Army Group Vistula
Army Group Vistula (German: 'Heeresgruppe Weichsel') was an Army Group of the Wehrmacht, formed on 24 January 1945. It was put together from elements of Army Group A (shattered in the Soviet Vistula-Oder Offensive), Army Group Centre (similarly largely destroyed in the East Prussian Offensive), and a variety of new or ad hoc formations. It was formed to protect Berlin from the Soviet armies advancing from the Vistula River.
Establishment and history
The new Army Group Vistula was duly formed from an assortment of rebuilt, new and existing units. Guderian intended to propose Field-Marshal Maximilian von Weichs as commander. However, in a reflection of Hitler's desire to transfer control of the conflict from the Wehrmacht to the SS, Heinrich Himmler was appointed. Himmler, who lacked any real military knowledge,[lower-alpha 1] proved inadequate to the task; General Gotthard Heinrici replaced Himmler as commander of Army Group Vistula on 20 March, subsequent to its participation in the German offensive codenamed Operation Solstice and the following defence against the Soviet East Pomeranian Offensive.
Other than Operation Solstice, the Army Group's only offensive action was a disastrous attempt to relieve the fortress of Kustrin late in March 1945, during which the subordinate XXXIX Panzer Corps took heavy casualties.
Under the command of Heinrici, parts of the army group fought through the Battle of Berlin and Battle of Halbe, with some of its elements not surrendering until the end of the war in Europe on 8 May 1945. Army Group Vistula's strength was in the region of 500,000 troops; in general, the army group was poorly equipped, many of its units being little more than the 'paper' formations typical of the German military at the end of World War II. Indeed, when first set up it was found that the army group lacked many essential facilities, such as proper maps or a headquarters signals detachment—the sole means of communication being Himmler's private telephone.
The Army Group was originally formed from:
- The Ninth Army of General Theodor Busse, which had previously been part of Army Group A and had been shattered around Warsaw during the Vistula-Oder Offensive. This now held lines on the Oder and was progressively rebuilt.
- The Second Army of Colonel-General Walter Weiss, which as part of Army Group Centre had been defending the line of the Narew river on the borders of East Prussia. The East Prussian Offensive had cut it off from the remnants of its parent formation, and by late January it defended a long sector from Elbing in the east running westwards through Pomerania. It therefore formed the new army group's northern and eastern flank.
- The Eleventh SS Panzer Army was a 'new' formation which had been assembled in western Pomerania. Soon after its formation it received the staff of the Third Panzer Army, which had been largely destroyed in East Prussia, and was redesignated as Third Panzer Army.
During the East Pomeranian Offensive, the Second Army was finally cut off from the remainder of the army group and withdrew into Danzig, where it was eventually destroyed. The rest of Army Group Vistula was forced west of the Oder, though the Third Panzer Army retained a small bridgehead at Altdamm until the middle of March.
Order of Battle during Soviet Berlin Offensive
- German Third Panzer Army (Hasso-Eccard von Manteuffel from 9 March 1945 to 8 May 1945)
- German Twenty-First Army (Kurt von Tippelskirch)
- German Ninth Army (Theodor Busse from 20 January 1945 to 2 May 1945)
- Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler - 28 January to 20 March 1945
- Colonel General (Generaloberst) Gotthard Heinrici - 20 March to 28 April 1945
- Infantry General (General der Infanterie) Kurt von Tippelskirch - 28 to 29 April 1945
- Colonel General (Generaloberst) Kurt Student - 29 April to 8 May 1945, (von Tippelskirch was the acting commander).
- Although this was not Himmiler's first such operational military high command appointment. Between 10 December 1944 and 24 January 1945 (the day before he took up this command) he commanded Army Group Upper Rhine.
- Duffy, p.176
- Duffy, p.177
- Beevor, p.52
- Duffy, p.177, who states that German sources give the group's size as 32-34 divisions, while a "good Soviet source" identifies it as having 450,000 troops.
- Beevor, p.54