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|Battle of Velikiye Luki|
|Part of the Eastern Front of World War II|
Velikiye Luki (red, upper left) and the nearby rail trunks, in the context of the Soviet 1942–1943 offensives. (click to enlarge)
|Commanders and leaders|
| LIX Korps – ~50,000 (on 19 Nov)|
Reinforcement forces: ~50,000
| 3rd Shock Army – 95,608 (on 19 Nov)|
Reinforcement forces: 86,700
|Casualties and losses|
|Soviet estimate: ~60.000 killed, missing or wounded, 4.500 captured||104,022|
31,674 killed or missing
The Velikiye Luki offensive operation (Russian : Великолукская наступательная операция) was executed by the forces of the Red Army's Kalinin Front against the Wehrmacht's 3rd Panzer Army during the Winter Campaign of 1942–1943 with the objective of liberating the Russian city of Velikiye Luki as part of the northern pincer of the Rzhev-Sychevka Strategic Offensive Operation (Operation Mars).
Russian is an East Slavic language, which is official in the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as being widely used throughout Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, the Caucasus and Central Asia. It was the de facto language of the Soviet Union until its dissolution on 25 December 1991. Although, nowadays, nearly three decades after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian is used in official capacity or in public life in all the post-Soviet nation-states, as well as in Israel and Mongolia, the rise of state-specific varieties of this language tends to be strongly denied in Russia, in line with the Russian World ideology.
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army, frequently shortened to Red Army was the army and the air force of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, and, after 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The army was established immediately after the 1917 October Revolution. The Bolsheviks raised an army to oppose the military confederations of their adversaries during the Russian Civil War. Beginning in February 1946, the Red Army, along with the Soviet Navy, embodied the main component of the Soviet Armed Forces; taking the official name of "Soviet Army", until its dissolution in December 1991.
The Kalinin Front was a major formation of the Red Army active in the Eastern Front of World War II. It was formally established by Stavka directive on 17 October 1941 and allocated three armies: 22nd, 29th Army and 30th. In May 1942, the Air Forces of the Kalinin Front were reorganised as the 3rd Air Army, comprising three fighter, two ground attack, and one bomber division.
As part of Operation Barbarossa, the German army took Velikiye Luki on 19 July 1941, but was forced to retreat the next day due to Soviet counter-attacks breaking the line of communications in multiple places.A new attack was launched in late August, and the city was recaptured on Aug. 26.
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, which started on Sunday, 22 June 1941, during World War II. The operation stemmed from Nazi Germany's ideological aims to conquer the western Soviet Union so that it could be repopulated by Germans (Lebensraum), to use Slavs as an unfree labour force for the Axis war effort, and to seize the oil reserves of the Caucasus and the agricultural resources of Soviet territories.
The city had great strategic value due to the main north-south railway line running just west of the city at Novosokolniki, as well as the city's own rail network to Vitebsk and bridges over the Lovat River. After its capture and with the German offensive running out of steam for the winter, the area was fortified. Marshy terrain extended to Lake Peipus from just north of the city defended by the German 16th Field Army, making operations in the region around the city difficult for both sides. Rather than maintaining a solid "front" in the area, the Germans established a series of thinly held outposts to the north and south of the city.
Vitebsk, or Viciebsk, is a city in Belarus. The capital of the Viciebsk Region, it had 342,381 inhabitants in 2004, making it the country's fourth-largest city. It is served by Viciebsk Vostochny Airport and Viciebsk Air Base.
The Lovat is a river in Vitebsk Oblast of Belarus, Usvyatsky, Velikoluksky, and Loknyansky Districts, as well as of the city of Velikiye Luki, of Pskov Oblast and Kholmsky, Poddorsky, Starorussky, and Parfinsky Districts of Novgorod Oblast in Russia. The source of the Lovat is Lake Lovatets in northeastern Belarus, and the Lovat is a tributary of Lake Ilmen. Its main tributaries are the Loknya (left), the Kunya (right), the Polist (left), the Redya (left), and the Robya (right) Rivers. The towns of Velikiye Luki and Kholm, as well as the urban-type settlement of Parfino, are located on the banks of the Lovat.
Lake Peipus is the largest transboundary lake in Europe, lying on the border between Estonia and Russia.
Soviet counterattacks during the Winter Campaign of 1941–1942, especially the Battles of Rzhev just to the south, formed a large salient in the German lines. Velikiye Luki lay just on the western edge of the original advance, and was just as strategic for the Soviets as the German. The city dominated the region and would therefore be the natural point for fighting, offering the possibility of eliminating the German bridges on the Lovat, and to deny the Germans use of the rail line that provided communications between Army groups North and Centre. Furthermore, as long as the German Army occupied both rail junctions at Velikiye Luki and Rzhev, the Red Army could not reliably reinforce or resupply its troops on the north face of the massive Rzhev Salient.
The Battles of Rzhev were a series of Soviet operations in World War II between January 8, 1942 and March 31, 1943. Due to the high losses suffered by the Red Army, the campaign became known by veterans and historians as the "Rzhev Meat Grinder".
In view of its strategic significance, the Germans heavily fortified the city over the course of 1942. The Soviets often raided into German-held territory around the town and the town could only be kept supplied by armoured trains.
The Soviet offensive to retake the city was developed in mid-November 1942 using troops from the 3rd and 4th Shock armies, and 3rd Air Army. The city itself was defended by the 83rd Infantry Division commanded by Lieutenant General Theodor Scherer, the lines to the south held by the 3rd Mountain Division, and the front to the north held by the 5th Mountain Division. The city itself was provided with extensive prepared defenses and garrisoned by a full regiment of the 83rd Division and other troops, totaling around 7,000.
The 83rd Infantry Division,, was a German reserve and security formation during World War II.
Theodor Scherer was a German general and divisional commander in the Wehrmacht during World War II.
The 3rd Mountain Division was a formation of the German Wehrmacht during World War II. It was created from the Austrian Army's 5th and 7th Divisions following the Anschluss in 1938.
Rather than attacking the town directly, the Soviet forces advanced into the difficult terrain to the north and south of the town. Spearheaded by four rifle divisions to the south and one to the north, the operation commenced on 24 November. Despite heavy losses, they successfully cut the land links to the city by 27 November, trapping the garrison; by the next day they threatened to cut off other elements of the corps south of the city when the front commander released his 2nd Mechanised Corps into the breach created between the 3rd Mountain and 83rd Infantry Divisions. Army Group Centre's commander asked the OKH for permission to conduct a breakout operation while the situation was still relatively fluid by pulling the German lines back by around ten miles (16 km). The request was dismissed by Hitler, who, pointing to an earlier success in a similar situation at Kholm, demanded that the encircled formations stand fast while the Gruppe "Chevallerie" from the north and 20th Motorised Division from the south counter-attacked to open the encirclement.
Army Group Centre was the name of two distinct strategic German Army Groups that fought on the Eastern Front in World War II. The first Army Group Centre was created on 22 June 1941, as one of three German Army formations assigned to the invasion of the Soviet Union. On 25 January 1945, after it was encircled in the Königsberg pocket, Army Group Centre was renamed Army Group North, and Army Group A became Army Group Centre. The latter formation retained its name until the end of the war in Europe.
The Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH) was the High Command of the German Army during the Era of Nazi Germany. It was founded in 1935 as a part of Adolf Hitler's re-militarisation of Germany. From 1938 OKH was, together with OKL and OKM, formally subordinated to the OKW, with the exception of the Waffen-SS. During the war, OKH had the responsibility of strategic planning of Armies and Army Groups, while the General Staff of the OKH managed operational matters. Each German Army also had an Armeeoberkommando, Army Command, or AOK. Until the German defeat at Moscow in December 1941, OKH and its staff was de facto the most important unit within the German war planning. OKW then took over this function for theatres other than the German-Soviet front. OKH commander held the title Oberbefehlshaber des Heeres. Following the Battle of Moscow, after OKH commander Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch was excused, Hitler appointed himself as Commander-in-Chief of the Army.
The Kholm Pocket was the name given for the encirclement of German troops by the Red Army around Kholm south of Leningrad, during World War II on the Eastern Front, from 23 January 1942 until 5 May 1942. A much larger pocket was simultaneously surrounded in Demyansk, about 100 km (62 mi) to the northeast. These were the results of German retreat following their defeat during the Battle of Moscow.
The garrison were ordered to hold the city at all costs, while a relief force was assembled. The remainder of the 83rd Infantry and 3rd Mountain Divisions, encircled south of Velikiye Luki, fought their way west to meet the relieving troops. Due to Army Group Centre's commitments at Rzhev, the only resources immediately available to man the lines opposite Velikiye Luki were those already in the area, which were organised as Gruppe Wöhler (291st Infantry Division). Later, other divisions were made available, including the understrength 8th Panzer Division from Gruppe Chevallerie, the 20th Motorized Infantry Division from Army Group Centre reserve, and the weak 6th Luftwaffe Field Division, and the hurriedly rushed to the front 707th and 708th Security, and 205th and 331st Infantry divisions although there was a corresponding build-up of Soviet strength.
Throughout December, the garrison – which maintained radio contact with the relief forces – held out against repeated Soviet attempts to reduce their lines, and in particular the rail depot in the city's southern suburb. The Soviet forces, attacking strongly entrenched troops in severe winter weather, suffered extremely high casualties, while conditions in the city steadily deteriorated despite airdrops of supplies, ammunition and equipment. In the meantime, Soviet attempts to take their main objective, the rail lines at Novosokolniki, had been frustrated by the counter-attacks of the relief force. An attempt by the Germans to reach Velikiye Luki in late December, ran into stubborn Soviet defence and halted, heavily damaged.
Operation Totila, the next attempt to break through to Velikiye Luki, was launched on 4 January. The two German spearheads advanced to within five miles (8 km) of the city, but stalled due to pressure on their flanks. On 5 January, a Soviet attack from the north split Velikiye Luki in two, isolating a small group of troops in the fortified "citadel" in the west of the city, while the bulk of the garrison retained a sector centred around the rail station in the south of the city. The former group broke out on during the night of the 14th; around 150 men eventually reached German lines. The German garrison surrendered on 16 January.
After the war, the Soviet authorities collected a representative set of men of various ranks from general to private who had fought at Velikiye Luki from prisoner of war camps and brought them to the city. A military tribunal held a public trial and convicted them for war crimes related to anti-partisan warfare. Nine were sentenced to death and publicly hanged in the main square of Velikiye Luki in January 1946.
The battle is sometimes called "The Little Stalingrad of the North" due to its similarities with the larger and better-known Battle of Stalingrad that raged in the southern sector of the front. Judged purely by the numbers, this battle was a small affair by the usual standards of the Eastern Front (150,000 total casualties suffered by both sides as opposed to 2,000,000 total casualties at Stalingrad), but had enormous strategic consequences. The liberation of Velikiye Luki meant the Red Army had, for the first time since October 1941, a direct rail supply line to the northern face of the Rzhev Salient exposing the German troops at Rzhev to encirclement. Events at Velikiye Luki thus necessitated the withdrawal from Rzhev salient ending any German military threat to Moscow.However, even after withdrawing from Rzhev, possession of Velikiye Luki meant that the rail link between Army groups North and Centre was severed, preventing the German Army from shifting reinforcements between threatened sectors. Furthermore, the rail lines from Velikiye Luki led directly into the rear of Vitebsk, a critical logistics hub for Army Group Centre. The effects of this battle meant that Army Group Centre was exposed to attack from the north, east, and (after the Battle of Smolensk) south, exposing the whole army group to encirclement, which is exactly what happened in the Operation Bagration the following year.
While it is somewhat difficult to separate the actions of various Red Army and Wehrmacht units within the flurry of movements involved in the larger scope of the Soviet operations, for the most part these below are derived from Glantz and Isayev.
Most of Army Group Center was engaged in resisting the second Soviet Rzhev-Sychevka offensive throughout this period.
Almost half of the 83rd Infantry Division was assigned to the Velikiye Luki garrison.
The 3rd Mountain Division was at little more than half strength, since its 139th Regiment had been left in Lapland when the division withdrew from northern Finland. The 138th Mountain Regiment was the unknown unit of 3rd Mountain shown in Maps 2 and 3.
20th Motorized was from Army Group Center's reserve.
The Battle of Krasny Bor was part of the Soviet offensive Operation Polyarnaya Zvezda. It called for a pincer attack near Leningrad, to build on the success of Operation Iskra and completely lift the Siege of Leningrad, encircling a substantial part of the German 18th Army. The offensive near the town of Krasny Bor, formed the western arm of the pincer. The Soviet offensive began on Wednesday, 10 February 1943. It produced noticeable gains on the first day but rapidly turned into a stalemate. The strong defense of the Spanish Blue Division and the German SS Polizei Division gave the German forces time to reinforce their positions. By February 13, the Soviet forces had stopped their offensive in this sector.
Operation Iskra was a Soviet military operation during World War II, designed to break the Wehrmacht's Siege of Leningrad. Planning for the operation began shortly after the failure of the Sinyavino Offensive. The German defeat in the Battle of Stalingrad in late 1942 had weakened the German front. By January 1943, Soviet forces were planning or conducting offensive operations across the entire German-Soviet front, especially in southern Russia, Iskra being the northern part of the wider Soviet 1942–1943 winter counter offensive.
The Toropets–Kholm Offensive was a military operation conducted south of Lake Ilmen by the Red Army during World War II, from 9 January-6 February 1942. The operation contributed to the formation of the Kholm Pocket and the encirclement of the Wehrmacht's II Army Corps in the Demyansk Pocket.
The Vilnius Offensive occurred as part of the third phase of Operation Bagration, the great summer offensive by the Red Army against the Wehrmacht in June and July, 1944. It lasted from 5 July to 13 July 1944, and ended with a Soviet victory.
The 22nd Army was a field army of the Russian Ground Forces, part of the Moscow Military District. It was active from 1941 to 1945 and from 1990 to 2009. The order for the formation's dissolution was signed by the Minister of Defence on 1 June 2009.
The 102nd Infantry Division was a German military infantry division during World War II. It served on the Eastern Front, fighting in the Rzhev salient and the Battle of Kursk. It was destroyed during the latter stages of the Soviet Red Army's East Prussian Offensive in 1945.
The 119th Rifle Division was an infantry division of the Red Army, formed three times.
The 251st Rifle Division was raised in 1941, within days of the German invasion, as a standard Red Army rifle division, and served for the duration of the Great Patriotic War in that role. Its men escaped encirclement in October and returned to Soviet lines in good enough shape to avoid disbandment. In the following two and a half years the division slogged through the difficult and costly battles around Rzhev and Smolensk before distinguishing itself by assisting in the liberation of the city of Vitebsk in June, 1944.
The Battle of Rzhev in the Summer of 1942 was part of a series of battles that lasted 15 months in the center of the Eastern Front. It is known in Soviet history of World War II as the First Rzhev–Sychyovka Offensive Operation, which was defined as spanning from 30 July to 23 August 1942. However, it is widely documented that the fighting continued undiminished into September and did not finally cease until the beginning of October 1942. The Red Army suffered massive casualties for little gain during the fighting, giving the battle a notoriety reflected in its sobriquet: "The Rzhev Meat Grinder".
The 170th Rifle Division was raised in 1939 as a standard Red Army rifle (infantry) division, as part of the prewar buildup of the Army. During July and August 1941, it gave very effective service in the battles around Velikiye Luki until it was so severely depleted that it had to be disbanded. A new 170th was formed between December 1941 and January 1942. From this point the division had a distinguished but relatively uncomplicated combat path, fighting in the central part of the Soviet-German front. It was given credit for the liberation of Rechytsa in late 1943, and ended the war in the conquest of East Prussia.
The 357th Rifle Division formed in August 1941, as a standard Red Army rifle division, at Sarapul. When it arrived at the front it was assigned to the Kalinin Front, and it spent the first half of 1942 deep in the rear of German Army Group Center, fighting in full or partial isolation in the forested swamps west of the Rzhev salient. While it was not destroyed, it was heavily depleted in this campaign and was withdrawn into the reserve for rebuilding. It next saw action in November when it helped lead the 3rd Shock Army in the battle and siege of Velikiye Luki. When this battle ended in January 1943, the sector remained fairly quiet until Kalinin Front launched an offensive on Nevel in October which had much success in the early going. In the summer and autumn of 1944 the 357th took part in the Riga Offensive into the Baltic states, and won the Order of Suvorov for its part in the liberation of that city. The division ended the war in the Courland Group of Forces, watching over the trapped remnants of German Army Group North. The 357th remained in service as late as March 1955, when it was re-designated.
The 358th Rifle Division formed in August 1941, as a standard Red Army rifle division, at Buguruslan. It first saw action in January 1942, taking part in the offensive northwest of Moscow which carved out the salient around Toropets deep in the rear of Army Group Center. The division remained on this general sector of the front, nearly the whole time in 4th Shock Army, until March 1944, when it was withdrawn for rebuilding. It was then assigned to 21st Army north of Leningrad where it participated in the offensive that drove Finland out of the war from June into August, and remained on this front until December. It was then reassigned to the 39th Army, under which it fought in East Prussia until April 1945. During that month the entire 39th Army began moving to the Far East, where it took part in the Soviet invasion of Manchuria in August, where the 358th won its second battle honor, capping a distinguished record of service.
The 21st Guards Rifle Division was an elite infantry division of the Red Army during World War II. It was formed from the 361st Rifle Division on March 17, 1942, in recognition of that division's successes in the attempt to encircle the German 9th Army in the Rzhev area during the Soviet winter counteroffensive of 1941-42. After being partially encircled itself in the spring of 1942, the division was withdrawn for rebuilding, and then played a major role in the Battle of Velikiye Luki in 1942-43. It distinguished itself in the battle for Nevel in October, 1943, for which it was awarded a battle honor. The division went on to complete a combat path through northwestern Russia and into the Baltic States, ending its war containing the German forces trapped in the Courland Peninsula.
The 365th Rifle Division began forming on September 1, 1941, as a standard Red Army rifle division, in the Sverdlovsk Oblast. After forming, it was assigned to the 30th Army of Western Front, served briefly in the defense of Moscow, and played a role in the liberation of Klin, and later in the near-encirclement of the German 9th Army around Rzhev in the winter counteroffensive of 1941-42. In late January, 1942, it was transferred to the 29th Army of Kalinin Front, which was very soon after encircled by German forces near Sychevka, and on March 18 the division was disbanded due to very heavy losses. In November, 1944, a new 365th Rifle Division was formed in the Far Eastern Front, based on the 29th Rifle Brigade, and saw action in the Soviet invasion of Manchuria in August, 1945, being awarded the Order of the Red Banner for its services.
The 19th Guards Rifle Division was formed from the first formation of the 366th Rifle Division on March 17th, 1942. At this time it was in the 52nd Army of Volkhov Front, taking part in the Lyuban Offensive Operation, which was planned to encircle and defeat the enemy forces laying siege to Leningrad. However, just at that time the German 18th Army was in the process of cutting off the Soviet Lyuban grouping in a pocket, and over the following months the division was nearly destroyed. Enough survivors emerged from the swamps in June and July to rebuild the unit, and it fought in the Second Sinyavino Offensive before it was shifted south into Kalinin Front to take part in the battle and siege of Velikiye Luki in December. In the summer of 1943 the 19th Guards fought in the battles for Smolensk, and won its first battle honor, "Rudnya". in September. During the offensive in the summer of 1944 it was awarded the Order of the Red Banner for its successes in the fighting around Vitebsk. It was further honored in February, 1945, with the Order of Lenin for its role in the victories in East Prussia. In the summer the division was moved by rail with its 39th Army to the Far East and saw action in the Soviet invasion of Manchuria in August, winning its second battle honor, "Khingan", for its services. The division continued to see service well into the postwar era.
The 369th Rifle Division began forming on August 1, 1941, as a standard Red Army rifle division, in the Chelyabinsk Oblast. After forming, it was assigned to the 39th Army which soon became part of Kalinin Front, and it participated in the near-encirclement of the German 9th Army around Rzhev in the winter counteroffensive of 1941-42. In late January, 1942, it was transferred to the 29th Army of the same Front, which was very soon after encircled by German forces near Sychevka, and while it was written off by German intelligence in February, enough of the division escaped that it was not officially disbanded. By August it returned to battle, now in 30th Army of Western Front, still fighting near Rzhev. After the salient was finally evacuated in the spring of 1943 the division was moved to Bryansk Front, first in 11th Army and then in 50th Army, under which it served for most of the war. In the summer counteroffensive the 369th was awarded the battle honor "Karachev" for its part in the liberation of that city. At the start of Operation Bagration the division was in 2nd Belorussian Front and its commander, Maj. Gen. I. S. Lazarenko, was killed a few days later; despite this loss it was awarded the Order of the Red Banner for its successful crossing of the Dniepr River and the liberation of Mogilev. The division continued to advance through Belarus and into Poland and eastern Germany over the following months, but despite a fine record of service was disbanded soon after the German surrender.
The 371st Rifle Division was raised in 1941 as a standard Red Army rifle division, and served for the duration of the Great Patriotic War in that role. It began forming in August 1941 in the Urals Military District. It was soon moved to the front lines near Moscow, and took part in the counteroffensive that began on December 5. It spent all of 1942 and the first months of 1943 in the fighting around the Rzhev salient, and after a short break served in the offensive that liberated Smolensk. After a winter of brutal combat on the approaches to Orsha and Vitebsk it was reassigned to 5th Army in 3rd Belorussian Front and took part in Operation Bagration, during which it was recognized for its role in the liberation of the latter city with a battle honor. The division was further distinguished in late July with the Order of the Red Banner for its part in the liberation of Vilnius. In January 1945, it fought its way into East Prussia, and as that campaign was winding down it was moved across Asia, along with the rest of 5th Army, to take part in the campaign against the Japanese Kwantung Army in Manchuria.
The 373rd Rifle Division was raised in 1941 as an infantry division of the Red Army, and served for the duration of the Great Patriotic War in that role. It began forming in August 1941 in the Urals Military District. It was moved to the front northwest of Moscow while still trying to complete its training and went straight into action in mid-December during the winter counteroffensive. Until May 1943, it was involved in the bloody fighting around the Rzhev salient. After a period in reserve for rebuilding, the division's combat path shifted southward when it was assigned to 52nd Army, where it remained for the duration of the war. It won a battle honor in eastern Ukraine, then fought across the Dniepr River late that year, and was awarded the Order of the Red Banner for its successes. Following this it advanced through western Ukraine, Romania and into Hungary during 1944. After again moving to the reserves the division shifted northwards with its Army to join 1st Ukrainian Front, fighting through Poland, eastern Germany and into Czechoslovakia. By then the 373rd had compiled an enviable record, and went on to serve into the postwar era.