The Collapse of the Demyansk Pocket
|"German paratrooper armed with an MP-40 submachine gun, in the trench on the Eastern Front; winter of 1942-1943" (source)|
(For more, see the complete 1943 Moscow reports)
March 1, 1943 (Monday evening)
The Red Army has chalked up another victory in its amazing winter offensive. Tonight's special communiqué, announcing the opening up of a new sector of the one thousand mile Russian battle line, opens up an entirely new perspective for the Soviet drive to the west.
For over a year it has been known that the German command has been concentrating troops and armament southeast of Lake Ilmen. This concentration was supposed to be the northern arm of a giant pincer with which Hitler intended to encircle Moscow. The southern arm of this pincer was to operate from Stalingrad.
Tonight's communiqué announcing a big Russian breakthrough southeast of Lake Ilmen means that this German strategy has been completely smashed.
The center of the German concentrations was the town of Demyansk, some forty-five miles southeast of Lake Ilmen. The Nazi high command had concentrated so much striking power in this district that the Russians called the area of dispersal "the fortress of Demyansk."
A week ago last Saturday, the Red Army forces attacked. The fighting was as bitter as any time in the sanguinary history of this most terrible of all wars. The terrain is difficult, made up of lakes and frozen marshes. Rivers cut small canyons cut through the Valdai Hills; snow and cold did nothing to help the Russian drive.
But like how all the Red Army's offensives have been in this winter fighting, the advance was successful. Eleven thousand Germans have been killed or captured in these eight days of fighting. 302 population points have been taken, and tonight the 16th German Army is retreating westward.
(The strategic possibilities of this offensive for the Soviet high command are enormous. This salient thrusts midway from the main railroad lines between Leningrad and Moscow. Development of the offensive here would create a serious threat to the southern flank of Hitler's troops partly surrounding Leningrad. And to the south, a strong Russian garrison holds Velikiye Luki.)
The special communiqué tonight also cleared up a major mystery which for many moths has been developing in the Soviet Union. It once again brings into the spotlight one of Russia's most able army commanders, Marshal Semyon Timoshenko. (No mention of Marshal Timoshenko has been allowed in the press, and speculation as to his whereabouts prompted some pretty wild guesses.)
Observers here in Moscow see the announcement that he is commanding the Lake Ilmen offensive an indication that this is more than just a minor military move to secure the northwestern flank in Moscow.
The opinion here is that a general of Timoshenko's experience and status has not been sent to Lake Ilmen to make snowballs.