Courland

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wwilson
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Courland

Post by wwilson » 15 Apr 2021 16:02

I have a very basic familiarity with the history of the Courland "pocket".

But something about the situation is not clear to me.

So, late 1944, Army Group North gets pushed back hundreds of kilometers and ends up holding Courland with the 16th and 18th Armies.

From late 1944 until March 1945 or so, the Soviets attempt to defeat AG North (later called AG Kurland) no less than six times. Every offensive is a failure and the front lines hardly move at all.

What is not clear is, why was the Courland defense so successful?

The Soviet and German forces were, AFAIK, largely the same ones that had fought near Leningrad in the summer of 1944. Yet, in Courland, the Soviets could barely dent the German defense -- for a German force that was dependent on sea lanes for supply from the Reich.

One aspect I have noted is the terrain in Courland -- a lot of forests, marshland, and areas cut by waterways. This implies that mechanized and motorized forces would not only have their attacks channelized, but their avenues of advance could also be predicted by a defending force.

Yet -- this condition had to hold for other areas of the Eastern Front in 1945, and the Soviets defeated the German forces in front of them all along the front ... except, again, in Courland.

Comments or thoughts?

Thanks and Cheers

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I have questions
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Re: Courland

Post by I have questions » 15 Apr 2021 16:52

Well, the simple answer of why Kurland held as long as it did was that it was a secondary theater. It was also a peninsula with only one access point from the mainland, and, as you said, that area was marshland and heavily forested. The result was that the Germans could concentrate their defensive power on a (relatively) short stretch of front, with plenty of assistance from the geography. There wasn't an opportunity on the Soviet side to conduct an encirclement or deep-battle because in order to do that you had to breakthrough somewhere, and they never did.

1.) The Germans held a terrain/geographic advantage
2.) Not a super high priority for either side, as by October 1944 the Germans and Soviets were more concerned about East Prussia to the south

The units present isn't really all that important. The Germans around Leningrad faced a different set of issues, Kurland was essentially a defending general's dream as it offered a practically invulnerable position that funneled the enemy into one lane of advance, there wasn't a feasible option for the Soviets except hoping to pierce the line. The fact that just two divisions (11th Infantry and 14th Panzer) acted as the army group's sole reserve speaks volumes about how good the Germans felt about their position there.

In the end it didn't come down to generalship or superior tactics for either side, the Germans just got very lucky that they found themselves in a marshy, forested peninsula that made it easy to keep the enemy at arm's length.

wwilson
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Re: Courland

Post by wwilson » 15 Apr 2021 18:09

Thanks for the comments, they make sense given the situation and events that transpired.

Cheers

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donwhite
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Re: Courland

Post by donwhite » 16 Apr 2021 08:16

David Grier's "Hitler, Donitz, and the Baltic Sea: The Third Reich's Last Hope, 1944-1945" provides some interesting points about Army Group North's relative defensive successes. The most salient from memory being the average divisional frontage Army Group North's units held in Courland being by far the most advantageous defensively (in terms of comparable width) on the whole Eastern front while at the same time possessing the highest ratio of Heer-level artillery abteilungs support (even with ammunition/shell shortages). Grier also discusses the strategic thinking behind Hitler's insistence of maintaining the Courland Bridgehead in the face of strident calls to evacuate the army group, particularly by Guderian.

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Art
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Re: Courland

Post by Art » 16 Apr 2021 08:41

wwilson wrote:
15 Apr 2021 16:02
Every offensive is a failure and the front lines hardly move at all.
...
Yet, in Courland, the Soviets could barely dent the German defense -- for a German force that was dependent on sea lanes for supply from the Reich.
Not exactly (the frontline changes from October to May) :
Image

Yeremenko even claimed that he was one inch and five minutes from a complete breakthrough, which, of course, might be a little of overstatement.

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Pips
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Re: Courland

Post by Pips » 17 Apr 2021 01:24

Why didn't the Soviets attempt an amphibious landing? They had after all seen several successfully done by the Western Allies.
Did they not have the wherewithall to do so? Or could not guarantee sea and air control?

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Re: Courland

Post by I have questions » 17 Apr 2021 03:27

Pips wrote:
17 Apr 2021 01:24
Why didn't the Soviets attempt an amphibious landing? They had after all seen several successfully done by the Western Allies.
Did they not have the wherewithall to do so? Or could not guarantee sea and air control?
From what I've read, JG 54 had the skies pretty well controlled for a while. An amphibious operation takes a lot of time and resources, given that Kurland wasn't a priority for them, they likely didn't care enough to divert men and material for an amphibious operation.

wwilson
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Re: Courland

Post by wwilson » 17 Apr 2021 06:41

Hi Art,

Thank you for the map, it is visually appealing.

I think, though, what is important is what the map does not show. Here is a map showing the front line as of March 1945, which is the period of the final Soviet offensive in Courland.
kurland front line march 1945.jpg
I am finding it difficult to determine the dates particular towns were captured, but I don't think Saldus or Tukkums came under Soviet control until the last days of the war in May 1945, and, if the account below is accurate, it was more a result of German withdrawals that were not prompted by Soviet attacks:
The (111th Rifle) corps planned for an operation to break through the German line between Rasas and the Abava river, defended by the (German) 81st Infantry Division, from 25 April. On the night of 6–7 May, the German troops began withdrawing from the defensive line towards the north and northwest, covered by small rearguard detachments. On the morning of 7 May, the 196th was directly subordinated to the army command. As a result of the German withdrawal, the corps began advancing on 10:00 on 7 May in the second echelon of the army, behind the 377th Rifle Division.[22] By the end of the day, the 382nd had reached the line of Pampji and the south bank of the ravine 700 meters north of Tyuti to the west of the 189th, which reached the area of Kūlaini and Jahthaus; the corps' positions were roughly 2 kilometers south of the German rearguard at Bluiskas. At 24:00, the 377th, which had advanced to a line between Irlava Manor and Rēpiņi, was operationally subordinated to the corps.[19][23]

During the night of 7–8 May, the corps' assault battalions pursued the German rearguard from Bluiskas to the line of Kalninkas and Jaunmokas Manor to the west of Tukums, where they encountered the most organized resistance. Dislodging the German rearguard, the corps continued to advance and by the end of the day on 8 May the 377th had reached Vilksalu manor to the northwest of Tukums after three German battalions surrendered to it. To the west, the 189th's forward units were between two kilometers southwest of Vilksalu manor and Bāliņi, and on the corps' left flank the 382nd was at Sērmuļi and Skrimbas. The German forces opposing the corps refused to accept battle and began a general surrender at 24:00.[24]
That quote is taken from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/111th_Rifle_Corps. The sources mentioned in the Wiki article are:

19: https://pamyat-naroda.ru/documents/view/?id=130019976 pp. 5 and 6
22: https://pamyat-naroda.ru/documents/view/?id=135635625 p. 15
23: https://pamyat-naroda.ru/documents/view/?id=135635625 p. 17
24: https://pamyat-naroda.ru/documents/view/?id=130019976 pp. 6 and 7

These sources are combat journals of the 111th Rifle Corps and the 67th Army. I am unable to read Russian, perhaps, if you have time, you can read the documents and see if they confirm what the Wikipedia article claims.

All in all, this "minor theater" has quite a few interesting aspects.

Cheers
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wwilson
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Re: Courland

Post by wwilson » 20 Apr 2021 08:45


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