Harpe was promoted to colonel in January 1937 and commanded the 1st Panzer Brigade at the outbreak of the war in September 1939. He was promoted to Generalmajor (U.S. equiv. brigadier general) in August 1940 and commanded the newly formed 12th Panzer Division from its creation in 1940 to 1942. During July and August 1941 in Operation barbarossa, the division participated in the great encirclement operations at Minsk and Smolensk. Harpe's division was transferred to the Leningrad Front in September 1941 and suffered heavy losses.
Harpe was promoted to Generalleutnant (U.S. equiv. major general) in January 1942 and was assigned to direct the XLI Army Corps. Six months later, he was promoted to general of panzer troops. In October 1943, he succeeded General Walther Model in command of the Ninth Army southeast of Minsk. Promoted to colonel general in April 1944, Harpe took command of the Fourth Panzer Army (Model's Army Group South) in May 1944. The next month, he succeeded Model as commander of Army Group South (renamed Army Group Northern Ukraine). It was renamed again as Army Group A in August 1944. To defend a long and thin front from the Carpathians in northeast Hungary to north of Warsaw, Harpe had only 400,000 troops and 1,136 tanks and assault guns.
The Red Army's massive offensive (Vistula-Oder Operation) that opened on 12 January 1945 quickly smashed through Harpe's thin and overextended lines. Warsaw fell on 17 January, and Adolf Hitler, seeking a scapegoat, replaced Harpe with Colonel General Ferdinand Schörner, one of his favorite officers. Harpe was recalled to duty on 9 March 1945 and assigned command of the Fifth Panzer Army, recently held by Baron Hasso E. von Manteuffel, general of panzer troops. This marked the only time Harpe did not have a command on the Eastern Front. The Fifth Panzer Army, only a skeleton of its former self, was entrapped in the Ruhr pocket, and the Americans captured Harpe on 17 April 1945. He was released from captivity in 1948. He died in Nuremberg on 14 March 1968.
Jon D. Berlin
Duffy, Christopher. Red Storm on the Reich: The Soviet March on Germany, 1945. New York: Atheneum, 1991.; Erickson, John. Stalin's War with Germany. Vol. 2, The Road to Berlin. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1983.; Glantz, David M., and Jonathan M. House. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1995.; Mitcham, Samuel W., Jr. Crumbling Empire: The German Defeat in the East, 1944. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2001.