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Velikiye-Luki, (Russian: Вели́кие Лу́ки. Literally meaning- Great Meanders) was a city situated on the meandering Lovat River in the southern part of Pskov Oblast, Russia. During World War II, in 1941 and 1942, intensive fighting took place in the vicinity between German and Soviet forces. During the Battle of Velikiye-Luki (in late 1942) a German force of about 20,000 was surrounded in the town which had been barricaded and turned into a fortress. After many months of heavy fighting, the German and Latvian defenders were finally wiped out in January 1943. As a result of this siege and intense house-to-house fighting, the city suffered almost total destruction and was then abandoned by the few survivors. It was never rebuilt and became a war memorial.
The German retreat had become confused and Hitler’s supply of good information was becoming erratic due to a Soviet disinformation campaign and the inevitable confusion called the 'fog of war'. An order was given to "hold the line and die fighting", but General Graf Von Shavel had local knowledge and was aware of some of the Soviet plans due to a few radio intercepts. He then ordered the bulk of German and Latvian forces to pull back to the western part of the town to hide and dig in, while the eastern part became a killing ground full of snipers and landmines. The Latvians took over some low lying hills near the German encampments to guard their northern flank. The local marshes guarded the southern flank. As a Latvian detachment of Latvians skirmished with Soviet forces, to the north on November the 20th, 60 Estonian volunteers, 50 Ustasa and 20 German soldiers arrived with a few anti-tank guns from a previous clash near to Pskov. These were sent to reinforce the northern sector that was already held by the Latvians.
As Soviet forces broke through the defective lines outside the town moved in to the town on November the 21st, they ran many of the land mines and several tanks were disabled. Snipers then picked of individual troopers with guns and grenades chucked from within occupied buildings at the oppression’s troopers. As more Soviets moved further in town the Axis battle group's limited tank and artillery fire was put to good use in a pre-planned killing area between November the 23rd and January 12th.
Eventually Soviet air power took its toll against the local German fighter squadrons and the Soviet artillery devastated the west of the town by January 15th.
A mixture of German and collaborator forces were also mascaraed to the north by heavy Soviet tank and artillery fire on November the 22nd and 23rd, at the places that are now known as 'Latvian Hill', 'Estonian Valley' and 'Ustasa Lake'.
The surviving German and Ustasa forces managed due to a mixture of luck and good training to hold out against the Soviets and finally force them in to the east of the town for good.
Causes of the conflict
When Operation Barbarossa stalled it ended with the full reassessment of the strategic goals by Adolf Hitler, who had noticed the front line in the northern sector of the Eastern Front had stabilized in the spring of 1942. The Wehrmacht was still left in control of the city of Velikiye-Luki, which had tacitly important bridges over the Lovat River and a major north-south rail line ran parallel to the river's west bank, at Novosokolniki behind the German lines, and another to Vitebsk, which was a strategic important Axis logistic centre. The Germans knew the battle was one of key importance and put vital supply lines in danger.
The terrain, long range artillery, tanks and urban warfare were all used to their full advantage here.
A wafer thin German defensive victory
The German, Estonian, Latvian and Ustasa leadership felt that they were confident of holding or even turning the now temporarily demoralised Soviet forces.