of September, Schörner ordered
all available guard and security battalions, as well as the last 1,500 men of the Reichs
Labour Detachment, to take up positions in the defenses around Riga. He even disbanded
the music corps of all units in order to free up as many men as possible. Even supply troops
were instructed to attack the penetrating tanks. These desperate measures would be needed,
since after the Soviets had reached Iecava, 3rd Guards Mechanized Corps was sent in on
the left, striking past the village. Clearly the situation was getting out of hand
again. So on the 16th, Schörner flew to Hitler’s HQ in East Prussia, where he ‘suddenly’
requested permission to evacuate Estonia. Hitler was there with Reichsmarshal Göring,
Grand Admiral Dönitz, Guderian, Wenck, Kreipe, and Vice Admiral Voss. But according to Haupt
and Zeimke, the Führer was reluctant to approve a retreat, stating that the Soviet Union had
sent peace feelers out, and that he needed the Baltics as a bargaining chip. Now it’s
not clear if this was true or not, but it seems unlikely, considering the Allies and
the Soviets had agreed to non-conditional surrender, but it might have been possible.
Hitler also apparently stated that the U-boat campaign would be hampered if they lost the
Baltic training bases – an excuse which gave Dönitz more time to turn the tide in the
Atlantic. Despite stating this however, for some reason, Hitler gave his permission for
the withdrawal, and ordered Operation Aster to begin. Although even then, Zeimke is quick
to point out that he would only allow the withdraw to take place in two days time, and
reserved the right to cancel it at any moment. Seriously, this story has so many holes in
it, fishermen could use it as a net. For starters, how did Hitler know what Operation Aster was,
if Schörner had had to keep it a secret from him? And let’s take also consider that Buttar
states that Hitler listened to Schörner’s report, and then made the decision after just
15 minutes of discussion. There is no mention of arguments or anything else in Buttar’s
account. This story also ignores the fact that preparations had been made, and that
Steiner had been told by Hitler that a retreat was going to happen. No, as we’ve already discussed, it’s more
likely that that madman Hitler – whom the German Generals continually blamed for their
defeats – had already granted permission to prepare for a withdraw prior to this meeting
and Schörner just needed to get the go-ahead. That makes much more sense, otherwise Hitler
would have just said “no”, which would have resulted in disaster. Again, this is
what happens when you try to distort history – you end up getting wrapped up into knots
and contradictions as you try to patch up your distortions. But agendas die hard. So, that question again – was Army Group North
trying to get away and failed to do so, or were they stubbornly holding onto every inch
of ground? It seem pretty clear that they weren’t planning to stand their ground at
all, despite what some of the authors would have you believe. Instead, Schörner planned
a phased withdrawal – Operation Aster. Meanwhile, at the front south of Lake Virts,
3rd Baltic Front attacked with 54th Army and 1st Shock Army. 67th Army successfully pushed
north from Tartu, threatening to cut off the Germans in northern Estonia. 18th Army resisted
and maintained its lines. But in 16th Army’s area, 1st Army Corps’ front was shattered.
Vassilev’s 1st Soviet Rifle Corps now broke out from the Bauske area, advancing north.
And Dibrova’s 145th Rifle Division now took Baldone and would consolidate the position
over the next couple of days. But Bagramian’s attention was now drawn
to the west. Soviet reconnaissance had spotten 300 German tanks and assault guns preparing
for a new assault in the Auce area. And yet, despite knowing of the buildup, the Soviets
were surprised when the Germans struck. Operation Cäsar started with a rapid 5 mile
thrust north of Bene towards Jelgava with the 4th Panzer and Grossdeutschland Divisions,
of 39th Panzer Corps. However, Raus’ men had advanced straight into the teeth of the
Soviet defensive formations and barely went anywhere. 204th Rifle and 71st Guards Rifle
Divisions did everything they could to hinder the advance. Soviet anti-tank guns hidden
in nearby woods took a heavy toll on German panzers. And in some cases, the Germans were
actually thrown back. Manteuffel’s men had gained more ground though, so 7th Panzer Division
was sent in to reinforce the north of the attack. And overnight 4th Panzer Division
sent Kampfgruppe Betzel, and battalions from the 5th and 12th Panzer Divisions, were also
sent in as an extra boost. On the 17th of September then, the Germans
had amassed a huge 327 panzers, and used them to plod on. However, they had little infantry
support, and those they did have were hit by Soviet artillery, mortars, and Katyushas.
The woods slowed progress down to a crawl, and Soviet air attacks battered them constantly. Finally on the 18th of September, the 4th
and 7th Panzer Divisions clawed their way onto the Dobele heights (2 miles west of the
town). At this point, Raus and Reinhardt met at Sauken’s headquarters to discuss the
situation. Reinhardt said that, since they had forced Bagramian to abandon his attacks
towards Riga, the objectives of Operation Cäsar had now been achieved. 4th and 7th
Panzer Divisions should continue forwards in order to establish contact with the 81st
Infantry Division, but the Grossdeutschland should dig-in and wait for the anticipated
Soviet counter-attack which seemed to be building. 4th Panzer Division struggled overnight to
take the area west of Dobele, and only succeeded on the 19th. And it wasn’t until the evening
of the 21st that they had reached the railway line to the north-east of Dobele and established
contact with 81st Infantry Division. This action finally brought Operation Cäsar to
an end. Von Saucken’s 39th Panzer Corps reportedly destroyed 62 tanks, 29 assault
guns, 147 anti-tank guns, and 37 guns in the process. The lack of infantry had plagued the operation
from the start, and the terrain was just not suitable to tank operations. Ultimately, after
days of action, the Germans had gained little more than 7 miles of ground. They had done
this by committing huge numbers of tanks which may have been better used elsewhere. They
did divert Soviet attention from Riga, which kept the escape route open for Army Group
North. So we’ll see if they would use it in the next episode. So, the Soviet offensive has just begun, and
Army Group North is the target. What we’re about to see is known as the “Tallinn Offensive”
– a strike against Army Detachment Narva, which threatens to encircle it. Plus we’ll
also see the implementation of Map Exercise Aster – or Operation Aster – the phased withdrawal
of Army Group North. The Germans will be on the run once more, and all roads lead to Courland.
But I’m curious to hear what you think about whether Hitler and the High Command were planning
a withdrawal, or to stand and fight. Technically most of the books say they wanted to stand
and fight because of Hitler, whereas only one or two that I’ve found, go against the
grain. But those that favour the stand and fight theory are mostly pro-German, and subscribe
to the Hitler-madman theory. So are these newer views anti-German revisionism (as some
will no-doubt claim)? Or is it a correction of a distortion of history? Let me know below.
Thanks for watching, and supporting, bye for now. Those who believe in the Manstein, shall receive
the gifts of the Manstein. From what we can tell, Hitler and Schörner
were now intent on withdrawing from Estonia and northern Latvia. This withdrawal would
be called Operation Aster. But it seems to have coincided with the next Soviet attack
– the Tallinn Offensive – which aims to reconquer the whole of Estonia. Govorov’s Leningrad
Front is about to make things extremely difficult for Army Detachment Narva. Will Axis forces
be able to retreat in time? And can they keep the Riga-area escape route open? Let’s find
out. The weather was bad. And the rain had turned
the roads to mud, so there was no Luftwaffe support. But the weather wouldn’t stop the
Red Army. On the 17th of September 1944, the Leningrad Front joined in the assault by attacking
both to the north and south of Lake Peipus. The aim of the Leningrad Front was once again
to crush Army Detachment Narva and capture Tallinn, Estonia’s capital. After a heavy bombardment, 2nd Shock Army
established bridgeheads along the Emajõgi River, north of Tartu. German 2nd Army Corps’
defences were smashed in a short space of time. Hasse’s men were in no position to
plug the gap, as Soviet tanks penetrated the area between 87th Infantry and 207th Security
Divisions. Kampfgruppe Waegner held on desperately at first, but it was clear that a breakthrough
had occurred. Further south, 3rd Baltic Front struck the
left flank of the German 18th Army. 67th Army, which had moved up from the Tartu area, now
established bridgeheads south of Lake Võrtsjärve across the Väike River. It pushed towards
Mustla, a move which threatened the envelopment of 18th Army’s left flank, and potentially
also blocking the escape route of Army Detachment Narva. The situation was critical everywhere, but
14th Panzer Division was once again rushed south towards Kakava. It was ordered to halt
the Soviet attacks, and then counterattack. But it had trouble pulling out of the line
at Ergli, so arrived piecemeal. This attack was stalled however, and with a southern breakthrough
in the making, on the 18th of September Schörner decided to withdraw Army Detachment Narva
towards Riga. Steiner’s 3rd SS Panzer Corps now had to make a 120 mile journey from the
Narva River to Pärnu, via Tallinn, in order to avoid an encirclement. The withdrawal began
at dawn on the 18th, although it’s worth noting that 11th SS Nordland Division was
directed south towards 16th Army’s area, since they desperately needed reinforcements. The German navy began embarking German formations
at Tallinn, and the Baltic oil works were ordered to be evacuated. And, as a result
of all this, the Germans began to clear the Klooga concentration camp. Since there were
quite a few people in this camp, and evacuating them all at once wasn’t going to be easy,
the Germans decided to shoot the prisoners instead and burn the bodies. Around 2,000
prisoners were murdered by their National Socialist guards, with piles of unburned corpses
found a few days later by liberating Soviet forces. Only a handful of prisoners survived. As this massacre was occuring, 11th SS Panzer
Reconnaissance Battalion formed the rearguard as the other units fell back. The two brigades
of 300th Special z.b.V. Division were on the southern front immediately north of Lake Peipus.
Being made up of a mix of Luftwaffe personnel and Estonians, and retreating down one road
flanked by muddy marshes and chased by the Red Army, the withdrawal of this division
soon turned into chaos. 2nd Shock Army continued to attack either
side of Tartu on the 18th of September. Hasse’s 2nd Army Corps fought a delaying action, hoping
to buy time for the retreating forces to the north. But they couldn’t stop them, and
the Soviets reached Mustvee, on the northwest of Lake Piepus. The rest of 18th Army was
trying to do the same to the south along their main combat line. Gollnick’s 28th Army Corps could not stop
the Soviet 54th Army, which tore through 21st and 31st Infantry Divisions, and moved towards
Valmiera. To make matters worse, communications between the divisions and the corps were cut,
and the defence lost any sense of organization. There was little left to do. 31st Infantry
Division defended Valga for a few hours before withdrawing. The 21st Infantry Division was
practically destroyed – the remnants also falling back. And the 218th Infantry Division
was also reduced to regiment strength, and reported that it only had one machine-gun
left. Further south, 10th Army Corps and 6th SS
Corps also lost their cohesiveness against the Soviet attacks. Unable to stem
the tide, and the Germans had abandoned their main combat line by the end of the day. Effectively,
18th Army was on the verge of collapse. There was a real threat that 18th Army would be
cut off again and prevented from retreating. Army Group North lost 22,761 men between the 14th and 18th
of September. The Red Army clearly had the advantage both tactically and operationally. But also strategically. On the 19th of September,
Finland accepted the Soviet armistice agreement and the war was over. Except they had to get
the German 12th Mountain Army out of Finland. But with Finland out of the war, and with the
oil fields in Estonia taken, there was now no immediate reason to hold on to the Baltics
at all, and with the retreat on, the Germans really seem to be getting their forces out
of the area – at least at this stage. And the Red Army was trying to prevent that from
happening. 1st Baltic Front moved past Baldone and nearly
reached the Dvina – just 10 miles from Riga. Munzel’s 14th Panzer Division was still
attacking towards Baldone though, and Bagramian’s flank was compromised by Operation Cäsar,
as we discussed last episode. These actions kept the Army Group’s escape route open.
Now they just had to use it. In the Tartu area, Hasse’s 2nd Army Corps
was forced to withdraw as its 87th Infantry and 207th Security Divisions were shattered.
They fled back to the west of Lake Võrtsjärve, in the Põltsamaa area. To the north, 3rd
SS Panzer Corps was still withdrawing. The 24th “Danmark” SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment
moved to the Kothla-Järve area before marching further west, followed by the 11th “Nordland”
and 4th “Nederland” Panzergrenadier Brigades. 20th SS Estonian Division and the 11th Infantry
Division also withdrew. The oil refineries in the Kothla-Järve area were blown by combat
engineers. But Höfer’s 300th Special Division, which
had been located on the southern tip of the Narva positions and included many Estonians,
was in trouble. The withdrawal plans had been made hastily, and there was only one corduroy
road for three of it’s four regiments to use, and one other road for it’s southernmost
Regiment. This was not good – “Chaos ruled where the corduroy roads of
the northern and southern brigades came together. No one had told us that half of the southern
brigade was to march back with us on the same corduroy road… All of the units had to be
funneled in on a single road. The Estonians did not understand any German. Everything
had to be accomplished by pushing and poking. The small Baltic horses got stuck in the mud
holes again and again.” They moved southwest from Iisaku towards the
only bridge in the area that was over the Pungerja River. This they struggled to do,
and the Estonian 7th Rifle Corps overran them. Some of the surviving remnants fell back to
the village of Avinurme. On the 20th, the Soviet 8th Estonian Rifle Corps moved to Porkuni,
where it met the retreating division. A battle erupted which lasted until the next day. Yes,
Estonians were fighting Estonians. After it was over, the Estonian 8th Rifle Corps employed
by the Red Army entered the village of Avinurme and shot the Estonian prisoners and wounded
they had collected, who were wearing German uniforms. The reasoning for this act, or the
number of prisoners killed, is not stated in the English sources. But the act is mentioned
in every pro-German book to show the horrors of the Red Army. What’s not mentioned in these sources is
that the aforementioned Klooga concentration camp prisoners were being slaughtered by their
Estonian guards, supported by elements of 20th Estonian SS Division. So again, there
is a one-sided narrative being presented by the pro-German authors like Kurowski or Haupt.
They’re painting the Soviets as evil – which is true – but then painting the Germans as
good. Well, no, that’s really not the case. Both sides were evil in this conflict. Anyway, Steiner’s 3rd SS Panzer Corps reached
Tallinn, but now turned south towards the port of Pärnu. Revolts flared up in the Estonian
capital as citizens panicked. Partisans occupied the local radio station transmitter – and
were ignored by the Germans, who were intent on their own evacuation. Kampfgruppe Gerok
– consisting of the Estonian 20th SS Division, most of 11th Infantry Division, and some Naval
and Estonian home guard units – formed a rearguard in and around Tallinn, intent on defending
the port until the end of the embarkation. Meanwhile, 43rd Army and 4th Shock Army were
still fighting in the Baldone area, which seems to have changed hands several times
by this point thanks to 16th Army’s reserve-punching bag – 14th Panzer Division. In the numerous
engagements in the Baldone and Ķekava areas during this period, 14th Panzer Division’s
36th Panzer Regiment was reduced to half strength. And at one point, von Mellenthin’s 205th
Infantry Division got encircled at Ķekava. In a desperate move, they fought their way
through to the Daugava and made contact with the 215th Infantry Division. Soviet armoured scout troops arrived at Tallinn
on the 21st of September, but were repulsed by Kampfgruppe Gerok outside the city. German
units also recaptured the radio transmitter from the partisans in Tallinn as well. On the 22nd of September, Baldone fell to
1st Baltic Front. 2nd Baltic Front smashed German 10th Army Corps west of Madona. And
1st Shock Army of 3rd Baltic Front took Valga and Valmiera. In the north, Kampfgruppe Gerok withdrew from
the harbor at Tallinn as the last ship left. Gerok is moved to the Baltic islands, and
the Germans had successfully withdrawn 80,000 people from Tallinn. However, some Estonians
stayed behind. Independence was declared by the National Committee of the Estonian Republic,
and an appeal was sent to the Soviets for recognition. Shockingly, they weren’t recognised,
and Admiral Pitka led the few Estonian troops he could muster against the Leningrad Front.
Ultimately, this brief government was crushed by the 72nd and 14th Rifle Divisions, supported
by tanks. Tallinn – the Estonian capital – fell to the Soviets. Independence would be denied
to the Estonians. With the crisis going on in the south, the
11th SS Nordland Division arrived in 10th Army Corps’ area – after moving 250 miles
in four days from the Gulf of Finland. 54th Army and 1st Shock Army were pushing southwest
along the Valga-Riga road, so the 4th SS Nederland Brigade, with an attached battalion-sized
kampfgruppe (known as the “Nordland Battalion”), was thrown in to try and stop these two armies.
It fought between the 30th and 21st Infantry Divisions at Tilcens in the Valmiera area. Meanwhile, the 24th SS Danmark and the 23rd
SS Norge Panzergrenadier Regiments from the Nordland were given to the 14th Panzer Division
in order to counterattack once more in the Baldone area. This counter-attack began on
the 23rd, and gained three miles – despite stubborn Soviet resistance and getting hit
by Soviet troops in the uncleared woods to their rear at one point. They were then struck
by Katyushas and artillery, and counter-counterattacked by the Soviet main line. The Germans fought
off the counter-counterattack, and moved forwards again, to be counter-counterattacked again.
Finally the Germans were exhausted doing all this counting and the fighting stopped at
1700 hours. The Danmark regiment lost 300 men alone this day. Also on the 23rd of September, the port of
Pärnu fell to the Soviets. And on the 24th, the Soviets take Haapsalu. Over the river
south of the city, Kampfgruppe Bunse (consisting of elements of 3rd SS Panzer Corps) held for
a little longer before retreating south. Schörner now moved his command post from
Segewold (Sigulda) to the Pelci Palace near Goldingen (Kuldiga) in Kurland. He now ordered
a withdrawal of the 18th Army into the “Segewold Positions” (near Sigulda). 3rd Panzer Army
was to hold its current position, but to send a strong kampfgruppe west of Dzukste. 16th
Army was also to hold its positions and prevent a Soviet breakthrough in the Tuckum and Riga
areas. But its left flank was allowed to withdraw in line with 18th Army. Once it had withdrawn
to the Segewold Positions (at Sigulda), the army was to take over the entire front north
of the Daugava River. But the boundary between 3rd Panzer Army and
16th Army looked vulnerable. So, Schörner decided that Army Detachment Narva (now freed
from Estonia) should take over the units in the split between the two armies. As a result,
Army Detachment Narva was now redesignated Army Detachment Grasser. And at this point, the OKH subordinated Third
Panzer Army to Army Group North, and in turn, Schörner decided to strip Raus of all his
panzer divisions, leaving his Panzer Army without any panzers at all. Raus complains
about this in his memoirs, since he was left with just the 548th, 549th and 551st Volksgrenadier
Divisions, a training division, and several Estonian Schutzmannschaft battalions. Yet
was expected to hold a 160 kilometer front. But while this was bad for him, it was perhaps
necessary given the overall situation. 39th Panzer Corps was moved to the right sector
of the Grasser front. At this point 39th Panzer Corps had roughly 200 tanks and 200 assault
guns – which was an incredible force for the time. But its defense was lacking. Since panzer
forces are usually offensive in nature, and this was now assigned a front to defend, it
was reorganizing its units from their offensive stance to a defensive stance, and therefore
the defences weren’t prepared. On the 24th, the Germans began falling back
towards the Sigulda positions, chased by Soviet formations. 4th SS Nederlander Brigade had
to blow up most of its vehicles due to a lack of fuel. As this was going on, 1st Baltic
Front’s 43rd Army fought bitterly in the Kekava area and the Baldone area against 11th
Infantry and the 14th Panzer Divisions – the latter fighting with the attached elements
of the Nordland Division. The 3rd Mechanized Corps was sent in to try and stabilize the
situation, but with both sides attacking and counter-attacking one another, the battle
descended into chaos and confusion, as Bagramian describes simply – “It was almost impossible to determine who
was attacking and who was defending.” Also on this day, the Stavka ordered the Leningrad
Front to plan a new offensive designed to liberate the remaining parts of Estonia and
the islands of Hiiumaa and Saaremaa. This would be the Moonsund Landing Operation, for
which Govorov was given six days to prepare his attack. This is perhaps partly why Bagramian’s
attacks died down on the 25th of September. The German 16th Army reported that the advanced
spearheads of 1st Baltic Front had been “sacrificed”, since they had advanced too far, and had been
cut off and destroyed by the Germans. The other Soviet armies also began to call an
end to their operations. 67th Army (on 1st Shock’s left) took Mazsalaca on the 25th
of September and pushed on to the coast. Vormsi island was evacuated on the 25th of
September without a fight. As this was going on, Schörner ordered an evacuation of the
Latvian capital on the 26th of September. The civilians were told to evacuate by the
SS and Police, which caused unrest. Riga was now in chaos, with Estonians and Latvians
fleeing the city. One hundred thousand tons of equipment was moved from Riga to Kurland.
And finally, Soviet artillery at Virtsu began to fire at the island of Muhu (“Moon”
in German). Given the circumstances, it does appear that
the Germans were trying to withdraw from the Baltics at this time. The idea that they were
fighting for every inch of ground because Hitler ordered them to stand fast is simply
not true. The reality was that they were retreating as fast as they could without resorting to
flight or rout. Therefore, it is not correct to say that both 16th and 18th Armies and
Army Detachment Narva should have evacuated earlier, or could have evacuated earlier,
unless you think Army Group North should have retreated as soon as Operation Bagration got
under way. Once the Soviets were near the coast at the Gulf of Riga, it was a race to
get Army Group North out of Estonia and eastern Latvia. The fighting died down south of Riga on the
27th of September. And according to German reconnaissance, the Soviets seemed to be regrouping.
The Germans detected the 4th Shock Army, 43rd and 51st Armies, and the 5th Guards Tank Army
in the Šiauliai area. And it appeared that forces were moving away from the Riga area
– perhaps to the south. In reality, Bagramian was preparing for another major assault to
take Riga, and cut off Army Group North from the Reich by taking Memel. Since the 24th of September, Bagramian had
been secretly moving five armies into new attack positions in the Šiauliai area. Fifty
rifle divisions, fifteen tank brigades, ninety-three artillery regiments, 500,000 men, 9,303 guns
and mortars, and 1,340 tanks and self-propelled guns, were assembling to strike the Germans. 2nd and 3rd Baltic Fronts were ordered to
take Riga and clear the Baltic coast of Germans. 1st Baltic and 3rd Belorussian Fronts were
to capture Memel and Liepāja and cut off Army Group North from East Prussia. 1st Baltic
and part of 3rd Belorussian would strike along the Siauliai-Memel axis, and the rest of 3rd
Belorussian would attack along the Konigsberg axis into East Prussia. In addition, Marshal
Govorov’s Leningrad Front was dissolved – and Govorov took command of the 2nd and
3rd Baltic Fronts in preparation for this attack. Govorov, a veteran of the Russian Civil War
and the Soviet-Finnish War, had helped stop German forces outside Moscow, and had led
the Leningrad Front since the June of 1942. It was under his command that Soviet forces
relieved the Siege of Leningrad. An artilleryman by trade, he was respected by his troops,
and by this point of the war had become expert at combined-arms warfare. In all, this was an immense reorganization
of 1st and 2nd Baltic Front’s forces and logistics. It’s worth noting that, because
of the heavy losses inflicted on the Soviets throughout the summer, recruits for this offensive
were now forcefully conscripted from newly-liberated areas under Soviet control. Recruits from
Estonia and eastern Latvia were quickly trained and pressed into service at the front. Also, Soviet aircraft bombed Kuressaare (the
capital of Saaremaa), and at 1800 hours, Soviet assault troops from the 8th Army landed on
Muhu, which the Germans didn’t contest. The security units on the island simply fell
back to Saameraa, blowing up the causeway between the two islands on the way. This was
the beginning of the Moonsund Landing Operation, which aimed to clear the Baltic Islands of
German forces. On the German side, in stark contrast to the
massive Soviet buildup, Army Group North ordered Lauchert’s 101st Panzer Brigade, 303rd Assault
Gun Brigade, SS Panzer Brigade Gross, 25th Panzer Regiment from 7th Panzer Division,
and 2nd Battalion of the 6th Grenadier Regiment into the 40th Panzer Corps’ area. This simply
didn’t compare to the scale of the Soviet reorganization effort. However Hitler was
determined to have Army Group North mount an offensive. He ordered Schörner to prepare
an attack from the south of Šiauliai by 3rd Panzer Army and an attack to the west of Riga
by 16th Army. But during the night of the 29th of September,
the Germans could hear motor vehicles from the Soviet side, moreso than normal. Raus
and 3rd Panzer Army looked at the entire situation, weighed up the options, and believed that
the next Soviet attack would not come from the Tukums area, but from the Šiauliai area.
Schörner on the other hand, still thought the Soviets would strike towards the coast
from Tukums, and didn’t alter course. But Schörner did order the 18th Army to prepare
for another withdrawal. It was to fall back from the Segewold Positions (Sigulda) into
the Riga-East Positions – which was a half-circle further towards Riga. On the 30th, Schörner
also informed Hitler that the attack Hitler had wanted two days before would not be ready
until the 3rd of November at the earliest. He was waiting for 30,000 replacements (which
had not been sent yet) and needed to regroup. Schörner also informed him that he would
evacuate Riga as a precaution. On the 1st of October 1944, Schörner also
directed all rear area units into Kurland, and withdrew the Estonian formations to the
Reich – weakening his front. This suggests that, instead of aiming to attack as Hitler
had wanted, he was actually planning to withdraw at least to the Courland area, if not back
into East Prussia. But most of Lang’s 218th Infantry Division
was ordered to embark for Saaremaa, along with the 531st and 532nd Naval Artillery Battalions
as well. So, if they were intent on withdrawing to East Prussia, it seems a little bit odd
why would they reinforce the Baltic Islands. This is perhaps evidence that they wanted
to conduct another phased withdrawal rather than a hasty retreat, and that it didn’t
go quite to plan. The Soviets deployed a machine gun battalion
to the northwest of Dobele. This was a defensive unit, so was further evidence that the Soviets
were on the defensive in this area. It also appeared as though Soviet troops had pulled
out of the area in front of 39th Panzer Corps. But the motor vehicle noises were assumed
to be the movement of Soviet units moving past the front, not preparing for an attack. 3rd Panzer Army’s staff, including Raus,
remained convinced that the Red Army was going to launch an attack towards Tilsit, Memel,
and Liepāja. And they had little to stop them. On the 2nd of October, the Soviets landed
on Hiiumaa. Heavy IL 2 attacks assisted in the assault, which degenerated into close
hand-to-hand fighting in the south of the island. 23rd Fusilier Regiment defended as
best as they could, but were forced to evacuate on the 3rd. It’s also worth noting that on the 3rd of
October, Luftflotte 1 had 267 aircraft (80 fighter-bombers, 73 night combat aircraft,
51 reconnaissance aircraft, and 63 fighters). Yes, there were no German bombers in support
of Army Group North, meaning the troops had little air support – if any by this point.
Within Luftflotte 1 was the 54th Fighter Squadron, which was known as ‘the Green Hearts’.
This, according to Haupt, was the “2nd most successful of all German fighter squadrons”,
and had shot down 8,502 aircraft by the middle of October in the East. I wouldn’t necessarily
take those numbers at face value though, since what the Germans claim to have done, and what
they actually did, are two completely separate things. Most of the sources I’m using were
written from the German perspective – just because of the language barrier – so I cannot
verify all of the German claims. It’s not clear how convinced Schörner was
of Raus and 3rd Panzer Army’s concerns, but on the 4th he finally decided to adjust
Army Detachment Grasser’s front. It was expected that 39th Panzer Corps would be attacked,
if just frontally, in order to pin it down while another attack was mounted elsewhere.
So 5th Panzer Division was pulled out of the line and sent to be 3rd Panzer Army’s reserve.
The Grossdeutschland Division was also withdrawn in order to be a reserve northwest of Dobele. But then 5th Panzer Division was ordered to
be transferred to Army Group Center in East Prussia, removing 3rd Panzer Army’s reserve.
So 58th Infantry Division was taken from 16th Army and placed in reserve instead – which
isn’t quite as good as a panzer division. So the Germans had practically nothing in
the area to counter the incoming Soviet attack. “The general enemy situation of the front
was not clear, but there were none of the typical signs that an attack was forthcoming.
The enemy did not undertake reconnaissance in force, and no artillery preparation was
identified. There were no signs of assemblies or concentrations of forces. Radio reconnaissance
offered no clues. Loud motor noise indicated heavy concentrations of tanks, but no more
than was usual in front of the XXXIX Panzer Corps. Enemy air reconnaissance was normal.” The preparations then for “Operation Donner”
– or Thunder – which was a withdrawal operation to get Axis forces back through Riga to the
Tukum area, were completed on the 4th of October. This was not a moment too soon. The Soviets
attacked on the 5th of October, as we will find out, next time. We’ll also be seeing
the Soviets land on the main Baltic island – Saaremaa – and some serious fighting erupts
on there. But there’s one idea we need to consider, and that is whether the Soviets
were deliberately attempting to cut off Army Group North in the Baltic, in order to prevent
it from getting back to the Reich? And whether they ever intended, or needed to, destroy
Army Group North in order to win the war? Was all of this just going to end up being
a side-show to the main event? It’s a pretty significant question which will affect the
way we perceive this entire campaign. Your thoughts are welcome. Thanks for watching,
bye for now. Last time, the Soviets prepared for their
next offensive. Now they are ready to launch it. We’re about to see the Soviet drive
towards Memel, 3rd Panzer Army’s attempt to stop them, and the formation of the Courland
Pocket as Army Group North withdraws into it. Was there anything that Hitler, Schörner
or Raus could do about this? Let’s find out. Bagramian attacked from the area west of Šiauliai
towards Memel on the 5th of October. 6th and 2nd Guards, 4th Shock, and 43rd Armies, supported
by the refitted 5th Guards Tank Army, with 51st Army in second echelon, crashed into
the German front north of the Šiauliai-Tilsit road, heading towards the coast. Unfortunately,
the fog prevented the Soviet air force from supporting the attack, and artillery support
wasn’t available until after the fog had lifted at 1100 hours. Even so, as early as
0830 hours, the German lines began to crack in several places. Then the artillery battered
the inexperienced Volksgrenadier divisions. “All five [German] infantry divisions were
in the first defensive line as if along a string. One only had to break through this
string with a forceful thrust, and there would be no further cohesion, as there were no strong
reserves to the rear.” Schörner threw in what reinforcements he
had. The Grossdeutschland and 7th Panzer Divisions were sent to 28th Army Corps, 5th Panzer Division
to 40th Panzer Corps, and the 21st Infantry Division is sent to 9th Army Corps. Despite
reinforcement by Sperrgruppe Schäfer, a regiment-sized kampfgruppe from 3rd SS Panzer Corps, 201st
Security Division was battered by the 4th Shock Army. 2nd Guards Army, reinforced by forcefully
recruited Latvian soldiers (including the 16th Latvian Rifle Division), struck the German
lines around Kelme. Henrici of 40th Panzer Corps sent in part of Decker’s 5th Panzer
Division to save 548th Volksgrenadier Division, which was falling apart under the pressure
of the assault. It reached the area that evening, in time to stave off a complete collapse. Verhein’s 551st Volksgrenadier Division,
consisting of navy and Luftwaffe personnel, as well as other poorly trained or ill-suited
recruits, somehow managed to hold against the first two Soviet assaults from 43rd Army.
The third though shattered them. They were completely overrun, the survivors scattering.
A battalion from the Grossdeutschland Division was sent in to stabilize the situation, but
failed to do so, and found itself withdrawing with the remnants of Verhein’s division
later that evening. 28th Corps was clearly in trouble. Lorenz’s
Grossdeutschland Division had partly arrived in the 549th Volksgrenadier Division’s area.
I say partly because many of it’s tanks had been left behind due to a lack of fuel
and were quickly surrounded by Soviet troops. Janks rallied the remnants of the 549th Division
around his HQ unit, and assembled whatever guns he could find. Realising that the nearby
tanks would be needed if they were to hold on, they actually counterattacked in order
to rescue them. Defending the tank crews, fuel was siphoned from other vehicles, allowing
the panzers to carry on. Raus desperately threw in whatever he had
– service and logistical troops, some staff officers, a submarine school – anything he
could find to create a front. But he was only delaying the inevitable. And something not
mentioned in Raus’ memoirs, is that Third Panzer Army had lost all control of the situation.
In fact, the opposite is implied – that they successfully created strong point positions
and then withdrew to new lines slowly over the next few days; gallantly preventing a
breakthrough. That is completely untrue. By the evening of the first day, the Soviets
had torn a 90 kilometer gap in the German lines. Volsky’s 5th Guards Tank Army was
now exploiting into the German rear areas. 43rd Army were 17 kilometers deep inside 28th
Army Corps. 2nd Guards Army were 7 kms deep inside 40th Panzer Corps’ lines. Clearly
this wasn’t the successful withdraw that Raus implies. Reinforcements were sent from the north to
try and stabilize Raus’ area – including 14th Panzer Division, and a bunch of anti-tank
and anti-aircraft battalions. However, these were all hampered by refugees fleeing along
the roads, and 14th Panzer Division wouldn’t arrive until the 6th. A six year old girl
named Vaira Vīķe was on one of the trucks heading for Courland. She would later became
the President of Latvia. “There was me, my step-father and my mother
with a baby in her arms; my sister Marite. I was six. I turned seven in Liepāja. Marite
was born in May, so she was just six months old. By January she was dead, only ten months
old. From pneumonia. And, I think, to some extent, starvation.” Schörner commenced Operation Donner in the
evening of the 5th, and 16th and 18th Armies began moving into the Riga-East Positions.
Anton’s 6th Air-Defence Division maintained air security during the withdrawal, and 3,000
rail cars were loaded with equipment from Riga alone. Lieutenant General Frankewitz (of 215th Infantry
Division) was made responsible for the flow of traffic between Riga and 8 miles east of
Dzukste. Mayer (of 329th Infantry Division) was in charge from Dzukste onwards. And an
additional bridge was constructed next to the two bridges at Riga for the motorized
units. 40 navy and army engineer ferries were made for the other formations – all to help
the withdrawal proceed smoothly. To the north, Soviet forces also landed on
the island of Saaremaa in the early morning fog on the 5th of October. Infantrymen from
Parn’s 8th Estonian Rifle Corps landed first, carving a strong bridgehead in the north.
Then the 109th Rifle Corps reinforced as well. The German leadership had not expected the
Soviets to land at six different locations over a 20 kilometer wide front, and were caught
completely off guard. “The widely dispersed landing tied up so
many German forces in the first hours that they could not organize a strong counterattack.” Colonel Eulenburg’s 67th Infantry Regiment
(of 23rd Infantry Division) offered the first real resistance, along with the 2nd Battalion
of the 323rd Infantry Regiment, with the 532nd Naval Artillery Regiment in support. The Eastern
Territories Naval Commitment Battalion was encircled on the coast and had to break out
of it’s pocket after heavy casualties. Then, Soviet tanks attacked over the “Muhu-Saaremaa
Dam” and moved to the southwest. On the 6th of October, these Soviet tanks, with infantry,
broke through the German positions, and drove towards Kuressaare. With the German defenses
compromised, Schirmer was forced to give up the north and centre of the island, and began
falling back towards the Sõrve Peninsula. Other German forces withdrew to a line 20
kilometers north of Kuressaare. This retreat was not so organized, with German forces becoming
disorganized in the woods, pursued by Soviet forces. It also appears that both sides shot
any prisoners they took, although it’s not clear why they decided to do this. As this
was going on, the Soviets bombed the harbour of Mõntu in the Sõrve Peninsula, smashing
up the entire area and sinking several boats. Its destruction would limit German supply
capabilities to the island and hurt their subsequent defensive actions. On the mainland, 1st Tank Corps reinforced
2nd Guards Army, and 19th Tank Corps reinforced 6th Guards Army. “There was nothing left to oppose them!” I don’t know why you need to use an exclamation
mark there, Haupt, but alright. Anyway, 14th Panzer Division had arrived at
the town of Auce at noon. Now they were instructed to move to Priekule, link up with the Grossdeutschland
Division (which had seen many of its strong points surrounded and overrun), and form some
sort of defence line. They were, at all costs, to prevent the capture of the ports of Memel
and Liepāja. So, over the next two days, they formed a defence line between Priekule
and Skuodas, consisting of barbed wire, mines and strong points. Operation Donner – the German withdrawal from
Riga into Courland – really got going on the 6th of October 1944. The Germans scorched
the earth as they retreated. “Grain fields ready to harvest were burned
as were forests full of valuable trees. Livestock that couldn’t be taken along were killed.
Railway stations, telegraph and telephone stations, buildings of no military value – even
churches – were demolished. The country was plundered, pillaged and destroyed by the very
people who had vowed to protect Latvia from the return of Soviet terror.” On Saaremaa, the town of Kuressaare was also
evacuated and surrendered, with German forces withdrawing further south. 218th Infantry
Division fell back to the entrance to the Sõrve Peninsula, and quickly dug in. Lang
would now block the Soviets at what became known as the “Salme bridgehead”. Meanwhile to the south, 4th Panzer Division
– armed with panther tanks – was moved to block 4th Shock Army’s advance in the Vieksniai
area. Reaching the area, they were battered by the 119th Rifle Division’s artillery,
but succeeded in retaking the village. 5th Panzer Division launched a counterattack into
the southern flank of the Soviet advance, while Lauchert’s forces struck south. These
attacks failed, and 5th Panzer Division had to fall back to the southeast, to 548th Volksgrenadier
Division’s area. On the 7th, the decision was made that, since
Luftflotte 1 operated with the Latvian and Estonian Luftwaffe Legions, who had previously
fought well, but had recently started deserting – by flying their aircraft to Sweden – the
Latvian and Estonian Luftwaffe Legions would formally be dissolved this day. Luftflotte
1 also fell back and now operated from bases deep in Courland. They perhaps had an easier
move than those travelling on foot – “The primitive roads were choked with the
dusty columns of trucks and tanks. Lines of refugees with wagons and handcarts piled high
with belongings filed through the Latvian capital day and night. The bellowing of confused
and weary herds of cattle filled the air as they were driven westwards over the brick-paved
streets.” To the south, 3rd Belorussian Front now began
its advance. 95th Infantry Division collapsed and fell back, forcing 5th Panzer Division
to commit to the area in order to form a southern-front of some sort. 28th Army Corps attempted to
build a line with the remnants of the 551st Volksgrenadier, 7th Panzer and Grossdeutschland
Divisions. Volskii’s tanks simply moved south of them, rendering the line pointless.
7th Panzer Division was surrounded at one point, having to make a desperate and costly
flight to reach safety. A battalion from the Grossdeutschland was also surrounded elsewhere
and managed to breakout that evening. This allowed Major General Malakhov’s 19th Tank
Corps to move ahead and reach the East Prussian border on the evening of the 7th of October,
having sliced through portions of the Grossdeutschland Division in the process. “Here, the 3rd Panzer Army had no active
troops! [again, unnecessary exclamation mark] Only the II Field Light Infantry Command,
under General of Infantry von Oven, took up the necessary protection against the advancing
enemy tanks. At the same time, they had the task of stopping individual deserters and
directing them back to their troop units.” Schörner reacted to the situation by giving
all of 18th Army’s troops east of the Daugava River to the 16th Army on the 7th of October.
This freed 18th Army to concentrate on preventing 1st Baltic Front advancing to the west and
northwest. Along with 14th Panzer Division, a blocking line was being formed between Mažeikiai
and Skuodas to prevent 4th Shock Army from breaking through. On Saaremaa, on the 8th, the Soviets launched
tanks and infantry against the Germans defending the Salme Bridgehead. They cut through the
front in two places. Therefore the Germans fell back to the narrowest point of the peninsula,
to the Ariste blocking position, which they defended with the 67th Infantry Regiment and
the 23rd Artillery Regiment. On the 9th, Volsky’s 5th Guards Tank Army
overran 3rd Panzer Army HQ, and reached the coast on both sides of Memel on the 10th.
In the process, they rolled into two concentration camps north of Kretinga. “It was normal policy for the SS to evacuate
such camps before the arrival of Soviet soldiers, and if such an evacuation were impossible,
the inmates of the camps were often simply shot. On this occasion, the speed of the Soviet
advance appears to have made any such measures impossible. The sight of so many malnourished
prisoners shocked many of the battle-hardened Soviet soldiers, further feeding the implacable
desire for revenge.” 43rd and 2nd Guards Armies also made good
progress, and the Soviets reached the East Prussian Defence Positions. 51st Army also
reached the Baltic Sea near Polangen (north of Memel) on the 10th of October 1944. Gollnick’s 28th Army Corps, with the 58th Infantry, Grossdeutschland, and 7th Panzer Divisions, were now encircled
inside the city. This meant that 3rd Panzer Corps and the remainder of Army Group North
were now cut off from Germany. “Army Group North was cut off from the homeland
for the second time – this time it was forever!” Again, was that exclamation mark really necessary,
Haupt? Further north, 2nd Baltic Front also attacked
towards Riga on the 10th of October, and the Germans continued their flight out of Riga.
Along a handful of roads, 35 Army divisions, thousands of refugees, 80,000 motor vehicles,
and countless numbers of horses and carts fled from Riga to the west. The whole situation
was chaotic and, having been cut off from the Reich and in the disorder of the withdrawal,
German logistics were now haphazard to say the least. The soldiers supplemented their
rations with horsemeat from wounded horses (which had been hit by Soviet fire) in order
to stave off hunger – a situation eerily similar to that of the 6th Army at Stalingrad. Of
course, the question is, would Army Group North – two entire armies – meet a similar
fate as that of the 6th Army? Despite the hard fighting, and some delays,
the Soviet strike towards Memel was a very successful operation overall. Unlike Operation
Doppelkopf and Cäsar, the Soviets had successfully hidden their attack from their enemy, had
used more infantry units, and had mounted their attack in more open terrain. Instead
of relying upon tanks to do all the work, Bagramian had sent his infantry forwards first
to breakthrough the German lines. Once this occurred, 5th Guards Tank Army was thrown
in to exploit. The attack hadn’t gone super-smoothly. Delays
were caused by the weather, and logistical issues – which was mainly due to the fact
that several armies were operating in the same area. Huge numbers of fleeing civilians
clogged the roads, impacting the advance. And Volskii had arguably performed poorly,
at least in Bagramian’s eyes. But the Soviets had reached the coast, and Army Group North
was now cut off from the rest of Germany. So, would the Germans just accept their fate,
or would they attempt to breakout of their trap? Is it a comma? Is it a full-stop? No, it’s
Exclamation Man! “The OKH reported that Hitler had categorically
prohibited the withdrawal from Riga! General Schoerner ignored the “Führer Directive.”
He ordered the immediate withdrawal from the Latvian capital!” Seriously, this guy loves his exclamation
marks! Also this quote is interesting because it directly contradicts the fact that the
withdrawal had already begun, and the fact that numerous authors have pointed out that
Schörner was ferociously loyal to Hitler and obeyed his command to the letter. Therefore,
I’m not convinced that this is an accurate representation of this order… even if it
is a great example of overuse of exclamation marks. Franz Kurowski tells a slightly different
story. He says that Schörner was instructed to strike towards the Telšiai and Šiauliai
areas – probably in order to make contact with the main German lines. It’s not stated
when this order was given, but Kurowski says Schörner flew to see Hitler on the 10th of
October and told him that the attack wasn’t possible. The reason given was because his
forces were simply too weak. Worse, he had to explain to Hitler that he was going to
have to withdraw back into the Tuckum postions, which Hitler supposedly granted permission
for the next day – on the 16th. He then says that the “orderly” evacuation of Riga
began on the 12th of October, which is wrong not only because this is before Schörner’s
conversation with Hitler on the 15th and 16th when permission was supposedly granted, but
also because Schörner gave the order to evacuate the civilians on the 26th of September, and
told Hitler on the 30th, if not before. He then says the evacuation, which had 22,500
Soviet prisoners to deal with, 100,000 tons of material needing shipping, and fleeing
Estonians and Latvian civilians, where evacuated in three days. But contradicts himself by
admitting that some of these were evacuated in September and early October. Seriously, to say that these sources are unreliable
is an understatement. Now, the evacuation clearly happened in phases, starting in late
September. But the story about the meeting with Hitler is a little more complicated.
It’s interesting because Haupt says Hitler forbid the withdrawal from Riga completely,
and Schörner ignored him and did it anyway. Whilst Kurowski says that Schörner got permission
off Hitler. And I suspect neither account is entirely accurate. Buttar actually says that, on the 9th of October,
Schörner was the one who proposed to Hitler that it would be best to mount a counterattack.
This attack would be mounted from western Latvia to Memel, and then to East Prussia. “However, this attack was contingent on
Hitler agreeing to the evacuation of Riga, in order to release sufficient forces for
the operation. As was often the case, Hitler agreed to such a proposal from one of his
favoured commanders, where he would have refused to yield an inch if another army group commander
had made such a request.” Newton also says that an attack was mounted
– or planned to be mounted. “There was indeed an intention of restoring
the overland communication through an attack from the south. Army Group North was to have
facilitated this attack by a thrust from the north.” A couple pages before this, Newton speaks
of a counterattack from the Tilsit area in East Prussia towards Memel. Once contact with
the forces at Memel was established, the attack was to continue on and to make an overland
connection with Army Group North. The forces for this counterattack seem to have been gathering
in the previous few days before the 12th of October, perhaps ordered at a similar time
as Schörner was ordered to strike south. The attack went in but was abandoned on the
18th of October, along with Tilsit as well. It seems highly unlikely that the small forces
for this Tilsit attack would have been able to reach Memel, let alone Army Group North.
But if Schörner had attacked south, they may have been able to link up in the Telšiai
area – which is certainly more reasonable than going all the way to Courland. I suspect
these two attacks were called for simultaneously, but Schörner decided not to mount his side
of the attack. Then the idea of Army Group North linking-up or breaking-out of its pocket
to the south was abandoned and Schörner was compelled to withdraw into the Tukums positions. Piecing it together from these accounts, what’s
more likely to have happened is that Schörner didn’t see the point of holding Riga, and
wanted to reestablish contact with the main German lines in East Prussia. Hitler agreed,
and accepted the plan to withdraw from Riga and have Army Group North attack to the Telšiai
and Šiauliai area. So a retreat into the Tukums positions, which was further back,
would be counterproductive to this attack. Therefore Hitler forbids a withdrawal into
the Tukums positions so that the southern attack has a chance of reaching its objectives.
Schörner then flew to see Hitler, explained that the attack he had proposed wasn’t possible
after all, and then got permission to withdraw to Tukums. That makes much more sense and
ties these accounts together into a more sensible version of events. However, this then presents another question.
Does this mean that Hitler actually wanted Army Group North to breakout of the Baltics
at this point, or just link-up? Now none of the sources say that Hitler wanted Army Group
North to withdraw – so he may have just wanted a link-up. But given the fact that Hitler
had already granted permission on several occasions now for Army Group North to withdraw
from various parts of the Baltic States, that they had been withdrawing almost constantly
throughout the past month or so, and the huge distances between Army Group North and the
forces in East Prussia, it seems unlikely that Hitler was expecting Army Group North
to link-up, and then just hold a huge front from Tukums to Šiauliai. The sources I have don’t allow us to come
to any definite conclusions. But I suspect there’s more to this particular story than
what’s been presented. Not only are the German sources contradictory, but we know
they have the agenda to blame Hitler for not allowing Army Group North to withdraw. So
they’re the last sources that would admit to a breakout from Courland because that would
go against their narrative of Hitler the madman and the German Generals the Gods of War. Newton’s
loyalties and reliability isn’t known. He seems more legit than Kurowski and Haupt,
but his book was published through Schiffer Military History Publications, which is a
small publishing house for Wehraboo-type material, as explained in Smelser’s and Davies’
“The Myth of the Eastern Front” book. Buttar’s account has proven itself more
reliable, but there’s not enough detail to make any conclusions. Either way, I’m making you aware that Hitler
may have wanted to withdraw Army Group North at this point, and that a harder look at the
events on or around the 10th of October may produce the evidence needed to back that idea
up. So, for any historian out there in Germany who are listening to this, I hereby call upon
ye to venture forth into the German archives and slay the Wehraboo dragon once and for
all. Also, I just want to take a couple of minutes
to think about all that we’ve just witnessed, and ask this question – could Army Group North
have retreated from the Baltics into East Prussia at any point? Army Group North had been positioned as far
north as Narva. The Soviets had crushed Army Group Centre and had cut off all of Army Group
North in the Baltics. Then Raus’ forces had managed to breakthrough to the Army Group
near Riga. But the Soviets crushed Raus and forced Third Panzer Army back to East Prussia.
This forced Army Group North – now retreating under Soviet attacks – to fall back to the
ports, or through Riga. Looking at these events play out the way that
they have, it’s hard to see how Army Group North could have slipped through to East Prussia
even if they had wanted to. Many authors seek to blame Hitler here for not allowing a withdrawal,
but the reality was that the Army Group was withdrawing. It withdrew from the Narva positions
as fast as it could, and it appears to have fallen back through Riga and into Courland
as fast as it could. It wasn’t because of the Führer’s stand-fast mentality that
got Army Group North trapped in Courland – it was because of the Red Army’s victory on
the battlefield. Bagration, and the subsequent thrusts to the Gulf of Riga and the Memel
area, are what caused Army Group North to get outflanked and trapped in the Courland
Pocket. “Aster, the evacuation of Estonia, was planned
and executed at very short notice, and surprised both the Soviet and German High Commands in
how well it was carried out.” Arguably the Germans could have retreated
as Bagration was happening to the south, and escaped the trap before the Soviets got to
the Gulf of Riga, but the reasons they didn’t are clear. They wanted to keep Finland on
side, and they wanted to protect the oil fields in the area. Plus, Bagration happened so quickly
and decisively that they didn’t really have time to react and pull back their forces.
It would be a bit premature to withdraw Army Group North as the fighting in the Centre
was still going on. So these three factors were what caused them to cling on. And it
wasn’t just Hitler saying this. Schörner promised Mannerheim that they would hold on
to the Baltics. And when Finland capitulated, Army Group North started its retreat, with
Hitler’s permission. So, it’s a bit odd that many of the authors
are trying to pin the blame on Hitler for the reason why Army Group North got trapped
in Courland. Most of these authors are German, and many of them don’t talk about the atrocities
committed by the Wehrmacht during these campaigns – but do talk about the Soviet atrocities.
They’re keen to paint the German soldiers and generals in as good a light as possible,
whilst distancing themselves from the National Socialist regime and ideology. The reality
was that they were writing these books during the Cold War – whose politics influenced their
accounts. Hitler provides them with a convenient scapegoat, but when you stop and think about
it, and when you place the events in chronological order, the “Hitler be mad” excuse simply
doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. The German generals were making mistakes. The German
troops weren’t capable of standing up to the task. And Hitler was granting them permission
to retreat. But to admit this would imply that the German generals and soldiers at this
stage weren’t as good as they made them out to be, and it would also imply that the
Red Army was superior than they wanted to paint them. In the context of the Cold War,
and in the hope that they could distance themselves from National Socialism, whilst also believing
in the superiority of the German race (which was part of the National Socialist ideology
that they agreed with, and fought with), the German generals and authors deliberately distorted
history to suit their agenda. But obviously, I’d like to hear your opinion
on this. Comment below and let me know. Thanks for watching, bye for now. Last time we saw Bagramian strike Raus’
Third Panzer Army, slicing through a huge number of German formations and reaching the
coast around Memel. This move cut Army Group North off in northern Latvia. Schörner raced
to form a line, whilst trying to evacuate the Riga area. The potential of a breakout
or linkup was discussed, but this fell through, simply because it was impractical under the
circumstances. Now Army Group North is cut off from the Reich. What will the Germans
do? Will the Soviets crush them? And did everyone just give up on Army Group North? Let’s
find out. In light of the situation – the fact that
there was now a definite split between Army Groups North and Centre – command of 3rd Panzer
Army was handed over to Army Group Centre on the 11th of October. Army Group Centre
had its work cut out for it, as not only had it been devastated over the past few months,
and some of its most powerful forces were currently trapped in Memel, but the Soviet
39th Army was heading straight for Tilsit – inside German territory. For the first time,
in more than three years of conflict, the war on the Eastern Front was about to come
home to the Germans. But there were more immediate issues to deal
with in Army Group North. In the Riga area, the Soviets kept up the pressure on the withdrawing
National Socialists. The 87th, 132nd, 205th, and 227th Infantry, and the 563rd Volksgrenadier
Divisions were harrassed constantly in the retreat back to the Daugava River. Wengler’s
227th Infantry Division was designated the rearguard formation in front of Riga. They
covered the two remaining bridgeheads as the other units fled across the bridges and ferries.
Strachwitz’s 87th Infantry Division – also acting as a rearguard – holding the flank
at the mouth of the Daugava River. The overall situation for the Axis though,
was grim. With an entire Army Group surrounded by the Soviets, it was now vital that the
Germans hold onto Liepāja and Ventspils, where supplies could be flown in and evacuees
could be flow out. No matter what happened, they had to hold onto these ports, otherwise
they would face a fate similar to that of the 6th Army at Stalingrad two years earlier,
but on a much larger scale. This was why both cities were now declared fortresses, although
Liepāja was perhaps more crucial because Ventspils was too small to support the entire
Army Group. This was why great effort went into forming a line in this area to prevent
the Soviets taking it on the march. However, a front line of some sorts had been
formed. This was bad news for Bagramian, who was pushing 6th Guards Army towards the port.
Realising this, Schörner ordered 3rd SS Panzer Corps to the Priekule area in order to reinforce
his weak line. Coincidentally, this corps (and, it seems, all three panzer divisions
in Army Group North) would also make up the units for his attack towards Memel, as discussed
last episode. Operation Geier (or Vulture), with 4th, 12th and 14th Panzer, plus 11th,
126th and 87th Infantry Divisions, would strike along the coast towards 28th Army Corps’
pocket. Yes, one pocket was going to break through to another pocket. Just let that sink
in for a moment. Now, it’s not clear, but it seems that Sauken’s 39th Panzer Corps
was meant to take overall charge of this attack, which was to begin on (or possibly before)
the 17th of October. But 3rd SS Panzer Corps was also there, so maybe Sauken was to be
in overall command, while Steiner just controlled the panzer divisions. Either way, 3rd SS Panzer
Corps still had to withdraw from Riga, gather their strength, and stop the Red Army from
taking the ports. So the question is, would 3rd Panzer Corps be able to arrive in time,
defeat 6th Guards Army’s strike towards Liepāja, and then have the strength to strike
south to Memel? Meanwhile at Salme on the 10th of October,
German forces had formed a new defensive line blocking the entrance to the peninsula. Because
their previous attempts to breakthrough this line had failed, the Soviets decided to land
behind them. On the 11th of October, Soviet-Estonian infantry, supported by light tanks, disembarked
at the Lõu lighthouse in an attempt to outflank the main German line. Accounts of this fighting
are vague, but it appears that the Germans spotted the landing and reacted quickly. Only
a small number of Soviet troops and tanks actually reached the shore, and those that
did were targeted by the 23rd Artillery Regiment, and then counterattacked by Eulenburg’s
67th Infantry Regiment. Eulenburg’s men managed to knock out the light tanks with
anti-tank weaponry and beat back the Soviet infantry in close-quarters fighting. Despite
their best efforts, the Soviet bridgehead was completely annihilated. On the 12th, a second landing was attempted
in the Teeso area by the 300th Rifle Regiment. They were beaten back by 386th Infantry Regiment,
supported by the 218th Engineer Battalion and 531st Naval Artillery Battalion. After
this failure, Soviet forces on the island (8th Estonian Rifle Corps and 30th Guards
Corps) took a break from their attacks between the 13th and 16th of October. The Germans
used this opportunity to load the staff of the 218th Infantry Division onto transports
and shipped them to Ventspils. Schörner planned to evacuate the Baltic islands
since a defense of the Sworbe peninsula appeared pointless, and the Soviets had a clear manpower
and material superiority. However, at the current moment he thought that holding on
for a little longer would tie up additional Soviet forces. This was perhaps why elements
of Weber’s 12th Luftwaffe Field Division were sent to the island as reinforcements.
Versock’s 43rd Army Corps, which was also responsible for the defense of northern Kurland,
now took command of the units at Sworbe. Meanwhile 3rd SS Panzer Corps had arrived
in the Priekule area, where 14th Panzer Division battled with Soviet troops. The Nederland
Panzergrenadier Brigade reinforced 11th Infantry Division and helped stall the Soviet attack
in that area, but the Soviets seemed to be gaining ground. As 6th Guards Army tried to
advance though, they were hit on their eastern flank by 4th and 12th Panzer Divisions, striking
from the Venta River area. They held against the panzers, and managed to break through
61st Infantry Division’s lines between 3rd SS Panzer Corps and the two panzer divisions,
but were ultimately unable to exploit this and couldn’t advance to Liepāja. Bitter
fighting would continue for the next couple of days, but ultimately, this limited attack
would force 6th Guards Army onto the defensive. Meanwhile, on the night of 12th to 13th of
October 1944, Wengler’s 227th Infantry Division withdrew from their bridgehead, leaving Riga
to the Soviets. They blew up the last bridge at 0144 hours on the 13th. At the same time,
Strachwitz’s 87th Infantry Division withdrew overnight from the enemy side of the Daugava
River. By five past five in the morning on the 13th, they were across the river, and
thus were the last to leave that side. Major General Rodinov’s 245th Rifle Division
moved into Riga from the north while Colonel Kuchinev’s 212th Rifle Division marched
in from the east. And another capital city fell to the Red Army. Because it was no longer
needed, 3rd Baltic Front was now disbanded. But yes, the Germans had finally withdrawn
into the Riga-East positions on the 13th. Operation Donner was over – as was the escape
from the East. However, the war was not over. Army Group North had now fallen back into
Courland – and the Courland Pocket had benn formed. This is where they would stay – hemmed
in by the Soviets – until the end of the war. “The enemy’s Kurland Group continued to
block on the peninsula until the end of the war and surrendered in May 1945.” Oh ok, I guess it’s the end of the series. No I wouldn’t do that to you. But Werner
Haupt – Exclamation Man – is really not happy with this statement and practically spits
his dummy out of the pram. “This sentence is found in the official
work of the Soviet Ministry of Defense about the 2nd World War. 16 words reported about
the last seven months of war in the Kurland area. A single insignificant sentence handles
the commitment of two German armies and an army group. 16 words to also describe the
battle of three enemy army groups with, at time, 19 armies!” “The war in Kurland between October 1944
and May 1945 was either insignificant to the writer of the history, or it was senseless.
Which is it?” Well Mr Haupt, from the Soviet perspective,
Courland wasn’t the priority – Berlin was. They weren’t fighting this war for the fun
of it, nor were they aiming to have a picnic on the shore of the Baltic sea beside Ventspils.
In the grand scheme of things, Courland was just an insignificant area on the map and
it would be senseless for them to waste a lot of effort in taking it. Now, there was a whole German Army Group in
Courland – and this is a lot of troops. But just because the Axis are committed there,
doesn’t mean that the Soviets should commit there too. Other than to destroy Army Group
North, what exactly would be the purpose of them taking Courland? And would Army Group
North’s destruction help them get to Berlin? It seems unlikely. In reality, dealing with two German armies
in a pocket just didn’t concern them to any great extent. Yes, writing only 16 words
about this entire conflict isn’t great – and helps explain why I’ve struggled to create
this series, since little is written about it – but it’s not the only history on this
battle that does this. In fact, numerous authors do this all the time – finding books on this topic in English is like digging for buried treasure without a map. Many histories like Glantz’s “When
Titan’s Clashed”, Citinos “The Wehrmacht’s Last Stand” and Hastings’ “Armageddon”
– some of these written from the German perspective as well – either give it a few lines, or a
few paragraphs. They don’t talk in-depth about this event at all. Why? Because Army
Group North played no role in the fighting for the Reich. In the grand scheme of things,
this was just a side-show. And like most sideshows, they’re not as important as the main events. Now that’s not to say it isn’t interesting,
or entertaining, or that it should be ignored completely. As we’re going to see, the battles
for Courland are interesting and fun to debate about, as are such “sideshows” as the
battles in the North African Campaign, Italy and Sicily, East Africa, and any other area
of the war that isn’t the Eastern Front. A lot of people think that these are all pointless
to look into, and that, since the entire war was won on the Eastern Front alone completely
by the Soviets, all focus should be on the battle of Kursk, or Stalingrad, or Belin.
No. Just because something wasn’t “the main event” doesn’t mean it’s not important
or interesting, or not worth looking into. All these events, just like Courland, are
important and interesting in their own right, and it’s a shame people are obsessed with
the one or two big battles that supposedly changed the course of the war. Because this
obsession with the big battles, means that you’re buying books and documentaries on
those few battles. This means historians are focusing on these battles, releasing book
after book on the same subject, over and over, in order to line their pockets with the money
you’re willing to hand over. And numerous really interesting battles and campaigns are
being ignored – some of which may also change our perception of the war or the people who
fought it, but we don’t hear about them because nobody’s buying books on those topics
so nobody’s wasting time writing about them. Army Group North being trapped in the Courland
pocket and unable to assist in the defence of the Reich, was both senseless and insignificant.
Therefore it’s no wonder many of the books sum up the events by saying – the army group
held on in the pocket until the end of the war – because, in a nutshell, that’s exactly
what happened. But even so, that does not mean this event isn’t important or interesting
to talk about and discuss. As we will see, I think there’s a lot we can learn about
the mind of that Madman Hitler by looking into these events – and the mind of someone
else too… but I won’t spoil it. Now, we’ve already looked at whether Army
Group North could have avoided being caught in the pocket, and the answer appears to be
– no, they couldn’t really have avoided it. We also know they’re trying to break
out of the pocket, but that attempt fails. So, the question authors go to next is – why
the Germans didn’t just evacuate the pocket? Could they have evacuated Army Group North
via the Baltic Sea? This is a massive debate and we’re going
to be discussing this over the next few videos, as we see the events unfold. But right now,
as the pocket was formed, Guderian (Chief of Staff of the OKH) now suggested to Hitler
that they should evacuate the troops from Courland. He said that, despite their weakened
state, the troops in Courland would be more effective being deployed in East Prussia or
elsewhere – more directly in the defense of the Reich. Hitler refused, stating that the
morale of the Baltic SS soldiers would drop if the Axis abandoned the Baltic. He also
said that Courland would be a good position for future offensives. “The Nazi leadership didn’t permit the
use of the term ‘Courland Pocket’ as it implied that the Germans were trapped there.
That led quickly to comparisons with Stalingrad with consequent negative effects on morale.
The approved term was ‘Courland bridgehead’, as this suggested that Courland would be a
springboard for a new offensive driving east again once the present difficulties had been
overcome.” Now, many say this is “madman Hitler”
again. But think about the context. Hitler had ordered Operation Geier – the strike towards
Memel – at this stage. Schörner had been moving troops and preparing to mount this
offensive, in conjunction with the troops in East Prussia, to link up with Army Group
Centre. So Hitler wasn’t abandoning the troops in Courland, and his offensive ambitions
were immediate, not off sometime in the distant future. At this moment, with Riga still in
German possession and the troops in no position to flee to the ports and sail away, and with
a potential link-up still possible, why would Hitler agree to an evacuation? Whether the evacuation of Courland was possible
or not is a question we’ll come back to, but right at this moment, Axis forces in the
Courland and Riga areas were in no position to evacuate even if they had wanted to at
this time. So if Hitler was a madman, he probably wasn’t a madman at this moment, and Guderian’s
suggestion at this time was simply wishful thinking. Luckily for the Germans trapped in Courland,
they had the advantage of terrain. The Courland Pocket in October 1944 had a front of around
200 kilometers from the Riga area to the area south of Liepāja on the Baltic. The land
in Courland is mostly flat and swampy, with hundreds of lakes and streams and forests
all over the place. There aren’t many roads through this terrain, meaning that there were
plenty of opportunities to funnel the enemy into pre-made killing zones – favouring the
defender. So overall, it was a good place for Army Group North to be trapped in. Plus,
the fact that two German armies had been squeezed into what was a relatively short front of
just 200 kilometers, which offered no way to outflank it, except by amphibious assaults,
also played into German hands. Axis forces inside the Courland Pocket were
hastily fortifying their positions. 18th Army consisted (from west to east) of the 126th,
11th, 30th, 61st, and 225th Infantry Divisions, plus the 563rd Volksgrenadier Division which
had 14th Panzer Division in support. In the middle of the front was Army Detachment Grasser.
From west to east this had the 32nd Infantry, 19th SS, 21st Luftwaffe, 329th and 122nd Infantry
Divisions. 4th and 12th Panzer Divisions were also in this
area. Next we have the 93rd, 24th and 290th Infantry Divisions, as part of 6th SS
Corps. Then the 281st Security, 227th and 205th Infantry Divisions up to the coast at
the Gulf of Riga, which were under Corps Group Kleffel’s command. And behind the lines,
12th Luftwaffe and 83rd Infantry Divisions, and Combat Group Gerok, protected the coast
in northern Kurland, along with 43rd Army Corps. But also, on the 15th of October, 18th Army’s
commander, Boege, held a meeting with the commanders due to take part in Operation Geier
– the strike to the south. It was realised that their own preparations had to be hasty,
because the Germans knew that the Soviets were planning a new offensive in their area. And this was true. The overall aim now for
the Red Army in the area was to take the port city of Liepāja which, as mentioned, would
cause massive logistical issues for Army Group North if it was to fall. Bagramian’s 1st
Baltic Front (consisting of 6th Guards and 51st Armies) were to break through from the
Vaiņode to Skuodas area, towards Liepāja. Then, to the east, 1st Shock Army in the Jūrmala
area would strike against the German left flank, aiming for Tukums. Eremenko’s 2nd
Baltic Front (consisting of 3rd Shock, 42nd and 22nd Armies) planned to strike out of
the Dobele area to the west. 61st Army and 5th Guards Tank Army were held in reserve. Meanwhile, on the 16th of October 1944, two
Soviet armies crossed the East Prussian border, aiming towards Gumbinnen. All effort now went
to defending the Reich from invaders on all sides, leaving Army Group North to fend for
itself. Considering that Operation Geier was abandoned at the stage – due to the Soviet
attack on Courland – and the fact that an overland connection was never established
again, we’ll no longer concern ourselves with events in Memel or East Prussia. So, on the 16th of October, Soviet armies
between the Gulf of Riga and Ventspils struck 16th Army and Army Detachment Grasser. The
1st Battle of Courland had begun. To the east, 1st Shock Army assaulted from the Jūrmala
area against the German left flank. The Soviets also struck either side of Dobele,
trying to separate 16th Army from Army Detachment Grasser and breakthrough between Auce and
Saldus. This would cause the entire Army Group to collapse. Corps Group Kleffel, with the
205th and 227th and 281st Infantry Divisions, fought desperately to hold on, trying to prevent
Tukums from falling. 6th SS Corps, with the 93rd, 122nd and 24th Infantry Divisions, was
struck by the Soviet 12th Tank and 122nd Motorized Rifle Corps. These advanced with 13 divisions
and slowly pushed the Germans back. To the west, intense artillery and air strikes
hit the area between Mažeikiai and Skuodas, after which 1st Baltic Front attacked. Von
Bodenhausen’s 12th Panzer Division was committed near Mažeikiai and managed to stabilize the
situation there. 30th Infantry and the Nordland Division on its right fought hard to stop
the enemy between Vainode and Skuodas. At one point, the Soviets broke through the Nordland
divisions’ lines and 30th Infantry had to send a regiment in to plug the gap, along
with part of Betzel’s 4th Panzer Division. 14th Panzer and the 563rd Volksgrenadier Division
were then sent in to strengthen the line a little later. “Making little headway, with both sides
suffering heavy casualties, the Soviets switched the offensive slightly east. Battles raged
for control of a small hill, identified as Hill 65.3, which changed hands several times.
Tanks broke through the trench defences but the defenders mowed down the oncoming infantry.
The tanks became isolated and were either destroyed or had to fight their way out.” The 6th SS Corps held on for three days against
the thirteen Soviet divisions, supposedly only losing 1,050 men. They were pushed back
though, as were 16th Army Corps, with Dobele being lost and the front moving to the east
of Tukums by the 19th of October. Also in the afternoon of the 19th of October,
Soviet artillery fire and airstrikes hit the German defenders on Saaremaa. And then Soviet
riflemen assaulted. “German losses were high. Only small combat
groups now existed, which defended behind the tattered wire defenses. 50% of the officers
fell on this day. Lieutenant General Schirmer and his operations officer, Colonel Niepold,
stood on the front line. Colonel Reuter, commander of the 386th Infantry Regiment, attacked the
penetrating combat vehicles, along with a few soldiers armed only with a bazooka.” I assume that’s a mistranslation and is
meant to mean a panzerschreck. A counterattack was attempted. Schulz’s
239th Naval Air Defence Battalion penetrated into the enemy front. But the Germans had
no choice but to retreat further down the peninsula. The Germans were now down to 4,620
men on the line (of which, just 2,740 were trained infantrymen), out of 7,177 men left
on the island. However after 8 days – 20th of October – the
1st Battle of Kurland was over. If you believe the German reports, huge numbers of Soviet
tanks – somewhere in the region of 150 – were taken out. I can’t confirm how accurate
this is, and I don’t have German losses, but it’s true that in the Soviets had barely
advanced a mile in their thrust towards Liepāja, and it’s noted that they’d taken heavy
losses. But this had come at a price for the Germans
too. By this point some of the German units were at very low manpower levels. For example,
by the 24th of October – a few days after the 1st Battle of Courland ended – 4th Panzer
Division was down to just 4,598 men out of the 12,002 men it was supposed to have had.
Of course, Army Group North had focused on defending Liepāja, and had done so successfully,
leaving weak forces in the east. These had fallen back though, which prompted Schörner
to send in military police units to question soldiers who had retreated without orders.
Those found to have fallen back were hung. Bloody Ferdinand would not tolerate cowards
in his army group. There was now a lull in the fighting. So the
Germans began to reorganise their lines and prepare their defenses. 39th Panzer Corps,
with the 61st Infantry Division (which had been held in 18th Army’s reserve), were
transported to East Prussia, and Menkel took over 329th Infantry Division. German infantry,
assisted by Latvian civilians, dug foxholes, trenches, and created bunkers. “Woods were cleared to allow unobstructed
fields of fire. These areas were filled with mines, trip wires and explosive devices. Strongpoints
concealing anti-tank guns were set up: the killing zones precisely targeted so artillery
gunners had the exact co-ordinates to respond to any change in Soviet battle tactics.” The first Battle of Courland had been a successful
defensive operation for the German and Axis forces. But it also meant that Army Group
North was unable to attempt its breakout mission towards East Prussia – Operation Geier. For
better or worse, Schörner’s men were now trapped in Courland for good. So far, we’ve
seen that it wasn’t really possible for Army Group North to have withdrawn before
its encirclement, nor breakout towards East Prussia. However, now that they were encircled,
surely there was no reason to stay there? Right? Surely they would be transported to
East Prussia. Surely the Kriegsmarine could evacuate them? There’s no way that they’d
have to stay in Courland… unless Madman Hitler forced them to stay. Right? Well, we’ll
see. Thanks for watching, bye for now. Last time we saw the Soviets try to smash
through the German lines during the First Battle of the Courland Pocket. This foiled
Schörner’s planned breakout attempt – Operation Geier – meaning that Army Group North was
now trapped in the Courland Pocket for good. Will Hitler allow the evacuation of the troops?
Will the Red Army crush them? Time to find out. So desperate was the German manpower situation
in Courland, that Luftflotte 1 had to provide 5,643 officers and men to Army Group North
between the 25th of July and the 23rd of September. The ground commands that were no longer needed
were shipped to the Reich in October, leaving just air crews and technical personnel at
the airfields. There were no bombers left at this stage, and only 54th Fighter Group,
plus some reconnaissance squadrons were left in Courland. This is interesting because there was still
over 530,000 men in Army Group North at this point. That’s quite a lot of guys, and yet
the manpower levels of the units are often described as low, and the Luftwaffe was having
to transfer men to these units. Clearly, although there were a lot of military personnel, a
good portion of these were not front-line worthy soldiers. In some ways there’s parallels
with Stalingrad, where the majority of the men trapped in 6th Army’s pocket were rear-services
personnel, and thus more of a burden on the supply of the pocket than a help. In Courland,
a similar situation seems to have developed, although there were a lot of front-line units
in the mix and the supply situation wasn’t as critical. The vital port of Liepāja – with
a population of 50,000 – was still in German hands, providing a lifeline to the Reich.
The Soviets recognized its importance, and since they had failed to take the port, they
decided to bomb it instead, which they did on the 22nd of October. They sank four ships
and destroyed many buildings in Liepāja, and there was little that the Luftwaffe could
do to stop them. And, just like at Stalingrad, the Führer’s
attention was drawn elsewhere. On the 21st of October, Hitler received word that Aachen
had fallen to the western Allies – the first German city in the war to fall. He also received
a report saying that in another day, Gumbinnen might be lost to the Red Army as well. So
his focus was now on these events and the defence of the Reich. This is perhaps why
he ordered Army Group North to go over to the defensive in Courland. “The Führer has ordered that Kurland be
held and that we transition to the defense in our present positions. Our mission is to
not give up one foot of ground, to tie up 150 opposing enemy formations, to batter them
wherever we have the opportunity and, thereby, facilitate the defence of the homeland.” Historians have interpreted this in different
ways. Some have stated quite clearly that Hitler outright refused to evacuate Courland,
or that the German generals couldn’t convince him to evacuate Army Group North, and have
debated the reasons why Hitler may have wanted them to stay in Courland. At this stage, it
seems, that Hitler’s attention was drawn to the main defence of the Reich, as armies
were driving on German soil for the first time in the west and the east. And this was
a recent development, which might explain – at least for a time – why the evacuation
of Courland wasn’t a priority. We’ve already mentioned the counter-attack
potential of Courland, but there are even more reasons to stay in Courland as well.
Like Finland, who left the war once Germany lost control of the situation in the Baltics,
an argument could be made that if the Axis lost control of Courland, they would lose
control of the Baltic Sea, which may endanger Sweden’s neutrality. Sweden may be persuaded
to cease shipments of her strategically vital iron ore, which would cripple the German economy
even more so than it already was at this crucial stage. This is also related to the Kriegsmarine and
U-Boat training bases. By this point, much of the German surface fleet was located in
the Baltic, and the new “super U-Boat” training bases were located in Courland too.
This was because naval bases in Germany were under attack by Allied bombers, so it made
sense to move them further east. Holding onto Courland’s ports would give Admiral Dönitz
a chance to develop his new class of U-boats – the Type XXI and the Type XXIII. These super
weapons – the first true submarines in existence since they could remain fully submerged due
to their new snorkels of Dutch origin – would turn the tide in the Atlantic. This, in turn,
would cause the Western Allies to sue for peace, allowing Germany to focus all it’s
effort in the East. At least, that’s what Dönitz and Hitler hoped. Also, Army Group North was tying down large
numbers of Soviet troops in a successful defensive operation, so at the very least, there was
no rush to evacuate Courland at this time. “Hold your present positions! Learn how
to commit replacements in combat and shoot down aircraft! Your mission in a nutshell:
Tie up forces!” The OKH had also ordered the army group on
the 22nd of October to continue the defence of Saaremaa. This means that, while Guderian
may have been advocating for a withdrawal of Army Group North, he was also issuing orders
for them to keep fighting for the time being. But again, only for the time being. The question
is, would the situation change? Would there come a time where Army Group North could and
should be evacuated to the Reich? On the 23rd of October, the Soviets attacked
on Saaremaa again. The Germans were holding the Leo blocking position, and Vice Admiral
Thiele’s 2nd Naval Combat Group fired upon the Soviet units to help halt the attack.
Luckily, the newly transferred 12th Luftwaffe Field Division arrived just in time to help
throw back the attack. “Resistance was stubborn but costly. In
one of the largest ground support actions of the war, the German Navy suffered more
than 2,000 casualties.” At the main line, with Liepāja under threat,
18th Army launched a limited attack on the 24th of October. 10th Army Corps, with the
31st Infantry and 563rd Volksgrenadier Divisions, and 14th Panzer Division, advanced 3 kilometers
into the Soviet lines in the Vainode area. After two days, this attack came to a halt
on the 26th of October. However, the limited success of this operation had revealed to
the Germans that the Soviet lines had been reinforced and that 1st Baltic Front was preparing
to launch an offensive of its own. At 0600 hours on the 27th of October, a huge
artillery strike, dispatched by 2,000 guns, signalled the start of the 2nd Battle of Kurland.
For an hour and a half, German positions were battered and Soviet bombers hit Liepāja and
Auce. Then, somewhere in the region of 60 Soviet divisions attacked. “The thin German lines could not offer these
masses of forces any resistance.” And yet they did. The reason was quite simple
– Bagramian’s forces were exhausted by the previous fighting. 6th Guards Army and 4th
Shock Army were instructed to break through the lines in the Vainode area. 5th Guards
Tank Army would then exploit once the lines had been opened. During the planning stage
though, this initial force was subsequently reinforced by the very weak 61st Army, which
was slotted into the line between 6th Guards and 4th Shock Armies. Despite this reinforcement,
the Soviet units were not quite as overwhelming in number as Haupt implies. They were also
attacking in a swampy and forested area where the Germans had prepared their defences – in
fact, the Germans had been alerted beforehand, and the day was foggy, which delayed the attack. 5th Guards Tank Army, supposedly with 400
tanks (mainly T-34s or Joseph Stalin tanks), struck the area between Skuodas and Vainode.
I say supposedly because Haupt calls them “combat vehicles” rather than tanks, which
makes me suspicious. But either way, 3rd SS Panzer Corps and 10th Army Corps were hit
hard, with German communications breaking down in the wild frenzy. These two corps fell
back under intense pressure. 3rd Guards and 19th Tank Corps broke through
Barth’s 30th Infantry Division, which fell back slightly. Barth joined his men on the
front lines, leading them in the woods during the retreat. 4th Panzer Division also formed two kampfgruppen and was sent in as a counter-attacking force. This combined effort stabilized the
situation, no doubt helped by the pouring rain which had turned the battlefield into
a sludge. Soviet tanks bogged down in the mud, and became separated from their infantry
support due to heavy German machine gun fire. This allowed German anti-tank teams to stalk
the tanks with Panzerfausts, magnetic hollow charges, and Pak guns. In the east, Eremenko’s 2nd Baltic Front,
with 42nd, 10th Guards Army and 3rd Shock Army also advanced. 10th Guards Army struck
near Auce, where Henze’s 21st Luftwaffe Field Division collapsed under the pressure.
Some of the men were encircled in the city of Auce itself. Schörner was compelled to
send in the 12th Panzer Division as well as a kampfgruppe from the 389th Infantry Division
to break through and free them from their trap. The 215th Infantry Division had also
just taken up position in the south-west of Dobele – and was thrown back by the afternoon. “The withdrawal of 215th Infantry Division
towards Lake Lielauce also saw the first appearance of another new development on the Courland
front. A military judge advocate was sent to the rear area by Schörner, accompanied
by detachments of military police. Any soldiers found retreating without specific orders were
marched before the judge advocate and faced charges of cowardice unless they were able
to justify themselves… in some cases they were acting on verbal instructions, but this
was not an acceptable excuse to the judge advocate.” Many were executed. Bloody Ferdinand struck
again. The 20 Tiger tanks of Gilbert’s 510th Heavy
Tank Battalion were in support of 4th Panzer Division. However the previous night, one
company of four Tigers was sent to 30th Infantry Division’s area, where they ambushed a unit
of T-34s and KV tanks. The rest of the battalion then arrived, and supposedly knocked out 14
Soviet tanks for no losses in return. The effectiveness of the 510th Heavy Panzer Battalion
is interesting because it had the lowest in-action kill-ratio of all the German heavy tank battalions
in the war. 5.71 to 1. It was probably the least useful of all the battalions – although
this ratio is still pretty good. But I think it’s fair to say that a large portion of
the anti-tank work wasn’t done by the tanks, but by the infantry and other arms. The rest of 4th Panzer Division spent the
28th fighting against four guards rifle divisions and two tank brigades. It then spent the 29th
counter-attacking, but ran into 29th Rifle Division – which threw it back to its starting
position. Yes, one rifle division was able to defeat a panzer division, even though Soviet
divisions are smaller than German divisions on a whole. The weather is clearly playing
its part here, but so is the fact that Soviet divisions were better armed than they had
been earlier in the war. Anyway, once 4th Panzer Division had fallen back, it was hit
by the 51st Guards Division, and barely held on until it was reinforced by 121st Infantry
Division. Many say how great the German defenders were in Courland, but this incident just shows
that neither side could really attack in this terrain – terrain which heavily favoured the
defenders. Elsewhere, Soviet artillery, mortars and bombs
continued to rain down. The focus of the Soviet attacks once again was the area between Priekule
and Skuodas where the Soviets battered their heads against the German positions. 30th and 31st Infantry Divisions, the Nordland
Division, and the 4th and 14th Panzer Divisions were all engaged in fierce combat in this
area. 31st Infantry Division was also encircled and had to be rescued by 14th Panzer and the
Nordland Division. “The fighting was so intense during that
period that even the Red Army’s unfailing supply of replacements seemed to run dry.” Well, clearly they didn’t have an unfailing
supply of replacements then, Kurowski. As the battle was going on, Army Detachment
Grasser became Army Detachment Kleffel. It’s not clear why Kleffel took over the Army,
or whether it had anything to do with the fact that Auce fell this day as well. “Contact between the divisions was broken.
The regiments were separated from each other, and companies were separated from their battalions.
The desperate attempts to re-establish contact during the night met with no success.” On Saaremaa on the 29th of October, the Soviets
tried to break through the Leo position in five places. The 23rd Luftwaffe Light and
323rd Infantry Regiments held on, supported by a StuG battery from the 202nd Sturmgeschütz
Brigade. This battery apparently destroyed 54 enemy tanks in this action if you believe
Haupt – which I don’t because that’s excessively high for one StuG battery to achieve. But
either way, the line on Saaremaa held. The battle continued for the next few days.
By the afternoon of the 1st of November 1944, Herzog’s 38th Army Corps had been forced
back to the “Brunhilde Positions”. But 83rd and 329th Infantry Divisions, and the
21st Luftwaffe Division, managed to stop the Soviets there. The Soviets were hampered by rain and mud,
which assisted the Germans in their defences. However, the cost of this defence had been
high. Haupt reports that 10th Army Corps had lost 4,012 men (50% of its strength) between
the 27th of October and 2nd of November. However, it’s doubtful that it’s six divisions
had just 10,000 men on the 27th of October, since the 4th Panzer Division had had 4,598
men alone on the 24th of October. So unless he’s referring to the four infantry divisions
– which he may be – this would mean each of these divisions had 1,000 men on the 2nd of
November. Buttar states that 4th Panzer Division had
taken a beating, with its four panzergrenadier battalions falling from 1,500 men to 700 by
the 30th of October. Betzel was also complaining that his division was short of ammunition
and that his men lacked winter clothing – evidence that the Kriegsmarine was having a difficult
time supplying the Courland Pocket. It’s worth noting that the 15th Latvian
SS Division had been sent to Pomerania by this point, leaving just the 19th Latvian
SS Division in Courland. This is interesting for two reasons. First, because Axis troops
were being withdrawn from Courland. So the idea that the Axis should have withdrawn Army
Group North and that it was pointless them staying here is undermined because it turns
out that they were withdrawing troops. And secondly, because they withdrew Latvian troops.
You’d think they’d keep them in Latvia so that they would defend their homeland against
the Soviets. But someone must have decided it was better for them to go back to the Reich
for some reason. There is evidence of Latvian soldiers deserting the Axis in Courland, so
that could be part of the reason for withdrawing them. “The Latvians of 19th SS Waffen-Grenadier
Division were ordered to launch an attack on their western flank to improve the front
line, but discovered at first hand the perils of using penal battalions. The attack was
intended for 4 November, but two soldiers from a penal battalion, employed in construction
of fortifications, deserted to the Red Army on 2 November, and presumably acting on information
provided by them the Soviets launched a spoiling attack the following day.” Bagramian’s troops managed to advance 6
kilometers in three days. By the 3rd of November though, the rain had turned the battlefield
into a swamp. It was almost impossible to attack, and those that attempted to move their
vehicles or heavy weapons often ended up sinking in the mud. So the Soviets called off their
offensive for the time being. The 2nd Battle of Courland wasn’t over though. It was just
paused for some time. Both Kurowski and Haupt state that between
the 1st and 31st of October, Army Group North reported destroying 1,143 Soviet tanks, over
600 of which were taken out in 18th Army’s area alone. In exchange for this amazing loss of enemy
tanks, the Germans lost 44,000 men and officers between the 1st of October and the 7th of
November. Of these, 25,000 were lost in October, and the remaining 19,000 after the 1st of
November. What’s interesting is that the losses on the Soviet side seems a lot less
than expected considering they were meant to have been sending in “waves” of troops.
Just 4,400 dead, 1,000 prisoners, 23 guns, 82 anti-tank guns, and 303 machine guns. So
yes, the Soviets lost more tanks than infantry taken prisoner. In return for the 44,000 men lost since the
1st of October, Army Group North received just 28,000 replacements. But this makes sense
because they were supposed to be retreating. During the lull, Army Detachment Kleffel embarked
at Liepāja and Ventspils and was shipped to Danzig and Gotenhafen. The rest of the
Army Group was reorganized. 207th and 285th Security Divisions were disbanded, and their
regiments sent to the front. The remnants of 23rd Infantry Division were given to the
218th Infantry Division. The 21st Luftwaffe Field Division no longer
existed, because it’s staff was all that remained of it. This would formally be disbanded
in a few days time. And the 4th, 12th and 14th Panzer Divisions were pulled from the
front line in order to form a mobile reserve for the Army Group. According to Haupt, 10%
of all officers and men were removed from the staffs of various units and sent to the
front. Clearly, despite the numerous soldiers in Courland, there were too many behind the
lines and not enough at the front. In the interlude, Bagramian believed that
the Germans would not evacuate Courland. But the Stavka thought that they would, at least
in part. This would free troops to go to the Reich and cause trouble there. So Bagramian
and Eremenko were ordered to keep up the pressure on the Germans in Courland. However, there
had been a shift in policy. 61st, 2nd Guards, 5th Guards Tank, and 3rd Shock Armies were all
withdrawn from their positions around the Courland Pocket and sent elsewhere. The Soviets
no longer wanted to crush the Germans in Courland, but prevent them from retreating all their
forces from it. If they could keep some troops bottled up here, then that was less troops
defending the Reich, and Berlin – their main prize. Still, the fighting was fierce. On the 18th
of November, heavy Soviet artillery fire and air strikes hit the German positions on Saaremaa.
Then, the 109th Rifle Corps, 109th and 131st Rifle Divisions attacked the German front,
which was manned by only four battalions- 1st and 2nd Battalions of 67th Infantry Regiment,
the 23rd Fusilier Battalion, and 1st battalion of 397th Infantry Regiment. Behind the first
Soviet wave came the 64th Guards and 249th Rifle Divisions, supported by the 27th and
47th Tank Regiments. Clearly the Germans were outnumbered, and
in trouble. The Soviets broke through the Leo defence line in three locations. 23rd
Infantry Division sent in its reserves. 1st Battalion of the 239th Infantry Regiment,
531st Naval Artillery Battalion, and 23rd and 141st Pioneer Battalions, all counterattacked.
They managed to penetrate 5kms into the Soviet lines, but failed to stop the Soviet attacks
as the light faded. On the 19th, Thiele’s naval combat group
assisted the defenders by shelling Red Army forces. The Soviets launched air attacks in
retaliation, damaging four ships in the group. They also continued their attack, concentrating
on the right flank of the German line. There 386th Infantry Regiment was pushed back and
was in danger of being encircled. 23rd Infantry Division’s reserves were sent in to attempt
to stabilize the situation but it looked hopeless. Schirmer realised that he couldn’t hold
on any longer. Meanwhile on the mainland, the Soviets had
also regrouped by the 19th of November. At 1030 hours, their artillery and Katyushas
blasted the area around the seam between the German 16th and 18th Armies – 10th Army Corps
once again was in the line of fire. The men of 31st, 32nd, 121st, and 263rd Infantry Divisions
hunkered down under the fire. Then at 1130 hours, the Soviet assaults began. “An intense artillery barrage began on 19
November pounding the entire sector between Saldus and Priekule. Hundreds of tanks rolled
towards, forcing the Germans back 10kms. Red Army infantry pressed through the woods despite
appalling casualties.” A gap was torn in the line by the successful
Soviet strikes. 54th and 11th Guards Rifle Corps battered their way forwards, and 30th
and 32nd Infantry Divisions were separated – their troops falling back. “Bloodied and exhausted, the German soldiers
worked their way through icy water and swampy marshes.” 14th Panzer Division was thrown in to plug
the gap, which they did so over the next couple of days. Split up into different pieces, and
attached to various divisions and units, Munzel’s men were stretched thin. The commitment and
recommitment of 14th Panzer to wherever it looked like the Soviets would break through
was perhaps why it was given the nickname, the “Kurland fire brigade”. 4th Shock Army also attacked, penetrating
the 83rd, 132nd and 225th Infantry Divisions in the centre. 2nd Army Corps was in trouble,
but 4th Panzer Division was sent in to rescue the situation. And on the 21st, 2nd Army Corps was hit by
another 35,000 shells before the Soviets went in again. The Red Army advanced two kilometers
into the German front, despite the rain, which made it hard for the Germans to resupply their
own men in the fox-holes, let alone the advancing Soviet forces. By this point, everything had
turned to mud. Still, 5th and 6th Guards Armies tried again
to reach Liepāja. Both sides bloodied each other and took heavy losses. Haupt explains
that 10th Army Corps was now just one combat group in strength, and that 14th Panzer Division’s
“armoured personnel carrier battalion” was down to just 40 men. This is perhaps why
the 263rd Infantry Division was committed to 14th Panzer Division’s area between the
30th and 32nd Infantry Divisions. The good news was that 14th Panzer’s old commander,
Unrein, who had been sent home to the Reich due to being ill, returned to his unit and
took charge. This gave the unit an experienced commander, who instantly complained to those
above about the fact that 14th Panzer Division was split up amongst various units, hurting
its potential. Fighting continued for a few more days. On
the 23rd, a heavy one-hour bombardment signalled the start to yet another Soviet attack. Red
Army tanks and infantry smashed through the German front northeast of Priekule. The Germans
were forced back a few kilometers but, after desperate skirmishes in the woods, with Panthers
and StuGs assisting the infantry, they were able once again to plug the gap. On Saaremaa, Soviet artillery also pounded
the Germans. Four Red Army divisions attacked, supported by tanks. After a few hours, 64th
Guards Division had broken through the center of the line. On the east of the line, the
435th Infantry Regiment’s 1st Battalion was thrown back. Schirmer now asked permission
to evacuate the island, and Schörner – Bloody Ferdinand – agreed. “The [23rd Infantry Division] withdraws
to the narrow bridgehead north of Zerel. During the coming night, all is withdrawn that is
not needed to conduct battle. The remainder will be collected on the following night.” The Germans on the island didn’t think they
could withdraw the troops over two nights. When this pointed that out to Schörner, a
new order came through – “Evacuate Sworbe tonight in one trip!” That evening they began to withdraw from Zerel.
A kampfgruppe commanded by Reuter screened the withdrawal to allow the troops to embark
on the ships. The majority of the troops were loaded by 0540 hours on the 24th, and the
last ship left at 0615 hours. “The Baltic Islands were in Russian hands.”
said Captain Bleeding Obvious The Germans withdrew with their tales between
their legs from Saaremaa to Ventspils. 4,696 men and some other equipment made it back.
While the Germans didn’t leave any wounded behind, they did leave a lot of weapons and
vehicles, including a captured T-34, and 1,403 horses. By the 25th of November the second battle
for Courland was also over – the terrain once again turning into a swamp. The Red Army had
been stopped after only a few kilometers of ground. For the Germans though, the state of the divisions
wasn’t great. 32nd Infantry Division’s two infantry regiments were down to just 225
men. Not each. That’s how many men were left on its front line. 10th Army Corps, which
wasn’t even in the thick of the fighting, had also lost 1,413 men. The defence of the
Courland “bridgehead” was certainly costing the Germans a lot of valuable troops. So, with another break in the fighting, a
new order went out to initiate “Operation Autoklau” – Operation Car Theft. Yes, car
theft. This name was very appropriate, as all vehicles not needed by the troops were
to be shipped home to the Reich. Four steamers left Liepāja for Danzig with 91 heavy trucks,
70 light trucks, and 39 motorcycles. On a similar note, 23rd Infantry Division was so
exhausted by the fighting on Saaremaa that it was decided to send them on to Germany
as well, to regenerate their strength. Again, more evidence that the Germans were evacuating
Courland. In fact, between the 24th of September and the 25th of November, 69,409 men, 68,562
wounded, 7,558 Latvian recruits, 3,108 Latvian and Estonian soldiers, 75,319 evacuated civilians,
1,791 evacuated Soviet prisoners, 5,809 other personnel, 11,626 horses, 6,432 vehicles,
and 290 guns were shipped to Germany. But they weren’t evacuating Courland! And
it’s Madman Hitler’s fault! Well, it turns out that they were evacuating Couland – they
were just doing it piecemeal. So the traditional explanation is incorrect. There’s clearly
more to it, and maybe we’re getting close to figuring out why that narrative has been
pushed. Perhaps we’ll find out, next time. Thanks for watching, bye for now. Last time, the Second Battle of Courland raged,
despite the weather bogging everything down. But now, the muddy season was over, and the
Red Army was preparing to give it another go. Will the Soviets be able to break through
the German lines? Will the Germans have the strength to stop them? And will Madman Hitler
allow the evacuation of Courland? Let’s find out. At the beginning of November 1944, Schörner
created a special formation under Latvian General Kureils. The idea was for him to infiltrate
behind enemy lines and disrupt Soviet communications. At the same time, rumours went around saying
that the Latvian 19th SS Division was going to be transferred back to Germany. The 15th
Latvian Division had already been evacuated, and this also suggests that the Germans were
planning to evacuate more of Army Group North than they did. But either way, as a result
of the rumours, many Latvians started deserting into the forests. Schörner had to reassure
the Latvians that they wouldn’t be shipped to Germany and that they would stay and fight
on Latvian soil. The morale crisis passed, and some deserters returned. But because of the desertians, Kureli’s
unit grew in size, reaching 3,000 men strong from its initial 595. It was soon realized
(at least, according to the Germans) that many of the soldiers were deserters trying
to get away from the front. So, despite it only being raised shortly before, the Germans
now saw it as a threat. Chief of police in Courland, SS Obergruppenführer Friedrich
Jeckeln, asked Kurelis to stop accepting deserters. When Kurelis refused, German troops surrounded
his headquarters and put an end to this unit. After the Kureliesi were destroyed, Jeckeln
created another commando unit. This was the “Wild Cats” or “Meza Kaki”. “This was a specially selected, tightly-controlled
counter-insurgency group trained in Germany by the legendary SS commando officer Otto
Skorzeny which began operations in late 1944.” The Rubenis Battalion was another group of
Latvian soldiers who turned to partisan warfare, fighting to the death against the National
Socialists between the 14th of November and the 9th of December. Rubenis was killed by
Jeckeln’s security forces, and the survivors went into hiding. Zlekas is a village between Kuldiga and Ventspils.
In revenge for the Rubenis Battalion’s crimes, between the 8th and 9th of December 1944,
160 people were murdered by the Germans. From a baby and 3-year old, to teenagers, and 80
year olds: all were slaughtered. “After ending the resistance of the Rubenis
Battalion the Nazi police chief Jeckeln told his men to go into that area of the forest,
round up everyone they could find who may have helped them – and kill them.” So yes, 160 people were slaughtered. Meanwhile,
on the front line, some of the German units were in a sorry state by this point. For example,
on the 28th of November 1944, the 32nd Infantry Division reported that it’s 4th Infantry
Regiment had just 80 combat troops in its 1st Battalion, and 40 in it’s 2nd Battalion.
And that was it’s best regiment. The 94th Infantry Regiment had just one battalion (1st
Battalion) with 90 men, and the 96th Infantry Regiment also had just one battalion (also
its first) with 105 men. “The troops were exhausted. The main combat
line consisted mostly of holes in the ground filled with melted snow water. There were
many dysentery patients during these weeks.” On the 30th of November, Army Group North
reported its losses for the period – 1st to 30th of November 1944. 33,181 officers and
men, killed wounded or missing. On the 1st of December, there were still a total of 505,546
German soldiers, airmen, naval troops, SS and Police in Courland. That’s quite a lot
of troops trapped in the pocket. Worse, now that December had arrived, the
weather deteriorated. The mud season passed by mid-December, when frost gripped the landscape.
Not only did this allow vehicles to move along the roads again, but also for some combat
to be waged. The Soviets conducted reconnaissance missions during this period, and the Germans
managed to repulse all of them. At the port city of Liepāja – Courland’s
most important port – the Germans busied themselves with stockpiling equipment, and building fortifications.
This was despite the fact that somewhere in the region of 250,000 refugees had flooded
into Liepāja during 1944. Some organisations helped them get apartments with the locals.
People slept on the floors and on tables, or even in the streets in their carts or with
their horses. They were waiting for boats to take them away. “With Soviet victory inevitable, from mid-1944
to the spring of 1945 many Latvians preferred to take their chances at sea than face a second
occupation by the USSR. Politicians, writers, musicians – anyone who could play a part in
a Latvian resistance abroad – set out in crowded motorboats and fishing boats for Gotland and
then neutral Sweden.” Around 4,500 Latvians made it to safety, although
nobody’s sure how many actually attempted the journey. And according to Hunt, by late
1944, only a few fishermen were willing to risk their lives for the refugees. But even
then, they would only do so if paid in gold. They wouldn’t accept paper currency. Now, some may say that these fishermen were
heartless and greedy. That they should have accepted the paper currency of the day, and
that they were just trying to profit from the situation. But is this really the case? During an economic, political or military
crisis,fiat monetary systems collapse. Paper currency is just that – paper. And paper has
no value. The only reason currency is worth something is because people think it is, and
they think it is because the government says it is. But the National Socialists were printing
currency – known more recently as Quantitative Easing – in order to fund the war. In 1939, the number of Reichsmarks in circulation
had been 12.2 billion. By 1944 to 1945, it was somewhere in the region of 40 billion.
That’s a 228% increase in the number of bank notes in circulation. And yes, this is
an inflation rate of roughly 23%. If you’d had 10,000 Reichsmarks in 1939, by 1945 those
same 10,000 Reichsmarks would only be worth 2,084 Reichsmarks. You would have lost 7,916
Reichsmarks worth of wealth simply by having this money sat in the bank. And you would
have needed to increase the amount of money in your bank to 34,628 Reichsmarks, just to
have the same amount of purchasing power as the 10,000 you had in 1939. This is because,
the more currency in circulation – the more that the government or the central banks print
paper – the less that currency is worth. But it’s even worse during a regime change.
The National Socialist regime was about to be replaced by a Marxist Socialist regime.
The old Nazi paper currency isn’t going to be backed by the new Marxist government,
so it was about to lose all its value. It would be pointless for the fishermen to risk
their lives shipping refugees to safety for paper that would be worthless in a few months
time. So they wanted gold – real money. Gold would still be valuable after the regime change.
And it has nothing to do with profits or greed. Gold is money, paper is not. So the evacuation of Courland continued. According
to Hunt, by the end of the war, 350,000 soldiers, and up to 900,000 civilians were evacuated
to Germany or German-occupied Denmark from Courland. Again, this idea that Army Group
North wasn’t allowed to withdraw is disingenuous because they were withdrawing. They didn’t
withdraw all 500,000-plus men in one go – but they did withdraw. So the question we need
to ask is – could they have actually withdrawn all of the troops from Courland? By this point, the Soviet Air Force had unlimited
superiority in the air. 54th Fighter Group, nor the 6th Air Defence Division, were able
to stem the tide – despite ‘the Green Hearts’ claiming 293 enemy planes destroyed in the
first two battles of Courland. The Soviets bombed the German positions, roads, railways
and harbours constantly. They also attacked the fleeing boats from both the air, and the
sea. The Kriegsmarine was busy both supplying and evacuating troops from Courland, and would
soon (from January) start evacuating East Prussia as well. If the Germans were struggling
to evacuate Army Group North now, they would certainly struggle after that colossal task
began. So it appears that there’s a time limit on Army Group North’s withdrawal.
But it’s hard to deny the fact that the Germans were already evacuating Courland at
this time. “The next confrontation in Courland would
be the Christmas Battles, where countryman fought countryman, brother fought brother
and the pain inflicted on Latvians by this conflict struck even deeper at the heart of
the nation.” The third battle of Courland began at 0720
hours on the 21st of December 1944. It was minus 15°C. Soviet artillery barrages fired,
and bombers flew, smashing up the German positions. 1st and 38th Army Corps were hit hard by over
170,000 shells. 205th, 215th, and 225th Infantry Divisions, and the 563rd Volksgrenadier Division,
were pummelled. Then, at 0830 hours, 3rd and 4th Shock, 10th Guards, and 42nd Armies attacked. Once again, the aim was to reach Liepāja,
but also Saldus. In fact, the Soviets concentrated their main effort at Pampāļi – a small village
southwest of Saldus. They were trying to capture the Saldus-Liepāja railway line, and split
German forces in the Courland Pocket in two. By 10 am, 38th Army Corps had lost contact
with the 225th Infantry Division. The 329th Infantry Division was hit by a heavy tank
attack. Tanks and infantry forces also caused 205th Infantry Division to collapse. 225th
Infantry Division was penetrated, and Wagner’s 132nd Infantry Division was penetrated as
well. These were forced back, with Wagner’s men retreating to the Pampali area. 215th
Infantry Division struggled to hold on, and Frankewitz’s command post ended up becoming
part of the front line – in the thick of the fighting. 12th Panzer Division and the 227th Infantry
Division were sent in to the Saldus area to stem the tide. But their counterattack was
unsuccessful, and 12th Panzer Division’s panzergrenadier regiments were reduced significantly
in strength. Brandner’s 912th Sturmgeschütz Brigade was also sent in, and found itself
defended against numerous T-34 and Stalin tanks. One battalion from his brigade supposedly
took out 37 T-34s alone this day. There’s some evidence that during this fight
the Germans were running short of ammunition, again suggesting that the Kriegsmarine was
not able to fully supply Army Group North. Further German reinforcements arrived though.
The 11th Infantry Division moved into the gap between the battered 132nd and 225th Infantry
Divisions in an effort to stabilize the situation. 12th Panzer Division closed the gap between
the 215th and 290th Infantry Divisions during the night. On the 22nd, further Soviet artillery and
air strikes hit the Germans. And 4th Shock Army assaulted the German line on both sides
of Pampali with 9 divisions. “The main thrust against the 16. Armee was
directed against the 205. Infanterie-Division in the Zvarde area under Generalleutnant von
Mellenthin. That division alone had to deal with three Russian infantry divisions.” But again, the Red Army divisions are smaller
than their German counterparts. So yes, they were outnumbered by about a third or so, but
not by the three-to-one ratio that Kurowski implies. 4th Panzer Division, now temporarily under
the command of Oberst Christern as Betzel was on leave in Germany, was ordered to counterattack
the Soviets to the east of 225th Infantry Division’s area. Christern had his doubts
about the attack, and sought to amend the plans, but was compelled to do as 1st Army
Corps had ordered. This is interesting because usually Hitler is blamed for not listening
to his junior commanders, and yet here we have an example of another German general
not listening to his junior commanders as well. But either way, Christern’s concerns
were justified. Mud and congested roads slowed the movement of the division to their starting
point. Conflicting orders, and strict radio silence, added to the confusion. Due to the
cold (-15 degrees Celsius) and the bad terrain, enemy fighter-bombers, and the poor logistics
and the poor reliability of the German tanks, 75% of the Panzer IVs, 40% of the Panthers,
and 50% of the Tigers didn’t make it to the area. The much reduced Kampfgruppe from
4th Panzer Division, with the just 20 Panthers, 10 Tigers and two Panzergrenadier companies,
counterattacked anyway, and quickly ran into an ambush by Soviet anti-tank guns. The attack
stalled and, of course, Kurowski blames the failure of this attack on the “unfavourable
terrain” and the weather. Isn’t it strange that every time the Germans fail, it’s not
because of Red Army resisted or anything, but because of madman Hitler and the weather?
Buttar on the other hand makes it clear that it was a combination of factors that resulted
in a dismal display by 4th Panzer Division, including Christern’s leadership and the
lack of Betzel at this crucial time. When speaking about 4th Panzer Division the
next day – “…three Panzer IV’s and ten Panthers
were in service. 26 Panzer IV’s and 23 Panthers were in the maintenance facilities. That clearly
demonstrated that the 4. Panzer-Division was no longer capable of conducting a decisive
attack, no matter how great its fighting spirit might have been. Masses of enemy armor could
not be stopped by dedication to duty, fighting spirit and aggressiveness.” Ok, for starters, tanks don’t have to take
on tanks. That’s not the only way to destroy tanks. Secondly, did it not occur to you,
Kurowski, to ask why there were so many tanks in the maintenance facilities in the first
place? It might be because they’d been taken out by the Soviets previously, or because
of the logistical issues that Army Group North was facing. This is evidence than the Kriegsmarine
was struggling to supply the Courland Pocket, and that the Germans had the tanks, but couldn’t
supply or repair them. But this implication – that the Kriegsmarine was stretched thin
or that German logistics was poor – seems to have been missed by many of the authors. On the 23rd of December, the Germans had managed
to stabilize the front, although 4th Panzer Division’s performance was poor once again,
and was reduced from 30 to just 13 tanks. This was perhaps why it saw itself subordinated
to the 225th Infantry Division. Yet, despite the stabilized situation, the Soviet attacks
continued. 22nd Army attacked 6th SS Corps north of Dobele, and pushed towards Dzukste.
South of the area between Lestene and Dzukste two divisions of Latvians from the 130th Riflemen
Corps fought the Latvian Legion’s 106th Grenadier Regiment. Yes – “In the Christmas Battles of 1944
Latvian faced Latvian across the battlefield, fighting in the uniforms of the Soviet Union
or Nazi Germany.” I’ve mentioned this previously, but I think
it’s worth stating again. Despite the claims of the German authors – like Kurowski – the
Latvian SS were not volunteers. And we know that the Soviets also forced Latvians to fight
for them as well. So this fight between the Latvian SS and the Latvian Red Army units
was actually a fight between forcefully recruited conscripts, thrown against each other in the
name of foreign powers and ideologies. That said, the fighting was no doubt very bitter. In spite of the efforts of the Latvian 19th
SS Division, the Germans were pushed back 3kms, with a portion of them being surrounded
and having to break out. They did manage to stop the Soviets east of Dzukste though. And
at some point, the 106th Grenadier Regiment was hit by artillery and tanks, and lost 60
percent of their men. But despite this, the Battle of Rumbas (which is no longer on the
map) would continue until the 31st of December, with Latvians spilling blood on both sides. On the 24th of December, the Soviets continued
their assaults. The Latvian 19th SS Division was forced back 8kms. But at 1700 hours, the
fighting stopped. “Christmas Eve 1944 brought peace – the
war caught its breath for a few hours.” Merry Christmas everybody! Bearing in mind
that this video will be released on Monday the 17th of June 2019, so almost as far from
Christmas as you can make it, but Merry Christmas nonetheless. Now kids, I know it looks like
the Pope’s sent good-boy Hitler extra gifts off two Santa Claus’s this year, but the
way we explain that is … erm… ask your parents and I’m sure they’ll be able to
tell you why this is the case. Yes. “Dear TIK, my son’s just asked me why
Hitler got two Santa Claus’s off the Pope, and I couldn’t explain it, so I’m unsubscribbling
from your channel. Much Hate, Fat Herman from Idiotville, Oregon.” Both sides spent Christmas day opening their
presents. The Soviets gave the Germans a nice artillery bombardment, followed up by a concentrated
attack in the Džūkste area. The Germans gave the Red Army stiff resistance in return,
holding on with the 227th and 81st Infantry, and 12th Luftwaffe Divisions. 19th SS Division
though was overrun, so 16th Army sent in their reserves. 6th Guards Army was also keen to give the
Germans their presents, striking towards Liepāja from the southeast. Isn’t Christmas such
a wonderful time. Well, it’s over, and the battle continued
on the 26th of December. “The 22nd Soviet Guards Division had a special
combat mission on this day. They attacked the 205th ID. The first wave of the attacking
infantrymen wore German uniforms! [exclamation mark] Therefore, the outposts were deceived.
The anti-tankers were, however, at their posts. They destroyed 18 of the following combat
vehicles.” Kurowski contradicts Haupt by saying that
the Germans were only deceived by the uniforms for “a few seconds” because they knew
that only Russians could come from the Russian lines. Which of these accounts you should
believe is entirely up to you. Army Group North also reported destroying
111 enemy tanks on the 26th. This seems excessively high, considering that the Germans claimed
to have destroyed 166 tanks in all of November. Unless they were saying that they’d destroyed
111 tanks since the beginning of December, which would make much more sense. On the 27th or 28th of December (the sources
contradict) the Soviet 5th and 19th Tank Corps broke through at Dzukste, advancing 2kms.
The HQ’s of 19th SS Division and 227th Infantry Division fought bitterly to defend themselves. “The 24th Luftwaffe Light Infantry Regiment
under its excellent commander, Colonel Kretzschmar, stood like a rock in the surf. The Luftwaffe
soldiers gave no ground without exacting a price. Colonel Kretzschmar died a soldier’s
death with his weapon in his hand.” Now this quote is interesting for a few reasons.
Not only does it divert the reader away from the fact that the German line had broken and
had been forced back; not only does it refer to the German units as rocks drowning under
a sea of Red Army riflemen; not only does it speak of the heroism of a glorious German
officer who gave his life valiantly for the cause; but it also praises Luftwaffe ground
troops. Yes, Luftwaffe ground troops. You know, those often criticised poorly-trained
formations which were seen as a drain on resources that could have been better spent elsewhere?
Honestly, I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen anyone praise the wonderful and
glorious Luftwaffe ground troops. Well done Haupt, well done. You’ve excelled yourself
here. And there’s people out there criticizing me because I pick on Haupt. Go on then, defend
these three sentences. Explain to me how Haupt doesn’t have a pro-German pro-Nazi agenda.
I’m looking forward to seeing once more you once-more rally to his defence. Anyway, then, on the 29th of December, the
Latvian 19th Division counterattacked and retook the lost ground. On the Soviet side,
the Latvian 308th Rifle Division penetrated 93rd Infantry Division’s lines. 4th Panzer
Division, moving from the west to the area west of Džūkste, reinforced 93rd Infantry
Division’s sector and plugged the gap. Betzel was now in charge again and, with his leadership,
4th Panzer pushed the Latvians back to their original positions. 12th Panzer Division also
plugged gaps in the lines as well. After a few more days of fighting, the offensive ground
to a halt on the 31st of December. The 3rd Battle of Courland – the Christmas Battles
– had finally ended. The number of Soviet casualties is not mentioned
in the sources I have, but Haupt does say that Army Group North reportedly destroyed
79 Soviet guns, 267 machine guns, and shot down 145 aircraft. But do you want to know
how many tanks the Germans claimed to have taken out. Are you sitting down? Ready? 513.
Yes, on the 26th, they’d supposedly destroyed up to 111 tanks, and within five more days,
another 402. That’s more tanks than the Soviets lost at the Battle of Prokhorovka. Now obviously, this is the German estimate.
And in my experience, all sides always exaggerate their estimated kills, simply because it’s
impossible to know if a shot destroyed the tank, or just knocked it out temporarily,
or scared the crew who then bailed out but later recovered the vehicle, or just immobilized
it etc. So I’m going to air on the side of caution and suggest that the number was
probably less than that. But even so, we’re still talking somewhere in the region of 400
Soviet tanks being taken out by the Germans during this third battle for Courland. The Germans reported on the 31st of December
that the 16th Army had lost 15,237 men, and 18th Army lost 11,907 men, either killed,
wounded and missing. That’s a total of 27,134 casualties for Army Group North. Of course,
some units suffered more than others. For example, 215th Infantry Division alone took
over 600 casualties during the fighting. After the Third Battle of Courland, Army Group
North reported that it had been reduced to 407,000 men. Of this, 375,000 were front-line
soldiers, 20,000 were Luftwaffe troops, and 12,000 Waffen-SS and police. This was down
from the 505,546 they’d had on the 1st of December 1944. So basically, around 71,000
troops had been evacuated in December from the Courland Pocket. And then, on top of this,
you have civilians and National Socialist governors being evacuated as well. The good news was that the number of civilians
needing evacuating had been reduced to just 10,000 at this point. And there were 10,000
Soviet prisoners of war in Courland too. So I think it’s obvious that they had been
evacuating the rear-services and civilians first, before evacuating the front-line troops
(although some of them had been evacuated as well). Clearly the Kriegsmarine was having
its work cut out for it. And this notion that they should have evacuated Courland needs
to be revised, because they were evacuating it. They were evacuating it a lot. The main
issue seems to be that it’s not easy evacuating 500,000 people all in one go. So the question
is: was the Kriegsmarine actually capable of evacuating this many people? “The army group stays where it is. I am
expecting a change in the situation soon, then we will deal with Kurland…” Haupt and the others are keen to present the
Courland Pocket as being purely Hitler’s fault. Haupt states that Guderian, Chief of
the General Staff of the OKH, was unable to persuade Hitler against holding onto Courland.
And yet, in the same breath, Haupt then says that Guderian did succeed in allowing some
units to move back to the Reich, including the 83rd Infantry Division. So, they weren’t allowed to evacuate Courland,
and yet they were evacuating Courland? Contradiction much? The evidence is clear that they were
allowed to evacuate Courland. And the logical explanation for Hitler’s refusal to evacuate
all in one go is that they couldn’t actually do it physically. Also, that quote from Hitler
– “I am expecting a change in the situation soon, then we will deal with Courland” – sounds
like he’s saying, the current situation is preventing us from either evacuating or
freeing Courland – not that it should remain there indefinitely. Again, there’s a lot
wrong with this idea that Courland should have been evacuated and that Madman Hitler’s
to entirely to blame for it. There’s more to this than meets the eye, and maybe we’ll
find out soon who’s to blame. Thanks for watching, bye for now. Last time, frost had descended upon Courland,
allowing the Soviets to launch another offensive against the German lines. That was the Third
Battle of Courland – the Christmas Battles. This time, we’re going to cover the Fourth
and Fifth Battles of Courland, and dig a little deeper into that ongoing question – why don’t
the Germans just evacuate the pocket already!? All the pro-German authors think that’s
the right thing to do, so just get on with it Hitler! Well, let’s find out. 12th and 4th Panzer Divisions, with the 12th
Luftwaffe and 19th SS Divisions, launched a limited attack in the Dzukste area, and,
by the 6th of January, had taken about 2 miles of ground. The Germans claimed to have inflicted
massive losses on the Soviets – although most of the tanks in 4th Panzer Division were taken
out or had broken down during the attack. Whether these claims are true or not, what
is certain is that 4th Panzer Division was pulled out of the line, and ordered to Liepāja
on the 17th of January 1945 where it was evacuated to Gdansk. Since Doppelkopf, the division
had lost, in total, 20 Panzer IVs and 12 Panthers, and had claimed 215 Soviet tanks. Clearly
such a claim was probably exaggerated, and the only reason the Germans had lost so few
tanks was because knocked out tanks had been repaired and sent back into the line and not
counted as kills, but still such a ratio is pretty good. There were other evacuations. Earlier in the
war, 830 Dutch civilian workers were sent to the Latvian slave labour camps as part
of a labour contract signed between the SS and the Dutch National Socialist Party. “Around 300 Dutch managed to get a boat
out of Liepāja in January 1945. The rest were left behind to become prisoners of the
Soviets.” And on the 19th of January, Hitler ordered
that all commanders down to division level should report any planned movement or action
to him so that he could have a say in the decision. He also said that the commanders
were responsible for providing accurate reports – thus, anyone who gave false reports would
be punished – and anyone who failed to maintain communications with the High Command would
also be punished. This was so that nobody could use the excuse of a “communication
breakdown” to get around such a restrictive order. Just imagine that. Any movement or action
from any division in any area must report to Hitler before they do anything? Talk about
centralized control of the army. Even glancing at a map of Courland should make you rethink
such a policy. The sheer number of divisions, and the huge volume of decisions that would
need to be made – by one man – is overwhelming. And that’s just for Courland. Extrapolate
that to all other areas and you’re taking on a super-human task that is simply impossible
to do. The whole point of a command structure is to allow junior commanders to make decisions
– to decentralize the army, a business, an economy – and allow local initiative – decisions
to be made by those closest to the action. Auftragstaktik. In his attempt to centrally
control the army though, Hitler effectively crushed all initiative, rendered the commanders
ineffective, and caused deadlocks within the command structure, as commanders had to wait
for a decision from above – which sometimes never came. Not only did this reduce the effectiveness
of the army at the local level, but it strangled the entire system from top to bottom. The
High Command were overwhelmed by decisions, orders and reports. They dutifully updated
the maps, and passed on orders. But they went without sleep, and lost their patience. They
never talked of rebellion though. The fighting would continue regardless. But even so, it’s
clear that this order was one of the final nails in the coffin for the Wehrmacht. “The war at sea was also getting harder.
The ships not only had to defend against numerous air attacks, but Soviet submarines and motor
torpedo boats were also active. The German U-Boats were no longer operational. By the
beginning of 1945, 14 U-Boats were operating in the eastern Baltic Sea, but by the end
of January there were only five: U-242, 370, 475, 676, and 745. The others returned to
their bases to be fitted with snorkels. “U-475” was the last U-Boat to leave the Baltic Sea
on 3/17.” In fact, on the 12th of January 1945, Nielsen’s
U-370 sank the Finnish minelayer Louhi (which had laid mines nearby under Soviet escort).
10 of the crew were killed, with another 31 being picked up by the escorts. This would
be the last U-Boat kill in the Baltic. But Courland would continue to be a training
base for the new super U-Boats, some of which (the smaller Type 23’s) were launched against
Britain in the west. The Type 21’s were never brought to combat readiness though,
meaning that one of the excuses for staying in Courland – the need for U-Boat training
bases – is basically rendered meaningless. The U-Boats did evacuate 2,000 people in the
Baltic, but apart from that their role was practically nil. In late January, Schörner received the Swords
and Diamonds of the Oak Leaves of the Knight’s Cross. After this, he was transferred to and
made commander of Army Group Centre. Lothar Rendulic replaced Schörner as commander of
Army Group North. Like Schörner, Rendulic was a devout National Socialist, and extremely
loyal to Hitler, who believed that he could rely upon Rendulic for support. Rendulic had
slaughtered Yugoslavian Partisans as commander of 2nd Panzer Army, and had commanded 20th
Mountain Army in Finland, where his forces had scorched the earth. Lapland and part of
Norway suffered under Rendulic’s retreat. Sounds like the perfect commander for Hitler
to assign to Army Group North. Army Group North’s strength in January 1945
had been reduced to 399,500 men, which isn’t much of a decrease from the 407,000 after
the Third Battle of Courland. The reduction had come from Army personnel (like 4th Panzer
Division) rather than rear services or civilians, as more units were shipped to the Reich. It’s
also clear that the evacuation of East Prussia, which began after the 20th of January, was
stretching the Kriegsmarine to breaking point. Could the evacuation of Courland really continue
now? Well, what’s interesting is that, looking
at the German maps of the Courland Pocket from November 1944 to March 1945, we can see
some interesting clues hinting at a potential evacuation. In November, the blurry map shows
the German positions in blue. But in December, we see green lines on the map. These indicate
“Festung” or “fortification” lines, which go from east to west, eventually forming
hold-outs around Ventspils and Liepāja. These lines continue into January and February 1945,
and in my opinion, show the planned step-by-step route of withdraw of Army Group North, much
in the same way Army Group North had withdrawn from the rest of the Baltics and the Riga
area. By March 1945, these lines disappear from the maps. This suggests that a plan was in place to
evacuate Army Group North from Courland, and that plan had been drawn up sometime before
the 1st of November 1944. The ongoing evacuation of civilians and troops from Courland, which
had seen hundreds of thousands of people leave Courland for the west, then slows down in
January 1945 perhaps as the evacuation of East Prussia gets underway. So going off these
maps, by March 1945, the Germans appear to abandon their plans to evacuate Courland,
possibly because it was no longer feasible for the Kriegsmarine to perform such a task,
or because it was seen as pointless. But either way, this is further evidence in support of
the idea that the Germans were evacuating Courland, and wanted to do so, but didn’t
have the resources to evacuate all in one go – as many of the pro-German and anti-Hitler
authors claim. On the 23rd of January 1945, the Fourth Battle
of Courland began with a short but heavy Soviet artillery bombardment. The aim (once again)
was to reach Priekule, Saldus, and the area northwest of Dobele, as well as Liepāja. Frankewitz’s 215th and von Mellenthin’s
205th Infantry Divisions were hit hard by the initial bombardment, before nine rifle
divisions supported by tanks advanced against them. When the line was broken at one point,
the grenadiers of 215th Infantry Division – armed with panzerfausts and Sturmgewehr
44 assault rifles – counterattacked and threw the Soviets back to their starting positions,
preventing the Soviets from splitting the divisions apart. But the situation was critical.
So, elements of 12th Panzer Division (itself boosted by the equipment left behind by 4th
Panzer Division), were sent in as reinforcements. As a result, these divisions managed to hold
on, and plug any gaps in the lines. “The 205th ID destroyed 117 combat vehicles
within five days!” I can’t verify this statement, but at the
very least it would indicate that the Soviet concentration point was against von Mellenthin’s
division. Eleven rifle divisions assaulted German positions
on both sides of Priekule, where the 912th Sturmgeschutz Brigade racked up more tank
kills in support of Rank’s 121st and Haehling’s 126th Infantry Divisions. Brandner himself
achieved his 57th armoured vehicle kill during the fighting, and his unit’s tank kill claim
for the war reached 500. Barth’s 30th Infantry Division took the
weight of the blow, along with the Nordland Division. 14th Panzer Division was ordered
to move up and counterattack, although it took until the 25th for it to reach the area.
The counterattack started at midday, as 14th Panzer drove into the forests south of Priekule.
Tiger tanks from Gilbert’s 510th Panzer Battalion were in support. “They restored the old main combat line
by that evening. 63 Russian tanks lay as wrecks along the way!” The Soviets regrouped, hit the Germans with
heavy mortar fire, and won back the first combat line. And the fighting continued for
several more days. On the 25th of January 1945, Army Group North was renamed “Army
Group Kurland”. And on the 29th of January 1945, a new general – Generaloberst von Vietinghoff
takes command of Army Group Kurland. This commander had been in command of several formations throughout the war – including 5th Panzer Division, 9th, 15th and 10th Armies, and he
wasn’t a National Socialist, but he had a lot of experience and was a proven commander. The day after von Vietinghoff takes command,
the former cruise liner – the Wilhelm Gustloff – was sunk by Soviet submarine S-13 as it
made its way from Danzig to Kiel as part of Operation Hannibal – the evacuation of East
Prussia. An estimated 9,400 people were killed, including 5,000 children and 373 female naval
auxiliaries. This was the single largest loss of life for one ship in maritime history. Meanwhile back on land, the offensives in
Courland died down by the end of January and early February, and the Fourth Battle of Courland
faded away. Between the 24th of January and the 3rd of February 1945, the Germans reported
that the Soviets took approximately 40 to 45,000 casualties, 541 tank losses, and 178
aircraft losses. German casualties are not recorded in the sources I have, but Haupt
does say that Germany losses were high as well. Now, according to the German sources, von
Vietinghoff conducted a study (called the “Laura” study) and decided that it wasn’t
possible for Army Group Kurland to breakout to the south now that Memel was lost. So von
Vietinghoff thought that the best course of action was evacuation of men and material
by sea. If they withdrew to a large bridgehead at Liepāja, this would free up most of the
forces for evacuation (which, it was hoped, would take just 19 days). Right so, let’s just think about this for
a second. What the German accounts are saying is that it was only now that the Germans realized
that they couldn’t break out of the Courland Pocket? And that the only way out was by sea?
Really? They only just realized it now, after weeks of being trapped in Courland and evacuating
troops by sea? Not only that, but we have maps that show the potential withdraw routes
for the Army Group back into the western ports, and they appear on the maps from November
– months before von Vietinghoff appears on the scene. And to top it off, the evacuation of Courland
– with somewhere near 400,000 men at this time – could take just 19 days to accomplish?
The evacuation of East Prussia is ongoing, and they’ve been evacuating constantly since
the Courland Pocket was formed and haven’t evacuated anywhere close to 400,000 men – but
don’t worry, it can all be done in just 19 days. But it gets better. The sources go on to say
that the “General von Vietinghoff” plan was sent to Berlin on the 15th of February,
and was discussed for two days. Buttar states that Guderian was the one who presented the
plan, and Haupt and Kurowski both note that Guderian and Dönitz were in favour of the
plan. Dönitz even said it would take four weeks (which is 28 days) to evacuate the men,
but that they could do it. “By ruthlessly employing all ships that
are available and cutting back on all other demands for shipping space – along with the
strongest possible support by the Luftwaffe – I calculate that all manpower and requisite
material can be brought back within four weeks. The embarkation capacity of Windau [Ventspils]
and Libau [Liepāja] are adequate.” Oh wow, I guess this is an open and shut case.
I mean, why on earth would anyone say no to this? Why wouldn’t you want to evacuate
the Army Group from Courland if they could actually do it? And in just 4 weeks as well.
The ports are adequate, they can evacuate the troops in 4 weeks. Both Guderian and Dönitz
are telling you that this is the right thing to do. So clearly, this is definitely the
right thing to do. You would have to be mad to say no, right? And, of course, none of the pro-German sources
offer an explanation as to why Hitler says “no”. In fact, Haupt just states – “Hitler stared wordlessly at the Grand Admiral,
then shifted his gaze to General Guderian: “The withdrawal of the troops from Kurland
is out of the question!” Kurowski goes even further – “With that, Hitler pronounced the final
death sentence for Heeresgruppe Kurland. He wrote off an entire army group. All the fighting,
all the suffering in Kurland was, in the final analysis, in vain.” Right, I want you to just hold that thought
for a moment. Just hold that thought. Because, as you’re about to see, it’s surprising
how easy it is for a person to fall for something, even though what’s on the screen right now
is actually directly contradicting the very thought you have now. It’s telling you that
what these authors are saying is wrong. It’s telling you that the evacuation was not possible. But TIK – what’s on the screen clearly says
that the evacuation is possible. No it doesn’t. Some of you may have realised, and some of
you may be tempted to pause the video to ponder this for a little longer, but I’m guessing
some of you haven’t realised and want to know. Well, for starters, you’d think that Hitler
would have some reason – any reason at all – for saying no to this plan, not
just a flat “nope”. If it was so amazingly clear that evacuating Courland is the right
thing to do, there would be no reason to say no. The fact that he has said no, and the
fact that these authors have failed to provide ANY explanation as to why Hitler may have
said no – even if it was a completely stupid reason – is a big red flag. Their explanation
is – Hitler’s a madman and just said “no” for no reason. Ok… So let’s read this
quote again, this time with emphasis – “By ruthlessly employing all ships that
are available and cutting back on all other demands for shipping space – along with the
strongest possible support by the Luftwaffe [who are practically dead at this point] – I
calculate that all manpower and requisite material can be brought back within four weeks.
The embarkation capacity of Windau [Ventspils] and Libau [Liepāja] are adequate.” …but only if we make this the absolute priority,
and sacrifice everything else we have, and possibly jeopardize many other fronts in the
process to make it work. Now, you might say – oh come on TIK, that’s
your emphasis, and that’s not what Dönitz is saying. Oh really? How about we read this
quote from Dönitz’s own memoirs. “Owing to a lack of shipping and the inadequate
port facilities in Libau [Liepāja] only a fraction of the army in Courland could be
evacuated.” Wow… wait a second. Let’s put these quotes
side by side, shall we. This first quote clearly says they can evacuate the troops because
the ports are adequate, and this second quote says they can’t evacuate the troops because
the ports and shipping are inadequate. “Adequate” and “inadequate” are two directly contradictory
words. And these two statements are thus direct contradictions. Again, big red flag. In fact,
you should take a screenshot. This is quite possibly the strongest proof that I’ve ever
seen that the German generals and the pro-German authors are lying through their teeth. Talk about hiding the truth in plain sight.
People can twist things that counter their own ideas in such a way that, even evidence
to the total opposite of what they’re claiming, completely supports their argument and their
agenda. Kurowski actually quotes this in full, and yet, because of the way he presents it,
the reader comes away with the impression that this is a brilliant plan. And Haupt’s
account is equally as twisted. It’s marvelous in its deceitfulness. And this is something to ponder as well – was
Hitler being lied to by his generals? Because this might actually be proof that this was
the case. Dönitz is basically telling Hitler – Yes, we can evacuate the troops, if we sacrifice
everything we have for this one task, and the ports are adequate for the evacuation.
But possibly (although it may be an after-the-war assessment) he actually thinks the ports are
not adequate enough for the task at hand. I can’t confirm that exactly with the sources
I have, but we’ve seen plenty of evidence that suggests that the ports could not evacuate
this many troops. And in addition to this, Haupt and Kurowski don’t fully explain the
situation. Buttar’s explanation for why Hitler may not have approved the Laura plan
makes a lot more sense, and provides more context – “Any diversion of shipping to rescue Army
Group Courland would have brought Hannibal to a complete halt.” [Hannibal being the
ongoing evacuation of East Prussia.] “The consequences of this for the trapped civilians
would have been considerable. The use of almost every available ship allowed Hannibal to complete
the civilian evacuation only days before the end of the war, so its suspension for several
weeks would have resulted in tens of thousands of refugees being left in the east Baltic
ports when they fell; given that the ports became fiercely contested battlefields, many
of the trapped refugees would probably have died.” Hitler’s priority is clearly the German
civilians of East Prussia who are in the firing line of the Soviet advance. Courland is pretty
stable at this time, and there’s no rush to evacuate the troops, so priority goes to
East Prussia. Now, if Haupt and Kurowski are correct in their assessment that both Guderian
and Dönitz were in-favour of this plan at the time when they presented the plan to Hitler,
then that would mean they were saying – forget the civilians, the troops in Courland are
more important. Hmmm, I wonder why Hitler decided not to go along with this? Now, it’s up for debate, but it does appear
to be the case that these generals and admirals were saying this at the time. Dönitz’s
explanation for Courland in his memoirs is… basically to state that he was for evacuating
Courland (calling Courland a “burden to the navy”), but that Führer rejected it,
and that it wasn’t possible anyway, but should have been done, and don’t blame him
for it. So yes, contradictions everywhere. Lunde, in his book “Hitler’s Wave-Breaker
Concept: An Analysis of the German End Game in the Baltic” basically says Dönitz’s
memoirs are not to be trusted. And I’m saying Haupt, Kurowski and none of the German generals
are to be trusted in their assessments of World War Two either. You’ve got to be careful
when doing history and read between the lines. Again, we will come back to this, but the
idea that Courland could have or should have been evacuated at this point is simply fantasy. Another former passenger liner, the SS Steuben,
was sunk on the 10th of February 1944, sending another 3,500 to 4,000 people to their deaths
in the Bay of Danzig. Kriegsmarine ships did bring in snow camouflage uniforms to Axis
forces in Courland, but between the 1st and the 13th of February, only 13,000 tons of
supplies made it into Courland by the sea. As Haupt is quick to point out – “This was not enough!” Again, more evidence that the Kriegsmarine
was stretched too thin. However, perhaps they didn’t need to ship too many supplies into
Courland because they were shipping men out of it – men who could leave their own ammunition
and supplies behind. The 215th Infantry Division was pulled from the line on the 17th of February
and moved to Liepāja to be evacuated from Courland. In fact, one of the men of this
division completely contradicts Haupt – “Our supply system functioned well, as did
the mail from home. When it came to major fighting, there were always sufficient supplies
of ammunition.” With 4th Panzer Division gone, Army Group
Kurland had just the 12th and 14th Panzer Divisions as armoured forces. This wasn’t
flexible enough for the situation. So the decision was made to form Panzer Brigade Kurland,
from the staff of 29th Panzer Regiment. This wasn’t really a Panzer Brigade, since the
only tanks it had were a company of 10 captured T-34s. But it was fully motorized, with two
battalions of Hetzer tank-destroyers, some battalions of combat engineers, and the armoured
reconnaissance battalions from 12th and 14th Panzer Divisions. Nevertheless, Panzer Brigade
Kurland would provide a third armoured and motorized group for Army Group Kurland, which
would play its part in the final battles for the Courland Pocket. The Soviets on the other hand had received
200 Lend Lease Sherman tanks allowing them to restock their depleted tank units. In addition,
Soviet air attacks hit the harbours of Liepāja and Ventspils, where Anton’s 6th Air Defence
Division and the Green Hearts attempted to limit the damage. But it was clear that the
Soviets had almost complete air superiority, and several of the German fighter veterans
lost their lives in these engagements. Then at 0700 hours on the 20th of February
1945, 2,000 artillery guns and mortars pounded the German lines once more between Dzukste
and Priekule. The Fifth Battle of Courland had begun. Once again, the Soviets did what they had
done many times before – aiming for Liepāja, and hoping to split Army Group Courland apart.
21 Rifle Divisions and several tank brigades struck the German lines on both sides of Priekule.
Except, it wasn’t quite as clean cut as that – “On this occasion, there appears to have
been confusion in the Soviet attack plans; many of the infantry units assigned for the
initial assault failed to move forward during the artillery bombardment, resulting at first
in isolated groups of tanks attempting to penetrate the German positions with little
support.” 563rd Volksgrenadier Division, and the 121st,
126th, 263rd, and 290th Infantry Divisions were in the line of fire. Haehling’s 126th
Infantry Division stubbornly held onto Priekule itself, as they were bypassed and surrounded
by the Soviets. Despite the fact that the town was declared a fortress on the 21st of
February, on the night of the 22nd, the divisional forces in Piekule broke out and fought their
way back to friendly lines. Feyerabend’s 11th Infantry Division, Unrein’s
14th Panzer Division, and Brandner’s 912th Sturmgeschutz Battalion plugged the gap north
of Priekule. One company of Panthers from 14th Panzer claimed 26 enemy tank kills for
no Panthers taken out in return. But, according to Hunt, on the 21st of February 1945, Vassily
Alexandrovic Igonin, age 18, took a hand grenade and threw himself under a Tiger tank. He destroyed
the tank, but died in the process, and was posthumously awarded the Hero of the USSR.
So clearly the fighting wasn’t all one sided. The 18th Army had to throw the 132nd and 225th
Infantry Divisions into the fire in order to completely stabilize the front. So, having failed in the west, on the 1st
of March the Soviets attacked near Saldus. The 122nd Infantry Division was pushed back,
and Dzukste fell, but the 24th Infantry and 19th SS Divisions held onto their positions
in the forests. When the Kurland Panzer Brigade was sent in, the situation was stabilized. So yes, after more than a week of fighting,
the Soviets had barely gone anywhere, and the offensive was called off in early March.
However, Rank’s 121st Infantry Division did take heavy losses (losing all her battalion
commanders) and was forced to withdraw from the line. They claimed to have taken out 250
tanks and vehicles in this action. And whether this is true or not, after the battle they
were moved to 87th Infantry Division’s sector, allowing 87th Infantry Division to be moved
to the line east of Liepāja. So the Fifth Battle of Courland had ended.
The Soviets had taken 70,000 casualties, had lost 600 tanks and 178 aircraft. In exchange
they had gained a couple of miles of ground in the Priekule and Dzukste areas. Full German
losses aren’t stated for the 5th Battle of Courland, but 18th Army supposedly lost
just 5,400 men. Now before you jump to any conclusions regarding
the Soviet losses and the fact that they couldn’t break through in the Courland area, remember
their priorities. Berlin was the aim, not Courland. The Fourth and Fifth Battles of
Courland – as it has been argued by some authors – were probably more of a way to burn through
German supplies and keep the Germans in Courland tied down, rather than to crush the pocket.
Given that they only lasted a few days each, and that Soviet forces had previously been
moved to the west to fight on German soil, there is some merit to that argument. What
do you think? Let us know in the comments below. Next time, we will see the final battle
for Courland, and the final capitulation of Army Group Courland. Surely with East Prussia
sorted they would attempt a last minute evacuation of the Army Group? Right? Well, we’ll find
out. Thanks for watching, bye for now. In this series, we’ve seen the Soviets smash
the German armies, trap Army Group North in the northern Baltic and then Courland, and
then batter their heads against the German defences over and over in an attempt to crush
the pocket. At the same time, the Germans have been slowly evacuating Courland while
everything else was falling apart. Well, the war is drawing to a close, and so is the fighting
in Courland. This is the final episode of the series – the one where we blame Madman
Hitler for everything that went wrong… oh wait, no we don’t. We’re going to assess
the damage and come to some logical conclusions about who’s to blame for keeping Army Group
North trapped in Courland. So on that note, let’s find out. In mid March, the ground thawed out, and turned
to mud within a few hours. Vehicles bogged down and movement was hampered once again.
In the respite that followed the Fifth Battle of Courland, the Nordland SS division, plus
the 215th Infantry Division were sent home. “In spite of all privations and oppressive
physical and mental molestations, there was only one loss of discipline in Kurland. The
crew of Harbor Patrol Boat “31” mutinied on 3/16. The five sailors murdered their young
commander and fled with the boat to Sweden.” This isn’t even true because the Latvian
Legion air force fled to Sweden as well, which was why it was abandoned. Plus the reason
there weren’t many retreats is because anyone who did would have been hung or shot by Schörner,
and later, the National Socialist security forces behind the lines. So this isn’t strictly
honest because such disciplinary measures wouldn’t have been necessary if the troops
remained disciplined. Anyway, General von Vietinghoff was transferred
back to Italy. Rendulic was back in command, but only for a very short space of time, before
the OKH ordered him to northern Norway as well. On the 14th of March, General of Infantry
Carl Hilpert, of 16th Army, was now placed in command of Army Group Kurland. Hilpert had been in command of, or chief of
staff of, many formations throughout the war. To list them all would take too long, however
the 16th Army was his first appointment as an army commander, and this was his first
appointment to Army Group command. Such a rapid rise may suggest some command ability,
however we have to remember that Army Group Kurland at this stage was more of an oversized
army rather than an Army Group. General of Infantry von Krosigk took command
of the 16th Army, before being killed on the 15th of March by either a Soviet air or artillery
strike (the sources don’t agree which of them it was). So, 16th Army was then commanded
by General of Mountain Troops Volckamer von Kirchensittensbach. Generalleutnant von Bodenhausen
took command of 50th Army Corps, and he was replaced by von Usedom as commander of 12th
Panzer Division. Dönitz met with Hitler on the 18th of March
1945 with plans to withdraw the Army Group. Apparently he could transport 23,250 men,
4,520 horses, and 3,610 vehicles in 9 days. But Hitler refused. And, of course, Haupt
does not state why he refused. “Therefore, the fate of the army group was
sealed!” Right, well considering that Army Group Kurland
still had in the region of 300,000 troops at this stage, and Dönitz could only transport
23,250, I can understand why Hitler may have said no to this. Then, on the 18th of March, Soviet artillery
opened up. Air strikes pounded the German positions, supply lines and rear area communications.
Lieutenant General Korotkov’s 10th Guards Army, with T-34s and Stalin tanks, struck
the German main line near Saldus, quickly penetrating it. Their aim was to strike, once
more, towards Liepāja. 38th Army Corps struggled to hold the Soviets
back; its weak infantry divisions were no match for what was being thrown against it.
Several penetrations had occurred, with German battalions becoming cut off and forced to
fall back. So Hilpert sent in the reserves. 11th Infantry Division, 12th Panzer Division,
and 14th Panzer Division arrived to plugged gaps and stem the tide. As a result, 92 Soviet
tanks were taken out on the first day alone. However, German communications began to break
down. Larger German formations disintegrated, and the fighting became localized in the woods,
villages and farmhouses south of the Saldus area. Part of the 218th Infantry Division
became encircled and had to break out. There’s even evidence that the German and Latvian
defenders were short of food and ammunition. 14th Panzer Division was reduced in strength,
and had become barely combat-worthy. But, after several days of fighting, the Soviet
attacks came to a halt on the 23rd. The Germans record that the Soviets lost 263 tanks. They
left 533 prisoners in German hands and lost 249 machine-guns, 185 guns, 29 mortars, and
27 aircraft. Skirmishes continued into April, but by this time the Soviets had taken 70,000
casualties. German losses are not recorded. When talking about the 6th Battle of Courland,
Haupt states – “The Soviet leadership wanted to decisively
eliminate Army Group Kurland.” No, hold on, there’s no evidence that they
wanted to eliminate Army Group Kurland. In fact, as both Buttar and Hunt point out, the
Soviet commanders were somewhat reluctant by this stage to commit their forces into
battle. “…by early April Soviet attacks were falling
off in intensity, their generals almost sensing the futility of further loss of life.” Granted, the 6th Battle of Courland took place in March, but you said it yourself, Haupt – “The 10th Guards Army felt squeamish. Its
commander stopped the troops south of [Saldus] on 3/23. The battle died out.” Well clearly, the Soviets weren’t willing
to waste lives at this late stage of the war, not when it was obvious that the end of the
Third Reich was approaching fast. “There would be no 7th Battle of Kurland!” In April, General Gause takes over command
of 2nd Army Corps. You may remember him if you watched my Operation Crusader series.
As far as I’m aware, this was the first time he’d been placed on the Eastern Front,
which is unfortunate because it meant he would be compelled to surrender to the Soviets – even
though he hadn’t fought against them. On the 1st of April, Hilpert made a report
about the state of his army group. 11th Infantry Division was described as “very
good”. 12th Panzer, and the 24th, 81st, and 121st
Infantry Divisions were rated as good. The 126th, 205th, 225th Infantry Division,
263rd, and 329th Infantry Divisions were described as sufficient. But the 30th, 122nd, 132nd, 218th, 290th,
19th SS, and 14th Panzer Division were described as “barely ‘adequate’” due to the
heavy losses they had taken. The 563rd Volksgrenadier Division was described
as “insufficient”, having lost its integrity during the final battle. “On its front was the first and only deserter
reported, who willingly went over to the Soviets!” Replacements from the Reich were not coming,
so Hilpert requested that the Luftwaffe in Kurland provide men for ground combat. The
Luftwaffe was able to raise 17 infantry battalions worth of troops (approximately 7,000 men)
– although they had little training, little heavy equipment, and their use in battle would
be limited. Even so, the shortage of men was so severe that the front had many gaps, allowing
the Red Army to infiltrate the line at times and hit the German rear areas. But the fighting had died down, and the Soviets
had even begun to withdraw their troops. 1st Shock Army remained between the Gulf of Riga
and Tukums. 22nd Army west of Dzukste. 42nd Army in front of Saldus. Then 4th Shock Army
and 6th Guards Army, and finally 51st Army were south of Liepāja. On the 1st of May, Soviet loudspeakers announced
that Hitler was dead. He had committed suicide the day before. And on the 3rd of May 1945,
Soviet artillery fired again, this time as a celebration. The loudspeakers announced
that “Berlin has fallen. Germany is at an end.” With Admiral Dönitz now in command of the
remains of the Third Reich, he now attempted to evacuate as many troops from Courland and
Prussia as possible. He sent a radio message to Hilpert on the 3rd of May at 1930 hours. The changed military situation in the Reich
requires the urgent evacuation of numerous troops from East and West Prussia as well
as Courland. Combat operations by the army in East Prussia
and Army Group Courland are to reflect this requirement.
Personnel with light infantry weapons are to be embarked for return. All other material,
including horses, is to be left behind and destroyed. Army Group Courland is given operational
freedom to pull back the front line to the planned bridgeheads at the ports of [Ventspils]
and [Liepāja]. The Kriegsmarine will dispatch all available
transports to East Prussia and Courland. It’s alright saying this, but reality didn’t
match Dönitz’s wishful thinking. There were no ships for the withdrawal. Many vessels
had been damaged during the previous fighting and evacuations. It was almost impossible
to repair them now that most of the Reich was in Allied hands, and those that were operational
had little to no fuel left to make the journey. German oil production facilities had been
smashed and overrun, and Sweden now stopped shipping coal to Germany. The ships themselves
were berthed in their docks in Denmark and Northern Germany, unable to move. The Third
Reich was on its last legs. The Kriegsmarine was finished. “Another exodus from Courland, this time
in fishing boats, took refugees and members of the Latvian Central Council – in effect,
a gathering of anti-Soviet nationalist politicians and intellectuals who knew victory for Moscow
spelled the end for them – into exile in Sweden via the island of Gotland, 140 kms off Latvia’s
Baltic coast. These boats ran a gauntlet of fire from both sides, with many casualties.” Dönitz was still trying to form a separate
peace with the Western Allies, in the hope of continuing the war in the East, even if
just temporarily. The Germans tried to persuade Eisenhower that German communications would
prevent them issuing orders to the troops in the East to stop the fighting. Eisenhower
dismissed such excuses and insisted on a full surrender, which Dönitz was compelled to
accept on the 7th of May. A ceasefire would come into effect on the 9th of May. This gave preciously little time for any evacuation
of Courland to take place. A radio message said that all ships were to leave the harbours
in Kurland and Hela by 0100 hours on the 9th of May. Army Group Kurland would not withdraw
to the ports, but they did withdraw slightly to a rear area line behind Tuckums. At the same time, Hilpert made contact with
Marshal Govorov by radio telegraph and offered the surrender of Army Group Kurland. A truce
was agreed for 1400 hours on the 8th of May 1945. White flags were to be displayed in
German positions. This prompted a host of bonfires to burn equipment,
papers and maps. Lacking explosives, 14th Panzer Division drove their few remaining
tanks into the swamps rather than let them be captured by the Soviets. The glorious Luftwaffe
in Courland flew to Germany, taking as many men as they could squeeze into their planes
as possible. The last ships left at midnight of the 9th
of May, with a final 11,300 men from Venstpils, and 14,400 men from Liepāja. Soviet troops
arrived as the last ships left, fired on them, and managed to capture two of the boats before
they escaped. Those ships that did get away were also attacked on their journey by the
Red Army air force, losing a significant number of passengers, but managed to make it to safety. “As the convoys sailed away so too did any
last hopes of escape. Discipline had been maintained until this point but now there
was widespread panic. Soldiers seized practically anything that would float and attempted to
escape by sea.” But it was hopeless. The remainder of Army
Group Kurland – 203,112 troops – surrendered to the Red Army. 42 generals, 8,038 officers,
and 181,032 non-commissioned officers and men of Army Group North and Luftflotte 1,
as well as 14,000 Latvian forced “volunteers”. Some attempted to flee. Others, like von Bodenhausen,
committed suicide. 14,000 went into the forests and continued to resist. These became known
as the Meza Brali, or ‘Forest Brothers’. “They were systematically hunted down by
vast numbers of NKVD secret police who snuffed out any remaining pockets of resistance. Once
eliminated, the bodies of the partisans – men and women alike – were dumped in the market
squares of towns across Courland as a warning to others. In 1949 a mass deportation of partisans,
nationalists and those resisting the collectivisation of Latvian agriculture in accordance with
Soviet principles was designed to break support for the partisans. Some partisan groups, hopeful
of Allied support, fought on until 1953.” But most surrendered. Filtration camps were
set up to process the Axis forces. Captured Latvian Legionnaires were sent to Siberia
to work on construction projects. Prisoners and civilians alike were forced to clear rubble
and begin repairs. The Soviets once again forcefully collectivised Latvian farms, and
mass deported anyone who resisted such ignorance of basic economics. Latvia lost one quarter of its population
in the Second World War. 30,000 during the first Soviet occupation. 80,000 during the
German occupation – the vast majority of which were Jews. Another 80,000 died fighting for
the Axis or Soviet armies. 130,000 fled to the West. And 150,000 were repressed during
the second Soviet occupation. Forced collectivisation after the war devastated the economy further,
with many farmers choosing not to join them. According to Hunt – “…even by the 1960s agricultural production
had not reached pre-war levels.” To say that Latvia was ruined by this war
is an understatement. Caught between two evil empires and opposing ideologies, Latvia and
her people were torn apart. The scars of the conflict still cut into the landscape. Bombs
remain unexploded in Latvia even to this day. But the death toll doesn’t stop with the Latvians. The
Red Army lost about 400,000 men killed or wounded in the Courland battles. This is compared
to the Germans, who lost around 150,000 men in the same space of time. Considering that
the Germans were on the defensive, entrenched in decent terrain that heavily favoured them,
and weren’t the priority – Berlin was – the Red Army was using forcefully recruited Latvians
and second-grade troops against them. In light of this, the kill ratio in the Courland Pocket
is hardly surprising. The argument has also been made that the Red
Army’s priority was Berlin, not the Courland coast. Therefore, the final battles of Courland
(after the first and second ones) were actually just a way to use up German supplies in the
Courland Pocket and drain their manpower. Considering how the Red Army had pulled their
best troops away to race towards Berlin, and how the Red Army chose to keep throwing troops
into the same areas with the same sorts of tactics, I would conclude that this line of
reasoning is probably correct. And as Citino points out – “The German force, renamed Army Group Courland
in January 1945, warded off all of [the Red Army attacks], a masterpiece of defensive
positional warfare against a powerful enemy, but in the end these thirty divisions stayed
right where the Red Army wanted them: in a self-imposed prison camp. Indeed, the defense
of the Courland Pocket benefited from the large number of German divisions packed like
sardines into a very tiny front. For once on the Eastern Front, German divisions didn’t
have to defend outrageously extended fronts, and under such conditions they gave a good
accounting of themselves.” Now, the numbers are interesting because Army
Group North starts off with 640,000 troops in July of 1944, and gets trapped in Courland
with approximately 600,000 men in October. We know that 203,112 men surrendered in 1945,
which means 400,000 men were either killed or evacuated from Courland. According to Hunt,
by the end of the war, 350,000 soldiers, and up to 900,000 civilians were evacuated to
Germany or German-occupied Denmark from Courland. But the Germans also lost around 150,000 men
in the fighting for Courland. Well, if we do the quick math, that’s 500,000
men, not 400,000. The sources don’t really explain this discrepancy, but these are probably
either reinforcements entering Courland from the Reich (which did happen), or forcefully
recruited Latvians, unit transfers, or Luftwaffe personnel being moved from the rear to the
front – something like that. Either way, the important point is this: 350,000
soldiers, and up to 900,000 civilians were evacuated from Courland. That’s 1,250,000
people. Latvia’s pre-war population was 2 million, and here we have 1.25 million people
being evacuated from Courland alone. But, let’s not forget guys, that Madman Hitler
wasn’t allowing a retreat from Courland. How these authors can say that with a straight
face is truly mind-boggling. Only 203,112 soldiers remained by the end of this colossal
movement of people. 150,000 Axis were killed. Meaning, if you add the numbers together,
you get a number somewhere in the region of 1,600,000 people that needed evacuating from
Courland. And they managed to get 1,250,000 of them back to the Reich. But Hitler should
have allowed them to retreat. Like… no. Clearly this has nothing to do
with Hitler wanting to evacuate Courland or not. The reality is that the Kriegsmarine
could not do this. Given the circumstances – the war, evacuating East Prussia at the
same time, the fuel crisis, and so on – the Kriegsmarine was simply not capable of evacuating
all of the people from Courland who needed evacuating. That’s it. That’s the answer. And you might say, well they should have put
more effort into it and got all of them out. But as we saw earlier, that would have left
East Prussia in the lurch. It wasn’t really an option that they could take anyway. Or
if they had taken it, people would now be arguing that evacuating Courland shouldn’t
have been the priority because it led to horrendous casualties and civilian deaths in East Prussia.
This was a true dilemma. And either option would have been spun to make Hitler look like
a madman. But then that leaves us with the question
– why has this myth developed that Hitler stubbornly refused to evacuate Courland? “German generals have cited Hitler’s insistence
on maintaining some 200,000 men [actually a lot more than that], including two panzer
divisions [actually more than that], in the Courland Pocket as another example of the
dictator’s stubbornness. Viewed from the OKH or land perspective, such a criticism
has some merit…” And – “From time to time, General Heinz Guderian,
Chief of the General Staff since July 21, 1944, pleaded with Hitler to evacuate Courland
and bring the lost armies home to bolster the defenses of the homeland. Over and over
again, Hitler refused…” Good old Guderian… Bearing in mind, that
these two particular authors are some of my favourites. Yes, these are quotes from general
histories rather than specific accounts of the Courland Pocket, and I suspect that if
or when they do focus on Courland they’d probably spot the flaws in the old argument.
But even they have fallen for the traditional narrative, at least in part. Well, the answer to the question is most likely
because, as we have seen, the German generals and the pro-German authors are pushing this
particular narrative. The reason why they push this narrative is because it does several
things. The main thing it does is shifts blame away from the glorious German generals, or
the glorious German Wehrmacht, or the glorious German people, to Hitler – a dead madman who
cannot defend his decisions. Any bad decisions that Guderian, Dönitz or
von Manstein, or anyone else makes, can just be blamed on Hitler. Their reputations remain
intact. Yeah, that looks like a bad decision, but I had to make it because of Madman Hitler! And it doubles as a way to prop up their false
narrative. If there’s anything that doesn’t make sense in their version of events, just
blame it on madman Hitler. It’s the ultimate get-out of jail free-card. If it wasn’t
Madman Hitler’s fault, we could have been in Moscow in 1932. It’s also an easy narrative to explain to
people. It’s a slogan. “Madman Hitler”. That’s a lot easier to convey to people,
and universally explains every error made in the war, than the more complicated truth
that individuals made mistakes, or circumstances prevented actions from taking place, or heaven-forbid
the Red Army defeated the German Army. And the usual culprits are Haupt and Kurowski.
However, they’re only able to do this because of the German generals themselves. The heroic
Heinz Guderian supposedly tried to persuade Hitler to allow the evacuation of Courland,
but Madman Hitler said no – and for no good reason! Then you have Admiral Dönitz. “Over and over again, Hitler refused [to
evacuate Courland], and he could always count on a reliable ally in the argument: Admiral
Dönitz. He claimed that keeping a toehold in the Baltic Sea was essential to testing
Germany’s new, fully submersible Type XXI U-boats, one of those miracle weapons that
Hitler claimed was eventually going to win the war. At any rate, as 1945 dawned, it was
unlikely that Germany could have scrounged up enough ships, transport capacity, and fuel
to evacuate Army Group Courland – even if Hitler had agreed.” And as Glantz points out – “However, Admiral Karl Dönitz, commander
of the Kriegsmarine (German Navy) had lobbied Hitler about the strategic importance of controlling
the Baltic. With Finland’s withdrawal from the war, the Soviet Baltic Fleet had an opportunity
to sortie into that sea, threatening German ore supplies from Scandinavia as well as the
German Navy’s ability to evacuate ethnic Germans from the Baltic coast and especially
to train new U-boat crews. Dönitz apparently convinced Hitler that the best strategy for
winning the war at this late date was to maximize development of the sophisticated Type XXI
submarine. Holding Courland gave at least the appearance that the Germans had forward
naval bases, while denying the Red Navy free rein in the region.” So, wait a second, Dönitz wanted Army Group
North to stay in Courland? Yes. Dönitz couldn’t evacuate all of the troops
in Courland even if he had wanted to because the Kriegsmarine was on its last legs. And
he didn’t want to anyway because of these new super-submarines, which he hoped would
turn the tide of the war… even though they were built without prototypes and suffered
many technical problems. “Only five or six Type 23s put to sea and
only two Type 21s went into action.” “The new submarines did not yield a single
Allied casualty despite tying up 40,000 production workers on the Type 21 project alone and using
enough steel to build 5,000 tanks – which might have had a greater impact on the war.” Yes, a colossal waste of scarce resources
which could have been put to better use elsewhere in the economy. Dönitz wanted to keep submarine
bases in the Baltic. Dönitz was probably the one who persuaded Hitler to prioritize
East Prussia over Courland. And Dönitz’s Kriegsmarine was unable to fully evacuate
Courland. In fact, let’s look at the event on the 15th of February 1945 again. The “Laura”
plan was sent to Berlin on the 15th of February, and was discussed for two days. Buttar states
that Guderian was the one who presented the plan, and Haupt and Kurowski both note that
Guderian and Dönitz were in favour of the plan. But is that really the case? We have
these two contradictory quotes from Dönitz, where he says the evacuation was and wasn’t
possible at the same time, and if you read the first quote with my emphasis, and then
follow the story on, it gives a slightly different picture. “By ruthlessly employing all ships that
are available and cutting back on all other demands for shipping space – along with the
strongest possible support by the Luftwaffe – I calculate that all manpower and requisite
material can be brought back within four weeks. The embarkation capacity of [Ventspils] and
[Liepāja] are adequate.” Now, that to me doesn’t exactly say that
Dönitz was in favour of the plan. In fact, I would say that he wasn’t in favour of
the plan. And, perhaps, was telling the Führer, actually this plan can only work if we make
it the absolute priority at the expense of everything else. And as Dönitz shows in his
memoirs – “Owing to a lack of shipping and the inadequate
port facilities in [Liepāja] only a fraction of the army in Courland could be evacuated.” So, the ports may or may not have been adequate
enough to get all of Army Group North home, and Dönitz may have actually said this to
Hitler at the time. If we bear all this in mind – that Dönitz may have actually been
persuading Hitler not to go along with it, what Haupt describes next makes a lot more
sense. “Hitler stared wordlessly at the Grand Admiral,
then shifted his gaze to General Guderian: “The withdrawal of the troops from Kurland
is out of the question!” Haupt presents this as Hitler disagreeing
with both Dönitz and Guderian, for no reason. But it’s more likely that Hitler had listened
to Dönitz’s explanation, had agreed with him, and is turning to tell Guderian – no,
the evacuation of Courland is not happening. Guderian obviously wants the troops back in
the Reich, but doesn’t understand the logistics of evacuating Courland at the same time everything
else (like East Prussia) is falling apart. Dönitz is saying – yes we can possibly do
it, but only if we drop everything else and focus everything we have on this one task.
Hitler has therefore made the rational decision to not evacuate Courland in one go – even
though Courland was being evacuated at the time, just slowly. Not only is this an actual reason (Haupt and
Kurowski just make it sound as though Hitler had no reason to say no), but it makes logical
sense given all that we’ve seen and discussed in this series. We know that Dönitz wants
to remain in the Baltics due to the super-submarines – and Buttar, Glantz, Citino, Hunt and several
others are all in agreement with that. We know that they were evacuating Courland – so
Hitler wasn’t against the idea of evacuating Courland in principle – and we know the Kriegsmarine
is stretched thin. Whether the ports are adequate or not, they may barely be adequate enough
to get the troops out in possibly four weeks – which is quite a long time if you think
about it. And there’s evidence that it wasn’t four weeks – it was 9 days, 19 days and all
this other stuff. There’s no consensus on this four weeks thing. And as Buttar has pointed
out – “Any diversion of shipping to rescue Army
Group Courland would have brought Hannibal to a complete halt.” [Hannibal being the
ongoing evacuation of East Prussia.] Now, yes a case could be made, saying that:
I’m perhaps not interpreting these particular sources correctly. And yes, maybe I need more
evidence than I currently have available to fully solidify the argument. This has been
the main issue that’s plagued me this entire series – a lack of sources – otherwise I would
have gone down to battalion level in the fighting. Evidence may exist out there which could prove
this one way or another – but I simply don’t have it. However, what I can say is that the traditional
narrative makes no sense at all and is deeply flawed. I can therefore confidently conclude
that it’s wrong. I would also say that, given the sources I have, this is the most
logical conclusion that I can come to right now. Also, I’d like to point out, I’m not defending
Hitler for the sake of defending Hitler. He’s evil and guilty of many things. But I’m
not convinced that he was a complete madman, and it’s clear that he’s become the scapegoat
of the German generals – themselves not innocent in this fighting, no matter how much they
want to claim that they are. The Red Army trapped Army Group North in the
northern Baltics. That wasn’t Hitler’s fault, but the sources attempt to say Hitler
kept ordering them to stand fast. Well, Hitler then allowed them to retreat – which they
were doing as they got trapped in Courland. Then the pro-German sources say Hitler wanted
them to stand fast in Courland and thus wouldn’t allow them to retreat again, and that Dönitz
tried to persuade Hitler to evacuate Courland. They say that Madman Hitler said no (for no
reason, I may add). And the whole thing doesn’t make any sense. Well, my interpretation of the sources is that: I don’t think that’s
true. I think Dönitz wanted to stay in the Baltic,
that Guderian and Dönitz were at odds over this issue (if not others), and that – in
the post-war world of defending the glorious German generals and admirals of the Third
Reich from having their reputations ruined for poor decisions – the default get-out-of-jail-free
card of Madman Hitler was used to bridge all the gaps and make it seem as though everyone
sane and non-Nazi was united against Hitler. Well, it appears that Dönitz and Hitler were
best buddies, and agreed over the Courland issue. It may also help explain why Dönitz
became Hitler’s successor. The two were so alike. Perhaps we should call him: Madman
Dönitz! Thanks for watching, bye for now!

Reader Comments

  1. Notes and Sources

    It took me most of the week to render this video – so I hope you’re happy with it! The script was approximately 47,500 words long!

    I corrected a handful of minor mistakes, but essentially 99% of it is the same as the stand-alone episodes. There was also major issues trying to get the front lines to render in parts 5 and 6, and I’ve not been able to correct the issue, so I’ve left those parts as they are. I was also ill when I recorded the 4th part of this video, so please forgive me for the lack of ‘energy’ in my voice in that episode.

    The sources are vague and limited on this topic. But I did the best I could with what was available.


    Anderson, T. “The History of the Panzerwaffe. Volume 2: 1942-45.” Osprey Publishing, 2017.

    Battistelli, P. "Panzer Divisions 1944–45." Ospery Publishing, Kindle.

    Byrd, R. "Once I Had a Comrade: Karl Roth and the Combat History of the 36th Panzer Regiment 1939-45." Helion & Company, Kindle 2006.

    Buttar, P. "Between Giants: The Battle for the Baltics in World War II." Ospery Publishing, 2013.

    Citino, R. “The Wehrmacht's Last Stand: The German Campaigns of 1944-1945.” University of Kansas, 2017.

    Dönitz, K. "Memoirs: Ten Years and Twenty Days." Frontline Books, Kindle 2012.

    Glantz, D. “Colossus Reborn: The Red Army at War, 1941-1943.” University Press of Kansas, 2005.

    Glantz, D. “When Titan’s Clashed.” University Press of Kansas, 2015.

    Guderian, H. “Panzer Leader.” Penguin Books, 2000.

    Harrison, M. "The Economics of World War II: Six Great Powers in International Comparison." Cambridge University Press, 2000.

    Haupt, W. "Army Group North: The Wehrmacht in Russia 1941-1945." Schiffer Publishing Ltd, 1997.

    Heiber, H. Glantz, D. “Hitler and his Generals. Military Conferences 1942-1945.” Enigma Books, 2004.

    Hillblad, T. "Twilight of the Gods: A Swedish Volunteer in the 11th SS Panzergrenadier Division "Nordland" on the Eastern Front." Stackpole Books, Kindle 2009.

    Hitler, A. "Mein Kampf." Jaico Publishing House, 2017.

    Hitler, A. "Zweites Buch (Secret Book): Adolf Hitler's Sequel to Mein Kampf." Jaico Publishing House, 2017.

    Hoppe, H. “A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism.” Kindle.

    Hunt, V. “Blood in the Forest: The End of the Second World War in the Courland Pocket.” Helion & Company Limited, 2017.

    Kurowski, F. "Bridgehead Kurland: The Six Epic Battles of Heeresgruppe Kurland." Fedorowicz Publishing, 2002.

    Larsson, L. "Hitler's Swedes: A History of the Swedish Volunteers of the Waffen-SS." Helion & Company, Kindle 2015.

    Lunde, H. “Hitler’s Wave-Breaker Concept: An Analysis of the German End Game in the Baltic.” Casemate Publishers, 2013.

    Mawdsley, E. “Thunder in the East: The Nazi-Soviet War 1941-1945.” Second Edition, Kindle, University of Oxford.

    Megargee, G. "Inside Hitler's High Command." University Press of Kansas, 2000.

    Michaelis, Rolf. "The 11th SS-Freiwilligen-Panzer-Grenadier-Division "Nordland"." Schiffer Publishing, 2008.

    Mitcham, S. “Hitler’s Legions: German Army Order of Battle World War II.” Redwood Burn Limited, 1985.

    Mitcham, S. “German Order of Battle: Volume One: 1st-290th Infantry Divisions in WWII.” Stackpole Books, 2007.

    Mitcham, S. “German Order of Battle: Volume Two: 291st-999th Infantry Divisions, Named Infantry Divisions, and Special Divisions in WWII.” Stackpole Books, 2007.

    Mitcham, S. “German Order of Battle: Volume Three: Panzer, Panzer Grenadier, and Waffen SS Divisions in WWII.” Stackpole Books, 2007.

    Moorhouse, R. "The Devil's Alliance: Hitler's Pact with Stalin, 1939-1941." Random House Group, Ebook (Google Play) 2014.

    Muravchik, J. “Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism.” Encounter Books, Kindle.

    Newman, M. “Socialism: A Very Short Introduction.” Kindle.

    Newton, S. “Retreat from Leningrad: Army Group North 1944/1945.” Schiffer Military History, 1995.

    Niepold, G. “Panzer-Operationen Doppelkopf und Cäsar: Sommer ‘44.” Mittler & Sohn, 1987.

    Paterson, L. "Steel and Ice: The U-Boat Battle in the Arctic and Black Sea 1941-45." The History Press, Kindle 2016.

    Perrett, B. "Panzerkampfwagen IV Medium Tank 1936-45." Osprey Publishing, 2007.

    Raus, E. "Panzer Operations: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941–1945." Kindle.

    Rees, L. "The Holocaust: A New History." Penguin Books, 2017.

    Snyder, T. "Blood Lands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin." Vintage, 2011.

    Számvéber, N. “Illustrated History of the Sturmgeschütz-Abteilung 202.” PeKo Publishing Kft, Kindle 2016.

    Tieke, W. "Tragedy of the Faithful: A History of the III. (germanishes) SS-Panzer-Korps." Fedorowicz Publishing Inc, 2001.

    Wilbeck, C. "Sledgehammers: Strengths and Flaws of Tiger Tank Battalions in World War II." Aberjona Press, Kindle 2015.

    Wilbeck, C. "Swinging the Sledgehammer: The Combat Effectiveness of German Heavy Tank Battalions in World War II." Fort Leavenworth, PDF 2002.

    Zeimke, E. “From Stalingrad to Berlin: The Illustrated Edition.” Pen & Sword, Kindle 2014.

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    Finnish and Soviet Treaty 1944 – the “Moscow Armistice”

    Inflation in Germany

    I’ve also used some maps and information from

    A full list of all my WW2 and related books can be found here

    Thanks for watching! Bye for now!

  2. Praise the Sun!!! Thanks for the full Battlestorm. Many many hours of entertainment and education. I very much appreciate yout efforts.

  3. Can you do a video about Italian atrocities in Ethiopia ( such as gassing cities ). Also how they were completely unable to hold ground outside the capital.

  4. By doing a series (hours long) this puts you as a top notch Historian (story teller).Your at the top, very well done.

  5. Why do you make a 6 hours long video? People see a 6 hours long video they don't click you could have just made parts of it. All the efforts go into waste

  6. The series (and now whole work) is truly top notch material. Next paycheck I'm setting up on Patreon to send a donation. Bravo!

  7. You and Drachinifel are my sleeping assistants. I love your content and do actually watch it at least once wide awake, but then I need something to help me sleep (health problems) and your and Drachinifel's both voices and content are prefect for this.

    Thank you for allowing my life to be actually more bareable and keep up the good work!


  9. SUPERACCURATE MY DYING ASS!! The only thing super is the one-sided victors mentality held by this wannabe gamer warrior,The Germans had their film crews in combat,with translation in English,and none agree with this twit.The action scenes are real,without lying bullshit,A great deal of Germans escaped the Pocket,the reason Germans lingered,was to assist civilians escaping the butchering and rapes so gruesomely following Soviet advances with money provided byWall Street bankers.,Kuhn and Loeb,Warbu,rg and Schiff,JP Morgan,The Ukraine hated Russians,so did Latviansm,LIthowanians,Cossacks,for stealing property,starvation,and murder by NKVD!Tik's statistics are lies,Lenin boasted of killing 90% 0f proletariat,needing only 10% as slaves,Generik Yagoda,Lazar Kagan,Frenkel,Beria killed 50 million.Bottom line this Scab is a communist Propagandist.

  10. This was a fantastic in-depth study with some really interesting observations, thanks very much really enjoyed it.

  11. Haven't seen yet, but it looks like Invasion of Crete wasn't covered yet? The first pyrrhic German victory, where some Generals even considered it a first loss.

  12. Toyota trucks with Javelin missiles. Mig-23s with Exorcet Missiles. Mig-31s fire and forget missiles (the only job that the piece of shit Mig-31 has to do in hit and run with border control.) A2AD with DF-21 and 26. Honey… The times have changed…

    The FGM-148 Javelin is an American man-portable fire-and-forget anti-tank missilefielded to replace the M47 Dragon anti-tank missile in US service.[7] It uses an automatic infrared guidance that allows the user to seek cover immediately after launch, as opposed to wired-guided systems, like the Dragon, where the user has to actively guide the weapon throughout the engagement. The Javelin's HEAT warhead is capable of defeating modern tanks by attacking them from above where their armor is thinnest (see top-attack), and is also useful against fortifications in a direct attack flight.

  13. If the US actually had to invade Japan's mainland, it would have been industrialized gurilla warfare that would have lasted many, many years. You simply cannot underestimate Japanese Fanaticism…

  14. Modern combat is all about BVR. YOU MUST BE CAREFUL HERE. BVR mixed with stealthy hit-and-run is the future of combat.

  15. oh no… TIK has become a longman! D:

    Gods dammit TIK! between you and EFAP I'll be 70 by the time I'm caught up on youtube XD
    carry on, that man! o7

  16. They are expendable. The focus is also in quantity instead of quality. If you can understand the Soviet mind, you can actually understand the Gulag system – despite of its total inefficiency. You will always have full employment in Russia and China when things turn South with their economies. If China's economy collapses, there will always be enough labor camps to keep order and "employ" people.

  17. Dude… Cut it out… Who isn't a history revisionist? Especially members of the intelligensia? If you read history, you be surprised just how "brave" all of the intellectuals were in our past. The only intellectuals who are brave in this world are JBP and I.

  18. Come on TIK, why delete my comment? I would have loved to have a discussion on whether Hitler was in the wrong or not. I like your videos. Who knows, I might have changed my mind. I used to respect and think highly of you. You deleting my comment is absolutely ridiculous. You clearly can’t have a debate about that topic – hence you delete the comment. How utterly pathetic of you.

  19. 4:12:30.
    I believe that is a picture of Tigers of 1st SS Leibstandarte during the fighting around Zhitomir in November 1943.
    Just saying'.

  20. This is actually a GREAT IDEA! Shoot all deserters and traiters! This will immediately send an EXCLAMATION MARK to everyone else!

  21. You can only afford partial withdraw – or your will immediately get overran by Soviet tanks, artillery, and bombers. This has been seen in other cases in history, except for Dunkirk. I don't know WTF the Nazis were thinking about not overrunning the British position with everything. Easy target for easy picking!

  22. Wat happens fast in this world!!! This is why you train everyday endlessly to make EFFICIENT EXTERMINATION into a reflex that is part of your instincts.

  23. There is only one truth in War: kill or be killed. Everything else is details. War simplifies Everything in this world! Also, make sure you don't fight for the wrong side of history – if you can help it… This is a luxury for most men.

  24. War happens so fast that the only thing a solider needs to know is SURVIVAL! What a general needs to know is that one wrong move could cost you the whole war. NOTHING IS INEVITABLE IN HISTORY! The German military was so badly and inefficiently structure because Hitler couldn't trust his generals with the total centralization of command and control of the air, land, and sea. It is really something about America that the president can trust his generals – unconditionally without fearing revolt.

  25. This is fucking brilliant! I have been too soft of a leader for most of my life. This is how you rule with an iron fist in desperate situations! This is a great lesson for life! And I only have myself to blame in life. I have learned my lesson the hard way!

  26. This is exactly how you Dave yourself: make your enemies victories so expensive where you make them pay dearly for every mile gained… No. I don't buy this! The Soviet lost.

  27. Tremendous effort – I will be downloading this lest it get memory holed. There are so few documentaries of the Courland Pocket, this will probably become one of the authoritative accounts. I hope you are ready for the fame 😀

  28. – 200,000+ soldiers surrendered is the correct number left after the safe evacuation(under the fight) of soldiers and civilians from the pocket.Germans must be recognized for their military organizational capability of that time.

  29. Hi Tik, I'm looking forward to seeing this, I can put it on and just let it run,it makes for a great distraction while I'm writing essays for uni. I'd be interested in your brief opinion of whether the Thames World at War TV series has stood the test of time or is it time to have it revisited and updated.

  30. Although you are brilliant in military affaits you are not much more than borring western propagandist in political. Congrets, since you have managed to distinguished yourself from usual British historical bulshit.

  31. And they focus on the fact that the Nazis were the worst. The Soviets were just as bad or worse. They also probably killed more than the nazis, but of course, the victors write history.

    I find it sad that many people who post war history, always have to put a disclaimer or apology about the swastika or nazism.

    I’d like to see that kind of disclaimer and apology whenever the hammer and sickle with star and communism are also posted about. Just sayin’. 😂

    *Note: this is by no means justifying what the Nazi einsatzgrupen did. This will and should aways be a crime. However, pointing the finger at the Germans alone is wrong as the pogroms would show.

  32. If Germany treated every other major Soviet stronghold as Leningrad – siege, but not seek to take over, and concentrate everything in taking the Caucasus, would Nazi stabilize the Eastern Front?

  33. Thank you for posting this series. It seems like all these events were dominated and virtually dictated by operation Bagration. After the loss of Army Group centre this side act necessarily played itself out.

  34. I think the casualty and evacuation numbers make sense, not all of the 150,000 german casualties would have been fatalities, on average on the Eastern Front around 1/3 of german casualties were KIA. Applying that to 150,000 gives you 50,000 KIA.

    If 600,000 troops were surrounded and 350,000 evacuated, that leaves 250,000, with 50,000 KIA that leaves 200,000 which is basically the number that surrendered in May of 1945.

  35. Amazing how much information there is in a single video (made out of many vids, but anyways) which is not only interesting, but especially which I can trust.

  36. TIK, your channel is awesome bro, you are brilliant, I always trust your videos and the history in them, because I know you do hours of research. do you ever plan to do other periods or wars in history? Or strictly ww2.

  37. Cortland to me is one of big irony for the Soviets, they broken through almost anything the Germans threw at them, held out for as long as possible but they just couldn't get through into Cortland.

  38. Well done TIK. I enjoyed this very much and can’t wait for battlestorm Stalingrad to release. Courland is one area of the war I’ve not studied but I’ve heard mentioned. Very interesting set up they had and very unfortunate for the Baltic states to be caught between evil titans, and then decades after the war they are still feeling the sting of war and betrayal. Again I enjoy the content keep at it

  39. Thanks for making this documentary from Latvia. It is really nice seeing someone dissect a globally not very relevant but locally very important part of WW2. Also big thanks for highlighting the horror that WW2 was for Latvia's (civilian) population.

    And good job on pronouncing German, Russian, Latvian, Lithuanian, and Estonian names. I know all five languages are tough for an English speaker but you did a surprisingly good job even correcting mistakes from one episode to the next (e.g. Jelgava).

  40. Wow! O: You did sacrifice so much time to explain the events of the War in eastern front. Very much goes along the stories I did pick up from my grandparents and from an old men when I was a kid. The oldest man I ever knew died in 1995 He was born in 1893. He was our neighbour when my family did move in a rural house in northern Latvia. He told my dad a lot of war stories. Not only from ww2 He was a teenage at ww1. He was an unique man Who went trough both wars. But living in dirty old house about 400 meters from our house. He told a lot of stories to my dad and We found some "relics guns and stuff" In later years police did confiscate it all. The most amazing were the stories of Him surviving nazi and communist rule. He did work for both sides mean while damning both. When He died I was just 7 years old, but I remember the sadness that He didn't make it to 100 years 🙁 Although from that old guy our family knows some things what happened in the war on northern Latvia. When I was a kid in 1990s I did play around with an old real kar98 mauser instead of the plastic guns oteher kids had made in china.

  41. I know you only take suggestions from patreon but since you have gone over many German losses i think you should go over a German win after Stalingrad or possibly an inconclusive battle/offensive as well. Just a suggestion.

  42. I think the Soviets greatly underrated their appreciation for allied help. Call me crazy but I’d much rather have the M4 medium than a T-34

  43. Courland, Stalingrad, North Africa, France, Italy. The Germans threw away army groups like used paper plates. What a waste of men and material.

  44. I think it's disgusting how German Generals all back-stabbed Hitler when he was right all along (had Barbarossa been carried out correctly they would have won in 1941) As Evil as he may have been he truly cared for Germany and the German people.

  45. 48:55 i realise books bein burned in russia dosen't count, in the winter atleast lol they prolly burn it anyways to keep them warm

  46. Its seems this army would have been a help on the front outside and just east of Berlin.  It didn't seem to tie down much of the Red Army units.  I enjoy your detail on WW2.   I look forward to more great videos.

  47. I like most of your videos but your style of always almost pathetically trying to convince or prove to the viewer that you hate hitler and germany is really annoying, just man up and focus on the subject, we know you are a good man, no need to always follow a line to show it… its like in every video you have an almost subconscious ”subtrack” where you fight with ”wheraboos” in your head…

  48. Small detail, the AP round of the ISU 152 was not particularly effective or used much. The HE round was actually more effective against the big German tanks. However good the armour, a crew with concussion (or worse) is a disabled tank.

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