The Fight and Destruction of Third Panzer Army

Otto Heidkämper

Written less than a decade after 3rd Panzer Army's defense of Vitebsk, Otto Heidkamper's account is published for the first time in English.
Date Published :
November 2017
Publisher :
Contributor(s) :
Linden Lyons
Series :
Die Wehrmacht im Kampf
Illustration :
20 maps
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Hardback
ISBN : 9781612005485
Pages : 256
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : In stock
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The city of Vitebsk in Belarus was of strategic importance during the fighting on the Eastern Front, as it controlled the route to Minsk. A salient in the German lines, Vitebsk had been declared a Festerplatz—a fortress town—meaning that it must be held at all costs. A task handed to 3rd Panzer Army in 1943.

Otto Heidkämper was chief of staff of Georg-Hans Reinhardt's 3rd Panzer Army, Army Group Center, which was stationed around Vitebsk and Smolensk from early 1942 until June 1944. His detailed account of the defense of Vitebsk through the winter of 1943 into 1944, right up to the Soviet summer offensive, is a valuable firsthand account of how the operations around Vitebsk played out. Twenty maps accompany the narrative. During this time, 3rd Panzer Army undertook numerous military operations to defend the area against the Soviets; they also engaged in anti-partisan operations in the area, deporting civilians accused of supporting partisans and destroying property.

Finally, in June 1944, the Soviets amassed four armies to take Vitebsk, which was then held by 38,000 men of 53rd Corps. Within three days, Vitebsk was encircled, with 53rd Corps trapped inside. Attempts to break the encirclement failed, and resistance in the pocket broke down over the next few days. On June 27, the final destruction of German resistance in Vitebsk was completed. Twenty thousand Germans were dead and another 10,000 had been captured.

About The Author

Otto Heidkämper was a highly decorated Wehrmacht general who commanded several divisions during World War II. He was a recipient of the Knight's Cross. He was Chief-of-Staff of 3rd Panzer Army during the Vitebsk battles, making his account uniquely valuable.

Linden Lyons holds a master’s degree in history from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. He also studied German at the University of Freiburg and librarianship at the University of Canberra. He is the translator for Panzer Operations, Vitebsk, and Leningrad in the Die Wehrmacht im Kampf series.



1 The combat situation of the Third Panzer Army in the summer of 1943
2 The retreat on the right wing of the Third Panzer Army
3 The Soviet penetration at Nevel
4 The retreat of the VI Corps to the Panther Line
5 Concerns about personnel
6 Enemy activity in the Nevel breakthrough area from 18 October 1943
7 Commencement of the Soviet offensive east of Vitebsk
8 The critical development of the situation on the northern front, and withdrawal combat on the northeastern front
9 Further developments on the front to the east of Vitebsk
10 Combat and preparations for withdrawal on the northern front of the Third Panzer Army
11 Suspected enemy intentions after the frost returned
12 The first winter defensive battle around Vitebsk
13 Regrouping at the front
14 The second winter defensive battle around Vitebsk, and the first signs of the fighting to come
15 Regrouping of the Third Panzer Army, and further combat on its right wing
16 The removal of units from the Third Panzer Army, and the first discussion of a ‘Vitebsk fortress’
17 The end of the winter defensive battles, and renewed defensive combat on the Luchesa
18 The struggle of the Third Panzer Army against the designation of Vitebsk as a ‘fortress’
19 Assessment of the situation in the middle of May 1944
20 Anti-bandit operations in the rear area of the Panzer Army
21 The Soviet summer offensive of 1944: the advance against the Third Panzer Army
22 Closing remarks

Appendix 1: The units under the command of the Third Panzer Army between May 1943 and June 1944
Appendix 2: Affi davit on anti-bandit warfare
List of Heidkämper’s sources for Vitebsk


“Vitebsk succeeds as a serious history of the army which Heidkamper served as chief of staff… At a time when library shelves already groan under the weight of worthwhile books about the Russo-German War, this valuable German study from 1954 by an Eastern Front general returns in a high-quality English translation that deserves wider attention today. Recommended. Make room on the shelf.”

- Stone & Stone Second World War Books

“A well-written reflective account.”

- Miniature Wargames

“…an impressively informed and informative account that is a highly valued addition to the growing library of World War II military histories and memoirs.”

- Midwest Book Review, February 2018

“Overall a very good book...An incisive and accurate account of the 3rd Army, and an excellent translation by Linden Lyons. 4.5 stars.”

- Army Rumour Service

“Heidkamper’s book is relatively short, around 175 pages; however, he packs a wealth of information into those pages to make the story quite interesting from the German army’s point of view. I would recommend this book to any military-history buff interested in World War II’s Eastern-front battles.”

- San Francisco Book Review

“Vitebsk provides an operational-level view of a positional defensive fight against a numerical superior enemy. As such, it contains a variety of potential lessons for readers looking at large-scale combat operations. This said, it is one perspective and was written without the assistance of many of the archives now available, especially the Red Army’s”


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