Kalinin Offensive Operation

The 'Kalinin Offensive Operation' was the Soviet third of the seven sub-operations together constituting the 'Moscow Strategic Offensive Operation' (5 December 1941/7 January 1942).

The other six sub-operations were the 'Orel-Bryansk Defensive Operation' (30 September/23 October), the 'Vyaz’ma Defensive Operation' (2/13 October), the 'Mozhaysk-Maloyaroslavets Defensive Operation' (10/30 October), the 'Tula Defensive Operation' (24 October/5 December), the 'Klin-Solnechnogorsk Defensive Operation' (15 November/5 December) and the 'Naro-Fominsk Defensive Operation' (1/5 December).

The operation was launched immediately after the end of the 'Kalinin Defensive Operation' within the 'Moscow Strategic Defensive Operation' as the Soviet forces checked the German 'Taifun' (i) and 'Wotan' drives of Generalfeldmarschall Fedor von Bock’s Heeresgruppe 'Mitte' on Moscow and began their own series of strategic offensives designed to push the German forces back to the west along the entirety of the Eastern Front.

At the beginning of December 1941, General Polkovnik Ivan S. Konev’s Kalinin Front, operating to the north-west of Moscow, saw the establishment of a shock group comprising five divisions of General Major Vasili A. Yushkevich’s 31st Army and three divisions of General Leytenant Ivan I. Maslennikov’s (from 12 December General Major Vasili I. Shvetsov’s) 29th Army. These armies had not received any reinforcement of freshly formed divisions, so the forthcoming operation was fought on each side by formations which had already been degraded in numbers in the earlier stages of the battles for Moscow.

The formations of the left flank of the 29th Army took the offensive on 5 December in the central part of the Kalinin Front’s sector, but were unable to break through the defences of the infantry divisions constituting Generaloberst Adolf Strauss’s 9th Army. However, to the left of the 31st Army between Kalinin and the Volga river reservoir, General Major Vasili A. Yushkevich’s 31st Army, after three days of bitter fighting, broke through the German line and by the end of 9 December had advanced 19.33 miles (15 km) and thereby started to threaten the rear of the German formations in the area of Kalinin.

At the same time, the offensive undertaken by General Major Dmitri D. Lelyushenko’s 30th Army of General Georgi K. Zhukov’s West Front, on the left flank of the 31st Army but to the south of the Volga river reservoir, threatened the rear of Generaloberst Adolf Strauss’s 9th Army with an advance across the Lama river toward Kalinin. On the night of 16/17 December, Strauss therefore ordered a retreat from the Kalinin area. On the morning of 16 December, the forces of the 31st Army and 29th Army resumed their offensive, and Kalinin was retaken on 16 December.

On 20 December, the Maslennikov’s fresh 39th Army was introduced into the junction of the 22nd Army and 29th Army, and by the end of December the Kalinin Front’s forces in the zone of the 39th Army broke through the German defences to their entire tactical depth. During the battles of 2/7 January, the right wing of the Kalinin Front reached the line of the Volga river, broke through a new defensive line defence created by the Germans along the right bank of the Volga river in the centre of the operational zone, and retook Rzhev from the west and south-west.

On 1 December, the Kalinin Front had been ordered to undertake a regrouping of the 31st Army, reinforced with infantry divisions and heavy artillery regiments, on the front’s left wing for an offensive toward Kalinin. On 4 December, the 57th Pontoon Bridge Battalion reached the 31st Army with the task of organising and operating ferry crossings across the Volga river. It soon became evident, though, that at the typical current temperature of -25 C (-13 F) it was impossible to organise a ferry crossing. It was therefore decided to ferry tanks across a pair of 985-ft (350-m) pontoon bridges in two place about 220 yards (200 m) apart near the village of Orsino, where the river ice was some 8 to 10 in (20 to 25 cm) thick.

On 5 December there developed a major battle in the area of Kalinin. The task assigned to the front was not only the recapture of Kalinin and the defeat the German forces in the Kalinin area, but also to advance into the rear of the German formations operating against Moscow. The main Soviet blow in the centre by the 256th, 119th, 250th and 5th Divisions was delivered across the Volga river with supporting fire by artillery possessing a density of only 72 guns per mile (45 guns per kilometre) on the breakthrough front. At 11.00 Maslennikov’s formations located to the north-west of Kalinin, went over to the offensive, and this was followed two hours later and from positions farther to the north-east by the offensive of Yushkevich’s formations. The Germans responded with a hurricane of mortar and machine gun fire. Some 90 after the offensive’s start, a Soviet grouping broke through the German defences and captured the outskirts of the village of Staraya Konstantinovka. General Major Sergei G. Goryachev’s 256th Division had concentrated on the left bank of the Volga river and crossed the river during the day, soon silencing the Germans' artillery and bursting into the village of Pasynkovo and the Vlasyevo state farm, thereby severing the main road linking Moscow and Leningrad in the area to the east of Kalinin.

In fierce battles on 5 December, the 31st Army overcame German resistance, broke through the front, blocked the road linking Moscow and Klin, and advanced between 2.5 and 3.1 miles (4 and 5). The army also closed on the Oktyabrsky railway, liberated 15 settlements and now posed a major threat to the communications of the 9th Army. In their effort to halt the 31st Army, the Germans deployed two infantry divisions to the area, and there developed a bloody battle that was very severe in casualties. Despite the Germans' increased resistance, the 119th Division liberated the Chupriyanovka station on 8 December.

Meanwhile, by the morning of 7 December, the crossings across the Volga river had been made ready. This made it possible for tanks of the 143rd and 159th Tank Battalions to cross the river and immediately entered the battle for Emmaus.

At the same time, Maslennikov’s forces had the task of driving the Germans out of the villages they occupied on the left bank of the Volga river between the T’ma river and Kalinin, breaking the German defences on the right bank of the Volga river and reaching the Staritsa road, which was the Germans' main line of communications in the area. The achievement of this last task would create a threat of a complete encirclement of the German forces in the Kalinin area. To prevent such an encirclement, the Germans despatched Generalleutnant Stephen Rittau’s 129th Division and Generalleutnant Karl Burdach’s 251st Division to strengthen their positions in the Kalinin area.

The 29th Army was not able to break through the German defences and recapture Kalinin, so Konev turned part of the 31st Army, in the form of the 256th Division, 247th Division and 54th Cavalry Division, to the north-west with the task of encircling the German forces in the Kalinin area and, in co-operation with the 29th Army, take the city.

On 13 December, the 937th Regiment stormed the village of Koltsovo, and then the settlements of Malye and Bolshiye Peremerki, Bobachevo and Bychkovo, and by the end of 15 December had reached the eastern outskirts of Kalinin. Reconnaissance of the Germans' outer lines of defence established that the Germans were preparing to fall back.

On 14 December, the 31st Army bypassed Kalinin from the south-east, cutting off the Volokolamska and Turginovska roads. The arrival of the 31st Army’s forces on the Volokolamska road sealed the fate of the German forces in the Kalinin area, for they had only the road linking Kalinin and Staritsa, and the 29th Army soon severed this. In addition, the withdrawal of the West Front’s 30th Army to the Lama river created a real threat to the rear of the 9th Army, and the Germans therefore began a hasty retreat from Kalinin. By the evening of 15 December, Malye Peremerki was ablaze after being fired by the Germans, and fires also broke out in many other parts of Kalinin. On the night of 16/17 December, the Germans blew up a railway bridge and the road bridges across the Volga river.

Overcoming the German rearguards' resistance, by 15.00 on 16 December units of the 29th Army’s 243rd Division had occupied the northern part of the city, and by 21.00 had reached the area of ​​the city’s railway station. By 23.00 the right-flank units of the 256th Division had broken into Kalinin from the south-east, and units of the 31st Army’s 250th Division had approached the city from the south. By 13.00 on 17 December Kalinin had been wholly liberated.

The continued development of the Soviet offensive took place in conditions of fierce German resistance and appallingly difficult conditions of what was now an especially harsh winter. The Soviet forces had a shortage of weapons and other military equipment, and were also deficient in major tank and other armoured formations, and this made it impossible for them to crush the German operational formations to any great depth and thereby swiftly complete the encirclement and destruction of such groupings. The Soviet operational tactics still relied on frontal attacks rather than outflanking manoeuvres, moreover, and strike groups were still infrequent, so the pace of advances was slow.

After the liberation of its eponymous city, the Kalinin Front was tasked with pressing a vigorous pursuit of the Germans in the direction of Staritsa, getting onto the path of the Kalinin group’s withdrawal, and thus encircling and destroying it. Fulfilling the assigned task, the Kalinin Front’s forces, reinforced by the West Front’s 30th Army and the Front and the 39th Army from the high command reserve, overcame stern German resistance, and on 1 January liberated Staritsa, the regional centre of the Kalinin area, and by 7 January had reached the approaches to Rzhev and Zubtsov, and gained positions from which to envelop the main formations of Heeresgruppe 'Mitte' from the north.

In the course of the 'Kalinin Offensive Operation', the Kalinin Front had advanced between 37 and 43.5 miles (60 to 70 km) in the direction of Torzhok and Rzhev direction, and 61 to 74.5 miles (100 to 120 km) in the Kalinin and Rzhev direction. The 9th Army had been defeated, but the Soviet troops had not been able to encircle and destroy it. By 7 January, the 9th Army held the area of Rzhev, and prevented the Soviets from making any farther advance. Only on 3 March 1943 was Rzhev finally liberated.