Saturday, 18 December 2010

Demyansk & Cholm (1942)

I've been fascinated by the encirclement battles at Demyansk and Cholm ever since my trip to Volgograd (Stalingrad) a few years ago. A few friends and myself had the opportunity to tour the Stalingrad battlefield and meet Russian and German veterans in a city where, in the winter of 1942/43, the German 6th Army was totally destroyed.

The delusion that Goering would be able to supply over 300,000 men by air until Manstein was in a position to break a corridor through to the beleagured city is one that is difficult to rationalise. And yet the rationale at the time was that there was a powerful precedent - Demyansk.

At Demyansk 6 Divisions of the German 16th Army consisting of 100,000 men held an area of 1,200 square miles for 12 months and 18 days. A smaller group of 5,500 held out at another critical piece of high ground at  Cholm. Supply was maintained by several hundred aircraft making daily flights and the successful defence of these 'Kessels' enabled Army Group North to stabilise a battle front which had come near to collapse following Zhukov's momentous counter attack after the ill fated German decision to push for Moscow in the winter of 1941/42.

So, next May with the help of a Russian friend, I will be leading a series of battlefield walks which will retread the steps of Von Leebs' 16th Army through Novrogod and Staraya Russa up into the Valday Hills and then onto the area where these two encirclements happened. The tour is pretty much fully subscribed but I'll be sharing details and photographs from the trip soon after I get back. The Cholm/Demanysk walks are the third in a series focussing on the northern front of the 1941/45 Russian/German conflict.

If you would like to read more about the 'Army Group North' battlefield walks mentioned in this post, they can be accessed through the links below.

The Siege of Leningrad
The Narva Bridgehead