Staraya Russa Offensive Operation (i)

old Russia

The '1st Staraya Russa Offensive Operation' was the Soviet fourth of the seven sub-operations constituting the 'Leningrad Strategic Defensive Operation' in the area to the south of Leningrad after the start of 'Barbarossa' (8/23 August 1941).

The other sub-operations of the 'Leningrad Strategic Defensive Operation' were the 'Tallinn Defensive Operation' (10 July/10 August), the 'Kingisepp-Dno Defensive Operation' (15/20 July), the 'Soltsi-Dno Defensive Operation' (15/20 July), the 'Demyansk Defensive Operation' (6/26 September), the '1st Sinyavino Offensive Operation' (10/26 September) and the '2nd Sinyavino Offensive Operation' (20/28 October).

While the western element of General Leytenant Markian M. Popov’s North Front was attempting to halt the German offensive against Leningrad from the west from Estonia in the area along the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland, on the southern wing the Soviets were planning their own offensive in what became known as the '1st Staraya Russa Offensive Operation'. The plan was for General Major Piotr P. Sobennikov’s North-West Front to use General Leytenant Stepan D. Akimov’s 48th Army, newly formed from the Luga Operational Group, to attack from the Novgorod region along the north-western side of Lake Ilmen, while General Major Kuzma M. Kachanov’s newly formed 34th Army, supported by General Leytenant Vasili I. Morozov’s 11th Army and General Major Nikolai Ye. Berzarin’s 27th Army, attacked in the area to the south of Lake Ilmen. For this undertaking, the Soviets mustered eight infantry divisions, one cavalry corps and one tank division, which were to recapture Staraya Russa and Dno, and to destroy Oberst Hans-Joachim von Horn’s X Corps of Generaloberst Ernst Busch’s 16th Army within Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb’s Heeresgruppe 'Nord'.

The Soviet offensive began on 12 August and immediately threatened to overwhelm the X Corps and trap it against Lake Ilmen. von Leeb was forced to transfer SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Georg Keppler’s SS Division 'Totenkopf' to the area of the Soviet offensive, and to follow this with Generalleutnant Curt Jahn’s 3rd Division (mot.) and General Erich von Manstein’s LVI Corps (mot.), which was already heavily engaged at Luga. General Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen’s VIII Fliegerkorps of Generaloberst Alfred Keller’s Luftflotte I, equipped largely with attack aircraft, was also involved in repelling the Soviet offensive. On 19 August, the intervention of the LVI Corps (mot.) caught the 34th Army by surprise in the flank. The Soviet army was severely mauled and then attempted to withdraw. By 22 August, the LVI Corps (mot.) had reached the Lovat river after capturing 12,000 men of the 34th Army as this latter retreated.

As a result of the unsuccessful Soviet offensive, the commander of the North-West Front, Sobennikov, was removed from office and sentenced to imprisonment for five years, later replaced by a demotion. Kachanov, the commander of the 34th Army, was arrested on 12 September, tried for cowardice and executed on 29 September.

The Soviet defeat in the '1st Staraya Russa Offensive Operation' opened the way for the 16th Army and Generaloberst Erich Hoepner’s 4th Panzergruppe to close on the southern approaches to Leningrad.