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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 forcesin the Russian city of Cholm, located about400 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.

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 try 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. Scherer 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,” p. 66.) 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.

And now for excerpts from the winning Reader Solutions to “Battle of Cholm Pocket, 1942.”

Pierre Corbeil, Canada: “I will not hesitate to use specialists in the front line. Winter kills, or at least makes action very difficult. Our attack must be done in quick and short phases with pauses between exposures to the cold for both men and weapons, and must not require long or complicated movements.”

Ron Hoelve, Ohio: “The most important objective is to take the airfield, as it is the best way to attack and be able to resupply. Concentration of my small forces in attacking is vital. We must use all our forces and not dilute my attack too much, and we must be able to hold out until relief can break through.”

Robert E. Williams II, Ohio: “I believe a concentrated effort against the enemy right is the best chance of securing the airfield and the west bank of the Lovat River. The 164th will be trapped against the Lovat and will be destroyed. We must be prepared to repulse counterattacks from the east and south.” Thank you to everyone who participated in this CDG. Now turn to page 56 and test your tactical decision-making skills with CDG #66, “Marines at Pusan Perimeter, Korea, 1950.” This action during the Korean War places readers in the role of Captain Ike Fenton, commander of B Company, 1st Battalion, U.S. 5th Marine Regiment. After a powerful communist North Korean offensive has pushed U.S. and Republic of Korea (ROK) forces into the “Pusan perimeter” at the southeastern tip of the Korean peninsula, Fenton’s mission is to attack and seize key high ground to prevent the enemy from breaking into the perimeter and overrunning these last remaining U.S. and ROK troops. Use the CDG map and form on pages 59 and 60 to explain your solution, and mail, email or fax it to Armchair General by December 26, 2014. Winners will be announced in the May 2015 issue, but those eager to read the historical outcome and analysis can log on to after December 29, 2014.


Editor’s Note: For each Combat Decision game, ACG typically receives numerous Reader Solutions that have selected the course of action that ACG judges have deemed the best COA for that CDG. However, our judges are required to choose winners and those earning an honorable mention from submissions whose explanations, in the judges’ opinion, best reflect an understanding of the principles and key points of the CDG’s tactical situation.

Originally published in the January 2015 issue of Armchair General.