Reinforced by 100 fresh divisions, the Soviets launched a massive counteroffensive to save Moscow on 5–6 December 1941. The action took place in subzero temperatures and with German forces completely spent and strung out along a front of 560 miles, from Kalinin in the north to Yelets in the south. During the first days of their offensive, the Soviets registered significant progress. Where possible, they avoided frontal assaults, endeavoring to flank and get behind the German positions and cut them off, creating maximum confusion and panic. Partisans also struck the overextended German communication and supply lines.
Fearful of encirclement, German troops destroyed what they could and then withdrew. On 13 December, the Soviet government issued a communiqué announcing that the German effort to take Moscow had failed. On 14 December, Soviet General Ivan Zakharin's Forty-Ninth Army went on the offensive north of Tula against Army Group Center (Heeresgruppe Mitte). Despite German leader Adolf Hitler's order of 16 December calling for "fanatical resistance," the right wing of the German Fourth Army on the east bank of the Oka collapsed, and on 17 December, Aleksin fell. The offensive continued in the direction of Tarusa, which was taken the next day.
A special mobile group under Lieutenant General V. S. Popov, including cavalry, infantry, and tank units, then moved in deep snow through the woodlands on the southern bank of the Oka. The offensive to recapture Kaluga began on 17 December. In three days, Popov's troops covered nearly 60 miles, and by the evening of 20 December, they had Kaluga in sight. The Germans there were taken completely by surprise. During the morning of the next day, the 154th Rifle Division, supported by the 31st Cavalry Division and tanks, attacked the railway station.
On 26 December, German resistance in the Nara-Fominsk area broke and the city was retaken. Borovsk and Maloyaroslavets soon fell. On 28 December, Hitler issued a new order calling for every hamlet and farm to be turned into defensive positions and held at all costs. Counterattacks ordered could not be realized, however. German tanks were no longer capable of offensive operations but could only cover retreating infantry units.
Much more adept at fighting in winter conditions, the Soviets threw back every German attempt to stop their advance. Unable to cover and plug the ever increasing number of holes appearing in their front line, the Germans had to withdraw even farther west. On 30 December, Soviet forces completely secured Kaluga. The Soviet offensive ended on 5 January 1942. The Soviet army had established a line between Uhnov, Kirov, and Ludinovo and completed the encirclement of Army Group Center. The German army had lost 25 percent of its original strength in the east and been handed its first strategic defeat.
Thomas J. Weiler
Dupuy, Trevor N. Great Battles on the Eastern Front. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1982.; Fugate, Bryan I. Operation Barbarossa: Strategy and Tactics on the Eastern Front, 1941. New York: Presidio, 1985.; Glantz, David M. Barbarossa: Hitler's Invasion of Russia, 1941. Stroud, UK: Tempus Publishing, 2001.; Werth, Alexander. Russia at War, 1941–1945. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1964.