Following the war, Heinrici remained in the army, and he returned to East Prussia as a company commander in the 13th Infantry Regiment. He was promoted to major in 1926, to lieutenant colonel in 1932, to colonel in March 1933, and to Generalmajor (U.S. equiv. brigadier general) in January 1936. He commanded the 16th Infantry Division at Münster from October 1937 to February 1940 and was promoted to Generalleutnant (U.S. equiv. major general) in March 1938. The division fought in the invasion of Poland in September 1939.
Heinrici won promotion to General der Infanterie (U.S. equiv. lieutenant general) in April 1940 and commanded XII Army Corps from April to June 1940, participating with his unit in the invasion of France. He then commanded XLIII Army Corps (June 1940–January 1942), first on the Western Front and then in Operation barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, where he spent the remainder of his war service. His corps was engaged at Bialystok, Baranovici, and Minsk as part of Army Group Center and then in Orsha, Mogilev, Smolensk, Gomel, Kiev, Vjasma, and Bryansk.
In January 1942, Heinrici replaced Field Marshal Günther von Kluge as commander in chief of Fourth Army when Kluge was elevated to command Army Group Center. Promoted to colonel general in January 1943, Heinrici directed the Fourth Army until June 1944. Heinrici's forces held a line from Orsha to Rogachev, and between October and December 1943 he successfully halted several Soviet offensives, rotating troops by bringing in a fresh battalion every day to an endangered area. Heinrici was considered to be a master of defensive warfare, and his army is believed to have withstood forces six times greater than itself.
Heinrici contracted hepatitis in May 1944 and was transferred to the Führer Reserve in June, escaping the disaster that befell Army Group Center during Operation bagration. On his return to active service in mid-August 1944, he took command of the First Panzer Army. The so-called Army Group Heinrici consisted of this unit and the First Hungarian Army. Heinrici quickly put his defensive stamp on events and kept the Red Army from capturing Dukla Pass until 6 October 1944, by which time the Germans had crushed a Slovak uprising and stabilized the front. During the next few months, Heinrici withdrew his forces in good order into Silesia during the Vistula-Oder Campaign.
Heinrici replaced Heinrich Himmler as commander of Army Group Vistula on 20 March 1945, following Himmler's brief but disastrous command tenure. With the decimated Third Panzer Army and Ninth Army, Heinrici held the Oder River line and masterfully defended Seelow Heights against overwhelming odds, but he was unable to stem the Soviet tide at this late date. He disagreed with Adolf Hitler over the Führer's order to hold at all costs, and following an unauthorized withdrawal of forces he was dismissed on 29 April 1945. He surrendered to British forces after the war and was released from imprisonment in May 1948. Heinrici contributed two reports in the postwar German Military History Program. Many regarded him as one of the best German generals of the war. Heinrici died in Waiblingen, Baden-Württemberg, on 13 December 1971.
Jon D. Berlin
Duffy, Christopher. Red Storm on the Reich: The Soviet March on Germany, 1945. New York: Atheneum, 1991.; Liddell Hart, B. H. The German Generals Talk. New York: William Morrow, 1948.; Toland, John. The Last 100 Days. New York: Random House, 1965.; Ziemke, Earl F. Stalingrad to Berlin: The German Defeat in the East. Washington, DC: Center of Military History, 1984.