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|Part of the Eastern Front of World War II|
|Commanders and leaders|
Walter von Brockdorff-Ahlefeldt|
Walther von Seydlitz-Kurzbach
|16th Army||Northwestern Front|
|Casualties and losses|
265 aircraft destroyed
88,908 killed & missing|
The Demyansk Pocket (German: Kessel von Demjansk; Russian: ? ) was the name given to the pocket of German troops encircled by the Red Army around Demyansk, south of Leningrad, during World War II's Eastern Front. The pocket existed mainly from 8 February to 21 April 1942.
A much smaller force was surrounded in the Kholm Pocket at the town of Kholm, about 100 km (62 mi) to the southwest. Both resulted from the German retreat after its defeat during the Battle of Moscow.
The successful defence of Demyansk was achieved by using an airbridge and was a significant development in modern warfare. Its success was a major contributor to the decision by the Army High Command to try the same tactic during the Battle of Stalingrad, but it then failed to save the Sixth Army, commanded by Paulus.
The encirclement began as the Demyansk Offensive Operation, the first phase being carried out from 7 January-20 May 1942 on the initiative of General Lieutenant Pavel Kurochkin, who commanded the Northwestern Front. The intention was to sever the link between the German Demyansk positions and the Staraya Russa railway that formed the lines of communication of the German 16th Army. However, the very difficult wooded and swampy terrain and the heavy snow cover made the initial advance by the front very modest against stubborn opposition.
On 8 January, the Rzhev-Vyazma Strategic Offensive was launched by the Red Army. It incorporated the previous front's planning into the Toropets-Kholm Offensive Operation between 9 January and 6 February 1942, which formed the southern pincer of the attack that began the second phase of the northern pincer Demyansk Offensive Operation between 7 January and 20 May, which encircled the German 16th Army's (Generaloberst Ernst Busch) II Army Corps and parts of the X Army Corps during winter 1941/1942.
These German forces were in the pocket:
There was a total of about 90,000 German troops and around 10,000 auxiliaries, commanded by General Walter von Brockdorff-Ahlefeldt, commander of the II Army Corps.
The Northwestern Front's offensive was intended to encircle the entire northern flank of the 16th Army's forces, of which the 2nd Army Corps was only a small part, and the Soviet command was desperate to keep the front moving even after that success. The first thrust was made by the 11th Army, 1st Shock Army and the 1st and 2nd Guards Rifle Corps released for the operation from the Stavka reserve. A second thrust was executed on 12 February by the 3rd and 4th Shock Armies of the Kalinin Front, with the additional plan of directly attacking the encircled German forces by inserting two airborne brigades to support the advance of the 34th Army. The front soon settled, as the Soviet offensive petered out by the difficult terrain and the bad weather.
After being assured that the pocket could be supplied with its daily requirement of 300 short tons (270 t) of supplies by Luftflotte 1, Hitler ordered the surrounded divisions to hold their positions until their relief. The pocket contained two viable airfields at Demyansk and Peski that were capable of receiving transport aircraft. From mid-February, the weather improved significantly. There was still considerable snow on the ground, but resupply operations were generally very successful because of the inactivity of the Soviet Air Force in the area. However, the operation used up all of Luftflotte 1's transport capability and elements of its bomber force.
Over the winter and the spring, the Northwestern Front launched a number of attacks on the "Ramushevo Corridor", which formed the tenuous link between Demyansk and Staraya Russa, but could not reduce the pocket.
On 21 March 1942, German forces, commanded by General Walther von Seydlitz-Kurzbach, attempted to manoeuvre through the "Ramushevo Corridor". Soviet resistance on the Lovat River delayed II Corps' attack until April 14. Over the next several weeks, this corridor was widened. A battle group broke the siege on 22 April, but the fighting had taken a heavy toll. Out of the approximately 100,000 men originally in the pocket, there were 3,335 lost and over 10,000 wounded.
From the forming of the pocket in early February to the abandonment of Demyansk in May, the two pockets (including Kholm) received 65,000 short tons (59,000 t) of supplies (both through ground and aerial delivery), 31,000 replacement troops, and 36,000 wounded were evacuated. The supplies were delivered through over 100 flights of Junkers Ju 52 transport aircraft per day. The cost was significant, and the Luftwaffe lost 265 aircraft, including 106 Junkers Ju 52, 17 Heinkel He 111 and two Junkers Ju 86 aircraft. In addition, 387 airmen were lost.Richard Overy argues that the Demyansk airlift was a pyrrhic victory by citing the loss of over 200 aircraft and their crew "when annual production of transports was running at only 500; and all to save 90,000 German soldiers, 64,000 of whom were either killed, wounded or too sick for service" by the airlift's end.
Fighting in the area continued until 28 February 1943. The Soviet forces did not retake Demyansk until 1 March, after the organised withdrawal of German troops.
The success of the Luftwaffe convinced both Reich Marschall Hermann Göring and Hitler that they could conduct effective airlift operations on the Eastern Front. Furthermore, it "determined Hitler in his belief that encircled troops should automatically hold on to their territory.
After the German 6th Army was encircled in the Battle of Stalingrad, Göring convinced Hitler to resupply the besieged forces by airlift until a relief effort could reach them; however, the sheer scale of the effort required in Stalingrad, which was calculated at 750 tons per day, greatly exceeded the Luftwaffe's now-depleted capacities. The Stalingrad airlift effort ultimately failed to deliver sufficient supplies, and the Germans estimated that they lost 488 transports and as 1,000 personnel to the now-strengthened Soviet Air Force. Despite the Stalingrad airlift, the German 6th Army, counting 300,000 soldiers trapped in the city, had to surrender in February 1943, due to their degrading physical condition, as the supplies with food, new troops, weapons and ammunition was not sufficient to defeat the Soviet troops at Stalingrad. At the time of the surrender, the German 6th Army lost 100,000 soldiers at Stalingrad from November 1942 to February 1943.