German counterstrikes. The environment of the Soviet troops
The mobile group of the Western Front November 28, 1942 with the approach of the lagging units resumed the offensive. Together with the 6th tank the corps was advancing by the 1st scooter-motorcycle brigade. The cavalry corps of Kryukov also struck. By the end of the day, Soviet troops advanced another 20 kilometers. The headquarters of three units from the 9th Army were defeated, 2 artillery regiments of the enemy were destroyed, and rear warehouses were captured. By the end of the day, the 22nd and 200th tank brigades, together with part of the forces of the 6th motorized rifle brigade, cut the Rzhev-Sychevka railway. Further advancement of our troops was stopped by German reserves.
Mobile units could do better if supported by infantry. However, the Soviet infantry units, concentrated on the bridgehead, did not enter the breakthrough. In addition, it was not possible to transfer a sufficient amount of artillery to the bridgehead. At this time, the German 9-I tank division launched a counterattack to the north along the Rzhevsky highway, threatening to cut off the Soviet forces that had broken through. However, the Soviet command still did not notice the threat. G. K. Zhukov on the night of November 29 ordered rifle divisions on the bridgehead to expand the breakthrough, and mobile units to continue the advance to the west. Combined with the troops of the Kalinin Front, they had to complete the encirclement and defeat the enemy.
Meanwhile, on the night German troops struck from two sides on the flanks and in the rear of the Soviet group that had broken through. From the north, they attacked parts of the 27 Army Corps, and from the south, attacked the 39 Armored Corps. They closed the gap in the defense at the site of the spoon, Nikishevo. As a result, parts of the 2 Guards Cavalry Corps, 22 and 200 tank brigades, battalion of the 6 motorized rifle brigade, the remnants of the scooter-motorcycle brigade fell in the area, which were weakened in battles to the west of the Rzhev-Sychevka railway, were weakened in battle.
Food supplies, ammunition and fuel coming to an end. Attempt to organize the supply by air failed. It was necessary to break through to her. At dawn 30 November on the orders of the front command of the part of the 6-th tank corps went on a breakthrough in the area of Maloe Kropotovo. At the same time, the troops of General Kiryukhin's 20 Army delivered a counter blow from the east. But only tankers managed to get through to the village, the Soviet infantry advancing from the east could not break through to their own. The Germans, meanwhile, were pulling up reserves and strengthening their defenses in this area. Then the command of the 6 tank corps decided to make its way to its north, through the Big Koropoto. On the night of November 30, tankers struck an unexpected blow to the northeast. At the same time, the 100 I tank brigade, supported by infantry, attacked them. In this battle, the commanders of the 200 tank and 6 motorized rifle brigades died, but by the morning of December 1 the surrounded units had made their way through the enemy barriers. Tank brigades lost most of their combat equipment, so the 6 tank corps was deployed to the rear for retrofitting. The 20 Cavalry Division could not make its way eastward and therefore went west. The Soviet cavalry, in spite of the negative myth created, was very useful in the “war of engines”, especially during the breakthroughs, raids on the enemy’s rear, and fast offensive operations. So, after more than a month-long raid on the German rears, about a thousand cavalrymen and partisans who joined them moved into the 22 Army's location.
In the offensive zone of the Kalinin Front, the situation was also tense. Reinforcements approached the 41 of the German corps — the 9 and 12 tank divisions. December 1 mechanized corps Solomatina was forced to stop the attacks and go on the defensive. After analyzing the situation, the commander of the Soviet corps realized that a real threat of encirclement hung over his units. He brought motor transport to the rear, leaving only tanks, tractors with guns and vehicles with ammunition in combat formations. Measures of front command to strengthen the flanks at the base of the wedge were late. By December 6, German troops regained control of the Bely - Vladimirskoye road. Bypassing White from the northeast, the 47-I tank brigade of Colonel Dremov was cut off. Tankers had to fight their way out of the encirclement. December 7 from the south went on the offensive from the reserve 30 German tank corps - 19-I and 20-I tank divisions, as well as 1-I tank division and parts of the 41-corps. By the end of the day, the Germans managed to reach the rear of the Kalinin Front mobile group, surrounding southeast of the settlements of Shiparevo, Tsytsyno, Dubrovka part of the 1 mechanized corps and two brigades of the 6 infantry corps.
Zhukov ordered the surrounded troops to remain in place. General Solomatin was subordinated to all the troops that turned out to be in the “boiler”. They organized an "air bridge" for the delivery of ammunition and food. To break through the outer ring of the environment reserves. The Soviet command hoped to keep the bridgehead, captured by the mobile front group, to soon resume the offensive.
The resumption of the Soviet offensive
Zhukov was still hoping to achieve victory in the Rzhev salient area. The Directive of the Headquarters, signed by him on December 8 1942, demanded that the troops of the Kalininsky and Western fronts crush enemy forces in the area of Rzhev, Sychevka, Olenino, Bely by 1 in January of 1943. For the new offensive, new troops were sent to the 20 Army: the fresh 5 tank corps of Major General KA Semenchenko and several units from the 31 Army. 6-th tank corps, without completing the replenishment, again thrown into battle. Mobile units were assigned the task of breaking through together with the rifle units the enemy defenses in the area of Bolshaya and Maloye Kropotovo. In the future, in cooperation with the 2-th Guards Corps, continue the offensive and turn to the north-west.
“The offensive,” commented the commander of the tank corps, A. Getman, “was conducted in the same direction as at the end of November. However, this time it was not successful, as it was carried out by smaller forces, while the enemy continued to pull up reserves ... ”. It is clear that the Germans were already waiting for the strike and managed to prepare for it.
10 December 1942, the Soviet tank corps went on the attack. Tankers managed to reach the village of Maloye Kropotovo, but again without infantry lagging behind. The Germans counterattacked and our troops were forced to retreat to their original positions. The fighting continued until the end of the month, until the troops of the Western Front exhausted themselves completely. The troops of the 39, 22 of the Kalinin Front also attacked the enemy in the general direction of Olenino, and the forces of the 41 Army in the area of the city of Bely. However, the front did not receive new armored formations, and its army could not break through the enemy front.
In the meantime, Solomatina’s surrounded group fought for a week in surroundings, repelling all the attacks of the German divisions clutching the ring. Supplying them through the air was extremely difficult for non-flying weather, it happened that the planes dropped vital cargo in the enemy's position. The units ran out of fuel, ammunition and food were running out. Finally Zhukov ordered to break out of the encirclement. On the night of 15 on December 16, General Solomatin led the remnants of his troops to a breakthrough. Before that, he destroyed the remaining equipment (there was no fuel for it) and heavy weapons, gathered his troops into a fist and struck at the western direction. At the same time he took with him the sick and wounded. From the outside of the front, with the support of the entire army artillery of the enemy, attacked the 154-I tank brigade of Colonel F. D. Artamonov. Soldiers Solomatina able to escape from the "boiler". The losses of the 1 th mechanized corps, according to the report of General Solomatin, amounted to 8 thousand killed and wounded and 150 tanks.
German machine-skier takes aim from MG-34 sitting in a crater in the Rzhev area
German 88-mm anti-aircraft gun at a position in the Rzhev region
The troops of the Kalininsky front could not break through the enemy defense also because they fought hard in the Great Lenin direction. December 11 Germans struck a powerful blow here, and all the reserves of the front had to be thrown there. After an unsuccessful attempt to unblock the besieged garrison from the northwest, the Germans transferred their main efforts to the Leshakovo and Konyushka regions. From here, in the shortest direction to the Great Ones on the 6-kilometer front, the 291-I Infantry Division tried to break through. The Germans managed to press off parts of our 9 Guards Division. December 14 in this direction, the enemy managed to capture Gromovo.
Both sides were building up forces in this direction. The commander of the 3 shock army, KN Galitsky, received from the reserve of the front the 8 th Estonian infantry corps. The 19-I Guards Rifle Division of the 8-Estonian corps was urgently advanced to the threatened area, which restored the situation. By regrouping the forces and pulling up the 20 th motorized division and the 1 th SS brigade, on December 19 the enemy struck a new blow, this time on the flank of the 19 th guards division. Over the 2 day of the battle, they advanced to Alekseykovo. General Galitsky (Zhukov was also at the command post of the army these days), successively threw the newly arrived 249 Infantry Division and 100 Infantry Brigade into the threatened area. December 24 44-I and 45-I ski teams, as well as 360-I division, were introduced into the battle. The army received more 10 artillery regiments. The fighting was stubborn, the village Alekseykovo repeatedly passed from hand to hand.
The fighting continued until December 25th. The heavy losses suffered during the offensive forced the German command to take an operational pause to pull up fresh forces and prepare a new strike. On January 4, 1943, after artillery training, German troops resumed their attack on Velikiye Luki from the south-west in the direction of Alekseykovo. In addition to the 20th Motorized and 6th Airfield Divisions operating here, the 205th Infantry Division, deployed from Velizh, participated. On January 7, the German strike force was reinforced by the 331rd Infantry Division, which had arrived from France. A day later, the Germans crossed the Velikiye Luki-Novosokolniki railway and continued to move forward. The advanced units of the Germans were already 4-5 km from the city. At the same time, the 8th Panzer Division again went on the offensive from the northwest. German troops attacked with the support of large forces aviation and artillery.
The real threat of an enemy breakthrough to the surrounded garrison forced the Soviet command to withdraw some of the forces from the battle in Velikiye Luki and aim them at defense. Two regiments of the 357 th rifle division were deployed front to the south-west, and the 47-I mechanized brigade was withdrawn to the north-west of the city with the task of countering the enemy if necessary. Also, the 100-I and 36-I tank and 57-I engineering brigades took up the defense from the Great Bows. January 9 on the German wedge struck flank attacks 33-I and 184-I tank brigades and arrived from the front reserve of the 32-th rifle division. By January 12, having advanced a month of bloody battles on 15 km, both German groups finally exhausted and stopped, they failed to break through to the surrounded ones. Then they were thrown back to their original positions by counterattacks of the troops of the 3 th shock army. By January 21 front stabilized.
At the same time, starting from December 13, four Soviet rifle divisions, one tank division, one mechanized brigade, and the 13 th Guards Tank Regiment with flamethrower tanks, were continuously storming the Great Luke. The total number of the surrounded German garrison was 8-9 thousands of people, 100-120 artillery guns, 10-15 tanks and assault guns. The main, continuous line of defense passed through suburban settlements, each of which was adapted to all-round defense. All the stone buildings of the city were turned into resistance units adapted to long-term defense. The Velikoluksky fortress and the railway junction area were a particularly powerful base. Encouraged by promises about the imminent breakthrough of the ring of encirclement from the outside, the Germans offered desperate resistance and refused to surrender. In addition, the German garrison was actively supported by aviation. Only 16 January 1943 was able to completely suppress the resistance of the enemy garrison and liberate the city.
Red Army soldiers flee down K. Liebknecht Street during battles for the liberation of the Great Onions
German soldiers captured in the Great Bow District
The offensive of the Western and Kalinin fronts on the Rzhev direction failed. Territorial acquisitions were very small (breakthroughs in the Luchёsy valley and north-west of Rzhev). However, of great strategic importance was the constraint of forces of the 9 of the German army and the reserves of Army Group Center. The second Rzhev-Sychev battle swallowed up all the reserves of the German army in the central direction, which could be used to unlock the surrounded 6 army in the area of Stalingrad.
Thus, the military historian, General M. A. Gareev notes that since operations “Mars” and “Uranus” were carried out within the framework of a single plan, the main strategic task in operation “Mars” was to divert the forces of the enemy to ensure the success of the counter-offensive at Stalingrad, "There is no compelling reason to consider the operation" Mars "a failure or" the largest defeat of Marshal Zhukov, "as D. Glentz and other authors write about this." Moreover, there is an opinion that Moscow did not conceal the preparation of an offensive in the Rzhev area (in the central strategic direction) in order to divert the enemy’s attention from the main thrusts of the attacks. Pavel Sudoplatov claimed that the Germans had been specifically warned about the offensive in the Rzhev area as part of the radio game Monastery and were waiting for the offensive.
The losses of the Soviet troops in the Second Rzhev-Sychev operation amounted to more than 215 thousand people. German losses - 53,5 thousand people.
The troops of the 3 shock army bound the enemy's 10 divisions, preventing their use in other directions, and liberated the ancient Russian city of Velikie Luki. The total losses of our troops in this area amounted to 104 thousand people. The Germans lost more than 60 thousand people.
Soviet tank landing dismounts from the KV-1 tank on the Kalininsky front