Rzhev-Vyazma Offensive and the Demyansk Pocket
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseAs the German troops fell back from the Moscow region, Soviet troops launched the Rzhev-Vyazma Strategic Offensive Operation in an attempt to sever the link between troops of the German 16th Army and elements of the German Xth Army Corps in the Demyansk area south of Leningrad, Russia and the Staraya Russa railway that sustained German supplies and communications. Two pincers, it was hoped, would encircle German troops at Demyansk. The northern pincer, or the Demyansk Offensive, was launched on 7 Jan, while the southern pincer, or the Toropets-Kholm Offensive, was launched on 9 Jan. On 8 Feb 1942, the Soviet 1st Army and Soviet 11th Shock Army, supported by 1st and 2nd Guards Rifle Corps, succeeded in encircling the German troops, thus forming the Demyansk Pocket, trapping about 90,000 German troops and about 10,000 auxiliary personnel inside. German General Walter von Brockdorff-Ahlefeldt of the IInd Army Corps was the commanding officer of the trapped Germans. On 12 Feb, the Soviet 3rd and 4th Shock Armies joined in to assert more pressure on the trapped German forces, but bad weather and stubborn German resistance led to little Soviet progress.
ww2dbaseAbout 100 kilometers to the southwest, the much smaller Kholm Pocket also continued to resist continuous Soviet attacks.
ww2dbaseMeanwhile, the German Luftflotte 1 devoted nearly its entire fleet of transport aircraft to deliver supplies to the two airfields within the pocket, Demyansk and Peski, with only minimal disruption from the weaker Soviet Air Forces. The Luftwaffe would lose 265 aircraft and 387 men during this campaign, while the Soviet Air Forces lost 408 aircraft.
ww2dbaseOn 21 Mar 1942, German Lieutenant General Walther von Seydlitz-Kurzbach attempted a breakout near the Staraya Russa railway, a region that the Soviet forces had called the "Ramushevo corridor", which succeeded on 21 Apr. By this time, the Germans had suffered about 13,000 casualties, 3,335 of which were fatal.
ww2dbaseOn 5 May 1942, the German 16th Army finally broke through to Kholm and made contact with the survivors of this pocket.
ww2dbaseAlthough the siege at Demyansk was broken on 21 Apr 1942, fighting in the Demyansk area in Russia would continue for nearly another year until 28 Feb 1943 when German troops finally evacuated from the region. Although trapped, the German troops were able to hold their defensive position and eventually break out due to the successful air supply campaign. This achievement convinced the head of the Luftwaffe Hermann Göring that a similar, but much larger, supply campaign could be used to continue to support the German 6th Army in Stalingrad, which was encircled in that city in late Nov 1942. The result of that air supply campaign, however, would later prove to be much less effective.
Last Major Update: Mar 2010
Rzhev-Vyazma Offensive and the Demyansk Pocket Timeline
|2 Jan 1942||Soviet Army broke through German lines at Rzhev, Russia.|
|7 Jan 1942||Soviet Army began an offensive near Lake Ilmen in Russia, with the aim of encircling Demyansk.|
|9 Jan 1942||Soviet 3rd and 4th Shock Armies attacked German defenses south of Demyansk, Russia, making advances but suffering heavy casualties.|
|10 Jan 1942||Soviet 29th Army attacked north of Rhzev, Russia while Soviet 39th Army moved northwest of the city, aiming to surround the German 9th Army based in the city.|
|11 Jan 1942||Soviet 39th Army moved from northwest of Rzhev, Russia toward the area southwest of the city, further threatening the surround the German 9th Army in the city. A large German supply depot was captured by Soviet troops at Sychevka 50 kilometers to the south.|
|13 Jan 1942||West of Moscow, Russia, Soviet 11th Army and German 18th Motorised Division clashed at Staraya Russa, while Soviet 29th, 39th Army, and (further away to the southwest) 11th Cavalry Corps attacked German 9th Army at Rhzev.|
|16 Jan 1942||Soviet 3rd Shock captured Andreapol, Russia.|
|18 Jan 1942||German II and X Korps were cut off at Demyansk, Russia; the Luftwaffe maintained an aerial supply line to these surrounded troops.|
|19 Jan 1942||Soviet 3rd and 4th Shock Armies advanced toward Toropets and Kholm, Russia.|
|20 Jan 1942||In Russia, Soviet 11th Cavalry Corps attacked from Rzhev towards Vyazma while Soviet 4th Shock Army captured the German supply dumps at Toropets, taking 6 tanks, 723 trucks, artillery pieces with 450,000 shells, small arms with millions of rounds of ammunition, 1,000 drums of fuel, and food.|
|22 Jan 1942||To avoid being surrounded, German 9th Army launched an attack on the flank of Soviet 29th Army near Rzhev, Russia. To the north, Soviet 3rd Shock Army came in contact with German 218th Infantry Division at Kholm.|
|23 Jan 1942||Soviet 3rd Shock Army surrounded 5,500 German troops at Kholm, Russia.|
|27 Jan 1942||Soviet 11th Cavalry Corps reached Vyazma, Russia but was driven back by elements of the German 9th Army.|
|2 Feb 1942||Soviet 3rd Shock Army launched an attack on the German troops trapped in Kholm, Russia.|
|8 Feb 1942||Soviet 3rd Shock Army, 4th Shock Army, and 11th Army linked up at Zaluch'e, Russia and encircled 90,000 German troops and 10,000 auxiliaries around Demyansk, Russia.|
|10 Feb 1942||German aircraft began flying supply missions to the 100,000 trapped German troops at Demyansk, Russia.|
|21 Mar 1942||General Walther von Seydlitz-Kurzbach led a German assault out of the Demyansk, Russia to the northwest.|
|22 Mar 1942||German troops outside the Demyansk Pocket attacked Soviet 11th Army and 1st Shock Army at Staraya Russa, Russia, supporting the breakout attempt from the pocket launched on the previous day.|
|6 Apr 1942||German Luftwaffe group II./KG 27 flew a supply operation for the German troops trapped in Kholm, Russia. Three He 111 aircraft failed to return; one of which was forced to land within the pocket due to heavy damage. The crew of the downed He 111 aircraft removed the aircraft's radio and used it to help direct further supply runs.|
|9 Apr 1942||German relief attempts toward the Kholm encirclement were met with limited success.|
|19 Apr 1942||General Mikhail Grigoryevich Yefremov committed suicide by shooting himself in the head with a pistol as his Soviet 33rd Army was on the brink of total destruction at Vyazma, Russia.|
|20 Apr 1942||German troops broke out of the Demyansk Pocket in Russia through the Ramushevo corridor.|
|5 May 1942||The German 16th Army broke through to Kholm, Russia, relieving the survivors of Gruppe Scherer which had been surrounded since 23 Jan 1942.|
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939