German 4th Army
World War II
|Insignia of the 4th Army in World War II|
Invasion of Poland
The 4th Army was activated on 1 August 1939 with General Günther von Kluge in command. It first went into action during the Polish Campaign of September 1939 as part of Army Group North, which was under Field Marshal Feodor von Bock. The 4th Army contained the II Corps and III Corps, each with two infantry divisions, the XIX Corps with two motorized and one panzer divisions, the I Frontier Guard Corps with one infantry division, and two infantry divisions in reserve. It was tasked with capturing the Polish Corridor and thus re-linking mainland Germany with East Prussia. Under Kluge, the Fourth Army completed its task without much difficulty. Part of the Fourth Army attacked south into Pomorze and joined other German forces at Warsaw.
Invasion of France
During the attack on the Low Countries and France, the 4th Army, as part of Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt's Army Group A, went into Belgium from the Rhineland. Along with other German armies, the 4th Army penetrated the Dyle Line and completed the trapping of the Allied forces in France. The then Major-General Erwin Rommel, who was under Kluge, contributed immensely to his victories. Kluge, who had been General of the Artillery, was promoted to Field Marshal along with many others on 19 July 1940.
Invasion of the Soviet Union
The 4th Army took part in Operation Barbarossa in 1941 as part of von Bock's Army Group Center. Its initial aim was to trap as many Soviet troops as possible around Minsk. The 4th Army performed well and took part in the capture of Smolensk. However, the poor road network contributed to the stalling of the army group and the 4th Army. On 19 December 1941, Kluge resigned along with von Bock and Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch. Kluge was replaced by General Ludwig Kübler.
After the launching of Operation Blue, the 4th Army and the entire Army Group Center did not see much action, as troops were concentrated to the south. However, from 1943 on, as Army Group Center was in full retreat, the Fourth Army also had to move its troops backwards. The Red Army's campaign of autumn 1943, Operation Suvorov (also known as the "battle of the highways") saw the 4th Army pushed back towards Orsha and Vitebsk.
1944 saw the 4th Army still holding defensive positions east of Orsha and Mogilev in the Belorussian SSR. The first Soviet summer offensive of that year, Operation Bagration, proved disastrous for the German Armed Forces (Wehrmacht), and especially so for the Fourth Army. Commencing on 22 June, an overwhelming Soviet assault saw nearly the entire army trapped in a pocket east of Minsk and destroyed during the first week of July. Very few units were able to escape westwards; those that did so were involved in desperate attempts to stabilise the German lines for the remainder of the summer, after which the Fourth Army required complete rebuilding.
During late 1944–45 the 4th Army, now under the command of Friedrich Hoßbach, was tasked with holding the borders of East Prussia. The Soviet East Prussian Offensive, commencing on 13 January, saw the 4th Army driven steadily backwards towards the Baltic coast over a period of two weeks and threatened with encirclement. Hoßbach and Army Group Centre's commander, Georg-Hans Reinhardt, attempted to break out of East Prussia (defying their orders, for which they were relieved of command) by attacking towards Elbing; but the attack was driven back, and the 4th Army was again encircled in what became known as the Heiligenbeil pocket.
The army held its positions along the coast of the Vistula lagoon until overwhelmed by Soviet attacks in late March. The few remaining forces in the area were incorporated in the East Prussian Army Group commanded by Dietrich von Saucken, which surrendered to the Soviets at the end of the war in May.
- Field Marshal Günther von Kluge (1 August 1939 – 19 December 1941)
- General of Mountain Troops Ludwig Kübler (19 December 1941 – 20 January 1942)
- Colonel-General Gotthard Heinrici (20 January 1942 – 6 June 1942)
- Colonel-General Hans von Salmuth (6 June 1942 – 15 July 1942)
- Colonel-General Gotthard Heinrici (15 July 1942 – June ?, 1943)
- Colonel-General Hans von Salmuth (June ?, 1943 – 31 July 1943)
- Colonel-General Gotthard Heinrici (31 July 1943 – 4 June 1944)
- General of Infantry Kurt von Tippelskirch (4 June 1944 – 30 June 1944)
- Lieutenant-General Vincenz Müller (30 June 1944 – 7 July 1944)
- General of Infantry Kurt von Tippelskirch (7 July 1944 – 18 July 1944)
- General of Infantry Friedrich Hoßbach (18 July 1944 – 29 January 1945)
- General of Infantry Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller (29 January 1945 – 27 April 1945)
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