THE BATTLE OF VELIKIYE LUKI

Velikiye Luki

This campaign re-enacted the Soviet offensive, Operation "Mars" against Velikiye Luki from 24th November, 1942 - 15th January, 1943. This involved both fighter and ground attack strategic sweeps against German targets in the Velikiye Luki area.

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Ready to go

INTRODUCTION

For this campaign we'll maintain our existing two squadron structure and fly as the Soviet 2nd Squadron, 32nd IAD and 3rd Squadron, 32nd IAD.

The campaign, as always will feature a variety of mission styles flying as individual squadrons and as a wing, covering roles such as fighter sweeps, escort, ground attack, bomber attacks and so on. A brief background to the historical beginning of the campaign can be found below to set the scene.

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EVENTS LEADING TO START OF THE OFFENSIVE

Velikiye Luki is a city located on the main railway line to Moscow and had been captured by the Germans during 1941. Its strategic location protecting the railway supply lines to Army Group North that ran through Novosokolniki 20 km to the west made its recapture vital to the Soviet high command. In addition an offensive here would prevent the Germans transferring forces south to Stalingrad. On the 24th November 1942 the Red Army launched Operation Mars.

Refuelling

Troops of the 3rd and 4th Shock armies advanced to the north and south of the city supported by the 3rd Air Army. The sudden attack surprised the German defenders and by the 27th November the city was encircled. Elements of the 3rd Mountain and 83rd Infantry divisions were trapped in two pockets south-west of the city but managed to break out to the west. These joined a hastily established German defensive force Gruppe Wöhler formed around the 291th Infantry Division. They managed to establish a thin defensive line and so halt the Soviet offensive in front of Novosokolniki on the 10th December.

The 3rd Air Army together with three Long Range Aviation Divisions operated in support of the offensive. They attempted to interdict German supply columns and rail freight, but rarely operated more than 20km behind the German lines.

Stuck in snow

The Luftwaffe rushed aircraft to the sector and brought them under a unified command Gefechtsverband Welikije Luki. This comprised He111s of the I and III/KG.53 and Stukas of III/StG.77 and 9/StG.1. Fw190s of I and III/JG.51 and 109F4s of III/JG.53 provided fighter support. The fighters operated from temporary airstrips on the frozen lakes to the west of Velikiye Luki.

The German garrison at Velikiye Luki comprised a regiment of the 83rd Infantry under Lieutenant-Colonel Eduard Freiherr von Saß. The Germans had fortified the city with bunkers, tank traps and had stockpiled food supplies. Ammunition however was being rapidly used up and the Luftwaffe began resupplying the city from the air. Because there were no airfields within the city supplies had to be dropped by parachute and, crucially, flown in by glider. The glider pilots had to brave Soviet fighters as well as the anti-aircraft guns that surrounded the city.

Briefing

On January 4, 1943, the German launched Operation Totila, an attempt to breakthrough to the besieged city. With the support from elements of the 11th and 8th Panzer Divisions with less than 50 tanks between them, the Germans managed to reach Velikiye Luki on the 10th January. A small German force broke through the Russian lines and reached the Citadel on the western side of the city before withdrawing under intense Russian artillery fire. Unable to breakout to the west von Saßs men were finally forced to surrender on the 15th January.

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OPERATIONAL MAP
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The area of operations is outlined on the historical map on the left. Thus the scene is set on November 1942, a freezing cold day. The Russian Air Force fueled and armed their aircraft and sent off the first sortie to try and wrestle control of Velikiye Luki back from the Germans...  

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