Operation Hela (ii)

Hel peninsula

This was the German plan for a maritime evacuation of the forces in the Kurland fall-back lodgement in Latvia (autumn 1944/spring 1945).

The plan was expressly vetoed by Adolf Hitler, though some units were surreptitiously removed by sea.

The Kurland pocket had been formed on 10 October 1944 when the forces of General Hovhannes Kh. Bagramyan’s 1st Baltic Front reached the Baltic Sea just to the south of Liepaja, cutting off a sizeable portion (24 infantry and two Panzer divisions) of Generaloberst Carl Hilpert’s 16th Army and General Ehrenfried-Oskar Boege’s 18th Army of Generaloberst Ferdinand Schörner’s Heeresgruppe ‘Nord’ in an area bounded by Tukums on the western shore of the Gulf of Riga and Liepaja on the Baltic.

The implementation of this movement by the 1st Baltic Front as part of the ‘Baltic Offensive Operation’ was classic of logistics and deception, for under the cover of overt preparations for an assault on Riga, the Latvian capital on the right flank of Bagramyan’s front, the Soviet commander in a mere six days moved three infantry armies, one tank army and a number of independent corps (500,000 men and 1,300 armoured vehicles) a distance of 100 miles (160 km) from his right to his left flank.

Hitler steadfastly refused to permit an evacuation of the lodgement, which held out until the end of the war, on the grounds that its continued existence would tie down significant Soviet forces, improve Germany’s political standing with the Baltic countries with which Germany ‘traded’, and safeguard the U-boat training area off Danzig.

On 25 January 1945 Heeresgruppe ‘Nord’, now under the command of Generaloberst Lothar Rendulic, was renamed Heeresgruppe ‘Kurland’, but the continued existence of these isolated German formations posed no real threat to the Soviets.