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Demyansk 1942-43

ISBN: 978 1 84908 552 6
Review Date:

In the aftermath of the Soviet Winter Counteroffensive of 1941-1942, Russian and German forces found themselves mixed up along the length of the line. One of those sectors was the north in the area around a town called Demyansk. During the Winter Counteroffensive, Soviet forces managed to encircle German forces around Demyansk and nearby towns as they attempted to reach the important town of Staraya Russia. However, they lacked the experience and were unable to overcome the encircled German forces. With supplies flying in by air, the encircled Germans held their ground until friendly forces relieved them in May. Then they turned the areas around Demyansk into a killing zone that soaked the ground in the blood of large numbers of Russian troops.

Though unknown in the west, the battles around Demyansk spilled enormous amounts of blood for little gain on both sides (particularly for the Russians) and planted the seeds in Hitler’s mind about fortresses and supplying encircled garrisons by air. These factors played a crucial role in the events at Stalingrad later in 1942. The fact that the Red Army achieved so little in this area ensured that it received scant mention in the history books for many decades.

Written by author Robert Forczyk who had written several other books on the Eastern Front for Osprey, Demyansk 1942-1943 starts with the overview of the situation before the campaign begins before going into detail about the forces involved in the campaign. As other fronts required the attention of the immense resources of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, both sides were operating with forces that were barely capable heavy fighting and with a badly strained logistical situation, particularly for the Russians.

The main section of the book begins with the Soviet counteroffensive in the northern fronts. At first the Soviets thought that the offensive would help neighboring fronts achieve decisive results and in fact Demyansk had not been a major target. Instead, that honor went to Staraya, Russia, which had already witnessed fierce combat during the initial German invasion. However, fierce German defense in the city as well as in other locations eventually resulted in the encirclement of over 100,000 men at Demyansk along with 5,000 in the smaller city of Kholm, which lay to the southwest of Demyansk. While Soviet forces attempted to capture the two heavily defended towns, the Luftwaffe created an air bridge that kept the garrisons supplied until the Wehrmact relieved both cities in May of 1942. Thereafter the area around Demyasnk deteriorated into siege warfare that lasted until the last week of February 1943 when the Germans withdrew from the area. Ironically enough, the fighting at Demyansk ended several weeks after the end of the titanic struggle at Stalingrad.

As there is not much information on this particular battle, this book provides impressive detailed information in English on this forgotten battle. Like all the books in the campaign series, Denmyansk 1942-43 has pictures as well as 2-d and 3-d maps to help illustrate the progression of the battle. Also included are paintings by Peter Dennis, who has worked on other books in the series.

Despite the limited space in an Osprey Campaign series book, Demyansk 1942-43 provides a good detailed overview in English on one of the forgotten battles on World War II’s Eastern Front. Amongst one of its more notable aspects are the descriptions of the capabilities of the respective armies on hand for the engagement.

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