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Posted on Sep 4, 2014 in Armchair Reading

CDG 64 – Battle of Cholm Pocket, 1942

CDG 64 – Battle of Cholm Pocket, 1942

By Armchair General

The September 2014 issue of Armchair General® presented the Combat Decision Game “Battle of Cholm Pocket, 1942.” This CDG placed readers in the role of German army Major General Theodor Scherer, commander of Kampfgruppe (Battle Group) Scherer, which was encircled by Soviet forces in the Russian city of Cholm, located about 400 kilometers south of Leningrad.

After the German offensive to capture Moscow had failed in December 1941, the Soviets launched a powerful counteroffensive along the north and center portions of the front that sent German forces reeling back. By late January 1942, the Soviet winter offensive had forced two huge westward-thrusting bulges in the German Army Group North sector. Kampfgruppe Scherer’s 3,000 troops at Cholm were trapped within the larger bulge, a 160-kilometer-wide by 240-kilometer-deep area that also encompassed Demyansk (about 100 kilometers northeast of Cholm), where another 90,000 German combat troops were encircled.

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The German strategy for slowing the Soviet winter offensive and stabilizing the front line included maintaining control of the pockets. Thus, the forces trapped at Cholm and Demyansk were ordered to remain in place and not to attempt to break out. Scherer’s mission on January 27, 1942, was only to attack and defeat Soviet units occupying key positions in the western half of Cholm, including an all-important airfield. Unless Scherer could enlarge the pocket by seizing this Soviet-occupied territory, he would be unable to fly in the supplies his men required to continue holding out for the weeks or perhaps months it would take for outside German forces to break into the Cholm Pocket and relieve them.


Scherer’s attack was one with limited objectives. His men were not to attempt to escape from the pocket but rather simply to expand the area within it to allow them to continue holding out until relief could reach them. To be considered successful, the attack did not need to destroy the enemy force but only to defeat it and compel it to retreat from western Cholm. Given the challenges Scherer faced, he was fortunate that the objectives were limited, since his kampfgruppe lacked sufficient organic artillery and only 500 of his soldiers were combat troops. Even with the arrival of Gruppe Treu (a reinforcing unit of 130 combat troops, machine guns and a 50 mm anti-tank gun from 218th Infantry Division), he had fewer than 700 combat troops.

Scherer decided to launch his combat troops and Gruppe Treu in an attack from his left flank to envelop the Soviet positions (COURSE OF ACTION TWO: LEFT HOOK). To divert the enemy’s attention, he ordered his combat engineer platoon to conduct a diversionary attack on his right flank, while his noncombat troops in the remainder of the kampfgruppe supported the “left hook” by firing on the Soviets from positions on the east side of Cholm. This plan not only effectively massed Scherer’s combat troops on the Soviets’ vulnerable flank but also allowed the 218th Infantry Division artillery guns that were within range to support the effort. The attack began on the morning of January 27 and by late that afternoon it had cleared the Soviets from western Cholm – including the vital airfield – and forced them to retreat 800 meters beyond the city’s outskirts.

Although the Soviets continued attacking relentlessly to eliminate the Cholm Pocket, Kampfgruppe Scherer, supplied by air, held out for 105 days, until German forces broke through the encirclement to relieve its battered survivors on May 5, 1942. For successfully defending the Cholm Pocket, Scherer was awarded the Knight’s Cross to the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves by Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.


ACG judges based their selections for winning Reader Solutions and those receiving honorable mention on submissions that chose COURSE OF ACTION TWO: LEFT HOOK or those whose explanations demonstrated a solid understanding of the key principles of a limited objective attack. (See “After Action Report.”) This plan concentrated Scherer’s available combat troops against the enemy’s most vulnerable flank, incorporated Gruppe Treu’s resources, and allowed 218th Infantry Division’s artillery to support the attack. Importantly, by hitting the Soviets from only one direction, Scherer was able to accomplish his attack’s limited objectives by leaving open an “escape route” to the north that encouraged the Soviets to withdraw, which kept his casualties to a minimum.

Although COURSE OF ACTION ONE: DOUBLE ENVELOPMENT might have trapped the Soviet force between Scherer’s two attacking elements, this would have worked out counter to the attack’s limited objectives. It would have encouraged the Soviets to dig in and fight fiercely to the last man, which would have increased the kampfgruppe’s casualties, and even if the enemy soldiers had surrendered in large numbers, Scherer had no resources with which to care for any prisoners of war.

COURSE OF ACTION THREE: BROAD FRONT was likely the worst plan in this tactical situation, since attacking all along the front would have dissipated the kampfgruppe’s combat power, failed to concentrate its elements at one or two decisive points to compel the Soviets to withdraw, and exposed nearly the entire force to heavy enemy fire. No doubt the high number of resulting casualties would have left Scherer’s men unable to continue holding out in the Cholm Pocket.


Key Points for a Limited Objective Attack

  • Evaluate every aspect of all constraints imposed by the tactical situation.
  • Develop objectives that can be achieved by available troop and fire support resources.
  • Allocate sufficient forces and supporting fire to accomplish the mission.
  • Ensure all subordinate leaders clearly understand the attack’s limited goals.
  • Avoid unnecessary casualties.
  • Conserve scarce resources of troops, ammunition and supplies.
  • Terminate the attack promptly once the objectives are achieved.

1 Comment

  1. If Scherer left no German troops in his rear to block the Soviet force in the South as he attacked North, a Soviet force reported by Armchair General to contain tanks, infantry and artillery, then he was more lucky than good.


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