Operation Doppelkopf

double head (German card game)

This was a German offensive by Generaloberst Erhard Raus’s 3rd Panzerarmee to re-establish a land corridor with the forces of Generaloberst Ferdinand Schörner’s Heeresgruppe ‘Nord’ cut off by the Soviet forces in the Kurland region of Latvia (16/27 August 1944).

The operation was conceived by Adolf Hitler, and was to be made by two Panzer corps of the 3rd Panzerarmee, using one Panzergrenadier and four Panzer divisions of which two were still on their way from Romania, where they had been the last reserves available to Generaloberst Johannes Friessner’s Heeresgruppe ‘Südukraine’.

This force was to attack to the north-east from its concentration area in western Lithuania and restore land communications between Generaloberst Georg-Hans Reinhardt’s Heeresgruppe ‘Mitte’ and Schörner’s Heeresgruppe ‘Nord’ in the Kurland peninsula. After this the 3rd Panzerarmee would take under its command the infantry divisions of Heeresgruppe ‘Nord’ and attack to the south-east in the direction of Kaunas in a potent raid across the rear of General Hovhannes Kh. Bagramyan’s 1st Baltic Front and General Ivan D. Chernyakhovsky’s 3rd Belorussian Front.

By the end of July 1944, Soviet mechanised forces had reached the Gulf of Riga following their headlong advance in the ‘Kaunas Offensive Operation’ and ‘Šiauliai Offensive Operation’, both of these being parts of the third and final phase of ‘Bagration’. General Polkovnik Porfiri G. Chanchibaze’s 2nd Guards Army had exploited a breach between General Paul Laux’s 16th Army of Heeresgruppe ‘Nord’ and the 3rd Panzerarmee of Generaloberst Georg-Hans Reinhardt’s Heeresgruppe ‘Mitte’, and all surface links between them were severed. To the east, General Polkovnik Ivan M. Chistiakov’s 6th Guards Army attacked toward Riga.

The Oberkommando des Heeres made immediate plans for an offensive to restore the connection between the two army groups. A number of armoured formations were assembled under Heeresgruppe ‘Mitte’ in Kurland with orders to attack toward Jelgava (Mitau in German), cutting off the Soviet spearheads. General Otto von Knobelsdorff’s XL Panzerkorps 1 was assembled at Liepaja (Libau in German), while General Dietrich von Saucken’s XXXIX Panzerkorps was assembled at Tauragė (Tauroggen in German).

The ‘Doppelkopf’ offensive began with an attack by the 7th Panzerdivision on 15 August toward Kelmė, and the main part of the offensive started on the following day. There was strong resistance to the XL Panzerkorps by 10 Soviet infantry divisions supported by three artillery divisions and anti-tank units. von Saucken’s XXXIX Panzerkorps opened its part of the operation on 18 August. Its left flank, the Panzerkampfgruppe ‘von Strachwitz’, an ad hoc unit under the command of Generalmajor Hyazinth Graf Strachwitz von Gross-Zauche und Camminetz, was preceded by a heavy bombardment from the 8-in (203-mm) guns of the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen.

Forces inside the Kurland pocket attacked to link with von Strachwitz’s command, which reached the 16th Army at Tukums by 12.00. By August 27, the corridor between 3rd Panzerarmee and the 16th Army had been enlarged to a width of 18 miles (29 km), though the latter formation had come under renewed pressure from a fresh Soviet offensive against Riga.

The partial success of ‘Doppelkopf’ offered a final opportunity for the land evacuation of Heeresgruppe ‘Nord’ from the last German footholds in the northern part of the Baltic states. Hitler refused top consider or authorise any such evacuation, though, for he felt that a German presence in the Baltic states would offset the loss of Finland in posing a threat on and behind the Soviet forces’ right flank, and also claimed that that any evacuation would have a disastrous effect on the attitude of Sweden. His folly in this matter extended even to the transfer of two divisions from Heeresgruppe ‘Mitte’ to Heeresgruppe ‘Nord’.

The operation had also failed in its more ambitious objectives of retaking Šiauliai or of cutting off the 6th Guards Army, which was threatening Riga. The one positive result of this effort, as far as the Germans were concerned, was the fact that its threat served to halt the offensive of the 1st Baltic Front attack against the German forces south of the Dvina river, since the axis of these Soviet forces had to be turned from north-west to west to face the 3rd Panzerarmee coming up in their rear.

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This comprised Generalmajor Gerhard Schmidhuber’s 7th Panzerdivision, Generalleutnant Martin Unrein’s 14th Panzerdivision, Generalleutnant Hasso-Eccard Freiherr von Manteuffel’s Panzergrenadierdivision ‘Grossdeutschland’ and Generalleutnant Ernst-Anton von Krosigk’s 1st Division.