Kalinin Defensive Operation

The 'Kalinin Defensive Operation' was the Soviet third of seven sub-operations which together constituted the 'Moscow Strategic Defensive Operation', and was designed as successor to the currently failing 'Vyaz’ma Defensive Operation' as an attempt to prevent part of the forces of Generalfeldmarschall Fedor von Bock’s Heeresgruppe 'Mitte' from advancing to the east past the north of Moscow in 'Taifun' (i) and then falling on the Soviet capital from the north-east (10 October/4 December 1941).

The operation was undertaken by the right-wing forces of General Polkovnik Ivan S. Konev’s (from 13 October General Georgi K. Zhukov’s) West Front, which was designated as the Kalinin Front on 17 October. The 'Kalinin Defensive Operation' led to the 'Kalinin Offensive Operation' that began on 5 December.

For the 'Kalinin Defensive Operation', the attacking forces of von Bock’s Heeresgruppe 'Mitte' comprised Generaloberst Adolf Strauss’s 9th Army with General Otto-Wilhelm Förster’s VI Corps (10th Division and 26th Division) and General Alfred Wäger’s XXVII Corps (86th Division, 162nd Division and 255th Division) and General Georg-Hans Reinhardt’s 3rd Panzergruppe with General Walter Model’s XLI Corps (mot.) (1st Panzerdivision, 6th Panzerdivision and 36th Division (mot.)).

At the start of the 'Kalinin Defensive Operation', this sector of the Eastern Front to the north-west of Moscow was the responsibility of the forces of the West Front’s left wing and General Leytenant Nikolai F. Vatutin’s operational grouping of Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Semyon K. Timoshenko’s North-West Front. On 19 October, on the orders of the Stavka issued two days earlier, the North-West Front was redesignated as the Kalinin Front under Konev’s command. The Kalinin Front comprised General Major Vladimir I. Vostrukhov’s 22nd Army, General Leytenant Ivan I. Maslennikov’s 29th Army, General Leytenant Vasili A. Khomenko’s 30th Army and General Major Vasili A. Yushkevich’s 31st Army. The front’s reserve took the form of the 183rd Division and the 54th Cavalry Division. In addition to its four organic armies, the Kalinin Front also included the 183rd, 185th and 246th Divisions, the 46th and 54th Cavalry Divisions, the 46th Motorcycle Regiment, Polkovnik Pavel A. Rotmistrov’s 8th Tank Brigade of the North-West Front and Polkovnik Boris M. Skvortsov’s the 21st Tank Brigade of the Headquarters Reserve of the Main Committee.

By 17 October, the German forces had superiorities of 1.9/1 in men, 3.5/1 in tanks, 3.3/1 in artillery, and 3.2/1 in machine guns,

By 10 October, the 22nd, 29th and 31st Armies on the right wing of the West Front had withdrawn to the line extending from Lake Pskov via Peno and east of Nelidovo to Sychevka in order to prevent a German breakthrough into the Kalinin area. On the same day, the 3rd Panzergruppe and the 9th Army launched an offensive against Kalinin and, despite the stubborn resistance of the Soviet troops, had captured the city by 17 October.

At this time and in this area, the primary German task was the creation of a new 'cauldron' encirclement by the 9th Army and 3rd Panzergruppe on the northern flank of Heeresgruppe 'Mitte' and the start of an offensive into the rear of the North-West Front. Podpolkovnik Piotr S. Telkov’s 5th Division and General Major Sergei G. Goryachev’s 256th Division that arrived later, as well as the Kalinin detachment of the people’s militia, put up a stubborn resistance before retreating to the north-western part of the city, where they held out until 17 October. On this day, the 21st Tank Brigade, unloading at the Zavidovo and Reshetnikovo stations, moved round the 'Moscow Sea' (Volga river reservoir), crossed the Shosha and Lama rivers, and attacked the German troops moving in the direction of Kalinin along the Turginovskoye and Volokolamskoye roads. Some of the tanks broke through to the railway station, and one in fact passed through the entire city and reached the 5th Division’s positions. The 21st Tank Brigade nonetheless failed in its assigned task of retaking Kalinin, but by its actions inflicted severe losses on the German forces it encountered.

An attempt by the XLI Corps (mot.) of the 3rd Panzergruppe to break through to the flank and rear of the North-West Front was repelled by Vatutin’s operational grouping. To strengthen their effort toward Kalinin, the Germans deployed the 9th Army to the north with the task of destroying the Kalinin Front’s forces in the area of Staritsa, Rzhev and Zubtsov before developing its offensive in the general direction of Vishny Volochek, and the right flank to the Kalinin area. Then the 3rd Panzergruppe was to strike in the direction of Vishny Volochek and, in co-operation with the 9th Army, sever the lines of retreat which might otherwise have been available to main forces of the Kalinin Front and North-West Front. A German attempt on 16 October to develop an offensive against Torzhok using forces of the XLI Corps (mot.) failed to achieve any success. Some of the German forces were cut off and by 21 October had been largely destroyed. At the same time, the strike of the 29th Army on the flank of the XLI Corps (mot.) was not delivered as the army’s commander had decided that his forces were to be withdrawn to the line across the T,ma river. This allowed the Germans to gain a foothold in the Kalinin area. on 24 October the 9th Army used two motorised divisions of General Albert Wodrig’s LVI Corps (mot.) to launch an offensive from the line linking Rzhev and Staritsa toward Torzhok, but these divisions could not overcome the resistance of the 22nd Army and 29th Army, and by the end of October had halted on the line of the Bolshaya Kosh and T’ma rivers, where they went over to the defensive.

The Soviet forces, supported by tactical warplanes, attacked the Germans daily in the area of Kalinin and, as a result of these actions, on 23 October von Bock ordered that the offensive be suspended. Thus, while the determined efforts of the Soviet forces in the Kalinin area failed to recapture of the city, nonetheless thwarted the fulfilment of the main task for which the 3rd Panzergruppe had been deployed from Moscow farther to the north.

From the beginning of November, the front in the Kalinin area stabilised along the line between Selizharovo, the Bolshaya Kosh river, the T’ma river, the northern and eastern outskirts of Kalinin, and the western shore of the Volga river reservoir. The two sides' forces continued to fight in the Kalinin area right through there month, but neither secured any territorial gain. The attack on the flank and rear of the North-West Front, envisaged by the German plan was therefore thwarted, and the involvement of the 9th Army in the offensive on Moscow became impossible.

From 13 October to 5 December, the Kalinin Front’s forces k killed as many as 35,000 German soldiers, knocked out or captured 150 tanks, 150 pieces of artillery and a large number of motor vehicles and motorcycles, and shot down 50 aircraft. Through the use of active and passive undertakings, the Soviets had succeeded in pinning 13 German infantry divisions, so making it impossible for any of them to be transferred to Moscow, where the decisive battle of the 'Barbarossa' campaign was about to unfold. By the end of the 'Kalinin Defensive Operation', the forces of the Kalinin Front were in the position to envelop the north flank of Heeresgruppe 'Mitte' once the 'Kalinin Offensive Operation' started. Despite the fact that these battles did not result in major territorial seizures, the German forces were exhausted in their courses, and the Soviet forces acquired a significant quantity of military hardening. What cannot be denied, however, is the fact that the command and control of the Kalinin Front’s headquarters made major errors their assessments of German capabilities. This led to the front’s failure to fulfil the Stavka’s overarching plan inasmuch as the front’s forces could neither encircle the German grouping in Kalinin during October, nor cover the Moscow area in the middle of November.