Demyansk Pocket

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Demyansk Pocket
Part of World War II
Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-003-3445-33, Russland, Lufttransport mit Junkers Ju 52.jpg
Date 8 February – 20 May 1942
Location Demyansk, Russia
Result German defensive success
 Germany  Soviet Union
Commanders and leaders
Nazi Germany Walter von Brockdorff-Ahlefeldt
Nazi Germany Walther von Seydlitz-Kurzbach
Soviet Union Pavel Kurochkin[1]
100,000 (initial)
31,000 replacement troops
400,000 (initial)
Casualties and losses
16th Army (10.01. - 31.05.1942):
11,777 KIA and 2,739 MIA
40,000 WIA
Total: 55,000[2]
Northwestern Front (07.01. - 20.05.1942):
88,908 KIA and MIA
156,603 WIA
Total: 245,500[3]

The Demyansk Pocket (German: Festung Demjansk or Kessel von Demjansk; Russian: Демя́нский котёл) was the name given to the pocket of German troops encircled by the Red Army around Demyansk (Demjansk), south of Leningrad, during World War II on the 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 following their defeat during the Battle of Moscow.

The successful defence of Demyansk, achieved through the use of an airbridge, was a significant development in modern warfare. Its success was a major contributor to the decision by the Wehrmacht command to try the same tactic during the Battle of Stalingrad.


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, commander of 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, owing to the very difficult wooded and swampy terrain, and heavy snow cover, the initial advance by the Front was very modest against stubborn opposition.

On 8 January, a new offensive called the Rzhev–Vyazma Strategic Offensive Operation started. This 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, beginning 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 (General der Artillerie Christian Hansen) during winter 1941/1942.

Trapped in the pocket were the 12th, 30th, 32nd, 123rd and 290th infantry divisions, and the SS Division Totenkopf, as well as RAD, Police, Organisation Todt and other auxiliary units, for a total of about 90,000 German troops and around 10,000 auxiliaries. Their commander was General der Infanterie Walter Graf von Brockdorff-Ahlefeldt, commander of the II Army Corps.

Northwestern Front offensives[edit]

Offensive of the Red Army south of Lake Ilmen
7 January–21 February 1942.

The intent of the Northwestern Front offensive was 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 this 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 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.[4]:359 The front soon settled as the Soviet offensive petered out due to difficult terrain and bad weather.

After being assured that the pocket could be supplied with its daily requirement of 270 short tons (240 t) of supplies by Luftflotte 1, Hitler ordered that the surrounded divisions hold their positions until relieved. The pocket contained two viable airfields at Demyansk and Peski capable of receiving transport aircraft. From the middle of February, the weather improved significantly, and while there was still considerable snow on the ground at this time, resupply operations were generally very successful due to inactivity of the Red Air Forces in the area. However the operation did use up all of Luftflotte 1's transport capability, as well as elements of its bomber force.

Over the winter and spring, the Northwestern Front launched a number of attacks on the "Ramushevo corridor" that formed the tenuous link between Demyansk and Staraya Russa but was unable to reduce the pocket.


German forces near Demyansk, 21 March 1942.

On 21 March 1942, German forces under the command of Generalleutnant Walther von Seydlitz-Kurzbach attempted to manoevre 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 was able to break the siege on 22 April, but the fighting had taken a heavy toll.[5] Out of the approximately 100,000 men trapped, there were 3,335 lost and over 10,000 wounded.

Between 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. However, the cost was significant. 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.[6]

Fighting in the area continued until 28 February 1943. The Soviets did not liberate Demyansk until 1 March 1943, with the retreat of the German troops.

The success of the Luftwaffe convinced Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring and Hitler that they could conduct effective airlift operations on the Eastern front.[6] Göring later proposed a similar "solution" to supply the 6th Army when it was surrounded in Stalingrad. While a single corps with about six divisions was encircled in Demyansk, in Stalingrad, an entire and greatly reinforced army was trapped, consisting of 20 field divisions and 100 battalion sized units, although attrition had weakened unit strengths considerably during the summer and autumn fighting in the city. Whereas the Demyansk and Kholm pockets together needed around 265 t (292 short tons) of supplies per day, the 6th Army required an estimated daily minimum of 800 t (880 short tons), delivered over a much-longer distance and faced by a much better organised Red Air Force.


  1. ^ J.Erickson, The road to Stalingrad, p. 302-303.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Rutherford, Jeff (2008). "Life and Death in the Demiansk Pocket: The 123rd Infantry Division in Combat and Occupation". Central European History 41 (3). doi:10.1017/S0008938908000551. 
  5. ^ Rutherford 2008, p. 365.
  6. ^ a b Bergstrom 2007, p. 23.
  • Bergstrom, Christer (2007). Stalingrad - The Air Battle: November 1942 - February 1943. London: Chervron/Ian Allen. ISBN 978-1-85780-276-4.
  • Сборник. На Северо-Западном фронте — М.: «Наука», 1969 (Вторая Мировая война в исследованиях, воспоминаниях, документах) Институт военной истории Министерства Обороны СССР; под редакцией и с предисловием члена-корреспондента АН СССР генерал-лейтенанта П. А. Жилина; cоставил и подготовил сборник кандидат военных наук, доцент, полковник Ф. Н. Утенков; научно-техническая работа проведена подполковником В. С. Кислинским.
  • Group of authors, A collection. On the North-Western Front, Moscow, Science (pub.), 1969 (Second World War in research, memoirs, documents), Institute of military history of Ministry of Defence of USSR, edited and with forward by member-correspondent AN SSR, General-lieutenant P.A. Zhilin; compiled and prepared for publication by candidate of military sciences, dozent, Colonel F.N. Utenkov, scientific-technical work undertaken by Sub-colonel V.S. Kislinsky
  • Rutherford, Jeff (2008). "Life and Death in the Demiansk Pocket: The 123rd Infantry Division in Combat and Occupation". Central European History 41 (3). doi:10.1017/S0008938908000551. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Forczyk, Robert (2012). Demyansk 1942-43; The frozen fortress. Osprey Campaign Series #245. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1849085526

Coordinates: 57°39′00″N 32°28′00″E / 57.6500°N 32.4667°E / 57.6500; 32.4667