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Battle of Courland Pocket
 
The Courland Pocket referred to the Red Army's blockade or encirclement of Axis forces on the Courland Peninsula during the closing months of World War II. The Soviet commander was General Bagramyan later "Marshal Bagramyan". 
 
The pocket was created during the Red Army's Baltic Strategic Offensive Operation, when forces of the 1st Baltic Front reached the Baltic Sea near Memel during its lesser Memel Offensive Operation phases. This action isolated the German Army Group North "German: Heeresgruppe Nord" from the rest of the German forces between Tukums and Liepaja in Latvia. Renamed Army Group Courland "German: Heeresgruppe Kurland" on the 25th of January, the Army Group remained isolated until the end of the war. When they were ordered to surrender to the Soviet command on 8 May, they were in "blackout" and did not get the official order before 10 May, two days after the capitulation of Germany. It was one of the last German groups to surrender in Europe.
 
      
                            Soviet advances on the Eastern Front, 1 September 1943-31 December 1944
 
Background
 
Courland, along with the rest of the Baltic eastern coast and islands, was overrun by Army Group North during 1941. Army Group North spent most of the next two years attempting to take Leningrad, without success. In January 1944, the Soviet Army lifted the siege of Leningrad.
 
Operation Bagration
 
On the 22nd of June 1944, the Soviet Union Red Army launched the Belorussian Strategic Offensive, codenamed Operation Bagration. The goal of this offensive was to liberate the Belorussian SSR from the German occupation. Operation Bagration was extremely successful, resulting in the almost complete destruction of Army Group Centre, and ended on 29 August. In its final stages "the Kaunas and Shyaulyay Offensives", Operation Bagration saw Soviet forces strike deep towards the Baltic coast, severing communications between the "German Army Group North" and the remnants of "Army Group Centre".
 
After Operation Bagration ended, the Soviets continued the clearing of the Baltic coast, despite German attempts to restore the front "Operation Doppelkopf". The Red Army fought the Memel Offensive Operation with the goal of isolating Army Group North by capturing the city of Memel "Lithuanian: Klaipeda".
 
Battles of the "Courland Bridgehead"
 
      
       Evacuation at Ventspils "Windau", 19 October 1944
 
On the 9th of October 1944, the Soviets reached the Baltic Sea near Memel after over-running headquarters of the 3rd Panzer Army. As a result, Army Group North was cut off from a route to East Prussia. Hitler's military advisors, notably Heinz Guderian, the Chief of the German General Staff, urged evacuation and utilization of the troops to stabilize the front in central Europe. However, Hitler refused, and ordered the German forces in Courland and the "Estonian" islands Hiiumaa and Saaremaa to hold out, believing them necessary to protect German submarine bases along the Baltic coast. Hitler still believed the war could be won, and hoped that Dönitz's new Type XXI U-boat technology could bring victory to Germany in the Battle of the Atlantic, forcing the Allies out of Western Europe. This would allow German forces to focus on the Eastern Front, using the Courland Pocket as a springboard for a new offensive. 
 
Hitler's refusal to evacuate the Army Group resulted in the entrenchment of more than 200,000 German troops largely of the 16th Army and 18th Army, in what was to become known to the Germans as the "Courland Bridgehead". Thirty-three divisions of the Army Group North, commanded by Ferdinand Schorner, were cut off from Prussia and spread out along a front reaching from "Riga to Liepaja", retreating to the more defensible Courland position, abandoning Riga.
 
Soviet forces launched six major offensives against the German and Latvian forces entrenched in the Courland Pocket between "15 October 1944, and 4 April 1945".
 
      
                                      Army Group Courland cuff title
 
The German two-phase withdrawals during the execution of the second stage of the Soviet Baltic Offensive from the "14th of September thru the 24th of November 1944", subsequent to the pocket being formed in the Baltic Offensive's first stage, the Memel Offensive Operation.
 
From the 15th to the 22nd of October 1944; Soviets launched the Riga Offensive Operation on the 15th at 10:00hrs after conducting a heavy artillery barrage. Hitler permitted the Army Group Commander, Ferdinand Schoerner, to commence withdrawal from Riga on the 11th of October, and the city was taken by the 3rd Baltic Front on the 13th of October. The front stabilized with the main remnant of Army Group North isolated in the peninsula.
 
From 27 October to 25 November; Soviets launched offensive trying to break through the front toward "Skrunda and Saldus" including, at one point initiating a simultaneous attack by 52 divisions. "Soviets also attacked southeast of Liepaja in an attempt to capture that port". 80 divisions assaulted the Germans from the 1st to the 15th of November in a front 12km wide. "Despite the 10:1 advantage in manpower", the Soviets seized only a strip of land roughly "4 by 12km in size".
 
The 3rd grand battle "also known as “the other Christmas Battle” started on the 21st of December with a Soviet attack on Germans near "Saldus". The Soviet 2nd Baltic "northern sector" and 1st Baltic Fronts "southern sector" commenced a blockade, precipitating the German defense of the Courland perimeter during Soviet attempts to reduce it. In this battle serving with the 2nd Baltic Front's 22nd Army "Latvian 130th Rifle Corps" faced their opposites in the "Latvian 19th SS Division". The battle ended on the 31st of December and the front was stabilized. The Soviets had gained a few more square kilometers of territory at the expense of tremendous losses in men, tanks, aircraft, etc.
 
On the 15th of January 1945, Army Group North was renamed Army Group Courland "Heeresgruppe Kurland" under Colonel-General Dr Lothar Rendulic. In the middle of January Heinz Guderian got Hitler’s permission to withdraw 7 divisions from Courland, however, Hitler refused to consider a total withdrawal. On 23 January Soviets launched offensive trying to break through the front toward "Liepaja and Saldus". They managed to take the bridgeheads on Barta and Vartaja rivers but were soon driven off by the Germans.
 
The 5th grand battle started on the 12th of February with a Soviet attack against the Germans towards "Dzukste". Other attacks took place south of Liepāja where the Soviets massed 21 divisions, and south of Tukums where 11 divisions tried to break through the German front and take the town; 4 of those 11 divisions were surrounded and destroyed. On the 16th of February the Soviets started an offensive against the 19th Division. Again savage fighting took place for the possession of a few farmhouses. The battle ended on the 12th of March. Soviets lost 70,000 men dead and wounded, 608 tanks and 178 planes, but gained only a small strip of land including "Dzukste and Priekule".
 
The last grand battle in Courland began on the 16th of March during the spring thaw and lasted until the 30th of March. The Soviets suffered 74,000 casualties; 263 tanks were destroyed. The Germans near "Saldus" were pushed back a few miles. The 19th Division was replaced by a few German units and was used to counter-attack the Soviet breakthrough. It stemmed the Soviet advance and regained some of the positions lost by the Germans. 
 
On the 8th of May, Germany's Head of State "Staatsoberhaupt" and President "Reichspräsident" Karl Donitz ordered Colonel-General Carl Hilpert, the Army Group's last commander, to surrender. Hilpert, his personal staff, and staffs of three Armies surrendered to Marshal Leonid Govorov, the commander of the Leningrad Front. At this time, the group still consisted of the remnants of 27 divisions and one brigade. 
 
On the 8th of May, General Rauser succeeded in obtaining better surrender terms from the Soviet command. On the 9th of May, the Soviet commission in Peilei started to interrogate the captive staff of Army Group Courland, and general collection of prisoners begun. 
 
By the 12th of May, approximately 135,000 German troops surrendered in the Courland Pocket. On the 23rd of May, the Soviet collection of the German troops in the Courland Pocket was completed. A total of about 180,000 German troops were taken into captivity from the Baltic area. The bulk of the prisoners of war were initially held at the "Valdai Hills Camps".
 
Order of Battle
 
German;
  • Army Group North "to 25 January 1945"
  • Army Group Courland "25 January 1945 to 8 May 1945"
  • German 16th Army
  • German 18th Army  
as of 5 November 1944:
  • I Army Corps
  • II Army Corps
  • X Army Corps
  • III SS Corps
  • 52nd Infantry Division, 300th Infantry Division, 563rd Infantry Division
as of 19 February 1945:
  • I Army Corps
  • I Army Corps
  • 52nd Infantry Division, 14th Panzer-Division

Army Group Kurland included the 4th and 12th Panzer Divisions.

The 4th Panzer Division was evacuated from the bridgehead in January 1945.

Historiography
 
Western and Soviet historiography differ greatly with respect to the character of the fighting in Courland and to the strategic intent of Soviet forces.
 
Soviet and Russian Accounts
 
The First Courland Battle was intended to destroy German forces. After that failure, official accounts ignore Courland, stating only that the Soviet goal was to prevent the Germans from escaping. 
 
In this account, the Soviet actions in Courland were defensive blockading operations. Hostilities consisted of containing German breakout attempts, and the Red Army made no concerted effort to capture the Courland Pocket, which was of little strategic importance after the isolation of Army Group North, whereas the main offensive effort was required for the Vistula-Oder and Berlin Offensives. Soviet forces suffered correspondingly low casualties. While the modern research of Grigoriy Krivosheev offers a low account of Soviet casualties: 30,501 "irrecoverable" and 130,447 "medical" losses, for a total of 160,948 Soviet casualties between the 16th of February and the 8th of May 1945, that period covers only the Fifth and Sixth "and final" Battles of Courland.
 
According to Russian historian "A. Isayev", Courland was a peripheral front for both the Soviets and Germans. The Soviet goal was to prevent the German troops there from being transported by sea to reinforce the defense of Berlin. Soviet operations intended to further isolate and also destroy the enemy, but the strength of the attacking troops was too low to make any significant progress in the difficult terrain. However, the Soviet commanders worked competently and as a result the casualties were low.
 
Western Sources
 
Stalin had initially been intent on annihilating the German forces in Courland, reporting in September 1944 that he was "Mopping Up" in the Baltic's, and in November, that the Germans were "now being hammered to a finish". As late as March 1945, Stalin was still making guarantees that German forces in Courland would soon be defeated. This victory was necessary, in Stalin's eyes, "to re-establish Soviet control over its 1941 frontiers following the annexation of the Baltic States". According to the Latvian Encyclopedia, "the Soviet command attached great importance to the capture of Courland, which held special significance for the Latvians as it was the beachhead from which they had retaken their territory from the Bolsheviks after World War I".
 
The Soviets launched six offensives to defeat the German Army Group Courland. Throughout the campaign against the Courland pocket, Soviet forces did not advance more than 40.23km "25 miles" anywhere along the front, ending no more than a few kilometers forward of their original positions after seven months of conflict. The Soviet operations were hampered by the difficult terrain and bad weather. 
 
The German army group reported inflicting heavy losses on the Soviets. According to a communiqué from the German Courland command of the 16th of March 1945, the Soviet army lost 320,000 soldiers "killed, wounded and captured", 2,388 tanks, 659 planes, 900 artillery pieces, and 1,440 machine-guns through the first five battles in Courland. The Soviets are estimated to have lost an additional 74,000 with 553 taken prisoner in the sixth and last battle. The total German casualties in Courland are estimated to be over 150,000.
 
The withdrawal of Soviet units starting from December 1944, indicates that the Soviet command did not consider Courland to be as important as other sectors of the Eastern Front. Destroying the German forces there was not worth the effort and the goal was now to keep them from breaking out. The next three offensives were most likely intended to prevent the evacuation of German troops by sea. By the start of April 1945, the Soviets viewed the German forces in Courland as not much more than self-supporting prisoners.
 
Aftermath
 
On the 9th of May 1945, General Hovhannes Bagramyan accepted the surrender of German forces at Ezere Manor in southwest Latvia.
 
According to Russian records, "146,000 German and Latvian troops were taken prisoner", including "28 generals" and "5,083 high-ranking officers", and taken to camps in the USSR interior and imprisoned for years. Current scholarship puts the count of those surrendering at more than 200,000; 189,112 Germans including 42 generals, among them the German commander, "Carl Hilpert", who subsequently died in a "Soviet POW camp in 1947", and approximately "14,000 Latvians".
 
The Soviets detained all males between the ages of 16 and 60, and conducted widespread deforestation campaigns, burning vast tracts of forest, to flush out resisters.